Weeknote 2024/07: pancakes; cycle races; amateur radio; flooding; and love stories

The feedback I receive on these weeknotes is generally something like “I’m enjoying your weekly posts Mark – no idea how you find the time?”. The answer is that 1) I work a 4-day week; and 2) I stay up far too late at night. I also write them in bits, as the week progresses. This week has been a bit of a rollercoaster though, with a few unexpected changes of direction, and consequently quite a few re-writes.

This week at work

I had planned to take an extra day off this week which looked like it was going to squeeze things a bit. That all changed mid-week, which gave me a bit more time to move things forward. These were the highlights:

This week away from work

Last weekend

I was cycle coaching on Saturday, then dashed home as my youngest son, Ben, said he would be watching the rugby at home instead of with his mates. England vs. Wales is the most important Six Nations fixture in my family. My Dad was Welsh. He wasn’t big into sport, but, nevertheless I remember watching 15 men in red shirts running around with an oval ball with him. Nikki’s Dad was Welsh too. Even though we were both born in England, that makes our sons two-quarters Welsh. Cymru am byth! Sadly, the result didn’t quite go our way this year – though it was closer than I’d dared dream.

On Sunday, our eldest son, Matt was racing the Portsdown Classic. It’s the first road race of the season and there were some big names in there. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the result he wanted – finding he has the power but is still learning to race – but he did finish just ahead of Ed Clancey OBE, so that’s something to remember.

I’m just glad he avoided this (look carefully and Matt can be seen in white/blue on a grey bike with white decals on the wheels, very close to the verge on the left, just ahead of the crash)

The rest of the week

Our town, Olney, has celebrated Shrove Tuesday with a pancake race since 1445. It even features on the signs as you drive into town.

I didn’t see this year’s race as I was working in Derby. Then driving back along the motorway in torrential rain, in time for a family meal. We were supposed to be getting together before Matt flew out to Greece for 10 weeks, but those plans fell apart with 2 days before his outbound flight. Thankfully he’s sorted a plan B but I’m not writing about it until it actually happens!

For a couple of years I’ve struggled to ride with Matt without him finding it too easy (and actually getting cold). I miss my riding buddy, but it was good to hear him say he’d like to ride with me again if I can get back into shape. Right. That’s my chance. Whilst he is away it’s time to get back on Zwift and prepare for a summer on the real bike. I need to lose at least 20kgs too, but that’s going to take a while…

…which reminds me. I must find a way to pull all my information from the Zoe app before my subscription expires.

As last Sunday’s bike race was “only” around 75km, I didn’t have any roadside bottle-passing duties so I took “the big camera” (my Nikon D700 DSLR). Then, I got home and realised my digital photography workflow has stopped flowing. My Mac Mini has run out of disk space. My youngest son, Ben, now uses my MacBook for school. And my Windows PC didn’t want to talk to the D700 (until I swapped cables – so that must have been the issue). It took me a while, but I eventually managed to pull a few half-decent images out of the selection. You can see them below, under “this week in photos”. I love using the DSLR, but do wish it had the connectivity that makes a smartphone so much more convenient.

The Portsdown Classic was my first opportunity to take a hand-held radio to a race. I’d seen spectators using them at other National Races last year but I didn’t have the equipment. I’d asked someone what they used and considered getting a Baofeng UV-5R but didn’t actually get around to clicking “buy now”. Then Christian Payne (Documentally) gifted me a Quansheng UV-K5(8) at Milton Keynes Geek Night. A chat with a friendly NEG rider and a little bit of homework told me which frequencies British Cycling uses. It was fascinating to be able to listen to the race convoy radio, both when driving behind the convoy at the start of the race and then when spectating (at least when the race was within radio range).

Listening in on the action gave me a whole new perspective on the race. So much so that I’m considering completing the ConvoyCraft training to be able to drive an official event car

I mentioned that Christian had gifted me a radio last December. That was on condition that I promised to take the exam for my RSGB Foundation Licence. Well, I took it this morning and passed. The results are provisional but, assuming all goes well and I get my licence from Ofcom, I’ll write another post about that journey into the world of RF and antennae…

Finally, I wrapped up the week by meeting up with my former colleague, manager, and long-time mentor, Mark Locke. I learned a lot from Mark in my days at ICL and Fujitsu (most notably when I was a wet-behind-the-ears Graduate Trainee in the “Workgroup Systems” consultancy unit we were a part of in the early days of Microsoft Exchange, Novell GroupWise and Lotus Notes; and later working for Mark on a major HMRC infrastructure project); he was the one who sponsored me into my first Office of the CITO role for David Smith, back in 2010; and we’ve remained friends for many years. It was lovely to catch up on each other’s news over a pint and a spot of lunch.

