Merry Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

We’re baaaaack! Sort of. There is some content missing and a few issues here and there (migrating a WordPress site is significantly harder than I thought) but the site is back up and running. Here’s to wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and joyous New Year!

Merry Christmas 2011

{to the tune of Jingle Bells}
Two terabyte drives
On a single pc desk
Bits and bytes they write
Spinning all the time
Platters on spindles sing
Saving photos right
Lots of time spent post processing
Thousands of photos bright

Oh, dead hard drives, dead hard drives
Screeching all the time
Oh, what fun it is to write
To a no hard drive array
Dead hard drives, dead hard drives
Screeching all the time
Oh, what fun it is to write
To a no hard drive array

A week or two ago
I had lots of photos
And soon my hard drives
Weren’t working any more
The photos good and bad
Recovered most of them
Then I listened to iTunes
Access files it would not

Oh, dead hard drives, dead hard drives
Screeching all the time
Oh, what fun it is to write
To a no hard drive array
Dead hard drives, dead hard drives
Clicking all the time
Oh, what fun it is to write
To a no hard drive array

For those that don’t feel like reading between the harmonious lines the above translates to two dead hard drives (primary and backup) containing approximately 100,000 photo files (thankfully it appears I have recovered all but about 300) and one dead hard drive containing my iTunes library. What are the odds of my primary and back up drives failing simultaneously? Apparently pretty good. What are the odds of a third hard drive failing within the same month? Apparently even better. Sadly, I did not have a backup of my iTunes library, shame on me. Lesson learned (and thank goodness for Pandora or I’d have nothing to listen to right now).

RSS Awareness

Subscribe to Your Own Blog

RSS Awareness

If you have a blog or other website that has a RSS feed or other means of subscribing you should be subscribing to your own blog or site. I know, there are some who are thinking, “why would I subscribe to content I create?” It’s a matter of awareness. I recently began receiving what was obviously spam from a friends blog. Post after post after post within a few hours. Not only was the content not in line with his blog but the time frame for the posts didn’t match his routine. Even when your posting is erratic your readers become accustomed to it and notice something is amiss when things change. In this case, his blog had been compromised and was now the tool of spammers

Without subscribing to your own blog how long would it take you to notice? Are you going to count on your readers to post a comment? If you are, you are really hoping for a lot. Not that your readers don’t care, but because when they believe your blog has been compromised the last thing they are going to do is interact with your site. Hence the importance of subscribing to your own blog/website. It wasn’t until this incident that I realized the importance of subscribing to my own content. I have always subscribed to ensure the layout of the content is acceptable and that the feed is working. I hadn’t considered subscribing to my own content as a means of security awareness until now. So go subscribe to every site you create content on that allows you to. This includes sites such as Flickr, 500px, and others. You may not have noticed before, but it is possible to subscribe to your own content on these sites, often different feeds for different types of content or information. It’s worth your time if for no other reason than a peace of mind that should something happen you become aware fairly quickly rather than the next time you publish content and find you can no longer log in or your content has all changed.

Gyrocam onboard ZX-10R at the Nurburgring

Gyrocam at the Nurburgring

Take a ride around the Nurburgring on a Kawasaki ZX-10R courtesy of Bridgestone and Kawasaki Racing. For what it’s worth, there’s finally a video that shows riders how it’s suppose to look when they are at the controls. I remember years ago listening to my father coach new riders telling them “pretend the top of your helmet is attached to the sky by a string; when you lean into a corner your head stays upright.” A lesson he began continually reinforcing on new riders after seeing enough dump their new street bike after a few corners because they were keeping their head at the same angle as the bike completely disrupting their equilibrium. Anyway, it’s a great video, enjoy.

YouTube Video: GYROCAM Onboard Video Nordschleife – Rekordfahrt ZX-10R

RotoR Helmet Cam

RotoR Helmet Cam

I haven’t found any information other than this teaser video,but what a wicked way to catch the racing action. Without seeing the device itself I’m not sure if it would ever be feasible for use during a race but even it just for fun it would give spectators a whole new reality of just how close motocross racing can get. Imagine it in a supercross event, holy cow that would be some amazing video!

