Earlier this year I found myself over in Florence, Italy, with family and I needed to rent a car to go for a day trip. Although I normally don’t splurge on rental cars, in this case we decided to go for a “luxury” rental – both as a slight treat to ourselves, and because we didn’t want to be crammed into an itty-bitty little car.
So, what should pull up in front of the rental place but a 2014 Audi A4 wagon… with a diesel engine, no less!
Right off the bat this car surprised me – the diesel was excellent – smooth and quiet, to the point where at first I didn’t realize it was a diesel! Highway driving was easy, but uninspiring. Plenty of power on tap from the diesel engine, but it isn’t overwhelming – or exciting. That said, it’s got more than enough “oomph” for near effortless passing at speed. City driving was also surprisingly nimble, though in Italy – and especially in the narrow streets of Florence – the A4 was almost too big.
The interior was a very comfortable place to be – and it carried 4 adults on a long road trip up to the Chianti region with no fuss at all. I can definitely understand why people like this sort of car as a daily driver – it’s comfortable, the in-dash navigation is great, and it has plenty of room inside.
On the other hand, it’s not exactly what you’d call a “driver’s car.” Although there was plenty of power from the diesel, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of it, either. Everything about how it drives was smooth, gentle, and reassuring – not in the least bit exciting.
All in all, not a bad car by any means, and one I’d happily drive again as a rental, but not one I’d want to own.
Free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. … [A] free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism.
Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.
Although this quote is from a video game (Alpha Centauri, actually), it doesn’t make it any less true – or less relevant, especially today.
Censorship – and especially censorship of news and events – is bad, bad, bad. How else will we know when our rights are being infringed or our freedoms being repressed if we can’t hear about it and talk about it? Remember: it is in the interest of the oppressor to suppress information about his oppression.
Systems people discover bugs by waking up and discovering that their first-born children are missing and “ETIMEDOUT” has been written in blood on the wall.
This is a sorrow that lingers, because a 2 byte read is the only thing that both Republicans and Democrats agree is wrong.
When it’s 3 A.M., and you’ve been debugging for 12 hours, and you encounter a virtual static friend protected volatile templated function pointer, you want to go into hibernation and awake as a werewolf and then find the people who wrote the C++ standard and bring ruin to the things that they love.
One time I tried to create a list<map<int>>, and my syntax errors caused the dead to walk among the living. Such things are clearly unfortunate.
Honestly I can never get enough of good programmer humor like this.
Just a quick photography experiment to demonstrate the effects that aperture, focal length, and sensor size can have on depth of field (i.e., how much you can blur the background of a photo.)
It snowed here recently, so I took a photo of a branch with some snow on it, which came out decently enough, but it prompted me to think: what would this look like at different apertures – or even different sensor sizes? So I decided to perform a little photography experiment to find out, and these were the results.
First is the original photo – taken at f/5.6, at max zoom (200mm, equivalent to 400mm on a full-frame camera) using my Lumix G2 camera. Even on my smaller micro four-thirds sensor, you can see that the background is completely blurred out – even more so than I could’ve gotten with my f/1.7 lens!
The depth of field in this photo is very shallow – if you look closely at the bottom right of the photo, you can see the bottom part of the branch is slightly out of focus (because it was angled slightly towards me). This gives you an idea of how thin a “slice” of the scene was in focus.
Next, I changed the aperture to f/22, but kept everything else the same. As you can see above, the background is still blurred out, but not as much. It is still blurred somewhat because I was focusing on a branch just a few feet in front of me, while the background is easily another hundred feet beyond that.
Compared to the first photo, you can see that the bottom bit of the branch is in focus – meaning the depth of field was greater, and a thicker “slice” of the scene was in focus.
Finally, for this last picture I switched to a different camera – a compact Canon PowerShot ELPH 320. The aperture here is f/5.9, nearly the same as my very first shot, but as you can see the background is hardly blurred at all! The depth of field here is very deep – a very large portion of the scene is in focus.