This week in TV/video

My wife and I started watching two new TV series this last week. Both are shaping up well, even if one is a rom-com (not normally my favourite genre):

This week in photos

Elsewhere on the Internet

In tech

At least one good thing came out of the VMware-Broadcom situation:

The NCSC appears to have rebranded 2FA/MFA as 2SV:

But this. This is a level of geekiness that I can totally get behind:

Even I have to accept that playing Snake on network switches is a little too niche though:

Close to home

The river Great Ouse in Olney saw the biggest floods I can remember (for the second time this winter). The official figures suggest otherwise but they measure at the sluice – once the river bursts its banks (as it now does) the sluice is bypassed through the country park and across fields. The drone shots are pretty incredible.

This is a fantastic project. The pedant in me can almost forgive the errant apostrophe in the final frames of the video because the concept is so worthwhile:

Underground-Overground

Transport for London decided to rename six formerly “Overground” lines, This is one of the more educational stories about it:

It’s not the first time naming these lines has been proposed:

But British Twitter stepped up to the mark and delivered its own commentary:

Or at least some of British Twitter. Those outside the gravitational pull of London were less bothered:

St Valentine’s Day

Every now and again, the social networks surface something really wholesome. This week I’ve picked three St Valentine’s Day posts. Firstly, from “the Poet Laureate of Twitter”, Brian Bilston:

And then this lovely story (pun entirely intended) from Heather Self (click through for the whole thread of three posts):

This one just made me giggle:

Coming up

The coming weekend will be a busy one. Ben is heading off to the West Country for a few days away with his friends. It’s also Nikki’s birthday… but I won’t spill the beans here about any plans because she has been known to read these posts. And then, hopefully, on Monday, Matt will finally get away to train in a sunnier climate for a while.

Next week is half term but with both the “boys” away it will be quiet. When they are at home, we have the normal chaos of a busy family with two sporty teenagers. When they are away it’s nice to enjoy some peace (and a slightly less messy house), but it sometimes feels just a little odd.

Right, time to hit publish. I have a birthday cake to bake…

Featured image by -Rita-??? und ? mit ? from Pixabay.

Weeknote 1/2024: A new beginning

Wow, that was a bump. New Year celebrations over, a day off for the public holiday, and straight back to work.

After a lot of uncertainty in December, I’ve been keen to get stuck in to something valuable, and I’m not breaking any confidentiality by saying that my focus right now is on refreshing the collateral behind Node4’s Public Cloud offerings. I need to work across the business – my Office of the CTO (OCTO) role is about strategy, innovation and offering development – but the work also needs to include specialist sales colleagues, our marketing teams, and of course the experts that actually deliver the engagements.

So that’s the day job. Alongside that, I’ve been:

  • Avoiding stating any grand new year resolutions. I’ll only break them. It was literally hours before I broke my goal of not posting on Twitter/X this year. Though I did step away from a 453-day streak on Duolingo to focus my spare time on other, hopefully less gamified, pursuits:
  • Doing far too little exercise. A recurring health condition is impacting my ability to walk, run, cycle and to get back to Caveman Conditioning. It’s getting a bit better but it may be another week before I can have my new year fitness kick-start.
  • Eating badly. Logging everything in the Zoe app is helping me to see what I should avoid (spoiler: I need to eat more plants and less sweet stuff) but my willpower is still shockingly bad. I was also alarmed to see Prof. Tim Spector launching what appeared to be an ultra-processed food (UPF) product. More on that after I’ve got to M&S and actually seen the ingredients list for the Zoe Gut Shot, but others are telling me it’s not a UPF.
  • Redesigning the disaster recovery strategy for my photos. I learned the hard way several years ago that RAID is not a backup, and nothing exists unless it’s in three places. For me that’s the original, a copy on my Synology NAS, and copy in the cloud. My cloud (Azure) backups were in a proprietary format from the Synology Hyper Backup program, so I’ve started to synchronise the native files by following a very useful article from Charbel Nemnom, MVP. Unfortunately the timestamps get re-written on synchronisation, but the metadata is still inside the files and these are the disaster copies – hopefully I’ll never need to rely on them.
  • Watching the third season of Slow Horses. No spoilers please. I still have 4 episodes to watch… but it’s great TV.
  • Watching Mr Bates vs. The Post Office. The more I learn about the Post Office Scandal, the more I’m genuinely shocked. I worked for Fujitsu (and, previously, ICL) for just over 15 years. I was nothing to do with Horizon, and knew nothing of the scandal, but it’s really made me think about the values of the company where I spent around half my career to date.
  • Spreading some of my late Father-in-law’s ashes by his tree in the Olney Community Orchard.
  • Meeting up with old friends from my “youth”, as one returns to England from his home in California, for a Christmas visit.

