Monthly Archives: October, 2011

Autumnal access

Autumn colours at Coton. And Tilly demonstrating that gates are intended for humans and not for spaniels.

(Another iPhone shot)

An Englishman’s Home

I tried out the HDR mode on the iPhone yesterday, deep in the walls of Orford Castle.

I’m still getting used to having a phone that can take such images easily. What was more shocking was that I also snapped quite a few shots with my (much more expensive and less convenient) micro-four-thirds camera, and when I got them home onto the big iMac, I had to look quite hard to tell the difference.

I did notice it when it came to making some adjustments, because the Lumix captures RAW images where the iPhone just does JPEG.

Come on Apple, prove that it’s a real photographer’s phone by offering RAW output too!…

The Artful Dodger

(That’s a small photography pun)

I’ve been having a quick play with an iOS photo-manipulation tool called Snapseed. It makes pretty effective use of the touch screen as a way to select and apply effects, and the effects are rather good. I discovered the app just before bedtime, so haven’t done much with it yet, but here’s a quick demo:

This photo of the basin in our bathroom was just taken with the (pretty crummy) camera in my iPad while I was sitting on… well, never mind where I was sitting, but I could instantly apply and adjust a couple of effects before uploading it to Flickr.

Snapseed is certainly not the first app to do this kind of thing, but it’s the best I’ve used so far. There are a few intro video clips on their website to show you how it works. There are few quicker ways of turning your photo into an arty photo, even if, like this, it wasn’t a particularly good photo to start with.

So is it just too easy now to flick the ‘artiness’ switch? it feels a bit like cheating. In the past, such effects would have taken long hours of practice and years of experience in the dark room. (Or sometimes they were just mistakes which looked good.). Is it still art without the struggle? Is a book still a masterpiece if it is written with a word processor rather than a quill? Why do we take photographs and try to make them look like non-photographs? Is it guilt over the fact they’re not paintings?

Mmmm. Too late. Bedtime.

Ceiling feeling

I’m gazing up at the exquisitely carved canopy of this four-poster bed, and beyond it at the vaulted ceiling of the Elizabethan manor house in which we’re staying. The adjoining bathroom is about the size of our main bedroom at home.

I think I could get used to this…

It reminds me of Uncle Max in The Sound of Music: “I like rich people. I like the way they live. I like the way I live when I’m with them.”

Sadly, in this particular mansion, we have to hand over our credit card when we check out in the morning….

A tale of two iPhones

I know that several people have been buying iPhones recently, but I wonder how many bought two in one day?

I have. Well, to be fair, I did have to take one back. I initially purchased the iPhone 4S from Three. But unfortunately, the Three network has almost no coverage in my home, as I discovered when I got it back there. (The moral of this story is to make sure that you haven’t transferred your previous phone number to your new network until you’ve tested aspects of it that are important to you. Fortunately, I hadn’t.) Here’s the Three coverage map of Cambridge:

You see that little light-coloured hole in the bottom left corner with no coverage? That’s where I live. Which is a bummer, because Three’s bandwidth, customer support, and prices are all really quite good.

However, I’m working at home now, and so being able to receive calls on my mobile while at home is really quite important.

And so I took my phone back into town, sorted out all the refunds and cancellation of contracts, and got another one. I was actually quite amazed that two shops in the centre of Cambridge both had availability of the iPhone I wanted. But sure enough, there was another 64GB 4S in black at Vodafone. And Vodafone, I did know, had good coverage at my home. Their data plans suck. At least, in comparison to Three or some of the other carriers. But, when I got it home, the coverage was fine.

And with Vodafone, there is an interesting twist, which is that if the coverage hadn’t been good, I could have bought a femtocell to improve it. I gather that these are not really very good, but since, if you have a contract, you can get the box from Vodafone for only £20, it seems as if ‘not very good’ might be much better than ‘nothing at all’ which is what some of the other carriers were able to give me.

Anyway, I’m loving this new phone. The camera is excellent, though I’ve only just started playing with it. Here’s a quick low-light shot from my kitchen:


But the Siri voice recognition system also seems to be splendid. In fact, this entire post was dictated into my iPhone, with only very minor corrections, and the insertion of links and images, afterwards. Writing something of this length, using a small phone keyboard, would have been a real pain. I am exceedingly impressed, especially considering the problems I’ve had with speech recognition systems in the past. The only downside is that it will only work when you have a good network signal because it relies on cloud-based services. But otherwise the implementation is great: there is a little microphone key next to the on the keyboard, and so almost anywhere the keyboard pops up, you can decide to dictate rather than type.

And so this has just been dictated into my WordPress blog page and I’m now going to hit save.

