thoughts and decisions for a creative edge

Market

Vibram FiveFingers. Don’t believe the Signa hype.

I was curious about Vibram FiveFinger shoes that keeps popping up in stores and web stores. I own a couple of Vibram-soled shoes. Many which I can swear by. From RockPorts to UGG which have outlasted other shoes I own. If you haven’t heard about the FiveFingers, these are basically extremely light ninja-like shoes like those of the dorky fingered socks.. except made of more durable material and a sole to cushion your feet from the impacts it receives from various form of exercises and activities. They make these for distance running, trail running and just daily use too. In favour of the weightless ergonomic look and since I do tonnes of dragon boating and stand up paddling, I kinda got my eyes set on one of their products which markets specifically for water activities.

There are various kind of shoes you can wear while doing water activities. Most of these would be neoprene based from 2mm to 5mm for various weather conditions. These are good but it usually gets pretty hot and sweaty when you’re wearing them in the peak of summer. This design however are derived from scuba diving or snorkelling as they cool you down when you’re submerged in water. But when you’re staying on ground exposed to hot sun or winter’s weather, it can be pretty unbearable. Then there is the netted top material aqua-shoe that’s sprawling the market with a thick polyurythane sole underneath. Even though they work for its purpose, you tend to however lose your sole senses due to its thick unflexible soles. Despite all the comfort claims, this shoes make your toes and feet completely senseless; like having on gum boots when you want to feel the grass under your feet. If you catch my drift.

When in water, and on a paddle board, you want to feel connected to the water. Many will either go bare feet as it gives you that connection while you’re applying pressure on the deck of the board whilst paddling. On a dragonboat or SUP in summer weather, barefeet feels great but you don’t want to step off the board into old deck splinters or unexpected sharp rocks. And for us who trains on fresh water, these murky water sometimes makes your feet slippery during the power phase of your stroke. You’re transferring the full weight of the paddle to the bottom of your feet and the last thing you’d want it to do is slip.

Less about paddling technique, back about the Signa shoe and its advertising claims.

Whether kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding or simply walking the rocky shores all summer, the FiveFingers® Signa is the shoe for you. The segmented Coral outsole made of Vibram® TC-4 Plus rubber ensures ultimate grip and protection in the water and allows natural foot flexion when swimming. Small perforations in the sole encourage water drainage, minimize weight, and speedup drying time. The upper is built with a combination of synthetic and abrasion resistant fabrics to protect the foot. The Signa is finished off with a structural hook and loop strap for a secured fit. Machine washable. Air dry.

So I bought myself the Vibram FiveFingers Signa in January 17, 2015. I decided on these vs the TrekSport which also claims to be water specialized design due to its breathing sole. Water in – water out. Quick dry. It takes a bit of practise to get these on and off your feet. As advised, you should choose the proper size that allow your heel to firmly seat in the heel cup and for me this was one size smaller than the normal shoe size I wear. So in general, if you’re like me wearing a 44 you’d want to get a 43 to have a proper snug fit. So Jack is happy with his shoe fit. But through time and putting it to its paces, that’s where it becomes less desirable. Jack is starting to not like it.

After less than six months of use (2nd June 2015 at the time of writing) the shoe is starting to break apart. The first to snap off was the rear loop. You have to understand the snugness of these shoes when you try to get them on. The thing just decided it’s had enough and snapped off exactly where the stitches are. It was a perfect rip. Like that of a postage stamp. This was just the first of many other failure symptoms to come.

Broken Loop

The following week during my SUP race here in Netherlands, I thought the shoe had a less snug feel. A closer look unveiled that the rubber seal which connects the sole to the upper synthetic material is also torn. I’m beginning to doubt that this shoe was ever tested on and off water for this length of use. But 3x a week and about 2 hours average each time is not too much I think.

Torn sole seam

And the rest just starts to fall apart. The glue adhesive on the bottom of the toes have also started to give way and if you look closely to the upper synthetic material, it has started to tear in various places. It may be made for water, but I think its just not weather-proofed. This shoes dry fast but it feel like the materials used couldn’t withstand the repeated wet-wear and dry over a repeated period – of I say 6 months.

