Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fedex reinvents the shortest route to destination.

Package to arrive in Oudenaarde from Veldhoven. 1.9 kgs net. Fedex, the carrier. Veldhoven is just over the border with Belgium. Package travels to Germany. The highways to Belgium from Eindhoven are presumably blocked for Fedex trucks. From Köln (two hour drive from Brussels) it flies (!!!) to Stansted, England. Maybe the routes are blocked from Belgium to Germany too. Farmers on the highways? Hadn't noticed yet...

I suppose, next stop will be Brussels for home delivery in Oudenaarde. Don't know yet. It might visit Paris first. For a romantic walk in Montmartre. Or Barcelona. Maybe Prague. It was initially mentioned 'delivery by Wednesday 29th 6pm the latest' in the first tracking report. It's written 'delivery unknown' now. My 1.9 kgs flew over the channel to Stansted to breath some fresh air, after the taste of sauerkraut in Köln and smelly Vieux Gouda from Veldhoven. Fedex is doing its best to increase the environmental footprint impact of my 1.9 kgs (just a photo album). I already feel guilty about the future generations. I am one of the millions to blame for using online shopping damaging the ozon layer.

It could have been delivered yesterday. It's anybody's guess whether it'll be here at all tomorrow. If not, Friday nobody's home and they'll have to deliver it on Monday. Is this an exception or the rule of international courier companies? Are they stupid, pardon my French... Do suppliers know how their couriers work? Do they give a shite? Who knows? I'll tell you when or if it arrives. In the meantime, see for yourselves. A picture is worth a thousand words. Click for larger and readable views.

UPDATE: I was right after all. The good news is that they managed to get it (I hope) very close and I'll probably have it by today. The bad news is I was right about Paris. It really traveled from Stansted to Charles De Gaulle - Roissy! Only difference now was that it wasn't shipped to Brussels for final delivery, but to St-Denijs - Westrem, around Ghent, about 20km from where I live. We're getting closer... 

It might have been Brussels after all where the real problem was. "No ways lead to Brussels" sort of thing... With so many Eurocrats living in the most fake and pretentious city on the planet, who wouldn't avoid it??? 

See for yourselves hereunder! I updated the charts...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Photography of the Modernist Cuisine

I don't quite remember when or where I found out about this book, at first. The important thing is that I found out. I have long known its author, Nathan Myhrvold, from when he was the big shot CTO in Microsoft, a position previously held by His Lordship, Bill Gates III. Nathan is not a dollar billionaire yet, but I reckon he can get around without having to sweat much for a living... with his $650M... Although this is at least 100 times less than Buffalo Bill himself, however, what the heck? It's only money! Still enough for his next hundred years, right?

In terms of personal fulfilment I guess Nathan seems quite a happy man. He's got two great passions in his life, besides his late day-job, I'd reckon. These are Photography and Haute Cuisine. For the former he seemed to have travelled the entire planet multiple times over, and shot photographs in places the rest of us only witness on National Geographic documentaries. For the latter he spent a year off in France, while a CTO, to learn how to cook the frog way... Good for him, and his lifestyle might also explain the general incapacity of Microsoft to properly keep up with Innovation. His long absences could have never happened under Jobs's watch if he happened to be working for Apple, that's for sure. No Ive sabbatical in sight, probably not even under Cook. You don't abandon the troops for a year's sabbatical if you are the commanding officer in charge of a raging battle against multiple enemies. No Sabbaticals for Feynman and his fellow scientists on the Manhattan project either. I worked long enough for various US bosses who never lost an opportunity to let me know, "if we can miss you for more than a week, we can miss you for ever!'. Right, Tommy? A 365 day Sabbatical in such a top job? At the hottest IT company in town? Blimey!

Anyways, Nathan seems to be quite a smart cookie, and whatever he got hold of, he managed to turn into a success story. So, he created this monumental work about his very own trend in cooking that he called Modernist Cuisine. A five volume giant in book form with cooking recipes, except that the recipes are only a (small) part of the story. Watch the Vimeo for a teaser taste.

Eventually, good ol' Nathan had the dough to turn his passion into a venture business with this Modernist 'thing' and we all wish him well, as from what I experienced myself, this is indeed something we never witnessed before in the world history of books since Gutenberg.

