My Blog and Soapbox

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

iOS 7 Icon Design: Will The Shoe Stretch?

SafariDesign is how it looks. Design is how it works. And design is how it feels. These three form a unit and it's very hard to look at them individually.

In the end, how something feels, will always be a function of the recipient. In my personal library I have music that calms me down and makes me happy. And I know there are people who get infuriated by this same music.

It's all about emotion. The trick is to make conscious what evokes that emotion.

Cultural and personal background will always play into our experiences. Whether we discuss questions of spacing between visual elements, or thickness of lines, or if harmonies and rhythms in music feel right or wrong, we will always have to consider those feelings with our enormous shared and individual baggage of life-long cultural and personal experience and conditioning as a backdrop.

I'm a musician. I'm a photographer. I'm a graphic designer.

I see so many analogies between these fields, it's not even funny.

Let's for a moment explore space and color. And harmony.

In music and photography, space is a very important concept. Where we put something in a frame, how it relates to the rest of the frame, how a note is placed in a song and how long the rests around it are, is an important factor in evoking a certain emotional reaction.

Subject
The Subject

Consider a clear and simple photograph: a uniform background, one subject.

You can place the subject bang in the middle, you can take it slightly off-center, or you can put it right next to the edge. Now look at the distance the subject has to the edge of the frame. Any one of those will evoke a different reaction in a viewer.

Ask any number of people how those pictures feel to them and you'll get any number of answers, from just perfect to cramped to boring to edgy. In the end it's highly individual and it comes down to the patterns in our brains that we match these pictures to. Patterns that have been etched into us for our entire lifetime through our every-day experiences with the design around us. And yes, taking a picture, placing things in a frame is an act of design, the same way a musical composition is.

Boring
Boring placement?

Edgy
Edgy placement?

Balanced
Balanced placement?

Moreedgy
Way too edgy?

What I'm trying to say is this: not everybody will be drawn to the same picture. But if I could venture a wild guess, I'd say the majority would go with the Balanced one above. It is probably the one of the bunch that is most mass-compatible. It more or less follows the good old rule of thirds, which puts a bit of tension into the composition without over-stretching things. It takes the subject out of the boring middle and places it in an area of the picture that is a bit more daring, but still feels safe enough and is not too far into the unkonwn, i.e. the edge.

The reason we feel that way has to do with tension. And what we perceive as tension is mainly due do what we're surrounded with every day. How far to the edge is safe? Open any book and check how close the print goes to the edge of the page.

Book
Air to breathe

There is always that safe zone that frames the text on the page. A handle to hold onto. Air to breathe. Enough space for the eye to stop at the end of the line and not fall into the void, off of the edge of the world.

Magazine
Magazine cover playing it safe

The same is true for a more conservative magazine cover. Space gives the subject a frame to comfortably sit in. It's like an old pair of shoes, it's comfy.

Tension
Edgy

And if you break that, if you venture too far into the unknown, you sacrifice balance, you take the safe rug that's under the feet of the viewer and tug at it.

This creates a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling of tension.

And the very same is true for the iOS 7 icons. They leave the seemingly safe harbor of previous designs and they become more edgy in the true sense of the word. The new grid emphasizes that. Be bold! Get closer to the unknown! Create more tension!

… all while staying in the confounds of a common framework, the grid.

Icon clock
Clock - pretty safe

Icon appstore
App Store - a bit more edgy

Icon store
iTunes Store - using the color scheme to mix it up even further

And if going closer to the edge wasn't enough, Apple also decided to get more edgy with their color scheme. And that is even more of a cultural pattern that we either know and click with, or that is foreign to us and thus creates tension. Simply because we don't have a reference ready at hand.

Let me give you an example: I'm German. The dashboard of most cars in Germany are black or grey. I travel a lot to the US. When I pick up a US rental car, what strikes me every single time is that its dashboard and most of the interior will be brown, beige or any other earthy tone. It strikes me because that's far outside of my normal experience. On the surface I could say I don't like it, but if I dig deeper, I have to admit that that feeling mostly derives from it being unknown and I'm simply not used to it and that creates tension. I haven't been exposed to it long enough for my brain to create the structures that turn it from an unknown into a potentially more comfortable known. But then even after having developed those neuronal pathways, I might still not like it for other reasons.

Just one potential reason: the color brown has very different connotations to different cultures - no matter if that's conscious or sub-conscious.

I prefer to turn the things that evoke these emotions into conscious ones.

The same is true with music by the way. When I listen to the title track of Some Skunk Funk by the Brecker Brothers (iTunes link), I experience waves of positive emotions. I find this music inspiring, it tickles me in very rewarding ways, it brings me a form of harmony. And I'm positive that the majority of people will hate it because it's too edgy, lacks harmony, is not balanced in their eyes and ears. It's clearly not mainstream.

Eurythmics
Eurythmics

And there were times when I would've thought exactly the same. Until I started to be exposed to more edgy music by others and expose myself more and more to it. Over time I started liking this type of music more and more, without losing my ability to also like There Must Be an Angel by the Eurythmics (iTunes link). I like to think that over time I've added neuronal pathways to my existing ones and gained the ability to enjoy a wider variety of music.

There are many more analogies I could draw between music, photography and graphic design but that would overburden this little blog post. Maybe I need to write a book one day.

Back to Apple and the iOS7 icons. What's with the grid that so many claim is too big? What's with the color scheme that so many don't seem to like?

I don't believe that these designs happened by accident, that they "slipped through". Not at a company that has one of the best design teams in the world and billions of cash in the bank. I bet an arm and a leg that they know really really well what they're doing in this respect, especially now that Jony Ive has the last word on both, hardware and UI design.

Here is my interpretation: the iPhone hardware is virtually invisible once you start interacting with the content on your device. And iOS has become very very comfy over the years. At this point it has also become the most copied design in this field. By shaking it up with a more playful, more colorful, less balanced and more edgy design, Apple achieves several things at once. It brings a freshness and lightness to the game that iOS hasn't had in a long time. It creates contrast between the subdued hardware and the user interface. It attracts a younger customer base (including those who are young at heart, ahem). It gives owners of existing iPhones the feeling of getting a new device for free, thus implicitly building trust.

And last but not least, it's a major kick in the bollocks of all the copycats, namely Samsung.

Apple has often taken a plunge, leaving old things behind, cutting ties to the past. Has it always worked? No. But usually when it has, it has worked really well.

iOS 7's new icons are a bit of a gamble. Will the new shoes fit? Not for everyone and not at first. But like a new pair of shoes, it will stretch over time, Apple will adapt things, and we ourselves will stretch a bit too. And at a point in the future not too far from today - and I'm actually willing to bet on this - the vast majority of us will look back at screenshots of the pre-7 iOS and wonder how we could have ever favored such an old-fashioned and dated design.

Either that or Apple is doomed.


ChrismarquardtChris Marquardt is a photographic mythbuster and the host of Tips from the Top Floor, the world's longest running photography show. He has taught photography all over the world. He is also a guest on the TWiT Network every now and then.


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Bravo, STARCAR. AUSNAHMSWEISE.

Umzug

Hallo STARCAR,

für den Umzug meines Studios habe ich für drei Tage einen Transporter bei dir gemietet. Bekommen habe ich einen Mercedes Vito XL, ein gutes, sauberes Gefährt, mit genügend Platz für meine Ansprüche. Und trotzdem überlege ich mir nun ernsthaft, nächstes mal doch lieber wieder zur Konkurrenz gehen.

Warum? Schauen wir uns das mal etwas genauer an.

The Good

Ich habe genau das erhalten, was ich gebucht habe. Auf der Website stand Mercedes Vito XL und genau den habe ich in deiner Hannoveraner Niederlassung auch erhalten. Bravo, STARCAR. Bei den anderen Vermietern steht in der Regel das Top-Fahrzeug der entsprechenden Klasse auf der Website und im Kleingedruckten findet man dann Fahrzeug ähnlich. Und vor Ort bekommt man dann ein ganz anderes Fahrzeug. (So eben erst in Irland geschehen. Bei der Konkurrenz einen Golf (oder ähnlich) gebucht und einen Opel Astra bekommen). Bei Dir steht das zwar auch so auf der Website, aber das Resultat war deutlich besser. Das war eine gute Erfahrung.

The Bad

Ich ärgere mich immer darüber, wenn Kosten nicht transparent aufgelistet werden. Dazu gehören in deinem Fall die Versicherung und eine (später zu erstattende) Kaution. Im konkreten Fall sind das für die drei Tage knapp 50 Euro Versicherung und eine Kaution von 50 Euro. Beim Online-Reservierungsprozess hast du mir davon natürlich nichts erzählt. Oder wenn, dann nur im Kleinstgedruckten. Beim Abschluss in deiner STARCAR-Filiale fand ich dann plötzlich beide auf der Rechnung. Nun bin ich weder blauäugig, noch ist dies das erste mal, dass ich ein Auto gemietet habe. Trotzdem wurde mir hier beim Buchen ein günstigeres Angebot vorgespielt. Und das ist so nicht in Ordnung. Dafür bekommst Du einen dicken Minuspunkt.

The Ugly

Kommen wir jetzt zum saftigsten Stück, dem eigentlichen Vorgang des Vertragsabschlusses. Und der hat bei mir einen ernsthaftes Grübeln und ein sehr gemischtes Gefühl hinterlassen.

Konkret: nach dem ich online reserviert hatte und keine Bestätigung kam, hatte ich telefonisch nachgefragt, ob das Fahrzeug verfügbar sei. Nachdem mir das zugesagt wurde, habe ich nicht länger auf eine schriftliche Bestätigung gewartet. Diese fand ich heute in meinem Spam-Ordner, was schade ist und von deiner Seite aus vermeidbar gewesen wäre. Sag doch bitte deiner Technik, sie sollen sich mal in die Themen DomainKeys und SPF einlesen.

Auf den folgenden (hier sinngemäß wiedergegebenen) Austausch mit deinem Mitarbeiter hätte ich jedenfalls gerne verzichtet.

Ich lege Führerschein, Pass und Kreditkarte vor.

STARCAR-Mitarbeiter: "Ich brauche dann noch ihren Personalausweis."

Ich: "Habe ich nicht dabei, geht auch was anderes?"

Er seufzt: "Ich brauche ein Dokument mit ihrem Wohnsitz."

Ich: "Warum das denn?"

Er: "Das brauchen wir. Ohne vermieten wir nicht." Dann seufzt er wieder und fügt hinzu: "AUSNAHMSWEISE geht auch ein Fahrzeugschein."

Ich: "Moment, hole ich kurz aus dem Auto."

Ich hole den Fahrzeugschein und lege ihm den vor.

Er: "Da steht aber keine Hannoveraner Adresse drauf."

Ich: "Ich bin mitten im Umzug. Mein Auto habe ich deshalb noch nicht umgemeldet."

Er (untermalt mit einem weiteren Seufzer): "Na ja, AUSNAHMSWEISE."

Moment mal, STARCAR. Ist dir eigentlich klar, wie sich der Kunde nach so etwas fühlt? Ich darf also eigentlich nur bei Dir mieten, wenn ich den Wohnsitz da habe, wo sich deine Niederlassung befindet? Und dann darf ich AUSNAHMSWEISE doch buchen, weil du so gnädig bist? Ich darf also dank der Güte deiner Mitarbeiter, und obwohl ich offensichtlich so viele Fehler gemacht habe und obwohl ich nicht da wohne, wo es dir passt, trotzdem mein Geld über deinen Tresen schieben? Und muss noch dankbar dafür sein?

Irgend was habe ich da wohl nicht verstanden. Eigentlich dachte ich, die Rollenverteilung sieht folgendermaßen aus: Ich bin Kunde. Du bist Dienstleister. Ich gebe dir Geld. Du vermietest mir dafür ein Auto. Du freust dich, dass ich bei dir miete und nicht zu Sixt gehe. Und du zeigst mir diese Freude z.B. in Form guter Behandlung und zuvorkommender Mitarbeiter, die mich wie einen Kunden behandeln und nicht wie einen Bittsteller.

Ohne mich gibt es dich nicht.
Ohne dich gehe ich zum nächsten Anbieter.
Ich habe Alternativen.

