Saturday, November 30, 2013

merry christmas from chitose

The Colonel dressed as Santa
I don't know why but Chitose near where I'm staying has Christmas fever. There's Christmas decorations everywhere, and Christmas music (carols and other seasonal American songs) are playing in the background. This Colonel, at a Japanese KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken to all you old timers) was dressed out in a Santa suit right near one of the entrances into the store. I would have eaten there except they were cash (Yen) only and wouldn't take plastic. I've since fixed the yen problem, finding out that the hotel will exchange dollars for yen at the rate of 97 yen to the dollar. Tomorrow I'm going to have my Japanese KFC meal.

Looking down from the ninth floor
I walked around the hotel a bit, exploring the nearer blocks, keeping the hotel in view to avoid getting lost. So far I'm remembering landmarks, so that I can begin to walk farther and farther on my explorations. This view from the ninth floor gives you an idea of the weather here; it's cold and snowy. I haven't seen snow on the ground in years. It's been cloudy since I've been here, and early this evening when I went out for supper I walked through snow snowers.


I've had a deep appreciation for Japanese car design, especially the more interesting designs. This Mitsubishi compact is a model not seen in the US (at least, I certainly haven't seen it). And there are models and entire car brands driving around Chitose I've never seen before. A lot of the vehicles have the same basic design as this Mitsubishi, a squared off vehicle devoted mostly to interior space, with just enough for the four wheels and a very small but efficient power plant. Front wheel drive can give you a lot of those design capabilities. It would appear from reading that all Japanese urban centers are dense, requiring an automotive solution similar to this. Not quite the same in the sprawling US urban centers, although those days are coming. Note that the Mitsubishi has four doors on the side as well as a hatch in back. I really like this car.


My wife will kill me, but I ate at a local Japanese McDonalds tonight. And spent real yen (finally). What's surprising about buying food here is the price: it's no more expensive buying in Chitose than in Orlando, Florida. The food, interestingly, tastes exactly the same. I would have thought there might be some small Japanese touches, but outside of the printing and the menu (it's definitely showing different items), it's no different than any McDonalds I've eaten at in the US and Canada. Except this one minor detail. When at this McDonalds, don't ask for diet Coke, ask for Coke Zero. A 'diet' drink causes some confusion.


The McDonalds is in a mall just down the street from the hotel. It's big and bright and colorful on the inside, a Japanese version of Toronto's former super store, Honest Eds. Honest Eds has gone the way of a lot of stores, but this mall will live on. One of the store-within-a-store sellers was this florist. Note the huge Christmas tree at the corner and all the ornaments, decorations, and themed floral arrangements. Christmas is Big in Japan.

blogging (nearly) naked in japan


So here I am in Chitose, Japan. This is the first time in my life I've ever traveled this far, although I've certainly had my fair share of air travel within CONUS. Even my few trips across the border to Canada and south into Mexico (back when Mexico wasn't nearly as dangerous as it is today, and well before 9/11) don't count.

Oddly enough this is the first time I've used my passport, the second update to a passport I originally obtained back in the mid-1990s for travel to Japan. I worked for Mitsubishi Wireless up in Lake Mary, Florida, and I was meant to travel to Japan on a business trip. But the trip never came about, and I left the company. Now, almost 20 years later, I'm using the passport for (almost) its intended reason, but for a far different company and set of circumstances.

Waiting in Houston to board a flight to Tokyo

My trip from Orlando to Chitose started around 6:30am Thursday morning, and didn't end until 10pm Friday Chitose time. The flight itself took a solid 24 hours across three individual flights, the longest being about 15 hours from Houston to Tokyo-Narita. That flight, fortunately, was on a Boeing 777-200. Even though I was in the back (no business class for this guy!), the seat was still roomy, and miracle of miracles, it wasn't a full flight; the seat next to me was empty. So I could stretch out a bit more than I would have if the seat was filled. The other two connecting flights were completely full 737 commuter flights.

I'd like to stop for a moment and observe how polite the Japanese are, almost to a fault. Not a single Japanese individual I've had direct interactions with so far have been impolite. One of the most intense interactions came at Narita where I transferred to Chitose.

Based on instructions with the tickets, I was under the impression my one checked piece of luggage would automatically be transferred from the Houston-to-Tokyo flight to the Tokyo-to-Chitose flight. Unfortunately for me it did not; I was required by the Japanese to pick up my one piece of checked baggage from the carousel and walk it through customs just like I had done with my carry on luggage. With a 3 1/2 hour layover in Narita I had more than enough time to do that. Instead, I went through customs with just my computer and overhead bag, and headed over to the gate to board the flight to Chitose.

About two hours later, a very polite Japanese voice called my name over the intercom to come up to the gate. It is interesting to hear the Japanese call your name. To give them credit, they did a better job at it than I usually have gotten right here in the US with native English speakers. At least they got the syllable break. That's when they informed me about my luggage, still sitting on the other side of the security barrier back at United Air.

And so, with a little more than an hour before the Chitose flight left, I had to leave the gate, go back through the security area, back through customs, pick up my piece of luggage, back through customs for a third time, then have it checked on the Chitose flight, then back through security again, and finally back down to the gate. All that time, apologizing to everyone I met for being an idiot. At no time did anyone become an obstacle to me. The Japanese officials I came across all seemed to understand what I needed and were most helpful. It took very little time to correct my mistake, and I was able to get to Chitose with all my luggage, which is a nice thing to happen.

"Please refrain from using your mobile phone"

After getting to my hotel, I went out for a Real Meal (I'd had two airline meals on the Houston to Tokyo run, and that was it). I wound up at a little place across from the hotel called Royal Host, a Japanese family restaurant chain, where I ordered a Japanese turkey and BLT, which tasted remarkably like an American turkey and BLT. Hey, it was late, and I was really tired.

They also ask you not to use your mobile phone, at least not for voice. There were lots of Japanese using there smart phones for every thing else. I noticed the "Please refrain..." notice on all the tables, and I noticed they were all printed in English, not Japanese. Which makes you wonder...


I also noticed I was in Japan, even at a restaurant that looked very American, by how the table was set out for me. For example, I've never had a napkin and silverware placed before me in a box. The drink portions, in this case a diet Coke, came in very small glasses. We Americans are far to fat because our portions are far to large. I've had several more meals since Royal Host and I've noted the small portions, including glasses of water.


What drives home that I've come to a different land was the packet of "French" mustard written in "Engrish." I point this out not to cause any embarrassment, but to show how vital clear communications are. In a perfect world, English would translate to Japanese and back to English again with no loss in understanding. It also shows how a Japanese illiterate, such as myself, is so dependent on any scraps of English. Back in the mid-1990s, when I was originally headed over here, I took a pair of Japanese language courses to become somewhat literate. But I never used it and I've just about lost everything, especially the ability to read some Japanese. Sounds like it's time for a few refresher courses when I get back home. I supposed to return to Tokyo next February.

