First impressions: the XF 23mm F/2 WR

Did a quick test of my new XF 23mm F/2 lens yesterday. (Apparently, I’m now that person who can write the lens type and brand without referring to the unit or Google. This is coming from someone who asked why his prime lens wasn’t zooming during the camera test.) First, let me give another shout out to i-Click Outlet. They are friendly, responsive, quick and hassle-free to deal with. I’ve been looking for the 23mm in black, since my 50mm is already in silver and I wanted a lens that would finally match the body color of my XT20. (Now, that I have a black lens, I actually think a silver one gives my camera more character—and yes, I don’t think these things matter to serious photographers, haha.) The lens wasn’t listed on their website, so I figured there’d be no harm in messaging iClick on Facebook. Within minutes, they promised to deliver it to me the next day, which they did.

Contrary to reviews I’ve read, I found that the lens performed well in low light conditions. These were taken around 6 p.m., which was already dark. Most were set in ISO Auto 12800, hence the graininess.

Auto focus was way faster and more reliable than my 50mm, where I had to depend more on the manual settings. But image quality was way sharper with the 50mm even when cropped. (For example, these photos of SCTEX views were taken from a moving car.) Still haven’t tested how the 23mm would be able to handle the same conditions.

Other XF 50mm F/2 photos:

I got the 23mm because I wanted a wide angle; I found it difficult to take photos, of say, my hotel room at I’M Hotel, which I had hoped to write a review on. It was refreshing to take photos yesterday, wherein the field of view was close to my vision and I didn’t have to look through the viewfinder before realizing I have to move further away from my subject. However, I realized that composition was actually easier with the 50mm as subjects are easily detached from their environment, which is my personal preference: I like isolating my subjects and creating a sense of stillness. With the 23mm, I need to be more careful with my composition since more objects are likely to make it to the frame. So in other words, my 23mm and 50mm complement each other and I should stop my lens shopping here.

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App review: GrabTaxi Manila

Update: This post was written in April 2014. Since Uber was introduced in the Philippines, I’ve been a fan and I never had to use GrabTaxi. I hate taxi drivers who choose passengers, which a lot of GrabTaxi/GrabCar drivers are. I also dislike the idea of having to bribe drivers in the form of tips–if anything, GrabTaxi is just another way of institutionalizing what’s wrong with regular taxis in the first place.
* * * * 
For the first time in my life, a cab driver offers his salutations

I hadn’t planned on booking a taxi to go to the airport; after all, it was around 2 a.m. and so getting one shouldn’t be a problem. However, by the time I showered; put on clothes; took them off; put something else on; blow dried my hair; double-checked my passport, airline tickets, and hotel reservation; and zipped up my luggage, more than an hour had lapsed—I didn’t want to take my chance waiting for a cab.

And so I launched my GrabTaxi app. Here’s how you do it:

Screenshots from GrabTaxi Manila

There were dozens of cab in my area but they were minutes away from me—I didn’t want to haul my luggage through the streets at the dead of night. And so using the app, I entered my destination but I had a problem with my pick-up point: I wasn’t ‘pinned’ to my exact location on the map and I couldn’t drag it to where I was. (If this is in fact possible to do, then there was no user-friendly way of knowing so because I tried every possible option there was.) Running out of time, I decided to instead, add further instructions to the driver on the space provided. (Texting the driver was not an option for the safety of the driver.)

Based on the graphics—you can see the cab’s icon move toward you—as well as the app’s calculation of the taxi’s arrival time, I had about 10 minutes. Later, and to my horror, I saw that the cab missed my house and moved further away—it was going toward the default location set by the pin. And so I had to leave the house, call the driver, and wait on the sidewalk.

I didn’t have to stand too long (though I imagine this could have been a huge issue if there was traffic or if the road was one-way only).

The moment I entered the cab, I was completely surprised by what the driver said:

“Good evening, sir!”

No local cab driver has ever done that to me before. It struck me how it had become such a novelty, in a city where the cab drivers rarely say ‘thank you’ for receiving a tip. (Though in these parts, a tip is not given by the passenger, it is taken from them by default. Drivers generally don’t make an effort to give small change.)

The driver, Reyne, explained that he read my other instructions a tad late, but I didn’t mind; I liked him already. At the same time, the app also emailed me the details of my ride: time of pick-up, pick-up place, estimated fare, and distance, as well as the full name of the driver, plate number, and his mobile number. On top of those, you may also share details of your journey on social media, though I opted out of it as I felt safe anyway.

Aside from being pleasant and courteous, Reyne also respected my silence. He drove fast and steadily—we arrived at the airport way earlier than I planned.

But I had another test for Reyne: Globe Telecoms was running a promo of Php0 booking fee on weekends from January 25  to Feb 23. It was February 22. Normally, the booking fee, which is added on top of your regular fare, is Php50 for Globe subscribers and Php70 for the rest. (Currently, those in Cebu are enjoying the Php0 booking promo but I’m not sure until when.) I wanted Reyne to inform me about the waived fee himself—I figured a month into the promo, he already knew about this.

He did not 🙂 . I would have had no problems bringing this up myself but I was happy with his service so I didn’t mind giving it to him as a tip and to save his pride.

He said thanks.

 * * * *

Overall, I like the app’s efficiency and reliability; I also give GrabTaxi credit for having been able to work with several taxi fleets, and I assume, for training the drivers on courtesy and road etiquette. However,  I find the booking fee prohibitive so I’ll only use this for special situations.

For more details, visit GrabTaxi Manila.

App review: Muzei

Thought I’d do a quick review of this wallpaper app…

If like me, you get easily bored with your mobile wallpaper (one major reason I don’t think I can get a tattoo), then consider Muzei, which changes your wallpaper to different classical paintings daily.

 

Today, I got Gustav Klimt’s Medicine:

 

 

This is a great way to learn more about and discover new paintings and artists. When you click the app’s shortcut, you get a link to the featured painting’s wiki entry.

Muzei (3)

 

I’m more familiar with Klimt’s work, The Kiss, and justifiaby so: Medicine, along with two other paintings, Philosophy and Jurisprudence, were commissioned by the University of Vienna only to be banned for being ‘pornographic.’ It was later destroyed by the Germans during World War II. What remains is only part of the painting’s photograph.

 

There are days when the featured paintings are too dark for my liking, so you may also opt to change the wallpaper into your own photos. There’s also a brightness and dim settings for when the painting clashes with your app icons and widgets.

 

Muzei is a transliteration of the Russian word музей, which means ‘museum.’

 
Google Play link

 

Dressing up my Kobo in van Gogh

In October, I posted how Tatin dressed up her Kobo. It’s a custom Calvin and Hobbes print and she had it made via GelaSkins.

Well, Tatin asked if I wanted to order since she was purchasing a new batch, and so I browsed through the options and found this:

Gelaskin

I immediately fell in love with the print; it’s Almond Branches in Bloom by Vincent van Gogh. I liked how it was brooding and beautiful at the same time, which I think, perfectly captures the act of reading.

Tatin received my order a couple of weeks ago and when she dressed up my Kobo, I was so happy: I didn’t expect it was going to be this gorgeous in person:

One of the factors I considered in choosing a design was that it shouldn’t distract me from the text (the other was that it should be dark); however, I find these prints so pretty I couldn’t stop looking at them!

I kind of regret not having ordered GelaSkins for my Nexus 4, though I’m considering making a custom print, too.

GelaSkins also makes framed prints; visit www.gelaskins.com for details.

Kobo Glo: A new way to enjoy books

As I recently wrote, I’ve been remiss in my reading goal ever since I bought an iPad. One moment I’m reading Marcel Proust, the next moment I’m reading the Wikipedia entry on Madeline (yes, the cartoon character). Or, while I’m in the middle of an engrossing chapter, Candy Crush informs me I have full lives. My iMessage brings me the latest gossip. Someone tags me on Facebook… Before I know it, I haven’t even advanced in my reading by two pages, and I’m already downloading a new app.

Since receiving my Kobo, my reading experience has been distraction-free. In less than a week, I’m already more than halfway my second book when my original goal was to read just one book a month. (I also managed to finished in Kobo what I’ve been trying to read in my iPad for close to two months now—The Night Circus. So in total, I’m in my third book this month.) It fits in my pocket (though skinny jeans are out of the question), and more importantly, it fits in one hand, so I take it out when I’m in a long line or whenever there’s a lull moment. It’s a great size—it’s so light (185g) and still, you get a pleasurable reading experience that a smartphone cannot give you.

