tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.




Pope Francis has endorsed a rather ghastly anti-gay campaign in Slovakia. His face now fills billboards asking people to vote to an amendment banning same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and mandatory sex education.

Which is perfectly understandable: he heads a church that is institutionally anti-gay and he has repeatedly acted in opposition to gay rights. Despite all the many predictably craptastic things that Pope Francis has actually done, people will still continue to believe he is a breath of fresh air, a reformer, someone who was going to finally welcome the LGBT community into the church. The huge gap between the reality of the Pope’s actions and the wishful thinking of those who are enamoured with him is spectacular. Cognitive dissonance is a scarily powerful force.



Eye-Fi Pro X2: frustrations and grumbles

A while back I bought an Eye-Fi Pro X2 card, for one main reason: being able to transfer pictures to my phone and post them online quickly.

The ideal is good: see something interesting, take a photo, share it online with friends on a service like Instagram which provides pretty instantaneous feedback (likes and comments etc.). Then also have the raw file there on the card so I can go home and fiddle around in Lightroom (RIP Aperture) to my heart’s content and produce something that’s a good photo. All the fun of iPhone snapshottery and all of the good bits of “serious” photography.

The Eye-Fi mostly delivers. The setup experience is a bit fiddly, but once you’ve got the app set up on the iPhone, it’s pretty easy to go out and start shooting and then have your phone pull photos from the card as you shoot.

The first problem is file size. Transferring files over Wi-Fi is fine for JPEGs from my X-Pro1, but transferring raw files is a problem. The JPEGs my camera produces are 4.4 MB each, but the Fuji RAF raws are 26.1 MB each. The raw takes about a minute to transfer. But here’s the stupid bit: the app has no way of saying “just transfer JPEGs”. There’s no point transferring a raw file to a phone. My iPhone photo library is cluttered up with all these raw files I can’t do anything with. There’s no reason for this. The whole point of transferring stuff to the phone is that you can use it to chuck a quick JPEG up to Instagram or Twitter or maybe even your own website if you are independently-inclined. The raw is something you are only going to use when you get back to your computer and start fiddling in Lightroom.

The only way I’ve been able to find to not transfer the raw files is to not shoot JPEG+raw, just shoot JPEG. That’s not something I’m going to do. What would be simpler is if Eye-Fi released a new version of their iOS app which let you set it to only transfer JPEGs to the iOS device. The fact that they haven’t got this for a product labelled as “Pro” is amazing: it means they either didn’t do any product testing with any actual photographers or they ignored the results of that testing.

Here’s where it becomes stupider: the minute-long transfers for raw files that aren’t going to do anything means you have to keep your camera turned on for extended durations while the files transfer. Most cameras have a power save mode which kicks in after a minute or two. If you aren’t shooting, your camera will shut down. And then any transfer that the Eye-Fi is doing will stop. The way to remedy this is to turn the auto-shut-down/power-save mode off. That’s a bad solution: I already carry two spare batteries in my camera bag (and I read a while back about an X-Pro1 pro shooter who carries five or more batteries with her when she photographs a wedding—modern digital cameras drink juice like crazy if you are using them).

And then it gets even stupider than that. If you decide to not deactivate power saving and just hope that you keep your camera active enough that it won’t drop into power save mid-transfer, and you fail—guess what that can do? Corrupt the data on the card. I’ve had a few incidents where that has happened. Once, my camera said it was having a write error. I gave up, popped the card out, went to my laptop, took all the photos off, made a quick backup of the directory structure on the card, formatted the card and copied the folder structure back in place.

It happened again today. Not quite as catastrophic as that: it was reading off the card. I took a shot and it told me it couldn’t write the image to the card. The JPEG and raw files that it attempted to write are just plain white. The I/O error managed to cause the camera to go into some crazy mode where I couldn’t even turn it off. I eventually had to resort to taking the battery out. Fortunately, it only lost that one image, not the whole card.

Causing crazy write errors and potentially putting all the images on the card at risk makes me reluctant to use the Eye-Fi when not necessary. Sharing pictures with friends quickly is a nice feature, but not if I run the risk of catastrophic data loss in the process. As a side note, the Eye-Fi app on the iPhone won’t transfer video, only still images.

Fujifilm have started putting wi-fi on their camera bodies. It’s on the entry-level X-M1, the so-entry-level-it-doesn’t-even-have-the-good-sensor X-A1 and on some cameras you might actually want to use like the X-T1, X-E2 and X100T. I haven’t used it, but camera manufacturer-provided apps seem likely to be a bit less rickety and jerry-rigged than the one provided by Eye-Fi, and I’m reasonably confident it’s not going to do something dumb like transfer raws. When Fujifilm get around to releasing an X-Pro2, it seems likely that there’ll be wi-fi on there.

While I’m tearing this thing apart, I’ll also note that the card itself is pretty fragile: given it spends most of its life either in my camera or in the SD card reader slot on the side of my computer, it was rather surprising to find that the plastic casing fell to bits when I dropped it about 5cm onto my kitchen table. Perhaps I’m being unusually picky but I tend to expect products which are marketed with the word “pro” in the name not to require me to stick them back together with superglue.

The Eye-Fi does its job, but the frustrations of actually using the product almost make me want to pop it back in my camera bag (perhaps in a softly-padded Tupperware box just in case I jolt the thing a bit too much and it decides to self-destruct some more) and only pull it out when I actually need it.

Eye-Fi could reduce my frustrations significantly by making their app marginally smarter. For me, though, the risk of data loss through ordinary field use is too much stress to bother with unless it is absolutely needed. I’ll also note for fairness that a fair number of these issues are likely to not exist in the context of a studio shoot, where you aren’t that bothered about camera power saving. If in a year or so, Fujifilm offer to sell me a shiny new camera body that means I can forget all about the Eye-Fi, that would be rather nice. It is a product I use but certainly do not love.


This post looks like a reasonably perceptive analysis of the issues with the Photos app. Looks like a big step up for iPhoto users, but pretty weak sauce for Aperture users.


Mac Observer reckons the new Photos app isn’t an Aperture replacement. Shame. I use Lightroom (and pay for Creative Cloud) but I really wish there was a product that would fit in the gap left by Aperture and which would make me fall in love with it rather than merely tolerate it. Lightroom isn’t it, alas.



Churches weigh in on mitochondrial replacement

Both the Catholic and Anglican churches are opposing mitochondrial replacement, a promising new development in embryology that could potentially prevent a variety of diseases by transferring the nucleus of the mother’s egg into a donor cell which has healthy mitochondria.

The Catholic Church’s position on this is ludicrous. In order to protect the “life” of poppy-seed sized embryos, it is willing to subject children to extravagant amount of pain and suffering. Why? Here’s their reasoning.

Many people are rightly concerned about the profound implications of Parliament passing regulations under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to licence the creation of human embryos using the DNA of three people.

Who are these “many people”? And how many of them aren’t middle-aged men in priestly drag? And that “DNA of three people” thing. The mitochondrial DNA from the third donor as a proportion of the total DNA in a human’s genome is absolutely tiny. But we are talking about people who put the rights of poppy-seed sized “babies” on a level of moral equivalence with beings that have actual rights, interests and concerns in the world.

No other country has allowed this procedure and the international scientific community is not convinced that the procedure is safe and effective.

There have been a number of reviews conducted of the proposed treatment which have failed to turn up any evidence that it is unsafe. As actual use in humans is not licensed, and no clinical trials can be conducted (partly because of of the massive ethical problems of doing a double-blind controlled study involving fertilisation), there won’t be a way to know if it is effective unless one actually goes ahead and tries it.

The document from the Catholic Church brings up the fact that the US FDA has not approved this treatment. That might be in part because during the time of President Bush, the government pushed through so many measures to prevent any of this sort of embryological research, guided by the advice of the President’s Council on Bioethics, a body replete with the medical and biological expertise of, oh, Charles Krauthammer, Francis Fukuyama and Robert P. George. Religious nutters take over the bioethical establishment in the US, pushes through an anti-scientific agenda that makes climate for research in these areas toxic, then argues for bans in other countries based on their successful takeover of the regulatory agenda across the Atlantic.

There are also serious ethical objections to this procedure which involves the destruction of human embryos as part of the process.

What “serious ethical objections”? Spell them out, my dear, otherwise they cannot be judged as serious or not. Because frankly the likelihood of the Catholic Church having a serious ethical objection rather than a ludicrously overheated pile of theological garbage is pretty low.

When embryologists start barging into arguments on soteriology and pneumatology, theologians will have the right to barge into arguments about human fertilisation. Given the pitiful track record of ethical interventions from the church in the area of sexual and reproductive ethics—which basically amounts to a noxious mixture of spreading fear-driven bullshit about every other in-vitro fertilisation technology ever proposed combined with their attempt at opposing every extension of rights to LGBT people—I’m not sure why anyone thinks that what they have to say is worth a damn. They have no useful contribution to make to this discussion, just pseudoscience and theologically-driven fear mongering. Their only notable contribution is to the pain and suffering of children born with rare mitochondrial diseases that could potentially be prevented by careful use of scientific innovation.


David Cameron has his head screwed on and is fulfilling the government’s commitment to evidence-based policy: “I love watching, as I probably should stop telling people, crime dramas on the television. There’s hardly a crime drama where a crime is solved without using the data of a mobile communications device.”

TV dramas: the new source for government policies on crime and surveillance.



Death means a lot of bureaucracy on Wikipedia

When someone dies, on their Wikipedia article a diligent editor is supposed to update the following things:

  • the prose of the article, adding it to the lead and possibly to the ‘Personal life’ section or creating a ‘Death’ section if their death is particularly worth discussing
  • the infobox (if present)
  • the invisible PERSONDATA template
  • the entry on Wikidata
  • the categories (to remove the Living people category and adding the category that corresponds to the year they died, e.g. 2015 deaths)
  • the ‘living’ property of Template:WikiProject Biography (if present)
  • the article listing deaths this year, e.g. Deaths in 2015
  • their category on Wikimedia Commons (if they have one)

Remember: repetition never leads to inconsistency and invisible metadata never becomes out-of-date. I’m currently running a bot to check a number of these sources against each other.


The Guardian has an excellent collection of stories of homophobia. Just the normal, day-to-day harassment and discrimination that people face on the street, in work, on public transport and in housing. The scary thing is that every out gay man I know in London that I have asked has been able to give numerous stories of street harassment. (And I have my own set. Everyone does.) Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.




King’s College London has decided to not rebrand itself as “King’s London”. Which is good because the latter sounds bloody stupid. They’ve managed to spend tens of thousands of pounds on the rebranding exercise though, because that is a valuable use of resources for a university.


Struggling to find any reason why I would ever want to strap a Microsoft HoloLens to my face.


I nearly forgot to mention the other day: the Pope spoke out against gay marriage.

Finally, this might mean the end of idiots pretending that Francis is somehow magically different and better than the previous Popes. Same bullshit, better PR.


DNS issues reveal inherent fragility and redundancy of DOIs

Those of you unfamiliar with bibliographic standards may be unaware of digital object identifiers (DOIs). DOIs are used by academic publishers to provide a unique global identifier for academic papers published in journals. A DOI is printed in the following form:

doi:10.1000/182

As I said, the point of a digital object identifier is to provide an identifier of a particular resource. This makes them a duplicate of a rather more popular and widespread system for identifying resources, namely uniform resource locators (URLs), the popular standard used on the Internet for web addresses.

Why not just use URLs then? Because librarians need DOIs. They need DOIs because you can’t trust the dastardly Internet to keep resources around. Links rot, stuff starts 404ing, people forget to renew domains. If you use a URL, the URL might break. So rather than having academic journal publishers assign URLs and then potentially doing something stupid, the best thing to do is to have a trusted party run their own URL system. The trusted third party in this case is an organisation called the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, and they run the technical infrastructure on behalf of the International DOI Foundation. Note the use of the words “international”, “foundation” and “corporation”—obviously these guys are serious and know what they are doing.

Of course, because DOIs aren’t actually that useful on their own, you need a resolver. You can take a DOI and remove the “doi:” prefix and then append the rest of it to the address http://dx.doi.org/ and you then have… a URL! But then you have the problem that URLs have. Links rot. Servers break. People forget to renew domains. Or, as happened today, the CNRI made a mess of the DOI resolver’s DNS records because they manually renewed the DOI domain name at the last minute. This caused intermittent resolution issues.

I mean, sure, if one journal publisher were to accidentally mess up their website for a day, that’d be annoying. But when you put the very act of resolving your identifier in the hands of one organisation, the potential for catastrophe is pretty amazing. Especially given the sheer amount of academic infrastructure that is sitting on top of the DOI infrastructure: citation generators, bibliometric analysis software, personal paper library storage, pre-print metadata stores, institutional subscription-wall software. Whoops.

I’m still not convinced there is any point to DOIs. There is an international, widely adopted standard for identifying digital objects: URLs. URLs aren’t perfect, but you aren’t reliant on librarians to remember to renew their domain name for the whole system to continue running.

You want metadata retrieval? Easy. HTTP gives you that: content negotiation. Hell, the two formats that anyone is going to give a damn about for academic papers (HTML and PDF) can contain metadata—HTML in the form of microformats or RDFa (or, Xenu forbid, microdata), PDF in the form of the Info Dictionary and XMP.

Today’s silliness with DOIs show to me the inherent fragility of any “let’s just give a number to everything” system. The Internet exists and they all duplicate what URLs already do but with more indirection and with a constant risk of the lookup server going wrong. If your solution to “things on the internet go away” is to introduce a resolution service that can also go away, you are duplicating entities beyond necessity


Radio 4's History of Ideas is unlistenable dreck

I have listened to a few of the History of Ideas podcasts that are being put out on Radio 4 and much hyped by the station. Every one I have listened to has excelled only in its ability to disappoint me more than the previous one.

They have some excellent hosts who interview some world experts. But it seems as soon as the host settles down for a meaty interview with some professor who might be able to get in to the substance, we are immediately interrupted by an ethereal voice to give us what amounts to the first few sentences of the Wikipedia article but rewritten so as to not confuse any toddlers who might be listening, while the swirling sounds of some kind of BBC Radiophonic Workshop creation hums, bangs and jitters in the background. Why is this clutter needed? It’s as if someone decided to combine a systematic theology lecture and a group of small children hitting saucepans together.

No subject is ever left to lurk in one’s mind before we are jumped to some other topic. It almost feels like some kind of joke played by radio producers that they dreamed up after a few too many drinks. “Imagine if we edited In Our Time like a reality show!”

The sad thing is that there are occasional genuine moments of insight in the programmes in spite of the atrocious and overwrought format.

Why not just have a simple, understated talk from an expert? 15 minutes of exploratory discussion of an important philosopher or idea by a world expert without electronic bleating from the sound effects department or constant interruptions would be quite lovely.