Okay, 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.
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.
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!
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.
Okay, now "past" is a very relative term and given that the last Abbey Adventure workshop has taken place just about half a year ago, you might think that's no time at all - but given the fact that the new workshop season is in full swing already and that I have been spending most of that last half year to get everything ready and up to speed for 2010 (yes, that's twenty-ten), half a year feels like a very long time.
Which makes this video even more fun. It was entirely shot and edited by Ingo, one of the participants, and it just brought back a ton of great memories about a fun workshop group.
Oh, and sorry, there won't be an English language Abbey Adventure this year, and the German one is already sold out, but if you're interested in any of the other workshops, just follow this link.
Do photography and typograhy have more in common than the "ography"?
I remember back in high school I used to doodle my own fonts on checkered paper instead of paying attention to the math lessons. And not just individual letters, I drew entire alphabets. Numbers and special characters and all. Many of them were quite similar, rather geometric, and I distinctively remember trying to make them look well balanced and getting the distance between the individual letters right.
This all came back when I ran across an article on typographica.org titled Making Geometric Type Work.
I knew almost nothing about typography back in high school, and it was years later that I started to read up on the subject. However, what I did know was what I liked. And I tried to figure out why I liked things.
Typography is everywhere. Look around you, the world would be quite a different place if you removed all the written words from it.
Typography is about design as much as it is about helping to convey messages. If you talk to type designers, you'll hear them use words like balance, width, joins, alignment, spacing - the exact same terms that we photographers use in the context of image composition.
And yes, it isn't that much of a difference - actually learning about typography and other visual media will inevitably influence the way you compose your pictures. Mind you, not always in a conscious way. I often catch myself almost accidentally having applied some of these principles when I revisit my images later.
Having made these principles conscious while learning about typography has helped slip them into my subconscious without me even knowing it.
And when I notice the results, it makes me smile.
Do you have anything visual that influences your photography? Let me know in the comments.
Four hundred episodes of Tips from the Top Floor. That's over four years, and you ain't seen nothing yet. Tips from the Top Floor has evolved and changed and morphed over that time and has become what it is today. I thank each and everyone of you for listening to the show and for making it into what it is with your questions, your inputs, your support both with the donations and through your moral support. I couldn't wish for a better audience!
Questions (and answers) on this episode about filters (square or round?), cigarette roll paper (to clean lenses), manual focus (and how to make the most out of it), the truth about where Chris comes from (is he really Indian or Pakistani?), some thoughts about model releases (see the links below), breaking beer bottles in Utah (thanks Trucker Tom) and ways to earn money with your photography.
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.
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.
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!
Warning, this is another iPhone post. No photography here. Move along, nothing to see here...
Every year I reach the point where I need to start planning the workshop schedule for the next year. This usually takes place after summer. And every year I find myself trying to find an application that helps me do that. A simple year planner. One that allows me to see the entire year on one screen, and where I can define time blocks and move those around on a calendar. Preferably it integrates with the calendar on my Mac. Shouldn't be too hard to find, right?
This is the third year where I've spent hours to try and track down this software. I would happily pay for such a software. But no luck. I've looked into project management software. Too bulky or too expensive, not elegant enough, or simply too big and complex for my purposes. I've looked into calendaring software. None that offers me a decent or usable year overview. Or if they do show the entire year, they really only show you the year but they don't populate it with any of the calendar information.
The situation is even worse on the iPhone. The built-in Calendar app is nice, but if you want to get more serious, it's pretty much useless. Look at the month screen for example. Just a dot on the days that have entries, and the day overview hidden away in a tiny portion of the window on the bottom. This would be a perfect opportunity for app developers to come up with great calendars, but Apple has put the kibosh on that by not providing a calendar API. That's right, no iPhone app can directly interface with the iPhone's calendar data, so all of them have to be isolated applications.
Google Calendar to the rescue!
And that's where my recent research weekend where I found the solution to unfreeze my iPhone 3G 3.1 helped in a way.
Apparently Apple doesn't mind iPhone apps to sync with Google apps, and that's true for Google Calendar too. So there are quite a few iPhone calendaring apps out there that work just fine using Google Calendar.
And as I have already moved my calendar subscriptions over onto Google Calendar and as it's working flawlessly so far, why not go he whole hog and move my main calendar over there too?
So my next steps were to a) find a great iPhone app that syncs with Google Calendar and b) move my main calendar over to Google.
Twitter to the rescue!
What a great community! Just a few tweets later, and @stke was there with a great app tip: Pocket Informant. Thanks for helping trigger one of the biggest calendar reconfigurations I've done in a long while.
