Category Archives: Rants

I think I’m getting too old for this

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I’ve been holding off updating my desktop Mac’s operating system for ages. This was partly inertia, partly “if it ain’t broke”, partly worries over an incompatibility with some hardware management software.

Having got an iPad, though, I eventually found my lack of interest in updating the OS was leading to incompatibilities. I couldn’t sync properly, and some of the apps I use were being updated but not supported on the otherwise happily working OS. Also, a new version of the OS will be with us quite soon.

I’d sort of made up my mind about how to do the upgrades a few weeks ago. I began the process of migrating photo libraries, and then forgot about the upgrade! This weekend, the news broke that my preferred photo management and editing software, Aperture, was no longer going to be developed by Apple.

My hand was being forced. I took the plunge. Better to be as up-to-date as possible, making a potential switch to new software less painful down the line.

As I type, a great chunk of iMovie updates are downloading. Numbers, Pages, iPhoto and Aperture all wait in the queue. Then another ton of OS patches.

If I am lucky, I’ll get to see if the hardware drive management software will be compatible after all. If it’s not, then the drive gets reformatted to Apple standards.

I’m getting too old for all this. Gone are the days when I wanted to be at the bleeding edge. I much prefer the comfortable, if worn out, slippers to the shiny, new, but toe-pinching ones everyone else is wearing!

I hate being ill

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I do so hate being ill.

As a general rule, I’m usually in rude health for most of the time. Sadly, I managed to collect a particularly insidious little cold virus over the weekend. It has contrived to give me a tickly throat, then sniffles, then sneezes, and now insists on producing copious amounts of mucus.

I wouldn’t mind, but the currently affected nostril—it’s never both together, have you ever noticed?—has been contrived to be impossible to clear by blowing, and lets me know it needs more of my precious time by gently letting snot drip down my upper lip.

Ick.

This time last year, the world threw a particular doozy at me. Aside from the usual symptoms, including two days in actual bed with a fever, that particular little bug made me deaf. My ears are still not quite right even now.

We are going away for a few days. It looks like a couple of them will be spent fighting off this cold. Nice.

How about it, Science? Forget feeding the world, forget climate change, forget creating thorium nuclear energy—oh, wait, sorry. You’d already forgotten that one. How about throwing some resources at finding a cure for the common cold?

I’m joking, of course. The common cold virus mutates so quickly it will probably be impossible to find a vaccine for it. Shame.

I just want to talk to a human

I received a letter from my bank this morning. They appeared to be under the misapprehension I earn a fair salary, and they wanted to let me know my account would be changing from “current account” to “bank account”.

Yes, you read that correctly. A “bank account”. From a current account. A current account will change to being a bank account. I’m now almost confused as my bank appears to be.

What benefit this change would be to me was not immediately apparent. I would seem to retain the same services I already use, plus access to a high interest savings account, and some app to let me get real time balances and statements on my phone.

Great. That’s impressive.

There’s a phone number I could call to let the bank know I might not want this fantastic upgrade to my account. They called it an upgrade, yet it doesn’t seem to be any different to the account I already own, save they expect me to maintain the supposedly high level of income that prompted the original change. Some chance of that.

I picked up the phone, and immediately hit the problem that I don’t use phone banking and don’t recall the last time I had to set up a security number, or even what that number might have been. Of course, I got through the early bits about sort codes, account numbers and dates of birth, but stalled at the security number. There was no option to bypass the automated system to talk to a human being.

I hung up in disgust. I tried to find out if I could sort this out through my internet banking, but there’s not a clue about the impending upgrade there. Back on the blower.

This time, because I earlier punched incorrect numbers in at the security number stage in a failed attempt to attract the attention of a real human being, I was told the number I can’t remember was locked “for my security”. I was transferred to—a human being!

Why, for the love of Bob, couldn’t I do that from the top of the pyramid?

Anyway, we began the process of sorting things out. Hang on, I’m to be transferred where to do what? I don’t want a security number. I don’t do phone banking. I began to rant. I just wanted to deal with this impending change, not set up a system I will never use. I do use the internet banking occasionally, but mostly I smile and pass the time of day with real human beings in my local bank branch. I just wanted to talk to someone to stop this account change, please.

