Boeing Aviation Geek Fest 2010

Today was the 2010 Boeing Aviation Geek Fest.

Let me begin by saying, going on the Boeing tour at the best of times is pretty geeky. This on the other hand, is a once a year tour they don’t promote heavily, but the aviation geeks find out about one way or another.. It’s slightly more expensive than the regular tour, but it’s really for the hardcore fans.

We started off the day.. well, first, getting here from Canada. We left home and drove to Sumas. Took about 1.75 hours to get across the border.. first a 60 minute lineup to get to the border, then another 45 minutes in with the good people of Immigration to get our I-94 waiver forms (mostly waiting in lines – despite it not being the usual “tourist” border, they were still very nice), then zooming down the highway and getting to the Future of Flight and “checking in” for 1330 hours.

The AGF day started with a session from Boeing’s professional aviation geek, Michael Lombardi, who is employed as an aviation historian. He went through the last 40 years of Boeing, and gave some fun insights and back stories, then a bit of a Q+A, then some chatting with each other over free candy (yay halloween), then the tour.

Let me step back.. the regular Boeing tour is pretty cool, you walk on high level platforms and look out over a sight which is similar to the construction of the USSS Enterprise in the most recent Star Trek movie. This tour, on the other hand, is at ground level, walking on the actual factory floor, and through, around and on planes in various stages of production. Sweeet. You have to wear eye protection, just in case, and watch your step through and around cables. It’s an amazing facility up close.

Inside the factory we saw 777 LN903 for Turkish Airlines up close and personal, getting to kick the tires, almost literally, in addition to actually walking in and around the pieces that would make up LN908 for Air Egypt. As well as that, we saw the first 747-8i in final body join, a bunch of 787s (including the first 3 for Air India) and the 787 static test article.

Then, they dragged us out of the factory, with some difficulty and back onto the bus. Which did a tour of the KPAE flightline parking lot. I believe a record for the loudest cheer for doing a left-hand turn was set this day when this was announced. We went up and around all the planes waiting for final fit-out and delivery (this site has pictures of them from a-far). Saw 777s for V Australia and Air New Zealand, as well as all the 787s for ANA, and a bunch of 787-8f’s for Cargolux, Korean Airlines and Cathay Pacific Cargo.

Then it was back to the Future of Flight center for Pizza and networking with other geeks before heading off to our hotel.

Everyone knows planes are big, even “small” planes like the 737, but the size of the 747 and 777s are pretty amazing. I gush on the regular factory tour, and it’s probably more interesting for most people than the one we did, but the fact is that almost every international airliner in service today was made in either this factory, or Airbus’s in Toulouse.

What Boeing makes here is pretty much the pinnacle of humankind’s knowledge of technology and ability to build machines, and it’s amazing privilege to get up close and personal on the factory floor. Future of Flight is an amazing center at the best of times, and I have to say, today was an amazing day. I feel so lucky to have been able to attend. Very few members of the public get to do factory floor tours, with this years and last years, there was some overlap, so it’s probably under 75 people have done this one.

So thank you very much to Future of Flight, Boeing Commercial Aircraft and Airline Reporter for organising the day! Look forward to next year’s!

See also: Photos from the Stratodeck

Dear Cisco, wtf are you thinking?

As an expatriated person, I find myself thinking of home sometimes. Video conferencing with people from the old country is fun, so I thought I’d have a look at the details on Cisco’s new Umi video conferencing unit.

Let me say, I have no idea what they’re thinking here. It’s for home use. It costs $599. Then, you have to pay $24/month for a plan to use it. To call other people who have a Umi.

Because it doesn’t work with Skype, or FaceTime. Or anything other than Google Video chat (which is itself free for non PSTN calls).

So basically, you’re charging as much as a computer + webcam (which you could hook up to a TV), you can’t connect to Skype, and you’re charging a monthly fee for something everyone else is giving away for free.

Let me know how that works out for you…

The Greens vs The Australian Sex Party – The policies

So what’s the difference between the Greens and the Australian Sex Party? (hereafter ASP). A question was asked by a friend. Without a doubt, the Greens have a much more broad spectrum platform. ASP is basically libertarian on social issues, without significant comment on other areas. So to make this easy, I’m going to talk about the policies of ASP and then specify where they differ with The Greens.