When I first read about it in a recent edition of the New Yorker (suddenly it came to me, it was indeed the New Yorker where I read about his books), I saw the reference to a separate book that he made about the Photography of his monumental undertaking. Indeed, the photography looked stunning, the sort I like a lot, as I found out in a variety of sources available, among other, at his homepage and on Amazon. Curious as I am, I really wanted to find out how he actually shot those supernatural photographs, used in his books, and other media that seem to be sprouting from his Chef league cooking (ad)ventures. So, I Amazoned his 'Photography of the Modernist Cuisine'. I picked it up at the US as they seemed to offer it a lot cheaper (including shipping and handling) than their European sisters (UK, DE and FR). Worth mentioning, when I ordered the book, I had no clue what its overall size or weight were. I thought it's just a book. Maybe a bit larger than usual, but, what the heck, a book is a book, right? We are not in the Middle-Ages anymore and Illuminated Manuscripts of 100+ pounders were long gone and hidden in some obscure musea storage space, right?

So much I knew... The postman arrived and left me a note to pick it up the following day, as I wasn't at home when he delivered it. Next day at 11 am I'm standing at the PO front desk waiting for the clerk to pass me the goods that she went to fetch from their storage. My eyes kinda popped out when I saw her arriving with a huge semi-transparent flexible plastic container with something huge in it. WTF was that?!! I thought, it oughtta be 'the book'. Still seemed hard to believe. Since when does Amazon deliver goods packed in clumsy plastic sacks? Once at home, mystery solved. The smart asses of our local Customs were curious to find out what kind of stealth missile was hidden inside the Amazon box, addressed to me all the way from somewhere in the US of A, and they literally ripped the package like their life depended on it. I've never witnessed the mess done on the Amazon box, ever before. Thankfully, ripping the outside package revealed an inside box (well done Amazon!) with a label 'Do not open'. Curiously enough, the local Customs Officer, who ripped the first package with so much hatred, seemed too pooped that he decided there were no threatening explosives or gold bars (whatever) inside the interior package, and he just threw it like this into the plastic container.

When I finally managed to get it out of there, and released it from a last protective foil layer, I found myself experiencing what skilled monks used to do daily a thousand years ago, working on Illuminated Manuscripts. The 'Book' gives real meaning to the term 'humongous'! Words are not enough. I put it on my kitchen table and went thru it page by page. It's the first time in my life I had to page thru a book literally standing up. I mean, if you sit down with the book open on a table in front, you have a very narrow view of the contents. You gotta stand up to experience it's grandeur. Page spreads are larger than A2, a single page is definitely larger than an A3 or even an A3+. I shot the picture posted above with two tape measures reading outside dimensions 34 x 42.5 cm!!! And added my hassie for size reference. Unfortunately, I didn't have a weight scale handy to weight it (a simple kitchen sample won't cut it).

Needless to say, the pictures are extremely well shot, simply gigantic, most shot with Myhrvold's gear, nothing more - nothing less than a Canon 5D Mark III (what else?). He seems to like shooting macro photography, and he often used microscopes to get inside the soul of his foodie objects. Actually, the concept of his culinary books is quite unique. I wish we all had time to study this 21st Century Bible thoroughly, as there is a myriad things to learn about food. There's even a more concise version called Modernist Cuisine at Home. See the references at his homepage to find out more. There's a deep preview of the book at Amazon's too. However, even that 'smaller' version is not what you'd call 'easily manageable' by anyone less than a Sumo fighter. Nathan likes them big, one could safely claim.

However, I was strikingly surprised about something, but at the same time I felt quite happy about. You'd reckon a loaded individual like Nathan, with deplorable amounts to spend on pastimes, would have used the crème de la crème in photographic gear. At least a bunch of Hassies, or even Phase One backs on Sinar Large Format bodies. Not true. He merely used simple Canon DSLRs, actually not even the 1DX, but the 5D instead, and only a few lenses (180, 100 and 50 mm with macro). I use almost identical gear (I got the 135 instead of the 180, the rest are same). Besides, I am not that much into macro as he does. BTW, the 5D is used a lot by many other big shots. One other example is Douglas Kirkland, who became famous shooting Marilyn Monroe for Look.