On hold—having been warned not to hang up while on hold. Rubbish music. Obviously some discussion was going on wherever on the planet the phone system is currently operated from about this annoyed (and annoying) customer.

The minutes ticked by.  Ice ages came and went. God got older.

Finally, I was passed on to a lovely chirpy Scottish lady, who dealt with my issue in about ten seconds. I’ve been on the bloody phone for nearly ten minutes, for crying out loud! It’s been costing me money!

Anyway, it’s all sorted now. I am writing it up to lower my blood pressure. All this frustration because I choose not to use phone banking, and therefore don’t have some stupid security number. Is it beyond the realms of reality for the system to let a caller choose to speak to a human being from the start? Really?

Everything seems a bit shit these days

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I’m not sure where I’m heading with this blog post, so please bear with me. I’m struggling to find ways to put into words what I am feeling at the moment. The following may get a bit sweary.

I guess we could call it entropy. Despite scientific and technological advances over the years, the steady decline of everything seems to be gathering pace. Be it failing services, failing commercial businesses, failing economies, failing schools, everything just seems to be a bit shit these days.

The last couple of posts I’ve made here just add to the general malaise. Who is this government that it runs roughshod over the poor, elderly, and disabled? Why don’t they listen to the collective roar of anguish and anger that’s growing every day in this country? How can we stop them making this country more shitty every day?

I’ve been having some issues with my car this past few months, as happens with older vehicles. The fuel tank developed a leak due to corrosion. I sourced a new tank, it was fitted, but for some reason it still leaked. It wasn’t a big leak, just an annoying one that gave a whiff of petrol fumes when you cornered and meant you couldn’t put more than half a tank full of fuel in. Our mechanic, who is a friend as well as car mender and who fitted the tank, has tried all sorts to remedy the situation, so far unsuccessfully. Unfortunately, he was incapacitated by a knee injury, so his efforts were curtailed somewhat. Meanwhile, the exhaust fell off. I know, it never rains…

Anyway, we decided to book the car in to the bigger garage my friend uses when he can’t manage, to fix the exhaust. While it was on the ramp, it was suggested the tank should be looked at, and fixed if possible. Two birds with one stone and all that. We eventually got the message all was fixed, all was fine and dandy, please come and collect your car and pay the bill.

Driving home, I still got the whiff of petrol when cornering. When I stopped on my drive, I looked underneath, and sure enough the fuel was leaking just as much as before. Suffice it to say, I’ve booked the car back in tomorrow, and I won’t be paying any more for it to be fixed, that’s for sure. It’s a nice shiny exhaust pipe, though.

This has all left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. As I waited for the washing-up water to drain slowly away down our badly-fitted kitchen sink outfall, I was overcome by a nagging feeling of annoyance that I don’t seem to have nice things any more, and those few nice things I do have never seem to last very long.

Nearly twenty years ago, I had a problem with a car. I was recommended to a garage, and I took the machine along to be looked at. The mechanic, also the proprietor, was a proper one in a boiler suit so ingrained with engine oil it would stand up on its own. You knew the dirt on his hands would never wash out. He was a proper car mechanic, who knew his trade inside and out. Cars came, cars went, and he worked on nine of them for us over the years.

We developed a huge level of trust in Tony. We would roll up with a problem, he’d diagnose it and fix it, and let us know there might be something else starting to wear out but it could wait until the next service. There were one or two issues that cropped up due to silly errors, but they were soon straightened out. We could trust Tony to fix things properly.

Tony eventually retired, and his business was passed on to some of his other mechanics. His business had grown quite a bit down the years, and was pretty successful. We continued to use the garage, but they seemed to be more expensive, they would fail to fix faults we had pointed out, and sometimes make things worse. Eventually, we had to scrap a car because they had completely failed to fix it, and it was in danger of becoming a money pit.

They lost our trust. We don’t use them any more.