Vimeo Video: RotoR DP 19 Dorno

Jeep in the rocks

I Am Done with Ubuntu Linux

That’s right. I’m done. It won’t happen soon enough though. I figure I’ll give Linux one more chance by trying Fedora or some other flavor but if that experience is anything like this one has been I am done with Linux altogether. I converted all of my home computers to Linux a few years ago because I was tired of having to constantly manage our Windows machines. I wanted a ‘set it and forget it’ environment. I don’t want to have to think about whether or not the wife or kids have applied the necessary updates and patches. I don’t want to have to fix things when a patch breaks something. For the family computer Ubuntu 9.04 has fit the bill perfectly. Yeah, I know it’s no longer supported but it still works and I haven’t had to touch it since installing it.

My own computer is a different story. I don’t mind tinkering with mine a little bit. However, I spent a considerable amount of time researching and doing all sorts of things to get the photo applications I wanted working in Ubuntu 10.04. Nothing Canonical included out of the box filled my needs leaving me to figure out how to get the most recent versions of the applications I used. And then installing the necessary dependencies, compiling the code, and crossing my fingers I didn’t break something else in an attempt to get one thing working correctly. Even then I still had many limitations to deal with.

Attempting to process some images from a recent off-road excursion pushed me over the edge. I was done dealing with these limitations. In researching how to fix them I discovered Canonical decided to actually make a few current versions of software available in Natty Narwhal (Ubuntu 11.04). As I pondered my predicament I decided to take the plunge and give it a try. Boy, was that a mistake. Who could possibly have thought the Unity desktop is a good idea? What kind of contaminated crack were they smoking? I can’t get application shortcuts to pin to the launcher. It’s a five or six step process to access my most frequently used photo applications. Shortcuts (if they can be called that) are hidden deeply in the most ridiculous application menu I have ever seen. If Canonical’s goal was to stop the trending of Linux growth outpacing Windows growth Natty Narwhal should surely help with that. Natty Narwhal has not only made me dislike Ubuntu with near hatred it has me missing the days of a Windows based computer when there either was or wasn’t an application that met my needs. Not, there is an application but there are forty dependencies and installing this one breaks this other application and you must install them in a certain order and you can’t compile this because you lack that. I haven’t spent so much time in the command line since MS-DOS 3.

Maybe it’s because Ubuntu’s target audience is the average user who wouldn’t go through nearly what I’ve gone through to not really accomplish what I was trying to accomplish to begin with. Maybe it’s because the average user wouldn’t want to do what I’m wanting to do. If that’s the case then I’m sure there are plenty of happy Ubuntu users out there (my family is very happy with Ubuntu 9.04—the Jaunty Jackalope—maybe it’s a southwest thing; note we’ve chosen to skip out on upgrading Ubuntu on that pc).

So now you know why you’ve seen fewer images from me lately (that, a lack of inspiration, and a lot of other things going on) and why you won’t be seeing any from me in the near future. In order to work with my photographs in Ubuntu I’m forced to work only with the jpg’s leaving my ability to adjust, tweak, and have fun with my images in post processing to a little saturation, contrast, and sharpening adjustment. Not my idea of fun. Not my idea of control. If I wanted that I’d have a point and shoot and use Irfanview on Windows.

So here it is, the last one for a while unless something strikes my muse and I don’t want or need to do much post processing. There’s a better version but thanks to software that doesn’t work properly and the fact that no one out there has either encountered the same problem or shared a solution I gave up. A full day moving from the Lucid Lynx to the Natty Narwhal and still things don’t work correctly. I give up. I suppose that’s why I’m giving the Story a Day in May challenge a go, I only need a web browser for that. Thanks for tolerating my rant, now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Jeep on the rocks

Jeep...on the Rocks

PlainText Screenshot

The Transition from Evernote to PlainText

When I first got the iPad I loved Evernote. It was a great tool for keeping thoughts and ideas synchronized and readily available. I used it so much that I started to discover its weaknesses but still found it very usable. Then my wife got an iPad and I dreamt up this great idea for sharing a shopping list with her. I envisioned having notes by store or category if the particular store wasn’t important. It seemed foolproof. I created a sample list through the web interface (I was at my Linux notebook at the time) and began fiddling with it on the iPad. That’s when I discovered that none of the rich text features of the Evernote web app were available in the iPad app. Again, I figured this was something I could work around so I created blank shopping lists with 25 check boxes. This would allow us to add whatever text was necessary on the iPad and just check the box upon purchasing the item. I soon discovered that because none of the rich text features are available in the iPad app I couldn’t edit the shopping lists I could only append to them. Ugh, I was starting to get a bit frustrated but decided we could do without the pretty little check boxes and just put a X in front of whatever item we purchased so the other knew the purchase had been made while ensuring that an additional purchase wasn’t made when the other person noticed the item wasn’t on the list and assumed we had forgotten to add it to the shopping list.