The other surprising thing was that Nathan used the same post-processing like many of us gifted amateurs do... that is, Photoshop, Lightroom and Helicon Focus for Focus Stacking! Also, panoramic stitching in Photoshop is a thing he likes much. Techniques used for high speed photography and the like seemed quite common too. They had a hell of a challenge though cutting through their cooking gear and putting stuff inside to demo what happens when one cooks. In some shots they used dozens of frames layered in Photoshop to simulate cooking processes as if someone was inside the pans and pots and ovens, watching the cooking unfold. Very educational material indeed, but not what subject matter experts would quite call 'artistic photography'. Simply extremely sharp and well lit objects demonstrating what happens during cooking. Myhrvold and his photographers/stylists/chefs actually help us crawl inside the mystery parts of cooking and live to tell our grandchildren about.

In this venture, Myhrvold somehow proved that one doesn't necessarily need to be a dollar multimillionaire to start a project like this. A Kickstarter crowd funding would probably suffice. It only needs guts and passion. Like so many other things in life. And it also needs the genius of a man, who doesn't only have ideas, but also knows ways to make it happen. 'Ability to execute', like we used to call it in the corporate lingo. I was very pleased to see how he did it, but also felt deeply envious of the lad. Looking at him dressed like a chef, the ex-CTO of Humongous and Almighty Microsoft, you suddenly realize that software development frameworks, operating systems and Office Suites are not his thing. He probably did that bit to acquire the dough from share options and eventually seek to realize his dream. Only for that reason, sharing a part of his passion, I'd go buy his other book too, as in mine there's no recipes at all. Only photography and how he shot it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Hassie

I 'been in love' with Hassie for longer than I can remember. It was love at first sight. It took me another ten-fifteen years to afford owning one, but, after that, I didn't use to shoot many pictures with it. I was mostly hesitant for fear of damage. Acquiring it must have cost me the equivalent of several months pay, I remember. Hassie has always been insanely expensive. It will cost you the equivalent of a middle class luxury car to buy one these days. I mean, their latest digital systems, and not the older mechanical, like mine. Nevertheless, in second hand markets today, even the old mechanical systems can claim several times the price of new systems by various well known brands. Hassie is the Rolls of the medium format range. It is indeed 'pro' stuff and aimed at the better professional photographers, who can only afford it because they generate enough income from it, and can also write it off. Also, it could be used for very serious, indeed very very serious amateurs with insanely deep pockets. I'm not one of them, and will never be. Ever...

Late 1980s I bought the mechanical 503CX body and 2 lenses, 80 and 150 mm, and much later I even bought a meter prism, the PME90. I have shot a relatively small number of photographs back then, no more than a few hundred in total. Family pictures, portraits mainly of my kids, and a few still life shots and various objects. I quite liked the result, although analog printing from negatives was a pain in the obscurity of the darkroom, and endurance with irritated hands and room odours by the developer and fixing baths.

Recently, I scanned few 6x6 negatives from those days on my Epson Perfection V700, and I was surprised by the scanner's ability to reproduce the original images in such high resolutions and quality. Few of my acquaintances, especially some who, in general, have never been impressed by my usual work, seemed to like a lot the results (one example is the flowerpot picture with dry flowers, here right, was considered 'in' and 'contemporary' by one such sceptic). So, I decided to start using the Hassie again, in a somewhat different workflow than 20 years ago. In fact, I'd only shoot the negatives, probably in B/W, let the lab develop the films, and I'd then scan them in my Epson and post-process the scanned images on Lightroom, for digital printing, eventually.

I found a photo lab in Ghent, who both sells negatives and develops them. Such labs become increasingly scarce and almost impossible to find as time passes by. But in larger cities you can still find a handful of them around, running a lucrative business for nostalgics like myself. They'd even print your shots, but this is the last thing I'd ever like them to do, unless we are talking sizes larger than A3+, which I couldn't handle with my inkjets. I haven't done much yet, other than think about and verify my intended workflow, but I promise you, I'll soon throw myself into it.

In the meantime, I simply wanted to dig into the psyche of my Hassie and show off her structural greatness. Therefore, I decided to shoot my whole system with my Canon 5D Mark III, and by doing so, pay my respects to the Swedish and German manufacturers behind this miraculous classic of human ingenuity. Feel free to enjoy her internal and external beauty, as much as I enjoyed shooting her and LR post-processing her pictures.