It’s a hard thing to find a reliable garage, and while I trust my mechanic friend with the dicky knee, I am not sure I trust those he has to rely on for some mechanical services. I want to trust the garage that hasn’t fixed my fuel tank, though. If they deal with my complaint and actually put it right, I might feel comfortable using them again. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I shall have to see what I can do about that kitchen sink, and draughty back door, and the myriad other things that are making my life ever so slightly shit at the moment.

Danger! Idiot at work!

I’ve been mucking around with the internet for more years than I care to recall, yet I have never fully got my head round the clockwork and gubbins that makes this informational wonder actually work.

Yes, I learned enough about how to access the back office stuff, and where to put certain files, but I have never felt in the slightest bit comfortable rummaging around in the internal workings of an FTP server. Here’s a classic example: web forms. I have developed a complete aversion to creating forms on web sites. I think I’ve only ever managed to make one form work reasonably, and that was some time in the 1990s using a standard ISP-supplied script.

Now, take this blog thing. WordPress is one of the most popular and expandable blogging platforms out there. It’s used by millions of people every day. Usually, I visit the home page, see a new update is flagged for a plugin I’ve installed, hit the dashboard and click “update”.  Things go wibbly-wobbly for a few heart-stopping seconds, and then it’s all fine again.

Except today.

I don’t use many plugins, to be honest. There’s a spam-catcher, and something that links the blog to my account on RebelMouse (I still haven’t the faintest idea what RebelMouse is all about. I noticed it appearing in Flickr stats, and wondered what it was. I found myself an “early adopter” of something that appears to aggregate tweets and blog posts in an easily accessible form. No, I haven’t a clue, either.) I also had a WordPress plugin called Jetpack. It adds all kinds of useful bits and bobs to the standard blog, and up until today it had been working happily. I’ve even updated it a few times.

Except today.

New update to Jetpack! I clicked through to the dashboard, checked out the update, clicked “Go!”. And waited.

As I said, usually a few seconds elapse and everything is back in the room. Today, it breaks. Today, “maintenance mode” becomes the norm. Seconds turn to minutes, and before things turn geological I decide to pull the plug. But how do you do that? The site in is maintenance mode. Argh!

Anyway, some helpful friends pointed me in the right direction. Sadly, it seems I’m the one with the problem download, and despite deleting the old plugin, and playing around with the others to see if they are clashing, Jetpack is borked.

So, no fancy bits for a while. I’ll try again another day. I need one of those folding boards you get where cleaners have been at work, but reading “Danger! Idiot at work!”

Too. Much. Information.

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I remember when I got my first serious 35mm SLR camera. It was a Zenit EM, carved from solid lead, and with an instruction booklet that had maybe 24 pages in total. From the booklet you learned about loading film, about settings, about taking a picture, about winding the film on a frame, and about all the natty accessories you could get to complement your camera.

All so simple. Even the Olympus OM10 instruction booklet was slim and to the point. Let’s face it, analogue photography was a much simpler affair all round.

Not that I don’t like my digital cameras. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I love them, but I really enjoy using them to make images. The immediacy of digital, I think, has made me happier to experiment and play.

A downside, though, is modern digital cameras are just so eminently adjustable. Once you get lost in the maze of menus, it is very easy to lose track. This is my problem. I’ve owned my EOS 7D for about 18 months now, and I have it pretty much set the way I like it. I think. I can’t actually remember some of the settings I’ve adjusted, or why I adjusted them. I keep rummaging through the menus, vainly trying to recall whether it was C.FnIII-12 or C.FnI-4 where I set the noise reduction levels or AI Servo 1st/2nd img priority, and why would I want to register an AF point anyway‽

You might say I should read the manual more thoroughly. This is very true, but herein lies another problem. The manufacturer’s manual is great at explaining what Button X does when you press it, and what Custom Function Z does when you set it. It’s not at all great at explaining what Button X and Custom Function Z are actually for! It’s all very well being informed that pressing Button X makes a beep, but why and under what circumstances would I require a beep to be made by pressing the button? Take my beef about registering an AF point, mentioned earlier. Great. I know how to do that, but not why I would want to do that. I’m digressing, as I tend to when I am in full-on rant mode! Back to the theme…

All the while the camera seems to be working as I want I feel comfortable. There is a nagging doubt, though, that there is something I have neglected, or accidentally switched on when it really would be better switched off. So, the time has come for me to reset everything back to the way it was when Canon shipped it out of their factory.

