I have to admit I was apprehensive about spending an entire two week holiday in Sydney. This is my fifth visit since 2005, and while the most recent two were quick stopovers, they had refreshed the memory of very enjoyable previous trips—would there be enough new memories made on this trip to make it stand out?
There are also advantages to returning to a familiar place. Upon waking to cool and rainy weather on our first morning, our knowledge accumulated from previous trips meant we were quickly able to adjust our plans to something more appropriate. In need of a good brunch to cure jet lag, we knew that the cafés at Bronte beach would fulfil all the criteria—fresh tasty food, good coffee and fabulous views of the ocean. The inclement weather had generated huge crashing waves that were spectacular to watch, and the beach was deserted, giving it a very different atmosphere to the busy weekend bustle of surfers and swimmers we experienced last time.
Our café choice, Bronte Belo, was based on no criteria other than it being the most well patronised on a very quiet day, but once we sat down we had some feelings of familiarity, and the food was pleasingly excellent. There was a sudden heavy rain shower while we ate which fortunately passed over quickly, and the fresh post-rain air made it ideal conditions for walking the cliff path to Bondi, with its dramatic seascape of waves crashing into the cliffs. At Bondi the weather had taken a turn for the worse, the gusts of wind blowing cold sea-spray and painful rough sand at our exposed skin so we cut short our bare-footed walk along the famous beach and made for shelter in the hipster cafés overlooking it.
There are risks when returning to somewhere—favoured old haunts closed or a shadow of former selves—but it is also lovely to really get to know a place, discover those off-the-beaten track places, and hang out with the locals.
Update: Now with a short video (9 seconds) showing just how big the surf was!
The use of Adobe Photoshop® to edit photographs is so ubiquitous that to photoshop became a verb. Photoshop is an incredibly powerful image manipulation program for which the only limit is your imagination, or possibly your knowledge of how to drive it. Given then the maturity of the market, a surprising number of new applications have appeared in the last 18 months. Many of these delineate themselves from the metaphorical 800lb gorilla by providing a very different user-interface paradigm to that of Photoshop, often the “filters” approach popularised by Instagram. This has enabled them to appeal to the large and rapidly growing market of casual photographers for whom the cost of Photoshop’s monthly subscription model is unsuited.
Of the applications I have tried, each one has its strengths and are continuously improving. Consequently I now have a toolbox of different apps I use when when editing a photos but fortunately Apple’s Photos.app makes it very easy to call upon each one as the situation demands.
DxO OpticsPro for Photos: A specialist application with just three functions that earns its place for its tremendous noise reduction. The lens correction and haze removal can also be very useful, and the small number of functions make it quick and easy to use.
RAW Power: I have previously written about this application and continue to find it indispensable for adding advanced RAW editing facilities to Photos.app.
On1 Photo RAW: This is currently my primary tool for comparing and culling photos prior to loading into Photos.app, and occasionally when selecting for publication too. It has a great “Compare Mode” for comparing an arbitrary group of multiple images side-by-side full-screen—a feature that Apple removed from iPhoto in 2010 and still has not been restored in Photos.app. This is also the only tool to provide an edge-detecting brush for creating masks.1 The filter-based editing approach can produce some impressive images but knowing which filters will achieve the desired result requires considerable retained knowledge acquired through experimentation or watching On1’s excellent and extensive selection of tutorial videos.
Luminar: Similar in concept to the Effects module On1 Photo RAW this provides editing through the paradigm of tuneable filters, which can be masked and stacked to produce an output that ranges from subtle enhancement to heavy stylisation.2 Luminar wins its place in my toolbox because the filters and presets are more accessible than those in On1—it is easy to see what needs to be done to a photo to improve it and choose the appropriate filter to achieve that. Another reason to like Luminar is that while it is now available on multiple operating systems, its native Mac origin means it seems to integrate much better with the MacOS than On1.3
Polarr's approach to editing is closer to that of Photos.app: a series of sliders grouped into adjustment blocks of a technical theme. The controls are significantly more sophisticated than those in Photo.app and it also allows some adjustments to be applied to selected areas (masking). There are some interesting presets of the “highly stylised” variety. The face detection is impressive but the automatic enhancement is completely over the top to the point where it noticeably changes the features of the subject. Overall it is an impressive app, but except for the presets and face detection it requires technical skill to understand how to get the best out of it and I do not find myself reaching for it very often.
All of these apps, except RAW Power and DxO OpticsPro for Photos, are available for Windows as well as MacOS.
Disappointingly the previous version, On1 Photo 10, had even more powerful masking tools. [↩]
Both Luminar and On1 also have an object removal tool that makes automatic what, a few years ago, would have taken hours of careful cloning and puts the repair tool in Photos.app to shame. [↩]
Specifically, On1 uses a Windows-style installer instead of just being copied to the Applications folder. This became tedious when they were releasing monthly updates. I also suffered a few months where the Photos.app extension just failed to work with an “Unknown Error”. [↩]
Whilst browsing the Google Search Console for this site I noticed that some of my older image galleries were returning errors. This gallery is run by 15 year old PHP code that I occasionally have to hack to keep running on newer versions of PHP so it was not a complete surprise that it might need some fixing. I should pay more attention to webserver upgrade notices though as the logs indicate it has been broken since 1st October.
The error was a bit puzzling at first: PHP Parse error: syntax error, unexpected end of file
but eventually a helpful StackOverflow page made me realise that I needed to replace all instances of <? with <?php and the problem was solved.
During testing of the fix I found a more serious problem. All my links to picasaweb albums where I had hosted my photos from 2008 and 2009 were dead. This was unexpected since Picasa was run by Google and even though they replaced the service with Google Plus/Photos, I knew all my photos and albums were still online at the latest incarnation of Google’s service and I had trusted that Google, a company who place high importance on links for generating their search results, would not break links. It turns out that my trust was mis-placed as Google had broken some links but not others. Any link containing a username was broken but a userid would still work. So, if I could find my user id I could restore the links. Fortunately my Picasa user id turned out to be the same as my Google Plus user id, and because this was only a small number of posts over a 2 year period I could work through each one and replace the user name with that id to repair the link. There were a few direct links to photos that I was unable to repair because the URL did not contain my username.
These problems make me want to reconsider whether my current photo hosting solution with Flickr is the right one. While WordPress has improved since 2015, and has add-on features to make photograph-heavy websites go faster, those add-ons are still third-party integrations so these potential problems of what is known as “link rot” remain. I have recently been thinking about some of the other disadvantages of using WordPress, but I shall leave those for another post.
Fortune smiled on me in the tennis club ballot this year and despite life being quite busy around the beginning of July, I was able to spend a very enjoyable day at The All-England Club watching some tremendous tennis.
Despite being an overcast day, the clouds cleared late afternoon and treated us to a spectacular Cornish sunset. The rest of the week featured plenty of different weathers, from glorious sunshine to driving rain.
As of last week, the toobusyto.org.uk domain is now configured with a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) DNS record. This is a special type of DNS record which identifies which mail servers are allowed to send mail on behalf of toobusyto.org.uk users.
The aim of SPF is to prevent the unauthorised impersonation of users, a tactic frequently used by spammers. In practice it is not reliable because it can cause problems for a number of legitimate use cases related to mail forwarding, including mailing lists. In fact, Google explicitly recommends configuring an SPF record for “soft” failure rather than hard failure because of these issues.
The record was easy to setup once I realised which servers I needed to include. I send mail from toobusyto.org.uk directly via mail.toobusyto.org.uk, which is a CNAME to another system, and occasionally from Gmail’s web interface. Google have clear instructions on how to permission the latter but use of CNAMEs in SPF is discouraged to prevent receiving servers needing to perform an excessive number of DNS lookups so it is necessary to hardcode the name of the target of the CNAME. There is a risk the two can become out of sync but hopefully this is mitigated by the proximity of the two records in the BIND file. You can query the current record using your favourite DNS client but for the record the initial setup is:
; SPF record
toobusyto.org.uk. IN TXT "v=spf1 a:saturn.retrosnub.co.uk mx include:_spf.google.com ~all"
The result is that Gmail can now successfully authenticate me as a sender and for many users no longer shows a red question mark next to my name. Some experimentation has shown that the red question mark can still be present where I have emailed email@example.com and he or she forwards to a Gmail account because their.domain.com is not authorised to send mail on behalf of toobusyto.org.uk. This is actually the no worse than those users experienced prior to the configuration of the SPF record and some quick research turned up some forum posts that indicate there are potentially steps email forwarding services can do to mitigate this, although it was not clear whether the mitigation was feasible and/or effective.
One of the power features lacking in Apple’s Photos application is the ability to tweak the built-in conversion from RAW to JPEG. The now-discontinued Aperture application allowed manual control of these RAW conversion settings giving the photographer the ability work with more of the captured data to unlock hidden detail without needing a separate specialist application.
RAW Power is a Photos extension that enables this fine-tuning from within Photos. I learned from a YouTube interview with the Developer that he is the former dev lead for Aperture, having left Apple over a year ago, which suggests to me that Apple will likely cede advanced editing functionality to third party developers as I previously speculated.
As a tool with a very specific purpose, its focus makes it simple and effective to use. The interface is clearly laid out and performance nimble, and if it becomes apparent that RAW modifications are not able to improve the photo then you can cancel your edits and return to Photos with one-click.
RAW Power currently costs £9.99, and although this is labelled as promotional pricing, it is my opinion this represents very good value.
The first four days there were constant blue skies ensuring fantastic views of the beautiful Alpine scenery, including the iconic Matterhorn. This was my second ski holiday in the Italian Alps and once again the pistes were quiet, the lift queues non-existent, the food delicious and the coffee excellent. The connection to Zermatt also provided a huge ski area and diversity of slopes.