Like a known US photographer once said about her: 3 words come to mind when you hold and shoot with a Hassie - Reliability, Quality and Gravity. With Gravity he meant that her Hassie body, as he was holding it, felt solid, metal-strong, durable, and pressing the release button made the perfect sound, the camera equivalent of the deaf sound you hear by shutting the doors of German automobiles.

Et alors?

Sketch by Siegfried Woldhek
A sudden nuke explosion hit the news of the world a few days ago! Tabloid euphoria for sure. Something to fill entire frontpages for weeks to come. Another French President behaved more like a jumpy rabbit than the usual frog he's supposed to be. The French are of course used to such escapades. This is a type of national sport for those at the throne of Les Elysées. I guess many French men feel quite proud of their Presidents' manliness too. Typically, however, the chers citoyens and citoyennes wouldn't care less. That's his problem, when all's said and done. Whatever... Unless His Excellency uses taxpayer money to fund his private moments, like the other (Socialist) François (his predecessor) did 20 years ago.

Between you and I, whatever a man does privately is his entire and very own business. I am like the French on this. I don't mingle in other people's lives, and I want nobody to mingle in mine. Who are we to dare criticise the man, or anyone like him for that matter, except those tabloid reporters and paparazzis, or stand-up comedians, who make a living out of public figures? The famous 'Et alors' response to the Press by the late François Mitterrand, when asked about his affaire and love child, says it all. Should Mitterand have been a Yankee, then public apologies, humiliation, and a premature career termination in a pretentious and absurdly puritan US would have been the rule. But the French, good for them, respond more stoically and a lot more realistically to all this. "Et alors?" answered Mitterrand, and probably the thought crossed his mind, but he didn't utter: "None of your f**king business, dudes. Like, nobody among you, brothel-goers, has ever had an affair, right?" 

I only have two observations...

1. The President's job. If you are the President of such an important country with tens of millions of citizens struggling to get thru another day in the current economic crisis with millions of unemployed fighting for survival, you have already promised the heaven to scores of desperate voters, dying for a wee tiny glimpse of hope, and after a few years at the top job you have achieved almost close to nought, you have repeatedly proven, despite domestic failures, your imperialistic ambitions by entertaining foreign military 'cavalry style' invasions in former colonies for soit disant 'humanitarian' purposes, you've been literally waving the 'flag' of Western 'policing' states in their 'crying wolf' initiatives to punish Syria and Assad, and above all, you got the worst public approval polls as a President in the history of your Nation, then, fine, you have an affair, or maybe two... I don't mind, but... where the hell do you find the time ?!?! I'd honestly like to have been a tiny neuron cell in his brain to 'see' what fires the man's thinking... Really! 

2. This concerns women and Darwin's evolution theory. The eternal search for Alpha males. Women are naturally attracted to them to ensure their offsprings later become Alpha social animals too. Women do love power. More than men, for sure. Men actually love it in order to reach Alpha status and increase their attractiveness to women. But women seem to love power for the sake of it. They are the victims of evolution. Alpha males will 'save' the world! At his age, François Hollande doesn't necessarily need Dr. Kildare looks to seduce young actrices, does he ?! His Elysées throne is more than enough to provide him with a halo of virility. Law of nature. Can't beat it. 

Is there any conclusions to draw? The only one is that history repeats itself. We seen it over and over again. It's the law of evolution that human beings seem to obey everywhere they go and live. Evolutionary laws will drive human motivation in four fundamental ways, like one wise and beloved friend once mentioned to me: Power, Money and Sex. And the fear of Death...

UPDATE: A reader discovered an additional dynamic in the four motivational drivers: He said, Power, Money and the fear of Death actually all three lead to Sex. Would that be true? We just live for Sex then? It's a terrifying thought indeed.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Practical Wisdom, milord?

Their name is Sixt. German origins. Grown to a car-rental powerhouse! Modern and young appeal. Low prices. N°1 Herz national colours Yellow and Black, with a taste of White. Couldn't go wrong, could it? 

