first thing i did this morning was call my life insurance company. my mother took out a policy on me when i graduated high school. it was supposed to be a self-sustaining policy after 10 years, but more than 20 years later i'm still paying. turns out i could've stopped paying a while ago, but of course the insurance company never told me this. in order to get them to stop charging me biannually, i had to jump through hoops and play phone tag but finally today i think i got everything fixed. even then i still had to pay off a "loan" they incurred on me that one time i didn't make a payment years ago.

around noontime i went to the cafe to drop off my father's firewire expresscard. when i came back i oiled my bike chain because they were beginning to show signs of rust (to be expected, with all this salt on the road). i then went to the supermarket to pick up some ingredients for making some spaghetti tonight. when i got back home the roofers were knocking on steve's door. they came to put in a patch to stop the roof from leaking long enough for them to come back in another few weeks to redo the entire roof.

i had a bunch of packages dropped on my doorstep in the early afternoon.

the first package i knew what it was because according to tracking it was supposed to arrive today: my copy of the sibley guide to trees and a package of indian incense cones (purchased to pad my order so i could get free shipping). the other packages i wasn't so sure about. there was a little carton that i opened with a rip cord string that revealed - my new panasonic camera! that was a surprise because it wasn't supposed to arrive until thursday. the other box was a tandem hard drive docking station (sale $17) from newegg.

excitingly i unboxed the ZS20 ($175 after cashing in my $70 gift certificate). i put in the sandisk ultra 32gb microSDHC memory card (with adapter) along with the battery, which was this small little thing. the battery only had a partial charge (one bar according to the LCD display) but enough to play around with the camera a little bit. the LCD is 4:3, which matches the 4:3 imaging sensor (MOS type chip). what's special about the ZS20 is the touch screen, which i think is kind of gimmicky, but i could see how it could be useful for targeting focus points (although that's something that can easily be achieved traditionally by just by focusing and reframing the image before shooting).

it has a 20x optical zoom which seems to be the standard nowadays for these small travel zoom camera; at it's maximum it can reach the equivalent of 480mm, which matches the farthest i can reach with my dSLR and my longest telephoto lens. i read it takes a while to zoom from wide angle all the way to telephoto, but i found the speed to be pretty fast.

the user interface isn't pretty (unlike canon's) but functional. bringing up the menu takes you to a main selection screen - which is the only screen that's touch-enabled - since all subsequent menu screens require the use of buttons.

so after taking a few photos i recharged the battery. the battery actually charges in-camera, which seems like a great travel idea because you don't need to bring a separate charger to charge the battery (you just need a cord, which you need anyway because it doubles as the USB download cable), but i heard it's actually a cost saving measure by certain manufacturers so they don't have to supply a separate charger. the problem with charging the battery in-camera is you can't use the camera while it's charging. also apparently it can take as long as 240 minutes (that's 4 hours) to fully charge a battery via the camera (i wonder if this is because you don't want to charge it too quickly because then the camera heats up and can get damaged).

so after playing around with the panasonic lumix ZS20 this in my initial impression: i wasn't that impressed. i'm sure it's a great camera, and can easily compete with the other travel zoom cameras out there. i'm also sure it has tons of features. but the overall feeling i get when using it is the same feeling i get when i use a PC computer. functionality-wise it's all the same (PC versus macs), but the mac is just more fun to use, and more intuitive. in this camera analogy, i feel the canon is the better camera when it comes to overall user experience.

i got the sibley guide to trees sight unseen based on the high quality of sibley's bird guide. so after getting a chance to finally browse through the tree guide, i think it's a useful reference, but don't rely on it as your main tree identification source because it's not really a field guide. it's pretty comprehensive, covering more north american trees (both native and invasive and ornamental) than any other guides i know. i was able to find paulownia (pg392) and russian silverberries (pg244). what i really like are the range maps, which i've never seen before in a plant guide. but sometimes i found tree entries lacking in useful identifying descriptions. for example, the entry for tree of heaven (ailanthus, pg352), which is a fairly common tree here in the city, only show bits and parts of tree when the most striking qualities is the fan-like silhouette and the colorful fall foliage including large groupings of hanging seeds. it definitely feels like a first edition; here's hoping the next edition will be better. it's not a bad tree book, but somehow i was expecting it to be better.

i spent the rest of the day doing production work for client N, cutting up all the graphic elements and exporting them as png files. back when i worked in an office, there were people who did this for me. but now that i'm working solo, i have to cut up my own graphics. on a normal project, this usually takes a day, maybe 2 at the most, depending on the complexity. i actually don't mind doing production work, it gives me a better sense of things are laid out and the different interface elements. i also don't have to think too hard when i'm doing it, so i can get away with some television while i work.

the zs20 finally finished charging in the late evening. by then it was already dark, so further photography testing would have to be done tomorrow. i did get a chance to really play around with some of the features. i shot a short 1080p 60fps video using AVCHD compression; i was glad to see no saving issues to the microSDHC memory card. the movie file was saved with an MTS extension, which OS X image capture didn't recognize as a usable file so it failed to download it (i had to manually drag and drop it off the memory card). likewise, i took a 3D photo shot, which saved as an MPO file, which image capture also didn't recognize and didn't download.

the ZS20 also has good macro capability, which reminded me of those good old nikon coolpix days when i can get as close as a centimeter to macro subjects.

as far as language options, there's only english or spanish. that's strange, because on the box its bilingual in english and french. compare this to the canon sx260, which has a very cosmopolitan suite of 30 display languages to choose from. the ZS20 is further confined to the north american market with its NTSC only video playback option.

record and playback are activated by a toggle switch. this can be annoying if you have a habit of reviewing your photos while you shoot. fortunately the camera will display the photo for a few seconds after being taken. when i turn off the ZS20, instead of turning off right away, it displays an animated lumix shut down screen for 2 seconds before finally turning off. i looked around, there doesn't seem to be any way of turning this off. it's probably there to give the lens enough time to retract fully inside the camera.

there is a button that will display commonly changed settings, like white balance and burst mode. also convenient is the mode dial, which can be turned continuously in any direction.

after playing around with the ZS20 this second time around, i'm beginning to like it more. sure, there are a few annoying quirks, but the SX260 isn't perfect either. there are no deal breakers though, and the ZS20 can hold its own. i'm just afraid that the ZS20 will become my everyday camera now and my still new canon 60D DSLR will be gathering dust. the ZS20 seems to be able to do everything my DSLR can do at a fraction of the size. the only advantage the 60D has going for it is its images are much clearer. but using a small pocketable camera for a few days, will i ever want to go back to lugging around a heavy bag full of DSLR camera equipment?

in the evening i made spaghetti with meat sauce. i used a whole jar of tomato sauce plus 2 additional leftover jars from the fridge. i also added half a cup of red wine to enhance the flavor. it was a filling dinner but eating pasta always makes me feel bloated afterwards.

in the late evening i chatted with alex on skype. i told him about my new ZS20 camera, which turned out to be the exact same camera (in silver) he gave his wife a year ago, but it's known as the TZ30 in japan. he got it because the camera had some good reviews, but told me the battery life isn't that great.