Autumn has arrived. This weekend we will be transforming our apartment into its winter configuration. With the Autumn comes the cold and the damp. A pervasive damp that leaches into our kitchen wall and into our apartment.
I am ahead of myself. My mind is focusing on Christmas and the New Year long before it should. Before then we have a handful of important events to oversee and enjoy. Not least the completion of the first stage of our planning permission paperwork and the festival of lights.
Megan‘s routine has changed, leaving me with a couple of evenings to myself. Traditionally I would continue working through until she returns, however late that may be. My work right now does not lend itself to long stretches of time; the specifics are too complex and time away helps make the time working more productive.
Instead of working, I am walking and listening to lectures and talks. A routine I associate with my weekday lunchtimes in Sydney. During those walks I mapped out most of the surrounding area around the office. I discovered and I escaped the open plan environment of the working day.
We are fortunate to live near parkland in Lyon. My camera comes with me. Photos in the dusk are tricky but not impossible.
I love taking photographs and rarely leave home without my camera. I am frequently reminded that while I love pointing and clicking away, I often fall far short of capturing the view as I remember it.
Often my photos feel lacking depth and contrast. Over the years I have learnt to rein in my camera’s automatic settings and white balance adjustments but my methods are tricks rather than expertise based on real understanding.
Recently I have begun to work on changing that. I have started taking more photos on settings other than the comfortable, forgiving, automatic and program modes.
I have started messing around with one setting at a time; learning what it does, how it affects my photos, and what new types of photographs the setting opens up for me.
The result is many more photos but with few worth keeping. Those I do keep justify my efforts.
Those few stand out for feeling better; they have an indescribable quality of being captivating. The moment more accurately evoked – both lighter and darker – less perfect in some ways, but much more interesting to look at.
I have been wanting to settle down and write something useful about the Canon PowerShot SX700 camera. My schedule has not allowed it this month. So a few recent photos will have to tide the topic over for a while.
Like most of my photos, these are untouched and straight from the camera.
The PowerShot SX700 is a point-and-shoot camera with x30 zoom. The zoom is ridiculously capable and has me convinced that x25 is probably enough.
Below are two photos. The first is taken without zoom. The second is zoomed in x30 and then cropped to a 1:1 from an 8 megapixel image; not the highest resolution the camera offers but enough for my general photos.
The camera reveals detail I could not see with my own eyes.
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Driven by a simple need Movie Splitter came together reasonably easily. That is not to say it was technically easy but the process from start to finish was clear and uncluttered by too many time consuming decisions.
Megan and I recently upgraded our cameras. We both opted for Canon point-and-shoot cameras after my positive experience with a PowerShot SX200 and my family’s experience with an A3200.
Our new cameras both came with a feature called Hybrid Auto. This movie digest feature creates a fun short movie as you take photos. While in Hybrid Auto the camera quietly captures a few seconds of footage before each photo. Those seconds of footage and the resulting photo are added to a summary movie of the day. The result is a surprisingly entertaining movie of the day’s events.
Megan has been learning to film and edit. Her experiments led her naturally to want to incorporate the Hybrid Auto movie into her short films.
Try as she might, iMovie was unable to provide the frame accurate splicing of the Hybrid Auto movie she needed. The latest iMovie is great for home movies but does not attempt to provide individual frame control over the final product or the source materials.
After some frustration I noticed QuickTime Player and QuickLook both recognised each section of the Hybrid Auto movie as a chapter. This hinted that it should be possible to automatically find and slice the sections based on the chapter information.
An Opportunity to Play
This observation gave me something I have long been wanting. An opportunity to play with Apple’s new AVFoundation framework. This audio/visual library of code from Apple is reasonably new in OS X and iOS. AVFoundation underpins the audio and video handling of modern Macs and iPhones – and I had yet to delve in to see what it offered. None of my current work demanded it.
So presented with an opportunity to help Megan and play with the AVFoundation framework, I could hardly say no.
AVFoundation was surprisingly welcoming. The abilities I wanted had been added only in OS X 10.9 but that did not matter. Our Macs are up to date and Apple’s free upgrade path to OS X 10.9 means it is difficult to justify supporting older versions for brand new products.
Thanks to my work with Power Manager, I was comfortable with AVFoundation’s demand that most functions are asynchronous. That is, functions start and wander off into the wilderness of your computer only returning when the job is done. It means the calling code needs to be prepared to fire and forget for a while. Start the job and allow the user to get on with something else in the mean time.
The result is a much more fluid experience where you rarely feel any pauses or delays. Get the interface right and even the long running tasks feel fast or inconsequential enough not to frustrate.
Compare this to the traditional synchronous approach that starts and waits for completion before continuing. A synchronous approach is marked by progress bars, blocked documents, and long waits.
A New App
What came out of my experiments was Movie Splitter. An application that does one task really well.
The user interface was the biggest challenge for Movie Splitter. The final look and feel is deliberately light in tone.
Movie Splitter shipped with a document window of three parts. Mostly white, separated by titled sections: Source Movie, Sections, and an Export… button at the base. Simple and fairly unassuming for the brutish work it world save the user.
Apple is tending towards a new look and feel. I have no idea when OS X will change its appearance but I will not be surprised when it does. The signs are there and clear for all who know where to look; a change is on the wind.
When the change comes, I hope Movie Splitter will be well placed to straddle both realms.
I have always preferred iconic icons over the photo-realistic and often comic feeling icons common on OS X today.
Icons should be strong and reproducible at many resolutions without great feats of effort; I am not a graphic artist and just can not afford the time such a burden would demand of me. Movie Splitter’s application and document icon still required artwork in many sizes just to produce something that looked good on retina and normal displays.
I am pleased with the final look of both Font Pestle and Movie Splitter’s icons. They feel cut from the same cloth.
Submitting a new application for inclusion to Apple’s Mac App Store is a moment of mixed emotions. I have encountered too many stumbling blocks to feel positive about the experience. Getting Movie Splitter into the store took longer than normal. The first review led to a second and that delayed the process.
Until an application – a manifestation of your effort and hope wrapped up in a bundle of bits – is reviewed and accepted, it could yet be rejected. Rejection can be absolute with no chance of acceptance. Rejection can be a trivial change or something more subtle but you never know until all the work is done and you are ready to submit the application.
I submitted a minor bug fix update for Movie Splitter to Apple today. A link to the included help book was not working. The update fixes it. I expect it will be a few days until the new version appears in the Mac App Store.
There are a few improvements I plan to make to Movie Splitter. I want to be able to integrate the application into a workflow. It seems ideal for the purpose but how depends on how Megan ends up using Movie Splitter. I would be tempted by AppleScript but I suspect Automator or another approach will be a greater priority for her. We shall see.
I am trying an experiment to see how effective a social site is for sharing updates and news about an application. In the past I would rely on my own site almost exclusively. For Movie Splitter, I thought an experiment would be fun.
After two weeks without hot water, I am looking forward to running that hot tap soon. The plumbers have just finished and are leaving behind a brand new water heater. The new heater looks identical to our last but this one is not leaking water through the electrics.
Having dealt with leaks from the apartment above twice since moving to Lyon, it came as no surprise to once again suffer another leak. This time our wall mounted water heater was the source, rather than the apartment above.
Two weeks ago Megan walked into the kitchen and let out an odd sound; a sound something between surprise and confusion. I rushed to the kitchen to find her trying to determine why a sizeable area around our sink was covering with water. A thin layer of water coated the sink, the nearby floor, and our cooker top.
A slowly forming drip from the water heater fell, hit the edge of our drying rack, and splattered.
The water was leaking from the base of the heater, near the red power light, and seemingly far too close to the electrics hidden inside. I quickly cut the power at our power box and then cut the water to the apartment.
A few minutes examination revealed an obscured tap to cut off just the water to the heater. After those simple steps we had isolated the now dangerous device.
The dripping continued for another hour and stopped.
Our landlords were not slow but instead a combination of multiple visits by the plumber, securing an invoice for the replacement, and scheduling time all mounted up. The final visit was postponed. Another client of the plumber having a “big problem”. So it is only now our new heater has been installed.
It will not be long now until we get back our steady, reliable, hot water. I will not miss having to heat water in a pan.
I find my photos and projects in unexpected places. Most of the time it is harmless but occasionally it irritates.
If you are an organisation with a budget and staff, then I expect compensation for using my work. I also expect to be asked for permission to use my work; not only is it polite but my work is copyright. Not getting permission before you profit from another’s creative work is illegal in all but a few jurisdictions.
Why mention this now? Another large UK newspaper used a photo without permission. They credited my name but did not ask permission or compensate me. And if I reproduce their work without permission – for profit? Would they remain silent?
I have kept a daily journal for much of my life. The routine of writing each evening is cathartic and helps provide a useful record of where I am spending my time. I also staple into my journal any tickets or mementos from the day.
I write daily but do not staple items in until the year is nearly done or past. It means I have a small pile of paperwork near my journal reminding me to find the time to sort it out. Never a critical task, it takes a particularly quiet, calm, and often house bound day to come around. Today was just such a day. Today I closed my journals for 2012 and 2013.
2013 was a busy year. We gathered a lot of tickets and paperwork. The journal is double its expected width in one corner. Not ideal but a sign of a year well spent.
With the rise of print your own tickets and electronic tickets, many of the bigger events of the year had nothing associated with their day. Given the mass I did have to staple in, this lack of paperwork should probably be a blessing but it does not feel that way.
Instead the day when we visited Edinburgh Castle has no ticket, no leaflet, nothing associated; we bought online and printed out own tickets. I recycled the tickets later, as I have a digital copy. Now that page will be easily skipped over when flicking through the journal.
Should I keep my own print out or maybe consider stop stapling items in entirely? I am not sure. For now, I have a new pile of tickets to grown for this year. I can decide later.
I had been looking for a new camera for a while. I had only ever owned three digital cameras and I tend to use them until they fail or become utterly obsolete.
Olympus C-220 Zoom
I loved my first digital camera, an Olympus C-220 Zoom. It advertised a two megapixel photo; tiny by today’s standards of 12 to 20 megapixels.
I learned how to get the best out of that camera and stuck with it for far too long. I understood its limitations and weaknesses, but I knew its strengths. I could carry it around and get the photos I wanted without thinking. The time from pocket to photo was tiny. It was great and served me well.
I like to imagine that my Olympus is now serving someone else just as well. I sold it on eBay when we moved from Melbourne.
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
It was my first Canon and I was taken aback by the leap in quality between my Olympus and the PowerShot SX200 IS. Many years of improvements had passed between the two and I appreciated them.
I was lucky. The PowerShot SX200 was one of the first of a new group of cameras; travel cameras designed with giant zooms and a more serious owner in mind. Those needing a smaller camera capable of capturing the sights and scenes of the backpacker. A camera good enough to argue against lugging around a DSLR.
I have always wanted a DSLR but have never been able to justify either the price or the hip-thumbing burden it would place on me. Being able to carry around a decent camera without thought or consideration is wonderful; that is something a DSLR with its massive lens and body can never offer.
Yet I still find myself studying Tim Bray‘s posts on mirrorless cameras, point-and-shoots, and lens. One day maybe I will be able to justify a larger frame camera but today it does not match my lifestyle or pocket.
I mastered the PowerShot SX200 because I had to. We bought it for our wedding and honeymoon and I wanted great shots of those events.
Years passed and my PowerShot started suffering. The lens protector jammed during a holiday in Tasmania. Casing around the zoom worked itself loose and generally wear and tear has built up. This was a deliberate choice and expected.
When I bought the PowerShot, I decided to use it properly and frequently, rather than nurse it through ten years in perfect condition. I got great photos and sometimes the camera came out a little worse for wear for the shot. Yet it worked and it continues to work well today.
Sony Cyber-shot HX20V
Earlier this year I started looking for a replacement to my PowerShot. Wear and tear aside, I wanted GPS tagging. We were travelling more and being able to automatically organise my photos by location was alluring.
I searched for a long while. The obvious choice was a new PowerShot and I waited for a refresh to the product line. When it happened, the PowerShot SX280 was announced. It looked good but also a touch lacklustre compared to offerings from Lumix and Sony. The feature list was shorter. The reviews never glowing.
Then reports of battery life problems appeared. Video caused the camera to shed battery life at an alarming rate. A firmware update was released but reports of problems continued. Canon claim it is now fixed but doubts linger.
The camera was fine but not great. I never learned to love it.
Within months my spare Sony battery became faulty. Failing to hold a charge overnight, I returned the battery for a replacement. Thankfully the replacement worked.
This month, the Sony’s auto-focus started making a horrible grinding noise. I noticed it when taking video of the festival of lights. A background noise on my footage. The next night I heard the noise again and realised, with horror, it was my camera.
So now the camera and battery have been returned to Amazon for a refund. Amazon have been excellent and their after sales service is why I will continue to buy from them.
The GPS was great. It took anywhere between one and three minutes to get a position, or possibly longer but I typically gave up after three minutes. I have a slew of photos with locations associated and my photo map in iPhoto is a joy to explore.
The Sony however taught me that I do not want a feature list the length of my arm. With those features come too many options, too many settings, and too much fuss.
I never felt comfortable with the Sony. It had progress bars after taking a photo. I was never sure how long a photo would take and how long I would have to wait until I could take the next photo.
The Sony HX20V felt clever and with that I suspect it could capture great photos. Just point and shoot.
The video quality was great. Built in stabilisation was appreciated. Lots of improvements but I expect them from any new camera. The experience connecting to my Mac was not ideal but workable.
For me, I suspect a simpler camera more refined in lens and build quality matter more. I will happily apply the clever needed but I need the camera to be more of a constant and less intelligent and less tricky. Software post-processing within my camera is a waste. I have a massively powerful Mac Pro waiting at home if a photo needs post-processing; I dislike post-processing generally, so most photos remain as taken.
For now, I am back to my Canon SX200 IS. It soliders on despite the battering I have made it bear over the years. The Canon will be with me this Christmas as I capture moments from our celebrations.
Next year though I will be on the look out again for my next digital camera.