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


20:37 Monday, 10 November 2014

I saw Interstellar this afternoon, and I can say it was a generally positive experience. It's looong, and could probably stand a little editing. There's not too much explanatory exposition given the complexity of the plot, but it does get a bit wordy.

I've read some things about the science in the movie, and I have to believe Kip Thorne generally knows what he's talking about, but my guess is he's no rocket scientist, nor even an aeronautical engineer.

I can't really write too much about the movie without kind of ruining the plot, though science fiction fans will probably figure out where this movie is going pretty early on.

But I can sort of sigh about the Newtonian(!) physics.

Yes, if you put a big enough engine on it, pretty much anything can "fly." But I'm not buying "bricks" flying from a planetary surface to orbit. Sorry.

And I can't believe they weren't embarrassed by this one: If a Ranger spacecraft can take off from the surface of a planet with gravity greater than Earth's and reach orbit, then why, oh why, did the same spacecraft require a two-stage (Saturn V stock footage, thank you) rocket booster to leave Earth?

And don't get me going on the fuel thing. Or how anything landed on Edmund's.

But I did like the movie.

Managing Photos

16:25 Wednesday, 5 November 2014

One of the reasons why I have so much data to backup is that I've been very careless about how I choose to practice photography, and I've developed some bad habits along the way. This is a cautionary tale, boys and girls.

Photography is my hobby. I used to insist that I wasn't a "photographer," just a "guy who likes to take pictures." I felt like that relieved me of some of the burden of appearing like I knew what I was doing.

Well, in the eight years since I began shooting with interchangeable lens cameras, I have learned a few things, so it's not a viable excuse anymore. I am kind of a photographer, a very amateur one though.

The first careless choice is about how much I shoot. It's digital! You don't have to pay for film or development! It's practically free!

So I'd shoot a number of shots of the same subject. Sometimes I'd alter the settings on the camera, or change the composition a bit. Most of the time I think I was just worried that the first one wouldn't "come out." With birds, I still shoot many shots; mostly because I'm still struggling a bit with motion blur if I can't get the shutter speed up to where it needs to be. And I'm much pickier about what a "sharp" image is, even with kit lenses. So it's kind of a "spray and pray" approach.

Compounding the first careless choice is my choice of subjects. I shoot a lot of the same things. I nearly always have a camera with me when I'm out walking Bodhi. I have more roses shots than I care to think about. Why? Well, you see a rose, and they're very pretty, and you have a camera… Well, that's pretty much how it goes. Same thing with the moon. Seems I can't go more than a month without going, "Wow, that moon looks clear tonight! Better get a shot!" Lots of moon shots.

Early on, as I was learning a bit about how the camera worked, and how I could alter the various parameters to change the image, that was fine. But even after I'd kind of mastered most of the basics, I was still unable to resist the impulse to click the shutter.

I read this on Twitter this morning, and it crystalized something for me that had been lurking around in the back of my mind for the last couple of years as I kept shooting the same things around the property:

Yeah, roses and the moon still excite me; and I live in very beautiful surroundings that I never get tired of looking at, so there is some excitement, but I've done it to death I think.

For the most part, I still just "take" pictures; I don't often "make" them. There is a difference. Much of the time I'm semi-distracted. I have Bodhi and I have to kind of keep one eye on him in case a cat, or a squirrel, or a neighbor comes along and he bolts. Or I'm out with friends and we're mostly just having a good time and I can't really focus on what the camera is doing without appearing to be ignoring my friends. So most of the time, I just kind of count on the camera getting it right. I just try to get a decent composition.

The downside is you get a lot of "clinkers," pictures you won't want to keep, but they still eat up precious seconds of your life as they're transferred to the computer, uploaded to photostream and then downloaded to your other computer where you'll just have to delete them again from that machine! I've tried a number of "workflows" (I hate that word!), to reduce that. I tried uploading the images to a separate HD using Image Capture, then using the Finder and Quick Look to weed out the clinkers. Kinda works when you remember to do it. But lots of things go wrong because I'd get distracted and then either forget to weed them out, or forget even to import them into Aperture. So I've gone back to just dumping them into Aperture and worrying about deleting multiple copies on two computers later.

I do think I have a solution to that problem, but that's what this post is about, so I'll get to that in just a bit.

As cameras advanced, the resolution of the sensors did too. My E-520 has a 10MP sensor. The E-30 has a 12, and the latest batch of Oly bodies use 16MP sensors. So file sizes grew as cameras got better.

