14 June 2007

Flickr Going Downhill Fast

There have been numerous incidents at Flickr lately that indicates that the cool little photo sharing site it used to be is no more, probably due to the Yahoo! acquisition or else a victim of its immense popularity.

All of these incidents annoyed me, and every time, Flickr staff had explanations and apologies and assured people that it would be addressed so that it can't happen again. Of course, all of these people are pretty vocal and high-profile. I am sure this crap is happening every day with the nobodies of Flickr, like me. I fully expect my one picture which has been #1 in explore for more than a year to take a sudden nosedive in popularity after this post.

But I didn't get too worked up over these incidents. I have invested so much time in Flickr, and even money to upgrade to a "Pro" account, and I'm basically lazy. So there was nothing really getting me too worked up. But I can't help but thinking of Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous (but often misquoted) poem (translated from German):

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Well, yesterday this did come for me, so to speak. Flickr did something that seemed popular (and extremely long overdue) - they added the ability to view the interface in a few languages other than English, namely French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Traditional Chinese.

But at the same time, something else happened. From the Flickr Help page:

What is SafeSearch?
SafeSearch is a feature that allows you to control what turns up in your searches on Flickr, and it's on for everyone by default.

Note: If your Yahoo! ID is based in Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong or Korea you will only be able to view safe
content based on your local Terms of Service so won’t be able to turn SafeSearch off.

Huh? What? So now I am forced to look at only what is deemed "Safe". Thanks. I thought I was an adult in a free country and could choose my own path in life. But Flickr doesn't see it that way, and has decided that everyone in Germany, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have no freedom of choice. That's censorship. And, unlike the other examples above - it affects huge swaths of the world population.

The matter is made worse by the not one but two complete crap responses from Flickr founder Steward Butterfield. There is absolutely no explanation or reason for this. We'll see how this plays out, but I can see that my days on Flickr are probably numbered.

Update: Someone from the Flickr Staff finally told us why (which was the biggest problem). Only two days late. And still completely bogus, as anyone can sign up for a US. Yahoo account and get around it. And anyone in Austria or Switzerland is restricted in the same way as Germany. Or that moderation in Flickr is self-moderation. Or... I could go on for a while. It wasn't well thought out, and it isn't well implemented for the stated goals.

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13 June 2007

Me talk pretty some day

Preface: I want to make it clear that I have no delusions that I speak any foreign language fluently, and I butcher the German language almost every day. I respect anyone that tries to get by, whether in everyday life or just on vacation or whatever, in a non-native language.

We see a lot of t-shirts with English words written on them, most with questionable meaning. (Nothing is percolating into my brain at the moment, though... It is hard to remember nonsense. Unless it's Jabberwocky.) Sometimes I just stare in disbelief that someone would actually wear such a thing. Take this "lovely" belt buckle as an example.

Ignore the stylish graphic for now. The words read (with the line breaks)

Gas Grass or 
Ass Nobody
Rides For

The designer apparently never heard of punctuation. Would it hurt to throw a comma and a couple periods in there?

OK. It is inconceivable to me that someone would actually pay money for that and wear that. So far, I haven't seen this in the wild, just in a store window. I guess nobody wants to advertise that they give free rides to Ass Nobody or Gas Grass.

The next example of something I would never wear is this lovely t-shirt. Jeannette has actually seen someone wearing this one.

It reads "*L.A.* Cocaine Business"
When we saw that in the store window, Jeannette and I had the discussion that pretty much hit these points, in this order.
1) I don't want to wear that. Ever.
2) I do want to see someone wearing that while trying to go through customs at some U.S. airport. Or Singapore.
3) Don't people in the "Cocaine Business" call it "Blow"?
4) Isn't your business just another word for your job?
5) So, based on 3 & 4, shouldn't it read "L.A. Blow Job" ?
6) Now that's a completely different image.
7) I imagine a film. There's a couple of guys trying to make a living (in L.A., of course). They have gotten themselves involved in the seedy underground. At least one of them is an immigrant and doesn't speak English very well. This English as a second language character makes arrangements for the two of them to deliver cocaine for the local drug kingpin, with the assurance that if they do this one right, they would be trusted to do more. When he excitedly tells his buddy about their new employment opportunity, he says something along the lines of "It's a blow job! And if we do it right, we'll get to do more blow jobs all over L.A.!" Haven't decided what the response will be yet. That's why I'm not a scriptwriter.
8) It seems like it could be something said by one of the dumb thugs in the excellent German movie Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

OK, we'll that's it for today. And in case you don't know already, I borrowed the title of this post from David Sedaris. He wrote a book with the same title. He used it first. And he's funnier than I am. Usually.

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05 June 2007

The Best Geotagging Solution Yet

Back in December, I talked about the attempt Jeannette and I were making on an elegant geotagging solution where the key components would come from our employer.