Glue wears off

Synthetic upper layer cracks and tears

So now I am at a loss of whether the shoe was well worth the $90 I paid for when it starts to deteriorate after 6 months of use. I wear them on average 3x a week for my dragonboat and SUP trainings. Nothing extreme like jumping rocks / running distances what so ever. To make matters slightly more complicated, I got these in Florida during my travel and I doubt the retailers in Netherlands would even want to bother with my issue on this shoe even if they stock them here on the shelves. But one thing for sure, I’d be more wary to look for feedbacks on this water-claim Signa shoes before giving them your hard earned money.

If any of you know where I can get this fixed, replaced or warrantied, do direct me to the right pls. I twittered about the torn loop once on Twitter with @FiveFingers tagged on it but never got any response from them. Too busy selling I guess.

Needless to say. It might be the last time I look into FiveFingers as a watersports wear. I was sceptical when I got it, and despite the great feel it gives, the sudden wear and break down on its material and build makes it an undesirable product for its claimed purpose. I guess I’m back to the old smelly neoprene boots when I hit the water. At least they can take the 5 year beatings without a problem. Don’t believe the hype. And don’t fall for false marketing.


Super Sennheiser September

It’s been a great month of getting new toys in this September. After a quick projection on the work in progress, we’ve acquired a list of mics needed in the studio to get the field job done. And you’ve read it – all of them happen to be from Sennheiser.

Sennheiser EW122p G3

We started our month with the Sennheiser wireless lavaliere EW122p G3 series. The frustration from not being able to mic up an interview clearly due to the fact that that last project was in a crowded space helped us make this decision to pick up a wireless lav. The main difference with the EW122p is that it comes packaged with a cardioid ME4 mic. Some folks reckon it might be a hassle to use a directional mic on a lavalier system, but I want to be able to direct the capsule to the talent in a controlled space. If I know that I will be capturing audio from the talent in the open but not in a sit-down-interview situation, then the ME2 mic (an omni) would do best. We got in the T+R packs along with spare BA 2015 batteries and the optional L2015 Dock Charger that should enable us to transmit continuously.

Sennheiser MKH 416 p48

This one is the industry standard. The go to mic that Hollywood or ADR studios would use to make overdubs. It’s a phantom powered hyper cardioid shotgun mic thats been used for over 2 decades and trusted by many ENG works.

I’ve heard so much about it and in fact never planned to buy this mic. Never thought I’d be able to afford one really.. But I got really lucky and found somebody here in Holland that was selling it at a pretty affordable price after giving up an old hobby of sound collecting.. Pretty strange I thought that he used the MKH416 which is mostly best suited for collecting dialogue for TV. No rules in audio they say..

I tested the mic thoroughly when I was there to collect it. I had my Roland R-26 close to be sure that it is able to power the 416.. This way I’d also be sure that my R-26’s circuitry works fine with the mic. It’s the only way that this mic can be powered. Interestingly the guy selling it had a Fostex FR-2LE CF Field Recorder, so we’re happily comparing gears over microphones and tea.. yes microphones.

One conversation led to another, so I asked I asked since he was into ENG and EFP, what else does he have in his collection. At this point he was reluctant, but he finally said he has this vintage shotgun that he is actually didn’t intend to sell. Didn’t intend to sell?? What does that mean.. What was it he had? A pristine 20+ year old combo still-in-box Sennheiser ME80+ME40 with a working K3U preamp.

The ME80 have been a workhorse for some documentary producers. The newer version of this mic is the ME66 which uses the K6 preamp instead of the K3. Click on picture to see what folks of Gearslutz think about it.

Sennheiser K3U pre with ME80 + ME40 Capsule

Wait. Isn’t that the original electret that’s replaced with the new ME66+K6 module?? Yep. That’s the holy grail… I’ve actually read about these. I didn’t know I’d stumble into one.. while purchasing the MKH 416.. what luck. But was he planning to sell it or not was the better question.

