Sunday, 31 August 2014

Photography Apps

As noted here before, and as you probably know for yourself, a modern day's smartphone camera does a pretty good job. Sure, it’s not as good as a proper camera, but unlike a proper camera it’s always there for you to use it.
Picture quality aside, I have two problems with the core concept of using my smartphone for proper photography: the lens being of fixed zoom, and the inability to manually control the camera’s settings – exposure, aperture and ISO. Into this gaping hole we have many apps coming to the rescue. Most do so by offering various filters, as if saying “if the picture’s not as good as you’d like it to be, we’re here to help you screw it up a bit further”. I don’t care much for those, but I would like to discuss a couple that do a good job.

First is HDR, a simple app that let’s you take a couple of photos of the same subject and merges them together. By selecting exposure on a light area in one of the photos and on a darker area in the other, the result is a photo that captures more detail than the default single shot. The iPhone already has HDR ability built in, but the HDR app does a better job at it, presumably through letting the user pick the dark and light areas.
The result can be quite nice:

The other app I’d like to praise is Photogene. Essentially, this is your Adobe Lightroom equivalent on the iPhone (I know that by now Adobe is actually offering Lightroom for iOS, but Adobe’s is a very heavy handed – and expensive – offering).
With a bit of tailoring, I find I am able to make my photos express much more of what I want to say in the first place. Check this before/after example out:

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Conversations with Israel

To celebrate the recently announced ceasefire between Gaza and Israel, here’s a brief outtake from a conversation I had a few days ago with an Israeli:
Israeli: I am very sad after hearing a four year old was killed [by mortar fire from Gaza, see here].
This blogger: You are aware that 400 other four year olds have already died in the conflict?
Israeli: Yes, but I can only relate to the one I see and feel.

There are plenty of ways to analyse the above. For example, one can point a finger at the role of Israeli media in this conflict. I will refrain from that and instead repeat what I have said her before: that I am very pessimistic about the chances of achieving peaceful long term resolution to this conflict.

Image by Toban Black, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Paradigm Shift

Decades ago, I have realised keeping things to myself may not be a good recipe for happiness. Since then I’ve been actively offloading things off my chest. Most notably, I have had this blog with which to share what’s on my mind for almost a decade now. Sharing I did, to the point of self harm through loss of sleep, family friction and rendering my brand significantly less attractive to prospective employers. Yet, in my opinion, sharing was worth the admission price.
Now, however, I have reached a point where the main topics on my mind, the issues I am grappling with, are subject matters that I consider off limits to public sharing. Such matters have always existed – you cannot find everything there is to know about me through my blog – but now, these matters weigh more than the shareable. Also worth noting: this new status quo is not expected to change in the short term.
What does this mean? It means that this blog is going to be a lot more like my Twitter account. It will deal with stuff that’s out there, in public discourse, albeit with the extra depth that’s available when one is not limited for length but is rather limited by time. It means this blog is going to turn less personal. And it also means that I am not going to post here as often as I did in the past.
I blog, therefore I am – no more.

Image by Alex Pang, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence

Monday, 18 August 2014

Game, Rediscovered

I had, and still have, some plans for posts in both this blog and my reviews blog.
Problem is, last week Good Game published its list of Best 100 Video Games as voted by the Australian Public That Bothered To Vote (you can download the episode for offline viewing here). In case you're wondering, Skyrim was the winner, but I don't care much for Skyrim: my main take was Mass Effect 3 reaching only as high as 18th spot while the generally inferior Mass Effect 2 out-took it and earnt 11th place. Clearly, the Australian Public That Bothered To Vote likes Mass Effect, but was bothered by certain aspects of Mass Effect 3. Most certainly, the ending.
Me, I wasn't that bothered by the ending. That is, I was and I am, but as a person who deals in software development I cannot see a way for BioWare to have practically developed an ending that answers to all the potential plot threads. In other words, for reasons to do with limited resources, they had to converge the ending threads into what the general public now acknowledges to be a rather disappointing ending, especially given all the buildup.
Being that I like to have my ears open to the public cries, I thought I'd see what the Mass Effect 2 fuss was all about. So I started playing that game, again. And I got caught in it, quite badly. Again.

You will therefore have to excuse me. Between all the various things I have to do, saving the galaxy (again) is at or near the top of my priority list. Sorry, but business has to come before pleasure.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Still Alive

This winter might have started late, but once it started it sure did. Start.
By this point in time I caught four to five colds, but it is the last one that moved me so much as to write this post. It has been so bad my head felt locked out of this world. Even a simple task, like emailing work to inform it with my absence, became a project: I found myself starting all sorts of applications but not the browser that I needed, and then typing the right URL proved a major challenge. And you know something is very wrong with yours truly when I can't even get a browser to work properly!
By now I am much better, thanks for asking, and obviously capable of staring into a computer screen (at least for a limited while). I am, however, still "weak as water", to quote Mrs Slocombe, and judging by what fellow citizens have been going through I might have to learn to live with it for a couple more weeks.
While I rejoice in getting better, allow me to point out the tragedy of the situation to you. As in, being home for around a week, on my own (during the work day), surrounded by books, comics, video games, music and computers - but totally unable to use any of them. If Shakespeare was half the playwright they say he is, he would have written a tragedy about modern day colds.

On another note altogether: I did spend some time thinking about the people of Gaza who were ordered to leave their houses in order to facilitate bombings. The thought of having to leave my house, feeling the way I was feeling, sure helped me realise how lucky I am to be living in a country like Australia.
It's just a pity Melbourne's winters are so bleak.

