On Camera Bags

A while back I decided to upgrade my camera bag – my old one had served me well and had traveled around the world with me, but it was starting to show its age and also it was a bit of a tight fit for all my gear.

The larger Lowepro sling camera bag
The larger version of my old camera bag

So the first thing I looked at was, naturally, just the next larger model of the same bag. This would still be the sling-style bag I prefer, just with slightly more room (and, as a bonus, a mounting point for a tripod on the side of the bag).

However, size is hard to judge from pictures on the Internet, so I decided to have a look at bags in person – heading into NYC to visit B&H photo (such a fun place to visit!).

While I was there I happened to look at a few other bags, taking into consideration size vs weight, storage options, etc. And as it happened, I noticed a different sling-style bag – one that was more of a backpack shape. It lacked the extensive padding & huge pockets of the bigger bag I had originally come to see, but it had some attractive features – mainly an added pocket for my laptop, which would come in very handy when I was traveling.

Mindshift sling style camera bag
The “backpack” style bag that caught my attention

Unable to make up my mind, I ended up getting both bags – figuring that at the least I’d have options in the future to take whichever bag best suited my needs at the time. I also thought that I’d primarily use the bigger bag, with the backpack-shape bag reserved for when I needed to travel light and not take all my gear with me.

However, as it turned out, I’ve actually only used the bag I’d originally picked out – the larger version of my old bag – just once, while the backpack-shape bag has come with me almost everywhere (and I’ve also somehow managed to fit all my gear into it, so I’m not missing out on anything).

Part of this is just the simple fact that the backpack-shape bag is, by virtue of the material & less padding, a lot lighter. It’s also a bit easier to access while I’m out – I can reach all my lenses with its one big pocket, whereas with the bigger bag I’d have to undo 2 clips and unzip the main compartment all the way (due to the way the dividers & padding are arranged).

The inside of the Lowepro sling bag
The bigger bag has these dividers – which provide good padding, but make it hard to access some items in the bag quickly.
Lowepro sling bag fully open
To get at all of the sections in the larger bag, you have to open it up all the way. This can be awkward to do while the bag is slung over your shoulder.

Additionally, it also has a holder for a tripod either on the side or strapped across the back – and that side holder can also double as a water bottle holder, which is very handy on hikes and photowalks. The straps across the back can also hold other things besides a tripod, such as a light jacket – which has come in handy on several occasions.

So, in the end, the bag I thought I’d only use occasionally has become my primary use bag – while the bag I thought was a perfect upgrade sits unused. I’m very glad I went into the store and actually looked at bags instead of just picking one out based on specs and pictures online!

Computers & Optimism – Then vs Now

Looking back at the optimism I felt about computers and technology when I was young

Ever since I was very young, I was enamoured with computers (and this should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me). But from the very beginning, I was also excited about the potential of computers – of computing in general – to improve the world and to help people.

Even as a little kid playing pretend (because I couldn’t afford a computer; they were too expensive back then), I realized how world-changing computers could be.

I looked forward to the day when we’d be able to have the complete sum of all human knowledge instantly available to everyone, to being able to communicate almost instantly with one another regardless of distance – all for free or at virtually no cost, because why wouldn’t you?

As a side note, this is why I was so excited when Wikipedia first started up – in many ways it is a realization of at least part of the dream I had, to bring together all the knowledge that humanity has and share it freely for the benefit of all.

Now it’s been some 30 years since I was that naive little kid playing pretend computer – but I still hold on to that same belief, that computers (and all the technology that goes with them) can – and should – be used to solve problems and improve the world.

Indeed, I think we have a responsibility to do so, which is why it pains me so when I see computers and technology used to create problems rather than solve them, to hurt people rather than help them, to hold on to systems of the past rather than new and better systems for the future.

There is a moral aspect to computers and technology in general that I think I missed when I was a kid – but maybe that’s just what being naive means – you don’t think about how things could be used for evil; it never enters your head that someone would even want to take something so fantastic and twist it in that way.

As I grow older, I continue to think about these things, about how we can learn from our failures to use computers in the way that most benefits us all… and I hope other people think about these things as well.

Behind the Wheel: 2017 Mercedes-Benz C300

Yes, that’s right – I’m reviewing another C300, this time a 2017 model. But is it any better (or even any different) from the 2016 I drove last year?
Once again I found myself behind the wheel of a (loaner) Mercedes-Benz C300 sedan (4MATIC AWD, of course, as almost every Mercedes is in the northeast) – this time from the 2017 model year. So how does it compare to the last one I drove?

Surprisingly, it is actually quite a bit different – and mostly in a good way!

The engine is basically the same – a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline-4, producing roughly the same horsepower as before (around 241HP, 273 lb-ft of torque). No surprises there – it’s plenty of power for a car of this size and weight, and though it sometimes reminds you that it is a very small engine, the power is perfectly serviceable, even before the turbo kicks in.

However, once that turbo kicks in, watch out – with just a single turbo (no fancy variable vanes or dual-turbos here) the power comes on in one big gulp (especially in any of the “sport” modes). Maybe I’m just not used to it, but it’s almost too much power at once.

Still, this is more or less unchanged from the previous model year. What has changed, however, is the transmission – whereas last time I noted how lurch-y the transmission seemed, this time Mercedes seems to have worked out all the kinks. Shifts were smooth and quick, and I never found myself worrying that maybe something was broken (as I did last time) – even in the aggressive “sport+” mode.

Overall handling seemed somewhat improved as well – the car felt incredibly stable heading into corners at speed, and the steering feel, although light, was responsive and intuitive. I actually wished I could’ve driven on some twistier roads to really dive into some corners. (I love my GLK, but it’s not exactly toss-able in the way a car is.)

On the interior, things were not so rosy, however. It may be down to the package that the particular car I was driving had, however a lot of the dash and console felt… rather cheap.

The wood grain which flows all along the center console (and doors) was, according to the window sticker, real, but I almost didn’t believe it – it felt incredibly light and plastic-y to the touch.

Gone is the weird touch pad thing that used to hover over the control knob for the car’s screen (though I think the top of the knob might be touch-sensitive; I didn’t check) but otherwise the UI stays pretty much the same. The speed of the interface does seem somewhat improved from last time, however, which is nice.

Beyond that, most everything else about the car was more or less the same – it’s a comfortable ride with nice features, a huge sunroof, but not a lot of room for back-seat passengers.

All-in-all I have to say that the Mercedes C-class doesn’t exactly stand out in my mind against cars from other manufacturers – sure, some of the materials are probably higher quality, but some materials aren’t (or don’t seem to be) and other manufacturer’s are really upping their game quality-wise to nip at the heels of Mercedes’ entry-level sedan.

If you’re in the market for a small but luxurious 4-door sedan, there’s a lot of choices for you – and although Mercedes is known for being a luxury brand, I honestly can’t say I’d mark the C300 as an automatic “first pick” in that category. (Though for myself, I’m just glad to be back in my GLK – as I’ve mentioned many times, I’m just not a car person!)

The March to Tyranny

How quickly a country can fall…
If you’ve ever wondered how a democratic country can become a dictatorship, just look around you right now. The current “president” of the United States has:

  • Tried to ban immigration
  • Arrested journalists for covering events unflattering to him
  • Tried to silence the media
  • Told people to ignore the media and only listen to him
  • Fired people for daring to challenge him
  • Uses his own private security force, loyal only to him personally
  • Trying to concentrate power in a small group of people and bypass the legislative branch
  • Removed military leaders from decision making about national security
  • Describes people who disagree with him as having “betrayed” their country

These are not the actions of a free and democratic society, they are the actions of a despot.

We do not have a president anymore; we have a tyrant, and he deserves to be deposed as one.

A Party in Denial

Denial has somehow become the political strategy of the Republican Party in the United States, and somehow… it’s working?
The Republican Party in the United States is a party in denial, both literally in its stances and in regards to what it is. It still claims to be the party of small government, state & individual rights, and the idea of a strong military with a leadership role in the world. But this is all patently false, and as of the recent election it’s become even more clear.

The Republican Party has created some of the largest, most invasive, most pervasive federal government agencies ever; it has overruled state rights, it has clamped down on individual rights, and it has been less of a leader in the world and more of a bully.

Now that the Republican Party controls 2/3rds of the federal government, it’s doubling down on these same things and driving itself so far from what it claims to be that it is basically unrecognizable.

Further, the Republican Party is simply a party of denials:

  • Denying that climate change is happening
  • Denying that climate change is caused by humans
  • Denying women control over their own bodies
  • Denying people control over their own identity
  • Denying that police are at fault for shootings
  • Denying that there is any problem with race in this country
  • Denying refugees aid and comfort

The list goes on and on – and many of the denials contradict one another (e.g., climate change – you can’t say “it isn’t happening” and then turn around and say “it’s happening but it isn’t caused by us!”) or contradict the supposed backbone ideals of the party itself (e.g., championing individual rights but then taking them away from people).

There is no denying it: the Republican Party is a party in denial; though it would almost be more appropriate to say the Republic Party is a party of doublethink. Or maybe they’d just prefer to be called “The Party?” Hmmm…