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Just another Brit in New York City

Archive for the ‘Consumer Technology’ Category

Observations Using iOS 11 for More Than a Month

Posted by Britrock on December 11, 2017

My iPhone 6 was splashed by an ocean wave in October 2015. Yeah, I fully admit, there’s a story that involves getting too close to the water’s edge but its not important. The phone still worked. Sort of. Despite drying the phone thoroughly with rice, the phone has spent 18 months glitching, overheating and switching itself off. The latter usually when I was trying to display my boarding pass at the airport. Weighing up the options, including switching to Android, thinking about when the iPhone 6 & 7 be obsolete/barely useable and how much better is the camera/processor….I eventually gave in and chose the iPhone 8+. Not an X.
With the AppleCare built into the price of the payment plan, it actually made sense, to me at least. If I think about it, the iPhone 8+ cost more than my first car. The iPhone X cost about the same as my second car. That thought alone was another reminder of how different life is today and what we can no longer “live without” compared to those halcyon relatively simple days. In fact the camera in the new iPhones would also be better than most of the cameras on the market for consumers back then.
Ultimately the camera was also the driving factor for me with this purchase, a phone that didn’t glitch, that had a functioning light, didn’t overheat, turnoff randomly and a working silent button also figured.
In the first few weeks, I’ve toyed with the camera and noticed the better clarity and contrast in colors (not in a horrible way) on iPhone 8+ to the iPhone 6 and marginally the iPhone 7 loaner without a contract, I’ve been using for 360 images. Improved stabilization means few blurry images, but generally I rest the phone on a static object as a makeshift tripod before making pics anyway. The faster processor appears to help with reducing the quantity of speckling/grain and making the image slightly sharper. Improvements in noise reduction may also be the result of better image stabilization, really need to find out more. One additional feature the plus models carry is the 2x optical zoom, great for impromptu portraits. Having a wide and small zoom is really handy, will definitely mean better options for street and landscape shooting. Very tempted to shoot a few headshots with proper lights and the phone to see what happens. HDR has been turned on automatically, it’s better than it was but this can be turned off in camera settings if you don’t want everything to look more natural.
 IMG_5248
Portrait mode has its quirks, the AI clips parts of the images, but overall its a nice gimmick for consumers. Have included a quick unprocessed ‘ straight out of iphone’ pic of the wife. First thing I noticed was the strange haircut it gave the subject. You’ll likely notice I used the iPhone flash for fill light, hence the tiny catch light and blown highlight on forehead. The sky ever so slightly turning pink, was automatically enhanced by the software to appear very pink indeed or there’s a new coating on the lense. In a dslr this effect would have been achieved by leaving the shutter open to expose for the background, perhaps this also explains the tonal range of the background color. Skin tones looked closer to natural when compared to my older phones, but that might just be the lovely wife’s skin care regime.
iOS 11 has several new updates, including a new image file format called HEIF (high efficiency image format). Apple adopting this format means we’ll begin to see better quality natural looking HDR images, but also potential for better quality photo ‘tools’ on mobile devices further down the road.  Wasn’t aware of this feature until I’d photographed my expense receipts and uploaded them to Google drive only to suddenly find them unopenable. A pleasant surprise, although I’m not sure the accounting department noticed tonal range difference in my 10 bit expense receipts, vs the old 8bit format. For those that don’t like it, formats can also be changed in camera settings.
Screenshots is another rather handy feature, that when taken on the iOS 11 device, automatically post to a small window that can be opened, annotated and saved. Posting to Google Drive made sense but unfortunately I wasn’t then able to open the marked up images in photoshop.
On the interoperability side of things, it’s nice that Apple have created a “Files” app that enables the opening of files from Dropbox, Google Drive etc., but still irritating that mature companies will not allow shortcuts to use the most popular apps of perceived competitors. Google Maps, Google’s Snapseed among them. ‘Open with’ on the MacBook works well, would be a nice touch to include on the iPhone, a device more people would use. Perhaps its the petty world we live in but that level of juvenility makes me want to avoid the monoliths.
Perhaps it’s just me but the Touch ID fingerprint recognition feels faster. On my iPhone 6, I need to place a full fat finger on the scanner before it would take a half second to acknowledge and then another half second to open the phone. Feels instantaneous on iPhone 8+. Picking up the iPhone 8+ also lights up the face of the phone. The splash resistance of this new device, certainly adds a degree of calm when a glass of wine is accidentally spilled next to these iPhones.
On the irritating side of things, the quick access menu that used to allow you to turn on airplane mode now includes limited function Bluetooth and WiFi buttons. Unfortunately they don’t turn off WiFi and Bluetooth, they simply disconnect from the current network or device. As a result, the phone spends battery life seeking a new connection in the background. Took me a few days to work that out, as did the ‘slow calculator’ issue. My work means I spend a fair amount of time quickly needing to accurately make calculations. When using the native iphone calculator, I began to notice what I thought was my inability to accurately press the + or – button but this has now been recognized as a bug.
Audio wise music and voices appear to sound a little less hollow when played on speakerphone. Aside from my issues with how awful iTunes has become for cataloging music, the experience has improved lately. Features that I’d relied on for years were removed, such as my nerdy obsession for providing a numeric 1 to 5 rating for all 35,000 tracks stored on iTunes. When making playlists I could easily sort music by how much I liked individual tracks. Or Genius, that gathered songs of similar beats per minute etc.  Now we’re forced to use the over the air subscription service iTunes Radio… not a great option when I spend most of my time listening to music on planes.
Ultimately I’m happy with the phone upgrade, even if the cost is a little steeper than I needed or wanted to pay for a new device. The upgrade to having a good quality consumer level camera, that is embedded in a device I have on my person almost always, has been a boon to experimenting with photography. Smartphone cameras are still a distance from replacing an entry level DSLR, but the gap is continually reducing with each phone release. Iphone 8+ might finally mean I’m shooting “iPhone photographs” as opposed to “crappy iPhone pics.”
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Backup, Backup and backup again.

Posted by Britrock on March 4, 2013

Backup, Backup, Backup
Missing laptop
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the experience of losing all of my work (thankfully, returned to me now – see UPDATE), its the importance of having a backup copy. The biggest question is cloud/online or external hard drive.

My storage archive and backup needs are split into three key areas; all images for work (in excess of 1 terabyte of data), digital music collection (in excess of 80 gb) and documents including business plans and budgets.

Hard drives are mechanical devices and will eventually fail or need replacement. The one time cost provides a mechanical device that I can plug in and set to backup all of my files on a regular basis regardless of internet access or bandwidth restrictions.

Online (or “cloud”) storage seems like the future and offers many fantastic benefits including file access (including backup and retrieval) from anywhere. Should my apartment burn to nothing and my hard drives are all destroyed I still have my data saved in the cloud to be retrieved whenever required.

However, there’s currently no cost-effective online/cloud option that I can truly trust will be in business forever and none of the providers has a policy in place should their systems crash and my data disappears. From all of the sites I’ve looked at the retrieval of data generally appears to download at the pace of 8 to 10gb a day. To retrieve all of my photographic data would take at least three months of constant downloading. Can’t think of many broadband providers that would allow that to go ahead without restrictions.

As the American Society of Media Photographers summate in their thorough article of backup systems
“Although some online photo services may offer cheap or free archiving, there will always be a catch. No one can provide a service for below cost for long and stay in business. They will eventually have to charge what it costs to provide the service, or stop offering it. At the moment, none of the online services provide any kind of guarantee or validation that the files remain on the server in an uncorrupted form.”

Online storage providers seem to appear weekly, however it remains to be seen how many survive as I recall the tale of Xdrive who despite having 100,000 of users, premium accounts and AOL as a parent company ultimately joined the internet deathpool. Cloudreviews.com has a comprehensive list of all cloud storage providers and there’s a fairly helpful comparison chart at http://www.onlinebackupreviews.org/comparison however its missing Pogoplug.

I’ve considered:
Google Drive – fantastic collaborative tool for working on documents together and useful as a backup of 5gb of data.

Dropbox – great as a local and online backup of documents and incredibly easy to share. The easy sharing and large capacity is ideal for sending clients work. upto 18 gb of free storage is incredibly generous. The base price for Dropbox for Teams is $795/year for as much storage space as I need. However, I won’t need all my data accessible in such an easy way, so there has to be a simpler option.

Mozy – solid company from what I’ve witnessed. I used the service as a backup for a laptop a while ago and it was excellent and easy to forget about. However for 2 terabytes the annual fee is almost $10,000.