Today, Saturday, has been my travel recovery day. I tried not to sleep at all today, but failed, and took a two hour nap mid-afternoon local time. Now I'm awake again. If you're wondering I started writing this early this morning local time.

Sunday starts a long thirteen day, 12 hour/day, work marathon. It should be interesting.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

day 2 with the olympus e-pl3

two seniors say hello

It's Thanksgiving week. I'm taking a few days of personal time before Thanksgiving Day because I'll be flying on business to Japan on Thursday. My wife and I are running around trying to get as much done as possible before I leave her alone with the two Labs and the three cats. She'll have our two daughters to come and visit as well as all her friends and our neighbors, but still, I worry. And because I worry I plan accordingly.

One trip was to our vet with Max and Lucy. Max needed his ears checked, and Lucy needed to have a minor operation checked to see if she was healing well. Both little guys came away with flying colors. Max in particular is happy because his ears are in great shape. Max is a Lab, and Labs are Hounds, and a Hound's ears are very important to them.

you don't smell like a puppy...

While we were in the waiting room for out turn with the vet, many little characters, large and small, came over to pay their respects to The Man. Max was very laid back with all the greetings. No barks or growls from any of the parties involved, just a lot of sniffing and tail wags.

very dirty paws that need a good bath
why yes, I'm doing quite good for 13 1/2
Max passed his exam with flying colors, and Lucy was showing pretty good progress. Max was most happy because he wasn't poked or prodded or shot. The only intrusion into any of his body canals was the quick look the vet took into both of his ears. After that Max was a happy camper.


I took both of the characters back out to the car. Lucy, in her carrier, went into the back seat. Max went out around the side to check things out and leave his calling cards for any other four-footed characters. After taking Max back to the car I went over and played a bit with the E-PL3 and the Lumix 20mm. I liked the ethereal lighting of this shot the most.

No post of mine would be quite complete without a downer comment concerning the economy. In this specific case, the one-week rise of gas in Orlando from $3.04 to $3.45. I have no idea what the problem is, but this rise in prices is the fastest I've ever seen. My wife says it's to take advantage of Thanksgiving travelers. That's as good a reason as any, and wouldn't surprise me if that were the real reason.

Technical

Taken with the Olympus E-PL3 and Lumix 20mm. I've set the camera up to shoot square (6:6), and created a custom color profile. My custom profile starts with muted (#4), then sets contrast to -2, sharpness -1, saturation -2, and gradation to high key. This gives me a visual effect similar to the light tone art filter (#4) on the E-M5. Oh, and I kept the warm tone on the white balance.

As I promised yesterday everything straight out of the camera. No cropping, no scaling.

Monday, November 25, 2013

can't get enough - olympus e-pl3

E-PL3, Lumix 14mm, and FL-FM1
Some men pass the time by chasing women. I did that and wound up married, and we all know how expensive that gets, especially when you add in some children. Some men pass the time with hobbies like fishing or golf, and wind up spending considerable sums on expensive boats, expensive fishing gear, or expensive golf equipment (some very expensive). Some men even have photography as a hobby, and we all know how expensive that can get.

I, on the other hand, with my limited budget, have a hobby collecting and using older cameras that have passed their prime (no pun intended). So I wait, usually several years, until all those former new hotness cameras become old and busted in the eyes of the market and they go on considerable markdown. The Olympus E-PL3 is one of those cameras.

Introduced the latter half of 2011, it was the last of the 12MP µ4:3rds cameras (the other two being the E-P3 and E-PM1). The next cameras to come out of the Olympus camera chute, in fact the very next camera, was the 16MP E-M5. And I have one of those.

I have this itch to collect still-new cameras in original packing that hit the $200 or less price point. The E-PL3 is the third such Olympus camera I've purchased like this, the other two being the E-PL1 ($140) and the E-PL2 ($200). I even purchased the Panasonic GX1 for $200. The E-PL3 is unique for two reasons:
  1. While I purchased all the other low-cost cameras body only, the E-PL3 came with the third generation 14-42mm kit lens, the II R. And the seller, Newegg, threw in a free Toshiba 8GB SDHC Class 10 flash card. How could I resist the E-PL3's siren call to my wallet?
  2. It's red. Very, very red. I like red. A lot. Much, much better than, say, yellow.
There are all sorts of oddments and perceived issues about this camera, and they're all pretty much true. I'd be concerned, except the low low price forgives all sins. I mean, if I wanted the perfect camera I'd get myself a perfect camera like the Nikon Df.

Kit zoom, 42mm
It took me no time to slap in a battery (it takes the BLS-1 and I have plenty of those), grab a cheap SDHC card, program the bits out I don't care about (such as the low-light focusing aid, an LED that shines annoyingly out of the front of the camera), and start clicking away like a tourist with a red compact camera.

Folks seem taken with the red camera. They certainly don't seem intimidated by a little red camera. So much for the commandment that thou shalt take thy street photographs with a black camera and have all the white bits taped up.

Kit zoom, 14mm
paparazzi cat - Lumix 14mm and FL-FM1 flash
The camera comes with a clip-on flash, the Olympus FL-FM1, the earlier version of the clip-on flash that ships with the E-M5, the FL-FM2. The FL-FM1 has a small push-in lock to help the flash stay clipped in place so it won't get knocked off. With the flash head popped down the E=PL3 looks a bit taller, but not nearly as tall if the VF-2 EVF were plugged in its place.

It's a fun camera, and it has a feature that makes it quite useful - the flippy LCD display on the back. It isn't a touch screen, but if there's anything the NEX 5N and the E-M5 have taught me, it's that a flippy display is something very nice indeed to have on the back of your camera. It makes it easy to hold at your waist, where nobody seems to notice that you're operating a camera. But then I'm sure when they spy my little Very Red camera, the thought immediately goes through their minds, "What self-respecting photographer does Artistic Street Photography with a Very Red camera?" Whom, indeed?

I will be rolling about the countryside with this camera, and I will be shooting fine JPEGs straight out of the camera. I need something light and light hearted that won't drive me to Lightroom and all the convoluted post processing "work flow" I've been chasing since 2009. I'd use my cell phone for that, but I can't stand the ergonomics nor the output of my Samsung S4. And I'm not all that crazy about the other giants of the cellphone camera field, especially the Apple iPhone.

I also refuse to review this camera. I did that with several of my earlier purchases, notably he E-P2 and GX1, and while it's fun, it also detracts from the real reason for owning any camera - to use the bloody things. There are too many reviews of cameras out there already, sucking the life and fun out of every one of them. If you want a formal review for this camera, you only have to google for them.

I'm out to have some fun. For the foreseeable future I intend to keep the 14mm stuck to the front of the E-PL3 and pretend it's a Ricoh GR. That's assuming Matthew doesn't burst my bubble.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

scroogled

You're looking at the cover of a short story written by Cory Doctorow in 2007. That's a good six years ago. Note the title of the story. I've known about "Scroogled" since 2009 when I first stumbled across it. So it's not like Microsoft or anyone associated with them came up with the term.

