Programming + Design

Camera stores to avoid like the plague
Written by Brett Brewer   
Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Wow, I have haven't come upon a company this shady since SuperMicro in the '90s. I recently made the mistake of doing a Froogle search for a Casio Exilim EX-V8 8MP Digital Camera with 7x Anti-Shake Optical Zoom. I found the cheapest price at site called Preferred Photo ( and placed an order for the refurbished model. I then recieved a followup email telling me to call them to expidite my order. Since I'm not in a hurry I did't bother calling them and instead did a little research on the company so that I would know what to expect if I had to talk to them about anything. Immediately I found droves of forum postings warning people to steer clear of this company. Most people were telling stories of the salespeople calling them and claiming they purchased a "Japanese version" of the camera and that they needed to spend $100 more to get a US version. Others were told that the camera would only come equipped with a "10 minute battery". Basically they won't ship your order until they talk to you and try to upsell you a bunch of overpriced junk and tack on some shipping and handling fees. Well, sure enough that's exactly what happened to me. They called me today around noon to try to upsell me a longer life battery, a warranty, and then after I refused everything they still gave me an order total that was $20 more than my original order. I told them just to send the camera and initally agreed to the extra charges because I didn't realize there WERE any. After I checked my original order receipt I realized they had still scammed me out of an extra $20 in hidden "handling fees" which were not listed on my original orders. I immediately called them back. After a few minutes on hold I ended up talking to the same guy who had tried to upsell me the junk. He wanted to know why I was cancelling my order so I lit into him with such a torrent of consumer angst that he almost immediately gave in and agreed to refund my order. We shall see if it is actually refunded in full or if this saga continues to garner them the kind of publicity they don't want. After doing a bit of research, I've discovered that this company is doing business under a variety of web sites. Normally I am loathe to mention the specific names of companies that piss me off on my web site as I generally consider it to be unprofessional, but I'm making an exception here because I feel since many of the visitors of my site are pretty likely to be into digital photography that everyone who visits my site should know about this horrible company. SO, here is a list of the camera sites that you should avoid at all costs:

  • Broadway Photo -
  • A&M Photo World -
  • Regal Camera -
  • Prestige Camera -
  • Preferred Photo -
  • Royal Camera -

You can do a google search for the name of any of these sites and the first link will be a link to the company and the second link will be a link to a horror story about them. In fact, Royal Camera isn't even showing up in the #1 spot for their own name...a negative review of them is the #1 search result .

But don't take my word for it, here's what other people have to say about these incredibly shady web sites:

Sigh.....I could find hundreds of similar stories, but I feel much better now and should really be working. I'll probably just end up ordering from Amazon if I can't find a better reseller to re-buy this camera from.

UPDATE: I did receive an email from shortly after I cancelled my order stating that  my order would be refunded in full and that I should see the credit on my account within 24-48 hours. I will post another update once I know if my card was really refunded in full.  

Last Updated ( Sunday, 27 April 2008 )
Tweaking the Highslide JS mouse pointer
Written by Brett Brewer   
Tuesday, 26 February 2008

I ran across a slight problem recently when I wanted to change the default magnifying glass cursor used by the AMAZING Highslide JS javascript library . If you need zooming thumbnails or any other kind of popup-window based content, the Highslide JS library is your cross-browser compatible popup saviour.  The library uses both javascript and CSS to define custom cursors for when you have your mouse over a zoomable image. I was scratching my head wondering where to change the cursor so that I could use the htmlExpander feature with a graphic button on some parts of my site while still being able to use the default magnifying glass cursor for all other images. This turned out to be a no brainer after I realized I just needed to override the cursor property using an inline style on any element that I want to use an alternate cursor on. In my case, to get the normal hand pointer that normally appears on links to show up, simply add an inline style to your button such as 

<img src="/graphics/some_button_image.gif" style="cursor:pointer;" /> 

I don't know why the hand cursor is called "pointer" in CSS, but it is. Seems to me they should call the standard arrow cursor "pointer" and call the hand cursor "hand". Anyway, I know this seems trivial, but the HighSlide JS web site does not mention how to do this, so I thought I'd share it here. 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 February 2008 )
vertically align a radio button in IE using CSS
Written by Brett Brewer   
Monday, 25 February 2008

