A Bold Move – Why I Sold My Canon Gear

Sometimes people do the craziest things. I tend to be a pretty conservative fellow — you know, err on the side of caution, that sort of thing. But recently I made a decision that will, in a small way, change my life. Well, the photography side of my life at least. I have decided to become an iPhone only photographer, or an all out iPhoneographer.

I’ve had some sort of Canon DSLR for that past thirteen years and have enjoyed them immensely. My Canons have been great tools for capturing some pretty nice photos and there are much better cameras out there than the ones I’ve owned but I have also been having a lot of fun taking pictures with my iPhone, and the challenges that come with it.

You might say taking photos with an iPhone couldn’t be any easier. I mean really, you just point… and click, or tap, and voila, you have the shot, right?

Edited with Polarr Photo Editor
This photo was in a gallery exhibition

Well, let me tell you, if you’ve never tried to get a really good photo with an iPhone, it isn’t that easy. Sure, it isn’t rocket science, but getting a shot that has the potential to be confused for a DSLR image has its challenges and using an iPhone has its limitations.

Speaking of limitations, some of you reading this might be thinking I’m off my rocker for leaving the DSLR scene with all of its possibilities to a very limited one in that of the iPhone. I knew that full well going into this. And believe me, this isn’t a spur of the moment decision. I have been mulling over this for probably two years now. I was just waiting to see if that “ah ha” moment would ever come to push me over the edge of uncertainty. That moment has been manifesting itself in a few different ways over those two years.

I began this thought process when the iPhone started to get good at taking photos. For me that started in October of 2013 when the iPhone 5s was released. The technology in that thing was very cool. It was the first iPhone that, when you tripped the shutter, would take a series of four images almost simultaneously, instantly analyze them and give you the sharpest one. I was impressed, but what impressed me more was the quality of the photos I was taking. And no, I realize they aren’t DSLR photos, I get that. But for images produced from a PHONE, they were pretty good. The continuing evolution of iPhone cameras kept increasing my faith in them as something I could use exclusively. The increase from 8 MP to 12 in the 6s was all but the icing on the cake for me and since I get a new iPhone every two years, I’m very excited to see what the 2017 model will have. Oh, and that’s a good point too. I get a new camera every other year!

Digging deeper into why I took this plunge, there are my reasons for taking photos in the first place. I’m not a professional so I don’t make a living doing photography. I don’t often print my photos, although I’m a firm believer that it helps to improve one’s photos. For the type of photography I do, I really don’t need a fancy full frame DSLR and big, expensive, top quality lenses. My memories and my works of art are generally reserved for my own menagerie of pixels stored on a hard drive both at home and abroad (my backups), and the ones I deem worthy are shared for you and anyone else who cares to take a look at them on a small handful of online portals. A good friend of mine once referred to me as a “social media” photographer, which is arguable, but I prefer to be called a “photographer,” just like anyone else who creates photos with a camera.

With an iPhone I can explore various types of photography all on the same device, and a versatile arsenal of apps allows me to do things like instant HDR, black and white, or even an upside down view camera style of photography just to name a few. It’s like having a darkroom right in my pocket. The limitations of the iPhone with regard to taking photos is, in my opinion, balanced quite nicely with the ever expanding possibilities for creating art provided by the thousands of people who create the apps available to us.

I spoke earlier about not needing expensive lenses and such. I don’t. But I have acquired a set of lenses that I can attach to my iPhone to expand my photographic experience. Again, the quality is not like that of my Canon stuff but I’m ok with it. The close up work I can do
with the macro lens was probably the IMG_2157
final deciding factor for making my switch to iPhoneography. I never did own a macro lens for my Canon so I hadn’t experienced the world up close but I’m loving it, and this little kit of lenses cost less for all five than the cheapest of Canon lenses.

I could go on and on about what I like about iPhoneography but I’m sure a lot of those who began reading this have already moved on. If you are still here, thank you for your interest. I want to close by saying that I hope my peers don’t think any less of me as a photographer. I still know the craft. I’ll still help those in need whenever I can, and I will still learn from other photographers just as I have for most of my life. I know there will be times when I won’t be able to do what my peers are doing in their photography, but that’s okay, I’ve already accepted that. Currently I have two goals for my iPhoneography. Well, okay, one goal and one dream. The goal is to capture an image of the milky way. The dream? Well, it’s a long shot, but my dream is to be featured in the Apple World Gallery where, if selected, one of my images will occupy billboards around the world and be printed on the back cover of thousands of magazines. The goal is more likely to happen than the dream but hey, there’s nothing wrong with “shooting for the stars” now, is there?

Facebook – Why I Complain, and Why I Still Use It

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. They can never escape the news for too long. And when they are in the news, it’s usually because of a privacy issue, or a new feature that has privacy issues. That all stems back to Mark Zuckerberg and his insatiable, confused perception of the concept that everyone on planet Earth wants to, needs to, and should share every aspect of their personal lives with each other.

Boy, he couldn’t be more wrong. But somehow, he has found a way to weasel his empire’s way into the lives of well over a billion people for his own financial gain. I can’t blame him for wanting to prosper, who wouldn’t want that? What I don’t like is the means by which he does so. His product has literally infected the Internet and there’s not much anyone can do to stop it. There’s a little, but it’s not much. Unless, of course, you don’t use Facebook. 

This post has been brewing in my mind for a couple of weeks now and I finally decided to sit down and write it. What brought it on in the first place was Facebook’s latest iteration of its service which affected the mobile side of the company’s users. They’ve decided to force users to not only have the main Facebook app installed on their smartphones, but if the 945 million or so mobile Facebookers wanted to use the Messenger service, they now have to download and install a separate app because that functionality will soon, if it’s not already, be stripped out of the main app.

What’s the big deal some may ask? Well, this latest round of buzz about Facebook privacy flared up over the permissions required for use of the Messenger app on Android phones. However, all the hype was really caused by people misunderstanding the technology behind the permissions, which came from an article on the matter by a local radio station somewhere in the US. 

People everywhere were freaking out because they thought Facebook was going to be able to use the camera and microphone on their smartphones, as well as make calls, all without their knowledge or consent. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While using Facebook and Facebook Messenger, users enjoy sending messages, taking and sending photos to one another or posting them to their timelines. There are some things that need to happen before these types of activities can take place. 

Facebook cannot remotely activate a smartphone’s camera or mic, nor can it activate the dialler to initiate a call. But in order for a user to perform these actions within the Facebook app or the Messenger app, Facebook needs permission to access these hardware functions of the devices. Android, the widely used, Google created operating system found on handsets from a variety of companies, puts these parameters in the Application Manager, all in one spot, and I believe these permissions have to be addressed before using the apps. From there, users can grant Facebook permission to access those hardware components which enables them to share photos or videos, send voice memos, or even makes calls (which is technically Skype).

Apple handles these permissions differently for their iOS devices. Once the app is installed, the permissions don’t need to be addressed until the user wants to perform these certain activities. A pop up will appear, created by Apple, asking if the user will allow Facebook to access the camera, etc., and the user then grants the permission. There is also a place in the iPhone’s Privacy Settings where these things can be toggled on or off.

I stated in the title of this post that I still use Facebook. Well, that is true. But I don’t use it a whole lot. In fact, I once left Facebook for a while only to return about a year later. I found it was the only way to keep up with family and close friends. Sadly, no one uses regular email for that like they used to. I guess it’s because Facebook is just too handy. When I returned to the service, I realized how disconnected I was from everyone.

So, why do I complain about Facebook? Because of their lack of concern for our privacy, plain and simple. Oh, it goes beyond that though, but I consider the “Like” and “Share” buttons all over the Internet, the fact that they plant cookies in our computers, and the whole general technology behind Facebook a blatant lack of concern for users’ privacy. However if you want to use Facebook, you can’t escape it for the most part.

I must say though that my Facebook experience isn’t too bad. I just try to ignore what I hate about it and take some precautions to make it less painful. My biggest defence is that I never, ever, tap or click on a “Like” button, be it on Facebook or on a website elsewhere. I generally like what folks I’m close to post on the social network. I hope they know that. I can say one thing for sure, I don’t get targeted ads filling my stream from liking this or that on websites that I visit. And I would suspect that my Facebook friends don’t see ads about something that I said I liked. At least I hope not.

On my Facebook web experience, I don’t see any ads at all. I see a few Pages and Friend recommendations, and what’s Trending, but no ads. None. This is thanks to a little browser extension I use called Disconnect. It just blocks all that stuff so I don’t have to worry about it, and it works on all websites I visit. I highly recommend it. 

Like anything Internet related, safety, security and protection are all best dealt with in your behaviour, which sometimes involves avoidance. So why don’t I avoid Facebook? Well, like I said, I use it to stay in the loop. I know there are many reasons to avoid Facebook and one day they might step over that line in my conscience that tells me “enough is enough” but until that happens, I’ll just keep telling myself that I’m just one measly little user who doesn’t tell Facebook everything about me and it’s okay to stay with it.

The New inPulse Watch from Allerta

The inPulse Watch

I’m a geek, I’m an early adopter, I ain’t afraid’a beta… well, you get the picture. I recently purchased a brand new-to-the-market device called the inPulse watch. This thing is sweet. It not only is a stylish digital watch, but it is also a companion device to your smartphone, in my case, the BlackBerry.

So, how is it a companion device? It connects to my phone via Bluetooth and alerts me when I receive phone calls, emails, text and BBM messages. It also displays upcoming calendar events. It won’t show any of the text in a BlackBerry Messenger message, just an icon, but it does show who is calling, and I can read text messages and email previews, plus it vibrates with each of these functions. This is really convenient for those times when you can’t get to your phone because you’re in meeting or you want to see who is trying to contact you so you can determine right then if you want to pull your phone out to respond. Let’s start with the out of the box experience.

The watch arrived in a neat little white box with the watch wrapped securely in bubble wrap, accompanied by a white microUSB cable and a simple card from Eric Migicovsky, the company’s CEO, with a couple of links to get you started. I should note that this device is very versatile in that you can hack it, which they encourage, to do a variety of functions. The watch comes in Black Anodized or Metallic Silver, both with a sturdy black rubber band, and the casing is a little on the large side (51mm x 38 mm x 12mm) but my thought on that is a lot of stylish watches are rather large these days, so this one stands out a bit because of its retro digital styling.

The first thing that needs to be done is loading an app for the phone that is used as a control panel for the watch. Once the app is loaded on your phone, you will need to add the firmware to the watch. They let the user do this because this watch is compatible with not only BlackBerry, but select Android devices as well. Once the firmware is loaded via the microUSB cable connected to your computer, you have to establish a connection between the phone and the watch.

To connect the two devices, the typical Bluetooth pairing operation is the first step. Once you have them paired, the watch will immediately disconnect and vibrate once. Now you need to go to the app on the phone where the first screen you have upon opening the app is the settings screen. At the top of the list is “Send Test Messages” which establishes and confirms a connection between the devices. Here you can send a test email, text, BBM or phone call to the watch. If you have trouble making the connection, a simple reset of the watch can be achieved by holding down the button for about eight seconds and once the time display returns, send another test message.

The 1.3 inch, 96 x 128 pixel organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) display offers fourteen different colours to use for the fonts and time display. This is cool. You have a choice of seven different styles for clock fonts and six different fonts for text. Customizing your inPulse is a breeze. In the Preferences section of the Settings just select the font of the colour from the drop down list in the app, hit the escape key to go back to the previous page and it changes in the watch within seconds. If you have multiple email accounts on your BlackBerry like I do, you can set it to vibrate differently for each one so you know which account is alerting you.

The time on the watch is set with the time on the phone and includes an alarm where you can customize the alarm message. When the alarm goes off, the watch vibrates, and displays a clock icon and your personal message. One thing I’ve found though is I’ve unchecked the “Enable Alarm” box in the alarm settings, but it continues to go off every day at the set time. It’s not a big issue but I’m sure Allerta will fix this in a firmware update.

For a device with such a light set of technical specs, it can perform a decent bit of functions. But, then again, the functionality comes from the application on the phone. The watch runs on a 52 MHz ARM7 microcontroller with 32 KB of programming space and 8 KB of RAM. The 150mAh lithium-ion polymer battery can last up to four days (depending on display and connection usage) before you need to charge it via microUSB. I just plug it in every night so I don’t have to worry about it.

Functions include email, calls, calendar, messages

The Allerta inPulse smartwatch is one sweet device that I’ve been waiting almost two years to get from the time I first heard about it. It’s designed by a Canadian company based in Waterloo, Ontario and is so new, most people will not have heard of it. I have definitely impressed a few people with it so far and look forward to continuing to do so. You can see more information about the watch and the company who makes it at http://getinpulse.com. They’re such a great group of people. Even the CEO, Eric, has been so helpful in my ordering process that he communicated with me personally via email. You don’t get that kind of service from just any company.

This is a very quick review of the inPulse watch. I may not have covered everything in great detail, but I think I can say that this is one device that any geek would be sure to love. And by the way, being a geek is cool these days.

Feel Safe in an Internet Cafe? No Way!

I’ve recently stumbled upon a story about a web browser extension that, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mainstream security vulnerabilities in existence right now.

The browser in question is Firefox, and although it’s been gaining in popularity over the last couple of years, it’s also becoming more prone to hacks. Firefox is a great browser and is popular among tech savvy folks because of its ability to be customized using extensions or plug-ins. This particular extension has been downloaded well over 600,000 times so it is definitely becoming an issue. Why? Read on.

Now don’t be too alarmed here. This issue only applies to areas with open Wi-Fi, such as a library or internet cafe; but some communities, such as my hometown of Owen Sound, are opening up Wi-Fi to be freely used to some capacity. And what most patrons of these places will do is check their email, go on Twitter or Facebook, or just about any other social site that requires a log-in.

Let’s use Facebook for an example here. You’re logged into Facebook, and when you do that, Facebook sends you a cookie, or token, which your computer uses during the length of your session. This is so you don’t have to log in to see each page you visit in Facebook; they see that it’s you each time you click on a link and think, “OK, it’s just you. You can access that page.”

Now, if someone can get in the middle of that session and grab that cookie, they can impersonate you for the duration of that session, which gives them the freedom to update your status, do friend requests, etc. This is scary, and was a non-trivial attack until someone named Eric Butler created the Firefox extension Firesheep. My research on Eric Butler tells me that he is actually a proponent of security and I think he did this to show sites like Facebook and Twitter that this is a big problem and need to make their sites more secure.

So how does Firesheep work? Once installed in Firefox, you can go into a coffee shop or someplace with open internet access via Wi-Fi and run the extension. This puts a list in a sidebar in your browser that shows all the people who are logged in to a secure site. You’ll see their profile pictures, actually, and will be able to identify them if they’re in the same room. You double click on their picture, Firesheep gives you their cookie, and logs you into their account without asking for a username or password.

There are a lot of sites that are vulnerable to session hijacks besides Twitter and Facebook. Flickr, FourSquare and other popular social media sites are also at risk. To put it simply, if the site URL begins with “http”, it’s vulnerable. Google has recently switched its Gmail service to “https” which stops Firesheep dead in its tracks and I suspect Facebook and company should follow suit as soon as possible.

Now, there are a couple of ways to protect yourself from session hijacking. A couple of blockers are currently available; Fireshepherd for Windows, and BlackSheep for Mac users. These tools trick Firesheep with fake cookies and detect when Firesheep attempts to hijack someone’s session. Venues offering free open Wi-Fi should turn on WPA2 encryption, which requires a password to access the network and will stop these attacks, but the proprietor would have to give out a password to each user, and quite frankly, if the hijacker is given the same password, the network is still at risk.

The best defence against session hijackers is to refrain from visiting any site that is not secure while in a public place. Behaviour is the best and easiest place to start protecting yourself online.

Goodbye Facebook

Well, by now, if you use Facebook, you may have heard that the community website that is loved and adored by some 400 million people worldwide is once again under scrutiny for their privacy ethics. I never was a fan of Facebook from the beginning, in fact I ignored an invitation from my son to join the site for over a year before deciding to see what all the hype was about.

 

Once I was a member, I wasn’t exactly wowed by what I saw. What people are thinking or doing all the time is, well, really none of my business. And what I’m thinking or doing all the time is no one’s business either. Whatever happened to keeping things personal? I think its sad that our society has adopted such a desire to tell everyone what is going on in our lives.

 

However, over a period of time, I began to see that everyone I knew was using Facebook. It’s eerie how that sounds like a reference to drug use but, I must include myself in that statement. In the two or three years that I was a member of the site, there were amendments to their  privacy policy that got the hair up on some people’s necks, most of who were likely some sort of tech pundit or security expert. And as a fan of technology, I hear what these people are saying and pay attention to it.

 

There were a couple of times when I was tempted to leave Facebook, but couldn’t really find a valid reason. I tightened up the security settings on my account to the point where I really didn’t exist and merely used the site as a means to keep in touch with family members. I didn’t post images, I didn’t play those senseless games, and I rarely wrote on anyone’s wall. For me, it was just another email inbox.

 

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was this latest resurgence in Facebook’s lack of its users privacy. It was bad enough that all the default privacy settings left things wide open and you had to turn them off to make your profile more secure, but to initiate a concept called “Open Graph” where loads of other websites are equipped with Facebook-like functionality, and to have your information open to these sites by default, well that’s morally and ethically wrong in my opinion. You shouldn’t have to change your settings to opt out of something that shares your online preferences, you should have to opt in. We aren’t even given a choice from the beginning with Facebook.

 

I am not a public figure so I don’t expect to have a lot of traffic on this blog post, but I support the decision of a well known technology expert named Leo Laporte to delete his Facebook account. And I support the theory behind his decision where he doesn’t feel right about keeping his account open since he feels he is “coercing people” he’s in relationships with “to do something bad”. You can read the story on CNN’s website here, but be careful, CNN has a relationship with Facebook that uses that Open Graph technology.

 

If you are someone who knows me personally, you will no longer find me on Facebook. If you don’t have my email address, you’ll find on on my Contact right here on this site.