Decentralizing my online presence

Starting this year, I'm going to cross-post to my blogs:

  • everything I post on Instagram and

  • most of what I tweet (and retweet) on Twitter.


Two reasons.

1. I'm sick of the walled gardens that social networks force you play in.

It’s great that I can post stuff so easily to social networks. That’s where most my non-techie friends and family members are too – which is super cool.

But, once I do post stuff to a social network, there’s almost nothing else I can do with this content of mine. I can’t archive, index, search, tag, export, or repurpose any of it. And I certainly can’t share it to any other social network. So, once my content is in there, it stays in there.

That’s not the way things used to be, back when the web was more decentralized.

In the words of Tom Eastman: “I’m old enough to remember when the Internet wasn’t a group of five websites, each consisting of screenshots of text from the other four.”

Now I’m still a massive RSS user (yay NewsBlur!) so, for me, most of the web still is decentralized. I want my content to be part of this easily accessible, decentralized web as well.

Which brings me to reason number two…

2. Social networks are internet black holes.

If a post of mine isn’t in currently your social news feed or isn’t pinned to the top of my social profile, it might as well not exist.

Unless you’re willing to go to my profile and scroll through years of posts, there’s no easy way to see what I’ve posted since I joined Flickr in 2007, Facebook in 2007, Twitter in 2008, and Instagram in 2012.

None of my social network posts appear in Google or Bing, either. So, as far as the broader internet is concerned, this content of mine has disappeared into a black hole that you need to be a member of to access. And, even then, there’s no easy way to find what I’ve posted there over the years. (Though, to be fair, Flickr and Twitter do have fairly decent built-in search engines.)

I don’t want my content to be this thoroughly inaccessible.

So what next?

Initially, not too much is going to change. I’ll still keep posting regularly to Twitter and Instagram.

But, because I’ll be cross-posting most of my stuff to my blogs, too, you’ll be able to go to my blogs (this one and my professional one) and look through all the great stuff (mine and others’) that I’ve been sharing on Twitter and Instagram.

The best part: this blog content will be archived, tagged, and backed-up. And it’ll be easy to search for, export, and share to any other social network.

Yay for a more (re)decentralized web!

How to Combine Typefaces

This is an awesome write-up by Douglas Bonneville in Smashing Magazine: 

Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

Creating great typeface combinations is an art, not a science. Indeed, the beauty of typography has no borders. While there are no absolute rules to follow, it is crucial that you understand and apply some best practices when combining fonts in a design. When used with diligence and attention, these principles will always yield suitable results. Today we will take a close look at some the best practices for combining typefaces — as well as some blunders to avoid.

Yes, it's from three years ago but I recently needed to send it to someone and, while trying to look for it, realized that I hadn't actually blogged about it back then. So I'm talking about it now really just for completeness' sake :)


Hello NewsBlur!

So, how did I spend my Friday night? I migrated my RSS feed reading life over from Google Reader to NewsBlur :)

The whole process took about five hours because I first culled my RSS subscriptions in Google Reader from 470 down to 302 – not an easy task! – and then I skimmed through all of my unread posts, saving the ones I wanted to read to Pocket.

Making the actual switch to NewsBlur was really easy: I signed up for a paid account, automatically imported all my Google Reader feeds, and then tweaked a few feed URLs that didn’t get copied over properly (a couple of them got truncated).

And now I’m a NewsBlur person – complete with NewsBlur Andorid apps on my phone and tablet plus my own BlurBlog (not that I’ve shared anything there yet).

Why NewsBlur?

Why did I choose NewsBlur over Feedly as my Google Reader replacement? A few reasons.

For starters, when reading RSS feeds I prefer efficiency in reading over a more magazine style reading flow and layout – the latter being Feedly’s key differentiator and, therefore, what they’ll probably be focussing more on in the future. I like to get through my feeds as quickly as possible (I do subscribe to 305 of them, after all) and NewsBlur works better for that.