My youngest offspring (long live all three of them) had a car break-down yesterday. The car, a 1997 SAAB, simply collapsed and went into coma. BLR. Eventually the garage mended it earlier today, but, like one jokingly mentions colloquially here, they also said the car was 'dead beyond its funeral' (don't ask me what it literally means, the way I understand it, it's a matter of time when it's gonna fall in pieces and never recover again...). So, son and dad decided to buy a replacement car for the former, right away, and in the meantime use a rent-a-car go-between. Sixt came on top of the list, goes without saying. Rest, much too expensive. And Sixt was a German... you know, Deutsche Gründlichkeit and stuff! I'd trust them with my life, wouldn't I? Little I knew then...

Son arrives at the Sixt office in Ghent. Lowest possible rate stands at 15€ a day. I advised him earlier to mention that he wanted the car for at least a month. You'd expect, a month is 30 days, so 30 times 15€ makes 450€ right? Wrong! Not in the Sixt logic. 30 days is more than 25 days, they told him. So for anything up to 25 days would be 15€ a day, for more than that it's 20€... 600€ for the month! Say what? That is to say, I rent a car for a couple days and it cost me 15€ a day, I rent it for 30 days and hope (in my dreams) for a 'volume discount' (maybe those Sixt bosses never heard that before) and they'd now wanna sell it for 33.333% more? From day one? Pinch me! I gotta be dreamin'! Sixt folks, feel free to comment hereunder! I challenge you!!!

Wait, there's more. Not only they asked 600€ for the period, but also we had to add an additional guarantee payment of 50%  (thus 900€ in total) in case there's a problem... Here, I got real mad! They asked an equivalent 50% on top to cover potential accident hazards, damage, theft... Wait a sec! WTF?! Hadn't those geniuses ever heard about insurance coverage for car rentals?!!! In any transaction of the hundreds I done in two continents and more than two dozen countries the last 30 years (literally) I ALWAYS had to pay insurance fees for damages, theft and passengers (incl. myself), and I never, I repeat NEVER (!!!) EVER had to add 33% on top... That's what insurance is for, right? Yeah, you typically pay a guarantee when you rent a house for possible coverage if you 'miss' rental payments in the future, but not for renting a fokkin' SMART! Imagine it were a Rolls! Jezus, Maria, Joseph! WTF?!? 

So, in any reasonable rent-a-car company, I'd imagine people would be happy to give you a bonus for renting something for so long. Not Sixt. Sixt will even penalise you for being so generous and for sparing them the admin burden of having to re-rent the same car 20 times to different customers during the same period, and clean it every time it comes back, and fill it with petrol, and even bearing some dead time (staying idle between rentals). Ok, some hotels have a similar practice to avoid guests sneaking out with half the minibar contents unpaid, but I never saw a rent-a-car company do that before! 

So, the kid calls me with the story, telling me his card limit was no good to cover that much,  and so, I decided to go back with him and use my credit card instead. Young adults can't afford the luxury of large card limits, so if he paid 900€ by himself the card wouldn't be much use to him for the rest of the month. I had to help. 

I go find him and we drive to Sixt next. Before that, listen to this, we 'had to do' a web reservation. Ah, yes, forgot to mention that you just can't drop-in and rent-a-car on the spot at Sixt... you need to reserve the car online before that!!! So, if you are some Internet illiterate, tough luck (shit would be more appropriate here, I suppose). 

This time, with our brand new online reservation, all expenses included, we got a total cost of 230€; We only picked 15 days this time, and if he had to get longer he'd do it after the initial fortnight. This time over I'd use my own Mastercard instead. 

Picture this... Sixt lady employee sitting behind the desk, us two in front, standing:

-Oh, she sez, I'll have to register your son as an additional driver. That would be about another 40€ for the rental period! (that'd be an 80€ equivalent for a month!!!)

-But I'm not gonna drive the car at all! I protested. He's gonna be the only driver!
-Yes, she sez, but since you are the one paying, and the contract has to be on your name, you'll have to be the main driver'!
-I am not gonna be that, it's insane! I screamed. Don't you understand?  I'm just helping the kid because of his credit card limit! Is that so difficult to grasp?
- No, it's not, but that's the rule!
- (Holy f*ck, I'm thinking, that woman is brain-dead!) Well, OK, I say, I'll walk outside to a cash dispenser around the corner and bring you the cash, or better said, I'll give him the cash and you will have to rent it to him directly, OK? I won't even exist on the transaction!
- I am sorry, Sir, she sez, but I am afraid this is not possible! We can't accept cash payments. We only accept credit cards! 
-You must me (f*cking - this I thought, I didn't say) kiddin' me! So, if I want to rent a car for say two days (30 euros and change), and I don't know how to reserve this online, and have no Visa I am out of luck with Sixt?!?! For just 30 euros! Have mercy on me!
-I am afraid so... Sorry! 
-We are outta here, I said and pulled a flabbergasted offspring with me away from that madhouse! 

