Archive for October, 2010

The new camera

Monday, October 18th, 2010

So, after my debates in parts one and two, I went to source a cheap E-620; after spending hours poring over various retailers, I tracked down a good-condition used one for not unreasonable money in NYC, which could be posted up.

Then someone said, why not look on ebay, if you’re considering second-hand? So I did, again thinking about delivery to New York… and then it occurred to me to actually look on the UK site. Where I promptly found one with a pair of lenses (14-42mm and 40-150mm), used but well-cared for, at about what I was looking at paying in the US and without any of the potential tax worries.

Which was, on the whole, a perfect combination. So, I bought it, and it turned up on Wednesday, and it’s great. I have not had much chance to take it out, but what use I’ve had out of it feels pretty good.

_A142967

_A172974

_A172980

Haring about

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

So, last weekend, wandering through the market and wondering what to make for dinner – venison sausage stew, in the end, which was just as good as you might expect and carried me through to Wednesday – I noticed some recently deceased hares hanging outside one of the butchers; wandering a bit further on, I found some skinned and on sale. I was sorely tempted, but refrained on the ground that a) I had no idea what to do with them, and b) they were certainly too large to cook for myself, unlike a rabbit, which you can just about manage on your own.

Thinking about it afterwards, though, the temptation grew. Some research found recipies; some further questioning found some volunteers to eat it, and so on Thursday I bought a hare, stashed it in the freezer, and began to plot.

First discovery: it takes longer to thaw out a hare than you might think. Second discovery: ditto dismantling. I think I finally had it butchered about 1am on Saturday morning, with the kitchen looking like something of a charnel house. (Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?) Net product, two thighs (large), two forelegs (skinny), and a pile of chopped bits of meat. This is, I think, the first time I’ve dealt with the carcass of something wild rather than farmed – the prominent gunshot wound through the ribcage was a bit of a giveaway. An interesting, if messy, experience.

The reason I was butchering it the night before was in order to marinade it; a bottle or so of red wine, some wine vinegar, garlic, a chopped onion, some chopped carrots, and a handful of peppercorns, cloves, and a bouquet garni, something I always worry I will mistake for a teabag at the wrong moment. Stick it in the fridge (needing to rearrange the fridge in the process) and leave overnight.

Saturday, into town in the morning for some groceries, and then to work. Empty out the bowl, meat to one side, straining out the onion and carrot from the liquid; keep the marinade or discard it and start again with fresh wine, as you see fit. (I did the latter, partly because of an oversupply of cooking wine…). Fry the meat to brown it; the problem is, of course, that it has marinaded overnight in red wine, and so is somewhere between purple and black, so identifying “browned” is a bit tricky. Give it a shot.

I was aiming to feed five, so three duck legs to go with it – partly because duck would add some fat to the stew, and partly because I wasn’t sure quite how far the hare would go, and having one large leg per person seemed wise. Put all the meat into a large pot, cover with the strained marinade (or fresh wine) and some stock, begin simmering.

I ate the first of the hare at this point, one of the smaller pieces – it was cooked through – and it was… unexpectedly strong. I mean, I’d been expecting strong, but stronger than that; much more removed from rabbit than I’d expected.

The other elements were fairly simple, as well; some butter beans and a handful of carrots, which always stew up beautifully, plus the onions and carrot from the marinade, fried with a little bacon and then thrown in. Cover the pot and keep on a low heat for two hours, or longer. I served it with boiled potatoes, which were lovely, and some green beans, which were perhaps superfluous and could easily have been set aside in favour of more carrots (which were meltingly lovely).

So, the verdict? Interesting. Very strong; not unpleasant, but sharp and gamey, a bit more so than I’m normally comfortable with. I’m not sure the marinade really offset it much; I think I might try a different composition next time, and see if that helps. The other possibility is roasting it rather than stewing it – with a lot of additional fat – which does seem quite interesting but means I’d have to put a lot more effort in, and I’m not sure how the flavours would come out that way. My grandmother tells me that in the thirties she used to get hare soup after her father’s friends went shooting, which seems like it would work – the flavour would carry very well.