Since it was there, I asked his permission to test both mics (or 3 mics considering that there’s the ME40 cardioid capsule there too). And I loved them both!! Instantly with the ME80 you could tell that its got a long throw of pick up. Not as warm as the MKH416 but its clear, crispier in its higher end peaking at 8KHz thus giving it that brighter response. But if you’ve seen the difference in this mic to the newer ME66, that’s where it gets interesting.

With the ME66 you need to use it in close proximity or the mic is not going to pick up frequencies from 2Khz and above. But that’s not the case with this ME80 which has an even response throughout the 10dB difference. SO which one is better you think? Well depends.. If you need sound rejection from the rest in the crowd, keeping this mic close to the voice will keep it isolated while rejecting the background noise further away from the mic. But for Field Recording, the ME80 will give you a gorgeous response in all registers.

The accompanying data sheet (published in 1987) reports the following specifications:

K3U:
Electrical impedance: approx. 130 ohms

ME80:
Frequency response: 50 – 15 000 Hz
Sensitivity at 1 kHz: 5 mV / Pa +-2.5 dB
S/N ratio according to DIN 45 405 and CCIR 468-2: >67 dB

The most important difference between the K3/ME80 and the K6/ME66 is the much higher sensitivity of the ME66 (50 mV/Pa vs. 5 mV/Pa). Thus, the ME80 would require a quieter preamplifier. The equivalent self-noise level of the K3/ME80 is about 6 dB higher than the K6/ME66. The specified S/N ratio of 67 dB corresponds to an equivalent (CCIR
468-3 weighted) noise level of 27 dB (which would be about 16 dBA)

Why yes, you guessed it. I ended up coming home with a bunch of mics. I have to thank Han for trusting me to take over his precious collections. I’m sure he had more in there but I wouldn’t be ready for Schoeps CMIT 5 U. This is bad enough for now.

I’m looking to see if we should enable customers to rent out this mics.. But if you really do need them while in Holland for your shoots, do drop us a note about it.

Next blog will be about our new upgrade for a friendly mixer for both Audio and Video – Avids MC Control v2, the Artist Series


Bluetooth Speakers

Almost here. Hidden Radio & Bluetooth Speaker

I finally backed on something I liked on kickstarter last Christmas. Since I’m always in search of a good mini speaker(s) to lug around when I travel, I figured there’d be something in there that could improve the way we listen to audio coming from our smartphones apart from being attached to cords of headphones and such. Notice how I said audio and not just music? You see, music this days are primarily still mixed in stereo (and I say so coz music engineers rarely do Mono testing compatibility this days) and if your hardware only supports Mono, chances is that you’re only listening to the Left channel of the audio mix. I sure hope that’s not the case with the product we’re gonna be talking about here..

Hidden Radio & Bluetooth Speaker

I’ve been using Singapore-produced X-Mini Max II where ever I roam; to the beach, the park, in Bali, on the boat or just right in the living room with an iPad to listen to webcasts. But last Christmas, when I saw the design from John and Vitor… I thought it’s about time I try something untethered, and a pretty looking one to boot.

What John van Den Nieuwenhuizen said about their design made me want to try their speaker out.

“Radios and speakers are often large and obtrusive, we created the HiddenRadio + BT Speaker using simple, unassuming, intuitive design so it can be loved in any home.”

This is true.. The thing that never got emphasized though is that this radio is an FM based receiver. So I don’t know if it’d receive all stations when you bring it with you across different hemispheres. In Europe the stations are spaced at 9kHz intervals, and in the US they use 10kHz spacing. Most modern radios won’t let you tune between these spacings. Since there is no AM then no problem. Smartly enough, the unit uses simple 2-button Up/Down Scan function to lock on to any good FM transmission available. You’d have to guess what station you’re listening to as there’s no LCD indicator on the frequency you’re on.Thus the name is true, there is a ‘Hidden Radio’ built into the Bluetooth speaker. Something to add about the FM radio, you’d have to plug in an external FM antennae for better reception. Curious why they didn’t use the knob itself as a brushless antennae.

