Open letter to Canon Inc – faulty Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens

Dear Canon Inc

On two occasions I have purchased the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens, and on both occasions there were serious faults causing the lens to not work and perform useless.

On the first occasion I got the familiar stuck/locked zoom, and this was repaired by myself. Read the comments left by all the other users who had exactly the same issue. It doesn’t make sense that there are so many of us.

On the second occasion I got the infamous “Err 01”, I worked out that this was the common flex cable issue. I was able to salvage the use of the lens by using Aperture Priority with the aperture at the minimum.

As I was travelling at the time, I took the lens to the Canon store in Kashighar, China, they charged me 600 Yuan (roughly $100), only to have the issue reappear shortly after.

A second time I took the lens to a third-party repairer in Kathmandu, this time the lens worked for a few days and then the issue reappeared.

I will not take the lens to the repairer a third time, and have purchased a Canon EF-S 18-55mm kit lens. I am disappointed that a lens of supposedly such high quality that costs in excess of five-hundred dollars has so many problems. And this is not a unique case, read the countless users who have experienced the same problems as I have on Google.

When there is a known problem with your product, it is your responsibility to issue a public product defect notice.

I have been a Canon user since owning a Canon PowerShot G3, I have owned multiple Canon IXUS camera and currently own two Canon 400D DSLRs.

I am seriously considering converting to Nikon.

Yours sincerely,

Travis Hydzik

Zhao Wei Dong from Kashgar Jiulong Photographic Goods Corporation was very unhelpful
First repair of the Canon EF-S 17-85mm lens
Business card of Kashgar Jiulong Photographic Goods Corporation
Second repair of the Canon EF-S 17-85mm lens
Business card of Bhandari Photo Shop in Thamel Kathmandu
The purchase of a Canon EF-S 18-55mm to replace the faulty EF-S 17-85mm

Do not use Kashgar Tours

We recently had a bad experience with Kashgar Tours who also go by the name Uighur Tours during our trip along the Silk Road. We purchased overnight train tickets with them. When it was time to collect the tickets we were informed they had forgotten to grab our passport information, and this was all on the day we were to board the train.

Fortunately, there were other class tickets available, but we nearly had to take a bus.

Review of A-PDF Page Cut – software to split a pdf page in half

I came into the requirement of needing to split the  pages of a pdf in half, normally this is required when you scan a book and have two pages per scan, but my specific example was a Lonely Planet digital publication which for some reason was  released similarly, as I wanted to view it on a Kindle I required single pages only.

My first trial was free software Briss, Java coded cross-platform, I did not find it intuitive at all and couldn’t get it to work, there was no way to select exactly half of the sheet, and no batch functionality.

I then moved to Page Cut by A-PDF, A-PDF have an interesting offer called “Blog it and get it” where you blog about the software and they give you a free license, hence this post, hopefully it pulls through.

Page Cut is extremely easy to use, the steps to split a page in half are;

  1. Open pdf with Page Cut
  2. Click Add a Vertical Line from the toolbar
  3. Click Apply with default settings
  4. Click Cut and Save As

That’s it you have a single page per page pdf.

Cutting a single pdf pages in half

Batch Cut Mode is even easier;

  1. Import pdf  with Page Cut
  2. Select Cut Vertical In Half
  3. Click Cut and Save As

Batch cutting multiple pdf pages in half

So what is Page Cut missing?

I would like to see some smarts; mainly for batch cuts, warnings if cuts go through words (or there isn’t enough blank white space).

The other thing needed is a column showing if the pdf is Landscape or Portait, with the option to select/deselect either. In general a landscape page will have two pages per page, a portrait page can be ignored.

As I needed this functionality, I wrote a little VB function that finds the page orientation, it does require Acrobat though. I could then filter and move to a separate folder landscape orientated pdfs to be imported into Page Cut, here’s the code;

Public Function getOrientation(ByRef gPDFPath As String) As String
    If LenB(gPDFPath) > 0 Then
        Dim acroApp, avDoc, pdDoc, pdPage
        Dim acroPoint
        Dim x As Long, y As Long

        Set acroApp = CreateObject("AcroExch.App")
        If acroApp.GetNumAVDocs = 0 Then 'no existing files
            acroApp.Hide
        End If
        Set avDoc = CreateObject("AcroExch.AVDoc")
        If avDoc.Open(gPDFPath, "Accessing PDF's") Then
            If Not avDoc.IsValid Then
                getOrientation = "Error"
                Exit Function
            End If

