How noisy are Australian bloggers, anyway?

by garth on November 22, 2006

According to buggerall, I’m the 85th most noisy blogger in Australia (but less than 3% as noisy as Darren “ProBlogger” Rowse). Extracting the top 100…

Australian Blogger Rankings: Noise vs Rank (Top 100)

That’s me, at the right. Here’s the graph of all 923 entries, though:

Australian Blogger Rankings: Noise vs Rank (Top 923)

There’s your classic power law, as you no doubt expected.

For the time being, I can bask in the knowledge that there are at least 84 Australian bloggers noisier than I am. With luck, I’ll slide even further once the rest of the Australian bloggers rush to secure their ranking by registering at buggerall.

(Nice buzz generation exercise, fellas. Onya.)

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Photosynth is available

by garth on November 13, 2006

Taking automatic stitching to its extremes, Photosynth combines hundreds of photos into a 3D environment you can navigate somewhat as if you were playing Quake. Microsoft Labs released a jaw-dropping video of this a while back, but now have released the software as a technology preview. I’m tempted to shoot a few dozen shots around the house just to give it a shot.

Creating Books in Aperture

by garth on October 26, 2006

  • When importing CDs, iTunes keeps warning me about over-writing stuff. Weird. Maybe it’s ejecting, then sucking it back in whilst I’m out of the room.
  • DO THE METADATA!
  • Apple category

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PayPal Spring Fling: Surprise!

by garth on October 21, 2006

I’m still shaking my head at this one: Zoe got mail from PayPal telling her she’d won $50 in their Spring Fling competition, and as near as we can make out it wasn’t a phishing attempt.

Good signs include:

  • The link from the mail is to https://www.paypal.com/, not some random IP address;
  • IE verified the certificate; and
  • Zoe subsequently logged into her PayPal account from a fresh browser and saw the $50.

On the other hand:

  • There’s no mention of the competition anywhere on PayPal’s site; and
  • There’s no result in Google.

Whilst I’m delighted that Zoe apparently won some cash, I’ve still got an odd itch between the shoulder blades…

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How to Take Group Shots With Nobody Blinking

by garth on October 16, 2006

The easiest way to get a group photo in which nobody is blinking is to take a lot of shots; but how many?

According to Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the CSIRO in their 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for Mathematics winning research, summarised in Blink-Free Photos, Guaranteed, Velocity, June 2006, the answer is:

For groups of less than 20: divide the number of people by three if there’s good light, and two if the light’s bad.

Once there’s around fifty people, even in good light, you can kiss your hopes of an unspoilt photo goodbye.

It’s not quite that bad for large groups: you could always cheat with PhotoShop or Group Shot. For smaller groups, however, dividing by three or two is pretty easy — and with 16GB cards available and 4GB cards cheap you can easily afford to shoot five at a time. That’s good for ten to fifteen people, depending on the lighting, and probably about as much as your camera can do in one burst without slowing down.

For those of you with science or geek backgrounds, I thoroughly recommend having a listen to the Oct 14 Science Show. The recordings of the Ig Nobel prize ceremony are a hoot.

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Aperture: Moving Masters

by garth on October 15, 2006

I’ve experimented with moving masters to solve my dumb albums problem, and have both good and bad news.

The good news is: you can move masters from one project to another. The cursor won’t change to let you know what’s about to happen (unlike, say, adding photos to an album), but a black border will appear around the project name. When you let go of the mouse button, you’ll be given the opportunity to cancel. There’s no way to tell Aperture to not warn you next time. Thankfully, you shouldn’t be moving masters to other projects too often.

Any albums in the old project will survive: as the Move alert tells you, their references will be updated. It might seem weird to have an album in one project pointing to masters in another, but it makes sense when you consider an album named “Portfolio”, in which you’d really like your best photos from any and all projects.

The bad news is: “smart” albums will break. My “Mug Shots” smart folder, for example, no longer found photos with the tag — even after I moved it to the new project. I had to re-create it from scratch. I thank the gods I’m not moving a year’s worth of pictures to another project, losing all twelve of my by-the-month smart folders and any other date-constrained special event folders.

Can anyone recommend a good resource for using Automator with Aperture?

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Aperture Smart Albums: Not That Smart

by garth on October 15, 2006

Aperture has made it to version 1.5 without the ability to exclude pictures based on keyword. I want to have my screen saver display this year’s pictures rated *** or better, but without those I took for work. I suspect I’ll have to export the masters and import them back to a new project.

Speaking of the screen saver: it’s wonderful that Apple have Mac OS X automatically treat Aperture albums as screen savers in their own right, but I find the behaviour of the Crop slides to fit on screen feature somewhat bizarre when it encounters a photo in portrait orientation.

When I shoot in portrait, the most interesting part of the photo is usually in the top third or so. I’d like to see that third, but for whatever reason OS X feels compelled to show me my subject’s feet or crotch instead. Oops.

Update: I’ve found more smart folder breakage. Lucky me!

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Enough Tinkering, Already!

by garth on October 9, 2006

Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood has, in two consecutive posts, highlighted my reasons for my two big switches of late, both of which were from home-grown solutions to something that works straight out of the box with no assembly required.

In On Frameworkitis, he passes on the cautionary tale of a programmer who felt so compelled to re-write his blogging engine when using it that he didn’t successfully post for two and a half years. Then, in Building and Overclocking a Core 2 Duo System, Jeff describes his own latest annual PC rebuild, including multiple tweak-verify passes to determine the highest safe overclock settings for his new CPU.

I love tinkering, but I’m sick of it being a productivity boat-anchor. Hence, my recent moves to WordPress and a Mac Pro.