Other things

Other things I found noteworthy this week:

  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg scissors or the blister-pack?

Press coverage

This week, I was quoted in this article:

Coming up

This weekend will see:

  • A return to Team MK Youth Cycle Coaching. Our local cyclo-cross league is finished for the 2023/4 season so we’re switching back to road cycling as we move into the new year.
  • Some home IT projects (more on them next week).
  • General adulting and administration.

Next week, I’ll be continuing the work I mentioned at the head of this post, but also joining an online Group Coaching session from Professor John Amaechi OBE. I have no idea what to expect but I’m a huge fan of his wise commentary. I’m also listening to The Promises of Giants on Audible. (I was reading on Kindle, but switched to the audiobook.)

This week in photos

Featured image: Author’s own
(this week’s flooding of the River Great Ouse at Olney)

Weeknote 20/2021: Echo chambers

This content is 3 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

This week has been a bit flat. The weather is mostly awful, so I don’t much feel like riding my bike. I hurt my back exercising on Wednesday. And I have 5 weeks to get into shape for my ride across Wales.

This weeknote will be a short one. I can’t believe it’s Friday already…

This week I:

  • Desparately tried to bring some very dry design workshops to life with the inclusion of visual content, only to find that Microsoft Teams isn’t very good at sharing digital whiteboards, yet:
  • Was reminded that annual reviews are a good opportunity to take stock on what’s happened in the last 12 months.
  • Received my new UK (non-EU) driving licence:
  • Escaped from my home office and spent a few hours working inside a coffee shop, for the first time in months.
  • Learned that my social bubble is oh so echoey… when I stepped outside it I heard of people for whom the discomfort of taking a lateral flow test is some kind of hardship (Really? Spreading Covid is a lot worse, I’m sure!) and got called an idiot for not agreeing with conspiracy theories around government tracking of citizens.
  • Felt the need to remind people that there are two NHS Apps:
    • The NHS App (authenticated), which lets you access your own health record.
    • The NHS Covid-19 app (anonymous), which is used for test and trace purposes.

This week in pictures

Some tips from my first few weeks with a GoPro Hero action camera

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve been interested in having a play with an action camera for a while now. I figure I can get some fun footage on the bikes, as well as ski-ing next winter, and I missed not having a waterproof camera when I was lake-swimming in Switzerland a few weeks ago!

So, when I saw that a contact who had upgraded to the Hero 5 was selling his GoPro Hero 3 Silver Edition, I jumped at the opportunity.

My camera came to me with quite a few accessories and I picked up some more for not too much money at HobbyKing (shipped from China in 3 weeks – don’t pay GoPro prices for things like a tripod mount or a lens cover!).

Whilst getting used to the camera’s controls (oh yes, and opening the waterproof case for the first time), I came across some useful tips on the ‘net… including loads of videos from a guy called Bryn, whose new users guide was useful to make sure I had everything set up as I needed:

Once I had everything set up and a fast 64GB card installed, My first outing on a bike with the GoPro was helmet-mounted. That was OK, but it’s a bit weird having all that weight on your head and also not too handy for working out if the camera is running or not. Since then, I’ve got a bike mount so when my GoPro is mounted on my bike, I have it below the stem, which means technically it’s upside-down:

No worries – the Internet delivered another video telling me how to set the camera up for upside down recording:

One thing to watch out for is the battery life – don’t expect to be filling your memory card on a single battery – but it should last a while. It’s just that a GoPro isn’t going to work as a DashCam or similar (there are actually some good articles on the ‘net as to why you would probably want to use a specialist dashcam anyway – I have a NextBase 402G for that). Anyway, I don’t want to have to edit hours of footage so knowing I can only record a few minutes at a time is good for me (I have hours of recordings on MiniDV digital tape that have been waiting to be transferred to disk for years!).

