Amen to That!

Rene mirrors all my feelings about Instagram. From iMore:

I’ve been using Instagram for a long time. I almost always post my photos to Instagram and then share from there to Facebook and Twitter. I use it enough that I’ve become somewhat inured to its common limitations — its rough edges and brick walls — most people run into every day. Hearing John Gruber discuss them with Ben Thompson on The Talk Show this week, however, made them all front-of-mind for me again. As such, here are five frustrations I currently have that I’d like to see Instagram tackle this year.

1. Higher resolution photos

Instagram launched at a time when the iPhone’s camera was three megapixels and the device’s top speeds were limited by 3G service. Now we have 8-megapixel iSight cameras and LTE radios. Yet Instagram’s native resolution on iOS remains 640-by-640. For viewing, that’s okay… in the same way listening to a low-bitrate MP3 music is “okay.” For appreciating, however, it’s disappointing.

On a modern iPhone, Instagram works with and even lets you save 2048-by-2048 images, but won’t display them on the service. Perhaps the company could upload the high-res image to the service if you have the connection to do so, then display scaling resolutions based on whatever device is viewing it, a la Dropbox’s Carousel (née Loom) or iCloud Photo Library. That way low-end, low-resolution devices are still “okay,” but high-end devices like the iPhone 6 Plus can view the high resolution — assuming they have the bandwidth to do so.

Storage and its associated costs would go up for Instagram, but they have Facebook money and infrastructure to lean on now. And for a service built on photos, a reasonable quality level should be table-stakes.

2. Instagram for iPad

Instagram debuted on the iPhone. Eventually it moved to Android and the web (ish). It added video and dabbled with messaging. What it didn’t move to, and what it didn’t add, was an iPad client. This thinking might have made sense when the iPad launched without a camera, but now that the iPad Air 2 has a very capable 8-megapixel iSight camera, it’s an obvious, gaping omission.

Given its 2048-by-1536 laminated Retina display with 264 pixels-per-inch, the iPad has the perfect screen for photos and videos. That means it has the perfect screen for enjoying high-resolution Instagram shots as well.

Mobile-first defines Instagram, to be sure, but iPads are mobile devices. Apple has sold hundreds of millions of them, so they’re also among the most popular mobile devices and the most popular mobile cameras. They are, in fact, the best cameras some of us have with us. It’s long past time iPads and iPad photography were treated as first-class citizens.

3. Non-destructive edits

Instagram has grown from a way to filter poor iPhone shots to a way to edit-to-perfection all the moments we want to share with the world. The app has a full range of tools, offering expanded filters, brightness, contrast, saturation, color, highlights and shadows, blur and sharpness, and more.

During the editing process you can move through all of them, tweaking and adjusting with impunity — non-destructively – until it’s exactly the way you want it. Once you post it, however, those edits are burned in forever.

Imagine instead, like the iOS 8 Photos app, all those edits were saved as a delta file and stored alongside the original image. What you see in the Instagram feed would be the same, but you could go back in and tweak an image again any time you wanted, alongside its caption or tags.

Again, it would require slightly more storage on the backend, but it would also allow for more time spent using Instagram — a plus in any company’s book.

4. Native regrams

If I like a tweet, I can retweet it. If I enjoy a Facebook post, I can share it. On Instagram… nothing. If I really want to re-broadcast something, I need to screenshot it, crop it, and post it either as my own photo with some caption attribution or use one of those ugly third party apps that stick a citation label on it.

At best, it’s awkward and unwieldy. At worst, it leads to shitpic degradation through repeated application of compression.

Right now, to discover great new Instgram accounts to follow, I have to leave my timeline and go squint through the middling Activity list Instagram provides. Native regrams would solve that problem, as well. And for anyone who thinks of regrams as clutter, an opt-out could easily be provided in the app’s settings screen.

5. Active Links

“See link in my profile” is a thing on Instagram because that’s the only place the app currently supports active links. If you type a link into a caption, it renders as plaintext. Tap on it, and it does nothing but laugh at you, silently.

By all means, keep links — and the spammers who would abuse them — out of the replies. But enable them in the original caption we add when uploading a photo. That way, I can not only share moments, I can share a way for other people to get more information and potentially share that moment as well.

Your most-wanted Instagram features?

Some people want a native Mac app as well, or channels so they can follow trends or events. Others want an easy way to re-download their own photos or multiple account support so they can post personally and for the job or hobby. Still others want better state-preservation so they don’t lose their place when they exit the app, or support for line breaks in comments.

But what do you want? If you were running product development for Instagram this year, what would be on your upcoming feature list?

Going Home

After much discussion, Ben and I have decided to move back to Phoenix later this year.

We had originally planned on staying in Denver another two years (to pad his retirement account a bit more to use for a down payment on a condo when we moved back to Phoenix), but for many reasons the Universe seems to be telling us to go sooner rather than later.

I can’t say I’m at all upset by this decision. It’s no secret that I have been—to put it mildly—dissatisfied—with my employment situation since arriving in Denver, and both us are done with the cold weather, the snow, the ice, and the level of abject stupidity we seem to encounter at every turn on a daily basis in this city. When we were back in Phoenix for our belated wedding reception last September I think it was painfully obvious to both of us how much we missed it. As I Instagrammed at the time:

We always viewed moving to Denver as an adventure, but we’ve had our fill of adventure and it’s time to go home.

 

I Am Incorrigible

This guy reminded me so much of a boy I dated shortly after I moved to San Francisco in 1987, I couldn’t help but snap a dozen or so photos of him. Sadly, Kevin is no longer with us; a victim of the horrible early 90s when the plague seemed to be ripping people from our lives on a daily basis, but seeing this guy brought back so many good memories I can’t help smiling.

Gigapixels of Andromeda

On January 5, NASA released an image of the Andromeda galaxy, our closest galactic neighbour, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The full image is made up of 411 Hubble images, takes you through a 100 million stars and travels over more than 40,000 light years. Well, a section of it anyway.

Prepare to feel extremely tiny and insignificant (or just the opposite!) as you marvel at this fly-through video created by YouTuber daveachuk and make sure you stick around till the end. Seriously.

Just a Few Questions…

Disclaimer: I am not Catholic, have never been Catholic, and quite frankly couldn’t give a rat’s ass what the guy in Rome wearing the fancy smock and the pointy hat has to say, but I ran across this today and felt it worthy of passing on.

“If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” ~Pope Francis

From Rosa Rubiconidior:

Dear Pope Francis

I saw your recent statement in Manilla in response the the Charlie Hebdo atrocities in Paris, that people who insult religion can expect to be punched. I am surprised that you seem to be excusing Islamic violence, presumably because you feel solidarity with other religions in the face of growing secularism in Europe, and find it confusing in view of official Christian teaching.

I acknowledge your right to determine Catholic Church policy and dogma in this issue, and I am aware that you have been trying to present the Catholic Church in a more liberal, more tolerant and less bigoted light and that you may even have been trying to instigate some actual reforms yet to manifest themselves, but this statement raises a number of questions which I would like you to answer please:

1. In view of what the Bible says Jesus said should be the right response to insults – to forgive and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39Luke 6:27-29) – how does this new, violent response to insulting religion fit in with Jesus’ teaching? Do you think Jesus was wrong or just that he made a mistake in not explicitly stating this exceptions to this rule? Or does this apparent abandonment of the ‘turn the other cheek’ principle mark a change in God’s thinking on this matter and a repudiation of Jesus’ teaching?

2. Does this violent response to insults to religion apply in principle to other insults to individuals or organizations? If so, which, please?

3. Some people might interpret a resort to violence as a tacit admission that there areno reasonable arguments which can be used and an awareness of that deficiency, and that it betrays an insecurity which translates as a perceived threat, hence the ‘retaliation’. This in turn might imply a personal commitment to an idea which is known to be defective or even a lifestyle which is known to be fraudulent and disingenuous with religion being used merely as an excuse. What would you say to these people?

4. If this permitted violent response applies only to religions, does this apply to all religions or just to major ones such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism? If all religions, how are you defining the term ‘religion’ in this context? Does it require a belief in one or more invisible deities or would you include Buddhism and neo-Paganism or religion as understood by people such as Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein, which would include very many openly Atheist/Agnostic scientists? For example, as someone who is in total awe at the Universe and the natural forces that have shaped it and which have given rise to life on Earth with it’s amazingly rich diversity, would I be justified in punching anyone who disagrees with Big Bang Cosmology or Evolution by Natural Selection rather than bothering to explain the science?

5. Can I define my own religion and then punch anyone who insults it or does it need to be an organized religion complete with priesthood, buildings, creed, etc?

6. How should we define an ‘insult’ in this context, please? Is it an insult to question religious dogma or to disagree with it and put forward an opposing point of view? For example, if I question the historical existence of Jesus or the validity of the claim that the Qur’an was dictated by Allah to Muhammad, or even the historical accuracy of the Bible, would this justify someone punching me? How about if I question your authority or the dogma that on ecumentical matters and matters of morality you are infallible? What if I advocate contraception, same-sex marriages or strict secularism in government, health-care and education?

7. As an Atheist, I believe that all religions are delusional in nature and have many of the characteristics of a memetic virus living parasitically on human cultures. Do I deserve to be punched by religious people who might be insulted by these views or by religious people who find the idea that they are evolved apes who share a common ancestor with the other apes offensive and insulting?

8. The other day in Oxford, UK a man was telling passers by that they were all sinners and his god would hurt us if we didn’t agree and do what he said. As a secular Humanist and Atheist I found this insulting. Would I have been justified in punching him for that insult and would he have been justified in punching me for telling him he was probably suffering from paranoid theophobia and needed psychiatric help and counselling?

9. Is it permitted for any Muslim to punch Christians who deny the divinely inspired nature of the Qur’an or the claim that Muhammad was Allah’s prophet, or for a Christian to punch a Muslim who claims Jesus was not an Earthly manifestation of God and that the only way to salvation is through strict adherence to Islam not Jesus? If not, why not? If so, to where do you see this leading humanity?

10. Is the violent response restricted to a single punch or is a slap, a push, a knee in the groin or a headbut permitted? Can it involve more than one of these and can it result in actual bodily harm? What if the punched person retaliates? Can the response include a weapon or is it always to be unarmed violence?

11. May a man punch a woman who insults his religion, or an able-bodied person punch a disabled person, or a large person a smaller one? At what age are children eligible to be punched by adults and can children punch one another?

12. What advice would you give to people living in countries where punching someone is a crime and who finds themselves in court charged with assault, affray or causing actual or grievous bodily harm? Would you support a plea of innocent or mitigation on the grounds of religious conscience or that you said it was permitted?

I would be grateful for a reasoned and prompt response to these questions, please as I feel the future of European civilisation in particular and human society in general may be enormously affected by a careless and confused attempt to implement what looks like a new, less tolerant and more violent Catholic dogma which can only be expected to result in retaliation and an escalation in communal and inter-faith violence.

Yours,

Rosa Rubicondior

2015 is Off to a Fabulous Start

I took the OS X certification test this morning.

I failed…and rather spectacularly if we’re going to be honest.

So much for my quick ticket out of Hell.

I sincerely thought I had this thing in the hole. My only worry was that there would be several fill-in-the-blank questions, all of which I failed miserably on the practice tests I’d taken. (The wording needed to be exactly as it was in the course materials in order to get those right; if you so much as used an “a” when there should have been an “an,” you’d fail.) When the tests were all matching, true/false, and multiple-choice I consistently scored in the upper nineties. I figured even if a quarter of the questions on the final exam were the fill-in-the-blank variety, I could miss them all and still squeak by with with the minimum 75% passing grade.

Alas, it was not to be. And it’s just another one of the “death by a thousand cuts” that Denver has come to symbolize.

I’m not trying to make excuses, but the final test bore absolutely no resemblance to any of the so-called “official” practice tests I’d taken. It was all multiple choice, so thankfully I didn’t have to write anything out, but I still only got a score of 65% correct.

I can take it again, but this time it will cost me and not my employer. If I do decide to take it again, I will need to definitely pour over the course materials, because the test managed to focus on the least-discussed concepts that were covered in training and since they aren’t in any of the practice tests, they are not committed to memory.

To add insult to injury, there is a very good chance that Ben’s contract is not going to be renewed for the next school year.

We may be moving back to Phoenix sooner rather than later.

And I also found out I need $1000 in car repairs.

Happy Fucking New Year!

That Moment…


…when you realize you’ve wasted an entire year of your life dragging yourself into a place you loathe simply because you hate interviewing.

Me Likey

I got a new case for my MacBook.

Okay, I actually bought three: orange, black, and turquoise.

I like this style because the Apple logo is actually cut out. It’s also got very grippy rubber feet on the bottom, something the MacBooks are not especially known for.

The orange practically glows in daylight.

You can find them (for all styles and sizes of MacBook) here. They ship from China so it takes a couple weeks for them to arrive, but it’s well worth the wait.

I’m Not an Opera Queen, But…

OMG…this.

After not hearing it for many, many years, Akhnaten has been my commute soundtrack for the past few days and has reminded me that even though all the negative aspects of who I was prior to my cancer battle ideed sloughed off and died, some of the things that still send my soul quivering are very much alive and well.

Even after all this time (I first heard Akhnaten in 1989 and I doubt I’ve listened to it in full since we moved to Denver), it still gives me goosebumps.

But then I am an admitted Philip Glass fanboy. I first became acquainted with his work by way of the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack back in the mid 1980s, and was immediately hooked on his minimalism. In my journeys I have known only two other souls who shared that Glass love; one was a neighbor in San Francisco who turned me on to Satyagraha—a piece of music which was later to become my muse—and another a dear friend who is sadly no longer with us.

While the entire opera is a slice of heaven that easily transports me away from my daily life, three cuts especially stand out. The first is the final scene of Act I, The Window of Appearances:

The Window of Appearances will forever be burned in my memory as playing while driving back to Phoenix one night after an evening of astrophotography an hour north of town.

The other two are Scenes 1 and 2 from Act II, The Temple and Akhnaten and Nefertiti:

I especially like the love poem recited in Akhnaten and Nefertiti

(Recited by the Scribe and then sung in Egyptian by Akhnaten and Nefertiti, it is a love poem found in a royal mummy of the Armarna period, from Journal of Egyptian Archæology, translated by Sir Alan Gardiner):

I breathe the sweet breath
Which comes forth from thy mouth.
I behold thy beauty every day.
It is my desire
That I may be rejuvenated
With life through love
Of thee.

Sesenet neftu nedjem
Per em rek
Peteri nefruk em menet
Ta-i nehet sedj emi
Kheruk nedjem en mehit
Renpu ha-i em ankh
en mertuk.

Give me thy hands, holding thy spirit.
that I may receive it and may live by it.
Call thou upon my name unto eternity
And it shall never fail.

Di-ek eni awik kher ka-ek
Shesepi su ankhi yemef
I ashek reni er heh
Ben hehif em rek

Black Mirror

It’s been called The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits for our age, and after watching the incredibly short first and second seasons on Netflix, I have to agree.

Black Mirror creeps the adult me out the way TZ and OL did when I was a kid. It hooks into our subconscious fears about the reach of technology in our lives in the same way the threat of nuclear annihilation and space exploration did in the 1960s.

Probably the most disturbing episode for me has been Fifteen Million Merits.

From Wikipedia:

A satire on entertainment shows and our insatiable thirst for distraction set in a sarcastic version of a future reality. In this world, everyone must cycle on exercise bikes in order to power their surroundings and generate currency called Merits. Everyday activities are constantly interrupted by advertisements that cannot be skipped or ignored without financial penalty. Obese people are considered to be second-class citizens, and either work as cleaners around the machines (where they receive verbal abuse) or are humiliated on game shows.

Bingham “Bing” Madsen (Daniel Kaluuya) has inherited 12,000,000 merits from his dead brother and has the luxury of skipping advertisements. In the toilet he overhears Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) singing; he encourages her to enter into the X-Factor style game show Hot Shots, which offers a chance for people to get out of the slave-like world around them. Bing persuades her and, feeling there is nothing “real” worth buying, purchases the ticket for her. The judges (Rupert Everett, Julia Davis, Ashley Thomas) and the crowd enjoy her singing, but they state there is no room for an ‘Above Average Singer’ and instead give her the chance to become an adult actress on a pornographic TV station. After goading from the judges and the crowd, and drugged on a substance called “Cuppliance” (compliance in a cup), Abi reluctantly agrees.

Bing returns to his cell without Abi and any merits. When an advert showing Abi performing a sexual act appears on the screen, he can’t skip it (as he doesn’t have enough merits) and desperately tries to escape his cell, ramming the door until the glass breaks. He hides a shard of glass under his bed and earns another 15,000,000 merits to enter the competition. He stops buying food and pedals for months until he has enough to buy another ticket. He stands in the Hot Shots waiting room every day without expression until called to compete.

On stage he interrupts his performance, draws the shard of glass and threatens to kill himself live on the show. He tearfully rants about how unfair the system is and expresses his anger for how the judges took away the only thing he found that felt real. The judges, instead of taking his words into consideration, are impressed by his ‘performance’ and offer him his own show, where he can rant about the system all he likes.

Bing accepts and is shown finishing one of his streams in his penthouse. He stands staring out over a view of a vast green forest stretching to the horizon. It is unclear whether this is real or just another screen, and it is up to the viewer to decide if all Bing did is find himself in a larger cell.

It disturbs me because I can easily see this happening…

Anyhow, if you have Netflix, check it out.