Friday, May 28, 2021

This is also a little spooky ...

Just how much our privacy is being eroded is scary, as we participant in the image sharing on social media. This especially applies to our photos and the apps on our mobile phone that may well be processing them even when we haven't shared them. These apps might be scanning your contacts, purchases, and perhaps even fromyour searches.

So I have removed  VSCO,  Adobe Lightroom, PicsArt and Prisma; along with Facebook, Twitter & now also Google Photo apps from my mobile phone. I'm retreating back to only interacting with social media
via the Brave browser and mainly from my computer. 

I really don't think I'm being paranoid just careful.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Yes I just had to photography the lunar eclipse


I have been able to photograph the lunar eclipse in 2014, 2015 & again in 2018, so I knew I must photograph last night's "blood moon" aka another Lunar eclipse. Whilst it didn't look so promising early, with thick cloud cover. As the eclipse progress it cleared to a magnificent, but cold, night. I actually found the best vantage point was right in my backyard. So I had my smallest camera and longest lens (giving the best reach) set up on a tripod with a timer on the shutter.

The colour wasn't as red as perviously, it was more a coppery red but still pretty amazing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Exploring Excire

 I had gotten interested in Excire at the Visual Story Tellers on-line conference. It seemed to offer some useful feature that might help me tackle the process of working  through a lot of old family photos, slides, negatives and albums. Well it didn’t inspire me to start that project. However it is an amazing program.

The clearest use case for excire is during the import/ingestion of photos. Its was faster than lightroom, but it does have to create its own database (like the lightroom catalogue) and it uses either a jpeg or the jpeg built into any RAW file.

The fact that it can write this keywording and your ranking to a sidecar file as you import is a really massive benefit.

I still think photo mechanic lets you get through the import a lot quicker, but I’m seldom adding keywords. Once you have entered custom keywords both do a great job of finding your photos.

The second great application is for searching through a large collection, where its hierarchical keywords strategy can help  you find a lot of photos quickly within a larger collection. It also keywords several special terms related to aspects of the photograph, not things buried in the exif data (like lightroom) but general things like brightness, leading lines or silhouette.

Its biggest downfall for my “family history” project was that although you can put in customised to identify people and grouping people “like this” it misses enough to make it unreliable, as a fall back organizer.  By comparison google photos gives me a slightly better strike rate once I identify people (or alternatively say not matching). Picasa (although no longer supported by google) still appears to me to do the best job and It works on photos locally.   So my eyes are going to be the best tool, with assistance from picasa and photo mechanic for now.

So my conclusion is I’m not buying excire (just now). It is an impressive program and leads the way for AI classification and assistance finding photos. Its definitely something to keep an eye on. There is a free seven day trial if you are interested.           

Monday, May 24, 2021

Not if but when continues.......

I falsely thought equipment failures where behind me, at least for a while. I was wrong. Ok I had been seeing times when my old portable USB card reader (hanging together with masking tape) would just refuse to read cards on different computers. Frustrating sure but it was intermittent and there where alternate ways to upload photo.

Now I find all my built in SD card readers on the three computers (that survived the windows 10 update) still working have stopped working over the past few days. Damn. Still I can upload directly from the Camera.

Clearly I spoke to soon. Is this bad luck and a massive coincident or is there a  SD card virus or similar data contagion out in the wild? I can't find any reliable reference to such a beast, at least at the moment.

So its off to replace my USB card reader and get some new cards, but keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Taking my studio computer off life support

My old but otherwise still useful computer has finally got me to the point of considering Euthanasia. Despite the recent RESET and rebuild with only the minimum software the poor old thing would often start ok but switch into that blue screen with the little spinner and message that it was working on updates, which would eventually lead to the regular desktop, albeit a slowness to do anything.

This was ok  as I only want the big screen (an older TV) to display images for me to sketch or paint and some music. Both don't require anything speedy. My studio is always very messy so no need to look new and flashy.

However about a week ago after shutting down, the very best I  managed to reach is just to say the update has reached 100% (despite letting it run for 56 hours straight). So this afternoon, I disconnected my old friend Obsidian (all my computers are named after rocks), perhaps destined for the storeroom rather than the next hard rubbish collection. Sadly another death by upgrade. Shame on you microsoft.


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Not IF but WHEN

Aren't bad things supposed to come in threes? I'm just experiencing fours, in terms of storage.

