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

What to Do With Apple Photos?

12:52 Thursday, 30 June 2016

tl;dr version: Store 3MP jpegs of all your images in iCloud Photo Library and have access to all your photos on all your devices. Use Aperture (or Lightroom) to import your images from your cameras, and export 3MP jpegs for import to Photos. 3MP is enough for a reasonable print, and plenty for on screen sharing.

Allow me to vent my spleen here briefly on what an utter piece of crap Apple's Photos app is on iOS, and the Photos iCloud architecture. The MacOS app is slightly better, but it's still crap too.

The apps themselves are inadequate for anyone other than a casual snap-shooter, and maybe that's all Apple cares about anymore. They used to be interested in photographers, with things like Aperture. Now, they don't care. Lowest common denominator is the only game in town. Suck your photos into iCloud and keep you tied to iOS.

That's life. I've gone through the five stages of grief regarding Aperture, though I still revisit anger every time Photos crashes, and I've reached acceptance.

Having stopped fighting Photos, I've tried to figure out how to use it to some advantage, and I think I have some ideas.

In the ideal Apple world, all of your photos live in iCloud. The full-resolution, RAW or jpeg images are stored in the cloud, for which you will pay extra for additional storage.

Your photos on your Apple devices will be "optimized" in size, so that you can see your entire photo collection on every device, regardless of how little storage it has.

This idea has some merit, though the current implementation is completely deficient, inasmuch as smart albums don't sync across devices, and you can't even create smart albums in iOS. But I digress…

A few things happened that led me to my current "solution."

First, I gave my 27' iMac to my daughter. Previously, I was maintaining two Aperture libraries on two computers with Photostream as the mechanism for getting pictures I imported into one Mac into the library on the other Mac. This was a dumb idea, and I don't know why it took me so long to see it. With one computer, I just maintain one Aperture library. So much less work.

Second, I bought a Canon Pixma Pro-100 photo printer. Makes big prints, up to 13"x19". So I started reading about printing. It turns out, we have far more megapixels than we truly need. (Now, before anyone panics, yes, there is a case that can be made that there is no such thing as "too many megapixels." More image data is better, assuming you have a good composition, good exposure, and it's an image worth printing large. Most aren't. Sorry.)

On Father's Day, I wanted to post a pic of my Dad on Facebook, but I didn't have a shot of him in my iOS devices because I hadn't enabled iCloud Photos because it's such an utter piece of crap. Dad's pics were in my Aperture library, and I was away from the computer. I should have looked online, because I have a bunch in shared iCloud albums (which you can still have in Aperture without enabling iCloud Photo Library). But it did make me think about the utility of having "your entire photo library" in the cloud.

Most of my pictures are shared online. To share a nice image online, all you really need are about 3 megapixels. Most of the shots I take are just kind of fun shots for me, they're not necessarily intended to be "art," and I had seldom printed them, though I occasionally did through a service bureau, usually Apple.

My 12.9" iPad Pro is my highest resolution device, and it displays 5.6MP (megapixels). My oldest camera, an Oly E-1, shoots 5MP images. My newest camera shoots 16MP, and my next camera will likely be an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk 2, which is expected to have a 20MP sensor. My iPhone 6s Plus has a 12MP sensor.

I'm shooting and storing all this image data that never really gets displayed, either on screen or in print.

So I've made a few changes in how I shoot.

I've mostly shot RAW+jpeg, where the camera records both the original sensor data ("RAW" format, though "RAW" doesn't really stand for anything, and some people are insisting it's correctly depicted as "raw.") and a compressed jpeg image. There are various settings for jpeg that determine the size of the stored file. My practice has been to store full-resolution images with the least amount of compression. So a 10MP Oly XZ-1 RAW image would be around 10MB, while a 10MP "superfine" jpeg would be a little less than half that at about 4.6MB.

I'm still shooting RAW+jpeg. But now I've set the jpeg settings in the camera to record 5MP images. This doesn't crop the image, it's still everything you see in the viewfinder or the LCD, it just down-samples the 16/12/10/8 MP image into a 5MP image, and stores that as a jpeg. In the case of the XZ-1, that 5MP jpeg is about 2MB.

You can make a nice print from a 5MP image. But if it's a potential "work of art," I've got the RAW image to process into a full sized TIFF (with no compression) to print.

This has had some immediate payoffs. Flickr automatically uploads my jpegs as soon as I insert the SD card or connect the camera, and the smaller images upload much faster than the full-resolution images. Flickr is a giant image sump, and I don't spend much time "curating" my images there, so it's hard to find things, or I'm just not very good at it yet. But it's a nice sort of backup solution.

I still import my images into Aperture. There's no way I'm going to let my originals reside only in Apple's cloud storage infrastructure. They've shown no real expertise in doing it reliably yet. Hopefully they will one day, but that day's not today.

In Aperture, I review the images, discard the obvious clinkers and decide which ones I'd like to have available on all my devices. I rate all those images with 3 stars. A smart album in Aperture gathers all those 3-star images, and I export that album to a folder on my desktop. The export settings further down-samples the images to 3MP jpegs. I do this because I mainly intend to share images online from my iCloud Photo Library, and 3MP is about the most I need. So they take up less space in my paid-for storage, upload faster, and download faster if I want to do an edit on an iOS device. In Photos on iOS, if you wish to edit, you have to wait for iOS to download the full-resolution image from iCloud. 3MP downloads faster than 5MP and uses less bandwidth.

Once the export is complete, I select all the images in the 3-star smart album and rate them 0-stars. They leave the smart album, but they're still in the Aperture library.

The 3MP images export to a folder that's monitored by Hazel, a utility that will perform certain actions on files in a folder it monitors, one of which is to import images to Photos on the Mac. One problem has been that Hazel isn't 100% reliable. Sometimes it gets all the images into Photos, sometimes it leaves out a few, sometimes it only manages to get a few into Photos. I haven't investigated that issue very much yet, but I hope to figure out what the problem is. If it doesn't get them all, I have Photos check the folder and it'll grab the ones that Hazel missed. But I'd like to make it completely hands-off.

Pictures I take with my iPhone are, of course, automatically uploaded to iCloud and unfortunately you can't really manage those jpeg settings. Depending on the scene, the jpegs weigh in between 1 to 6MB, so it's not gross. And it's probably handy to have the full resolution with iPhone images to allow you to crop.

I've also started going back through all of my Aperture libraries and organizing them by years. I go through each year and select images, usually of family and friends, that I want to upload to iCloud Photo Library. The earliest go back to 2000, when my camera had only 2MP, and pretty heavy jpeg compression, so those go straight up into the cloud, no down-sampling. I think I have enough storage already paid for to allow me to have most of my most "meaningful" images available on any device. Though I still have twelve years of images to go through!

So iCloud Photo Library just turns out to be like Flickr or Smugmug, only with more integration with the OS, so you can access and share the images more readily from any application.

If iOS ever gets the ability to create smart albums, or if the contents of smart albums at least sync across devices, it'll be more useful. As it is, you can't search images on iOS other than by browsing, or using dates or locations. Maybe faces. Apple really needs to expose exif data in Photos in iOS and iCloud if they want to be taken seriously.

That's how I've made my peace with Photos.

It's still an utter piece of crap, but I'll use the iCloud Photo Library.

The Internet and the Age of Ignorance

10:33 Thursday, 30 June 2016

Irony is the fifth fundamental force of the universe.

If you don't know what the four fundamental forces of the universe are, Google it.

I started watching The Newsroom, a discontinued HBO series by Aaron Sorkin, the other day. I'd read about it on the internet when it was in production, and it was in its initial run. Seemed to get good notices. My girlfriend said I'd like it, and Game of Thrones is wrapping up for this season, so I started watching it. She's right. I do like it.

It's typical Sorkin. Well written, topical fiction about a world you wish you lived in, and people you wish were really in the roles they're depicted in. Flawed people, but better people than we are. Their flaws are pretty sanitary. We're not talking Jamie Lannister kind of flawed, which, to my mind, is much more realistic than Sorkin's characters' flaws.

Anyway, I digress…

It was just a coincidence that I started watching The Newsroom at the same time that the United Kingdom was holding a referendum about whether or not to remain in the European Union. But it was the kind of coincidence that makes life seem a little more interesting than it really is.

Apparently there may be some second-thoughts on the part of some of the folks who voted to leave the EU. And Google Trends noted a spike in UK citizens googling "what is the EU?" after the result of the referendum. The natural take is, "a little late for that, eh?"

Technology, for most of our history, has helped to lift humanity out of ignorance. I'm not sure that's true anymore.

Access to the internet was supposed to be this great, liberating force. "You can't stop the signal!" (Obscure cultural reference. Apologies if you don't get it. Google it.)

"Gatekeepers" were going to be swept aside. "Sources go direct!" Formerly, gatekeepers were the people who controlled access to mass media; publishers, editors, producers. With the internet, my little blog could theoretically reach as large an audience as any form of conventional media.

The capacity to disseminate information exploded exponentially. The capacity of individuals to receive and process information changed not one whit.

With the "gatekeepers" swept away, people were left to their own devices to decide where to give their attention.

"Social media" thrived because we're all apparently fascinated by what all of our friends and acquaintances are doing, and we all believe we're our own publicists as we edit and promote our own lifestyle brands on Facebook and Twitter.

Since we're all a bunch of busybodies and exhibitionists, we spend a hell of a lot of time in these social media platforms, where the platform providers are most interested in keeping your attention so they can sell it to advertisers. They don't really care what you're looking at, as long as you're looking at it on their platform.

So there are thousands of "new media" outlets. For whatever type of perspective you have, there's a media outlet that purportedly covers the stories the "mainstream media" is ignoring.

The result is noise.

And we haven't become any better at detecting the signal. You can't stop the signal, but you can bury it by elevating the noise.

The Newsroom, at least the first few episodes that I've watched, seems to be about trying to help people detect the signal. It's fiction, I know. And it got cancelled, so there wasn't an audience for the story either I guess.

Personally, I try to look for the signal.

I ignore cable television news. It's utterly useless.

I ignore most of the alternative news outlets on the internet. I recently stopped reading Talking Points Memo, which was a decidedly liberal or lefty political outlet, when Josh Marshall started losing his shit over Bernie Sanders.

I subscribe to the New York Times, which is not a perfect platform by any means. If anything, they're far too guilty of "false equivalence," where they give "both" sides of a story, where one side is clearly bullshit. I mean clearly bullshit, which is how a lot of this nonsense has been elevated to what passes for civil discourse these days. But for the most part, the Times offers at least a lower noise level than other outlets.

I subscribe to The Economist, and by "subscribe," I mean I pay for it. I support these outlets with my money. The Economist is pretty "fair and balanced."

I also subscribe to The New Yorker, because they have some good in-depth pieces. I will be adding The Atlantic Monthly to my subscriptions, as soon as I get finished with Ancestry.com.

And I support NPR with a contribution, because I listen to NPR when I'm in the car.

If you want good information, you have to find reliable gatekeepers, not sources. We need editors, because we don't have the time or the cognitive resources to filter through all the bullshit.

The internet is not the boon it was imagined to be. All the triumphalists who celebrated the democratization of "the press" should be eating their words.

The internet is a tool for the entrenched interests to keep us frightened and ignorant.