Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The supermoon photography & post editing.

Getting ready for the supermanI got out for 4:30pm, travelled to the spot I'd chosen and pointed the camera at the horizon. The cloudy horizon. 20 minutes I thought, it might clear. But alas it didn't. I checked my compass, I knew where the moon should have been rising, but as with all of the best laid plans, it didn't show. It got darker, and darker and the conditions for a great shot became even more challenging, especially considering this was going to be the brightest moon ever. The clouds looked lovely. Illuminated as they were from behind. Then it peeked through the clouds and I started getting my first shots of it. Manually focussed, sharp, shoot, overexposed, adjust, under adjust, snap again. Full manual mode adjusting only the shutter speed. 2 second delay. Push, wait, review, adjust. Push, wait, review, adjust. This was the best, liverpool in the foreground and the moon glimpsing out of the clouds.
Supermoon daily post liverpool The Daily post liked it and shared it on their page, but I was disappointed. The world was in full supermoon frenzy and I'd failed to get the shot I wanted. So I went home and watched 'black mirror'. Alas, the night was young, and photos came as thick and fast as the cloud. Some of them, the viral ones, so obviously photo shopped. So if you can't beat them, I thought, why not join them. 2 shots sprang to mind, a wonderful street scene I snapped on 1/10 handheld in Paleochora Crete and a moon shot from a long time ago taken with my Canon.
Supermoon in CreteThey would look amazing together. 10 minutes later, a layer created from the sky, the actual image in the foreground and the moon slotted nicely in between the two, and this was born. But I knew I'd cheated. I went out and the moon was showing nicely through the clouds, so I started snapping again. Tripod on standby. 2 seconds delay again, ISO 200 this time, 1/60 shutter and f7.6. This pulled the nice detail out of the moon, but also alot of cloud glare from around. Still, a quick whiz through iPhoto (yes I've gone back to it, I can't abide the new Photos application) and I improved the visibility of it. Although the moon detail was disappointing, it was understandable considering the cloud I'd taken the shot through. (But needs another shot when the conditions are better). I pulled the contrast out and this was a legitimate shot. Pretty good, but it was no different to all the other great shots flying about. I lacked punch, it didn't show it was a moon, it looked as flat as all of the crackers and tortillas sellotaped to peoples windows.  It didn't look like a sphere as such. A quick google image search for a b&w sphere and I'd  got my inspiration. 10 minutes in pixelmator and we'd gone from this, to this. On the far left is the original image, unadulterated with a reasonable exposure. Second, brushed up with simple contract and exposure sliders in iPhoto and then finally, with a Spherical overlay to show off the real shape of the moon.
Supermoon photoshopNot the best results for a photography phenomenon. But worthwhile being a participant, even if it was only for the photo editing experience.


Supermoon sphere

Monday, 14 November 2016

Chromebook top tips....

I've been using a Chromebook for the past week, and I've stumbled across a lot of tips that make it easier to use as a replacement for an 'ordinary desktop' these are my top tips. 

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Press ALT + ‘[‘ or ‘]’ to trigger Windows snap left and right respectively. This enables you to have two windows open at the same time, to use one for reference and the other to create.

To get ‘Caps Lock’ press ALT and Search together. Why don't they have a caps lock button? Weird.

You can do quick sums in the search box, which is handy, just like on a Mac.

To lock the computer quickly press ‘Search’ (the magnifying glass) + ‘L’

Press CTRL SHIFT ALT and Reload to watch the window Barrel roll, utterly pointless, but a lot of fun to watch! Especially if you're 9 years old.

Pres CTRL and SCREEN to take a screen shot, or hold shift as well, to snapshot a portion of the screen.

Goto chrome://settings/search#accessibility in chrome to enable tap dragging. This means you can tap and drag windows which is annoying when it isn't enabled.

Press Shift opening an APP to open it in a new window (not in Chrome) this makes it look more like an app, than a chrome extension.

ALT -/+ minimises and maximises windows respectively.

Three finger swipe up/down, shows open applications.