I also like the NewsBlur’s approach to feed reading – everything from its layout options to its Intelligence Trainer that helps bubble up relevant stories from your subscriptions. In a way, I’m glad Google Reader is shutting down because it’s given me the opportunity to explore better and more effective ways of reading news feeds.

I like paying for good quality software and supporting the people who build this kind of software. So even when I use freeware that I really like – applications like Metapad, Notepad++, Freemake Video Converter, Paint.NET, Calibre, Launchy, and so on – I make it a point to donate to these people. By supporting smaller developers like this you help maintain a market for innovators and their innovations.

Finally, I really like having my own BlurBlog. I hated losing the public, RSS-subscribe-able list of shared items that used to be part of Google Reader (they turned that off because they wanted all of the sharing from Google Reader to go into Google+, instead). But with NewsBlur’s BlurBlogs my friends and I can go back to sharing our favourite posts with each other quickly and easily (assuming, of course, they all sign up to NewsBlur, too).

So, yay! And let the NewsBlur-powered fun times begin :)

Online content & services worth paying for

I get a lot of ‘free’ stuff from the Internet – everything from news and entertainment to email and online storage.

By 'free', of course, I mean ad-supported (in most cases) so while I do technically pay for these services with my time, attention, and user profile data I don't directly pay for them in cash.

There are, however, a bunch of online services that I do explicitly pay for with my own money.

Paid Services

These include services you can't access without a subscription, such as:

I only recently signed up with MOG, by the way, and chose to pay them over their competitors for two main reasons: they stream high quality music (320kbps over WiFi and 4G) and, since they’re a Telstra partner, streaming music from them doesn’t count toward your mobile data bandwidth. Being both an audiophile who values high quality music and a Telstra mobile customer both of these are excellent reasons.

Payment Optional & Freemium Services

The other online services I pay for/contribute to are the kind that you can access for free but can also support financially if you so choose.

These include the news, information, and editorial services like:

With the exception of Wikipedia, to which I donate annually, the rest I support through automatic monthly micropayments.

The freemium services (products, really) that I pay for include:

  • Online information management from Evernote
  • Online photo storage from Flickr

Oh, and depending on how Fairfax rolls things out, I’ll probably subscribe to The Age Online, too, once they set up their paywall. And, speaking of news outlets, I also used to subscribe to the Economist but, much as I loved their content and editorial, I wasn’t getting enough of a return on my investment.

So that’s my list. What online services – content services or products – do you pay for?

A System for Editing Documents

New Squarespace Website!

In case you haven’t already noticed, we’ve upgraded our website.

We’ve moved from a basic, static HTML site that was built in 2008 to one that’s hosted on the fantastic Squarespace platform – which, by the way, I highly recommend.

Why the upgrade?

We upgraded the site because the old one was…well, old. Also, it was too manual and time consuming to maintain. This new site, on the other hand, is leaner, faster, and, overall, a more effective online presence for both me and Nadia.

The web has also changed a lot in four years. For example, your own website no longer needs to host your entire online life. You can do things like outsource your media storage and sharing to services like Flickr, YouTube, and Picasa Web Albums. And, on the social media side, you can outsource a lot of your micro-content and general web content sharing to services like Twitter and Google+.

But you know what the best part is? Using a professionally hosted web content management because that really makes website management both easy and a lot of fun.

What do you think of the new site? Love it? Hate it? Don’t care?

Never Use Two Spaces Between Sentences

I never use two spaces between sentences.

Why? Because it’s wrong to do so.

Who says so? Well, typographers and professional publishers – the people whose job it is to print the written word.

Oh, and also look at any professional English writing style guide (e.g. the Chicago Manual of Style) because they’ll all say the same thing.

For more, read Farhad Manjoo’s recent article in Slate, ‘Space Invaders’.

Danger of a Single Story: TED Talks, Africa & Stories from Pakistan

My favourite TED talk used to be ‘Benjamin Zander on Music and Passion’ (a.k.a. classical music with shining eyes).

