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Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit


I purchased a Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit for my Nikon D40 DSLR.  Mostly I purchased the flash unit because I’d read some good reviews, it’s very small and compact, it’s inexpensive (about $99 online), and I had enough credit card point to pay for it (and nothing else I really wanted).

When I got the unit I was impressed with how small it was.  I’d expect it to be a little larger than it was, but I was quit happy (for reference, it’s about the size of the battery plus battery charger, but lighter).

The instruction manual is clear and simple (you can download that from the Nikon web site if you want to review it).  Attaching the flash and using it with a Nikon DSLR is straight forward.  You can also review the key features and specifications on Nikon’s site, I’m not going to copy them here.  See the end of the post for the URL for the Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit.

I immediately shot a dozen images inside under conditions ranging from almost not needing a flash (fill) to almost total darkness — with a distance of just a few feet to right around ten feet (all my tests were done bouncing the flash off the ceiling in landscape orientation — the flash only tilts, it doesn’t swivel, so you can’t bounce from the ceiling in portrait orientation).

The images I took that used the flash in fill mode turned out exceptionally well; and really showed off what an asset a small flash unit like this can be.  The images I took that used the flash in near darkness showed that this unit really isn’t capable alone of being used under those conditions, and you really should consider a dual flash setup if you’re going to shoot in total darkness).

My absolute biggest complaint with the flash unit is that it exacerbates my biggest complaint with the D40 — the body is so light, it has an unusual center of gravity (even with a small lens on it), by adding the flash unit it makes the center of gravity even worse.  NOTE:  The only solution to this I’ve read of is adding a battery grip, and while that would help pull the center of gravity back and down, it would make the camera substantially larger; and many of those units are reported not to work very well.


  • Small
  • Light
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive
  • Works well as a fill flash in landscape orientation
  • Well constructed
  • Uses two AA batteries


  • Not suited for near total darkness conditions
  • Does not swivel for use in portrait orientation

Personally I’d say the unit is an incredible value, and well suited for a number of indoor applications.  The one that came to mind immediately was using it to take pictures of small items you were going to sell online.  Of course it also works well for any type of general indoor photography, but you’ll have to get used to shooting in landscape (even in conditions where the subject matter is obviously portrait) and just crop down the image.

Would I recommend buying one.  Well, I think you have to consider what you want to use it for.  If you want something that’s very small, very inexpensive, you’re only going to use it indoors, and you can tolerate the landscape only limitation — sure, buy it… you’ll be quite happy with it.  But if you can afford to pay more, can tolerate a larger unit, and need to shoot outdoors or absolutely require portrait I think you’ll be happier with another unit.

Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit

Originally posted 2009-02-16 01:00:43.

Rip & Burn

 ImgBurn uses a user interface similar to DVD Decrypter (which was used to decrypt and rip DVDs); however, ImgBurn is designed to create and burn images of non-encrypted discs.

It supports a wide variety of disc formats, and has a number of additional features for building images and verifying them.

Definitely a tool well worth twice the price; maybe ten times the price!

Oh yeah, it’s free…

Originally posted 2008-11-29 12:00:15.

Religious Intolerance or Insensitivity?

One has to ask the question, why would a US Congressman choose to use a facility with a religious affiliation when a public facility is only a few blocks from the chosen site and many public facilities exist within a short distance from the chosen structure?

While this is not a violation of the US Constitution (Establishment Clause of the First Amendment or Article VI) it is an extremely poor choice and one can only conclude that the intent is for it to be a public endorsement of a single religious belief and a rejection of the beliefs of those whose are different.  My guess is the congressman would never ask a christian to step foot into a mosque (there is a mosque not far from the church that was chosen — perhaps he might decide to hold another meeting there soon).

It’s easy to see how hate is promoted in American society when elected official either actively feed it or are just insensitive to the differences that once made this country strong…

I object to any pandering of intolerance.

Congressman Miller Townhall Meeting
Tuesday, August 16
7:00 p.m. CT

Marcus Pointe Baptist Church
Main Worship Center
6205 North W Street
Pensacola, FL 32505


Original Link: http://jeffmiller.house.gov/news/email/show.aspx?ID=KV2BK2PRUC2HK6XTHVVK6ONOY4

Originally posted 2011-08-12 02:00:36.

Windows 8.1

The Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT updates are out, and the start button is back (though you could re-enable it with a number of hacks) if you want it — Metro is still available (and always there).

While those with touch devices may not see why the start button might be preferred, those who still have to use a mouse or other pointing device definitely will appreciate not needing to emulate finger swipes any longer.

The other big change is that SkyDrive is now installed by default (but no greater storage for free to Windows 8.1 users than anyone who just installs SkyDrive or just sets up a SkyDrive account).

The Windows 8.1 update is easy and free to install for Windows 8 users; however, Windows 7 users (or previous) will need to install Windows 8 first.

You can find a number of lengthy reviews of Windows 8.1 on line, but if you’re a Windows 8 users it’s an update you’ll probably want to install.  If you’re a Windows 7 user there may be no real motivation to upgrade.

Update to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8

Originally posted 2013-11-14 17:00:41.


Macbuntu isn’t a sanctioned distribution of Ubuntu like Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc; rather it’s a set of scripts that turns an Ubuntu desktop into something that resembles a Mac running OS-X… but it’s till very much Ubuntu running gdm (GNOME).

I don’t recommend install Macbuntu on a production machine, or even a real machine until you’ve taken it for a spin around the block.  For the most part it’s eye candy; but that said, it does make a Mac user feel a little more comfortable at an Ubuntu workstation, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the desktop paradigm (remember, the way GNOME, KDE, XFCE, Enlightenment, Windows, OS-X, etc work is largely arbitrary — it’s just a development effort intended to make routine user operations intuitive and simply; but no two people are the same, and not everyone finds a the “solution” to a particular use case optimal).

What I recommend you do is create a virtual machine with your favorite virtualization software; if you don’t have virtualization software, consider VirtualBox — it’s still free (until Larry Ellison decides to pull the plug on it), and it’s very straight forward for even novices to use.

Install Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop (32-bit is fine for the test) in it, and just take all the defaults — it’s easy, and no reason to fine tune a virtual machine that’s really just a proof-of-concept.

After that, install the virtual guest additions and do a complete update…

Once you’re done with all that, just open a command prompt and type each of the following (without elevated privileges).

  • wget https://downloads.sourceforge.net/project/macbuntu/macbuntu-10.10/v2.3/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz -O /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz
  • tar xzvf /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz -C /tmp
  • cd /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10/
  • ./install.sh

Once you’ve followed the on-screen instructions and answered everything to install all the themes, icons, wallpapers, widgets, and tools (you’ll have to modify Firefox and Thunderbird a little more manually — browser windows are opened for you, but you have to install the plug-ins yourself), you reboot and you’re presented with what looks very much like OS-X (you actually get to see some of the eye candy as it’s installed).

Log in… and you see even more Mac-isms… play play play and you begin to get a feel of how Apple created the slick, unified OS-X experience on top of BSD.

Now if you’re a purist you’re going to push your lower lip out and say this isn’t anything like OS-X… well, maybe it doesn’t carry Steve Job’s DNA fingerprint, but for many users I think you’ll hear them exclaim that this is a significant step forward for making Linux more Mac-ish.

There are a couple different efforts to create a Mac like experience under Linux; Macbuntu is centric on making Ubuntu more like OS-X, and as far as I can see it’s probably one of the cleanest and simplest ways to play with an OS-X theme on top of Linux…

If you find you like it, then go ahead and install on a real machine (the eye candy will be much more pleasing with a manly video card and gpu accelerated effects), and you can uninstall it if you like — but with something this invasive I’d strongly encourage you to follow my advice and try before you buy (so to speak — it’s free, but time and effort count for a great deal).

I’ll make a post on installing Macbuntu for tomorrow so that it’s a better reference.

Macbuntu on SourceForge.net


Originally posted 2010-11-14 02:00:36.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers

Virtual credit card numbers are numbers that you generate (through your credit card issuer) to use for purchases on line.

Most of the companies that support these allow you to set time and amount limits for charges against the cards, and allow you to terminate the card at will (you cannot prevent a charge that has already been authorized, but you can prevent any future charge).

These financial institutions support virtual cards:

  • Bank of America (acquired from MBNA)
  • Citi Bank
  • Discover

These financial institutions do not support virtual cards:

  • Chase
  • Most credit union issued cards

Citi Bank and Bank of America have very similar systems; the each allow you to set limits and the card immediately binds to the merchant who first authorizes a charge against the number (no other merchant can use the number, which can create issues on PayPal, Yahoo Shops, Google Checkout, and Price Grabber to name a few — the solution is create a new card each time you want to buy something on those sites and destroy the old one).

Citi Bank and Discover have an applet you can download to your PC which will create numbers and auto-fill web forms.

Virtual credit cards give you a great deal of control over your finances, you set the limits of who much a vendor can charge and for how long they can access your credit card account.  While your liability is always limited (zero liability with VISA, Mastercard, and Discover) virtual cards help you avoid hassles.

When you say NO MORE, you end it… you can’t be caught by surprise by horrendous shipping and handling charges, you can’t be over-billed… and you don’t have to worry about recurring charges.

I use virtual card numbers to pay my utilities (electric, water, gas, cable, telephone, cellular); tolls (FastTrak); purchases on line; basically any time I give someone a credit card number via phone, mail, or internet… and I encourage you to do the same.

For one time purchases, terminate the card immediately after the charge is authorized, and THAT IS THAT… for recurring charges, re-authorize the new amount a little before the charge, or go ahead and setup for a year at a time (you can always terminate the card before an authorization).

Originally posted 2008-08-07 20:35:05.

Free Software!

Let me start off by saying that there is a lot of free software available for just about every popular operating system that works well, is well written, and straight forward to use.

Let me also point out that a lot of free software is free because is simply couldn’t be sold — yes it’s that bad (of course there is a lot of commercial software that is on the market that shouldn’t be sold; but that’s another rant).

I have a favorite saying:

You rarely get what you pay for.

And with free software that could be taken to mean, it almost always ends up costing you…

I always recommend that you read up on software before you use it; and try to read comments written by someone with similar computer skills and goals as you have.  Then ask yourself the simple questions “do you need the software” and “do you have something that already does the same thing that works”.

If you just want to play with a piece of software, consider using a virtual machine to try it out and then discard the changes; and I always try out a piece of software in a virtual machine even if I’m fairly sure it’s something I want.

I maintain a list of products (free and for pay) on my web site that I consider worth using…

It’s rare that I have any problems with any of my computers — and that’s mainly because I don’t “junk” them up with lots of software I never will use and don’t need… and keep in mind — COMPUTER PROBLEMS are one of the costs of installing software.

Originally posted 2008-12-17 12:00:43.

Anti-Malware Programs

First, malware is a reality and no operating system is immune to it.

Malware is most common on operating systems that are prevalent (no reason to target 1% of the installed base now is there); so an obscure operating system is far less likely to be the target of malware.

Malware is most common on popular operating systems that generally do not require elevation of privileges to install (OS-X, *nix, Vista, and Server 2008 all require that a user elevate their privileges before installing software, even if they have rights to administer the machine).

The reality is that even a seasoned computer professional can be “tricked” into installing malware; and the only safe computer is a computer that’s disconnected from the rest the world and doesn’t have any way to get new software onto it (that would probably be a fairly useless computer).

