Tips, tricks and traps

Tips

Get the latest tips on the latest geeky things going on in the world

Tricks

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

Traps

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

Getting points for your tax payments

So this can work if you are getting more than 1.87% from your credit cards. This is also potentially a good way of hitting your minimum spend limits, but it does cost you Here are the two lowest cost tax folks I could find:

  • Fed.choicepay.com. They also charge 1.87%. I don’t know about their yearly limits, but they don’t seem to have any limits on amount.
  • Pay1040.com. These guys have incredibly low rates of 1.87 but they only allow two payments a year for a single SSN so beware. They have a limit of less than $100K (which isn’t much of a limit I agree!)

Cameras to try

Well, this is indeed the best time to wait for the perfect camera to arrive. Although high end camera sales have literally collapsed (they are 50% of sales compared with 2012!). There seems to be more innovation than ever. So here’s a list of cameras I’m dying to try what with 4K arriving for video and 50MP at the top end.

  • Canon 5Ds. Yes I have lots of Canon glass and they are getting old, but the idea of a 50MP camera is well, just too amazing to believe. it is interesting to see how this old glass is still holding it’s value though. But the idea of going high-low. (That is Camera phone/pocket camera and medium format) is pretty interesting. There is also the coming 5D Mark IV which should be interesting.

Then there are the cameras which are portables which could be low mix:

  • Sony RX-100 Mark 4. This is just coming out and if it is as good as the original RX-100 it’s a real keeper. With 12MP effect resolution that would be incredible. If it has 4K video, wow!
  • Panasonic LX-100. This is 4K as well and a bit bigger, but at 12MP it could be really nice.
  • BlackMagic II. This is a 4K version of their compact camera, but really not for stills as well. 

Then there are the cameras that are nearly amazing:

  • Sony a7 and a9. If they would just fix their compressed RAW, they would seroiusly be at the top of my list.

 

Good bye iPhoto hello Photos, Picasa and maybe Fotobounce and GeoTag

Well, Apple is changing things again. Now they have stopped development of iPhoto and they have basically ported Photos from iOS. Here are the problems for folks with a decent number of photos (how about 20K!):

  • Apple is focused on people with relativeliy small collections and everything is stored in the iCloud. You have to pay quite a bit for it. With a 400GB library of every photo taken for decades, it means at least $20/month just for 1TB. And it does mean that *every* device sees it all, but it definitely quite a bit to store on a 16GB iPhone. I’m not quite sure how all that happens.
  • iPhoto moves loses the Faces feature and reimplements on Photos (which I’ve used) and in the process the thing has gotten amazingly slow (it is still grinding away at 100% cpu utilization against my image database, it is huge, but wow is it sluggish). Also, you now have to drag and drop faces onto it and it doesn’t seem to find many matches. So on to the idea could be done with an independent application so I’m trying one now. It is actually still there which is kind of a relief and in some ways is easier, but Fotobounce is pretty powerful too.
  • Photos has lost the geotag feature so you can’t manually set your photo locations (although you can still change the time). This is a real bummer for those of us who have been scanning old photos in without GPS information or with digital photos taken with traditional cameras. There are some tools like GeoTag and Geotagger that do this standalone using the command line exiftool. Geotagger uses Google Earth to find places and then you just drop photos on top (pretty nice user interface idea, but it is old) which GeoTag is newer and written in Swift, but needs exiftools to work.

The main question is how to handle the most recent photos and albums to share without having to push an entire photo library into the cloud. I actually have kept all photos independing of these viewers and asset managers as they have bugs (corrupted iPhoto libraries) and are proprietary and expensive (Adobe). It sure would be nice to find a solution, but it looks like it is a good idea to remain somewhat independent, so here are the initial thoughts:

  • Keep things in a file system. Seems like there are so many alternatives now in terms of storage (from Google’s unlimited store, Flickrs 1TB store, OneDrive 1TB store and Apple remains so expensive unfortunately).
  • Figure out a way not to cache everything on iOS devices as they are limited, so use the Shared album feature to store specific curated albums rather than every photo ever done. So basically keep taking photos off the Photo Library and put them back in curated shared albums. 
  • Use third party pieces to continue to do the various workflow like face recognition and have separate folders for that.

So here’s the plan:

  1. Manage the 5GB free to be just shared albums, we will keep that to the last two years of highlights
  2. Put the rest of the photos into more traditional backup with three NAS systems (I know, I know I also need ZFS working on that), plus Crashplan for offline backup.
  3. Try FotoBounce, Picassa and Photos face detection. Ideally this should be kept in separate databases 

Right now fotobounce and picassa are trying to digest 180K photos. No easy task! So here is a quick review of third party facial recognition programs sorted in order of usefulness to me:

  • Picasa. I usually don’t like to use Google software for privacy reasons, but for some reason they’ve kept Picasa relatively separate. It has the fastest user interface for finding faces. The trick is to use the People creator and look for question marks. Then use the arrow bar well. The top and bottom most arrows scroll you to the top of the next person or previous. So you want to keep clicking the bottom most arrow and then look through the faces. If you right click on a face, then it let’s you in one click move to a different “album” (Photos Faces is way slower and always shows a screen in between). New Person is really slow to come up and for some reason loses focus on a Mac, so you have to ALT-TAB to get to it. 
  • iPhoto Faces. This thing was just unbearably slow and didn’t find many faces even when I spent hours clicking
  • Photos Faces. I’m glad they didn’t delete this feature! It is just hard to find. The sidebar is off by default, but if you turn it on, then you will see it. And now they let you drag and drop faces from the window below up to the circular areas so much faster. It is grinding and doesn’t seem to find many matches
  • Fotobounce. I really want to support smaller companies but the interface is really, really slow with 180K photos :-) It just seems to process and process. When you try to take an unidentified set and create a new one, it can take minutes to create albeit on a pretty slow 2009 iMac. And keeps grinding away as you type, very disconcerting from a user interface point of view.

The other nice things about Picasa:

  • It adds the name tag directly into the JPG. This is a little scary but at least it is permanent. With iPhoto Faces if you corrupted the iPhoto library (very frequently this would happen on these big systems), then all tags are lost. Problem is most applications don’t read the tags and it can always corrupt the JPG.
  • It is very fast to find new faces, so once you are at the bottom, keep hitting confirm. Sometimes, the confirm button doesn’t work so hit it a few times. 
  • The behavior of the scroll bar is pretty useful. The lowest arrow takes you to the next face. The arrow above scrolls down one row. If you click on the grey area, it scrolls down three rows.
  • If you confirm once, it will immediately show you more faces that might work, so you can keep hitting confirm until it is all gone. When all the question marks are finished on the people on the left pane, you are done :-) So then you go to the top and work again on the unnamed section. 
  • This is the only product I’ve found that lets you click on the face you find and see the whole image and then you can hit the back arrow at the top to go back. Sometimes you need more context :-)

Learning Swift…argh

XCode is just so complicated that even the very good Ray Wenderlich Tutorials typically leave something out causing errors. So for the Swift Tutorial Part 2, here are errata:

  1. When you are looking at main.storyboard, the tutorial talks about the navigation Document Outline. This is only visible is you right click on the main.storyboard on the left pane (the Navigation pane). if you are like me and just browsing you won’t see it.
  2. When you want to add a title to the View Controller, it tells you to double click on the title bar. Actually, after you choose Embed In, the selection moves to the navigation bar and even if you try to double click on the view controller title this doesn’t work. Instead, you have to specifically click on the “View Controller” in the navigation pane or the yellow icon at the top and then you can change the text. Just click on the space doesn’t give you focus there for editing.
  3. If you don’t change this text by the way, the tutorial fails with an obscure message, “failed to initialize” because there is no entry point, so beware, you *must* have a title for the View Controller for this to work.
  4. The text field attribute, “Keyboard Type” is way down on the list, in the right pane there is the fourth icon is called the Attributes Inspector (if you leave the mouse on top of the icon the name comes up).
  5. To make all the location changes, you need to be on the fifth icon in the right menu called “Size Inspector”
  6. Sometimes the simulator ignores the call for a decimal keyboard. YOu have to reset the IOS simulator by turning off Hardware/Keyboard/Use Hardware Keyboard.