It is now Chimamanda Adichie taking about ‘The Danger of a Single Story’:

You can find out more about Adichie on her Wikipedia page.

How Not To Write About Africa

Speaking of the “single story of Africa”, you must also watch Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘How Not to Write About Africa’:


If you have the time, do watch Wainaina’s follow-up video (which is rather long, unfortunately) in which he explains why he wrote ‘How Not to Write About Africa’: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

You can find out more about Wainaina on his Wikipedia page.

A Message for Peace From Pakistan

Continuing with the single-story theme, check out Asher Hasan’s short TED talk called ‘A Message of Peace from Pakistan’:

You can find out more about Asher Hasan on his LinkedIn profile. Also check out his non-profit, Naya Jeevan.

More Pakistani Stories

This is why blogs such as these – which are written about Pakistan or by Pakistanis – are so important because they tell you much more about this country and its people than what you would normally hear, see, or read via global media outlets:

For many more Pakistan-related blogs, take a look at these lists:

Two Web Milestones for Me

I can now officially say that I have been blogging for two years because on 24 April 2007 I published my first post on this blog. Woo hoo!

On the other hand, today I went and deleted my old GeoCities website because Yahoo! is closing that service down by the end of the year. Here is what the home page of that site used to look like:

Ye Olde Homepage

I created this site on the free GeoCities web hosting service back in 1999 when I graduated from LUMS and realized that I would no longer be able to host my personal site on the LUMS ACM Chapter’s Student Sever (which, by the way, I was the administrator of). I’d had a site on the Student Server since 1997.

Want to Take a Look?

You can see archived copies of my very oldest websites thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine:

Make sure you check out my Ameel’s Page o’ Links page from February 1997. Yep, that’s what the web was like back then. I still maintain that page, by the way, except it’s now called Ye Olde Page o’ Links :)

A Quick Trip Down Memory Lane

1997 was also when I became head of TeamWeb, the group of students responsible for maintaining the official LUMS website. There were many first for me in that year: my first job interview, my first professional website management job, my first website re-design project, and the first time I installed and started administering a UNIX server. Good times.

The late 90s, meanwhile, was a time of change with regards to how websites were designed and laid out. For example, when I started managing the LUMS website, the web design ethos was textured backgrounds and not too much colour. By the time I left, however, it was fill colours and information categorized into tables. Ah, the good old days of the web.

Back to the Topic

I stopped maintaining my GeoCities site when Nadia and I got the domain in 2004. And now my old site – which was a very important part of my life on the web – is gone for good. Well, except that it’s still archived in the WayBack Machine.

But still, the shutting down of GeoCities will mark the end of the free website hosting era that began with sites like Angelfire and Geocities. These days, of course, the free web hosting sites of choice are blogging sites like Blogger and in conjunction with media hosting sites like Flickr and YouTube. Times change, eh?

Leaving GeoCities behind, though, I now move into my third year of blogging, my fifth year of running, my thirteenth year on the Internet, and my twenty-fifth year of using computers.

How time flies.

Skeptical Resources

My previous blog post was the story of how I set off on my skeptical journey. Here are some resources to help you along yours:

These are some organizations whose websites you should explore:

Here are some good blogs to read:

There are many, many more out there and they’re very easy to find.

You need to listen to the following podcasts:

Also check out Hunting Humbug, Skepticality, and the Pseudo Scientists.

The following are excellent resources on critical thinking and logical fallacies:

Here are some excellent general resources on skepticism:

These are a few good YouTube channels to subscribe to:

Here are some magazines worth subscribing to:

And, finally, here are a list of books worth reading (all but one as suggested by Dunning in Here be Dragons):

If you can think of any other resources that are worth adding to this list, please let me know. Thanks.

How I Became a Skeptic

I knew from an early age that I was going to be some sort of scientist. Inspired in the mid 80s by Carl Sagan and his television show Cosmos – and with both a genuine interest and an aptitude for the field – I went and studied physics and chemistry in both my O’ and A’ Levels. Around the same time I was also introduced to computers, starting with the Apple IIe in 1984 and an IBM Portable PC soon after. So when it came time to go to college I basically had to pick an area of science – pure or otherwise – that I wanted to pursue further. In the end, computer sciences won out over my second choice of electronic engineering.

My first foray into skepticism, meanwhile, came with the advent of the Internet to Pakistan in the mid 90s. I spent countless hours researching and then debunking myths, urban legends, conspiracy theories, phishing scams, and all the other crap that found its way – and still finds its way – into our inboxes. Indeed, during this time, the fast-growing Urban Legend Reference Pages on became one of my favourite and most-quoted websites.

Outside of my life on the Internet, however, I wasn’t skeptical at all: I was religious; I believed in ghosts; I was a proponent of homeopathy and energy healing; I was all for the ‘scientific’ healing techniques of acupuncture, acupressure, and reflexology; and I was quite happy to believe in all the ‘ancient’ treatments, cures, and healing methodologies advocated by ‘experts’ or ‘healers’. I didn’t know back then that ‘experts’ and ‘healers’ meant people who had a vested interest – financial or emotional – in promoting that type of healing.

That said, there were a few things I was skeptical about and these included astrology; transcendental meditation type stuff; pyramid schemes that sold healing pills and devices; and blanket claims like “these are things that large pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know about” – all of which neither made sense nor were supported by any evidence.

Why Did I Believe in all that Other Crap?

I think the main reason I was so gullible was simply because I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe that there were exciting ideas on the fringe of established and tested science that would one day become real and widely-accepted science if only someone would take the time to investigate them properly. I didn’t know at the time that scientists had done exactly that before rejecting almost all of those ideas as crap.

I was also operating under a very dangerous assumption: I didn’t think I was particularly gullible. In fact, the reason I supported things like homeopathy and Reiki was because I had actually seen them work. What had happened was that, back in the mid 90s, my family was looking after my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease. We were treating her with real medicine but also, as an experiment, with homeopathic medicine.

Now the way homeopathy works in complex disease situations is that the ‘doctor’ tries out different ‘medicines’ and combinations of medicines till he finds the most suitable combination for treating and, eventually, curing the underlying problem. As a result, the medication keeps changing in order to treat and cure whatever needs to be treated and cured at the time. I understand now the brilliance of this treatment-with-no-end setup but, at the time, all I saw was that my grandmother’s illness varied from week to week and that the doctor gave her different medicines to treat her as she progressed through it. It was because the manifestation of her disease changed every week that I thought it was the homeopathic medication that had caused that change. I know now, of course, that was a case of false cause or a situation in which I confused correlation with causation. That is, just because my grandmother’s homeopathic medicines and mental state changed every week, didn’t mean that one was caused – at all – by the other. Nor did I realize that it was the medicines that were being changed as a result of her existing mental state...and not the other way round.

My point is that, as far as I knew, homeopathic medicine was science because I could see the treatment working (or not working) in front of my own eyes. In other words, this was a case of observational selection or confirmation bias on my part. Further, the doctor was a great authority figure and all the homeopathic medication that we bought was from a large, multinational company – that too, a German one – so naturally I saw it as real, proper, established medical science.

What I didn’t know at that time, however, was what homeopathy actually was. Had I known that the underlying concepts behind it were water memory, increasing the potency of medication via dilution, and the idea of like-cures-like, I would probably have laughed. Instead, all I saw were medicines that had dosages just like other, real medicines did and so I didn’t even bother to question how it all worked and, importantly, whether it worked at all. [For more, download the Skeptic’s Guide to Homeopathy pamphlet (88kB PDF file) from the Australian Skeptics]

In other words, I expected a result – as you would of any real medication – and so I saw one. The sad fact is that, thanks to the confirmation bias that I was operating under, I’m pretty sure I would have seen a ‘result’ regardless of what happened or how my grandmother’s disease progressed over the years that we were looking after her.

This pattern of confusing correlation with causation and seeing results because I expected to see results continued over the next few years. During those years I picked up some new bits of quackery and dropped others. I wasn’t particularly passionate about or really even interested in ‘alternative medicine’ but I did easily accept that there might be something in it and that it might be worth investigating further.

Things Change

My ideas about pseudoscience, quackery, woo, and religion all began to change over the last year or so. This happened for a number of reasons that, funnily enough, started with three fantastic courses that I took during my MBA:

Consumer Behaviour was the MBA-equivalent of Carl Sagan’s fantastic book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. It was all about consumer psychology and influence and it taught me about human perception, cognition, and decision-making. In it we covered topics such as subliminal influence and Pavlovian conditioning, creating and changing people’s attitudes, how people are influenced (both consciously and unconsciously) by their environment, how culture plays a role in consumer behaviour, and what the ethical concerns around influencing people are. It was awesome.

Brand Management took that a step further and taught me how loyalty to brands, concepts, and ideas works in the real world. I learnt how brands are created, constructed, maintained, and killed and, as promised by our professor, I have never seen brands or the world of marketing the same way since.

Finally, Leadership taught me how to take a long, hard, honest look at myself and it gave me the capacity to analyze and then, assuming I wanted to do so, change what I saw.

Enter the Skeptical Movement

Around the time I was taking those courses, I really got into blogging and listening to podcasts. My primary areas of interest were technology and science (including astronomy) so, as you would expect, I eventually came across Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog. In June 2008, Plait linked to Brian Dunning’s excellent video on critical thinking called Here Be Dragons. That video blew me away and I spent the next few weeks listening to all the episodes of Dunning’s brilliant Skeptoid podcast.

Then, from July onwards, Australia’s Channel 7 broadcast a show called The One: The Search for Australia’s Most Gifted Psychic (which you can find on YouTube) and it featured as one of its judges Richard Saunders, Vice President of Australian Skeptics. With all that I’d learnt during my MBA and my interest in film and television – because of which I know how TV shows are made, edited, and marketed – I had a pretty good idea of what was going behind the scenes in this show. So when, despite all the show’s obvious biases, the psychics proved themselves to be incredibly poor performers under even minimally reasonable scientific conditions things started to fall into place a little quicker than they had before. (There’s nothing like the power of television, huh? Funnily enough, I doubt the producers of The One expected it to have a de-converting effect on even one of its viewers!)

After some basic research into logical fallacies and cognitive biases – with Skeptoid episodes 73 and 74 as my starting point – I spent the next couple of months going over my entire life and analyzing everything I’d ever believed in, assumed to be trued, presumed to be true, or simply not thought about all that much. I remember having discussions with my wife during which I would try to come up with non-pseudoscientific explanations for whatever had been happening and finding that, as expected, the pseudoscientific explanation seemed incredibly unlikely and, in most cases, quite silly. Oh, and there were many, many more cases in which I had confused correlation and causation.

I also started listening to two awesome podcasts: the New England Skeptical Society’s Skeptics Guide to the Universe (SGU) and the Australian Skeptic’s The Skeptic Zone. Meanwhile, I started subscribing to The Skeptic magazine and, as suggested in Here be Dragons, bought and read Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World. I also read and watched all I could about James Randi – who I’d always known about but had never really looked into – and the James Randi Education Foundation. All this research was, of course, supplemented by reading lots of skeptical blogs (there will be a whole list of them in a subsequent blog post).

With all that going on in my life and in my head, it wasn’t long before the deal was sealed and I could safely say that I was a proper Skeptic (complete with a capital ‘S’ and the letter ‘k’).

Since then I have started to see the world through a completely different filter – a clear one this time – and boy is there a lot of crap out there. Just knowing a handful of logical fallacies, for example, has helped me unravel stupid arguments, see through cheap tricks (particularly marketing-related ones), and call people out when they’ve needed to be called out (even in unrelated situations).