After working through all these little blemishes I decided I liked how I had worked it out and it was time to share the notebook with the wife. That’s when I discovered that in order to share an editable notebook in Evernote you have to upgrade from their free service to their premium service. No big deal I thought, I am more than happy to pay for applications and services I find useful and get value from. Much to my dismay, I experienced sticker shock. Evernote wants forty-five dollars per year for a premium account. I ran through my head how useful I find Evernote and acknowledged I do get value out of it; but not forty-five dollars per year worth. Especially since the only premium feature I anticipated using was the ability to share an editable notebook.

I was later sharing my tales of woe with a friend who suggested I try PlainText as it synchronizes with my Dropbox account and, even better, is a free app. I tried PlainText and have to say that it is amazingly simple and seamlessly integrates with Dropbox. My wife simply adds items to the shopping list or places a big ol’ X in front of items she has purchased. We sit down together regularly and delete items that no longer need to be on the list, or, as is the case with milk for example, delete that big ol’ X so we know to buy more.

PlainText Screenshot

Yes, that's quite a list there; hopefully it won't all be used for the same meal.

I love the simplicity of PlainText and how useful and valuable it is to me now. What makes it even better for me is that should the Plaintext developer suddenly decide to stop supporting the app none of my documents are gone. They are all safely tucked away in my Dropbox account as well as on every device I have synchronizing with Dropbox. Something that Evernote cannot provide me whether I pay for it or not because there is no Linux app that would provide that offline functionality and storage.

Our use of PlainText has gone beyond the initial intent of sharing shopping lists. As a family we love road trips. We now have a folder for keeping and sharing ideas of places we would like to visit. Further organization breaks the files down by state and type of road trip. It works just as well for all those local places we would like to visit but often can’t think of when discussing someplace around town to take the kids. The combination of PlainText and Dropbox on our iPads has taken many of our ideas from a mere discussion to real planning for making the idea come to fruition. I imagine as we continue using it we will continue to find new or additional uses for it. Who would have that a simple text editor could be so useful and have so much potential? I certainly didn’t but am a happily converted user.