I did recently use the GoPro to record some presentations at work: great for a wide angle view – but it got pretty warm being plugged into a power source the whole time (so again, a proper video camera would be the right thing to use – and don’t think about using a DSLR or a compact camera – I tried that too and they generally switch off after 20-30 mins to prevent overheating). One thing I found is that each video recorded on the GoPro is chopped into chunks of around 3.55MB (I was recording 1080p). The file naming is worth getting used to.

Each video uses the same number (0001, 0002, etc.) but you’ll find that the first one is named GOPR0001.MP4, the next is GP010001.MP4, then GP020001.MP4, etc. So, when selecting a group of files that relate to the same recording, look carefully at the index numbers (the date and time stamp should help too).

Also, depending on how you import the videos (i.e. copying directly rather than using an application like MacOS Image Capture), you may see some .THM and .LRV files. The GoPro support site explains that these are thumbnail and low-resolution video files respectively.

So, that’s a few things I’ve discovered over the last few weeks and just a little bit of GoPro tinkering. Please leave a comment if you’ve anything more to add!

Restoring Adobe Lightroom from backup (on a Mac)

This content is 7 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For well over a year now, my digital photography workflow has been in tatters. The Mac that I use for photo editing had some defective memory which corrupted the file system and the “genius” at the Apple Store reinstalled OS X. Data and application re-installation relies on me though, and it just hasn’t risen high enough on my list of priorities… until now.

So, I needed to:

  1. Re-install Adobe Lightroom (and the various other tools that I use).
  2. Restore my Lightroom catalog.
  3. Repoint Lightroom to the new location of my images (I’ve given up trying to maintain enough space locally and they all now sit on a Synology NAS, backed up to Microsoft Azure).

This post may be more for my benefit than for readers of the blog but you never know… someone might find parts of it useful.

Re-installing Lightroom

Re-installing Lightroom is reasonably straightforward and these are the steps I took:

  1. Install Lightroom 5 from physical media (My Mac has no DVD drive, so I needed to use a USB-attached DVD drive).
  2. Launch Lightroom from the finder.
  3. When prompted, enter the serial number (or elect to use it in trial mode). My copy of Lightroom 5 is an upgrade, so I was prompted for the previous serial number too (from Lightroom 3 in my case).
  4. Lightroom needs to create a catalog. Let it get on with it.
  5. Lightroom then detected that an upgrade was available (5.0-5.7) and it directed me to the Adobe website, from where I downloaded 5.7.1. Incidentally, I have a feeling that these updates are the full product, and I could probably have used this for the original installation. That may be one to try next time… [Update: that’s confirmed by Lightroom Queen.]

Restore the Lightroom Catalog

Nex up, restoring the catalog. Amongst the many excellent posts from the Lightroom Queen is one titled “How do I move Lightroom to a new computer”, which is kind of what I wanted to do, except in my case it’s “How do I move Lightoom from a backup of my computer to the currently-running version of my computer”.

Starting Lightroom had created two files in ~/Pictures/Lightroom called:

  • Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat
  • Lightroom 5 Catalog Previews.lrdata

I made some backup copies of these, then tracked down the last versions on my backup disk and copied them to the folder.

The Lightroom Catalog Previews file can be pretty large (mine was around 37GB), so this took some time…

Ideally, I would also have restored the following:

  • Preferences, from ~/Library/Preferences/com.adobe.Lightroom5.plist
  • Presets, from ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/ (there are more details about these in Lightroom Queen’s Lightroom 5 Default Locations post).

Unfortunately, these were missing from my backup (I’d had some issues backing up the Library in single-user mode), though I did find the presets on another machine and may be able to restore them later…

Helping Lightroom to find my images

Whilst I was waiting for the Lightroom catalog to copy, I started preparing for when I open Lightroom using the new (old) catalog. In my original installation, my images were in ~/Pictures/Digital Camera Photos but now the images are on my NAS. So, I created an alias for the folder on the NAS and moved that to ~/Pictures, hoping that this would look to Lightroom as though my images are in the same location…

Unfortunately, although Lightroom was able to follow this alias (symlink), it was smart enough to work out that the folders within it were at a different location – and not on Macintosh HD. Thankfully it wasn’t too big a task to select each orphaned folder in Lightroom (displaying a ? over the folder name), right click and select Find Missing Folder. Once the catalog was re-connected with the images, the ! on each preview went away and I could view the full-resolution image. More details can be found in the Lightroom Queen article I referenced earlier.

Wrap-Up

So, Lightroom is re-installed and my photos are back where I need them. Now all I need to do is sort out my workflow… and there’s the small matter of picking the best images from the 50000-odd that I’ve taken since I started using a digital camera so I can print some albums. Because, sometimes, analogue media is good.

Bulk renaming digital photos for easier identification

This content is 7 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Managing digital content can be a pain sometimes. Managing my own photos is bad enough (and I have applications like Adobe Lightroom to help with my Digital Asset Management) but when other family members want help whilst sorting through thousands of photos from multiple cameras to make a calendar or a yearbook it can get very messy.

For a long time now, I’ve used a Mac app called Renamer to bulk rename files – for example, batches of photos after importing them from my camera.  The exception to this is my iPhone pictures, which Dropbox rather usefully renames for me on import using the date and time, suffixing as necessary to deal with HDRs, etc. I only have a couple of gigabytes on Dropbox, so I move the renamed files to OneDrive (where I have over a terabyte of space…). The problem with this is that there needs to be enough space on Dropbox for the initial import – which means I have to use a particular PC which recognises my iPhone and remembers which photos have previously been imported. If I use another PC it will try and re-import them all (and fail due to a lack of available space)…

My wife has a different system. She also uses OneDrive for storage but has some files that have been renamed by Dropbox (to yyyy-mm-dd hh.mm.ss.jpg), some that have been renamed on import by something else (to yyyymmdd_hhmmsssss_iOS.jpg) and some that are just copied directly from the iPhone storage as IMGxxxx.jpg. My task? To sort this lot out!

Multiple images with the same time stamp

We decided that we liked the Dropbox name format. So that became the target. I used Renamer to rename files to Year-Month-Day Hour.Minutes.Seconds.jpg (based on EXIF file data) but the presence of HDR images etc. meant there were duplicates with the same time where a whole second wasn’t fine-grained enough. We needed those fractions of a second (or a system to handle duplicates) and Renamer wasn’t cutting it.

The fallback was to use the original filename as a tie-break. It’s not pretty, but it works – Year-Month-Day Hour.Minutes.Seconds (Filename).jpg gave my wife the date/time-based filename that she needed and the presence of the original filename was a minor annoyance. I saved that as a preset in Renamer so that when I need to do this again in a few months, I can!

Renaming digital photos in Renamer using a preset

No EXIF data

Then the files with no EXIF data (.MOVs and .PNGs) were renamed using a similar preset, this time using the modification date (probably less reliable than EXIF data but good enough if the files haven’t been edited).

Thousandths of seconds

Finally, the files with the odd format. Mostly these were dealt with in the same was as the IMGxxxx.jpg files but there were still some potential duplicates with the same EXIF timestamp. For these, I used progressive find and replace actions in Renamer to strip away all but the time a RegEx replacing ...... with nothing allowed me to remove all but the last three characters (I originally tried .{3}$ but that removed the 3 characters I actually wanted from the tail end that represent thousandths of seconds). One final rename using the EXIF data to Year-Month-Day Hour.Minutes.Seconds.Filename.jpg gave me yyyy-mm-dd hh.mm.sssss.jpg – which was close enough to the desired outcome and there were no more duplicates.

What’s the point? There must be a better way!

Now, after reading this, you’re probably asking “Why?” and that’s a good question. After all, Windows Explorer has the capability to provide image previews, the ability to sort by date, etc. but it’s not up to me to question why, I just need an answer to the end-user’s question!

Using Renamer is reliant on my Mac – there are options for Windows like NameExif and Stamp too. I haven’t used these but it appears they will have the same issues as Renamer when it comes to duplicate timestamps. There’s also a batch file option that handles duplicate timestamps but it doesn’t use the EXIF data.

Meanwhile, if anyone has a script that matches the Dropbox file rename functionality (including handling HDRs etc. which have identical timestamps), I’d be pleased to hear from you!

[Update 1 January 2017: These Python scripts look like they would fit the bill (thanks Tim Biller/@timbo_baggins) and James O’Neill/@jamesoneill reminded me of ExifTool, which I wrote about a few years ago]

Hardware lineup for 2013

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For the last couple of years, I’ve written a post about my “hardware lineup” – the tech I use pretty much every day (2011, 2012) and I thought I’d continue the theme as we enter 2013.

In these times of austerity, there’s not a lot of scope for new geek toys (some more camera lenses would be great, as would a new MacBook) but there’s no harm in a bit of aspiration, and it’s always interesting to take a look back and see how I thought things would work out and how that compares with reality.

So here’s the tech that I expect my life will revolve around this year…

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

My company car was replaced in April (a nice 40th birthday present) and the Volkswagen Tiguan I drive will be with me for at least 3 years. Whilst there are plenty of more capabile 4x4s and the space afforded by a 7-seater might be nice at times, “the Tig” has been great – my family all love the high riding position, my wife is happy swapping between this and her Golf (she should be – they are practically the same underneath the covers!) and, whilst I miss some of the refinement of my Audi, I get a lot more for my money with the Volkswagen.  Putting a retractable towbar on this car has created new possibilities too, allowing me to use a 4-bike towbar-attached carrier for family cycle trips.

Verdict 8/10. Hold (tied into a 3-year lease).

Phones: Nokia Lumia 800 and Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GSNokia Lumia 800My initial enthusiasm for the Nokia Lumia 800 waned considerably, after Microsoft announced its Windows Phone 8 plans and the handset lost 60% of its value overnight.  That means I won’t be trading it in for a new model any time soon and, depending on whether Windows Phone 7.8 ever makes it out of the door, I might consider looking at options to run Android on the (rather nice) hardware instead.  Still, at least we got an update a few months ago that, finally, enables Internet Sharing on Lumias (Windows Phone 7.5 supported this capability, but the Lumia 800 firmware did not).

I still have an iPhone 3GS provided by my employer (and my iPad) to fall back on when apps are not available for Windows Phone (i.e. most of the time) and, whilst I’m unlikely to get another smartphone from the company, I am considering a second-hand 4S to replace this as the 3GS is getting a bit long in the tooth now…

(Lumia) Verdict 5/10. Hold, under duress.
(iPhone) Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadMy iPad never replaced a laptop as a primary computer but it’s still great as a Kindle, for catching up on social media content, and for casual gaming (read, occasional babysitter and childrens’ amusement on long car journeys). I was disappointed to have to pay to replace it after the screen developed a fault, but there’s no reason to trade up yet and there’s still nothing that comes close to the iPad from a media tablet perspective (except newer iPads).

If anything, I might consider a smaller tablet (maybe a Google Nexus 7 or an Amazon Kindle Fire) but and Apple’s decision to stick with a 4:3 screen ratio on the iPad Mini means I have little interest in that form factor (it’s almost the same hardware as my current iPad, albeit in a smaller package). If I were to get a new tablet, it’s more likely to be something that could really be a laptop replacement – perhaps a Microsoft Surface Pro? We’ll see…

Verdict 7/10. Hold, although it’s getting old now.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220This PC is my main computing device. I’d love a ThinkPad, but the Lifebook is a perfectly capable, solid, well-built notebook PC, although I frequently find myself running out of memory with the number of tabs I have open in a typical browsing session! A recent hard disk failure meant my free space dropped (my 250GB drive was replaced with a 160GB one) but it’s due for replacement soon.

I’ll be looking for a smaller form-factor device to reduce the weight of my work-bag – at least until BYOC becomes a possibility (an ultrabook, Surface Pro, or a MacBook Air would be nice, but not available to me on the company’s catalogue).

Verdict 6/10. Unlikely to be with me for much longer now, although still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Yet again, this device has hardly seen the light of day. Usurped by the iPad, it now runs Ubuntu and is only ever used for tech projects (e.g. uploading software to my Arduino). My kids have one too but even they are frustrated by the small screen and tend to use my wife’s notebook PC instead.

Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100I still love my DSLR and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.  Newer bodies offer video but I don’t miss that, and the low light performance on the D700 is pretty good, even 2 years after launch.

The P7100 continues to function as my carry-everywhere camera (it lives in the car), offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like.

(D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold.
(P7100) Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)My MacBook is getting old and, although I upgraded to a 750GB disk, I’m struggling with disk space whilst 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive.

Still too expensive to replace, I think this will last another year, at least…

Verdict 4/10. Hold.

Media: Samsung UE37ES6300 Smart TV

Samsung UE37ES6300My most recent technology purchase, this replaced an aging (c1998) Sony Trinitron 32″ widescreen CRT and has given us back a lot of space in the living room! I’ve been really impressed with the Smart TV functionality (more on that over the next few days) and Internet-connected television is now an integral part of my media consumption habit.

In time, it may be joined by a sound bar (to improve the experience when watching films) but at the moment the TV’s built in speakers will have to make do.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, Lumia 800, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers, Samsung UE37ES6300)

Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year – except for the addition of a Smart TV – and I still haven’t re-ripped my CDs after the NAS failure a couple of years ago. I still haven’t bought the music keyboard and this PC’s role as a multimedia PC for the office with Spotify, iPlayer, etc. has been replaced by a Smart TV in the living room.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs but it may be brought back to life as a media server as it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should to make full use of it but the arrival of BBC iPlayer and the death of our DVD player promoted the Xbox to be our living room  media centre, at least until the Smart TV arrived (and the two still complement each other). My sons are reaching the age where they play games too now, so the Xbox is starting to get a lot more use.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, various USB HDDs

The Atom-based PC still provides infrastructure services for the home, whilst one ReadyNAS is used to back up my work and the other has still not been recovered from its multiple disk failure a couple of years ago. I recently bought a 3GB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive to replace an assortment of smaller USB hard disks and am preparing to supplement this with suitable cloud storage as we become more and more reliant on our digital assets.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

New toys from 2012: Arduino Uno, Raspberry Pi, Canon ImageFormula P-215 document scanner

At the end of my 2012 post, I mentioned a few potential purchases and I did pick up one of the first Raspberry Pi computers, which is a fantastic hobby/educational machine to use with or without my children.  I also started to play around with electronics using an Arduino – which is great fun – and I hope to be doing more with both of them this year (more Raspberry Pi postsmore Arduino posts).

I’m slowly regaining control over my filing with the aid of a dedicated document scanner. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s portable, but the fast duplex scanning to PDF and multiple sheet handling (with very few mis-feeds) is a huge step forward compared with the all-in-one printer/scanner/copier I have in my home office.  Mine was an “Amazon Warehouse Deals” purchase (which saved me a few pounds) and the advertised condition suggested it may have a scratch or two but it seems to be in perfect condition to me. It will certainly be a big part of my push to digitise much of my paperwork this year.

(Raspberry Pi) Verdict 10/10. What’s not to like about a computer that costs just £25?
(Arduino Uno) Verdict 10/10. Inexpensive, with loads of scope for electronic prototyping and a thriving community for support.
(Canon P-215) Verdict 9/10. Impressive scanner, although a little on the expensive side.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostat, Romotive Robot, Lego Mindstorms

Of course, as a geek, I have my eye on a whole host of potential purchases and these were two that took my fancy in last year’s post, plus one more that I’ve had my eye on for a while (may be something for the kids to get and Dad to play with?).  In all honesty, I’m not sure that I’ll be buying much at all this year, but anything I do is likely to be in the general electronics, robotics and home automation field.

Useful links: December 2012

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

After several years of monthly “useful links” posts, I’ve decided that this will be the last one – the plugin I use to read from my Delicious account and generate the post stopped working a few months ago, and the useful links can also be found directly (on my Delicious feed) or via Twitter (@markwilsonit, prefixed [delicious])

Selective sharpening of an image using the high pass filter

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

With a few notable exceptions, I dislike photos of myself. I like to be behind the camera, taking pictures not starring in them, but sometimes it’s necessary to have the camera turned in my direction.

For instance, over the last few months, it became increasingly obvious to me that I needed a new profile picture. The last one was taken in 2008 when I was a) younger and b) heavier, but I’ve been struggling to find the right image.  I was going to ask one of my many photographer friends to take one for me but then, whilst at the recent B2B Huddle, I found myself in the company of John Cassidy, who was creating fantastic headshots of attendees for a very competitive price.

In just a few minutes (John normally spends more time with his clients), shooting tethered into Adobe Lightroom with a Nikon D3, 85mm f1.4 lens and a collection of lights and reflectors, John managed to create the proverbial silk purse from a sow’s ear in that he made me look quite presentable! In fact, I was amazed at what he had done with me*. One of the resulting images is now my profile picture on most of the websites that I use (I keep finding odd ones with old pics that need to be mopped up, and I still use an image for my Flickr profile that Benjamin Ellis took of me, “caught in the act” of photography, although he’s since removed the image from his photostream).

I also wanted a higher-resolution image for my about.me page but, to my eyes, the image I’d selected seemed just a little soft around the eyes. It was taken at a reasonably narrow aperture (f5) but I wanted to sharpen up my face (just the face – as sharpening my suit created some strange results due to the weave of the fabric). A few minutes in Photoshop was all it took to create the effect I required for a punchy on-screen image, although it would be inappropriately sharp for a printed version:

These are before and after images, at 25%:

 

It’s a useful tip, and I’m not the first to write about the high pass filter – it’s all over the ‘net – but it’s a technique that’s worth knowing about if you really like a shot but are finding it just a little too soft for your taste. In addition, the eyes may be sharper now but it does have the side-effect of enhancing wrinkles, etc. in my skin. That’s probably OK for a 40-year-old man but not too flattering for a woman so more selective editing may be required.

* My wife used the word “handsome” but I wouldn’t go quite that far.

Tour of Britain photo shoot

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

The rest of Team Sky (3)

Today, I’m not at work. In fact, as you read this, I should be starting to make my way back from North Yorkshire after a long weekend of photography (heavy rain/floods permitting).  It all started a few years ago when my long-suffering wife suggested that, instead of hijacking our family holidays and leaving her on her own in a cottage (without power on one memorable occasion) whilst I go out to take pictures, I should have a couple of dedicated weekends a year instead. So, that’s what I’ve be doing this weekend!

Getting read for my jaunt to Whitby, the surrounding coast and the North Yorkshire Moors reminded me of my last photography outing – a trip to watch the Welsh stage of the Tour of Britain a couple of weeks ago.  I contemplated trying to catch the race in two places but, in the end, decided that Welsh roads, traffic and weather were likely to conspire against me getting ahead of the peloton so, after a quick location scout on an already-crowded Caerphilly Mountain, I took up position back in the town, sitting on a street sign, on the last corner before the finish line, in a spot where I should see the riders come past me twice.

"This is the line..."I was amazed at how close to the action it’s possible to get with the Tour of Britain. Back in the mid-90s I went to watch some stages of the Network Q RAC Rally and could literally stand on the side of a forest track half way up a mountain as cars shot past at very high speed but I imagine these days “health and safety” have taken over and it must be a lot more controlled. The last kilometre of the cycling has barriers for crowd control but with two loops of Caerphilly Mountain inside towards the end of the race the crowds were up there, rather than in town. I later saw from the television pictures that the mountain spectators were all over the road, right up to the riders, shouting encouragement, just like on a stage of the Tour de France or Vuelta a España – very un-British and fantastic to see.

I know we’ve had an amazingly successful summer of cycling here in the UK with the Team Sky/Bradley Wiggins Tour de France success, followed by the Olympics (road and track) and even a fourth place for Chris Froome in the Vuelta but it was great to see so many people out for the Tour of Britain. Sadly, Wiggo pulled out of the Tour that day and mountains were never going to lead to a strong finish for Cav (his last few days in the rainbow Jersey) but it was great to see another Brit in the shape of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke take the Gold jersey (before he went on to win the Tour two days later).Matt Stephens  After the presentations, I could (almost) get to the Team Sky bus (the “Death Star”), could definitely get close to the other teams, and even managed to say hello to Matt Stephens (Race Controller and TV Presenter). Unlike some sports, it seems that the stars of professional road race cycling are still (reasonably) accessible for the fans.

My #ToB2012 in numbers: stage 6; 405m/8h15 travel; 3h wait; 2 cameras; 621 images/1 video to edit; 1 autograph :-) Thanks @
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

Although my wife thought I was mad to drive to Wales and wait around for hours to take some pics of blokes on bikes zooming past, I had a great day out.  Here are a selection of the images from that day – and I’ll be back at my desk and blogging again later in the week, hopefully with a load more pictures to share.