Lately, Microsoft has been selling merchandise, titled appropriately enough, Scroogled. You can get tees and ball caps and coffee mugs and other paraphernalia with Scroogled emblazoned across each item in the Google logo colors.

And everybody has been making fun of the Microsoft efforts, including, interestingly enough, Cory Doctorow via BoingBoing. But as Cory writes in his latest article on the subject:
It's a clever parody and Microsoft's point is actually a good one, but Microsoft doesn't have much moral high-ground here. The company's long history of dirty tricks against free and open source software, its role in patent trolling, and its eager cooperation with NSA surveillance and surveillance by the secret police in China -- see, for example, the creation of back-doors in Skype -- mean that Microsoft's positioning itself as a champion of digital ethics rings hollow.
I have to agree with Doctorow. Talk about a particular pot calling a particular kettle black. No, if you really want to read something truly chilling, then you should read Cory's story "Scroogled" from 2007. If this might-be from six years ago doesn't leave you chilled about how close the story is to the current state of the commercial surveillance system, then nothing will. It's our willingness to essentially ignore what Google and Amazon and Apple, and yes, even poor little Microsoft, have done with our Holy Metadata from our search and web surfing activities that underpins everything that the NSA has been and is doing today.

I think the answer to the question on the cover has already been answered. Google is, in various ways, controlling our life, because we allow it. After all, how bad can free really be?

Footnotes

Hate Google? Microsoft Has Some ‘SCROOGLED’ Goodies For You! -- http://www.digitaltrends.com/web/google-scroogled-merchandise-from-microsoft/

Microsoft video attacks Google's Chrome as surveillance technology -- http://boingboing.net/2013/11/23/microsoft-video-attacks-google.html

Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages -- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/11/microsoft-nsa-collaboration-user-data

Update

After going back and looking at Doctorow's story on Craphound, I've decided to copy the entire story here and clean it up a bit. Apparently, when Cory dropped a copy on his website, he just dropped a copy-and-paste version of it in plain text, which left broken sentences all over the place. I hate that. So, being the anal-retentive type I am I've copied the story here to give it a bit of a cleaning up, to make it easier to read.


"Scroogled", by Cory Doctorow

"Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him." Cardinal Richelieu
"We don't know enough about you." Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Greg landed at San Francisco International Airport at 8 p.m., but by the time he'd made it to the front of the customs line, it was after midnight. He'd emerged from first class, brown as a nut, unshaven, and loose-limbed after a month on the beach in Cabo (scuba diving three days a week, seducing French college girls the rest of the time). When he'd left the city a month before, he'd been a stoop-shouldered, potbellied wreck. Now he was a bronze god, drawing admiring glances from the stews at the front of the cabin.

Four hours later in the customs line, he'd slid from god back to man. His slight buzz had worn off, sweat ran down the crack of his ass, and his shoulders and neck were so tense his upper back felt like a tennis racket. The batteries on his iPod had long since died, leaving him with nothing to do except eavesdrop on the middle-age couple ahead of him.

"The marvels of modern technology," said the woman, shrugging at a nearby sign: Immigration Powered by Google.
"I thought that didn't start until next month?" The man was alternately wearing and holding a large sombrero.

Googling at the border. Christ. Greg had vested out of Google six months before, cashing in his options and "taking some me time" which turned out to be less rewarding than he'd expected. What he mostly did over the five months that followed was fix his friends' PCs, watch daytime TV, and gain 10 pounds, which he blamed on being at home instead of in the Googleplex, with its wellappointed 24-hour gym.

He should have seen it coming, of course. The U.S. government had lavished $15 billion on a program to fingerprint and photograph visitors at the border, and hadn't caught a single terrorist. Clearly, the public sector was not equipped to Do Search Right.

The DHS officer had bags under his eyes and squinted at his screen, prodding at his keyboard with sausage fingers. No wonder it was taking four hours to get out of the god damned airport. "Evening," Greg said, handing the man his sweaty passport. The officer grunted and swiped it, then stared at his screen, tapping. A lot. He had a little bit of dried food at the corner of his mouth and his tongue crept out and licked at it.

"Want to tell me about June 1998?" Greg looked up from his Departures. "I'm sorry?" "You posted a message to alt.burningman on June 17, 1998, about your plan to attend a festival. You asked, 'Are shrooms really such a bad idea?'" The interrogator in the secondary screening room was an older man, so skinny he looked like he'd been carved out of wood. His questions went a lot deeper than shrooms. "Tell me about your hobbies. Are you into model rocketry?" "What?" "Model rocketry." "No," Greg said, "No, I'm not." He sensed where this was going. The man made a note, did some clicking. "You see, I ask because I see a heavy spike in ads for rocketry supplies showing up alongside your search results and Google mail." Greg felt a spasm in his guts. "You're looking at my searches and e-mail?" He hadn't touched a keyboard in a month, but he knew what he put into that search bar was likely more revealing than what he told his shrink. "Sir, calm down, please. No, I'm not looking at your searches," the man said in a mocking whine. "That would be unconstitutional. We see only the ads that show up when you read your mail and do your searching. I have a brochure explaining it. I'll give it to you when we're through here."

"But the ads don't mean anything," Greg sputtered. "I get ads for Ann Coulter ring tones whenever I get e-mail from my friend in Coulter, Iowa!"
The man nodded. "I understand, sir.And that's just why I'm here talking to you. Why do you suppose model rocket ads show up so frequently?"
Greg racked his brain. "Okay, just do this. Search for 'coffee fanatics.'" He'd been very active in the group, helping them build out the site for their coffee-of-the-month subscription service. The blend they were going to launch with was called Jet Fuel. "Jet Fuel" and "Launch" that would probably make Google barf up some model rocket ads.

They were in the home stretch when the carved man found the Halloween photos. They were buried three screens deep in the search results for "Greg Lupinski." "It was a Gulf War themed party," he said. "In the Castro." "And you're dressed as...?" "A suicide bomber," he replied sheepishly. Just saying the words made him wince. "Come with me, Mr. Lupinski," the man said. By the time he was released, it was past 3 a.m. His suitcases stood forlornly by the baggage carousel. He picked them up and saw they had been opened and carelessly closed. Clothes stuck out from around the edges. When he returned home, he discovered that all of his fake pre-Columbian statues had been broken, and his brand-new white cotton Mexican shirt had an ominous boot print in the middle of it. His clothes no longer smelled of Mexico. They smelled like airport.

He wasn't going to sleep. No way. He needed to talk about this. There was only one person who would get it. Luckily, she was usually awake around this hour. Maya had started working at Google two years after Greg had. It was she who'd convinced him to go to Mexico after he cashed out: Anywhere, she'd said, that he could reboot his existence. Maya had two giant chocolate labs and a very, very patient girlfriend named Laurie who'd put up with anything except being dragged around Dolores Park at 6 a.m. by 350 pounds of drooling canine.