For various reasons, that project is on hold. But I still want to use the capabilities built into my camera to automatically geotag my photos, but I was not happy in Strasbourg and Barcelona carrying around the setup I had. (see below)

I have been yearning for a solution, and even tried out a few things (unsuccessfully). With the upcoming vacation season, the sense of urgency has increased, so I bit the bullet and invested in this:

The two small boxes replace the Nikon MC-35 cable, the 6-foot long GPS serial cable and the old & clunky Garmin GPS reciever.

The larger box is a Holux GPSlim 236 bluetooth GPS receiver and the smaller box is a bluetooth-to-serial converter doodad from Foolography that plugs into the camera's 10-pin accessory port. I don't think the creator has decided on a model number yet...

These two things completely eliminate the cable clutter. The only downside is the loss of the 10-pin connector for my remote release. But I am working on that...

So far this system has worked quite well, especially considering its small size. After extensive testing on our trip to Paris over the long Easter weekend, I can say I am quite happy. But there are some strange points I will bring up:
* The Bluetooth connection is flaky. Once the connection is made, it is pretty solid. I'd say about 66% of the time, the connection between the GPS and the module on the camera is made within a second or three of turning on the camera. About 25% of the time it will take much longer. Maybe 10 -15 seconds. The remaining 10% or so of the time it simply will not connect, and I have to switch off the camera and back on before the connection is made.
* The Bluetooth connection is much more reliable when I keep the GPS close to the camera. I had originally intended to keep the GPS unit in my backpack, but it was unreliable. Currently I have a cell-phone pouch (thank you Jeannette!) attached to my camera strap. Not perfect, but working acceptably well.
* The Holux GPSlim 236 battery life is incredible. I get at least 12 hours on a charge.
* The battery on the D200 is not seriously diminished, if I turn off the camera between bursts of shooting. Nikon made an interesting decision (or maybe it was just a mistake) to keep the exposure meter on when there is incoming GPS data. This means the camera is burning a lot more power than it does in its idle state when nothing is happening. The battery will die in a few hours if I don't turn the camera off. I think it is more the exposure meter remaining on than the Bluetooth-to-serial module.
* The Holux GPSlim 236 normally locks in pretty quickly (less than 1 minute), assuming I haven't moved a great distance since the last time it was on (and locked in). But sometimes, and I haven't figured out what causes this, it will take forever, like it is reading the entire almanac. It is very frustrating when the GPS doesn't lock in quickly, more so than when the Bluetooth connection isn't made.
* The Holux GPSlim 236 is very good (but not perfect) at keeping a lock in a city. It beats the heck out of my old Garmin, which is no surprise considering the Garmin is around 8 years older than the Holux. I think the quality of the position reported by the Holux is better too. Comparing geotagged photos with both GPS units using Google Maps, the Holux geotagged photos seem much closer to the right place than the Garmin. I really like that.

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The Next Aperture Script

Recently I talked about the Applescript I worked on to add extra EXIF metadata to the Aperture database. It works great for me, but a couple people that have tried it have had problems with it, mainly because they use some options in Aperture that I don't that causes problems. Most of those problems, if not all, would be solved by doing the metadata extraction at import, when I know the name of the source file and the reference to the file in the Aperture database.

The basic principle was not very hard, in fact, it came together a lot quicker than I ever would have expected. But it took a while to bring it to a state that I would want the rest of the world to see it. I can put up with some things that I am sure others wouldn't, and I had to make it easy for the end user to use it in their own way - which meant taking out all the hardcoded paths and stuff...

Then I had to get all fancy. As I have mentioned in the past, I am a big proponent of geotagging, either with a direct connection between the camera and a GPS or software that syncs GPS track logs with photos via the time stamps. Since I was working on all this metadata (thanks to exiftool) on the front-end of the import process, and I have the GPS EXIF data available, why not query the GeoNames database and write the City, State & Country IPTC tags as well?

I was all ready to write my own parser of the GeoNames, but somehow I stumbled across the Geo::GeoNames perl module on CPAN. That sure made things easy.

The perl part came together pretty fast, but the Applescript part was slower - Applescript is probably the most readable language I have ever seen, but the elegance (if you want to call it that) of it is only in the finally working code. There are seriously some major syntax gymnastics going on when I try to figure out how to put things together. I think the open-endedness of the syntax is what makes it so hard. I think that anything should work, or that what I wrote originally is just the same as what I eventually got to work.

In the end, I cobbled together something that works great for me. Yeah, there are some rough edges I would like to work on, but for now, I need to live with what I have and spend some more time with my wife.

If you are interested in learning more, or using it for your own needs, or you just want to criticize my sloppy code, you can find more info, and a download link, here.

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02 June 2007

What Happened After the Death Star Blew Up

Absolutely Hilarious.

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