Moleskine overload.

This has really gone too far: When the WSJ starts writing about how cool Moleskine notebooks are, and even BoingBoing starts drooling over the things and talking about how many bloggers love them, you know something is amiss. Really, now: Moleskines are cute, black, metrosexual notebooks with off-white paper and clever-ish folders in the back where you can stuff receipts, scraps of paper, $20 bills, sticks of nicotine gum, and the like. They cost $10 and up and they come with a long, mostly bullshit story about Hemingway and Cezanne and Italy to make you feel like the cost is justified. But people, come on: You are getting excited over nothing more than a stack of yellowish paper and some cardboard, even if it does have a good story and a built-in elastic band. I mean, there’s not even a loop to hold a pencil or pen.

I’ll admit, I am heavily reliant on paper notebooks, and god knows I’ve tried dozens of different notebook styles and notetaking schemes over the years. I even own a moleskine, and had high hopes for it — for awhile. But I keep coming back to 99 cent, 3×5, top-bound spiral memo pads. Just before they fall apart, as they always do after a month or so in my back pocket, I bind them together with duct tape. Cheap, low-tech, available from any store, and eminently practical. Plus, it’s the most compact and portable notetaking mechanism I know of — even moleskines are big by comparison, and too rigid to ride comfortably in a pants pocket. Plus, the damn things are expensive and available only in select bookstores and stationery shops. No wonder the technorati love them.

Moleskine overload.

The Classics in the Slums.

This interesting essay in City Journal examines how classic literature — often disparaged as a “canon” of irrelevant works by long-dead white males — has in fact been profoundly liberating for more than a century of working-class autodidacts in the U.S. and Britain. In fact, the article points out some real correlations between awakened class-consciousness–leading to social activism–and the reading of classics, even when those classics are ostensibly conservative or upper-class writers.

The article takes some cheap shots at postmodernism and its concerns for multicultural relevance, but the point is a powerful one: reading books can free your mind.

… Plato is intensely relevant to former drug addicts. “Those of us in the grip of addiction use this process to rethink our lives,” one student explains. “Socrates makes clear that you have to have the courage to examine yourself and to stand up for something. A lot of us have justified our weaknesses for too long a time.”

City Journal Autumn 2004 | The Classics in the Slums by Jonathan Rose

(via Bookslut)

The Classics in the Slums.

Evolution sticker smackdown!

I love it when judges smack down the fundamentalists. It happens so infrequently that it’s especially gratifying when it does happen. In this case, a judge saw through the transparent creationism lurking behind a Georgia school board’s “evolution warning stickers,” (see parodies here) and ruled that they unconstitionally crossed the line separating church and state.

“The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position,” Cooper wrote. “Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed.”

In fact, given the recent spate of stories about “people of faith” putting their smug (and sometimes evil-hearted) interpretations on the random chaos wrought by the Asian tsunami, you might be forgiven for feeling–as I increasingly do–that religion is good for little more than muddling the minds of humankind and turning people against one another. Who could possibly have the gall to suggest that a neighbor’s children were drowned by a giant wave because they didn’t believe in the right religion? In light of this kind of nonsense, even William Safire seems reasonable and compassionate.

Evolution sticker smackdown!

Partying with Steven Tyler.

It’s not like me to brag too much, but at the recent Vegas trade show CES, I got to party with Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and American bike racing hero Lance Armstrong. OK, I didn’t actually party with them–but I did get to party *near* them, and that was pretty cool to me. Also cool: The well-stocked private bar at each table in the VIP zone. And the buffet at the Bellagio rocks, too. Here are some pics.

Steven Tyler and some woman Steven Tyler and Lance Armstrong
The waxy looking one is Steven

Partying with Steven Tyler.

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EOS 20DFilm-camera snobs, cower in fear. The Canon EOS 20D is a shot across the bow of your beloved 35mm camera. More than that: It’s the first digital camera we’ve tested that has the mettle to go head-to-head with high-end film cameras and come out on top.

Make no mistake: This camera is for serious photographers. Holding the 20D’s 2-pound black bulk in your hands is enough to make you feel like a pro. Unlike virtually every other digicam, the 20D has plenty of steel and magnesium alloy in its construction, giving it a sturdy, retro heft. Plus, it accepts any EF-compatible lens; we tested it with a Canon 28-105mm zoom lens with great results.

The shutter releases with an unmistakable click — the 20D is a true single-lens-reflex camera, and its internal mirror slaps up loudly when you shoot, making stealthy shots impossible but adding mightily to its professional feel. As with other SLRs, you need to look through the viewfinder to shoot, an inconvenience if you’ve gotten used to holding your camera at arm’s length. But it’s a welcome trade-off if you value the visual accuracy of a true optical viewfinder.

The 20D’s shutter is phenomenally responsive. Its 0.3-second shutter lag is fast, and the 0.7-second shot-to-shot recovery time is the speediest we’ve seen. In practice, you’ll hardly notice the lag, and if you prefocus, shots are truly instantaneous. Set the camera to continuous shooting mode and prepare to be amazed: The Canon 20D shoots an astounding 3.9 frames per second for 10 seconds or more, which is far and away the best burst-mode performance we’ve seen — sports photographers, rejoice! And the quality of the images is second to none, with rich detail and accurate colors.