One thing I could not blame them for is that they weren't polite enough! Not true! They were one and all friendliness! Sure thing! They stayed calm while I was up the walls, boiling under my Greek temperament and all! I had to drive 60 km to listen to this shit? But, they had to follow their rules. Some rules that probably a double digit IQ big shot at their Sixt HQ back in Germany had to put together, most likely someone who never had to rent a car himself. What can I say?

But I been thinking... in what kind of 'practical wisdom'-less society and big brother constructs shall our young generations have to live in the future? Already seen scores of desperate 3rd age passengers crawling along in Europe's airports, frightened to death, struggling at the robot check-in counters that airliners decided to replace their check-in desk staff with. Did you ever happen to watch BBC comedy series  'Little Britain'? Have you watched the episode with "Computer sez no!?" Well do that. This ain't too different than what I experienced today.

Why do companies work like this nowadays? Is it just because Sixt happens to be German and German rules stand usually above common logic and practical wisdom? Or, is it that 'German' has got nothing to do with that at all? And this insanity epidemic is simply universal?

Logic disappears when people become automata and follow hierarchy rules imposed from above unconditionally. Billie Joy will prove right after all. Even his Unabomber might eventually be proven correct too. I have personally served the IT industry for 30 years, and during my time, the companies I worked for have dimensionally improved system development for their customers, who got deeply automated and replaced their human workers with iron, plastic and silicon, and the braincells of their left-over staff with 'do as I say' neurons! Well, each time as a customer or user, I come across a Sixt look-alike, I sincerely feel deeply ashamed for doing my bit in planning and building this insanity. More and more, every day, in the Sixt's of this world I can thoroughly see the reasons why Billie Joy quit IT for good. And that he did, after having been one of the foremost and most admired pioneers in the history of IT as a father of Unix and a founding architect of Open Source.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Change the default keyboard of OSX login screen permanently

This has been bothering me real bad. Ever since installing Mavericks, the default login keyboard at the Apple login screen seems to be the standard US (QWERTY). Since I live in the AZERTY world, this ain't no good at all. For the months I been using Mavericks, this proved a real pain in the b*%+/. Unfortunately,  I been rather lazy to go find out how to fix the issue. Solutions from 'misery loves company' alike fora weren't actually forthcoming either... On the long run, I even got used fooling OSX, typing on an AZERTY keyboard, and pretending it was on QWERTY; it ain't such a smart feat, however. Problem is, when you just happen to login early in the morning, you're kind of brain-dead... mostly turns out that you don't wanna make your brain work yet, and it's a nuisance to realize, after a few 'wrong password' pop-ups, that you been typing on a different keyboard that the computer thought you oughtta be using. 

In the beginning I kinda 'helped' the problem by following these instructions by Apple itself. They make a default login keyboard menu item appear at the right-up corner of the toolbar at the top of the monitor. However, this seems to always be the US standard, regardless whether, after booting, keyboards will revert to the versions users specify in their Preferences 'Language and Region' panes. With Apple's solution, you needed to select first the correct keyboard from the drop-down and then to login. Worth noticing, there's no other predefined keyboards than the US at this login screen, so you need to seek yours inside an ethnic list of keyboards first, and then select it to type your credentials and login. Quite a fuss if you ask me... Gotta be a better way than that...

Indeed and Eureka! A far more elegant solution does exist. To understand what's goin' on, figure this. OSX stores the default login keyboard in the root Library Preferences, however, there are two types of Libraries: one is the mentioned root, which is also visible, and a second is the user Library, invisible ever since Mavericks, and it was created inside the user folders. After you, as a user, select several working keyboards, the list is written into your user's Library, and not in the root Library. It's in the preferences of that root Library that the US standard keyboard is glued down and won't go away. Unless... you copy your user keyboard preferences from the user into the root Library. 