It has been almost six months since our visit to Wellington. After travelling through the beautiful vistas of the South Island it was great to finish our holiday with some hip cocktail bars and late night espresso.
In moving to my fifth iPhone I decided it was time to try a fresh install instead of transferring state from my previous one. Apple’s transfer process has always worked works seamlessly but that Star Trek-like transportation of your old phone to the new makes the new one seem, well a little less new somehow. Previously I would have feared losing something small but vital by not using the transfer process but with so much now synchronised between devices by iCloud, it seemed that the most painful and important items were covered. My willingness to experiment was also mitigated by the knowledge that if it all went wrong I could still re-install the new phone from my old backup.
Without the need to wait for a gigabyte of data to be transferred to the new phone, I was up and running very quickly and enjoyed seeing what differences there are between an out-of-the box configuration and my own. With the exception of turning off the sound and vibration notifications for new email, I have customised very little to start with: I want to see if there are any settings or features I have previously overlooked because of some decision I made 7 years ago. Working through my list of apps and choosing to only reinstall those I know I have used recently was also enlightening—there were applications I had forgotten existed buried in never-opened folders, and including some that now crash on startup. I noticed others that are no longer being updated but the developers have instead issued a whole new app instead. I learned that the telltale sign for this is when you tap on the application in your “purchased” list and it fails to display anything about it.
Having chosen which apps would survive the migration and downloaded them all, the main pain point was having to re-authenticate in all of them. The reduced number of apps kept this manageable and I would guess about 50% enabled the use of iCloud Keychain which made it a two-tap process. Given the tedious and error prone nature of typing in a complex password onto a phone keyboard I am shocked that the other 50% do not enable this. Those apps which forced me to lookup and retype my password are certainly strong candidates for deletion if there is an alternative.1
By not restoring from backup, any applications that store state locally and not in the cloud would lose their data. I was a little worried about my Angry Birds progress but then realised I had not played the game in a very long time anyway, and so far I have discovered only one application which stores data I would like to keep. It is a free app and its paid for version supports data export, which seems fair enough. WhatsApp messages were restored from its own iCloud backup (which it performs nightly) but I did lose my SMS and iMessage history (going back to 2008). Recent iMessages are on my mac anyway and after reviewing the older messages they were all very temporally contextual—“I am here / outside, where are you?”—type stuff. It is noticeable how much longer messages have become recently, perhaps an inevitable consequence of removing the 160 character limit of SMS.
In conclusion, unless you have apps or games that depend on local data, setting up from scratch was not at all painful and it felt really good to have a spring clean. Deleting something always requires metal energy to assess its value, or downside of its loss, and with storage so cheap it is rarely worth the effort. Consequently we accumulate bits and bytes rather too easily, and sometimes a platform migration is a good moment to assess what is no longer required, and start afresh.
Anecdotally, many of those which failed to implement keychain were companion apps from established non-digital companies, for example, airlines and hotel chains. Developers competing for users on the strength of their app alone were far more likely to have implemented it. [↩]
Subscribing to a blog via RSS remains a niche and decidedly geeky activity. Having said that, Apple devices now come with a built-in News.app which, for all the usual Apple gloss, does use RSS. To view this blog in Apple News, visit this link on your iPhone or iPad and tap the + sign in the top right hand corner to subscribe.
If you do not use News.app, Safari’s shared links feature (the @ tab in the bookmarks pane) also allows you to subscribe to this and many other blogs.
In my post, A macOS Photo Editing Workflow, I admitted to taking the somewhat unorthodox position of capturing both RAW and JPEG versions in-camera and normally working with only the JPEG version. The conventional wisdom in photography is that RAW is the more flexible option, providing greater opportunity for correcting and improving the image in post-processing than when the camera is allowed to make all the decisions on your behalf. There are traditional reasons for not using RAW files such as the increased file size, but these are normally only relevant in specific situations—there seems to be few generic reasons not to use RAW unless you are operating under specific constraints.
I was therefore intrigued to see a recent article entitled, Is RAW Dead? in Photography Week. In addition to examining all the usual issues, it points out that in-camera JPEGs are now so good that in the majority of situations the camera will probably do a better, or at least no-worse, job of rendering the final image than you. This makes sense: unless you actively tweak the settings in your RAW processor then you are simply handing the conversion over from one algorithm (your camera) to another (your RAW processor), and while in the past the processing ability of a camera was limited compared to that of a PC, the advances in mobile chips and image processing have removed the PC’s previous advantage. Moreover, since the JPEG output is the version seen by potential buyers and new owners of their products, the camera companies themselves are highly incentivised to make the JPEG output as attractive as possible. The article does list a specific benefit of RAW as being able to recover an additional 1-2 stops of highlights and shadow detail compared to JPEG, although it also points out that a wider range can be obtained using the camera’s automatic exposure bracketing or even built-in HDR.
For the moment I will be having my cake and eating it by using RAW+JPEG: JPEG for convenience but with the RAW available as an option should the trade-offs and technology change in the future.