My friends got me the Kobo Glo, which has ‘ComfortLight’ so you may read in the dark without the need for a lamp. The difference of Kobo’s light compared to the iPad is that the former has a soft, no-glare glow, that according to the company, “illuminates the page, not your face.” This translates to a reader that’s kinder to my eyes.

However, I love it most during the day when the text is exactly how’d you see it on paper. This e-ink technology, whatever it means, is like sorcery!

Day:

Night:

As far as transferring files is concerned, it’s as easy as dragging and dropping items into an external memory device. You just plug it into a computer with a USB cable, and while it charges, you can easily manage your files. (It supports EPUB, PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, TXT, (X)HTML, RTF, CBZ, CBR.) It has a 2GB internal memory and accepts microSDs of up to 32GB.

080

MicroSD on the side, USB port at the bottom. Power and light switches are on the top.

Wifi allows you to buy from the Kobo Bookstore (though it will never compare to Amazon’s; I did a quick search of the three books I recently read/currently reading and two weren’t available), sync your library to the Kobo cloud, and update your software. It also has a web browser (as well as other extras, such as chess and sketch pad) but the features are rudimentary and in black and white–so nope, they’re not at all distracting.

Physically, as I’ve said, it’s very light—reading it on one hand is not a problem. However, the black variant is such a smudge-magnet I’d buy it a cover if only it wasn’t so expensive in National Bookstore (about P2,000). Surprisingly though, the screen itself remains smudge-free.

Though, you may certainly dress it up instead. Look at how Tatin dressed up her Kobo!

For more details, visit http://www.kobo.com/koboglo/. In the Philippines, Kobo is distributed by National Bookstore.

My Nexus 4 review (with a really long, irrelevant intro)

I’ve had my Nokia e51 since 2004a lifetime when you consider how people change phones so frequently these days. It’s what was considered a smartphone then: I was able to email, surf the web, and make video calls with it (the camera was a staggering 2MP!). I remember writing a blog entry touting its Symbian OS, haha! I loved the candybar form factor and most especially the keypadI’ve long fingers and a brutish thumb, reasons that kept me from switching to touchscreen.

I would have probably stayed loyal to my Nokia unit except that the screen was way too scratched up. Worse, after suffering way too many falls, the unit disintegrates all by itself. I fish it out in public and scarily realize I’m just holding on to the front panelthe back panel, battery, LCD, and keypad all remain in my pocket, lol.

Once, at a dinner with a really cute date, we argued over our text conversation. I was about to show him our messages to prove I’m right when I dug into my pocket for my phone and felt that the keypad was missing. I let him win.

I was bent on getting a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but then Globe Telecom came out with amazing deals for the iPhone 5 so I decided to get the latter instead. (My only qualifications are that the phone works smoothly and more importantly, that it looks gorgeous. Physically, I liked the iPhone 4 better than the 5, but I thought I might as well get the latest model.)

Then of course, Globe screws up my iPhone reservation with a series of excuses and incompetence that made me feel like I was the one begging them to sell me a unit (while they doled out free iPhones over Twitter). I then went back to considering the Samsung Nexus, except by this time, Google released a new model, the Nexus 4 from LG.

It’s handsome.

The front panel is covered edge to edge with Gorilla glass, and with a screen size of 4.87″ by 2.31″, it’s prime real estate for finger-swiping. The sides are chrome bezel with a soft, rubbery band which give this monochromatic design a rich texture. However, it’s the back that I love the most about its looks: aside from a glass panel, it sparkles!

I’ve read some guys express misgivings about this detail but it’s really no cause for concern. It’s very subtle under normal lighting conditions, like a faint, black-and-white Matrix wallpaper. The holographic effect comes alive when you move it aroundbut still, not sparkly enough for me, lol.

In the evening, under a night lamp, is how I more like it. It’s very Joan Collins playful and luxe:


 Nexus 4, back panel from Jason D on Vimeo.

