Welcome To Uncertainty

IMGP1466Welcome to the new home of the Improbable Insights podcast: Uncertainty

Uncertainty also happens to be my new home on the web. I expect to post regular content updates. Those of you who’ve read my stuff in the past know I tend to focus on tech, photography, and bicycling. You should expect something different this time.

Uncertainty is an apt name. We’ve always lived with uncertainties in our lives. I wanted to add a little bit of uncertainty into my writing, to step beyond how I’ve been defined as a writer in the past. That doesn’t mean I’m abandoning tech. The first post you read later this week will be a pretty prototypical Loyd Case article.

The Improbable Insights podcast is still hosted on libsyn, which is a popular podcast hosting service. Uncertainties will be the home for show notes, descriptions, images, and more. Previously, we’d publish on libsyn, then push the podcast to the site. That limited our ability to publish useful show notes. Now we’ll be publishing the podcast here, and pushing the content to libsyn. That enables us to make shownotes more useful to listeners.

The podcast is hosted by Eric Klein, sometimes David Bryant,  and me. Eric is an early-stage venture capitalist who is a partner at Lemnos Labs.  David is a tech director at Mozilla. I’ve been writing about technology for years, but these days I work as an industry analyst for The Linley Group.

You can find a little more about what Improbable Insights is about by clicking on the Podcast menu item. You can expect the first podcast published here on Wednesday. Wednesdays will also be the regular publishing date for Improbable Insights. If you want to know a little more about me or this blog, click on About.

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Thanks for reading this far. Hope you stick around for the ride.

QLite Pro: Mobile Phone Ring Light

QLite Pro

I’m a terrible photographer.

Okay, maybe not terrible. Give me a decent DSLR or my mirrorless Olympus OM-D EM-1, and I’m actually pretty good. But when it comes to photography with a mobile phone, I’m pretty much inept. It’s partly because I keep switching camera phone apps, and partly because I’m used to the more forgiving nature of larger sensors and better lenses.

I generally like shooting with ambient light, and rarely use flash or external lighting, except for product photography in my garage studio. I get great results with the Olympus, even though it’s micro 4/3rds sensor is smaller than the full frame DSLR sensors I used to use.

But I digress.

One of the issues for me with iPhone photography is lighting. Shooting with ambient light means disabling the flash. The sensors in mobile phones are small; the iPhone 6 sensor is just 1/3″, or roughly 29 square millimeters. Compare that the the micro 4/3rds sensor in the Olympus, which is almost 374 square millimeters. So the 4/3rds sensor captures much more light in a given scene at the same shutter speed and aperture than the phone sensor. Mitigating this a bit is photosite size — the size of the individual pixels. Apple kept the iPhone 6 sensor at 8 megapixels, so each photosite captures a bit more light than higher resolution sensors of the same size.

The bottom line: phone sensors don’t do well in dim light.

Enter the QLite Pro EZ Grip, designed by Jigsaw Informatics. The device is the brainchild of Ross Smith, who has kicked around Silicon Valley for decades, and once help start up 3dfx, one of the pioneers of consumer 3D grahics chips.


QLite Pro Beta Unit

The QLite is essentially a ring light for your phone.

The QLite shown here is a working prototype. Brightness is controlled by the button on the left side of the unit. The metal bracket shown on the left braces the phone, and is spring loaded. When you flip the device over, you can see four white (roughly 5000K) LEDs surrounding the opening and exposing the phone sensor. Note that this is not a flash unit; instead, the unit produces a steady light at two different, user-selectable brightness levels.

One potential issue is asymmetric lighting in close-ups, but in practice, that didn’t seem to be a major issue. The QLite Pro includes a 2,600 mAH battery. The battery powers the LEDs, but can also be used to charge an external device (like your phone.) Jigsaw built a pair USB ports into the base of the unit, one standard and one mini. The QLite charges via the mini-USB port, while external devices can be charged via the full-size port.

Qlite Pro LEDs

Qlite Pro LEDs

The user interface is dead simple. The single button selects the two different lighting levels. Push it once powers up the device into its base lighting level. Push again, and you get a brighter light. One more push powers the QLite down. Hold the button down for several seconds shows battery status. Battery life when used just as a ring light is up to nine hours.

Both the base lighting level and high power level are brighter than the single LED built into most phones. On top of that, my iPhone can’t run the LED in flashlight mode when I’m using the camera; the LED is usable only as a flash. So the QLite serves two purposes: lighting a dark area, as well as supplying steady light for the camera.

Why would you want a QLite Pro? I can think of several reasons. Technicians working in tight, low-contrast spaces might want to take photos. I shot this quick photo of the internals of a desktop PC using my iPhone and

Lighting up dark places

Lighting up dark places

the QLite. 

Another possible use is quick-and-dirty photography for selling gear on eBay, Craigslist, and related selling sites. Most of the time, you don’t really need high resolution photography shot with sophisticated lighting. The QLite serves admirably for this type of photography.

The QLite Pro isn’t perfect. Since it doesn’t connect directly to the camera, and only offers two lighting levels, it can create glare in certain situations, like this top-down photo of a board from a tabletop game.

Beware bright spots

Beware bright spots

It’s easy to mitigate this by adjusting the angle of your shot a bit, but you should bear this in mind when shooting. The asymmetric mount also means composing a bit more carefully, particularly with close-ups.

At $40, the QLite Pro enables handymen, mechanics, and anyone working in dark, cramped places. Using the phone enables a tech to shoot a quick photo in a darkened area and upload it for more analysis in real-time. For users on-the-go, it’s a little bulky to carry around, but easily fits in a backpack or toolbag. As a tool for hobbyist photographers, it’s less useful. A more symmetric phone mount would help. I’d also like to see two more LEDs, mounted halfway along the longer axis, plus more level settings. Another useful addition for photographers would be a 1/4″ thread mount for a small tripod. That would allow me to use the QLite as a simple, off-camera light on a small tripod.

The first Kickstarter page for QLite read like something from a Grainger catalog — great for potential buyers in certain businesses, but Kickstarter tends to be more consumer oriented. Jigsaw didn’t hit their funding goal, so I hope they retool the Kickstarter pitch and relaunch, because the QLite Pro has great potential. I’d love to have one in my bag of photographic tricks. Maybe I could become a better iPhone photographer.






Keyboards I Have Known

Why have one keyboard when you can have one for each type of task?

That’s my approach. Keyboards tend to be very personal choices, but that doesn’t mean you need to restrict yourself to one keyboard, if you use your personal computer for different tasks. For example, I have two keyboards attached to my production system. One is the trusty Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. It’s big and clunky, but I’ve returned to it after using a number of other ergonomic designs, because it has the features I want when I’m working.


Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000

Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000

The 4000 is a split design, allowing my hands to relax a bit when writing. It includes full-size function keys and a full-size numeric keypad. The arrow keys form a nice inverted-T. The 4000 takes some breaking in time, though. The space bar, in particular, requires excessive force when you first start using it, but it softens up over time.

Previously, I used several other ergonomic designs. For years, I used a Logitech K350, aka the Wave. It has a slightly softer touch than the 4000, which I liked, but it also wears out fairly quickly. I went through three K350s in two years. After the last one became flakey, I tried the Microsoft Sculpt. I was intrigued by the leaner design and separate numeric keypad.

Microsoft Sculpt & Keypad

Microsoft Sculpt & Keypad

Initially, the Sculpt seemed fabulous. However, warts appeared after extended use. The separate keypad seems like a good idea, but that turned out to be a compromise. I had to dig around to find it, because I didn’t keep it on my keyboard tray, and keys like the calculator launcher and backspace keys needed to be replicated. The tiny function keys — buttons, really — on the main keyboard, plus the lack of dedicated media transport keys, was its final undoing. It was back to the 4000.

My oldest daughter, Elizabeth, carries around just the keyboard with her Macbook Pro. She suffers from occasional tendinitis when using the built-in keyboard, so the Sculpt has helped her manage and mitigate the problem somewhat. My younger daughter, Emily, also has a separate keyboard — but it’s a left-handed keyboard, with the numeric keypad on the left side.

Fun and Games

However, I have a second keyboard attached to my production system. It’s a Corsair Vengeance K70, which I use when I’m playing PC games. I bought the version with the Cherry MX Brown key mechanisms, because I wanted minimal noise and key press force. I actually turn off the backlighting, except for the WASD and arrow keys.

Corsair Vengeance K70

Corsair Vengeance K70

I also have another PC dedicated to media editing. It’s currently used mostly to record the Improbable Insights podcast, but I’ll likely use it for video editing if I decide to get more serious about that. The keyboard on that system is a Das Keyboard 4 Professional, also with Cherry MX Brown keys. (I got a deal on a refurbished unit, so jumped at the chance.)

Das Keyboard 4 Pro

Das Keyboard 4 Pro

What I Really Want

Having two keyboards on my main PC is a little cumbersome. I have lots of room around my desk, so setting the unused keyboard on top of a nearby PC while leaving it connected is simple. But I would be very happy with a version of the Natural 4000 with Cherry MX Brown keys. That, to me, would be my perfect keyboard.

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