Die oben wiedergegebene Interaktion mit deinem Mitarbeiter hat bei mir jedenfalls einen dermaßen öden Geschmack hinterlassen, dass ich das nächste Mal wohl lieber wieder zu Hertz, Sixt oder einem anderen der Großen gehe. Da ist vielleicht auch nicht alles golden, aber so etwas wie bei dir ist mir dort in all den Jahren zumindest noch nicht passiert. Und teurer sind die anderen auch nicht.

Ach ja, und Danke Danke Danke (mit Kniefall und Kuss auf die Füße), dass ich meine 50 Euro Kaution wieder zurück bekommen habe.

Comments

Post, wo soll das nur mit Dir enden?!

Internetmarke Ab und zu lässt es sich nicht vermeiden, Briefe zu verschicken. Also solche aus Papier, auf die man eine Briefmarke kleben muss. Die älteren unter euch werden sich erinnern.

Als eloquenter und häufiger Nutzer der mir gebotenen Möglichkeiten der Onlinewelt frankiere ich schon länger meine Päckchen und Pakete zu Hause. Was ich bisher noch nicht versucht hatte: einen Brief online zu frankieren.

Dazu bietet die Post mittlerweile efiliale.de an - einen Service, über den sich die entsprechenden Marken in verschiedenen Größen und mit den dazugehörigen Codes generieren lassen, bequem zum selber ausdrucken.

Da ich das auch in Zukunft ab und zu machen möchte, habe ich mir dort jetzt ein Konto angelegt. Und weil dieser Vorgang so unglaublich reibungslos und völlig ohne Probleme vonstatten ging (sie spüren das Fünkchen Ironie, oder?), möchte hier mal eben darüber berichten.

Da der gesamte Vorgang von meinem Unterbewusstsein recht schnell in den Bereich verschoben wurde, der dem Verdrängen traumatischer Erlebnisse dient, bitte ich hier schon mal um Entschuldigung, falls ich das eine oder andere Detail nicht mehr exakt so hervorbringe, wie es geschehen ist. Ich schwöre aber, dass im Großen und Ganzen alles so passiert ist.

Hier die Schritte, die ich gehen wollte, und auch die, die ich nicht gehen wolle, aber gehen musste:

Schritt 1: Ich gehe auf efiliale.de und klicke auf Briefmarken selbst drucken, dann auf Anmelden und schließlich auf Ich bin Neukunde: jetzt registrieren.

So weit alles im Lot.

Schritt 2: Ich fülle das Formular aus: Vorname, Nachname, Adresse, Passwort (zwei mal), Geheimfrage für Passwort-Reset, Geheimantwort für Passwort-Reset, AGB-Box anhaken, usw. - ich klicke auf Weiter.

Schritt 3: Das Formular kommt weitgehend ausgefüllt wieder zurück, in roten Lettern begrüßt mich die Meldung Bitte korrigieren Sie die mit * gekennzeichneten Felder. Ich scrolle nach unten und sehe, dass die Geheimantwort wohl zu kurz ist. Aber mein erster Kanarienvogel hieß halt mal Flori… egal, ich suche eine andere Frage/Antwort aus und klicke auf Weiter.

Schritt 4: Das Formular kommt weitgehend ausgefüllt wieder zurück, in roten Lettern begrüßt mich die Meldung Bitte korrigieren Sie die mit * gekennzeichneten Felder. Ich scrolle nach unten und sehe, dass das Passwort und seine Kopie fehlen. Scheinbar wurden diese Felder im letzten Schritt gelöscht.

Ich seufze, fülle mein Passwort erneut aus und klicke auf Weiter.

Schritt 5: Etwas neues passiert! Das Formular kommt weitgehend ausgefüllt wieder zurück, in roten Lettern begrüßt mich die (diesmal neue!) Meldung Bitte überprüfen Sie die von uns korrigierte Adresse.

Aha! Das Formular hat möglicherweise einen Tippfehler in der Adresse bemerkt (Hinweis: da war keiner, höchstens ein Leerzeichen zu viel am Ende des Straßennamens). Ich bin not amused. At all. Ich seufze wieder und klicke auf Weiter.

Schritt 6: Das Formular kommt weitgehend ausgefüllt wieder zurück, in roten Lettern begrüßt mich die (wieder altbekannte) Meldung Bitte korrigieren Sie die mit * gekennzeichneten Felder.

Ja, richtig geraten: Das Passwort wurde wieder gelöscht.

Schritt 7: Ich wundere mich nicht mehr wirklich, warum es immer noch so viele Offliner gibt, denen der ganze Onlinequatsch zu kompliziert ist. Ich seufze laut genug, dass die neben mir schlafende Katze genervt aufsteht und den Raum verlässt, fülle mein Passwort erneut aus und klicke auf Weiter.

Schritt 8: Ich schriebe dieses Blog-Post.

Post, Post, Post, wo soll das in dieser modernen Welt nur mit Dir enden??!

Comments

Sicherheitsloch: Outbank schreibt Klartext-Passwort ins System-Log

Outbank LogoIch nutze Outbank auf dem Mac für einfaches Banking und war bisher immer ganz zufrieden damit.

Nach dem aktuellen Update und der damit neuen iCloud-Sync-Funktion, die ich gleich mal ausprobieren wollte, hat sich das Programm dann allerdings auf meinem System etwas fehlerhaft verhalten und hat sich auf meinem Mac Pro beim Beenden aufgehängt.

Wie es sich für einen Geek gehört, bin ich bei der Fehlersuche natürlich auch im Sylog gelandet, denn dort schreiben viele Programme Hinweise über das, was sie gerade tun oder in welche Fehlermeldungen sie sich verheddert haben. Zu finden ist dieses Log und viele andere über das Programm Console, bzw. im Dateisystem unter /var/log/system.log

Zu meiner Überraschung (eher zu meinem Horror) steht dort jetzt mehrfach im Klartext (ja, KLARTEXT!!) mein OutBank-Passwort. Einfach so. Also ob es das normalste der Welt wäre, Passwörter unverschlüsselt in Logfiles zu schreiben.

Bin ich falsch informiert, oder ist dieses Vorgehen ein absolutes No-No? Zumindest fühlt sich das für mich wie ein scheunentorgroßes Sicherheitsloch an. Die zentrale System-Log-Datei ist kein Platz für Passwörter, schon gar nicht im Klartext!

Bis das repariert ist, kann ich nur jedem raten: Finger weg von Outbank!

Firma Stoeger IT, bitte umgehend reparieren.

Update: kurz nach meinem ersten Tweet hat sich Stoeger IT per Twitter gemeldet:


Shot340

Es bleiben auf meiner Seite einige offenen Fragen: wie schnell kommt das Update? Was passiert mit den bereits in der system.log abgelegten Klartextpasswörtern? Wird das Update von Outbank die system.log "reinigen"? OSX komprimiert und sichert über einen bestimmten Zeitraum automatisch alte Stände der system.log, was passiert mit diesen Sicherungen, bleiben die Klartextpasswörter darin erhalten?

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What I've learned from the painful Simplenote outage. The cloud is great when it works...

SimplenoteIt's amazing when you put things in the cloud and they just work. My email is in the cloud, and it works. A lot of my documents are in the cloud, and it works. The hiccups – if there are any — are usually rather small. Maybe an outage for a few hours that is quick to recover.

A few years ago, I was looking for an online solution to put my notes on. You know, small notes, little todo lists, no formatting, just text-based stuff. The kind of stuff you would usually put on Post-it notes and stick them to your monitor. That was before Apple introduced iCloud and had their notes working in that ecosystem.

That's when I found Simplenote. It comes with an iOS client, it has a web interface, and there are several clients on the Mac that work really well. Sorry, make that used to work really well. My client of choice is nvalt, a fork of Notational Velocity, Super simple notes editing, super fast and simple search, exactly what I was looking for in a notes client. And you can set it to save your notes locally as text files, which makes it really easy to integrate them into your operating system. Now spotlight also finds them. Oh, and did I mention Dropbox sync? You get the picture. Life is awesome!

I was so impressed with it, that I quickly signed up for a paid account.

A couple of weeks ago things began to crumble. First a few hiccups when syncing, then things got progressively worse until finally the worst happened: Simplenote syncing broke. Okay, temporary move to the web interface, right? That should be fine. No, it's not - lots of notes are duplicated and things are still crazy and pretty much unusable, it's a huge mess. The Simplenote team claims, this is down to Amazon Web Services having an issue, and in the case of nvalt, there also seems to be the Google cloud component involved, that has issues on the server side too. When it rains it pours.

My communication with Simplenote's premium support (the one for paying customers) so far resulted in excuses. And I'm stuck. I can't use nvalt because sync is very choppy. I can't use the Simplenote web interface as that's broken for me too. I'm stuck because I relied on a service that used to be simple and reliable but has gone bad because .. well, why has it gone bad?

I'm not sure what to make of all of this. On the one hand, Simplenote is basically a free service and free services need to be financed some way. This is why I quickly signed up for the paid account. I figured that such a great service needs to be paid for, so it stays around as long as possible and with as high quality as possible. Unfortunately it seems, that the service was built on a pretty unstable foundation.

On the other hand, can we fault the Simplenote team for trying to run this service as cost-effective as possible?

I think we can. If you offer a service, even if it's a free one, there will be expectations and it's your job to manage those. Especially, if that service runs flawlessly for years. Great performance creates great expectations. I'm in a good position though. Having lived in this online world long enough and on both sides of the fence, as a customer and as a service provider, I know to manage my own expectations. Which is why I did pay for the service in the first place. Others won't have the experience that I have, so as soon as they start paying for a service, the picture changes. And their expectations will be higher than they should be.

I'm sure the Simplenote issues could have been avoided if the team had set everything up with the required redundancy. And as a paying customer who doesn't have an IT background, this would be my expectation.

What can we learn from this experience? By all means, build your own redundancy! Whenever there is a free online service, I need to make sure to have that data around in some other way. My Google docs get backed up locally once an hour (using CloudPull). I did set up Simplenote to synchronize its data with Dropbox. You need to have a safety net if you put things in the cloud. I even do a local backup of my Dropbox.

The cloud is great when it works, be prepared for when it doesn't.

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Little helper of the day: Keyboard Cleaner

There's one small tool (literally, it's 32kb in size) that I've had on my Mac laptops since day one, it's called Keyboard Cleaner.

Now, it won't actually clean your keyboard, but it will serve one important function, should you plan to do so: it will turn off all the keys, so you can clean away. The only key combination that's still active is CMD-Q with which you quit the app.

It's tiny, and it's brilliant, especially if you're on a laptop.

» Keyboard Cleaner
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PocketChris Light Meter is ready!

Incident Meter Icon It's here, it's here! The PocketChris Incident Light Meter iPhone App has been approved and is available at the App Store.

It'll let you use your camera and a grey card to do what you usually need an expensive incident light meter for: metering in difficult light situations. Like a pro. Check it out!

» PocketChris Incident Light Meter website

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One item per line into an iOS check list is easy

Here's a quick life hack that has saved me tons of time in the past.

Sometimes I do checklists. Mostly for shopping. I've been looking for a way to combine the ease of quickly writing things into a text file one item per line and a simple tapable checklist app.

All other iOS apps seem to require some form of physical interaction between entering line items. Either you'll have to press a + button between items or something similar.

Enter Paperless, an iOS app that is available as an ad-supported free lite version or ad-free paid version.

As far as I know, there's no other checklist app that can handle the copy-paste of line-item lists with such an ease.

Bonus: dictating a shopping list with Siri is also easy this way, you just go "milk new-line bread new-line sugar new-line…".

» download the free version here

PS: yes, I know and used Taskpaper, but it never really worked this easily when dictating items.

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Bye Bye Drobo - Welcome Synology

Drobo logoSynology logo

Bad blocks. On the disk in the Drobo. I've written about it here.

I'll make a long story short: after the incident I lost all trust in my Drobo and I replaced it with a Synology DS1512+. It's a different beast, it reads the S.M.A.R.T data and it has already protected me from one disk outage, as I experimentally put the bad disk in it that Drobo wouldn't recognize as bad. I received a prompt warning about the issues with the disk and the Synology Diskstation simply took it out of the loop. That's how I envisioned this to work.

It also seems that I'm not the only one who has retired their Drobo(s), Scott Kelby also did. Also seems that if you're high profile enough, Drobo's CEO will take personal care of you. For me it was a bit of a different story, guess my talking about my Drobo issues in public wasn't too much of a PR disaster for them.

