Tips, tricks and traps


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Once you find something there's always a trick or two that will make you even more productive


Traps and gotchas that will make it hard for you, so why not read on and avoid them?

Harmon Karden Aura

This is a pretty nice looking speaker and shows you how hard it is to make all this work, but the long and short answer is:

  1. You can put the speaker on your own wifi network, it then become an Airplay source, so any iOS device will see it and can audio to it

  2. On a Mac, iTunes knows about it, but you can’t pipe the system audio to an Airplay source simply, you need to go to System Preferences/Audio to change it

Scanning in old photos and videos

I’ve been laboriously going through old negatives and while you can use services like ScanCafe to do this, I find that it isn’t the scanning time, but the time spent looking through the negatives and getting clues from the photos themselves (like when the prints were made) that is the real value. Today, we never have to worry about where a photo is taken or when, but getting the timeline back 10 years ago isn’t so easy.

And I love the advice from

Here’s my workflow so far:

  1. Organized the negatives in a bin by rough date of printing. Most negatives come in an envelope and you can figure that out.
  2. Go through each negative set starting from frame 1 on. I use vuescan to do this and an old Minolta Dimage 5400. This thing only costs $100 or so on eBay and is well worth it for the quality. Takes some time to learn how to do it, but getting 5400 dpi scans with good quality is pretty amazing. I normally just leave them in “loose” jpegs of 10-12MB rather than 100-400MB TIFFs with little loss in image quality.

  3. When you go through, create a series of directories with Year/Month/Date organization. You will find that you will move files around quite a bit as you figure out the timeline. That’s because development date of the film which is easy usually isn’t the same as when you took the photo. I seem to have always left things for a month or two before developing. And in those days, it would take sometimes a year to expose a whole roll for casual photographs.

  4. When you figure out the timeline, write it down on the outside of the envelope and note the date when it was scanned. I’ve rescanned images so often, this is a hard lesson learned!

  5. As you go through each year, have a marker so you don’t forget where you are. This process takes a while.

  6. File naming. It is incredible how just looking at a photo takes your right back to the place and time. I actually name the files with the date - people - location - film type - roll - exposure number - scan date.jpg because the title seems like a good human readable place to put things. It takes longer, but helps. the Mac OS X Rename (you get it by right clicking on the a set of files) is really useful when you want to do a big rename. OK, I haven’t done exposure number, but given that order is important makes some sense and there is usually from the photo processor some sort of roll number which makes the thing unique. The longer the better in some ways

  7. Metadata. To actually hack at the metadata of the jpg, I usually use iPhoto (not Photos, it has an annoying bug unless you suck all your photos into it). I’ve tried Picasa as well, but like iPhoto it is now orphaned software. Sigh. I use it to change the date on the photo. This is useful since most programs read this to do date sort. The Batch Change is super useful as it allows you to say a series of photos should be 5 minutes apart so you get a rough timeline. I do select modify original photo. 

  8. Then I look at the photo and figure out the rough location. I use the location feature in the Info page to place the photo. One of the reasons I use long file naming is that metadata is incredibly hard to get right. No one really focuses on it. The date seems to work but just getting location right and putting it into the exif seems hard. iPhoto has its own database of faces, locations, but doesn’t seem to have an easy way of attaching it to the photos. I need to spend some time finding the right tool. Picasa seems to add face information in the photo, but I’m confused by the format. More work here.

  9. Faces. Yes, we will all forget and when your grandchildren are looking at these photos (a real possibility with digital), it would be nice to have some more information, This is really time consuming and I’ve tried iPhoto, Picasa and some others doing automatic detection, but they seem to miss most faces, so it is a matter of going through each one and tagging. The big issue is how to get the data out of iPhoto and ideally into every jpeg.

Tips and tricks with Vuescan

This is a nice tool for scanning but it is complex. I normally leave it in professional mode to get maximum control and here is how I do it:


  1. Autoskew. Somewhere I read, you should turn this off, again to get the most resolution and with film, you don’t often have misregistration 
  • Grain dissolver. This sounds like software, but is actually a softer light in the Minolta itself. Sounds neat, so I use it

  • Multi exposure. Another that apparently turns the lamp on lower and the higher, so you get a little bit more dynamic range.


    1. Crop. This is the hardest to get right, the Auto setting doesn’t seem to work well at all. So I normally have to go through each and adjust. This is sticky between scans, so you have to do it each time. Ugh pain.
  • Infrared clean. This is a separate plane where the thing can remove scratches from the film. Pretty neat. I leave on light as most of the negatives I have are pretty clean. I don’t touch the other settings because most of these are digital and if you really have to do it, I would use Photoshop or something. 

  • Color balance. I find Auto comes out pretty blue, so I normally use Whitej balance

  • White point. I find this to be one of the most important settings. The default is set to crush 1% of the whites. I normally leave it at 0.001% unless the photo is too dark. It probably hurts dynamic range a bit, but I use a 16-bit color space so less of a big deal I hope.


    Then there are things that vary depending on how high quality a camera and lense were used, so for point-and-shoot cameras with relatively low resolution lenses, here is what I set:

    1. 5400 dpi Resolution for jpeg There is much written on this, but basically, a crappy old point and shoot with it lense probably isn’t more than a 3-4MP camera. But film is an analog medium, so how to figure out what resolution. Most of the blogs I’ve read said the effective film resolution is probably about 4000 dpi, but my old Minolta only does 2700 dpi or 5400 dpi. In the end, I figured that disk space isn’t much of a problem anymore, so for crappy prints, I just leave it at 5400 because a jpeg is still just 10MB or so with 91 quality compression. Even though for really bad point and shoots, 2700 I’m sure is fine and ¼ the size roughly.
  • Color space is AdobeRGB for jpg. This is one of the hardest questions. JPEGS are 8-bit so for crappy point-and-shoot, I used JPEG with Adobe RGB color space to get a slightly wider gamut although you have to pay attention when you put it out on the web, but if you are never going to print then sRGB is going to be fine as most monitors can only handle that whereas AdobeRGB is more for wider gamut printers.

  • For really nice shots with a high quality camera (my old Nikon N80) and nice lense (the 50mm f/1.8) and with good developing (A&I), then you have to have a lot more disk. But if I know the photo was taken with a high quality SLR like a Nikon N80 with a good lense, ‘I’ll go to:

    1. 5400 dpi for resolution.

    2. Color space ProPhotoRGB which gives 16 bits worth of colors at the cost of gigantic TIFF files typically 300MB. If I really care, I’ll produce scanner raw which is more like 200MB and and is actually a RGB64 file as it includes the infrared layer as well, so it is really archival.

    3. It can produce a Raw TIFF file so you get 16 bits of color but even with compression, an image is 300MB at 5400 dpi vs 11MB jpg. With a raw output you get 64 bits (16×3 plus 16 bits for the infra-red scanner, so this is the closest to raw) and you have to post process this monster RGBI file with view scans

    Does anyone make ringtones anymore?

    This used to be a small obsession of mine, making ring tones. I used to use audacity to find a 40 second clip and then make an AAC version and rename it to m4r and it would just work with an iPhone.

    Lately though I found a kind of hack way to do it with just iTunes tanks to wikiHow that involved using the start/stop feature of iTunes and then doing a rename. Saves having to download audacity:

    1. Find your tune in iTunes
    2. Choose Get Info/Options and then set the Start and Stop time where you want it. Ringtones have to be 40 seconds or less
    3. Right click on the tune and choose Create AAC Version
    4. Got back to the original tune and deselect Start and Stop (otherwise, you’ll never hear the full song again!)
    5. This will now create a separate clip that is just your 40 seconds
    6. Choose Reveal in Finder to get it and change its name to m4r (I normally then move it to a dedicated m4r directory, but that’s optional)
    7. Go back to iTunes and remove the short clip from Music
    8. Now double click on the m4r and it will be added in Ringtones section instead of Music
    9. When you sink, ask for all ringtones to be synced

    Notes on using Python

    Well, Rich’s Excellent Adventures in learning the last 20 years of computing continues. This time with learning how to use Python the right way. Here are some notes:

    • Python versions. There are two major ones, the 2.7 which was frozen back in 2010 and the new Python 3.x. Most systems (like Scons) haven’t updated to 3.x and Macs and Ubuntu bundle the 2.7 version. The main differences have to do with handling of unicode and some other changes. But for now 2.7 is a good choice. The so called “user guide” is actually a nice tutorial and overview.

    • Virtualenv. Like most system-wide utilities, this thing utterly breaks because of dependencies. The default is to stuff packages up in a site-wide directory which is a pretty bad idea. The modern way is to use virtualenv to provide a “local” copy of python and all the modules for isolation. After all disk space is cheap these days. This also includes your own copy of pip which let’s you install Python modules. What’s the best way to get virtualenv, well on ubuntu, its sudo apt-get install -y python-virtuanenv or you can use sudo easy_install virtualenv so that at the top you just have, then when you want to run things, change to the directory and then you can explicitly run things from the env/bin directory or source env/bin/activate to have to all look correct. This is quite similar to the way node.js works as well because all the packages are local. As an aside, there is an additional helped called <a href="">virtualenvwrapper</a> that let’s you create and delete and copy python environments.

    • Building python. It is confusing, but Virtualenv should not be in a git which basically means you should as a best practice actually ‘build’ python and create the environment. The main gotcha is that virtualenv stores absolute paths on machines, so the env directory is not portable. That means you really can’t put it in a git and hope that it works. It’s another example of not confusing your read-only source environment from the built environment where your code can run. A virtualenv has to be created at build time on any new development machine. One solution people talk about is using the requirements.txt feature which tells python what to load, you set this by running pip freeze which writes that file out and then with scons run pip install -r requirements.txt to get your packages in the built environment.

