Friday, September 19, 2008

My new Canon SX110

Here are some pictures I took on the first day with my new Canon SX110.

My hard to photograph black dog:

Here are some thoughts about my new Canon SX110.

I'm noticing some tendency toward yellowness, even when using the Tungsten setting inside. I'm quite disturbed by it's inability to focus at close distances. I called support, and was told that I cannot zoom and use the macro setting, however, even with that information I'm having trouble with close-up shots. I had to figure out that the macro button doesn't necessarily turn on the macro setting -- it offers choices, and I have to make sure to choose the Macro icon.

The speed between shots without the flash is fine for my uses, I think -- I'll give it more of a workout tomorrow at soccer.

First, with the flash:

The rest are without the flash.

A macro shot:

Update: The soccer pictures came out well. Out of about thirty, only one was out of focus, and I only missed a couple of shots that I wanted because off the speed (or lack thereof) of the camera. The movie quality is a bit noisy (visually), but fine, I think for us. I do realize that if I want good movies I should buy a movie camera. A viewfinder would be nice, but in general, I'm happy with this camera.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Choosing my new camera

I'm feeling a little crabby about digital cameras. First of all, I just bought my fourth one, and it's the only one that works. The first fell off a table, the second stopped working, and the third stopped extending its lens. The third is currently in pieces on my dining room table, because I was hoping that I could clean any sand out of the lens and perhaps fix the problem. I had nothing to lose -- it is two months past its warranty, and it costs a minimum of $160 to repair.

I did not jump on the digital camera bandwagon early. My first digital camera was a Christmas present in 2002. Four in six years seems like too many, especially when compared to the longevity of film cameras.

So when I went looking for a camera this time (and I knew I'd get an extended warranty, although we usually self-insure) here's what I wanted:

  • Good pictures. Although I mostly take pictures of my family, I used to dabble in photography, and can be a bit of snob about picture quality.
  • Quick pictures. I want to be able to take a number of pictures quickly, as my kids aren't known for staying still. I don't want to wait for the camera to actually shoot after I depress the shutter button.
  • At least 5x zoom.
  • Under $300
I also prefer AA batteries, wanted image stabilization, and a decent movie mode.
Totally unreasonable? Not really. However when I read reviews at
and other sources, one thing I notice is that none of the reviews for cameras I looked at said anything to the effect of "the quality of the pictures will knock your socks off." Last year when my Canon S1 IS died, I compromised because I couldn't afford what I thought I really wanted. This year I'm not even convinced that what I want is out there, because manufacturers seem to be "improving" cameras in ways that don't match my wish list.

I looked at a variety of cameras, but ended up focusing on the Canon SX110 and the Lumix TZ5. I saw multiple mentions of the TZ5 having trouble focusing in movie mode, and the sound quality of movies being poor. There is a work-around to the focus problem, but since my kids like to make movies, I'd like a camera that they can make movies with without my turning off the autofocus first. I'm still eyeing the Canon S5 IS, but am put off by the fact that the reviews mention that photo quality was better in earlier versions! And the price is really beyond my budget. Also, my kids will use it, and the S5 IS is a little bulky. I enjoyed my S1 IS, but I didn't always take it places because of its size.

The other factor this time around for me was extended warranties. I want one that's bulletproof. I hope to have and use this camera for more than a single year! I discovered that Ritz Camera has a good warranty, but it's really expensive -- over a hundred dollars. Best Buy's warranty also seems good, and it's much cheaper, although their prices on the cameras are more expensive. I didn't get into a search for a good warranty from a mail order company, but at this point the convenience of being able to drop off the broken camera is a big selling point. As is the option to say "my kid dropped it, and it doesn't work." Best Buy told me that if I can bring them the camera, they will fix or replace it. Many warranties cover only defects, not accidents, so read carefully, and decide what you want.

