extras

Welcome!

Julian's photo Hi there! I'm Julian M Bucknall, a programmer by trade, an actor by ambition, and an algorithms guy by osmosis. I chat here about pretty much everything but those occupations. Unless you're really lucky...

Most recently this is what I've come up with:

Cloud, cloud, everywhere

So I got an iPhone 6 the other day. Bully for me, I can hear you say, but this isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that Apple, in preparation for iOS 8, changed the limits and functionality on their cloud storage offering, iCloud. With all the iOS devices in the house, a while back I had to pay for extra storage to enable backups for them all. That storage was just upgraded at no extra cost to 20GB. Time, I thought to myself, to check on all the cloud storage subscriptions I actually have and, presumably, use.

iCloud

Flying debris aheadLet’s start off with this one, since I just mentioned it. I now have 20GB, costing $10.99 a year. Essentially this is for backing up our Apple iPhones and iPads and now for things like storing photos and documents from any iOS apps we use. Two-factor authentication has been enabled, duh.

Dropbox

This is the cloud storage I’ve been using for a few years.  I have 1TB, costing $99 a year. This is what I use for documents that I want to share with others or that I want to access from any of my PCs. I have also enabled the photos auto-upload from our iOS devices using this storage too. Two-step verification enabled.

OneDrive

Weird one this. I don’t really use it, but we both get 1TB as part of our Office365 Home subscription. Office365 Home costs $9.99 per month (or $99 a year) for the usual Office installs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, etc), the tablet versions, Office Online, and also OneDrive. For up to 5 PCs or Macs (we’ve used four already, yikes) and up to 5 tablets. Two-step verification enabled. As I said I don’t really use OneDrive for much: some work documents mainly.

Google Drive

An even weirder one. I haven’t really used this recently at all (in fact the documents I have there are from well over a year ago or earlier – some are even from a project I did in 2009, for instance). In essence, you get 15GB for free. Good for Google docs, including the ability for several people to update a document at once, but if you don’t use Google docs, meh. We used to use this at work but have essentially moved completely to OneDrive now. Two-factor authentication enabled.

Amazon Cloud Drive

This is part of Amazon Music. A while back I “uploaded” my entire music collection to Amazon. When I say “uploaded”, it’s a little cleverer than that: for those tracks and albums that Amazon Music recognizes, it makes available the 256-bit version it has in its library instead of actually uploading the 96- or 128-bit version I originally ripped from CD. You can also, if you want, download the full-width version of tracks to your computer to replace those you originally made. All in all, I found it a good proposition. For up to 250,000 tracks (way more than I own), you pay $25 a year and also get 50GB of Amazon’s Cloud Drive. Do I use Amazon Cloud Drive? No, apart from the option that gets various documents sent to my Kindles.

Adobe Creative Cloud

I subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud (CC) so that I have access to Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. As part of the Complete level ($49.99 per month for one PC), you get 20GB of online file storage, so that you can access your CC project files from your PC and tablets. I don’t use it because I only use CC on one PC; I’ll admit though I haven’t tried the mobile apps yet.

Amazon S3

In the old days, I used Jungle Disk to back up my main PC and it would back up to a folder on Amazon S3. After a weird bug, I removed Jungle Disk and switched to CrashPlan for my backups. Nowadays, I only use Amazon S3 for large files linked from my main blog here and also for a few small websites. The cost depends on not only the amount of storage used, but also on the amount of downloads/uploads (it was the latter that cost me dearly during the JungleDisk débâcle). Nowadays it costs me maybe $2 a month.

CrashPlan

I use CrashPlan to backup my main PC (well, OK, a secondary backup of certain folders like photos and documents; I use a local NAS for the complete backup) to the cloud. You pay to use CrashPlan – it’s a service rather than a big online drive – and the storage comes for free. Currently I pay $59.99 per year for the service and am using 200GB or so for my backups.

Summary and next steps

OK, way too much online storage, documents all over the place, all those drivers installed on my PCs, paying for more than I need. Time to clean up.

First up, bye bye Google Drive: I’ve now moved everything off this cloud drive and have uninstalled Google Drive from my PC.

Second, and this was a more difficult decision: dropping Dropbox. After all, I liked it enough to pay for it in the past, but ever since Microsoft upped the storage for OneDrive, using it doesn’t make any sense any more. Yes, I know that Dropbox now has support for keeping a version history of files, but this is an extra cost option, and so far I’ve not needed this kind of functionality for my non-work files. So, I have moved everything off of Dropbox and moved it to OneDrive. This is a little more painful in that it was only just over a month ago that I renewed…

(I will however state that the OneDrive app for iOS is a bit flaky: for some reason it decided to only upload 46 of my hundreds of photos on my iPhone – those taken in the last month. Why? I don’t know. Others have run into the same problem as a quick Google search will show. In the end, I had to manually upload all the others.)

The rest of them I shall leave as is. This means I’m paying $60 per month for a couple of services (that admittedly are more about software than storage), and $96 per year for the rest. All told, $816 per year.

Album cover for Dream Into ActionNow playing:
Jones, Howard - Is There A Difference?
(from Dream Into Action)

Saying goodbye to Eurydice

A couple of weeks ago, just before we disappeared off on vacation, Eury crashed. Before you start imagining car wrecks and the like, let me explain that Eury was our oldest cat. He was 18 years and 4 months old, which, for a cat, is way up there in terms of age. And by crashed I mean that, finally, all of his ailments – and let me tell you this cat had them all, pretty much – caught up with him and there was nothing more we could do.

Eury at ChristmasEury was one of the original two kittens we bought on July 4, 1996, Orpheus being the other one. Eury was white with tabby spots, and for better or worse he became known as White Cat. He was named Eurydice for one simple reason: we were told he was female when we got him, and what better names to give these two new kittens than Orpheus and Eurydice, the tragic couple from the Greek myths (well, OK, I was writing a software product called Orpheus at the time, so that provided the first name). After their first visit to the vets we learned the awful truth – Eury was male – but it was way too late to change the name. We acquired Aristaeus a couple of months later and these three cats were the original Greek Cats that I used to mention in my theatre bios. Orphy died just after his twelfth birthday, and Ari at 17 and a half in January this year.

Eury in the sunEury was the archetypal survivor. He suffered from some long list of medical conditions over the years: he had a bladder stone (operated on and removed, then had to have special dry food after that to try and avoid another one forming); he suffered a bit from hyperthyroidism (half a methimazole tablet per day); renal failure (until recently he had to have subcutaneous solution each day); he got an abscess on one of his canines (tooth removed, leaving him with a bit of a lop-sided smile); and finally this year, we had to rush him to the feline cardiologist in Denver because of having fluid on the lungs and a heart murmur because one of the valves was not closing properly any more (resulting in a veritable cocktail of five different medications, in various combinations, twice a day). The latter culminated in one of the more interesting check-ups I’ve been party to: Eury had to have an ultrasound, conductive jelly and all. In the end, the fluid on the lungs returned big time – think of it as cat pneumonia – and I found him collapsed on the floor in his own vomit late that afternoon. Despite me rushing him to the emergency vet, it became obvious that there was nothing that could be done: he was having severe difficultly breathing (it broke my heart to hear the watery rattle in his throat) and had to be put in an oxygen chamber. His temperature had dropped precipitously to 7 or 8 degrees lower than normal and they’d wrapped him in warmed towels. We had to make the awful decision to have him put to sleep; there was nothing that could be done. He died at around 9:30pm on 26 August.

Eury with PerseusWhat was he like? Well, let’s put it like this: he was Boss Cat, no doubt about it. He ruled the Bucknall cat household. He was a big brother to all of the cats and kittens we had then and have had since, protecting them and washing them and sleeping wrapped up with them but not taking any kind of crap from anybody. That was really obvious when we rescued Zephyrus in March this year. Zephy is, er, rambunctious, shall we say, and Eury was not about to have his domain messed up by this upstart. Many’s the morning we’d be woken up by a hissing screeching fight as Eury, the poorly 18-year-old, was asserting his power over Zephy, the lithe 2-year-old. We even had to institute the “time-out” cat carrier in the living room to try and impose some kind of peace when a fight broke out, sometimes Eury would be placed in there, sometimes Zephy. A lot of the pictures we have of Eury then include the others and indeed the lock screen on my phone is a photo of Eury, Musy, Hermes, and Percy all asleep together on the sofa.

Eury tearing up paperEury was a bit of a Mama’s boy, not as much as Ari was, but he would definitely love to sleep on her and not on me. In his early days he would treadle her hair with his delicate front paws, purring; we imagine because he was possibly weaned too early and D’s hair reminded him of his kittenhood and palpating for the milk. And what a purr he had, the loudest, and the same went for his miaow. In his later years, he would come and sleep in my office here at home while I worked. I’d even set up a heating pad underneath his wool pad so that he would be nice and toasty in the winter months. He was a resolute lover of catnip leaves, which we grew in a pot on the deck, and like Ari, he enjoyed human food: chicken, tuna, prosciutto. He loved kitchen paper rolls: if we were forgetful enough to leave one lying around where he could get at it, he would gleefully tear it to shreds. Of all our cats, he and Orphy were the most gregarious: if we had people round for dinner or a party, he’d be the first to come down and say hi to everyone. After which he’d plonk himself down somewhere and people-watch.

Eury's last photo, taken 10 hours before he diedBut there was a dark side to him: following his bladder stone and the concomitant operation, every now and then he would just pee on things. Not marking his territory as such, he’d just decide to pee on something and that was that. We soon learned not to leave anything on the floor, especially in our bedroom. The closet door was kept closed. One day, he even peed on the bedroom Roomba; into the trash it went. Let’s say I got very familiar with using our Bissell carpet cleaner. The funniest event, at least in hindsight, was only a couple of months before he died: there we were outside enjoying dinner on the deck but when we came in the whole house smelled of burning. A mild panic set in and I dashed round the house looking for something on fire. Nothing. Since all the windows were open – it was a very warm evening – I just assumed that one of our neighbors had had their grill on and something had caught and the smoke had entered the house on the breeze. Except … we’d been outside and hadn’t smelled anything. I went round the house again and found it. Eury had peed on a power strip in the bedroom, it had fused, and the sparking had burned a hole in the carpet underneath. Out came the carpet cleaner again, but this time it was time to replace the carpet completely.

Since we’ve come back from our vacation, we’ve been missing our white cat dreadfully. Since we got him and Orphy just before I bought this house and we moved in, he’s been part of our lives together as a couple, all 18 years. He’s always been here, first at the top of the stairs from the garage to welcome us when we returned from anywhere, but now he’s gone and there’s a hole that can never be filled.

Bye, Eury-cat, we love you and miss you.

Restoring old negatives: the bad and the not quite so bad.

As hinted a couple of blog posts ago (From ‘57 to 57), I’ve been resurrecting a stash of old film negatives from those halcyon days when I first started learning about photography after I’d bought an SLR. And by “resurrecting” I mean separating them from the stuck-together block some of them had become. A couple of people have asked me what I did, so a quick post is in order.

In essence, the film processing service I used back in the day (30-35 years ago, note) put all the negative strips in a little paper folder when it returned the processed film with the photos. Over time, humidity has taken its toll and the emulsion side of the strips has become stuck to the glossy side of others. Even worse, with some of the processed rolls, the emulsion on some of them has actually become stuck to the paper of the folder. In other words, it was a mess, photography-wise.

For the first set of negatives, I tried carefully separating them, but I was worried I was causing too much damage to the negatives. So I went a different route: I dumped a stuck block of strips into a bowl of water. I also put the merest smear of washing up liquid on my finger and mixed it in well in the water to provide a hydrophobic agent for the negatives – it would help the strips separate and shed the water droplets later. After about 5 minutes, I would tease apart the negatives under the water and they came apart pretty easily. After that I shook them in the air and hung them up to dry (using straightened out paper clips), playing the air from a fan on them to help the drying process. Since we’ve been having some hot weather here in Colorado, they dried after an hour or so.

After that it was a case of placing them in the film tray in my scanner (a two-year-old Canon 9000F, although probably replaced with something else by now – ah ha, the Mark II) and scanning them. I then placed the strips in some archival storage pages (the ones I used allow for 7 strips of four negatives apiece) for safekeeping. I will admit though that in my scanning I did not spend too much time making sure that any dust was blown off (or in our house, cat fur) – in essence I was only scanning them so that I had digital copies. If there were one I wanted to use in particular, I could always rescan later with more care. And of course, it must be remembered that these negatives were not in the best of shape anyway. Besides which, for those photos I wanted to display here or on my Facebook page, there was always Adobe Photoshop and its damn clever context-sensitive healing brush.

Here’s an example of an unprocessed scanned photo:

Raw Scanned Image

Note the specks of dust and, even worse, the big splotch of fiber in the middle of the shot – this photo appeared in one of those strips that was stuck to the paper folder (it was frame 36, in fact). This could, in all honesty, do with being recleaned and rescanned, but let’s see what 10 minutes of Photoshop work can do.

Wooden Cross

OK, so I’ve also cropped using the rules of thirds, and I’ve messed with the contrast, exposure, and vibrance as well, but it looks a lot better than it did.