            Set pdDoc = avDoc.GetPDDoc()
            Set pdPage = avDoc.GetPDDoc.AcquirePage(0) 'first page

            Set acroPoint = pdPage.GetSize()
            x = acroPoint.x
            y = acroPoint.y
            Set acroPoint = Nothing

            If x >= y Then
                getOrientation = "Landscape"
            Else
                getOrientation = "Portrait"
            End If
        End If
        pdDoc.Close
        avDoc.Close True
'        If acroApp.GetNumAVDocs > 0 Then
'            acroApp.CloseAllDocs
'        End If
        acroApp.Exit
        Set acroApp = Nothing
        Set avDoc = Nothing
        Set pdDoc = Nothing
        Set pdPage = Nothing
    End If
End Function

Finally, on my search for the above functionality I tried A-PDF Explorer, what I noticed was a second folder in my Program Files and Start menu, given A-PDF make a large amount of tools, why not have a root folder A-PDF, with subfolders for each product, makes more sense.

Review of USB Safely Remove – the device cannot be stopped right now

Sick of constantly experiencing the Window’s “The device ‘Generic volume’ cannot be stopped because a program is still accessing it.” message, I decided to give the program USB Safely Remove a test.

The first time trying to stop my USB hard-disk-drive I get the following “Could not find any processes locking USB device!”, great, the one program that advertises as “an enhanced and hassle-free replacement for Windows safe removal tool” doesn’t even work.

Back to directly unplugging the drive.

USB Safely Remove - the device cannot be stopped right now

RegexBuddy – a solution to the Regular Expressions (Regex) nightmare

For the last few months I have been using RegexBuddy, software designed to help with Regular Expressions.

After using it to create and test more than one extremely complex regular expression, I thought it was time I gave RegexBuddy some ‘big ups’.

So what is so good about RegexBuddy,

Firstly, it allows you to create regular expressions using layman’s terms, “Non printable character”, “Match between zero and unlimited times”, “Create back-reference”, etc, no longer is there a need to remember the regular expression syntax.

Secondly, I can test my regular expression with extreme ease, I can show the full matched text and any matched groupings.

Thirdly, I can directly translate the regular expression to the programming language of choice, VB, PHP, JavaScript, etc, and not have to worry about the specifics of how to form a regular expression for that specific language.

I use RegexBuddy for PHP and JavaScript, I no longer need to ‘guess’ what the regular expression will be and constantly have to upload my code to the server to try it out.

Here’s an example expression I recently used in my WordPress plugin Slimbox2 Slideshow;

Planning a wedding reception and Tawarri Reception Centre review

Having recently executed a very successful wedding reception, I thought I would share my experience, and also provide a thorough review of Tawarri Reception Centre.

It all started September 2010, we got married and decided we must have a reception next year.  We browsed through a number of well known venue brochures, Matilda Bay Restaurant, Fraser’s Restaurant, Old Brewery and off course Tawarri.

They were all in nice locations, overlooking the Swan River, but what drew us to Tawarri was the classic venue that our parents had at least once been to, but even more so, the price.

At the time, Tawarri advertised a three course sit-down meal for $79 per person off-peak, which included a five hour beverage package of wine and spirits, it all sounded too good to be true. We checked out the venue, met with Malcolm Fernandez, who was already keen on sharing his wedding ideas, and paid the $1000 deposit.

We didn’t do too much till early next year, where the missus and I started bouncing ideas for the general ‘theme’, invitations and guest list. We decided that the invitations should tie-in with the final reception.

Invitations

Having decided on the invitation font, design and wording, time to purchase the materials;

  • 100x 6” square white envelopes $20 AUD
  • 100x 12” square Bazzill embossed cardstock $120 USD

By late May material had arrived, and by June approximately 80 invitations posted.

I also made a simple online paperless invitation, which mimicked the real invitations.

Wedding Website and Online RSVP

In parallel to the invitations, an Online RSVP form was made and a basic Wedding Website.

Package Update

On May 2011, Lee-ann from Tawarri sent through an update reception package brochure, our original sit-down meal for off-peak had increased from $79 per person to $84 per person, a 6.33% increase. Note; the Australia consumer price index (CPI) from September 2010 to June 2011 was only 3%.

