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Windows 10: Initial Impressions

I’m not sure why I did this; but I immediately updated to Windows 10 yesterday morning; something I had never done with any previous Windows versions, I usually wait six months for the major bugs to be worked out. This time I immediately made the jump on my laptop, Surface Pro 3 and desktop machine which I use for my work, maybe it’s because it was free and the Insider versions looked promising.

The upgrade process was so easy I think my technophobe father could even do it, it was literally a case of downloading the files from Windows Update or Microsoft.com/../../windows10 and clicking start upgrade, the process was 95% automated with some simple interaction near the end of the process.

The biggest change is the new start menu, which is a hybrid of the Windows 8 start screen with live tiles and the traditional Windows 7 style start menu. It’s a definite improvement over the Windows 8 experience, but personally I despise live tiles on a non-tablet device, so I went with installing a third party application that replaces the Windows 10 start menu with a configurable Windows 7 inspired start menu.

The second biggest change… maybe I should say addition is Cortana which in my testing works fairly well, sometimes it’ll open Bing (rather unsurprisingly) in the default browser you have set, other times it will give you a direct verbal and written response. Having a good quality microphone helps, my headset works great on my desktop, as does the built in microphone in my Surface Pro 3, but the built in microphone in my Toshiba laptop doesn’t work so well with Cortana often not understanding my words.

Now I have talked about the functionality, we also have to consider the privacy implications of using Cortana. Microsoft will collect information about your location and location history, contacts, calendar, content and communication history from messages and apps and other information on your device, please read Microsoft’s privacy statement. I have disabled Cortana after testing it’s functionality.

The interface is still a little disjointed in my view, for example when you goto options, there are sub options that still open in Windows 7 style windows. It’s infinitely more integrated than Windows 8, it doesn’t feel like two separate OS’s anymore but it’s less cohesive that I would have liked. However I do like the way that when not in tablet mode, the modern apps open up in a window on the desktop instead of taking over the screen like Windows 8, it doesn’t feel like I am flip/flopping between OS’s any more.

Another new addition is the Action Center that can be accessed by swiping in from the right or clicking the icon in the system tray. Here you will see notification from modern apps such as Mail, Twitter, Facebook, Windows Update and there are quick options for system changes, how many options you get depends on your system, my desktop generated seven icons while my Surface Pro 3 generated 13 options.

Microsoft has dropped the Internet Explorer name in Windows 10 going in a new cleaner direction with Edge, which according to MS is built from the ground up. If you really want IE11, you can still access it, Microsoft has not removed it, it’s just harder to find. Edge is a little too basic for my liking, it seems to be a more tablet friendly browser with big buttons and relatively few features compared to other browsers. Of course this might change as the young browser matures, we’ll have to wait and see how it develops.

Windows 10 comes with a raft of new modern applications to open your media files such as Groove Music and Movies & TV, which from what I can see is more a platform to sell you media than play it. I reset my defaults to Windows Media Player and Photo Viewer. Which of course is my preference, I prefer my media players/viewers to do just that and nothing more, others might like the new apps.

For those like myself who like the speed of Windows 8/10 but want the Windows 7 experience, Start10 from Stardock is a great launch day start menu replacement and you can remove most Windows 8/10 aspects if you like. I choose to make the Windows 10 start menu available using CTRL-click. Most of the underlying Windows 7 elements are still intact under the modern interface, so in theory it’s possible to have an almost 100% Windows 7 experience. Previously I used StartIsBack on Windows 8 and 8.1.

The Surface Pro 3 experience is much the same as it was in Windows 8 on Windows 10 in tablet mode, the start screen is available, apps open full screen, although rather annoyingly auto onscreen keyboard invoking (e.g. open onscreen keyboard when touching inside an input element) on the desktop side still does not work in Windows 10, which seems ludicrous, why would Microsoft omit this basic function?

Overall I would say Windows 10 is a hit, whereas Windows 8 was a complete miss. Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been 3 years ago. If you have a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 machine, I’d say make the jump, it seems stable and it’s a much improved operating system than it’s immediate predecessors and best of all (assuming you have a legit copy of Windows 7/8/8.1) it’s free until July 29, 2016.


Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix 2015

I just want to pause for a moment to remember Jules Bianchi who sadly passed away just before the Hungarian Grand Prix after a nine month battle for survival after his horrendous crash at the Japanese Grand Prix last season. F1 has no doubt lost one of it’s greatest talents, my thoughts go out to Jules’ family and friends at this difficult time. R.I.P. Jules Bianchi, I hope you are winning on the great race track in the sky!

To say the result of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a surprise is an understatement, although maybe the bigger surprise is that Mercedes were not on the podium as Sebastian Vettel took his second victory for Ferrari this season followed by the two Red Bull’s of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo respectively.

After an aborted start because Williams’ Felipe Massa was out of position on the grid, both Ferrari’s made an amazing start from third and fifth place with Vettel leading and Raikkonen second by turn 3 as Hamilton dropped back to fourth behind team mate Rosberg before later going off track avoiding his own team mate which dropped him back to 10th place behind Massa where he stayed until lap 10.

Although Red Bull’s Ricciardo made a poor start dropping back to eighth place prior to being promoted to seventh because of Hamilton’s off track excursion, he was quick to make up places after being allowed to pass Kvyat on lap 10 to move upto fourth place by lap 13 with some spectacular dives down the inside.

Inevitably Hamilton used his superior Mercedes power to move up the field to pass Ricciardo for fourth place on lap 29 and onto Rosberg’s gearbox by lap 42. Raikkonen’s bad luck continued as he reported being down on power, which turned out to be a MGU-K failure and ultimately retirement on lap 55.

On lap 43, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg’s front wing failed in spectacular style sending carbon fiber everywhere, first bringing out the VSC and later the safety car which bunched the field up for the restart on lap 49. Rosberg took second away from the ailing Raikkonen on the restart while Ricciardo made a move on the outside of Hamilton and the Briton drifted into the Australian, Hamilton pitted for a new front wing while Ricciardo continued, Hamilton dropping out of the points with a drive through penalty.

Again, Hamilton fights his way back into the points to eventually finish the race in sixth place, ahead of team mate Rosberg who understeered into the front wing of Ricciardo after the Australian made an audacious dive down the inside, which meant a pit stop for both drivers, Rosberg with a left rear puncture and Ricciardo for a new front wing. Rosberg dropped back to 10th place after trundling around for nearly a whole lap while Ricciardo lost one place to team mate Kyvat coming back out in third.

It was a great day for McLaren with Alonso finishing in fifth place and Button in ninth, this must feel like a win for McLaren Honda after the disaster that has been 2015 so far, hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Props also go out to Max Verstappen who scored fourth place for Toro Rosso, the best finish of his young F1 career. Romain Grosjean scored six valuable points for Lotus claiming seventh place ahead of Rosberg in eighth place while Marcus Ericsson scored a single point for Sauber for 10th place.

I enjoyed the Hungarian Grand Prix, lots of excitement, even if it was created by drivers making mistakes, it’s refreshing to see a podium with no Mercedes drivers up there. Although I suspect normal service will be resumed after the mid-season break with Spa and Monza being the next two races after the break.

2015 Hungarian Grand Prix Results

1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:46:09.985
2. Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) +15.748s
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +25.084s
4. Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso) +44.251s
5. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +49.079s
6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +52.025s
7. Romain Grosjean (Lotus) +58.578s
8. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) +58.876s
9. Jenson Button (McLaren) +67.028s
10. Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +69.130s

Apparently, Some People Don’t Understand Basic Contracts

I briefly wrote about issues I was having getting a client to pay for my contracted services as part of another blog article and the ensuing events have inspired me to write a full article about the issue.

First of all, I am not going to name the company involved as I have no wish to damage their reputation but the manager of the company clearly lacks business sense as she signed a contract (without reading it, possibly) and made claims against me which were not applicable according to the contract terms.

