Autonomous Photography

As a part time photographer, I find the idea of autonomous photography scary.  As a lazy person who wants to automate my life, I find the idea, well…intriguing.  Google has a track record of creating a really good camera, backed by an intelligent algorithm for their Pixel phones, so I have some faith when it comes to their new product, the Google Clips Camera.  I like the idea of a camera that is always shooting pictures for you so you are free to enjoy your time in front of the lens, but I’m not sure if I can put my trust in camera AI to choose what makes a good photo.  Google says it has professional photographers, from different backgrounds, training the AI to help it determine when it has taken a great shot…but as with many art forms, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  You see, there are rules to follow that can help you achieve great photography, but what might look good to one person, might not interest another.  So how can one little camera nail that shot I was hoping to get?  

If there’s one thing that’s true, it’s that with more attempts at getting a shot, the higher the odds of capturing a great one.  Any event/wedding photographer can tell you that.  And with experience, we get better at knowing what or when to snap a photo, so hopefully with time, Google Clips will also increase its “success” rate utilizing the power of AI.  Right now though, I feel that the price point and immaturity of the product is a bit steep.  I do want one, so I’m kind of glad it’s sold out already, but I have a feeling that as an early adopter, I’d just be another beta tester for a Google experiment they might nix.

IMO, Google should rely on the success of their Pixel Phone cameras, put the same exact sensor/lens hardware in it that people have grown to love, and re-brand this product as the Pocket Pixel Camera,  Oh yea, and let’s say a $129 price point? (with sales that drop it down to $99 often).  =)

Inspiration through Isolation

In a lot of art forms, it is said that by restricting your resources in whatever craft you dabble in, you can force your creativity to spark.  In photography, it can be doing something as simple as only shooting in black and white, or only using a specific focal length lens.  While I see how this approach can force you to think outside the box, I went with a broader approach - simple isolation.

This New Year’s Eve, I went out on a solo adventure.  I packed up enough gear for a few nights, and drove out into the desert to shoot what inspired me.  But instead of focusing on what was in front of camera, my thoughts went into a frenzy of interpreted energy.  The experience revitalized some of the ambitions I had when I first picked up a camera.  Sort of like a reboot for my eyes and mind.  

I was mostly limited to what light was available to me, and if I wasn’t recording a video, or taking a picture, I was getting lost in the vast openness of the desert and cacti, or staring deep into the shadows within the crevices of the nearby mountain.  These experiences can unlock parts of your mind that aren’t used to being active, and provide you with an outlet of energy you forgot was there.

That “wonder”, as I call it, is the same as it was when we were young.  When everything was new to us.  When we had to use creativity to figure out the unknown.  As adults, we think we know it all…we want to know it all, but to reinvigorate that mindset of wonder is a jump start to creativity that has sat idle for so long.

So get out of your comfort zone.  Be vulnerable to uncertainty.  Let go of your control.  And let your thoughts wander…

The State of the Internet

Net Neutrality is dead…for now.  But as many have said, the battle will continue.  Censoring…fast lanes…data caps…favoritism…etc.  All this is going to be rolled into obscure wording from greedy ISPs to maximize their profits.  And look, if I believed for a second that this extra money was going to actually increase infrastructure and speeds, I’d be more for it, but we all know that the internet fees to performance ratio is sky high in the US.

I’m an IT guy, specifically networking, so I’m going to do a bit of predicting here.  On a daily basis, we monitor our network.  We make sure we have the bandwidth and speed to meet the needs of our users.  It’s crucial for us to keep an eye on this.  Just like how it’s important for large cities to measure the traffic on the roads, to optimize the intersection lights, adjust speed limits, add more lanes, etc.  Now all this is possible because we can measure how heavy traffic moves, where it moves to, and when it happens.

Now, imagine there was no insight to this data.  Currently, ISPs can see a majority of where traffic goes.  But imagine how users are going to get around the bottle necks and slow lanes the ISPs try to enforce upon their customers to avoid paying higher subscriptions.  They’ll use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), tunneling, encrypting their traffic, etc.  The same way people in China get past their great firewall of censorship.  Services to hide your traffic are going to increase.  Heck, modified routers that encrypt all your traffic by default will become a thing.  Everything will be hidden…  

This will make it difficult for ISPs to shape their traffic, to predict what they need to upgrade.  To add to that, anytime you encrypt traffic, you are increasing overall bandwidth needs.  When everyone does this, things slow down.  There’s more overhead.  Data will travel multiple hops, across countries and continents to avoid being traced.  How do you prioritize traffic now?

Also, since all traffic is hiding what possible data flows through it, think of the security threats this potentially adds.  Now look, there is definitely a concern for privacy, and there is good reason to use SSL encryption for your banking, email, medical data, etc…but EVERYTHING?  Yea, people are going to default to this method of surfing the web because guess what…your ISP is watching EVERYTHING you do and can MODIFY and CHARGE you (or your favorite service) so they can line their pockets even further then we do today.

And what can you do about it if there is only 1 internet service provider in your area…   umm, move I guess?  This is a huge issue.  The internet should be treated as a utility.  It’s a pipe, like the one that provides water to your home.  It’s pretty much required for our way of life now.  Yet those who have the money to influence our government have just bought their way into making even more money off us.

Things are going to quiet down now that the vote is over, but we must stay vigilant.  The fight should continue.  Keep an eye out for the sneaky fees  ISPs are going to try and add before we can win our freedom back.  

DO NOT accept this as the norm.

VLOGs and Stuff

These past 6 months have really been flying by.  You see, I’ve been busy.  Half a year ago I made it my mission to try to VLOG all my travels and improve my video editing and production process.  My platform of choice - Youtube (yes, I have a youtube channel, go check it out!).  I felt it was a great way to preserve and share our journeys, but also a great way to get me into thinking as a film maker.

Prior to making videos, I was heavy into photography, and still am.  I took up a 52 week photography challenge, and managed to (barely) complete it that year.  It was indeed a challenge, because I pushed myself.  I strived to “one up” my previous shots.  I envisioned tougher and tougher imagery, sometimes spending whole evenings locked in my garage trying different lighting techniques, or blocking out entire days to drive hours away just to “find” the right shot on an exploratory hike, and then waiting for ideal conditions.

As this year comes to a close, I’m overwhelming myself with projects and future ideas.  I desire perfection, but know I can’t achieve it.  My goals are getting ahead of me, and I have to focus on what’s in front of me and take things as I go.  I chose VLOGing because the very nature of it is literally just video logging what you are seeing and doing.  Yet, I strive to find perfect angles, good lighting, and nailing the camera settings.  And believe it or not, I still get camera shy, embarrassed in public, and stumble over my words.  

Maybe it’s the time limitations presented to me.  Maybe it’s because I’m putting it all out there, open to critique and ridicule.  But I just need to remind myself that the only person it matters to is me.  If people don’t find it entertaining or get bored of it, that’s fine…as long as I’m happy with it.  I spend hours upon hours to make a video that is sometimes only 7 minutes long that someone might not even pay attention to, let alone watch the whole thing, but that’s ok.  

It’s helping me learn my film making process.  It’s helping me create memories for my daughter and future generations.  

Now…I just need to stop writing and get back to editing.  There’s more things to capture….

Natural Language with AI

I’ve always been a fan of “talking to my house”.  Before Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, Bixby, etc, I was tinkering around with voice software (Vox Commando) and building out scripts and macros to execute my own automation control for fun.  As a Star Trek fan, I always wanted to be able to have that digital assistant talking back to me, being helpful, and executing commands.

Fast forward to 2017.  I now own multiple Google Home and Amazon Alexa Echos.  The microphone quality and recognition really impressed me, but also, their ability to “understand” was what locked me in.  You see, when I used to build out my own system *I* would need to create the question/answer responses that would trigger my commands.  And the verbage had to be exact!  Sure, there were ways to add more questions, that would execute the same response, but I’d have to constantly update it over time.  It did not adapt automatically, and felt unnatural to “remember” what I made for the trigger phrase.

That’s where machine learning comes in.  AI today is now getting to the point of understanding what you mean through the context of your current sentence, and even from that of a previous question/command.  Nobody does this better then Google right now.  Tie into the fact that Google already knows a lot about me, well…  it basically becomes my second brain.  I can ask, “Hey Google, watch Ghostbusters on Netflix on the Fireplace TV” - and it does just that!  Now let’s say it resumed playing from the middle of the movie,  but I want to start over.  Simply say, “play this from the beginning” and BAM, Google’s AI knew what I was referring to and restarts the exact movie, from the same service, on the same device.  Brilliant!

Today, I find out that Google Home can now understand 2 commands at once and it’s something I’ve been waiting for.  Since I also have many lights tied into my smart home ecosystem, I can now say, “Hey Google, turn on the living room TV, AND turn off the living room lights”.  It sounds silly, but being able to chain commands together makes things not only faster, but more natural.

It’s not perfect, but having a normal conversation with AI is becoming a reality quicker then we know it.  Now I just need a robot to physically execute my voice commands for me so I never have to go downstairs to grab a beer again.


PSA - Now we can decorate…

So I understand why stores do it…  get those holiday products out on the shelves as soon as possible to maximise your sales.  But unless you hate Thanksgiving, or just want to ignore it, let’s focus on the current one before jumping into the next one.  At least that’s my thought process.

Ok, I give you a pass if you are that house that has full on Trans-Siberian Orchestra music playing in sync with lights and require your power company to upgrade the transformer on the street corner just to provide the necessarey juice for your 90,000 lights and 5000 watt stereo.  I’m sure much of that can take a while to setup and you want to have as much time to test and enjoy it after putting in all that hard work.  And hey, I enjoy checking them out myself.

But in general, I’m a fan of waiting until at least one holiday ends before setting up for the next.  With that said…now is the time to bust out those Christmas decorations.  Bring on the twinkling icicles, the inflatable Santas, and the green and red laser projectors.  That is, if you can still function after eatting all that delicious Thanksgiving goodness…

Let there be Light!

The last video I created on my youtube channel, while visually awesome (I think), still lacks the full explanation of my meaning - “shoot the light”.  You see, light is the brush in which a photographer or cinematographer paints with when they create their visions.  The sensor in your camera is literally a light recording device.  In fact, the word photography is a combination of the Greek words “photo” meaning “light,” and “graphia” meaning “writing” or “drawing.”  Drawing with Light!

Now, many of us just see an opportunity to take a beautiful image and simply snap the picture.   Whereas a professional will take a light source and bend, shape, brighten, soften, etc it to provide the visual environment they envision.  It can be a lot of work, and lighting gear gets really expensive.  You can drop thousands in lights, but not create a beautiful image.

Here’s the thing.  You can have the most beautiful model, a perfect waterfall, or the most amazing landscape, but you cannot see it without light.  Luckily for us, the sun provides ample lighting (at least during the day!) - and it’s one of the reasons why I love golden hour photography.  Go to a location mid day, take a photograph.  Then go back to that same location during sunrise or sunset and take the same photograph.  What makes it different is the light.  When the sun is low on the horizon, the light rays reflect and refract off Earth’s atmosphere to give off unique, soft light.

That’s just an example with sunlight.  We humans have harnessed the power of light ourselves and have so many ways to light people, objects, and scenes.  Sometimes, a location or venue looks awesome and you want to take a picture of it…but why?  Most of the time it’s from the way it is lit.  So, the next time you decide to pull out your camera or cell phone to snap a picture, take a second to wonder why that scene is worthy to take that shot.  Pay attention to where and what kind of light there is - and Shoot the Light.

If you haven’t had the chance, check out my video regarding shooting the light here -

Cloudless File Sharing via Files Go

Apple has Airdrop.  Android has… ?  Exactly.  While there are 3rd party apps that let you move files around, most rely on the cloud.  Google just released a beta version of Files Go in the Play Store that is supposed to offer an Air Drop like feature, among other things.  It’s interesting that while Android has always let you see your files on your phone/tablet just like a regular computer, we haven’t had a native, intuitive way to just simply moves files around.  I was really hoping the NFC revolution would have taken over so we could seamlessly transfer with a gentle tap of our phones to initiate the connection (cause you know, glass on backs of phones are smart), then use BT or WiFi direct to transfer.

Personally, I use a combination of Pushbullet and Dropbox, but it doesn’t make sense to send a file out to the internet when your devices are right next to each other.  Heck, I still transfer my Sony Mirrorless camera’s raw images and videos from an SD card to my PC still.  Thankfully that isn’t cloud dependent as that would take much much longer (those 4k files get huge!).

In its current iteration, the Files Go app is primarily focused on freeing up space on your phone - and gives you a nice overview of where large chunks of data are, and what you can likely remove…such as App cache.  But it also lets your move files seamlessly to nearby Android devices via Bluetooth.  Neat.  Now they just need to add this feature to my PC.

Check it out for yourself:

Thank You Big Phones!

I like big phones.  I used to be in the camp of wanting a smaller phone…because well, if I wanted a big screen, that’s what tablets and laptops are for, right?  But our mobile phones have become such a big part of our daily lives.  Having a large, easy to read screen and watch media is great and negates the need for a tablet.  Not only that, but a bigger phone, means bigger battery.  Why have a small phone, if you have to carry a charger or battery bank with you everywhere…that’s a bulkier carry then the biggest phones!  But those things aside, there’s one aspect of big phones that’s influential that many don’t think about.  Pockets.

Look, I’m no fashion expert.  I believe in function over form…and I love pockets.  I never jumped on the skinny jean trend (although my baggy pants days did reduce to a more “relaxed fit”).  Aside from being too uncomfortable, I just couldn’t handle having pockets that could barely fit my hands.  And now that more people are carrying big phones around, the size of the pocket will influence what kind of pants we buy - at least for the guys.

So thank you big phones.  I might have a reason to go pants shopping again.

Let’s Make Bluetooth Great Again!

Ah bluetooth.  A technology many of us have a love/hate relationship with.  In its early days, it was a tiresome annoyance getting 2 devices to simply communicate.  Remember typing in 0000 for the pair code just to have it fail?  

It appears that one of the positives that’s coming with the death of the headphone jack (thanks Apple!), is that Bluetooth pairing and general usage will not only be necessary, but more convenient.  Apple has it’s W1 chip which was super slick when announced, allowing easy pairing to their wireless buds from the moment you flicked open the case they charged in, but it looks like we will soon have a similar feature on Android phones and hopefully other devices as well.

Android devices running 6.0 and above will soon have the “Fast Pair” feature enabled, which takes advantage of Bluetooth Low Energy and your phones location to automatically pop up a notification on your phone with the device image and an option to pair.  How convenient!  Your phone will even ask if you want to grab the companion app from the Play Store if it has one.  The downside is that the bluetooth headphones/speaker needs to support it…so only a handful of hardware can do this now.

I’ve always wanted to have a “tap and pair” feature for Bluetooth devices.  I even went as far as utilizing NFC stickers and placing it on or near my various speakers so I could easily connect to the device I wanted to listen to music on.  I also had Tasker audibly announce what it was connected to!  Now, this is not that, and I’m still sad about the death of the headphone jack, but if that is what it takes to push technology forward, then great!  

To see more details on how this works, and what devices currently support it, check out the source link here:

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