Photos on the cloud, and your metadata

Every now and then I cast an eye about to see the state of the art on photo storage, sharing and backup.  Like most of us I have far more digital photos than I know what to do with.  For the most part we manage the lot on iPhoto on my wife's iMac.  It's getting to the point where iPhoto is struggling to keep up and I've pondered LightRoom, but it's still a tad bit of overkill, I think.  For now we just using the various tricks of the trade to boost performance.  I think the next step will be to move the iPhoto library to an SSD drive.  Time to start saving up!

Given my technical background, one of the biggest things I look for in photo management of all sorts is preservation of metadata.  If you are not familiar with photo metadata, you should really acquaint yourself.  It's also worth acquainting yourself as to why it's important to separate photo sharing from storage.  Whether it's the EXIF data recorded by the camera itself, or supplementary metadata added, sometimes out of band, by management apps (e.g. face matches, titles & descriptions you add yourself in iPhoto or other tools), it's really important that software respect what's there as much as possible, adding layers of metadata non-destructively.

Alas this is one area where cloud photo services fail miserably.  I think the most pernicious case of this is Dropbox, which is such a handy service for the most part, but I think is nothing short of evil with regard to photos.  First of all it is loud and persistent in pestering you to switch to its photo import and storage module every time you connect a memory card or such to your computer (I understand: they want to nudge people in a direction that leads to paying more for storage.)  The problem is that if you make the mistake of succumbing to their come-ons, you'll find that they happily mangle and destroy any photo metadata that precedes them.  The comments on their blog entries about the photo features are full of customers complaining about this abuse, but they don't seem to be listening.  They are not alone.  Google Picassa also mangles metadata.  Facebook surprises me by actually trying to do the right thing, and getting a bit tied up in knots as a result.

For now I'm sticking with iPhoto, and I'll copy photos from there to Dropbox, Facebook, etc. as needed for sharing.  I'm also trying out AeroFS, and hoping for good things from them, from the general perspective of meddling-free file distribution and sharing.  I hope more people get familiar with the issues here (there are real consequences to having your photo metadata mangled), and that it adds up to a voice in the marketplace for better solutions, including on the cloud.

Ubuntu Edgy, Firefox and Flash

One of the things I noticed upon upgrade to Edgy is that I'd lost Flash support in Firefox. I wish I could say that I had no need for Adobe/Macromedia's crap, but I can't. For one thing, I often make musical discoveries on MySpace pages--my musical interests tend towards the underground. I set about this evening getting Flash working again, and it was harder than I expected. Recently MySpace switched to Flash 9 (punks!) and I decided to use the version 9 beta bone that Adobe tossed to the Linux community. I found that the nonfree virtual Flash package had ben removed, so I restored it:

sudo apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree

The plan would be to just copy the from Flash 9 beta over the installed version 7. BTW the Flash 7 file was 2MB and the Flash 9 Beta file is almost 7MB. Might be debugging info or something, but yeesh!

Anyway, even before copying the Flash 9 beta I found that Firefox was crashing every time it loaded a Flash site. After some hunting I found a bug with Ubuntu Edgy and either version of the Flash plugin. There are several workarounds mentioned in that thread, but one of them is simply to bump up color depth to 24 bits. I hadn't even known Edgy had limited me to 16 bits, but surely enough I checked my /etc/X11/xorg.conf:

Section "Screen"
    Identifier      "Default Screen"
    Device          "NVIDIA Corporation NV34M [GeForce FX Go 5200]"
    Monitor         "Generic Monitor"
    DefaultDepth    16

I changed that from 16 to 24, restarted X, and all has been well since then. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, speaking of music on MySpace, here's my brother's crew, StrawHat BentLow.

...your best advice is look for the hat...

See also: "On Huck, Hip Hop, and Expression"

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

ABC/ESPN World Cup announcers: The debacle continues

First of all, ESPN has started to get more useful analysts on the program, but unfortunately not in the commentator's booth where they belong: .