How to Buy a New Mac Pro

by garth on October 6, 2006

Scott Bourne recently published Aperture Trick #59 on building a dream MacPro for use with Aperture. To summarise:

  • Spend big on the graphics card;
  • Scrimp on the CPU if you need to;
  • Buy at least 2GB RAM;
  • Buy third party memory if you’re buying a lot; and
  • Spend big on the graphics card.

As I’ve found with my 2GHz/2GB/X1900 Mac Pro, this advice will also result in a kick-arse gaming machine. Oops!

I’d like to contribute some additional advice for people who, like me, have spent most of their computing lives on PCs and who don’t yet know the ins and outs of buying and caring for Macs. It’s not so much what to buy, as how:

  • Buy from a good reseller;
  • Talk to them often;
  • Bring them repeat business; and
  • Buy AppleCare.

In more detail:

Buy from a Good Reseller. I bought my Mac Pro from Total Recall Solutions in North Sydney. Lara helped me fine-tune the configuration and quote, saving me a few bucks. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a great start way to start a relationship. That’ll help more than you think, as you’ll need to…

Talk to your Reseller Often. You’re switching. All your friends have PCs. Those of them that you’ve persuaded to switch are also brand new. So, who’s going to help you out?

So far, Lara at TRS has:

  • Helped me fix some initial problems with application crashes;
  • Ordered me a rare Avocent KVM capable of switching DVI at 1920×1200;
  • Sold me Parallels and helped me nut out its problems;
  • Put me in touch with another of her customers that had managed to get Boot Camp working despite his X1900;
  • Helped me find a retractable iPod charge and sync cable that actually works; and
  • Sold me Aperture and swapped tips.

You might have time to browse web sites all night. I don’t. I’m delighted that I can lob a quick phone call or email at Lara and her co-workers and get a tip on how to solve some minor problem that Google can’t.

My more astute readers will have spotted that some of the items above involve add-on purchases, and might be wondering why I didn’t buy everything online. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve discovered that it’s a great idea to…

Bring your reseller your repeat business. I always give my reseller a chance to match online prices on new Mac-related kit before I buy it. Most of the time, they either beat the price or come within cooee of it, even if it wasn’t on their price list the day before. Overall, I think I’m ahead on price and way ahead on support. (They’re not doing too badly out of me, either.)

There’s one more thing you can do that can substantially help your reseller help you:

Buy AppleCare. Your Mac is going to cost you a bundle. Should something go wrong, it’s going to be expensive and time consuming to fix. If you don’t buy AppleCare, you’ll basically have to send your box back to Apple to get it looked at and fixed, and your puny warranty will have you buying expensive bits only shortly into the machine’s useful lifetime.

If you buy AppleCare, on the other hand, there’s someone paid to take your calls and authorise your reseller to swap parts at Apple’s expense. Your reseller can get the parts and swap them while you wait, minimising your downtime and hassle.

* * *

I realise this advice isn’t as attractively geeky as tips on shaving GHz in exchange for GB, but how you buy your Mac can have as big an effect on your productivity as what you put in it.

Spending time on a professional relationship might feel weird to some geeks. It would have felt weird to my younger self. I’ve found, however, that buying from a good reseller and keeping in touch with them has contributed more to my satisfaction with my Mac than a mild CPU upgrade would have.

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Batting for the Other Team

by garth on October 5, 2006

It’s time to come out of the closet.

I use a Macintosh at home.

At first, it was just a Mac Mini used for the occasional build and test of Juice. Then my PC started flaking out, and I had to pull half of the memory out. Its performance became awful. Unfortunately, at three years old it was too hard to swap out just a few bits: I was going to have to get a whole new machine.

I spent a few months locked up in analysis paralysis over the four digit upgrade whilst also wrangling a five digit kitchen upgrade, planning a six digit forced rebuild on the back of the house, and helping customers figure out seven digit upgrades to their IT environments.

I eventually decided that if I had to choose two items out of good, cheap, and shipping before 2020, I was going to compromise on the price.

That, in combination with accidentally subjecting myself to three contiguous hours in a reality distortion field chasing down a friend’s recommendation that I find out about Time Machine, made for a decision I hadn’t anticipated.

I ended up getting a Mac Pro.

To my surprise, I’ve taken to Mac OS X quickly. I thought I’d be switching back to XP under Parallels a lot, but so far it hasn’t been necessary: I spend all my time in Aperture and Firefox. I’m already trying to use Expose on my XP based work laptop and wishing it had the Dock.

A Mac Pro might seem overkill for browsing the ‘net, but photo management is already making good use of my investment. Video might even make the beast seem slow, which leads me to another reason I bought the Mac Pro: I don’t want to get painted into another architectural corner like last time.

One of the claimed benefits of the Mac Pro’s more expensive server chipsets is extended system life: server manufacturers would much rather upgrade parts in an existing production line than start from scratch with a new motherboard. It looks like I’ll be able to upgrade to eight cores pretty soon, I can quadruple my memory whenever that becomes affordable, and I sincerely doubt my gaming requirements will stress 16 lanes of PCI Express anytime soon. Bwa ha ha. Which reminds me:

My other important use case was being able to run PC games. Boot Camp has turned out better than I’d hoped. Half Life 2 is so smooth (with full detail!) I’m getting motion sickness if I play too long. I’m looking forward to Portal turning my guts inside out.

Overall, I’m happier with my Mac Pro than I expected to be. A lot of that is thanks to Aperture, about which I’ll definitely be ranting soon, and the rest is due to a solid and easy operating system on some kick-arse hardware I won’t have to fuss with for ages. Life is good.

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