Digital Storage Media has a Finite Life

First, over a couple of weeks I saw warning from my android phone about occasional difficulty writing to the micro SD card, and then last week a warning to back it up followed by a note that it was unmounted. Fortunately when I took the card out of the phone I could read all its contents BUT I could not write to the card or even reformat it. Ok new card required (they are not all that expensive) and I had been doing monthly updates to my photo library. So nothing lost, at worst it might have been a few recent photos.



I'm not going to go into detail but there are dozens of ways to get your photos off your phone, into the cloud and/or onto a computer Backup or Archive. Just expect your phone to be stolen, disappear, fall in the water or otherwise stop. If you have anything of personal value on it don't hesitate backup now!

Second was a strange corruption of a file on the memory card in my camera. At first I suspected the little USB card reader (which every now and the refuses to register on the device reading it). However swapping cards showed the problems was just a specific file on one SD card. Or the problem could be in the camera (hope not). Again the bigger faster SD cards I now use are more expensive but replacing it was an obvious tactic. Don't just leave your big SD cards to fill up. You can fit fair number of photos on 64GB and/or 128GB cards but then you loose a lot of photos if something goes wrong.



Third, I pulled out my backup portable hard drives (I have two set of 1TB & 2TB disks that I alternate one set in my office and one set offsite) in preparation for the monthly update and rotation. Unfortunately the one that was due to take the months incremental files was completed dead, No even a glimmer of life or flicker of the power on light. Again nothing lost, I still had the Master copy on my computer and the off site copy. However now replacement of the hard disk is starting to get expensive.



The final insult came in the form of a BIOS message as my ailing studio computer attempts to start up. The cost of and capacity of traditional spinning platter magnetic hard disks have improved a lot, prices for the same capacity are significantly lower and the capacity has increased. However now there is the added complication and difficulty of opening up the computer finding the right replacement and the time to restore all the data, programs and get things back to normal. The cost of paying someone else to do this will be frightening.



Take it from me, these things will happened. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Automatic Classifying the Subjects in your Photos

 One holy grail in the AI applications in Photography (or any visual art) has been the potential ability to automatically see into the binary files (that are photographic images) and use that in searches. For a decade of so google has claimed a lot of progress, starting with the really useful ability to find cats in photos. Ok I’m being a cynical but I have been trackingthe claims in google photos, auto labeeling things and places. It can look through the great dumps of photos its backup & sync tools is daily uploading. Are things improving? You can enter a term and be “surprised” (on the first couple of occasions) that it will find some photo you have forgotten about. It does also pull up a few clearly bad matches. What I have noticed is the really obvious things it misses. So I’m really not seeing any significant improvement.

For a while at least flickr had a feature that would add tags at the time you uploaded your photo. If you bothered to check you were able to delete incorrect terms of add your own.  This seem a better approach to me but alas it seems to have fallen by the way side now.

Moving forward I’ve now trying out a slightly new alternative Excire (it has been around as a plug-in for lightroom as Excire Search for a while) which primarily groups classifies your images to create a hierarchical set of keywords. It can then write these keywords to sidecar files, which will then allow this information to percolate into any other software that reads this format. I’m only using the trial version which unfortunately doesn’t give me the ability to write these files, so I have check it yet. Its classification strikes be as both friendlier to use and possibly better than either of the above.

It also have the benefit that you see the grouping visually and they are laid out from best match at the top to just possible at the bottom. Further you don’t have to change modes (eg. go to new screen to make corrections). You just select the image click on it and you can make changes to the keywords on the left tab or albums on the right.

It strikes me as perfect to be run as you first upload/ingest your photos. Helping you to rank and cull but giving the incentive to better keywording of your images. I already have photo mechanic (no AI features as yet) which I love and use (but not so much for keywording). So I’m Impressed but not ready to jump ship just yet, for keyword Shangri-la.  However that time is much getting closer.

Friday, May 07, 2021

My Reservations about Google Photo

Whilst I was once a fan of most things google, these days not so much. Perhaps not totally against it yet, I still use it as the simplest way to include images here in blogger and very occasionally as a way to share a photo.

