Where the Hell is Matt?

Stupid? Maybe it seems that way on the face of it. But I think it’s brilliant. And he’s been more places than you or I ever will and he for sure has met more people.

Just good, clean, uplifting fun. If you don’t grin when you watch his silly dance then I don’t know if there is any hope for you.

My favorites are North Korea and India.

Go Matt!

See more funny videos at CollegeHumor

Marc’s Birthday pictures posted

20080614-061It took a while, I’m struggling with how to process and organize my pictures. I’m still not actually processing them very much yet (just removing redeye and some obvious picture flaws) as I try to get the hang of the software suite that I’ve put together.

Anyway, Mich decided to have a half-party, half-surprise party by leading me to believe that we’d be having a small gathering and then inviting a bunch of folks that I was not expecting. I think everybody had a fun and entertaining time!

Brandon brought a bottle of Absinthe (thanks Brandon!) that we sampled to good effect. I need to set aside an occasion to focus on the Absinthe to see what it’s effects are all on its own. As it was it was… interesting…

The perfect photo software – (hint: I haven’t found it yet)

In trying to transfer my pictures from my camera to my computer and then, for some images, to flickr there are several challenges.

First, I want my pictures to remain organized in some fashion so that I can work with them at the file/folder level and still easily figure out what pictures belong where.

For example, all my photographs are in a folder called “Photo Album”. Under this there are folders representing each year (2001, 2002, etc.) and under these are the actual image folders with dates. I want my pictures consolidated somewhat so I actually use the date the pictures were downloaded (or the date of the last picture taken) to group them together (i.e. 20080615 – Marc’s Birthday Party). This has worked very well for me for the past decade.

Second, I access my pictures using several different kinds of software, some more sophisticated than others, and I want the images to be in the correct orientation in all of them. Pictures taken in a portrait mode need to show up as portrait and those taken landscape need to show up as landscape.
In the earlier digital days, before I had a camera that recorded this information in the EXIF orientation tag, it was all manual and I rotated the pictures after I downloaded them manually using IRFANVIEW, Picasa or, more recently, Windows Life Photo Gallery.
Now that I’ve acquired a Nikon D60 that writes out the EXIF orientation tag, I find that some software honors the tag and some doesn’t. Windows Live Photo Gallery for some idiotic reason doesn’t. Screen-Paver, easily my most used application if you consider how many hours a day and how many pictures I view with it, also doesn’t recognize EXIF orientation tags. So the images end up sideways in the forum where I, and others, are most likely to be viewing them.

Third, I tag my pictures. Sometimes I tag with situations, but mostly with the names of people found within them. I have found this invaluable over the years and can quickly find pictures of people that I have across my collection in seconds.

So I’m trying to pick my way through the software available to accomplish the above. Ideally I’d like to use ONE piece of software and use it for everything but each application has great strengths and great flaws. As of this writing I *don’t* have a simple solution but I wanted to lay out the issues and see if any ideas jump out. If anybody happens to read this and gets some ideas for themselves, that’s a bonus. Heck, if anybody can jump in and offer some solutions or software that would address some of the issues, that would be an even better bonus!

Here is what I have available to me at the moment and why:

IRFANVIEW:

This is the default image viewing software on any PC that I use.

Pros

  • Freeware
  • Very robust, ability to view pretty much any picture format,
  • Walks through directories of images easily,
  • Can do basic manipulations,
  • Can do batch manipulations.

Cons

  • Can’t do batch rotations based on EXIF Orientation data,
  • Keyword updates (EXIF and IPTC) are awkward, must drill down through menus to get to these,
  • EXIF information appears to be incomplete – can’t see descriptive keywords at all.

Windows Live Photo Gallery:

This is my primary organization / labeling / bulk viewing tool on my main PCs

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Superior tag manipulation ability (tags are intelligently suggested and can easily be updated on the right hand side of the screen, no drill down required),
  • Integrated flickr upload tool (after installing the flickr tool),
  • Excellent red-eye correction. The best I’ve come across so far,
  • Will optionally auto-rotate images on import (permanently rotates them).

