The Graphing Calculator Story.

Ron Avitzur got laid off from his job as a software consultant at Apple in 1993. But he refused to give up on his project, so he just kept coming in and working on it. Eventually he got the software–Apple’s Graphing Calculator–QA’d, translated into 20 languages, and bundled into shipping Macs, all without actually being on the Apple payroll. Amazing!

“The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends.”

The Graphing Calculator Story

The Graphing Calculator Story.

Snowflake museum.

Wm. A. Bentley snowflakeWilliam Alwyn Bentley spent four decades around the turn of the century — the last century — photographing snowflakes. He worked in snowstorms, collecting flakes on a blackboard and then carefully transferring them to microscope slides with a splinter of wood, holding his breath while photographing so as not to melt the flake. Largely self-taught, Bentley is the one who first said that no two snowflakes are alike. His photographic plates are now owned by the Buffalo Museum of Science, which has put 154 of them online. Beautiful, sublime images–and surprisingly, many do not look like the classic “snowflake” pattern (aka “dendritic crystals” in Bentley’s language).

The Bentley Snow Crystal Collection

Snowflake museum.

Dude!

U. Pittsburgh Linguist Scott Kiesling has researched how young Americans use the word “dude:”

… the four-letter word has many uses: in greetings (“What’s up, dude?”); as an exclamation (“Whoa, Dude!”); commiseration (“Dude, I’m so sorry.”); to one-up someone (“That’s so lame, dude.”); as well as agreement, surprise and disgust (“Dude.”).

dude cartoon

Dude!

Mr. Leatherman.

Yesterday I interviewed Tim Leatherman, the guy who invented Leatherman tools. Yes, there really is a Mr. Leatherman! He is still running his company, based in Portland, OR. He’s a very down to earth guy, and a really determined inventor–it took him 3 years to build the first prototype and another 5 years to get the first customer. After that, the business really took off; more than 30 million of the things have been sold since 1983. No surprise, either–they’re super cool, and wildly useful, tools. For the interview, you’ll have to wait to see the March issue of Mobile PC.

In case Santa is reading this blog, my favorite Leatherman is probably the Blast

Mr. Leatherman.

Olympus Ferrari Digital Model 2004

Olympus Ferrari cameraSome brand names transcend price: Rolex. Bulgari. Trojan. And some, like Ferrari, have a value that can easily be computed. In the case of the Olympus-built Ferrari Digital Model 2004, that value is about $400 — the premium you’d pay over a comparable 3.2-megapixel camera with more prosaic styling and branding.

That’s not to say that the Ferrari Digital is pure empty fashion. Far from it. The camera is replete with elegant touches, such as an enormous 2.4-inch LCD and a clever rubber scroll wheel in the upper right corner.

And there’s no denying that this camera is slim and sexy. The Ferrari Digital practically oozes style, and it’s a surefire attention-getter. We love its red chassis, its charcoal-gray, faux-carbon-fiber trim, and the fact that the Ferrari logos on the body are restrained and — almost — tasteful. When you’re buying a brand that stands for obscene wealth, you don’t want to hide your displays of excess under a bushel, after all. Even the packaging is over the top, with a series of nested black, velvet-lined boxes and a certificate of authenticity. Pirates be damned!

As a camera, the Ferrari Digital is competent, producing images that are above average for a 3.2-megapixel shooter. The optics are entirely self-contained, so there’s no protruding lens to worry about, even when zooming in and out. And the controls are pleasantly few in number and simple to operate. The scroll wheel, used for navigating through control menus, is an especially nice touch. Too bad it doesn’t also double as a zoom control.

The LCD is one of the largest we’ve seen on any camera, but its refresh rate is slow, so the image appears blurred and jerky with any kind of moving subject. Startup time is acceptably fast, at four seconds (accompanied, naturally, by the sound of a miniature Ferrari Formula 1 racer zooming by), and the camera’s 0.6-second shutter lag and 2.4-second shot-to-shot recovery times are decent.

In all, though, this camera delivers less than its big-money looks promise. For $700, we’d hoped for something in the 5-megapixel range. A better LCD wouldn’t hurt, and how about that chintzy 16MB xD card? At least you get a full tank of gas when you drive a real Ferrari off the lot. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Attention-getting red body screams “money”
Worst Feature: Startup sound screams like a Lilliputian F1 racer

SPECS:
Olympus Ferrari Digital Model 2004
$700
Weight: 7 ounces
Size: 3.9 x 2.7 x 0.9 inches
Specs: 3.2 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 2.4-inch LCD; 320 x 240-pixel, 15fps QuickTime video with audio; xD card slot (16MB card included); USB 1.1; AV-out port; PictBridge compatibility; lithium-ion battery
www.olympusamerica.com

* * * 1/2

Link: Olympus Ferrari Digital Model 2004

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Olympus Ferrari Digital Model 2004

Hitachi DZ-MV550A

You know you’re going to burn your video to disc sooner or later. Why not do it the moment you record it? With DVD camcorders, you can browse, edit, and rearrange the order of scenes right on the camera. And once you’re done shooting, transferring videos to your computer or DVD player is as simple as popping in a disc.

