Taking Pictures

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I got a new camera. It’s my first interchangeable lens camera, and I’m sorry I didn’t get one years ago. I am not a very good photographer, but even bad shots look better with this camera.

The above picture was taken in Kennebunkport. It’s been color-enhanced by Google, and there is probably too much water in the shot, but I like it. It was a beautiful crisp late fall day in Maine, the wind was calm, and the above is just the way I remember it.

I am reading more about photography and starting to look at pro’s photos to understand how to make better pictures. So far I’ve learned the following:

  1. Lots of pictures. Take lots of different pictures, but also set the camera to burst-mode and take a bunch of each picture. You never know if there will be a small change in expression or if someone blinked, and taking several shots of the same picture can make the difference. Also, holding down the shutter causes less camera-shake than pressing the shutter, so second and third shots are likely to be sharper.
  2. Critical evaluation. Figure out what went right or wrong. My #1 problem is that I don’t notice the background while I take the photo. Too often there is a pole sticking out of someone’s head, or there are distractions like garbage pails or the edges of cars. I could re-position myself to avoid all that.
  3. Make the whole picture interesting. When I look at Vivian Maier’s pictures, the composition is fantastic. Every picture is clearly about its subject, but there is something interesting everywhere you look (texture on building walls, the shape of cars, street crowds, signs on buildings, reflections in puddles or windows).

Being good at #3 is a key difference between an amateur and a pro. Maier was technically an amateur. If you never read about her, look her up. The story is amazing. She would have been one of the most celebrated street photographers in history had she pursued it as a career.

I relate to street photographers because my family has no patience to pose for portraits. I get them to pose for a second when we go someplace special, and the photos capture them and the moment.

I don’t have much interest in photographing anything else. Occasionally I’ll take a shot of the sign over a restaurant we visited or a landscape shot, but just as a rememberance. Otherwise I only want to take pictures of the people I care about.

The photo above was taken on a bridge that separates Kennebunk from Kennebunkport. We walked over it while sightseeing during their Christmas Prelude celebration. My family visits Maine each summer, and this was the first time we were there in cold weather. Maine is photogenic all year round.

 

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Star Wars – The Last Jedi

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There won’t be any plot spoilers here, but if you really want to see the movie untainted  by anyone else’s opinion, skip this post.

If you like Star Wars movies you should see The Last Jedi. I enjoyed it, although I liked The Force Awakens better. The plots in TLJ were all over the place and sometimes the characters do things that don’t make sense.

Whenever I see a movie that ignores foreshadowing, I wonder whether it was an intentional choice by the director or the editor, or weak story writing. But whatever the reason I always find that lack of foreshadowing takes me out of the movie a bit.

Imagine the end of movie that takes place in modern day NYC, and the hero is trapped by a bad guy, and there is no way out and the hero is about to be killed, and then … a flying dog appears, bites the bad guy and the hero is saved.

That might make sense if we learned the hero owns a flying dog in the first third of the film. But if the first time the audience has ever seen a flying dog is the moment it appears to save the hero, people will rightfully say “WTF”.

Well there are a couple of WTF type moments in TLJ. They don’t ruin the movie, but you wonder why, given the amount of time and resources available, the writer/director didn’t use foreshadowing.

Otherwise, the movie is pretty good and I’m glad I saw it. But I’m not as anxious to see it again as I was for TFA.

ISO in Photography: Eye-so or Eye-ess-oh

ISO in photography is a measurement of light sensitivity. The lower the number the less sensitive the sensor will be. A picture taken at ISO 80 will be very smooth, while ISO 12,800 will show noise or grain in the image. You use high ISO either because high grain is your artistic goal, or because you are taking a picture in low light and need high sensitivity to obtain an acceptable image.

ISO used to be called ASA, when the governing standards body was the American Standards Association. ISO standards are set by the International Organization of Standards, which replaced the ASA.

OK, with that out of the way, the purpose of this post is to complain about the name “ISO”. ISO claims it’s name is pronounced “eye-so”, not the initials “eye-ess-oh”. They claim ISO is not an acronym, because the entity is International Organization of Standards, which would result in an acronym of IOS. Further they claim their organization name is different depending on the local language of each country, and to avoid confusion they wish to be called ISO everywhere. The name ISO is derived from the Greek word “isos”, which means equal.

People, and I guess organizations, should be able to dictate what they want to be called. If I met someone and told them my name was Bubba, that’s what they should call me, even though it doesn’t say Bubba on my birth certificate.

But there are certain conventions that we all understand and live by. For example, proper names are not all in capital letters. If you are going to break those standards you need a good reason. It can’t be arbitrary. And it’s especially ironic to have normal naming standards broken by the International Organization of STANDARDS.

  1. They replaced ASA, which was not pronounced “ay-sah”, it was “ay-ess-ay”. Everyone was used to saying the initials ASA, and no confusion occurred as a result.
  2. No one’s name is all capital letters. No company name is all caps, either.
  3. A lot of companies are known by their initials, and some initials are pronounced as if they were words (NASA, FIFA, LIPA). But regardless of how people pronounce their initials, NASA’s name is National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The initials NASA are the first letters of each word in its name. Same with FIFA and LIPA.
  4. Despite what ISO claims, the name of an entity doesn’t change based on differences in language from one country to another. Pepsi is Pepsi in the US, in France, in Russia.
  5. If you want to call yourself by a nickname, and insist that the nickname is NOT your acronym, then spell it Iso, not ISO. That’s how names are written. Acronyms are written in caps.

All of that is up against the right of any organization to call itself what it wants, and spell it however they see fit. But I am going to keep calling it ISO (“eye-ess-oh”) for the following reasons.

  1. It keeps the tradition established by the ASA.
  2. There was a Monty Python sketch where Graham Chapman played a man called Raymond Luxuryyacht, but he pronounced his last name Throatwarblermangrove. Pronouncing ISO “eye-so” is not to that extreme, but it’s still silly.
  3. There is a Hebrew word “kitnyot”, which refers to foods that are not prohibited during Passover, but are traditionally not eaten during the holiday for reasons that no one remembers. Recently there was a ruling that kitnyot CAN be eaten since there is no obligation to follow a foolish tradition. Calling ISO “eye-so” instead of “eye-ess-oh”, just because the International Order of Standards can pick any nickname it wants, would be following a foolish tradition.

Update:

ISO was supposed to be derived from “isos”, the greek word meaning equal. But isos is pronounced “eee-sos”. In the US people pronounce ISO “eye-so”, but in Europe they pronounce it “eee-so”, in sync with the proper pronunciation of isos.

So … WTF. The International Organization of Standards adopted the nick name ISO in order to standardize the name they are called in every country, but the US and Europe still pronounce it differently???

Pronouncing the initials ISO as “eye-ess-oh” makes much more sense than trying and failing to standardize a name all over the world, especially when names are not spelled in all caps anywhere.

 

Maine in December

My family took a quick trip up to Maine last weekend. Kennebunkport is having a Christmas Prelude, which was very nice. The town was all dressed up for Christmas, and most of the shops were still open and bustling. There are events going on through December 10.

The town of Ogunquit, our usual summer getaway location, is having its annual Christmas By The Sea weekend beginning December 8. Much of the town was shut down for the season already, so I don’t think the celebration will be as big as Kennebunkport’s. But the town is decorated nicely, especially at night.

LL Bean in Freeport was bustling as well. Night time was beautiful, with lights galore on dozens of pine trees brought in for the holiday.

So far it hasn’t snowed there yet, but I’m sure it won’t hold off for long. I can’t imagine what it’s like to spend the dead of winter in Maine, but it was a lot of fun being there during their holiday celebration.

What’s going on at Sonos

From Variety: Tidal and Pandora both announced deeper integration with Sonos this week. Both services now allow their users to launch music playback on Sonos speakers without ever leaving the Tidal or Pandora apps, doing away with the need to use the Sonos mobile app for playback control.”

Strange use of the word “integration”. It’s the opposite of integration. What this means is that Tidal and Pandora (and also Spotify) want their customers to use their apps, rather than Sonos’ app, to play content from their services. The 3 services were part of a cadre of services available on Sonos’ app, but each of these services can now control the full experience for their customers.

This is understandable. The way things were, there was no product differentiation between the different Sonos music sources, and you could essentially ignore the differences between services altogether by grouping music from various services into playlists, and then simply listening to the playlists on the Sonos app. So, I can’t blame the services for wanting to retain their unique identities via direct interaction with their own customers.

But what does it mean for Sonos?

  1. Sonos is relegated to a sound source. For example, Pandora can direct sound to a Chromecast, or to an Apple Airplay device or to Sonos speakers. The tight integration between Sonos’ software, its many music sources, and its hardware is irrelevant. Sonos becomes a nicer version of a simple bluetooth speaker.
  2. This is similar to the Sonos/Alexa “integration”, which is merely a way for Alexa to route music through Sonos’ speaker.

Sonos also intends to “integrate” its new speakers with Google Home and Apple’s Airplay. In other words, none of Sonos’ software (with the possible exception of multi-room sound) will be integrated. Sonos will just be a wifi-connected speaker.

Sonos had a management change about a year ago, and maybe that had something to do with this shift in product strategy. But it looks like Sonos is no longer interested in being a software/hardware product, and wants to be the speaker of choice for people who listen to music directly from other software services.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a future app update gets rid of the aggregation feature altogether, and the app is just used to sign into the various supported services, and control multi-room playback. That’s a shame because I really enjoy the aggregation and playlist features on the Sonos app.