I, rather naively, always chose the best jpeg setting in the camera. In Oly bodies, there is usually a "Super-fine" jpeg setting, and that's the one I chose. Because I want my jpegs to look their best! And those jpegs are about two to three times the size of a "normal" setting jpeg.

Recently, I tried comparing the same subject in "normal" and "super-fine" images. I can't see a difference. I'm sure there is one, but I'm not sure it matters to me since I seldom print my images, and when I do, I don't print them at enormous sizes. So, yeah, I've gone through and changed all my jpeg settings to "normal." Silly me. Should have checked that out right off the bat. In fact, I'd even read the same thing in several reviews of Oly cameras. Still, there's the pull of "better" (and it being the enemy of "good enough").

Then there's the issue of RAW images. At first, I just shot jpeg, because "developing" RAW images seemed like a lot of work and I didn't really know anything about it, and everybody seemed to think Oly's jpeg engine was one of the best in the industry. I think it was when iPhoto got the ability to display and edit RAW images that I began shooting a lot in RAW+jpeg (the worst of both worlds!). In my mind, I guess I figured if I ever really liked an image, I could go back and tweak the RAW file to make it even better. In reality, I've only ever done this once, and it was actually long after when I should have done it.

I shot a friend's wedding in the later afternoon on December 31st. Lots of very bright, low sun. And the wedding was on a boat. A white boat. The bride wore, wait for it… white. The groom wore black. It was a nightmare of high contrast. I shot RAW+jpeg and only delivered the jpegs. A few years later I'd read about a lot of highlight headroom being in the Oly RAW files for the E-30. So I went back and looked at those wedding shots, and used the RAW adjustment features of Aperture, and you know what? There is a lot of highlight headroom in those RAW files! You could see the folds in her dress! You could see the creases in the boat canvas! Sigh.

Anyway, that's how we learn.

But, much like my approach to jpeg compression settings, I figured I could keep those RAW files and they might come in handy someday. Nope, seldom touch them.

So, here's what I've learned in six years of shooting (fifteen if you count my first digital point-and-shoot):

"Normal" is probably good enough. I keep the image size max'ed at 16MP because that gives you some room to crop and retain detail. But no more "super-fine" jpegs for me.

I don't shoot RAW unless it's an important subject (like somebody's wedding), and it's a challenging environment (low light or high contrast).

I'm trying, with mixed results so far, to only shoot things that excite me. Unfortunately, clouds, sunsets, roses, the moon, birds, people, lots of things still excite me! Nevertheless, by not shooting RAW or "super-fine" snapshots, I'm not crowding my storage system as much with what might be charitably described as "crap."

I should also add that much of the time I shoot for kind of personal documentary purposes. What this day was like; what this place was like; who was at this event; that sort of thing. Not art, just kind of narrative imagery.

I'm slowly becoming more disciplined and ruthless at culling images. Unless it's a good shot, or has some documentary value, I toss it. If I have multiple shots of the same subject and each is roughly the same, I just delete the extras.

Now, you might think it would be an easy thing to just go through and weed out the clinkers in 18,256 RAW files. I suppose it is, but even at just 3 seconds an image, it's 15.2 hours of work; and I'm guessing it's probably more than 3s an image, probably double or triple. I've been doing it a little at a time, but it's not fun. A lot of that 3s is just waiting for the RAW image to render at a size large enough to evaluate. On top of that, there was a time when I was shooting RAW only, and I'm not sure if I have jpegs of those images in my Aperture library. I'll run a comparison after I weed out the bad RAWs (which is probably nearly all of them).

So, boys and girls, shoot carefully, mindfully. Use reasonable jpeg compression. Don't use RAW unless you're shooting something important (be it art or somebody's special event) and it's a challenging environment. Cameras are pretty damn good these days. Let them do most of the work. Weed out your images early and often. Don't keep clinkers! If you need to study them a bit to understand what went wrong, by all means, please do so. But once you understand that, toss them!

If you're careful in your choices, you won't be looking at terabytes image data, because cameras can capture that stuff much faster than we can process it. Master your camera, don't let the data become your master.

Of course, if you're a pro, you know all this already - and you probably disagree with the RAW part. But if you're someone just starting out, I think you're miles ahead if you follow this.

And I'm still a guy who really likes taking pictures.

Comcast Sucks

15:11 Wednesday, 5 November 2014

After being hounded for weeks by phone, e-mail and snail mail, I bought a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem to get Comcast to shut the hell up.