Unfortunately, the little compact camera I was using couldn’t zoom to the same focal length – so this photo is at the equivalent of 255mm, instead of 400mm, and that contributes to the greater depth of field as well.
However, the smaller sensor size also has a significant impact – because the sensor is so small, there’s less room for the light to be “smeared out” (as it were), and so less of the background can be blurred.
So, what did we learn from all this? All else being equal:
A larger aperture (a smaller f-number) provides less depth of field and allows for a more blurred background.
A longer focal length (zoomed in more) provides less depth of field and allows for a more blurred background.
A larger sensor allows for less depth of field, which allows for a more blurred background.
This is why compact & cell phone cameras – which usually don’t have large apertures, don’t have long focal lengths, and have small sensors – are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to getting shallow depth of field & that nice blurred-out background look.
Nothing here is terribly ground-breaking in itself, and all of this should be basic “photography 101” stuff, but I still think that actually performing photography experiments like this can be incredibly useful, in the same way that performing physics or chemistry experiments can be useful even if you already know the theory behind it.
As for myself, experiments like this help me develop an intuitive “feel” for how all the different settings and elements work together, so that I can just take the photos I want to take, without having to spend too much time thinking about which setting affects which aspect of the photo.
Perhaps this experiment will help you in the same way, or perhaps it will inspire you to perform your own photography experiments. Either way, I hope it’s been helpful, or at least enjoyable!
Windows 8.1 was just released as a free update for anyone with Windows 8 – but the real question is: is it any good?
Windows 8.1 was released yesterday, and it’s available as a free update for anyone who already has Windows 8. So, naturally, as soon as it became available, I took the plunge and installed it.
Windows 8.1 is kind of a strange mix of “service pack” and “new operating system,” but the really big question is – is it any better than Windows 8 was? Does it improve on the shortcomings I pointed out in mypreviousreviews?
Read on to find out!
Getting the update was actually a bit confusing. It’s not a Windows update, and doesn’t appear as part of your standard updates – instead, you have to launch the “Store” app and hope that the offer to upgrade appears (I’m not sure what triggers it, as it didn’t appear at first for me).
The installation is fairly straightforward, although it does take a while – even longer than installing a Windows Service Pack used to take.
Still, there were no hiccups and eventually after a few reboots I was back at my desktop. Not a bad start to things! And speaking of “Start…”
Start Is Back, All Right!
The Start button is back – as it should have been all along.
While I understand the reasons behind using the corners as “hot spots” for both mouse and touch gestures, when introducing a new user interface element like this, you need to give some sort of visual cue to… um… cue users into the fact that there is something there that can be interacted with.
The Start Screen, Take Two
The ability to have your desktop show through the Start screen is a very small change, but it goes a long way towards making it feel more “cohesive.” No longer is the Start screen this weird world of squares & rectangles, with no connection to your desktop – instead, it’s just an overlay of icons you can click on, just like the old Start menu was (but bigger).
Windows 8.1’s Start screen also now uses different colors for tiles – and not just Metro app tiles, either. All your application tiles now have individual colors, which usually (but not always) match the color of the icon.
All these colors certainly make the Start screen a bit more visually distinct, but it also makes it look a bit busy. Still, it’s a nice touch to help identify the program you’re looking for at a glance, since the color helps with recognizing an icon before you even read the text.
The ability to go to the “All Apps” view by just clicking a single chevron at the bottom of the Start screen is a welcome addition – especially since Windows 8.1 doesn’t automatically dump newly installed program icons on the Start screen like before. Now you can quickly bring up your “All Apps” (the equivalent to “All Programs” in pre-Windows 8 speak) and find your programs (relatively) easily.
Windows 8.1 also adds some new sizes for icon tiles – instead of “square” and “rectangle,” you now have “tiny square” and “even bigger rectangle.” Not a big deal, but it’s helpful to keep your Start screen organized if you have lots of icons – though only Metro apps can use the “even bigger” tile sizes.
