20/6/2017

Taipei Traffic

As I work for a Taiwanese company (Acer Computer), I have the pleasure of visiting Taipei once or twice a year. Each time I go there I have to remind myself of some of the subtle differences between Eastern and Western cultures - such as the traffic. It constantly amazes me that in all the visits I have made to Taiwan, I have only seen a small number of minor traffic accidents.

This amazes me simply because the traffic there can only be described as chaotic.

An interesting phenomenon is that most intersections have a series of white lines painted on the road, parallel to the kerb, and extending from one side of the road to the other. They look suspiciously like the lines we’d call a pedestrian crossing, only they must mean something else. Probably something like objects bigger and made of larger quantities of metal have right of way”.

Line markings on the roads themselves are also unique. In Australia, we generally separate lanes using lines to mark out the lanes. In Taiwan its just a little different. The road between the lines is certainly considered a lane, but the lines themselves also appear to be a lane. Magically, the Taiwanese seem to get 5 traffic lanes into a space we would get three.

The centre lines between traffic can be interesting too. Traffic from both directions seem equally able to take advantage of this zone.

Changing lanes can be an adventure in itself, especially if you are in the middle and need to turn a corner.

Learner-drivers in the west are generally advised to leave at least 2-3 car lengths from the car in front. Few of us are perfect in sticking strictly to this rule, but in Taiwan leaving such space would cause only a moments confusion. Then, 2-3 cars from the next lane would quickly fill the space, as well as 2-3 of the cars riding in between lanes.

This is bad enough, but if you happen to be in the middle lane of three, this would mean that 8-12 cars would be jostling into the spots.

And then there’s the scooters……

The scooters seem to have the right to fill in any space that the driver of another vehicle seems to have left unused. Somehow the earlier rule of right of way does not seem to apply.

I have worked out the traffic out system in Taipei. Its actually really quite simple - the laws of physics have been waived so that the laws of traffic can be waived accordingly. This means that when 9-12 cars, plus a couple of dozen scooters converge on a single lane, they get away with it because there is an anomaly that allows multiple material objects to occupy the same point in the space/time continuum.

There is simply no other explanation.

Travel
25/12/2016

AirPods… FTW

When I saw the Apple Airpods announced alongside the iPhone 7 I thought they looked interesting, but was a bit skeptical that they would be impractical for my workout needs. Like many, I was worried that they would drop out of my ears easily during a workout.

When it was clear that they would be delayed I decided to get the Powerbeats3 wireless headphones, partly because they were available, but mostly because I was fairly sure they would be better suited to use during exercise.

Turns out that the Beats headphones died within a few weeks - first the volume buttone stopped working, then the cetre button to start/stop/answer phone calls, and finally the power button died. Based on my experience:

Powerbeats = no power and no beats.

in mid-December I heard mention on several podcasts that the Airpods were released and there would be some availability pre-Christmas. On a whim I took a look at the Apple Australia website and there they were available - so I ordered a pair and they were delivered to me at home spot on time on 19 December1.

The Airpods are brilliant. They are simply the best wireless in-ear style headphones I’ve used.

Pairing

Like other recently released Apple bluetooth peripherals, the pairing process on these is brilliant. Open the Airpod case, ensure the iPhone (or other device) is unlocked and the pairing screen should pop up.

There’s not much further to say, because it was the simplest and most straightforward device pairing I’ve experienced2.

As a bonus, once the pairing was completed with one device, every other Apple device connected to the same Apple ID is also paired3.

General Use

I’ve used the Airpods now for a week, and love them. I have used them walking to/from work, shopping, out making photos and even on a plane4. I have also used them exercising, but will talk more about that in a moment.

They fit comfortably5, and for normal use I have no fear that they will bounce out.

When I first unboxed the Airpods my wife immediately stressed that it was important I keep them in their case - she was right from the point of view of not losing them, as well as from the perspective of the case being they way the Airpods are charged.

I saw a Daring Fireball post where John Gruber talked about David Pogues’ comment that rather than being concerned about the Airpods falling out of year, the greater concern is dropping them between their two homes: the case and your earholes”.