Friday, 8 August 2014

On a Roll

With the virtues of the toilet recently receiving well due promotion on these pages, I reckon it’s about time to discuss that most important of accessories that go along with it. The thing you will never want to get caught short of. Toilet paper.
Clearly one of humanity’s most important inventions, toilet paper is problematic nevertheless. You see, it is made of trees. And isn’t it a shame to chop down those mighty trees that took years to grow just so we could have something to wipe our arse with? I particularly resent toilet papers that feel as thick as a book; using them, which I end up doing with while visiting certain premises, makes me feel as if a library has been destroyed for the sake of my ass.
Which is exactly why we were into buying toilet paper made of recycled paper. Or so we thought, until this recent exposure on ABC’s wonderful and informative The Checkout opened our eyes. We checked out the fine letters on our toilet paper of choice and discovered, to our horror, that this green marketed product is made “with” recycled paper. Also, in contrast to The Checkout’s advice, it complies with the lesser PEFC certification. We wanted to wipe better.
Thus we went on a mission to the supermarkets we prefer to shop at, Costco and Aldi. And now I am here to tell you of our findings.

We found Costco to sell three types of toilet paper as well as three types of corresponding paper kitchen rolls. The cheapest, Kirkland home-branded ones, offer no environmental information. The next one in price has the PEFC emblem. At the top of the line, sporting the coveted FSC emblem, stands Kleenex together with a promise of including fast growing bamboo in their paper. Note the FSC standard Kleenex complies with is of the “Mix” level, which is the lowest of the three FSC available certifications. Yet it is the best on offer at Costco.
We bought the Kleenex toilet people and kitchen rolls from Costco, which means that we are now well prepared for the zombie apocalypse. The interesting note to make about the Kleenex toilet paper is that its rolls are much bigger than normal: they last and last. In other words, perhaps they are not as costly as they seem.

The Aldi story is similar to Costco’s. The toilet paper department offers two brands, Aldi’s own and Kleenex, both of which comply with FSC Mix. Nice of Aldi to display its German credentials there - there were no environmentally crappy papers to be found!
In the kitchen roll department, however, the two brands on offer at Aldi are both of PEFC compliance. However, I could not avoid noting the $1 Aldi tissue paper boxes sport the FSC Mix standard, too – wow!

So there you go. Good hunting on your environmental toilet paper quest. Let us know if you manage to locate something better than our FSC Mix.

Image by emdot, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A World with No Copyright

Attorney General Brandis and Communications Minister Turnbull are busying themselves playing good cop/bad cop over the media, but their end game is pretty clear: implement changes to Australian law so as to accommodate for the copyright monopoly’s wishlist. After all, the Liberals owe their souls to Murdoch.
In order to convey my thoughts on the ensuing debate, I will ask you to take part in a short thought experiment. Imagine closing your eyes. Think for a moment on how your life would change if, for some fantastic reason, copyright was to all of a sudden disappear out of our lives. Let's avoid nuances, such as whether this would mean others could sell your work as theirs, and concentrate on the core scenarios in which copyright affects our lives today.
Now pretend to open your eyes again. What did you see?

I will tell you what I saw: I saw nothing. That is, nothing in my life had changed because of copyright disappearing. I still read the same books, watch the same shows, and listen to the same music. I still get all of the above through exactly the same methods I am getting them now, in this real world of ours.
I strongly suspect your vision was similar to mine. The reason is simple: the vast majority of us does not care much for copyright; we just go on with our lives, doing what we can with what's available to us. When a friend gives us a copy of a recording, we do not stop to preach them; we take it. When we record a TV show on our PVR and watch it again and again, we do not stop to consider that the second time we watched that show we were pirating it; we just watch it.
I don't know about you, but I do not take the threats that copyright legislation imposes by law into account in my day to day life.
What can be concluded out of this thought experiment? That copyright does not matter to the majority of consumers, not in the least. What we truly care about is being able to access the media that we wish to consume, being able to do so comfortably, and being able to do so fairly at a cost we deem reasonable. Don’t need no copyright for that, just common sense.

Image by gaelx, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

Monday, 4 August 2014

Songs to Regress to

It's funny to see what I regress to in times of distress. Times such as this, when the world news are depressing, the news from Australia and the escapades of its current government are depressing, and some personal anguish adds fuel to the fire. In times such as this I tend to regress in this way and that, including my music listening habits. In times such as this I tend to go back to the stuff that really works.
I've rated all sorts of musical favourites on my blogs before: I answered the call of Triple J radio to nominate my ten best songs of all time;  I discussed some fine music picks from early 2014; and just the other week I chose my favourite album of the last year. In times of stress, however, things narrow down.
These are the songs I seem to be narrowing down to. The songs I find myself singing in the shower, the songs I dream of at night, the songs I pick to listen to when I can't think of anything else. Surely, these are the songs I truly like the most:

  1. Led Zeppelin - In My Time of Dying: Because Jimmy Page is a guitar genius. And he still is, at least judging by the linked performance from 2007.
  2. Led Zeppelin - When the Levee Breaks: Because of that John Bonham drum solo.
  3. Pink Floyd - Shine on You Crazy Diamond: Because I remember when I was young.
  4. Pink Floyd - Echoes: I actually prefer David Gilmour's performance, but never mind.
  5. Pink Floyd - Any Color You Like / Brain Damage / Eclipse: I regard the closing of Dark Side of the Moon to be a single long song.
  6. Dire Straits - Tunnel of Love: From the waltz at its beginning to the lyrics that take me all the way back, Mark Knopfler has a way of sweeping me.
  7. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Sir Psycho Sexy: It's not the very NSFW lyrics but rather the lingering riff at the end that always catches me off guard.
It's interesting to note the common themes with all of the above:
  1. The electric guitar rules,
  2. The songs are long, and
  3. Just as the Triple J Top 100 of all time list from 2009 featured no leading female throughout, neither does my regression list. Go figure.