Monthly Archives: February, 2012

Tell It Like It Is

Joy Rosen comments on the new NPR Code of Ethics and Practices. Extract:

In my view the most important changes are these passages:

In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments we can find on all sides, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.


At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.

With these words, NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.

A blog worth watching?

One of my more interesting acquaintances is Jane Wilson-Howarth: writer, GP, speaker, broadcaster, corporate travel health consultant… Her web site is enjoyable and unusual.

So I’m pleased to hear that she’s venturing into the world of blogging. I think this will be entertaining.

Have added it to my Feed My Inbox account…

Twisty Tree

Twisty Tree by Quentin Stafford-Fraser (quentinsf) on
Twisty Tree by Quentin Stafford-Fraser


Ah – here’s an idea, following on from the last post…

I’ve always wished I could have an email address that cost the sender 1p per message. That would have such a nice effect on spam while not really inconveniencing anyone else, once the system was set up. But here’s a refinement of the idea:

Imagine that, when you sent a message, you could choose how much you wanted to pay. And inboxes were sorted, by default, with the most expensive messages at the top. You could override the order, of course, for friends and family, but would this be a good way of prioritising your email? Or am I taking capitalism too far?

It would have different dynamics, of course, depending on whether the money earned went to the recipient or, say, to a charity of their choice. How about that? If you really want to get my attention, it will involve a £1 donation to Oxfam. (Remember, a transatlantic call might have cost you a lot more than that anyway). I’d even be happy to read a lot of your spam at that rate…


The phenomenal success of SMS text messages is a fascinating example of many things – the need for an asynchronous communications mechanism between humans, the surprising adoption of what was originally a test facility for engineers, the merits of enforced brevity in communications, and our voluntary blindness to some costs when they’re expressed in a certain way.

Let me explain that last point. Let’s say that a text message, once outside your allowance, costs you 7p, and that the average text is maybe 70 characters long, so a character costs you 0.1p. On this basis, a megabyte of data costs £1000. About $1600. (A little more, actually, since SMS characters are only 7-bits). Or, to put it another way: to send a floppy disk’s worth of data would probably cost you a lot more than the computer from which you sent it. To send an MP3 track would cost you about the same as a car. And in my case, if I happen to be in the States when I send a text, it costs seven times as much. Seven cars.

Now, you could argue that everybody gets lots of texts in their calling plan, which is of course true, at least in your home country – I never get close to exhausting my allowance – but it’s this theoretical underlying price that allows the networks to charge for this as a bonus. Suppose you pay £3 more per month for a plan that gives you 300 texts instead of 100 texts. It looks like a bargain – you’re getting those texts for just 1.5p each! That’s only £220 or so for a megabyte, or, in music terms, a thousand quid per track.

Now, if you have a smartphone, consider the data portion of your plan. I’m looking at two Vodafone SIM-only schemes here, and the only difference between them is 500MB of data per month. The price difference is £5 – i.e. one penny per megabyte.

This factor of twenty thousand in the two different ways of sending data, over the same network, from the same device, has always amazed me. There are lots of approximations in the above calculations, of course. You could point out that IP-based traffic has lots of overheads, which of course it does, for small amounts of data, but that’s mostly because we often see that data wrapped in a web page. I also assumed that people on average only type 10 words per text; if you always used your full 160 characters you’d save a fair amount per byte. So perhaps the true cost factor is more like 5000, or even 1000. But can you think of any other aspects of your life where choosing that alternative wouldn’t make you pause for thought?

Now, this only exists at all, of course, because in the past there was no choice. Phones were simple devices without a full IP software stack, they had small keyboards and limited ability to create or display any other kind of media. But once you had phones that could run apps like iMessage or WhatsApp, which could efficiently send messages using protocols of their own, the picture changed.

So it’s no surprise that a recent study suggests mobile operators lost $14bn last year because of such apps. It was only a matter of time.

Let there be Lightroom

In the photography world, there are two big contenders for organising your digital photos – Apple’s Aperture, and Adobe’s Lightroom. There are also apps like iPhoto and Picasa which tend to appeal more to the mass market, not least on the basis of price, and there are some with niche followings – Bibble Pro, for example, now owned by Corel – but in general the majority of professionals or keen amateurs tend to opt either for Aperture or Lightroom. They’ve been made more accessible recently by a bit of a price war: when I purchased Aperture it was over 150 quid, but can now be had on the Mac app store for £54.99. Lightroom 3 is rather more pricey in general, but is available at around £100 for the next couple of weeks, no doubt because version 4 is about to be released.

I’ve been an Aperture user almost since it first came out – it’s a lovely program, and has always done what I needed it to. There are some areas where I think it definitely beats Lightroom – general ease of use, book and calendar printing, geotagging, syncing with iDevices etc – and does so for half the price. I have found very little in Lightroom that Aperture can’t do equally well.

But it does have a couple of limitations. The first is that it’s Mac-only, so if I ever had to move to Windows, I would need to migrate. And the second is that Aperture can, on occasion, be decidedly slow. It keeps improving, and with a bit of careful tweaking (like turning off the Face Recognition functions), can be made run at an acceptable speed on my machines, but it’s worth pointing out that my current Macs are pretty fast ones, and those with more elderly hardware might well find it a trial.

So I’ve been experimenting with Lightroom for a couple of days, and have decided to try switching to it, even though I know that adopting any Adobe product is likely to prove expensive in the long run!

If you search the web, you can find various bits of advice on how to do a migration – there are various people who have gone in either direction and documented the process. You can’t take everything with you. Each app has its own set of effects, filters, and adjustments, and they work not by changing the original files, but by storing in a database the tweaks that you apply and displaying those. Most of the crops, colour balancing, vignettes and exposure changes cannot, therefore, be moved from one to the other, unless you export the tweaked versions as separate files alongside the originals. (One way to do this is to create a Smart Album using the ‘Adjustments: are applied’ filter, and then export TIFFs or JPEGs of anything it contains.)

