Monday, 26 January 2015

The Price of Technology: Inbuilt Redundancy

One aspect of living in a modern consumer society is the inbuilt redundancy many of the devices we use exhibit (I'm sure I'm not the first to grumble about this - but I'm going to anyway...).

I've been ordering third party inkjet refills online from www.wholesaletoner.com.au for a few years.  Its service is excellent. Prices are 60% cheaper than genuine cartridges (for much the same quality, their generic inks are made in the US), product arrives in only a couple of days, and I don't pay postage on orders over $50.  Even better, late last year I got hold of a discount offer coupon, so ordered $150 worth of inks - probably enough for a year or more.  I thought that was good economics.

The cartridges arrived but two weeks later the Canon multifunction printer (a Pixma MX715) stopped working. Error 'U052', a clear sign (according to the Internet) that the print head was dead, and only three years old.  Some might say that's all you can expect from devices like this.  A quick search for a replacement MX715 came up empty - there had been at least two generational upgrades since that model was released.

A search for a suitable repair company proved a joke - despite advertising "we repair all inket printers" or words to that effect, the three companies I called didn't want a bar of it - not enough money in repairing home-use printers I guess.  I eventually tracked down a Canon service agent via a call centre in Manila.  Amazingly it was just round the corner in the same suburb, but, not surprisingly the quote was $165 for labour, plus the replacement spare part ($60). I checked - the latest model multifunction unit is costs $139.  



Direct Office Machines clearly advertise Pixma repairs on their site, but would not take my multifunction in for repair...
I'm sure many of you have been there - but my problem was the veritable stockpile of ink cartridges  I 'd got on the cheap.  The new multifunction units take a new type of ink tank - of course. They look very similar in shape and size - but they are not the same. Doesn't that piss you off?  Inkjet inks were recently quoted as being one of the most expensive liquids on the planet, dwarfing the per volume cost of many famous perfumes.  It's become a market that's very carefully guarded.  

In 2014 the global inket ink market was worth over $6 billion whereas the overall market (inks, printers and media) was valued around US$33 billion - which is forcasted to rise above $60 billion by 2019 - so you can appreciate Canon and Epson were never going to listen to my complaints about ink costs, or anyone else for that matter. 

Remember the propaganda put out by Epson and Canon a few years back trying to discredit the quality of generic inks, including adding digital chips into the cartridges to prevent other vendor's products being used in the printer?  Admittedly some of the earlier refill products were dodgy but now I think most quality refills are actually very good - I have been using them for years and have been very happy with the results.  Generics might not perform 100% the same as a genuine ink, but at $9.50 versus $27.50, per cartridge, I'm quite prepared to bring my expectations down 5% to save a bucket load of cash over the period of a year or so.

Years ago, whenever I was invited to a press launch of a new printer range, I used to take the opportunity to berate the producer, usually Canon, for the high cost of inks. 

I travel to Japan a lot and there, inks for the same model printers are about $10, less than half the price charged here.  When asked, Canon's take on that was because the printers themselves were expensive compared to Aus.  Not so, in fact, at the time I did a lot of research on the topic and discovered that they were usually the same price, or cheaper.  Sad truth is that in this market, among many others, we are being royally shafted at every possible opportunity.  Though I'm talking about the inkjet market, we all know this is a familiar story when it comes to many other prices overseas.


We keep buying the stuff at ridiculous over-inflated prices so companies continue flooding the retail market with new products that, frankly, we really don't need.  Wouldn't it be nice to have an inkjet printer that lasts 10 years?

At the end of the day, once again, thanks to Wholesale Toners, I got a full refund on my ink mountain and a new printer for $89.

Small wonder brand name cartridges cost $27 each.

















Thursday, 15 January 2015

Camera Essentials Magazine

Camera Essentials - this is a 76-page magazine/handbook (8.5x11 inches) I have been working on and off on for more than a year now.  It has changed shape and page numbers several times since I first began writing it, but it's now complete and is available through the Blurb Bookstore hereAlternatively you can order directly from me - cost $25 inc. postage and handling

Who is this for? Camera Essentials is written specifically for anyone wanting learn a bit more about their interchangeable lens camera (DSLR, small form or FourThirds models) - to learn about lens types, camera features and functions, the reason we use ISO, aperture and shutter speed, exposure compensation, exposure bracketing, shooting modes, focus modes and much more.

 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Daydream Mine, Broken Hill

Daydream Mine is one of the more off-beat attractions in Broken Hill, the biggest settlement in north west New South Wales.  I write 'attraction' because it's one of only a very few original mines that I know of where you can actually experience, with the minimum of fuss from the health and safety people, something of the true nature of what mining must have been like 150 years ago.

OK, you don't get to actually work the rock face for 12 hour shifts in near black conditions with only a single candle as a light source, nor do you have to suffer the disgusting lung damage created by breathing in the airborne mica fibres all day long (that left most miners dead by the age of 35 coughing up their lungs), neither do you get to experience the immense burst of pressure when the mine ceiling collapses, killing all in its wake - not from falling debris but from the intense pressure, but you do get an inkling of what it must have been like.  A hard place to photograph in as there was no time to stop for tripod work, not much light for the AF in the camera to work off and no room to manoeuvre, but I think you get the picture...


Innocent enough.
This small hole is one of the entrances to the Daydream Mine. 
Not the one we went down thank goodness, a near vertical shaft down into the ore lode beneath.
No safety rails, no ventilation, no decent lighting and of course, no safety precautions. Those were the days. 
The amazing fact about early mining  was that, to begin with at least, there were no facilities for processing the ore on site - all the ore was carted from Daydream by bullocks to the nearest rail head, then trained to Adelaide then shipped to smelter in South Wales (UK).

This shot gives you a good idea of what it was like getting down to level one -  steep, very roughly-hewn steps into the bowels of the earth with less than enough head room (you'll be very happy to wear the helmets!), a single flimsy hand rope and plenty of opportunity to sprain ankle - I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
This is one of the side shafts, blasted to help clear some of the 96,000 tonnes of silver lead ore that was eventually extracted and shipped to the smelters over a short period of 20 years.
The way out at last! You can clearly see where the poor grade ore or rock has been used on the right hand side of the mine to support the roof that has been undermined.
Apparently kids were employed as graders sorting the ore-rich rock from the rubbish. 
The former was manually dragged to the surface while the latter was used to back fill the workings.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Japanese Cult of the Cute (kawaii) Pooch

In Japan you'll find a curious fascination towards small dogs.  I guess it's because there's simply never enough room to accommodate larger animals in the overcrowded city streets.  Add to this the fact that most people live small apartments and there are very few green spaces that you can take a dog into. So small breeds are definitely "kawaii" (cute) but being cute is never enough. The locals also dress their dogs - some because they feel the dog has to wear diapers (the Japanese are very sensitive about their pooches pooping in the right place.  Most owners carry a staggering range of cleaning products plus bag to collect and clean up after their mutts).  But clearly some treat their mini-mutts like their own children (nothing wrong with that...) attending to their every desire.
 

According to a piece published in the Guardian newspaper (in 2012), "...while the birthrate has been falling dramatically and the average age of Japan's population has been steadily climbing, Japan has become a pet superpower.  Official estimates put the pet population at 22 million, or more, but there are only 16.6 million children under 15.

The pet industry is estimated to be worth more than ¥1tn a year (around $15.8bn) and has expanded into gourmet dog food stores, hot spring resorts, yoga classes and restaurants where dogs sit on chairs to eat organic meals.

For dogs in need of exercise after a lifetime being pushed or carried around, there are spas and onsens (hot springs), which look identical to the ones for humans. For $100 ($130) a session, an attendant in a wetsuit will give the dog one-to-one swimming lessons, relaxing bubble baths, body massages using aromatherapy oils, deep-pore cleansing and mud packs, and even flossing or manicure services. Many dogs are "regulars" who come at least once a week – running up annual bills of $6,000 or more. Canine daycare can cost as much as $120 a night in a dog hotel.

When the unthinkable happens, there are even temples where dead dogs are laid to rest with full Buddhist rites: a deluxe funeral and cremation ceremony can cost $9,700 or more. "I find these days people grieve more for their pets than for parents or grandparents," says a monk at a 1,000-year-old temple in a Tokyo suburb. "It is because pets are just like their child, so it is like losing a child."


While in Japan recently I noticed more dog prams than I have ever seen before, so many in fact that after a few days you just don't notice them until you get up close and become aware of something fluffy standing up for a pat. 
The fact that the dog is dressed up as a lamb wearing diapers and a tiny backpack shouldn't escape comment, but for most Japanese, this is normal.