Cons

  • Does not honor EXIF orientation on existing images – so portrait images remain in landscape orientation if they were imported by another application,
  • Does not initiate update of IPTC keywords (but will maintain them if they already exist),
  • Updating description info (used as caption in flickr) is cumbersome and only accessible via image properties dialog. Uses “Title” attribute for this purpose so that your flickr “title” is actually the image filename and the Windows Live Photo Gallery “title” becomes the description (caption) in flickr.

iTAG:

I use this software to easily add Title and Caption information to pictures that I want to upload to flickr. The advantage of adding this information via iTAG rather than on flickr or using the flickr Uploader tool is that the information remains a permanent part of the images files for future reference.
I started using it primarily for its ability to initiate/maintain use of IPTC keyword tags where Windows Live Photo Gallery was falling down.

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Easy to manipulate Title and Description information (that will be used by flickr). You can easily and quickly see what is set for each image on the left hand side,
  • Recognizes existing EXIF keyword tags and will save both EXIF and IPTC Keyword tags.

Cons

  • A little rough around the edges – frequently need to restart to review another folder,
  • “Tag Bucket” consists only of those tags available from the currently shown images – making consistency in spelling, capitalization, pluralization and just naming somewhat challenging,
  • Completely dynamic, rebuilds thumbnails and any other ordinarily “catalog” information each time you access a folder which can be a little slow,
  • Need to explicitly save any changes you make – so making a change and then using an image in another application won’t have the expected updates. Unusual for tags (which update immediately in any other app I’ve used).

flickr Uploader:

I like being able to review all the images and, if necessary, assign them to different sets and assign different levels of access BEFORE initiating my upload.

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Can create new sets, multiple ones if necessary, as part of a larger upload,
  • Can clearly see titles, descriptions, tags and permissions before upload.

Cons

  • Doesn’t recognize EXIF keyword tags.

Picasa:

I used this for quite a while before shifting to Windows Live Photo Gallery. I have not used the most recent version (have not used since October 2007)

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Google product (I’m a big Google fan),
  • Easy to use, relatively fast,
  • Redeye correction was the reason I started using Picasa in the first place. It’s very good but the Windows Live Photo Gallery redeye correction is better IMHO.

Cons

  • Keywords were somewhat cumbersome to maintain – separate dialog required,
  • Not integrated with flickr.

Screen Paver:

I have been using this as my screensaver for YEARS. Not so much because I believe that my screens will burn in – the new technologies are not so prone to this – but because I absolutely love having my image collection displaying all the time. My main computer is in my kitchen so having my photo album displaying while we have guests over is a great source of conversation. But I love seeing images from old trips or adventures popping up throughout the day when I’m walking past my computer to get a glass of water.
I’ve been using Screen Paver since my Win95 days and have yet to find anything that can rival it in robustness and utility.
The Google Photos screensaver just doesn’t work how I want (can’t select all my folders, can’t pause or go forward or backward through images at will).
The Windows Live Photo Gallery screensaver simply doesn’t work on my machine (can only select a single folder, screen goes black and nothing ever shows up on it).
I’ve tried others through the years and they always crash or are too limited.

Pros

  • Very inexpensive ($13),
  • Always works,
  • Can select multiple folders,
  • Option to automatically pull in contents of all sub folders,
  • Can optionally play music (I never use this function),
  • Can disable all those annoying transition effects,
  • Can pause, jump back or move forward through images,
  • I have over 10,000 images in the folders that Screen Paver goes through and it has no problem with this,
  • You can configure it to display path and filename on the screen (which I do) so I can quickly find interesting items that show up on the screen,
  • Multi-Monitor support (as of 4.4b images are sized correctly on both).

Cons

  • Does not recognize EXIF Orientation flag,
  • While it supports multi-monitors, same image is shown on both.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6:

This is a new product for me. I’ve only had it for a week so far and I have to say I find it very confusing.
My experience with Photoshop years ago (needed it for a small project) was similar. I think I’m going to find the editor useful but the organizer appears to be nearly unusable.

Pros

  • Aggressive and robust photo collection – No hesitation trying to grab images from your camera,
  • Healing tool(s) and the very, very few tools I’ve figured out so far are staggeringly good,
  • Ability to rename photos on import has some potential.

Cons

  • VERY steep learning curve for all aspects of this product
  • Automated redeye reduction is terrible, leaves black eyes on most of the images touched,
  • Ordinary redeye reduction does not hold a candle to Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery’s,
  • Tries to get photos from EVERYTHING that connects to it (even wants to grab them off my iPod while I’m syncing with iTunes). I can see that there are profiles associated with this behavior but, as with anything else I’ve tried with Photoshop Elements, it’s going to require 45 minutes of research to figure out how to set this up,
  • Adding keyword tags is pretty obtuse, there may be simpler ways to do it than I’ve tried but so far it’s much more manual than it needs to be,
  • Renaming of photos on import from camera has option to name them with dates and then a counter. But stupidly counter doesn’t reset for each date so you can have 20080605_0001, 20080605_0002, 20080609_0003 etc. (where the 0003 should logically be 0001). Again, maybe something I’m missing but I *did* spend a little time on this as my base organization is important to me and I wasn’t able to make this work to my satisfaction.
  • I still haven’t figured out how to refresh the current view. If I delete images at the OS level or with another application, Photoshop Elements still shows it (’cause it’s in its catalog) but lets you know it can’t find the physical file. If the file is gone, please stop showing the picture to me.

Nikon Transfer (sorry no link that I can find to this software):

This came with my Nikon and allows me to import my photos and, optionally, add some information to them.

Pros

  • Free (with the purchase of the camera presumably)

Cons

  • Does not save IPTC info
  • Does not rotate images on import (con for me, anyway)

So, in looking at the above, it looks like my strategy is going to be:

  • Import photos from camera using Windows Live Photo Gallery so that the images will be properly rotated and saved in the correct orientation so ALL other software can take advantage of this.
  • Use Windows Live Photo Gallery to preview all images to discard bad or blurry images off hand
  • Use iTag to “Touch” all images with a dummy Keyword tag – maybe I’ll just put a “Taken by Marc Bourassa” tag or something generic on all images just to initiate IPTC Keyword tags.
  • Use iTag to compose any Title and Description information
  • For quick, one-off uploads to flickr I’ll use the integrated publishing tool in Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • For more extensive uploads I’ll go with the flickr Uploader.
  • Simple image editing will be done with Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • More extensive editing will be done with Photoshop Elements. I’m looking forward to using this product but Adobe REALLY needs to steal some folks away from Apple so they can learn about interface design…
  • Most viewing at home will continue to be done using Screen Paver as it keeps my old memories alive.
  • For quickly viewing new images downloaded from email or that I come across in folders, Irfanview is the way to go.

My Favorite commercial – The Discovery Channel – Awesome

One thing we can credit TIVO (and other time-shifting, commercial skipping devices) for is much greater effort on the part of commercial creators to actually make the commercials entertaining and worthwhile.

Of course there have always been great commercials (Thanks VW!) and folks with brilliant vision in that vein, but the hastening of mediocre content by technology is one of the greatest entertainment coups of the 21st century.

The Discovery Channel’s Boom-de-ya ad is expansive, uplifting and the jingle is habit forming. Truly one of the best ads I know!

George Carlin – RIP and on Religion

In my opinion, George Carlin’s peak was a few years before my time. Had I been born about 10 years earlier I think he would have been a far greater influence on me than he was.

But that doesn’t mean I was not aware of and didn’t appreciate what he did… His wry observations and inflammatory wit always made you feel that you were doing something naughty just by listening to him.

I think it was his views on religion that I always looked forward to the most. He was definitely a “no holds barred” kind of person on all topics, but I appreciated it in this sphere especially.

Better than anyone alive now, George knows the truth – RIP

Roto Router and my water main

Mike the Plumber working up a sweatKind of a dry posting but I just wanted to put up a kudos for Roto Router after they repaired my water main.

Normally our water consumption is about 4-6K gallons a month. Probably even lower since I replaced all of our toilets with low flow (1.6 gallon) models while renovating the master bedroom last year.

I received a bill a couple of months ago where the bill had jumped to 13K gallons – not a disaster but definitely a problem. Looking back over my bills I saw that the water consumption had been gradually increasing even before this telltale leap but a shower here, a bath there, who knows what’s *really* normal.

Anyway the first thing I did was to contact the water folks (Cobb County Water) and ask what they could offer and what my options would be. They said they could send somebody out to verify if the issue is theirs or mine and to inspect the place generally.

Basically they just confirmed that there WAS indeed water flowing even with everything turned off in the home and they left behind some blue tablets to use to check the toilets (useless for my new toilets) to check for leaks there.

Insultingly, a few days later I received a note from the water folks informing me that they’d uncovered a water leak and that I needed to repair it and fax (who the heck uses *fax* anymore?) them the receipt or they’d consider cutting off my water… nice.

One bright spot, a few month ago my neighbor had the same kind of problem but it cost him 40K gallons twice. Once on his first surprise bill, and then again on the next months bill. The time lag between when the meter is read and the bill arriving was the cause of a lot of that excess consumption. I’m rather surprised there isn’t *some* mechanism in place to flag certain consumption patterns so that the owner is notified A.S.A.P. when a probable leak is in process. I’d say a 100% or more increase in your water use, especially during a drought, is probably a good red-flag.

Interestingly all our water meters were replaced not so long ago, I guess the shock of ripping out and replacing a meter doesn’t do 30+ year old pipe much good..

Anyway I had both “Rescue Router” and “Roto Router” out to give me estimates and we determined that the issue was probably the portion of the piping supplying water to the faucets at the side of the house under my driveway. The good news is that shutting off the water to this portion of the piping mostly eliminated the leak and didn’t affect service to the inside of the house, so I did this right away and then considered my options.

Both plumbers gave me similar estimates and were within $100 of each other. Rescue Router offered to match any other price that we got, but it was going to be a bit of a hassle just to get them down to what Roto Router was already offering so I elected to just go ahead with Roto Router.

TrenchingIn the end, I needed to have a ditch witch dig a trench through my front yard, had a couple of nice 90 degree ball valves installed, had my poorly-insulated outside faucet in the front yard replaced with a proper hydrant-style faucet and disconnected the other faucets on the leaking line. The plumber, Mike Olah, did a pretty good job of repairing what landscaping could be repaired once the pipe had been laid. The only real sign of work was where the grass was dug up and that will just take some time.

TrenchingTrenchingNew hydrant for front yard

After the job was doneAll that for the tidy sum of $2,8785. It’s OK, I was wondering what I should do with all that petty cash lying around 🙁

I need to make arrangements now, for an additional $150 (very reasonable actually), to have a new faucet installed on the side of the house fed off of the laundry room. Unfortunately, most of the cost there will be in repairing the drywall that needs to be damaged to route the pipes.

Here Be Dragons

You really want to take a look at this video. If you’re already a skeptic, then you will find that it nicely reinforces your thinking in an entertaining fashion.
If you’re of a superstitious bent or if you tend to favor “alternative” practices or subscribe to conspiracy theories, this video probably won’t shake your faith, but it may encourage you to take a closer look at both your beliefs and the source of your beliefs.

In our journey to the 21st century most progress has been wrought through intelligent people carefully examining the world around us. Be one of those people.

Personally, I find the source for the human need to subscribe to religion, “alternative therapies” and conspiracy theories to be neatly summed up at about 30:40 in the video – the desire for easy answers.

Near the end Brian recommends 4 books. I’ve read Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark” and absolutely love it (get the audio book if you can). I talk about it here. I’ve got a copy of James Randi’s “Flim Flam” by my bed and am looking forward to reading it in the next month or so. I’ve not yet read Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, but based on Twains other works I know I’ll enjoy it and will be picking it up. I’ve heard all of Brian’s “Skeptoid” podcasts and heartily recommend them. The book form is a good outreach for people who are not quite in the 21st century yet and for whom podcasting remains an elusive art. Get a copy for your folks…

For more info on this video head over to Here Be Dragons.

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

I think that the world created by John Scalzi in this book has a lot of potential. I did not realize when I picked it up that it was actually the second one that he’d created in this universe (the first being “Old Man’s War”).

But I also felt that he didn’t take advantage of the rich potential offered by the universe he’d created. There was really only one line through the novel and everybody and everything was dedicated to following that single thread to its conclusion. The protagonist (Jared Dirac) has a genetically-modified body that is detailed early on in the story but then is virtually ignored for the rest of the novel. Similarly, there are many characters introduced (his immediate commander, the various top brass folks) who hint at being very interesting and whose past and possible intrigues are not at all pursued. Maybe there is an intention to do so in later novels or these are elaborated upon in the earlier book but then there is no attempt to recap any of this in “The Ghost Brigades”.

Further, the relationship dynamics (conflict between Jared and team mates, interactions between the “normal” people and the “Special Forces”) are very simple with easy and final resolutions. It makes for a very comfortable read but a less richly textured story.

Finally, the story wrapped up very conveniently and neatly. Again, I felt, not taking advantage of the universe that has been conceived and is waiting for its potential to be seized upon. I tend to be a “happily ever after” kind of guy (too much Hollywood-style entertainment I suppose), but I realize that there are very few nice, neat certainties in the world, and certainly few situations where everybody’s goals all line up so that everybody will be happy at the same time or for the same reason.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book and the story immensely. I find Mr. Scalzi’s presentation engaging and I loved his exploration into consciousness and trying to grapple with the realities, both technical and moral, presented by being able to transplant consciousness from one body to another and some of the implications of literally creating soldiers (slaves) and convincing them that servitude is a noble life goal. I will definitely be picking up his other offerings. But I will do so expecting a quick, easy read rather than an in-depth, complex narrative.

UNI Travel Scam – Happy Birthday Indeed

Scam - Attractive Outer CoverI just received a pleasantly appointed piece of mail that, when I opened it, turned out to be yet another scam.

The brightly colored balloons on the outside of the “tear along perforations to open” card did not disguise the fact that there is no “from” address on the outside.

Opening the card a little slip of paper drops out that is mocked up to look like a US Airways boarding pass.
Scam - "Boarding Pass"

Scam - Backside of "Boarding Pass"Tellingly, on the reverse side of this I see that UNI Travel is “NOT A TIME SHARE COMPANY”. Well, thank goodness! I see the disclaimer goes on to indicate that, in spite of their brands being splashed all over the inside of the card, “This promotion is not sponsored by, or affiliated with Spirit Airlines, US Airways or Budget Rental Car, but they are major suppliers” (emphasis mine).

The letter itself offers to fill my birthday (which is coming soon if you want to go to my Amazon wishlist and buy my something 🙂 ) with happiness.

This is such a typical scam that I really hope nobody falls for it, which is one reason why I’m posting it here and lampooning it.

On with the lampooning:

Have marketers given up all pretense at making an honest sale nowadays? I mean it seems that everything I look at, from new cars, to banking products to travel arrangements, requires a thorough understanding of that which each industry considers “Standard and customary practices” (“What? You didn’t realize that all these fees are charged in addition to the price we quoted you? Well, that’s just standard in the industry, you should know that.”).

I have to ask, is a criminal background *required* to enter into marketing or is it simply considered a valuable tendency?

Scam - LetterI like the part where “Our records also indicate if you respond within 72 hours you will also receive a complimentary 7 day Rent-A-CAR From Budget”, even though their “boarding pass” tells you Budget has nothing to do with this. Besides, *what records* are they talking about?