Admittedly, it doesn't really solve my year-view issue, and it isn't necessarily a planner, but it solves a host of other problems that I've been having with the built-in Calendar app and it throws in some new and awesome todo features on top.
Introducing Pocket Informant
Where its previous versions seems to have had some issues, version 1.1.0 of Pocket Informant is one of the best mobile calendars I have seen in a while. It's not for everyone, it will require some level of configuration, but when it comes to my personal preferences, I believe I have found a keeper here. It will happily run in its own little sandbox, but if you are ready to switch to Google Calendar and set Informant up to sync that to your iPhone, you will unleash its full potential by enabling iCal sync functionality, albeit indirectly through Google. This way you can see and edit the same data on both the iPhone, iCal, and even online in the Google Calendar web interface while you're away from your beloved gadgets.
Pocket Informant gives you an agenda, a day view, and a month overview. Nothing special so far, until you see everything in action. Where the iPhone's Calendar app does its job .. well, in a doing-its-job kind of way, this one is on steroids. What I haven not mentioned yet is the week view, and for that view alone I would have made the switch. Why? Simple: Apple's Calendar app doesn't offer that. And for the way I work with calendars, a good week view is essential. In the month view, Informant will even give you tiny little time bars on every day that show you which portions of your days are booked. You can even opt for small text entries. And these are just a few of the cool things it does.
Generally Pocket Informant is highly configurable. Actually it might be even too configurable for some. Luckily there's a free light version of the app to find out.
But what really blew me away is its todo integration. It allows you to keep a todo list GTD style. With projects, contexts and the whole thing. Or do you prefer the Franklin Covey style, giving you the active, in progress, overdue and due items? It can do that too. If a todo item has a due date, you can see it on the calendar. And if that isn't enough, get this: this is not an isolated solution. It syncs with the cloud, or more specific with the Toodledo service. All you'll need is to get a free account there and you're set. Even better, Toodledo itself lets you integrate your todo lists with other things, such as Twitter. When I'm in Twitter and I all of a sudden I think of something I'll need to do, I can just send off a direct message to @toodledo and it'll end up as a new todo in my list. In Pocket Informant. On my iPhone. I have also added Toodledo to my iCal, so now I can even see (but not edit) the todo directly in iCal on the Mac.
There is a free version of Pocket Informant [App Store link]. The full version [App Store link] isn't cheap (€ 10.49 as of writing this), but after working with it for a day, I can say it's worth every cent.
Just for disclosure: I'm not affiliated with these guys.
What's even more interesting: After I have moved my high-volume calendars to Google and now syncing my calendar(s) from Google back to the iPhone using Pocket Informant, I can all of a sudden use all of them again without running into the low memory issue that killed my iPhone experience since the upgrade to 3.1 - something that I believe has to do with how efficient this app manages its memory. And it has to do with the fact that the Apple Calendar app stays open in the background - something that only a few Apple apps are privileged to do - and thus permanently uses a lot of memory if you have a lot of calendar entries, while Pocket Informant doesn't run in the background and frees up the used memory once you leave the app.
Calendar alerts are provided by making use of the push notification feature. Or you can opt to use Google Calendar notifications via text message, web alert, and so forth. Or in my case, I have added my main Google Mail/Calendar to the iPhone as an Exchange account, which syncs the calendar entries of my main calendar (and only those) with the iPhone's Calendar app and therefore gives me the alerts this way. I know I know, things could be a bit easier, but this way works just fine for me.
Shake to sync
The app is pretty smart about how and when it syncs with Google Calendar and Toodledo, but if you want to force a sync, you can enable the shake to sync feature, something that I initially thought was just a gimmick, but that I have come to like quite a bit during testing of the app. I'll probably disable it though after the honeymoon is over and I go on to use the app as a simple every-day work-horse.
No, this isn't the year planner that I was hoping for. If you know an app for the iPhone or for the Mac that provides that in an elegant way, please please please let me know about it.
What it is though is a really powerful calendaring and productivity application that - used correctly - will put a lot of oomph at your fingertips.
Integrating it with Google Calendar and Toodledo allows me a lot of flexibility about how and where I use calendars and todos, and keeping that data in the cloud makes it much easier for me to access everything.
And using the pretty well integrated GTD part of Informant, I will probably stop using Things, which I sill love, which I think looks much nicer, but which simply isn't as fast and integrated as Pocket Informant is.
Here's my very short one-item wishlist for Pocket Informant:
Please think about year planning, if anyone can pull it off, it's you guys. I'd love to be your guinea pig! But whatever you change in the future, please don't sacrifice speed and integration.
Do you use an alternative calendar on the iPhone? Let me know in the comments!