A Few Days With the Epson 1400

 Photography, Technology  Comments Off on A Few Days With the Epson 1400
Aug 192009

I got my Epson 1400 on Monday, so I’ve had a few days to play with it. Here are my initial impressions.

It’s big. No, I mean it’s menacingly huge. That’s no moon… okay, I’ll stop now.

It’s large enough to create problems about “Where do I put this… thing?” The extendable feed trays and output trays add to the problem. You wind up with this massive rectangular block with this one thing shooting 8-9 inches out of its head, and another tray shooting 5-6 inches out of its  belly.

It reminds me a bit of a NASA experiment. “This will be a servicing mission to deploy the feed and output trays for the Epson 1400 in low Earth orbit.”

So make sure you have enough room for it.

It’s also heavy. 29-30 pounds heavy. Don’t hurt yourself carrying it across the room. Its mass is significant enough that when it prints, it shakes the solid steel shelving I put it on. This isn’t some flimsy shelving, either. This is stuff made out of rigid steel tubing with reinforced steel shelves.

Yet when I print a photo, the shelves shake.

So don’t put it on that breakaway balsa-wood table.

The print quality is excellent. I grabbed some random photos from my trip to Japan, printed them on 4″ x 6″ glossy photo paper, and was impressed with the results. Even photos with really fussy light colors came out looking great. Bold colors are suitably bold, shadows and light areas are evenly printed.

Printing speed is noticeably slow. It takes about 2 minutes to print a 4″ x 6″ photo when you have it set at its highest output mode.

The software is thorough. You get options on top of options.

The much-hyped borderless printing is kind of a let-down. Whenever you select it, you get all sorts of warnings that the prints aren’t going to be as good as they would be if you printed with a border. The results are okay.

Installation was painless. (Except for lifting the printer.) The instructions say it takes around 3 minutes for the ink cartridges to charge. I’d guess it takes closer to 5 minutes. Just be patient.

One other thing: Staples just called me today to make sure the printer had arrived and that everything was okay. That was a nice touch. I give them a lot of credit for turning an unpleasant experience into a very pleasant one.

The Squeaky Feed Roller Gets the Grease

 Photography, Technology  Comments Off on The Squeaky Feed Roller Gets the Grease
Aug 152009

Straying ever further from the main point of this blog, I recently had to delve into the world of printers for the first time in a long time. My 14-year-old HP LaserJet 5 scares me with a foul odor and even fouler-looking pages now, and my 8-year-old HP DeskJet 940c can’t stay in register to save its poor little life.

Getting Stapled

Since the State of North Carolina had decreed that last weekend was to be a holiday of mass consumption in order to get the kiddies ready for school, I went into my frenzy of printer acquisition. (Because printers were on the tax-free list.) Before the holiday, I had spied a neat deal online at Staples– an Epson 1400 for $179. It’s a great inkjet photo printer that usually runs for $300 everywhere else.

Alas, they were out of stock online.

So I went to the local store, which, according to the website, had the item in stock. I looked at the shelf, and they wanted $299 for it. I asked one of the sales people if they would match the online offer, and they would. But they were out of stock, too. They had some about 45 minutes away,  and they reassured me that if I went a few days later, I could still get the deal. (Yes, I was greedy– I wanted the deal tax-free.)

Okay, here’s where you should be very careful. Yes, sales usually go from Sunday-Saturday. But online deals don’t. And I didn’t know that. If someone tells you you can get the price, you should say at this point, “Can I get that in writing?”

That was my first mistake.

Thursday rolls around, and I knew I would be near the store that still had them in stock. I decided to check online before I left home to make sure they still had them in stock– they did, but they were low. The deal was still good. But by the time I got there, they had already yanked the deal off of their website.

Actually, they had not only yanked the deal off of the website, they had yanked the printer off of the website completely. It was as if it didn’t exist. So it didn’t matter what I said to the store employees there, they wouldn’t give me the deal.

Naturally, I was a bit upset. I hate it when the rug gets pulled out from under me, but what can you do? I didn’t take it out on the employees there– it’s not their fault. So I went home, wrote a letter to Staples explaining why I was upset, and what had happened.

