Weeds and Lizards – And HDR Photography

I actually enjoy taking pictures.  There are a lot of pictures that I have taken that are strictly for me.  After all, how many pictures of your dog being cute, or that particular friend walking into a wall can you inflict on people?

Not everyone shares “your” enthusiasm for a subject, no matter how good you are at it.

So I meter myself, restrict what I show, and self-edit a bit.

But trust me, I have “gigs” of pictures I have taken since the beginning of the digital photography era.  I’ll keep doing it, and I’m getting better at it.

If I bore you with it sometimes, sorry, maybe the next picture might be something we both enjoy.  I’ll try harder.

All this was running through my mind lately when I was having a chat with a good friend, Craig.  He lives up in Atlanta and a while back told me that he had an old phone that he didn’t need.  “Oh, really?” 

It was a massive upgrade for me, and I’m beyond happy to get it.  I’ve changed my phone plan to allow texting and to get a gig worth of data per month.  I am being conservative there, but why spend when Wifi is so available, right?

I’ve gone back to T-Mobile and rightsized the plan.

Plus my old phone, a T-Mobile MyTouch Q was so slow that it literally took 10 minutes for it to come up.  It was that lack of speed that stopped me from really using the smartphone as well as I knew I would.

He knew I’d have a lot of fun with it, and, well thanks again!

That display literally lights up the hallway when I turn it on at 5 AM in the bedroom.

Talking about the phone, Craig shared with me some ideas to make things more interesting.  Cellphone cameras.  This one has a 14 megapixel camera.  Great, about another 50 percent better than my standalone camera that I have been using for years. 

Cellphone cameras have one big limitation, the lens is fixed.  You can’t really zoom in and out with one, they are just taking a digital scissors to the view and cutting it down.  It forces me to put myself in just the right spot where an optical zoom lens would let me do things a little simpler than having to get reeeeeealy close for that closeup.

But on the other hand, if the programmer who wrote the camera software was good, the camera can be amazing.

I’d say that Samsung had some very good programmers when they wrote the software for the Samsung Galaxy S4.

There are a couple of things I can do with the camera that I couldn’t do before, one of which is a little controversial.  It’s called “HDR” or High Dynamic Range.   HDR photography takes three pictures in rapid succession, so you need a faster processor than you might have before.  First an underexposed picture, then a “normal” one, then an overexposed picture.  The three are blended together and presented as a final picture.

Craig asked me had I ever played with it?

A little. 

I’m finding HDR to be an uneven technology.

Spotting a weed growing from a plank, it caught my eye as pretty typical for Florida.  Drop a seed and it

will grow or be eaten.  So during the golden hour dog walk that evening, I took a normal picture.  Then I took an HDR Picture. 

The normal picture had deep greens in the shadows, but the representation was a bit darker than my eye perceived.  I think the camera’s auto mode was looking at the weed in the foreground and using it to figure out how bright everything would be.   Otherwise, this is a very competent piece of equipment.

Then the HDR picture was taken.  The angle is slightly different, and I can now see what the difference was

with the HDR.  There is more of the darker areas shown.  It popped more, however the darker areas near the sunlight shaft were a little hazy.  No, I hadn’t left a thumbprint on the lens, I’m thinking it’s the code for this particular situation said bring it all up and make it more “contrasty”.  

I would say that the HDR picture is more true to what my eye sees in the scene.  At that time of day, the fence in the background is highly visible, and the darker areas of the plants aren’t really back into the gloom.

The way I see it is that it is an interesting technology, well worth playing around with.  On the other hand, good old “normal” photography could be just what you want.  Since you won’t know until you get home and look at it on your computer – Use Both!  After all, you don’t actually pay for film anymore do you?

Besides, isn’t Photography all about being creative?  Playing with your environment, the light, the setting, and your equipment?

Another tool in the shed or another crayon in the box.  It’s just going to make us better at what we do.  Frankly, I’m enjoying it.

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CMAS is a TERRIBLE idea

Have you ever had an idea that sounded good?
You know, something that would be a great benefit but in the end turned out really terribly executed so it basically is like banging your head against the wall. 
Something you stop doing when it ceases to be theraputic?

Read on, McDuff, this is one of those ideas.

Luckily I didn’t make this boneheaded mistake.

