Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A walk by the Schelde, in Oudenaarde, East Flanders, Belgium.

View it in Fullscreen for best results.


If you're like me and with more than 10K songs in the cloud (iTunes Match) and still bored that you can't find anything cool to listen to, and kinda fed up with Genius, then try this. Go to your iTunes search field and enter any words of your liking. One or two will work best. For instance, I was looking for a particular track with the words 'Don't Know' in its title, and thus, I added "Don't Know" in the search field. This is the list of tracks that query returned (click on the capture above for a larger view). Next thing, I added a new playlist that I called "Don't know" and added all the tracks the search found. I guess each one of us has a different set of tracks showing up in any search we do, even if we use the same words. If you like what any search found, you merely create and keep the new playlist. Otherwise, you simply continue with a new search. The outcome is sometimes pretty surprising. You'll find tracks you never knew you even had... Happens to me all the time. Once one is past a certain age, things are starting to fade, you see. True story!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

ERT, or... how do you spell EBU!

I worked for someone 20 years ago, who, when things ended up in a clusterf@ck state, used to say: it's so bad that you can either laugh or cry about it. Life is too short for crying though.

I remembered him again, when the news hit the streets yesterday about the Greek government shutting down ERT, the national and state owned broadcasting company, effective immediately. Someone from PM Samaras's entourage got off the bed on the wrong foot that morning, obviously. Later in the evening, I listened into a 'makeshift' discussion panel on Deyteron 103.7 (the best radio channel on the planet, by ERT mind you) with few journalists discussing the shutdown and, frustrated as hell, using quite some animosity and a good portion of Greek drama. I know what you're thinkin' : "what would you do in their place, smart ass? They just got fired!!!" Let's not get into this, as the object of this post is not so much to comment the rights and wrongs of the government's unusual and undoubtedly drastic decision, as opinions are like a-holes, like the saying goes. Everybody's got one...

The object is different, indeed. In fact, it's about incompetence. In this case, incompetence refers to the ERT webmaster, the dude who's overseeing all postings appearing on ERT's homepage. Lemme explain.

While listening to the panel, I kept surfing ERT's web pages. My eye fell on a news header speaking about EBU's protest to the Greek government. I never came across the 'EBU' three letter acronym before, so, curious as I am, I linked to the full article. Click on the screen capture above to see what I saw, next. The HTML link to that same page is here. However, kids, don't try this at home anymore; ERT took the page off the air, and it is now displayed: error code 404 - page not found.

There's nothing wrong with the article itself. With just a simple remark; in the article the reporter is referring to the EBU as the acronym for the European Broadcasting Union, which obviously is the right thing to do. But then, what has this got to do with the EBU, like in European Board of Urology, whose homepage is shown in the displayed picture accompanying the article???!!! I'll tell you what. Either a simple and sheer incompetence, or a sort of black humor by someone profoundly pissed!

I reckon, someone from the webmaster's entourage, proficient in English like I am in Mandarin Chinese, went to Google to search for the EBU, and pickup an image to accompany the article with a graphic, a logo of some sort. When you do the same on Google Search you get a number of possible EBU reincarnations, other than the real one (the Broadcasting Union, in this case). The dude took a good look, and his aesthetic instincts as a sky-blue loving Greek, reminiscent of the flag, brought him to the conclusion to use the Urology's homepage instead, which he subsequently screen-captured and posted on the top of the article. And then he hit 'Publish' without realising the extent of the gaffe.

Don't worry; I'm hearing you thinking loud indeed! Sound and clear! Especially the Greeks among you! "So what? Big deal. To err is human! In the moment's frustration after what happened to them yesterday, one could easily expect such a mistake... aren't you being a bit over the top?" You see, in places I worked for most of my life, people got fired for much less than that. Whereas most modern Greeks tend to be overgenerous and forgive everyone graciously, even criminals brought to justice and condemned for fraud, others, like myself, have an extremely low tolerance level for such wrongdoings and mismanagement. We simply believe that certain mistakes cannot be tolerated just like this. The government's frustration on ERT is more than understandable. Too much incompetence has been tolerated in this country for far too long. "Έλα μωρέ" most Greeks would have responded to me. See where these far too many "Έλα μωρέ" has brought us to. Incompetence beyond belief, starting from local government representatives (chiefs and vice-chiefs of the prefectures and regions, not to forget city mayors and their vice mayors) and moving over to other state owned organisations and government ministries, hospitals, universities and regular schools. The stories I heard from friends the last 24 months are good to produce a ten volume series of comedy and drama books. You are not gonna believe y'r fokkin' ears!

I will only refer here to an incident I heard not long ago first hand. An old friend from my hometown has been complaining for a number of years (via loads of unanswered emails) to ERT technicians about the fact that Deyteron Radio Programmes, over the airwaves, were impossible to tune to any place north of Ferres, a small provincial town in the Prefecture of Evros. Reason was a serious interference by Turkish radio signals from over the border. The technicians's reactions kept returning only short of arrogant "Go screw yourself!". It ain't their problem, they kept responding... claiming the responsibility was to be sought elsewhere, etc...etc... In other words, "get the f@ck outta my life, and lemme indulge my siesta instead, and my €5K+ monthly pay..."

There are 2600+ employees working for ERT. Among them, there are some very valuable souls, producing remarkable programmes (radio and TV) that are scarce to find even among quality broadcasters like the BBC (the best broadcasting on the planet per my HO). I'm not sayin'... Yep, there are some good people among the ERT employees. Devoted, professional, correct, creating quality output. I hope they eventually get rehired back into the new organisation. I suspect, however, they only represent a modest sub-segment of ERT's total headcount. The rest, or to be fair, quite a few among the rest (about 60% per an estimate) are useless, a 'waste' (sic) per the government spokesman. The shutdown is the only way to clean house, I am afraid. Hard to believe but in the wake of the chaos that we saw the last 4 years, there is no simpler way. When I was diagnosed with colon cancer a few years ago, I had to go under and get some deep cut in my guts during a five hour operation. I just couldn't have my malice cured taking aspirins or Dafalgan. I needed to go thru the worst period of my life to arise healthy again and good to go. No other way. Same for ERT. Let's only hope there will be a sound new management (like my expert surgeon then) who will make this happen. Re-emerge a new phoenix from the ashes of today's BS organization.

And, by this, my friends, I rest my case... Aldus sprach...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lightroom 5

A few months ago Adobe surprised the photography world with a new public beta of Lightroom (it's fifth version) and only a couple months later that beta hit CA status. I must confess, it got me by surprise too. I am a fan and a heavy LR user, despite my reputation that I only work with Apple products. I do indeed own Adobe's CS6 and LR4.

I don't actually use Photoshop a lot for photography corrections, except for just a few things that Lightroom can't easily do. I merely exit to PS as an external to LR editor; I do what needs be done, and eventually go back to LR. The things I do in PS are perspective, keystone, healing corrections, but I also use the 'liquify' filter quite a bit.

When I therefore read about LR5's new functionality, it was love at first sight! Something like I experienced watching yesterday's keynote at the WWDC. Despite what the state owned Flemish TV in this country reported during today's evening news, by displaying the nerdiest 'analyst' in town, who claimed that Apple bluntly 'copied' the competition (suggesting Microsoft and Nokia, I guess). How thick do you need to be to dare say something like that on National TV? I betsa, she was simply thick. So many shameless idiots are trying to make a name for themselves and live their 5 secs in fame by taking the piss on Apple, but lack the elementary intelligence to grasp even one tenth of what the Jobs and Ive philosophy are trying to tell us. It's morons like that Flemish 'analyst' woman who actually made Jony Ive lose all his hair... by pulling it in frustration!

Back to LR5. Quite a bit of the new functionality is not immensely original (has already been available in PS for years) but it eliminated the need for a round trip to PS for healing and cloning, and perspective/keystoning corrections. Furthermore, LR5 has also introduced a 'radial' filter, whereby you subdivide a picture in two areas, around a circular contour that you create by clicking and dragging. You can separately define the effect you want inside and outside that area in terms of brightness, clarity, contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, etc... The picture I am posting here is the result of such a so-called 'upright' correction (perspective, keystone, etc) and a couple 'radial' retouches. No healing or cloning though. It's a picture of a church interior that I once shot during a visit in Rome, Italy. Mind you, the incoming light is real. I didn't make it up!

There's a lot more goodness in LR5, but there are equally as many articles available on the net, and I simply couldn't add any more value if I exhaustively went over those details again. Concluding, my advice to all the serious photographers out there is plain and simple: "Say what? Have you not upgraded yet? What the heck is wrong with you?"

Friday, June 7, 2013


I knew of them then, I knew of them later, but being anything than a rebel, I have never stood still at their music. Heavy metal wasn't my thing. I rediscovered them years later as my youngest offspring is a big fan of Ozzy, and anything that sounds like metal. I have to say, when young, I wasn't too keen on the sound of electric guitars, until my eldest offspring started buying them like I bought suits. He must have had five or six. Only difference with my suits, he sold them after a while, second hand. Surfing on iTunes new releases I just saw  Sabbath are about to release (tomorrow) a brand new record after more than 30 years. They called it 13 (from 2013?) You can enjoy it free of charge on iTunes and preorder it. Like me...

Allmusic writes: ...The influence of early Sabbath has become so omnipresent that it's come back to influence its very creators 40 years later, but the results are unexpectedly brilliant, apocalyptic, and essential for any die-hard metal fan.

I don't know about that, but it always appears that legend groups have an obligation to defend their past, and thus they mostly create quality music in their genre, and not just heavy noise with drums and electric distortion. I am turning 60 soon, and I am shocked to realise that their sound brings me to an energy level that I only experienced forty years ago. Mind you, these dudes are in their mid sixties too. While pre-listening the album I raised my double 1000 Watt loudspeakers to a volume level that only heavy metal could justify, and the spouse came up my loft running like the whole neighbourhood were on fire. Reluctantly I brought back the levels to 'normal' and kissed my adolescent energy goodbye! Thank God, a good friend, a poet, just sent me some recent work of hers, and I read them with the Sabbath sound in the background  The strophes seemed to take over the Sabbath energy and felt twice as powerful! Reading poetry with Sabbath in the background! Is this the revelation of the day? 

I'm not turning rebel, mind you. Not me. Anything but! However for a wee bit a moment, I felt like I could pick up a fight with anyone crossing my lines. WTF? Life only starts at 60!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Comparing apples with pears...

Wolfram Alpha is an interesting search engine that provides a different set of data to user queries than 'plain vanilla' Google Search. If you throw Apple, Microsoft and Google for instance, in the search field it returns to you a whole bunch of data about the three companies, having guessed that you'd basically be interested in comparing the three from a financial performance point of view. It's the easiest way to compare any two or more companies with each other, if you know how to read some financials at the least. So, I did that search in order to write this post. The fancy table layout is also done by Wolfram. It's basically a cool site to provide many different types of data based on logical inferences, although not always too successful. For instance, my recent iPad search for 'Clinton, President' returned no data at all. Who knows what happened?!?!

The reason I printed this table today and decided to comment is based on the ol' saying: when numbers talk, bullshit walks.

We heard all sorts of negativity about Apple the last eight months, created in the market by competitors, speculators, hedgies, and plain frustrated Apple haters. Even as we speak, articles appear proclaiming 'time to give up on Apple stock'. On the other hand, reasonable analysts put their finger on the real issue about the stock, being the scores of thieving crooks (short sellers), who borrow thru their brokers and bankers AAPL stock owned by simple and ignorant investors, to massively short-sell it and make drop the trading price so they can cover themselves at the close of the day, and pocket hefty profits. In the process, they also make honest investors lose a lot of hard earned money, whereas regulatory bodies simply let them do, in the name of the Free markets in the Land of the Free...

Microsoft seems to have taken over Google in market cap, which is kind of curious, as I haven't read anything yet that would make anyone believe that Ballmer promises to steer Microsoft any better than the last ten years, any time soon. Really curious! Of course, despite the negativity, Apple is still head and shoulders above the two. It's the least one would expect with revenues more than double of each of the other two. Even better, Apple's revenues is larger than MSFT and GOOG added together. By 30% mind you!

One ratio I particularly like is the revenue per employee. For comparison, a good consulting firm is lucky if it gets more than $120K per employee (less than €100K), if it doesn't sell anything else than person-days, that is (ACN is on $117K). The bulk (more than 50%) of Apple's employees are hired in the Apple stores. In fact, one should subtract those to compare best with GOOG, but even so, Apple's leverage on its employees is almost 2.5 times larger than the other two. Wow, again!

Net Income perse as an absolute value is relevant for the piles of cash it generates, for sure, but tells us more when compared to revenues to yield profit margins. That ratio is not provided in this table, but a quick calculation yields:

AAPL: 23.45%, MSFT: 21,59% and GOOG: 20.76%. Wow again!

The BS we heard about Apple's declining profits and increased competition by the South Koreans, another bunch of copycats! How about the margins of MSFT and GOOG then? Where do they waste their hard earned revenues? Paying themselves obnoxious salaries and bonuses and changing their executive's private jets far too often? What's wrong with flying commercial?

Since the number of outstanding shares is unequal among the three, we need to normalize the Earnings per Share (EPS) number. Like if all had as many shares as Apple does (less than a billion). If you do that you get:

AAPL: 42,27, MSFT: 17,36 and GOOG: 12,23. Tired to shout Wow!

Now, how about P/E ratio? (Price over earnings). This is the stock price traded on the market over annual earnings per share. For AAPL it's 422.1/0.938 (price per share) / 42.27 (EPS) = 10.64. For MSFT this is 17.88 and GOOG 25.2 ! Even lousy Microsoft with the lousiest CEO on the planet, performs 70% better than AAPL. If this not stock manipulation, tell me what this is! Not to talk about GOOG selling hot air and pocketing this kind of return. Their time will eventually come, mark my words! Hedgies have no particular association (emotional or objective whatsoever) with any stock. They are simply greedy whores for hard cash. In Gordon Gekko's words "Greed is goooood!"

Finally, annual dividends being paid. I don't know where Wolfram got its numbers, but Apple's gross dividends (before tax) paid to shareholders is 3.05$ a quarter, which is 12,2$ annually or 2.7% based on last Friday's closing price. For MSFT this is 2,64% and GOOG's is simply zero! In other words, no recurring returns by Largey of their cash pile to shareholders. Rather spend some on fancy executive jets to carry Squirrel Boy around in his high profile PR spree of the last few years.

Like I said, when money talks...