A serious hard disk crash but a damper on my already low posting frequency. I had lost my password and resetting it proved more difficult than clicking the I Lost My Password link. Anyway, just a heads up that I can log in again, now only to find something to write about.

What you are not reading

The drafts queue of this blog currently holds 22 postings waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and some of them have been sitting there for years.

Although some of those postings just haven’t been finished yet, most of them are of the type where I had an idea for a posting, I started writing it, and then I realised that I hadn’t really thought things through, or that the idea wasn’t as good after all. Brain farts. I keep those drafts around in the hope that parts of them can still be salvaged, but they’re probably never going to see the light of day.

Be glad you don’t know what you’re missing.

Game of Thrones, season I and II

Game of Thrones is a TV drama series based on a series of novels called A Song of Ice and Fire.

The series takes place in a medieval fantasy world that includes dragons and a sort of zombie and revolves around the intrigues and wars the noble families of the world, Westeros, use to get to the top of the pile. In the background there is the constant threat of an invasion by a race of zombies from the frozen North.

I will keep it short: Game of Thrones is eminently watchable. I especially like the way they handle cliff hangers, I always wanted to see the next episode.

There is a lot of big drama in Game of Thrones and some gore and sexual violence.

Season II is a lot less tight than the first season. Some story lines feel incredibly rushed, especially the ones involving a young princess called Arya who is held prisoner by her family’s arch enemy, except he doesn’t know who she is. While a prisoner she befriends an assassin who feels indebted to her (or at least pretends to be), and who kills on her request. You would guess that her experiences with these two men would change an impressionable nine-year-old, but they seem not to affect her.

Speaking of princess Arya, she is part of a notably large group of underdogs in the series. They all regularly either get what they want, or escape the horrible types of fate that befall the other characters. This approach helps the writers create small pockets of satisfaction by having one of the underdogs claim a small victory every once in a while, which I think works well, although it has the tendency to get tacky.

You should watch this if you like big, sweeping drama and if you like to be entertained unashamedly. You might give this a miss if you prefer your TV drama to have a little depth.

Game of Thrones (HBO), first two seasons: 7/10.

Shouting ‘bingo’ in a crowded theater

A man in the US was arrested, held against his will and finally convicted for shouting ‘bingo’ in a bingo hall.

Apparently upsetting biddies is illegal now.

Notes from the Responsive Design trenches

Lately a lot of companies have been asking for websites built along the principles of ‘Responsive Design’. I had to give up on building a responsive website in early 2012 due to lack of time, but in January 2013 I got another chance. (Side-note: both websites are on intranets, so I cannot show them to you.)

Responsive Design is designing a website in such a way that it rearranges itself to look good both on large screens (typically desktop-PCs) and small screens (typically mobile phones).

The text below is first and foremost a memo to self, but it can also be used as an addition to the ultimate Responsive Design primer, the A List Apart article by Ethan Marcotte that started it all. I will explain Responsive Design in a bit more detail below, but if you really want to know what it is about I suggest you read the A List Apart piece.

Although Responsive Design is pretty straightforward to anybody who has done even the most trivial things with Cascading Style Sheets, it is typically used in a wider context that can make things complicated. Hence the need for this intermediate level article.

Read the rest of this entry »

Venlo, Limburg

Circumstances brought me back to my birth place a lot the past few months. This week was hopefully the last of such trips. I would have liked it if I had had a bit more time for photography though. The river Meuse had flooded its banks which produced some surreal views, but all I had time for were these hasty snapshots of the Meuse at Venlo.





A free and quick way of doing product photos

TL/DR; use daylight, a white surface as reflector, and a sheet of cardboard for a background.

This is a rant. But it is also a tutorial. A rantorial if you wish.

Let me say upfront that if you are serious about product photography, this is not for you. Spend a little more money (say 50 euro) and a little more time (say five minutes) to get product photos that are 200% better. For instance read Strobist’s How To: DIY $10 Macro Photo Studio. (You have a 50% chance that four years from now that link won’t work–if so, just Google something like ‘product photography cheap’ without the quotes, and hundreds of articles and videos will pop up that explain more or less the same thing.)

On with the rant portion of this posting. The other day I was looking for a photo of a 3D printed object that I could use on my other blog, but almost all I found were lousy pics of geeks holding up ill defined objects in their badly lit workshops. OK, so I am bad at ranting: curses! How could they?! Don’t they understand a blogger’s plight?

What I am trying to say is that with an investment of two minutes, it is possible to get better product shots (what photos of things are generally called when the goal is to show off said things). Here is how.

1. Use daylight. This produces a nice, natural light.


2. Use a reflector opposite the natural light source. In my example I used a pack of IKEA napkins opposite the window.


The result is that the object will be more evenly lit.

Real photographers call these things ‘light modifiers’, but then again real photographers will use white umbrellas and pay 30 bucks for them. I find that IKEA napkins aren’t just a lot cheaper, they can also be used as napkins after their career in photography.

3. Use a background.


I used a roll of wrapping paper here, but in the past I have also used a wool vest and a piece of white cloth I had lying around.

4. Crop.

In this case you want the subject to have the viewer’s sole attention, so crop the picture until you just have a foreground and a background.


5. Forget (almost) everything I just said.

None of this means anything. In general you want your photos to tell a story. The 3D printer geeks holding up their creations in their night-time workshops weren’t just showing the object they had made, they were also telling something about how that object got into being. A mug with bookcases as a backdrop? That can actually be a lot more interesting than a mug against a plain background.

However, you need to work that story and consequently work that photo. Rearrange the books so that the background looks interesting. Make sure the foreground doesn’t blend into the background. Make sure the objects in the photo belong together. Make sure the background isn’t more attention grabbing than the foreground. Still use light modifiers. Et cetera.

So the real rantorial is that if you cannot be bothered to put some time into making a photo, why bother making the photo at all? If you’re doing a lot of product shots, do it right and get yourself a little studio. You don’t even have to follow the link to Strobist and put all that DIY into it; just order one for fifty bucks off the internet. I know that Conrad sells ready made product studios, for example. The background in my photo looks a bit crinkly because wrapping paper is thin and crinkles easily.

My technique is only useful for when you are in the middle of nowhere, you need to send photos over your satellite phone and need to get the best shots you can with almost no tools at your disposal.

Still, my rantorial at least shows which techniques can make a product photo look better, so I hope it was useful in that respect.

The LinkedIn endorsement system

LinkedIn has introduced an endorsement system which lets you ‘endorse’ the skills of your connections.

A few quick notes about this:

  • I haven’t checked whether these are skills you entered yourself; that seems to be the case though.
  • I have endorsed wide, easy skills, such as mastering your native tongue.
  • I have endorsed specialized skills that I have witnessed myself, or that are somehow at the core of that connection’s abilities.
  • I have not endorsed skills that sound like a core skill, but that to my knowledge aren’t; for example, if I know a project manager, I am not going to endorse them as change manager, even if I have seen them manage changes after the delivery of a project. Similarly, I have not endorsed interaction designers as user experience experts.
  • In other words, don’t be shy to add the simple stuff to your profile.
  • Also add skills that you know your connections know you possess.
  • So far I have been honest and have only endorsed skills that I knew people possessed.
    I expect some people will just endorse all the skills of their friends or connections.
  • With this system Recommendations are probably going to be more rather than less important, considering my previous note.

On photography how-tos

Photography, simply the technical side of it, is still a bit of a struggle to me.

There are too many settings to keep track of. For instance, aperture (the size of the lens opening), shutter speed and sensor sensitivity determine exposure; exposure, sensor resolution, lens resolution, focus, camera movement and subject movement determine sharpness; and so on.

By the time I have figured out what I need, my subject will have left. Even in landscape photography you often don’t have much time because the sun keeps moving (and clouds before it).

Then there is the fact that for a lot of types of photography you should expect to only get a couple of ‘keepers’, photos good enough to publish as a ratio of all the pictures you took.

That one took a while to wrap my brain around, too. It’s one of the blessings of the digital era that we can take as many photos as we want, that we are no longer bound by the physical limitations of film, which takes up space. I mean, I get the immediate, rational, in-your-face idea behind it, but when I have a camera in my hand I still feel that every shutter button press should count, and feel a sense of failure when it doesn’t.

Modern sports photography (spray and pray) is a clear example of this type, however I have also found that when photographing bees and bumblebees that setting my expectation of the amount of keepers low (1 in 20) helps to ward off frustration.

(Number of keepers refers to successful exposures, not to good pictures. That number is much, much lower. Well, it is in my case.)

But to me the most important discovery was that if you can categorise the sort of photography you are going to do (street, sports, nature, cars, bugs, what have you), there are often dozens of tutorials on the web that will tell you how to approach the subject. What settings you need to get which photo. I guess a good photographer would find it easy to work these out by herself, but I find it easier to ask the internet for help and try and get on with taking (hopefully) interesting pictures myself.

  • Derby photography, freezing the subject:
    • Expect 2 in 5 keepers.
    • 1/250 or faster (you’ll still get motion blur).
    • With modern camera technology you’re going to use F2.8 or ‘faster’ apertures, and high ISOs.
    • If shooting with a DSLR (and for this type of photography you should), set to continuous shooting and subject tracking (AI-Servo on Canon cameras).
    • ‘Freezing’ the subject doesn’t work well for high octane sports such as derby. You’ll get a lot of in-between-the-action shots. Consider ditching photography altogether and switching to video.
  • Motion (that stripey effect):
    • Expect 1 in 10 keepers (practice helps)?
    • Set shutter speed to 1/60 or 1/125, and track the subject with your camera.
  • Photographing bridges:
  • Rain:

And so on.

Not every tutorial is of the same quality, but approach like you would any web page. If it looks the page is there more to generate eyeballs for advertisements than to enlighten you, move to the next search engine hit.

Settings, at least those for exposure, can also be gleaned from a photo’s EXIF data. Flickr has a menu to show you these, although many photographers blank them before uploading. Still, you only need EXIF data of a couple of good photos to be on your way.

26 + 2 links

John Scalzi writes: “I put each letter of the alphabet into my web browser and posted the link it autocompleted to”.

He then proceeds to write small blurbs for each entry.

The following are mine.

  • the newspaper’s sports section.
  • a satellite image that shows where in the Netherlands it currently doesn’t rain. Handy for a people that ride their bikes most of the time.
  • Martin Wisse’s blog about comics, politics and other stuff.
  • pixel peeping at its finest for camera nerds.
  • one of the many book digitization projects of the national library of the Netherlands.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s people store.
  • guess what: I am in the market for a house.
  • (This showed only test servers for a customer, and I doubt they wish to see the names of their new websites show up early, so I am not showing them to you.)
  • computer programmer who used to blog knowledgeably about the more general aspects of programming. He has stopped blogging since, well, almost. I visited his site recently to look something up, as it is still a magnificent resource, even if you are not a programmer. If you are into that sort of thing, his former employee Jeff Atwood still does something similar.
  • more weather forecasts.
  • localhost: this is where I develop websites for customers. It’s the webserver on my PC.
  • the Dutch eBay (and actually eBay-owned these days). The description is not entirely correct, as it is more of a classified ads site than a bidding site.
  • the TV guide. More important than ever now that there is so little worth watching.
  • the business site of my friend and co-blogger Natasha.
  • a book factory for Project Gutenberg.
  • stories that might be interesting for my other blog,
  • the witty blog of writer Peter Watts.
  • a photography blog. I guess you could call this a guilty pleasure, as it is yet another site for so-called ‘pixel peepers’, people who think the technical quality of a camera is more important than the quality of the photos you take with those cameras.
  • this blog.
  • another work-related site. This was actually the second site autocompleted, but I already showed
  • a newspaper.
  • the blog of writer John Scalzi.
  • an online comic strip.
  • the greatest video archive of our time, although it has lost a good deal of its value since the copyright maffia found out about it.
  • a financial news blog that I follow in the hope of finding stories for 24 Oranges there.
  • my other blog, non-mainstream Dutch news in English.
  • public transport planner.

A couple of inevitable notes:

  • Some of these links I barely visit. I suspect they popped up because I visited them recently, meaning that Chrome may include freshness in its algorithm for determining what to show in the auto-complete.
  • The links above can easily be subdivided into:
    • Day-to-day off-line life (B, H, K, M, N, 9).
    • Day-to-day online life (A, F, V, Y).
    • Photography (D, S).
    • Project Gutenberg (E, G, P).
    • Work (L, S, U).
    • Blogging (Q, T, Z, 2).
    • Other (C, J, O, R, W).
  • People who know Steve Huff’s blog may claim that his site is emphatically not about pixel peeping, and I want to have this argument out in the open now. Steve Huff’s blog shows a lot of photography, but always as a function of the camera they were taken with. It also prints a lot of camera and lens reviews where photos are secondary. Steve Huff may not use fancy test charts and widgets, but the implication of almost every posting on his blog is that you need camera X to get a photo quality Y. His blog may not be suited very much to actual pixel peeping, but it is aimed squarely at pixel peeper sensibilities. This in contrast to real photography blogs, where they almost never mention what camera was used.
  • As with John Scalzi, you don’t get to see the sites I visit in private browsing mode.