I now own a Canon SX 110, however, it's still sealed in the box. I'll be thinking about it for a few more days, and seeing if the next Depression starts before I open it. I'll let you know what I think.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Homeschool scheduling

I was worried about folding my second son into our homeschool this year, but so far, the workload at least has not been a problem. We are doing secularized Ambleside Online, Year 3 for Parker, who is turning nine, and Year 1 for Mason, who is six. I thought about trying to combine years by finding other things to do with Mason for a year or more until my youngest, two years younger than Mason, might be ready for AO1. But I decided against it. I like Ambleside too much to not have each child do as much of it as they can. At least that is my view from this point!

Today was better than most in the past two weeks. We started with a brief meditation (at least I meditated, and maybe Parker). Perhaps that helped the day, along with my intent to have a different kind of day. Starting with a quiet time followed by a group activity of some sort (poetry or another read-aloud, for instance) rather than jumping right into the least popular tablework (handwriting and math) seems like it might be a more successful approach.

We are on the third week of Ambleside (both years), and the schedule has already been tweaked. To be honest, my biggest problem is six-year old moodiness. Even before we start any work, the squeaking has begun, so already I'm retooling. His math today, for instance, was mental, and in the car, and his handwriting was tracing a word that he wants to be able to write rather than a page in HWT. I supervised closely – I learned that lesson with my oldest, whose handwriting currently leaves a lot to be desired. I want him to have the skills of writing and computing, but I don’t believe that at the first grade level curricula in those subjects are necessary, although it can be useful as a guide. Later in the morning, when he came to find me when I reading my e-mail, I read half a fairy tale to him – just him on my lap in the office, neither other boy in sight. When he started squirming, we ended for the day, and we'll finish it up another day this week.

Parker is a little more compliant than Mason, although he definitely went through a similar moodiness that he seems to have currently outgrown. He's learned that he often (although not always) finds the readings interesting. He'll sometimes slip away without doing what I've asked him to do, but he will generally do it without much complaint in the end. That's a habit to work on, though.

We ate lunch outside, and I moved to a hammock swing before they were done. Mason came to join me, and we looked at the trees in sight, talking about leaf shapes (he's named oak "antlers" and maple "king's crown") and the difference in the bark, and whether there were matching trees around.

Later this afternoon the four of us listened to a Bruce Coville recording of Romeo and Juliet, because there is some sort of Romeo and Juliet quest that Parker had been working on in Runescape, which the two oldest are heavily into right now. They all listened, even the four-year old (at least, he was quiet).

I set up the wheat mill, and we each took a turn grinding (totally voluntarily). I mixed up some scones with a little help from Evan. I asked Parker to make a dated drawing for his history notebook (we tried a timeline, but he wanted to draw pictures of the stories and we store them in chronological order in the loose leaf notebook). His picture is of Columbus' Nina, with the red cross on the sail as it's shown in one of our books.

We listened to the second half of Romeo and Juliet, with chocolate chip scones and tea, and the middle son managed to miss the ending. Narration consisted of telling me how the story differed from the version in Runescape. This was our first tea time this term, although it's on the schedule several times a week. We may try a movie version of Romeo and Juliet, also.

While my written schedule has homeschool done before lunch, today's more relaxed all day version may work better, at least until October, when some of our other activities start. I've tried to schedule some time for myself in the afternoon – both quiet time and project time. It's harder to make it happen that I expected, but I'm really not good at schedules. this afternoon, for instance, I used some of my time when I agreed to my youngest's request to play Go Fish. Still, it's better to have a plan and deviate from it than to not have a plan at all, I suppose. (As long as there's not too much guilt involved.)

[As far as schedules on paper go, I use the AO schedules that fit a twelve-week term on one page, front and back. I have both a paper version of this that I refer to, and an electronic version which has the readings I use online hyperlinked. I also have a rough "at home" daily schedule, that lists when the computer and TV are off and on, homeschool time in the morning and project and free time in the afternoon. This schedule is currently a little less reflective of what actually happens. The third paper lists days of the week across the top with three time slots morning, afternoon, and evening. This is where I list weekly activities like our coop, gymnastics class, soccer practice, and regular evening meetings. I've also used this sheet to try to slot in weekly activities like tea time composer or artist study, and some other things that I haven't actually gotten to.]