Archive for February, 2009

Fried Green Hard Disks

February 27th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The MacBook Pro I use day to day is the least successful Apple Macintosh I’ve had. It’s been back to the shop four times, most recently for a replacement battery (battery life was down to 2 minutes, after 96 cycles). Luckily I kept my PowerBook G4 (battery life over 3 hours, cycle count 318) so until normal service is resumed I’m using that. It is noticeably slower and the screen is dimmer, but otherwise it’s a match for the newer MacBook Pro — and far more reliable.

Have you heard the noise a dying hard disk makes? It’s awful; in its portent more than its sound. You know there will be inevitable expense and your life will be disrupted. The disk that died on Wednesday morning was a Fujitsu. As Neil Smith says, you must allow for one in five hard disks failing every year.

We’ve replaced the 120 GB Fujitsu with a 320 GB 7200 rpm Western Digital. That was done by Thursday lunchtime. Using Apple’s Time Machine, the MacBook Pro is backed up every hour, so when the Fujitsu started making dying duck in a thunderstorm noises, I stopped using it. So no data lost — I hope.

We set Time Machine to restore my data to the MacBook Pro at around 2pm yesterday. As I write this (10:45 am Friday) it has 4 hours 32 minutes to go. It is not a speedy procedure. But what I get back (I’ve done this before) is my computer with all my data, settings and passwords valid and intact as they were on Wednesday morning.

And a faster 320 GB hard disk.

There are mutters in the office that I should not have been running a 120 GB hard drive with an average of 640 K spare space. But hey, pictures take up a lot of room.

I wonder how long it will take me to fill up 320 GB?

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

38 years ago I spent a great deal of money on a good hi-fi system. At its heart was a QUAD 33/303 pre-amp and power amplifier combination.

I have used it every day since then. It has never been serviced or repaired. It simply works, and it sounds as good as it ever did. Which for me is great. I’m still playing the same music on it.

But it’s a measly 30 watt amp. You can break glass and dislodge substantial chunks of masonry with its sound output, but the spec doesn’t lie.

Shortly after I bought it, I saw Japanese-made 120 watt amplifiers at half the price. OK, they didn’t sound anywhere near as good, but just think of all that power!

I listened to a few. Cranked up, they didn’t seem to be any louder than the old QUAD (Little Feat’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor is the benchmark).

Then I discovered the reason. The QUAD’s output was measured as “the closest approach to the original sound” — that is, the clearest and loudest you could go before any distortion was audible.

That was 30 watts. The Japanese, on the other hand, took their 30 watt amplifiers and figured that as they were stereo, the 30 watts should be 60 watts. And forget fidelity of sound, just crank it up as far as it will go. So the 60 watts became 120 watts — there was no volume control as such, simply a distortion intensifier.

Faced with a 30 watt amp and a 120 watt amp, which would you buy? Right. That’s why the average IQ is 100.

Now something similar is happening with cameras. fotoLibra only accepts 8 bit images. The next step up is 16 bit, but few commercial printers can use 16 bit files, and JPEGs can’t be saved as 16 bit.

So we ask for 8 bit images to be uploaded.

Members contact us to say “You won’t accept anything other than 8 bit images? But my camera produces 24 bit images!”

Well yes it does, in the same way that those old Japanese amps pumped out 120 watts. The marketing department of the camera manufacturers have reasoned that if a digital image is a combination of a Red, a Green and a Blue channel, each of those is 8 bits, therefore 8 + 8 + 8 = 24.

And which would you rather buy? A 24 bit camera or an 8 bit camera? Right. You will almost certainly have an 8 bit camera. Unless of course you have an expensive 48 bit camera, in which case you actually have a 16 bit camera — lovely, but you’ll have to convert the images to 8 bit to upload them to fotoLibra.

Going back to those amps for a moment, the Beatles performed using 30 watt Vox AC 30 amps. 30 watts is plenty loud enough for most needs, although Vox did build them special 100 watt amps for their performance out of doors in front of 55,000 fans at Shea Stadium.

Nobody could hear them anyway.

RSVP

February 23rd, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

If you made any attempt to contact anyone at fotoLibra between 17:00 GMT on Saturday February 21st and 09:40 GMT on Monday February 23rd, please resend your message as our email server was down and your message will not have been received.

Apologies, but these things happen.

Picture Calls

February 16th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

This was sent to Jacqui Norman:

I just wanted to thank you and Yvonne and everyone else involved for hosting this important service. I sell my images on several sites, and while I am just getting started on fotoLibra and haven’t made any sales yet, I am very excited about our new “relationship”. The reason?

Photo Calls.

No other agency that I work with has provided a service as thorough as this for the photographers. It not only gives us a clear opportunity to get shots into the system BEFORE a buyer makes choices, but also provides a wealth of shooting ideas for enhancing our portfolios. I submitted my first shots for picture calls this weekend, and hope that they bear fruit. Even if they don’t, though, I look forward to participating in many more.

— Al Wasserberger, Chicago

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

There’s a radical new version of the useful fotoLibra DND application released today.

It has all the functionality of the previous easy drag ‘n’ drop upload facility, but with the added bonus of checking every file to ensure it meets fotoLibra’s stringent Submission Guidelines.

Up till now, we allowed you to upload anything to fotoLibra, because only after we’d received it and looked at it could we tell if the file met our standards.

fotoLibra DND Version 2.1

height=”500″ fotoLibra DND Version 2.1

Now DND 2.1 allows fotoLibra members to check their files before going through the long and disheartening process of uploading files and being told an hour later that they have been rejected because they’re not 300 ppi (the most common cause).

We hope you like it. Please let us know what you think.

A behind the scenes note: because this is such a radical step forward I wanted to call it fotoLibra DND v.3.0, but the developers argued against it. This is what they said:

We believe it is DND2.0 with a big new feature. We know that the version number has a psychological impact on people, but as software engineers we follow the rule: major version number increases if and only if a fundamental and structural evolution has occurred. We have not re-designed it. We have updated and extended the earlier great job. Which is why we only recommend increasing what we refer to as the “minor” version number.
If you believe it’s got to be called 3.0, we will rebuild it.
We have spent some time on packaging it, most of the time compiling and building the core software (with support for JPEG, colour, etc) because the binaries provided are not suitable for the average user (and that’s the reason why it is much bigger now).

Faced with such logic (they are technical folk, after all) I capitulated and agreed that it’s to be called fotoLibra DND & Checker Version 2.1.

I commend it to you.

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The Spring Fair is an annual event held in Birmingham’s NEC. It describes itself as “the ultimate launch platform for new products and trends, bringing the world’s brands and buyers together.”

Search for Spring Fair on Wikipedia however, and you only get the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair, which attracts some 25,000 visitors to a provincial American university.

Birmingham’s Spring Fair is massive, with thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors, yet it doesn’t rate a ripple on the internet. Its own web site is a desperate selling tool, bereft of any real information, simply data. How old is it? Who runs it? How long has it been going? Is it a direct descendant of those mediaeval Guild fairs? What’s it really for?

I went once, and it was huge and unfocussed. Companies selling dolls jostled with calendar publishers, fabric samples, wedding cakes, lawnmowers, accountancy firms, potters, balloons, jam, jewellery (this year carbon neutral, so no diamonds then), greetings cards and anything else you can think of.

Perhaps it’s an exhibition for trades that don’t have their own exhibitions?

Some greetings card manufacturers use photographs. We found out who they were. We telephoned them in advance. We created lightboxes and lightboxes of images we thought might appeal to them. We sent them to them. We called them again. We emailed to arrange meetings.

Not a twitter of interest. Yet fotoLibra sells well, and repeatedly, to a few select greetings card companies. But not to all of them.

So tomorrow two of us are going to the Spring Fair with a hit list of 25 greetings card companies. And we shall lay waste among them.

If only we knew what the Spring Fair really meant.

It’s our job at fotoLibra to make uploading as easy and painless as possible for our members.

It’s our job at fotoLibra to make sure the images we sell are print repro quality, ready to go without endless expensive manipulation by the purchaser.

How do we reconcile these two sometimes opposing forces? By publishing our Submission Guidelines, and enforcing strict parameters on uploaded image files. If we say we want 300 ppi, we won’t accept 200 ppi or 400 ppi. If we say we want 8 bit, we won’t accept 16 bit. if we say we want a minimum width or height of 1750 pixels, we won’t accept 1700 pixels.

Tough but fair.

The snag is, how can we tell if your images won’t made the grade until you upload them?

And that can take hours.

So what happens is that a member collects his images together, does what he can to ensure they meet our specifications, then drags them across to the fotoLibra DND (Drag And Drop) window. An hour or so later he gets the message “Image is 1514px high. Minimum height is 1750px.”

The upload has been rejected.

How annoying is that? I know I would throw something at the screen and storm off in a sulk. Yet we couldn’t figure out a way round it. How could we tell what members’ images were like BEFORE they were uploaded to us?

“We can’t, so let’s ask the members to do it.”

“But we do, and they don’t always do it. Then they get annoyed. With us.”

“So make them do it.”

“Yes, but how?”

“Make the pre flight check part of the upload process.”

THAT’S IT!

If we build a piece of software that reads an image file and checks that

  • it’s 300 ppi
  • it’s a top quality uncompressed JPEG
  • it’s 8 bit
  • its shorter side is longer than 1750 pixels
  • it’s between 1 MB and 100 MB in file size

then it can report any errors back to the member before all that time is spent uploading a file which will be rejected.

So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve built it for Windows Vista and XP, for Intel and PowerPC Macs running OS X, and for Linux. We’ve built it into the forthcoming fotoLibra DND v3, so all you will have to do is to drag the files you want to upload into the DND window. The app will check your images and tell you what’s hot and what’s not.

Then you can upload safe in the knowledge you won’t get those nasty unfriendly error messages after a failed upload.

Is this a dream? A fantasy? Or simply vaporware?

No. It’s here, it works (I’m using it right now on an Intel Mac running OS 10.5.6) and we’re testing it at the moment. When we’re confident it’s bug free, we’ll release it.

Jacqui will tell you when it’s available for you to download. It should be in the next couple of weeks.

We haven’t yet got the resources of a Microsoft or an Apple, so we don’t have the facilities to test to exhaustion. But we think it will work well.

And if by chance it doesn’t, no doubt you will tell us.