    Mac VMWare Fusion File not foudn

    What a terrible error message. When you install it, you get file not found and you think the application has crashed. No it hasn’t, it is just that if you have it set for automatic install and then you accidentally deleted the virtual machine, then it will say “not found”

    The fix is to go to Windows/Virtual Machine Library and delete it.

    Unifi Controller on Yosemite

    A long running problem with build 3.2.7 for Unifi controllers on Mac is that it seems like it needs Java 6. But the real problem has to do with pointers to locations. This one liner gets it to run properly with hard links with the latest Java 8 from Oracle:


    /Library/Internet\ Plug-Ins/JavaAppletPlugin.plugin/Contents/Home/bin/java -jar /Applications/ ui


    Getting Private internet access to work on Yosemite with firewall on

    Wow their tech support is good, but they don’t document what to do with the Mac Firewall on. It is pretty simple if arcane (and maybe this is why tunnelblick has been such a problem):

    1. Download Private Internet Access
    2. Choose settings and select TCP and port 443

    That’s it and it is confusing because the icon seems to light, but you actually have to hover over the icon to see it’s status. A bit different from tunnelblick

    Ethernet cables cheapest from Monoprice

    These days it really doesn’t pay to get anything less than Cat 6 (so you are ready for 1GB) and the prices are really amazing if you shop, so here:

    • As usual this is the benchmark. With Cablematters 5×5 feet at $11 ($2.20 a cable), 5×10 feet for $17 ($3.40 a cable) and 5×14 for $20 ($4 a cable)

    • Monoprice is a good place for this kind of stuff as but you have to wait for the sales like the current 15% sitewide. They do have a 2% rebate which isn’t much and we’ve found them very reliable. So they are 1.97 for 10′, 2.55 for 14′ and $4.10 for 25′ so definitely cheaper even before the site wide.

    • Newegg is also right there at that price point with 10 feet at $1.99 but they do get to $2.30 with shipping, 14 feet at $2.72 and 25 at $4.14

    • Staples or Office Depot. With the Chase Ink Plus cards, you get a 5x multiplier for office purchases (so 10% of effectively) plus another 2x so a total of 14% off rom them. The main issue is their pricing is so much higher. More like $6 a cable.

    Applecare for MacBook Pro 15 inch

    Well here’s another interesting thing, if you didn’t get AppleCare , then you really want it for your MacBook Pro, it retails for $349, but here are the deals. S3142LL/A looks like the auto enroll for the MacBook Pro 15 and 17 and MD012LL/A is the non-autoenroll version part number.

    There is also MC247LL/B is for older MacBooks and seems cheaper, but won’t work with the latest

    • Amazon. The benchmark as usual is $244

    B&H. Also at $244 with 1.65% rebate. They normally have much better deals if you buy a bundled machine.

    • ABT $251has it via a Google query
    • Rakuten. Also $325, but has the 3% rebate plus 1% rewards

    • Staples. $349 list so no bargain even with 5% rebate and 5% rewards

    Then there are the misses

    • Overstock. Doesn’t carry this but has 5.25% rebate.
  • Adorama. 2% (you can normally do better through Rakuten particularly if there is a rewards bonus).

  • 4% rebate but doesn’t carry it

  • Walmart doesn’t carry it with a 4% rebate

  • Target with 4% doesn’t carry it

  • And doing the google query, here are some other stores engines like shopify, pricegrabber and shopzilla which don’t seem great.


    eVGA GT 730 low profile

    This seems to be the fastest low profile card that will fit into an Antek ISK-300/150 box. Here are the best prices but it is the eVGA GT 730 DDR5 2GB card:

    • $71 from SuperBiiz which is cheap although their are not the best (6.9/10)
    • $76 with $3 off for this week plus 4% rebate plus $2 shipping so $69 net.

    Overstock. $75 with 5% rebate and free shipping or $71 plus 5% if you pay $15 a year for O-rewards

    • Walmart. $76 by Tekenvy with 4% rebate or $71.04 and free shipping

    Staples. $78 but has a 5% rebate plus 3% in rewards so $71.76

    B&H is  $74 1.65% rebate or $72.20

    Rakuten. $75 as well but does have a 3% rebate plus 1% rewards so $72.75

    All of these beat the Amazon benchmark

    • Amazon. $75 which is the benchmark price

    Here is one that was so complicated I couldn’t get and one that was above

    • Sears. $78 with 5% rebate with ShopYourWay has $10 off for $50 purchases in their funky point system. And unfortunately in Safari I couldn’t add to the Sears cart and with Chrome, it would work properly with the rebate site. And they charge extra for shipping. Also the $10 off worked, but the shipping is expensive at $6 each. Plus there is a 15% off over $200, but this didn’t seem to work either. So great promos, but hard to use.* Wal
  • Best Buy doesn’t stock these with 4%

  • Target doesn’t stock these with 5%

  • Buydig doesn’t with 2.5%

  • Tigerdirect doesn’t with 5%


    • Adorama with 2% doesn’t stock.