THE LOUDNESS WAR AND IT LOOKS METALLICA

The Bluetooth Speaker would crank audio up til just over 80dB . Pretty loud claim for something its size. There’s a video comparison on the audio quality compared against well known Jawbone speaker. But seeking deep into HRBS site, there’s no where in tech specs that they mention the speaker’s range for Frequency Response. Proprietary 360° sound diffuser.. that’s all that’s written under Audio Specs.

No buttons, just one giant knob to lift and turn. The higher you lift the cover, the louder it gets. That simple? Not so.. Two things..

ONE..

I’m curious how the mechanism is designed for this to work smoothly. They claim that it should be effortless to lift the lid without having to hold the base. There’s gotta be some sort of gummy rubber placed on the base to create friction from the base to spin as you turn the top cap. And if I’m right, then you’d need a little practise to actually do the twist-to-turn-on-and-raise-up-the-volume functionality. Eitherwise it’d be a grab and turn like what I saw on SlashGear’s video review. And notice how the lid is twitsted clockwise to lift? Its counter intuitive on how we always twist anti-clockwise to open a lid.

TWO..

Its a gimmick I think. If you don’t turn that knob all the way up, the sound is bound to be muffled. Looking at the picture again, you see that the speaker grills sit all around under the knob casing. You don’t adjust the volume of a speaker by blocking the face of the tweeter or cones do you? Even when you lower down the volume, that speaker cone needs to be free and unblocked to continue reproducing the full frequency range of audio that you’re listening to. So I’m curious how they’d overcome that issue based on their design. I believe you just have to keep it wide open to get the full range and adjust audio from the playback device. If this falls true, then there’s a huge design flaw against the aesthetic idea. Well even I fell for it!

With AirPlay enabled on the iOS device and paired via bluetooth, HiddenRadio will now appear as one of your external audio device. Switching speakers is effortless.

Hidden Radio Select

Built-in battery is claimed to give about 15hrs of play time. Which I hope is made easily replaceable when shelf-life is reached. I can’t even remember what their final decision was.. as to whether a wall plug would be delivered with the product or not.

Looking further into the design itself I think all is good except for two critical items..

ONE: They forgot to add in a microphone. Kinda defeat its purpose if you have to run back to the phone to speak and listen back via HRBS. It should work fine for Skype and FaceTime video chats fine as you’d have to be close to your phone for video framing anyhow, thus using the mic on mobile device is inevitable.

TWO. I wish they had a Call Answer or Call Reject button. Think about it. It’s almost a ‘speakerphone’ but you can’t talk into it or stop the phone from ringing when somebody dials in.

WHAT ABOUT QUALITY AUDIO

Alternatively, if you’re looking for quality speakers that offer wireless bluetooth functionality which focuses on sound quality as well as functionality apart from clean looks, checkout Soundmatters’ foxL v2.2 speakers. Claimed as worlds best bluetooth stereo speaker, which comes with a hands-free microphone that enables better speakerphone / conferencing. And with no surprise, foxL also comes with one-touch answer/reject/end-call button. Batteries lasts only about 8 hours it makes sense as you get full fidelity stereo sound. Shame I only learnt about Soundmatters’ foxL after pledging for HRBS! Aarrghh!!!

Shame that I cannot do any audio comparison of Foxl against the HRBS right now. But come the time, you bet that I will do back-to-back referencing on the audio spectrum from HRBS. I sure hope it stands to its competitors even if its not a stereo speaker.

We’re just days away before receiving our Hidden Radio and Bluetooth Speaker here in Holland.. and with the new announcement of iPhone5 yesterday, audio is triumphantly one of the most focussed enhancements in recent comm tech developments. High Fidelity audio is the way forward. Not just about being wireless. Not just about sitting pretty. For now, we wait, see and listen.


WatchBot Hack

So you fell into that groupon deal for this surveillance camera. Camera worth €240 going at €45, who’d wanna miss that. But now you found out the camera doesn’t allow WPA encryption. And the annoying GnG advert URL creeps on you whenever you’re on the Browser UI. Let’s iron those out shall we?

You’d need to do this 2 things to upgrade the cam..