Any organisational arrangements – folders, books, albums, or smart folders – except those represented directly by filesystem folders, will also not be transferred. But some things can be ported across: metadata such as keywords, copyright information, and geotagging (location information), because there are standard ways of storing such things that both programs respect. It’s quite possible, in fact, to have your master files in one place on the hard disk and open them in either Aperture or Lightroom as the mood takes you, depending on which facilities you need. That way, I think, madness probably lies, unless you’re very careful.

There’s also a slight complication in that geotagging has been very important for me in recent years. Nearly 8000 of my images have accurate latitude and longitude attached, and I don’t want to lose that. But I have Canon RAW files, Panasonic Lumix raw files, and a variety of JPEG vintages, and the EXIF extensions which support GPS information have not historically been equally well supported by all of these, or by the software which interprets them. Sometimes a JPEG can store it, sometimes it can’t.

So, in case anyone else is considering a similar move, this is my plan for the migration.

  1. In Aperture, use keyword tags to mark organisational features that you want to be preserved. Remember, an album called “Bob’s Wedding” won’t come across, but tags will. So go to each album, select all the photos, and tag them. You can then always recreate the organisational structure in LR if wanted, or just search using tags.
  2. Use Aperture’s File > Export > Master… command to copy the original images to a new location. For the metadata option, choose the ‘Create IPTC4XMP Sidecar File’ option. This will create, alongside each image, an XML file with the same name but a .XMP extension, which contains your metadata, including your ratings, keywords, and location info. It largely gets around the fact that different image formats can store different amounts of metadata, so hopefully the important stuff should be preserved. The process can take some time: from some sample experiments, my 22,000 images will take about 11 hours to export. Then, when you import each photo into Lightroom, the sidecar file will automatically be read and associated with the image. Some people, in fact, prefer to keep sidecar files with every image, so that the original file is never touched and the metadata is in an open, human-readable format which can easily be moved around. Lightroom can be told to keep the sidecar file up to date as you make changes, but you do run the risk then of having metadata in the image file, or in the app’s database, or in the sidecar file getting out of sync, and sidecar files are only maintained by Lightroom for RAW formats, not for JPEGs, TIFFS, PSDs or DNGs.
  3. Import the images into Lightroom as DNGs. I chose to convert to the open DNG (Digital Negative) format rather than keep the individual camera-manufacturer’s RAW files. No information is, in theory, lost by this process, and it seems to me more likely that, many years from now, software will be able to read it. In addition, it is good at storing metadata, so should reduce the issue of having multiple copies of that stuff around. It does, however, involve another copy, and a conversion, of the big image files. I imagine this may take really quite a long time! And remember, you will now be creating your third copy of the originals, so make sure you have plenty of disk space. But it can be useful to do it in stages, anyway, because you may want to build up a keyword hierarchy in Lightroom. For example, some of my first photos were tagged with ‘Sydney’. I created a keyword hierarchy which put this under ‘Places > Australia’, and future imports then use that. You can always move things around later, but it may be easiest to do so before the list gets too big.
  4. Delete whichever of the earlier copies of the images you no longer need. (Having made sure you have a good backup, of course.)

Well, that’s the plan, based on lots of experimentation and on recommendations from other sites. Hope it’s useful to someone: I’ll let you know how it goes in due course!

Owls of delight

The owls know when I haven’t brought my good lens.



Ridge and furrow

One of the fields in nearby Coton used to be ploughed using the medieval ‘ridge and furrow‘ technique. The remaining undulations are fairly subtle, but they made pretty patterns as the snow melted.

Ridge and Furrow

A pleasing demonstration of the benefits of even a very slightly south-facing slope!

The King is Dead; Long Live the King

This came out a week ago, but I think it’s worth noting for those who missed it. There’s a piece in Business Insider based on an interesting fact first noted by MG Siegler. It’s this:

Apple’s iPhone business is bigger than Microsoft

Note, not Microsoft’s phone business. Not Windows. Not Office. But Microsoft’s entire business. Gosh.

As the article puts it:

The iPhone did not exist five years ago. And now it’s bigger than a company that, 15 years ago, was dragged into court and threatened with forcible break-up because it had amassed an unassailable and unthinkably profitable monopoly.

My name is Ozzie-mandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair…

What I want from Amazon

I buy masses of stuff through Amazon. And I do take note of the reviews left by others. When you do a search, you can choose to order the results by average customer review, which is almost useful, but not quite.

The problem is that if there is only one review, but it’s rated 5-stars, that item will appear at the top. Similarly, an item could be unfairly blighted by a single negative review. I’m not so interested in things that were only bought by the vendor’s cousin, who thought it was great.

So, Amazon, could you come up with something like this, please?

“Sort by the median value where there are more than 5 reviews, and where there are 5 or fewer, by a value somewhere between the mean and the average rating used for all reviews on the entire site, weighted towards the former proportionately to the number of reviews.”

Ideally, a given user’s review would also be weighted to some degree based on the distribution of that user’s reviews for any other products as well. And I’d like to be able to tweak the parameters for my own searches.

Of course, any scheme like this could be gamed, so they’d probably need to keep the actual algorithm secret and change it from time to time, like Google. They could call it Q-Rank; I wouldn’t mind. This would also have another significant advantage:

They’d be able to fit it in the pull-down menu.

Smooth panning

A handy tip for those who don’t have expensive fluid video tripod heads.

Passionflower: lateral strumming


Jon Gomm demonstrates some real lateral thinking on how to use a guitar.


© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser