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:

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.

Steps in CanterburyTo 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 not talking about non-stick frying pans and the other reasons NASA had to come up with in the 70s to justify continuing the space race, but about GPS, the Global Positioning System. And about online map systems. And about accurate weather with satellite images. I use each of these every day, I’d say, but I can’t say I even ponder on the technology needed to provide me with this information. I did actually write an article on GPS and SatNav for PCPlus once, when I had to understand how it all worked, but since then? Ha!

Another big change that I’ve lived through: that of the provision of music. Back in the very early 50s, the market was just moving from shellac disks for recordings to vinyl, 78 rpm to 33 1/3 rpm (and the smaller 45 rpm disks). That was the era I was born into, but in the early 60s, Phillips introduced the Compact Cassette with Musicassettes being sold by the mid-to-late 60s, although of poor audio quality. However, by 1976 (which is when I bought by first cassette recorder for my University room) the tape was usually CrO2 and had much better fidelity. I would record LPs onto cassettes to try and help prolong the life of the easily-scratched vinyl. I even had a cute little cassette case that I kept in my first car – mirabile dictu, it had a cassette player – containing 24 cassettes. Well, until the case was nicked when the car was parked overnight near my girlfriend’s digs in Catford. By the time I was married to that particular girlfriend, CDs had just been introduced and we bought a CD hi-fi for our flat and I bought my first CD (Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits, if memory serves). Much later on after the divorce, I already had up to 100 CDs when my flat was broken into and my hi-fi stolen with a copy of Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing still inside the CD player.

Dredger on the River Great OuseBy then I was hooked on the better fidelity (no clicks or hissing), so, of course, I had a Sony CD Walkman (the Discman) that I used in the car – a heavy piece of kit that’s long disappeared now. I used to hook it up to the cassette player in the car with a fake cassette that merely transcribed the signal from the headphone jack in the Discman to the head in the cassette. With a bit of luck the cassette player would assume that the fake cassette was a real one, and you’d get great music with nary a soupçon of a hiss.

And then after a few years it was time for MP3s to arrive and we haven’t really looked back. (Yes, yes, I know there is a small market still for vinyl, but it is very small. You won’t catch me buying a record deck nowadays.) My first player was a small light Panasonic something-or-other that had DRM built-in. You had to load songs through a special version of RealPlayer on your PC, so it could encode the MP3s to stop people just copying music tracks. Yes, really. I mean to say, WTF? After that, I’d play MP3s on my Sony Clié PDA. And then came the iPods…

Arches at the SavoyNowadays, there’s Pandora and Spotify, you buy DRM-free high-quality tracks from Amazon and iTunes, and my wife listens to Classic FM streamed from England. I ripped my CD collection several years ago – they’re all in the basement in boxes and they stare at me every time I go down there to give me a guilt trip. All my music now is compressed (here’s an article I wrote about the compression used), online in the cloud and streamed, especially streamed.

Over on Facebook, there’s a meme that happens every week. It’s bled into more social networks and apps over time (or maybe it was the other way ’round): Throwback Thursday, or TBT. For this meme, people post pictures on their timeline of themselves from days gone by and I’ve been posting some doozies there from my past. Unlike photos these days, these were taken with a film camera and eventually stuck in a photo album (when I was into that kind of thing). For the TBTs then, I’ve taken them out of the albums, scanned them (or even the negatives), the colors and contrast auto-corrected with a photo app (perhaps with some work with a healing tool in said app to cover the dust flaws), and then – finally – posted to Facebook. Which can be viewed as yet another type of photo album.

Sign for the National Film TheatreAt the time the originals were taken, the cost of processing film was expensive: you essentially had to want that photo to be taken. These days, the economics of photography has been reversed: the cost of taking a photograph is virtually zero but the cost (in terms of time) of selecting them, tidying them up, has risen. In the past, I’d take a photo and that was it. These days, I take a photo, the camera saves it as a RAW image, I then crop it, fiddle with exposure, contrast, color, sharpening, something Adobe Lightroom calls “Clarity”, and store it on disk and in the cloud.

Am I a better photographer? I’d say yes, mainly because of the instantaneity and “zero” cost of photography these days. I can take several photos of a scene, maybe varying aperture and speed, perhaps even switching lenses, and be able to view them on the camera’s screen straightaway. The cost, as I said, is zero, at least once I bought a large SD card for the camera. I also know that back on the PC I can select the ones that “work” and discard the rest. I’m improving through probability in other words: if I take one good photo in a hundred, say, then a day out photographing will produce a good couple of images, several lesser ones, and the ones inevitably destined for the bit bucket.

Fields near Cople, BedfordshireOver the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to restore those early photography days of mine. I bought an SLR (notice no D) with my Christmas present money in January 1979 (still at University, note) and basically took it around with me all over the place. Every reel I’d dutifully mail off to be processed, and after a few days I’d get the results back and lament my “eye”, the inability to get things properly focused (the camera used split screen focusing – in this era of autofocus you just don’t want to know). I’d try and remember the rule of thirds and other stuff, and produce good pictures. One in a hundred is a nice approximation that I tried to reach. Anyway, although I have all of the negatives from those days, I’d never really taken care of them and they’ve stuck together. So I’m going through them, soaking in water to release the stick between the emulsion on one strip and the glossy side of the next, hanging them up to dry, and then scanning them. Some of the strips come out quite well, others are pretty damaged, but it’s interesting to see what I was taking photos of and how well at this digital remove. The photos in this article are all scanned from the negatives and lightly processed (usually cropping a bit, fiddling with exposure and sharpness).

Old train station near EtretatAnd another small example: back in the third form at school (for you non-Brits of a certain age that means age 14 or so) I flunked some homework essay in biology, mainly because I did bugger all on it. As punishment, and to recoup brownie points or something, I had to write an essay on Joseph Lister. I went to the school library a couple of lunchtimes in a row, found everything I could in the biology section on Lister and wrote up a two-page essay (handwritten, of course). These days? Jump on the internet, go to wikipedia, find Lister (as I did a couple of sentences ago), and, if you’re an idiot, copy it, or if you have some intelligence, rewrite it in your own words.

Of course, I could go on detailing the changes over the past 57 years since 1957, but you’ll note that all of these advances I mention are due to computers and the rise of more and more computing power in smaller and smaller packages. This is endlessly fascinating to me: I wrote my first program in FORTRAN-66 on paper tape at age 17; part of my Mathematics degree had a programming component (same FORTRAN, but now on cards); and my job ever since University has been dealing with programs and computers. Computing has become an essential part of our lives, to the extent that we are not even aware that computers are being used. Our smartphones, the cables they use to recharge, the fitness monitoring devices we wear, our wifi routers, our car engines and driving systems, our Kindles, our house security systems (and the heating/cooling systems), as well as our iPods and phones and cameras, all use some kind of chip, software, and computing power.

Sunset just off the M1, junction 15

As I said above, at some point, these wondrous things start to lose their wonder. We take Arthur C Clarke’s maxim to heart: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and, after a while, we stop wondering at the feats of technology required for some of our devices and almost assume it just works by “magic”.

Almost…

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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Flying Standard Twelve

When I was younger my parents used to regale me with stories of Dad’s first car, a Flying Standard Twelve saloon. It was from the late 30s, so I would guess it was 15 years old or so by the time Dad bought it. Here is the car in pre-marriage days, Dad sitting in the driver’s seat (the “suicide door” open) with Dad’s best friend Derrick Hill leaning on the front mudguard. I think they were off on a camping trip to Wales somewhere. Dad must have been around 19 or 20 when...

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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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