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Quick Bits

Craft & Design Photography & Video
Quick Bits


Off-the-Shelf Infrared

If you want to shoot mood photos like those in Richard Kadrey’s feature on page 50, but you lack the time or patience to seek out vintage cameras with unimpaired infrared capability, an exciting new option is the Fuji Finepix IS-1.

Unlike any camera of comparable quality, this 9-megapixel digital SLR is being marketed with its IR sensitivity fully active. Simply screw in a deep-IR filter such as the Tiffen 87, and you exclude almost all visible light, revealing the infrared realm. For regular color, you substitute an IR-cut filter to block the infrared and display the world as you normally see it. Thus, this is two cameras in one.

The IS-1 is so sensitive to IR that you can use almost-normal shutter speeds, enabling photos of people and animals as well as landscapes. Since it also takes good conventional pictures, this is an interesting choice if you’re thinking of buying a new camera anyway. Expect to pay slightly more than for a comparable digital SLR: around $800, plus extra for filters.

Vox Populi

Google’s Blogger software has become ubiquitous, but if you want something that looks a little different and offers multimedia functionality, check out Vox. It can help you to incorporate audio, video, and photos into blog entries.

After signing up at, click Design to choose a layout and a theme. Create a profile for yourself, upload your photo, and get ready for some interestingly advanced features. You can illustrate your blog text with photos from your computer, your Flickr account, your Photobucket account, or iStockphoto.

Similarly, you can merge music or spoken word originating from your computer or from Amazon.

If it’s your own audio, Vox limits it to 25MB but embeds it in a player that enables anyone to hear it by clicking on it. If you choose music from Amazon, Vox simply links to that source.

You can add video from your computer, Amazon, YouTube, or iFilm. Again, no video is copied from Amazon; Vox just creates a link. If it’s your own video, you’re limited to 50MB.

Lastly, you can package sounds, images, and videos as a “collection” that visitors open from inside your blog entry. The collection is composed of items you’ve uploaded to your Vox library, encapsulating the sights and sounds of a vacation or special event.

Digital devices enable us to record the world around us. Online services such as Vox offer unprecedented power and ease for sharing our experiences with anyone in the world.

Smallest, Simplest, Toughest Camcorder

While most camcorders still save their images onto tapes and discs that are controlled by moving parts, Sanyo has taken the radical yet obvious step of substituting flash memory for storage. Eschewing motors and bulky media, the Xacti VPC-CG65 is almost as small as a cellphone and offers solid-state reliability while making negligible compromises in image quality or recording time.

The Xacti’s enhanced version of MPEG-4 looks acceptable on a full-size TV and is more than adequate for the web. Uploading video to your computer couldn’t be easier: just use the supplied USB cable and click an icon to initiate the transfer.

The elimination of tapes and discs frees you from writing titles on little stickers, trying to find a safe place to store the media, and trying to find them when you want them. Your videos are saved on your hard drive along with your digital photos, and you share them with friends by emailing them as attached files.

The camera’s small size, and its imperviousness to everyday abuse, can change your preconceptions about video. It isn’t just something you do on special occasions anymore. You can throw your camcorder into a bag or backpack and use it with the same spontaneity as a digital camera.

Despite its tiny size, the camera’s thumb-operated buttons are easy to use and intuitively laid out. You can record more than an hour of highest-quality video on an 8GB SD card, and snap individual 5-megapixel pictures along the way. An HD version is available, but for regular 640×480 video the VPC-CG65 retails for well under $400.

Getting More Than You Pay For

Software to create digital arts and crafts can be hideously expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, some powerful programs are completely free — and they won’t crash unexpectedly or bring malware onto your hard drive.

First and most basically, if you wince at the thought of paying a couple hundred dollars for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, then Sun Microsystems feels your pain — and is happy to alleviate it with their open source office suite, OpenOffice.

Can it really emulate Microsoftware in every little detail? Indeed it can. Are the files really, truly compatible? So far as we can tell, they are. If you’ve recoiled in horror from the nightmare of Word 2007, which has taken the bizarre step of eradicating conventional menus on the deranged theory that this will somehow make everything “simpler,” maybe it’s time to uninstall your MSware and embrace the open source alternative. OpenOffice runs under Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and even Solaris (it’s Sun-sponsored software, after all).

The massive downloadable package includes Calc (bearing an eerie resemblance to Excel), Writer (much like Word), Base (oddly similar to Access), Impress (like PowerPoint), and more. Some entrepreneurs on eBay will try to charge you a fee for these downloads, but you’d be foolish to pay even $4.99 to such opportunists. Just go to

OpenOffice can’t help you if you want to use FTP to upload data to a distant server hosting your web page, but another open source utility can handle that: a quarter-million people have downloaded WinSCP version 4, even though they would be hard pressed to pronounce its name. This freeware has an easy drag-and-drop interface, and the code seems stable. The only snag is that WinSCP runs solely on Windows.

Many people feel uneasy about downloading software online, but if you choose it selectively, it can be a very valuable alternative.

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Charles Platt

Charles Platt is a contributing editor to Make magazine, which has published more than 50 of his articles. Six of his books are available from Make: Books

Make: Electronics, an introductory guide, now available in its second edition.

Make: More Electronics, a sequel that greatly extends the scope of the first book.

Encyclopedia of Electronic Components, volumes 1, 2, and 3 (the third written in collaboration with Fredrik Jansson).

Make: Tools, which uses the same teaching techniques as Make: Electronics to explore and explain the use of workshop tools.

View more articles by Charles Platt

Mark Frauenfelder is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Make: magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.

View more articles by Mark Frauenfelder
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