From May 2011 was when the real reception planning started, it was amazing how little information Tawarri provided in their reception package brochure, we asked many questions, here are a list of key items that were discussed leading up to the reception, most are relevant to Tawarri, but for completeness, I have still shared those that are not.

Chair Covers

Tawarri was able to provide chair covers with sashes for $5.50 per person plus a $1.00 per person set up fee. The least expensive I could find chair cover only in Perth was $4.50 per person. Looking at other options, there is a “universal’ chair cover available that fits on all chairs and ties neatly behind the back of the chair, so no sash is required. I managed to located satin universal chair covers for $3.60 (including postage) to purchase from a seller on Alibaba (contact Jean Zhu; [email protected])

Bottled Beers

Tawarri’s standard beverage consumption was jugs of Carlton Draft and Carlton Mid-Strength, now when I think of beer jugs, I think of my university days, not something I want at a wedding reception, so I thought bottled beers were the way to go. Tawarri do offer a bottled beer package for an extra $15 per person, with “conditions apply”. In a separate document which you have to request, the first paragraph states the following;

“our experience with alcohol service has indicated a dangerous trend of binge drinking at functions resulting in unsavoury behaviour and incidents that jeopardise the safety of staff and guests. Bottled beers will not entirely replace jugs of draught beer and will be served in addition to the standard option”

Here’s an interesting fact Carlton Draft contains 4.6% alcohol content, Corona also contains 4.6% alcohol content, the difference is one is served in a 1136mL jug, the other in a 330mL bottle.

Wedding Cake Service

At our first meeting with Malcolm, he informed us of Tawarri complimentary wedding cake service, on questioning later, it turned out it was merely cutting the cake up to finger size pieces and serving it on a platter in the middle of the table. This was still nicer then what some of the other venues would charge for this service, and we decide to go with this option.

Beverages

Included in the standard package were Hardy’s Cabernet Merlot and Hardy’s Chardonnay  wine, Carlton Drought and Carlton Midstrength beer and soft drinks.

I was against having jugs of beer at our tables, I didn’t think they were appropriate for a wedding. Unfortunately, there was no option to remove them, and the bottle beer package wasn’t a substitute, but added more to the table.

Bar Tab

It is common for venues to have a bar with can either be guest paid or prepaid for the night. Tawarri had this, on May they provided us with current bar prices, again in a separate document. On July they informed us of revised prices for spirits and bottled beers, a slight fifty cents increase.

I decided to go with an unadvertised open bar, except for three drinks on the menus, Coronas, Johnny Walker Black and Gin and Tonic. One of the ideas was a Vodka and Cranberry juice in a Martini glass, which Tawarri was very obliging to provide.

I provided the Moet & Chandon for dinner only, so also decided to allow Hardy’s Champaign during the 30 minute pre-dinner drinks.

I initially prepaid $1000 on the tab, the tab ended up as $1400, with totals as;

  • 77x Johnny Walker Black
  • 8x Corona
  • 48x Gin and Tonic
  • 8x Hardy’s Champaign

The Gin and Tonic quantity also included any other drinks guests ordered. I was surprised in 30 minutes, 100 guests could consume 8 bottles of Champaign.

Sound System

Tawarri only provides a basic PA system (single microphone and single powered speaker), we used Matrix Productions to hire two self powered speakers which we connected to a mixer and wireless microphones.

Music

I decided to go with self mixing a pre-recorded ‘set’ and playing that on the night. Mixing software called MixMeister made it extremely easy.

Download the wedding music here (170mb).

Child meals

A baby under two years old was not charged and provided a high chair. A kids meal (under twelve years old) was available for $50 per child, teenagers where discounted to $70 per head, due to non-consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Venue Hire Extension

Tawarri allowed for the extension of the venue hire by one hour for $250 extra. This was a great deal, the issue with extending the hire (for all venues) was what to do with the beverages. Tawarri happily gave us many choices,

  • 1 hour venue extension only for an additional $250
  • 1 hour venue and standard beverage package extension for an additional $250 and $10 per person.
  • 1 hour venue, standard and bottled beverage package extension for an additional $250 and $25 per person.

We happily chose the venue extension only, unfortunately, due to licensing we couldn’t keep the bar open past 11pm.

Tables and Settings

Tawarri provided 10 person round tables, two 12 person round tables, a cake table and gift table. All linen was provided. They even offered to help with the table settings.