1. Flash cam with compatible Apexis cam firmware
2. Update to Foscam’s latest UI

!!! WARNING. YOU’RE VOIDING YOUR WARRANTY, NO TURNING BACK AFTER THIS !!!

Download Apexis J802-WS firmware 17.37.2.41. It allows the use of both unencrypted and WPA2-TKIP+EAS instead of just WEP encryption on Watchbot’s crippled firmware.

What’s bizarre, Apexis use mediafire.cc to distribute their firmware. This is the direct link to it from their website: Apexis firmware J011 J802 J803 firmware_17_37_2_41.bin.

After flashing the FW you can reconfigure necessary port forwarding and Wireless LAN setup within your network router and camera settings. The camera should work wirelessly but lets toss that ugly Watchbot UI especially that cheesy Gadget&Gift advert. You already paid them your dues with the camera purchase.

Download Foscam latest UI 2.4.18.17 from FI8918W’s latest update link.
http://www.foscam.com/Private/ProductFiles/FI8918W-11.22.2.38.zip
– unpack the zip file and keep only the UI.bin
* ShenZhen Foscam firmware source http://www.foscam.com/down3.aspx

The rest is pretty much self explanatory..

ENJOY your new browser-free UI with latest and best working drivers with your Watchbot!

*** Fair warning – do this at your own risk. Im not responsible for you. ***

Wij zijn toch niet gek!


Have you met Cinemagram yet?

If you been reading my blog, you’d know I love creating cinemagraphs. It’s basically a still picture laid in front of a short frame of video looped behind an area of exposed mask. Not too sure if you can make any sense out of that. But if you Google on the subject on creating Cinemagraphs you’d probably understand the lil painstaking process of creating this modern-day gif animations. But not until recently..

New life from an old bike..

Pink Project shot with 550D in HD then frame selected in PS CS5 Ext

Now there’s an app to feed myself further into this subtle art of emphasizing motion within a momentary period. Cinemagram allows you to create gifs right out of your iPhone. Yep. No computer needed. The app has yet to be polished but its basic function works a charm. It’s so awesome that by the time you read this there’s almost 400,000 cinemagrams created within a week from it’s date of release with version 1.

Below are examples of cinemagrams I was able to create in matter of minutes. Compare that to possibly an hour spent for one like above using a DSLR camera and selected frames processed in Photoshop. Oh btw, they call it Cinemagram to compliment the ever famous and successful Instagram iPhone App. The developers are not related in any way. I think.

Basic fundamental of cinemagraphs uses a sequence of moving images kept at a minimum 15 frames for ideal playback when inserted to the web. Keeping the file small is key. Thanks to today’s fast processors and lightning fast internet speed, this modern-day GIF revelation is making a come back with a BANG!

Cinemagram seems to select up to 44 frames of the video that you shoot within the app. But the primary frame that you want to choose as the masking source is not selectable. I hope this would be updated soon in future updates. On default it uses the first frame of the selected video selection. Creating these cinemagrams is pretty simple:

  • Shoot the video of the subject you want to animate as steady as you can. I have my iPhone 4 in a KUNGL thus it’s always easy to set it up on a tripod of any sort. You can also use snapmountforiphone adapter or equivalent. From this video capture, only 2-3 seconds of the video would be used. Select the the In and Out point of your animated frames that’s to be used in the loop. Tap and Hold to zoom in. Press Play to preview the loop. When happy click SAVE and the video loop will be compressed for editing. I think Cinemagram compress the video into approximately 15 frames per second. But I’m not gonna do the maths..
  • You now can pinch zoom and finger paint (draw a mask) on the area that you want exposed, this selected space will reveal the looped video in background.
  • Once happy with your mask, you’re given the option to COLORIZE. The options currently available are : Raw, Xpro, Toaster, Redscale and B&W.
  • Let it render couple of seconds and you’re presented with the animated gif which is defaulted to play in Auto Reverse mode. This aids to create a smoother animation. If your video crop is smooth enough to be played in a continuous cycle like the bicycle wheel above, then you can turn off the Reverse function.

