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Scott's Column
The House, Camera & Netflix

May 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

We finished all the paperwork with the bank, title company, and mortgage broker. The foundation should have started by the time you read this. My camera goes on the fritz, and I have a few words on Netflix and SonicBlue's Rio 600.

The House Starts

I was hoping to tell you about the foundation of our house starting, but that did not happen in time for the deadline of this column. I write this column during the month before it is published. Hence, I wrote this during April and published it as close to May 1st as possible.

Alas, the foundation contractor started on May 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Like I said, too late for this month's column. However, I should have pictures next month.

Stay tuned.

Camera Problems

My camera (my Canon, not the digital one) started acting up on us. We went to take our annual blue bonnet pictures in the beginning of April. When we got the pictures back from one hour development most of the pictures were half black. Only 6 or 7 pictures came out. The developer said it was probably the shutter of the camera.

I opened the camera and and found some black gunk on the "blades" of the shutter. I have a Canon Rebel S. It was the first generation Rebel S (when this camera was new the S was for the version of the Rebel with a built in flash).

I cleaned the blades with a Q-Tip and some rubbing alcohol. My son was going to have his first little league baseball game and I needed to know if the camera would work or if I was going to need to buy a new one. I ran a 12 exposure roll through the camera and went back to the one hour developer.

The first picture had the bottom fifth of the picture black, but all the other images were fine. I opened the camera again and noticed some of the black gunk was back. I cleaned it again. I cycled the camera a bunch of times. It seemed to be working, but the black stuff was still showing up. I took the lens off and held up the mirror so I could clean the shutter blades from both sides.

I loaded a 36 exposure roll into the camera for my son's baseball game. We used that roll for more blue bonnet pictures the following day, Palm Sunday. About 6 pictures of the roll came out bad. For the most part all the pictures we remembered taking came out fine. However, we don't feel this is a problem we can live with.

My wife decided to take an alcohol strip and slipped in into the "slot" the shutter goes down into. She managed to get a bunch more black gunk out of the camera. It seems to be functioning well, but we have not had a chance to run more film though it yet.

If the shutter continues to act up I will be getting a new camera. Hopefully this camera will last through the house project.

Film vs. Memory

My Kodak works very well in outdoor pictures. However, I have noticed that it is not perfect. I used it on our blue bonnet expeditions and noticed the overall color on a couple of the pictures was off. Most of the pictures were quite good, however.

Indoors is another matter. The Kodak is a point-and-shoot style pocket camera. It has a built in flash. The flash is just not strong enough. If you use the zoom to crop pictures instead of moving yourself with the camera forward and back the flash becomes less effective. This camera is only good for fairly close and simple snapshots indoors. It is very helpful if the room is well & evenly lit.

My Canon consistently outperforms the Kodak for indoor pictures. But there are many things going for the Canon in the outdoor arena. For starters, the Canon is a true SLR camera with through the lens metering and focus. You really have to take it on faith that the Kodak will focus on the subject. Many times the Kodak does not focus properly. I have had numerous pictures come out blurry. Actually the subject is blurry, the background is very clear. Oops!

Finally, the Kodak does not give anywhere near the level of control I like. The Canon has Aperture and Time priority capabilities. In the Rebel these features are fairly simple, but they get the job done nicely. I love to set the camera for aperture priority to blur the background of outdoor portraits. I love that look. I cannot do that with the Kodak. In fact the Kodak has so much of the picture in focus, foreground, subject and background) that some pictures take on a flat two dimensional appearance.

So for the time being film is still the way to go. However, I love the cost savings of using a digital camera. I only print the pictures I want, and can e-mail pictures to as many people as I want... for free.

I can't wait until they have a decent digital camera that has true aperture and time priority exposure as well as through the lens metering and focus. Price it at about $500-600 and I will buy it. Don't forget to have enough resolution to get blowups up to at least 16x20. I have heard that will require about 8 megapixels.

Netflix

My wife and I started using Netflix to rent movies. They have a system where you pay a flat monthly fee and can rent as many movies (on DVD) as you want. The basic catch is that you can only have 3 movies "checked out" at a time for a standard subscription price of $!9.95 a month.

We upgraded to 4 movies for $24.95 a month. As I know it they also will allow you to upgrade to 5 movies at a time for $29.95, and 8 movies for $39.95.

It works like this. You setup a queue on their web site. You keep this queue filled with movies you want to see. You are allowed to put upcoming releases in the queue as well as movies already available. You put the movies in priority that you want to receive them. Your selections are mailed to you in a special envelop. Keep the movie as long as you like. Watch it whenever you want. Mail it back in the same envelop. When they get it they will mail you the next movie in your queue. It's that simple. Just do a good job of maintaining your queue and you will constantly be getting a steady stream of movies to watch. No late fees, no due dates, no running to Blockbuster in the middle of the night in your pajamas.

However, I have some complaints with the service. Fortunately, I have a nice work around for the most annoying.

One of the things I like when I go to blockbuster is that they have a list of the mainstream movies due out in the next few weeks. They also have a short list of the recently released movies. Blockbuster would be better if the recent movies also had the release dates, but nothing is perfect.

Netflix does a lousy job of listing recent releases. All they do is put a bunch of recent movies on a page, or list everything on an alternate page. The main recent release page has movies that are months old (to DVD). There upcoming releases page is not much better. They list every movie (almost) sorted by date, and then alphabetically. This would be fine if they didn't include every documentary under the sun. It is difficult to find movies that were recently in theaters.

Reel.com does a much better job. Their recent releases is a single page with a fair number of movies that have come out in the last few weeks. You can also see a more detailed list of a particular week's movies. Very nice. Reel.com also does a better job of listing upcoming releases. They clearly divide the date movies are release, and keep the list short enough to make it easier to browse.

My work around for Netflix is to have Reel.com up in one browser window to help me find movies then I go straight to the movie on Netflix for the purpose of adding it to my queue.

One thing Netflix has going for it when looking for movies to watch is they have the trailers to many movies online to help you decide if you want to see the movie. Nice touch.

The two problems may have me stop using the service.

The delay in using the mail has been spotty. On our initial 3 movies they all arrived a day early. A pleasant surprise. However, when I mailed them all back (yes, I put them all in the mail drop box together at the post office) they each arrived on different days. One movie arrived on the 4th day, another on the 5th day, and the last arrived on the 7th day. The next movie that was supposed to ship to us took 8 days. That left us with nothing to watch for a weekend, and quite an overall lag.

Netflix also doesn't carry every movie. For example, my wife wanted to rent Bounce, but it was listed as Unavailable. It became available, but other movies I want to rent are listed as unavailable. Depending on how this goes in the long run it may make using the service less than ideal.

I will reserve final judgment on Netflix until I have had more time to use it.

Rio 600 Update

Now that I am actively working on the house project I have had a chance to put my Rio to use for its primary task... listening to music while working on the land/house. It works very well. I love it. But I still hate that it doesn't have enough memory. 

If SonicBlue doesn't get the 340 MB backpack out in time for me to use it for my house they will loose me as a customer. I may have to look toward another player... with more memory. Last month I listed the string of new products SonicBlue has launched, but they have not fulfilled the promise of memory expansion for existing products. I was told, both over the phone and my e-mail, that the 340 MB memory expansion would be out by Christmas 2000. Last I saw it will be out in Fall 2001... probably after I finish my house.

As I predicted in last months article, SonicBlue released a 128 MB backpack for the Rio 600/800. I predicted this from the 128 MB backpack used on the Rio 800 Extreme. At $199 I may have to buy this to keep from being bored with the same songs over and over again while working on my land. The really disappointing thing here is that the Creative Nomad Jukebox took a huge drop in price to $299 at Best Buy. That makes it hard to justify spending $200 for 128 MB of memory, bringing my total investment to $378 for a device with a total of 160 MB of memory.

Does anyone have an opinion on this?

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