PogoPlug – looks like a fantastic and viable option for personal use of documents and music. At $60 a year for unlimited storage it works for my music though I’m not sure about the ‘streaming’ capabilities. Might be interesting to explore when traveling for work.

Each of these online storage options look good, but limited in size. Step in Backdrive.com, unlimited backup storage for less than $5 a month and it will store my music and documents. At first glance it seemed similar to so many others, the advantage is under the hood when I realized I could partition an external hard drive I use as my Mac Timemachine. The real bonus comes when you need to restore a large quantity of files, as you won’t need to be online for the length of the entire Simpsons and Family Guy back catalogs playing back to back. Instead Backdrive will send you your choice of a USB drive ($99) or USB hard drive ($189). Will be experimenting with these guys this month.

For ease of use, backup redundancy and anywhere access, I’ll continue to use Dropbox, Google Drive, laptop and external hard drive for document archive and backup. That’s the easy stuff.
The music needs to be on an external hard drive to prevent my laptop grinding to a halt especially when Photoshop is open, and Backdrive will hopefully be the solution as my music backup. I’m still not convinced by Spotify.

The work images will need at least two hard drives capable of handling at least 2,000 gb/ 2 terabyte drives. The external storage device search continues and I’ll provide an update once that decision is close to being made – I’m thinking Lacie at the moment but we’ll see as WPPI rolls around and what deals are available.

p.s. BACKUP EVERYTHING YOU OWN – NOW!

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My business was hit by catastrophic backup failure

Posted by Britrock on February 13, 2013

UPDATE:

After the police report was submitted, filings made to lost luggage at NJ Transit and PATH system, and an insurance claim filed, I was left to work out how to move on and prevent this kind of lose happening in the future. What I hadn’t expected to happen was NJ Transit calling to let me know my bag and all of its contents had been turned in. When collecting my bag from the equally bemused NJ Transit employees, all they were able to tell me was “someone decided to turn in the property.” Even when pressed that’s all they would say. I’ve not been able to truly understand what happened to my laptop bag that was double strapped (one through the handle and the shoulder strap entwined through the retractable handle of my suitcase) but I’m grateful for having everything back. Now to put into place the backup plans to ensure if anything similar happens, my work isn’t lost irretrievably. No one can be this lucky twice.

My business was hit by catastrophic backup failure

Missing laptop

Missing laptop


Yesterday’s state of the nation address (SONA) seated all of the presidential office in one venue, presenting the daunting prospect of what to do should something terrible happen to everyone in that room? Who would be president and how would America move forwards? I was on a plane as the SONA was taking place, and we were asked to turn of our electronic devices for wheels-up it got me wondering what would happen if my one-man business was affected with a large loss.

Well as it happens that something awful happened on the last leg of my journey home last night, as my bag containing my laptop and hard drives with backups of all my data was stolen last night. The tool I use the most for my business – my 17’ MacBook Pro i7 is gone. I’ve lost my previous clients’ work and all the original RAW files of every wedding, portrait, event and Guinness World Record I’ve photographed, save for a few images on my website, Dropbox and one set on a memory card that hasn’t been reformatted yet.

Everything I’ve photographed, edited, stored, written, planned and budgeted since I started Britrock Photography are lost. Police reports, lost property reports, insurance claims and desperate pleas on Craigslist for the return of the hard drive will likely yield nothing more than time spent in hope.

The only way out of this situation is to get remotivated and act as those this is a business reset. Wasting too much time pontificating or worrying about what could have, should have, would have taken place, I need to assess what I have and plan to start again.

Inventory;
Thankfully I have my camera gear – cameras, lenses, speedlights, reflectors and the skills I’ve learned. A couple of clients and some experience. You can’t lose the experiences and those are the critical elements that will drive me onwards.

Sadly I don’t have the funds to afford a replacement laptop to edit any of the new images I shoot, and that’s the next biggest hurdle. I’m writing this from an ancient PC still running XP with a nervous tic that prevents Firefox from running without a crash for more than 7 minutes at a time. Cue Firefox crash? Funnily enough I may have to extend the up-time estimate to 10 minutes. Positivity is working already.

From this day forward I to promise to create a double if not triple backup of everything. I will use Google Drive, Dropbox and Mozy to ensure I don’t have to start budgets and plans from scratch ever again. Most importantly I will make sure I have a double backup of all future images I shoot.

Wish me luck on my business rebirth.

Posted in Business, Consumer Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Did You or Someone Else Secure Your Facebook Name F-O-R-E-V-E-R [dun-dun dadada]

Posted by Britrock on June 13, 2009

Last night’s Facebook “vanity address” grab felt like a PR campaign. Tension and anticipation was built up through blog posts on Facebook, followed by media coverage intimating that brands and individuals would be fighting for their online identity. In reality, a handful of people logged on at midnight and blundered their way through the one click process of securing their ‘Facebook’  identity f-o-r-e-v-e-r! Like a bad driving license or passport photograph, one mistake or over eager click of a button and Facebook users would be stuck with a miss-spelled name or punctuation in places that didn’t need it. At least that was part of the story.

Hysterical Media Reaction to Facebook Name Claim

Hysterical Media Reaction to Facebook Name Claim

Its difficult to tell how many people actually stayed by a computer, the minutes ticking down until midnight when the application system was activated, however reading the conversation on Facebook and Twitter amongst my small group of friends it appeared that 5% of us took the time to make the change almost immediately. Mashable claimed that 200,000 names were applied for in 3 minutes last night.  Mine was more luck that planning, as I returned home close to midnight having a great night out with close friends watching Josh Ritter open Central Park Summerstage’s 2009 season with a mellow performance amongst the trees.

Rosh Ritter at Summerstage 09

Rosh Ritter at Summerstage 09

Relaxing, with beer in hand, I logged onto Facebook and clicked the first named option available www.Facebook.com/philip.robertson. Moments after accepting the address for the [insert dramatic tension…perhaps I should create a blog post and conduct calls to reporters to build up the tension] “rest of my life,” I realized I didn’t need punctuation in the middle of my name. Fortunately Facebook also captured www.facebook.com/philiprobertson for me. But why offer the two alternatives and why assign them to the same person? Surely this will reduce the number of available accounts, unless there’s something I’m missing or perhaps its not as important as was suggested in the hype beforehand.

Life didn’t change after I secured my own personal brand… er… name my parents gave me. So I’m off to the gym. Safe in the knowledge something even less dramatic will happen sometime soon.. but with probably greater significance and I’ll miss out because its really not that important in the greater scheme of things.

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Marcel Marceau Missed His True Professional Calling By Months

Posted by Britrock on June 4, 2009

As hard as it is for a grown man of 35 years to sit in front of a big HDTV wearing a communication headset attached to a plastic control device, any feelings of mild humiliation are tempered when immersed in a fierce online virtual gunfight with friends.  Every gamer knows that feeling of anticipation; staring, unblinking, at the screen, waiting for the moment a deftly executed sprint-and- stab combination yields instance death to an enemy delivered by a careful flick of a few buttons and bumpers on a controller. Admittedly there is a sheepish feeling that descends once ones girlfriend walks into the room to determine why the aforementioned adult has yelped with glee, loudly enough for the neighbors to hear.

That sense of anticipation took on a greater sense this week as Microsoft, purveyors of the remarkably fine and popular Xbox video game system, announced Project Natal the ‘insert PR person’s claim that its the “next evolution” of gaming…’ By the popularity indicators of today the new concept is capturing the online communities imagination as “Project Natal” ranked highly as a search term on Google, as a topic of conversation on Twitter and spawned many videos on YouTube.

It appears that what Microsoft is proposing is stripping away the controller and headset from where grown adults hide, and replacing it with nothing. That’s right “nothing.” Project Natal is supposed to leap forward a generation beyond Nintendo’s motion-sensing controllers that allowed anyone to participate in virtual bowling, boxing, dancing, prancing, swaying, heading, yoga-ing exercise routine, by introducing gaming without a device in hand. Tangible-intangible gaming if you will. No longer will mature gamers be able to pointlessly dodge and weave to simulate their immersion in the action, to confirm they are unable to interact with ones partner about the choices for dinner or deny being responsible for household chores because  of the plastic control device in their hands.

Xbox Project Natal

Xbox Project Natal

Project Natal was introduced at E3, the electronic entertainment expo, by Steven Speilberg representing the pensioner demographic, where herds of the curious imagined miming activity that would be relayed by motion-sensing cameras through a video game system to a monitor where movements will be translated into real-life ‘virtual’ activity. The concept appears feasible and engaging. Look how easy and accessible Nintendo’s Wii has made gaming for grandparents. Only this morning NBC’s Today Show ran a segment featuring a retirement community of octogenarian boxers and 298-bowlers.

However Project Natal poses many questions for me which I probably won’t be able to answer until my grandparents or parents buy the system. Will Project Natal signal the end of a generation of overweight, pale children that evolve over-developed ‘virtual gaming’ muscles? Will people become more healthy because they are miming participation in activity rather than guiding onscreen characters to take part through operation of controllers by fingers and thumbs? What will happen to the “Xbox finger” support group? How will the motion-sensor compensate for overally expressive Europe nationalities that tend to communicate with a great deal of arm flailing? How much embarrassment will the new system’s auto detection of participants gender cause for long haired gamers? And does Project Natal contribute to Microsoft’s second coming? You might be able to find guidance on Bing.com.

Project Natal Be The Thing That Slides Under Your Couch

Project Natal Be The Thing That Slides Under Your Couch

Writing these reactions to the future of a pastime my friends and I have bonded over for years, has helped me realize that it might, “might,” be time to grow up and become a functioning adult, retire my controller, controllers actually, including the Guitar Hero Gibson Les Paul replica… Perhaps I could particpate in actual golfing, bowling, drinking and watching football. Or perhaps I could stand in the warm, dry comfort of my living room, not having to wait for the hackers in the group in front, as I swing my arms and turn my hips before watching my seven iron approach to the green come to rest within gimme distance as I take part in my “regular healthy exercise.” Will I need a gym or golf club membership? I’ll never need to leave home. With the money saved I could by sunlamps to compensate for not ever being outside. Waiting for tee-times, an open lane at bowling will be a thing of the past as I mime my freetime away. The virtual future is here and Marcel Marceau missed his true calling by merely months, god rest his face-painted soul.

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Is Plaxo relevant anymore?

Posted by Britrock on May 26, 2009

Plaxo Facebook Connect Promo Email

Plaxo Facebook Connect Promo Email

“Link your Plaxo and Facebook accounts (and get more out of both)” the header of the email I received today from Plaxo. Is that truly what I want or need? More importantly is it what my friends and contacts on both Facebook and Plaxo need? By allowing Facebook to connect with my Plaxo profile I could inadvertently create even more noise in the already crowded social media space and burn more contacts by flooding them with surplus or repeated information.

When I first signed up for Plaxo in approximately 2003 it was an online storage depository for my contacts that would allow my contacts to update their own details whenever they moved house, changed job or bought a new phone number. At some stage Plaxo repositioned itself to become a challenger to LinkedIn, a networking site for business people. Including OpenSocial was a good step to making it easier to sign-in to my Plaxo account with my Yahoo ID, especially when considering its formerly complicated password retrieval system. Plaxo Pulse’s introduction in 2007 allowed users to provide updates on their online activity of other sites. Since Plaxo’s purchase by Comcast in July 2008 there have been no press releases and few update communications from the company. There were murmerings that Facebook was looking to acquire Plaxo not so long ago. With this announcement today the site appears to exist in a slightly murkier realm sub-Facebook and competing with FriendFeed.

FriendFeed aggregates content from multiple social media sources including Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube etc, and allows the user to organize the feeds of information into groups that communicate e.g. marketing experts, friends, work colleagues, friends that follow the same sports teams, fans of Coldplay that can put up with Chris’ voice etc. Plaxo Pulse held the upperhand with social media site aggregation being two years ahead of FriendFeed but today I don’t know what value it offers to me- an average consumer of social media trends and online applications.

What does Plaxo allow me to do that adds more value than LinkedIn, my business social networks or FriendFeed where I aggregate my social media streams or Facebook where my online friendship network lives? Is it just another way to lose friends online? Is it a faster way to get fired? Either way, I’m using a lot of tools to manage my online life. Maybe its time to cut back on a few.

Paxo - sage and onion chicken stuffing, not to be used with your PC or Mac.

Paxo - sage and onion chicken stuffing, not to be used with your PC or Mac.

Post script: For those British fellows not familiar with online networking and social media, reassured that Paxo, the sage and onion chicken seasoning amd stuffing will always be relevant.

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