Maya reached for her Mace as Greg jogged toward her, then did a double take and threw her arms open, dropping the leashes and trapping them under her sneaker. "Where's the rest of you? Dude, you look hot!"

He hugged her back, suddenly conscious of the way he smelled after a night of invasive Googling. "Maya," he said, "what do you know about Google and the DHS?"
She stiffened as soon as he asked the question. One of the dogs began to whine. She looked around, then nodded up at the tennis courts. "Top of the light pole there; don't look," she said. "That's one of our muni WiFi access points. Wide-angle webcam. Face away from it when you talk."

In the grand scheme of things, it hadn't cost Google much to wire the city with webcams. Especially when measured against the ability to serve ads to people based on where they were sitting. Greg hadn't paid much attention when the cameras on all those access points went public there'd been a day's worth of blogstorm while people played with the new all-seeing toy, zooming in on various prostitute cruising areas, but after a while the excitement blew over.

Feeling silly, Greg mumbled, "You're joking." "Come with me," she said, turning away from the pole. The dogs weren't happy about cutting their walk short, and expressed their displeasure in the kitchen as Maya made coffee.

"We brokered a compromise with the DHS," she said, reaching for the milk. "They agreed to stop fishing through our search records, and we agreed to let them see what ads got displayed for users." Greg felt sick. "Why? Don't tell me Yahoo was doing it already..." "No, no. Well, yes. Sure. Yahoo was doing it. But that wasn't the reason Google went along. You know, Republicans hate Google. We're overwhelmingly registered Democratic, so we're doing what we can to make peace with them before they clobber us. This isn't P.I.I." Personally Identifying Information, the toxic smog of the information age "It's just metadata. So it's only slightly evil."

"Why all the intrigue, then?" Maya sighed and hugged the lab that was butting her knee with its huge head. "The spooks are like lice. They get everywhere. They show up at our meetings. It's like being in some Soviet ministry. And the security clearance we're divided into these two camps: the cleared and the suspect. We all know who isn't cleared, but no one knows why. I'm cleared. Lucky for me, being a dyke no longer disqualifies you. No cleared person would deign to eat lunch with an unclearable."

Greg felt very tired. "So I guess I'm lucky I got out of the airport alive. I might have ended up 'disappeared' if it had gone badly, huh?" Maya stared at him intently. He waited for an answer. "What?" "I'm about to tell you something, but you can't ever repeat it, okay?" "Um...you're not in a terrorist cell, are you? "Nothing so simple. Here's the deal: Airport DHS scrutiny is a gating function. It lets the spooks narrow down their search criteria. Once you get pulled aside for secondary at the border, you become a 'person of interest' and they never, ever let up. They'll scan webcams for your face and gait. Read your mail. Monitor your searches."

"I thought you said the courts wouldn't let them..." "The courts won't let them indiscriminately Google you. But after you're in the system, it becomes a selective search. All legal. And once they start Googling you, they always find something. All your data is fed into a big hopper that checks for 'suspicious patterns,' using deviation from statistical norms to nail you."

Greg felt like he was going to throw up. "How the hell did this happen? Google was a good place. 'Don't be evil,' right?" That was the corporate motto, and for Greg, it had been a huge part of why he'd taken his computer science Ph.D. from Stanford directly to Mountain View.

Maya replied with a hard-edged laugh. "Don't be evil? Come on, Greg. Our lobbying group is that same bunch of crypto-fascists that tried to Swift-Boat Kerry. We popped our evil cherry a long time ago."

They were quiet for a minute. "It started in China," she went on, finally. "Once we moved our servers onto the mainland, they went under Chinese jurisdiction." Greg sighed. He knew Google's reach all too well: Every time you visited a page with Google ads on it, or used Google maps or Google mail even if you sent mail to a Gmail account the company diligently collected your info. Recently, the site's search-optimization software had begun using the data to tailor Web searches to individual users. It proved to be a revolutionary tool for advertisers. An authoritarian government would have other purposes in mind.

"They were using us to build profiles of people," she went on. "When they had someone they wanted to arrest, they'd come to us and find a reason to bust them. There's hardly anything you can do on the Net that isn't illegal in China."

Greg shook his head. "Why did they have to put the servers in China?" "The government said they'd block us otherwise. And Yahoo was there." They both made faces. Somewhere along the way, employees at Google had become obsessed with Yahoo, more concerned with what the competition was doing than how their own company was performing. "So we did it. But a lot of us didn't like the idea."

Maya sipped her coffee and lowered her voice. One of her dogs sniffed insistently under Greg's chair.
"Almost immediately, the Chinese asked us to start censoring search results," Maya said. "Google agreed. The company line was hilarious: 'We're not doing evil we're giving consumers access to a better search tool! If we showed them search results they couldn't get to, that would just frustrate them. It would be a bad user experience.'"

"Now what?" Greg pushed a dog away from him. Maya looked hurt. "Now you're a person of interest, Greg. You're Googlestalked. Now you live your life with someone constantly looking over your shoulder. You know the mission statement, right? 'Organize the World's Information.' Everything. Give it five years, we'll know how many turds were in the bowl before you flushed. Combine that with automated suspicion of anyone who matches a statistical picture of a bad guy and you're "

"Scroogled." "Totally." She nodded. Maya took both labs down the hall to the bedroom. He heard a muffled argument with her girlfriend, and she came back alone. "I can fix this," she said in an urgent whisper. "After the Chinese started rounding up people, my podmates and I made it our 20 percent project to fuck with them." (Among Google's business innovations was a rule that required every employee to devote 20 percent of his or her time to highminded pet projects.) "We call it the Googlecleaner. It goes deep into the database and statistically normalizes you. Your searches, your Gmail histograms, your browsing patterns. All of it. Greg, I can Googleclean you. It's the only way."

"I don't want you to get into trouble." She shook her head. "I'm already doomed. Every day since I built the damn thing has been borrowed time now it's just a matter of waiting for someone to point out my expertise and history to the DHS and, oh, I don't know. Whatever it is they do to people like me in the war on abstract nouns."

Greg remembered the airport. The search. His shirt, the boot print in the middle of it. "Do it," he said. The Googlecleaner worked wonders. Greg could tell by the ads that popped up alongside his searches, ads clearly meant for someone else: Intelligent Design Facts, Online Seminary Degree, Terror Free Tomorrow, Porn Blocker Software, the Homosexual Agenda, Cheap Toby Keith Tickets. This was Maya's program at work. Clearly Google's new personalized search had him pegged as someone else entirely, a God-fearing right winger with a thing for hat acts.

Which was fine by him. Then he clicked on his address book, and found that half of his contacts were missing. His Gmail in-box was hollowed out like a termite-ridden stump. His Orkut profile, normalized. His calendar, family photos, bookmarks: all empty. He hadn't quite realized before how much of him had migrated onto the Web and worked its way into Google's server farms his entire online identity. Maya had scrubbed him to a high gloss; he'd become the invisible man.

