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Image from Pixabay…to those who receive the latest utterances from this source by email.

I was as surprised as you may have been that yesterday’s episode came bundled with the last nine postings also in tow. Sorry about that.

I don’t know for sure why that happened. There was a change to the blog during the week – in that I followed Google’s exhortation (never a good idea!) to make the site more secure by forcing the use of https instead of http. Now – that’s all techie stuff which I will reluctantly explain – if you really want me to…

Thought not!

Anyway – that change may have encouraged the mail plugin that I use to re-send the last batch of messages (thinking that the postings had changed). I guess we will find out when we see what happens to this one.

Apologies in advance should you get another unwanted batch of ten!

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iThose unfortunate enough to have strayed within range of one of my intemperate expostulations on the subject of Apple Inc (a tester of which may be sampled here and here) will be well aware that – even though I have the greatest respect for many of the design elements evident in their product line – I really don’t much care for the ‘richest company in all the world‘ at all. I guess that their ethos explains just how they came to be so fabulously wealthy, but that don’t mean that it’s necessarily a good thing… any more so than are tabloid newspapers, reality TV shows, throwing Christians to the Lions or the ‘spectacle’ of the guillotine!…

See what I mean by ‘intemperate’?

Soooooo…..

I might at some point have waxed rather more lyrical on the subject of the splendid Galaxy Note – which device has seen me across the Atlantic and back safely and sanely over the last few tempestuous years. In my mind’s eye I pictured this excellent gizmo travelling once more across the pond this summer, to forge a new partnership with some fresh-faced Canadian telecommunications giant.

Alas it was not to be. Toward the end of last week the beautiful and capacious AMOLED screen suddenly and without warning died completely. Efforts both on my part and of the technical whizz-kids that I employ proved unable to restore it to life. It is – sadly – no more.

A number of pardoxical perceptions flashed across my mind:

  • I did not want to do anything that would extend my mobile contract in the UK beyond the summer – for obvious reasons
  • I really should wait until we get to BC before signing up to a new deal and replacing the handset
  • I really cannot be without a mobile phone right now – as things hot up on the emigration front

Now – one of the advantages of working in IT and being responsible for the School’s phones is that there are usually a selection of recently ‘retired’ handsets lying around. With luck one of them might take my SIM and get me back on the air. Unfortunately – just at the moment there didn’t seem to be much choice…

OK – you see where this is going. The only phone available to tide me over until we leave for Canadian shores was made by a company named after a fruit and starts with an ‘i’!

Bah!

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Image from OpenClipArtFirst things first…

My humble apologies to the reader who is possessed of – and insists upon using – an iImplement of any hue. Any such who endeavoured to look upon the images recently uploaded to this unassuming journal will doubtless have noticed that they have – in terms of orientation and scaling – appeared somewhat out of kilter.

That I had not myself noticed this issue before now is entirely due to the fact that when viewed through a Windows based browser all appears as it should. In any case, the site has now been fixed and should render properly on all platforms.

The problem arose – as is all too often the case these days – because the technologies involved are trying just that little bit too hard to be clever.

I fear that I am not a fan of software that tries to second-guess what I am aiming to accomplish, and even less if it thinks that it can help me to achieve same. It is extremely rare in such circumstances that I end up with that which I actually want – rather than with something that a faceless corporation thinks I should want. As a result, whenever I install a new app or item of software which is endowed with any such smart-arse automation features my first reaction is to seek out the settings menu and to disable the lot of them. Should this not be possible then it is extremely unlikely that the wretched thing will remain long in my possession.

ErrorMsg08I am reminded here of the erstwhile Microsoft Office Assistant – that built-in help system to the Office ‘Desktop Productivity Suite’ (yeuch!) that at one point took the form of an animated cartoon paper-clip (humorously named ‘Clippy’) that would pop up at inopportune moments with ‘helpful’ advice.

This anthropomorphic little gimmick annoyed people to such an extent that it was eventually and unceremoniously killed off, to the cheers of all concerned.

Clippy was also – and not surprisingly – extensively parodied… one of my particular favourite examples being that appended here.

“What the blazes” – I hear you cry – “does this have to do with the photos on your blog?”

Bear with me and I will explain…

Modern digital cameras record – alongside the images themselves – a considerable amount of information pertaining thereto. This information – known as metadata – includes such items as the camera settings, the date and time that the pictures were taken and even, on some cameras, the associated GPS co-ordinates. Much of this data is stored alongside the images themselves in a format called the EXtended Image Format – or EXIF.

One item thus recorded is the orientation of each photograph. The camera has a sensor that tells it which way up it is, and when one rotates it through 90 degrees to get a ‘portrait’ shot rather than the standard ‘landscape’ variant the camera records this.

All well and good thus far. The problems start when the image is transferred to a computer for processing. I always check images on my PC before uploading them to this blog, so that I can adjust light and colour values and do any cropping necessary. Now – much Windows based image handling software completely ignores the EXIF data and, as a result, portrait oriented images are displayed sideways. I can rotate these images manually to get them the right way up, but the fact that I have done so is not recorded by any modification of the orientation data that accompanies the image.

What happens next depends once again on the software concerned. When I upload an image to a WordPress site – such as this blog – the EXIF data goes along with it and is stored – in some form – in the WordPress database. When a picture on the blog is viewed through a browser both the image and the metadata are passed to the viewer.

Windows browsers ignore the EXIF data and render the picture as I wish it to be seen – rotated manually to the correct orientation. IOS on the other hand – on all those iThings – determines from the EXIF orientation data that the picture was originally taken at a 90 degree angle and rotates it once more, making it once again come out sideways.

There appears to be no way of instructing any of the software concerned to modify this behaviour. What makes matters worse is that things are not consistent. As software versions change so also does the the default image handling behaviour. This latest problem appears to have arisen a couple of months ago from a change in the way that WordPress handles image uploads. I can tell this because images uploaded prior to this point still render as expected, but those taken subsequently do not.

The answer that I have adopted – you will not be surprised to hear – is to do the job myself. I use a basic image editor to orient the photo the way that I want it and I now use an EXIF editor to remove the orientation field completely to prevent further manipulation. This is – frankly –  all a total pain and should not be necessary.

As ever the problem really arises because users want one thing and the software and hardware vendors want another. Both are keen on clever gadgets that make life easier, but users would like these to adhere to standards so that everything plays nicely together, whereas the hardware and software manufacturers design their fancy must-have toys so that they are sufficiently different to those from other vendors that – once suckered in – the poor shopper has no choice but to go on spending his or her hard-earned cash on their goodies alone.

We are – it would seem – very well endowed with clever developers and designers who are capable of inventing quite unbelievably smart gizmos. Sadly we are also encumbered by lousy marketing and sales functionaries who can only figure out how to generate a revenue stream therefrom by being a total pain in the arse.

Sadly it was ever thus!

 

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Photo by Roberta F.…or Google – or Facebook – or…

I have been meaning to post on this subject for quite some time – and since this is clearly the ‘ranting‘ season (don’t worry – it is a short season!) – and as Apple are once again in the news, making their iApologies to the Chinese – as are Google and Facebook with their frankly scary moves into political lobbying… now seems like as good a time as any!

Here is an interesting statistic. A Google search for the exact string “Why I don’t like Apple” returns in excess of a million references. A similar search for the string “Why I love Apple” returns only 146,000. What should we read into this? Well – almost certainly nothing – other than that these corporations might be best advised not to completely ignore their customers.

Now – I really don’t want to upset all the Apple-istas and Googlephiles out there. Apple does make some beautiful products – the iPad is a deeply impressive piece of work and I say that from the IT perspective and not just from the ‘cool design’ angle. Google has created some seriously useful tools – Google Maps and Streetview being a particular godsend when one is trying to purchase a property on a different continent. As for Facebook…? Well…!

These corporations do – however – have at least one thing in common. They all think that they know better than we do how we should use our technology.  Indeed they all seem to be of the opinion that their way is the best – nay, the only way…

There are legion examples for each of them of a high-handed approach to their customers’ desires, wishes and even rights. Apple’s refusal to countenance Flash, Google’s apparent disdain for the individual’s privacy and Facebook’s cavalier attitude to the sanctity of personal data are just a very few examples from the many that spring to mind. The corporations – naturally – make ‘good’ technical and philosophical cases as to why such policies should be enforced or allowed but the question must always be asked – and answered – “Is this really in the best interests of the customer, or is it simply to the advantage of the supplier?“.

What the customer actually wants is to be able to pick and choose from an extensive and varied technological palette. He – or she – expects that the solutions thus chosen will be safe – that they will cause no unimagined personal harm – and that whatever toys are selected they will play nicely together. Now – I am old enough and long enough in the tooth (read – cynical!) to know that – as a totality – this simply ain’t gonna happen. Business is business and none of these enterprises has achieved their current substance by making it easy for the customer to go elsewhere. Their modus operandi is to get us impaled on a sufficiently big hook that there can be no escape however hard we wriggle – and then to extract as much coinage over as long a period as is possible.

The adolescent multinationals also seek similar political and economic advantages to those hard won by the more seasoned representatives of their ilk. They see themselves as being a part of the new supranational elite, bearing allegiance to no nation – indeed to no-one but themselves and their shareholders. Google and Facebook are both spending heavily – for example – on lobbying for changes to US immigration policy to suit their own global ends – regardless of the desirability of such a course of action to the US itself.

Still – none of these are the real reasons that I don’t like Apple – or Google – or Facebook…

The real reason is that in each case these companies have pretended to be something that they are not. To distinguish themselves from old-fashioned, conventional, even staid corporates (‘straights’ as the parlance would once have had it) these eager, dynamic young ‘tech’ firms have all at one time or another painted themselves as being different – as being alternative, being edgy, unconventional.

“Hey!” – they murmured enticingly – “We are not part of ‘The System’ – we are part of the counter-culture. We are not ‘Them’! We are like you. We’re cool!“.

Well – don’t let the chic products and slick marketing fool you. In their own way these guys are as corporate and global as the rest of them – with all that that entails. As Pete Townsend astutely puts it:

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

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