Monthly Archives: September 2010

Camera geekery of the day!

This is why I read Ken Rockwell:

Nikon D3100, D40 and D3 High ISO Comparison

Who else would even think to do something like that? And it’s a genuinely interesting comparison, too, not just because I am a D40 user, but for a more substantive and technical reason: If you do the math, it turns out that the individual photosites on the D40 and the D3 sensors are pretty close to the same size. That means what you’re seeing in these photos, if you compare strictly the D40 and D3 shots, is a pretty good comparison of how Nikon improved its sensor noise handling technology between those two generations of cameras. It’s really a striking illustration of how dramatic the improvement was, at ISO1600 and beyond.

It’s also a pretty good exemplar of how well the D40 handles itself at ISO 400 or even 800. (The colors do tend to be a little duller on the D40 shots, but I’m guessing that’s because the D3 and D3100 have Nikon’s Picture Control feature, while the D40 doesn’t. That would mean the D40 is using different JPG conversion parameters, so it’s not surprising that the colors look different.) The D40 ISO800 shot looks almost as good as the base ISO200 shot. This matches my own experience: I’ve found that ISO 400 is quite usable when an extra stop is needed for wildlife or what-have-you, and I can even use ISO800 to get acceptable results if I need to. Yes, there is more noise at that sensitivity, but as Rockwell says, it’s not just about the noise. Noise can be dealt with. The level of detail retained in the photo is the key issue, and it appears to be roughly the same at ISO400 and 800, with ISO200 having a bit of an edge. This supports my belief that, in terms of bumping up the ISO sensitivity, the D40 is the best of its generation of cameras (namely the D100, D70, and D50). I would also guess it handles those speeds better than its immediate successors (namely the D40x and D60…not so sure about the D3000, though).

Pro-D40 ranting aside, the other interesting thing about that page is how clearly it demonstrates that the D3100 is a step up from the earlier generation of camera. It’s only at ISO6400 that the D3 begins to look significantly better than the D3100. Compare this to the D40, which is essentially crap at ISO3200–in fact, it doesn’t actually have a proper ISO3200 setting, it’s actually “HI 1”, and it can’t shoot at ISO6400 at all.

Now if only the D7000 was out so it could be included…

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I weep for civilization…

…but seriously, who needs civilization when you’ve got YouTube? :D

Behold:

Then there’s this lovely thing, which has somehow achieved over 100 million views. Yes, 100 million. How? Why? Wherefore? Hitherto? Huh? WTF?

Isn’t that amazing? :P

I have a theory: People watch it several times to see if they can figure out what it is she’s plopping into the bottle to make it fizz like that. Any guesses?

Yes, I am tempted to try this myself. :]

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Stupid Mac Tricks

This bug is actually kind of interesting, although it could cause some more significant problems in some cases.

I was using Disk Utility to do a free space wipe of one of my drives. What happens when this occurs is Disk Utility creates a new file that’s exactly the size of the free space on the drive, then overwrites the file however many times is specified in the wipe options. That would be either once, seven times or whatever the highest, most secure option is (I forget at the moment).

So that’s what I was doing when Time Machine started up. Time Machine noticed this “new” file that Disk Utility had created, and decided it needed to be backed up…all sixteen gigabytes of it. Suddenly, the backup was sixteen gigabytes larger than before, meaning my Time Machine drive did not have enough space. Older backups needed to be deleted to make room. I ended up losing two weeks of my oldest backups. This is not a huge deal in this case, but it is entirely possible that someone will encounter this bug at some point and experience far greater problems with it. It all depends on how much of a shortfall is caused by the wipe file. If the wipe file is, say, 75 gigabytes larger than the free space on the Time Machine drive, then you’re going to lose 75 gigs of backups just to make room for a gigantic file full of gibberish or zeros. Thrilling, huh? Even if you’re lucky like I was, with a wipe file “small” enough to not cause serious mayhem on the backup drive, you’ll still have a huge, utterly useless file sitting there, potentially for quite a long time, with no easy way to get rid of it. Why? Because it’s an invisible file, so you won’t be able to see it in Time Machine. [footnote!]

I wonder if this is fixed in Snow Leopard. I am a luddite, still using Leopard, 10.5.8.

The easy workaround, of course, is to turn off Time Machine before doing such a wipe. Obviously it is ridiculous that people should have to remember something like that, but that’s the way it goes in the computer business.

On the plus side, at some point in the future when Time Machine needs more space on my drive, and has reached the point where the September 18th backup is the oldest, I’m going to be getting a fairly large chunk back all at once. I wonder how long it will be? [footnote–not long, I guess! :P]

——

Footnote: I was able to get the wipe file off the backup drive and reclaim that space. It proved to be about 15 gigabytes, not 16 like I thought. How did I get rid of it?

The file itself was located a few levels deep in an invisible folder named “.Temporary Items” on the drive I was cleaning. In order to show this folder, I needed to make invisible items visible. Moreover, I needed to do this in a way that I could see the invisible files in Time Machine. There’s a utility called Onyx which can do this. It has a checkbox to unhide invisible items in the Finder, which also makes them visible in Time Machine (as I discovered, to my delight).

Once those invisible items are visible, I started Time Machine and located the backup where the huge file appeared. It was the first backup after I started the free space wipe. Finder view options needed to be set to “show all folder sizes”, so I could check the sizes of the folders I was looking at. Basically, I kept opening folders until I found the very large file that was causing the problem–I think it was two or three levels deep. It had some generic, technical sounding name (I forgot to note it down before I removed it), but was clearly identifiable it by its size, which was equal to the amount of free space on the drive from before. I selected that file, then went up to the little actions menu button in the title bar of that Finder window (it’s the button with the little gear icon in it). One of the options was to remove all backups of that file. It asked if I was sure and requested my password to confirm. After that, I had the space back on my backup drive, all fifteen gigabytes of it. Sadly, though, there is no way to recover the old backups which had been deleted to make room for it. :(

Disclaimer: Just because I am describing this here doesn’t mean I am recommending this procedure. Anything you try is at your own risk. In particular, do not use the Finder to delete individual files off of a Time Machine drive, because it will not work. I am not responsible for the actions of people who try this who don’t know what they are doing. I’m mostly putting this description up because I am sort of a compulsive explainer, and can’t really help myself. ;)

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Update on the Scrollball Problem

On a whim, I tried an idea with the scrollball to see if it would help.

I applied a fair amount of ordinary spit to the scrollball (basically I licked it a couple times), and then did the standard press-down-and-exercise-the-ball method. This actually seemed to shake things up in there a little, so I licked the ball again and did it some more, with a bit more spit this time. Hmm, didn’t help as much, so one more generous lick, then flipped the mouse over, pressed the scrollball down onto a clean sheet of paper and rolled it around a bit.

That seems to have done the trick, for now. Hopefully the fix will last for more than a couple of hours.

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More Apple Stupidity

Yes, it is now my turn to bitch about the so-called “Mighty Mouse” (which has been renamed the “Apple Mouse”). You would think that Apple, a company which has been selling mouse-enabled computers for over 25 years, would have gotten it right by now. But no, there have now been not one but two major screwups in mouse design by Apple, in less than ten years.

The first was, of course, the original iMac hockey-puck mouse. I had one of those, and there was a fairly easy fix: When I got my Lime Green iMac, I also bought a little plastic attachment to hook around the mouse and convert it into a normal shape. It cost something like ten bucks, which is about ten times what it should have cost, but it was still cheap enough so it was hard to complain too loudly about it. (I also knew one person who actually liked the hockey-puck mouse. He was an 11 year old boy, who liked how the shape fit his small hand very well. How he dealt with the problem of not being able to feel which end was up is a mystery to me, though.)

The more recent error is far worse. I am, of course, talking about the fucking uncleanable scrollball on the Mighty Mouse.

When I first got this thing, I thought it was great. Finally, Apple had come out with a scroll-wheel-enabled mouse, and what’s more, it was actually a scroll ball, so you could scroll sideways if you wanted! Or in any direction at all, for that matter! Cool, right?

It certainly seemed that way at first, but even before I got the thing I was aware of people having problems with it. It seems that some fucking dumbshit forgot to include a way for people to clean the gunk out of the ball mechanism, so after a while, it starts to hang up. Knowing in advance that this was a notorious issue, I made an effort to keep my finger clean when I operated the thing, but sure enough, after six months or so (rough guess), I started having the same problem myself. At that point I did a little reading up on what to do about it. The best solution I found at the time was to press down hard on the ball and roll it around so as to force some of the debris out of the roller mechanisms.

That worked for maybe another six months. Then I noticed that I was having to do it more frequently, and it was becoming less effective than before. I would have to do it multiple times in order for it to work. And eventually it became entirely uneffective. At this point, my scroll ball will scroll down, but not up. This is actually an improvement over yesterday, when it would scroll up but not down–I was able to force some of the gunk onto the opposite roller, apparently. Problem is, up and down are both about equally crucial, I find. Thus, I am back to using scroll bars to navigate, and this is a pain in the ass.

What annoys me the most about this problem is that Apple never even bothered to fix it. Instead, they just started selling the “Magic ‘Mouse'”, which isn’t even a mouse but some kind of bizarre trackpad thingee. Of course, that’s fine for people who want to use a trackpad, but I would rather just have a mouse. I have found over the years that trackpads really suck. It takes five or ten times longer to do stuff than it does with a mouse. Trackpads also take away something I’ve enjoyed over the years, in that I am left handed but operate the mouse with my right hand (thanks to the too-short mouse cable on the Macintosh Plus, which was my first mouse-enabled computer). This gives me a slight advantage over people who use one hand for everything. But with trackpads, I’m back to using my left hand for everything, because my right index finger just isn’t as capable as the left one. So I would rather just stick to mice. That means I’m going to have to find a mouse that works on OS X, and that can scroll sideways. I wonder if there is such an animal?

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