Under the service fees section of the contract it say the following:

[COMPANY NAME] agrees to pay a flat rate fee of $300 per calendar month for services as described above in the ‘Scope’ section. The standard design fee of $1000 will be pro-rated over the course of twelve (12) months at $83.33 per month which will be included in the $300 monthly flat rate fee. All monthly fees are payable in advance on the first working day of each month.

I believe this to be self explanatory, all necessary payment terms are there in black and white. So why on Earth does she think they have 30 days to pay me from the invoice date, which is a courtesy and not stipulated in the contract. I invoiced on the 20th of each month, so they had an average of 10 days to pay! The latest date I should receive payment is the 3rd day of the month according to the contract terms.

The reality of the situation is that on more than one occasion, it wasn’t until after the 10th of the month that payment was made. This is why I terminated the contract and took their website offline. The outstanding balance for the website creation was paid so I have now released the website to them.

The manager wanted me to continue working with them and suggested that I invoice earlier to get paid on time. Again, the invoice was a courtesy, not a contractual requirement. The manager went on to explain her company’s process for paying bills, which is irrelevant. A contract was signed stating payment is due on the first working day of the month, bottom line, don’t sign a contract you can not honor.

I am truly baffled why the contract was signed by the manager when they could not meet the terms of the contract, I would have been happy to renegotiate the contract to invoice 30 days in advance, but that was not mentioned once before all this blew up recently because of the regular delinquent payments.

The net result is that in all likelihood I will stop contracting altogether. If I can not rely on the income, then it’s not worth having, I can not live like that with a family to support. I’d rather have $300 less and know where I stand budget wise than have the extra cash! And frankly, I really don’t need the extra headaches.


Costco, Credit Cards, Contract Breaches And Employment…

Costco opened in Wichita as a rival to Samsclub and I was quite excited about the prospect plus we got a free membership as Costco in Wichita were offering a two for one membership, my mother-in-law got herself a membership and gave us the second free membership. On Sunday we went to Costco, spent 90+ minutes picking our groceries, only to find they don’t accept Discover or VISA credit cards, of course they were quick to offer us their co-branded AMEX, which I immediately turned down and left the store.

This was a huge inconvenience to us as we only had those two hours to buy our groceries and because Samsclub closed at the same time, we could not get our monthly grocery shopping done. Because of work commitments, we don’t have time to go grocery shopping during the week, hence my clear annoyance at Costco’s inflexibility in accepting mainstream credit cards. This is not a unique situation in stores, Samsclub has an exclusive deal with Mastercard/Synchrony, so doesn’t accept VISA or AMEX credit cards.

As a business decision, I simply don’t understand the logic of these big warehouse stores pigeon-holing themselves into exclusive merchant deals where they can not contractually accept other credit cards. I personally don’t like being forced into using a credit card merchant of their choosing to shop at their store and I certainly wouldn’t get a co-branded credit card where I can only see cashback benefits at their store.

Costco’s inability/unwillingness to accept all major credit cards made me take a look at AMEX and I liked the terms and benefits of their Blue Cash Everyday credit card. So I went ahead and applied for the card online and got approved for a $6,000 credit line within 60 seconds with my 717 credit score.

Although AMEX’s online system is disparate from their offline system, it allows for instant obtaining of card details, but the four digit card ID number is a temporary number and I can not set up my online account until I receive the physical card despite the welcome Email they sent me saying otherwise. I had to call to find out this info, AMEX need to get their online and offline departments on the same page.

Moving on to contract breaches, for supplemental income I have a 12 month contract with a property management company here in Wichita worth $300 each month. But in recent months they have been in breach of contract three times for late payment, the agreement states that for services to continue, payment must reach me by the first day of the month, I also allow a few additional days for USPS delivery.

I have had to chase payment five times in nine months and now I can not get any response from the property management company via Email or telephone. So I have cut my losses and stopped marketing their properties and took down their website, enough is enough, today is the 14th, a whole two weeks after the due date. I don’t work for free, they can have their website back if/when I receive the remaining pro-rated website creation fee, the fee was pro-rated over 12 months and there is 3 months outstanding.