Press and hold CTRL+SHIFT and press ‘qq’ to quickly logout.

Click the Bell (bottom right) and then the Red Bell to temporarily pause notifications, or stop distractions!

Pressing ALT and TAB tabs through active windows or applications, just like it does on Windows and Mac.

Chrome call natural scrolling (like on an iPad) ‘Australian’ scroll mode, Goto Settings>> Device>> Touchpad to enable it.
Screenshot 2016-11-08 at 23.02.30.png

In the Files app hold CTRL+SHIFT+E to safely eject USB drives

CTRL + N opens a NEW Window

In ‘Files’ app CTRL+E = new folder (see above for why it isn’t CTRL+N like on other machines). Gets confusing with USB key eject, but useful to know.

To edit video (for free) the best thing to use is Youtube Creator Studio, you can find it here after you login in the top right hand of the screen.
Screenshot 2016-11-08 at 23.28.43.png

If you delete the description in Chrome bookmarks you get neat favicon bookmarks in Chrome. (This works on Mac and Windows too and saves valuable space on your bookmarks bar).
Screenshot 2016-11-08 at 23.37.41.png

Screenshot 2016-11-08 at 23.35.43.png


You can perform simple photo edits (straighten, colour adjustments, etc) in google photos with the PEN icon.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Photographing the super moon on November the 14th

On the 14th of November this year there will be the biggest ever supermoon that the world has ever seen since records began etc etc, again.
Nevertheless it will provide (once again) fantastic opportunities to take some great pictures. However, you should probably start snapping now. The difference in diameter will be negligible and the weather, clouds conditions on the 14th may not be as favourable as they may be on the 13th, or the 12th. So my advice, is get snapping straight away, but bear in mind the 14th is when it's 'full' but that doesn't always mean more photogenic. The other thing to bear in mind is, if you want to get a natural shot of it looking supersize, then you're going to need a foreground, and peculiarly, light. It's actually much easier to photograph the moon during the day. So thinking about what time the moon rises is going to be important as well.
Without the use of photoshop or an equivalent photo editing program, if you want to get the classic giant moon shot, you're going to need a hefty telephoto lens. 300mm should be sufficient, in order to compose something reasonable. The shot (left) was taken at extremely short notice, I was in an open air restaurant in kefalonia when it cropped up, although it's acceptable, there are a number of things we can learn by studying it. On the night, the moon looked huge, but as you can see from the photo, It's not really done it any justice. The reason is because the scale of the foreground object is too large. The chimney is larger than the moon. Whilst the 250mm focal length ensures the moon fills a fair portion of the photo, the foreground objects are simply too close. The solution to creating the super-moon illusion is to ensure that you can frame the moon as close to the horizon as possible. Next to buildings looks great as the 'supermoon' will dwarf them.
This thinking gives us two problems.
1) Focus and aperture; and
2) Exposure and ISO.
The photo above was taken (in a panic) handheld. Although the Canon IS really helped out, the shutter speed had to be dropped to 1/13, which is a fair challenge to hold handheld. The f stop was thus, as low as the camera could handle and the lowest ISO I could get away with was 400. Which under the circumstances felt like the best compromise. You've got to remember as well, the moon doesn't half shift when you're zoomed in close, so planning beforehand is vital if an impressive supermoon shot is your goal. Given the same challenge, there are a number of things you can do to prepare.
1) Know where the moon is likely to rise, think about your composition and don't forget the rule of thirds.
2) Expect your best photos to come from night 2.
3) Use a tripod and leave it in situ overnight (if you're doing 2 nights and it's possible), or mark clearly where the legs were fully extended.
4) Use night 1 to experiment with camera settings and review the photos for clarity and exposure.
5) Consider HDR methodology, and set your AEB to +/- a couple of F stops. (I use HDRtist - it's simple).
6) If 5 isn't appealing, use as low an ISO as you can get away with.
7) Use a middling to high aperture, 9 or higher should be sufficient. You want the edge of the buildings sharp as the moon. Bear in mind higher aperture will mean longer shutter speeds that could show the moon blurry as it does move pretty quick.
8) Use a shutter release if possible, or 2 seconds timer delay if you can't, to keep things as still as you can.
9) Concentrate your exposure on the detail from the moon. The contrast of the moon is far harder to pull the detail from (because of the high contrast) than the simple flat silhouette of the building and the flat colour of the sky behind it.
10) Bear in mind, the finished photograph is definitely going to need some post production tweaks. If HDR isn't your thing, then your going to want to look at balancing the contrast, ensuring the highlights aren't overblown and the darks too lost. Ensure your screen brightness is set to full before you start playing.

