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Today’s Outage

If you visited today (2008-02-16) between 19:00 and 20:30Z (2 and 3:30 P.M. EST), the website vanished; all the pages would come up blank, with no error message. I thought it was the database’s fault, but through trial-and-error I found it was because of this bug in WordPress (more); when I was updating the CSS style-sheet several times in a row, it triggered a reset to the default theme. Since I’d deleted the default theme, there was nothing to load. So this doesn’t happen again, I’ve made a copy of my theme and put it in the default folder; the website won’t change even if it is reset.

Photo: Black Decor

Black Decor — shiny black ornaments in a line

These are blue ornaments, lined up on a white carpet. But they’re in black and white, so I’m counting them as black. :grin: A gelatin-silver 35mm film frame, developed, printed, and digitized. I used a 3 1/2 filter on multi-grade paper to get the high contrast.

[sniplet 4×6-lustre]

Canon Elan IIe, EF 50mm 1:1.4, Kodak TRI-X 400 35mm film, 2008-02-09, black-decor-rxt

Download the high-res JPEG, download the alternate digital stock photo, or download the digital version’s source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

Photo: A Morning of Fog

A Morning of Fog — foggy tree branches

Took this at 7 A.M. when it was foggy out… a great time to take pictures; this wouldn’t have the same mood in mid-day.

[sniplet 4×6-lustre]

Canon Rebel XTi, EFS 18-55mm, 1/50, F5.6, 55mm, ISO400, 2008-02-04T07:11:43-05, 20080204-121143rxt

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

Photo: Sunglasses

Sunglasses — a smiling girl with cool shades

I’ve been talking about branching off into portraiture, and where better to start than at my school? This is a scan of a gelatin-silver 35mm film frame that I developed and printed; the lady is smiling as this is posed, but she looks good nonetheless.

[sniplet 4×6-lustre]

Canon Elan IIe, EF 50mm 1:1.4, Kodak TRI-X 400 35mm film, 2008-02-11, sunglasses-rxt

Download the high-res JPEG.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

You can use the model's likeness for anything not defamatory. You are one of my "licencees."

No Safety in Multiple Memory Cards

For years, I’ve been hearing this wonderful argument: don’t put all your eggs in one basket; it’s better to have several smaller memory cards than one large one, so that if one fails, you’ve only lost a portion of your prized photographs, instead of all of them.

Seems to make sense, no? Distribution and redundancy are the core of safe computing, so we take this argument without question, spending extra to get four 512MB cards, even if the best bang for our collective buck is at 2GB. Yet do we ever stop to think that the entire concept is flawed?

The multi-card proponents convince us that all things equal (reliability and failure rates), four 512MB cards is the safer option.

But hold on a second there. Are the extra cards going for live, RAID-style backups? Are we afforded the advantage that while we sacrifice the space of one card, if any one card fails, no data is lost (RAID 5)? No. We have nothing. Until you get your pictures copied to your computer, there is only one copy in existence, and your work is in danger, either way. Your camera isn’t going to mirror your data for you. Maybe your fancy $3000 Canon EOS-1D Mark II does, but for us mortals, such extravagance cannot be afforded.

Remember that everything is equal, and we’ve just reached the beautiful world of digital permanence by splitting our eggs into four baskets? Billy’s 8th birthday will not be lost, because you had to spread the shots across four cards. If one fails, all is well, because you still have great shots on three other cards, right?

But it is that if that is important. Have you noticed that when you have multiples of something, you’re more likely to have one fail? In a family with three computers, one is constantly on the fritz. With five school-aged children, one is always sick. And with four memory cards, you’re four times as likely to have one short-circuit. The question is, do you want to lose a day of photos every two years, or an evening of photos every six months?

Our friend Murphy says that you will be losing the photos of Billy blowing out the candles, rather than the guests or the clean-up party. You’re going to lose digital photos occasionally, and the multi-card philosophy does nothing to prevent nor reduce this.

Someone is going to protest: “Richard, all memory cards are not the same. Some are more reliable than others; you cannot pretend they are all equal. Plus, you are more likely to have one memory card fail under intensive use, than to have one of four fail under intermittent use.” For them, I want to take this out of the realm of theory, and into the realm of practice.

How often does a door spontaneously fall of its hinges? It doesn’t; it fails when you open it. I have a Canon Rebel XTi, and it relies on a flimsy plastic hinge to stay attached to the camera. When the door is open, the camera magically does not work at all. This is one part I don’t want breaking in the middle of my adventure at the Grand Canyon (no, I’m not going to the Grand Canyon, this is an example). And when is it going to fail? When I open it in the dry, sweltering sun to swap cards, of course!

Memory cards and readers are usually rated for 10,000 insertion/removal cycles. We cannot assume that they’ll last this long; every time you swap, it’s wear and tear on the camera and cards, and with something as important as our photos, we want to avoid as much risk as possible.

Technicalities aside, trading out tiny, expensive, static-sensitive, photo-filled memory cards in the field is just bad practice. No matter how careful I am, I’m ten times more likely to drop my postage-stamp SD card in the grass at the park, or trip and have it fly into the river, than it is to fail on its own accord. Plus, you’ll miss great photos by having to switch memory cards. It doesn’t matter how well you schedule it—you’ll be clicking away, and the Kodak moment will pop up just as your camera flashes “card full.” It happens to me; I don’t even keep half the photos, but there isn’t time to delete on the spot. You can’t be ready for anything if you have no space.

You should have two memory cards, so that when one fails, you can order a cheap one online (with caution, of course), without your camera being completely useless for a week. Beyond two, there are no advantages.

A Postscript on the Scholarship

If you’ve read last week’s article, $1500 Daytona Beach College Scholarship Revoked, you know what recently happened to me. I’ve decided to do nothing about it.

I went to Charlene Solomon’s office and apologized for my rudeness on the phone (“What? You can’t take my scholarship. You already sent the letter. Who do you think you are?”), the opposite of what many of my friends suggested, which was to escalate to the higher nodes of the Daytona Beach College bureaucracy. I will apply again in the fall of 2008, and perhaps I will win an award for keeps. Fighting a battle would not produce changes but instead make enemies and cost time, which is not what I’m in college for.

Photo: Wine Bottles

Wine Bottles — glass bottles on a shelf

Wine bottles on a shelf. Saw these at a grocery store; I turned the bottles around so the labels are facing away.

This is my first film print for my photography class. I didn’t make a test strip, but instead took a guess at exposing (20 seconds, 50mm lens, F8, 3 1/2 filter), and it developed nicely.

I don’t have a film scanner, so I just put the enlargement on my cheap flat-bed scanner, and then restored the contrast and removed some dust in Adobe Photoshop. Enjoy!

[sniplet 4×6-lustre]

Canon Elan IIe, EF 50mm 1:1.4, Kodak TRI-X 400 35mm film, 2008-01-28, wine-bottles-rxt

Download the high-res JPEG.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

$1500 Daytona Beach College Scholarship Revoked

I lost a $1500 scholarship today.

I won a $1500 scholarship from the Daytona Beach College Foundation (of Daytona Beach, FL, USA) in the Fall of 2007. It is split into two semesters. There is a rule: “You can only receive one DBCC [sic, DBC used to be Daytona Beach Community College] Foundation Donor scholarship per semester.” Many of the scholarships are spread out over two or even three semesters. So, in my strategic cunning, I interpreted the rule in the manner that is most beneficial to me: you may only be awarded one scholarship per semester, but you may be profiting from the sacred funds of multiple donors in simultaneity.

I’m not one to ask questions. Ten times the yeses come from decisive action rather than cautious inquiry. I went ahead and entered for the scholarship. Surely if I interpreted that rule erroneously, I would receive no award, right? I finished my application online on 2007-10-25, with a glowing recommendation from Dr. Casey Blanton, my humanities professor in the QUANTA learning community, and author of Travel Writing: The Self and the World. No error messages or notifications of my ineligibility. It must be fine, right?

December 10 rolls around, and I receive this delightful news from the postman:

Dear Richard:

Congratulations! On behalf of Daytona Beach Community College, I am pleased to advise you that you have been awarded a $1,500 scholarship from the Elizabeth Barr Studio Arts Scholarship Fund. Your scholarship will be awarded over two semesters for the spring 2008 ($750) and fall 2008 ($750) semesters at DBCC [sic]. This scholarship is not transferable to any other semesters.

$1500 Elizabeth Barr Studio Arts scholarship letter $1500 Elizabeth Barr Studio Arts scholarship letter, excerpt

Compare this to the first award:

Dear Richard:

Congratulations! On behalf of Daytona Beach Community College, I am pleased to advise you that you have been awarded a $1,500 scholarship from the James Fentress Scholarship Fund. Your scholarship will be awarded over two semesters: fall 2007 ($750) and spring 2008 ($750) semester at DBCC [sic]. This scholarship is not transferable to any other semester.

$1500 James Fentress scholarship letter $1500 James Fentress scholarship letter, excerpt

Yes! I’ve pulled it off. There were plenty of measly $500 scholarships, but I’d won the big enchilada, twice in a row. Or so I thought.

January 14, the first day of classes. I take my letter of sincere thanks in to send off to the donors for the Elizabeth Barr award. I get the financial aid office mixed up with the bursar’s office, but the kind clerk offers to forward my letter on. You just don’t hear words the caliber of bursar nowadays.

It is on February 1st that I finally get the monies to fund the textbooks I am habitually buying as of late. Yet my beautiful Elizabeth Barr award, which I’ve bragged about to dozens of friends and strangers alike, is ominously absent. Where could it be, I ponder?

As any good coper, I reason that it is just taking longer than normal. “The money will come, soon. There are just processing delays. The gears of the bureaucracy are not well-oiled today.” On February 4, I finally crack and call in.

Charlene Solomon, head of the DBC scholarship foundation, gives me the dreadful news herself: I will not be receiving my capstone prize. It is all a mistake. Up to this point, I am so convinced of the infallibility of the scholarship department, that the word mistake is no more than an Egyptian hieroglyph to me.

The mistake is, that I am receiving the second half of the $1500 James Fentress scholarship this semester, so the rule, “You can only receive one DBCC [sic] Foundation Donor scholarship per semester,” cripples my entire application, as I shuddered to suspect. Because of the $750 I am receiving from the James Fentress scholarship this semester, I lose all the $1500 of the Elizabeth Barr award.

But it gets worse: my precious money was awarded to another student.

Perhaps this would be enough to console a charitable person. But not me. Because I’m just so much better at putting coinage to use, it should obviously be mine, no?

The epic continues: my file indicates that I was attempted to be called several times to be informed of the dreadful thing. Yet I received no such calls. I have devised an ingenious theorem that the messenger chickened out, but marked me as called. I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell a student that his wonderful scholarship, the culmination of years of academic toils, has been rescinded.

It’s not like this is going to ruin my education. Everything is already paid for by our state’s excellent BrightFutures reward program (which I got $75 less of this year), the Pell grant, and the icing on the cake is my previous $1500 scholarship. Suffice to say, there are students much more deserving of the award (if not for academic merit, for financial neediness). I would’ve just saved this $1500 for my postgraduate education, slated for 2011. I’d love to boast that I’m the first person to ever win two consecutive scholarships like this, and that this is the first time the rule has been enforced. But honestly, I have no idea.

Please do not misconstrue this as bashing of the DBC foundation. I know it’s hard to manage so many students and applications, and mistakes happen. But do they have to happen to me, and of such an irritating sort? I’d certainly prefer it that the award was legitimate, yet forgotten to be sent, so long as I’d never found out about it.

$1500 may be a small amount to you, but my family is lower-class so it would’ve greatly helped us. Who’d have thunk it in 1969 that Americans would be paying upwards of a dollar a bottle for water? And how do we profess to respect mother nature when we pile our landfills with such wasteful containers?

I encourage the administration to update their rules. Replace:

You can only receive one DBCC [sic] Foundation Donor scholarship per semester.

with:

You can only receive one DBC Foundation Donor scholarship per semester. If you are receiving a scholarship spread over multiple semesters, you may not apply again until that scholarship has concluded.

And on the scholarships page, replace:

Students may apply for as many scholarships as they are eligible, however, students may only receive one DBC Foundation scholarship per semester.

with:

Students may apply for as many scholarships as they are eligible, however, students may only receive one DBC Foundation scholarship per semester. If you are receiving a scholarship spread over multiple semesters, you may not apply again until payment of that scholarship has concluded.

The current rules are too vague, if the staffers themselves misread them. Don’t let someone else go through the same disheartening rigmarole. If it takes away the faith of one student in our university, then it has hurt my community as a whole.

Scratch the opening. It should be “I lost nothing today,” because I never actually had anything.

2008-02-05 Update: I corrected grammar, clarified parts, elaborated on the proposed rule changes, and revised an overly negative paragraph.
2008-02-10 Update: Read A Postscript on the Scholarship.

Slow Firefox

I was commenting on this poll by Sortvind at deviantART about web browser usage, and want to share my wonderful insight with my readers. :grin:

I use Mozilla Firefox because of the great tab control, automation, nice bookmarks toolbar, no text aliasing, other add-ons, and general speediness. But it slows down a lot as I leave one window open for days (using Windows’ hibernation function at night); it’ll even lock up and make everything else slow as molasses, as it steals all the CPU cycles and RAM. I did re-install recently, switching from the portable version to the regular Windows installer, but to no avail. It surely doesn’t help that I like to keep 20 tabs open.

Firefox was originally supposed to be simple and fast, replacing the slow Mozilla suite, but with spell-checking, RSS support, history caching, etc. in the core instead of being relegated to add-ons, it’s becoming increasingly heavy-weight. Inefficiencies in the code don’t help either, though changes will mess up the plugins people love, I hear.

Incidentally, there is the same problem of slowness with WordPress; I and many other users have to use caching to stay running during traffic spikes. Though most database-driven websites use caching, it’s particularly necessary due to WordPress’ inefficiencies. And they won’t be going away or else plugins will break. At least we get lots of cool features out of it. :smile:

Photo: Branches of White

Branches of White — a barren tree against a windy white sky

Looking up at bare tree branches against a white sky. I took this on a dark night, but used a large aperture, high ISO speed, and slow shutter speed, bracing the camera against the ground.

I haven’t posted a photo in a week, but I’ve been quite busy with school; I’ve added two recent essays.

[sniplet 4×6-lustre]

Canon Rebel XTi, EF 50mm 1:1.4, 2″, F1.6, 50mm, ISO800, 2008-01-16T20:33:10-05, 20080117-013310rxt

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

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