Greg sleepily mashed the keys on the laptop next to his bed, bringing the screen to life. He squinted at the flashing toolbar clock: 4:13 a.m.! Christ, who was pounding on his door at this hour? He shouted, "Coming!" in a muzzy voice and pulled on a robe and slippers. He shuffled down the hallway, turning on lights as he went. At the door, he squinted through the peephole to find Maya staring glumly back at him.

He undid the chains and dead bolt and yanked the door open. Maya rushed in past him, followed by the dogs and her girlfriend. She was sheened in sweat, her usually combed hair clinging in clumps to her forehead. She rubbed at her eyes, which were red and lined. "Pack a bag," she croaked hoarsely. "What?" She took him by the shoulders. "Do it," she said. "Where do you want to...?" "Mexico, probably. Don't know yet. Pack, dammit." She pushed past him into his bedroom and started yanking open drawers. "Maya," he said sharply, "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on." She glared at him and pushed her hair away from her face. "The Googlecleaner lives. After I cleaned you, I shut it down and walked away. It was too dangerous to use anymore. But it's still set to send me e-mail confirmations whenever it runs. Someone's used it six times to scrub three very specific accounts all of which happen to belong to members of the Senate Commerce Committee up for reelection."

"Googlers are blackwashing senators?" "Not Googlers. This is coming from off-site. The IP block is registered in D.C. And the IPs are all used by Gmail users. Guess who the accounts belong to?" "You spied on Gmail accounts?" "Okay. Yes. I did look through their e-mail. Everyone does it, now and again, and for a lot worse reasons than I did. But check it out turns out all this activity is being directed by our lobbying
firm. Just doing their job, defending the company's interests." Greg felt his pulse beating in his temples. "We should tell someone." "It won't do any good. They know everything about us. They can see every search. Every e-mail.

Every time we've been caught on the webcams. Who is in our social network...did you know if you have 15 Orkut buddies, it's statistically certain that you're no more than three steps to someone who's contributed money to a 'terrorist' cause? Remember the airport? You'll be in for a lot more of that."

"Maya," Greg said, getting his bearings. "Isn't heading to Mexico overreacting? Just quit. We can do a start-up or something. This is crazy." "They came to see me today," she said. "Two of the political officers from DHS. They didn't leave for hours. And they asked me a lot of very heavy questions."

"About the Googlecleaner?" "About my friends and family. My search history. My personal history." "Jesus." "They were sending a message to me. They're watching every click and every search. It's time to go.

Time to get out of range." "There's a Google office in Mexico, you know." "We've got to go," she said, firmly. "Laurie, what do you think of this?" Greg asked. Laurie thumped the dogs between the shoulders. "My parents left East Germany in '65. They used to tell me about the Stasi. The secret police would put everything about you in your file, if you told an unpatriotic joke, whatever. Whether they meant it or not, what Google has created is no different."

"Greg, are you coming?" He looked at the dogs and shook his head. "I've got some pesos left over," he said. "You take them. Be careful, okay?" Maya looked like she was going to slug him. Softening, she gave him a ferocious hug. "Be careful, yourself," she whispered in his ear. They came for him a week later.At home, in the middle of the night, just as he'd imagined they would.

Two men arrived on his doorstep shortly after 2 a.m. One stood silently by the door. The other was a smiler, short and rumpled, in a sport coat with a stain on one lapel and a American flag on the other. "Greg Lupinski, we have reason to believe you're in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act," he said, by way of introduction. "Specifically, exceeding authorized access, and by means of such conduct having obtained information. Ten years for a first offense. Turns out that what you and your friend did to your Google records qualifies as a felony.And oh, what will come out in the trial...all the stuff you whitewashed out of your profile, for starters."

Greg had played this scene in his head for a week. He'd planned all kinds of brave things to say. It had given him something to do while he waited to hear from Maya. She never called. "I'd like to get in touch with a lawyer," is all he mustered. "You can do that," the small man said. "But maybe we can come to a better arrangement." Greg found his voice. "I'd like to see your badge," he stammered. The man's basset-hound face lit up as he let out a bemused chuckle. "Buddy, I'm not a cop," he replied. "I'm a consultant. Google hired me my firm represents their interests in Washington to build relationships. Of course, we wouldn't get the police involved without talking to you first. You're part of the family.Actually, there's an offer I'd like to make."

Greg turned to the coffeemaker, dumped the old filter. "I'll go to the press," he said. The man nodded as if thinking it over. "Well, sure. You could walk into the Chronicle's office in the morning and spill everything. They'd look for a confirming source. They won't find one. And when they try searching for it, we'll find them. So, buddy, why don't you hear me out, okay? I'm in the win-win business. I'm very good at it." He paused. "By the way, those are excellent beans, but you want to give them a little rinse first? Takes some of the bitterness out and brings up the oils. Here, pass me a colander?"

Greg watched as the man silently took off his jacket and hung it over a kitchen chair, then undid his cuffs and carefully rolled them up, slipping a cheap digital watch into his pocket. He poured the beans out of the grinder and into Greg's colander, and rinsed them in the sink.

He was a little pudgy and very pale, with the social grace of an electrical engineer. He seemed like a real Googler, actually, obsessed with the minutiae. He knew his way around a coffee grinder, too. "We're drafting a team for Building 49..." "There is no Building 49," Greg said automatically. "Of course," the guy said, flashing a tight smile. "There's no Building 49. But we're putting together a team to revamp the Googlecleaner. Maya's code wasn't very efficient, you know. It's full of bugs. We need an upgrade. You'd be the right guy, and it wouldn't matter what you knew if you were back inside."

"Unbelievable," Greg said, laughing. "If you think I'm going to help you smear political candidates in exchange for favors, you're crazier than I thought." "Greg," the man said, "we're not smearing anyone. We're just going to clean things up a bit. For some select people. You know what I mean? Everyone's Google profile is a little scary under close inspection. Close inspection is the order of the day in politics. Standing for office is like a public colonoscopy." He loaded the cafetière and depressed the plunger, his face screwed up in solemn concentration. Greg retrieved two coffee cups Google mugs, of course and passed them over.

"We're going to do for our friends what Maya did for you. Just a little cleanup. All we want to do is
preserve their privacy. That's all." Greg sipped his coffee. "What happens to the candidates you don't clean?" "Yeah," the guy said, flashing Greg a weak grin. "Yeah, you're right. It'll be kind of tough for them."

He searched the inside pocket of his jacket and produced several folded sheets of paper. He smoothed out the pages and put them on the table. "Here's one of the good guys who needs our help." It was a printout of a search history belonging to a candidate whose campaign Greg had contributed to in the past three elections.

"Fella gets back to his hotel room after a brutal day of campaigning door to door, fires up his laptop, and types 'hot asses' into his search bar. Big deal, right? The way we see it, for that to disqualify a good man from continuing to serve his country is just un-American."