Why am I apprehensive about doing this? I don’t know. Part of me worries, I think, that I might forget to switch back on a feature I use a lot. A larger part figures it is a Good Thing to start afresh occasionally. After all, I’m still discovering new things about the machine, and a reset may well let me learn something else new. 

You couldn’t say that about the Zenit or Olympus. Once you’d mastered the basics, you just got on with things. Digital cameras are a whole new species in comparison.

New Shiny Announced!

World goes bonkers!

Anyone with even just a passing interest in digital photography can’t have failed to spot the rumour mills and industry monitors grinding into life this past few weeks. New DSLRs are very much in the news, if you care about such things.

Canon announced a new professional flagship model, the EOS-1D X, back in October 2011. Aimed at replacing the current top-flight DSLR models they produce, it’s slated for release sometime in 2012. I won’t bore you with the technical details. If they interest you, they’re on the press release and everywhere else!

Nikon, meanwhile, has just unveiled their D3 series replacement, the FX-format D4. I can’t immediately find official release dates, but again, if you are sufficiently interested in the technical stuff, it’s in the press release and everywhere else!

These press releases are timed to hit the CES 2012 shindig in Las Vegas, Nevada, US. The Consumer & Electronics Show is one of the biggest international gadget-fests going, and everyone who is anyone in the technology world will be there. Except Apple, but there you go. That’s an entirely other story.

So why do I bring you this earth-shattering news? Am I being sucked into the technolust vortex? Will Snaptophobic end up as just another technoblog, regurgitating press releases about every new gadget or software without even pausing to breathe?

No. Not a chance.

If I am completely honest I have never been free of the vortex, but I find the effort needed to get incredibly excited about new gear has waned in proportion with my age and bank balance! Yes, I am interested in it, but only in a peripheral kind of way. Being a Canonista, the new EOS-1D X is interesting, but it’s so far beyond my budget that I can effectively ignore it. It’s a camera that may be of interest to me if I were a professional photographer and it was to be my key tool, but as I am not a professional and I already have a camera that’s more than adequate for my needs, I won’t be letting myself be sucked too deeply into the vortex.

With Nikon’s announcement, there will now be an inevitable increase in the Cankon/Niknon fanbois crowing over features that trump their arch nemesis. This is partly why I haven’t bothered you with the technical features of each new camera, because they are really irrelevant to you and me. The kind of people who will find that sort of information at all of real interest are those who are not—in my opinion, I hasten to add—real photographers. 

So, while the baying over megapixel counts, burst frame rates, astronomical ISO levels, focus points and other geeky stuff begins to inexorably grow in volume, remember this: it’s not about the gear.

The camera is just a tool, a means to an end. Some of my best images were taken using a 35mm film camera that cost £20. Learn to use the tool you have, and make great pictures. If you can afford one of the new shinies, or can justify one for your work, go to it with my blessings. If you just want to leave it in idiot mode, slung round your neck as techo-jewellery … words fail me.

No, really, they do. 

Continual Improvement?

Anyone with even a slightest interest in the tech world will have been unable to avoid a couple of big stories over the past few days. RIM, maker of the Blackberry phone ecosystem, has had a major outage of their service, and Apple has released several new updates as well as a new version of the perennially popular iPhone.

I’m not concerned about RIM. I am not particularly concerned with Apple’s new shiny. I am concerned about steadily having my hand forced to upgrade beyond where I am comfortable. I am talking about system requirements for a couple of the new things emanating from Cupertino.

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Let me set out my table. I am a “creative”. I use a Mac for business and pleasure. My Mac is not in its first blush of youth, but it is still quite capable. I am reliably informed I can install the latest version of the Mac OS, version 10.7 aka Lion, and get some more miles under the belt before I need to seriously consider scraping together cash for a new machine.

All of which is very nice. Lion is available from the App Store for not much more than a round of drinks or a Saturday night takeaway. A couple of clicks and away I go.