  • Allen Hopkins has been doing the tabloid trawl for them. Hopkins is another good analyst. He's usually on Fox Soccer Channel where I've come to know him for his knowledge of the game. His only problem comes when he's teamed with his great mate Max Bretos. They both drift off into their chummy world together rather than focusing on the game at hand.
  • Derek Rae is appearing about five seconds at a time with a smidgen of news on some obscure topic. What a freaking waste. Rae's Champions League commentary is impeccable, so you would think ESPN would think to use him as more than a cameo reporter.

Meanwhile the announcer disgrace continues. I ran out of patience with JP Dellacamera in the Ghana/Czech match. When Amoah was fouled dribbling into the six, Ujfalusi was rightly given a red card. The referee rightly consulted with his assistant, and then gave the big decision. The reason was obvious: Ujfalusi was the last defender, and fouled to prevent a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Apparently this was lost on both Dellacamera and John Harkes. First of all they mused for a few minutes that it was a straight red card for dissent. I was hopping up and down in front of the TV by then. And then someone apparently handed them a slip of paper to point out that the red card was for the foul. But rather than put the obvious together, they instead went on musing that the foul was not bad enough to merit a red card. By this point I had to restrain myself from irrationally damaging my TV. How could they not even guess at the correct reason for the red card? Dellacamera has called enough matches with a red card for that very same reason that he should be aware of the rule. It just seemed to me that they left their brains in the prep room, which is inexcusable for such a big game.

Balboa is not having an inspired time in the booth. I'm biased, as I said, and continue to believe his main problem is in having to cope with O'Brien. I do like that excepting his indignant reaction to the Pope red card, he was generally correct in his assessments of the U.S./Italy game, even when sound judgment ran against the U.S. In the case of the Beasley goal that was correctly ruled out for a McBride off-side, Balboa was very quick to point out the reason for the call. And I expect he was having to bite his tongue while O'Brien was saying "Yes. If McBride didn't lift his foot, it would not have been offside." Say what?

A few gems I couldn't resist quoting:

Dave O'Brien: "That was one stiff shot there by Mastroeni." Behold the midfielder-cum-bartender.

Rob Stone: "Here's Alex. Born in Brazil; native, now, of Japan." The born-again naturalization.

Rob Stone re-christens the instep shot. It's now the "inside stroke". You can use it in the water, too.

Then again while we're collecting ABC/ESPN announcer Goldwynisms, let's not forget that even the true football experts say some screwy things now and then.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Whose fault is the modern pin-up image?

I happened across a very interesting Slashdot posting. To quote liberally:

Consider this quote:

Naomi Wolf is much more blunt. In her book The Beauty Myth, she argues that this very standard of beauty set forth by the media is the primary mechanism of women's oppression by men. She discusses the "suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal"

This would be a great idea, except that laying this all at the feet of men is more than a bit unfair to me. To be sure, the ideal of feminine beauty that is espoused by male oriented media seems extreme -- until you compare it to the images in female oriented media. The male favored image requires surgery, unconscionable quantities of gym time, fasting, and a soupcon of digital touch up. But it's nothing compared to the gaunt images that women pay to consume.

Of course, can say that it's men who run the media companies that produce these images, and you'd be wrong on two counts. The "Cosmo Girl" was the creation of Helen Gurley Brown, after all. But Ms. Brown's sex is not at issue at all. The point is that women and men who run media companies end up doing much the same thing, because they're driven by the same economic forces. The Cosmo Girl wants to have it all. The reason she wants to have it all is because promoting the ideal of having it all pleases the advertisers; it involves not a little buying.

The reason that media female body image is so unrealistic is simple economics. If scarcity enhances value, then the unobtainable must be perceived as infinitely valuable. For the man, the companies inevitably take the general parameters indicating robust healthy child bearing capability and simply nip and tuck it to the edge of impossibility. You meet a woman who looks like that once in a blue moon, and she's definitely not going to be interested in you. Voila! the unobtainable.

For women, the companies produce an image that is starved (never mind this contradicts the male oriented images). A normal woman's homestatic processes will torture her into sumbission long before she reaches this stage. Voia! once more the unobtainable.