It's amazing. I've been doing CSS-based layout since about 2001 and I still discover new css browser bugs and annoyances daily. Here's a solution to my latest button layout in Internet Explorer. It seems that IE does not like to properly lay out a radio button on the text baseline when using font sizes of 12px or smaller no matter what you do. You can mess with the "vertical-align" attribute and adjust margins until you're blue in the face and you will never be able to align radio buttons with an 11pixel font using CSS unless you explicity set the size of your radio buttons. In IE, radio buttons seem to default to a visual display size of about 12x12 pixels, but they always seem to take up some extra layout space with some padding or margins that you can never get rid of. Fortunately there's an easy fix for this...simply specify a style for all your radio buttons with a specific width and height of 12px. Then you can lay out your buttons and they will align properly with an 11px font size. If you have trouble properly aligning your radio buttons with their labels in IE, just adjust the radio button dimensions to match the pixel size of your font and you should be good to go. The same should hold true if you are using relative font sizes.

Hate IE. Hate it real good. In fact, I'd like to encourage you to hate all modern browsers. Yes Firefox too. They are all STILL rife with CSS display bugs that continue to make it much harder than it should be to perform the formerly simple design task of drawing a box on a screen that can fit its contents. 

Last Updated ( Monday, 25 February 2008 )
Podcasting done right! (Hint: It doesn't involve Apple)
Written by Brett Brewer   
Thursday, 07 February 2008

I've been a somewhat sporadic user of podcasts over the past couple of years. I really like the concept, but until recently the best solutions I have found were really geared more toward desktop use, such as the popular open-source podcast reciever called Juice . Of course, I prefer to listen to my podcasts on a portable mp3 player, and sadly, there is not a single piece of standard software for any of the major players that does a good job with managing podcasts for a portable device. The Zune software is minimalist and lame. Don't even get me started about iTunes either. iTunes is a menace that is guaranteed to make your PC run slower than...well...slower that if it didn't have iTunes. Perhaps it doesn't totally suck on the MacOS, but on Windows it's the first piece of software I uninstall any time I see it polluting the hard drive of anyone who doesn't specifically need it for their iPod to function properly (yet another reason NOT to buy an iPod).

Anyway, my main gripe with most of the standard MP3 player software out there is that if you want to sync your podcasts while you are away from your primary PC, you are generally S.O.L. unless you waste a bunch of time configuring multiple computers with your podcast settings. Recently though, I heard a commercial at the end of the Slashdot Review podcast for a piece of software from called "MyPodder ". I am happy to say that this software, combined with Podcastready's online podcast aggregation service is the solution I've been waiting for. Instead of installing the software on your PC, you install it on the portable device. You can then plug the device into any computer with a USB port and an internet connection and sync your podcasts directly to your portable device via your free account a I was already using to aggregate my feeds, so I was able to simply point at my OPML URL from and it picked up all my feeds. Now when I want to sync my portable device with my podcasts, I just plug it into whatever PC I happen to be near and the files are synced. The real upshot of this is that it makes those formerly useless little 512MB MP3 players into something truly functional again. Let's face it, 512MB is waaaaaaay too small for most people to use for their music, but as a dedicated podcast device, 512MB is really plenty of room unless you plan on archiving your podcasts on your portable device which would be sort of silly.

ANYWAY, I now have a use for my puny, but highly portable 512MB Sansa m230. I got it as a gift this Festivus and I didn't think I would really have a use for it since it's too small to hold much music, but as a podcast player it works great.  It has just enough room to hold the podcast software and the latest episode of all my favorite podcasts and it has a looooong battery life. So check out MyPodder if you are looking for a way to sync your podcasts directly to your mp3 player and cut out the middleware!

Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 February 2008 )
F*$#! Digital Cameras
Written by Brett Brewer   
Tuesday, 05 February 2008
I have been biding my time for the past few years, waiting to take the plunge on a new digital SLR such as the Nikon D3x or the Canon 5D. I still have my old Nikon F4 from my days as a professional photographer, but I've put off buying a new digital SLR because I was hoping Nikon would come out with a decent camera that conquers the noise problems that have plagued every single one of their digital SLR models to date -- a fact that has sent droves of former Nikon loyalists over to the Canon camp in recent years. In fairness, the latest Nikon models are much better than their older models and take beautiful pictures by most standards, but even the latest models still lag behind Canon in terms of retaining detail at high ISO settings. The newer Nikon models simply have better built-in noise reduction than previous models, which results in detail loss. And forget about "full frame" shooting unless you want to spend upwards of $5000 on the professional models. So it was with some interest that I read an article at describing a "Free full frame digital SLR ".  In the article, Rockwell discusses his recent experiences shooting traditional 35mm film and getting it developed at Costco. It has become incredibly cheap to simply use regular 35mm film and have it developed at someplace like Costco which apparently gives you great scans of your negatives on disc, along with 5x7 prints, negatives and the CD they give you has thumbnails of all the images printed on the disc itself. He makes a compelling arguement for a resurgence of film as an alternative to high-end digital cameras. He convinced me, at least for the short term, to go back to using my old Nikon F4 for high-end full-frame photography, and just get a mid-range point-and-shoot for situations where it's more convenient to use a digital camera. I may still break down and get the new Nikon D300 despite its shortcomings, but I think it's time to take the old F4 for a spin in the meantime. 
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 05 February 2008 )
Brett's first terrabyte!
Written by Brett Brewer   
Friday, 25 January 2008
Today marks another milestone in my long and expensive computer addiction. The local CompUSA is closing its doors for good, so today I added my first "Terrabyte Drive" to my network, bringing my total local online storage capacity up to around 4 Terrabytes. I picked it up on sale for $239 before tax. I can hardly believe it. A TERRABYTE for under $250. The enclosure alone is probably wirth $30-$50 (it's a nice aluminum enclosure).Technically the drive is not a true terrabyte drive since it's really just an USB2 enclosure from Iomega that houses two SATA drives in a JBOD configuration. Anyway, I probably should have waited and purchased a separate single-drive enclosure and a single 1TB drive which can be had from NewEgg for $250 as of today, but heck...this is a cheap terrabyte. My only real complaint is that is functions as a JBOD array instead of a RAID0 array, but at these prices, who cares!

Last Updated ( Friday, 25 January 2008 )
My favorite PHP Editor and Debugger
Written by Brett Brewer   
Sunday, 13 January 2008
Anyone that develops PHP applications on a regular basis, eventually comes to the point where they need to move from a web page editor like Dreamweaver to a more full-fledged IDE with a real debugger. Listening to some of the mainstream PHP publications these days, you might think that Zend Studio and Komodo are the only major choices out there, but I've tried several on Windows XP including Zend Studio and several versions of Eclipse, and the best one I've found so far is PHPEd from Nusphere . PHPEd is a mature program that's been around since at least 2002, and as far as I can tell it has every feature the competition has ...too many features to list here. Anyway, I just thought I'd give them a mention here because it seems like the other programs are getting a lot of praise for "new" features that PHPEd has had for years. I don't want to get into a full review here, so just check out their free trial if you're in the market for a decent PHP IDE. (NOTE: I'm not affiliated with Nusphere, nor am I being compensated for plugging their product.)
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 February 2008 )
Flash v2 Components and Actionscript 2 Docs: Still crappy after all these years.
Written by Brett Brewer   
Sunday, 30 December 2007

I just wanted to vent a little bit today about the state of the Adobe Actionscript 2 docs. For years I have ranted and lamented how horrible and useless they are and today I once again suffered through hours of searching for a solution to a problem that:

  1. shouldn't exist
  2. should be much easier to find a workaround for

The problem is this: If you call _root.getNextHighestDepth() in Actionscript 2, you basically get a useless depth that collides with the Flash 8 depthManager's reserved depths. Nowhere in the docs is this mentioned.  The end result is that you get a wide variety of very strange bugs that are almost impossible to track down, even with the latest Flash 9 debugger. After hours and hours of troubleshooting and searching Adobe docs and forums, I finally ran across this post that clued me into what was going on:

"There is a movie clip called 'reserved' on level 1048575 and _root.getNextHighestDepth() will yield 1048576. But level 1048576 is part of the special levels that can't be properly unloaded and live in limbo in the player... meaning you will encounter weird bugs such as combo boxes not opening up"

Let me assure you, problems with combo boxes are the least of the strangeness, after all, what's strange about the v2 components not working as expected?...

Last Updated ( Sunday, 13 January 2008 )
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