The tl;dr of this is that the ASP generally holds a much more left-wing perspective on every policy The Greens do, but that their policy spectrum generally comprises a much smaller aegis than that of The Greens and agrees with them in pretty much every area where there is overlap.


  • Bring about the establishment of a truly national classification scheme which includes a uniform non-violent erotica rating for explicit adult material for all jurisdictions and through all media including the Internet and computer games. (Greens: Make OFLC more transparent)
  • To overturn mandatory ISP filtering of the Internet and return Internet censorship to parents and individuals. (Greens: “ensure that regulation of the internet is transparent, accountable and protects freedom of speech, expression and access to information”, and have made numerous public statements against internet censorship in Australia)
  • We oppose the mandatory retention of all Australian users’ internet browsing history and emails by ISPs for at-will inspection by law enforcement agencies, and support strong judicial oversight over the ability of law enforcement to access individuals’ internet and email data. (Greens: No specific policy comment on data retention, but they have expressed cautious public skepticism of the need for OzLog)


  • To bring about the development of a national sex education curriculum as a first step in preventing the sexualisation of children (Greens: “the education system to provide age-appropriate information about the diversity of sexuality”)
  • Development of a national internet education scheme for parents (Greens: No specific policy comment on Internet education for parents)


  • To enact national anti discrimination laws which make it illegal to unfairly discriminate against people or companies on the basis of job, occupation, profession or calling (The Greens will “legislate to remove sources of discrimination against women” and “end the criminalisation of consensual adult sex work”)
  • To bring about equal numbers of women in the Parliament through enabling the Federal Discrimination Act to have jurisdiction extending to political parties. (The Greens: “legislate to remove sources of discrimination against women”, no specific reference to political parties)
  • To create total equal rights in all areas of the law including same sex marriage (The Greens: “the legalisation of marriage between two consenting adults regardless of sexuality or gender identity.”)
  • Overturn racist laws that ban adults living in and visiting aboriginal communities in the NT from possessing erotic and sexual media (The Greens have a broad statement on: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should have the same life expectancy and living standards as other Australians”)
  • Ensure the sexual rights and freedoms of people with a disability and the elderly (The Greens “remove GST and import duty from specialist aids, devices, appliances and services for people with disability” and are generally pro-disability rights)


  • To enact national pregnancy termination laws along the same lines as divorce law — which allow for legal, no-fault and guilt-free processes for women seeking termination (The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • The listing of Viagra, Cialis and other drugs used to treat sexual dysfunction, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (The Greens have no comment)
  • Overturn restrictions on aid to overseas family planning organisations that reference abortion. (As above, The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)

Protection of Children

  • Convene a Royal Commission into child sex abuse in the nation’s religious institutions (The Greens will: “support and fund high quality services for child survivors of abuse and neglect”, but no specifically call for a Royal Commission)
  • Develop global approaches to tackling child pornography which focus on detection and apprehension of the producers of the material (The Greens believe that “children and young people have a right to a loving and nurturing environment which is free of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination”, but don’t have specific views on enforcement and investigation)

Workplace Relations

  • Ensure that the introduction of paid parental leave is fair and equitable for small businesses (The Greens will “fully fund paid parental leave”)
  • Abolish sex slavery and sexual servitude by introducing non morality-based immigration policies that allow bona-fide sex workers to work legally in Australia (The Greens: “ensure that potential immigrants are not unfairly discriminated against on any grounds” and “immigration must be non-discriminatory on the grounds of nationality, ethnic origin, religion, language, gender, disability, sexuality, age or socioeconomic background”)