One word of caution though: since the phone is practically all-glass, it slides off smooth surfaces. I once placed it on top of my iPad, turned my back, and to my horror, heard a thud. It fell about 4 feet to the floor and to my relief, there was nary a scratch (floor is carpeted). I’ve read worse cases though, wherein their units suffered cracks. Some also say their phones got easily scratched. I’m not sure how that is possible with Gorilla glass, unless you deliberately scar your phone. In my case, I’ve no screen protector or bumper cases (why cover its naked beauty?) and minus the fingerprint smudges, it looks brand new. (I’ve had my phone for close to two months.)

As for the operating system,


I’d leave the experts to discuss that, lol, but here are my general thoughts. The beauty of Android is that it gives you control of the OS. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any compelling reason (yet) on why I should switch to custom ROMI guess after having spent over a year using iOS on my iPad, using just the stock ROM of my Nexus 4 is in itself already a refreshing and pleasant change. For example, I have control of my home screens:

For the home screen, you can swipe to as much as five screens; these are two of mine.
The Nexus 4 allows you to display widgets on them: I can display my phone, email, to-do lists, and quick buttons (above); and calendar and audio controls (below).
You can also generally control the size of your widgets so you can cram as much info on your home screen as you want.
Note the default Google bar on top: this allows you to search both your phone and the web (you can also do a voice search but she doesn’t have Siri’s humor). The graphic circle at the center bottom brings up all your apps, while those at the very bottom are for navigation.
This Nexus 4 is running on Jelly Bean 4.2.2.
With one finger, you can pull down the notifications screen (two fingers pull down the settings menu–which is also that portrait icon on the top right) and from there, execute commands for apps which allow it.  Google Music has controls, while Any.Do allow me to add tasks, forward down to the rest, or change settings. I understand iOS 6 was ‘inspired’ by this 🙂
Now this, I love: gesture typing. Basically you don’t need to lift your fingers to type, just slide it to the next letter and it automatically guesses the word you’re spelling. The amazing thing about it is that it is ALWAYS right, sometimes, even if you misspell your ‘keyslide’! I’m still trying to build its Tagalog dictionary, but for English words, this is awesome, especially when I have to type with only one hand. (The device is fairly large.)
Credit: www.google.com/nexus/4/

Of course, you also have easier control over your media since you don’t have to go through iTunes to transfer media, which could be bothersome if you want to share files among friends.

Two of the free apps I’m super crazy about right now are not and probably would never be available in Apple: Mr. Number which blocks texts AND calls (perfect for all the spam I receive), and BitTorrent. (There’s also the very funny game, Monsters Ate My Condo, which, last time I checked, is not free on Apple.)

This degree of independence of course, comes with a price. From the article, In The Security World, Android Is The New Windows:

“We sell an anti-virus product for Android,” Cobb noted. “No one sells anti-virus for iOS.”

Indeed, I found it weird that I had to install an anti-virus (avast! Mobile Security) app. I’ve gotten used to having zero malware concerns for my iPadI feel very secure in downloading whatever app I may like.

That would be one of your major considerations when deciding between the two OS.

Among Android phones, the advantage of having this Google product is that you’re not beholden to a manufacturer or network, which may tweak your OS or pre-load your phone with a bunch of crappy apps. Also, as Google’s flagship brand, the Nexus should be assured of receiving the latest Android updates first. The best one is the price: with a discount, I got mine for P17,000 here in Manila. It sells for US$299 in the US. I know the amount is nothing to sniff at, but for a high-end smartphone with a gorgeous build, its price is an anomaly compared to the rest.

What you may consider disadvantages: the maximum 16GB storage; no LTE; and no iMessage, which all my friends have (although Android has other free-messaging app equivalent; it’s just that my friends don’t have them).

The Simpsons: Tapped Out

I’ve always enjoyed games that allow me to organize stuff, hence my previous addiction to Sims City, Pet Society, and Cityville. I’m not sure if it’s a case of wishful thinking, both for my home and the city of Manila, but I relish being able to design and build them from the ground up. My problem though with those games is that they require you to beg your friends to visit your ‘house’ or ‘city’ and click your Facebook links, say 15 times, to be able to give you the requisite virtual stuff to level up. Some also require you to sign up as much as 15 ‘neighbors’ that I’ve actually befriended people I don’t know in real life.

Mayor Quimby makes a speech in front of the city hall, while Devil Ned Flanders “shows his wrath” on the upper left. The rest of the citizens walk by.

Which makes The Simpsons: Tapped Out the BEST GAME of its genre. Save for a task to have about three friends as neighbors, you can enjoy this game without having to bother other people. And by enjoy, I mean enjoooy—the characters are a hoot particularly when they make self-referential jokes about being an iOS city-building game.

1. “Are you cheating on me with another game?”

2. “I wish this was a shooter game.”

3. Lisa: Zombies are pouring out of the cemetery!
Homer: Think! What kills zombies—silver bullets? Garlic? Me relaxing in my hammock?
Lisa: The best method is squishing them with an enormous sky-finger.
Homer: Where, oh where, will we ever find one of those?

It’s like having a long Simpsons episode unveil before you, thanks to the oncoming witty and funny quips.

Tasks take a certain amount of time to finish, ranging from as short as 45 seconds to as long as a full day.
Rev. Lovejoy walks his dog; Grampa feeds the birds while Moe smuggles endangered species.

Gameplay is easy: Homer destroys Springfield in a nuclear accident. Together with Lisa, you are then tasked to rebuild the city, first by cleaning up your land, gain characters, and then later: earn money through your buildings and the jobs you assign your characters; and earn donuts, mainly by leveling up. Again, the tasks don’t require you to spam your friends with requests, so you leave them and your neighbors in peace.

To design your city, you can create roads, rivers, and pavements for free.

Donuts are the premium currency in this game so I suggest you don’t spend them on useless stuff so you can buy fancier buildings later on. (Here’s an Easter Egg: tickle [tap] Homer 10 times and you get 10 donuts and a Jebediah Springfield statue.

You can purchase money and donuts using your credit card but why do that? 😛

Homer: Why do zombies do anything? For money, that’s why.
Lisa: Erm, I’m pretty sure all zombies care about is eating brains.
Homer: You need to hang out with a higher class of zombie.

In October, a new version was released that added a Halloween component to the game. Some of the characters get to have a second ‘skin’ (e.g., Homer as a Mayan; Ned as the Devil), and zombies overrun your city every 10 hours, at least if you don’t squish them. I actually enjoy letting the zombies be because then, they bite my Simpsons characters, who then turn into zombies themselves. They do no actual harm in terms of game play; it’s really just a colorful nod to the upcoming season.

Zombies overrun my city; closeup of Homer as a zombie

Another plus side is that the game allows you to synchronize across all your iOS devices as long as you create an Origin (EA Games) account. On the downside, the game is not available on Android and you have to be connected to the Internet to play it. If your connection is spotty, it tends to synchronize to the server more often, which cuts your playing time every now and then. On occasion, it has also experienced server issues apparently due to heavy traffic. (It is reportedly the top-grossing game for the iPad and the iPhone.) But if you do have a steady connection, these are just minor hiccups to what promises to be a funny and amusing gaming experience.

Rating: 9/10

Things I love: Pocket

 

Pocket in Google Chrome

Pocket is really just a fancy way to present your bookmarked websites but the difference is with Pocket, you get to access your bookmarks across your iOS or Android devices and desktop computers in a well-organized and -presented format.

Pocket on the iPad

In all my years as a desktop user, I’ve never used my computer’s bookmark function extensively, aside from placing my heavily visited websites in my browser’s toolbar. Pocket has changed all that, mostly because it’s pretty 🙂

Listed format

The links are spread beautifully in a magazine-type layout, or you may choose to arrange them in a list (say, if you need to quickly go through your archive). Instead of categorizing and consequently, hiding your bookmarks inside foldersmost probably, never to be seen again—Pocket allows you to ‘tag’ your content, which is a better way of organizing your bookmarks, and still see your links on your homepage.

You may also filter your content according to text/articles, videos, or images;

or those which you’ve marked as ‘favorites’ or ‘read’ (or archived). A bulk edit button enables you to tag, mark as favorite, archive and delete several bookmarks at once.

For articles, you have a choice to view it as it was on the original website, or just pare it down to the article and photos.

You may also share your links via email, Twitter, Facebook, and other integrated apps, and adjust the font, font size, brightness and contrast settings as you can on iBooks or Kindle:

Overall, it’s an awesome way to organize your online faves. Get Pocket for your Apple, Android or web browser here.

Shifting allegiances

I had a realization earlier this month. I have both the hardcover and ebook versions of Mockingjay, the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy. I started with a few pages of the hardcover until later, I felt I was getting quite stressed trying to read the book in bed: it tired my fingers to hold it steady; as usual, it was hard to keep the book open to the first few pages; I have episodes of rhinitis because of the dust––and these were details I never stressed about before! By ‘before,’ I meant the time when I haven’t finished two other ebooks on my iPad yet. By ‘before,’ I meant the time when I waxed poetic about paper and its smell.

Who is this new person?! 😛

A graphic ebook title: Tabi Po by Mervin Malonzo

Needless to say, I ended up reading the rest of the novel on my tablet. It’s ultra convenient: I don’t need to hold it even when in bed––my iPad cover props it up for me; I don’t need to surf the net whenever I encounter difficult words since iBooks and the Kindle app have their built-in dictionary; and I can continue with my reading anywhere and not worry about having to lug around a heavy book (or in this case, being seen reading what may be perceived as an embarrassing title :-P). On the downside, it’s much easier for me to get distracted, such as when I just had to place a face on Finnick and google actors and models. (I’m thinking Patrick Schwarzenegger… or Marat Safin, lol.)

As for the price, some titles are relatively cheaper to buy in Amazon. I mean, have a look at my Amazon wishlist (subtlety, haha). Digital publishing has also given opportunities to writers like Iggy Atienza, who in December 2011, released her very own book, The Thrifty Mom’s Guide to Style. (Still available for purchase; just click on the title.)

I remain amazed by how technology continues to change our lifestyle at breakneck speed. I mean, these are things I never imagined in college, and just last week, Tatin told me about a story she’s working on about local schools beginning to roll out tablets to replace textbooks and exams on paper. (I’ll post the link on Twitter once it’s published.) These are things that make me feel old, too. 😛

PS
I belatedly realized that there are some books that just wouldn’t look right except on paper, say Catcher in the Rye.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I began reading this book at a time when I was considering buying the iPhone 4s; I was smitten by Siri. A hundred pages later, I swore off buying the phone and Steve was a detestable human being  (oops, such strong words, I think) I didn’t feel like adding to his company’s coffers. ‘Asshole’ seemed the most appropriate word for him. He was an extremely difficult person to work with, having gone ballistic over (seemingly) trivial things, such as the color of  factory machines and the aesthetics of screws. He deemed himself above the law, both legal and natural, so he drove without a license plate and parked in handicapped spaces, and eschewed science in favor of traditional medicine in the early stages of his cancer. He was extremely abrasive, not only in berating colleagues but also in his lack of personal hygiene––in his younger days, people begged for him to take a shower… at least once a week.
As far as biographies go, this is as objective and unbiased you can get. (According to the author, Steve didn’t even read an advanced copy; his only request was that he be allowed to design the book cover, which was granted.) Walter Isaacson interviewed over a hundred sources, who included relatives, colleagues and competitors. In fact, Bill Gates offered a good number of anecdotes and scathing opinions. They are written matter-of-factly and as concise as possible. I’d describe it as a long, really long, Wikipedia entry, one that’s well-edited and fact-checked––and that is good––although I’m thinking, it might have read better if it was written like a long Vanity Fair profile. If there were sentences that may be construed as editorializing, I think the author was merely putting things into context.
Eventually, I understood him enough to lift my self-imposed embargo on Apple products, and I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I did so. Now, I realize it’s hard to have a black-or-white opinion on someone who’s changed the modern world. (If cerulean, as explained in The Devil Wears Prada, had a ripple effect down to those in the lowest level of the fashion hierarchy––aka the nerds, as the movie implied––surely, Apple has had, and continues to have, a bigger effect on world, as well as day-to-day, affairs.) That complex dynamic alone makes Steve’s biography a satisfying and thought-provoking read.