Taking control of your Mac keyboard

I’m very fond of my little Apple Bluetooth keyboard. Apart from the slightly ridiculous notion of having batteries in a peripheral device which never moves around, it does just what I need: full-size keys, with the cursor keys in a proper configuration, but no numeric keypad to make me stretch my wrist out to unusual angles when reaching for the mouse or trackpad.

However, there is one thing that bugs me. The Ctrl key is not in the bottom left corner where God intended Control keys to be! (Unless you worship the Sun god, in which case you may like your Control keys in the place more commonly used for Caps Lock.) But Sun worshippers, and others who do not consider the Caps Lock key to be evidence of intelligent design, can do something about it: in System Preferences you can remap your Caps Lock to do something useful, like control.

But I don’t think anybody, reaching for the Ctrl key, finds their fingers moving naturally towards the second key from the bottom-left.

Many MacBook Pros have the same layout.

For many Mac users this won’t be an issue, because the Cmd and Option/Alt keys are more important, but if you spend most of your time at the command line or in certain editors, you’ll be hitting the Fn key all the time, and inserting spurious characters into your text.

But today, I found one utility (and only one) that will let me remap the Fn key so it operates as Ctrl: the snappily-named KeyRemap4MacBook.

This offers a scary range of options to remap all sorts of things, but hidden in there is the one I needed:

Perfect. This makes the Fn key operate like the right-control key, which means I can do all those Emacs-y things like Ctrl-A to go to the beginning of the line, but interestingly it doesn’t change its effect on the function keys, so I can still use them to do Volume Up & Down etc.

Update: A little later I found that, while the volume keys worked without any further adjustment, some of the other top-row ones didn’t – in particular, the brightness controls. And, in fact, KeyRemap4MacBook comes with a better solution to my problem: there’s a single configuration under the ‘Change Fn Key’ settings that maps the Fn key to be Ctrl, and Alt-Fn to be Fn. Even better.

That was all I wanted, but I dug a little bit further and discovered that, if you’re willing to edit some XML configuration files, you can create your own arbitrary mappings.

As a programmer, I use # much more than I use £, but on the UK Apple keyboard, you have to press Alt-3 to get the #. So I wanted at least to swap with Shift-3, which is £.

Here’s the XML to do it:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
            <name>Swap £ and # on UK keyboard</name>
            <autogen>--KeyToKey-- KeyCode::KEY_3, ModifierFlag::SHIFT_L, 
                                        KeyCode::KEY_3, ModifierFlag::OPTION_L</autogen>
            <autogen>--KeyToKey-- KeyCode::KEY_3, ModifierFlag::OPTION_L, 
                                        KeyCode::KEY_3, ModifierFlag::SHIFT_L</autogen>

I may eventually put # on another key like, say, ‘§’. Who uses ‘§’ outside the publishing world, anyway?

Or – aha – perhaps that’s the best thing to do with CapsLock…

Update: If you use this keyboard with Linux, you might want to check out Phil Endecott’s page here.

By hook or by crook…

Here’s a way to make yourself feel really stupid: take the SD card out of your camera and slam it happily into the slot in the side of your iMac, only to have it disappear completely. After a short, stunned moment, the realisation slowly sinks in that you have pushed it into the CD/DVD slot instead. How, you wonder, could anyone do something so foolish?

Well, here’s what the side of my 27″ iMac looks like, in a good light, after I have moved my head about 2 ft to the right from my normal sitting position:

I hope you’ll agree that it’s not quite such a daft thing to do. I certainly hope that, and so do the correspondents on this thread on the Apple support forum, where you can read several pages of confessions from people as foolish as me, and some helpful suggestions as to how to get it out again.

Based on one of those hints (Thanks, Cathy1956!) I fished it out with this elegantly-crafted tool:

Getting SD card out of CD/DVD drive

It’s good for people like me to have support groups in times of great need.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

One of the side effects of getting older is that I have to take some regular daily medication (for some trifling ailments). Another is that I get more forgetful. So I appreciate the tablet packets that come marked with the days of the week.

I do sometimes suspect, though, that the manufacturers think you will take a particular pill because you remember which day of the week it is, and not, as often seems to be the case for me, the other way around…

The font of all knowledge?

One of the most useful sites I’ve discovered recently is called
What The Font?

If you’re wondering which typeface was used in a logo, a business card, a letterhead, you can upload an image of a few words and it will attempt to identify it for you. It works beautifully.

I was creating a DVD of a friend’s wedding and thought it would be fun to have the font in the DVD menus match that used on the order of service. So I scanned a line, uploaded it, and it turned out to be Mayflower. A quick search found a free version here. Wonderful! – it could have been a time-consuming job tracking that down.

If you don’t have an image, but you have a reasonable sample of the text, then Identifont might be able to help. Not as quick, or, in my experience, as accurate, but a good alternative none the less.

Not your average Scottish cycling holiday…

I’d love to see the out-takes…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser