Very useful firefox plugin

I’m a fan of Firefox, but I don’t randomly browse all the available plugins and only tend to install one if I come across it and if it will genuinely improve the usability of the tool.

One issue I continually have is that I use the Firefox password manager to store my various userid/password combos. However, I’m not a particularly good user of tabs and always seem to close the main browser window when I’ve finished looking at a page. Therefore I often find myself closing Firefox completely only to then start it up a few minutes later when clicking on a link in email for example. Each time I go to a password protected site (which believe me is often in IBM!) I end up being asked for the master password which gets a bit tiresome. The startup time for FF when my machine is busy is also annoying.

So, I googled for something to help me out and came across the MinimizeToTray plugin which fits the bill perfectly. It works fine on FF 2.0 and handily pops the browser into the system tray when I close the window. As such FF is always running and ready for me to browse, with my master password only entered once. Thanks to my adherence to the computer security guidelines within the company I can rely on the OS to protect everything if I’m away from my desk.

Logitech Cordless 2.4Ghz Presenter gadget review

I tend to do a fair few presentations, from conferences like Salzburg last week, to customer briefings here in Hursley. I’ve always muddled through with the page down key on my laptop, but recently purchased the Logitech Cordless 2.4Ghz Presenter, as shown above.

Many times I’ve seen people present with wireless devices such as this, and more often than not they seem to cause more problems than they solve. Most of these problems are related to the range of the device governing the distance you can be from the USB receiver plugged into the laptop. I like to walk around a bit when presenting, and also like to use build-ups in my slides, so the 15m range of the Logitech device is great. In Salzburg I could comfortably change slides from anywhere in the rooms I presented in. This is particularly useful for checking your slides from the back of the room during preparation time.

As well as the basics of changing slides and a laser pointer the device also includes a programmable timer which you can set in five minute intervals (the step goes up to 10 min intervals after 60 minutes) It vibrates firstly with five minutes to go and secondly with two minutes to go. I’d like to be able to adjust the timing alerts for example to remind me at what point I plan to drop out of the slide deck into a demo, but you can always set a shorter time to trigger the alert at say 20 minutes to go then add on some extra time at that point.

Other useful functions include an “F5” key to start/stop the presentation and a screen blanking key. It would be nice to have the ability to step out of presentation mode and then restart at a particular slide rather than just an F5 equivalent which dumps you at the beginning of the presentation. It also has a volume control for in-presentation audio,but I’ve not used this. I believe one limitation is that it only works with MS Powerpoint on Windows. In any case that is all I have tested it with.

The USB dongle slips nicely into the top of the handheld device, and it comes with a nice soft neoprene case. The device is nicely shaped to fit in the hand, and the buttons fall well beneath my fingers. It takes two LR03 batteries (supplied) and has a quoted battery life of up to six months with a battery display on the LCD.

All in all, I’m very happy with it and would recommend to others if you happen to be in the market for a new presentation device.

Digital photo workflow

I’ve heard and read a lot about how important finding a good workflow is when processing digital images, so I thought I’d document mine here. No doubt it will change over time.

  • Capture RAW + JPEG in camera. Martin told me a scare story about once being unable to get RAW images from a CF card, hence shooting both.
  • Download all images to the iBook. Up until now I’ve been doing this direct from the camera, but now have a card reader. They go straight into Canon ImageBrowser.
  • Copy all the RAW files over to my network attached storage for safe keeping. The JPEGs get binned.
  • Give each RAW file an initial star rating of 1-3 in ImageBrowser.
  • Import all the 3 star images into Adobe Lightroom.
  • Do a more refined critique of the photos in Lightroom, assigning a star rating of 1-5. Filter only to show the 5-star photos.
  • Perform any RAW processing in Lightroom. Adjusting white balance, crops etc.
  • Export from Lightroom as JPEG with 99% quality into a new folder
  • Import the exported JPEGs into iPhoto for general cataloging, viewing and printing.
  • Use the excellent FlickrExport from Connected Flow to tag and upload to flickr.

If I have time I then go back and work on the 4-star and below images.

The most obvious missing step is the use of any image manipulation software such as PhotoShop. I’ve not yet got around to buying a recent copy of Elements. The one I currently have is 2.0.

Hursley fireworks

Hursley Fireworks 2006 - 1

Each year, the IBM Hursley Club puts on a fireworks display with the aim of collecting some money for charity. For various reasons, not least of which is being put off by stories of the traffic afterwards, I’ve never been. However this year the new camera meant I was looking forward to trying to capture some pictures.

My only previous attempt at fireworks photos was about fifteen years ago whilst at school. That was with a film SLR and based on the fact that I don’t have any of the photos I guess it didn’t go too well. This time around I was determined to get some good shots, so came well prepared.

Having brushed up on the best methods via some googling and flickr browsing, I settled on going for manual mode at ISO 100 with an aperture of f11 and manual focus to just off infinity. Shutter was set to bulb and of course the tripod and remote shutter release would be essential. The last piece of kit I took along was a simple piece of black card to allow for multiple exposures.

From what I’d read, the making of a good firework shot is to provide some context, mainly by the inclusion of some foreground interest. Single explosions in an otherwise black sky get a little samey. After dismissing any plan to get a shot of Hursley House into frame, I settled on a central location to get the crowd to act as my foreground. This was ok, but two floodlights proved a little troublesome and I soon moved over to the right to where the only problem turned out to be that I was shooting into a full moon which of course is blown out by the long exposure times.

I started out with the 50mm prime lens, knowing full well that it probably wouldn’t be wide enough, but I wanted to try and capture some nice close shots. This meant a lot of trial and error as I failed to get the fireworks into the frame, but a few of them did come out well. I soon stuck the 18-55mm kit lens on and relaxed a bit as my odds of capturing the fireworks went up. The multiple exposure trick helped here. The method being to take a long exposure on bulb, covering the lens (without touching) between fireworks. As long as the explosions don’t overlay each other too much it works well.

The only problem during the display was the failure of the remote shutter release after about 15 minutes. I had to resort to a 10 second exposure time and use of the card if I wanted anything shorter. This just goes to prove that £3.99 bargains on eBay are definitely not as good as they seem. I think I’ll be buying the official Canon one next!

All in all I took about sixty exposures over the 20 minute display, and 17 of them have come out reasonably well which I’m chuffed about. I’ve only had to crop a few which is pleasing (but my framing was still more luck than judgement!) You can view a slideshow of the results here. Naturally there were plenty of other photographers about and there are a load of good shots on flickr.

Did you hear the one…

… about the software engineer who spent his birthday analysing a 1GB Java heap dump for a memory leak?

Nope, didn’t find it that funny myself 🙁

On a more positive note, if you find  yourself in a similar position then I can recommend that you try out a useful tool called the Memory Dump Diagnostic for Java (MDD4J) available as part of the IBM Support Assistant. Here’s a DeveloperWorks article explaining all.