Monthly Archives: October 2011

Photo Manipulation Tools

Here are some of my favorite tools for working with digital images.

Pixelmator. This is my go-to program for digital images, and someday they’ll ship 2.0 and it will be awesome.

Xee calls itself “a lightweight, fast and convenient image viewer and browser.” I agree. The best feature, for my money, is that it lets you losslessly rotate and crop JPEG images. You can do that with jpegtran too, but that’s a command-line tool. Those are great for batch jobs, but image cropping is almost always better done using an interactive GUI front-end.

Acorn is my second-favorite image editor. If Pixelmator wasn’t so darned good, this would be my favorite. Usually what brings me to Acorn is when I need to do something with filters and I can’t figure out how to do it in Pixelmator. The tech support is great, too.

Speaking of filters, I like to goof around with FX Photo Studio, too. MacPhun, the maker, also makes a cute one-trick-pony called Color Splash Studio which is worth the $2 I paid for it.

I also use a ton of different command line tools. I’ll write about those someday Real Soon Now.

Leaving iPhoto

Yesterday I did an “empty trash” command in iPhoto, to expunge 27 thousand photos I’d just deleted. Characteristically, the application hung. Well, it probably didn’t hang. After half an hour, I did a force quit, and on reopening the program and emptying the trash again, it told me there were about 5,000 photos to be deleted. Another 15 minutes wasn’t enough time for iPhoto to clean them up, so I force quit again, broke out a shell in Terminal and did:

$ cd ~/Pictures/
$ rm -rf iPhoto*
$ cd ~/Library/Caches
$ rm -rf com.apple.iPhoto

…which fixed things very nicely.

So ended a 27-month experiment with Apple’s end-user image management software. They also have a “pro” or “prosumer” product called Aperture, and if iPhoto is any indicator, I wouldn’t have it, even gift wrapped.

Between 2001 and 2009, I’d used my own set of tools to manage and manipulate my digital images, but when I got the MacBook, I decided to try iPhoto. That was two versions ago, and the things I disliked with ’09 weren’t fixed in ’10, and there wasn’t any sign they’ve been fixed in ’11 either.

What are those? Primarily two things:

  1. Speed. Or rather, its lack. The software just wasn’t very responsive. Dragging the elevator on a scroll bar felt sluggish, and if that’s not easy, what good is a photo management app?
  2. Noise. Running iPhoto was like playing Flash videos on YouTube: both cause my computer to heat up to where the fan runs. It doesn’t matter what I was doing in iPhoto; I could go away and drink a cup of coffee and it would just start overheating all by itself.

Now, I had some other complaints as well. I don’t need face recognition, and I would like text search, but Apple evidently has the opposite set of priorities. I would love to have uploads to social media sites, but the iPhoto way didn’t win me over at first blush, so I used other tools.

Sometime this summer, I gave up on iPhoto. Since then, I’ve spent my free time copying files out of the iPhoto library and renaming them and filing them elsewhere. I’d like to have tags, but what I’ve learned in 30 years with a Unix shell is that find(1) is pretty good at finding things:

$ find . -name '*whatever*'

for some really tricky things, I break out grep:

$ find . -name '*whatever*' \
	| egrep -i 'one thing|another' \
	| egrep -v 'but not this'

Yesterday, I finished the conversion and (after making lots of backups in lots of places on multiple drives), I emptied the trash in iPhoto. My fan hasn’t run since then.

I also noticed that while those 27K photos took 41 GB of space in iPhoto, they only occupy 38 GB in the filesytem. What was iPhoto doing with the other 3 GB?

Recovering eight or ten percent of a dataset isn’t chopped liver, but the space saving may prove eventually to be even more significant. iPhoto is monolithic. (By default, at least.) You put your files in there, and it’s a huge black box and you don’t need to worry your pretty head about what’s going on inside. But the filesystem gives me all kinds of options about how to manage my image files. For example, I can put different subsets of the data on different media, with symlinks connecting one part with another.

For now, I’ve stored everything in a single master folder. Within that, files are stored by year (2001, 2002, etc.). Within a year’s folder, I typically store files by the month (01-jan, 02-feb, …). Since I take the most photographs when I’m on vacation, I sometimes put vacation photos in their own folder (04-vac, etc.). Finally, I have a separate folder for video files called ‘movies‘. Those files are typically 10x or 20x as big as a photo, but I only have a handful, so I manage them as a collection.