Anyway, I'm off the Drobo and on the Synology and I am very (!) happy with my decision.

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Norman Creed

I've been spending time searching for music for a video, and it's always very hard to find a good fit. In the process of searching, I regularly come across great music that doesn't work with my videos, but that I'd still like to show around, so here is one I found remarkable:


At Sunrise by Norman Creed

Enjoy!
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What's going on at Adobe?

Lightroom4Logo Back in early March, when Adobe released Lightroom 4, they introduced a nasty bug that would kill people's custom tone curve adjustment after the upgrade from LR3. As I use tone curve adjustments all the time, this bug hit me especially hard, which is why I became very vocal about it very quickly.

It is now May, about two months after the initial Lightroom 4 release.

What has changed in those two months? Unfortunately not a lot. Has Adobe delivered an updated version that fixes the issue? Not really. Adobe acknowledged that the bug exists, they released Lightroom 4.1 RC1, a release candidate that apparently fixed the issue, then they released Lightroom 4.1 RC2, the second release candidate added new features (32bit HDR TIFF support, better color fringing controls).

The one thing that everybody expected from Adobe and that has not happened though: Adobe did not release an official 4.1 version yet. They had two months for it. Instead they decided to add new features. Also, over the last two months, photographers who paid for Lightroom 4 and wanted to use it for the new features, had to make do with half-tested pre-release software (yes, pre-release, that's what a "release candidate" is).

Not just that, but the first 4.1 release candidate introduced new bugs, including that publishing to Flickr doesn't work anymore (which, they claim, is fixed in RC2)

Adobe?! What is going on? Did you decide to abandon in-house quality assurance and instead rely entirely on end user beta testing? Is introducing new features more important than providing a stable and working version 4.1? This all leaves an uneasy aftertaste with me.

Adobe, when can your users who already paid for the software two months ago expect a working release?

Comments

When Disks Die - a story about backup and a misbehaving RAID system

Update: I'm now off the Drobo.

Update 2: Interesting how Scott Kelby also left Drobo behind and how their CEO reacted. Huge PR stunt…

I've had my share of disk failures over the years. And I've learned my lessons from them.

Those lessons are:

a) back up

b) back up

c) back up again and take it offsite

Or in short: if the data (substitute the RAW file, the business spreadsheet, the bitcoin wallet, ..), if that data doesn't exist three times and one of those three is somewhere far enough away, so it doesn't get fried in a fire, then said data is not safe. Trust me, I've been there.

Here's a look at my backup environment (sorry, this gets a bit techie for a moment):

In order to prevent the worst, I do a Time Machine backup to a 4-slot Drobo (2nd gen, connected via FW800), which by default runs once an hour. I then run a nightly mirror of the system drive to an external USB drive, just to be able to quickly recover from a crash on that drive. Then I have two 2TB USB drives that I use to back up my most critical data (pictures, business stuff), and I'm using CrashPlan for that. Both CrashPlan drives contain the same backup. One of those drives is always in my car, e.g. CrashPlan complains a bit about a missing drive, but backs up to the other without complaint. I'm willing to live with the complaining for the convenience and safety. Every couple of weeks I take the drive from the car, hook it up to the computer and take the other drive to the car. Over night the drive at the computer is updated to the latest status.

This way I'm protected from pretty much everything, including a fire at the studio.

So far so good. (knock on wood)

The only weak link is that the Drobo doesn't just hold backups, it also holds projects from the last 10 years. Multitrack hard disk recordings, mixes, masters, etc. - too much data to put on the external 2TB backup drives.

So these projects are the data that I would lose in case of a disaster at the studio.

Up to last week, my definition of disaster was something along the lines of fire, flood, airplane crashing into the building.. what was not within that definition was that Drobo wouldn't be able to notice bad blocks on one of the four drives.

Which is what I believe happened to me. At one point Drobo turned very very slow. It usually does that when the disks get close to being full. It's far from full, but it still is very very slow. And the 2nd gen Drobo isn't really fast to begin with.

So when it started to misbehave, I ran Disk Utility. Disk Utility found an error, tried to fix it and gave up after a while.

At that point I tried Disk Warrior, the last resort secret weapon for disk issues on the Mac. It has saved my butt several times, especially with HFS+ which seems to corrode after a while. Disk Warrior also gave up, telling me the disk had bad blocks. As Drobo presents the disk packages as one logical volume, Disk Warrior was unable to tell me which of the four disks was the bad one.

Imagine my panic, I didn't want to lose my project data, so the first thing I did was file a support request with Drobo. They asked me to send them a diagnostic file from Drobo Dashboard, which I sent to them. They examined it and then said it didn't show any hardware issues with any of the drives. No bad blocks.

Hmmmmm.. who's to believe? Drobo saying the drives are fine? Or Disk Warrior who says there are bad blocks on a drive? The symptoms of slowness are real.

Long story short, Disk Warrior support went the extra mile, even logged into my system to do some support magic, managed to run the software on Drobo without it giving up and gave me the opportunity to copy the files off the Drobo to yet another external drive which at that point I had gone out and acquired.

So here I am, at the end of a week of copying the most important files off my Drobo (4 x 2TB) onto an external USB drive (3TB).

Next step: take the drives out of the Drobo, and identify the drive that has the bad blocks, which should be easy to find, as it's noted in the S.M.A.R.T. info.

And *if* the bad blocks are in the S.M.A.R.T. data, then that's the point where Drobo will instantly turn useless to me, because it should've been able to identify the bad blocks and it failed. But we're not quite there yet, I still have to run the tests.

Let's find out if I'll have to find a better hardware solution. I'll keep you updated.

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Switching Lightroom 4 process version could turn into a lot of work for you

Update: Apparently this is by design and can't be avoided due to the changes between the processing versions. Wow, Lightroom 4 is really off to a less than stellar start if you ask me.

Article:

Doesn't anybody at Adobe work with custom tone curves? That's hard to believe. I have just found a second issue with them.

Issue #1:

Adobe released Lightroom 4 and they pretty much messed up the migration of tone curves when converting the catalog from Lightroom 3 to Lightroom 4. You can read all about it here, the story is still ongoing as of writing this.

I use custom tone curves a lot, so I filed the original bug report right after finding out about this issue.

This is why I'm now part of a group of people alpha testing a fix that should recover the lost tone curves after an upgrade and that will hopefully make it into the full version of Lightroom and into an update for those who already upgraded.

As far as I can tell, Adobe hasn't issued a warning about this to their existing user base and we can only hope that power users with tens of thousands of pictures (and potentially with as many tone curve adjustments) won't get too many nasty surprises due to the bug.

Here comes issue #2:

During testing of the alpha script, I noticed something else, that I find quite disconcerting: I know changing to the new process will change the appearance of pictures, which is why Adobe suggests an A/B preview, but when I had the tone curve open when switching a picture from process version 2010 to 2012, I noticed this:

custom tone curve change

The curve does keep its overall shape, but the quite elegant few points of the curve get replaced by a ton of individual points.

WHAT .. ON .. EARTH .. IS .. THIS?!

Doing a quick change to the mid tones, or to how the shadows are rendered is a simple fix with the original curve. The replacement curve is 100% useless for that.

The only way to make the curve usable again is to start over and re-create it from scratch.

If this is by design, then it means that those of us who use custom tone curves extensively (I'm one of them) won't be able to benefit from the 2012 process for any of their existing images unless they are ready to start from scratch on them. In that case I'd really like a word with the person who made that decision.

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No, I didn't order this concrete

Today I tried to pay for a train ticket online using my credit card. It was rejected. Of course I went online immediately to check my balance and the transactions, but nothing looked weird. So I called my bank to check what was wrong.

Creditcardcement 2
Twitter does have a sense of humor!

Long story short, I ended up on the phone with the credit card company's fraud department. Turns out their system found that me ordering several tons of concrete from a US company was implausible enough to not even let the transaction go through.

Instead they blocked the card and sent a new one my way.

On asking how my card number got into the wrong hands, they said it's pretty much futile to try to find out, likely cause would be a merchant being hacked and even then it's impossible to connect as these things can lie years in the past.

Oh well, let's hope those plausiblity detection systems do their job. And let's also hope that I'll never have to order concrete from a US company.


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Should you get Lightroom 4? For now I'd say: hands off.

tl;dr: the LR3 to LR4 update ate my tone curve adjustments for breakfast.

Update 05/02/2012: It's been almost two months and Adobe still hasn't officially updated Lightroom 4.0. Here are some of my thoughts on it.

Update 03/06/2012: Here is the bug report that I filed with Adobe. Please consider to +1 it on their site to help raise awareness of the issue.

Update 03/07/2012: Tom Hogarty, Lightroom Product Manager has posted the following update as a response to the bug report: "Thanks Chris. We've been investigating this issue throughout the day and hope to have an update soon. Thanks for your patience and all of the detail you've provided."

Update 03/11/2012: It's 4 days later and the bug report now has 55 +1's. Some of the commenters are starting to get really impatient.

Update 03/12/2012: I received a mail with a script and test instructions from Tom Hogarty. The script recovers lost tone curves and it mostly worked. It's just an alpha test version, so it still has a few side effects though. Adobe is on the right track with this, but they're not there yet. This still has to be tested more and then needs to make it into an update. I posted my findings in the bug report. 62 +1s now by the way.

Update 03/14/2012: Since Adobe provided the test script to some of those who had the issue (this includes me), there have been mixed messages on the bug report thread. It works for some, some have found other issues. It generally worked for me, even though I ran into another potential problem during testing the fix. This bug is also on the top of the list of Adobe's Lightroom 4 Hot Issues, so even though it's been eight days, there's still hope they will eventually fix it. Until then I'm staying on LR3 and I'm just a little annoyed that I paid for an update that so far is unusable to me.

Article:

I just updated from Lightroom 3.6 to Lightroom 4. The new features and the 50% price drop made it look like a no-brainer. I loved the product from the first beta of version 1. I even recorded two video workshops for Lightroom (in German).

If you've listened to Tips from the Top Floor or Happy Shooting, you know that Lightroom is the hub for my photography and you'd have to dangle quite a juicy carrot in front of me to make me give it up. Very juicy.

Unfortunately I have to report that after the update, Lightroom 4 seems to have eaten up all my tone curve adjustments and replaced them with some defaults.

Here's a picture in Lightroom 3, note its histogram:

Shot318

Now here's the same picture in Lightroom 4. The picture looks the same, the histogram doesn't:

Shot319

At first I was confused: the LR4 histogram implies a much brighter black point and a much lower overall contrast. Then I realized that the picture shown in LR4 and the histogram must be disconnected in some way.

Next I went back to LR3 and went into the develop module. Opening up the tone curve adjustment tool, it shows the tone curve that I gave the picture.

Shot320

I use tone curves a lot. I use them more than the other contrast management tools. I probably use tone curves on over 60% of my images.

Next I went to LR4 and opened the same picture in develop mode. This is not the tone curve that I originally gave my picture.Shot321

After a few seconds, the preview was updated to reflect the "new" tone curve. At least now the picture matches the histogram again…

NOTE: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 took the liberty to swap out the tone curve that I spent time creating to some sort of default tone curve.

NOTE 2: I did not enable the new 2012 processing, the picture is still on the 2010 process version.

For now I'll revert to LR3 and wait until they ironed out the issues. I'm filing a bug with Adobe as we speak.

Wait. Should you use LR4? "I never used tone curves, I shouldn't have a problem then" I hear you say. Well, if Adobe borked something as essential as the tone curves, that has an effect on my personal trust in the overall product.

I love the new features in Lightroom 4, I think the new processing is awesome and the map feature is the first one in a product that looks like I might actually use it. Books is a great addition too.

But I just don't think Lightroom 4 is quite ready with an issue this big under the hood.


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When things get touchingly nice and massively frustrating at the same time. *SIGH*

MG 3355I've got a challenge: I have several DTS 5.1 audio CDs. It's a format that isn't too common, but I have them and they have surround audio on them. Note: they are CDs, not DVDs. That's an important detail.

I want to make digital copies of the CDs onto my hard drive. On my Mac and that turns out to be by far not as easy as it seems.

My first idea was to create disk images. Disk Utility doesn't create images of audio CDs. Next try.

