eXtensions - Wednesday 21 March 2018


eXtensions - The Wednesday File (49): Apple Comments; Facebook Analytica; and the Measured Pacing of Film

By Graham K. Rogers


An Apple education event in Chicago with rumours of iPads; macOS and 32-bit apps; late to the party an expert concedes AirPods are actually quite good; Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, ethics and the use of your data; photography with film is a change from instant digital output.

Apple announced an event for 28 March and this is unusual in that it is to take place in Chicago. Apart from the rare (these days) presentation in New York, most Apple events are in California. The expectation is that this is something to do with Apple's recent push to making students interested in programming: something they feel is as important as writing (I have slight doubts on a personal level there), but it is good that the company is taking this a step further.

Rumours also suggest that the time is ripe for hardware. Local sources here suggest that this could well be a new iPad. Both the idea of a new iPad mini and a new iPad Pro were voiced. Others have mentioned a wider device availability for the Apple Pencil, but would Apple put out a mini iPad Pro? What a nice idea.

With the next release of macOS it is expected that 32-bit apps will no longer work and a look at my list has me worried: I will need to make a number of changes and expect to lose some old favourites. To see those 32-bit apps installed, click on the Apple icon (top left) and open About this Mac. The panel has a button marked System Report. Somewhere down on the left side is a section marked Software. Click on Applications. You may have to wait a short while for the list to be generated, but on the far right is a column marked 64-Bit (Intel). The entries show a binary Yes or No.

A number of apps I have been using for a long time, like Fetch (FTP) and Feed for All are shown as 32-Bit. There are even Apple apps shown: DVD Player; Set Info; Stanza; and Password Assistant; which means they are either going to be lost or updated. Some apps, like Kindle Player are almost sure to be updated eventually. A number of those shown are in the Mac App Store, so if not updated will disappear from general view (still in a user's Purchased list).

32-bit Applications

I wrote to the developers of the two must-have apps (Fetch and Feed for All) and neither was positive. Both suggested alternatives. Feed for All has not seen an update since 2013, so I was not totally surprised; but I have been using Fetch since System 7 so that will be a sad day if they do not produce an updated version.

Vlad Savov of the Verge did not look at the AirPods last year, and seems content with a few sarcastic comments on Twitter, as far as I found with a Google search. He has finally tried them a year later and now writes that they are good. If he is an audio expert, one would have expected an earlier examination. It was odd when they first appeared last year as those who tried them all wrote how good they were, while those who had not were dismissive: belittling the product and by extension, Apple. From the comments he makes they are better than he expected: he should have tried them earlier.

As soon as mine arrived (I was in Siam Paragon when they were handed over to me), I took them out of the box, paired with the iPhone 7 Plus in seconds and began to enjoy music. I noticed two things within a couple of hours: as others had written, the fit was good and they stayed in the ear; there was a sense of freedom, with no cord; and related to that, they stayed in the ear. When I arrived home, all of my other devices (except the AppleTV) showed the AirPods in their Bluetooth devices lists, so it was even easier than plug and play. To use them with the AppleTV, I had to manually pair them, the old-fashioned way.

They appear to be a design closely similar to the Earbuds, so the fit was not a problem for me, but the lack of that cord meant that there was no pull when turning the head, for example. As others found, the only time they might be dislodged was when taking off a t-shirt and accidentally pulling against one of them.

At a time when the devices were in short supply worldwide, I seemed to be the only person who had these in Bangkok, so a lot of people stared at me. I bumped into a former student at Silom, when changing trains, and she said she saw the AirPods before she saw me. A local user did buy a set at a mall on the east side and never liked them as they fell out of his ears all the time. I did not manage to take a look at his purchase although an image of the devices and the box looked legitimate.

AirPods Beats

While I had the AirPods, I also bought a set of the Beats in-ear pods that use the W1 Chip but did not like them and gave them away. The in-ear fit cut out extraneous sounds, which is great for listening to music, but not when walking through a busy city: the small amount of sound that creeps through with the AirPods is enough to aid awareness, particularly when crossing the road. This also was helped by the lack of a cord as the EarPods and Beats drag slightly as I turn my head - that limits movement and makes it easier for the bud to pull put of an ear. That does not happen with the AirPods.