Modern Metro Madness
One small but nice change in Windows 8.1 is that Metro apps can now be split-screened in any proportion – you’re no longer limited to the 1/3 and 2/3 split from Windows 8.
If you have multiple monitors, you can also run Metro apps separately on each one – though I can’t really imagine many people doing this.
(Also, what should we be calling these apps now? They were originally code-named “Metro,” then they became “Windows 8 Modern.” Are they now “Windows 8.1 Modern?” Seriously, they need a better name!)
Search the World
I never understood why Microsoft chose to make search in Windows 8 segmented – it just made no sense to me at all. Previously, searching from the Start menu searched both your Start menu and all of your indexed locations (by default, your libraries) – which is exactly what it should do. Simple, search once and find what you need, no matter where it might be.
But in Windows 8, you had to choose where you were searching – were you searching apps? Or were you searching settings? Or files? And it got worse when you realized that some things (e.g., system settings) were not under “settings,” but actually “apps,” depending on their specific implementation. It was maddening and just made no sense.
Fortunately, Windows 8.1 undoes this terrible design decision, and by default the search now searches “everything” again. (That is, it searches all your apps and all your libraries.)
On the other hand, Windows 8.1 does by default include integration with Bing for search results – but this is easy enough to turn off if you don’t want to search the Internet every time you try to search your computer.
Boot to the Head – er, Desktop
Yep, that’s right – you can now have Windows 8.1 boot directly to the desktop, instead of the Start screen. This option isn’t on by default, but it’s available – and again, something that really should have been there all along.
Is That It?
Yep, pretty much. Windows 8.1 brings a number of welcome changes – though some of these are less “changes” and more “putting things back the way they were” – but at the end of the day it’s a very minor update – just as it’s name would suggest.
The Bad Stuff
Although the installation itself went very smoothly, there were a few hiccups with my upgrade.
I did have to re-install a few programs because they ran as “services” in Windows, and for whatever reason the update had lost or removed the services. I also had to re-install my display driver – Windows defaulted back to the Microsoft provided driver, which works fine, but doesn’t have some features I like and need.
I also had to re-install my printer/scanner software, as it lost the ability to “Scan to” my computer (even though it still printed just fine) – although honestly this is probably more the fault of the printer manufacturer’s often finicky software.
Windows 8.1 also takes the odd stance of removing links for Libraries from the left-hand navigation pane of Windows Explorer window – though thankfully there is an easy option to bring this back.
Also, somehow my Windows theme had gotten changed so that the text in title bars and the task bar was black instead of white – and it’s not at all easy to figure out how to change this back.
Still, all things considered the problems with this upgrade were fairly minor – none of my devices malfunctioned (and I do have quite a few USB devices hanging off my computer) and all my settings were retained. Having to re-install a few programs, although slightly annoying, was not really that bad.
Windows 8.1 Final Thoughts
All-in-all, Windows 8.1 is still very “meh,” just like Windows 8 was – just slightly less so. Not exactly something I’d get excited about, but it is an improvement – albeit a small one.
The “Metro” side of things (or whatever Microsoft is calling it now) remains just as useless as before – although to be fair, there are more apps now and the built-in ones have improved a fair bit. For anyone using Windows on a tablet device, I’m sure these will be welcome improvements, but for the majority of people I’d imagine they will continue to be mostly ignored.
There are also some other changes I didn’t really go over, but to me they are just so minor as to be irrelevant.
If you already have Windows 8, upgrading to Windows 8.1 is almost no-brainer, as most of the changes are definite improvements over Windows 8, despite the few glitches you might encounter along the way.
If, on the other hand, you’re upgrading from Windows 7 or purchasing a new computer, I would definitely say that you want Windows 8.1 over Windows 8 – mainly for the Start button and Start screen improvements.