I concur.

This is a big advantage of having to have the case whereever you take the Airpods - they can easily be returned to their home. I would suggest that the suggestions by my wife, Gruber and Pogue converge on the same point:

Airpods have two natural states - in your ears or in their case.

I love the feature where removing an Airpod from the ear pauses the playback, and replacing the Airpod resumes it. A simple one step process.

Double tapping either Airpod brings up Siri. So far I haven’t been able to get Siri to reduce or increase volume. Its a useful feature for making calls, but some sort of offline Siri’ for adjusting volume, rewinding, etc, would be great.

I am not an audiophile, so can only say that the Airpods deliver a quality of sound for music, podcasts and audio books that I am very happy with. FWIW, they sound a little better to me than the Powerbeats36.

Use During Exercise

This is where I have been blown away - Airpods stay in my ears, even when running or when doing HIIT routines that include skipping ropes and other exercises.

There’s not a lot else to say. Airpods deliver quality sound while staying snugly in place during most exerise routines.

I generally get a reasonable sweat up during my routines, so will be interested to see how that will effect the Airpods in time7.

Battery Life

Very good. I haven’t pushed any limits on the Airpods or their case, but so far I have reason to doubt the 5 hours for the actual Airpods and the 24 hours for the case that Apple claims.

What I have observed is that popping one/both Airpods back in the case for 15 minutes is very effective in bringing up the charge levels.

Final Thoughts

I really like the Airpods, and am happy using them.

For future iterations, I’d love to see some way of adjusting voume that doesn’t rely on Siri (at least the current version of Siri that needs a web connection), and I’d love some sort of feature that allowed you to find a dropped Airpod.

Other than that, they’re a device I would be happy to recommend to anyone needing wireless earphones that are simple to use and reliable for a range of uses.


  1. Glad I did - as of 25 December there is a 6 week wait on new orders.

  2. The Powerbeats3 had a similar but not quite as elegant process. I believe these use the same chipset.

  3. I’ve tested this on an Apple Watch, an iPad Pro and a MacBook Pro. Quite seamless.

  4. I’d actually advise against using Airpods on a plane. The critical point for potentially dropping Airpods is taking them in and out of your ears and the case. The chance of dropping them between/behind a seat is too high. Plus, radio devices should not be used on a plane!

  5. At least they fit me comfortably. YMMV.

  6. A little less tinny’ if that explains anything.

  7. No cause for concer to date, but wonder out loud.

iOS
30/8/2016

Cooking in Seminyak

Balinese Cooking Class at The Amala

During our recent holiday in Bali, we took the Balinese Cooking Class at the Amala Seminyak resort, with head chef Wayan.

We were picked up from our hotel spot on time, and then taken on the (optional) tour of the main fish market in the city, with Chef Wayan personally taking us around the stalls, identifying the different fish and explaining how to choose the freshest picks. He did much the same at the adjoining vegetable market. Chef Wayan selected a piece of fish that we would cook in our class.

Afterwards we returned to the Amala, to an open air under-cover kitchen by the pool that had been carefully prepared with a stunning array of fresh spices and other ingredients. Our selected fish was taken away for cleaning and cutting. After a welcome drink, we were then guided through the preparation and cooking of ingredients, starting with the Base Gede’ (spicy chilli paste), and continuing with Lawar Salad (green bean and chicken), Tum Ikan (main course steamed fish in banana leaf) and Dadar Gulung’ (coconut pancake dessert).

Once we finished cooking we were seated at a beautifully laid-out table overlooking a pool in the Amala’s courtyard, and our personal waiter served wine along with the delicious food that we had prepared under Chef Wayan’s attentive guidance.

At the end we received a certificate, the recipes of the dishes prepared, and were able to keep our aprons. Of course, the real reward was the wonderful experience we enjoyed.

This half day experience was a superb opportunity to be guided through the preparation of what was a 5 star, 3 course meal by a master chef in a spectacular location.

We would go back to Seminyak just to do another cooking class with Wayan.

Travel
27/8/2016

Playing around with Plotagraph Pro.

Plotagraph Pro is a new tool that adds movement to still images.

I love the art and process of still photography, but can’t deny that movement draws the eye and the ability to add movement to an image presents an exciting opportunity to add a new dimension to the still photographer’s toolkit.

I first heard about Plotagraph Pro from a tweet or newsletter by Trey Ratcliff (can’t remember which), and have seen a small number of other photographers posting images they have enhanced with the tool.

Plotagraph Pro is a web based tool that works on all modern web browsers1, thus making it a tool that works on both macOS and Windows. On the flip side, this means that you can only use the tool when online, something that the travelling photographer can’t always achieve.

So far I’ve played around with a couple of my images, and I am quite happy with the potential.

The above image (The Surface from Below) was a single RAW image created on my Nikon D200 during a trip to Papua New Guinea. It is thus not a new image. It took a bit of playing around to get just the surface water to move, but once I worked out how to achieve this, I think the result is quite good.

This image was created last year near the spectacular Mont Saint-Michel in France. This took a bit of work to get just the clouds to move, and while I like this image, I want to get a bit more smoothness in the cloud movement.

Plotagraph Pro is currently in beta, and I am certainly impressed with the quality of the output. I will look forward to seeing some fine tuning of the user interface to get to the end result.

Personally I am very interested to see how Plotagraph develops, and how it spurns a new generation of photo editing applications. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll stick with this tool in this incarnation - it is very expensive2 for a tool that effectively performs one trick, especially when it is a trick that you might use on a small percentage of your images.

Trey Ratcliff has posted a good tutorial about using Plotagraph on his YouTube channel.

As an aside this is the first post I’ve made using Ulysses posting directly to my WordPress site. I’ve used Byword in the past, but there is a lot to love about Ulysses.


  1. I have found that Plotagraph Pro works much better in Chrome than in Safari.

  2. US$299 as a special offer for the beta program. For us in Australia this means software that costs over $400.

Photography
31/12/2014

Operatic Sunrise

Buying Photo Gear

I’ve bought some photo gear lately — mostly from Australian retailers. I am always amazed about how unsatisfying the experience is for high value items.

Retailers always remind me that the price includes Australian warranty’ and Australian GST. By law in Australia these things must be included in the price quoted, so emphasising these factors is redundant.

I guess that retailers are sensitive to competing with (overeas) online vendors, but in many respects the lack of expertise offered and the references actually drives me towards online purchase.

Especially when I buy a lens and the standard upsell attempt of a filter is the best value add offered — even more so when the particular lens doesn’t have a filter mount.

I wonder why there aren’t photo retailers that better emphasise the photo experience, and treat the whole thing more like Apple does with their retail operations.

Happy New Year

Wishing everyone all the best for a safe, happy and successful 2015.

Operatic Sunrise

Today is New Years Eve, and the world’s eyes are on Sydney Harbour as one of the major focal points for seeing in the New Year.

This image of the Sydney Opera House, one of Harbour’s iconic landmarks, was made at sunrise a week ago, and I think it beautifully captures the dramatic air of this unique building.

As we move into 2015 I look forward to taking in as many sunrises and sunsets as I can!

View this image on 500px, Ello or Flickr

28/12/2014

The Lights Are On

Christmas is a magical time in many cities, with colourful lights everywhere.

For a photographer, getting to places where the lights are on when the crowds aren’t there either means an early start or staying late. In Sydney this can be especially challenging with some shopping centres now open 24 hours in the last few days before Christmas.

This image was made the day before Christmas Eve, at about 07:15am in Sydney’s The Strand Arcade’.

Being early, the centre was already switched on’ but the only people about were office and shop workers heading into work, so I set up my composition and exposure, and waited until I could get the image with nobody in the frame.

Of course, this might also make for an interesting image with the crowds present, but I wasn’t brave enough to stand there with a camera on tripod (needed for the slow shutter speed I needed) as the Christmas throngs pushed past to get their last minute gifts.

And I had some last minute shopping to do myself ;-)

There was something calming about having such a beautiful scene all to myself, even if it was for just a few minutes.

View this image on 500px, Ello or Flickr

photography