Mark Gurman discovered this week that Apple has a secret factory in Santa Clara (CA)that is designing and producing its own device display and that some are going to be MicroLED screens that use different compounds than current OLED displays. The news sent shares of screen makers down and this could mean another move away from the reliance on 3rd party suppliers, such as Samsung (Mark Gurman, Bloomberg).

When I teach Ethics & Morals to Computer Engineers, there are a couple of things I say that tend to stick in the minds of my students, including All governments lie. I also warn them that certain online services and social networking sites have dubious policies regarding user data. None of them will read the Terms and Conditions, but I have and make my concerns known in class.

This week, my comments to students may need to be taken in a different light with the revelations that not only did Cambridge Analytica take data of several million users and use that to provide a certain spin for the trump campaign (they were hired by Manafort), but it goes a whole lot deeper. An undercover video made by Channel 4 shows executives of the company explaining how they have manipulated elections in several countries (Malaysia was in the list) with a series of tricks: clean and suspect. The key is data, whether of groups or individuals, and the ability to focus on targets. Take 20 minutes or so to view the video, but do it sitting down and try to maintain a calm frame of mind.

Cambridge Analytica is run by an Old-Etonian. Boris Jonson and Jacob Rees-Mogg also went to Eton, as did a number of other Tories and some from Labour. George Orwell studied there, but he is an exception. And exceptional. The personal connections for those who have been to an English public school, especially Eton, are worth gold. In the recorded interviews, which Cambridge Analytica tried to prevent being transmitted, there are several apparently unethical comments made about how the company (probably using a proxy to avoid identification) might proceed: from use of data and placing of advertisements, through the use of Ukrainian ladies. The CEO was later suspended by the company for that comment.

The end of the video shows three comments from Cambridge Analytica trying to minimise damage (locker room talk?), but within hours the Information Officer (government official) announced that she is seeking a warrant to raid Cambridge Analytica and seize their servers. That lead to a stand off with the Facebook auditors who had to stand down. This was a first-class example of investigative journalism at a time when this is becoming rarer. Rix had recorded a rebuttal for the BBC Newsnight program, before he (or they) had seen the Channel 4 video, leading to much criticism: if they hadn't seen the evidence, how do they know which questions to ask?

With Facebook stock price dropping already and much, much more to come, this is going to be an interesting week. Note that now US Federal authorities are also investigating, with up to $40,000 for each transgression and potentially 50 million users affected, that goes into the trillions. In trying to distance themselves, Facebook put out a statement (later amended when the UK Information Commissioner's Office went into action) that there was no data breach (self-protection 1), but that data was used in an unauthorized manner (self-protection 2). Cambridge Analytica insists that it only accessed and used data in authorized ways (Tiffany C. Li, Slate). At least one Facebook exec has jumped ship already (Nicole Perlroth, Sheera Frenkel and Scott Shane, NYTimes), although that was denied a little later. This whole thing is developing hour by hour (Guardian on Facebook statement).

As a simple demonstration of what we all give up, read the comments of Lam Thuy Vo (Buzzfeed). To remove Facebook app permissions, follow the simple instructions supplied by Rene Ritchie on iMore.

I was pleased to see in a Tweet Wednesday morning: "I will delete Facebook, but you can pry Instagram from my cold, dead hands" (Brian Koerber, Mashable)

Farcebook settings Farcebook settings

I have recently written on the use of the iPhone X and editing with both the Photos app on the iPhone and on the Mac (Wednesday File 48). Last week I took two or three rolls of film while I was out one evening. With most of the images taken using the iPhone X, I deliberately used the ProCamera app. All images, apart from a couple using the iPhone Portrait mode, were RAW. The initial editing was done using DarkRoom (I like the way RAW files are identified in the library display), with some effects added: Tadaa in Photos on the iPhone; Luminar and Tonality Pro on the Mac, used as extensions in Photos.

Using some of this information, and some images, I wrote late last week about the use of RAW on the iPhone. My "first line" apps are 645 Pro, Halide, DSLR Camera and Pro Camera. Of these, Halide, Pro Camera and Prime (another RAW-capable app), were updated this week. I have a selection of more RAW-capable photo apps that I will also be looking at: a second rank.

Pocket Light Meter Taking film is not the same as using the iPhone, or even a DSLR camera. It is odd to think that when I first started taking photographs everyone used film; and it was not until the 1990s that I had my first try of a Kodak digital camera and also a Logitech monochrome device. That was a long time before I wrote the Mac columns for the Bangkok Post.

On the iPhone I make use of the app Pocket Light Meter. Pseudo-expert have tut-tutted at my use of this app. It is quick and easy and gives me a close enough reading for my purposes. I can change the film ISO easily depending on what I am loading then point at the subject, fiddle with the Aperture and it shows a time reading.

Then I adjust the lens, a rather heavy Distagon 50 which cost $3000 when new, but has consistently rave reviews. I bought mine used here for considerably less. It is fiddly to change settings but the glass is first rate and output has been excellent when I manage to bring everything together.

Distagon 50

Once exposed, I keep the film in the fridge for a few days (along with a couple of boxes of new film) until I am ready to go across to On Nut and AirLab for the processing. There is a range of services, including scanning onto optical disks, but I just have mine developed. I took 6 rolls in last Tuesday (125, 400 B&W and 2 Portra 400 - colour) and collected them Saturday morning. Developing was 700 baht (100 B&W, 150 color).

I am reasonably happy with black and white photography, and prefer to use monochrome film generally. I did buy a pack of Portra 400 in Thaniya Plaza, where I see golf equipment shops still charge 3% for the use of credit cards. The Photo shop on floor 4 has many old cameras and a fridge full of films. Every so often I go in and buy a few boxes.

Once developed it is time to scan. I use a Canon 9000 Mk II, and Hamrick VueScan software that is now a 64-bit application. I can only scan a strip of 3 Medium format photos at a time, so the process is slow and oddly satisfying as the previews, then the scanned images appear. At last I am able to see the results of my input.

Not all images are wonderful. I would be happy with 20% success, but editing on the Mac can recover so much more than would have been possible for me at a develop and print photo shop. The images are saved as TIFF files (a test for my students - Tagged Image File Format): uncompressed and big. The scan size is 5480 x 5404 (I have the selector window slightly mis-set) and this includes a black area surrounding each photograph, which I edit out.

These days, I drop the images directly into Photos and make a new album as they are imported. The 6 rolls gave me 75 images that were almost all usable and I set to work. My workflow in Photos starts by looking quickly at the thumbnail images to see if any stand out (for good or bad). I start by opening a larger view of what I identify as good images and see just what I can do: crop, straighten, then adjustments (all in Photos).

Hasselblad scans Hasselblad scans

Light needs careful attention (exposure, contrast, etc), as well as sharpness and other changes that are easy to effect in Photos, including Vignette (used sparingly). The scanned negatives have a considerable amount of information, but some extra work may be needed to bring this out and the two extensions I tend to use most (as per above) are Tonality Pro and Luminar, which can bring extra to even black and white photographs.

I was quite pleased with the colour (Portra) output. Previously, I had been disappointed, but AirLab does quite a good job. They still need editing after the scan, but a rather good article (a measured rant) by Brad Nichol on PetaPixel last week commented on some of the major output differences between digital and film, which was actually called color print film. It is meant to be printed, so being digital perhaps does film a disservice.

Hasselblad scans Hasselblad scans

I was quite pleased by some of the output, particularly one shot in a back street near where I live. After playing with the Selective Color in Photos (and no additional manipulation in one of those external editing apps), I was able to produce a fairly honest photograph: true to the original scene. An image near a canal bridge suffered from a light/dark/light situation, so after playing with it for a while, I did use Luminar and altered some of the colours. The end result was not bad and I was surprised by a number of likes that it saw on Instagram.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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