"Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, uh, your opinion, man."

Some Thoughts on Photography, Aperture Libraries and Photo Stream

16:25 Tuesday, 25 February 2014

For a long time I subscribed to the notion that I wasn't a photographer, I was just a guy who liked to take pictures. Looking now at how many cameras and lenses I have, and how many images, I guess I should say I'm a bit of an amateur photographer. Either way, I love photograpy, and like anything you love, there are challenges.

For better or worse, information technology is now intimately wedded to the experience of photography. We don't print many images anymore, sharing is done mostly over digital networks. The advent of digital photography has made the art of photographic expression extremely democratic, which is to say, very inexpensive. No longer do we have to shell out $24.00 for a roll of 36 prints. As a result, those of us who like to take pictures take far more than ever before.

For a long time, I didn't really edit my image collection. I'd shoot, import to iPhoto, and now Aperture, and there they'd stay. I'd share some on social media sites, burn DVDs for friends who wanted copies, make a few prints, or print the occasional book for a special occasion; but every single shutter click was stored in my, ever-growing, photo library.

Apple offers Photo Stream as one of the features of iCloud, and at first it was ideal. I'd import my pictures into Aperture on my MacBook Pro Retina, and they'd automatically be uploaded to iCloud as part of Photo Stream, and Aperture on my iMac would import them, full size, RAW images and all. Everything stayed in sync. I loved it.

Then I started to bump up against the physical limits of my local storage; ever since, I've been kind of floundering around looking for a solution.

Part of the solution has been to become more disciplined as a photographer. While the costs are different between digital and print or slide photography, digital photography definitely has its own costs. Because of the nature of the medium, the two chief costs are time and storage space.

Time, because every image will require some type of interaction at every stage. From the initial capture, to its ultimate disposition. They are, in the main, small amounts of time, but if you're indiscriminately acquiring large numbers of images, they begin to add up. The same is true for storage. While the cost of storage continues to decline, and density increase, moving to larger capacity devices involves an acquisition cost, and organization and management costs, chiefly time.

So, the fewer images one takes, the easier it is to keep those costs down.

After going through my libraries and beginning to delete obvious clinkers, and noting the sheer numbers of them, I now find myself seriously considering each shutter click. Before, I embraced a kind of "spray and pray" approach to focus and composition. Certainly one of the captures would be worth keeping and sharing. But, over time, that imposes an unexpected, though entirely foreseeable, burden. Curating my current collection is an ongoing effort, but I'm now trying to reduce my workload by more deliberately considering each shot.

Even then, not every shot is worth keeping. Trying to review each shot on the camera's tiny three-inch LCD is difficult, so they have to get imported to the computer for a proper review. My preference would be to import them directly into Aperture, and then go through the shots and simply delete the ones I don't think are worth keeping.

The problem with that approach is that, if you have iCloud enabled, Photo Stream will begin uploading all the shots to iCloud immediately. This has the desirable effect of ensuring both my Aperture libraries are in sync, and all my most recent 1000 images are available on all my devices, but it doubles the workload of reviewing and deleting the images that aren't worth keeping. I can take the computer offline entirely, while leaving iCloud enabled, then do all the review and deletions; and I've tried it, but it's inconvenient so I haven't embraced it. Parenthetically, although I don't want to swear to this because I didn't specifically investigate this behavior and take notes, but I believe you have to be sure to empty Aperture's Trash folder before going back online, or all the images from the most recent imports since the last time iCloud was online will be moved to iCloud regardless of their location within the library.

My current approach is not to enable iCloud in Aperture on the MBP. I import the images directly into Aperture, delete the images I don't like, then export the keepers to a folder in Dropbox. Because there's a local folder for Dropbox, the export is nearly instantaneous in terms of tying up Aperture, and I can begin editing images, or sharing them from Aperture.

Later, I'll slide over to the iMac and import the images from the Dropbox folder into Aperture. After import, I delete the images from Dropbox. Aperture on the iMac has iCloud enabled, so those images will appear in my Photo Stream on my iPad, iPhone and iPod, which is a feature I enjoy. I can also then enable privately shared Photo Streams for family events, or public ones for more general consumption. This way, both Aperture libraries remain relatively in sync. At present, the two libraries aren't identical because I've been going through deleting images on both libraries, but not in any sort of systematic way, so there are differences.

I've also altered my approach to storage. When I bought my 13" MBP Retina, I got it with the largest SSD available, 750GB. I wanted to have room for all my media libraries and my images. Even then, that wasn't very possible, given the size of my uncurated Aperture library, which previously resided on a 1TB conventional HD. My solution was to split the library by date, exporting all images taken before 1 January 2011 to a separate Aperture library on an external HD, leaving only the most recent three years in internal storage. Funny, but I've taken more images in the last three years than in the preceding eight, so it wasn't much of a savings.