Unfortunately, the Hitachi DZ-MV550A, like the other DVD camcorders we tested, doesn’t live up to the promise. Videos recorded by the Hitachi are filled with artifacts, with blocky areas of pixelation along the edges of moving objects and in the middle of subtly shaded fields of color, such as the sky.

The Hitachi has a respectable 18x optical zoom, the most powerful optics in this roundup, and excellent macro capabilities, letting you get within an inch of your subject. But its annoyances outweigh its niceties. After inserting a new disc, it can take as long as 20 seconds before the camcorder is ready to record. And when you’re done recording, finalizing a DVD can take up to half an hour. Plus, you have to remove the battery from the camcorder to recharge it, and you can’t charge the battery and power the camcorder simultaneously.

Some day, we hope that DVD camcorders will have the same quality as their tape-based brethren. But that day may still be a long way off. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Powerful 18x optical zoom lens
Worst Feature: Poor video quality

SPECS:
Hitachi DZ-MV550A
$600
Weight: 1.3 pounds
Size: 6.3 x 3.5 x 2.6 inches
Specs: DVD-R or DVD-RAM recording; 18x optical zoom; SD slot; video flash hot shoe; USB 2.0; combination AV and S-video port; external microphone port; 1.2-megapixel still images
www.hitachi.us

* * 1/2

Link: Hitachi DZ-MV550A

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Hitachi DZ-MV550A

Canon Optura 500

If you’re the art-house type, you’ll embrace anything, no matter how stupid — clove cigarettes, turtlenecks, David Eggers novels — as long as it’s outside the mainstream. If this describes you, and you’ve got money to burn, the Canon Optura 500 is your camcorder.

Although small, the Optura 500 is replete with features, including a 10x optical zoom lens, a 16:9 widescreen mode as well as standard 4:3 mode, an SD card slot, and the ability to snap 2-megapixel still images.

Video quality is fairly good. Built-in image-stabilization electronics help keep the picture steady even when you’ve got the shakes, and conveniently, this feature is turned on by default. Canon’s night mode helps capture unlit scenes with a surprisingly bright LED headlight.

Due to the Optura 500’s distinctive square shape, you need to hold it by wrapping your fingers around the front of the unit, while your index finger operates the zoom control. This grip takes some getting used to and seems less stable than the vertical grip you use on most camcorders.

Still, some people may find this grip more comfortable or more chic. For those, the Optura 500 is a good choice. For the rest of us, the Sony DCR-HC40 is smaller, takes better video, and costs half as much. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Plenty of features to satisfy wannabe filmmakers
Worst Feature: Excessively high price

SPECS:
Canon Optura 500
$1,199
Weight: 1.2 pounds
Size: 4.2 x 4 x 2 inches
Specs: MiniDV recording; 10x optical zoom; SD card slot (8MB card included); USB 2.0; FireWire; AV port; S-video port; external microphone port; night-mode headlight; 2-megapixel still images
www.canonusa.com

* * *

Link: Canon Optura 500

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Canon Optura 500

Panasonic PV-GS400

Panasonic PV-GS400If you’re trying to break into Hollywood, you don’t want your brilliant script ruined by poor video quality. Go ahead and plunk down $1,200 for the Panasonic PV-GS400: a superb camcorder with the best-quality video we’ve seen yet.

Two factors contribute to the PV-GS400’s excellent video. First, a Leica 12x optical zoom lens delivers great clarity and is terrific at pulling in distant subjects. Second, the PV-GS400 uses a triple-CCD system. Instead of having a single image sensor overlaid by a mosaic-patterned color filter, this camcorder uses one CCD for each of the three primary colors, giving captured video more detail and richer color.

The PV-GS400 also sports a generously sized 3.5-inch LCD, the ability to take 4-megapixel still photos, and a host of video-enhancing and editing features.

Unfortunately, you’ll pay for this power: The PV-GS400 is exactly twice the price of the Sony DCR-HC40. It’s also almost twice as heavy. Although your eyes will thank you, your pocketbook — and right arm — will be hurting. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Top-notch video quality
Worst Feature: Great weight and price

SPECS:
Panasonic PV-GS400
$1,200
Weight: 1.8 pounds
Size: 7.2 x 3 x 3 inches
Specs: MiniDV recording; 12x optical zoom; SD card slot; accessory shoe; USB 2.0; FireWire; AV port; external microphone port (external wired microphone/remote control included); 4-megapixel still photos
www.panasonic.com

* * * *

Link: Panasonic PV-GS400

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Panasonic PV-GS400