Religion / Ethical Issues

  • Establishment of a Royal Commission into child sex abuse in religious institutions (The Greens will: “support and fund high quality services for child survivors of abuse and neglect”)
  • The public education system should be secular in nature and not provide for any religious instruction whatsoever (The Greens: “teachers, academics, student unions and parent organisations should have a significant role in setting directions, priorities, and curricula and in the administration of the public education system.”)
  • An Ethics course along the lines of the current NSW trial, developed by the St James Ethics Centre, to be incorporated into the national curriculum (The Greens: “promote the inclusion of corporate ethics and responsibilities in all business and commerce course curricula at secondary and tertiary institutions.”)
  • Ending the tax exempt status for religions (The Greens have no comment on this)
  • Cessation of tax-exempt status on all but the charitable work of religious institutions (The Greens have no comment on this)
  • Supports stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research, and maintains it is a vital medical issue, not a religious issue. (The Greens: “increase funding to the Australian Research Council and abolish the capacity for the Minister to veto board decisions.”)
  • Supports women’s rights to have an abortion if they so choose (As above, The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • Calls for uniform state abortion laws and amendments to the Therapeutic Goods Act to allow milepristone (RU486) to be imported and distributed widely in place of the highly restrictive and cumbersome Authorised Prescriber process which resulted from the “Harradine Amendments” to the Therapeutic Goods Amendment Bill 1996 (As above, The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • Opposes a blanket ban on women wearing the burqa conditional upon it being the woman’s choice (The Greens want “women to be able to live their lives free from violence”, but have no specific comment on a speculative Burqa ban)


  • Decriminalisation, not legalisation, of purchase, possession and consumption of all drugs for personal use, such quantity to be defined as an amount equal or less than 14 day’s supply for one person (The Greens want “the regulation of personal use of currently illegal drugs is best addressed primarily within a health and social framework, with legal support” and “imprisonment for personal use of illicit drugs, when not associated with other crimes, is not an appropriate solution to drug dependence.”)
  • Infractions are to be treated in an administrative framework and not in the criminal justice system (As above, The Greens do acknowledge a minor place for the legal system in dealing with this issue)
  • Immediate cessation of the use of drug sniffer dogs in public (The Greens have no comment on this specific issue)
  • Legalise and regulate cannabis for specified medical uses (The Greens want to “introduce the regulated use of cannabis for specified medical purposes, such as intractable pain.”)
  • Trafficking and dealing in drugs to remain a criminal offence (The Greens “support criminal penalties for drug dealers.”)
  • Supply of any drugs to a minor is to be a criminal offence (The Greens “support criminal penalties for drug dealers.”)
  • Laboratory quality drug testing stations to be provided at all music festivals and the like. (The Greens: “a harm minimisation approach is the best way to reduce the negative effects of drug use and drug regulation.”)
  • Subsidised and high quality drug testing kits to be made available through pharmacies, age restricted premises and mobile distribution centre (The Greens: “a harm minimisation approach is the best way to reduce the negative effects of drug use and drug regulation.”)
  • Legalise and increase the number of medically supervised injecting rooms (The Greens will “increase the availability of harm reduction programs, including needle and syringe exchanges and medically supervised injecting rooms and implement a rigorous scientific trial of prescribed heroin to registered users in line with the proposed 1996 ACT government heroin trial.”)
  • Legalise the prescription of heroin to registered and habitual users (The Greens will: “make drug substitution treatments available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and compensate pharmacists for costs of dispensing treatment” .. so not 100%)


  • In addition to the patient’s primary medical practitioner a second and independent practitioner would be required to confirm his / her agreement with the diagnosis and prognosis (Information available does not allow The Greens position on this to be analysed)
  • Information about palliative care options must be given to the patient and having been given this information the patient must confirm to the primary medical practitioner that all other options are not acceptable and that he or she wants assistance (Information available does not allow The Greens position on this to be analysed)
  • A seven day cooling off period must then be allowed for before assistance can be provided (Information available does not allow The Greens position on this to be analysed)


  • Uniform abortion laws across Australia (As above, The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • Full decriminalisation of abortion – removal from criminal statutes (As above, The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • Abortion to be treated as a medical matter not a criminal matter (As above, The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • All abortion providers to have authority to prescribe Mifepristone (RU486) (The Greens have no specific policy on RU486, but want to “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • Medicare funding for abortion at all stages of pregnancy.
  • An abortion may be performed at any time with the consent of the woman and if a medical practitioner certifies that it is appropriate under the circumstances (As above, The Greens: “ensure that all women have access to legal, free and safe pregnancy termination services including unbiased counselling.”)
  • Minors (under the age of 16) may obtain an abortion without the consent of a parent/guardian.
  • Ensure abortion is a part of sex education in schools (The Greens want “the education system to provide age-appropriate information about the diversity of sexuality”)

Abbotsford International Airshow

Please forgive me in advance for the nerding..