VLC was the next thing I went for. Partial success here, it can transcode the CD to 6-channel WAV, but VLC won't let me do individual tracks, or at least I haven't found out how to do it. My tries ended in VLC doing all the tacks and pipe them into a single file, overwriting it with the next track, then with the next track, to end up with one WAV file that contains the last track of the CD.

Also VLC apparently doesn't read the track names (which I assume are on the CD). Instead I get Track 1, Track 2, …

All it seems is that I need to find a a way to rip those CDs to 6-channel WAVs using VLC and being able to batch this somehow. I haven't found that way just yet. I'm using VLC 1.1.12 on Lion.

*SIGH* … I had that a lot in my former life as a sys admin. After having tried 100 things, it sucks to be told you should contact your sys admin.

So I asked on Twitter.

Which is probably the wrong place to go to for things like this in the first place. Everyone is very sweet and wants to help, so they google this for me despite me telling them that I've already done so. Problem is, they google based on my 140 character question or come back with assumptions based on that limited knowledge, while I've already done the googling with the knowledge what I'm looking for. And I know my Google abilities. I believe they are quite good.

So while I'm thankful for people trying to help me, I get incredibly frustrated because Twitter is the wrong medium. The only reason I'm still using it for this is because it is very fast and I don't want to wait for a few days until someone in a newsgroup or on a forum answers my question.

I guess I'll have to keep on searching...

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iTunes Match, Me Gusta

photo-1.JPG

I have used iTunes Match for a few days now, and it has quickly turned into one of the best things since sliced bread for me.

No more sync trouble, as everything is available on all devices, either to download or to stream*

The complexities of multiple-device sync and having to decide what to take with me on which of them turned into the main reason that I never ripped my entire CD collection (and there are several hundred of them, I'm *that* old ;)) - in the end maybe only 20% of my music was on my computers, distributed between several machines and iTunes libraries. Bit of a mess.

As a result of the new convenience I have now gone back to rip all the music that was still sitting on my shelves, I'm about halfway through my CDs (the picture above shows a small fraction of it) and every time I open the music app on my iPhone and see new/old stuff popping up, it makes me smile as I rediscover some great music I almost had forgotten about.

Thanks for making things quite a bit easier, Apple!

* quick note about the "streaming" part: apparently it's not really streaming. There seems to be a fine distinction between streaming and the "playback while download" implementation that Apple chose, possibly for political reasons. Factually it doesn't make a difference to me as an end user. What I particularly like is that even though if you play an album from the cloud, the first title takes a second to begin playing, the subsequent tracks are 100% seamless. Apparently it's implemented so that it starts downloading the next track if that is less than one minute away. This should pretty much guarantee continuous playback even on slower connections. I like that a lot!


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Do We Still Need Photoshop?

Psquestion

The Hoopla

With Creative Suite 5.5 Adobe is introducing a new subscription pricing model. For many professionals this is a welcome way to spread out the cost for the software over a year instead of having to do the big upfront payment for the software.

Customers can still buy individual products or product suites, but you will now also be able opt for a monthly plan. I will mainly look at what this means for photographers and Photoshop. But just as an example, instead of buying the Design Premium Suite for a retail price of $1899, if you commit for a yearly plan, you'll apparently get it for a "rental fee" of $95 per month or $1140 per year. Mind you, this is not a payment plan, so you won't own the software at the end of the year. Adobe is offering upgrade pricing for those who paid for a year though.

As mentioned, you can still buy the products, but as I understand it, as opposed to being able to upgrade from older versions (I believe you could skip up to two versions), with the new pricing model you can't skip versions anymore to get upgrade pricing.

And this seems to be the biggest rub for a lot of people. Enough of a rub that Adobe went ahead and closed (and apparently even removed) the comments on the blog entry where they announced the change.

International

International pricing of Adobe products has always been one of my pet peeves. In Germany and other European countries, prices for Adobe products are dramatically higher than the US prices, in some cases we Europeans get to pay more than a 100% premium for the same software.

Back in 2007 when I interviewed Adobe product manager John Nack I brought it up, but mainly got an evasive answer.

This might also explain why a lot of people on this side of the pond appear to use pirated versions of Adobe's products.

Skipping A Beat

Over the years a lot of photographers have become Photoshop users. Photoshop isn't the most intuitive product - I usually compare it to a huge toolbox full of tools but without a good instruction manual - but it is very powerful and many photographers have taken the effort to learn its intricacies, to adjust their workflow and to master it to a certain degree.

As I said, I'll mainly look at photographers in this article, but this might also be true for small agencies.

While Lightroom has pretty much taken over when it comes to 98% of my pictures, many photographers have spent years and year refining their Photoshop workflows, they have learned tricks and spent time learning from tutorials. The investment not only on the financial side is huge.

But for monetary reasons many individuals and agencies have also had to adopt a model where they would skip a version or two before they upgrade to a higher version. This possibility is now pretty much gone, so my guess is that the sentiment of many Photoshop users is that they are now expected to pay double or triple the amount they used to pay in the past.

What's Great

Not only is Photoshop a powerful tool, it has also created a massive ecosystem of books, trainings, tutorials, video classes and even entire user organizations.

Aside from that ecosystem, let's have a quick look at what makes Photoshop so great.

The thing that intimidates new users most is also one of Photoshop's greatest strengths. It is a collection of hundreds of powerful image manipulation and design tools and if you know how to use them, there is almost no limit to what you can do with it.

Layers, masks and layer modes let you do everything from complicated composites to things as simple as slapping a layer of text to an image. The mix of vectors and pixel graphics and the resulting flexibility is unsurpassed and I love being able to use smart objects to treat pixel graphics almost like vectors.

Profiles allow for a color-managed workflow in pretty much any color space you like and over the years many specialized tools have found their ways into Photoshop, from handling animations to stitching big panoramas to 3D and perspective work.

The plugin model is another part of that ecosystem, with a ton of add-ons available to do virtually anything you can imagine.

What's Troublesome

But its strengths can also be seen as weaknesses. Photoshop tries to be everything for everyone and its user base is so diverse that it is hard to find a common thread. Illustrators use it, it has its applications in the pre-press processes, it has even medical uses and of course there are the photographers.

Because Photoshop wants to be for everyone, it feels like a big piece of patchwork rather than an integrated application.

What I Use Photoshop For

The uses for Photoshop have become less and less over the last years, especially for photographers. One of the main reasons for that change are products like Lightroom or Aperture.

There are still a few areas where I tend to resort to Photoshop. These include simple illustrations that use layers and masks, adding text to images, more complex cloning operations, adding transparency and stitching images.

That's pretty much it. I do everything else in Lightroom.

So, Do We Need Photoshop?

I can only answer that question for myself, and it's pretty much a resounding no at this time. The few uses that Photoshop still has for me are easily covered in the CS4 version that I still own and there are a lot of great alternatives out there that cover a lot of Photoshop's bases.

What Are The Alternatives?

One of the strongest alternatives on the Mac platform at this point is Pixelmator. In its new 2.0 version it supports layers, layer masks, over 100 file formats, plenty of filters, and even some of Photoshop's "killer features" such as content-aware fill. For €23.99 it's a bargain. Is it a full Photoshop replacement? No, but it covers 95% of what I need as a professional. The one item it doesn't have and that's high on my wish list is 16 bit support, but for most of the things I use it, I can live with that. If that's a must for you, I suggest you have a look at PhotoLine. It's not as pretty, runs on Mac and Windows, and it supports 16 bits and more, for a mere €59.

As a Mac user I can cover most of the remaining 5% with the tools that Mac OS X already has on board and I'd be surprised if Windows didn't have similar things on offer. I use the ColorSync Utility to do color space conversions, which includes converting pictures to CMYK, so they are ready for a printing house. Preview, one of the Mac's most underestimated apps, lets me use any ICC profile to soft proof images. And Image Capture (the second most underestimated OS X app) serves as a great front-end to any scanner.

When I got my MacBook Air with its 128 GB SSD, I went through a long software list to decide what I needed on the road and what I could go without. Lightroom made it onto that list, Final Cut Pro X did, Scrivener too, and even Apple's 4 GB heavyweight XCode development environment.

The one thing that I left off the system was Photoshop.

That was half a year ago. So far I haven't really missed it.

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Minus is a Plus

NewImageThe other day I found out about minus, a new service that has set out to make sharing files really easy. It's free, it comes with apps for multiple platforms and it has a few of the standard social networks built in to share stuff on.
minus comes with a desktop application (Windows, Mac, Ubuntu), mobile apps for Android and iPhone (WP7 announced), Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox and a Chrome Web App. It looks like there is more to come.

The Mac desktop application links itself into the menu bar. It lets you drag and drop files onto it and you can define a hotkey for saving screenshots.

Being used to two gigabytes on other services, it surprised me to get 10 gigabytes of free space and no traffic limits. We'll have to see how it will hold up over time, but this sure looks interesting.

minus doesn't try to mimic Dropbox, as it won't sync. It's a plain upload-and-share type system with a social twist. minus creates an Atom feed per user, so you can subscribe to someone's shares in the feed reader of your choice.

I will give it a fair chance, maybe for pictures and for some collaboration, as I haven't really found that one place for file sharing just yet. And the pictures integration looks quite nice too, a folder is like an album that can have its own shortlink, I like the look how pictures are presented, especially using the lights out mode that dims the white background to dark grey.

Oh, and here's another nice thing they do. If you sign up using this link, we will both get an extra gigabyte.
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Why I quit facebook

Fblike Yes, I deleted my facebook account. Or at least I'm on the way to. They don't let you delete it right away, they tell you they'll deactivate it for two weeks, just in case you change your mind, we don't want to rush things, do we? And then if within those two weeks you don't log back in, they delete your account. I'm not sure what exactly they delete, if they'll leave pictures up or some other things I wrote, but to be honest, I don't really care. I just want to send a message out that I'm not on facebook anymore.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great people on facebook, a lot of my friends, a lot of my relatives, and so on. I didn't quit facebook because of them. The facebook platform has a lot of value for a lot of people, just not for me at this point. I quit facebook because I never actually used it. All I did was pipe my Twitter messages into facebook. And sometimes, maybe once or twice a month I actually logged in, just to find out that I had a ton of pokes, things on my wall that I didn't want, and a lot of friend requests from strangers.

The facebook concept of mutual friendship doesn't really work for me in the online world, facebook only lets me friend someone when they friend me back. It doesn't scale. Wait... "friend"?! Wrong on so many levels. Where I come from, a friend is someone I like to spend time with. A person that I'd be comfortable enough with to share personal things. I can't really deal with the concept of "friends" as a currency, and that's exactly what facebook does. He who has the most "friends" wins. I'm sorry, you could be the coolest person in the world, but if I don't really know you, why should I call you a friend?

My circle of real friends is small. Maybe a hand full of people who I would call actual real friends. I can ask them anything, I can tell them anything, I can share with them whatever I want. Friends. True friends.

The concept that other platforms use rings much more with me. On Twitter I follow someone because I'm interested in what that person has to say. They don't have to follow me back, they don't even have to know me. On Google+ the circles work in a similar way, with no real expectation of following someone back. If someone posts too much, I can remove them from my circles. If I post stuff that's too much or not relevant to other people, they are free to ignore what I do.

That just makes so much more sense to me.

And no, I haven't done this because Leo Laporte did it in the past. He deleted his account, but he's back on facebook now. I guess because with what he does, he just can't afford not to be there, but I don't have the feeling he particularly likes it. But I remember the feeling that I had when Leo pulled the plug a while ago. When he announced that he had deleted his account my first thought was "You @#$%!$%, doing what I wish I could do." I had wanted to do that for quite a while. And I didn't have the guts to do it back then. Lots of "friends" and connections, a network holding me back. But the simple fact is that I never really used that network. I had an account there because I had the feeling that I had to.

My life is a bit more clutter free now, I reduced my number of social networks to two: Twitter and Google+

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Lightroom-Workshop Teil 2

Der zweite Teil des Lightroom-Workshops auf Undsoversity steht kurz vor der Release!

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Himalayan mobile data: Chirpie wins

TibetiphoneThe next Himalayan Workshop is getting closer, a bit over one more month and we'll meet Jon and the new group of photographers and trekkers in Kathmandu, and not only does that mean I'm in the middle of shaping up a bit, it also means that I'm in the process of figuring out how to stay in touch while in Tibet.