Bulletproof iPad

Thoughts on the iPad

Bulletproof iPad

Bulletproof iPad

This is by no means a thorough review of the iPad, it is merely my thoughts on my experience with the iPad and where I believe the tablet market is headed (if you want to skip all of this you can find my list of hits and misses at the bottom of the post). First off, I’d like to thank Apple for having the gusto to produce the iPad. In my opinion the iPad is the first succesful attempt at a tablet (don’t believe me?) because Apple didn’t attempt to make it a computer in tablet form as all the predecessor tablets attempted to be. Apple’s approach to the iPad, primarily a media consumption device, is most likely the key to it’s success (not that it’s technical and aesthetic brilliance don’t count for anything). Maintaining the ability, albeit with limitations, to create content puts the iPad in the realm of a useful device in a small form factor capable of competing with most home computers. Not because the iPad is a computer in tablet form, but because many families use their home computer for little more than web browsing and some document creation.
Using my own family as an example, the family computer is rarely used for anything other than checking email, browsing the web, and for the occasional homework assignment. Not exactly the kind of stuff that requires supercomputer processing power. Enter the iPad. Instantly on, easily accessible, sharable, and portable. What is there not to like about it when considering a replacement for the aging and tiring family computer. So that’s just what I did. Of course, this is where some of the media creation limitations of the iPad can become a bit frustrating but for the most part there are apps to solve many of these problems.
For sharing of notes and shopping lists we use PlainText (I’ll cover our transition from Evernote to PlainText in a later post) which integrates seamlessly with Dropbox. Without Dropbox I don’t think the iPad would be a viable replacement for our family computer, but thankfully, Dropbox allows us to quickly and easily share files between multiple devices. Games? Well, for the most part the iPad has replaced a computer, Xbox, Wii, and Gameboy. Link two iPads via wifi, sit the kids on the couch with Shrek Kart HD, and you’d never guess they weren’t competing using a full gaming console. Or, listen to the discussions about who is leading a Yahtzee challenge, has the most words in Bookworm, the most eggchievements in Chicktionary, completed the most levels in Isaac Newton’s Gravity HD, or gobbled the most ghosts in Pac-Man. Enough of how the iPad has replaced our family computer, on to what I think of the iPad.
First off, I am thoroughly irritated by the fact that Apple has chained me to iTunes. I don’t own an Apple computer and I choose not to use Windows as my home operating system. Yet in order to activate my iPad I am forced to use a Windows computer with iTunes. I initially thought this would be the end of my interaction with iTunes other than for the rare iOS update, but much to my dismay I am forced to use Windows on a regular basis in order to download podcast subscriptions even though there is a version of iTunes on the iPad. I can’t image what Apple was thinking when they made this decision. I am surely not going to purchase an Apple computer just because I am being forced to use iTunes on a computer to subscribe to and receive updates to podcasts. Apple’s decision to force me to rely on a computer based iTunes actually prevented additional purchases of the iPad for family members who do not have home computers. I can’t imaging giving a family member a $500 paper weight since it would surely become one due to their lack of a home computer from which to run iTunes to activate and manage their iPad.
The overall form factor is excellent. Anything larger would be too cumbersome and anything smaller wouldn’t be as useful (or enjoyable to use). While it’s weight can get a little tiring when reading while lying down I haven’t found it so heavy that I stop reading, I simply change my position. In fact, I’m reading for fun significantly more than I was before purchasing an iPad and have real world paper books I haven’t finished because I find holding a book so uncomfortable compared to the iPad. I have no complaints about the screen for reading. Yes, it’s glossy and can be very reflective, but again, I have always found a solution to that particular problem when I encounter it.
The virtual keyboard could use some improvements. In particular I find that I use the apostrophe significantly more than I use the exclamation point yet the exclamation point is on the alpha keyboard while I have switch to the numeric keyboard to access the apostrophe. I find the single jack for headphones and microphone very frustrating. Including cursor keys with the virtual keyboard would be a great enhancement when trying to place the cursor in a specific location within a word. The current situation of forcing the cursor to the beginning or end of a word forces me to needlessly retype words to change a single character.
There are times when I would really like to dictate while listening to something else (thank goodness iOS 4.2 came along) but the single jack forces me to use low quality, uncomfortable headphones with an incorporated microphone. If iPad version 2 is going to include a front facing camera I feel the need for a secondary microphone jack is a must. The iPad with a front facing camera has great potential as a podcasting, Skype, or other video conferencing device, but without a secondary microphone jack it will be severely hampered in this respect.
Apple’s position as the king of photo editing computers for a few decades now accompanied by their decision to make a camera connection kit for the iPad that fails to support CF cards baffles me. Many, if not all, professional sports photographers still use CF cards because they are faster than SD cards. I guess this can only be attributed to Apple’s focus on the consumer market for the iPad.
Having said all of that I leave you with my final thought. Apple is repeating the same mistake it made in the 1980’s when IBM licensed replication of its processors to anyone willing to pay the right fee. That is why I am typing this post on an IBM based computer. That is why every computer I have owned since my Commodore 64 (not counting an Osborne 1 I briefly possessed) has been an IBM clone. I fear Apple has made a similar mistake with the iPad. Sure, Apple was the first to successfully  launch a tablet device. Sure, Apple has done a pretty darn good job with the first version of the iPad. However, I feel Apple has focused so narrowly on media consumption they are going to lose an entire market, ney, many markets, to manufacturers who produce tablet devices that are not only simple and beautiful for media consumption but are equally capable of media creation. No, I don’t expect to do any serious photo editing on an iPad. No, I don’t expect to write a novel on an iPad (although with a bluetooth keyboard I surely could). The form factor and potential functionality of the iPad make it an ideal replacement for the corporate laptop or netbook that is used for little more than email and document collaboration. Only time will tell and history will determine if Apple is the true innovator for producing the first succesful tablet device or if Apple is merely the springboard from which other manufacturers will surpass Apple’s innovation with practical, useful, cost efficient tablet devices.
Hits
  • Overall size
  • Display size
  • Display quality
  • Usefulness
  • Variety of available apps
Misses
  • Apostrophe location on virtual keyboard
  • Need for a computer to activate through iTunes (update OS, etc.)
  • Need for a computer to subscribe to podcasts through iTunes even though it has its own iTunes app
  • Inability to automatically receive updates to subscribed podcasts via the included version of iTunes
  • Inability to put the cursor precisely where I want it
  • Disabling the external rotation lock in iOS 4.2
  • Lack of CF support with the camera connection kit
For those curious about the case seen in the photo, it is not what I carry my iPad in while it is handcuffed to my wrist, it is a RedHead pistol case.