I’ve also started to learn a lot more about science, skepticism, argumentation techniques, cognitive biases, and all the other things that help perpetuate and sustain quackery and pseudoscience throughout the world and across the generations.

Overall, my life has changed dramatically and the world now makes much more sense. I am also much happier and much more settled than I have ever been before.

So What Next?

Where I’ll go from here, I’m not sure. I know I have a lot more learning to do and, in the near term, I intend to attend the next Skeptics Cafe with the Victorian Skeptics. I’m also going through the list of things in the book What Do I Do Next: 105 Ways to Promote Skeptical Activism (edited by Daniel Loxton) to see where that can lead.

I have started to talk to other people about skepticism and why it makes so much sense but that’s going slowly. I’ll ramp it up once I’m more confident about my abilities to counter pseudoscience in real time as opposed to via e-mail and after a round of detailed Internet-based research!

In the meantime, I’ll start being much more skeptically active on my blog. (I’ve even created a new category called ‘Skepticism’ for doing just that.) The first step in that direction was writing this blog post. The next step will be listing a whole bunch of skeptical resources that are really useful regardless of whether you’re already into skepticism or are just starting down that path. I might go ahead and make that into a separate page on my blog as well.

Whatever happens, though, I’ll keep you updated.

Imran Ahmad is in America

I read a whole lots of blogs and among them is Imran Ahmad’s hilarious ‘Unimagined’ blog. The name, of course, refers to the title of Ahmad’s book: Unimagined – A Muslim Boy Meets the West. I haven’t read the book myself – I’m not buying any new books till I get a job – but I’ve heard it’s quite awesome and I hope to get it as soon as possible.

Anyway, Ahmad was recently in Australia, which is how I first heard about him. Now, though, he’s driving around the US doing a book tour which you can read about in his recent BBC article ‘Hello America, I'm a British Muslim’. He’s also writing about his travels on his blog and that’s always worth a read (even though his blog posts are rather lengthy).

Enjoy :)

This Sucks

This sucks.

Issues with Windows Live Writer

First, the awesome Windows Live Writer -- which I'd recently upgraded to the even more awesome Windows Live Writer Beta -- no longer works with my blogs. Every time I add a post using WLW, all the HTML angle brackets get stripped from the code so you get a lot of junk.

For example, if I was to post the following line of text using WLW:
Hello World!

What would appear on the blog would be:
pHello World! a href=""

Which, in HTML, would have read:
<p>Hello World! <a href="></a></p>

So take the HTML version and strip off all the angle brackets that actually make the HTML tags what they are and you get what actually gets posted to the blog.

No one's quite sure why this is happening (though some people have found temporary workarounds) or whether it's a WLW, WordPress, or other technology (e.g. PHP) issue. However the issue itself has been documented on the Microsoft support forums. Here's hoping they find a fix soon because I much prefer WLW to writing blogs posts using WordPress's blog post writing interface.

Issues with WordPress and/or Fantastico

Second, while researching the WLW issue, I upgraded all three of the blogs hosted on the domain to WordPress version 2.6.3. I do all my blogging platform upgrades through the Fantastico script library system that my web host provides for this purpose and I've never had issues in the past. This time, however, while both Nadia's blog and this blog got upgraded just fine, something went wrong as I was upgrading my professional blog so that's now out of commission. I've contacted my web host's support people for help and they're restoring it to its previous version but this does mean that my ACME blog will be down for at least a couple of days. Which sucks.

Digital Camera: Second Round of Research

After setting a mostly arbitrary budget of "under $200" for a compact digital camera that can also record video, in my previous blog post on this topic I made a list of cameras that seemed to fit the bill. Since then I have done a second round of research, this time focusing less on price and more on my overall camera requirements (both photo and video related).

Video Blogging Requirements

I started off by doing lots of research on the web and found these two useful resources:

Different blogs suggested different brands of digital cameras for video recording, by the way, so they weren't all that much help. Of course, most of the video bloggers I know use camcorders or webcams anyway (while Robert Scoble uses a Nokia N95) so I wasn't expecting much from these sources in the first place.

Digital Camera Guides and Reviews

I then looked at review sites and camera buying guides:

  • Yahoo! Shopping has a great article from Digital Trends' David Elrich on buying digital cameras called 'Digital Cameras: Buying Made Simple'. This is very useful in assessing basic camera requirements.
  • CNET has an excellent 'Digital Camera Buying Guide' that also talks about recording video on digital cameras.
  • CNET's digital camera finder suggested a few cameras that would suit my requirements, though most of the top ten -- all of which were Sony or Canon cameras, by the way -- had a price tag of over $200.
  • That said, two of the CNET Editors' 'Best 5 Digital Cameras' (i.e. best overall) are in the sub-$200 range and most their 'Best Compact Digital Cameras' (most of which are, again, Canon and Sony cameras) cost around $200. (Can you tell I love CNET? Teh ossim.)

Local Retailers

Next I checked out a few Aussie retailer websites:

Then, I went both a Ted's outlet and a JB Hi-Fi camera store -- they're a few shops apart on Elizabeth Street in the Melbourne CBD (#235 and #261, respectively) -- and got these recommendations:

  • Ted's salesperson: Your budget should be a little over $200. Get a Panasonic Lumix FS3 for $267 (8.1MP, good lens, 640x480 30fps video) and, if you don't like it, you can always utilize our 14 day exchange guarantee to return it and get another one instead. [Official page]
  • JB Hi-Fi salesperson: Under $200 is fine since you probably won't notice a marked difference till you go over $300. Get a Panasonic Lumix LS80 for $148 (8.1MP, decent lens, 640x480 30fps video) and we'll throw in a 3GB high-speed memory card for free. [Official page]

This confused me at first because, after reading all those CNET reviews, I was expecting to be pitched a Canon or a Sony which both shops had plenty of. Then I realized how silly it was of me to think that. Of course they wouldn't pitch those: those brands probably give them the lowest margins and are mainly there to draw-in customers who are then pitched all these other brands that make the shop more money.

Still, this wasn't bad for a quick trip to each store: I learnt quite a bit and also picked up their latest catalogues so I have all the latest brick-and-mortal retailer prices for comparison.

Personal Suggestions

Finally, I got suggestions from a number of different people -- thanks, everyone! -- all of which were most useful though no I talked to had used digital cameras for video recording before. Oh well. I did get some good tips from Yahoo! Answers, though.

Next: Word-of-Mouth, Hands-On, then Purchase

Next up, I'll be hitting online digital camera forums to see what's being said about all these makes and models by the people who actually bought them and use them. 

I'll focus on the four brands that have come up most often in my research -- i.e. Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and Casio -- though I will look at others such as Pentax and Fuji which came up a number of times as well. I'm hoping this will help me narrow my final list down to 3-4 specific cameras.

Once that's done, it's back to the stores for some hands-on time. I'll try each one out to see what the results are like and, once I've thought about it some more, I'll go ahead and buy one. I'll probably buy it from Ted's since I really like their 14-day exchange guarantee.

Oh, and then I'll blog about all that too :)

Final Thoughts

Some final thoughts about my general preferences:

  • I'd much prefer a really compact camera (sometimes called a slim or ultracompact camera) to a regular compact camera. I'd love to have something that'll fit comfortably into the pocket of my jeans or jacket and I can take with me pretty much everywhere.
  • I'd rather not buy a Panasonic since that records video in QuickTime and I don't like QuickTime because it's a resource hog and generally makes life on my crappy old computer much more complicated.
  • If I have to choose between two similarly-priced cameras, I'll go for the one that takes great photos and average video over the one that's only above-average in both.
  • I need to factor in the cost of a carrying case, batteries, a big memory card (4-8GB), and a small tripod.

