SLR is Stupid

Old SLR cameraSLR is an archaic technology, first patented in 1861 (!). It is of no use for the vast majority of digital camera users. It is still perceived as a premium mainly because of camera manufacturer marketing and uninformed apologists.

SLR just means that a series of mirrors and lenses allows the photographer to to “look” through the main camera lenses.

Guess what? Digital cameras already do this!

When you look at the LCD preview screen, you are already “looking” through the main lenses. These days, SLR is a redundant feature that only increases size, heft, and fragility.

Wikipeida says these features are common to digital SLR cameras:

  • Parallax-free optical viewfinder
  • Fast phase-detection autofocus
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Sensor size and quality
  • Depth-of-field control
  • Angle of view
  • Mode dial

If you scratch out the word “optical” (as I did above), none of these features have anything to do with SLR technology. Well, maybe fast phase-detection autofocus has a minor relationship with SLR due to its need to use an additional sensor, but that problem can easily be mitigated with technology similar to DSLRs that have live previews. All of these features could work fine on cameras lacking SLR junk.

A while back, car manufacturers started bundling options, a blatant profit-enhancing move. Now, on many cars, you can’t get certain options without getting all sorts of unrelated options in a bundle. For example, you usually have to order a bundle of several luxury options to get a built in navigation system (a bad idea, by the way).

Digital SLR is the same thing. If you want a “really, really good camera”, manufacturers have strongly marketed that digital SLR is the only way to go. It’s unfortunate and unacceptable that manufacturers won’t give us advanced options like standard interchangeable lenses without also bundling costly, archaic SLR technology.

Is lauan underlay really that bad?

Lauan plywood is a controversial flooring underlay.

I went with 5.2mm lauan plywood from my local Home Depot with a recent flooring project because it seemed like the “obvious” choice. It’s recommended all over the internet on seemingly reputable sites, the University of Massachusetts recommends it,  a major tile manufacturer recommends it,  and my Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 book recommends it.

However, after going through six and a half pounds of 6d 2″ ring shank nails and hours upon hours of work with my wife, I found some web sites highly critical of lauan.

Some allege that lauan board is inferior to regular plywood for various reasons, including inability to resist indentation, hygroscopic properties, oils in the wood, and so on. This is generally the opinion taken by an author for Floor Covering International.

I freaked out. We were in the middle of a major weekend project, we had no time for major problems, and going back would be a giant setback.

To add insult to injury, when we were finally ready to apply the tiles, we found instructions inside the box. The very first line of instruction read, “Do not use mahogany plywood.” AAAUUGGHH!!! (While technically incorrect, “mahogany plywood” commonly refers to lauan.)

We went ahead and finished the project as is because we had no better alternative.

Since then, I’ve calmed down. My experience working with the wood and further thinking suggests:

  1. Lauan plywood resists dings well. It took a solid, direct hammer blow to dent it, and those blows didn’t dent it too badly.
  2. Running our refrigerator over some bare lauan didn’t do a thing to it.
  3. The criticisms of lauan aren’t objective, nor are they quantitative. They appear to be both communally reinforced and based on fuzzy memories. I also suspect that confirmation bias may influence these detractors to blame lauan for bad projects that may have been affected by other factors such as bad installation practices.
  4. The only lauan in the plywood is actually an extremely thin top surface. As far as I could tell, the rest of the plywood is regular wood you might find anywhere.
  5. Lauan is used in boatmaking because of its water resistant properties.
  6. We primed the wood. While this isn’t a sealer per se, it should act as an additional barrier, reduce any moisture-related problems.

I am not flooring expert, but the evidence suggests that lauan is actually a fine underlay choice as long as you get the right quality.

The only valid criticism might be that lauan is a tropical wood and its use may contribute to tropical deforestation. However, even then, there are lauan tree farms, so this might be able to be managed?

Texas fishing license = revenue

At a recent Boy Scout Roundtable meeting, a Texas Parks and Wildlife police officer talked about what adult leaders should know before taking their packs and troops fishing.

A surprising fact was that White Rock Lake, an inner-city Dallas lake, is among the cleanest and most diverse sources of fish.

Toward the end of the Q&A period, I asked, “What is the purpose of licensing recreational fishers?”

Short answer: revenue. He could not identify any other purpose, although he waxed eloquently about where the revenue went.

“License” revenue generated $80 million of gross income in 2006-2007 (source). Subtract $7.7 “license” issuance costs (source), and subtract TPWD’s $45 million law enforcement budget, the minimum profit is $27.3 million. The profit is likely several millions higher because not all TPWD enforcement time is spent punishing un-“licensed” fishers.

Possessing a license is supposed to be certification that you meet a standard. We’re all familiar with the driver’s license, but there are many other forms of licensing, such as refrigerant purchase licenses, concealed carry licenses, etc.

Having money taken from you is not a “standard.” Calling this function a license cheapens the term and fuels cynicism. Just call it what it is: a tax.

Long Day

Today was a long day.

7:00 AM: Breakfast meeting with “Key 3” of my local Boy Scout district.

8:00 AM: Work.

2:00 PM: Dallas City Plan Commission, where I spoke on behalf of a project (I’ll write more later)

5:00 PM: Find out that the speaker for this evening’s neighborhood association meeting cannot attend (has to do with the Plan Commission thing)

5:50 PM: Visit vet to talk about how to deal with my dog’s heartworms (I’ll write more later)

6:30 PM (right after I get home): Plan neighborhood association meeting.

7:00 PM: Neighborhood association quarterly meeting and annual elections. (I got elected president again!)

8:40 PM: Run back to meeting place to retrieve lost camera.

9:15 PM: Finally run through the day’s missed emails.

How Intuit TurboTax Blew It

Since 2000, I have used Intuit’s TurboTax Online tax filing system. It was a great, affordable online tax preparation utility that slashed tax preparation effort. My finances are straightforward enough to use TurboTax’s $20 product, which is now free!

They screwed it up. See the two buttons on the bottom of this page?
Turbo Tax Shenanigan

If you click on Maximize My Deductions, that $0 product magically becomes $50. Not only does this surcharge buy you a gimmicky extra, you can’t “undo” it. Worst yet, you get no warning that you’re about to be soaked $50. It takes multiple clicks to get from this page to anything advising you of this charge.

Deduction Maximizer is a “gimmick” because all it really does is phrase deduction questions somewhat differently. Unless you’re a financial moron or have really bizarre finances, this feature won’t affect your taxes.

I checked throughout TurboTax’s system to see if I could undo this, but no such option was available. Then I tried to chat with an online assistant, but that entailed a 20 minute wait.

Thankfully, TurboTax doesn’t make you pay until the very end. Presumably because of this, the online product’s “satisfaction guarantee” is simply that you don’t pay until you’re satisfied. (Of course, you can’t see your forms, get final data, or file electronically until you pay!)

Fortunately, enough information was available so that could go back through the system and pull out all the key information. Slapping that into paper IRS forms only took an hour. TurboTax’s tax refund estimate was within pennies of what I got doing it manually.

I am dissatisfied with TurboTax, so they didn’t get my money.