Archive for July, 2010

Upgrading Routers

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Why is it that upgrading routers is so fiddly?

With the exception of the Apple Airport devices which proactively let you know that they need an update, and then the update process is easy, all the other routers that I have owned require you as the owner to take the initiative.  I suppose that part of the reason is that if you can’t make it a seamless process like Apple, then you may as well make it a geeky process, particularly as there is always a danger of bricking the device if something goes wrong in the process.  The disadvantage is that I suspect most routers are not running current firmware and may well have security holes as a result.  For those of us using ADSL modem/routers security flaws could well be exploitable.  I’ve noticed that no router I’ve ever bought has arrived with the current firmware.

As I’ve already posted I have a Linksys router that I’m using which is new, and when I last checked a few days ago there was no update beyond that which I’d installed when setting up the router.

However, in the UK I also have two (different but popular) Netgear routers that are used in two separate locations.  Netgear, like most other routers, tend to have hardware updates during the product lifetime, so it is not sufficient to know that a router is a DG834G.  Five versions of this router are listed on the website (mine happens to be version 4).  I also have a Netgear DG834 (essentially the same router without wireless).  This has four versions and I have version 4.   This then gives one enough information to download the correct firmware and then the risky procedure can begin.  With my Netgear DG834 it worked smoothly.  Use the web interface to upload the firmware, then there is a lot of flashing lights for some time, the web browser does a countdown and when it is finished it asks you to check that the router has restarted with steady lights and all is well.   Exactly the same procedure applies to the DG834G but when I came to do that the lights never stopped flashing even after many minutes.   At this point you wonder whether you’ve bricked the device, but I powered it off and back on and it came back up.  The status screen shows the new firmware so I hope that it has correctly worked; the router seems to function fine so all seems to be well.

At least most routers these days have web interfaces so they can be managed from any modern operating system.  The disadvantage with the Apple approach is that you do need special software on a computer to manage the router.  It does seem perverse that the Netgear firmware itself doesn’t identify the hardware model so that you could check from the status screen.   Although the router is perfectly capable of sending logs via e-mail, going out to time servers to synchronise time, and generally be quite a powerful device, it can’t help with identifying the correct firmware to download.  I’m sure it could all be made a little less clumsy.


The 10 Second Pre-Shoot Camera Check

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I’ve posted a number of times about the mishaps of not necessarily knowing how one’s camera works, or failing to check things first.  This article provides a good check list: The 10 Second Pre-Shoot Camera Check


Monday, July 19th, 2010

I was eating lunch in an Asda store (part of the Walmart group) in the UK yesterday and from the cafeteria one could see through to the till area.   Asda, like many other supermarkets, has introduced a number of self service tills.   I’ve avoided using these and even when taken through one by a member of staff it seems that they had to use their staff override to make the till work properly.   Its probably a sign of getting older.

For some reason today, this set off all sorts of memories of how grocery shopping used to be in the 1960s (probably about as far back as I can reliably remember).

Like many children in those days, only my father went out to work.  My mother was a housewife (and, indeed, at that time in the British civil service, I think it was still required for women to resign when they got married).  In some ways we were quite well off although there wasn’t a lot of spare money after the mortgage had been paid.   My father did have a car (in the 50s he’d had various old cars — the types with running boards), but bought a new Austin Seven (the Mini) when they came out.  In fact it took nearly a year from the time he decided he wanted one until we actually got it in 1960, such was the state of the British motor industry at the time.  My mother never learned to drive.

We did have a telephone, of the wonderful heavy sort made of bakelite.  It wasn’t a party line.  (At that time telephone lines were in short supply and a way around this was to have a couple of telephones sharing the same line.)  This may have been something of a legacy as both my parents had worked for the Post Office (in those days the Post Office ran both the mail system and the telephone system).   In our road there were relatively few people with telephones in those days.

However, back to grocery shopping ….

My mother got most of the staple grocery shopping delivered.   She would telephone an order to the grocer, and he’d turn up with a box of groceries the following day.   As I recall, the deliveries were usually on a Wednesday, but as the grocer was also an on-course racing bookmaker, the deliveries were a day later when horse races were taking place on a Wednesday at a course where he worked.  I never recall my mother specifying what brand anything should be.  It was just a question of “two pounds of sugar”, a “pound of butter”, and so on.  Indeed, I think with most shops at that time you simply got whatever the local grocer stocked, and typically there was probably little choice.  I think, in fact, quite a lot of stuff was still sold loose by weight so it was effectively “unbranded”.   One has to remember that the UK still had rationing many years after the Second World War — food rationing didn’t finally end until 1954.

Many things didn’t come from the grocer.   There was a milk man that delivered milk each day early in the morning, and I certainly remember times when the silver tops on the bottles weIe punctured by birds (probably tits) that got an early morning feast from the fatty milk at the top of the bottle.   I can’t recall that anyone was concerned with possible health effects of this at that time.

We had a greengrocer that came around once a week with his van.   My mother was pretty fussy about her vegetables (my parents grew many of our vegetables in the garden) and the greengrocer would get a telling off if something had not been up to her standard.

Soft drinks, “pop”, were also delivered weekly (or possibly fortnightly) when the Corona lorry came round.   We probably only had a couple of bottles from him — often Dandelion and Burdock, but obviously it must have paid for Corona to deliver (and to collect the empty glass bottles).

There were chains of grocers around and  J Sainsbury I believe has a long history although I never visited a Sainsbury until they started opening supermarkets everywhere.   One of the grocers about a mile or so from home was the Home and Colonial.   One cannot imagine a shop having such a name now!

The first supermarket that I remember in Cardiff was Fine Fare which no longer exists.   The whole idea of self service was a strange and daring idea at the time.  The idea that the shopper had a basket and that you collected the items you wanted from the shelves yourself rather than asking a shop assistant to get it for you was seriously revolutionary.

We used to go to a butcher whose shop was in another suburb of Cardiff.   This was a butcher shop with meat hanging up and a large wooden central table which had been worn over the years and where meat was chopped up in front of you. Sawdust covered the wooden floor.  I believe that my mother knew the butcher from her school days.

… and so we now have vast supermarkets where not only do you collect things yourselves from the shelves but where you even have to go through the check out till as self service.   The transformation over my life time is truly amazing although when I think how much of the weekly shop my mother had delivered with minimal effort, it hasn’t necessarily been for the better.


Topaz filters and low light photography

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Updated to include an example using the latest version of Topaz Denoise (version 5).  Also updated to make the crops more detailed and to be precisely the same selection.  My first effort using version 5 was actually a lot worse than the previous examples posted here.  I don’t think this is a fault of Denoise 5, but rather that all of these filters require practice and experience to use them well.   By definition one is trying to recover a photograph that is underexposed and using a high ISO setting and so well outside of the bounds of what is reasonable.

Owning a relatively old Canon EOS 300D (the original Digital Rebel), the low light performance is not particularly good.   I generally prefer to use just the ISO 100 setting, and at most ISO 400 although it will go up to ISO 1600 but the latter is very noisy.  I tend to prefer to shoot raw and underexpose by a stop or more rather than upping the ISO setting.  However, sometimes, one cannot do anything about it and one has to underexpose and use a high ISO setting.  The following example is a single photograph, taken in the Louvre, showing a section of detail and the whole photograph in three forms: the original RAW from the camera processed to a JPG by iPhoto but no adjustments made.  It is around 1⅔ stops underexposed.  Secondly there is a version processed by iPhoto adjusting the exposure, levels and using iPhotos noise reduction.   Finally versions using the DeNoise filter from Topaz and also the Adjust filter.  The first one uses the old Denoise 4 and the second the recently released Denoise 5.   Topaz appears to give better noise reduction than iPhoto’s built in capability, although I find that using Topaz does tend to strain my various machines, although Denoise 5 seems to be better in this regard.   I seem to only be able to use Topaz on the processed JPG files from iPhoto rather than the raw files in iPhoto despite fiddling with the iPhoto settings.

Here is the original and a detail:

Original Image (reduced in size)


Crop Original.jpg


Now the images processed by iPhoto:



Crop iPhoto .jpg


The image processed by Topaz using the old Denoise4 filter:


Crop Denoise 4.jpg


Finally, the image processed with the latest Denoise5 filter.   I adjusted the exposure separately after applying the Denoise filter.  (Doing it the other way around produced an awful result, which I presume is because the noise was already amplified and then rather more difficult to remove).

Denoise 5.jpg

crop denoise 5.jpg

The comparison may be somewhat difficult because of the exposure adjustments not being quite the same and I probably should have made the details somewhat larger. The noise reduction from Topaz is much better with both Denoise4 and Denoise 5.    This is apparent both in the background where there are definitely far fewer “noisy pixels” and also on the stone of the statues.  It is really amazing what can be recovered from an under exposed high ISO image.

More OS X slow downs

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I was going to write a blog post about using iPhoto with Topaz filters and the problems of ending up with enormous TIFF files that were then apparently causing my iMac to slow to a crawl, and iPhoto in particular to crash. I probably still will write that post at some time.   However, last night I found myself resetting my MacBook by holding down the power key and while I was using iPhoto, I was not using Topaz filters or creating enormous TIFF files.

This has now happened more than once on my MacBook and I’m at a loss to know the cause.   It seems to have started since upgrading to Mac OS X 10.6.4 although I couldn’t swear to that.  Last night I had imported a lot of photographs having been in Rotterdam on both Saturday and Sunday at the weekend watching the Prologue and start of the First Stage of the Tour de France.  I was using my little point and shoot Canon A720IS which is definitely not ideal for taking such photographs, but my DSLR was in the UK.  I’d taken several hundred photographs and was pruning out the (more than half) rather poor photographs.  I’m not entirely convinced that iPhoto was to blame as I think somewhere during the process I had plugged in my iPod Touch which had caused iTunes to load and synchronise my iPod Touch.  (I’d listened to a lot of podcasts over the weekend while standing in various (not always comfortable) positions waiting to see the publicity caravan and the individual riders in the time trial prologue and then waiting for the First Stage start on Sunday.)

Well the MacBook became slower and slower with iPhoto just not moving to the next photograph and while initially I could switch between applications, each one seemed to be stuck with the mouse showing the spinning disc.  I couldn’t even get to the Apple Menu — Force Quit to attempt to terminate anything.  The clock stopped and eventually after leaving the machine for some time without it recovering, I pressed the power button.

As I also do in these circumstances, on restarting I ran a DiskUtility check on the main hard drive and all the drives that were connected at the time.   All passed OK.  Looking at the logs for the hour before I resorted to the power button, there were a number of errors logged from iPhoto, although I’m not sure what they mean.  There were also errors from mDNSResponder (which I think supports Bonjour).  A TimeMachine backup seemed to take place satisfactorily.   A number of errors were reported from iTunes and also PreferenceSyncClient and the SyncServer and mobilemesyncclient reported warnings relating to timeouts.  The SystemUIServer reported timeouts as well.  It almost looks as if something relating to networking is failing but I’m not adept enough at understanding these logs.

Anyway, here is a photograph taken just after the “ceremonial” start of the Tour de France from the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam on Sunday.  The race proper didn’t start for a few more kilometres.