Greg nodded slowly. "So you'll help the guy out?" the man asked. "Yes." "Good. There's one more thing. We need you to help us find Maya. She didn't understand our goals at all, and now she seems to have flown the coop. Once she hears us out, I have no doubt she'll come around." He glanced at the candidate's search history. "I guess she might," Greg replied. The new Congress took 11 working days to pass the Securing and Enumerating America's Communications and Hypertext Act, which authorized the DHS and NSA to outsource up to 80 percent of intelligence and analysis work to private contractors. Theoretically, the contracts were open to competitive bidding, but within the secure confines of Google's Building 49, there was no question of who would win. If Google had spent $15 billion on a program to catch bad guys at the border, you can bet they would have caught them; governments just aren't equipped to Do Search Right.

The next morning Greg scrutinized himself carefully as he shaved (the security minders didn't like hacker stubble and weren't shy about telling him so), realizing that today was his first day as a de facto intelligence agent for the U.S. government. How bad would it be? Wasn't it better to have Google doing this stuff than some ham-fisted DHS desk jockey?

By the time he parked at the Googleplex, among the hybrid cars and bulging bike racks, he had convinced himself. He was mulling over which organic smoothie to order at the canteen when his key card failed to open the door to Building 49. The red LED flashed dumbly every time he swiped his card. Any other building, and there'd be someone to tailgate on, people trickling in and out all day. But the Googlers in 49 only emerged for meals, and sometimes not even that.

Swipe, swipe, swipe. Suddenly he heard a voice at his side. "Greg, can I see you, please?" The rumpled man put an arm around his shoulders, and Greg smelled his citrusy aftershave. It smelled like what his divemaster in Baja had worn when they went out to the bars in the evening. Greg couldn't remember his name. Juan Carlos? Juan Luis? The man's arm around his shoulders was firm, steering him away from the door, out onto the immaculate lawn, past the herb garden outside the kitchen. "We're giving you a couple of days off," he said.

Greg felt a sudden stab of anxiety. "Why?" Had he done something wrong? Was he going to jail?

"It's Maya." The man turned him around, met his eyes with his bottomless gaze. "She killed herself. In Guatemala. I'm sorry, Greg." Greg seemed to hurtle away, to a place miles above, a Google Earth view of the Googleplex, where he looked down on himself and the rumpled man as a pair of dots, two pixels, tiny and insignificant. He willed himself to tear at his hair, to drop to his knees and weep.

From a long way away, he heard himself say, "I don't need any time off. I'm okay." From a long way away, he heard the rumpled man insist. The argument persisted for a long time, and then the two pixels moved into Building 49, and the door swung shut behind them.

Licence:
Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/

Friday, November 22, 2013

2012 nexus 7 updates to kitkat

My 2012 Nexus 7, which is barely a year old, updated over-the-air to Android 4.4 yesterday. This occurred after a long home commute across Orlando through some fairly heavy (and welcome) rain. When I finally plopped down in my La-Z-Boy and reached for my tablet, I was greeted with a notification that the full upgrade had downloaded to the tablet and the tablet was ready to reboot and install Android 4.4.

It took around 30 minutes for the installation to finish, but when it was done the Nexus 7 actually looked a bit better and was better behaved than it had been when I first bought it back in October of last year.

My tablet, which has been discontinued and replaced by the 2013 version of the Nexus 7, has been faithfully upgraded by Google over the past year. The 2012 Nexus 7 first shipped with Jelly Bean, Android 4.1. Since that time my Nexus 7 has been upgraded with every successive release of Jelly Bean. Over the year I've owned it my 7 has been the best value for a tablet I've ever owned.

I was pleasantly surprised when KitKat landed on my 2012 Nexus 7; I wasn't expecting that to happen as it has been discontinued. I'm sure that the 2013 Nexus 7, with more advanced hardware, is a better, faster tablet. But the 2012 version is still doing quite well, and if anything, KitKat has added new value to this "old" hardware. I don't know if I'll get the 2013 version, but I'll probably get the 2014 version, if and when it's announced.

It also illustrates why I won't buy another handset from Samsung. I currently own the Galaxy S4, which has the older Jelly Bean, Android Version 4.2.2. Keep in mind that Jelly Bean spans three simi-major releases from 4.1 to 4.3. The only time I've seen Samsung upgrade Jelly Bean was a minor point release from 4.2 to 4.2.2. Samsung was supposed to release their version of 4.3 on 20 November to support their Galaxy Gear watch, an item I have absolutely no desire to purchase anyway. The upgrade has been stopped on AT&T due to issues with Samsung's version of Android 4.3.

In spite of the fact I've only had my Galaxy S4 not quite three months, I'm seriously contemplating purchasing the Nexus 5 and putting my AT&T SIM card in the Nexus 5 and selling my S4. The Galaxy S4 hardware is excellent, but the software support is atrocious. I'd rather have native Google hardware than anyone else's if that's what it takes to get reliable Android updates when they're released.

The only other vendor with this kind of service is Apple. And if I had to make a recommendation, it would be between the Apple iPhone and the Google Nexus line.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

a tale of two distributions: linux mint 16 vs. fedora 20

Linux Mint 16 RC VM running Java 7 u45, Apache ServiceMix 4.5.3, and Google Chrome 31

I've installed two more Linux VMs on my little ol' Windows 8.1 notebook using VMware Player 6.0.1. They're Linux Mint 16 RC and Fedora 20 Beta. No need to clog the entry with numerous installation screen captures from both; if you've worked with either Linux Mint 15 or Fedora 19, then there's little if any difference between the two. The primary reasons for moving up to the next release are the software updates.

I installed both with the Cinnamon alternative desktop. From a personal perspective I prefer Linux Mint 16's Cinnamon over Fedora's because of Mint's leaner window decorations. When I can change the desktop wallpaper and be done with personalizing for productive use I call that a small personal victory. That happened with Mint, but I still wanted to find a way to narrow the rather large window top, and paradoxically, widen the rest of the window borders to make it easier to grab and resize with Fedora's Cinnamon.

Having made that observation, I also have to observe that Fedora 20 has the latest tools, specifically clang/llvm. Mint 16 has clang version 3.2 (like it has with Mint 15), while Fedora 20 has version 3.3. Clang v3.3 is C++11 feature complete, which is what I'm looking for. While both distributions have gcc 4.8.1, and gcc became C++11 feature complete with the release of 4.8, I'm looking to see if I can move off of gcc and onto clang. My reasons to do so have to do with technology as well as my dislike of gcc politics. Since Mint 16 is a release candidate, it is what it is. I'm going to investigate a sane and rational way to step up to clang 3.3 on Mint 16.

What They Both Have in Common
  1. Both distributions allowed the installation of VMware tools within the VM. In the case of Fedora, I had to uninstall the open-vm packages first. All modules compiled, which means that both Mint 16 and Fedora 20 mount the Windows 8.1 host shared folder. This is a Good Thing.
  2. Both distributions have the latest Java 7, update 45, installed. In the case of Mint 16 it came with Java 7 update 25 out of the box, which is not so good, as that's two releases behind the current update 45. I even installed Java 8 build 115 on Mint 16, but Apache ServiceMix 4.5.3 failed to execute under Java 8, which I suspected might happen. I may grab the ServiceMix sources and attempt a rebuild under Java 8 just to see if that works. Otherwise, all my Java tools work just fine on both distributions.
  3. Most of the common packages I checked (with the notable difference being clang) are at the same versions or very close not to be noticeable (again, with the notable exception being clang). So it's a tossup between very specific needs and personal tastes as to which one to choose.
This is worth a re-visit when both distributions are fully released.