I wasn't eager to get one because I don't pay for the kind of throughput a DOCSIS 3.0 modem would offer. After I got it up and running, I had a bunch of problems with everything being slower than it had been! They sent a technician out, and his work order said he was to install a Comcast modem, the one that offers a free wifi hotspot to anyone within range.

He looked at my signals and said everything looked about as good as it can get here. I switched my DNS settings to Google's (Horrors!) and that seemed to speed things up somewhat. Things had been gradually getting better until today.

I moved my RAW images out of my main Aperture library onto an external 1TB 7200rpm USB 3 hard disk. Previously they had been on a 750GB Samsung 840 SSD connected to a Thunderbolt interface.

My 13" Macbook Pro HD is backed up to a Time Machine volume, but I also signed up for online backup by Backblaze, and I had them back up the MBP HD and the SSD. That initial backup took weeks! Over a terabyte of data.

So when I exported the RAW files from the Aperture library to the USB 3.0 HD, I had to add that volume to Backblaze. I'd hoped Backblaze's app would scan the files and note that they had already backed them up previously in another volume, and just moved them internally in the backup. Nope. Started a whole new backup. About 248GB of RAW files going out over the wire to Backblaze.

And now my internet connection sucks. It's about dial-up speed.

I ran a speed test through Speedtest.net, and got the normal result, about 30Mbps downstream, 5Mbps up. But if you look in the network activity pane of Activity Monitor, you can see incoming data is actually moving at a tiny fraction of that speed. Here's couple of screen shots:

Speed Test:

Screenshot of a speed test result on the Comcast network

And Activity Monitor:

I'm going to shut down, reboot everything and see if I can't get things moving again. If not, I'll call Comcast, but I doubt it'll make any difference.

They truly are the most wretched form of corporate scum and villainy this side of Mos Eisley. Worse even than Petco. About the same as Google, and the big banks, and the oil companies.

I hate them.

Update: Thankfully, rebooting the modem, the router and the computer seems to have resolved the issue. Not sure which might have been responsible. I don't know if going off the network might lift some kind of throttle mechanism, and once they notice all the data flowing upstream they'll automatically turn it back on or not, but time will tell.

I still hate Comcast.


15:17 Saturday, 1 November 2014

This month's first post is about my experience at Petco this afternoon. I've shopped there for years, and was a member of their rewards program, because it's right around the corner from my house, they carried my brand of dog food, and it saved a couple of dollars here and there.

From time to time, in the endless stream of spam e-mails they send you to try and get you to buy from their online store, they send an in-store coupon. This weekend, there was a nice one, "20% off your entire purchase." Like any coupon, there's some fine print at the bottom. I read it and didn't see anything that would necessarily exclude the things I was interested in, mainly another bag of dog food.

I normally buy my cat food at the grocery store because it's cheaper, but I figured that even with the higher price at Petco, 20% off would make it a little cheaper than Publix; and I've been giving Bodhi some newer, healthier than Milkbone, treats. (Which I bought last time I was at Petco, because my junk mail $5.00 off coupon was only good on purchases over $50.00 and a bag of dog food was $45.00, so I had to buy something else to get over $50.00!)

So I got the dog food, treats and cat food, went to check out and then did the math and noted to the cashier that she hadn't given me 20% off my entire purchase.

She called the manager over and he explained to me that I had to "read the whole coupon, not just the part you want to read," which pissed me right off.

It turns out that the 20% off is only on items that are at their "regular price." It's hard to say what "regular price" is at Petco at any given time; nearly all the pet foods seem to have some kind of discount or another applied to them all the time.

So I think the coupon was deceptive. Had it said, "20% off crap you're not likely to want" I would have ignored it, not wasted paper and ink printing it out, and just bought my dog food like I normally do, and not today, since I don't need any for a couple more weeks. In the end, I would have only saved about $5.50 more than the "discounts" on the marked-down prices. But I resented the fact that they chose to present that coupon in that fashion. Because of that, Petco got an additional $19.40 from me for the treats and cat food, which I would not have purchased today if I'd have known that the 20% off didn't apply to everything. I thought about returning everything then and there, but I'd already wasted enough time arguing with the manager.

Instead, I'll just shop somewhere else. Might be a little less convenient, but hopefully I won't feel deceived and manipulated and have to deal with a smart-ass manager.

So long, Petco. It was never fun.