The thing is, I still use software that relies on some core technologies of older versions of the Mac OS. Apple were incredibly clever when they transitioned from the PowerPC CPUs to Intel back in the day. They engineered code into the OS so it transparently rewrote the PowerPC code in older applications for Intel chips on the fly. You could continue to use older software until the developer updated for the Intel code. Which was (and is) amazing when you think about it.

In the intervening five or six years, most of the applications I use on a daily basis have been updated, and now run on Intel architecture. All, that is, save one or two. My Canon scanner, for example, will never be updated, and even a third party front end software requires the drivers to be present which—wait for it—are PPC architecture. I can get round this, as I have another scanner now, but I can always run it on an older Mac that is unrepentently a PowerPC powered machine.

The other one, which is a bit bigger in my world, is Macromedia FreeHand. Don’t laugh! I still use it, even though Adobe bought out the company and let FreeHand expire in a dusty corner. I use FreeHand because — oh, let’s not go there. It’s not pertinent to this ranty post anyway.

Okay, the FreeHand thing can also be solved by shifting it to that older PowerPC Mac I’ve already mentioned. That’s not the point, really. My point is Apple have just released updates to Aperture, which I use nearly every day for managing my photo libraries and so on. That’s good, yes?

Yes, if you have updated to the latest version of Lion. Otherwise, you don’t get the update to Aperture. I don’t actually think I need Lion. From what I have seen, it doesn’t offer me anything over what I am running now (OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard). Apple, it seems, are forcing me to upgrade to an OS I don’t really want or need in order to keep up with software I do want and need.

There’s also this thing called iOS5. This is the latest version of the operating system for iPhones, iPods touch and iPads. Lovely shiny things I don’t own. Along with the iOS update is a change from MobileMe, which I use, to a thing called iCloud. Guess what? I can’t migrate to iCloud without running OS X 10.7.2 or iOS5. 

My hand is being forced into making an upgrade to something I don’t really want to upgrade. Yet to maintain levels of software I use, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but is this the Apple that Steve Jobs always meant it to be?

 

**UPDATE**

19 October 2011—Apple quietly rolled out the Aperture 3.2 update on the App Store. The update was “recommended” for all users. In the system requirements, the magic numbers 10.6.8 appeared. I checked all over the Apple web site to confirm the 3.2 update would work for Snow Leopard, and happily it does. The only requirement for me to sidegrade to Lion now is if I want to keep my @mac.com email address, and I have until the end of June 2012 to sort that out. 

No news is, um, news.

It may have escaped your attention, but Blighty had a general election last week. We managed to somehow not elect a majority party to govern us, and talks have been under way in order to work out whether the third party will support one or other of the bigger parties in some form of power-sharing deal.

It’s all very interesting, if you’re into your politics. Let’s say it’s been dragging on now since Friday. There’s plenty of stuff happening, but it’s all behind closed doors, and those involved are being very tight-lipped about it.

Which isn’t helping the 24-hour news vultures, who have been thrown into a complete loop by the lack of information. They’ve resorted to political correspondents interviewing political reporters, who can only to report nothing new has happened, and it’s likely nothing new will happen for some time, and some people have arrived and/or departed from a meeting without saying anything concrete to anyone, but this is probably what they might have said, according to “a source”.

Effectively, the media has resorted to reporting on the reporting of the non-news, simply because they think they need to be first to break news if anything actually does happen. Which they don’t.

I mean, Europe’s in financial meltdown, a man has a bullet lodged in his head, some volcano is still erupting, BA is set for more strikes, we may see new Ladas arriving in Britain, over 60 people have died in violence in Iraq, decreasing biodiversity will damage economies, oil is still spewing in the Gulf of Mexico… Yet, we’re expected to believe that it’s more important to hear from a reporter who was nearby when someone went through a door but wouldn’t answer a shouted question.

Why don’t they just drop the farce and report on proper news until something actually happens? They’re making themselves into even more of a parody than they were to begin with! What makes it worse is they “break” the story in some weird game with the other news vultures where they try to be the first with the latest breaking news. Why not just let the story happen, find out what happened, check it actually happened, and then tell us about it?

Why do we need 24-hour rolling news anyway?