Friday, 27 May 2011

Specific blog created

I know it's a bit premature to be branching into other blogs, but I realized that I have an idea for a very focussed blog, whereas this one is more about generic rambling.

Please check out my Photography On The Cheap blog for ongoing tips based on my experience with budget photography; manual focus lenses, low cost macro and lighting solutions, etc.  I will update with some actually useful tutorials, but I need to photograph my gear and put some careful time into design before posting them.  Meanwhile there is an introduction there.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Junk Files and Viruses Clogging Up My PC

I got an amusing phone call yesterday.  Some guy with a foreign accent (Indian? Arabic?) informed me that he was with Microsoft and that they were calling me as a courtesy to inform me that their technicians had become aware that my computer was infected with a terrible virus.

I played along, drawing on my experience assisting customers by phone for a computer store many years ago, acting as ignorant as I could to try to keep them hooked.

While I was on OS X, I told them I was running Windows 7.  The first thing their technicians did was run me through a fake diagnostics process to see all the "junk files" and viruses I had that were slowing down my computer.  They instructed me to start up my computer and run "eventvwr" (by going through the start->run process).  A couple of times they asked me to tell them what I saw, and I had to google up screen shots from event viewer to feed them the right information to convince them (since I'm not actually running windows). Once they had verified that I was on board, they asked me if I could see any red or yellow warning marks after clicking on categories.  They asked me to estimate the number of red marks and I told them "two thousand, three hundred".  

"Oh wow, over two thousand three hundred junk files and viruses.   You see sir, that is why your computer is running poorly, you are seriously infected.  Let us help you clean it up".  He told me every time I used email, internet, CD and DVD players, etc, that I was getting these viruses, but that their Microsoft Technicians would help me now and guarantee my computer would stay clean for 10 to 15 years.

They told me they would get their senior Microsoft Certified Technician Mr. Anderson online.   Mr. Anderson (also with a thick accent) then instructed me to go to their website (quick resolve . net - check it out if you want, it's got some stock image of happy business people with a laptop and some language options, and "Get Support" buttons).  They then instructed me to click the "Get Support" button and enter a code they gave me over the phone.

After entering my code, a download started.  It was actually an OS X package (detected my OS) but I went along with the Windows 7 ruse, wondering if the code was specific to me (so they could see I had accessed it) and logged my access (in which case they'd be able to see I wasn't using Windows 7).. but they kept going along with it.

Anyway, they asked me to click the "run" button beside the file in the downloads list.  I claimed to have trouble finding it for awhile, and then when I did "find" it, claimed I got an error box saying "User Error: User Not Retarded."  They didn't seem to clue in (language barrier I guess, although their technician actually repeated the message verbatim to me), and got me to restart my computer while pressing F8 over and over (to bring up the boot options menu in Windows and try to get me to go into safe mode).

I read out that I saw "Windows Advanced Boot Options and Safe Mode, Safe Mode With Networking" and they told me to use my up and down arrows to move to "Safe Mode with Networking" and hit enter.  I strung them along for a few minutes with "just wait, my mouse is not working yet."  Eventually I pretended to figure it out and they had me access their download site again, with a different code this time.  I once again claimed to get the "User Error: User Not Retarded" dialogue and eventually they got fed up and said they had run out of time for today but would call me back later.

I spent a half hour with them.   I had nothing better to do at the time and wanted to see how it played out.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Honda Ruckus Scooter Service Manual

As an owner of the Honda Ruckus 2009 scooter,  I have found that doing my own maintenance is very easy and saves me an awful lot of money.  Service on this machine is fairly simple.

Oil changes take about 15 minutes and require very little mechanical skill; if you can use a socket wrench and pour oil into a funnel, you can do it very easily!  The other inspection items are also very easy to do yourself; things like brake wear, throttle operation, brake lever slack, suspension travel, and cleaning the engine breather drain tube, are all very simple to do yourself and can save you a lot of money.

All you really need is the service manual.  I had a hard time finding one but eventually came upon a PDF copy. 

You can find the Ruckus Service Manual HERE.

This is for the 2003-2007 version but there are very few changes and most information still applies. You can even use a lot of it to service the Honda Jazz or Metropolitan since they share a lot of the same components and the same 50cc 4-stroke engine.  You may want to check the recommended oil for your model.

There are of course some things that are a bit harder to service, but this manual will take you through regular maintenance and also allows you to do troubleshooting and repair of lots of other things.

Happy riding!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Vintage Photography; A New Fad or Resurgence of Pictorialism

Karl Struss, Nocturne, from 1913.

I recently was exposed to this article exploring the reasons for the vintage photography fad, particularly with processing effects that can be added automatically to images from smartphones like the iPhone. The author believes it is because of some intrinsic quality of the vintage image; that we are searching for the authenticity that is associated with older images, and that kind of thing.  He makes some very good points, but I think his analysis neglects some important historical context.