CMAS is a piece of software that runs on smartphones.
CMAS is a service that allows you to be warned, here is the wikipedia page.
It gets information from some central server somewhere that is supposed to be keyed on where you are, based on the cell towers you are near.   Yes, even if your GPS doesn’t work on the cell phones, you can find out where your cell phone is at based on the old Triangulation technique.  

If there’s something that happens that is an emergency in your area, a notification is pushed to your phone and …

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

Last night, in the tail of Tropical Storm Isaac, around 4PM, there were some Flash Flood Watches sounded for this part of the world.  Not like they weren’t expected, we’ve had four days of rain in a row and a Duck and Cover Event called the Tropical Storm Watch.  Or Warning, it’s never quite clear which is which. 

When you live in South Florida, these warnings are literally EVERYWHERE.  You simply can not escape it because a helpful neighbor will ALWAYS tell you about it.

Sitting in the green comfy chair, watching the rain fall, there was a Thunderstorm.   We’re used to that here, the storms can be entertaining in itself.

Right as a lightning strike hits, some drone sitting in a building somewhere decided to make my phone disgorge noise.  First it started to vibrate.  Violently.  So as I reach over to grab the phone before it begins a trip to the floor, it then starts to scream like a siren.  Then back to vibrating.

Figuring it was possessed, my first thought wasn’t Oh Let Me Check For An Emergency Warning, Oh no.  I wanted to Kill it with Fire.  As in accelerate it as fast as I could at the nearest Concrete Block and Stucco Wall to MAKE IT STOP.

Had this happened while I was driving, there would most likely be an automobile accident.  Mine.

Regaining composure I found the settings for this vile software.

I had three levels of Alerts. 

  1. Presidential Alerts
  2. Imminent Threats
  3. Amber Alerts

I was able to immediately turn off Imminent Threats and Amber Alerts.  Helpfully, this evil software said “Presidential Alerts are always presented.”

This piece of software may not be removed.
This piece of software may not be turned off.
This piece of software may not be modified so that the alarm sound is less offensive.
This piece of software may not be modified so that the vibrate can be turned off.

This piece of software will be the reason why I will be “rooting” my phone, then installing another “operating system” so that I won’t have to experience this “feature” in the future.

Cyanogen Mod will be in its future.

You see, this is the problem with software these days.  You have a marketing drone somewhere that says Oooh We Can Give The This Feature And They Will Love It And Pay Us Money.

Remember you can’t uninstall this.  You are locked out from this particular feature.

I can’t even find an example of it in Google Play so that I can explain what it is. 

T-Mobile’s page on this software is here if you want greater detail.  I just want to know how on earth to block this thing.   It is like killing an Ant with a Sledgehammer.

I do know in the future, my purchases of Android hardware will be governed first and foremost by whether or not there is “Locked In” software like this and if I can “root” the device.  

My Device, My Rules.

That unfortunately is a big problem with software these days, whether it be Android or Windows or what have you.  I spend more time removing software from a brand new computer than I do installing operating systems.  Spyware, useless browser toolbars, and games that report back to the writer what you are doing for more pertinent advertising are the norm on Windows.  At least you can remove them there, in the case of my little purple phone, I have to go to the level of wiping it clean and starting over. 

Sad really, because the addition of things like Twitter or Facebook are only useful on a phone if you have an account and use them.   I do not have a Twitter account and do not want one so why can’t I remove the software again?

Oh right that Marketing drone.

Oh well, it will be gone too I hope.   In the meantime, while I fully support President Obama, I’m hoping that he doesn’t send out an order to make the phone do that again.  It was just too much of a shock the first time.  Once in 9 months is enough.  Three times in one night was ridiculous.  Since all it did was scare the living daylights out of me and not provide me with any useful information it really does need to go.  A Cancel Box plus a one line blurb saying that there was a Flood Watch In Effect is simply scaremongering.

CMAS is currently a voluntary service that needs to end.   At least in this particular way of providing the “service”.

Tweaking your Android Tablet or Phone for Speed with Cyanogen Mod

All the sudden I have ended up with an Android Phone and an Android Tablet.

I got the phone when I realized my old phone was a year past contract and beginning to fail.  Two more years with T-Mo, actually at this point around 18 months, and the phone was “Free”.  So far, T-Mobile has been good to me, so I’m perfectly OK with that.