Help Needed: Suggestions for a Digital Camera

Before coming to Australia, I bought myself a mobile phone that would also double as a digital camera. This was a Sony Ericsson K750i and it had a 2.0 megapixel camera that could both take pictures and record video. I knew I wasn't getting much of a camera but I wasn't planning to do much more than upload pictures to my blog/website or e-mail photos to friends and family back home so it was sufficient.

The K750i's phone capabilities are still pretty much what I want them to be -- it stores all my contacts, syncs well with my laptop, has great reception and battery life, and so on -- but now I really want to upgrade to a proper digital camera.

My Basic Requirements

Fortunately, there are lots of good, cheap digital cameras out there that'll do the trick for me. My three basic requirements are:

  1. A resolution of at least 5 megapixels (MP); preferably over 7MP and ideally closer to 8MP
  2. The ability to record decent-quality video with audio (suitable for basic video blogging)
  3. A price tag of less than $200; preferably closer to $150 if I need to expand its memory, buy a stand/tripod, or get a good cover for it

Lots of Camera Options

Unfortunately, too many cameras fit this bill. Here's a list I compiled from some quick research on the 'net:

Make/Model Photo (MP) Video (px, fps) Price ($)
Canon PowerShot A470 7.1 640x480 20fps 150
Canon PowerShot A580 7.1 640x480 20fps 200
Sony CyberShot S730 7.2 320x240 30fps video 180
Samsung S760 7.2 640x480/320x240 30/15fps 160
Samsung L100 8.2 640x480/320x240 30/15fps 160 (online)
Olympus FE-340 8.0 640x480/320x240 30/15fps 200 (online)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS850 8.1 640x480/320x240 30/10fps 190
Fuji FinePix F480 8.2 320x240 30fps 180 (online)
Fuji FinePix J10 8.2 640x480/320x240 30fps 180
Kodak EasyShare C813 8.2 640×480 15fps, 320×240 30fps 130
Kodak EasyShare M863 8.2 640×480 15fps, 320×240 30fps 180
Pentax Optio E40 8.1 640×480/320x240 30fps or 15fps w/sound 130
Pentax Optio E50 8.1 640×480/320x240 30fps or 15fps w/sound 180
Pentax Optio S10 10.0 640×480/320x240 30fps 180 (online)
Casio Exilim EX-Z9 8.1 848x480/640×480 30fps, 320×240 15fps 180 (online)
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 8.1 848x480/640×480 30fps, 320×240 15fps 200 (online)

Yeah. That's a lot.

Mobile Phone Options

And it's not just cameras that I need to look at since a couple of mobile phones, not only cover my requirements, but are awesome in many other ways:

Make/Model Photo (MP) Video Price ($)
Nokia N95 5.0 640x480 30fpx 150 up front + 2-25 monthly
Sony Ericsson K850i 5.0 (not specified) 150 up front + 2-25 monthly
Sony Ericss
on C905
8.1 (not specified) (coming soon)

So I'm a little spoilt for choice.

Oh, and to make things more complicated: some of the cameras have quirks that are potential deal breakers. For example, some have limits to how long your video file can be (e.g. you can record only 10 minutes at a time), others need to reduce their frame rate if you're going to record audio along with your video (e.g. 30 to 15fps), and one or two may not be available in Australia at the listed price.

What Now?

So, what now? Well, after this preliminary round of research, I'll move on to doing in-depth research on each of those models. This will involve reading reviews, making more detailed comparisons, finding out exact prices and availability, and so on.

I'll also check online to see what other people -- particularly video bloggers -- are using and what they recommend. For example, which is better: a higher video resolution or a higher frame rate (or is there no simple answer to that)? And what frame rate is sufficient (whatever that means)? I'll also compare videos made with different resolutions at different frame rates to see how they vary.

Finally, I'll ask for advice, which is why I've written this blog post. So, does anyone have any advice for me? Any brand preferences, any previous experience with any of these products, any general suggestions? Should I forget the phones and focus on just the cameras (which is what I'm leaning towards anyway)? Any and all suggestions are welcome and thanks in advance for all your help!