Posts in Category: personal

New Obsession: Nik & Clouds

Earlier this year I had been considering buying Nik just for the Silver Efex Pro 2 editor, but as usual I couldn’t decide if my rework would be that much improved by new toys compared to just learning to use what I already have, and so didn’t go shopping. For some reason, Google rewarded me (and a few others besides) by making the Nik Collection free to download and I’ve since spent a large number of hours just clicking through the presets and seeing what comes up.

And what has come up is a love of the High Structure settings, for both Neutral and ACROS 100 simulated film types when applied to the 850nm infra-red images from my visible+IR converted X100. I can only apologise for what is about to become a very Instagram-like image series, as in common with most new toys, everything gets turned up to 11 when starting out. I’m writing this note for my future self when I look back in a couple of years and wonder what 3-year old attacked my image feed…

The fun doesn’t go away when using non-monochrome source material either: switching between R, Y, O, G and B filters with an appropriate black & white response to the tonalities is almost enough to make me shoot more non-IR. Almost.

For me the most unexpected side-effect of this is discovering that many of my images share a common theme, no matter if they were shot in at home or not, and that’s an obsession with clouds. Nik, and one of the above presets, make clouds pop like I’ve always wanted them to – I hope to be able to contain myself in the near future and dial back the editing, but for now I’m going to edit for clouds, and see how that boring bit of ground in front changes as a result.

Green Flag: World’s Worst Retentions Policy ?

So I’ve used Green Flag as a breakdown service for the last 5 years, with multiple call outs for one horrid vehicle (but hey it’s my fault, it was American built: never again !) and had managed (finally) to get 3 years of no claims on my account.

Renewal request: £90 after no claims has been applied

Enter my details on their new customer site: £59 with ‘online signup discount applied’

Hmm…

Call and find that the phone menu lists an ‘if you are thinking of leaving’ option. Sounds good, directly to retentions !

Said the renewal quote was more than a new policy cost and I’d like to leave.

Security checks. Confirm no cancellation charge as policy hasn’t been renewed.

“That’s all done – have a nice day sir”

Total call time: 2 minutes 59 seconds.

Crikey. This is not the same as trying to get out of a Telecoms contract…

Well, at least I can try signing up again as a new customer !

Another day, another Marketing rant

Ok, so this is bound to get me some name calling from colleagues but I’m talking about the amorphous and wide-ranging ‘act of Marketing’ rather than a department or individuals…

Why ? Well I’ve just worked out (after getting annoyed by an email from Google for their totally pointless AdWords service ) what the root cause of my recent outburst about SEO fluff articles was all about, and it’s nicely represented by the shill article on Wikipedia describing the ‘Call To Action’:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_to_action_(marketing)

Check footnote number 3, allegedly a reference citing more information about converting a ‘user into a lead’ is actually just linkage to a page selling a book on how wonderful CTA is as a marketing tool. (This also exposes the single most obvious elephant-in-the-room issue with Wikipedia’s insistence on citations without any deeper reason, but I digress).

The Wikipedia definition (not the sales pitch on the page) says:

In marketing, a call to action (CTA) is an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response, usually using an imperative verb such as “call now to find out more” or “visit a store today”.

A quote from that shill (emphasis theirs):

“…in a world where potential buyers do most of their research online before ever engaging a salesperson.”

That’s right – in the very same breath that Marketing staff are (finally) noticing that real information is more valuable than bright colours when it comes to making the sale, they are demanding an imperative statement to force customers back into old habits.

Why, if we (as individuals) want to research and shop online, would we ever want to visit a store for more information ? Those sites that offer details and information online are the winners here, and those that simply create an animated version of a half-page newspaper advert are dying whilst having such a lack of self-awareness they haven’t actually noticed how out of touch they are.

This is only good for a certain class of sales (TV’s, socks, etc.) where there really is no material difference between items – choose the colour, pick the price, check the availability and just buy it. Other types of sales do benefit from specialised knowledge or physical presence when choosing the goods (ie: finding a bicycle that fits is not a trivial task). This is, however, the exception rather than the rule, for B2C sales. And that’s before we come to sales such as furniture where the staff ought to be an asset and genuinely improve the customers satisfaction with the end product, but are stunningly awful (occasionally downright useless) at almost every turn – the last time I left a store because of the salesman it was a furniture store.

But I digress.

Again.

So what is really so annoying to me ? Other than the indignity of having to accept that I am a cookie-cutter-styled, trivially-substitutable paying customer ? The fact that for the most part, CTA’s are written in a demanding tone (this could be US English <> UK English sub-text misalignment) which basically tells us to spend money in order to do what we’ve always been doing. When I see “Increase Visitors with AdWords” I read “Pay money to do what you’ve done since before the web had ads”. SEO is an extreme example of demanding payment for little more than an attempt to second guess an automated algorithm which changes daily, but equally why would I want to “Call for the best price” when I know I want ?

In the same way that other websites say that they use AdWords to pay for hosting and bandwidth costs, this site is driven 100% by the savings I make by never having paid for AdWords in any form or variety, and with the added bonus that I get to express my opinions any way I see fit rather than having arbitrary and 100% pointless forms of censorship aimed at me – read how public album art deemed suitable by record stores and individuals worldwide is now, somehow pornographic and illegal solely according to Google. They’re starting to make Facebook look more sane…

I am not a fan of … but …

Ok, the secret to blogging more ? Reading Twitter, it seems…

This morning’s gem (from the amazing-in-everything Mark Gatiss):

For me this strikes me as part of the same problem highlighted by the also-excellent Charlie Brooker:

…The first face was Bob Hoskins, prompting a wave of respectful applause through the auditorium. He was followed by a photograph of the writer Eddie Braben.

Silence.

Eddie Braben, of course, wrote most of Morecambe and Wise’s classic material…

From: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/19/political-automatons-nigel-farage-wacky-neighbour-sitcom

So, whilst I happily say I’m not a fan of affirmative action (the fact it exists at all is a damning statement of how wrong our collective decision making is), this feels like something that can be very much more easily remedied for TV and Film writers as it’s obvious that some of the audience are forgetting that the actors are just playing a role and that it’s not real. It would be tempting to blame reality TV for this lack of knowledge, but despite writers names being prominently featured in the title sequence, that’s typically where things stop unless you enjoy using IMDB.

So, BBC, Netflix, Lovefilm – this is your time ! Rather than the dull online categories (and yes BBC iPlayer, I’m looking at you when I find that Arts doesn’t include Music when listing TV programmes… Hmm…) lets have a prominent ‘Writers’ top level heading. It only takes one curious person who enjoyed a drama to go and click to discover a trove of material, although it takes away from the current approach of the all-hail-machine-pesudo-AI ‘Recommended For You…’ and puts control back in the viewers hands.

(aside: this is perhaps no bad move, as for myself I now ignore ‘Recommended’ lists as they are mostly ads which are not even thinly disguised anymore for most part (Lovefilm, hmm…) and easily skewed by buying presents for others…)

So whilst we’re at it, let’s get more useful and have a ‘Strong, well-written female lead’ section – ok, the wording may need some work (but hey, I know where to find some Writers now !) so we can properly address the ‘hero bloke/simpering female’ formula.

Hmm, come to think of it, perhaps we need TwitterRebuttal as a new site, where ranty people have to write more than 140 words to go on about tweets that irritate them…

Everything that’s wrong with the modern web in 140 characters or less

Ok, so I’m old. Curmudgeonly. Fixed in my ways. And feeling older every time I venture out of my comfort zone and attempt to embrace new ideals – I’m sure every generation feels this, but stuff it – the web used to be for geeks, and now look at it…

I don’t blog as much as I used to, but that’s for a hugely complex number of reasons, not least of which is that there is so much out there to _do_ it’s hard to stop learning and tell others – plus my day job is now decidedly non-commercial when compared to my previous companies, and so a lot of what I do, investigate or experiment with day-to-day is no longer anything I can share publicly. Which is great for job satisfaction, but lousy for this website.

So todays’ grump was triggered by a tweet. Just one lousy tweet, and it wasn’t even rude – it also comes from a firm I have a great business relationship with and am happy to promote as solid, good value and brilliantly supportive web and domain name company:

How to generate traffic to your #blog on a shoe-string budget: http://vidaho.st/3t

From: https://twitter.com/vidahost/status/481010191270686720

I mean, W the actual F ? Since when was the single aim of a blog to generate traffic ? What happened to the desire to just put stuff out there for folks that want to read or learn ? When did “speaking your mind” turn into “promoting your brand” ? What bunch of vain, self-important, trivialising, short-sighted attention seeking focus deprived idiots decide that writing a blog entry to encourage money to be paid to third parties who second guess secret and dynamically changing machine learning algorithms ?

Oh wait: that means I read their site. Damnit.

Enough with this “content generation” – stop being pawns of marketers and WRITE STUFF YOU CARE ABOUT.

Humph.

I’m off to find a rocking chair and my slippers, safe in the knowledge that no-one will be happy about paying adword fees to read my drivel.

Claiming words back for the geeks – even if no-one is listening. That’s satisfying.

National Space Centre

A fascinating day out at the National Space Centre for the kids, and a lot of interesting exhibits for those of us who spent far too long reading about this sort of thing 30 years ago.

Even though the facts were well known, actually seeing physical which had only been pictured in books was quite something: like finding myself face-to-face with a real SR71 Blackbird at Duxford, seeing a Blue Streak and Soyuz craft at just an arm’s length really brought home the fragility of the craft, not to mention the exceedingly friendly terms you need to be on with your fellow astronauts when cooped up in the main Soyuz pod.

The fact that the engines of the display missiles are in the eating area and ‘launch’ every 10 minutes makes even the most space-ambivalent kid join in the fun.

Any comments about helping get the best score of the day on the Apollo 11 lander simulator or parachute eggdrop are purely heresay, as it wouldn’t be sporting to geek out at my age..

Peeko-Computer

Back in 1982, AcornSoft released a program designed to be a gentle introduction to understanding the internals of computer operation and 6502 assembly language. I found the original tape and manual a little over a year ago and it struck me that the sort of simplicity and clarity that the program brought to a fairly complex topic could still have a use today.

A couple of weeks ago I finally sat down and spent 8 hours or so on the task, and have come up with an HTML/JavaScript version, complete with a clone of the stunning 1980’s UI design (pictured above…) which not only executes the first two problems in the manual correctly, but has an extensible instruction set which allow experimentation and expansion of the original concept.

There’s lots left to do, not least of which is to continue with a more modern UI that is more touchscreen/mouse friendly than the keyboard driven affair of the original, so I have set up a public repo and mailing list along with a live demo:

Project: https://code.google.com/p/peeko-computer/

Mailing list: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/peeko-computer-general-discussion

Live demo: http://minimal.cx/PeekoComputer/

Do have a play around and join in with the coding, documentation or just bring up your ideas for discussion.

Good enough for Amazon, good enough for me

Amazon blocks Phorm adverts scan: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7999635.stm

I hadn’t previously bothered to do this, as it seemed to be too early to say how Phorm would turn out and the implementation of the opt-out is so braindead and full of marketing BS that it just made me angry. Yeah, I want to ban all search engines so Phorm doesn’t scan me – right… What about all the other User-Agent strings that robots.txt can handle so nicely ? Oh yes – that’s right: if it was trivial then no-one would let their content be abused in this way.

So email sent: multiple domains and all subdomains thereof requested blocked. See what happens next.