Peculiarities

My biggest set of peculiarities was experienced with Mint 16 and Java. As usual I uninstalled Mint's version of Java and installed the Oracle version from the tarball, using the following set of steps:

  1. cd /
  2. sudo mkdir -p /usr/lib/jvm
  3. cd /usr/lib/jvm
  4. sudo tar xzf /mnt/hgfs/Share/jdk-7u45-linux-x64.tar.gz
  5. sudo ln -s jdk1.7.0_45 java
  6. sudo update-alternatives --install "/usr/bin/java" "java" "/usr/lib/jvm/java/bin/java" 1
  7. sudo update-alternatives --install "/usr/bin/javac" "javac" "/usr/lib/jvm/java/bin/javac" 1
  8. sudo update-alternatives --install "/usr/bin/javaws" "javaws" "/usr/lib/jvm/java/bin/javaws" 1
In order to get to the point where I was able to install Oracle's java I had to uninstall Mint's pre-installed Java 7 update 25, which was a two step process. That's because when I uninstalled Java 7 some dependency forced gcj (Java 5 pseudo-Java, heaven forbid) to be installed. When I uninstalled gcj, I finally got rid of everything.

If you're wondering why the java softlink, it's so I can easily switch to a different release (such as Java 8) for development and testing. The single softlink makes switching dead simple.

Overall

Minor nits notwithstanding, it's a good time to be working with Linux, at least from the perspective of Ubuntu/Mint and Fedora. And I have a reason for this...

One Good Reason to Use Linux

For years I've read five- and ten-reason-articles about why you should dump Windows for Linux. And every time I've read those article I've wanted to grind my teeth in frustration because they were written by well-meaning but naive Linux advocates who didn't understand either operating system very well and spewed a lot of poor facts. But now I have one singular reason for possibly considering Linux over Windows.

The National Security Agency - NSA

I don't trust Windows, and I'm not so sure I even trust Linux. I've thought long and hard about BSD, especially Open BSD, but I don't know if I could set up an Open BSD system to support the kind of development I'm interested in, which includes the latest Oracle Java, Java tools such as Tomcat 8 and Apache ServiceMix, IDEs, and the latest C/C++ compilers. And throw in Google Chrome for good measure.

I have no critical need for multimedia support, but it sure would be nice to have, not to play back MP3s and ripped movies, but because audio and video are application mainstream. And then, of course, there's the driver support issue. BSD is a huge unknown for me, and I don't have the spare cycles these days to sort it all out and then go out hunting/creating solutions for the important, but missing, bits.

Whatever, sooner or later (probably sooner I fear) I'm going to have to sort this out. It's not that I feel Microsoft is in cahoots with the NSA, it's that the NSA is lying to everyone and has been secretly collecting zero-day Windows exploits in its ongoing weaponization of the Internet. I keep every tool and operating system up-to-date, all patches, complex and differing passwords, and in general try my best to practice good common sense use of the Internet. But there are a lot scary bad crazy smart people working at the NSA, and I have no doubt that given a half-way reason to do so they could exploit the hell out of my systems and there'd be almost nothing I could do to stop them. And I hate that deep feeling of fear.

I used to feel that kind of fear about the Chinese. Now I find there are even more of those crazy smart evil bastards working at Ft. Meade. I need a hardened defensive computing posture against just about everybody. And I need it now.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

why we'll never have a true digital nikon fm3a, and why the nikon df is wrong for me

Top view: Nikon Df vs. Nikon FM3a (via TheOnlinePhotographer)
I came across this scale comparison on the Internet's today. In one simple picture it summed up why the Nikon Df isn't the digital FM3a so many want it to be. It also illustrates in part why (outside of the price) I won't purchase the Df.

If you look at the top plates of both cameras, you can see the top plate outline of the FM3a literally sticking up from the Df body. The Nikon Df is much deeper than the FM3a from the front (the lens mount) to back (the LCD).

What we have here is an odd-ball digital camera design that appears to have bits and pieces of the FM3a stuck on it like a collection of spare parts someone had lying around at the time.

When old people like me say they want a digital Nikon FM3a (or in my particular case, a digital Olympus OM-1), we want the film sized body with a same-sized digital sensor replacing 35mm film. And as the Nikon Df illustrates so eloquently, that won't happen, at least not with this version of Nikon technology.

If you're wondering why the Df is so deep compared to the FM3a, it's because of the thickness of the sensor with its filter (AA or not), attached to a circuit board, and in turn probably attached to some sort of heat piping to pull heat away from the sensor. Add the LCD on the back of the camera, and you've got a fairly thick camera.

The only way to get around this kind of thickness is to create a new mount that has a shorter flange-to-sensor distance than classic film designs, and in the process remove the reflex mirror. Now you have what Olympus, Panasonic, and especially Sony, have created. In fact if you look at the new Sony α7/α7R from the top, it echoes the same flange to camera back distance (not flange to film surface distance) that many classic film cameras have, such as the Nikon FM3a, Olympus OM-1, and the Minolta SRT-100 series.

When you go to the trouble of creating a digital equivalent to film cameras based on size as well as the use of a 24x36mm frame size, then you have to make some hard engineering choices that in the end force you to create a new mount and subsequent new lens formulations. Like Sony is doing right now with the α7 pair of cameras.

The Nikon Df isn't a poor camera like some that have been released in the past (such as Sigma's SD1 APS-C DSLR, originally introduced at the ludicrous price of $9,700). It's just not what some purists like me had in mind for this type of camera.

The Nikon Df is the clearest illustration yet of why you can't go home again to 35mm film-sized cameras with OVFs, reflex mirrors, and have 35mm sized digital sensors. I've always realized this in the back of my mind, which was why I haven't been crying out with the rest of the Internet for a "true" digital OM-1. And why I was more than happy when I purchased my E-M5, which, while a little smaller, is pretty close to the OM-1 in physical size.

From my experiences with 4/3rds and APS-C size sensors (E-M5 and NEX 5N, respectively), current digital technology is exceeding older 35mm film in quality by a wide margin. With the lenses I can get for either µ4:3rds or APS-C E-mount I've made a complete transition from 35mm film to digital, and for me there's no need to look back. The Nikon Df is Nikon's fan's attempt to have it all; the same svelte 35mm film camera married to today's Nikon digital sensor technology on the F mount, and it isn't going to happen. Certainly not at the relatively low price of $2,799 MSRP. If you want that kind of physically small camera, then invest in one of the mirrorless cameras from Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung or Sony, and move on.

