I used to use Windows, since before it was called Windows. But a few years ago, after much prodding from friends, I tried using a Mac. Specifically, I tried using a Mac which was slightly less powerful than my PC, and discovered that it ran Lightroom seven times faster. Good enough for me and I switched. Never regretted it, and although I have a Windows 7 install for gaming, I am happy to use a Mac for everything else.
Last week saw the release of Mountain Lion, the latest OS from Apple. Just as Snow Leopard improved on Leopard, Mountain Lion is a revised version of Lion rather than a completely new experience. Still, at $19.99, it would be churlish to bitch about the lack of significant changes.
What you do detect is a continuation of the theme to bring the world of the tablets and phones close to world of the desktop, and to keep all your devices in line. Apple’s iCloud storage is much more prominent now, and as a mechanism for keeping everything in sync across multiple devices it can be useful. Start writing a seminal blog post on my Mac Pro and SWMBO announces a trip to a coffee shop. Abandon my word processor (no need to save, that just happens) on my Mac Pro and then, once in the coffee shop, open up the same application on my iPad and there is my blog post just as I left it on the computer. Once iOS 6 arrives, I will be able to do similar with my browsing; opening currently active Safari tabs on my iPhone on my iPad, for example. Not earth-shattering, but useful. At least it would be if I didn’t use Firefox.
The other theme is sharing, with the ability to share almost anything in a number of different ways (although not yet to Facebook, coming soon). Finish processing The Tweak on a photo in Photoshop and save it. Right click it in Finder and I have an option to send it straight to my Flickr stream (or Twitter, or email or a message).
There is a neat notifications panel, improved gestures for laptop users, messaging, better security and many other things I have yet to find or will never discover. But best of all, like all new releases before it, Mountain Lion feels faster than Lion.
Buying an operating system from Apple is now the same as buying “Anomaly Warzone Earth”, you go online to the App Store and buy it. It then downloads and you install it. So there is no point going to your local Apple store and looking for a box on the shelf, because there aren’t any.
I told myself I would wait several weeks to allow any bugs to be discovered and fixed before buying it. As usual, that resolve lasted a couple of days and I acquired it on Saturday. It’s all very convenient buying an OS online; until your hard drive fails and you need to reinstall and you don’t have the traditional DVD in a box available. Of course you can download it again at no charge; but you are going to need a working computer to do that. Catch 22.
So the first thing to is to acquire an 8GB USB stick, write “Mountain Lion” on it in your best handwriting, and then use a utility to set up the USB from your downloaded OS. Full details here. Now you have a stick which can use to re-install the OS should you ever need to do so, or to install on any other Mac computers you may have (which is legal under the licence agreement, not that I have read it and not that you care).
That done, find the Mountain Lion Installation in the applications folder and give it a good hard click. Hello, says the installer, this will take 31 minutes. Lying bastard, I came back in about ten minutes and it had finished (thank you SSD). No 23 character licence keys to mis-type, arcane options to choose from or “click to continue” messages. It just does it and you are back as you were when you left, albeit with a new operating system.
Is it worth $19.99 and ten minutes of your time? I am probably not the best person to ask. Real people have appointments and friends and alerts and all sorts of social shit going on. Some real people have laptops. Some people use their computers for many more diverse tasks than I do. They will probably like the new alerts system, the improved gestures etc. I like some of the little things, have found nothing to dislike and am enjoying the generally more snappy experience.
Roll on Korat Cat, or whatever the next release is to be called.
Four things that should never be close together at the same time: she who must be obeyed, her birthday, a handbag shop, and my credit card. It’s a perfect storm for financial ruin and one I have been able to avoid thus far.
But we were in Siam Paragon this week and I had forgotten all about the imminent event that is her birthday (although I do have a reminder on my phone for the actual day, so I can remember to wish her a happy birthday without being prompted).
As is our usual practice in shopping malls, we went our separate ways; she to look at whatever crap she likes to look at, and me to check on any important new technology and books.
Then an MMS arrives, with this from my wife:
A monstrous montage of Louis Vuitton garbage, what was she on about? Still, the penny did not drop. Then we met up.
“Hello darling” she purred.
Can we take a quick look at the handbags in Louis Vuitton before we leave? After all, it is my birthday next week….. (sweet smile)
Shit. Bollocks. Balls. Trapped!
She popped off the toilet before what would be an extended choosing session in which I would try, and fail, to pour scorn on every suggested bag. What to do?
Next to the toilets sat an ATM machine. Liberation! I quickly took my credit card and stuck it into the machine. It asked for my pin number and I gave it my ATM card number. Fail. Did that two more times and the machine swallowed my card. Yes!! But I managed to change my expression from one of jubilation to frustration by the time my wife emerged from the toilet.
Just did the silliest thing?
Stuck my credit card into the ATM machine instead of my ATM card and the machine has taken it. Will have to call up and cancel it, then order a replacement.
Oops indeed, which means I can’t buy you that handbag I was so keen to get you for your birthday.
Still, we went to look anyway, only to find that the shop had already shut for the day; so I had sacrificed my credit card for nothing.
Still, excellent strategic move by me under extreme pressure.
There is of course an alternative story, that I was just trying to get some cash out of the ATM machine, inserted my credit card by mistake, and then stupidly kept on keying in an obviously invalid code until I lost the card. But knowing me, which story would you believe?
Being British, I have an inherited PhD in cynicism, a firm belief in the ability of my country to cock things up, a studied absence of patriotism, and I utter a small prayer of gratitude every morning that I no longer have to live in the country of my birth.
I can still remember the queasy feeling in my stomach when Britain won the right to host the next Olympics. The news was marked by Boris in a bus in Beijing, and it was more than a little crap, especially after the carefully crafted mega-show that only a country like China, with an unlimited budget and unlimited people, could manage. This was going to be a disaster.
And so I sat down this morning to watch the London opening ceremony with cynicism turned to maximum and a full pot of sneering ready to apply liberally when required. Bring it on.
And bring it on, Danny Boyle certainly did. He started with the stadium turned into the green fields of the UK. There were live animals and hundreds of people; all of whom somehow magically removed themselves and all their props to reveal a scene from the industrial revolution, complete with smoking chimneys and a steelworks that constructed a fiery ring which was then lifted aloft to join four other rings to complete the you-know-what. In the middle of that we had a period of reflection on the dead of two world wars, there was the suffragette movement and the Jarrow march.
Next there was a segment where the queen meets James Bond in Buckingham Palace. Must be an actress; no it was the actual real Liz who may have employed a stunt double when it came to skydiving out of a helicopter and showing her bloomers; but she gave permission for it to happen so she may not now be first against the wall come the revolution.
What can he do next? How about Mike Oldfield playing Tubular Bells while kids from Great Ormond Street Hospital are wheeled in by nursing staff and everyone starts dancing. Try shutting down the NHS now Mr. Cameron. Oh, and there were loads of characters from kids literature floating about ‘cos we are good at that too.
Then they announced Sir Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra playing Chariots of Fire. Bit of a yawn then; but no, this was just a prop for a Mr. Bean sketch. Rowan Atkinson hates Mr. Bean, we Brits prefer him in Blackadder; but to the rest of the world he is a symbol of British humour and I bet they were giggling in Peru.
Next we had a single simple house around which was hung a montage of fifty years of British film and (mainly music) including queen friendly favourites such as the Sex Pistols and Frankie’s Relax. Plenty of social media references and the house lifted at the end to reveal Tim Berners-Lee, father of the internet.
Finish off with Abide With Me and you had an hour plus of magic.
First of all, you have to admire the sheer technical achievement. Ten thousand volunteers, any one of whom could have cocked things up. All sorts of technical wizardry that could have gone wrong and made Britain the laughing stock we expected it to be. Then there was the production which wasn’t just a stage show but a filmed event going out live to the world; so every camera shot had to be perfect. Essentially it was a complex movie with thousands of amateur actors shot in one take. No pressure then.
But it was a lot more than that. To be British is to understand the lure of the green and pleasant lands that are there to be enjoyed when we can. Many of us have lived through the tail end of the industrial revolution and seen the country slowly transform into the multi-cultural place it is today, with all the challenges that brings, but also all the amazing music and art that comes from such an environment. And deep down we all love the fact that we don’t take ourselves seriously, we are self-deprecating and if we want our queen have a conversation with James Bond and then jump out of helicopter as part of a show being beamed around the world; then that is what we will bloody well do.
Danny Boyle perfectly captured what it is to be British and, though I tried hard to fight it, made us proud to be so, and the bastard had me choked up for the best part of an hour.
Still wouldn’t want to live there, and for fuck’s sake don’t roll out Paul McCartney again.
Both of my regular readers will know that I like my coffee. No surprise (to me) that the first ever post on this blog was in praise of my coffee machine, and both the machine and my love for coffee have made regular appearances over the years.
I enjoy most coffee. My coffee, coffee shop coffee, Thai ancient coffee, Vietnamese coffee, coffee from almost anywhere, apart from that warmed up black gruel that sits festering in hotel breakfast areas and is tipped out of glass pots by disinterested waitresses. But I draw the line at instant coffee. I can’t make a mental connection between my perfectly roasted beans and the pile of dirty gravel that is Nescafe Gold Blend. It’s impossible to comprehend that they come from similar sources and serve the same basic purpose. I’d rather drink badger’s urine than assault my taste buds with the vile crap that is instant coffee. My default response when offered a sachet of this muck is to throw it in the nearest wastebasket (or sell it to a passing beggar); but no longer. I have found a use for instant coffee which does not involve having to drink it. I shall develop films with it.
The normal approach to film development is to use the chemicals supplied by the likes of Ilford and Kodak, and that is what I have done so far, with mixed results. But during my trawl through the wide wide world of web seeking information on this arcane process, I stumbled upon a group of people who have abandoned the easy route and opted for an intriguing mixture of instant coffee, Vitamin C and washing soda. For reasons I will never understand, a combination of these substances mixed with some water and thrown in a developing tank with a film for long enough will produce developed negatives. For reasons I will never understand, I have to try it.
And so, the great coffee project. The current film in my camera is being used to take photos of assorted coffee shops, machines, drinks, bags of beans and anything else coffee related that I can point my lens at. Once the film is finished, I will throw it into the strange mixture and see what happens. Hopefully I will end up with some photos of coffee, developed in coffee; and if that isn’t a pointless objective to strive for, I don’t know what is.
The concoction even has a name: Caffenol. There is even a website, with the tag line “…and film doesn’t smell funny any more”. Maybe not, but caffenol itself apparently smells pretty vile, which is understandable given it has instant coffee in it.
Traffic flow in Pattaya continues to degrade. The worst is at weekends, when mass muppets from Bangkok descend upon our city and clog up everything; but even during the week it is becoming more common to be stuck in a jam.
Key to the degradation has been the installation of more and more sets of traffic lights at junctions where everyone had been quite happy muddling along by using the usual technique of driving through at high speed and hoping everyone else gets out of the way. Sure there were a few major accidents and it takes a while for the blood to wash away, but not enough carnage to warrant bringing everything to a controlled stop by the use of lights.
Still, there was a small compensation for those wishing to turn left at the lights; you could do so provided the traffic was clear, even if the lights were on red. Very useful, and although some junctions prohibited the practice because you were likely to pull out into an eight-wheeled truck doing 140kph, you could happily turn left almost everywhere.
Not any more. Most junctions now have a sign prohibiting a left turn:
The purpose of these signs is not to improve road safety; they are to improve revenue. Arrive at the junction and it is clearly OK to turn left. And the cars behind you, who can’t see the sign, are sounding their horns telling you to get on with it. So you do, and out pops a policeman with a little pad and an empty purse. You’re nicked!
This being Thailand, I am ignoring the signs along with everyone else; but it’s only a matter of time before I am contributing to the coffers of the boys in brown.
Ignoring Leica, who have been operating in their own little expensive world since forever; and Epson with their low volume RD-1, it was Panasonic and Olympus who launched the concept of a compact system camera in 2008 with the micro four thirds (MFT) format. Sensors big enough to provide a quality image, small enough to enable lenses that matched body size and provided a small shooting solution. What could go wrong?
Nothing really, and the format has gone from strength to strength with a wide choice of improved bodies and an ever-expanding lens selection. I am a fan.
Sony observed the concept, saw that it was a winner, and came to play with their own take on the idea, the NEX series. Bigger sensor, which is good, which in turn required bigger lenses which is not so good. And the current Sony lens line-up is pretty weak; but at least there is some innovation in their bodies.
Also joining the compact systems party but with less success so far are Fuji, Pentax, Ricoh and Samsung; all with their own little variations on the theme.
So if you don’t want to take photos with a dumbed-down point & shoot (and why would you, just use your phone), and you don’t want to lug around a bulky DSLR and associated heavy lenses (and why would you, unless you are being paid to do so); then there is now a wide choice of cameras and lenses around which you can build a system.