A friend in Atlanta was shopping.  Made an impulse purchase of a Nook Color e-book reader and didn’t like it.  He was commiserating with me about it and I suggested he try to load up the full Android operating system.  That was a challenge that took him about three afternoons of “playing around”.  Once it was over, he had the idea of “Ok, now what do I do with Yet-Another-Tablet”.   It ended up on the shelf, then in a box, and now resides in my house.

The reason why he gave it to me was that he has a newer Motorola Xoom that runs much faster.  It’s a much smoother experience because it’s like a V8 to my little Nook’s 4 Cylinders.   The Nook is fine for what I do with it, and it was a nice surprise present.

Lately I had been reading up on the thing.  Seems like the hardware you have in a Nook Color is fine if you’re just reading a book.  I’m using it with the full operating system and not something pared down.  Having loaded Cyanogen Mod 7 on the thing with all the Google Apps, it was doing what everyone seemed to notice, it was a bit laggy.   You’d swipe your finger across the screen and it wasn’t quite as responsive as you’d like.   It felt like someone had slowed it down and I wasn’t sure why.  Start the Browser and a Weather App and it would be almost painful to use.

After poking around under the hood, I noticed that Google Search, Tune In, and a few other programs were running from earlier after having dismissed them.  So to be fair I restarted the machine and noticed that Google Search and Tune In were back. 

If you have an Android Phone or Tablet, you probably have some of these “Widgets” running on your desktops.  iPads have 1 desktop, Androids have multiple, My tablet has six as does the phone.

A Widget is basically a program that runs on the device and on the desktop that does something someone felt was useful.  In the case of Android, they all have Google Search on the desktop and because it is a Widget, It runs constantly.  I got rid of that.  Hold your finger on a Widget for a few seconds and you can move it.  You can also drag it into the trashcan that appears helpfully on the top or bottom of the screen.

Google Search App went into the trash.  It’s still there in my icon list of programs, just not started. 
I did the same thing for the TuneIn Widget and the Clock. 

Sure, search is useful, but I do have a browser for that and in the Post PC Era, we’re all working from the browser anyway.  That’s what Steve Jobs said, and many other “experts” did as well.   I’m repeating them here, if you live in a browser it doesn’t matter what kind of computer you use to get to the web, does it?  That computer can be a clunky desktop, a sleek tablet, or a versatile laptop – it simply doesn’t matter.

So now instead of having all those Widgets blinking at me, I now have a bare desktop that looks like something out of the box when you start Windows or Mac OSX.  A few icons, and a little control strip at the bottom of the screen.

Oh, it runs markedly faster, and markedly cooler.   You see if you aren’t using the software, you don’t need it eating up your battery or your processor. 

So the Helpful Hint is, if you don’t need it, don’t run it.  Drag the Widget off the screen and gain back some speed.  In my case it felt like another half speed on top of what I was doing.   I say felt because I’m not really interested in doing the whole benchmarking thing.

I tried the same thing on the phone, and not everything will drag off.  T-Mobile decided that the LG MyTouch needed all sorts of T-Mobile-centric software.  On a PC we call it Crapware.  I’ll be searching for a way to uninstall that stuff later.  For now, Search is gone as well as a few other pages worth of “Chaff”.

Remember, Touch and Hold brings up your pop-up menu and you can drag that Widget away so it won’t run constantly on your tablet.

AT&T Will Unlock Your Off Contract Phone Starting April 8 2012

Got an old iPhone laying around? 
Want it unlocked?

Ok, simply put, it has to be off contract or paid up. If you got the phone on a 2 year deal and there are still “months” left on your contract, cool your jets, this isn’t for you. 

If you have the phone and paid an early termination charge, or you are past that 1 or 2 year deal that gave you the “discount” on your phone, you are good to go. 

AT&T will have a lot of people jumping on this today, so you’re bound to be having trouble getting through.  All you need to do is ask them to unlock it, and be in “good standing”. 

This will let you use your AT&T iPhone on T-Mobile, or just on AT&T as a backup, or anywhere else in the world that will use the GSM system such as T-Mobile in Europe and other places.

The official statement was all over the web, but you can read more at Endgadget at this link

Since I was given an iPhone that I basically use as a portable radio, I’ll be unlocking mine in case something trashes my Android phone – that I actually like very much along with my T-Mobile account that, again, I actually like very much.  I just get more choice and isn’t that what the free market is all about?

Another Reason Why I am Staying with T-Mobile

Definitely not a rant, I’ve found T-Mobile to be consistently easy to deal with.  After hearing horror stories about people with their iDevices on their AT&T accounts, I’m hanging on for as long as it works for me.  I’ve been an account holder there since 2005 when I came to the store at Broward and Federal in Downtown Fort Lauderdale on vacation just so I could get a phone with a Broward County Area Code.

Long story there, some time I may share it.

Yesterday I forgot to turn the phone on.  Not very bright but hey that’s life.  I reached into my pocket as I was going to change into shorts since it’s been nice here the last week, and turned it on. 

That was when it happened. 

The Deluge of Texts.

You see if you try to text my phone, it won’t work.  I have all messaging turned off.   It’s blocked.  Call me instead.  If you’re so rushed that you can’t say hello then you aren’t really devoting the time that is necessary to those around you.  Plus you’re reaching into my pocket and taking away some cash.  Stop it, I don’t have enough money as it is and if you do go through with it you will have a very irate and bent out of shape Moose looking down at you with all of 6’4″ and 223 pounds yelling at you like a Drill Instructor.

I *CAN* Play a D.I. on TV.  Trust me.  It’s not a good idea.

I could rant on about texting, I just don’t think it’s a good idea either.  You do, fine, that’s your thing. 

Text me and I’ll do rude things to you with a Festivus Pole.  Seeing that today is the day

Those four texts were spam.  Since I have messages blocked they should not have gotten through.  At all.  Ever.  Something strange was happening.  My phone number is a repetitive series of numbers, very easy to remember, so what happens is that random people have used it as theirs in “nosy” forms.  When I get a wrong number it is usually strange and entertaining.

Like the one time that someone tried to insist that I have a Lexus and that I needed to make payments on it.

No, I have a Jeep, as the readers of this blog know.

Never mind… Time to start calling T-Mo’s Customer Care Line.   All … Day… Long.

Turns out my phone lost its programming for the quick call code of #611.  It went into a black hole and never came out.

*Grumble*  I tried that number all day at random intervals instead of doing the right thing and going online and finding the direct toll free number – 877-746-0909 and talking to them directly.

I just programmed that in my phone.  Makes it easier if I have to call again.   I say “if” since I have had to call T-Mobile exactly 3 times since February 2005. 

3. 

Pretty much trouble free.

So after calling that line all day yesterday, I went onto the my.tmobile.com website and found the number, then said “Dispute Messages” and “Yes” into the phone and spoke with a very helpful person.  

We chatted for about 10 minutes about how I have an old phone, the general service, and other things. She said that there’s now a super-duper block for that sort of nasty spam that I got and there are no charges on it and I’m golden.   I also qualify for a $5 discount on my existing plan as well as I’m qualified for a new free phone or discount on another. 

I’ve always carried “Dumb Phones”.  They’re much smaller and sturdier.   If I’m on skates and fall, I don’t want a fragile little iPhone to have a cracked screen.  The little Nokia that I have isn’t much but it’s lasted more than 2 years and isn’t showing any wear despite being dropped more times than I care to count.  Remember that if you’re all dressed up in skate gear, you’re desperately limited on what you can carry.  It’s hot, you need to carry at least two water bottles, car keys, wallet, power bars and much much more.  An iPhone may be thin but it just would not survive next to all that necessary “crap” for long.  I’m an Elite Inline Skater, but even I fall from time to time.  Small and tough is best.  If I could find a MilSpec phone that is built for heavy duty I’d probably jump on that if I could justify the cost.

I do have a pair of old iPhones.   The environment is interesting, but the hardware is fragile.  So I use it to listen to web radio on the wifi network here, as well as use the messaging client to text to one or two very specific people.  After all, it’s now on my terms.   My Terms mean Texting is Not An Always Thing.  It isn’t “Mission Critical”.  I don’t want to be meeting with someone and have a BONG! go off and be compelled to break concentration to answer a “Whatcha Doin” text from someone who isn’t there.  

Gawd I’m on that again.  Needless to say, the iPhone stays home.

So for $8 a month minus my $5 discount for a net of $3 I can get web access on the next phone.   Or not.  Don’t know.  I really do need small, light and tough more than glowy, fancy and web enabled.

But we will look into all of that next week.   I’ll be having a chat with that friendly person on the T-Mobile customer care line about upgrading and so forth after I have a chance to look it all over.

After all, my old school dumb phone is still working and will continue working for a couple more years.

Oh and those texts?  They’re repeated below in all their glory.  These are sleazy companies that would do this sort of thing.  After all 9.99 can’t be worth what ever service they are providing per month. 

72407 Ur IQ score is waiting! Reply YES to this message to see how smart u r now! $9.99 per month stop 2end

72407 Repeat above

77893
Congratulations! You can qualify for an iPad2! To find out more, go to ipad2asap.com Limited Supplies. to unsub reply STOP

77893
Thanks for your submission!  Claim your $100 Gift Card now. Go to http://www.topTXTcash.com to unsub reply STOP

Why I Stay With T-Mobile

I got into the whole cell phone use business late.  I see the cell as a desk phone that I just happen to be able to slip in my pocket and go do my thing with.  I don’t take calls if I am driving, which seems to be the exception and not the rule.  I don’t have a “Smartphone”.  Oh if I were given one, I’d use it, but for the most part, I don’t need it. 

For the most part I am sitting at a PC, banging away on a keyboard from before 7am until as late as 11pm some nights.  If you need me you have two options, a voice call or email.  My old beater of a laptop is much more flexible than the most Einstein like phone you can possibly have.  I use the power I have, but I am open to change. 

I didn’t have a phone until around 2003.  At that point we decided that it was time to move to Fort Lauderdale Area and we thought it would be best to have a Florida cell phone.  When we came to Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the beach, we made a survey of the major national carriers and the “deals” of the moment and decided for how I intended to use the phone, T-Mobile was best for me.  In the intervening time I have stayed with T-Mobile through horrendous coverage at my old house, and excellent coverage elsewhere.  If I have a signal I can happily talk away. 

When I was here in Florida on vacation in 2003, I went to the T-Mobile store and was greeted there by the staff after being allowed to browse an appropriate amount of time and we all began to chat.  I decided on a very basic phone which happened to be small so I could fit it in my pocket or my skate pack, and I lived with that phone for another 5 years.  Basically having been treated very well by the people in the Fort Lauderdale Store set me on a good relationship with a large company. 

Corny, I know.

So today I still have the same phone number with the 954 area code.  I still have T-Mobile, and for my needs I get everything I can ask for.  Basic phone got updated about a year and a half ago to Basic phone with FM radio and MP3 player.  I got online to do that upgrade after doing all my research and then calling the company for just the right phone.

It had to be red.

I have that phone now, it serves me well although I find the FM radio is more of a curiosity, and I think I played MP3s with it twice.  There are other ways to do all of that while I am out on a dog walk. 

Today I had an interview, and a client called that phone just as I was putting too much money into the meter and walking into the prospective companies office.  I pressed off and mentally apologized for ducking the call, and went into the office for the interview.

Coming out later, I powered up my little red and grey phone and it booted up flawlessly with a message that I had a message.  When I pressed and held 1 for the voice mail I got a message saying “Sim Not Ready”.

Hmmm not good.

Getting in the car, I disassembled the phone and reassembled it.  It booted back up with the same rude message.   Sim Not Ready.  I’m not playing a game here, you need to work first time, every time!

It gave me an excuse to drive to the same T-Mobile store from 2003, they were still there and I think I may even have parked in the same spot as back then.  I was downtown Fort Lauderdale for the interview and that store was the closest.   I stood in line around 10 minutes, being apologized to by the two people who worked there, and waited.  By the time I was served there were another four groups that came in, and there seemed to be an air of pleasant resolve that we’d all be taken care of.

That’s the point.  We were taken care of.  Minimum of fuss, pleasant people working the counter, and each person was efficiently served moving to the next.  In the case of my Sim Not Ready, the replacement was free.  The woman who pleasantly and efficiently helped me moved my contacts to the new Sim, gave me back the old one, and told me that I will get a message when I was activated. 

Being thanked I was sent on my way with a smile.  No muss, no fuss, no “retail attitude”.

I simply left with the feeling that T-Mobile at Broward and Federal had some excellent people working for the company.   They may move onto other things in the future, but I’ll think that when I get in there the next time in maybe another 7 years, things will be just as precise, just as excellent, and just as high a level of customer service.

I guess that is how things should be.   Try that in a mall or a big box store, I dare you!  T-Mobile, if you’re listening, promote those two who were on duty today from 11 to 12AM.  They’re good!

I Turned Off Texting

Why would I go through the effort of turning off such a useful feature as texting?

Simply because for the expense of the texting, I don’t perceive any value – basic cost-benefit analysis.

So if you are sending me a text message, it’s just going to go into a black hole and disappear.

Let me take this back a bit.  I was very late at getting into the whole Cell Phone Game.  I wasn’t one of those people who was standing on the sidelines waiting for it to be perfected yet, I just didn’t see a need for a cell phone in my pocket.   I had a wired phone, at home, with an answering machine all through the 80s and 90s.  At work I would either be in front of a PC, in a meeting, or on the office phone.  You know, actually doing my work.

I was always in a position where I was the lead of whatever job description I was doing.   When I was a programmer, I was the one people came to for help.   When I was an analyst, I would be in long conversations with the department heads, end users, subordinate analysts and programmers.   If I was away from the desk, everyone knew I was off fighting fires and doing something “Important”. 

I even had a department head user give me a fire engine for my desk because I was her “Fire Chief”.

This person was a real tough woman, and someone who didn’t like someone because it was politically correct.  You had to earn her trust and when I left that job she said that if I didn’t use her as a reference, she would “Hunt Me Down”.

So even getting a cell phone was a concession.  When I was preparing for the move to South Florida, the year we decided to do it, I came down on a long vacation and got a phone with a 954 area code.  Broward County, Florida.  I’ve had that phone for more than 5 years now and all the time I had it, I had a basic plan.  When I’m working as a consultant, it serves as my office phone so now, I have the need for it so my clients can reach me.  If they do get the phone and I don’t answer it, its because I’m doing something important and I’ll get back within an hour.   It is turned on when I get dressed for the dog walk at 6AM, and I turn it off at 930PM every day of the week.

Getting a text that started out at being five cents a message then up to 20 cents a message was not going to make that any better, it simply got me annoyed.  Every time I heard the text message sound off on the cell phone, I’d go “Red Zone” and ask who the hell is doing that and telling the cell phone that “I don’t do Text”.  Thankfully most folks realize I’m a lost cause and just call and leave a message.

This weekend was the last straw.   I got a “junk text” from some low life business at 347-925-8858 and took matters into my own hands.  

First step was to call the number back.  They had a full voice mail box, most likely from people yelling at them for texting them with a junk text.

Second step was to call T-Mobile.  I got into their queue and turned off the texting.  FINALLY.  T-Mobile never had that feature before since their software had to be upgraded to turn off texting and leave the announcement that you had a voice mail message on your phone.  AT&T has had that option all along, if you have no plan for texting on your cellphone contract, you didn’t get any texts from anyone but your answering machine/voice mail.  Very convenient and logical. 

I have been happy with T-Mobile all along even when I had to stand in the back bedroom of the third floor of the house and sit in the window well to take a call clearly.  I hear that situation improved in that neighborhood in Philadelphia.  Here in Florida, my cell service is perfect and clear.

Third step was to report the call as a junk call to www.donotcall.gov which is the list that blocks you from the telemarketers here in the US.  I’m sure the UK and the rest of Europe have a similar law.  Telemarketers have no right to reach into your pocket to cause you to listen to their sales pitch. 

This particular spammer seems to be connected with Wal-Mart somehow since there are a number of websites with “Who Called Me” in their purpose.  It apparently is a New York City company that is doing the bidding of Wal Mart offering people between $25 and $200 gift cards and will not stop when you text them stop.  Mine was a generic $200 and a $25 visa card for “Visting our site”.  Not very effective when you can’t even say which site it was in the message.

Rule number one of Marketing:  Do Not Annoy Your Customers.

So friends, feel free to call if you have my number.  Telemarketers, if you call be prepared to be yelled at.

But forget the text.  After watching my Network Administrator break his discussions with me in meetings with the owner of the company to take and respond to a text, I’d probably ban texting within any department I manage in the future.