I believe the root cause goes back a few years to a trend in artistic and photographic circles - and relates to a movement that came almost a century before that.  This trend took hold before it made its way into the "mainstream" of smart phone applications, camera pre-sets, etc, and its arrival at this particular time is likely, in part, related to it.   The trend I'm talking about is a revival in interest in "pictorialism", certain types of antique lenses, alternative printing processes, low-fidelity processes like Holga imagery and Polaroids, and even technically complex capture methods like wet plate. 

In photography circles it was fuelled by two things:

1) The drive towards increased fidelity and highly literal images driven by technological developments and accessibility of high end digital cameras.  Even while cameras get better, people have pushed the envelope of this with out-of-camera techniques like tone-mapping and stitching. The big trend in digital photography as it developed was to take technically "flawless" images, because at the start digital cameras were very limited (low resolution, poor dynamic range capture).  Whenever there is a trend, there are going to be those who work in opposition to it in an attempt to explore interesting alternatives and - frankly - to distinguish themselves.


2) Plummeting costs of film gear (both recent high-end stuff and vintage stuff).

Ignoring the obviously relevant analogue movements like Lomography (a brand-name that marketed low-fidelity, shoot-from-the-hip photographic ethos and equipment), the backlash against the digital strive for perfection in case 1) drove a contingent of people to re-examine an old trend from the late 1800s - pictorialism - which arose in remarkably similar circumstances to this recent resurgence.  At the time, film (or relatively accessible dry plate) was becoming mainstream and people were growing sick of the sterility of the technical perfection it offered and were looking for more interpretive / less literal photographic techniques.  A lot of interesting lenses were developed at the time to try to reduce the resolution and fidelity - soft focus lenses (now worth a fortune, given their relative rarity, antique status, and the current resurgence in popularity).  A couple of important photographers in this movement were Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Karl Struss (why they're all "St" names I do not know; maybe they're just the ones I can remember because of that ;)).

Here are some examples of pictorialist photography.  Remember that while these were made a century ago, it's not equipment limitation that makes them look the way they do - equipment at the time could produce images that were very sharp and tonally excellent.  This was an intentional backlash against that:

Karl Struss, The Attic Window, from 1909.

Edward Steichen's famous image of the Flatiron building, from 1904. See Metropolitain Museum of Art
Steichen's most famous image, also one of the most valuable photographs ever sold.

The second factor - affordability of old gear - just meant that a lot of people could play with old film cameras.  Plus, we had jumping on the bandwagon and, in some ways, instigating the revival with their good marketing of the shitty plastic-lens Holga.

In summary - this happened once before, in the late 1800s, when film photography fidelity was increasing, as an artistic backlash to try to find a more expressive / less literal approach.  Today we're seeing pretty much the same thing; digital photography has been focused on increasing fidelity, and this vintage fad is a backlash against that which started in serious amateur and artistic circles and has trickled down into the mainstream of iPhone apps and related automated effects.

Ban Dangerous Precursor Elements

I recently read on reddit that Australian lawmakers have proposed a ban on 1000s of plants that contain the illegal drug DMT.   This is clearly insane, and I suspect (or rather, hope) that the law does not go through, as banning it would criminalize many species of native and garden plants that are very common: grasses, flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees.

Reed Canary Grass, one of the dangerous plants which would be banned under Australian legislation.

Clearly, banning all these plants is pointless, and does not address the core issue.  The plants themselves are simply unwitting accomplices, taking much more dangerous substances and converting them into the drugs.  The real problem is the dangerous precursors used in production of not just DMT, but all dangerous hallucinogens, narcotics, simulants, deliriants, and poisons:  Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Sulphur.   These dangerous chemicals, which I will abbreviate CHONPS for simplicity, are, in their pure forms, the fundamental compounds used for synthesis of virtually all drugs and poisons including:

  • Heroin
  • PCP
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstacy (MDMA)
  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • LSD
  • THC
  • 2-CB
  • STP
  • DOM
  • NMT
  • Strychnine
  • Atropine
  • GHB
  • Rohypnol
  • VX Gas
  • Sarin
  • Ricin
  • Cyanide
Even more damning, CHONPS are used for the production of  various other extremely dangerous compounds used by terrorists, like TNT, Nitroglycerine, and the explosive materials used in Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

The "C" in CHONPS, this chunk of silvery chemical is one of the main ingredients in drugs, explosives, and terrorists.  Many of you will be horrified to learn that this is one of the main ingredients used in common pencil "lead", used by grade school students everywhere.

But the story does not end here.  There is an even darker side to CHONPS that the average citizen is not even aware of. 

Post-mortem analysis has revealed 100% of criminals, including pedophiles, rapists, murderers, thieves, molesters, and even terrorists, have extremely elevated levels of CHONPS in their blood and tissues.   DNA analyses performed by the US Military of Osama bin Laden's corpse revealed that he, too, had extremely high levels of CHONPS - in fact, the vast majority of his body weight was CHONPS.

As if bin Laden wasn't compelling enough, 100% of Nazis were made from CHONPS.   Goebbels, Himmler, Hess, Eichmann... and even ADOLF HITLER himself.  That's right; Adolf Hitler was who he was because of CHONPS.

We must act swiftly to ban this hidden menace, before it is too late.