These people haven’t even realized that we’re using Eastern Daylight time yet… I hope they’re not doing anything that’s time sensitive.

Oh, and I like the fact that, the only way to find out what conditions and restrictions apply to this offer, I’ve got to call them…

The bewildered consumer (me, for one) is always baffled why something like the purchase of a house, which I am likely to do maybe a few times over the course of my mortal existence and each of these events will be separated by many years, has so many implicit and confusing caveats all of which I need to be on the alert for? I’m *going* to take out this loan, you’re *going* to make a small fortune off of me, I’ve already reconciled myself to this reality in seeking out a mortgage so I can have my house *now* rather than save up for 30 years before buying one. Is it really necessary to try to fleece me for all those other dollars while you have me sitting there, stressed out over one of the biggest purchasing decisions of my life. All you inspire is ill will and a complete lack of loyalty toward you on my part which *will* affect my loan decision the next time around.

Anyway, watch out for this miserable attempt to play on your emotions, it’s mean and it’s evil and it tells me that I won’t be doing business with UNI Travel.

Mandatory sunset for everything not in the constitution.

One of the biggest problems in America today appears to be the preponderance of baggage that our legal and social systems are forced to support.

What if every law, social agency, tax and other imposition by our government(s) from the Feds right on down to your local city council, had a mandatory sunset of no more than 10 years? Sure, you can sunset things sooner, but never longer.

When the sunset arrived, either the affected agency, law, tax, whatever would either be allowed to slip away – which would be good in most cases, or it would need to be re-evaluated as if it were a new bill. NO RUBBER STAMPING ALLOWED. By the way – all representative voting needs to be available on the internet in a searchable and collatable format so we can take them to task if they don’t take good care to preserve our interests.

“This would waste a lot of time that could otherwise be spent on fruitful endeavors” might be an argument one could make against this, but looking at the legislation and issues that our representatives, at all levels, devote their time to, I somehow think that the less time they have to come up with new ideas, the better off most of us will be.

Winston Churchill once said “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.” and he was quite right. When there are so many laws, rules and regulations that nobody, not even those in the legal profession can sort through them, then we need to make do with less of them.

Truly important laws will not take much assessment to reinstate for another 10 year term. Useless, obsolete or otherwise non representative laws will naturally fall by the wayside as legislators realize that there are more important issues to address vying for their valuable time.

It seems very few, if any, government programs are created with a defined end date. There are no criteria by which to judge the efficacy or success of these programs and no means of assessing when they have served their purpose (if they ever did) and are now obsolete. Further there is seldom a mechanism for objectively assessing them mid-course against current realities and ensuring that they continue to be effective as times and circumstances change.

You can call me naïve, but if something is so darned important, then it needs to be maintained at the forefront of our political consciousness and adjusted and amended as time goes by. If it is not that important, why are be burdening ourselves with it?

Yes, this can cause a problem as different camps are in power when reevaluation time arrives, but how different is this than having an entrenched law that was established by whatever camp was in power 20, 30 or 50 years ago?

As for abuses due to the democratic process (also, ungraciously, referred to as “Mob Rule”) well, that’s what the various constitutions are there for. If someone tries to pervert the law or extend the reach of a social program in a way damaging to society or to individuals, it needs to be struck down by our newly unburdened legal system.

Imagine having a tax system that you could understand rather than one that grows year after year with arcane and incomprehensible exceptions, inclusions and calculations? Imagine social programs that are relevant and effective or they are actually removed. Imagine laws that are possible to remember, are applicable to today’s day and age and are thoughtfully revisited on a regular basis.

We know that one of the best governments for our economy is one where one party rules the house of representatives while the other rules the senate. Deadlocked as they are in this situation, the reduction of outflow of new legislation frees up the rest of the country to actually get on with growing and becoming more productive. Imagine your representatives actually performing the service of ensuring that your country’s services, strictures and goals actually were knowable and relevant to you and the rest of the populace.