Why is the Df wrong for me?
  • First is the price: at $2,750 body only, it sits too close to a Nikon D800 and too far away from a far more affordable Nikon D610. I understand the D4 sensor is in the body, and as Thom Hogan explained, the D4 16MP sensor is a high quality sensor and 16MP is better for older lenses. I buy the argument, but not the price, because:
  • It has a single SDXC card in the same slot as the battery. Every other FX camera has its cards (two) behind a separate side door for easy access, except the Df. Having the card in the battery compartment is a feature you find in budget digital cameras, not a nearly $3,000 Nikon DSLR.
  • The general look of the body. At the very least they could have simply pulled the rear edges of the top plate back to line up with the rest of the rear. They could have spent a bit more time eliminating a few lines. I read somewhere they spent nearly four years designing this camera. I think they spent too much time for what they produced.
  • The dials themselves. This is as much aesthetics as practicality, but look at the FM3a dials with white lettering on a black background. I much prefer the lettering on the older camera dials, especially for these tired old eyes. Yes, I know you can get it in all black and that solves that problem. I actually prefer the older chrome designs. It's the modern cameras I prefer all-black because anything else looks so bad.
  • An external interface that's just too busy. It's a complaint I level at Olympus and Panasonic as well. Too many dials, too many buttons. Older cameras were fun because it took very little to set them up and use them. This, again, may be the nature of the digital beast, but I strongly believe we've gone too far with all the controls we've layered on our digital cameras. We really do need to dial (no pun intended) a lot of this back, on just about all our cameras.
Other issues like a lack of video are irrelevant. I've realized that if I want to shoot video then perhaps I should buy a camera better suited to just shooting video. Right now I've been studying the Blackmagic Design video cameras that are aimed specifically at shooting video with the µ4:3rds lenses I currently have. I'm horrified at all the external junk you have to buy and attach to all of today's video-capable DSLRs to supposedly record "good" video (like Zacuto). For that kind of money I'd rather buy a Black Magic body, and keep the change.

And for those folks who believe it's just a small matter of firmware, it isn't. Today's video requires support in silicon (usually a co-processor built into the camera's SoC) as well as some hefty firmware to support it, and oh, by the way, a license fee (tax) to be paid on every device. Modern digital video ain't free and it ain't cheap.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

cat-in-a-box channels greta garbo

Playing in an open box...
Oh dear, I've been spotted!
I want to be alone...

So I'm sitting at my computer, when I start to notice a racket in back. I ignore it for a while until I hear a load "thump!", as if something had been dropped on the floor, followed by a lot of loud rattling. I turn around and see Lucy in the box just having a grand old time, rolling around and rattling that box a good one. I grab the GX1 and snap a few shots before she notices me and the camera, then leaps out and back into her chair (which used to be my chair before she decided it was her chair).

Just like caring for Katie my black Lab taught me about dogs, caring for Lucy is teaching me about cats. She finds me fascinating, as I do her. And she expresses great affection and love toward me without coaxing. I try to return the affection and love, but she is a cat, and she takes a bat at me on occasion, although I think that's just her being playful. She always has her claws in when she does that.

She sits next to me during the evening in her chair while I sit in mine. When it's time to go to sleep she comes and rubs around my feet and ankles, then when I finally get the hint and go back to bed she leads the two of us. How could anyone be cruel to such little creatures, but then, I have her because her original owners turned her out...

Panasonic GX1 with Panasonic 14mm. Post in LR 5.2 (cropped 1:1) and Silver Efex Pro 2, Film Noir 1 filter, adjusted and sepia toned. They are blurry and grainy and heavily contrast, and the edging came with the filter. And I love the way they look. I'm after essence and emotion, not super-sharp perfectly exposed technique only photographs. Photographically I'm after the kind of  look you get with sanguine Conté crayon on medium tooth drawing paper. So grain doesn't bother me.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

notes and snaps for 6 november

Lucy and my Samsung
The blogging cat
Food and thoughts
Alone with themselves

Panasonic GX1 with 20mm f/1.7 at f/1.8. Post processed in LR 5.2 and Silver Efex Pro 2.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

affordable tacos and affordable photography

PB050082-Edit
The affordable, discrete, rugged, and always-ready Panasonic GX1 with 14mm pancake.

I have experienced a barrage of new camera announcements for the last few months and today I reached a point of saturation. I realized just how well past tired I was of it all when the final official reveal of the new Nikon Df (which must stand for "Dumb fools", as that's the marketing niche it's aimed at) occurred today. When I read faux-tography sites such as Forbes gushing about how wonderful the Df was, then read the reactions of real photographers such as Tom Hogan (The Df very well may be the first camera marketed and sold to the AARP crowd) and Mike Johnston (Omigod, be careful what you wish for), I knew for certain that Nikon had finally jumped the shark. And a $3,000 dollar shark at that.

Me, I just wait at the trailing edge of photography, where everybody drops their old and busted gear for the new hotness, and then I just pick up perfectly good equipment for pennies on the dollar. Like, for example, the GX1 with its 14mm pancake. Total cost was about $380. That's still a bit stiff for a cheap skate like me, but it's a damn sight cheaper than the three damn grand that Nikon wants me to drop on their butt-ugly new hotness silver Nikon Df.

If I want to get all nostalgic and go all retro, hell, I'll just run the files out as black and white, add a little noise for the grain (like I'm still shooting Tri-X and developing it in D-76), and there I am, retro photos from a retro-price camera (I paid $450 for my black OM-4 with 50mm f/1.4 Zuiko in San Francisco back in 1984).

Out tonight with my wife partaking of Lime Grill's Taco Tuesday where I spent the princely sum of $10.68 for our two meals. Yeah, I'm a cheap date, but then my wife has known this for the past 33 years.

P1000667-Edit
P1000673-Edit

Saturday, November 02, 2013

the day after the day after halloween

i look damn silly in this costume...
I look damn silly in this costume...
yeah, ruby, you look damn silly in that costume.
Yeah, Ruby, you look damn silly in that costume...
We had a large number of Trick-or-Treaters come by the house this past Halloween. It started early (just barely past sundown) with two little kids, probably first graders. Parents stood on the sidewalk watching, laughing when Ruby came out in her costume to greet the kids. And the kids, even ones afraid of dogs, were immediately put at ease with Ruby's costume.

As the night grew progressively late the age of the treaters grew progressively older until the last, a group of polite ninth graders, showed up around 8:30pm. I gave them the rest of my dwindling candy supplies, then turned off the outside lights and called it an evening.

Every single kid was nice and well behaved.

I had my E-M5 set up for the evening with the flash that comes with the camera, but the only subjects I used it on were Ruby and Lucy. I had the Panasonic 25mm mounted on it and opened up. As this is the first time I've ever used flash on the E-M5 I'm not to keen on the exposure, but what the hey. You learn by doing, and just to be honest, how many slightly underexposed flash photos are flooding the Internets? And I think I like the look. At least I don't have to do something silly in post on the raw image with a special filter. You know, like vignetting.