Monday, December 29, 2008

Can you bend it?

Years ago I mailed small things like thread in a letter. New standards came in restricting   letters not only by weight but by dimensions. Thickness was limited to 20 mm which put an end to mailing a spool of thread. I could still mail books up to 500 gm. That ends next month when the new rates and standards come into play. Now oversize letters must also be able to bend in a 140 mm diameter - the curve of a cupped hand. Items that fail the latest test must be mailed at the parcel rate which starts at double the maximum letter rate and shoots up from there depending on distance.  

Letters are being replaced by email. Bills are being delivered by the web and paid on the web. And now small packages are too costly to send. This leaves the flyers and junk mail for delivery to your mail box. Perhaps in the near future my mail box can be replaced with a blue box to move the “mail” straight to recycling... 

note: image is ©CorelDraw 9 and used under license.

UPDATE: Jan 12 2009 CPC changes came into play. The "can you bend it" guideline for letter mail apparently did NOT make the cut... In fact the rules call for a stiffening card to be added if the envelope "sags" too much. As Joan Collins sang "maybe next year".


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Time Machine to the rescue

I continue to find reasons to support my decision over a year ago to switch to the Mac. The other night I removed an Adobe CS3 suite and Adobe Fireworks CS3 after using the CS4 upgrade for a few weeks. When I opened Photoshop CS4 today, I saw an error message telling me a file was missing from the Adobe Application Support folder and to run the Photoshop installer to re-install Photoshop. Problem. My CS4 upgrade was a multi gigabyte download with no separate Photoshop installer. Before I started up the huge upgrade file, I looked at Adobe's knowledge base. It told me my lost file was called "Adobe Unit Types.osax", residing in the Macintosh HD> Library> ScriptingAdditions folder. Using my trusty Time Machine, I rolled back a couple of days to an earlier version of that folder and bingo! there was my file. I told Time Machine to restore the folder and Photoshop was back to normal.   

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Speedier by Adobe

I have been a fan of Adobe products for many years now. This month the Creative Suite 4 series was released. I had the pleasure of using the beta version of Dreamweaver CS4 this past summer. The new release makes use of the GPU and video memory on those computers like the iMac which have an independent video card. The speed improvement is especially noticeable working with images in Photoshop or Bridge.  With the strong focus on improving the user interface - especially in the old Macromedia products - making things speedier, improving cross-application integration, and adding some great new features make this release worth the money for all designers. 

Adobe is a strong example of a company that is right in tune with the modern era - great user oriented design, tremendous support (check Adobe TV on the web), and truly effective retailing via the web. I was able to buy the upgrade late on a Saturday evening and download the huge 4.8 Gb file. Once downloaded a couple of hours later, the file did a self check for transmission errors before allowing me to proceed with the installation.   

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Touch of Class

Some years ago, I bought my first PDA. It was a Palm M500. I bought it on sale at the end of its market life and used it until very recently when the cover finally wore out and the battery became unreliable. Our cell phone is also old and cannot be used past this November when Bell Mobility upgrades its network. 

I had thoughts of using the iPhone 3G to replace both my PDA and my cell. Unfortunately, Rogers wanted far too much for the little use I make of a cell, so I turned to the iPod Touch. When the newest version arrived this fall, I took the plunge and bought the 16 Gb version. It is such an elegant little gadget. It doesn't take long to learn the gestures and procedures to use its many features. When I am in range of a wifi, the very well thought out Safari browser works as does my email. 

In spite of the small screen, it is easy to read, and most screens can be magnified. The little touch keyboard takes some practice, but then so did Palm's Graffiti. Screen resolution and colours are outstanding. A sturdy replacement for my little M500, the iPod Touch is a classy affirmation of Apple's design and construction quality - and like my iMac, the user interface makes it a delight to use.  I snapped the image at the left with my Sony F828 to give you an idea - the colours aren't quite accurate and the highlights washed out a bit.  

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ready in a Flash

Last spring, a client asked for a few Flash files for his new site. I said, "no problem, I have Flash CS3 on my Mac". However; Flash is no Photoshop. Its variety of "objects" that do "this", but not "that" combined with a strange GUI left me struggling. I managed to make a few Flash "movies" but I didn't promote them to his web site. Instead, this fall I did two things. Bought a training book (Flash CS3 Professional, by Todd Todd Perkins) and registered for a class at Humber. 

My instructor, Paul Minstrell, is a gem. He was trained in traditional hand drawn animation and has used Flash since it first arrived on the market as "FutureSplash Animator". Paul is a dynamo filled with information on Flash and the animation creative process. In our first class, he mentioned "Bitey Castle", a site whose creator shows what can be done with Flash. Click here to go to the "Bitey Castle"home page. Or click here to go to "Frank", a 45 second example of  Adam Phillips's wry humour and drawing skill. Have a peek!     

The Way Back Machine

Did you know the web has an archive too? Visit to see what is saved in the Internet Archive. A note on their home page explains that "The Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form." Included are movies, music, audio, text and web pages.  Enter a URL in the address box for the Way Back Machine and you will get an index of pages by date saved. For example, I can go back to 1998 on our site by entering "", our original URL, or "", our current URL. Some images are missing, but the the few links I tried within a page seemed to work.   

Friday, August 29, 2008

A 15 cent Lesson

I swear Bell is working hard at losing customers. In June I received yet another annoying taped telemarketing message. Noticing the phone number was local, I hung up and called back. Instead of a person answering, I heard a recording asking me to leave a message. I did just that, politely asking them to remove my phone number from their list, then forgot about the incident...

...until my July Bell bill arrived. It had a mysterious 15 cent charge for “Universal Messaging” with no hint as to its purpose other than a now forgotten local phone number. Carol asked me what it was for and I was stumped. I went to the Bell web site where I found a page that “explained” my bill in great detail - but not the 15 cent charge. I resorted to a Google search and there buried in a CRTC report from a few years back was the very charge - turns out it is a charge to leave a message on a phone number which has no voicemail. Worse, if the number is international, the charge can exceed $2.00. No hint of this when I dialed the number. No identification that made sense on the bill. Nothing on the Bell web site. Great customer relations!

You've come a long way, little logo

About fifteen years ago, I had a call from Larry Boccioletti. He wanted me to use the tag line “The Big One” on our poster to differentiate our fair from new ones that had sprung up. I was using a page layout program on my Amiga called PageStream - long on promises and woefully short on delivery. One of the few things that did work was a primitive means to force a font to follow a curve or a shape. I used that feature to transform Larry’s tag line into a logo. By 1998 I had to abandon the Amiga, which had spiralled down into bankruptcy, and decided to build a WinTel machine using Windows 95 - an OS disaster compared to the Amiga OS. I was able to convert the logo vector file into a wmf file and move it to Windows. I initially used Microsoft Publisher, but soon tired of its cartoonish icons and gee-whizz antics. Then I accidently came across the very first release of InDesign at Future Shop - bargain priced for users switching programs - and it could read my wmf file. Last summer, when I wearied - really wearied - of Windows, I moved to a Mac.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to help Bob Lansdale by doing a full page poster insert for the journal. Since I had a few weeks grace, I put on my thinking cap while doing chores around the yard and came up with a fresh design. I had the bright idea of using the logo as a mask in Photoshop on a crowd scene. I was very surprised to find the original wmf file in the stuff I moved over from Windows and even more so when Adobe Illustrator converted it to a format that Photoshop could read. The result worked out just fine for our new fall 2008 fair poster. The little logo has happily jumped platforms and formats once again - a little bit of the 1990s Amiga has survived through stops on various Windows machines to arrive on an iMac running a modern OS.

Monday, July 28, 2008

An apple a day

As a recent convert to the Mac, I have looked around for a newsletter such as the Windows Secrets newsletter I read for Windows related news. TUAW has proven to be the “must read” source for me. During the week it is updated frequently through the day. The key is that it reports on all sorts of Macintosh and Mac related items, offering a precis and a link to the originating source. I became aware of many useful applications and general information since I began reading TUAW ( A superb resource.

999 messages

If you are like me, your inbox slowly transforms into a monster repository of things read and acted upon - or not.... News material from umpteen sources, aunt Sally’s latest dire threat from the internet (a.k.a. Urban Legend), lengthy lists of jokes from various relatives who find forwarding easier than writing, etc. all sharing space with those truly  important messages.  The primary focus of Merlin Mann, owner of the web site (, is “Inbox Zero”, an encouraging talk on how to slay the monster who has taken over your inbox. 

...I'll Call You

Do you include telemarketing calls in the same category as spam and junk mail delivered by the post office or with “free” community newspapers? Well our government seems to have finally woken up to the issue - sort of. As of this coming September 30th, you can add your phone number (voice and fax) to a national Do Not Call list. “Some conditions apply” as our friends in marketing fondly point out. Have a look at the web site for a preview ( - the two ambiguous characters are both lower case “L” not uppercase “I” in case you wondered; the acronyms are for the French and English versions of “do not call list”).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Can you make the text bigger?

The other day, our editor commented that the text on the new web pages was too small. I replied noting we both had larger than average screens (1920 x 1200 pixels) which made the text look small. I mentioned use of "command +" or "command -" to change font size. 

A couple of weeks later another member, John Morden, said he saw a web page with text icons to set the text size and asked me if I could add them to our site.

I took up the challenge. Article #126 on the "A List Apart" web site explained the how and why of changing font sizes by flipping CSS scripts. A javascript does the heavy lifting, putting a cookie on the viewer's computer to remember the preferred text size for all other pages on the site with the necessary code imbedded.

I modified the template pages and updated eight of the new pages, six have been uploaded. The other "new style" pages need to be linked to the appropriate template before I upload them.

The revised pages have two characters "a A" on the far left of the navigation bar---  enjoy.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Farewell to our Secretary

After retiring as librarian at York University, Toronto, our long time secretary Tiit K├Ádar, announced he was moving to the downtown, meantime he and his wife took a holiday to see family members in Victoria, BC. To our surprise, when they returned, Tiit gave us the news that he intended to move... to Victoria this summer. We are losing both our secretary and our videographer. For many years Tiit has recorded our monthly meetings at his own expense. He is shown here recording a program in April 2005. His video library will stay here in Toronto with his son who works in video technology. We wish Tiit and his wife the very best in moving to the beautiful and charming capital of British Columbia. Fortunately in today's world, we can keep in touch via the internet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Anna Morfix

Buffalo NY native Paul Pasquarello combines two photographic specialities: stereo and panorama views in his Cinemascope stereo images. Paul joined us Wednesday night, June 18, 2008 and brought along his special set-up to project these Cinemascope images. The images were captured with a pair of modified Nikon FM cameras sporting ISCO anamorphic lenses. I took some shots off the screen to display on our web site. The brief flash of my focusing grid annoyed at least one viewer who gave me an excellent suggestion to try using manual focus for the next presentation (with the double polarizing filters on the projector and the camera, the darker slides prompted my camera to flash the red focussing grid).  Have a look at our web page for more information on Paul Pasquarello's gorgeous Cinemascope shaped stereo images and his elaborate set-up to shoot and show them.

We meet in in the North York Memorial Hall at Park Home and Yonge Street in Toronto on the Yonge subway line on the third Wednesday of the month from September to June.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Changing Standards on the Web

If you visited our web site over the last few months, you may have noticed a change in the newer pages. I am moving the site slowly over to c2007 XHTML and CSS standards using Adobe Dreamweaver. The combination of CSS and templates will make it easy to do site wide changes. Most of the site was written over the past decade using old methods. As a result, to update the look of the site and meet the new W3C standards, the 100+ pages on the site must be individually rewritten - a lengthy task.

This week I did a complete rewrite of our index/home page - often the first page a visitor sees. The new design gives links on the left side bar to all exchange and institutional members of the PHSC. The body of the page has been segmented with current news "above the fold" and older news at the bottom of the page. Sandwiched in between are sections on our Journal, Photographic Canadiana, our E-mail Newsletter, Membership, and Events. You can jump to the sections using icons just below the header and navigation bar.

And, the navigation bar now has a link to this blog (far right) but you already know that :-)

To keep the pages more interesting, I added some faded out images as a background to the header. The old cameras, brochures, and photographs in the background are all items that were photographed by the PHSC when they passed through our hands on the way to new owners.

The other major rewrite was the combined Programs and Past Programs pages, now all on one Programs page. This page has an index linking to all individual program pages on the site, plus information on our Toronto meeting dates, times, and location.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Requiem for the Darkroom

Our latest Photographica-Fair was Sunday, May 25th 2008. The show began with an unplanned "requiem for the darkroom". Just seconds before we were to open the doors, the whole soccer centre was plunged into darkness. A few windows high up in the playing area gave a modest amount of gloomy light on the show floor. Once our eyes adjusted to the dim light, most of the floor was quite visible.  

We held off letting the anxious bargain seekers in for a while and ran a poll with the vendors. The vast majority preferred to open without power and lights. The few who didn't were given the option to cover their table or move out (no one left), and the crowd was let in. During the delay a few of our executive circulated, taking charge and keeping everyone informed. Shortly after 11:00 am a buzzer sounded and the lights began to brighten once again.

Some vendors kept on after the 3:00 pm closing but by supper time the playing area was quiet and all tables once again were in storage. All ended well at our 34th annual spring show in spite of the darkroom requiem (we learned later that a car accident brought down the power feed to the area blacking out more than just the Soccer Centre for nearly an hour and a half). Patience and good manners on the part of the vendors and buyers, along with good management by our executive saved the day. President Clint Hryhorijiw, VP John Morden, and Membership Secretary Wayne Gilbert stepped in to keep communications flowing and plan the course of action that was taken, giving Fair Chairman Mark Singer a most welcome helping hand.    

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fireworks Joins the team

My teacher at Humber, Jim Babbage, is a big fan of Adobe Fireworks. During our CSS classes he suggested Photoshop addresses the world of paper and print while Fireworks caters to the web environment. Fireworks takes the place of ImageReady, the little web images program included with earlier versions of Photoshop. After trying Fireworks during my XHTML class last fall and now in the CSS class, I ended up buying a copy.

Fireworks offers tools to quickly and easily size and optimize web images - I recently took on redoing an older web site for practice and was horrified to discover the designer had provided large images of various sizes for the site. Each time the site was viewed, the browser was forced to resize every image on the fly -  shoehorning them into thumbnails in table cells. Fireworks made short work of creating a set of decent thumbnail images and converting the odd jpeg to gif to allow some transparency (I skipped using png files so older browsers wouldn't have problems). 

In addition to the simple sizing and optimizing tools, Fireworks has very powerful tools for prototyping a new web site - even allowing the viewer to "click-through" the various pages to test the navigation design. Once a design is approved, the mock-up can be readily sliced to make the actual headers, backgrounds, buttons, etc. to join HTML, CSS, and Javascript to create a live web site. 

Like  Flash and Dreamweaver, also acquired when Adobe bought Macromedia, Fireworks has a GUI that is somewhat different than the traditional Adobe programs. Some of the image adjusting tools, like curves, look much like those in older versions of Photoshop, while other tools are unique to Fireworks.     

Bye Bye GoLive

Adobe has stopped development and sales of GoLive as of this week. Adobe hinted that GoLive's time was short when it chose Dreamweaver for the web authoring tool in the CS3 suites. I switched over when I upgrade to a Mac and CS3 last fall. 

GoLive was certainly a step forward in the tools I used for the web, but looking back, it added a lot of extra code to a page to track image pop ups and while it had a novel approach to custom layout via complex tables, it sometimes lost its way in the process while giving you code that was very difficult to maintain.

Today's world actively discourages the use of tables in this manner. While I have become accustom to using DW, the interface is a bit different than the traditional Adobe products. I noticed the same thing with Flash and Fireworks - some neat tools but steeper learning curves than say, Lightroom which builds comfortably on Photoshop.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Back Up

The importance of backing up digital files was recognized from the earliest days of "mechanization" and "business information systems". The growth of digital photography brings this need to all of us. Today, losing digital files often means the loss of thousands of images. In spite of this, many of us skip backing up files, or do it in a haphazard fashion because of the time involved and the nuisance of tracking various versions of back ups.

For those of us using a Mac computer with "Leopard", Apple's latest iteration of OS X, the back up process has been streamlined and simplified. A program called "Time Machine" automatically backs up all changed files every hour. A clever structure of file pointers gives the impression of complete hourly back ups yet unchanged files are never copied a second time. There is no need to choose which files are saved, or when. And because the saved files are neither compressed nor stored in increments, they can be individually read, searched, and restored at any time.

A recent complement to this program is "Time Capsule", a combination of a wireless base station and large capacity hard-drive. When it is time to backup, the Time Machine program calls up the external hard drive, mounts it, and backs up all changed files. It then dismounts the drive which settles back to wait for the next back up or search for an old file. The Time Capsule, being wireless, can be safely tucked away in another room out of site from the computer.

A second copy of critical files can be saved to another hard drive to be stored in a separate location, or saved to a remote secure server on the web. This protects against catastrophic loss from fire, theft, or other damage. What was a chore on my old Windows systems is now a "piece of cake" thanks to Apple's customer oriented approach to computing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


When the PHSC was formed 34 years ago, it was very much a camera collector group. Twenty years later, images were of interest to some 15% of our members. Today, that interest has increased along with interest in history and processes. Photography's transition from silver to digital has both increased the number of film cameras and accessories being discarded and reduced interest in film cameras - other than high end brands. At the same time, image interest and value have sky-rocketed.

This year we will have a special section of image dealers at our spring photographica-fair. If you have an interest in old photographs, or wish to sell some, drop by our fair on May 25th. Visit our web site for details. Meantime, don't toss out those old images. They aren't making them anymore....

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Back Room Boys

Like all organizations, the PHSC depends upon a few hardy volunteers who work hard behind the scenes to give our organization a professional face. You would be surprised to learn just how small this group is - all making use of talents learned in the day to day job, or picked up after hours through classes and hobbies.

Within our small group, we have skills including photography, videography, sound system set-up, web design and administration, magazine publication, finance, business administration, writing, editing, selling, promotion, maintenance, illustration, and more - skills common to successful businesses everywhere. But for our society, this work is done gratis - for the love of photography and the history of that marvelous art and science that stormed the world in 1839 and left it changed for ever.

Our "Wet Plate Guy" logo was selected years ago by then editor, Everett Roseborough (still running his studio at the time). Ev decided our journal, Photographic Canadiana, needed a logo and C. LaPlante's little woodcut of an "Intrepid Wet-Plate Enthusiast" of the mid 1800s became part of our society as "a gentle reminder of our purpose". 

Everett would flip the image from time to time - perhaps as an inside joke. You might like to know that Everett, who turned 95 last year, took on the task of editor at an age when many people were well into retirement. His most recent article, on  pre-1930 commercial photography, was published in January of this year.