From their own marketing perspective, having a hook into every service’s app sounds appealing. But it diminishes a stand-out feature of their product. It was their app, as well as wifi, that set them apart from all the bluetooth speakers out there.

Alexa, turn on the lights

Amazon added a nice upgrade to Alexa, if you have connected lights like the Philips Hue.

In the Smart Home section of the Alexa app, you can now add a specific Echo device to a group of connected devices. And Alexa is smart enough to know when connected devices are lights. So if you add your kitchen Echo to the Kitchen group and the den Echo to the Den group, you can say “Alexa, turn on the lights” in either room, and Alexa won’t get confused. It will simply turn on the lights in the room associated with the closest Echo.

Before this, you had to speak the precise group name (ex.: “Alexa, turn on the kitchen”) otherwise Alexa couldn’t tell which lights to turn on.

This may seem like a small improvement, but it’s actually the difference between people successfully using your home automation vs. being completely confused by it. Almost anyone can remember to say “turn on the lights”.

Thank you Amazon.

Sonos One

I don’t have one, so this post isn’t about the hardware itself. It’s about what the product says about Sonos’ hardware Alexa integration.

The device is being marketed as a merger between Sonos and Alexa. This is from the Sonos web site: “Sonos One blends great sound with Amazon Alexa, the easy-to-use voice service, for hands-free control of your music and more. Use your voice to play songs while you cook. Tell Alexa to turn the volume up while you’re in the shower. You can even request a lullaby, out loud, when you’re tucking in the kids.”

Note the word “blends”. But it’s not a blending of Sonos and Alexa, it’s two distinct products in one package, both sharing the speaker. Sonos has always been more than simply a multi-room speaker. Sonos is a tight integration of hardware and software, similar to the Mac. Just like the Mac, when you try to use Windows on its hardware, the experience isn’t as good as either the Mac or a PC. Alexa in a Sonos is inferior to a real Echo.

After the Echo became a hit, Sonos realized voice was the best way to control smart speakers. Not for every feature, but for the basics of choosing a song, album, playlist, etc. voice easily beats an app for convenience. More than mere convenience, it’s modern and just feels like the right way to do it.

So it’s natural that Sonos wanted to add voice control to its best-of-class product line. But developing voice control on its own is expensive and takes time. Instead Sonos chose to augment its products with Amazon’s Alexa (and down the road with Google Assistant and Apple’s Airplay). It was a cheap, expedient and ultimately flawed decision.

Here’s why:

  1. Amazon didn’t permit Sonos to add the full version of Alexa to the Sonos One. Alexa’s calling and messaging do not work on Sonos. Neither do reminders, flash briefings or Spotify (this is supposedly coming “soon”). Update: as of 11/21/17 Spotify should be working.
  2. If you have multiple Echos, only the nearest one responds to your queries and commands. But Amazon doesn’t consider the Sonos One to be an Echo. So, if you have an Echo near a Sonos One and say “Alexa play jazz”, both of them start to play. You might be able to fix this by giving Sonos One a different trigger word than the Echo.
  3. Amazon isn’t invested in the Sonos products, and couldn’t care less if they succeed or don’t. Amazon can release products that sound as good as Sonos anytime they want. Or they could upgrade software and decide to exclude 3rd parties from the upgrades. There’s no guarantee that your new Sonos One will keep up with these upgrades.
  4. Amazon updates its hardware from time to time, with new features. For example, the new Echo Pro has a zigbee smart hub built in, and the new smaller Echo has a line out jack. Speakers have long life spans (10 years or more), but 1 year is a lifetime in tech. It’s impossible to upgrade the hardware in a Sonos One, so the product will be increasingly out of date with each passing year.
  5. Multi-room music control works with voice in the Sonos One. No other Sonos-only features work. You can’t use voice to control audio from any music sources that aren’t also sources on the Echo. You can’t use voice to play Sonos Favorites, to search your home music library or to set up new services.
  6. Sonos realized they needed voice control, but they implemented a solution that made their product a slave to Amazon. For Sonos-only features you must use a phone app, just as before the Sonos One existed.

Right now only the Play 5 speaker has an aux jack. Sonos could have simply updated their other speakers with aux jacks. That way a simple wire connection would allow users to have high quality audio with the newest and most complete version of the Echo. It wouldn’t add voice control to the Sonos system itself, but the new Sonos One doesn’t have it either.

For people who are heavily invested in a set of Sonos speakers, the issue may be moot. But Bose has a competing product line, called SoundTouch. SoundTouch 10 is similar to the Sonos Play 1. It supports fewer music services, but it has an aux jack. I wish I bought that instead.