So, most recently, I've acquired a 750GB Thunderbolt SSD. It's a Seagate Thunderbolt adapter with a naked Samsung 750GB SSD slotted into it. There are some gift cards and a bit of cardboard supporting the back end of the drive on the sled. I've re-merged the Aperture libraries into one single library residing on the SSD. This library has over sixty-six thousand images, but the Thunderbolt SSD is fast enough that scrolling through the library is little different than the experience using the internal SSD. For a variety of reasons, most having to do with my previous efforts to slim down libraries by exporting different types of images and then having to re-import them, there are likely thousands of dupes. I'll be looking into a utility to identify and delete them, but it's not urgent at the moment.

Eventually, I'll create a much smaller Aperture library for the internal drive, that will include family photos, and pictures I consider my best work or have some other sentimental value to me. That will still leave me with a very large amount of free space for other uses. When I choose to travel, I can take the MBP with me and have room to import projects into a new library for that purpose, then simply export them to the main library when I return.

As for the iMac, my current model lacks a Thunderbolt interface, so for now the best performance is obtained from using the internal HD as local storage for the Aperture library. I've moved my iTunes library, music, movies and TV shows, to an external 500GB Firewire 800 drive, which should be more than adequate for that purpose. Since the iMac is manifestly not mobile, it doesn't matter to me that my media library is not integral to the device itself.

Some months from now, when I have the money, I'll open the iMac up and install two SSDs. One as the main boot disk, the other for Aperture. My iMac has 16GB of RAM installed, while my MBP only has 8GB. In their current configurations, there's very little performance difference that I can perceive between the two machines. The iMac has a dedicated GPU and more RAM, the MBP has an SSD and a faster, more advanced processor. I love both machines, and very seldom encounter any performance issues where I'm waiting on the machine. The exception being network operations when the iMac was importing large numbers of images from iCloud. That sync operation takes place in the background on Dropbox, so I'm doing a local import from Dropbox and so I don't even experience that latency.

Both machines are backed up by Time Machine. I have to look into how Time Machine treats an Aperture library stored on an external drive, but I know all my images are backed up on the iMac's Time Machine volume. I will also be looking into slowly uploading large numbers of images to my Flickr and SmugMug accounts, as well as iCloud. I'm fairly confident that I'm well protected in most respects.

In the course of this effort, I've tried using Image Capture to import my images to an external USB 3.0 HD, then reviewing the images in Finder using Quick Look. This works fairly well. I would use Finder to tag the images I wanted to import to Aperture and then do so from Aperture. Part of my thinking was that I would then be able to, once again, keep all the images I took and have them available. But it was an extra step to import them again into Aperture, and really, what was I going to do with all those images? I suppose it was another type of backup, but it was also another drive hanging off my laptop. (The 27" Thunderbolt Display does not have a USB 3.0 hub installed.) I liked the fact that I could instantly Tweet an image directly from Finder, or forward it to someone in iMessage, and I hope to see those abilities come to Aperture natively in a forthcoming revision. I may look into creating a Service that allows me to Tweet and iMessage images from Aperture.

If Get Info in Finder could be modified to include most of the relevant EXIF data from a photo, Finder itself would be a pretty decent photo management application. If you click the More Info disclosure triangle in Get Info for an image in Finder, you get some of the EXIF data, like focal length, and F number, along with some other, perhaps less useful items, but it also needs shutter speed and ISO, which aren't displayed.

Anyway, all labors of love impose challenges. And the ease and speed of digital processing creates opportunities for other forms of time-wasting, so one has to be careful. I remember that sign I read as a young lieutenant, "With my personal computer I can now do things much faster that I never had to do at all before."

You've been warned.

Still Here!

14:45 Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Hey! I'm still here. Distracted by a number of things, but still committed to Nice Marmot.

I've begun my fith week of the Fast Diet, yesterday being a fast day. I'm down to 195 pounds, which is a five pound loss. Week three and week four were somewhat more challenging than the first two weeks. I've been eating small meals according to the plan, and I've focused on eating just one meal about mid-day, if I feel as though I have to.

The problem isn't "hunger," per se. It's more like "obsessing," which suggests a large part of my eating is simply habituated behavior. Yesterday was a fast day following a half marathon the day before. My partner has shin splints, so we ended up simply walking the whole course. I never eat the morning of a race, and I didn't eat ravenously following it, though I did indulge in a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

Monday morning I woke up and didn't experience any real appetite until shortly after noon. Rather than prepare one of the small meals, I simply had two hard-boiled eggs, and a small handful of almonds, probably no more than 300 calories for the whole thing. The rest of the day seemed easier than the preceding fast days, so perhaps some adaptation is taking place.