Meanwhile, the two largest camera manufacturers in the world, Canon and Nikon, have spent the last four years with their heads in the sand hoping compact systems cameras would stop being the future and just fade away. If you already have a huge range of point & shoots and DSLRs, the last thing you want is a system that comes between the two and takes away sales from both.
But the big boys could not stay away for ever. And with their massive R&D budgets, plus learning from what has gone before, the world waited for game-changing offerings.
First to show their hand was Nikon with the 1 series. Plus Point: Fast auto-focus system in good light. Minus points: Almost everything else. Tiny sensor, lack of controls; basically a point & shoot with a weak selection of interchangeable lenses at a high price. It sold well at first, thanks in no small part to the Nikon marketing machine; but longer term I expect the system to fail.
And so the world waited for the Canon offering. What would one of the market leaders in cameras come up with? What exciting new features would they unveil to an expectant public?
Oops, sorry, that was the Panasonic GF1 introduced more than three years ago. I mean this, the EOS-M:
Of course, being three years more advanced than the GF1, the EOS-M has better image quality. It also has no inbuilt flash, fewer controls, no provision for a viewfinder and slower auto-focus. That’s right, this advanced product of the Canon R&D department has slower focus than a camera of three years ago. Pathetic.
Still, there is the exciting (sarcasm alert) 22mm F2 pancake lens, only slightly inferior to the three year old Panasonic 20mm F1.7; plus an 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 zoom. Not much to start with; but we could get excited about the future lenses for this camera if there was some sort of roadmap of planned lenses; but there isn’t.
So, a glorified point and shoot with a bigger sensor, could be appealing for some at a price point of around $500. Except it is $800….
With Photokina coming up, there are going to be new PEN cameras from Olympus that will no doubt blow this away, even more than the existing PEN line already does.
Alternatively, you can buy the Panasonic GF5 with a power zoom lens and proper controls for less money:
Or for $700, body only, you can get the new G5, with articulated screen, built-in viewfinder, innovative touch screen focusing, on-board flash and, like the GF5, nearly instant focusing.
But Spike, I hear nobody saying, I can use the optional adapter to bolt on my current selection of Canon EF lenses! Indeed you can dear reader, then you can enjoy an even more degraded focusing experience which Engadget described as “almost painful”. Have fun with that.
Really, Canon, what is the point of this? Of course you will sell some, to people who believe only Canon make cameras. But the rest of us will just mock and go and use something else. It’s an overpriced point & shoot with a two lens option, feeble focus and nothing at all to differentiate it from the crowd. In the words of a fourteen year old: epic fail.
Seppuku for all involved please.
I have made mention before of my love of cycling. One little story that slipped my mind related to the annual holidays I took with my parents.
In my youth I tried hard to rebel, but I failed because my father wouldn’t let me and because I never had any money. But I did have my bike and it went with me everywhere, even on our annual holidays which, even in my teens, I was obliged to attend with my parents. I didn’t mind too much though because we always went to a particularly picturesque part of Northumberland and while my parents lounged on the beach or propped up the bar, I was whizzing round the countryside and impressing the local girls with my massive thighs (or so I imagined).
Then one year, something went wrong with the holiday packing and my father announced there was no room for my bike on the car; I would have to leave it at home. Our holiday was nearly one hundred miles away, reached by some of the busiest and most dangerous roads in the country, and the there was only decision I could take. “No problem”, I announced, “I’ll cycle there and see you this evening”. And I did. It’s the equivalent of telling she who must be obeyed that I have decided to cycle to Bangkok. This would never happen of course, because I wouldn’t even make it out of Pattaya and she wouldn’t let me, being made of much sterner stuff than my father.
Which is nothing to do with why I am writing this post.
Mention must be made of Bradley Wiggins who today becomes the first English (OK Jock, if I have to, British) rider to win the Tour de France. The Sky Team was formed a couple of years ago with the stated intention of winning the Tour with an
English British rider by 2015; so well done to the whole team, especially Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, who put his status as world champion to one side to help Wiggins win the tour; and was rewarded with two wins out of the last three stages.
Anyone who has ever tried to go fast on a bike for an extended period will appreciate just what incredible athletes these guys are, and Wiggins also seems to be a pleasant, articulate chap who has worked for years for this very unique achievement. Even the French like him, although they pretend he is not
English British by concentrating on the fact that he was born in Belgium.
I reckon Sir Bradly Wiggins sound good, how about you Ma’am?