An interesting meal and worth it as an experiment, but I think I might stick with rabbit until I’ve had a chance to eat hare prepared by someone else and see what they do with it!

Camera thoughts (part 2 – Olympus)

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

a second post in which I Show My Working in an attempt to figure out what camera to buy…

So, continuing with the Four Thirds models, the choice of manufacturers is made easy: basically, only Olympus make them in reasonable numbers. So what is there? Looking at models from the last three years: the E-410, E-420, E-450, E-510, E-520, E-620, E-30, E-3, & E-5 (in, I think, approximate order of glossiness).

The E-450 is basically identical to the E-420 with minor alterations; one down. We can cut out the E-3, E-30, and E-5 straight off, on the grounds that I do not have $2,000 to hand, and if I did I’d have better things to spend it on. The E-620 and below are a bit more plausibly priced, and all seem to still be on the market, so let’s look at those.

It’s a line of gradual improvement. The E-420 and E-520 are developments of the E-410 and E-510 respectively, with the 500 series being a bit larger and a bit more powerful than the 400 series, and the E-620 is an improvement on the E-520, but slimming down a bit. How does the E-620 look? As a kit with a 14-42mm lens, it’s $600; the E-420 with basic lens is $470, and the E-410 is, weirdly, priced higher than most of the 500 range (presumably it’s old enough to have stopped being discounted); the E-520 with the same basic lens is $500, and the E-510 with a pair of lenses is $680, $30 less than the E-620 plus the extra lens.

Is it worth saving either $100 (the 520) or $30 (the 510)? $30, certainly not; $100, perhaps. The differences between an E-520 and E-620 are an articulated screen, a larger viewfinder (although still apparently not perfect), and significantly better high-sensitivity performance. I’m leaning towards the E-620 there, but let’s keep them both in play for the moment.

So, what else. Both are flawed by reduced battery life, but a spare battery and switching them to charge should solve that problem. They both come as kits with a standard (and apparently quite decent) 14-42mm lens; lens sizes for a four-thirds camera are about half the “equivalent” 35mm lens sizes – so the base lens is 28-84mm equivalent. Coming from a camera which worked happily at 420mm-equivalent, this seems a bit of a letdown; there’s a couple of alternate lenses available, however, 40-150mm for $120 and 70-300mm (!) for $300.

So, we’ve got this far. The Olympus looks good. Pending the chance to get my hands on one and play with it, thus answering the key question of whether or not I’d like it, how low can I drive the cost?

The figures quoted above have all been from amazon.com; $500 for the E-520 and $600 for the E-620. UK prices are moderately terrifying – £450 and £575 respectively. This is definitely going to be a case where buying abroad is worth it – the E-620 plus second lens will cost almost exactly the same from the US as the E-520 from the UK. Part Three, I think, will need to be trying to figure out the cheap suppliers…

Camera thoughts (part 1 – Lumix)

Monday, October 4th, 2010

So, I am looking at replacing my camera. I currently have a Panasonic FZ-50, which I bought second-hand back in early 2007; thirty thousand photos later and three and a half years later, it’s living up to the original review:

…the nearest thing you could get to a DSLR without actually using one … without doubt the best equipped, best specified and best handling ‘bridge camera’ on the market today, and under the right conditions it produces superb output.

There’s the rub, though. The right conditions are basically outside in sunlight. The tradeoff for the FZ-50 is that whilst the ergonomics are a delight, and it has an excellent lens range, the sensor’s not very good. Once it has to cope with low-light or high-sensitivity situations, the quality of the images falls off dramatically. It theoretically can go up to ISO 1600; in practice, 200 is beginning to show noise.

And, as fate would have it, more of what I want to do seems to be indoors. So, a good time to consider moving on. (An even better time in that I am flying to Ithaca at the end of the month; I can order a camera online, at US prices, and have it waiting for me when I arrive… saving a sizable wad of cash and a bit of weight on the outbound journey, when I expect to be laden anyway.) It’s a lot of money, though, and I want to be sure of what I’m doing – so, I may as well show my working here.