Tibet is in China, and as you know there's the infamous Chinese Firewall that makes some forms of online communication rather tricky. Last year the most reliable way seems to have been via mobile data, so I've been looking into plans and options to at least be able to send out the odd tweet or email.

Only issue with mobile data is that, as you know, it's super expensive, especially if you try to use your plan on a different continent. The cheapest option for me seems to be a package that gives me 50MB for roughly 25 Euro. Each 100KB on top of that will cost me 0,79 EUR, that's 7,90 EUR per effing megabyte or 395 EUR for another 50MB. Believe me, you don't want me to elaborate on how I feel about the whole mobile data roaming cost issue, so I better not write about that here.

Long story short, in order to squeeze the last bit of usage out of those 50MB, and in order to not step into any financial traps, my iPhone will have to go on a serious diet, so here's the plan:

Switch off: First of all there are a lot of tiny little background processes (aka daemons) constantly running on an iPhone, and some of them use data. As a result I'll have to switch off everything that potentially might call home in the background, such as automatic mail checking, push notifications, calendar syncs, etc.

No really, SWITCH OFF: Simply switching those services off might do the trick, but having worked on Unix-based systems for over 20 years (and the iPhone is a Unix-based system), I don't really trust the peace. In fact, having my iPhone just sit there with push switched off and without it checking emails seems to use up some small trickle of data that might sum up to something bigger over time. Remember, 50MB is not really a lot in today's times where a single web page can very easily exceed one MB. So to be on the safe side, I'll have the iPhone in airplane mode whenever I don't use it to communicate.

Identify data sources: I have identified two must-haves and one nice-to-have. Sending tweets is on the must-have side, email for emergencies is too (I run a business and need to be able to communicate, even though I don't really plan to, it's just a safety net). Receiving tweets would be nice, but if data usage dictates it, I should be okay with the send-only option while we're in Tibet.

Counting bits: Important question: how reliable is the iPhone's built-in byte counter? I couldn't find a lot of good information about that other than Leo Laporte's story about it not being accurate (he had to pay quite a bit extra after a trip abroad) but it's the best option I have for now. Other options include apps that check on T-Mobile Germany's network, which means they'll cause more data usage and I don't even know how up-to-date their data is. So it's the iPhone's built-in counter and a bit of a safety margin for now I guess.

Twitter: Twitter's own iPhone client uses up too much data. Not only does it send tweets, it also reads them, updates several timelines, checks periodically. I don't have exact numbers, but a quick check shows that simply starting the Twitter app and letting it do its initial sync used up 76KB, and that's just starting it. Subsequent tests showed 91KB and 105KB on startup, and sometimes even more, which probably has to do with the length of the timelines it has to download.

mobile.twitter.com: Twitter has a mobile web page, which I thought might to the trick. It doesn't. Loading it uses up a whopping 458KB of traffic in my case. That's almost half a megabyte.

Birdhouse: Next I tested two Twitter clients that only send tweets, they won't use any data to receive tweets, they won't update any timelines, they'll use the Twitter API and send one tweet at a time. The first one is Birdhouse. It's a nice client because it lets me save tweets in a list, then send them out later. This functionality has by now been incorporated into the official Twitter client, so I don't use it that much anymore, but it's still nice to have around. Even though it only sends out data, it still uses up a little data every time it you start it, probably from checking connection to the server. The iPhone's built-in bit counter tells me Birdhouse uses up 15KB per start. Not too bad, we're getting somewhere here.

Chirpie: I was almost going to settle on Birdhouse, when @schlingel suggested Chirpie. It's also a tweet only client, it does one thing: it lets you send a tweet. And even though it didn't consistently clock in with the exact same data usage, I got it to start up with an average of about 6KB of data usage. I sent a tweet with almost 140 characters and the entire process clocked in at 17KB. If I didn't use any other data, this would allow me for about 3000 tweets. Guess that covers the Twitter side. Write-only for me, but anything that also reads will significantly inflate data usage, so I'll stick with it.

E-Mail: e-mail will be tougher. Even if I had an iPhone client that would allow me to only download the mail headers via POP3 (is there such a client?) that would be significantly more data and probably squeeze the life of that data plan. A quick fact check: the iOS mail app uses about 6KB to check my two mail accounts if there's no new mail. With new mail it seems to download the headers first. In a test case that I just did that ended up being about 35KB worth of data. Tapping on the mail then downloaded the rest of the mail (a Flickr status mail, HTML body, two small pictures that you can't disable on the iPhone) and that alone drove data usage up to 304KB. And that wasn't even a big mail and it didn't have any attachments. Half a megabyte for ONE mail.. that would allow me to read 100 mails on the 50MB plan. Or I wait until I'm near Wifi when we are back in Kathmandu. Guess I'll scratch mobile mail for now then.

Conclusion: I'm pretty glad that I used to be in system and network adminstration in one of my former lives and that I know a bit about Unix. Chances are I'll survive the trek on a 50MB international plan while still being able to keep everyone at home in the loop.

I still have a few open questions:

1.) Is there an iOS app that counts data usage more reliable than the counter that is built into the iPhone? (or is it reliable enough?)

2.) guess I have the Twitter side figure out, but do you have any suggestions with regards to very-low-data emailing?


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Workshops 2011: Hashtags und Kurzlinks

Du meldest Dich für einen Workshop an. Und dann?!

Wäre es nicht klasse, wenn Du mit anderen Workshopteilnehmern Kontakt aufnehmen könntest?

Aus Gründen der Privatsphäre verschicke ich normalerweise keine Adresslisten, aber es gibt ja noch andere Wege.

Wenn Du in den Social Media wie z.B. Twitter oder Facebook unterwegs bist, oder wenn Du bloggst, dann sind Hashtags und Kurzlinks eine gute Möglichkeit, mit anderen zu diskutieren.

Hier ist die offizielle Liste der Hashtags und Kurzlinks für die Workshops 2011:

5.-6. Feb, Hannover Spielzeugladen
#hsspielzeugladen1
http://tfttf.com/hannover22011

19.-20. Feb, Absolut Analog I
#absanalog2011a
http://tfttf.com/absolutanalog1

2.-3. Apr, Absolut Analog II
#absanalog2011b
http://tfttf.com/absolutanalog2

8.-10. Jul, Berlin
#hsberlin2011
http://tfttf.com/hsberlin2011

2.-3. Jul, Hannover Spielzeugladen II
#hsspielzeugladen2
http://tfttf.com/hannover72011

27.-30. Jul, Klostergeister
#klostergeister2011
http://tfttf.com/klostergeister2011

2.-4. Sep, Northeim
#lichtnortheim2011
http://tfttf.com/northeimlicht2011

10.-11. Sep, Absolut Analog III
#absanalog2011c
http://tfttf.com/absolutanalog3

Was ist ein Hashtag?

» zur Englischen Workshopliste

Comments

2011 Workshop Hash Tags and Short Links

You sign up for a workshop. And then what...?!

Wouldn't it be nice if you could connect with fellow workshop participants to discuss sharing a ride, what to bring, or just to know who else is coming? I usually don't send address lists for privacy reasons, but there's another way.

If you use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or if you blog, hashtags and short links are a great way to let others find your information.

Here is the offical hashtag and short link list for the 2011 workshops:

Apr/17-May/3, Tibet
#himalayanwkshp2011
http://tfttf.com/tibet2011

May/27-29, Berlin LIMITED
#berlinworkshop2011
http://tfttf.com/berlin2011

Aug/13-14, Washington DC
#dcworkshop2011
http://tfttf.com/dc2011

Aug/19-21, San Francisco, CA
#sfworkshop2011
http://tfttf.com/sf2011

Sep/23-25, Toronto, Canada
#torontoworkshop2011
http://tfttf.com/toronto2011

What is a hash tag?

» go to the German workshop list

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15 feet USB

I did some research, then got myself a long 5-meter/15-feet USB cable that has a USB amplifier built in. It allows me to take tethered pictures from my camera right into Lightroom. And it works no matter if I press the shutter button in Lightroom or on the camera. In both cases the picture ends up on the computer a few seconds later.

It's the ideal teaching tool along the lines of PocketChris! Instead of explaining and painting pictures of what happens when you do this or that with your camera, I can now simply take the shot and it'll show up on the monitor for all workshop participants to see.

Learning by seeing what happens. I like it. It's brilliant!

Not my idea though, I saw it first on Joe McNally's workshop in Dobbs Ferry last year.

Taking the 2011 workshops to the next level, step by step.
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Dirty little iPhone secret

Non-photography infrastructure time! I listened to the German Bits und so tech podcast the other day and they talked about apps automatically starting in the background when you boot your iPhone 4 - and potentially other multitasking iPhones.

Wait a minute.

I was under the assumption that only Apple stuff was starting up during an iPhone boot, such as the mail system, and various other daemons (that's how background processes are called in the unix world, and iOS is a unix-type operating system).

So I did a little testing using iStats, an iOS app that will give you a list of running processes.

Here are my findings - and they explain why even the very fast iPhone 4 tends to get a bit slower over time, depending on what you install:

Skype: starts up in the background automatically after reboot if it's been running at shut down time. If you kill Skype and then reboot, it won't automatically start.Pocket Informant: seems to start up in the background automatically as long as it's installed. Haven't found a way to keep it from doing that.Google Latitude: starts up in the background as long as you are logged in inside the app.


These were the processes that were obvious to me, I might have missed some though.

Fact is, there apparently is a mechanism for apps to automatically start up when you boot the iPhone. They then consume RAM and CPU without you being aware of it, which will result in some form of slowdown and battery drain.

On the one hand I am totally for making this device a black box, the user shouldn't have to know about processes, daemons, background execution and so forth. On the other hand I'm enough of a geek to want to know why my iPhone gets a bit sluggish from time to time.

It obviously makes sense for something like Skype to run in the background, so you can receive calls, but in case of Google Latitude I was under the assumption that if I didn't start it, it wouldn't run. Now I finally understand why Google keeps sending me emails reminding me that I've got Latitude running. They want to make sure this doesn't turn into some form of shitstorm.

I'm still a bit surprised that it took me so long to find out about this.
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Best app for writers. But the logo...

scrivenerlogo.pngI write. Articles, chapters for PocketChris, notes for podcasts. A lot of this writing needs to be managed, some chapters for PocketChris are in draft, some in review, some at the editor, some ready for testing. It has a tendency to turn into a real mess.

Things have been a lot easier since I found Scrivener. It helps me structure the work and it helps me track status. It helps me output my work into a clean format. It is not a word processor, it's a writing tool.

There's just one thing that keeps bugging me, one thing that I keep tripping over again and again, several times a day, and it happens while I'm not even using the application.

It's the icon.

Or rather a side-effect of it. It's not that I don't like it. This is about the way it interacts with the OSX dock.

The dock has been designed among other things to give you one important piece of information at a glance: if an application is running or not. For a while now, OSX has been doing that by placing a bright dot below the icon.

Here's the Lightroom icon with the app not running:

Dock.png

And here it is while Lightroom is on.

LR_on.png

Here is the Scrivener icon with the application not running:

Dock-1.png

And here it is with Scrivener running:

Dock-2.png

Do you see the difference? The reflection of the white dot/apostrophe/comma of the Scrivener icon almost looks like the dot OSX adds when the app is running. The placement of the reflection is almost exactly where the dot is. And it's bright enough that almost every time I look at the dock I do a double take to see if Scrivener is running or not.

It's a minor thing. It's small. It's really not important. Most people will never notice it.

It drives me nuts.

(I still love you Scrivener)

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My Mac Essentials

I'm just in the process of installing a new Mac and while I add my pack of essential software one by one, I thought I would use this place to keep some record in case I will do it again in the near future (unlikely, but you never know). And of course in the process I will share my Mac essentials with you too.

These are the ones that I can't live without and that need to go on all my Macs.

(Sorry, I'm in a bit of a hurry, no time to include links, but the Google is your friend)

Dropbox. It's a big enabler, especially with tons of applications now integrating with it. Apple should buy them and replace the technology behind iDisk with this. As opposed to Apple's iDisk, Dropbox simply works. Free.

1Password. Holds all my passwords, software license keys, credit card information. Syncs between different installations using Dropbox.

Textexpander. Big typing time saver. I type siggg and it expands this to my German email signature. I type sigge and it expands it to my English signature. I have a lot of snippets in there and it has enabled me to answer emails much faster without making the recipient feel I was rude or short with them.

Lightroom. Are you kidding me? Chris without Lightroom? No way.

CrashPlan. I'm cheap. I use the free CrashPlan software to do backups over the net in the background. For free. Warning: the free version automatically only backs up once every 24 hours. If you want more frequent automatic backups (I think even close to continuous) or if you want cloud backup, you'll have to get the paid version.

Google Chrome. I like it better than Safari. Also comes with its own flash plugin, so I won't have to download flash for Safari. In addition installed Flashblock (by ruzanow) extension in Chrome, so I have a bit more control over the flash content I see. Bye bye ads! Free.

iStat Menus. Yes, I admit it. I'm a geek. A quick glance to the menu bar and I'll see how full the hard drive is, how much memory is being used. Also replaces the menubar time/date display.

Notational Velocity. Syncs with Simplenote, which I use on iPhone and iPad. Super easy no fuss note taking application. Small, fast, rock solid sync. Plain text only. Also lets you access the notes in a web browser at Simplenoteapp.com. Free.

Skype. No-brainer. Video call, chat, free.

Evernote. Another no-brainer. Keep important information and clippings in the cloud. Not as fast as Simplenote, but better organization features. I use it to prepare tfttf, and the A BUNCH OF LINKS newsletter. Free.

Scrivener. Writing program. I use it to write on various projects, including PocketChris. In the just released version 2 it can sync selected notes with Simplenote. Writing long texts with one finger wouldn't be my first choice, but if I wanted to, I could now even work on my wriring on the iPhone while on the bus. They are working on a Windows version too.

YoruFukurou. Japanese Twitter client. UI is in English. You'll either like it or hate it. I happen to love it. Free.

MarsEdit. Blogging client. It's good to have all your blog posts in one place. Great for offline blogging.

Skitch. Need to quickly show someone a screenshot? Snap one, add an annotation, click a button and it's hosted online at a place of your choice, giving you back the URL for the picture. Free.

WhatSize. Tells you where exactly you are wasting the most space on your hard drives. Very handy for systems with smallish disks.

Applejack. Little command line utility that lets you do a quick disk check and some other OS maintenance from a single user mode command line. Has already once come in handy to fix a disk that didn't want to be fixed from within a regularly booted OSX. Free.

AJA Data Rate Calculator. A bit esoteric, but comes in handy if you produce audio or video. Give it your video codec, the bit rate of the audio stream and how long the recording is and it'll spit out how many gigabytes you will need. Free.


What are your essentials, no matter if Mac or Windows?
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Two days with the iPad

I know I know, I'm pretty late to the game, but hey, I'm in Germany and Apple decided to let us wait. I have spent two days with the iPad now, and I think that is enough time to form an opinion, so here it is.


You can't form an opinion from blog posts or from spending 30 minutes with the device! I spent about 30 minutes over the weekend to play with various people's iPads. It was fun. I liked it. Then on Tuesday my own iPad arrived and I have now had two days with it. Spending two days with one is definitely different from spending 30 minutes with it. I am looking at it with different eyes now. There are many little things that you can't grasp in a short time. Especially not if you stay at a level where you only compare features and leave out all the interaction details that make or break a device. Let's face it: the most complete feature set can be useless if the interaction with it is broken.


Flash? Didn't miss it in the past two days. Yes, I ran into the odd website that was 100% flash, but it was never something that couldn't be easily worked around. A lot of embedded videos (especially those from YouTube) are now HTML5 anyway, and those play just fine embedded into web sites.


Battery? The advertised 10 hours of battery life are pretty accurate. As with most Lithium Polymer batteries I expect things to become even better after a few charge/discharge cycles.


Weight? It is a bit heavier than I thought it would be, but after handling it for two days the weight is basically a non-issue. Reading in bed works, but not with holding it up above my head. Same as with a big book. Lying on my side with the screen locked is great.


How to hold it? The iPad is a new class of device. Yes, there were tablet computers in the past, but they were the size of laptops, none of them was ever this thin and had such a large screen. Which means we will have to come up new ways of holding it. When sitting down I tend to prefer the landscape orientation holding it with both hands, using my thumbs to interact. A lot of apps and games seem to follow this model quite well, so most of the time it's very convenient.


I can totally see the upcoming iPhone 4 with its super high-res display to take the "reading in bed" spot.


Which case? I don't have a case yet, but played with the Apple case on the weekend. I like the fact that it can easily be used to put the iPad on a flat surface at an angle in horizontal mode. I've been propping the iPad up exactly the same way here on my table and it felt very natural. I also like the flip-over cover, easy access is king.


Consumation or production device? The iPad is awesome to consume content. I like reading on it. I like watching videos on it. I don't really use it a lot to listen to music a lot. I downloaded some magazines (Spiegel, Popular Science, brand eins) and Zinio (a magazine store) to test the interaction model. Everyone is doing their own thing right now, and I guess it'll be a while until some sort of a standard emerges. Or maybe they don't want that to be different.


Production-wise I got Pages, Keynote and Numbers and I played with all three of them. Easy enough to manage, and I can totally see myself using them. Let's see what the next 6-hour train ride will bring. From a photography point of view I can see myself importing selected pictures on the road (I'm still waiting for the camera connection kit) and putting some touches on them right where I am to show a customer an idea or a concept. Or to do a quick upload to flickr. But then this is early days and I didn't really have the opportunity to put that side of the iPad to the test yet.


On-Screen Keyboard Usable. I touch type and as long as I can get the iPad into a comfortable position (see Apple case above) I can type quite well. Maybe at 50-70% of the speed I would get on a hardware keyboard. Good enough to answer emails or even write longer texts. Painting brush strokes into a picture during editing (for example with Filterstorm) is fun and easy.


Apps! The iPad would be nothing without its apps. Here's a small of mine: AirVideo (plays my video collection over the air), 1Password (stores and protects all your passwords and more), Outliner (does what it says, syncs with iPhone version, has a web interface too), Evernote (I love the iPad version), Osfoora (great Twitter client), Pinball HD (bye bye productivity..), GoodReader (get and read your docs from virtually anywhere), Photogene (image editor), Filterstorm (more control over local picture changes), Delivery Status (very useful and beautiful, Junecloud's design rocks), WolframAlpha (yey, big screen geekiness), Pulse News (a beautiful great approach to news reading).


There are probably more to come, but hey, I've only had it for two days...


Two apps I hope will be out as iPad versions very soon are Pocket Informant (calendaring, gtd-style todo management, etc.) and Reeder (Newsreader that syncs with Google Reader. I've briefly played with a beta on the weekend, it rocks!)


iPhone apps They work. Some of them scale up nicely, some of them are better used in their native resolution. Switching between the iPad keyboard and the iPhone keyboard on the same device is awkward. Many iPhone apps will upscale much nicer soon, as Apple has come up with some easier ways to make higher-resolution artwork available for developers even in standard iPhone apps. This is a side effect of the higher-res iPhone 4, but the apps will look much nicer on the iPad then too.


Games Yes, games. The iPad is a great gaming platform. Pinball HD is fast and fun, play Flight Control HD together with someone else on one iPad, and Mirror's Edge is exciting and really well done. Can't wait for all the great titles that will be released on the iPad!


My conclusion is this: The iPad is an awesome media consumption device, and it has a huge potential to become a production device as well. Not on the level of your Mac Pro, it doesn't have the horsepower for that, but that's not what it was made for anyway. It's all in the apps, we see that with Apple's own apps Pages, Keynote and Numbers. All three of them are capable and follow a new interaction model. We are already seeing a lot of promising apps that take advantage of the zippy hardware and bring with them a much more natural interaction model than it was ever possible with the mouse-screen disconnect. I'm happy with the iPad, and being able to say that after just two days, I know I will enjoy it even more as the platform evolves and new and well thought out apps come along. And looking at the simplicity of the just-point-your-finger-at-it interface, I know that the iPad will open up computing to a whole new range of people who up to now had all the reason to be afraid of computers, even of Macs.

Comments

I Heart Posterous

posterous.jpgOkay, so I record an MP3 for the Daily Photo Tips With Chris podcast using VR+ (my favorite voice recording app on the iPhone) and send it off via email to Posterous. I've done that for a long time and it has never failed me.


Normally what happens is that Posterous picks up the email, extracts the MP3, hosts it, adds it to the according blog and then my dptwc site picks it up from the RSS feed that Posterous automatically generates for me.


When I posted the last entry, it came up without the MP3 link in the RSS. On closer inspection I found that the entry on the Posterous site was not hosted by Posterous but by some third party and that Posterous didn't include the MP3 link.


My first assumption was that Posterous had changed their process without telling anyone, and I got quite frustrated to find out that the very service that I had built an entire podcast on was now broken for me.


Had I been aware of how wrong I was, I wouldn't have gone out on Buzz and Twitter and on this blog entry to talk about it.


AvirajPosterous was quick to react on Twitter and forward it to their dev team and I thank him for this, because it saved me a lot of embarrassment in the long run.


Turns out it was my own fault all along. The VR+ recording app can send out MP3s vie email, which is why I love it so much. One feature I never used was to send the MP3 as a link, in which case they upload it to their own VR+ servers and then send the link via email. I had accidentally enabled that feature and by doing that I broke the entire process.


All I can offer are my sincere apologies to Posterous, I should have done a much more thorough root cause analysis before I went out and made so much noise about this. I like the service that Posterous offers a lot, it enables me to do so much and I'm happy that they are around.


Note to self: Social media are a great way to generate buzz about things and the companies who get it and react fast are going to be the winners in the long run. Social media are also dangerous when it comes to spreading false information. Always (ALWAYS!) make sure you check and doublecheck the facts before you complain in public or it can backfire.

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Hardware Killer

macpro.png

For months and months all your gadgets work like a charm, then all of a sudden everything breaks at once. Ever happened to you?


It's pretty clearly my turn right now.


It all started with my trusty HP B9180 photo printer. It behaved nicely for about two years, then all of a sudden gave me a blank stare and a nasty SERVICE STALL message on its display. I tried Google and everything to find out if there was an easy way to reset something or clean a specific part that was causing this, but to no avail. No warranty of course. So I was really pleased to find out that HP has an out-of-warranty replacement program in place, where you get a refurbished or new machine for some €130,-, which is not too bad given the price of a new unit. The replacement printer arrived without any accessories, only a set of ink cartridges and a pack of paper for the print head alignment and color calibration. First I had to move the print heads from the old printer into the new one though.


Slightly unnerving fact: from the time I filled out the replacement form to the time the replacement arrived, the process took more than two weeks, which means some of the printhead nozzles were actually clogged now, because the printer wasn't able to do it's daily quick maintenance cycle. Bad process design HP, someone should've put a bit more thinking into this. Took me almost the entire set of inks, some manual nozzle cleaning and an additional 10 sheets of paper until the print results looked good again.


What I also found out in the process is that the B9180 seems to be discontinued now. Looks like HP is pulling out of the prosumer photo printing segment, and that's a pity because I really liked this printer and what that means is once this unit breaks, I'm out to find something else from a different manufacturer.


Next up: Mac Pro. My workhorse. My Precioussssss.. after almost three years of tugging along like a real worker bee, it died. Just like that. Click. Off. Turns out the power supply was gone. Which is a good thing compared to the bill a motherboard replacement would've come up to. Only €240,- in total. Plus 1.5 hours of driving time of course, because that's how far away the next official Apple partner repair shop is from here. A bargain!


Now they say that all good things come in threes.


What's next? Got a good guess? Leave a comment!


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Save The Daily Photo Tips!

Update Feb/25: It was all my fault. Read the latest blog entry for more details.


Posterous just lost a huge amount of its awesomeness for me.


I used it to receive my Daily Photo Tips With Chris MP3s via email, and bake them into an RSS feed that I could then read over at the Daily Photo Tips web site and create the feed from.


They have now decided to remove an important element from their RSS feeds, the media item which previously contained the link to the MP3 file. As a result all my RSS processing is dead and people cannot get the latest photo tip as a podcast anymore.


I'm pretty sure this change breaks a lot of things for a lot of people out there.


Can you recommend a good blog service that accepts MP3s via email and bakes them into an RSS feed with an actual link to the MP3? You could be the one who saves the Daily Photo Tips!


Leave your comments below.

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Who needs a camera profile?

It's pixel peeping time again. And today's question is: How accurate do the colors in our pictures have to be?

Compare the following two images and then tell me which of the two is more accurate.

Adobe-Standard-profile-neutral-WB.jpg

ColorChecker-profile-neutral-WB.jpg

Hard to tell, right? Both images are based on the same RAW file from a Canon 5D Mark II, managed in Lightroon, neutrally white-balanced using Lightroom's WB eyedropper on the middle grey patch in the lower of the two rows of grey patches in the color chart on the top. Both files were then exported to JPG with sRGB profile embedded. The only difference is that the top image uses the camera profile that Lightroom assigns to camera images by default ("Adobe Standard"), and the second image is based on a custom-built camera profile based on the ColorChecker card present in the image.

(Note: Lightroom's "Camera Profiles" are not the same as ICC profiles)

The differences between the two images are subtle indeed, the camera and the Adobe Standard profile that gets applied in Lightroom do a remarkably good job, especially with a custom white balance. In fact I'd happily use this outcome for all sorts of professional projects (and have actually done so in the past) - as long as the spectrum under which those pictures have been shot is at least somewhat daylight-ish. With daylight-ish I mean an as full as possible spectrum, one that you'd get outside in the shade at 3pm on a summer's day. Not one that you'd get from a yellow sodium light at the side of the road.

So the question is: why would anyone want to use a camera profile if the output is as good as it is?

Let's first take a look at what profiling does. Consider the color chart in the image below.

ColorChecker-profile-neutral-WB-2.jpg

In the lower half it shows four rows of color swatches, and all of these are very precisely manufactured to be of a very specific color. Whenever you take a picture, there is an analog process involved where photons hit light-sensitive cells that accumulate a charge based on the amount of photons, and are then read by circuits and converted to numbers. These numbers are then read by software, magically converted into other numbers and finally interpreted as colors and translated into brightness levels of individual red, green and blue pixels on a screen. Or converted into various amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink and squirted onto paper. It seems like a miracle that in the end we get to see our pictures at all.

But I guess you get the idea, it's a very complex process with quite a few areas of variability, and in order to make sure that we get consistent results, a profiling process can be of great value.

So back to the color swatches. The manufacturer knows pretty much exactly what color values the individual swatches have. If you shoot a picture, it's very likely that your camera and the attached software don't interpret the colors exactly the same way. Blue tones might be a bit more violet than you saw them, greens might be a bit less vivid and reds might be slightly over-pronounced. In an every-day snapshot type of situation this is no biggie, in the analog world, this is even the norm, because every film you choose will have different color and contrast characteristics, but we're in the digital world here and what if you want to get just that little bit more accurate?

Here's where the profiling software comes in. It looks at the picture, finds the swatches (that have been shot with your specific camera under specific light conditions and therefore look slightly different than expected) and it can easily tell that the blue in your picture is different from what it should be and the green is too bright and the red is too dark and so forth. Based on this information the software builds a profile, which in fact is just a lookup-table with mappings from wrong to right color.

All in all this used to be a tedious process that required a great deal of care, expensive software and hardware, and could only be afforded by the professionals who had to get color exactly right, for example in areas like product photography.

Enter ColorChecker Passport by x-rite. After reading up on it and receiving a few recommendations I've finally spent the 100 bucks for this little gadget, and I must say I pretty much instantly fell in love with it.

The chart comes in its little rugged plastic case, so the delicate color swatches are well protected, and it can be swiveled so you can set it down and it will stand by itself.

And if you are a Lightroom user, the process couldn't be easier. In fact this solution is built around Lightroom and RAW and it won't make much sense on its own.

All you have to do is install the software (make sure you download the latest version from their website) which adds an export plugin to Lightroom. Then during your photo session (which ideally takes place under consistent light conditions) you shoot a well-exposed reference picture of the ColorChecker chart and that's all you need to think of during shooting.

After importing your pictures into Lightroom find the one with the ColorChecker, and export it using the ColorChecker export preset. Within less than a minute the software will analyze the picture, find the ColorChecker automatically, create a new profile and prompt you to restart Lightroom to make it aware of the new profile.

Now all you do is switch to the develop mode, select the newly created profile from the Camera Calibration section and you're mostly set. For more accuracy you can also white-balance based on the grey swatches in the upper chart, the bottom middle one is neutral, the ones to the right create warmer tones, the ones to the left make the image slightly cooler.

Still sounds difficult, but after working with it for 5 minutes it was second nature.

This is the first camera profiling solution that I can envision using regularly because it's not only fast, it also almost seamlessly integrates into my existing Lightroom-based workflow.

Move your mouse over this picture to see the differences the profile can make:

ColorChecker comparison

Is the difference so big that I'll from now on use it everywhere I go? Absolutely not. It's great to get that extra bit of accuracy where it's needed, and it's definitely quick and simple enough for me to use, so it'll be more than just a paperweight (believe me, I have too many gadgets that I don't really use because they are either too complicated or because they don't add enough value to my photography). It'll clearly help me get better colors in some situations where the light spectrum is difficult, but on the other hand there are many light situations that I don't want to correct for, many of them for creative reasons, so that's where I will happily leave it in the camera bag or at home. And this is true for both my personal projects as well as customer projects.

Is it as accurate as the bigger and much more expensive systems? Probably not. I've never had the need to work with one of those, and with the type of photography I do, I doubt that I ever will. But under light sources with an uneven spectrum (fluorescents for example) it's clearly more accurate than just using the good old white balance and it renders very pleasing colors. It's a logical next step that is lightweight enough in its approach.

Is it for everyone? No. It only makes sense if your workflow is RAW + Lightroom. There it integrates nicely and takes a lot of pain out of the camera profiling process.

Will you be a better photographer if you use the ColorChecker Passport? Let me ask you this: Has buying that new lens made you a better photographer? How about that new camera body you got for yourself last Christmas?

In short: nope.

Photography is still about capturing wonderful moments, telling stories with your pictures and making an emotional impact.

And I would even go further and argue that getting more accurate and neutral colors in your pictures can do both, help the story and the emotion or be completely in the way of telling the story that you want to tell.

Try to imagine the following images perfectly color balanced - I bet you most of them would lose their impact right away.

_MG_1620.jpg _MG_2808.jpg _MG_3534.jpg _MG_3620.jpg _MG_6410.jpg 20090829_046-1.jpg 20100111_095-Edit.jpg CRW_6018.jpg IMG_9473.jpg
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Yubby: another enabling tool

Video is wonderful. It lets you develop this quick feeling for something, usually much quicker than reading through paragraphs of copy or listening to lengthy audio. And social video is even cooler, as it lets the producer get his video out to so many more people, and collect inputs and get social linkage, and sometimes... very rarely, one might even go viral.


The flood of video sharing sites also has its drawbacks of course, as you might eventually end up with quite some fragmentation as to where your videos are. I sure experience that. Some videos are on Youtube, some are on Vimeo or Blip.tv, just to name a few. And pulling those together into a coherent user experience has been pretty difficult in the past.


Has been.


Because now there is yubby, a free online service that lets you quickly and easily create a channel with videos from all types of sources, that you can then embed in a web page as a widget.


I have just done that. Thanks to its great search capabilities and somewhat consistent tagging of my videos, it took me about five minutes to pull together a channel of the videos that I (and others) produced at various workshops, and place it on my main workshop page.


Yubby lets you then choose one of several ways to present your videos, from a grid down to a small player, which is the one I opted for. I should actually even be able to embed it here. Let's try.




See? It's that easy.


» The widget in action on the workshop page

» yubby.com


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How to organize the 2010 workshops

workshops.jpgWorkshops, workshops, workshops... 2009 was such an exciting year in so many respects and I am very grateful for being able to do the things I do.


With Brooklyn Cookin', the workshop that I held together with Chef Mark, this year's season is now over, and what a great final workshop that was. Both Mark and I found that we'll have to do a workshop along the same lines again next year. The concept is perfect: the target audience is couples where one half is into cooking and the other half is into photography, and here they have a way to learn and spend time together.


Even though this year is over from a workshop perspective, it actually isn't. At least not for me. I am going to spend most of November preparing everything for a smooth 2010 launch. My goal is to have everything ready by December. And there are a lot of things to be worked on. Luckily most of my workshop locations are already nailed down, some helpers need to be briefed, and then there's the whole registration process. I have looked into offers in the cloud, but there is no workshop/seminar management system that even remotely seems to fit the bill.


All I need is to manage the registration process and payments for about ten workshops. Internationally. With deposits. And limited number of seats. For a decent price. And no, in an economy where everyone needs to think twice before spending anything, I consider taking 10% of the workshop fees *not* decent, because that would eventually increase the workshop price by that same amount.


So in short, I haven't found a good and easy way to automate this yet. Which is why I've taken things to the cloud in a different way for 2009 and why I'm going to go even further in 2010. In short: I'm using online services and forms to handle the sign-ups, I have simplified the confirmation and registration process using Services on Mac OSX Snow Leopard, I use PayPal to handle the bulk of the payments, and I use my own time to keep it all together. Not ideal, but workable. The KISS principle applies. Keep it simple, stupid. I don't need a full-fledged database to handle a couple of hundred participants. Every participant ends up in a spreadsheet with a status field depending on where in the registration process they currently are, and if I need to send out a bulk mail to all participants of an individual workshop, a simple copy/paste of the email address column for that workshop will do just fine.


The biggest item are the workshop pages on the web site. This is where everything is supposed to come together in a nice and easy to navigate way. I have spent hours and hours to design something that ties together everything from basic information about the workshop ("why would I want to come to this workshop?"), the agenda ("what are the workshop details?"), timing ("when does the workshop start and end?"), accommodation ("what hotel is near by?"), navigation ("how do I find my way to the workshop?") and pricing.


Obviously I design this once and duplicate it for all the workshops, but the content will be different for each workshop. The overview, the detail description, the example images, the example video, the FAQ. And the language.


So I guess I better get busy and finally start tying all those lose ends together to bring you not only an excellent 2010 workshop season, but also a great experience when it comes to finding the right one for your needs and going through the registration process.


If you want to be notified as soon as the 2010 workshops are ready, please make sure you are on the newsletter (get the newsletter here).


Got a way to help me simplify the registration process? Leave a comment!

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Making better content thanks to your vote!

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I've just found the solution! You can help me save a lot of time, which in turn will allow me to concentrate more on the production side of my shows instead of the planning side. And it's simple: all I need is the help of 94 of you clicking a vote button.

update: just one day later and 34 of you awesome individuals have already clicked. thanks!!

Okay, hear me out, my logic on this is impeccable, I'll just need a few sentences to explain.

If you've read this post about my new iPhone calendar app you know I've become a big fan of Pocket Informant on the iPhone. And you also know that I am still searching for an app to help me with year planning. Each year around this time I'm knee deep into planning next year's workshops. And each year I spend hours trying to find out if anyone has written an app that will help me doing that.

I have very simple needs:
- a view that shows me the entire year with my workshops as time blocks
- a fast and simple way to move around these workshops
- calendar data linked/synced with my existing calendar (currently Google cal)

There is no such application for the Mac. Or the iPhone.

So every year I fall back to a stone-age year spreadsheet and changing cell background colors to indicate events. This takes time. Lots of it. And this is valuable time that I can't use to bring you exciting episodes of TFTTF, HS, Daily Photo Tips and so forth.

Here is where you come in.

If you're a fan of any of these shows, or the workshops, you want to help me finally get such a year planner, right? (See? I told you my logic was impeccable!)

But this is not just for me, it's useful for everyone. Plan out vacations, keep track of your kids school projects. Name it.

So you can imagine how happy I was to find the Pocket Informant feature request list. If anyone can pull off that year planner feature, it's these guys with their mad coding skillz! The feature request list is powered by Uservoice and you can vote for features. Three votes per person and feature. 280 votes to get to the top of the request list and a chance to be looked into. 280 / 3 = 94 people.

Please help vote this feature request up to the top of the list!

Instructions


  1. Go to the log in page of the voting site

  2. Click the login provider of your choice (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, OpenID,...)

  3. Once logged in, enter "year planner" in the search box

  4. Click the vote button next to the "Year Planner" title and leave three votes.



Let's move it up to the top of the list!!
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Textexpander and YOURLS

shot106.jpgHere's another post that's not about photography. I promise, I'll stop talking about geeky infastructure as soon as finished testing my latest acquisition: a sensor loupe and a Sensor Klean .. errr.. sensor cleaner.