The files themselves are typically given descriptive names (accident-minivan-01.jpg, home-oleanders-07.jpg) etc. Because I do so much work from the command line, I don’t put spaces in the names. In lieu of a space, I prefer a hyphen (-) to an underscore (_) because it doesn’t require a shift key.

In my next post, I’ll run through the tools I use to manipulate images.

The Best Cheeseburger Ever

There’s a story about the world-famous green chili cheeseburgers served by the Owl Bar, and I’m here to tell you, they’re not kidding. The best cheeseburgers evah.

(Frankly, if you’re in New Mexico, Blake’s Lotaburger is pretty good, and here in California you can’t get a better cheeseburger without green chilis than the ones they make at In’n’Out. But the Owl Bar is in a class by itself. And as the story reveals, a lot of professor-types have taken that class too. The reviews on Yelp are wonderful in their cluelessness. Not just police have unit patches, kid.)

Alternative Medicine Isn’t

What was the New York Times thinking, running this piece (“Is your doctor open to alternative medicine?”).

I mean, I understand why quacks and charlatans promote “alternative” remedies: the same reason that Willie Sutton supposedly robbed banks.

I also understand why so many people are attracted to alternatives: because our healthcare delivery system is so messed up. The doctors created a system where they had a legal monopoly, in order to get rich. But it also encourages people to pursue alternatives. The poor do, of course, but even people with money, or insurance, avoid doctors. Our monopolist doctors overbook appointments, make us wait 1-2 hours after the scheduled time, and then try to cram our care into a 7.5 minute office visit. It’s like getting your medical care from the cable guy. By contrast, the quacks and charlatans have got nothing but time. They’ll listen to everything you say, nodding their heads sympathetically.

What I can’t understand is how the Times decided to run a story about being open to “alternative” medicine the same day they report Steve Jobs could have survived his cancer if he hadn’t wasted the first nine months pursuing “alternative” quackery like fruit juices, acupuncture, and herbal remedies.

Sadly, it’s not just geniuses like Jobs who fall for the nonsense that people are peddling. Just the other day, I met a woman who refused to get her kids vaccinated because of fears about mercury. She was just repeating things she heard, second-, third-, and seventeenth-hand. She is a victim of fraud, and her kids may become tragic victims.

I understand people selling these “alternative” medicines. But I don’t sympathize with them. They have a lot to answer for, and if there is any justice in the universe, someday they will.

(H/T: Althouse.)

Godfather’s Pizza

Earlier this week, Politico posted an article about Godfather’s Pizza, presumably as a way to knock down Herman Cain. It was a sad little hit-piece, as you might expect. Cain hasn’t been at Godfather’s since the mid-90s, and even if he were, this “blind taste test” simply brings to mind the Reagan’s observation that “there’s a difference between the critics and the box office.” Regardless what some food critics think about the pizza, nobody can dispute that Cain led the company back to profitability.

When I was in college, Albuquerque was where we went for fun, and most of the time, our evenings began at Godfather’s Pizza. One of my friends (Joel) could calculate everyone’s portion of the bill in his head between the cash register and the table, including tip and tax, and accounting for different drink purchases. And despite that, he was a mediocre student in the math classes. I hear he works at a bank these days, although he doesn’t use Facebook or LinkedIn so I can’t be sure.

Another friend (Kevin) used to tick me off because he was a quicker eater than me. Suppose you have a three people sharing an eight-slice pizza. Everyone gets two slices, and then they have an argument about who doesn’t get a third, right? Not with Kevin at the table. He’d eat three slices as quickly as the rest would eat two. Then he’d look at that last slice sitting all by itself, and ask if anybody else wanted it. And we’d say, no, shucks, we’re not greedy, you go ahead eat it, Kevin.

I don’t say these things to slam my friends. Well, I do, but that’s not my point. After all, I’m sure if you checked their memories, they might have some less than 100% flattering memories of me, too.

What’s interesting to me is that we always ate at Godfather’s. It wasn’t even a question. We just did. The pizza was good enough, I suppose, but nothing special. My guess is that, since that Socorro had a Pizza Hut, when we went to Albuquerque, we wanted something different.

After college, I moved to Albuquerque and learned about Nunzio’s Pizza, which I liked a lot better than Godfather’s. You could purchase by the slice, so there, Kevin. And if you asked for anchovies, they wouldn’t lie to you and say “we’re all out, sorry,” the way most pizza places do. Sadly, Nunzio’s went out of business sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I’m happy to see the family has started over with a new pizzeria called Saggio.

I’m a Bean Burrito Kinda Guy

In the movie “The Blind Side,” Mrs. Touhy objects to the word when Mr. Touhy remarks that the quesadilla saved their “asses.” The exchange might overshadow the salient point, which is that Taco Bell franchisees rejoiced about the sales that the mighty quesadilla would generate for them.

Well, maybe they’ve found the next one:

Taco Bell is testing a new taco featuring a shell made from nacho cheese-flavored Doritos, a product that is quickly becoming a media star as the chain’s parent company hints of plans to “reinvent the taco” next year.

I think that sounds terrible. But then, I’ve always been a Bean Burrito kind of guy.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

This was my first computer:

Vintage 1985 "Fat Mac"

The 512 kB “Fat Mac.” With an ImageWriter, Microsoft Word and Multiplan (the predecessor of Excel), and MacPascal, it set me back about $2,500. That was 1985 money, so it would be somewhere around $5,000 today.)

I was living in Albuquerque and my roommate, who drank deep of the Kool-ade, had been so affected by Ridley Scott’s 1984 “Big Brother” commercial that he ran out and bought one of the original 128 kB Macs. (If I recall, he bought some Apple stock too. I wish I’d done that when I bought my second Mac, an iBook, in 2003.)

Anyway, a couple of years later, I was working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, and Steve Jobs wasn’t working at Apple any more. He came to Murray Hill to give a presentation of the NeXT computer. I didn’t work at Murray Hill — that was the real Bell Labs, where they got Nobel Prizes in Astrophysics and worked on slug brains. I just worked for AT&T’s R&D unit. But I got to see the presentation way down in South Jersey via the magic of teleconferencing.

By today’s standards, NeXT mail wasn’t all that hot: it was basically email with MIME attachments. But I don’t think he was trying to sell Unix workstations to Bell Labs. (Who would be stupid enough to give up a 3B2 with a BLT running Plan 9 for a mere NeXT box? Ahem. Although, to this day, I’m not personally convinced that email improved when it grew to include anything beyond ASCII text.)

What Steve was doing, I think, was giving AT&T some (desperately-needed) business advice. I admire his chutzpah: a kid in his 30’s, who’d just been sacked by his board, telling AT&T how to do business. But that’s what he was doing.

He was telling them that AT&T Mail was a disaster, particularly compared to what he was selling. But more than that, he was telling them to stick to their core competency. Instead of chasing him (or ignoring him and Inventing-It-Here, as Bell Labs was, ahem, wont to do), he said that AT&T should sell him connectivity. Just give him pipes to move his bits around, that’s what he wanted.

People talk about Steve’s “reality distortion field.” But that day, nobody was buying what he was selling.

That’s a hard message to sell to companies like AT&T. There’s some weird virus that infects marketing people at telecoms that makes them think it’s possible to add value to every bit that passes through their network. Indeed, that it’s not only possible, but their company is also capable of doing it!

Yes, yes, it’s a preposterous notion, but nevertheless, telecom marketers are all infected with it. Twenty-five years later, they still have it. They just can’t stand the idea of simply doing their core business well. They’re terrified of becoming a commodity.

Steve Jobs wasn’t worried about becoming commoditized. None of the businesses he built into category killers are commodities. Pixar is head and shoulders above everyone else in the business. The Mac stands out and commands a price premium in a world of commodity computers. Ditto the iPod, the iPhone, and lately the iPad.

Business is infected with the opposite approach. One of my managers at Bell Labs told me to quit improving a piece of software this way: “You’re polishing a turd.” Steve Jobs knew that you couldn’t make a great company by shipping turds, so he kept polishing products until there wasn’t anything turdlike about them.

Good for him. It will be interesting to see if anyone learns the lesson.

MacPorts tip

I started getting messages when I tried to update my MacPorts tools. I can’t say when it started, because I don’t do it very often. (Like maybe once a month. Bad me.) But it would bomb out, telling me

Error: checksum (md5/sha1/rmd160) mismatch for port.

Then it sent me down a wrong path, suggesting it was because my ISP’s DNS was serving ads or something. But it turns out the why isn’t important, because the what to do about it was right there in the FAQ:

$ sudo port selfupdate
$ sudo port clean --dist {portname}
$ sudo port install {portname}

All I had to do was clean out the bad portfile and try again.