Archive for October, 2009

Review: Opticron Trailfinder II Monocular. Small is beautiful.

October 16, 2009 5 comments

I’ve been using the Opticron Trailfinder II Monocular for a few months now, and it’s really impressed me.

OpticronWhen out and about, walking, I was finding my compact binoculars were just too heavy — they’d often get left at home and forgotten. Hence my search for something lightweight, water proof and cheap, that I could sling in my pocket. I immediately disregarded the ultra-cheap binoculars, I’ve used a really cheap pair and, frankly, you could hardly see through them.

A bit of searching on the internet, and I stumbled upon a recommendation for buying one of these monoculars — I didn’t even know they existed. The advantage of a monocular is it immediately cuts half the weight of a comparable binocular. The disadvantage is a narrower field of view, but I can easily live with that for the sheer convenience.

I bought a 10×25 unit from Sherwoods Photo, for £30 (free delivery is always a selling feature!) Neither too cheap, or too expensive. The monocular arrived in a couple of days.  Once the extra tie-on end cap and strap were fitted, you’re ready to go.

Weighing in at a featherweight 125 grams, with a rubberised case, the build feels solid, and should resist knocks and water. They’re supplied with a case, but it’s frankly a pain to get them in and out of, and rather defeats the ‘grabbable’ purpose. The lens caps fit tightly, defending them from dust and splashes.

Optically, the unit is pretty impressive, with good clarity. Focus is a bit tricky, as it’s by means of a lever arrangement, rather than a wheel. This tends to stick if you haven’t used it for a while, stopping you focussing with one finger. A tiny bit more force, with two fingers, frees it up and then it works very well. The technique I use is to put both middle fingers either side of the lever, allowing a fine degree of control. Focus can still be tricky, but you soon get used to it.

The monocular has a twisting eyepiece, to accommodate spectacle wearers, and this must be twisted out for non-spectacle use. It helps to have fixed the ‘drop-down’ lens caps at the right rotation (see top photo), so that they both hand down when the unit is untwisted.

The neck strap is adequately long, and adjustable. It’s a bit thin, but perfectly usable. The monocular slips nicely into your shirt pocked, with the strap around your neck, for convenient access.

In all, very good value for money and very easy to take out on walks to provide that bit of extra magnification.

Overall, 8/10. Definitely recommended.


Do you drive the Default Car? Why run the Default Browser?

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment

My colleague likes Internet Explorer. There, I’ve said it. It’s probably not his fault, he likes Windows 98 too. Crucially, he doesn’t develop websites, but software drivers. He uses the web as a tool to find information, for entertainment, etc, just like an ordinary user. He doesn’t like Firefox, Chrome, Safara, Opera or any of the other browsers, as IE is the dominant market force. He thinks there’s no point in coding for anything else, as ‘Most people use IE as it’s the default browser’.

As a company, we are developing an increasing number of Web Applications. We need to use technologies such as Ajax, Javascript, JSON, XML, etc to power these systems, and like to give the users a rich user interface, nicely designed, with subtle animation effects that help guide them to choices, respond to them, and generally make their life easier.

Internet Explorer *has* to work for them. Even IE6. This makes twice as much work for us. Nice transparent .PNG file overlays, subtle smooth animations, etc are all impossible in IE. Yes, you can replace the .PNG files with .GIFs for IE6, and yes the animations will work in IE, but you get horrible black borders, the font smoothing breaks and has to be restored after the animation, and the layout gets broken unless you shove in a myriad of custom tweaks for IE6, IE7 and IE8. Great, three versions of the thing to have to cope with.

In the mean time, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc are advancing in leaps and bounds. Chrome and Safari now support native CSS3 animation effects, with Firefox bound to catch up in the next version. IE… Nothing. Nope. Can’t do. Load a few hundred K of Javascript and you can get it going. Rounded corners in IE, no problem. Simply code a few tens of lines of Javascript, CSS, create custom image files for every type, poke their layout until it hurts, after a few hours coding per case, there you go. Easy. Oh, you want them against a blue background now? Fine, no problem, I’ll just go and create a new set of images, redo the layout, rewrite half the code…

Firefox and Safari? Er. Really hard. You have to put in a whole one line command in the stylesheet. That takes at least 10 seconds.

Imagine you wanted to buy a new car. You go to SuperCars Showroom where they sell every possible make and model of car. You go in and say “Here’s my money, give me the ‘default’ car”. Ludicrous, in yet that’s what millions of users happily do with Internet Explorer. Large corporations stick to the tried and tested Default Car, because it took them so long to get it working 5 years ago, and they’ve developed lots of highly custom roads to meet its special needs.

Your ‘Default Car’ isn’t bad, it does 0-60 in about 15 seconds, has ‘reasonable’ fuel economy, and handles okay. You need three keys to unlock it, and a code to start the engine, because it’s been made ‘more secure’. Occasionally, whilst driving down a new road, the car will stop and demand several more keys are used to continue. It’s that secure. However, in the bad parts of town, you’re innocently driving along when the car takes control of itself, and drives you straight to the nearest brothel, casino or porn shop. But that’s fine, these things happen, it works most of the time.

Hopefully, as Microsoft’s browser market share continues to fall, Microsoft might be forced to do something. Javascript acceleration, HTML5, CSS3 anyone?

Either that, or every web developer like me will tell Internet Explorer to run Google Chrome Frame and suddenly it’ll work perfectly.

Categories: Web Design