Blog reorganisation July 6th, 2012
For the last few months I did not blog much mostly because what I wanted to say would have ended up on the wrong place.
The original idea was for this blog to be about photography. Now it turns out that there is much more to comment on in technology and finance than on photography. So I have decided to separate the topics in different blogs.
For now on I will adopt the following rules:
- my comments about photography, and only photography will go to the good old blog on Mindworks Creation website.
- my posts about finance and investing will go to the newly opened blog at Barestock.
Barestock covers my activities related to trading and investing in technology companies. The website and the blog can tell you more if you want to know what it is about. But trading is a real time captivity so a lot of things happen on twitter nowadays. To stay in touch you can follow me at @barestock.
- my posts concerning iOS development will go to the newly created blog at SilverWillowSoftware.
The blog is here and the website still need improvement.
That way things will be much more logically organized and you should get posts only about the topics that you are interested in. Please check the appropriate blog and follow me on twitter if you want more real time comments.
So it works that way:
German engineering September 30th, 2011
Sort of… I was impressed by this web page.
Have a look at it if you have a minute ad see what happens when you scroll down.
There has been a lot of discussions around lately about the web not evolving fast enough in comparison to programming languages, well maybe it’s too slow but when I see what can be done with modern web technologies I’m still impressed. I remember the good old days when Netscape did not even supported https and it had to be provided by external modules.
About that debt crisis July 18th, 2011
Right now it’s pretty much impossible to watch a news program without hearing about the debt crisis in the US and elsewhere. So I thought it could be interesting to state a few facts and get a few things straight.
The net amount of the public debt of a country is meaningless.
What matters is the debt as percentage of GDP! Quick reminder the GDP (Gross Domestic Pro) roughly measure the size of the economy of a country. There are various way to measure the GDP and economists have been arguing about it for many years. And easy way to comprehend it is to consider that everything produced in a country is meant to be sold and is eventually sold and the GDP measure the amount of money spent by a country to buy ‘things’ and there for the value of what is produced or the size of that economy.
So if you have a big economy the amount of your debt can also become pretty large without necessarily being detrimental. In addition if this debt is directed toward productive investment that will eventually contribute to the growth of your economy than it means that you are in the perfect virtuous cycle of capitalism. You borrow to produce more to get more income, eventually.
It is commonly agreed that a country is in good health if the debt stays below 80% of the GDP. In 2010, 16 countries were above that limit out of 128.
If on the contrary you borrow a large sum of money to organize let’s say some olympic Games’ that will not generate any subsequent income…than it’s not so good.
So let’s look at some numbers (those may vary slightly depending on the source and the way calculations are conducted. The IMF and OECD for example use slightly different approaches that lead to variations in the numbers).
National debt as percentage of GDP (2010).
There are a few interesting things to notice in those numbers. Japan is the country in the world with the biggest debt compared to GDP. That means it would take the income of all the people during more than 2 years to pay back the debt. It’s hard to imagine. and we are talking about a large GDP around 5 trillions. In comparison Greece looks like a small player with 144% and a GDP of only 300 billions.
So things have to be considered relatively. The Greek crisis is significant and 144% of the GPD is a high level of debt but it’s nothing compared to Japan. But nobody has ever mentionned a debt crisis in Japan. Why? Mostly because the Japanese debt is perceived as related to productive investment while the Greek debt is perceived differently.
The Japanese work all day while the Greeks are lazy and just leaving on money borrowed through debt. Or at least that’s how we see it.
The US debt is not that bad after all
$14.6 trillions is a number so hight that we cannot even imagine what it is. It is beyond what everybody is dealing with on a daily basis. So yes, it is a lot of money and a relatively high level of debt and it will take a long time to pay it back and it puts a heavy burden on the budget.
But the country is not about to declare bankruptcy. A bad trajectory need to be altered but it’s not the end of the world yet.
Let’s look at the Federal budget.
The total for FY 2012 is $3.7 trillions (a little less than the Japanese total GDP). Like every budget it is composed of 2 categories of spendings, Mandatory programs and Discretionary programs.
Mandatory programs are the one that are dictated by law and cannot be changed. It includes such things as Social Security, Medicare and Military Retirement program. Things that it is not imaginable to default on. This is part of the ‘Social Contract’ between the state and the citizens.
It is 57% of the total budget and nobody can do anything about it.
Discretionary programs are the one that the President and Congress can decide on. The biggest share goes to the military that gets half of the discretionary spendings or about 20% of the total budget (which by every standard is a very high number, not seen anywhere).
5% of the budget is used internationally to help other countries and for diplomatic offices.
5% of the budget is needed to pay back the interest on the debt. And the rest is used for various discretionary programs.
But those numbers are going to change by 2021 it will take 15% of the budget to pay the interests of the debt and it will become the 4th larger budget item.
By 2021 the discretionary spending will have to be reduces from 40% to 26% to make room for other mandatory spending, in the future there will be less flexibility in how the budget is built.
How did the level of the debt evolved over time?
A common conception in US politics (remember US politics is all about statements, not at all about facts) is that Democrats are all about spending money and big government (big government = big budget) when Republicans claim to be about balancing the budget and reducing the Government.
Well – facts show a very different picture. Here is a chart of the Debt as percentage of GDP by Presidents since 1940.
It shows that until 1981 the debt was pretty much under control. After spiking during WWII the long period of economic growth that followed brought the level of the debt to it’s all time low around 37%. Things started to change with Reagan and went up. Clinton limited the spike but it went out of control again when the TARP program was adopted, followed by various Stimulus program to help the economy get out of the financial crisis.
It’s easy for the Republicans to blame the spending on the Democrats but the truth is that the increase in the debt level only happened when Republicans were in office. The current big spike came as a response to the financial crisis of 2008 it was decided while Bush was in office (the TARP program also called the big financial bailout) and continued with various stimulus programs on which both parties agreed because they were necessary to stimulate the economy.
Overall since 1981 the debt went from 37% to 95% of GDP in 30 years. For 30 years the country has been borrowing money. Today out of every dollar spent 40 cents are borrowed.
The real problem is not the level of the debt but rather why are we borrowing that money for.
In 2012 the US will spend close to $900 billions for the Military, that is about two times the total debt of Greece. You know, that same debt which has been worrying us so much and that is out of control.
So let’s keep things in perspective.
(In a future note I will examine what happened during those last 30 years and why the debt when up so significantly).
Shooting your camera tethered with an iPad – how to July 24th, 2010
Since day I received my iPad have been thinking about using it during photo shoots to review right there in the field the photos I was taking. But until now there was no simple solution.
The guys at 2nd Nature brought us the solution with their iOS App ShutterSnitch (iTunes Store Link).
This app starts a server on your iPhone or iPad (it’s a universal app) and look for any picture file coming its way. Now we just have to find a way to extract the photos from the camera and send it wirelessly.
Several solutions are possible. Nikon has a wireless transmitter that can do the job but I came up with something much cheaper and with some advantages. It involves an Eye-Fi SD card.
Those amazing cards are normal SD cards with a built in WiFi capability. Those tiny little cards can not only store your photos like any other SD card but they also allow you to transfer them wirelessly through any available WiFi network.
So, if you put the iPad and the card on the same wireless network they should eb able to talk to each other. That’s the idea, now the step by step.
- an Eye-Fi 8GB Pro X2 card. This is one of their latest cards(class 6 for the specialists) and it has all the options. The card accept RAW files. This solution would probably work with an older and smaller size card but this is what I used. Even if you don’t buy it for this particular purpose it is a good memory card to have around.
- a JOBO SD/SDHC to Compact Flash adapter. As you may know the D3 does not have a SD card slot. It only accept compact flash cards (the professionals will argue that those cards are generally considered more reliable). So you need to use an adapter. The JOBO worked for me, some other brands can work too.
- the ShutterSnitch iOS app. Cost: $7.99
- a Nikon D3. That’s my gear. Of course if your camera supports SD cards natively it’s even easier for you. Cost: let’s not discuss that…
Step by step instructions:
1- initialize the Eye-Fi card. The card comes with a USB card reader that you simply plug in your computer of choice.
Install the software that comes with the card it will eb sued to setup the behavior of the card. The first step is to make the card aware of your local WiFi network. You also setup the destination of the photos coming from the card and going to your computer.
There is absolutely nothing specific to the iPad in those steps. You just follow the instructions, it is pretty much idiot proof and if you have trouble Eye-Fi has a pretty good tech support.
2- Test with your camera and your computer. Once the setup is complete you can take the card out of the reader and insert it in your camera. Take a picture and the magic should happen, you will see the picture being transferred.
If you manage to get there you have already accomplished a lot.
3- Prepare the card to receive pictures from your iPad. This step is also relatively easy. Now that you have verified that your camera can take pictures and that the card can transmit those pictures wirelessly, put the card back in the reader and change the configuration.
For this to work you need to go in the Eye-Fi center software, open the setting panel for your card and make sure that:
- in Networks/Public Hotspots, the Connect to Hotspots and Open Network option is disabled.
- in Transfert mode, the Relayed Transfert is disabled.
If you don’t do that, it will not work with the iPad!
You can leave everything else the way it is, close the Eye-Fi center software, close the Eye-Fi Helper software and put the card back in your camera.
4- Start using your iPad to shoot tethered. Launch the ShutterSnitch App. First you need to setup your Eye-Fi card in the application in the option menu. You need the account that you created on the Eye-Fi web site when you installed and initialized your card. Login and your card will appear on a list.
Select the card (you may have more than one actually)
and you are done.
ShutterSnitch has a very simple process that automatically switch the configuration and tell the card to send the pictures to your iPad.
Last thing you need to do is to create a collection, that’s pretty much the name the app gives to a series of photos, but to receive new pictures you need to be inside a collection, otherwise the reception is simply not activated.
That’s it, start shooting, the photos will appear a few seconds after you take them.
What you need to know before you start:
- This work with JPEG files and so far I have not been able to make it work with RAWs although I still have hope.
- The JOBO adapter that I mention here is a type II Compact flash card, so it’s a little thicker than most of the cards. This is not supported by all the Nikon cameras with CF card slots. Check the specifications of your camera to make sure that type II CF cards are supported.
- The range is limited. Those cards are really small and it’s amazing to think about all the technology they packed in such a small volume, so you need to keep reasonable expectations. The range is limited, my testing shows that you have to stay on the room where you access point is or at least not too far from it.
Using an adapter reduces the range even further because the card is hidden inside the adapter, inside the camera. Although be careful of the interferences created by your body. There is no weak spot here like on the iPhone 4 but if you grip the camera too tight you actually reduce the range.
I use an airport express base station as an access point. It a very small device easy to plug anywhere you go. This allows me to create a local WiFi network used by the card and the iPad to talk to each other. The iPad cannot create a WiFi network by itself (unless you jailbreak it), you need to go through an existing network and the card (camera) must be in range and able to connect to this access point.
So the range is limited but it works very well as long as you keep the access point close to the camera.
- It does not work with Canon cameras when an adapter is required. Don’t ask me why, I’m not an expert of this brand. Apparently the camera cannot save the pictures on the card. It might work for a few images and than you will start to get corrupted files. based on my investigation this happens with any SD to Compact Flash adapter and it has something to do with the way Canon cameras write the files.
Of course, if your camera (Canon or Nikon) uses natively a SD card slot, you are good to go. The problem is only with the adapters.
- I would suggest to use that technique only to transfer jpeg files and you probably don’t need the largest that your camera can produce. This is an addition to your normal workflow. You still need to process the pictures once you are done shooting, make the adjustments and the post production that you usually do. This solution allows you to visualize the photo just a few seconds after taking it on a device that is small enough to keep around but has a screen large enough to really allow you to see what you are doing.
So I setup the quality of the JPEG to Normal (On the D3:Shooting Menu/Image quality) and the size to Medium (On the D3:Shooting Menu/Image size). The resulting image is 3184 x 2120 pixels, this is good enough to watch on the iPad.
To me it’s an excellent compromise between size, speed of transfer and quality.
- Nikon D3 specific: This awesome camera allows you to shoot on 2 cards simultaneously. You can setup the camera to record the RAW files on the card in slot 1 and a jpeg copy on the card in slot 2. That’s the setup I use. I keep a normal Compact Flash card in slot 1 and the Eye-Fi card is in slot 2 inside the adapter. (Shooting Menu/Slot 2/RAW Slot 1-JPEG Slot2)
- Be careful with your camera going to sleep before the card has enough time to transfer the file. Think about it, your camera has absolutely no idea of what the Eye-Fi card is doing. Shortly after taking the picture, the camera will write it to the card and… go to sleep. The camera does not shut down because you might take another picture but it usually goes to some sort of light sleep mode. When that happens the card does not have enough time to complete the transfer of the file.
A lot of camera with a GPS connected have the same issue, sometime the camera does not stay awake long enough for the GPS to acquire a position and attach the coordinates to the photo. Even a Nikon GPS on a Nikon camera faces this problem.
An easy fix is to artificially force the camera to stay awake a little longer to make sure the file is transferred safely.
On a Nikon camera a safe way to do this is to increase the Auto meter-off delay. This setting is usually easy to find (On D3: Custom Setting Menu/Timers/AE lock/Auto meter-off delay) setting it to % minutes (instead of the 6 seconds default) gives the camera plenty of time to do the job. You will loose a little bit of battery life.
- This solution works with an iPhone or an iPad.
On the negative side:
- You need to have access to a wireless network that stays in range of the card. Your iPad and your Eye-Fi card must be on the same network.
- The transfer takes a few seconds.
- Practically speaking this is a suitable solution to transfer medium size (6 M pixels) jpeg
files for viewing.
On the positive side:
- It works well.
- It’s easy to setup (just follow the step by step).
- The deployment rakes only a few seconds. If I want to shoot tethered in any place – I plug the network router (Airport Express) in any outlet in the room. I put the card in the camera. I start the app on the iPad. Done, ready to shoot.
- It’s less expensive than many other solutions. At around $170, it’s way less than the $710 Nikon ask for the ‘official’ wireless transmitter.
- To me this solution provides more flexibility than shooting tethered with Nikon Camera Control Pro. The pictures are saved on the card in the camera instantly and stay safely there until you process them through your usual workflow.
- And it’s a real treat to watch the results of the photo shoot live on the iPad as you go.
Aperture 3 is out July 13th, 2010
If you read my previous article on this topic and everything I wrote about RAW software converters you already know that Aperture has been a topic of equally great enjoyment and disappointments.
Version 3 is out and so far it sounds very promising.
In no particular order version 3 brings
- Faces, already introduced in iPhoto. It’s about time!
- Places, an awesome support of GPS metadata and geotagging. So far it’s the best support of geo localization I have ever seen in any software.
- Video and audio, the DSLR have included that functionality and Aperture is following this evolution. The support of audio files attached to the pictures is also very welcome. As far as I know, no other software have this.
Expect a full review soon.