Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quick photo workflow software

Apple Aperture 2, Adobe Lightroom 2 and Apple iPhoto 09 (aka Aperture Lite) are awesome photography workflow tools.

But, they're a bit cumbersome if you want to preview a collection of photos, delete the rubbish ones, rotate the keepers and organise them quickly. All of the above packages require you to import them, catalogue them (or have them added to the catalogue), build previews and thumbnails and after all of that, do your sorting. You then have to export the photos, remove them from the respective application and get on with your day.

This sucks.

So, I turned to Camerabits Photo Mechanic, which had some rave reviews. US$150 ? You must be joking. For that price, it should give personal commentary on my photos, and I know its not going to do that. So, I looked around for a Mac version of old faithful, ACDSee. Yay, they have one! But, its in beta. I downloaded it and tried it, and yes, it works. As a beta. But it'll be expensive - the Windows version now goes for over US$100. Too rich for me, and not available yet.

More digging revealed Lemkesoft GraphicConverter. It does everything I need, and about 700% more. And its cheap; US$35! Thank you very much, it works wonders! I can highly recommend it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hoodman Hoodeye and Amod results

I wanted to go to the Johannesburg Zoo to show my infant son some animals, and to try out some photography gear. To recap, I suspected the Hoodeye was going to be useless, and the Amod would work correctly. I was correct on the Amod, and the Hoodeye, to be honest, I could have lived without. It made discernibly no difference. So, save yourself US$30 and don't bother buying the Hoodeye, and put it toward the Amod.

At US$30, its a great little GPS, and works exactly as advertised. Pity I wasn't in the frame of mind to take amazing photos, but thats another story. Gallery pics are online. The entire family was out together, and that more than made up for the bad photos.

PS. 10 month old babies don't get that excited at the zoo, they just like being outdoors with their parents giving them tons of attention. Good enough for me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Camera goodies - geotagging and eye hood

I have a Nikon D80 (which is a great camera in spite of all the negative reviews). It was, without doubt, the best birthday present I ever received, from my parents. My wife bought me a Thinktank Photo Airport Addicted, which comes up second. The photo's I take are on my gallery; I don't think they're very good.

Anyway, I noticed in the iPhoto 09 feature list the inclusion of geotagged photo support. Now this is cool. It means you can tell, on a map, where you took a photo. Very handy when you take lots of photo's that are similar, and/or outdoors. But all the "neat" on-camera solutions expect you to have a D90, D200 or higher. I'm not changing my body for the once-a-month photo expeditions I go on.

So, I stumbled across a fellow D80 user who ended up using the Holux M-241 GPS logger, and Ovolab Geophoto. The Holux showed GPS time (which was cool to set your camera), but looked like a bannana-coloured suppository and required some serious shenanigans to get data off onto a Mac.

I found reference to a driverless GPS, the Amod AGL3080, which is essentially a very simple GPS, that starts logging in 1, 5 or 10 second intervals as soon as it has a satellite lock. It works, very well. I've used it in some testing, and it works exactly as advertised. Logs the data, which is stored as a file on the device. The construction is cheap, the manual is crap and the unit doesn't look like it'll last if you're not gentle with it. But for my purposes, perfect!

I ended up using HoudahGeo to actually tag the photos. The two big reasons to use this over Geophoto were

  1. No CPU-crunching spinning globe on startup
  2. Ability to associate multiple GPS tracks to a photo group as opposed to only one

So far so good.

As an aside, I also bought a Hoodman Corp Hoodeye, which sounded great, except it looks like crap and feels worse. And their website made my eyes bleed.

I'll be using both on a shoot at the Johannesburg Zoo this weekend; I suspect I'll have a negative review of the Hoodeye afterwards. Lets hope I'm wrong.

Apple and the demise of Firewire 400

A colleague had her laptop stolen (a Macbook Pro), a machine that had Firewire 400 and 800. I too had mine stolen in November; thankfully mine was while I was sleeping, not at gunpoint.

Thankfully she saw the humour when I told her at least she could upgrade to a newer machine (there is a silver lining, even if its a bit scuffed). Faced with the replacement choice, it was either a Macbook (with no Firewire at all), or a Macbook Pro (which had Firewire 800 only). The Macbook was nicer for me (smaller, perfect specs and price point), but I ended up buying the Pro purely for Firewire 800. What's the big deal about Firewire ?

Firewire 800 (aka IEEE1394b) is cool; 800MBits (not like USB2's 480Mbits in burst mode). Firewire 400 (aka IEEE1394) is less cool (400Mbits), but far more ubiquitous. The basic properties are the same; I can plug a hard drive or peripheral in, and its powered by the bus far more reliably than USB-based power.

No drivers, fast transfer speeds, and the ability to chain and mix/match on the same bus. Oh yes, and the formats are backward compatible. Sounds great. Except that Apple has basically killed Firewire 400 (and replaced with 800) from most of their machines, and removed it completely from the new Macbooks.

Now this is annoying.

  • My camcorder no longer works on my machine without a different cable or an adapter
  • Firewire target disk mode is no longer available on all Mac's (this is a subtle return to the "what machine do you have, because it changes how I approach a problem" behaviour that is common with PC manufacturers)
  • My expensive Firewire 400 drive enclosures and hubs are useless
  • etc, etc, etc

Why Apple, why kill off a good option, and close options for Macbook users who are already paying a premium ? I don't get it.

As an aside, I just bought a Firewire 800 drive enclosure from OWC. Excellent drive, and the performance is brilliant! They're great for memory and drive upgrades too.

Rant: eSATA, what a stupid system. You have to supply your own interface and power. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Maybe USB3 will solve all of these problems and unify these disparate connectors.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sheep shagger

Literally. Another proud South African, doing his bit for animal rights and equality.

See here. Summary, a 36-year old man was caught shagging a sheep, because it was keeping him awake.

Now, if a sheep was keeping me awake, I'd shoot it, or block my ears; and I'm a vegetarian. Not go outside in the cold and get funky, so to speak ?


Traditional broadcast media can't compete with BitTorrent

I don't have DsTV. I don't have a video store contract. What I do have however is an uncapped ADSL account, a server hosted in the US and some clever systems that, combined, mean that a TV episode is downloaded to my house within hours of it airing in the US.

And I'm not unique or alone in this. Friends of mine who are not in IT do the same thing (except they have DsTV for Formula 1). My mother understands the concept (she is a Brothers & Sisters addict), and in the medium term, this community will expand.

And thanks to BitTorrent, users are relatively anonymous and are forced to contribute back to the network, thus ensuring content is almost always available in a highly resilient manner.

Knowing that you can watch what you want, when you want it, without ads, in higher quality than currently comercially (and legally) available, is cool. Personal collections are limited only to your storage capacity; an average movie is 800MB, and TV episode is 350MB.

And if you take the confluence of three trends (ceteris paribus), namely

  1. Bandwidth will get cheaper
  2. Access speeds will get faster
  3. People will find ways to break copy-protection and DRM

I wonder what the future is of the traditional broadcaster and advertising sector ?

Tools like the Multichoice PVR and Slingbox, while technically excellent, still don't adjust the fundamentals;

  • you can only record (and conversely playback) something that has happened
  • its delayed by at least 3-6 months from its initial US airing
  • the quality of the video is poor and there is not enough HD content airing
  • I can't keep an extensive back catalogue

This logic applies equally to music and full-length feature movies. If I was Primedia or Multichoice, I'd be working frenetically on an online distribution model with a capable ISP rather than clinging onto a fundamentally dead business model.

For the geeks

While not endorsing downloading content and robbing starving artists, I would imagine that a good media download environment would look like

For the real geeks

Don't bother with the Apple TV. Its cumbersome, doesn't work properly in SA, difficult to use, hasn't got enough horsepower to playback proper HD content and requires you to crack it to get it to be halfway useful (e.g. playback of AVI files).

Femto vs WiFi as an FMC bearer

A good FMC service balances features, cost savings and implementability with implementation cost, intrusiveness into end-user behaviour and not pissing off the mobile networks.

Early investigation into a decent South African MNO-independent service implied no use of 3G / UMTS as a bearer. What would happen to your WiFi call when a GSM call came in and vice-versa, inconsistent quality and active hostility would make this a non-starter.

WiFi-based FMC solutions have been around for a while, are robust and solve the quality problem. But, they don't solve the cost, universality (how many phones have WiFi) and battery life problems.

While a WiFi-based solution will provide a rich experience for 10% of the potential user-base, femtocell-based solutions address 100% of the user-base.

Femto's use GSM RF frequency to the handset, and IP to the back-end switching and core network; handsets think they're talking to a normal cellular tower, new telco entrants can capture some market share and implementation is relatively easy and straightforward. But there's just one gotcha.

When you connect to the in-building femtocell network, you go off the public GSM network. So how do you deal with the in-bound GSM call ? As is, it'll go to voicemail. And that means being unreachable for at least 8 hours a day (assuming only WiFi at work), or in my case, 23 hours (WiFi at home and work, but not yet in my car). For any solution to work, you need a co-operative mobile network company. And in South Africa, that breed is impossible to find.

So for those of you wondering why there is no wide-spread South African FMC solution yet, please complain to your mobile network - they're impinging new telco's abilities to deliver cost-effective services to you. The cartel is hanging on as long as it can, before launching their own FMC service. And I can guarantee that agreement didn't need to be reached in London; it probably happened at the Michaelangelo.

Future-proof phones

How do you choose a future-proof smartphone ? There are a literally thousands of choices. You have to choose what you need. For me, critical criteria are;

  • The ability to send and receive MMS and participate in video calling (babies do cute shit at random times)

  • The ability to send and receive business cards

  • A battery life measured in days, not minutes or hours

  • The ability to run multiple applications at once

  • Activesync support


  • Bluetooth tethering

  • Use of the phone with one hand (and in a car)

  • No beach balls or equivalents to cover up rubbish code

I am not interested in camera support (I have several real cameras), multimedia (I have an iPod and enough storage to run a small country) or the ability to use my phone as a light-sabre and/or spirit level. I don't think these criteria are unique.

This rules out the jesus phone (iPhone) and all Windows-mobile phones (not even going to bother explaining) for me. The iPhone is a target for much of my wrath, because relatively intelligent people turn into blithering, sycophantic dimwits when someone presents them with functional technology that is at least 10 years behind the rest of the industry (remember, this is a device American's love, case in point).

But am I alone in this view ? Apparently, because even Nokia is launching of touch-screen phones, along with everyone else. Think Nokia 5800 & N97, Samsung Omnia, etc. All touch-screen, all featuring innovative design, all copying the iPhone. And the jesus phone itself is addressing most of these issues above. So would I consider an iPhone ?

As long as it had a keyboard or even the pretense of one (think Haptics technology), yes. I could live with all the above failings, because

  1. the intuitive nature of the interface is unparalleled
  2. the application variety and store framework mean supported applications that won't crash the phone
  3. the user base is strong, vocal and active
  4. the phone is putting smartphone features in the hands of consumers

The iPhone has pioneered a new revolutionary stage in the mobile phone space; it presents a rich, easy-to-develop against platform that means eventually people will buy their device for what it can run, not what it comes with or does out of the box. And that is truly future-proof.