Went to the Abbotsford International Airshow yesterday while Liz was at Anime Evolution (I bought a ticket to that too, but haven’t been making as good use as her :)

The drive there was incredibly slow in parts, despite being on the Trans-Canada highway, and I think that (and the associated return trip) make the longest drive I’ve ever done by myself. But my trusty steed, the Prius and my iPod kept me company.

I slip’ed and slop’ed, but not slapped. I don’t think I got any permanent damage, and the sunscreen seems to have done the trick. Just for reference, spending 4 hours in 40 degree heat on a black runway is.. something to only do in situations like this, where there is planespotting joy to be had..

So, first, the big list of what I went inside and oooed and aaahed at:

  • Canadian Forces CC-150 Polaris (Airbus A310) (15004)
  • Canadian Forces CC17 (702)
  • USAF C-17 Globemaster (06-6162)
  • USAF C-5 Galaxy (68-0216)
  • USAF KC10 Extender (DC-10) (86-0031)
  • USAF KC135R (Boeing 707) (62-3521)

Also on display was one of ELINT KC135Rs, some C130s, some A10 Thunderbolts, a SH-3 Skyking and a Eurocopter. In support of the airshow, there were another 2 CC17s, and a USAF C-17 parked in the area.

There were also displays setup from Canadian Forces, the Abbotsford Police and the RCMP Lower Mainland Hostage Rescue Team. Showing typical restraint, they had their guns on display for people to hold, with trigger and mag locks. So I got to hold a M-16, MP5, Remington Shotgun, Taser and a 9mm S&W 5946. I’m a boy. Also had a chat with a Mountie from their traffic safety division who had a daughter going to Curtin. Hah.

Another impressive part of the airshow was actually the stuff in the air. Who would have thought! Like these guys:

Abbotsford International Airshow

More photos on my flickr. I’m glad I bought the 100-400mm lens. It’s good for stuff like this for sure :)


Sunset has been pretty awesome lately, but it is really getting earlier. Setting at almost 9:30 at night, instead of 10:30.

Sunset, 11 August 2010

In somewhat sad news, it seems there is some dust inside my 100-400 lens. I have no idea where though, it’s not on the front or back elements. Apparently the trombone design sucks air+dust in and isn’t so great about blowing the dust back out. Thankfully it’s in a corner of the image (which would mean it would suck on a full frame camera.. hrms..) and it only shows up under certain situations.

I tried taking some test photos at both ends of the range, and it wasn’t in some of them, and it was in some others. As cleaning the lens is $299 from Canon, I’ll wait till it becomes a real issue. Still happy with the lens, and I bought it in knowledge that this could happen to it, but I’m still annoyed it did, as I thought I was being really careful about it.

Of course, the pic embedded is unrelated, and was taken with my 17-55 f/2.8IS lens, which takes awesomely sharp images.

Also unrelated to a 400mm lens, my flash reflector arrived from China. Worth both dollars I paid for it, will have some fun on the weekend.

merging passwd and shadow files

I wrote a Perl script to merge /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow files from two hosts

In the words of Elizabeth “Now you have two problems?”

See below. Sadly wordpress doesn’t do.. well.. any job of indenting. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve munged the passwd hash in the file :P

open PASSWD, "</etc/passwd" or die $!;
open OPASSWD, "<passwd.other" or die $!;
open OSHADOW, "<shadow.other" or die $!;
# Read this hosts /etc/passwd into memory
# nfsnobody:x:4294967294:4294967294:Anonymous NFS User:/var/lib/nfs:/dev/null
while ( <PASSWD> ) {
my ($uid,$junkpass,$pruid,$pguid,$officename,$homedir,$shell) = split(/:/,$_,7);
$THISHOST{$uid}{'junkpass'} = $junkpass;
$THISHOST{$uid}{'pruid'} = $pruid;
$THISHOST{$uid}{'pguid'} = $pguid;
$THISHOST{$uid}{'officename'} = $officename;
$THISHOST{$uid}{'homedir'} = $homedir;
$THISHOST{$uid}{'shell'} = $shell;
close PASSWD;
# Read other machine's /etc/passwd into memory
while (<OPASSWD>) {
my ($uid,$junkpass,$pruid,$pguid,$officename,$homedir,$shell) = split(/:/,$_,7);
$THATHOST{$uid}{'junkpass'} = $junkpass;
$THATHOST{$uid}{'pruid'} = $pruid;
$THATHOST{$uid}{'pguid'} = $pguid;
$THATHOST{$uid}{'officename'} = $officename;
$THATHOST{$uid}{'homedir'} = $homedir;
$THATHOST{$uid}{'shell'} = $shell;
close OPASSWD;
# Read other machine's /etc/shadow into memory
# aua:$1$6LzssYvL$Wqs94Dv/ZSkuGl0LXQpKb1:13392:0:99999:7:::
while (<OSHADOW>) {
my ($uid,$passstring) = split(/:/,$_,2);
$THATSHADOW{$uid} = $passstring;
close OSHADOW;
# Check for missing accounts
foreach $account (sort keys %THATHOST) {
if (!(defined($THISHOST{$account}))) {
print "Missing $account\n";
$passwdbuf = $passwdbuf . "$account:$THATHOST{$account}{junkpass}:$THATHOST{$account}{pruid}:$THATHOST{$account}{pguid}:$THATHOST{$account}{officename}:$THATHOST{$account}{homedir}:$THATHOST{$account}{shell}\n";
$shadowbuf = $shadowbuf . "$account:$THATSHADOW{$account}\n";
} else {
print "$account: $THISHOST{$account}{pruid} = $THATHOST{$account}{pruid}\n";
if ((defined($THISHOST{$account})) && ($THISHOST{$account}{pruid} ne $THATHOST{$account}{pruid})) {
$uiderrors = $uiderrors . "$account : THISHOST:$THISHOST{$account}{pruid} THATHOST:$THATHOST{$account}{pruid}\n";
# Output missing accounts for /etc/passwd
print "------------------\n";
print "Add to /etc/passwd\n";
print "$passwdbuf\n";
# Output missing accounts for /etc/shadow
print "------------------\n";
print "Add to /etc/shadow\n";
print "$shadowbuf\n";
# UID Mis-matches
print "------------------\n";
print "UID Mis-matches\n";
print "$uiderrors\n";

For @JuliaGillard

Dear Prime Minister Gillard,

To begin, I congratulate you on your commencement as new Prime Minister of Australia. My wife and I are Australian Citizens currently living overseas in Canada and working as IT consultants and watched the change unfold with great interest.

I write to you in agreement with the Australian Government’s continued efforts to prevent child abuse and distribution of images and other depictions of the same on the Internet. I believe that the more resources allocated to law enforcement, the better the outcomes.

However, I am concerned that your government may be looking to continue the mistake of the Kevin Rudd-lead government in attempting to implement an Internet Filter to attempt to prevent access to this material.

In much the same way that China’s internet filter only prevents casual browsing of material deemed subversive to the state, an Internet filter in Australia for indecent and illegal content will only prevent casual browsing of such material. Everything I’ve read seems to suggest there no such thing as casual browsing of such material.

I also know that the government of China has spent a lot of money and effort in attempting to put their filter in place, believing it is necessary to maintain public order. If the Chinese filter can’t stop the flow of information to protect the whole country, why is it the view of the Government of Australia that in a free society they can do a better job of it?

Therefore in fact, an Internet filter will achieve nothing, at the expense of the speed, reliability and privacy of every Australian using the Internet. Further, it will put a framework in place for future governments of Australia to attempt to filter out other “subversive” content. The Internet cannot be censored. Material can be removed at its source, and I commend the AFP on their efforts to do so.

I urge your government to drop these plans for wasting money on a totally ineffective Internet filter, and instead divert that money to law enforcement.

Yours Sincerely,

Oh Microsoft..

Came across an interesting problem today. I resized a VMDK of a Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual machine today, then ran gparted, and when I rebooted.. it was no good.