This post is about some more recent infrastructure changes though that I put the finishing touches on over the weekend. Did I mention last weekend I was super productive with both, fixing my iPhone and switching my calendar infrastructure? Oh, I have? Never mind.

I recently installed my own URL shortener. It helps me paste short links into Twitter or other short form communication, it lets me get some basic stats on these links, and in general I get a lot of fun out of dabbling with these sorts of things. If I can find the time for it. Luckily I didn't have to write my own solution, as there is YOURLS. And as I happened to own the tfttf.com domain, which is reasonably short, I thought "why not?" and went ahead. It works flawlessly.

The other tool that I wouldn't want to miss is Textexpander. It runs on the Mac and what it does is simple: it replaces short strings with longer ones as you type. So if I send out an email to someone in Germany, instead of copying/pasting the signature for that, I type siggg and Textexpander automatically replaces that with my full German email signature block. For the English signature I use sigge. To insert the current date I defined the shortcut ddate and so forth. A big time saver and totally transparent. Works system wide.

Textexpander can execute scripts too. And this is where the magic starts. It comes with a script to shorten URLs using bit.ly. All you do is copy a long URL into the clipboard (CMD-C) and then type /bitly at the place where you want the short URL to be pasted.

/bitly is the trigger for Textexpander to execute an Apple Script that takes whatever is in the clipboard, hand it to the bit.ly API for shortening and returns this to wherever the cursor was.

If you are as keyboard-focused as I am, this is bliss. (And believe me, I am keyboard-focused. I even use the jkhl keys in vi so I won't have to move over to the cursor keys and leave the 10-finger base position on the keyboard)

Long story short, I have adapted said AppleScript to run in conjunction with YOURLS and it works like a charm.

» download the script here (instructions inside)

And that's it. If you have YOURLS installed and use Textexpander, this ought to make your life quite a bit easier. It sure does that for me.

And please note: I'm not an Apple Script developer, this script is part of the Textexpander distribution (I hope I'm not gonna get into any trouble by posting it here in its modified form) and I merely adapted it ever so slightly for use with YOURLS. I will not be able to provide you with any scripting support whatsoever. Believe me, you really don't want me to give you scripting advice...

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Unfreezing the iPhone 3G 3.1

6071EECF-1336-43A3-8CDB-44E2626D7D11.jpgA warning upfront: if you came here for a photography article, this one's not for you. This is about the iPhone and a little odyssey that eventually lead me to solving all my iPhone 3.1 issues. Wall, almost all of them...

I love my iPhone 3G. I'm doing more and more with it, from emailing, stats checking, podcast recording (Daily Photo Tips is entirely produced on my iPhone), calendaring, checking my bank accounts, .. you name it. It has become so important to me that I have even started to use an iPhone case to protect it. And if you know me, you know that I've NEVER used a case on any of my phones before.

I'm still on the 3G, because my German T-Mobile plan ("1st generation plan") wouldn't allow me to early upgrade the phone without having to also upgrade to the next higher plan ("2nd gen") which for reasons that most Germans on the 1st-gen plan who use the MultiSIM option know is a pretty much no-go. But I digress.

Let's start at the beginning:

The update to 3.1 and what it broke

When I updated the iPhone to 3.1, all hell broke loose. Or rather the opposite. My iPhone came to a screeching halt. All of a sudden it wouldn't react for a minute right after a reboot. Or scrolling in a podcast list would be super jerky. Or flipping the home screen sideways would stop for 5 seconds before it would resume. Or the calendar app would try very hard to open but fail and return to the home screen. I could go on and on and on. I tried a lot of things, lots of detective work, but couldn't really piece it together. When I twittered about it, I received a note from someone who seems to work at Apple letting me know that it's not 3.1 being the problem but that iTunes 9 was buggy. Well, the iTunes 9.0.1 update came along and nothing really changed on my iPhone. Still the same lack of response to so many things.

What I found out early was that it was likely to be a memory issue. Using the iStat app I could see that the amount of free memory was pretty low. Usually in the 1MB range.

The other thing I noticed was that when I hooked up the iPhone to iTunes, the bars that show you how much of its capacity is filled with music, videos and apps, had changed. The usually very small orange-colored "other" portion was much bigger all of a sudden. At this point I still didn't have enough information to piece it together.

The phone call with Apple Care

So with my out-of-warranty phone I finally gave in and called Apple Care. Got a nice lady on the phone who couldn't really help me. I managed to talk her into letting me talk with a 2nd-tier engineer and from him I finally found out one crucial piece of information: the orange bar contains calendars and contacts. I probably could've found this information online, had I know what to search for.

The calendar and its "new and improved" broken behavior

Around the same time I started noticing that all my subscribed calendars were now being synced to the iPhone. This is new behavior in 3.1 and it only happens if you sync them via mobileme. If you sync via iTunes, you can make a choice which calendars to sync.

This is especially interesting as I am subscribed to some high-volume calendars, such as Leo Laporte's TWiT Live production calendar (I'm a guest on his Tech Guy radio show and this calendar is my main way to know if I'm on his recording schedule or not), and Twistory, which is my twitter history as calendar entries. This last one is really high volume depending on how much I tweet, but I've found it really valuable at times and don't want to miss it.

The epiphany (or: what needs to come together to break things)

Here is my root cause analysis, mixed in with a good portion of guesswork:


  1. Calendar entries and contacts obviously take up working memory on the iPhone. To be able to sync and fire off alarms at the right time, I assume the iPhone calendar reads all calendar entires into memory on startup.

  2. mobileme syncs all calendars to the iPhone, even the subscribed ones. With mobileme there is no way to select which calendars to sync and which to not sync.

  3. I have 596 conctacts in my address book. Some with pictures. Most likely another memory eater.

  4. I have a bunch of high-volume calendars subscribed in iCal.

  5. Disabling mobileme or even just disabling the calendar on the iPhone brings it back to life.



This would explain why only 3G users see the issues (the 3G has less memory than the 3GS) and then only some of them (who is crazy enough to have 596 contacts and god knows how many calendar entries in about 7 different calendars?)

The solution

I spent good portions of the last weekend on finding a solution. And thanks to Monika's just recently re-ignited love to sock knitting (a lovely cherry-cream-colored pattern emerges as I type this post), this has even still been a weekend in sweet harmony ;)

1. Find a way to not sync the high-volume calendars to the iPhone

The best solution was to use Google Calendar™ to help with this:

a) Dump the subscribed calendars from iCal
b) Instead subscribe to them in Google Calendar
c) Now add your Google account to iCal and enable the subscribed calendars in the delegation tab of the account settings

Voila! The subscribed calendars don't sync to the iPhone anymore, but you still have them in iCal.

2. Move everything to Google Calendar

I could have stopped here, the above solution already does the trick for me to speed up the iPhone, but - alas - I'm on another calendar-related quest, so I continued to do my research: The search for a better calendar that helps me with my workshop planning.

But that's a story for the next blog entry.

Got similar iPhone 3.1 experiences? Share them in the comments!
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The Geek Index

screenshot_01.jpgI love to keep an eye on my web sites and see how they're doing traffic-wise. I also like to have a look at the more geeky stats, such as how many of the visitors have JavaScript enabled, what screen resolutions do they use and what their choice of operating systems is.

One of the web sites that I host (and that Monika did a wonderful job putting together) is the Everest Trek 2010 web site.

I think the web browser that you use says a lot about you and your geekiness. That's why I call that browser overview my "Geek Index".


Now higher on that list doesn't mean more geeky, but there's something to be read from that chart.

Let me got through the top three individual browsers on that list and tell you my thoughts about them:

1. Safari - the Mac browser. What this chart doesn't say is that the Windows portion of these 48.93% is only a minor fraction. So I guess it's fair to assume that this part of the audience are mainly the podcast listeners, as that also still seems a little Mac-centric.

Are Mac users especially geeky? Yes and no. There are those who want the ease-of-use and the "it just works" thing, but then there are people like me who also love it for the fact that it's a Unix system that has all the important tools, scripting languages, terminals, process control etc. available, that I just need in my every-day life. The split between these two groups eludes me, but I'm sure there's at least some geekyness here.

By the way, I'm one of these Mac Safari users and I'm proud of it.

2. Firefox - the customizer's browser. Tons of add-ons, themes, extensions, plug-ins, name them whatever you like. I guess the most customizable browser on the market. It also managed to become the de-facto alternative to Internet Explorer.

Is it geeky? Sure, but again, I don't know the percentage of users who use it just to not have to use IE, and the users who use it because it allows this extreme level of customization.

As with Safari, it comes on both Windows and the Mac. In case of the Everest Trek website, Windows makes three quarters of the Firefox traffic, the Mac stays well behind here.

3. Internet Explorer - the Windows browser. This is interesting. Only 15%? On the one hand I would've expected a higher number, just because IE is still the market leader. On the other hand, the average podcast consumer is more likely to be a Mac user and IE doesn't have any relevance on the Mac. Or is it because I'm a geek and I attract other geeks, and IE is just almost by definition a non-geek browser?

I guess we'll never find out, but maybe you have an opinion? Let me know in the comments!
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Feeling the iTunes Love

itunes.jpgThere are a lot of different ways for listeners to get to podcasts. There are a lot of different podcatchers out there, the Zune platform is getting a bit more traction, but iTunes is still the most important distribution vehicle by far. So whenever a show gets featured in one of the more prominent listings on the iTunes store, the producer gets to feel it.

Yesterday I received an automated email from my web hoster, telling me that the traffic for the server that my shows reside on was above the hourly threshold. Nothing to worry about, just slightly over.

An hour later I received another automated mail telling me the same, and this kept going on for the rest of the day.

I know out of experience that there can be many possible reasons for something like that, including the possibility that my server was hacked and used as a relay for vast amounts of spam or as a file server for porn movies.

So I started to go through the log files and reports and tried to find the reason why all of a sudden there was such an interest in my server. But nothing looked totally out of the ordinary, email traffic looked alright, there wasn't an unusual amount of traffic on the two big shows (Tips from the Top Floor and Happy Shooting).

By the end of the day the amount of used bandwidth was about four times as high as it should've been for a regular Tuesday and I went to bed knowing that if things weren't back to normal in the morning I had to spend some time doing some deep digging today.

What I hadn't checked for was one of the more obvious things, and when I opened my email box this morning I found a mail from Jon Miller saying "Did you see that you're being highlighted on the front page of the US iTunes Podcast Directory?"

That's what happens when you produce a small little show (that would be my Daily Photo Tips) that sort of flies under the radar and doesn't get much exposure, just to be discovered by someone at Apple who likes it enough to put it up on their podcast directory home page.

I guess getting traffic warnings from your web hoster isn't always a bad sign...
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The infamous first post

DogNo, it's not easy to make a first blog post into something interesting. Not that I think it has to be. It's mainly a post to test all the integrations and here we truly have a HUGE amount of stuff going on behind the scenes.


First there is a blog over at Blogger, Google's blogging service. This is the source that keeps the blog posts and where I edit the posts. How do they end up here? The key is integration. Loghound is a small company who writes awesome RapidWeaver plugins. Oh, I have to explain first that this website is made using RapidWeaver, a website development system. Pretty nifty, and I like it a lot. Anyway, back to Loghound, so they made this little plugin called Rapidblog and this in turn allows me to seamlessly integrate a Blogger blog here on the site. There's a huge advantage doing it this way: I get all the convenience from Blogger (such as posting via e-mail, editing it via Marsedit, which I'm in fact doing right now) and the seamless integration into my personal web site.


Admittedly, I make myself dependent on Blogger, but a) the service has been around for a long time and Google isn't about to go away any time soon and b) if my personal web server goes down or gets hacked (which is more likely than Google's service going down) then I have a fallback, because I could simply send you over to the original Blogger blog, which doesn't look nearly as cool, but which does the trick.


But we're not finished yet with the integrating. Did I mention that I *LOVE* social media? Instead of using the Blogger commenting system, Rapidblog allows me to integrate with the Disqus commenting system which totally embraces the Web 2.0 social way of doing things. Post about this blog post on Twitter, Wordpress.com or many other sites and these comments will automatically show up as comments here. Speak of a great integration. And all that with setting up a couple of accounts and a few mouse clicks to integrate things. That's the way a-ha a-ha I like it...


Let me know what you think about all this. Scary? Way cool? Leave a comment!

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