I am a consumer whore (and how)

It’s 4:30 AM right now, but given the recent positive experiences I’ve had, I would be remiss to not report on it.

Some of you may know that I’ve wanted Rock Band and/or Guitar Hero for a while… basically since I first moved to San Francisco and before I became overly stingy about money. When I was seriously considering this idea again last year, Rock Band 3 had been out of print for so long that it was going for ridiculous amounts of money online, and I couldn’t justify spending nearly $1000 to buy the game, an extra guitar controller, and a PS3 to play it all on.

Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live were released earlier this year, and I figured I should get them now (after basically waiting almost 8 years, and given we now have a house and therefore a place to play it), especially when Black Friday sales were happening. So I got Rock Band at $50 off (online via Target) this past Monday, and ordered Guitar Hero Live on Amazon (at $40 off).
But that evening, I made a physical trip to the Target store in our neighborhood, and happened to walk past the games section, where they were having a one-day sale on Guitar Hero at 40% (or $60) off. So it was entirely by happy coincidence and luck that I saved another $20. (Amazon fortunately made it easy to cancel the order, so I didn’t end up with two copies of Guitar Hero.)

I also figured I should actually spend the work Amazon credit that had been earmarked for a new camera lens for a while, given all the steep discounts happening right now.
I’d been debating for months (since I got the credit in late August, basically) about getting the D610 full-frame camera body, versus just a lens, versus upgrading my existing body to the DX-format D7100. But, in the end, I couldn’t justify spending nearly twice the price on a body just to get FX (sale prices of ~$800 versus ~$1500), and Amazon was having some pretty awesome discounts on a D7100, 18-140mm lens, and Photoshop Lightroom bundle, so I sprang for it yesterday (Wednesday) morning. It will be really nice to have the new camera and lens.

Black Friday deals started up in earnest today (pretty much 4.5 hours ago at this point), so I ordered the PS4 ($50 off pretty much everywhere; I got it from Amazon) and some discounted games (FFX/X-2 Remaster, Until Dawn; $20 and $40 off respectively) and things are awesome.

And it turns out… shipping nowadays is really fast. Rock Band, which was ordered from Target late Monday night, actually shipped from within PA and arrived at the house this past evening (Wednesday). I was glad there were housemates to bring the package indoors so it doesn’t have to sit outside until we return from Thanksgiving.

The camera body, which shipped hours after I placed the order, also shipped from within PA and had a delivery date of Friday, which was clearly not going to work. (And be even more problematic, because while it’s one thing to let a $250 game sit outside and potentially get stolen, it’s entirely another to leave a $1000 camera body outside.) And this is where Amazon is awesome.

I know a lot of people complain about how Amazon treats its workers and how it strangles publishers and other competition… but from a consumer standpoint, Amazon is pretty much perfect. I hopped onto a chat and explained the situation, and the rep was simply like, “Yeah. That makes total sense. Let me contact UPS and tell them to delay delivery until Monday.”
Simple, effective, and it took about 5 minutes of typing into a chat window (with phone options available for those so inclined). This is what all customer service should be like.

(Related note: I kind of feel like websites should not only have delivery windows when ordering, but also allow you to specify restrictions like, “Item cannot arrive before X date”. Seems like it’d be particularly important around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, where items arriving early can conflict with travel plans. But maybe this isn’t a thing that comes up too often in practice? Maybe I’m just unusual for hitting it twice within a period of 3 days.)

So that was really nice, until I happened to check the D7100 bundle I’d bought again a little bit ago, and found that the price had dropped $90. It was entirely my fault — I should have waited until actual Black Friday deals to get it, I guess — but I figured it didn’t hurt to at least ask…
So I hopped into another Amazon chat, explained the situation, and had a $90 refund against my credit card with no fuss. Magic.

So yeah… it’s been a nice shopping experience this year, between Amazon having awesome customer service and being able to take advantage of all the Black Friday sales online (and, in some cases, as early as this past Monday). I’ve spent more in the last 72 hours than probably all my discretionary spending in the last two years combined, which makes me feel a little weird about things. But I suppose most of it has been stuff I’ve been wanting for years anyway, so it’s more like I’m taking advantage of the specific sale period rather than buying random things?

Yay for basement video game room. :D

New phone, new lens, same old Facebook

I still exist. Things have happened, but I’ve been less interested in writing about them and more interested in just doing them. However, my photojournal has been updated through today and photos has a couple new galleries, so you can hit them for all the details.

The last few days have involved new toys. Last Wednesday, work upgraded my old Blackberry (bleh) to an iPhone 5 (meh?). This was a decent thing, except I quickly found that the iPhone fails at its namesake… that is, it’s a pretty terrible phone. My first day of using it involved lots of “huh?” and “what?” comments from both ends of the conversation, whereas I’d never really had issues with my Blackberry. I suppose the iPhone is better for things like GPS (but not maps? well, at least it has maps…) and apps, but that’s not what I use my work phone for. Both of my primary usages of the phone (email, which was better with a physical keyboard, and the phone itself) have actually been downgraded. As such, that “upgrade” has been a large disappointment.

However, I was recently convinced by Greg to (finally) purchase the 35mm f/1.8 lens I’ve been wanting for several years. It arrived just before Thursday games, which gave it a perfect opportunity to be broken in, and it worked pretty awesomely (for low-light, indoor photography), and continued to be useful every day since (as there have been events every day since). In fact, since I took my first photo with the lens at 5 PM on Thursday, I have taken 1050 photos with it. It’s super fast, it’s super light, it’s wider angle than my 50mm f/1.8, and it’s also super quiet (since it’s a SWM lens).
My only real problem with is not an issue with the lens but with how I use my camera… I always shoot in single-area focus mode, and I tend to leave the selected area in the center and reframe rather than moving the focus point. As a result, when I’m shooting wide enough to get more than peoples’ faces, I tend to focus on the person’s torso rather than their face. Which worked fine with my old (f/3.5 and up) lenses, but fails with my f/1.8 lens since the depth of field is often too narrow to get their face and torso both in focus. (This wasn’t an issue with my 50mm f/1.8 because I can’t frame much more than someone’s face with it.)
So, overall, I’m extremely happy with my new lens. It literally has not left my camera since I first mounted it (even when I had taken my 18-200mm lens along as a backup).

Besides that, as I mentioned in my last post, I reactivated my Facebook account with the goal of using it as a contact directory (and not actually updating it or checking it), and it’s actually working out well for that purpose. However, in even the brief time I spend on it to click through to someone’s profile, I discovered that Facebook now logs (and shows in your history) every search you make (including click-throughs to profiles where applicable). On the one hand, I’m sure they kept this information before, so at least they’re showing it now. But on the other hand, WTF, guys. I’m tempted to once again deactivate my account, but instead I’ve been wiping all information from my wall (“Timeline”), removing all uploaded content, leaving all groups, and wiping my messages inbox. If I’m going to be forced to use you to be able to contact certain people, you’re going to get as little information as possible from me.

Anyway, boo walls of text, so here are some photos with my sexy new lens.

Edit: Okay, Facebook, what the hell?! It’s bad enough that it’s difficult to untag yourself (has to be from the activity log and not from the original post item), but you track when you untag yourself too?! I swear, you’re logging every single click I make *somewhere* and you’re going to regurgitate that information at some point in the worst way possible. :\
Also I can’t find any way to untag myself from recent tags (like in photo album descriptions).
Time to deactivate again? The creepiness of Facebook is seriously overwhelming its usefulness as a contact information directory for me.

Meme: Photography and Pokemon

Before I forget, I should wish Greg a very happy birthday. Yay birthday.

I’ll never forget my first trading card game and my first trade. Back in May 1999, I went with a friend (Jim) to a GameStop. He picked up some boosters and I bought a starter deck plus two booster packs of the Pokemon card game. Opening the packs yielded a holographic Raichu and a Clefairy Doll for the rares. (Of course, I had no idea about rarities at the time, since I had never touched or seen a trading card game before.) This was also at the same time as a Pokemon card game promotional thing or something, because I also had my picture taken with a giant Pikachu card (for me to take home on a floppy disc!).

Jim and I sat down at one of the provided tables to play a game, and I lamented about how I couldn’t play the Raichu because I didn’t have a Pikachu card to evolve it from. One of the younger kids playing nearby apparently overheard and offered to trade me one. He looked through my small stack of cards and asked for the Clefairy Doll. Upon Jim’s advice, I made the trade of my rare for a common. (“That thing only had 10 HP, and the Pikachu has 40 HP. You got a great deal.”)

Fortunately, several years later when we had both learned what rarities (and rarity symbols) were, he traded me a Clefairy Doll for a Pikachu, and all was well. Yay noobness.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about here. Continuing with meme topics from Jess (after quite a hiatus), we have photography.

Photography is one of those things I enjoy doing, and have periods off and on of wanting to do professionally (or, at least, with more dedication that I do now). My first digital camera was a Intel Pocket PC Camera (retailing for $199 at the time) when I was in middle school (late 2000).
My parents were redoing the front yard at the time (removing the palm trees and grass and replacing them with rocks and gravel), and promised me a digital camera if I helped. Of course, being the horrible child I was, I managed to get the camera first, and then proceeded to do nothing to help (except take photos of my parents working on the front yard, which are some of the first digital photos I ever took).

The camera took photos at an amazing 640×480 resolution, more than enough for anyone, and came with an option to switch to 320×240 resolution in case you needed to take more photos (since there weren’t memory card options).

This camera satisfied me only about a year. I got my next camera, a Olympus C3000, my first year of high school (2001). It took amazing (for the time) resolution photos, and had a flash, and was the best thing ever. I actually still have the camera, and it still works, even though the drivers no longer work in Windows XP (or 7) and there is no card reader that can read the SmartMedia cards it takes.

That camera lasted only a couple years (2003), when it started to have issues with exposure metering. (Photos were coming out completely black every so often.) It was quickly replaced with a Kodak Easyshare DX6490 with its amazing 10x optical zoom and even better resolution. Naive me referred to the three steps as a “casual” camera, a “semi-professional” camera, and a “professional” camera. Upon reflection now, it seems horribly stupid of me to think that a point-and-shoot that didn’t even have full manual control could be considered “professional” by any means.

In any case, the Kodak lasted until my Sophomore year of college (2006), when it proceeded to die in a series of unrecoverable errors (the last photos it took were at the fondue party at Wes’ house). It was replaced a week later with a Nikon D50 (with its kit 28-80mm lens) that I shot for the following 3 years (including a series of repairs by a horrible company that didn’t fix it right the first time).

The D50, in turn, was replaced by my current Nikon D90 (in February 2010) after it died in November 1999, which still seems to be in great condition. Overlapping the two is my Samsung SL30, which is a crappy $80 point-and-shoot I picked up just to have an “easy to carry” camera.

So I seem to be in the habit of going through cameras every 2-3 years. This, I suppose, is somewhat expected given how much I abuse and use them (my D50 had over 100,000 shutter releases when it died completely, via the mirror refusing to flip).
There’s a summary of my cameras, which is accurate minus the D90, here.

As for photography in general, I find it to be a good hobby, a good way to remember my life, and a good way to remove some level of awkwardness at large gatherings (using my camera as a shield, which I have previously written about). I don’t think I’m particularly good at it… I just take thousands of photos, which means I’m bound to get one or two good ones out. Most of my shooting is casual snapshots… I used to do more studio shooting when I had access, but in retrospect find the setting too boring and limiting.

I suppose the good thing about taking so many photos all the time is that I often manage to get candid shots of people that you wouldn’t otherwise get. People are so used to me having a camera all the time (and taking their picture all the time) that they’ve stopped noticing. As a photographer, that’s one of the best places to be.

Anyway, photo meme = moar photo. Here’s Chris with the awesome pillows I got from Thailand.

I don’t know what else to write about photography. If you have anything specific you’re curious about, feel free to ask.

Life and Booths

life has gotten an update bringing it to today.

The Celebrations expansion of People Wars has also been released. Yay more cards.

Booths have been happening all week. For some reason, I’m generally less interested in midway this year than previously. Which is still quite a lot of interest, but not as much as prior years (only about 1200 photos since Saturday, as opposed to previous years when I shot easily 1000 a day during Carnival week).

I think maybe the combination of being in Pittsburgh anyway, only taking tomorrow and Friday off (instead of the entire week), and having been through 6 previous Carnivals is making the entire thing seem less like a big deal.

Regardless, Ian gets here tonight (technically tomorrow), Tim and Kayleigh get here tomorrow, and Mars and Dan get here Friday, so there will soon be awesomeness with awesome people. Al-Tim has been here since Sunday.

Yay awesomeness.

Life and cameras

life has gotten an update bringing it up to today. Yay life.

Last week was a stop in Phoenix to visit my parents. We went to the Pima Air and Space Museum.

Also last week was Kathleen’s wedding. Yay wedding!

Other photos from the trip can be found at photos.

So I safely made it back to Pittsburgh this weekend… and I went from the awesome San Francisco weather to the awesome Phoenix weather to… surprise, surprise, awesome Pittsburgh weather. Actually, it’s been unusually nice for March… more like mid-April weather than anything.
As such, I have been taking extended breaks in the afternoon from work to go enjoy the weather and photograph.

Also shot some photos of 8 today.

Been pondering camera lenses (and future body purchases) lately.
At this point, I have two paths I can go down: I can invest in AF-S DX lenses that will work with the more intro-level Nikon DSLRs, and replace my D90 with a lower-level body (like the D3100 or D5100) when it dies… or I can invest in more full-frame lenses (like all of my current lenses except for one) and get a full-frame body (like the D800) when it dies.
The big difference here would be between the 18-200mm DX lens and the 28-300mm FX lens. Each will be between $700 and $900, so both is not a reasonable option. (Not to mention they cover most of the same range anyway, so it’d be dumb to get both.)

I’m really not sure that a more expensive, more professional body is worthwhile. I mean, yes, I use my camera way more than most people. But I don’t shoot studio shots, or sports, or things that would require me to have instant access to a wide range of features that the more professional bodies offer. (I don’t even ever use most of the features, like white balance settings or bracketing or viewfinder grid lines or AF modes.) As such, the only benefit to the D800 would be the full-frame sensor, but that alone is not worth the $2500 difference in cost between bodies.

Which leaves me feeling like I should aim towards a lower-level body. These have the benefit of being cheaper ($500 or so) and ligher (which is important given how much I carry my camera around). I can’t think of one feature the lower-level bodies lack that I would miss. (Well, maybe support for the infrared remote. But that is so minor and I’ve used my remote exactly once since I got it.)
So the only downside here would be that none of my current lenses will autofocus with the bodies, meaning I would have to invest in a new series of lenses. If I do this, I’ll probably invest in DX lenses (which are not full-frame), which means that a future transition to a full-frame camera would be much more difficult than it is now. But this still seems like the right thing to do.

Which means my next purchase will likely be the 35mm f/1.8 DX lens. At some point, I should probably also switch out my 50mm f/1.8 with the AF-S version and sell my 70-300mm.

Yay cameras.