The Canon EOS 20D is replete with features to satisfy creative shooters. In addition to its preset modes (portrait, landscape, macro, and so on) the 20D gives you total control over exposure time, aperture, focus, white balance, ISO film speed equivalent, flash compensation, and exposure metering modes. You control most of these settings by pressing a button and then rotating one of two control dials (one right is behind the shutter button; the other is on the back of the camera). It’s a bit tricky to figure out at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can make adjustments rapidly and accurately.

The 20D shoots high-quality JPEG or unconverted RAW images at resolutions up to 3,504 x 2,336 pixels; you can also set it to record JPEG and RAW images simultaneously. You’ll need to use the included EOS Viewer Utility to download and view RAW images, though. If you’re a pro, you’ll love the RAW format, though enthusiasts will be perfectly happy with the JPEG results.

All this power comes at the expense of size and weight. The 20D won’t come anywhere near fitting in a pocket, and it won’t sit comfortably in a laptop bag, either. No, this camera practically demands its own bag. And while the $1,599 price tag (with an 18-55mm zoom lens) is low compared with professional-grade digital SLRs, it is steeper than other entry-level digital SLRs, such as Nikon’s much-vaunted 6.1-megapixel D70 ($1,299, with a more capable 18-70mm lens).

Do you really need the extra two megapixels, the solidly built body, and the knowledge that you’re shooting with one of the most responsive cameras available to ordinary mortals? Probably not. But then again, why deny yourself the best? -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Truly excellent image quality
Worst Feature: Like other SLRs, can’t shoot movies

SPECS:
Canon EOS 20D
$1,499 (body only); $1,599 (with EF-S 18-55mm lens)
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Size: 5.5 x 5.2 x 4.1 inches
Specs: 8.2 megapixels; 3.75x optical zoom (as tested); 1.7-inch LCD; CF card slot; USB 2.0 port; video-out port; pop-up flash; flash hot shoe; PictBridge compatible; lithium-ion battery
www.canonusa.com

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Canon EOS 20D

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1

Sony DSC-W1 cameraFlexibility and ease of use are not mutually exclusive, though most camera makers don’t know that. You shouldn’t have to choose between pocket point-and-shoot cameras and larger, bulkier, and complicated models that let you make manual adjustments to ensure the perfect shot. It’s a bogus trade-off: There’s no reason camera manufacturers can’t let you have it both ways. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1 is proof.

With a respectable 5.1 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, and a speedy shutter (0.3-second lag on the first shot, and 2.1 seconds between shots), the DSC-W1 has solid assets to begin with. The interface is uncluttered and straightforward, with menu and zoom controls on the back and a mode dial encircling the shutter button. The dial lets you easily switch between fully automatic, semiautomatic, fully manual, movie mode, or any of several preset modes. In burst mode, it will shoot up to nine frames in eight seconds — or put it in multiburst mode to fire off a machine-gun-like flurry of 16 frames in one second.

The DSC-W1 is available in an impressive black metal body with silver trim, which makes it look a lot more like a film camera than the flimsy, plastic, silver-tinted toys that most companies have been churning out for the past half-decade. Apart from its panache, the black color has another benefit: It’s a little less conspicuous than a silver camera when you hold it up to take your shot, so your subjects may be less self-conscious. Unfortunately, the black model is harder to find from retailers than an all-silver model that is otherwise identical.

By the specs, the DSC-W1 is not much bigger or heavier than a Canon S500 Digital Elph, although it feels more solid, and its slightly protruding lens accessory ring means the camera won’t slip into your pocket quite as easily as the Elph. That ring lets you add on wide-angle or telephoto adapters, also available from Sony.

In fully automatic mode, the camera consistently delivers great shots, yet it offers a full complement of manual adjustments via on-screen menus for more zealous photographers. Image quality is outstanding, with lots of detail, excellent color, and good performance indoors and out, although the W1 struggles a bit with low-light, flashless photos. Color fidelity is generally good, but reds and pinks occasionally appear washed out.

This camera’s only real drawback, and it’s a slight one, is that the zoom control is awkwardly placed. It’s difficult to work this control while keeping a finger on the shutter button, unless you’re holding the camera with two hands. We would have preferred a control further to the left — or a rocker switch just forward of the shutter button. Also, the camera’s reliance on expensive Memory Stick media is an unavoidable annoyance, given its maker. But these are minor quibbles. Overall, we’re astonished by how well this camera satisfies both point-and-shooters and aspiring amateur shutterbugs. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Excellent image quality
Worst Feature: Awkward zoom controls

SPECS:
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1
$400
Weight: 8.8 ounces
Size: 3.6 x 2.5 x 1.5 inches
Specs: 5.1 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 2.4-inch LCD; 640 x 480-pixel, 25 fps MPEG video with audio; Memory Stick slot (32MB card included); USB 2.0; AV-out port; PictBridge compatible; two AA batteries required (two nickel metal hydride batteries and charger included)
www.sonystyle.com

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