Sun, 20 May 2018

Moving away from Aperture

— SjG @ 7:39 pm

I’ve finally moved away from Aperture.

I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

Back in the day, when I was still largely shooting film and occasionally scanning prints or negatives, I organzied things by directories. I’d have descriptive names like “hike_at_paseo_miramar”. Over time, this became unweildy, and I had the startlingly brilliant and utterly original idea of organizing by date as well, so I had a directory the looked like:

-> 1997-08-02
-> 1997-08-04-pasadena
-> 1998
—> 1998-02-01-hike
—> 1998-02-07-beach

You can see the problem. I found I could keep this going by using Adobe Bridge, but I needed a better system. For a while, I organized my pictures on a web server with a cobbled-together collection of perl programs. That was manageable for about two months. Eventually, I tracked down some novel software to organize photos: iView Media Pro. It used the now-familiar idiom of folders (which represented physically where they were on the disk), virtual albums for grouping, and keywords.

iView was great until it wasn’t. The company didn’t have the resources to support it to the degree it needed, and occasional bugs (like the one that wiped out keywords for a few thousand pictures) were frustrating. When the product was sold and the team migrated to Microsoft, I figured it was time to move on. I went with Apple’s $300 “Professional” product: Aperture.

I had to write some code to export my keywords and organization from iView into Aperture, but that left me with a system that worked. It served me well for ten years. For the last two of those years, a cloud hung over me. Apple end-of-lifed the product, and, while it continues to run, did not get any new features or bug-fixes. With each new version of Mac OS, there was the risk that I’d no longer be able to run it.

I did a trial of Capture One, and was impressed with the RAW processing and the workflow. Where it failed for me, though, was in the cataloging. At this point, I had about 55,000 photos in my catalog. Because I like to have them all “with me” at all times, I kept my library on my notebook. I realize this is a strange requirement for most people, but I like the ability to bring up a collection of pictures from a given trip or a given event when I get together with someone else who participated.

Capture One had a hard time keeping up with that many photos. I considered breaking the catalog into separate, smaller collections, but was still resistant to any little impediment to finding the picture I want at a given moment. Ironically, Phase One, the company who creates/sells Capture One has acquired iView Media Pro from Microsoft somewhere along the line. I contemplated moving back to it, but realized I’d need to get that, plus a RAW-processing package, etc, and decided against it.

The 10,000 ton elephant in the room, of course, is Adobe Lightroom. It dominates the photo processing/organizing space. I didn’t want to move to it because of the software subscription model. I don’t want to be beholden to Adobe for all eternity.

Still, after trials of several products, I have been forced to surrender. Lightroom is the only product I could find that worked as well as Aperture.

Lightroom will import Aperture libraries, but the non-destructive editing from Aperture does not come across. Some adjustments might, a lot of metadata will, but those painstaking edits do not. I invested in ApertureExporter, which helps the export process by building a copy of the catalog, and creating extra copies of edited images where it “bakes in” the changes. So you’re left with the original (in case you wish to re-edit), and a JPG or TIFF version with all your changes. I left to run all night, and the result was a nice clean export.

Importing into Lightroom was not difficult. It was interesting to see all the cores of the CPU go to nearly 100% utilization while LR generated previews. I opted for large previews (typical screen resolution). This allows me to have the versions to show off to people (as I mentioned above) while keeping the originals on an external drive that may or may not be attached at any given moment. LR has something called “smart” previews that you can even edit while offline. I didn’t think it made sense for me, but I may revisit this decision later.

I was graciously given a nice tutorial on the basics of using Lightroom by Tomas Fjetland, which helped get me up to speed.

Some observations. Some things in Lightroom are much easier than in Aperture. Lens correction is a single click, instead of requiring a separate plugin. Some things in Lightroom are harder. Having separate panels that you have to switch through for “Library” functions (cataloging and managing keywords) and “Developing” (adjustments and edits) seems unnecessary, especially as the switch doesn’t really result in more efficient use of screen real-estate. Tagging keywords requires a lot more clicking. An auto-completed keyword requires one hit of the return key to accept the auto-completion, and a second hit to apply it to the image.

I’m still pretty slow at the editing tools, and the paradigms are not identical. All that old muscle memory in my fingers is slow to retrain. Overall, I’m pleased with some of the results I’m getting, but it will still be a while before I’m as quick or adept at Lightroom. No doubt I’ll revisit this posting at some later date.

Mon, 29 Jan 2018

When purchased iTunes songs get removed.

— SjG @ 10:08 am

It was Sunday night, and I was passing the time by making a playlist in iTunes.

Due to the famous user-centric Apple user interface as exemplified by iTunes, the contextual menu that appears for a given song has “Remove Download” right next to the “Add to Playlist” submenu. Naturally, since deletion is something that you’ll want to do in a super streamlined fashion, there’s no confirmation if you accidentally mis-mouse onto the remove option.

Which is what happened to me last night as I tried to add Elmerlee Thomas’ amazing rendition of “All the Pretty Little Horses” to a playlist.

Boom. Track is gone! Hey, no problem, simply re-download, right? Ha. No such luck. I get the highly useful “Unable to access at this time, try again later” error message “err = 2059”. So I try again the next day. No good.

So no worries. I’m obsessive about backups. I restore the .m4a file from backups.

Sadly, iTunes happily ignores it, and says “nope, gotta download this file.” Trying to download, of course, gives the same annoying error.

The web suggests I look in my iTunes purchase history via the account tab, and re-download from there. Some believe there is a special magic that causes that download link to work differently than the one in the track listing area. Although I chanted the sacred “by the blessed ghost of Steve please work” mantra, this was also unsuccessful — but not for the reason I expected. The reason this was unsuccessful was due to the album not even showing up in my purchase history. Within iTunes, I viewed information from the other tracks to confirm that it was an iTunes purchase.

That’s when I get into a chat session with Apple Support. After reiterating details, the Apple Support person reported they could not find the track in question. Did I say I’m obsessive about backups? I’m obsessive to packrattish levels. I found the original email receipt from when I purchased the album, lo these many years ago. I recited Order ID and Document Number to Apple Support.

“Upon reviewing my resources, I found that content provider has removed the album from the iTunes Store. Hence you are unable to re-download it from past purchases,” quoth support.

“How can I restore from backups?” I asked. I’m obsessive about backups!

The instructions given were the ones that had failed earlier. After suggesting I repurchase the album (which we had just resolved was no longer available), Support basically told me I was out of luck.

But behold, I found a solution, which I hereby share with the world! The key is in how you restore a track. If you just restore it into the directory where it had previously been, iTunes doesn’t update the metadata and still thinks it’s been removed. Instead, restore the .m4a file to some other location like your desktop, then drag it into iTunes. That will update the metadata, and — glory be — your track will be restored.

So, lessons learned:

  • Be careful with your mousing, because iTunes hates you and wants to hurt you deeply.
  • Have no faith in the re-download-ability of anything ever.
  • Trust not in the clouds of others, for they are fickle and subject to the whims of record labels./li>
  • Support will tell you to spend more money if it will get you to go away.
  • Backups. Obsess over them.
Filed in:

Mon, 1 Jan 2018

Projector Stand, v.1.0. Status: failure.

— SjG @ 10:55 am

We have a ViewSonic short-throw projector hooked up to an old Mac Mini and a DVD player, which we use to watch videos and YouTube. We project the shows on the living room wall, or sometimes, to be easier on our backs, upward to create “ceiling cinema.”

After taking a class on OnShape given at Crash Space, I thought an adjustable projector stand would be a good project to really teach me the software.

I’ve used a half dozen modeling / CAD programs over the past few years, and each one has a different learning curve. I should probably write up what I like and dislike about all of them. For now, I’ll just say that OnShape is a JavaScript modeler that runs in your browser1, and is developed by the team behind SolidWorks. It has all manner of professional design capabilities, materials planning, and so on — far, far more than I’m capable of using at this point.

My design was based on the plan to use the Crash Space laser cutter and 5mm birch plywood to build the final stand. It would be adjustable on one axis to swing from wall to ceiling modes, would have a simple locking mechanism, and would be stable enough to old the projector steady.

After far longer than I thought was reasonable, I had a design done in OnShape. For joining the edges with nice interleaving tabs, I used the Laser Joint add-in. The rest was based on measuring the physical objects and thinking about what I wanted. One nice thing in OnShape is that you can set motion constraints and simulate solids. This way, I could paste in a stand-in for my projector, and see that the range of motion would be correct.

Now that I had a design, I needed to export the individual pieces to be laser cut. There are layout add-ins available for OnShape, but none seemed to work for my design (probably because I didn’t take the time to thoroughly read the manual). Instead, I selected the primary face of each piece, and exported it as a DXF drawing.

Initially, I had problems. Nothing recognized the DXF files, even Inkscape, which generally is very good with this sort of thing. Aha! My version of Inskscape was out of date. Upgrading solved the problem. From Inkscape, I could export valid dimensioned PDFs.

From here, I had one other problem. One piece, the base, was larger than the 24″ x 12″ bed of the laser cutter. So I had to figure out a way to design two pieces that would fit together nicely. Taking inspiration from skull or pelvis suture patterns and the more happy shape of butterfly wings, I came up with a design. I imported the PDFs into Affinity Design, and split the base into two similar pieces. Since I already created some nice vector butterfly outlines, I figured I’d embellish the structure as well (I can’t help myself).

I ended up with four PDFs of actual-size designs that I could use on the laser cutter. I later realized that they are not the most efficient designs in terms of minimizing cuts, but I hadn’t been thinking of that when laying them out.

Here are the PDFs:

So those got cut out, and then brought home.

I clamped and glued the base, and misaligned it by a bit, but with some judicious sanding was able to make the relatively subtle mistake into something screamingly obvious. Oh well.

Then, I clamped and glued the sides to the base, and the hinge pieces to the platform piece. After the glue had dried, I sealed the pieces with polyurethane which turns out to be harder to brush on evenly than I expected. I ended up having to sand it away in places so that some of the closer tolerances would still fit.

From there, it was a simple matter to assemble. I added a spring to pull the locking bar up, and mounted the projector.

Hooray, it worked… sort of. There were a few problems that made themselves known right away. The first was dimensional.

In the original design, I measured the size of the projector — which I’d had to do very carefully so the three mounting screws would line up correctly. But what I didn’t take into consideration is that in use, the projector has cables plugged in, and they take up space. As per the photo below, I hadn’t accounted for about an inch and a half of needed clearance. This prevents positioning vertically for a good ceiling tee-vee experience.

Another problem, however, is the one that will require a new design. I anticipated that the combination of the large disc-in-hole hinges and the overall friction would result in fairly low force on the locking teeth against the locking bar. This proved to be true, but also the high friction in the system made it hard to tell when the locking bar was entirely clear when doing position adjustments. This, in turn, made it unfortunately easy to break the teeth.

So there it is. Version 1.0 earned a grade of “Failure.”

Version 1.1 is under consideration. Possible approaches are a pin-and-hole locking mechanism (slower and more difficult to change), or possibly forgoing locking altogether and using a screw-down friction-based brake instead. After all, the projector only weights a few pounds. A switch of materials would also work, but I’m kind of set on wood. I like the look of wood far more than I do the look of the various acrylics that I’d be able to cut with the Epilog. I suppose I could use a service to cut out of metal, but quarter-inch metal would be pretty heavy for the purpose.

1 The fact that you can write this kind of serious software, and that it runs in a web browser on a five-year-old notebook computer is really astonishing to me. Yet, it is indeed true.

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Sat, 9 Dec 2017

Laser Menorah

— SjG @ 6:49 pm

You know, this title is misleading. The reality is a whole lot more boring. Maybe next year, I should take inspiration from the title.

This is more of a lazy Saturday afternoon project. I wanted to use some designs that I’ve been kicking around. So I took a sea of hexagons and a tree in Affinity Designer and mucked about for a bit until I had something where I more or less liked the look.

Next, I grabbed a slice of poplar (available in 8″ x 24″ x 0.25″ slabs at Home Deport, as “Hobby Poplar”) and drove over to CRASH Space. While it’s mega-take-apart-day, I scurried over to the laser cutter. I converted the design to PDF, loaded it up in Corel Draw, used the Epilog printer-driver, and sent it to the laser cutter. The poplar cuts very nicely.

Here’s a link to the PDF of the laser-cut portion, if you want to cut a copy yourself.2017-12-09-hexonorah-cut.pdf

I brought the pieces home, sanded lightly, drilled a few holes, and mounted the vertical piece onto the base, carefully mis-aligning it with the major axis of the elliptical base. Ah well.

I drilled holes where I would mount the candle holders themselves (after all, poplar is pretty, but not ideal as a holder for things on fire). For the actual sockets, I used some nice quarter-inch brass compression caps (also from Home Depot). I drilled a center hole, pushed through a brad, and then soldered it with a torch.

Next, let things cool, dried off the sockets, and put it all together.

The final result is not as attractive as I had imagined it. It’s a little … I dunno, squat? Perhaps the next iteration will have more dramatic tree-like branches emerging to hold the candles.

OK. Next year, forget the design. We’ll just go with lasers.

Sat, 7 Oct 2017

Simple file monitor

— SjG @ 11:59 am

Say you host a few web sites for various folks, and you give them write access to a directory on your server. Well, then, my friend, you’re as big a fool as I am.

Maybe you want to mitigate this foolhardiness by keeping an eye on what these folks upload. For example, when I see a user uploading SuperBulletinBoardThatIsTotallyNotASpamTool.php or SuperWordPressPasswordSharingPlugin.php, I can call them and explain why I’m deleting it. I can be a slightly-less-bastard operator from heck.

So here’s a quick bash script that I use. It’ll also help to alert you if somehow one of the WordPress sites gets compromised, and rogue php files get installed. It ignores commonly changing files or things we’re not interested in like images. It shouldn’t be considered an intrusion detection system, or a robust security auditing tool — this wouldn’t really help in the case of an actual hacker with any l33t skillz at all. It’s just a quick information source.


rm -f /tmp/fcl.txt

rm -f /tmp/fcld.txt

/usr/bin/find /var/www/ -type f -ctime -1 | /bin/egrep -v "\\.git|\\.svn|(*.jpg$)|(*.gif$)|(*.pdf$)|wp-content\\/cache|files\\/cache\\/zend_cache" > /tmp/fcl.txt

xargs -0 -n 1 ls -l < <(tr \\n \\0 /tmp/fcld.txt

[ -s /tmp/fcld.txt ] && /usr/bin/mail -s "MYDOMAIN.COM FILES UPDATED" < /tmp/fcld.txt

Throw it into a crontab, and there you have it. You'll get an email with a list of files changed in the past day.