It's not the opression of women by men; at least if it is nobody's ever invited me to the meetings where this is arranged. It's not as personal as that. The problem is the antithesis of that. It's completely impersonal. it's economic and thus about systems and performance metrics and quarterly goals, not anything as personally satisfying as domination I'm afraid. And when the putatively immoral male sex is displaced in a position by the putatively superior female sex, there's bound to be very little difference in results. They're just cogs in the machine either way.

It's a fairly sterile point of view, but that works for me because my view of the matter is similarly sterile. The battle of the sexes in Western media usually a lot frothier, tending towards extremes such as the idea that women might be wired for domination by men, or that men might be obsoleted by reproductive technology (by the same idiot-savant line of reasoning one would arrive at the converse absurdity that women should be wary of oven and incubator technology).

I've always found extraordinary the idea that men would put forth signals towards extremes such as Anorexia. I would have expected what's claimed in the above comment—that most men would go for exaggerated lineaments of child-bearing function. But I'm also not sure how far one can take the notion that women are the driving force behind skinny chic. Competitiveness among women alone cannot explain, say, the flapper look, or more recently those Calvin Klein models, or even—to zoom way in—how Fiona Apple became a sensation by starring in a supposedly sexy video looking like a twelve year old foster child. (I sure as hell don't imagine for a moment that it was her high-school-burlesque singing that put her on the map). There must have been a critical mass of men going about saying "that's, like, the acme of hot, dude".

Any why do men not seem as keen on taking the ubiquitous washboard abs in the media as excuse for destructive auto-sculpture? Surely there is more to the overall mechanism of destructive self-image than evil media. Surely what you see in the media is little more than reaction to deeper forces.

It all just goes to reinforce that Economics is an accumulation of small, rational tendencies that in the large seem to drive the most irrational trends.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Just when you thought the American press couldn't get any more stupid...

"Newspapers warn of threat to America from 'Londonistan'"

Someone forgot to re-read the US constitution this past July 4th.

Someone developed a lacuna where the words of another Founding Father should have been:

Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty.

—Benjamin Franklin.

Someone decided that because right wing reagent media is poisonous, intimidating and loud, it must be worthy of emulation.

Someone needs to be told in no uncertain terms that London was brave, sensible, dignified and and just in her acceptance of a cosmopolitan society before the bombings, brave, sensible, dignified and and just in her conduct during the bombings, and has shown very little dimming of that bravery, good sense, dignity and justice after the bombings. There are a lot of Americans who can learn lessons from this fact, if they can hold their ridicule long enough to engage their own brain cells.

London did not throw out all its Irish residents during the IRA bombing campaign. They survived that campaign, and emerged a stronger city. Never forget that.

P.S. Also worth a read: "Bugged by the Brits"

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Who dash monkey banana?

More on the aid to Africa issue. I can't help myself. I hear about it everywhere so now it's deep in the membrane. But in contrast to my last note on the matter, this is where I've gathered a few of my more whimsical thoughts. Speaking of the last entry, though. I forgot to mention Professor Sir Nicholas Stern's comments, which I think are very incisive regarding Africa's internal economic barriers, some of the causes, and the unfortunate effects.

The title is a pidgin expression meaning "just who do they think they are?" ("dash" means to give) That was the general response among folks I knew at school in Okigwe, Nigeria to Band Aid's "Do they know it's Christmas?"

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life(Oooh)
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Essaywhaman? Do whaaa? You what huh? Na wetin? Na who dash monkey banana? Ewu bekee think say nothing dey grow for Africa?. We figured it was worth inviting Geldof and clique to the Okigwe rain forest, where it was so fertile that you were lucky if an oil palm tree didn't shoot up under your feet and knock you off balance; where before the school administration in their infinite stupidity had chopped down almost all the foliage within the school compound boundaries, any hungry kid could climb the nearest mango, udala, icheokwu, orange or cashew (for the sweet, fleshly fruit, not the nut) tree and eat as much as they wanted. We figured it would be a worthwhile education for the Band-Aid brigade.

And sure we felt sorry for the folks suffering a local drought in Ethiopia, but our most immediate response was to feel sorry for the confused Brits. We were making our own "Do they know it's summertime" outreach long before the current version, inspired in part by Yellowman's "London cold" song ("Jamaica Nice/Take me home"). Ka anyi bute oku na obodo oyibo ("Igbo: let's take some warmth to the West").

And there won’t be any sun in England this Summertime
The biggest problems they’ll have this year are rife (Oooh) Where the sun never glows
The wind or is it snow
Do they know it’s Summertime at all

Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie of AFFORD

Heeee heee! And then Michael Jackson did his thing. Okay, so no daft lyrics about snow-deprived Decembers on the continent, and the song was actually pretty good this time (the Quincy Jones magic, I guess). Some of the press statements at the time were a hoot, though. The galling point remains that pop stars see nothing wrong with the idea of patronizing an entire continent. Who dash monkey banana?

It's 2005. Here we go again. I don't even need to call it. Sokari does the job in "We're not whales"

My prediction that the presentation of African countries during Saturday's concerts would be a negative pitiful one was correct. We were presented with Africa as the “scar of the world”, passive, starving, diseased, dying and helpless. This was a conscious decision by the organisers of the concert to make the crowd sympathetic to their cause and at the same time make them feel good, make them feel as if they had made a contribution to saving Africa.
Not only does it infantilise Africans and Europeans, it also facilitates the continued appropriation of all things African and all things in Africa including our problems and reduces the issues to cheap sound bites and meaningless nauseating rhetoric that go down well in the kindergarten playground of liberal politics.

I don't agree with everything she says in that article, but it comes close enough to my views to save me a lot of typing. And Ethan Zuckerman does more than his fair share in "Africa’s a continent. Not a crisis." (via Emeka Okafor)

If the goal of Live 8 were to help people see the African continent as a place they want to visit, a place they want to open businesses in, a place they want to engage with, as opposed to a place they want to save, I’d be more likely to share Brian’s (of Black Star Journal) hopes.
But that would be a very different concert. It would be one that celebrated the cultural richness of the continent by putting African artists on stage, rather than inviting them - after Geldof was shamed by Peter Gabriel - to perform at a parallel event a hundred miles away from the main action. It would be one that put African leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators on stage, rather than using a silent young Ethiopian woman as a stage prop for Madonna and Geldof. It would be one that was more focused on changing the global image of Africa than on somehow changing the minds of the eight guys sitting around a table in Scotland..."

Another Ghanaian blogger with a different sort of quotable on the matter is Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah, probably familiar to Copia readers, who recently got to air his thoughts on the African aid buzz on the radio. To seize upon an aside:

I didn't mention the other statistic that underlies my point about Nigeria moving: the installation of 1 million cell phone lines in Nigeria in the past year. And anyone who has had to deal with the acumen of Nigerians in whatever sphere knows that if that society decides to advance, it will change in very short order. It will still be difficult, unwieldy and disorderly, but it will move and possibly even faster than India or China will.

Well, there's a bit of modesty going on here. Given that my own life was saved by a Ghanaian doctor in Nigeria after one British and one Nigerian doctor had given up treating me (long story), and given my other experiences with Ghanaian professionals, the nation of Black Stars has a whole heap of a lot to work with. And there is the object lesson about internal trade in the continent. The mutual respect of professionals will show the road to the achievements of China and India, if our leadership allows it.

But what about those leaders? They're off having to be lectured on dignity and the realities of aid by The Colonel. And check it out. The Nigerian government, singing that Johnny Kemp: "Just got paid, Friday night...", starts by tipping the back pocket at those world champion runner-up Flying Eagles. Maybe they should also buy a pair of glasses for the punk ass referee who gift-wrapped the championship game for Argentina. No, for real, maybe they should just pay Siasia, the over-achieving coach. I guess the expression "Who dash monkey banana" slices in multiple ways.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

The problem with aid to Africa

Talk of the Nation had a show on debt to Africa. It was hosted by Lynn Neary, whom I do not like as hostess (she is too impatient and abrupt), but the topic was well worth it. James Shikwati, director of the Inter-Region Economic Network in Nairobi was the first guest, and he started with an overview of his reasons, as an African, for despising aid to Africa.

