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

Google have done something amazing: made adware and spyware acceptable among hackers.

While walking through Soho this morning, I noticed you can now buy cola-flavoured willies. (I think I’ll just stick with au naturelle.)

In a constant war against open plan office noise, today I got my HD 280 Pro headphones. I’m just burning them in with the help of Daft Punk, Eddy Grant and James Brown. Sounding great and filtering out the noise quite excellently.

Silent failure doesn't help users

I just uploaded a photo to Flickr.

I can’t edit it. I can’t even see it in high resolution. For some reason, Flickr’s JavaScript or CSS or somesuch only half-loaded and the page now doesn’t render properly in my browser. If I click on the title and description to edit them, that doesn’t work.

Thanks to the last few years of JavaScript fanaticism, apparently, a broken UI that doesn’t get unbroken when I hit refresh is considered just fine. Not just a broken UI, a broken image. See here.

The whole point of Flickr is that it’s a photography website, and yet I don’t see an actual representative image unless I both (a) have JavaScript turned on and (b) their JavaScript hasn’t failed to load properly.

It’s not like I’m on a sporadic, expensive roaming connection on a low-memory, low-power device: I’m using the latest version of Firefox on a MacBook Pro on my home ADSL connection.

One transient error loading a JavaScript asset and I can’t actually see images on Flickr, a photo sharing website. But this is apparently a good user experience because designers say it is and I’m just a stick-in-the-mud technophobe.

Supposedly modern front-end development practices have become so absurd they are now indistinguishable from satire.

There’s no excuse. My industry is filled with colossal idiots. The worrying thing is the same people who think not being able to see photos on Flickr is just fine also write the software that runs the governments and corporations of the world. We’re doomed.

Hobby Lobby contra Aquinas

American lady-friends: do you work for nutty Christians who wish to deny you the ability to get access to birth control pills because the company has suddenly decided it has strongly-held moral beliefs (even though you’ve never seen the Corporate Person attend church)?

Politely explain to them that you are not taking the Pill for its contraceptive effect, but are instead using it for its cancer-reducing properties. Because you are pro-life, you believe in trying to extend your life by reducing your risk of endometrial and/or ovarian cancer, as well as reducing menstrual pain. The contraceptive effect is a foreseen but unintended consequence of the use of the Pill.

If they challenge this, point out to them that the Doctrine of Double Effect has been an important part of the Christian ethical tradition since St Thomas wrote the Summa Theologica, and you are surprised that given the Bearer of Corporate Personhood has such strong religious beliefs, it has never come across Aquinas…

Interesting post from an American doctor who has to take his son to an NHS hospital where he gets prompt care from a trained and competent physician and neither cash payment nor a loyalty oath to Lenin or Nye Bevan signed in blood was required in exchange.

Fujifilm X-Pro1: my experience

I recently treated myself to a new camera. I’m not a camera geek. There are a lot of people who spend a lot of time poring over specs, comparing sample images and reading gossip blogs—the current incarnation of the same people who spent enormous amounts of time reading reviews in Amateur Photographer or the British Journal of Photography.

Tools become cults and fetishes too quickly: programmers spend an enormous amount of time arguing the intricacies of Python vs Java vs C or Vim vs Emacs (vs Sublime vs nano vs Eclipse vs TextMate). I’ve spent far too much time listening to writers who spend more time deliberating between Microsoft Word, Ulysees, Scrivener and Writer Pro (for some people, writing about writing tools seems to be the only thing they seem to do with their writing tools). And photographers have a similar problem of extreme tool fetishism.

On the left: my old Pentax MX with a 40mm ƒ/2.8 lens. On the right: my X-Pro1 with the 18mm (27mm equivalent) ƒ/2 lens.

When learning photography, I used a Pentax MX, a manual focus 35mm SLR. It’s not quite as rock-solid as the infamous K-1000, but it’s not far off. I still have it, although the exposure meter seems to be broken. I learned on manual focus, shooting on beautiful black and white films—the sadly departed Tri-X, and the still just about alive FP4, Delta and Neopan brands. For colour, Velvia and the also much missed Agfa Ultra. A few years ago, I finally switched over to a Pentax K100D, and then a K10D, and picked up a Bronica ETRS to experiment with medium format. I’ve borrowed and used a couple of Canon DSLRs.

Much as I’m glad to have grown up right on the cusp of the Internet—I still remember exactly how bloody irritating it was programming before being able to hit up Google and StackOverflow for answers, and I haven’t yet had my attention span utterly decimated like the next generation—I’m glad I learned photography pre-digital properly, with a manual camera.

Digital was fairly underwhelming for quite a few years. The lenses were expensive, slow or both. People got very excited about the image quality, but my Bronica blew that right out of the water. DSLRs are still too bulky: you can make an iPhone so small I forget the damn thing is in my pocket, but up until fairly recently, DSLRs were mammoth compared to my old MX.

I’d looked and waited a while on the new range of mirrorless digital systems. I was impressed by this review of the Lumix GF1 but tried one I’d borrowed and found that I just can’t use a camera without a viewfinder, and the viewfinder Panasonic make for the GF1 is just too rubbish to bother with. So I waited and plodded on with my Pentax. When I finally saw that the X-Pro1 was at a reasonable price, I grabbed one with the Fuji 18mm f/2 lens.

This camera has made photography fun again. I’d played around with a borrowed Leica M3 and an M6, and wished I could have a digital rangefinder that was was as fun and Zen-like as using a Leica but without needing to pay silly amounts of money. Fuji actually seem to be delivering on this desire for a beautiful but modestly priced digital Leica-a-like, albeit one that isn’t quite a rangefinder.

The recipe is simple: make a simple camera body that actually looks like a bloody camera rather than some strange ectomorphic blob (I’ve had at least one colleague express surprise that the X-Pro1 was actually a digital camera). Build the controls on the camera that photographers actually need, put in a good optical viewfinder, strap a few really fantastic prime lenses on the front, and do it for a lot less than Leica.

At that task, Fuji are succeeding. The things I care about when taking a photograph are easily to hand: aperture, exposure and EV compensation. I have set the function button to let me set the ISO (I’m glad to see that the X-T1 has turned ISO setting into a dedicated dial).

From the 2014 Pride in London parade. 60mm ƒ/5.6.

There are a few things I’ve been confused by. The macro mode is one major one: a few days after getting the camera, I somehow managed to put it into macro, which then very sensibly made it so that the eyepiece would only use the electronic rather than optical viewfinder (because the optical viewfinder would be useless in macro mode because of parallax). It took me a few days before I realised that I needed to switch out of macro mode, and then the optical viewfinder suddenly came back.

The other confusion I had was when I got the flash gun. I’ve never used hot-shoe flash before: I never have really needed it, but decided it might be useful. My DSLR has on-camera flash (which tends to be overly harsh—in the past I’ve fashioned a filter out of a Rizla paper to dissipate and soften the flash) but I finally plumped for a proper flash gun. I couldn’t get the flash to fire until I realised that I had to go in and turn ‘silent mode’ off. The irritation of having to do a menu dive to switch the camera between sounding like a camera and sounding like a reversing lorry was allayed when I found out that I could simply hold the DISP BACK button to switch modes. It’d be useful if I could set it so that mounting and powering up the flash gun deactivates silent mode and then reactivates it when the flash is powered down.

Mosaics in the British Museum
Mosaics in the British Museum. 35mm, ƒ/3.2

There are some other irritations which aren’t just user error: the EV dial is a bit too easy to knock and you sometimes realise that you are accidentally off by a third of a stop.

These irritations aside, the optical viewfinder is beautiful to shoot with. A transparent display is placed between you and the world and the manufacturers have worked out some mostly intelligent things to display on it. In autofocus mode, the autofocus zone is marked clearly, and if you activate the relevant option, you can see a parallax corrected autoexposure display. Coming from a background of single lens reflex cameras (both with and without prisms) and with only a few hours of Leica M3 experience a few years ago, adapting to the OVF has been interesting, but I definitely prefer it for most things to the EVF.

Typography is everywhere
Typography in a Soho restaurant window. 60mm, ƒ3.6

Being able to keep pushing the shutter without a big clunking mirror interrupting the scene is quite nice though, and there’s obviously no advance lever that needs tugging like on film rangefinders.

In general, I stick with autofocus, sometimes resorting to using the manual mode combined with autofocus lock button. I can see myself using pure manual focus but only in certain limited circumstances, namely when on a tripod in a studio. The presence of a shutter release thread is a nice touch for such scenarios: my camera bag has a shutter release cord, but I’ve never bothered buying the remote controls for my DSLRs.

The form factor of the X-Pro1 means I end up taking it to places I wouldn’t take my SLR. I chuck it in the bag I take to work most days just in case inspiration strikes.

There are some downsides. As well as the aforementioned silliness with flash and silent mode, the accident-prone EV dial, the battery life is a bit too short (I now carry a spare battery and saw on Twitter a while back a note from a wedding photographer who carries 5 spares to shoots) and the autofocus could be a bit quicker—although it’s not something that prevents me from taking the photographs I want. It’s not a great camera for video, lacking an external mic port—if you care about video, there are better options.

Another irritation is the jog dial on the back of the camera. It does… well, it basically doesn’t do anything. It lets you spin through images in playback. It isn’t used at all when shooting. It’s pretty close to completely redundant. It’s there and users of DSLRs will get quite frustrated by it, I guess. The point of it, I have learned, is there are a few Fuji XF and XC lenses—both the XC zooms and the XF27mm—that do not have dedicated aperture rings on the lens body. The jog dial is used as an aperture selector when the lens doesn’t provide one.

One final frustration: the form factor of the 60mm ƒ/2.4 lens hood is bulky and irritating.

Despite these mild irritations, I’ve really enjoyed using the X-Pro1. It produces beautiful JPEGs and raws. The Fuji lenses are expensive but excellent. I’m very happy with the purchase. The advent of small, well-built compact mirrorless systems like the X-Pro1 that are actually built around the needs of photographers (rather than videographers or holidaymakers) may mean we can finally start seeing cameras that aren’t just incremental improvements on the DSLR. If you are holding off jumping into the Fuji system (or another non-DSLR system if you’ve already bought in), don’t: I’m still learning, but with the current range of cameras, I don’t feel like digital is a convenient but flawed alternative to 35mm anymore.

Oxford Street being redeveloped
Oxford Street being redeveloped. 18mm, ƒ/8

If you’ve seen any UK Pride parades recently, you’ll know that the Labour Party hand out little stickers that say “Never Kissed A Tory”. Which is quite amusing.

Of course, if they wanted to be more punchy with their campaigning they should change it to “Never Kissed A Tory, But Been Fucked By Plenty”…

Wikka Wrap by The Evasions is a funk and rap parody tribute to British TV documentary presenter Alan Whicker. It samples from Tom Browne’s Funkin’ For Jamaica, Chic’s Good Times, the Theme from Shaft and Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off the Sucker) by Parliament.

The only question I have is: why haven’t I heard this earlier? Despite being a parody track, it’s amazing.

BugJuggler is a genuinely lovely project. It’s a plan to build a 70 foot tall hydraulic robot with the ability to lift up and juggle cars, all controlled by a human in a control suit with haptic feedback.

It’s like Scrapheap Challenge combined with a Michael Bay action sequence. Given how depressing the rest of technology is these days, this is a genuinely beautiful and fun project.

rocksucker (noun): gay man who prefers grumpy guitar strumming music to Whitney Houston remixes.

It is hereby introduced to the world as a word. Crack on and use it people.

You know technology is overhyped when you start seeing it advertised on the side of a London black cab.

A year ago it was “cloud”. I just saw a cab with “big data” on the side.