The second point is that Swift is powerful but you get lots of bizarre messages because when writing a program, it is still objective c underneath. So here is what to do to make sure you don’t type two lines and the whole sample program breaks:

  1. Use the Git commit so that you can always roll back. With the interactions between the storyboard and the code, you can easily get to the point where the application just crashs.
  2. After every line do a run so you can see the errors. The system is good at catching syntax errors, but terrible when you are trying to use the user interface and the messages are really obscure. So Cmd-R is your friend!
  3. There is never enough screen space on a laptop, so I like to run everything full screen and then use the three finger swipe to move from tutorial to Xcode to simulator.

Compact cameras

Ok, I admit it, I’ve really liked the Sony RX-100 and then the RX-100 Mark II. Actually, the additional depth of the Mark II at least to me wasn’t super worth it, but now I seem to have misplaced our RX-100 Mark II (I know, I need to put a bluetooth tracker on it!). So time once again to analyze the market and see if its time to buy a new camera as my Canon 5D2 and RX-100 II getting even longer in the tooth. Here’s the state of the art:

Pocket cameras

Wow, these things are really getting good and being disciplined, this camera is small enough to fit in your pocket

  • Sony RX-100 Mark III. This latest version adds a full EVF and has less zoom but is a full stop faster 24-70 f/1.8-2.8 so that’s pretty cool. The other limitation of all Sony cameras is they actually use a lossy compression for their RAW format, so the bigger cameras don’t get you full quality (why did they do this?). It probably doesn’t matter for this 20MP 1″ sensor (with actually true resolution being more like a very good 11MP at F/5.6). It is even good at ISO 800. It is 102x58x41mm and weighs 290g. It has a bullt in ND filter as well

Compact camera

A hard definition, but I’d say this is one that you can just put into your backpack and they don’t weigh much and the cutting edge technology allows 4K video and fast lenses f/2.8 and high ISOs (relatively) at 1600. 

  • Panasonic LX-100 (Imaging Resources). The new thing now is to keep it small but get to 4K video. The new contender is the Panasonic LX-100 which is 4K video and uses an even larger Micro 4/3 (although 12MP resolution). It is a bit bigger than the RX-100 at 115x66x55mm and weighs 398g with battery and lots or protrusions. You also need an auto lens cover assembly. It uses a standard 43mm filter attachment as well so can put an ND or other filters on it. It also focuses very fast, faster than the RX-100. It’s highest resolution aperture is f/4 (Cameralabs). Interestingly, the noise isn’t that much lower than the Sony RX-100 III. It has an external flash so that makes it even more bulky.
  • Sony a6000. This is the rebadged NEX-6. And with a pancake or a small lense, it is actually the same size the Panaonic LX-100 but has interchangeable lenses. If it didn’t have that compressed RAW it would be very attractive. The nice thing about this is that it does use the standard E-mount, so if Sony ever fixes their RAW issues, it would be nice to have a small body (a6000) and a large body and share lenses. It also has phase detection in addition to
  • Olympus MD-5. These are very nice micro-4/3 cameras and is somewhere between compact and the big dSLR. And is very small. 

dSLR

This is the big camera case and in some ways where the most interesting things are happening. With cameras above 36MP like the Sony A7r, you need to have a tripod, shoot at high speeds and have the finest lenses (eg primes):

  • Canon 5Ds. This is a 50 megapixel camera?! that uses standard Canon EF lenses. Of course only the very best lenses can actually handle 50MP resolutions.
  • Sony A9. It is a much rumored version, but is supposed to be 50 megapixels as well (although the lossy RAW gets really annoying for a high end camera like this).

Hotel credit cards

Until now, I have spent much time on hotel credit cards and optimization. The first thing was a big focus on getting airline status (better seats), then on more credit card points (thank you The Points Guy!), then airline business portals (Easybiz) and then internet portals (evrewards, cashbackmonitor.com) now hotels are gradually in our view.

It’s pretty clear that hotel cards let you jump status. What this does is to get you a 4x multiplier on points so in effect increasing hotels and advanced status. And like everything else it makes sense to focus on a hotel chain to maximize points. So here’s a quick analysis:

Point Values

The first thing is to figure out which hotels have the most valuable points

Status levels for Hotel stays.

A great point was that if you have more than $2K a year of hotel, it makes sense to get a card. With Chase, you get a 2x multiplier so a 4% reduction usually. Then if you use a portal, you can get another 2-3%. But with a hotel card, you get a 4x multiplier on points and instant status. Nerdwallet and Simpledollar has a good summary assuming The Point Guy valuations and One Mile at a Time

  • Starwood Preferred American Express. 5 point per dollar but points are worth 2.1 cents so a whopping 12%. $65 fee. And they allow transfers, so probably the top program. The Westin and the St. Regis are their top brands. Platinum needs 25 stays. They also now have crossover partnerships where you can double dip if you are flying Delta, Emirates or using Uber while staying there.
  • Hyatt Visa. You get platinum status as long as you have the card (although diamond is waaay better requiring 25 stays). Main disadvantage is you only get a 3x bonus on points (rather than 10x), so a small multiplier but hyatt is worth 1.8 cents so 5.4% rebate in effect. The Park Hyatts in particular tend to be amazing (Shanghai, Tokyo, Saigon, Maldives to name a few).

Then at the lower tier:

  • Hilton Honors Reserve. Gold status. $95 a year. 10 points per $1 spent and each point is worth 0.5 cents, so 5%
  • Marriott Rewards Premier Card. With United, high status, you get Marriot Platinum status, so this is a nice card to have. 5 points per dollar and 0.5 cents per point so 2.5%. 1 free night per year. Silver Elite status.

YOu also have to factor in the quality of the hotels. the Hyatts at the top end (Park Hyatt Maldives) are incredible.

Protecting your Lubuntu installation

When you are trying to eke out a simple machine, there are a few things to think about:

  1. Ubuntu uses Unity which requires 3D acceleration. On a Atom Z550 this is unbearably slow.
  2. You can actually convert to LXDE with a simple `apt-get install lubuntu-desktop`
  3. Then when you log off then you can click on an icon and select lubuntu
  4. You then need the fastest browser you can find. Firefox was decent, but Chrome seems better
  5. Finally you need to `apt-get install gufw` which is the unified firewall
  6. Then you need to turn it on with `gufw` 
  7. Now what you turn it ON, as a minimum should be ssh

Lost Windows XP Password how to recover it all

Well, if you have an old Windows XP machine then its easy to forget all its passwords. What’s the easiest way to get it back. Well you can try to use a password cracker like ophcrack which is complicated and uses brute force techniques to find the password.

Or you can take the easy way out and use Windows XP Safe mode (I had forgotten about this and it doesn’t come up much in Google searches). Basically here are the steps:

  1. Start the machine and hit the F8 key like crazy
  2. This should get you into the Windows XP mode screen
  3. Pick Safe mode.
  4. The Administrator account doesn’t have a password (hopefully you didn’t disable this!)
  5. When you login, go to the control panel/users
  6. Delete the password for the users you want “freed”
  7. Reboot the machine
  8. You can now logon to any of those users and set the passwords again

Or more likely recover the data that was stuck in the machine :-0

Deskjet 3050 All-in-One J610a for Linux

Getting this stuff to work on Linux is actually amazingly easy:

  1. Deskjet 3050 is part of the HPLIP (HP Linux Imaging Program) that is now part of Ubuntu.
  2. You can download an update from hplipopenrsource.com
  3. To actually run the setup, you need to do `sudo hp-setup`

Mac Unetbootin does not work for Atom systems but the dd information does

Strange and strange, but for our old Atom Z550, we weren’t able to get Unetbootin to put down a reliable image, but when we followed the Ubuntu directions for using DD, it did work. Go figure, utilities that don’t actual make bootables. It would instead say the bootable image is corrupt:

  1. Download the ISO you want (can be Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu) for the systems taht are small
  2. STart terminal and type

Now type these commands, the first converts from iso format to img format preferred by Apple

hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ~/path/to/target.img ~/path/to/ubuntu.iso
mv ~/path/to/target.img/dmg ~/path/to/target.img

Now figure out which disk is the flash drive with

diskutil list

For the disk N unmount it with this command:

diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskN

Now use the disk utility to copy it over to the flash drive

sudo dd if=/path/to/downloaded.img of=/dev/rdiskN bs=1m