I didn’t expect to get the deal at this point. I had already mentally walked away. If I could get the deal through writing a letter, great, but if not, I was over it. I always keep in mind what one of my old law professors taught me, “Never fall in love with something that can’t love you back.”

He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother

The printer frenzy weekend came and went. During the frenzy,  I found a great little Brother MFC 7840W (which totally rocks) from Best Buy for $199, reduced from $300. With a couple of gift cards I had, I walked out the door having spent only $125 on it. Tax free, too, because of the weekend. (It was also the last one in the Triangle. Woot.)

The 7840W is an awesome little multifunction printer. It’s a black and white laser printer that also is a fax, copier, and scanner. It has an auto-sheet feeder as well. Most importantly, it does wireless network printing like a champ. I guess it does scanning, too, but I don’t need that so much. The only weakness it has is the manual feed port– you can only manually feed a sheet at a time, and you have to hold the sheet you’re manually feeding. The other weakness is a lack of auto duplexing, but I don’t care about that.

Other than that, it’s great, and it fills the smoking hole left by my dying LaserJet 5. (No, really, it’s smoking.)

One neat trick I found is that if you cover the small round window on the right side of the toner cartridge with some black tape (or really any kind of masking tape), you can squeeze out a few extra hundred or so pages. Toner refills look bearable, price-wise. (Even more so with this trick.)

Pulling out the Staples

So anyway, here I am, happy with my little laser printer. I’ll admit I wanted the Epson that Staples had to print out a bunch of my photos from my journeys. The Epson is a great inkjet for photos… and not much else. After looking online, it’s hard to get a good deal on it from a reputable seller. It costs a fortune to ship, too, because it weighs a ton.

Much to my surprise, about 5-6 days after my email, I hear back from Staples. They were looking into the matter. To be honest, whenever I contact a company, I don’t ever expect to hear back, simply due to the volume of e-mail they get. I mostly wrote to get the frustration of having wasted 2 hours off of my chest, and to let them know that yanking a deal down in the middle of the day isn’t such a nice thing to do to your customers.

We exchanged some more e-mail, and after a few more days, they agreed to ship me a new Epson 1400 for $179 + tax, free shipping.

So in the end, I can say I’m pleased with how things turned out. Two new printers worth about $600 for about $300.

I win.

I’d say the moral to the story is this: always walk out on a bad deal, and go into every deal mentally prepared to walk out. Walking out on a bad deal is one of the most liberating feelings ever. It’s really fun to do when a car dealer tries to screw you over. I’ll save that for another post.

Be willing to haggle, and be willing to negotiate. Stand up for yourself, and tell companies when they do things that tick you off. Don’t be afraid to ask for something. If you don’t ask for it, you definitely won’t get it. If you ask nicely, you might just get it.

And never fall in love with something that can’t love you back. That way, you’ll always win.

A Secret to Japanese Language Success: Post Less, Study More

 Japanese Language  Comments Off on A Secret to Japanese Language Success: Post Less, Study More
Aug 112009

I’ve gotten a lot of great advice and tips from reading all kinds of message boards and blogs, but to be honest, I think the best lesson I’ve learned is that eventually, you just have to stop drinking the bathwater and start getting things done.

When I saw the 999th iteration of the same general argument over whose study method is better on one of the boards I frequent, I realized that both methods are no good if they spend their time arguing about them in English, no less. And I was just as bad for wasting valuable time reading them… okay, and now writing about them, but this will be the only time.

So to anyone who reads this: if you’re trying to learn Japanese, or anything else for that matter, and you’re looking for shortcuts, good idea! Look around, grab a few, try them, and move on.

Most traditional language-learning methods are horribly inefficient. There are a lot of folks trying a lot of neat stuff.  I’ve posted a few methods that have worked for me. They may work for you, they may not.

But please don’t waste your time getting entangled in message board drama— especially message board drama about study methods. It’s like arguing about the best way to clean your house, while your house remains a pig sty. It accomplishes nothing, except consuming your valuable study time.

If It Works For You, Rip It Off

In my mind, the best theory of language acquisition came from a glass studio tech I interviewed in Seattle way back for a documentary I was working on. He was talking about finding ways to build a better glass studio, but the idea works for pretty much anything.  “If you find a good idea that works for you, rip it off.”

To go along with the perfect bottom-line theory is this corollary: use it as long as it works for you. But if it doesn’t work, stop doing it.

If you want to tell people about it, great. Good ideas need to spread. But don’t let message boards become a time sink. I look at a high post count as a bad thing in those cases. My thought process goes like this, if this dude is so great at Japanese, why is he posting so much on an English-language forum about it? Maybe I’m just a suspicious, cynical and dark-hearted person by nature, but, well, there you go.

Says a person with a high post count on a Japanese language learning message board.

One final thing– don’t waste a lot of time worrying about trying to set up the perfect study method. It’s a fool’s errand. Just dive into the language, make a bunch of mistakes, and make adjustments as you go along. The less time you spend worrying and arguing about it, the more time you’ll have for doing it.

Asian Markets in the Triangle

 Food  Comments Off on Asian Markets in the Triangle
Aug 102009

I forgot to post this yesterday, so it’s backdated accordingly.

I went on an excursion today to check out some of the Asian markets in the Raleigh-Durham area today, because I had a sudden and unexpected free afternoon pop up. I had been meaning to check them out for a while now, because there are a few things I have been looking for. Now that I have a copy of Gaku Homma’s book The Folk Art of Japanese Country Cooking (on loan), I figured it would be a good idea to scope out sources of ingredients.

I also needed some yakitori sauce.

Toyo Shokuhin

First off is my reliable store for everything Japanese, Toyo Shokuhin and Gift Shop, at 748 E Chatham Street, Suite L in Cary, NC. They have a good supply of Japanese groceries, as well as some plates, kitchen utensils, rental videos, and knick-knacks. They have my favorite rice there, a California Koshihikari called Tamaki Gold.

They don’t have tons of fresh produce, but they do have a robust sake selection. If there’s a pre-packaged food that triggers your 懐かしい switch, odds are they have it. I even found UCC American Coffee. The last time I saw that was in Okazaki. 懐かしい indeed.

Grand Asia Market

After that, I went to Grand Asia Maket, at 1253 Buck Jones Road in Cary, in South Hills Mall. It says mall, but it’s really more like a convoluted shopping center. Anyway, it’s a nice big supermarket-sized place that carries a variety of food and gifts from all over Asia. You can find Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and lots of other Asian countries’ products there.

They have a very respectable dinnerware section, and lots of fresh produce. They even have live fish, a bakery, and a restaurant. The bakery was really tempting. The store is right near the intersection of Buck Jones Road and US1/US64.

A & C Supermarket

Then I made a trip to A & C Supermarket on 3210 South Wilmington Street in Raleigh, on US 401 about a mile south of I-40 at exit 298A. It’s really big. They had a lot of cookware, too. They also have a small restaurant attached as well, and a produce section. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend there, sadly, because I was running out of time. It looks like a nice store, it’s just a bit too far away from Chapel Hill for my tastes.

Raleigh Asian Market

The final place I wound up at was Raleigh Asian Market at 3901 Capital Boulevard, suite 159 in Raleigh. All of the units in the shopping center are numbered 159, so the number is kind of useless. It’s tucked away on the Buffaloe Road side of the shopping center. It’s a small store, but it has a lot of stuff, especially what seemed to be Vietnamese stuff. (I’m pretty sure that was Vietnamese… my knowledge of Southeast Asian languages is rough.) It’s not really what I need for what I’m trying to make, but if I ever get into Southeast Asian cooking, I’ll definitely come back. The people were friendly.

Just looking at Google maps, I realize that there are at least a dozen Asian markets in the area… maybe more. And I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Aug 072009

No, I didn’t go hunting with Mr. Shakespeare. This is about going out and taking pictures with my Bard camera bag by F-stop.

It’s one thing to use a bag to carry stuff around with, but it’s something entirely different to go out in the field and use it as a tool. I’ve had a few opportunities to take my camera and lenses out with the Bard and go shooting, and here are my impressions so far.

First off, size. It’s bigger than you think. I’m glad I bought the Bard instead of the Maverick. I’m sure the Maverick is a great bag, but I would be hating life at the end of a day of walking around town carrying my gear in something that huge.

The Bard itself is pretty large, and since it has firm sides, it doesn’t really “squish” down a whole lot. So when I’m carrying it around, it’s a bit bulky and can get in the way. It takes a little getting used to.

The bag has a waist strap… which I didn’t use much. I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. I might be missing out, or maybe there’s a better aftermarket waist strap. Or maybe I’m just not optimally-sized to use it. I’m going to try it again when I go out taking pictures again. Maybe I’ll like it better over time. Maybe not.

The shoulder strap is okay. It’s a $99 bag, so I didn’t expect it to be perfect. The shoulder strap is a little on the thin side, and a little on the narrow side. I like my shoulder straps thick and squishy, especially if I carry my bag all day. I’ll probably look aftermarket.

Minor gripes aside, my Canon fits perfectly with the 17-55mm f2.8 attached, pointing down. All I had to do was yank it out and shoot. I left one lens bay open, and I could stuff a rain jacket in it. (Which was perfect, because it rained a lot in the mountains.) My monstrously-huge (and heavy) 80-200 f2.8L sat in the other bay.

As a travel bag, I managed to cram an incredible amount of junk in it. Since I was going by car, I could get away with it. I’m not sure I’d recommend that for airline travel, though. It won’t fit under the seat in front of you in economy, but it will fit in the overhead compartment. So if you’re going to take it on an airplane, that’s going to be your only option.

All-in-all, it’s a very nice bag if you’re looking for an affordable alternative to the Crumpler bags. It’s a great messenger-style bag that doesn’t yell “Look at me!” or “Steal me!” quite so much, but I still got looks when I yanked out my camera. I don’t think you can avoid that no matter what bag you use.

Back to Mt. Mitchell (Finally)

 Travel  Comments Off on Back to Mt. Mitchell (Finally)
Aug 012009

I finally had good weather today, and decided to make the drive to Mt. Mitchell State Park, which lurks around milepost 354 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The last time I was there was in 2007, right before I left for Japan, so I figured now was as good a time as any to head back and see what things were like.

In case you didn’t know, Mt. Mitchell is the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River in the U.S. When the weather is cooperative, the views are great.

First things first, though– getting there. I always go via Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, which is one of my favorite roads in North Carolina. The road starts in North Asheville, and it’s windy, curvy, and feels just a little dangerous. It dumps you out on the Blue Ridge Parkway after about 20 minutes or so.

About 15 minutes down the road, there’s a place where a lot of people pull off to the side on the right where you can gaze out over some of the valleys. But if you’re not careful, it’s really easy to fall off of the mountaintop and wind up a stain on the valley floor. It’s not an “official” overlook, it’s just some place where everyone goes to look at the mountains. So it’s usually kind of messy and covered with graffiti left by high school kids, as well as some leftover beer cans and other hazards.

In spite of all of that, it’s worth stopping for a few minutes on the way to the Parkway. Just be very careful where you step.

With road work on a 16-mile stretch of the parkway from mile marker 375 to mile marker 359, the usual 45 mile an hour speed limit was cut down to 35. To top it off, the road itself is in sorry shape in places, so I really didn’t want to push my luck. I’m talking “surface of the moon” potholes here. It was even less fun coming back from Mt. Mitchell, because that’s all downhill.

The weirdest bit had to be the random stoplights on the parkway, used to control traffic through a single-lane construction zone. It was brutal. I wound up sitting there for about 10 minutes on each side, just waiting for it to turn green. Not much traffic went by either way. I’m not sure how it works, to be honest, but a lot of the time I bet it was just red on both sides, while its dark silicon heart laughed at us.

Mt. Mitchell

I finally got to the summit of Mt. Mitchell after about an hour or so total of driving.

They replaced the gravel path to the summit with some sort of asphalt with a pattern cut into it. I’m sure it has better traction now, but it looks bland. I miss the charm of the old gravel path.

They also tore down the shabby old observation tower and replaced it with an open air ramp that ends in a big circular platform thing that’s very shiny.

The clouds were in great form, with giant thunderheads and rain clouds forming all around us. I got some good photos, in spite of the fact that I didn’t have the right filter on my camera. I really need to drop the money for a good graduated neutral density filter for the new lens. It makes a huge difference with landscape shots.

I’m glad I managed to wait out the weather up here. It took almost a week, but it was totally worth it.

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