[Shikwati]: I'm concerned about the aspect of beggar mentality that aid creates. And then there is also the aspect of aid killing Africa's creativity and entrepreneurship. And also the aspect of aid destroying ownership of the African problem, by transferring it to developed countries.

[Neary]: What are the alternatives

[Shikwati]: The alternative is to get Africans learning how to do business, and to get African governments facilitating an environment that will make it easier for Africans to do business.

The first clause here surprised me. Africa is again a very diverse continent, but speaking for Nigerians at least, I don't think anyone needs to teach business. Nigerians are the second most ruggedly entrepreneurial people I think I know as a class (Lebanese being the most). The biggest problem has been the opposite of what Shikwati says: the public sector treating the public interest too much as an extension of the business interest of those in power.

[Neary]: Do you think African countries need help getting such entrepreneurial ideas off the ground

[Shikwati]: The African leadership should look inward to the causes of the African problem. The first one being artificial barriers that make it so difficult for Africans to trade among themselves. Africa is a market of 800 million people. In that case before someone from outside can come to help us, we can help each other by opening ourselves up.

There was also an American guest, Steven Radelet, but Shikwati really set the tone of the discussion. I have been very happy to hear more intelligent African voices weigh in on these important topics. It's not that such folks are a new phenomenon by any means, but it's only lately that the media seems to be ready to give voice to those Africans who do not speak in terms that Westerners have come to expect. It feels to me that we have a nugget of opportunity for breaking down some of the oh so tiresome stereotypes.

Shikwati expressed the view that short term pain that would come from curtailing aid would be worth the long term benefit. He also pointed out that a lot of the "aid" really comes in the form of loans, which even when directed to such important causes as malaria treatment and primary school education, adds yet more long-term burden to the receiving countries. Radelet did point out that there is a recent trend towards subsidized loans and even outright grants.

The first caller was another Uchenna (of the countless so named). He suggested that if the main problem has been that corrupt regimes steal aid money, why don't organizations provide aid in terms of actual (presumably illiquid) resources for projects rather than cash. Shikwati responded that what is really needed is a "radical shake-up" of the economics that drive Africa, and that such a tinkering measure is really not enough. Radelet did point out some examples of modest success stories from countries receiving aid, but I agree with Shikwati that most African countries need things to happen at a much larger scale, and that even successfully targeted aid will not achieve such scale.

One of the callers asked from the point of view of a business owner asking essentially "if Africa is a mess, why should I invest there?" To me, this just underscored the importance of Shikwati's points. Even though I personally dislike Africa's sloth in shedding dependence on aid, I do not agree with the typical Western economist who says "make it easy for Westerners to make money in Africa and it will be worth all the aid imaginable". They can keep that trickle-down bullshit on their classroom chalkboards. I'm perfectly happy not to have any Western investors in Africa. I don't think we need them. Between ther very large and very successful body of Africans in diaspora and the 800 million still on the continent Shikwati mentions, there is plenty of resource for a completely indigenous African marketplace. The barriers we need to remove in Africa are not barriers for Westerners to invest but rather all the unfortunate barriers to professional achievement even among natives. If lowering these barriers also draws some Westerners, that's all very well—I don't advocate protectionism, which is after all the way in which the West sabotages African development at the same time they offer aid— but Western investment should be understood as a very secondary matter.

Despite my worries about the practicalities of business based on merit in Nigeria right now, I've started to look into how I can use my professional profile and entrepreneurial experience in ways that take advantage of my local knowledge in Nigeria, which is not enormous, by any means (I've been away too long), but is not insignificant. I've come to the point where I can't avoid doing so because my parents are very seriously talking about moving back to Nigeria in their retirement.

There is the thread that for me connects the continental-scale macroeconomics of the Live 8 and G8 hullaballo to the microeconomics of personal entrepreneurial interest. The only thing a liquid dole from the West can do is distract the ruling African class from the important task of engaging their professional class, much of which is dispersed because of the starkness of this very class distinction throughout so much of the continent. Western aid in the large can really do very little more than provide indirect discouragement to my own ambitions in my native country, and that of my peers. What I and my peers have to offer is hard work and professionalism over a steady period of time, but we're stymied because there is so much more more superficial attraction in greased megabucks from Western coffers.


"Quotīdiē" 26 June 2005
"Africa and business on Talk of the Nation"
"Those despicable gas flares"

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


One of the great practical uses of the literary disciplines, of course, is to resist glibness—to slow language down and make it thoughtful. This accounts, particularly, for the influence of verse, in its formal aspect, within the dynamics of the growth of language: verse checks the merely impulsive flow of speech, subjects it to another pulse, to measure, to extralinguistic consideration; by inducing the hesitations of difficulty, it admits into language the influence of the Muse and of musing.

Wendell BerryStanding By Words

via David Graham, on the New Poetry mailing list

No sooner have I returned from Amsterdam (more on all that later) than juicy morsel falls straight in my lap for the neglected Quotīdiē. Wendell Berry is not the most interesting poet to me. I find him much like our current Poet Laureate Ted Kooser—Intelligently stated, but with nothing particularly compelling to offer for theme or diction. Not all bucolics have to be as majestic, as, say Vergil's, but I think more of our poets should look to (to give a parallel example) Horace for an example of how to personalize bucolics while still keeping them interesting.

But the quote is not from Berry's poetry, but from his prose, and it compels me to seek out more of Berry's philosophical essays. Many commentators have noted the role of poetry in presenting ideas in a form that requires such care to digest that they become more clearly communicated to the reader. This is so even if, paradoxically, obscurity is one of these tools of clear communication. Obscurity slows things down in the reader's apprehension in order not to lose the nuances. A perfect antonym of poetry from this viewpoint is the sound bite, and I think this comparison is also a good argument as to why poetry is as important today as it has ever been.

Poetry for new media culture

The problem has always been how to make the reader accept the braking effect of poetry on the digestion of information. I don't think it's engaging in too much Luddite hand wringing to say that these days people prefer their information in easily (and indeed trivially) digestible form. This is in part a natural reaction to high volume ("information overload" in the jargon). Most people, even among the trendiest of techies, are quick to praise the resource that presents a topic in both depth and breadth, and in coherent form. They find such treatment a necessary check on the dissociating effects of the contemporary knowledge feed—rapidly evolving blips of high sugar information. They accept a slow-down of perception and carefully read such resources, but only when advised by their peers to do so. They slow down because the "buzz factor" has compelled them to do so.

Poetry serves the same end, and buzz can certainly be important for leading people to poetry, but what really makes it compelling enough for the reader to accept the slow-down in apprehension is concentrated beauty of language. If the musical force of the words is strong enough, the intelligent reader will be obliged to dig more deeply. The reader will have gained a superficial aesthetic reward from the piece, in the sound, and such a reward as they never receive from their more quotidian resources. This reward is very satisfying, even if superficial, and it promises of richer reward, in the matter, once one has taken the time to consider the piece more carefully, most likely through multiple readings, and discussion with peers. And with the best poetry, we learn that the reward in the sound is not really superficial at all, but is the key to better memory of the idea as well as greater enjoyment in its presentation.

This is all well and good, of course, but the question is exactly where will the mastery come from to work new media concerns into compelling poetry? Is any such venture doomed by popular stereotype of poetry, especially its association with the mid-20th century cadre of slovenly, mentally unstable, kvetching pop art beatniks? From what I've heard and read of Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn, she opens up a useful discussion along these lines (yet another book on my really-should-read-soon list). I must also say that the same discussion leads me to question whether she has the critical acumen to help direct the class of potential poets who can serve the world in this time of great need.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia