Fixing Mountain Lion’s excessive battery drain

Thursday August 9th, 2012 · Comment

I’ve been cursing my loss of battery life with Mountain Lion since upgrading, like a dummy, on day one.

I use a 2010 17″ MacBook Pro with an Apple SSD. Battery life improved dramatically when I moved from Snow Leopard to Lion and I expected that to be maintained with Mountain Lion. What I got was a percentage where I expected a time in the menu bar, and a battery life that dropped as I watched it. I was getting under 2 hours in comparison to 4-5 under my normal heavy use; two browsers, 30+ tabs, Illustrator, Photoshop, BBedit, Mail Reader and Twitter open almost all the time.

With the help of a much smarter friend, I found that the issue was mdworker, draining 90-105% of my CPU at all times. We used console to see what mdworker was polling and why.

Google revealed that mdworker was working for Spotlight, and in my case it was essentially sexually harassing the fontvault used by Suitcase Fusion. The solution is to exclude that Library folder from Spotlight. That’s hard in Mountain Lion as the Library folder is hidden. We used this hack (http://tweets NULL.recourses NULL.com/tweets/229190443982811136) to reveal it and then selected /Library/Extensis/Suitcase Fusion/Suitcase Fusion.fontvault

As if by magic mdworker returns to normal and so does battery life. I expect a real fix to be included in Apple’s first Mountain Lion update. Suitcase Fusion is a very popular font manager and I can’t be alone in using a laptop as a primary machine.

How Sony’s hybrid NEX/Alpha camera works

Thursday December 22nd, 2011 · Comment

Rumors are now appearing that in 2012 Sony will take another step towards dominating the camera market by releasing a full-frame ‘rangefinder style’ camera capable of mounting both their APS-C E-mount and 35mm A-mount lenses.

Making this work on a single mount is technically challenging. The lenses need to be at different distances from the sensor to focus properly. There are three possibilities.

  1. The lenses are mounted at different distances from a fixed sensor. This is mechanically complicated because it requires an A-Mount that can expand to accommodate the smaller E-mount lenses and place them closer to the back of the body. Given the huge expense of precision mechanics I think this is unlikely. Opening the camera physically would make it vulnerable to damage and make building a robust item problematic.
  2. The lenses are mounted the same difference from a sensor which moves. This could be a good solution except that it limits the depth of the camera to current A-mount requirements. If you lose the size advantage that comes with smaller E-mount glass why bother?
  3. Mirrors are used to alter the path length to the sensor depending on the lens mounted. This could be very neat. Using a semi-translucent mirror, as Sony already do, to create two light paths within the body each appropriate for a different lens mount. By blocking a mirror, or moving it, they can produce a body with very few moving parts whose precision won’t be vulnerable to manufacturing tolerances. This approach also uses Sony’s existing investment in translucent technology and is consistent with their stated ‘no SLRs’ development path.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Sony don’t make Nikon’s sensors

Wednesday December 21st, 2011 · Comment

I often read people deriding Nikon for using Sony sensors in their cameras. Sometimes, but not often enough, this is followed by bafflement at Nikon’s ability to get its camera’s to outperform Sony’s offerings when using the same technology.

The truth is that Sony, like Samsung, Sharp and other manufacturing conglomerates, runs two business’ in parallel. The first is a retail business and the second contract manufacturing. Chip manufacturing, which is what making sensors is, requires billions of dollars worth of investment and regular re-investment on that scale to maintain facilities. As this is impossible for 99% of companies almost everyone who owns a chip fab makes sensors for third parties.

Nikon’s relationship with Sony is that Nikon designs sensors and Sony manufactures them. In compact cameras Nikon, and others, do use “off the shelf” parts which often put them at a disadvantage to those who don’t like arch rival Canon. Outside of those cameras, Nikon is no more using Sony technology than any other company who, like Apple and Nintendo, design products in-house and outsource manufacturing.

Being in the same business makes no difference. Apple’s iPad uses parts from Samsung who also make rival Android tablets. There’s little conflict as Samsung need Apples money to keep its facilities profitable. Digital camera’s are computers. Even with identical componentry the output is dependent on the programming, not the part-numbers. The technology belongs to the people who designed it, not the company whose name’s on the factory wall.

The Ageless iPhone

Wednesday October 5th, 2011 · Comment

When Steve Jobs compared the design and feel of the iPhone 4 to a Leica camera he wasn’t being glib. Leica’s are made of metal, glass and leather. Leather ages beautifully, glass is perfect until it’s gone and metal earns a patina which gives it charm and history. Making the iPhone 4 a metal and glass slab made it an ageless item for all of us too careful to break it.

Unfortunately since its launch more noise has been made by the clumsy and stupid than the careful and smart. No one complains that a metal camera can’t survive a drop onto concrete you just put a case on it and be careful. Why should a phone, especially one sold as a premium item, be any different?

Thankfully the message seems to be getting through. My day-1 iPhone, which I stood in line for hours to obtain, looks new. It’s not “in very good condition”, it’s physically indistinguishable from the day I bought it. Like a vintage piece of Lalique glass it’s perfect. Owning it another year won’t leave me feeling hard-done-by and its next owner can take pleasure in its impermeability. Apple have a form-factor which cannot easily be improved on in terms of sophistication. I suspect they know they’ve reached their MacBook Pro moment. The form is right. The question isn’t when will they change it, it’s why would they ever?

Leica’s Digital R solution

Wednesday October 5th, 2011 · Comment

Is Leica ever going to offer a digital body for R-glass? The lack of a plan makes R-glass either the best value in the Leica line or worst depending on how willing you are to use manual focus lenses on non-Leica bodies.

All rumors point to an APS-C size interchangeable lens system from Leica at Photokina 2012. That will be a shame. Sony and Fuji have shown Leica a way forward which involves no compromise for those in love with rangefinders or doing their own focusing. They can give us a digital R with focus-peaking for legacy glass and electrical contacts for a new autofocus line. I don’t see any reason to make the digital R less than full-frame and who needs another lens standard? APS-C puts them in competition with Sony who might leapfrog Leica and give us a NEX-9 with a full-frame sensor. If that happens Leica will be selling hugely expensive bodies which are the second best way to shoot Leica glass. A disaster.

The M can grow too with focus peaking bringing parity with the NEX 7. Focus peaking is an area Leica can innovate in, working on new ways to provide feedback and integrating face-detection to indicate automatically when a subjects eyes are on the focal plane. Manual focus can become sexy and fast. Not having to move the camera to select a new point of focus and then re-framed will mean electronically augmented manual focus cameras could be faster than autofocus systems in some scenarios.

A hybrid viewfinder will also end the problems caused by lenses fat enough to obscure the rangefinder, and give shooters a live preview of what the sensor will record. Some traditionalists will be horrified that their Leica is no longer forcing them to guess at what they’ll capture but there are M7′s for them. Leica should make the M7 forever and use it as an excuse to innovate in digital. Give that line the special editions, crocodile leather and gold-plate. Make the M10 a camer-lovers device. Price it how you want, we’ll save up as we always have. Leica should not be held hostage by elderly collectors who want to drag them into a state of anachronistic decrepitude.

The company that invented 35mm film cameras can give us the future again, the path is increasingly clear.

Kindle Fire = Magic TV

Wednesday September 28th, 2011 · Comment

Amazon, not Microsoft or Google, are the company most likely to replace Apple in the hearts of the public. Apple provide us with beauty and elegance; Amazon materiel.

The Kindle Fire is not an iPad competitor because of books, the Kindle does that. It’s not an iPad competitor because of Apps. It cannot compete. It’s an iPad competitor because it’s offers cheap access to a significant library of content.

People who bought iPads to watch movies on now have a cheaper option. People who want iPads to replace their computers can be convinced the Kindle Fire is an adequate substitute (it’s not). Until iPad 3 changes the game the story will be massive Kindle Fire sales and the “…death of the iPad.” Then iPad 3 will change the rules and Amazon’s stopgap will have to find its feet.

What Nikon got right with CX

Wednesday September 28th, 2011 · Comment

Like everyone else who reads photoblogs as if they might announce a money-printing plugin for PhotoShop one morning, I’m disappointed and uninspired by Nikons new CX format cameras. I’m in line for a NEX-7 which I will use primarily with Leica glass and hope to be able to replace every couple of years. That means I’m on board to pay used-Honda prices for lenses and deal with manual focusing. Only a fool photoblog reader would say that’s easy or sensible. Nikon aren’t fools though and they may have just shown the market a new way forward.

The age we’re in is unusual. People change systems every couple of years at the low end. There’s no loyalty because there are no lenses to buy. Changing one compact camera for another is no more painful than buying a new memory card which you need to do anyway. Compact cameras with interchangeable lenses change that. They encourage users to invest in glass which means changing format is significantly more costly. Manufacturers want loyalty and that’s why even if you don’t want an interchangeable lens camera (or CSC – Compact System Camera) they’re going to try and sell you one.

That marketing need raises a problem. Most people want tiny cameras. CSC’s are still pretty big because to get good results you need big sensors.

Today the focus is on image quality but that won’t last. We used to obsess over the processor speed of our computers because it made a big difference to how they ran. Today most people can’t tell you their clock-speed because it’s irrelevant. Soon enough any sensor will all be good enough for almost anyone. Then we’re back to where we started with film. Any camera could take a roll of Kodachrome. You chose your camera for its features and its lenses not its sensor.

Nikon know all this and have decided small sensors are just a short-term quality problem. What looks like an unwise business decision, to introduce a product that suffers in comparison to its peers, is a long-term vision. Apple were similarly attacked when they released OS X, which required hardware which didn’t exist when it hit the market to run well. In time the hardware got faster and Apple got to lead the market. Sensors will improve. Betting on big sensors is betting against Moore’s law.

As Nikon’s CX sensor is small they can make small lenses to go with it. Smaller than m4/3, smaller than APS-C. They can also make them faster and cheaper because less glass costs less money. Fast lenses allow for easy bokeh (defocused backgrounds which make portraits look pretty) and that in turn makes making good photos simpler.

Beyond that they also know camera’s can only get so small before they become hard to hold. They have likely calculated the size of the smallest practical camera body, put the largest sensor possible in it and called it CX. That means their competition won’t be able to make a smaller-sensor interchangeable camera which offers any size advantage without being fiddly.

I’m talking to you Pentax.

If Nikon release a steady stream of quality sub f2.0 glass they will have started crawling in a tortoise and hare race companies like Sony don’t realize they are in. They are betting it won’t be very long before large cameras are as attractive to most people as desktop computers are today. While Nikon improve the quality of CX sensors to current 35mm digital equivalence and beyond, they can seed the market with an ocean of small high-quality lenses. People will stop caring about ISO and noise soon enough – you’ll be able to shoot anywhere, in any light, flash free – and the best designed most compact camera will be what people buy. Nikon want that to be a Nikon.

Enthusiasts will laugh at the CX format until it gets good and comes with the lenses they need. That doesn’t matter. All Nikon need to do is establish the format and build for inevitable technological progress. CX is the worst CSC today because it will be the best tomorrow.

How to save money on software downloads

Tuesday September 27th, 2011 · Comment

As an American resident I’m used to visiting American stores and paying American prices but a piece of software I need is priced “pound-for-dollar” in the UK. That’s an arbitrary 50% increase when the conversion rate is accounted for and enough to motivate me to find a way to circumnavigate their limey detection system (dogs trained to detect Earl Grey?). Here follows my solution.

My first thought was a proxy server. Unfortunately the proxies I tried didn’t work. Even after deleting my cookies the transaction would fail when I tried to pay in the American web store. It was probably something to do with the security layer and the way the site hands off the transaction to a credit card processor. Regardless, don’t waste you’re time, it’s too obvious and has been accounted for.

Next I turned to TOR (https://www NULL.torproject NULL.org/). It felt weird using a tool aimed at dissidents and child pornographers but I’m pretty sure that the CIA couldn’t care about the kind of noise reduction I apply to my RAW files. That didn’t work because either I hadn’t configured it properly or it wasn’t playing nice with OS X Lion.

Finally I swallowed my pride and tried the TOR browser pack, a ‘click-and-go’ solution which makes it easy for anyone stupid to get online anonymously. I was reluctant because I like to think anything aimed at dummies isn’t meant for me. Turns out I was wrong. It worked brilliantly.

I’m thrilled and about £100 richer. Fellow non-Americans who try the same trick, the best of British luck to you.

The Sony NEX-9

Monday September 26th, 2011 · Comment

Sony Alpha Rumors have posted interesting poll results (http://www NULL.sonyalpharumors NULL.com/analysis-what-sonyalpharumors-want-from-the-future-ff-cameras/) about user desires in the next round of Sony cameras.

It’s a good time to be excited about Sony. Canon and Nikon have been dormant at the enthusiast end of the market for years and they’re going to disappoint or thrill with their next updates. It seems impossible that they’ll easily regain their lead unless prices drop considerably, the Sony kit is just that good. I’m not alone in being excited about using a NEX-7 as a compact digital back for a range of lenses. Focus-peaking makes manual lenses sexy again and sidesteps the lack of quality e-mount glass.

I do have the Carl Zeiss 24mm on order but that’s just so I have something to shoot which I can autofocus.

The poll seems to have missed a concern of mine which I hope they’ll not overlook going forward. Many people want a full-fram NEX-9 to appear. When that happens the image-circle of E-mount glass will be insufficient and a new range of lenses will be required or they’ll have to use the A-mount. Unfortunately if Sony move NEX to that mount one of the great strengths of the system, its ability to handle Leica, Contax and other quality glass, disappears.

So I want to modify the question about a 35mm NEX by splitting it. “Do you want a 35mm NEX shallow enough, and with the correct micro lens array, to mount legacy Leica glass via an adaptor?”

I’d bet the majority or serious snappers see my point.

Twitter’s Broken Form Design

Wednesday April 6th, 2011 · Comment

I’ve just wasted minutes trying to retrieve a Twitter password. They ask you to enter an email, or the Twitter handle using a form which – deep breath – will not recognize your Twitter name if you include the @ sign (you know, that bit you type each and every time you write your Twitter info down). Surprisingly slack form-coding from a billion dollar venture.