Canon EOS – From 40D to 70D

It was time to upgrade. The 40D has been a trooper, but it hasn’t seen much use recently. Whether it’s the inconvenience of its compact flash memory cards, or just sheer size and weight, I have seldom felt the need to travel with it.

The 40D was released 8 years ago in 2007, which is a very long time in technology. I bought mine at the start of 2009, just after the release of the 50D, which carried a 30% price premium over the older model. I’ve never regretted my decision to go with the 40D, and I’ve had over 30,000 shutter actuations out of it, most of those with my favourite lens – a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM. Now days, you can get a much cheaper 10-18mm lens which is slower (f/4.5-5.6), but has a STM motor and image stabilisation, making it much better for video. If you don’t already have an ultra-wide angle lens, seriously, get this one.

In the past year though, I’ve probably shot less than 100 frames with the 40D, favouring a much smaller Panasonic GX1 with a Samyang 7.5mm fish-eye and the excellent 20mm f/1.7 pancake. These lenses are as sharp as they are useful, but when using the little GX1 I don’t really feel like I’m “doing photography”. The experience is that of using a point & shoot, but the pictures I can take with it are almost as good as the 40D (better in low light with the f/1.7 pancake actually). Lugging the SLR doesn’t really make sense.

Looking through some of my old photos recently made me realise how much I miss the Canon 10-22mm lens. The fish-eye is fun, and even has a wider field of view, but images from rectilinear lenses afford more creative flexibility in my opinion; the fish-eye look is distinctive, and not one you really want to characterise all your images. Continue reading

Good news for Z3 Compact owners

There has been some rather good news for Z3 Compact (Z3C) owners the past couple of weeks. Firstly, Cyanogenmod started releasing nightly CM12 builds for the Z3C. But more importantly, a root exploit was released.

The thing that galled me most about the Z3 was that unlocking the bootloader permanently erased DRM keys which are required for some functionality. Usually this functionality is superfluous (I never intend to purchase any protected content from the Sony store), but in the case of the Z3C, erasing the DRM keys makes the camera worse in low light.

Unfortunately, unlocking the bootloader is required to install firmware from sources other than Sony, which means I can only do what Sony officially sanctions, unless I want to sacrifice camera performance.

I don’t believe I should have to make that choice.

This exploit restores the balance, but upgrading to Cyanogenmod while retaining the DRM keys is a fairly lengthy process:

  • Downgrade to an older, exploitable firmware version (before October 2014) with Flashtool
  • Run the giefroot root exploit
  • Backup the TA (trim area) partition with Backup TA (this saves the DRM keys so you can truly revert to stock)
  • Flash the rom of your choice, safe in the knowledge that it will always be possible to revert to factory condition!

Note that the DRM keys (probably Sony’s camera app as well) can’t be used with Cyanogenmod, so the camera will still be theoretically inferior to the stock Sony firmware. But this does allow me to revert to factory condition, or stick with firmware derived from Sony’s if I am not happy with the trade-off. Previously, this wouldn’t have been possible!

The Z3 is a great piece of hardware (read my brief review here), but Sony’s software and hostile DRM have been sore points. Now, I can finally have the phone I wanted (not to mention paid for).

Ubuntu 14.04 – No USB keyboard after upgrading kernel

After upgrading my Ubuntu 14.04 LTS install from linux kernel 3.13 to 3.16, USB input devices, particularly my keyboard, stopped working.

On rebooting to an older kernel, the keyboard worked again. The reason for this, is that the base kernel package doesn’t include the usbhid module, which is require for USB input devices.

The solution, is to install the linux-image-extra package for your kernel. In my case it was:

sudo apt-get install linux-image-extra-3.16.0-28-generic

You can either do this via ssh, or boot to an older working kernel first.

Afterwards, you should be able to do modprobe usbhid, or simply reboot, and your usb input devices should function correctly.

Sony’s “cancellation” of The Interview’s cinematic release is a shrewd move

Yesterday, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) announced that it has cancelled the theatrical release of Seth Rogen’s “The Interview”, in the wake of terrorist threats.

In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

Apparently, one of the demands of the GoP hackers that breached SPE, was that Sony should not release this film. I’m not making this shit up.

According to the USA’s own Department of Homeland Security, the threat is, unsurprisingly, not credible. Sony therefore, has no reason to cancel the theatrical release. Other than… publicity.

The trailer looks bloody awful, and if I was North Korea I wouldn’t take offense at all. Really, it should damage Seth Rogen’s reputation more than Kim Jong-un.

Cancelling it then, is exactly the right thing to do. Except that it really hasn’t been “cancelled”, as the release will eventually be “re-evaluated” once there is “no longer any threat to innocent lives”. Of course, no one would ever want to see a “highly controversial” film which “incited terrorist threats” and “offended an entire nation”.

Talk about making Lemonade.

Ubuntu Home Server 14.04 – A DIY NAS

It’s been more than 4 years since I wrote about home servers, but my Ubuntu Home Server article was, for a while, the most popular post on this blog. Since moving to the UK though, I’ve taken a more appliance-based approach to my home network. For the last few years I’ve been using a Boxee Box for media playback, and a 4-bay Netgear ReadyNAS duo NV2+ for storage, mainly to keep the bulk of my possessions to a minimum.

The appliance approach does have advantages. It is power efficient, easy to setup, and very low maintenance. But after getting an internet connection with decent upload speed, I wanted to run CrashPlan on the NAS without having to have another PC running. I managed to get it running by following directions I found here.

There’s just one problem:

3.3 months to upload 350GB is a little too long

3.3 months to upload 350GB is a little too long

Performance is abysmal, and I’ve only selected the most important data – my photos. I’m limited not by my internet connection, but by the NAS’s anaemic CPU and lack of ram (just 256Mb). Furthermore, it’s always had very slow read and write speeds – generally around 2Mb/sec, and loading a large directory via its Samba shares can take a while.

So I started to look for a replacement. My requirements:

  • Minimum 2GB ram
  • Strong CPU, preferably x86
  • 4+ drive bays
  • Linux based OS
  • Root access to said OS

The best pre-built option I could find which meets those requirements is the Thecus N5550, but at £383 it is a long way from cheap. And it barely meets the specs; an Atom CPU is strong for a NAS but not by modern x86 standards.

While the customised software shipped with a NAS does offer some conveniences, it also gets in the way of using newer Linux features such as BTFS RAID 5/6 (which is currently not considered stable but should be within the next 12 months). You’re also reliant on the vendor for distribution upgrades, and the priority is going to be shiny features which consumers will appreciate, not keeping the foundation OS up to date. The ReadyNAS NV2+ is currently running Debian Squeeze, and will be until the day support ends.

At this point I realised that a pre-made NAS with the level of power and flexibility I wanted doesn’t exist at a realistic price point. And with the end of Boxee support its days as a useful device are numbered, so a HTPC could be on the cards as well. It’s time to build my own server again.

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They used to call this /.’d

Maybe these days it’s “hackernews’d”.

Some kind person posted a link to this article, which resulted in an email alert from Linode about outgoing traffic at midnight this evening.

This blog runs on a single wee Linode instance, but fortunately it’s over-engineered for its usual traffic volume, and served by nginx, php-fpm and the WordPress totalcache plugin.

It seemed to weather the storm really comfortably with load hovering around 0.2.

Network Graph

Wordpress Graph

Dear @Adobe and @Oracle, please stop offering crapware with every Java and Flash Player update. It gets old quick.

Unticking a box might seem like a small thing, but consider the following:

  • The number of Flash Player and Java updates are frequent due to security issues and staying up to date is very important.
  • Updating Java or the Flash Player is anything but a frictionless process as it is. For Flash, upon clicking the update prompt I am taken to a download page, where I must untick the box for whatever crapware is on offer, click download, open downloads, launch the download, close web browsers (and possibly other applications), click retry, finish. Java is a little better, but not much.
  • Many people have multiple devices to update which magnifies the annoyance factor.

We are not in the 90s any more. Apple, Microsoft and Google have all managed to make updates a 1 touch process (or less), and this is the expectation of your users.

So stop being precious about distribution, but in the very least, stop abusing the update process as a marketing opportunity. It is irresponsible and annoying to millions of people every day.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review

z3c-1

Flagship smart-phones have been getting progressively larger. My first high-end Android device was a Samsung/Google Nexus S, which was comparable to an iPhone 3GS in dimensions. By modern standards it is chunky, yet it remains a good tradeoff between screen size, pocketability, and handling.

The two phones I’ve owned since the Nexus S have had progressively larger screens – I went to a Galaxy SII, and then a Galaxy SIII. But I never wanted a larger device than the Nexus S, just a faster one.

Continue reading