Saturday, August 29, 2009

A New Cat in the House

The latest Apple OS X operating system is mainly an under the hood release focussing on stability, speed, and a smaller footprint. It completes the transition to a 64 bit system and adds more polish and refinement to the famous OS X GUI.

An hour after it arrived, I started the installation. Just past 45 minutes later, the new cat was purring on my iMac. True to the advance announcements, the system runs faster than previous versions. The installer runs on its own and installs over the old system, removing the old pieces and freeing up gigabytes of disk drive space.

The minor bumps I had were all tidied up by the next day. I had left my Time Capsule on during the install and the system lost track of it. When I noticed the lack of backups in spite of Time Machine starting up each hour, I opened the Time Machine preferences, repointed the program to Time Capsule, and logged it into the network again.

My Dashboard started acting strange and freezing at various stages. Puzzled, I slept on the problem and then tracked down the Dashboard plist file (preferences list , an XML file). I moved the file to the desktop and restarted my iMac to force the system to create a new plist. Yes! The Dashboard was back. A bit later, I was looking at the widget for backups when Time Machine started and Dashboard froze once again. Rats!

I pulled the plist file and rebooted once the backup finished. Yep, working again. This time, I opened the “Manage Widgets” panel and sure enough two widgets had a red circle bar symbol next to them. One was the Time Machine Buddy. Deleted the two and the Dashboard widgets are working fine once again.

I am waiting an upgrade from Reunion next week for my genealogy program, and a third party browser plug-in to let Quicktime play the Windows Media Player formats used by CBC. The plug-in I have won’t work with the new zippy 64 bit Safari browser. However; CBC conveniently released a free app for the iPhone, so I am using my iPod Touch as a radio while I work :-)

It is a real bonus to have an operating system that continues to improve and run faster on existing hardware - a far cry from my experience with Windows which slowed down with each new release (in some cases a release refused to install for me (98 to ME) unless I reformatted my hard drive and reinstalled everything, program by program - No thanks.)

As I pass my second anniversary of switching to a Mac, I am a very satisfied customer of Apple. Customer focus, attention to detail, and the integration of hardware and software make a huge improvement over the Windows world.

Modern Sales and Logistics

On Monday Apple announced that OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" would be released four days later on Friday August 28th, 2009.

I decided to order online and at the same time get an AC charger for my iPod. Tuesday evening, I checked my order status. The charger was ready to ship via FedEx. Wednesday the 26th I checked again and saw it had been picked up at the factory in Shenzhen, China that morning. It was clocked in a bit later in the day at Lantau Island, Hong Kong, and then arrived that afternoon in Anchorage Alaska. From there it went down to the FedEx complex in Indianapolis, Indiana. From there it came back up to Mississauga on the following morning, the 27th. And before noon it arrived at my door.

Meantime, the Snow Leopard DVD left for my house on the 27th via Purolator and next morning, the 28th, The Purolator site had tracking records up telling me it was in Toronto and been loaded on a truck just after 8 am for delivery today. Shortly before 5 pm the DVD arrived at my door. We had a new cat in the house.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Philco 90A Radio c1929

I liked fixing radios when I was a kid. In 1952 our neighbour offered me an old radio and after school I took my wagon across the street and up the hill to her house to collect my gem. It came in a wooden box with a speaker mounted on the top. The radio was a c1929 Philco model 90A - the early version with a number 80 rectifier tube and a pair of number 45 tubes for class B push-pull audio power amplifiers. The old set worked great pulling in a raft of AM stations from Canada and the States.

A few years later I cannibalized it for part. The only piece remaining today is the little plate from the rear of the chassis showing it was a Model 90a made by Philco Products Ltd., Toronto Canada with a 90 watt power supply designed for 25-40 cycles, 115 volts AC. In those days Toronto was on 25 cycle power meaning special transformers and motors not required in other parts of the province which were powered by 60 cycle AC. Fortunately the 25 cycle transformers were fine on 60 cycle - just a bit over built.

Tonight I did a quick search and found a site with some radio schematics - including the Philco 90/90A. If you tinker with the old radios, drop by the site: The Old Radio fixer-upper Guy

Monday, July 13, 2009

Man of many talents

Last week Ed Warner dropped by to collect some old tools and iron artifacts my dad had collected over the years. Like my dad, Ed is a member of the Tool Group (and currently the editor of its newsletter). As we finished loading his van, I showed him an old Atwater Kent model L horn speaker. The instrument was in two parts due to the failure of a white metal casting some years ago through carelessness on my part. In a matter of minutes Ed had analyzed the break and figured out how to make a repair using a small piece of pipe flanged and threaded to size on his lathe.

Two days later, Ed phoned and asked me to listen to a sound - it was my repaired c1924 horn speaker connected to a modern 20 watt amplifier. Ed returned the horn to me yesterday, no sign at all that it had been repaired. It came with a warning that the horn would be damaged more if it suffered another mishap as the metal cover holding the flange of the new connecting pipe to the base of the horn would be torn open.

Others have mentioned Ed’s skill at repairing small mechanical devices creating any missing metal parts as needed. And we have all seen his skills put to use to restore old wooden view cameras, bellows and all. A true craftsman in this age of automation and throwaway. Thanks, Ed.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Distant Suns

In the 1980s a program came out for my beloved Amiga that was a serious package for amateur astronomers. Mike Smithwick’s Distant Suns offered an interactive galaxy and close-ups of interesting objects. Before the Amiga stumbled into oblivion, the program was ported to Windows where incantation 6.0 lives today.

More recently, last fall Distant Suns was ported to Apple’s fabulously successful iPhone/iPod Touch duo. If you own one of these little pocket marvels, a copy will cost you just under $4 US at the Apps Store. If you use Windows 95 through XP (or run the various emulations that bring the charms of Windows to the Mac) you can buy a desktop version on-line from the author. Check out (or the App Store) for more information.

NB. Pardon my tone on Windows, my daughter was over yesterday with her Vista laptop which has been struggling since the Microsoft patch fiasco on June 6th. She was trying to write a paper. Since the “security auto update” mentioned, many keystrokes in Word, including a space, have a slight delay that throws off even a mediocre typist like me. I had to keep her away from (glass) windows for the well-being of her laptop and the safety of beings outdoors.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Solving Video Babble

Video comes in many variations and versions on a multitude of media. The other day, I received a DVD video of 1920s home movies to review. The disk opened with Front Row on my Mac. Its menu gave a choice of an introduction and four short movies. I copied it to my Mac so others could see the DVD while I had a copy to review. Unfortunately, the copy was stuck on the introduction. The menu keys for Front Row now changed the system audio volume instead of the menu choices.

I tried iTunes. No luck. QuickTime. No luck. A google search suggested creating a dmg file (disk image). No luck. Another search suggested using DropDMG to make a DVD image. No luck. Yet another google search suggested a free cross platform media player. Success.

VLC Media Player (, approaching its version 1.0 is part of the VideoLAN software project which produces free and open software for use in multimedia under the GNU (General Public License). It handles a wealth of formats and is offered in compiled versions (binaries) for numerous operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and a dozen versions of Linux. If you need a player for video, check it out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kodachrome 1935 - 2009

Sad to learn Kodachrome, the storied colour slide film, will disappear this year. It was born two years before me and would have made it possible for my dad to snap me in colour, but his camera was a trusty Kodak Junior Six-20 which he loaded with Verichrome B&W film. In the 1950s, when I finally bought my first 35mm camera, we had a choice of the expensive and slow Kodachrome colour slide film and the faster process-it-yourself Anscochrome slide film based on the Agfa patents. I soon learned to favour the Kodachrome for colour. Most of my Anscochrome slides from the late 50s are now faded magenta while most of the Kodachromes are still usable. Slow speed and high contrast were a nuisance. I think by the time I bought Kodachrome, it was rated asa 10 and prone to blown highlights or dense shadows unless the lighting was relatively flat.

The Kodachromes are marvels of colour accuracy and fine detail. I shot this old Buick wheel 40 years ago this September at a museum near Plattsburg NY. Even today the colour and detail are there. In our leap to embrace digital we have left behind a revolutionary invention that brought quality colour initially to 16mm home movies and a year later to the 35 mm “minicams” that were capturing consumer attention world-wide.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I’ve been Googled

Last Wednesday morning as I was walking my old hound Bailey on Melbert Road, a car drove by us with a strange pole and spinning boxes on top. The logo on the car door was the familiar Google. The car passed me, drove around a short crescent and on down Melbert. It was one of the Google Street View cars taking 360 degree shots of streets in Toronto. So some day you may see me and my beagle scooting along on a sunny day in the west end of the city. (Nb this picture is from a Globe and Mail article the next day on Street Views in Japan. The car that passed me looked like a Chevy).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Colourful Spyder

In February I scanned some fabrics for a client. He commented later that the light purples were a bit off which surprised me since I had adjusted the images comparing to the actual fabric viewed by an Ott Light. The following month, our speaker was Andrew Patrick of Epson who talked about modern digital printing and colour management.

This prompted me to finally get a calibration device for my monitor. I decided on the Spyder3 Pro since a friend of mine was pleased with the earlier version for his monitor. The installation and starting instructions were cryptic. It didn’t help that the initial palette on the Mac used Chinese to label the various buttons. Since the palette listed my applications, I assumed I was looking at the right folder and clicked the highlighted button. Installation was a success. Now what? Turns out only the utility program was open which has no screens. I tracked down the calibration application in my apps folder and we were off to the races. The end result was very satisfying. My monitor colours look much better.

As many sites and blogs have noted, the actual calibration steps are quite simple with a good set of help files in the program itself. When I finished, the before/after toggle on the sample images seemed to show a slightly darker image that before. On second look, the highlights were no longer slightly blown out. One of the samples in greyscale showed a yellowish colour cast had been removed. When I closed the chart, it was apparent that the whites on my screen were cleaner now. The discovered colour cast would have affected the pale purple fabric scans and as a result my adjusted files were indeed slightly off when viewed on a different monitor. NB. On my Windows XP computer all screens were in English and the utility icon in the tray had a menu item to start the calibration program. The calibration has given new life to my 11 year old Trinitron Multiscan 400PS. The change is remarkable.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Party’s Over

Last Wednesday Andrew Patrick from Epson dropped in to talk with our members about digital printing. He had with him some absolutely astounding pictures - this thumbnail is a small piece of one advertisement for The Stylus Pro 3800 printer, printed on that printer using Epson glossy paper and eight colour Ultrachrome K3 ink technology. The photograph was taken by Douglas Dubler, NY. A computer screen simply can't do justice to the colour and dynamic range of the actual print.

Andrew told us that the current inks and papers give a 42% wider colour gamut vs. Silver-halide based printing. Even inexpensive printers with today’s inks can offer this quality. And the estimated life of the print now exceeds that of silver-halide based colour processes by a factor of 5 to 6 times! For the first time, I felt in my heart that our silver-halide based processes have quietly slipped into history.

The resolution of modern digital cameras, and their dynamic range when shooting in raw mode, exceeds the capabilities of the old film processes in moving from exposure to print. The cameras, films and papers of our youth are now more sentimental than relevant to today’s photography. Andrew noted that even prints created in the past decade would have more detail and depth of colour reprinted today with modern inks and papers from the same digital file.

Silver-halide (and early digital) are becoming the artifacts of the collector and photographic historian. It was great fun, but the party’s over.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bye-bye Network TV

The digital revolution has been a hard task master for those industries and companies that didn’t react promptly to the new environment. Witness photography, with many giants now gone or shadows of their past glory. Now our national TV networks say they are in trouble. They spent their money buying rights to import foreign shows to broadcast over the air with local advertising. Today cable companies offer these same programs from local and foreign sources as well as fresh cable-only sources, some even owned by the networks.

TV advertising is dwindling forcing the networks to cut costs and search for other sources of revenue. On the cost side, the smaller stations are being closed, and local programming, including news, is being eliminated. For revenue, the networks are pressing the CTRC to allow carriage fees - charging the cable company and its customers for the right to receive by cable programming now offered free over the air.

Which leads to the question, “What value do we get from the networks today?” Local news? No - cut back and trivialized by attempts to “entertain” the viewer. National programs? Not much - most programming funds are spent competing for foreign programming. PVRs and on-demand services are freeing us from network driven schedules while DVDs and the web let us view missed episodes of favourite shows.

If you eliminate over the air transmissions, our networks have nothing to offer that isn’t already available from other sources. And over the air transmissions are necessary for less and less of our population. Cable serves the larger communities while satellite services bring 100s of channels to remote communities. Our networks are lumbered with soon to be obsolete transmission facilities, and incapable of creating much fresh content. Another Kodak moment? (image copyright Corel Draw 9)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Photographic Canadiana Index

For our 25th Anniversary in year 2000, I updated the index to our journal, Photographic Canadiana and  Bob Lansdale took my database records and typeset them in QuarkXpress to produce a 42 page paper index. Since 2000, technology has changed. For our 35th Anniversary which begins this May, we plan to include an updated index of 35 years of the journal on a DVD featuring all 35 years of the publication. Meantime, I have the index itself available in a searchable pdf file on the web. The index allows you to search the wealth of material the PHSC has published over the years. The initial web update covers the first 34 years, then as the four issues of volume 35 are published I will add their content to the online index. Enjoy.

Postcards and Photographica

Ed Warner and I attended the Postcard Show today. There is an overlap with photographica - some postcards are photographic cards, like the 1910 picture of the Barrie Market Hall shown here. And some dealers have images like this pretty Notman portrait of Miss Fortescue of Montreal taken in 1891. How did I know this detail? Because Notman thoughtfully included a reference number on the back of each of his photographs - 96548 in this case - and the McCord Museum in Montreal has a search box on its website for such data. I also saw a number of albums - some with quite attractive photographs, and even glass plate negatives that were amateur, not studio. Some dealers also have papers and ephemera - bits and pieces of history, sometimes of photographic interest, like the letter from Kodak that enclosed a number of old brochures on commercial darkroom gear.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A New Home on the Web

I completed the move of our website to a new ISP host over this weekend - the third home it has occupied since its inception April 17, 1996 sharing a server operated by OnRamp in Markham, Ontario. On April 12, 2001 we went live on a shared server at Easyhosting (Look TV) using our new domain name. 

The latest move was prompted by cost and feature considerations. I first discovered A2 Hosting in February 2008, while helping an “accidental client” move and transform his wholesale site to a modern database-driven service. This new site is hosted by A2. I was introduced to A2’s service and features during the time I spent adding customized bits of code to my client’s site. We went live in March of last year and I continued to make small changes into the summer.  

This time, with the PHSC, I was moving a live site making it important to get all the bits and pieces organized and executed in the correct order to avoid any loss of access. Using a temporary URL, I uploaded a copy of the 358 megabytes of files that make up our website. After verifying a random sample of pages, I changed our nameservers at CIRA , completing the switchover in minutes. 

My last step was to establish our email address on the new mail server and point it to my prime address. We still have a bit of our web presence at Easyhosting - they continue to be our domain name registrar.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Different Bend

One of the problems with my beloved Sony F828 and similar cameras is the degree of distortion at the extremes of the zoom. This is quite obvious with straight objects in the picture. DXO Labs in Europe have a clever solution. They calculate the distorted light path and reverse it in software. The EXIF data in the shot gives the program the necessary data. The program works with selected cameras and lenses - including mine. The program has a number of other adjustments as well and works with Lightroom and Photoshop. The improvement in the image is astonishing. The program allows fast before/after comparisons as you adjust various parameters - the default settings work great. Once the adjustments are selected, you initiate processing to apply the changes to the actual file. Worth a peek at the 14 day free trial.