If you're not sure where the moon will rise, have a look at Google's sky map app for android and iOS there are also plenty of apps that will tell you what time the moon will rise. Currently it's quarter to twelve, in the morning. Which would be ideal. 

Have fun, good luck and share your best pictures below.

Here's my best photo of an eclipse, but wait..... thats no moon.




Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Is it time to ditch the Mac?

I've used Apple Macs for 8 years now, my first was a 2008 MacBook pro 15" which, by comparison to it's windows equivalent was light years ahead. You see Windows was using Vista, and it was a car crash of an Operating System. I had one, I used it for 28 days, and used system restore, more times in the time I had it, than I'd used on my XP machine I was replacing. Fortunately Tesco were great and refunded it for me as faulty. Which was the best way to describe it.
I bit the bullet, and without first hand experience, I forked out 4 times the amount I'd spent on my Vaio for the Mac. And I loved it, I became an advocate. I could name several people, who, from my enthusiasm went out and bought Mac's themselves.
But time moves on, and so does technology. Wireless streaming is no longer for the Bill Gates of this world, we all expect it. Music, everywhere. Films, all over. DLNA should be commonplace... but one Manufacturer is out of the game. Because they have their own version. Airplay.
If I want to blast a video from my phone (even an iPhone) from youtube to the TV (A Humax box to be precise) I can, I can... even from an iPhone. But from my Mac. Nope. Why? It's 2016, the technology should be built in. A year or so ago, I switched from iOS to Android, and the extra functionality, cheap cost, unique design has once again, made me an Android advocate.
But having updated to Sierra only an hour or so ago, I am left underwhelmed. Yes, I have an SSD, the machine I have is quick enough, it's light, it has a good battery life. It's still a great machine for something that is 4 years old. But it doesn't fit into my digital life like it ought to.
Password, jeez, what is it with passwords apple? I can't tell you how many times I've entered my passwords on the iMac and MacBook, but it's too many.
2 step verification? Ok, lets give that a try... so now I can no longer login to my iCloud email on my Android devices. This is not convenient Apple. And iMovie, whats this about holding 'R' to select a clip? Who thought that was a good idea? Simplicity, you've added a pointless extra step.
And whats all this elitism about features? Airdrop, it took me ages to find compatible equipment! My old iPad wasn't compatible, and I needed an iPhone 5S before I could start using it. And... well to be frank, it didn't work, it was rubbish. Bluetooth on my Android phone, works better than your in-house solution to file sharing between devices. Less, innovation, more....frustration.
My brand loyalty is not what it once was. It's ironic. In the 80's Apple's brand was built on a fear of succumbing to the evil, monstrous IBM. Not having to 'buy into' an all powerful eco system of dull boxes and incompatibility. The boxes might not be beige plastic, instead they're beautiful brushed aluminium, but the draconian and dystopian world Apple appear to be creating is not beautiful.... any more.
Perhaps it's time to consider the alternatives again.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Printing from a Chromebox - to a network printer.

So today I had my first experience with a google chromebook, 12 actually, networked. Initially I was impressed. Being OS light, they were quick responsive and pretty intuitive. Then I came to printing.

Printing, something so rudimentarily simple, that it should have taken moments. Alas, no. You see, Chromeboxes don't install printers. No drivers, no messy installation. Because, well. They don't work. Now this wasn't a £30 printer, this is one of the schools £500 canon laser printer, a worthy investment. But to be blunt. It was rendered pretty much worthless. After hunting round for an hour or so for a USB lead, I plugged it directly into the Chromebox. Although the OS detected the Printer, with no drivers to install, it was a pointless effort. Chrome found no apps that were compatible. So it wouldn't work.

After further investigation, I found in order to make this printer work, I would need to plug it into a windows machine and share it. Use the windows PC to act as a server, sharing it with a specific Google account. Then, I could quite simply share it with every google account who I wanted to grant the freedom to use it.

Now... here's the thing. This was a school. And, well, the pupils all have their own individual login's. {Can you see where this is headed}?

So in order for me to enable these chromeboxes, to print to the same printer in the same room with the 12 networked Chromeboxes, I needed both a windows PC, and to individually enable 300 plus google accounts to share it.

If anyone knows of an easier solution, for printing from multiple chromeboxes to one local network printer. Please do get in touch.

This is not the future of computing.



Monday, 22 August 2016

Audio quality Vinyl, CD and MP3.

I can remember back in 1985, we synchronised the playback of "Dire Straits" - "Brothers in Arms", the LP, with the 'DDD' (Digitally recorded, Digitally mastered, and Digitally stored) CD. Then someone else hid the selector and played back, through a JVC amp and some Mission speakers, both sources. At the time I got them mixed up. I thought they sounded equally as good as one another. I honestly could not tell the difference, they both sounded great. It was the Amp and the speakers in that set up that took the source and made something listenable.

So with that in mind the sound quality debate turns it's head to MP3. We'll call it a draw between Vinyl and CD as my opinion hasn't changed, (although I much prefer CD because I always hated the pops and inevitable scratches Vinyl produced. Progress made with CD's, for me at least, was progress).

At this point it's worth considering something important. A CD is a 750mb data source. Streams of 0's and 1's produce a wave form, sent to a sound processor, which turns it into an analogue speaker signal. A normal CD of 750mb can support about an hour 20 minutes of digital music. This is recorded in the .CDA format.

MP3's by comparison are, in principle, exactly the same. Although they take a fraction of a size of a CD. In 1995 I can remember working in Tandy, and the first 1Gb hard disk drive came out around 1997. This 1024Mb memory would only have been enough for 1 complete uncompressed CD, including the operating system of the machine, you'd have done well to get much more on it. Hence the need for MP3.

Back in 2002, I converted circa 350 CD's into MP3 format, as I had a 60Gb Hard disk and as I could feasibly do it, it had to be done. Prior to this on an old set of Senheiser headphones, I tested the various bit rate's I could rip music at. 128kbps would take about 50-70Mb per album. 320kbps about 150Mb. At the time I convinced myself 128kbps was the best. And so during the following 2 weeks I sat and I fed my Evesham computer each CD, one, by one, by one.

Of course now, headphone and speaker technology has moved on, and well.... goddamn it, 128kpbs produces a shrill distinctive high hat/cymbal distortion that just vanishes totally at 320Kbps. In visual terms this is the same as over compressing a .JPG image and seeing blocks of image.
Iomoio, for the most part supply MP3's in 320Kbps, which sound significantly better on any system. This discovery has resulted in me re-downloading all of my Pink Floyd collection (amongst others) again, it really is that much better. A lot of my collection is still in the 128Kpbs (from 14 years ago) and for the most part, it's ok, especially in the car. But 320 and CD... for me are equally as good as each other, my ears simply aren't good enough, even with my V-Moda crossfade LP's to tell the difference back to back. And being able to blast them from Google Music, to any hifi in the house, at 320kbps is perfect.

The issue of sound quality left me with the discovery of 320Kbps MP3*, for me now the focus is on the hifi. Obviously the only way to listen to music is via a system that incorporates an active Sub-Woofer and at least 5.1.... No? Surely everyone now uses a Sub-woofer?

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(* If you're a Chromecast user, make sure your Chromecast device settings are enabled for 'High Dynamic Range', otherwise the bit rate is dropped down).

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

GSM Arena

Sometimes, websites fail to give you a proper idea of the specifications of a phone.

For these situations, use GSM arena.


Corking 30 day sim only deal from TalkMobile.

Just transferred both my kids onto this 30 day sim only deal, which trumps my previous favourite sim only deal from Virgin.

Not sure how long this deal will be on, but this sim only deal could be all anyone needs for a very very long time to come.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Bands and Bargains.

Lots of manufacturers trade handsets to the UK. This is great, more competition means lower prices for us consumers. But I've resisted buying many a good handset because the frequencies for usage don't marry up with UK frequencies.

This link here shows frequencies licensed to be used in the UK, from GSM arena
http://www.gsmarena.com/network-bands.php3?sCountry=United+Kingdom



If the phone you're looking at buying doesn't include these, it probably wasn't designed to work in the UK. If it has these frequencies, it has amazing specs, and its a great price, buy with confidence!

Here are some places you may not have thought to look, for superb specced reasonably priced cutting edge technology.

banggood.com    Link to their european warehouse deals. Shipped quicker than from Hong Kong, some staggering high spec Android hardware from China.

Motorola shop  - Motorola have made a tremendous come back, buying direct can mean special offers and unique personalisation offers.

Xiaomi (now Mi) - These handsets can be bought from Banggood and Amazon, be sure to check the frequencies though.

One plus - Just Special. See for yourself.

Honor and Huawei - Sign up to their newsletter for exclusive savings, again, pay special attention to the frequencies.

Wileyfox - Can be bought from both Amazon and Argos, some really great spec UK hardware.


Data, and Data whats the difference? 4G and 3G

My network charges me for data and my phone stores data, and I have 2gb from my network and I get 16gb on my phone, what? Many people I speak to don't even know what their data allowance from their network is or what it actually means.
Some people find the whole concept of data perplexing, I know because I have nonsensical conversations with people who's brain I can sense is suffering a meltdown when it comes up.

But the same word (data) has been used by both phone manufacturers and networks to describe two totally different things. Even though somehow, they're sort of the same.

It's easier to think of Data like this.
  • Disposable data - Incoming data from the network (or over WiFi), watching a video (but not keeping it) reading a news article, searching the internet, finding pokemon or playing a multiplayer online game. 
  • Permanent data - The photos you keep on your phone, the videos, your emails, your account details and apps. This is all data that the phone needs to store... potentially forever. 

Your network provides disposable data but, if it's an app, or a photo through a web browser you decide to keep, becomes your phones permanent data.

Hopefully you're still with me.

Your network provides disposable data, and whether its 4g or 3g it's still the same, 4G is just quicker, much much quicker, and it can transform how a handset behaves, if you're lucky enough to live in a city or somewhere with coverage. However, 3g isn't as bad as people tend to think, because it comprises of HSDPA and HSDPA + (plus) which can be damn fast, and coverage is far more readily available. (August 2016). For people lucky enough to live in beautiful countryside, 3G is probably the wiser choice. Why? A couple of reasons,
1) You probably won't get 4G 90% of the time,
2) Using less (disposable) data means lower running costs.

If you'd like to get an idea of how much data you use with your mobile phone. Download
"My Data Manager" and find out from your network when your billing cycle runs from. This app will sit in the background and monitor how much data your phone receives from the network and warn you if you're using too much.

My Data Manager for Android. 
My Data Manager for iOS.

This app on android, will sit in your notification bar and show you how much (network) data you have left in your current billing cycle. Like in the picture.

Bear in mind if you switch from a 3G plan to a 4G plan you're likely to use a lot more data. You phone will work quicker, and content will load faster, meaning even if you only watch the first 10-20 seconds of a video, the whole lot may have been transferred (albeit temporarily) to your handset. When you click the back button, the network won't care whether you watched it or not, but they will know what data they transferred to your handset.

Wifi also provides your phone with a supply of disposable data, but this has nothing to do with the network, so don't be mislead when they include Wifi Data allowance, just hook up to McDonalds, or Costa when you're out and you get free data.

Permanent data, or the storage capacity of the phone, is much easier to understand. Basically this is the total amount of data your handset can store. Photo's you keep, movie clips you take with your camera, names and numbers, games and apps. 16Gb should be the minimum you look for nowadays. Android phones tend to have slots to add additional micro SD storage space, but all phones will need you to tell them to actually use this space in addition to the onboard storage (the space the phone comes with).
So you'll need to ensure your camera stores videos and photos to the memory card (It'll be in settings for the camera).
You may also benefit from an app like App2SD, which can transfer apps onto your memory card. But bear in mind, if you take the memory card out, those apps won't work. Perhaps obviously, App2SD isn't available for iOS, because you can't add additional MicroSD cards to Apple phones, because they don't include slots for them.

Has this helped? Is there an easier way to explain data? Any more questions I've not answered, ask below in the comments section.


Additional info. A lot of the 'disposable data' that is sent to your phone becomes sort of permanent as many apps will 'cache' this data; store it for quicker access in future. This cache can become quite substantial and take up large amounts of permanent storage on your phone. An easy way to rid yourself of the cached data is with an app such as AVG cleaner.  This app is also available for iOS, because it too will cache data in the same way.




Sunday, 7 August 2016

Switching to Android.

I'm getting a lot of requests for Mobile phone buying advice, handsets and mobile deals.

To be honest, there has never been a better time to buy a mobile with cheap running costs, but people who want big savings, need to get used to a new way of funding them.

Truth be known, there has been very little innovation in the past few years with mobile phones. Very few innovations that most of us would consider 'must have's anyway.
3D touch, fingerprint sensors, flexible or curved screens are far less significant than a great camera, good battery life, fast processor and a great screen.

Speaking of screens, most cheap phones now have screens with better resolution than top notch handsets. This is where most phones get their wow factor.

Although I will make some recommendations, I'd like to help people find their own deals (and share them with me). Both sim cards and Phones.

I'd urge everyone to look for a great spec handset for a low price (I'll explain how in a moment) and Great sim only deals on 30 day rolling contracts.

Phones fit into 4 categories.

  • Budget - Cheap and cheerful Sub £100
  • Entry - £100 to £200
  • Mid range £200 to £400
  • Flagship £400 plus


For me, the most exciting market is the Entry, this is where some real staggering bargains can be found, and not necessarily towards the £200 mark either (see below). This category includes some real flagship killers for peanuts.

Firstly the handset specs you should be considering.

Battery life. 

  • 2000 Mah should be a minimum for a phone with a screen of 4.5 inches or higher. 3000 Mah is desirable. 

Screen.

  • Screen 1280x720 is good. 1920X1280 amazing
Memory
  • 16Gb as a minimum, Many entry level handsets have 8gb (or 8000mb) which can be a pain to manage as Android will steal a couple of Gb. 

Processor 
  • Quad core as a minimum, Octacore even better. Dual core, best avoided. Don't fret too much about the speed, unless you're going to be playing racing games. 

You may wonder, processor, memory, why should I be bothered? Hassle free life is the answer, less time managing space on your device, and less lag means a smoother button pushing experience, less frustration when switching from application to application.


Handset shelf life is tremendously quick, so what's a great deal today, may not be the best choice in a few weeks.

At the moment, here are my top choices. 

Handset. 
Lenovo K5 from Argos £129.99 Look at the specs and reviews. Incredible value for money.

Sim deal 
Virgin 2GB for £10 2500 minutes, unlimited texts 2Gb of Data on EE 3G on a 30 day rolling contract.

So add this up.

If you compare this to a 24 month deal, the total running cost is £370 (10x24)+(130) or, £15.40 a month equivalent.

Find a better spec handset with a more generous allowance you will not, on any network, through any retailer!

However there are arguably better handsets available for different amounts, and arguably better sim deals. If you find something you like, share below and I'll try and give you my honest opinion.

Happy hunting!!




Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Simple laptop buying advice.