There is a new model in the same line, the FZ-100, but this seems to have similar noise problems – and the lens adjustment is on a little button rather than the barrel, which I find fiddly. So, dismiss that. I like the Lumixes, though; they’re robust, they feel good, and they work well. There’s a couple of interchangeable-lens lines in the series, so let’s look at those:

DMC-L

The actual DSLRs; large cameras with Four-Thirds sensors. Two models, the L1 and L10. Reviews of the L1 are not desperately kind. Reviews of the L10 are more promising, but there’s a couple of details that worry me a little – response time and noise – and when coupled with the high price ($1500!), we can put that one aside. Pity.

DMC-G

Not technically DSLRs; Micro Four-Thirds, which is a smaller sensor and a somewhat simplified technical structure. The main issue with micro-four-thirds is that whilst they look very nice, it may turn out to be a technical cul-de-sac; it’s relatively new, and the lenses aren’t interchangeable with other designs. But on the other hand, they look very nice. Six models: G1, GH1, GF1, G10, G2, & GH2.

The GH2 is not yet on sale, which simplifies things. The G10 is a “budget” version of the G1, which apparently is quite unpleasant to use; two down. The GF1 is… weird. No viewfinder, for one thing, and a very small body; it looks interesting to play with, but not quite what I’m after – apparently it works really well with a fixed 20mm lens, since you end up with a really powerful compact camera, but that is perhaps a rather expensive toy.

So, G1 ($540-640), GH1 ($1000 GH1K), G2 ($650-800). Both the G1 and G2 have similar 14-45mm lenses, with a second 45-200mm lens for $250. The G2 provides a better degree of compatibility with older four-thirds lenses (hurrah), a better ISO range, and various ergonomic twiddles. And, bizarrely, a touch-screen display. I have to admit, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you’d use a touch-screen display on a camera, but maybe that’s just me. On the downside, the included lens isn’t as good, and the mount is a bit shoddy.

It’d do, I think. But I don’t want to spend £400-550 and class it as “it’d do”; I have “it’d do” already! So, perhaps I need to look back at the rest of the Four Thirds market – or further? Cue part two, shortly.

Article ratings and expectations

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I am working late and procrastinating, so a quick note on the recent Wikipedia article feedback pilot:

It appears as though registered users are “tougher” in their grading of the articles than are anon users. This is especially notable in the area of “well sourced” (3.7 mean for anon vs. 2.8 mean for registered) and “complete” (3.5 vs. 2.7). It’s interesting to note that the means for “neutral” are almost identical.

Anecdotally, this fits well with a lot of what I’ve noticed with external feedback in the past; when someone writes in, it’s usually with a report of “X is wrong” rather than “the article on Y is atrocious”. When X is fixed, even when the article itself still seems to be a mess, people seem quite happy with it, even if it contains cleanup tags or ugly layout or the like.

Presumably, this suggests casual readers have low expectations of Wikipedia’s average quality; they accept bad (or terse) articles as par for the course but are pleasantly surprised by decent ones. Editors, meanwhile, are more closely familiar with the better ones, and apply somewhat more aspirational standards – a “tolerable” article is a deficient one.

On the matter of sourcing, I’d take a wild guess that if we went down to the article-specific level, we’d see a lot of this driven by the difference in articles with or without footnotes. Readers wanting a general overview may well be happy with general references or further-reading type external links; editors are more focused on the text, and more likely to prioritise specific footnoting of individual points.

The discrepancy in perceptions of completeness may come into play here, too – if you expect a terse cruddy article, then 5k of competently-written text seems relatively comprehensive. If you expect a detailed article with layout and images, then the 5k of text seems a bit of a damp squib.

A difference in expectations is probably partly driven by involvement – if you’re an editor, you’re more likely to expect good things and see room for improvement everywhere – but also partly by experience and estimation of quality. Which prompts the thought: do readers and editors read “different Wikipedias”? Do involved editors spend more time, on average, looking at or working with higher-quality text than casual readers do? An interesting question, but I’m not immediately sure how to quantify it. Ratio between raw pageviews and edits to an article, or pageviews versus talk pageviews?