In Windows’ defence, I made some mistakes. I told gparted to align to cylinder boundaries, which the original partition wasn’t, and I didn’t let the VM shut down properly (it had rebooted, so I figure it would be ok to do a virtual power down.. oops). I also didn’t take a vmware snapshot beforehand.

But being the nice person I am and not wanting to waste one of my co-worker’s days work on it by reverting to backups, I thought I’d give it a bit of a go at fixing it.

First step was manually un-aligning it back to the geometry I had before, which I did using the command line parted in “sector” unit mode. Then I tried booting.. and no luck.

I did some reading, and had got to reading about bcdedit, the new tool in vista/2008 for editing boot parameters. It’s pretty hardcore.. I tried resetting it, and got slightly different errors, but it still didn’t work.

I did some more googling on the error, and found someone describing how to fix the same problem with Vista. You just pop in the system install disk and follow some prompts, and it’ll automatically repair it. Cool! I thought, I’ll just put in the Win2008R2 DVD image, and it’ll do the same thing.

No dice.

Then I thought.. I wonder what will happen if I boot it from a Vista install DVD, they’re close enough? And blow me down, it worked. So there we go – the solution to a Windows 2008 R2 problem was to use the Windows Vista desktop install DVD.

Only thing left to do was let it shut down gracefully, then run ntfsresize, and it all seems to be working.

“Can I take good pictures with my point and shoot digital camera?”

A simple question asked by an online acquaintance of Elizabeth. The answer is: it depends on what you think makes a good picture.

Photography as an art is about making an image of a scene in such a way that it evokes an strong emotional response from the viewer. There are many ways to achieve this, and a point and shoot camera need not stop you from being able to do so.

For example, this photo of a passionfruit is one of my favourite photos I have ever taken. Partially, it’s because I like passionfruit, but putting that aside, it has good lighting, sharp focus, nice colours, and even a nice background blur. And I took it in December 2001 with a camera I had owned for less than 48 hours, that wasn’t a digital SLR. My only criticism of it is that it is in 4:3 ratio, not 2:3 ratio. Even if the camera doesn’t support 2:3 ratio photographs, try imagining the top and bottom of the photo will be cut off, and you can do it in post production..

I took 6000 photos with that Canon G2 over the next 5 years (even though I paid $1990 for the camera, I think I got my monies worth, and it’s still going strong with my Dad), and eventually discovered it had one weakness – really really really poor handling in low light – it would put about 14 vertical bars through any short shutter speed low light situation. Back in 2001 when I bought that camera, there were a lot of crappy cameras on the market, even from companies like Sony. But today, in the right conditions, any modern name brand digital camera can take a great photo. The question is, what is required to make a nice image like that one?

The easy answer is light, and lots of it. Either natural (preferred) or from a flash, or from an external light. The quality of the colour is based on the type of light. Natural light is very wide bandwidth, so is nice for photography. Flashes are also pretty wide bandwidth, as are studio lights. Problem comes from home lighting fixtures, especially compact fluorescent ones, which are somewhat narrower, leading to colour reproduction problems. You know how some parking lots have lights that make everything look yellow? Well, think of poor quality lighting like that – the human eye + brain generally doesn’t notice the smaller gamut, but the camera will, and may try to correct colours, with varying levels of success.

Flashes are nice, but not generally pointed directly at what you want to photograph. This is where point and shoot cameras have a problem, since their flashes generally point straight ahead. You want the light to be softened, and coming from all directions (maybe pointed in one surface specifically, but you will often still want it in other places). The way to do that is by using bounce flash. My usual trick is the reverse ceiling bounce with my digital SLR + external flash. Point the flash backwards and upwards over your head, and towards a white surface. The light reflected will be diffused, and look nice. Like this one.

Some non digital SLR cameras take external flashes. If nothing else, if you want to take photos indoors, I would recommend getting one of those, and an external flash. Be aware that the flash may cost as much as the camera, but it’ll be worth it, and still probably cheaper than buying a new digital SLR.

So, light = good, and good light = good colour.