One fairly consistent experience is the transition from fasting to eating, wherein the first introduction of carbohydrate is accompanied by some discomfort. Not pain, more like that kind of weak feeling you get when you think you've got low blood sugar. I'll discuss that with my physician at my upcoming physical. If I stay strictly with protein/fat, there's no issue. And once I've had some carbs and get through that transition, I'm okay. But the transition is weird, and I do get cross and impatient.

One of the things I did last Thursday, while trying to distract myself from obsessing about food, was to watch The Bitter Truth on YouTube. We can discuss the wisdom of watching a 90 minute lecture about the evils of sugar while trying not to think about food some other time; but I think it was a very useful and informative lecture. He's done an updated version, Fat Chance: Fructose 2.0, that's somewhat more nuanced in its approach, which complements the original lecture with some overlap in material. Chiefly, the big take-away I got was to eat natural foods, high in fiber, and reduce or eliminate refined sugars, especially fructose. I think the solution to my transition from fasting to eating will involve using fruit during the transition, instead of toast, crackers, protein powders with sugar, and such. But I recommend watching the lecture, it's well worth your time.

While the videos are worth your attention, don't bother reading the comments. The signal to noise ratio is nearly zero. That's a total waste of time. You can watch YouTube videos without sharing your identity with Google, you just can't comment on them, which is a benefit.

So, feeling good! Losing weight. Working on better food choices. Life goes on!

Hope all is well with you.

A "Good News" Story

11:01 Thursday, 13 February 2014

An example where a company, faced with competition, actually delighted me as a customer is, wait for it... AT&T(!).

I suppose I have T-Mobile to thank for it, bless their souls. (T-Mobile was my first wireless provider. But the iPhone brought me to AT&T.)

Since the competition for subscribers is so fierce for mobile broadband companies, they're more keen on delighting people. I've just switched over to one of AT&T's shared data plans, and I'm saving $30.00 a month and getting 8GB more data.

People love to hate AT&T, but I've been pretty happy with them, apart from 3G coverage where I used to work in Mayport.

For now.

When the mobile broadband market consolidates, the lack of competition will mean they can start squeezing their subscribers.

Just like cable.

Wherein I Bitch About Comcast

09:51 Thursday, 13 February 2014

The big news today seems to be Comcast's deal to absorb Time-Warner Cable. Pretty sure this isn't good news for those of us who rely on cable for internet access, due to the absence of meaningful competition.

Comcast seems like a pretty clueless organization to me. They're kind of in the entertainment business, like, say... Disney! I know people who love Disney. Have you ever heard of anyone loving a cable company? Comcast especially? I didn't think so.

I mean, these are people who could be in the business of "surprise and delight" almost every single day of the year. Think about it. They own the fundamental mechanism whereby so many wonderful things come into our lives. Cat videos. The Daily Show. Football. Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead. Fox News. Duck Dynasty.

Okay, maybe not so much. But you get what I mean.

But no. These people are definitely in the "surprise and piss off" business.

Seriously. They do precisely nothing right.

It started right from the beginning with their convoluted pricing schemes and bundled packages. If all you wanted was HBO and Turner Classic Movies, you had to buy a top-tier, expensive package with a million channels you had no intention of ever watching. You could never buy a la carte. So most of the time you settled for something that got you one or two channels you wanted, and a whole bunch of crap you didn't want, and still felt like you paid too much for it, because they had you by the balls.

So then the internet comes along. Broadband! Surprise and delight!


Pricing. Tech support. Online bill-paying disasters. Getting a tech to come to your home. Sitting on the phone listening to scratchy muzak for hours. Not very delightful. At all. Ever.

It's like they took everything they learned about how to piss off customers and poured it into their broadband offering. On purpose.

Streaming video comes on strong, and we start "cord-cutting." I had "basic cable" because I had to have it in order to get internet access. (I don't know why. Ask Comcast.) "Basic" cable included the local channels and some other crap nobody ever watched. But you had to get it to get internet access. HD TV access was included, although the quality wasn't really as good as what you could get over the air, if you were fortunate enough to live relatively near the broadcast antennas, or could put a good antenna on your roof. HD wasn't included initially, as I recall. You had to have an ugly set-top box that you had to rent. But since you could get it for free over the air, I guess, in a rare moment of rational thinking, they decided to let you get it as part of basic cable, right to your digital TV, no box required.

Those were the "good ol' days."

They didn't last very long, because the geniuses that run the company (I'm thinking it's probably a committee of Wile E. Coyote types.) decided that too many people were getting "free" cable in their homes, because more and more places came wired for cable and you didn't need the cable guy coming in and wiring stuff up anymore. So they decided to encrypt their signal, which meant that everyone had to have an ugly little box with another wall-wart, and a perfectly hideous remote control, just to get "basic" cable!

Surprised? Yes. Delighted? No. Pissed. Off.

So then the future happened and they had another rare moment of clarity when they decided to allow us to actually buy just internet access. All I want is the bandwidth. I don't want your stupid little box connected to my TV. They never really told their existing customers. I get a bazillion mailings from Comcast about "triple-play" bullshit, but never once a note about "Hey, if you want to save some money, you can just get internet and get your local channels over the air." Nope. I found out about that from a guy who was dumping AT&T DSL, that absurd joke they try to foist off as "broadband," for cable internet. He found out he could get just internet without "basic cable."

So I figured woo-hoo! I'll save about $25.00 a month! Since that's how "basic cable" broke out on my bill. As a retiree on a fixed income, $25.00 a month is a couple of twelve-packs! Big money! I call Comcast...

Surprise and delight?

Did you have to ask?

It turns out that if you dump "basic cable" for internet only, the cost of the internet goes up about $12.50. Nothing else changes. It's not like they're working any harder pushing the data to me. It just costs more. So, no. I only save a single twelve pack a month. But savings is savings, and I never watch "TV" anyway. Still, they could have delighted me, but instead they had to take the opportunity to piss me off.

So yeah, I hate Comcast. The most consistently, relentlessly stupid, consumer-hostile, customer service organization on the face of the planet.

I don't know how the Time-Warner customers have been treated, but it looks like their Netflix streaming is about to get worse.

The fact that they have what is essentially a monopoly on a service is the only reason why this company is still in business and making so much money. They totally suck. It's like they're deliberately stupid. Or just a bunch of sadists. Who knows?

Anyway. Thanks for listening.

Cinéma Therapy

09:42 Tuesday, 11 February 2014

I saw this little report in the NY Times about couples responding as well to shared movie-going as they did to couples therapy, and thought it was interesting. With Valentines Day approaching, there's a lot of relationship stuff in the media.

Movies are a form of narrative storytelling, and we are all constantly in the process of constructing our own narratives of our lives, to create meaning or context, or, sometimes, an excuse. If we're unhappy in our present narrative, seeing an alternative that resonates as better or more meaningful can provide the impetus to compel change.

I specifically recall two movies from 1999 that compelled me to begin to view my own narrative from a different perspective. One was American Beauty, and the other was the animated feature by Brad Bird, The Iron Giant. Although they were about as different as two movies can be, they each shared a similar idea — that we are responsible for our own choices. "You are who you choose to be," and at that time, it seemed as though I was choosing to be utterly miserable.

Although I subsequently encountered many painful and difficult challenges, and I was guided and helped by a remarkable therapist for many years, my life today is a much happier experience than I might have imagined would be possible back then. It's difficult to say if I would have made the same choices absent the inspiration of those two stories. I recall sitting in the theater at the end of each of them with tears streaming down my face. Each unsettled me profoundly, and left me feeling as though things could not go on as they had been, and that I had to act to change them. It's possible, I suppose, that without those movies I may have chosen a different path, at least in the short term, of more self-destructive behavior; perhaps even literally. I'll never know.

But along the way there were many other narratives that seemed to appear in my life at an appropriate moment. The Matrix, Joe Versus the Volcano, Cast Away, The Legend of Bagger Vance, each of these spoke to me in profound ways. Each followed the outline of the hero's journey, as described by Joseph Campbell. I learned that all acts of personal transformation, of necessity, must involve loss, and the experience of grief.

For better or worse, I haven't been involved in a serious comitted relationship since then. I think I appreciate the difficulty of maintaining a committed relationship, and I can see the utility of observing other narratives and using them to inform the choices a couple makes in creating their own narrative. During the early part of my therapy, my therapist (they all want to save marriages) had me watch The Story of Us, with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. I recall watching it as a brutal experience. My experience in my marriage was not the same as the one portrayed in the movie, even though both were in the process of coming apart. I can see where a less damaged relationship might have benefitted from seeing that story. Similarly, I couldn't sit through the Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston movie, The Break-Up, coming, as it did, the year after my long and costly divorce. But a couple, earlier in their relationship, might have found it a worthwhile experience.

All narratives are works of fiction. If you're single, you're creating your narrative alone. If you're in a relationship, it better be a collaborative effort, or you'll find the two stories diverging. It's appropriate to steal the ideas of others if their stories inspire you, or to use them as cautionary tales so that you don't allow the same plot developments that frightened you. I think the key thing is to know that we're not merely bit parts in someone else's narrative.

We're the lead role in our own stories, and we're writing our own scripts. If you're not, then you're merely reciting the lines that someone else has written for you.

Never complain if the hero dies in this one.

Slow Start

16:43 Thursday, 6 February 2014

Off to a slow start blogging this month. Nevertheless, on we go!

I was startled by a Green Heron who was apparently startled by me. He flew by and landed in a tree. A lot of branches in the way, but I managed to get a shot or two.

Photo of a Green Heron in a tree