Beyond exercising common sense, just not installing software you don’t need or are unsure of (remember, you can install and test software in a virtual machine using UNDO disks before you commit it to a real machine), and using a hardware “firewall” (residential gateway devices should be fine as long as you change the default password, disable WAN administration, and use WPA or WPA2 on your wireless network) between you and your high-speed internet connection; using anti-malware software is your best line of defense.

There are a lot of choices out there, but one of the best you’ll find is Avast! — there’s a free edition for non-commercial use, and of course several commercial version for workstations and servers.

My experience is that on all but the slowest computers Avast! performs well, and catches more malware than most any of the big-name commercial solutions.

For slower computers that you need mal-ware protection for, consider AVG (they also have a free version for non-commercial use); I don’t find it quite as good as Avast! at stopping as wide a range of threats, but it’s much lower on resource demands (and that helps to keep your legacy machine usable).

Originally posted 2009-01-02 12:00:01.

Grasping at nothing with billions

Intel paid 7.7 billion dollars (US) for McAfee Associates.

WTF is up with Paul Otellini?

Does he really think that having pathetically outdated security technology is going to help keep Intel in control of computing in the ever changing landscape of mobile computing?

Clearly Intel must be in the dark about how modern software is built from the ground up to resist the security issues that plagues the old cobbled together systems of the past (ie Windoze).  Obviously, though, Intel understands that their dominance in the computing arena is likely to fade — but spending this kind of money is just insane.

One thing is clear — Intel is massively over charging for it’s processors if they can afford to dump nearly $8B US into the trash can.

Originally posted 2010-08-27 02:00:20.

AT&T Provides Exceptionally BAD Customer Service

Yesterday morning (and well into the afternoon) I spent over two and one-half hours on the phone with AT&T trying to resolve an issue with a “$50 Cash Back”.

First I call the customer service phone number on my bill; and was quickly told I’d have to resolve it online since it related to an online order.

Then I brought up a chat window with online customer service, who was quick to tell me I needed to call the rewards center (which I did was I was chatting with them — and left the chat open exchanging information slowly).

With the rewards center I talked with a useless individual who transferred me to a supervisor who was actually some what helpful; but she told me I had to go through customer service and have the rewards center conferenced in (they apparently can’t access customer records, nor can they make outbound calls).

So I called back customer service, spoke to an individual who wanted to help — but wouldn’t transfer me to a supervisor; determined I need to talk to the rewards center (duh — that’s what I told him — I needed to be conferenced in to the rewards center with a supervisor)… he transferred me to the rewards center (main number) and hung up… so I talked with a rewards center person, and was again transferred to the same supervisor (who told me again there was nothing she could do — and I pointed out that I had done EXACTLY as she ask, and again AT&T had incompetency was the issue).

She transferred me back to customer service — which turned out to be more of a hassle since it was a different office, and I had to enter all my account information.  The person I spoke with was EXTREMELY rude, and the supervisor she transferred me to was an absolute BITCH (trying to play the power game).

I then called back to customer service, was transferred to a supervisor, who did conference into the rewards center and then got an absolute BITCH there.

After that (and noting all their names and operator IDs — at least the operator IDs of the ones that would actually provide them to me) I decide to just call and go through the complaints process…

I explained the whole thing to the woman, she read over the notes; ask me a few questions, and then just said “How ’bout I just credit your account $50 and put this issue to rest”.

It took her less than five minutes to understand the previous two and a half hour nightmare with AT&T individuals who were for the most part in a hurry to say NO, tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about, or tell me I needed to talk to someone else…

And all of this is a result of AT&T designing a system of rebates / credits / incentives that is difficult for an individual to navigate through and redeem… after all, they don’t really want you to get the money, they just want to defraud you.

HORRIBLE company (yeah — I already knew that)… and certainly AT&T doesn’t do anything to retain customers…

I’m already making plans to change my Internet provider as soon as I get the credits for the other promotions.

As far as I’m concerned, if I have to deal with crappy customer service, I’ll just play the providers against each other and maximize my savings.

All I can say is…

Just say NO!

Originally posted 2009-08-04 01:00:18.