  1. Don't Build on Rented Land. The problem here is you don't really have control of your content. Google have a long history now of just cutting loose otherwise decent applications. Building a large library of precious family memories and them finding (supposedly for free) and then finding you can't add to it or access it, should not come as a surprise to you. The fact that they are proposing to charge for storage after June 1st. is a pertinent reminder of this, but don't panic there are things you can do now.
  2. The Backup & Sync, the little application that google will supply for you computer or phone acts like a vacuum cleaner it such up everything usually before you have had a chance to review them. There are not curatorial tools to help you cull the duds and less than mediocre. So whilst the Ai based image content search are often impressive they are still prone to the common pitfall of any Ai based system, they get used to the garbage and will not reliably find everything that you are looking for. You will see some nice results, and see some clearly wrong results; but you will never know about the gems you missed.
  3. Its a bit spooky, This is really a personal observation. Google is collecting so much about you that even though they claim they protect your privacy they are building incredibly detailed profiles of you and your everyday activities, justified that they will be creating target ads, buy supplying their advertisers with aggregated profiles. There is a specific claim in google photos at the moment that they don't use your photos to target adds. However if you really want to scare yourself take a look at your timeline that is being created in google maps. For sure there will be where you live and work, where your kids go to school ... it is scary when you realize what is available. Whilst it is seldom your photos google also gets other information from Gmail, your phones location data, your google searches and chrome browser. Google does also offer tools to manage which data is collected, but I'm sure you never realized just how much is being collected and aggregated specially on you in the normal working with a google account and their "free" tools.
Unfortunately I have foreseen many of these issue developing, and yet I still keep giving google the benefit of the doubt. So please use google photos with your eyes wide open.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

DON'T PANIC if you use google photos

There is still sufficient time to prepare for Google Photo changes. Right now you are not charged for smaller compacted version of you photos at all (they are not included in your Google Drive/Google Photo Limit). I'm not conversant with all the restriction on movies but short movies are also free, (but please check google for full details), Furthermore it is my understanding that any photo uploaded before the 1st June that are now free and not included in the limit will remain free and not included. This is a big "Get Out of Jail Free Card" for all of us with lots of google photos.

Google use the unusual term "High Quality" for these compacted files. They are any JPEG file that is less than or equal 2040 pixels along the longest side. Whereas it uses the term "original" for large files (and I presume RAW versions of files). So the first task is to compact all your files on google (and/or download the big ones). Fortunately google provides tools to do this.


This is really simple. You can access the tools by first click on the gear icon, top left of the google photos screen on your web browser. and the scrolling down in setting to first click on High quality which means any new photos you load will be staved in compressed format, even if they are larger when you upload them. Next click on the Recover Storage button, it will start looking through your photos and compress any that need to be. It will warn you this can take an hour or so.

Only click on that big blue Buy storage if you really need to. Even after the compressed files are being counted it will take a long time before your collection reached 15GB.


Ok what is you want to download the big files or perhaps everything? Well there are tools for doing that also and again they have a strange names. Google calls this process Take Out, and its ot to be undertaken lightly. If your collection is large google will break the task into sections compress the files into zip files (which is usually not so compressed and start downloading them to your current device, so you will probably need to be on a computer with lots of free space.

So a much better strategy is to read the help files about Take Out Photos & Videos and experiment with a smaller group of photos or videos say in a single album. Download that small subset and unzip the files (delete the zip files after you have done this, they are just the vehicle for the transfer and no further use). 

However the process should end there you need to work out where you are actually going to store the files in the longer term. perhaps you will go to a different cloud service, which means uploading them again, or cloud backup. You might even look at buying extra local storage such as a NAS. 

You don't have to start doing this before June 1st. so take your time work on a smaller subset and find out what will work for you.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Will Google delete your photos without notice?

The simple answer is YES, but there are reasons and not right away.

One thing that peeked my interest amongst the forthcoming changes to google photos (google drive & gmail) was not that they are intending to charge for storage (which is what a lot of current hype is about)  it was a paragraphs in their November explanation of the changes. Gmail, Google photos and other google tools are being combined into s sinle google Drive Limit of 15 GB (for free) and after that storage will be charged.

When you have been over your storage quota for 2 yearsyour content in Gmail, Google Drive (including Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms and Jamboard files) and Google Photos may be deleted.

Another section make the same claim about inactive gmail accounts!

There is not mention of any warnings, just they now have the right to choose to start deleting inactive accounts and services, presumably without notice. Clearly its aim is to clean up storage once users are dead, or thy choose to stop using the services (including forgetting their password, etc). Which seems perfectly reasonable

The downside here is for your digital immortality (or not). Do you expect your personal data in the cloud to be accessible after you are dead?

Probably in most cases you might be glad this is the case, all those embarrassing photos to vanish. However there can easily be situations with family photos (which tend to become precious over time) need to be preserved. Its probably time to think about putting those important photos that form family memories into a separate album that gets share amongst your family members and encourage them to keep copies.

No need to panic this policy will only be started on June 1st this year. The 2 years of in activity probably begin then. 

I don't think this is a google #FAIL, I just think they hopt it will get through without much fussy (compared with charging for photo storage after claiming it was the perfect place to store all your family photos - did they actually say for free?)