Focus is generally pretty easy to deal with – every camera or lens will have a minimum focus distance stated somewhere. Do not try to photograph closer than that, and the camera will probably take care of it ok. In my camera, I have it set to auto-focus on the centre point only. I focus by holding the shutter button down part way till it focuses and gets light levels right, then while still holding the button down, recompose. On the subject of composition, the rule of thirds is pretty twee, but not a bad starting point.

Background blur (or bokeh) is a little harder to manage, and is another area where digital SLRs can help. Camera lenses have a depth of field, or how deep something is in focus.. closer or further away and it’ll be blurry. This is a function of aperture and how far away from the subject you are. Lower aperture number = physically larger aperture = smaller depth of field. Physically larger aperture = more light gets into camera, and as we recall, light is good. So you can do it two ways.. either have a low aperture lens, or move the background further away from the object (or vis-a-versa).

Point and shoot cameras will often have higher apertures, meaning bigger depth of field, which makes it easy to get everything in focus, which is the first thing many people will notice about a photo. They’re also easy to build, since the size of the internal diameter of the lens can be smaller. For example, Elizabeth’s P&S camera has an aperture range of 3.2 – 5.8, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. My nifty-50 lens has an aperture of 1.8, which means it can take photos in reasonably low light. For insane sums, you can buy 1.0 and 0.95 lenses, which combined with a good camera, will let you take photographs using candles as lighting.

You can make up for a camera that is less sensitive to light by increasing the shutter speed, but past a certain point the photos will blur because the camera or the subject will move. A longer shutter speed also won’t help with aperture or background blur. A tripod can help here if it’s going to be the camera that moves, but not if it’s the subject. To make up for cameras moving, some point and shoot cameras and some digital SLRs have image stabilisation, which uses gyroscopes or adaptive optics or both to keep the image fairly still even when the camera moves. Then you just need to worry about the subject moving..

Which gets the to crux of the question – digital SLRs vs point and shoot cameras. You for the most part, get what you pay for. How much do you want to pay and what do you want to get? Find the intersecting point, and buy that. If you can’t find that intersection, change your price point or your desires, or wait a while.

What makes a camera cost what it does – what’s the difference between a $20,000 Hasselblag H4D medium format camera, and a $120 Canon A480? Sensor size is one of the keys. Bigger sensors = larger pixels = more light gathered per pixel per second = less noise. They often try to express this as ISO light sensitivity. Small sensors make up for this by running more electricity through the sensor to detect light, but at the trade off of having a more grainy image. They deal with the grainy image by having in-camera noise reduction, that essentially blurs the noise away if it’s too bad, or by taking the photo with a high enough megapixel count that when printed or scaled down, you’re not going to notice it. A bigger megapixel number, like the megahertz myth of computers, gives an easy number for the uneducated to compare and base decisions on, but it’s not that important. As long as it’s over 6MP and you don’t want to print giant posters, it’s all good.

The other cost input is lenses. Point and shoots have small non-interchangeable lenses which don’t let in much light, but they’re cheap to make. Digital SLR lenses are bigger, heavier and thus more expensive to make and distribute, but they make some that let in a lot of light, so they have that going for them. Also, being inter-changable, they don’t have to be a "jack of all trades, master of none", but you can buy digital SLR lenses that are. 

So what should you buy? Digital SLRs are big and bulky, and relatively expensive, but it’s easier to take nice pictures with them. Point and shoots are cheap and can take nice pictures, but it’s harder, and you will eventually reach a point where your creativity will be limited and there’s nothing you can do to help. If you want a digital SLR but have sticker shock, consider secondhand ones. Anything from 2006 onwards from Canon or Nikon is a good option. Take a photo of a white wall and look at it up close in an image viewer – see if there is any dust or dead or bright pixels. You’ll know them when you see them. Even those don’t make it a walk away deal, just something to negotiate on. 

If you can’t buy a digital SLR, but you care about making nice images, buy a Canon G11
. It’s a point and shoot with a lot of features from a digital SLR, including support for external flashes. It has a larger than average sensor (and in the most recent revision, grom G10 to G11, they actually decreased the megapixel count, to make a better sensor), a larger aperture range (2.8 – 4.5), and it doesn’t cost the earth (like my Canon G2 did back in 2001..). 

So that’s my thoughts on the question “Can I take good pictures with my point and shoot digital camera?” .. what are yours?