You’d think though that digitizing these negatives would be the end of it. Perhaps not. This evening I read this intriguing article about digital decay and the very real possibility of our digital memories becoming unreadable because file formats change, backup media becomes unreadable, and so on. Perhaps I should print these photos off again…

Album cover for LaughNow playing:
Hall, Terry - Take it forever
(from Laugh)

Amsterdam canal houses

Back in April this year, we went and stayed in Amsterdam for a few days. We were at the Hotel Pulitzer on Prinsengracht – although our room overlooked Keizersgracht at the rear of the hotel – and one of our pastimes was to look at the canal houses, which ones we liked, which ones not so much. On the last day we were there, I suddenly decided that I should photograph a whole bunch of them as we walked around, and create a collage of the best houses. Of course, it was that day it decided to rain.

Collage of Amsterdam Canal Houses

So, I’d have to say, not altogether successful. I did manage to capture some of the different crenellations, and in some of them you can see the rope still dangling from when the merchandise was stored on the top floor of these merchant houses. (And obviously on that day the people in Amsterdam brought out their black hatchbacks to celebrate.)

Album cover for The Belly of an ArchitectNow playing:
Mertens, Wim - Close Cover
(from The Belly of an Architect)

From ’57 to 57

A couple of months ago I celebrated my birthday; it happens every year. This is not about that event particularly, but more about changes over time and how I’ve almost become inured to the wonder embodied in those changes. To take a quick example: I was born in the same year that the Space Age started. In October of that year, the Russians launched Sputnik 1 (Спу́тник-1). These days, although truth be told I hardly think about it, I use several effects of that momentous launch daily. No, I’m...

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The rise and fall of my Jungle Disk

Quite a while ago (I was surprised when I looked it up: 2008) I subscribed to a backup app called Jungle Disk. The interesting thing about it was (a) it used Amazon S3 (then relatively new) as a backup store, and (b) you subscribed to it at a rate of a mere $1 per month. So, in essence, it’s an online backup program and it allowed me to keep documents and photos – about 6 folder trees in all – somewhere else than a local backup drive. It was the “house burns down” option...

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Upgrading the SSD in the Dell XPS 12 – what not to do

So, in the previous installment in this upgrade game I was crowing about how I knew how to boot from a USB drive on the Dell XPS 12 and therefore upgrading the SSD in it was going to be a piece of cake. Well, it turned out to be a piece of the heaviest, densest, fruit cake you’ve ever seen. Dropping it onto a wood floor would have dented the floor. To recap, I decided to purchase a new Crucial M500 480GB mSata SSD to replace the 240GB unit I’d initially installed a year ago in my Dell...

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Booting from a USB drive on the Dell XPS 12

There are several possible reasons for wanting to boot from a USB drive, I suppose, but mine came from this thought experiment: I’ve been diligently making regular system backups of my Dell XPS 12 for a while and today I wondered if I would be able to recover from, say, a crashed hard drive or – a much better scenario – from upgrading the hard drive to a higher capacity one. In fact, this latter scenario is the one that interests me: I’m contemplating a 480GB drive (currently...

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21 reasons to enjoy DCI Banks

Back in November 2012, I ordered the first series of DCI Banks on DVD from amazon.co.uk , an ITV crime drama series starring Stephen Tompkinson as, well, DCI Alan Banks and Andrea Lowe as Annie Cabbot. For one reason and another, I really enjoy the traditional British police procedural: there’s some bizarre murder, after which proceeds a nicely drawn and perhaps drawn-out investigation of the crime, with lots of character development along the way. The epitome of this type of drama was undoubtedly...

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Routers: the next big security hole

There I was, minding my own business, when I came across this article in ArsTechnica: “ Dear Asus router user: You’ve been pwned, thanks to easily exploited flaw ”. I read on avidly, because, well, I have an Asus router, an RT-N66U to be precise and the subject of this article. It seems that some hacker had taken advantage of a security flaw in Asus routers, first described – wait for it – 8 months ago. The report on that flaw is pretty scary security-wise: access to...

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About Me

I'm Julian M Bucknall, an ex-pat Brit living in Colorado, an atheist, a microbrew enthusiast, a Volvo 1800S owner, a Pet Shop Boys fanboy, a slide rule and HP calculator collector, an amateur photographer, a Altoids muncher.

DevExpress

I'm Chief Technology Officer at Developer Express, a software company that writes some great controls and tools for .NET and Delphi. I'm responsible for the technology oversight and vision of the company.

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