It’s tricky to make a seamless continuous cycle in cinemagram, the option to choose the specific 1st and last frame is still not made possible. Most I made have default Reverse mode turned on. I do have a looped example below with the Towards Europoort cinemagraph. But it’s a shame that this does not even show who created it, when, or how many people have liked or viewed it. These are key features on how to raise users (and developers) awareness and satisfactions I think. Below I’ve made the animation bigger as the ones used in Cinemagram browser link are pretty small at it’s original resolution. Bigger = Better 🙂 Right?

towards europoort Can you spot the 1st and last frame? Compare this with the seamless GIF of the bicycle wheel above.
Try viewing it in the Original Link. Bigger is better right? 🙂

coca colaWith REVERSE mode ON: You barely see that the drink is pouring OUT.. and then pouring IN. Original Link.

Do Not Disturb My sleeping tiger. Original Link

Pros

  • Easy to create short cinemagraphs.
  • With 3G network or WiFi, you can share links to Twitter, Facebook & Tumblr.
  • Great way to discipline and focus on details you want emphasized while shooting video / picture.
  • HTML EMBED code to help share your Cinemagram in a blog.
  • Cinemagraph tool in your pocket. Hard to beat that.
  • Costs $1.99 with compatible iPhone. No need for external frame editor / computer.
  • Induce creative fun. Totally addictive.

Cons

  • Cannot import from video from Camera Roll Library
  • Cannot add Hashtags or add Comments
  • Limited to sharing on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr
  • You don’t get notified if anyone Liked or Shared your Cinemagram 😦
  • There is no FOLLOW or SUBSCRIBE option
  • No search option via Title or Tag for cinemagrams already created

Cinemagram App costs $1.99 on iTunes and brings further addiction and anti-socializing when you have your iPhone with you in public. But yea, they’ll understand why when they see your masterpiece. Mail me your’s when you’re done!

For an interesting PBS short about GIFs and its modern uses in Cinemagraph check this video.


Fandi Ahmad’s return in Groningen

I can’t take any credits for this. The idea came about when friends in Singapore asked what the commentator was saying.. Real fans, especially those in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia might have watched it but not understand the commentators report. The whole coverage was in Dutch. Thus all it really needed was English subtitles.

I hope I didn’t make many errors with the translation. I tried the best I could to make better sense of this much viewed report from 2010 from both RTV Noord and FC Groningen’s TV.

After a couple of week’s upload and getting 900+ viewings to date, I think I might have helped hundreds to understand what a real hero our football legend is when it comes to goal scoring in his career’s peak.

This one is for you Fandi. And all your fans. Enjoy!


Astro 15 – Salutes late Heavy D & Joe Frasier on X Factor USA

Little man Astro is 14 going 15, but his rhymes flow 1000x more like poetry. I rarely listen to rap lyrics, normally just to its melody and rhythm, and once a while listening out if the lines rhymes. But when a teenager his age is writing, I’d gladly listen. Unlike too many of today’s rap writers that spits or shoot guns, booties and greens, his’ is all about the current state of (t)his competition.. His words’ and performance is no longer child play… instead it’s some serious ass whoopin. In between owning the stage yesterday, he dedicates it to late Joe Frasier and Heavy D.. Kid’s got class.

I don’t think many self-proclaim rapper could impress the judges or America for this performance. But looking at Rihanna’s face and reaction from the performance at the judges house.. This kid is legit to the core.

Each week Brian Bradley writes his own fresh lyrics to be performed live on stage on Xfactor USA.. And his judge and mentor LA Reid claims he can do 10 songs in a week. And true enough, each week I’m drawn more and more to this kid.

Seriously, ASTROnauts an all GO! I’m pretty darn sure he’s In It to Win It. That’s as far as I go with rhyming..

Also check out his 1st LIVE show performance here.. You might know this track better.. Astro will make ye.. XX… XFactor will make you.. XX 🙂 As ironically as it seems, I feel Astro’s biggest competition to win this is another kiddo of 9th grade. 13 yr old Rachel Astrid is another to look out for. Seriously folks, this kids mean business. No kidding.