Lessons Learnt from Shooting at Supanova

So, I survived spending 2 days on my feet taking photos of everyone (or at least, trying to) at Supanova.  I learnt a few valuable lessons from it all:

  • Always carry spare batteries.  Nothing’s worse than reaching the last hour or two of the day and realising that your flash batteries are dead, and then having your camera battery fail on you only moments later.
  • Flash Exposure Bracketing is almost compulsory for low-interference shoots, it lets you take the photo(s) and move on without holding up people for very long, and gives you a range of flash exposures to choose from in the event that your flash autoexposure system is doing stupid stuff.  (I found the 50D couldn’t always get the exposure level right under Supanova main hall conditions, and the 400D was hopeless).  It also results in the worse blinking photos however – warn the subjects first.
  • Always confirm camera and flash settings when returning to the floor.  Trying to shoot and discovering that you’ve left 2s self-timer on from the ultra-slow exposures you were doing moments before is a little embarrassing.
  • Fast lenses are good.  Convention lighting generally sucks.
  • Carry one flash per body.  Don’t try to share – you’ll just spend all your time fidgeting to move it between bodies.
  • Don’t try to manually focus without a manual focus optimised focusing screen when physically exhausted.  It might look right to you, but it probably isn’t.
  • 50mm is too long on an APS-C body for the tight quarters shooting at Supanova, but should be about right on full-frame.
  • People seem to assume that the grip fitted camera and large flash means you’re a professional…

Kit upgrades…

Geez – I’ve been throwing too much money at photographic kit again. 🙂

I’ve picked up an EOS400 body as a backup/secondary body with it’s kit EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6, a cheap EF 80-200 f/4.5-5.6 USM (cheap, slow – in both senses of the word – zoom, but functional), a battery grip for the 50D, Speedlite 580EX II and a 250GB memorykick unit.  I’ve worked out that I can probably shoot about 9000-12000 RAWs before I run out of storage now.  Yes, the flash will most likely melt down first.

Adapting to ETTL shooting has been a little interesting – given that my last experience with flashes was all manual 10 years ago, being able to let the flash handle power adjustment and set up the shot as I want it is pretty damned uncanny.  No more guide-tables to manually calculate aperture given a distance and film-speed.

I’ve also given up on neck-straps for now and ripped them off of my bodies – whilst I like the safety net of having it wrapped around my wrist when I shoot, I dont’ like having the damn thing dangling down in face half the time.  Will probably revert this on the 400D so I can sling it, but I’m not missing it on the 50D, that’s for certain.

Still waiting to hear back if I’ve got a volunteer shooting gig this weekend.  If I do get it, expect lots of shiny in my flickr come next week.  There will easily be a few thousand photos shot, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find something to post.

Next  stop for my kit purchasing:  lighting stands, umbrellas, a second 580, wireless transmitter…  and probably a WiFi grip.

Back behind the viewfinder

It’s been 15 years since I last used a film camera.  Well, it was before Saturday night.  It’s also been that long since I did any photography myself for fun, rather than to try to capture an event, to prompt my memory, or to show something to somebody else I couldn’t otherwise move.

I’ve started up a flickr account to upload photos into, but it’s become apparent I need some decent digital kit.

I’m still using an 8MP Fuji “FinePix S5800” which my father got about a year before he passed away.  Whilst it’s an adequate day-time point & shoot camera, it’s low-light performance during Earth Hour was so noisy as to be highly disappointing.

I also shot 3 rolls of 24 exposure 400ISO film during the same event, at least 30 shots of which are fireworks.  Camera used was a used Canon EOS300 with 25-90mm kit lens I picked up for $50.  Shooting the EOS was much nicer than fighting with the point and shoot – I’ve yet to see if any of my photos are exposed properly however – I failed to account for my lack of experience with auto-exposure systems and shot most of the shots in aperture priority rather than switching down to full manual and trying to use the AE metering as a guide until the fireworks hit.

I’l upload scans when they become available anyway.

Dear Game Publishers…

Dear Game Publishers,

Please stop making your single player games reliant on internet connections – a large number of us do not want to be tethered to an internet feed just to play something that we should be able to play offline.

We’re rapidly accelerating to a point where in 10 years time there will be nothing left of your games to remember them by as none of the games will operate without your infrastructure – compared to from 10 years ago to now where people can still play their favorite games from 2000 irrespective of the game publisher’s servers, or even the fate of said publishers.  (Total Annhilation, All the pre-generals C&C games, Quake 3 and earlier are all major examples of this at work – none of which featured any DRM, and all of which still work on the correct operating systems, or completely compatible systems).

Whilst you may not feel there are immediate profits to be made, there is goodwill to be maintained which will help fuel your future sales – this sort of abuse of your player-base merely ensures they’ll leave jaded and less likely to support you in the future.

Still Alive…

Still alive, just not talking much.

gosqlite3 is currently on hiatus whilst I do non-Go related stuff.  Thanks to Tokuhirom and yyyc514 for their contributions.  So far I mostly like Go – I just wish the implementation was a bit more… general.

I have some EVE Online related web tools in the pipe, related to my recent pushes back into Industry and Wormholing.  More on those as I work on them.  Expect them to show up on github sometime in the future.  These I’m doing in RoR.  I recently discovered that the excellent Eve Metrics 2 site was built with RoR and seems to be related to the author of recache.  Rather cool.

In Vista’s Defence…

[Ed:  I actually wrote this back in November, so a few things have changed, but my opinion generally hasn’t]

OK, Usually I wouldn’t be caught dead saying stuff like this, but I’m getting sick of the public FUD and smear campaign on what’s possibly one of the best Microsoft Windows releases to date.

Yes, I know how odd that sounds coming from myself – I’m a long-time Linux and OSX user and have preferred staying away from Windows for anything non-gaming related, but now we’ve got people resisting what’s a fundamentally decent change if they’re changing hardware anyway.

From my point of view, there are a few key points here:

Vista made it from RTM to SP1 in about a year, and the Service Pack 1 release improved performance for most things up to XP level.  Nobody would dream of using XP without Service Pack 2 these days, but would they still be as fond of the RTM release of XP when compared against Vista SP1?

Vista’s UAC (User Account Control), whilst infuriatingly obtrusive, is a step in the right direction for most common users and it’s continued support should see application developers start fixing their applications to operate correctly along-side it without relying on priveledge escalation to get stuff done.  We in Unix-land have been able to do our day-to-day work without superuser privileges, Windows users should be able to as well.

Vista’s video driver system is substantially more robust than the XP video driver system.  Under XP, I’ve had machines with shader-capable graphics cards bring my system down on a regular basis due to GPU crashes (mostly my old Radeon 9700Pro overheating) – and whilst the drivers have been able to intervene to prevent a complete system crash, they have forced me to reboot the system shortly after.  Under Vista, GPU crashes have been met with a transparent restart of the GPU and things have kept on going – mid game with no more than a 20second pause.  And this was with the RTM release – I haven’t seen a GPU crash in quite some time now.  These changes have cost a few features in certain graphics card drivers, but in general have improved the experience of using Windows dramatically.

Now, I’m also hearing complaints about changes in the shell – User Experience changes per se.  I think people have forgotten the transitions from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95 – that was significantly more major than the XP to Vista transition, and at least the Vista Aero themes are vaugely plesant, unlike the old XP Luna theme which I’ve had to religously turn off after booting my XP systems for the first time due to it’s massive performance drag (XP’s GDI system just wasn’t up to it) and it’s gaudy appearance.  On all but my poor Fujitsu laptop, Aero performance has been good enough to leave the full, Translucent, Aero theme enabled without a noticable performance hit – certainly, disabling Aero completely to use the classic theme doesn’t yield the performance increase that disabling Luna did on XP, and Vista, unfortunately, relies on some of the Aero widget sizes and layout to look reasonable.

Theme differences aside, the new start menu makes sense – it dynamic adjusts the main options (which you can manually pin should you dislike that behaviour) to the applications you use most frequently and provides a very fast name-search to find options both in the start menu or files on your PC using the search function now integrated into the start menu.

As for hardware compatibility, I don’t blame Microsoft or Vista, but rather, the hardware vendors.  The only hardware I had any troubles with were all Creative Labs soundcards, and Creative is infamous for holding back on those to force users to upgrade.

SatNav for New Drivers…

Having spent the last 2 days after having gotten my Provisional License using a TomTom XL to navigate Sydney (I suck at navigating without maps or the like, and my street memory doesn’t work well enough in the dark) I have some hopefully helpful advice for other beginner drivers hoping to use such devices to get around.

(Disclaimer:  This is entirely personal opinion and should be treated as such – this is in no way a professional endorsement or recommendation.  Hopefully enough of this is common sense that it goes without saying.)

First up, get used to driving around with the SatNav on, but ignoring the display whilst in motion at any sort of speed.  You should be able to use it entirely via its voice directions without needing to take your eyes off the road.  It’s a serious trap to look at the SatNav thinking that the information it’s providing visually is important/useful.  If you’re not careful, you’ll find it will pull your attention off of the important things (like road conditions and traffic) and then you’ll get yourself in trouble.  Ultimately, your car’s instrumentation (speedo, tacho, etc) is more important than the SatNav, and you probably can only afford one time-slice in your scanning to look at instrumentation.  This is exacerbated by the fact that your ability to read the important data off of the SatNav display will be very slow at first, irrespective of how user friendly the device purports to be.  (It’s a fundamental familiarity issue)

Next up, get used to driving around with some route programmed into the SatNav and ignore the directions.  You have to be able to tune the SatNav out at will and not to try to obey all of its navigational directions all of the time – after 12+ months of obeying your supervising driver, you may actually find this harder than it sounds.

Next, get used to the vocal queues your SatNav uses.  Some of them, the TomTom in particular, have rather ambiguous standard vocal prompts which can mislead you if you’re not used to them.  (In particular, I find the “…<do something>… ahead” prompts misleading as they occur before the distance countdowns start, and the only prompt that they’re not immediate is the last word spoken).  The safest way to do this is to program the SatNav onto routes you already know and use from memory, and then drive along them with the SatNav active – listening to the instructions as you travel along the route.

Now that you’ve gotten the tricky stuff out of the way…

Only operate the SatNav when you’re parked.  Seriously.  Even if you have a traffic-aware model or ‘one-touch’ model.  Trying to operate a SatNav in traffic draws too much of your attention from what the cars around you are doing – you’ll hold up traffic because you’re not moving when you should be, etc.  Once you’re extremely familiar with the SatNav, you might be able to get away with operating the simple controls whilst stopped in traffic jams or at lights, but until then, don’t bother – you don’t need to.

Always check the route overview before you unpark, especially for shorter distance routes.  SatNavs have a funny habit of occasionally picking really daft routes on the basis of theoretical best speed along the route.  For example, if you’re travelling within the suburb, you probably want to pick a shortest path rather than fastest path route.  The only way you can be certain is by verifying it before you set off.

Don’t rely on the safety features of your SatNav like over-speed alarms or traffic camera data.  You should be able to drive safely without these, and should focus on being able to do so.

Last of all, if you miss a turn off or take a wrong turn, DO NOT PANIC and do not force matters so you comply with the direction.  Your SatNav will cope, work out a new route, and try to set you straight.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many routing errors you make as long as you don’t endanger yourself or others by driving in a dangerous manner.

Adventures in 64bit cleanup

I’ve been doing a bit of clean-up in linux/FOSS code for 64bit systems and it’s starting to scare me just how much crap filters into Linux distributions every now and then without anybody noticing it.

nss-mdns was today’s violator – the Multicast DNS NSSwitch module (Multicast DNS is sometimes better known as Bonjour or Avahi).

What’s particularly disturbing is that reading through the code reveals that the author suffered from the fatal “all the world is 32-bit” mindset when he wrote it.  I’m surprised nobody else picked up the unaligned access warnings flying up their console, then again, very few people use Itaniums or other 64-bit systems with strict alignment as a desktop system these days.

A small amount of hackery and fidgeting later, the error has gone away (yay!), and the bugfix was submitted.

The other fun fix was surpressing the unaligned access fix-up handler in parrot configuration tests so it could actually work out the correct pointer alignment size.  This little piece of magic is done by using prctl(). The fix was submitted here.