Finally, after being forced to take a job 2 1/2 hours drive outside of where we live because of the small minded property management community here in Wichita, my wife has just handed in her notice to take a job just 30 minutes from where we live. The job pays a dollar less than her current job, but the savings in fuel for the car alone makes it worth the pay cut, it costs about $170 a week to drive to her current job.

Plus the job she is leaving has some odd business practices, for example, they have property management software, but the property managers are not given access to the system, everything has to be sent to the corporate office for input while the community offices have a paper based system. The staff that work at the two properties that my wife manages want to be fired; and in an attempt to get fired are doing a completely substandard job. Personally, I would have walked away after the first few days.

Because of this job, we are close to $3,000 in the red as my wife has only received $300 in wages while having to pay for gas, food and other expenses incurred from working over 100 miles from home. Additionally, our regular household expenses are not being covered by my income alone, which hasn’t been helped by the afformentioned property management company’s non-payment of contracted fees.


Tech Ramblings: Windows 10, AMD Survival?

I haven’t really done a technical ramblings and speculation post on my blog before but I felt inspired after watching “Tech Talk” on Youtube from JayzTwoCents and Barnacules Nerdgasm. Two of the topics they touched on were the Windows 10 release and will AMD still be around in five years time?

Starting with Windows 10, I was quite excited by Microsoft’s latest OS based upon the “Technical Preview” I have tried out on a VM. But after Jerry (Barnacules) explained that Microsoft have fired their internal QA department in favor of relying on ‘real world’ beta testers, which would explain why (it’s rumored) technical preview users will get a full copy of Windows 10 with the caveat that they will remain ‘testers’.

Based upon his experiences at Microsoft, Jerry expects Windows 10 to be full of bugs come it’s release date of July 29, 2015, many of which will be security vulnerabilities. Which has made me think twice about upgrading to Windows 10 even if it will be free for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users. Maybe I will sacrifice one of my older laptops to test it out before I make the jump to Windows 10 on my work machine.

I do like the new start menu which integrates the classic and modern UI elements and no longer takes up the whole screen (unless you want it to) and the new windowed modern applications makes it feel like a single operating system rather than two separate operating systems like Windows 8 and 8.1. The good news is that I have a year from release to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, so I don’t need to jump now.

Moving onto AMD’s survival odds, Jerry and Jay (of Tech Talk) seem to think AMD will not be around, at least in it’s current form five years from now. I find this prospect really disturbing as it will only leave one major player in the desktop CPU and GPU markets, which could mean higher prices for consumers. I have always been a bit of a AMD fan, I really like their bang for your buck performance Vs Intel and Nvidia.

Admittedly AMD haven’t exactly been on the cutting edge for a while with a non-APU processor, the last dedicated AMD CPU was the FX8350 released in 2011, four years ago now. And AMD have been lagging behind in the GPU stakes as well with their latest Fury X cards being touted as a Titan X killer falling well short of the mark and their R9 3xx cards turning out to be slightly enhanced R9 2xx cards.

The idea of having only one CPU and GPU maker bothers me because there will be no options as far as affordable performance, Intel Celeron or Atom processors don’t count. And I have never created a build with an Intel processor because I didn’t want to spend out double the cash for similar performance.

I simply like AMD as they offer the best value for money, but Nvidia has slowly but surely eroded AMD’s market share in the GPU market at competing price points and Intel have taken over the CPU market because of AMD’s lack of CPU releases in the last four years. AMD has it’s new Zen CPU coming in the next year, but after the hype and subsequent disappointment from the R9 3xx and Fury X cards, it could be too little, too late to save AMD, but I truly hope that I am wrong and Zen becomes the new benchmark.


Formula 1 British Grand Prix 2015

It may have been a familiar result with Hamilton claiming victory and Rosberg finishing in second, but for me the British Grand Prix was the best race of the season by far. It was the first time since Vettel’s win for Ferrari in China back in April that it looked like another team, albeit Mercedes powered could win the race. I truly felt that Williams had the pace to win in the dry but the rain did fall during the final third of the race which put Williams on the back foot and allowed Mercedes to claim another 1-2 finish.

The race got off to an exciting start with both Williams jumping the Mercedes off the line, which immediately peaked my interest for two reasons, (1) being a Williams fan and (2) not seeing the Mercedes disappear into the distance and control the race. Hamilton did come back at Bottas when the Finn gave too much room to the Briton going into turn 4 allowing Hamilton to slide up the inside.

Meanwhile a little further back, Hulkenberg jumped from eighth to fifth place to demote the Ferrari’s back to sixth and eighth places with Red Bull’s Kvyat splitting Raikkonen and Vettel. Maldonado went back to his crashing ways, losing the back end of his car and taking out his team mate, Grosjean, which in turn forced Alonso to take avoiding action and collected his McLaren team mate, which ended Button’s race. Maldonado continued but stopped one lap later while Alonso had a lengthy stop for a new front wing.

All this first lap calamity brought out the safety car to recover the stopped cars of Grosjean, Button and Maldonado. During the restart on lap 4, Hamilton was keen to jump Massa for the lead and got a little overzealous, locking up his front wheels causing him to go off the track allowing Bottas to retake second.

I believe Williams made a mistake telling their drivers to hold station when Bottas was clearly faster than Massa and by the time that Bottas was given the go ahead to attack as long as it was a clean overtake, the opportunity had passed. Bottas clearly had the speed to put some distance between himself and Massa if he was allowed to pass the Brazilian. I feel this early race decision was the difference between a podium and finishing fourth and fifth, why on Earth would you not want your faster driver ahead on track?

On lap 39, the heavier rain started falling which changed the complexion of the race, Raikonen pitted for intermediate tyres, which turned out to be a bad decision as he had to make a second stop for intermediates on lap 48. Hamilton and Vettel both elected to pit on lap 44 and it paid off big time for both drivers, Hamilton retaking the lead and Vettel jumping both Williams to claim the final podium spot. Williams’ Bottas made a request for intermediate tyres a number of times including lap 43, one lap before Hamilton and Vettel pitted. I honestly think Williams made bad strategy calls at the British GP!

Massa and Bottas both lost out to Rosberg and Alonso as the rain fell because of Williams’ slow reaction to the changing weather conditions despite Bottas’ pleas to switch to intermediates. I think that it’s a massive missed opportunity for Williams to get onto the podium at the British Grand Prix.

Red Bull’s Kvyat had an anonymous race and claimed sixth place while Nico Hulkenberg had to settle for seventh place despite his lightning start followed by the second Ferrari of Raikkonen in eighth while Perez for Force India and Alonso for McLaren round out the points scorers in ninth and tenth respectively.

I certainly enjoyed the British Grand Prix much more than the previous two Grand Prix’ in Canada and Austria. Obviously the changeable weather conditions helped, but the Williams pace in the dry was a revelation, which adds excitement purely because Mercedes were on the back foot a little with the weather and Williams poor strategy being the equalizer for the Silver Arrows allowing for the 1-2 finish!

2015 British Grand Prix Results

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:31:27.729
2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) +10.9
3. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +25.4
4. Felipe Massa (Williams) +36.8
5. Valteri Bottas (Williams) +63.1
6. Danill Kvyat (Red Bull) +63.9
7. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) +78.7
8. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +1 LAP
9. Sergio Perez (Force India) +1 LAP
10. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +1 LAP

The “Marriage Equality” Battle Is Over, But The War Continues…

Last Friday the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage in all 50 states of the US. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already have laws on their books which allow for same sex marriage while the remaining 13 states, mainly in the South and Midwest had banned same sex marriage.

Without going into too much political bullshit, the court ruled marriage equality is guaranteed under the 14th amendment to the US constitution. I see this ruling as the same as the Supreme Court ruling that allowed interracial couples to marry legally. Erin and I could not be married now if it weren’t for Richard and Mildred Loving’s fight against the system, Friday’s ruling is the 21st century civil rights equivalent.

I have no issue with individuals having a belief that same sex or indeed interracial marriage is wrong, that’s their constitutional right to have that opinion. But where I do take exception is when county clerks refuse to discharge their civic duty to issue a marriage license to same sex couples. Some people have resigned from their county positions because of their religious beliefs in light of the court decision, which is the right thing to do, but others simply intend to refuse to issue a marriage license to same sex couples.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has suggested that county employees refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples under religious freedom laws if it goes against their faith. Backed up by an army of conservative lawyers waiting in the wings to defend county employees on a pro-bono basis should a lawsuit be brought against said employees because of their refusal to issue a same sex marriage license.

I 100% believe that any religious belief is a truly personal thing and should be checked-in at the door of the workplace. If religious beliefs are so strong that they can not do their job because of it, time to go and find alternative employment. A person should not and cannot be allowed to circumvent federal and/or state laws because it conflicts with their personal faith, anyone doing so should be fired and prosecuted!

Obviously I am one or those bleeding heart liberal types, I believe everyone should have the same rights and privileges regardless of sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or (insert type/class of person). I don’t understand why people are so against same sex marriage, just issue the damn license and move on with your day, issuing a piece of paper should have no long lasting effect on their existence in any way.

Final thought, the issue with the constitution is that it contradicts itself, how can we have religious freedom when the constitution guarantees certain rights that go against Christian principles. It’s a catch22 situation, what trumps what, should religious freedoms trump constitutional rights or vice-versa?


F1: A Declining Sport

Over the past few years I have become increasingly disillusioned with Formula 1 as a sport, more so this season. We are only eight races into the season and my will to sit down and watch races live has all but disappeared, in fact I completely skipped the Canadian Grand Prix, which turned out to be a complete snooze-fest as it happens, if Canada does not provide good racing, we know that F1 is in deep trouble.

I think that the direction that F1 has gone is a mistake, fast degrading tyres plus the requirement to use both tyre compounds during the race, the drag reduction system and the new 1.6 hybrid V6 turbo formula with fuel usage restrictions all make the sport feel so incredibly artificial. Many drivers have been complaining that they are not being challenged because they can not run flat out most of the race because of tyre and fuel conservation and the fans of F1 have picked up on this and switched off.

There has been talk about having 1,000HP engines which could be achieved by relaxing the fuel-flow regulations, free choice of tyre compounds, although both compounds would still need to be used, refueling was slated for a return but teams pooped on that idea citing cost and safety concerns.

But I think the biggest issue with F1 is that it is run by committee, i.e. the top six teams, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Williams plus the team that finishes sixth in the constructors championship, leaving the bottom four teams out in the cold. Each team is going to want rules that give them the best chance of success, e.g. forming rules based upon their own personal agenda, which I find crazy!

The sport’s rules should be set by the governing body, the FIA and teams have two choices, either compete or not compete under those rules. Half the time teams can’t agree on a way forward because it does not suit their personal agendas. And while they squabble over the rules, the sport loses more and more of its fans, even the long term hardcore fans that get up at ungodly hours to watch races live.

I am not saying teams should not have a say in the structure of the sport, but it should be a “say”, not a blocking vote and all teams in the sport should be allowed an equal say instead of just the big six teams.

The funniest thing I have heard is that the FIA has opened up entries for new teams 2016/17, I don’t see a lot of teams wanting to risk F1 with costs being so high and the instability in the rules. Many of the lower rank teams, from sixth down are struggling to survive, Marrussia/Manor barely survived to make it onto the 2015 grid while Caterham and HRT have fallen by the way side and USF1 never made it to the grid.

My personal view is that massive changes need to happen to rescue F1 from its current self destructive path. Will it happen? Probably not! But it’s clear that the current regime is not working, drivers are unhappy and unchallenged, fans are disillusioned, it’s definitely time for change, no question about it!


Real Estate Photography Tips

As someone who works in real estate marketing, I find myself increasingly frustrated and annoyed by the piss-poor standards when it comes to real estate photography, everything from bad metering, e.g. metering from a light source such as a window, which creates an underexposed image or using a forward firing flash creating horrible shadows to terrible angles and converging vertical lines. All of which could be fixed easily by following a few simple rules and spending more than a few seconds per shot.

Good photography is of vital importance in real estate as it’s the first thing that people see in your marketing materials before reading a single word of your marketing text. If you have poor photos, many will simply move onto the next listing, or maybe not even look at your listing because of a poor photo.

The first thing to do, whether you have a professional DSLR or point and shoot camera, buy a tripod, a cheap $30 tripod will do, it will allow you to set a slower shutter speed to capture more light, removing the need to use a flash. Most modern digital cameras have some sort of manual exposure setting and to avoid those blurry photos, use your camera’s self timer function to avoid “camera shake”. Always use the widest angle lens available to you and zoom out to it’s widest angle, I’d say 18mm on a crop sensor camera is the minimum wide angle you’ll need, a lot of point and shoot cameras are equivalent to that.

Preparing the room for photography is vitally important, I always open all blinds and/or curtains to maximize natural light and turn on all available lights in the home, remove any trash and generally tidy up, also remove fridge magnets etc. I like to open all interior doors and closets to show/highlight space.

From a shooting angle point of view, I always place my camera as far back into the corner of the room as possible on my tripod at about chest height (5ft) using the built in level of the tripod if available or use the viewfinder to get equal amount of floor and ceiling in shot, making sure that vertical lines are straight. In smaller rooms, set your camera in a portrait position (vertical) to capture more of the floor and ceiling, making the room look larger, this technique is great for bathrooms, walk-in closets and hallways.

Metering is very important, always take a metering point somewhere inside the room away from windows and light sources to get the correct exposure, this does tend to “blow out” the windows a little, but the room will be correctly exposed. To get a balance of light from windows and internal brightness, I use a technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range), I take 3 or more shots 1-2 stops apart and combine them in software which allows for visibility out of the window while keeping the correct exposure inside.

I hope that this brief write-up helps you produce better photos of your properties, if you have some questions, please feel free to post a comment below, and I will attempt to give you some advice.


My View Of Wolfenstein: The New Order

I know that I am late on Wolfenstein: The New Order but I didn’t buy it because I never pay $60 and it went on sale on Steam last weekend for $15 and… drumroll… this is my first every game “review”.

Firstly; Wolfenstein: The New Order plays on reasonably meager graphics cards, on medium settings at 1080p, my three year old AMD Radeon HD 6770 plays the game at 35-40 FPS, albeit the rest of my specs are pretty high, AMD FX 8350, 32GB DDR3-1866 and 2x120GB SATA 3 SSD’s plus 500GB 7200rpm HDD.

The game itself kinda feels like playing a character in a movie, not because you can’t tell the difference between a movie and game graphics, but because of the interspersed real time rendered cut scenes, which gives added depth to the characters. I also really like the animations when climbing ladders, sliding under stuff and pressing buttons, pulling levels etc, it actually feels like you are using the on screen items.

I don’t want to go too much into the plot line of Wolfenstein: The New Order, but there is aerial dogfight, prison break, many big bad robots which you can fight with dual wield weapons, a trip to the moon and blowing up a bridge. There is also a love interest for B.J. Blazkowicz, lots of social interaction between the resistance members and it has a surprising ending to the story line after you dispose of “Deathshead”.

So overall, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great reboot of the Wolfenstein series with the alternative timeline of the Nazi’s winning the war. Graphically, it’s very nice even at medium settings, I attempted to use high settings and it ran at 15 – 18 FPS, which is hardly surprising with my graphics card being three generations behind the latest offerings. Sound is amazing, from the gun and environment effects to the film like score to accompany the action onscreen, I’d definitely recommend using some “hi-fi” headphones to enhance the overall experience. It’s definitely worth my $15 investment in the game!