Champagne

Tawarri offers a number of options for Champagne,

  • $2.50 per person for toasting only, or
  • $2.50 per person for pre-dinner only, or
  • $6.00 per person through out the night

They surprised us and even allowed us to supply our pre-purchased Moet & Chandon for a minimal $5 corkage fee per bottle (which even included ice-buckets). We had two toasting sessions through out the night and Tawarri even refilled the glasses both times.

Pre-reception setup

As long as there is no other functions prior to yours during the day, Tawarri will allow for setup on the prior day. This was really a blessing, on the Friday prior we managed to setup the chair covers, cake, audio system and table settings in three hours.

Payment with cash

Tawarri offers a 2.5% discount if payment is made in cash, which was also a nice surprise.

Flowers

We decided to arrange the flower centrepieces ourselves, we sourced white Ranunculus from the florists in Mt Lawley, Perth. Bunches of approximately 10 stems were $6, we picked up 40 bunches for our 13 tables. Plain white vases were purchased from IKEA.

Cake

After a successful cake the previous year at our ceremony, we decided to again go with Perth’s Sugar and Spice Patisserie. And again we weren’t disappointed. We added Ranunculus onto the cake ourselves.

Bonbonnieres

After much thought, we found a lovely four-piece chocolate Bianca Boxes from Bateel. Mohammad Bagher Pashmi from the Bateel Dubai Mall was very helpful and professional placing the order via email. Unfortunately, discounts aren’t available for orders less than 5000 AED (approximately $1300 USD).

Food

The pre-dinner drinks appetiser was a let down, advertised as “Chef’s choice of cocktail items”, was only fried finger food.

Tawarri made available a vegetarian meal at no additional charge.

Tawarri offered a ‘chose two’ for the mains as part of the standard package. Orders were not taken throughout the night, but instead both dishes brought to the guests to chose. Whilst this isn’t dining etiquette, it didn’t make it easier for our non-English speaking relatives to chose.

Tea and Coffee

Tawarri’s advertised tea and coffee was a self-service table located outside the main room in the foyer.

USB Wireless Presenter with Mouse and AutoHotkey

I bought this USB Wireless Presenter for 12 USD from eBay as I needed to control the music and slideshow at a reception.

It turned out to better than I expected, some of the reasons i purchased this was;

  • Radio Frequency technology – no need to ‘point’ it at a receiver.
  • 25m operating distance – enough for all large rooms.
  • 6 buttons – plus more if you add key combinations.
  • Mouse emulation – though I never used this.
  • AAA batteries.
Now, previously having heard of AutoHotkey, it was time to try it out.
AutoHotkey is a great little program, takes a little getting use to, but once you do, you can pretty much do anything.
Here’s the code I used, comments explain the buttons;
; up button - increase volume
LWin::Send {vkAFsc130}

; down button - decrease volume
SC030::Send {vkAEsc12E}

; left button - pause winamp (must have global hotkeys on)
Shift & F5::Send ^!{Home}

; right button - mute
;Esc::Send {vkADsc120}

; left button
PgUp:: msgbox, Page Up

; right button
PgDn:: msgbox, Page Down

; the following uses a two key sequence, right button (esc) and then page up, to cause the movie to play
Esc::
Input,OutputVar,L1 T2,{PgUp}
if ErrorLevel = EndKey:PgUp
Run "C:\Program Files\Combined Community Codec Pack\MPC\mpc-hc.exe" "D:\myvideo.avi" /play /fullscreen /close
return

Download the AutoHotKey file AutoHotkey.ahk

This USB Wireless Presenter, like all things from China, goes by the following other names KK806, SP-750, V-pointer and X-pointer.

USB Wireless Presenter

Bad review – Budget Car Rentals (Doha)

I’ve rented a number of cars from a number of companies, Budget is the first one I have come across that has this policy.

I rented a car on the 21st May on a 1750QAR monthly rate, returned it on the 2nd September. All other companies have worked out the remainder days (12 days in this case), divided by 30 days (in a month) and then multiplied by my monthly rate.

Not Budget, Budget works out how many weeks are in the remainder and gives me the weekly rate, then in the new remainder works out how many days are in this new remainder and gives me the daily rate.

So for my loyalty renting a car on a monthly rate for over three months they then charge me daily rates just because you return it not on the even month.
Budget, you have lost my business.

Here are other car rental companies that I have used and are happy to divide any remainder by the monthly rate;
Thrifty
Europcar
Petra Rent a Car (Doha)
Sixt