To do that, simply open Terminal and copy this:

sudo cp ~/Library/Preferences/ /Library/Preferences/ 

You do that, then enter your password, and all's said and done. Logoff and login again. At your keyboard drop-down you'll now find all the keyboards that you specified in your 'Language and Region' panes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Colour is colour!

It all started days ago with the subject of color management in digital imaging workflows. After many years of miserably failed efforts, I finally took the daring step to fundamentally and correctly grasp the darn process, once and for all, and henceforth apply it properly in my own photography, mainly for reasons of improved productivity, predictability and consistency of output.

In an earlier post I have explained some of my recent colour management experiences, rather extensively I’d dare say. However, from early on, there have been quite a few bits that bothered me in the way science explained human vision. Things like, for instance, the ‘known fact’ about us being ‘trichromatic’. Why precisely trichromatic? Do our eyes work like DSLR CCDs then, and our cortex generates visual images just like those a computer graphics card sends to the monitor? And, if our colour vision had to be RGB based, why has evolution decided to work with precisely those three peak absorption frequencies that we associate with the colours Red, Green and Blue? What’s so 'special' about these frequencies, please tell me, at least in terms of effectiveness and efficiency of the 'human vision' process? Since it is my strong belief that nature itself behaves in most ingenious ways in deciding how to execute its many processes, there must have been a genuine rationale why those three R,G and B were selected and became the ‘primary’ colours, not? Ever crossed your mind, what would have been our colour experience of the space and objects surrounding us if evolution had yielded a different set of primary colours? Would we be ‘better’ off? Or ‘worse’? What makes a colour ‘good’ or ‘bad’ after all? Saturation or brightness? Have you ever thought about that? What if we suddenly experienced deep green skies at noon and purple seas with black foliage on cyan tree stems? Pink elephants, somebody? BTW, do your reds look ’n feel just like mine? Do we experience in other words, among ourselves that is, ‘identical’ colour sensations? All the time? I could go on and on and on... Understanding human vision managed to be not my usual cup-of-tea, I bet.

Also in my recent readings, I came across this generic definition about sensation that proved quite an eyeopener. At least to me it was. «Perception is information about our surrounding, and the way this materializes is via ‘energy’ out there that is captured by our sensor cells and becomes ‘information’ inside our nervous system.» If you heard about Einstein’s formula of transformation of energy into mass (or vice versa), well, in sensation, ‘energy’ is also captured but this time it is transformed into neural ‘information’ and the result of the transformation we call ‘perception’. How cool is that ?! Yes sir, never heard that before framed this way. But it’s so cool and also seems so true! (Found in the Blackwell Handbook of Sensation and Perception edited by E.Bruce Goldstein, Chapter 2, Abstract, by Michael Levine). One’s never too old to learn, indeed. 

Hence, it has been so far scientifically ‘accepted’ that human vision is trichromatic. However, don’t imagine even for a second that our brain (our visual cortex for that matter) works like a computer monitor with either LCD cells or CRT phosphors. It's not quite like a lil’bit of this (Red), a lil’bit of that (Green), and why not an itchy-bitchy this too (Blue), and voila! We got a Prussian Blue hue on that cunning pixel! The actual biological process of colour perception is a lot more esoteric than any common laptop monitor will ever be. I am not even sure whether all experts entirely agree about the exact pathways of our nervous system enabling us to ‘see’ colour (or better said, to experience the ‘sensation’ of it). Of course, as scientific research gallops rapidly ahead, we kind of «gettin’ there», and one day I am sure, hopefully not too far in the distant future, we’ll get all the answers we need! We always do, as a matter of fact.

For what is worth, there’s on one hand the RGB additive colour theory about human vision, where the final colour sensation eventually gets composed by 'accumulating' red, green and blue sensations together (like with computer or TV monitors), but there’s also the ‘opponent colours’ theory, where the perceived differences among certain 'primary' colours become in fact the key to our colour vision. Not too intuitive an idea if you ask me, however, not without some merit notwithstanding, as differences often become better discriminants than larger absolute values. It’s like the EBT (earnings before tax). EBT is always a relatively small number compared to its two constituent larger quantities of which it is the difference, one for the revenue and a second for business expenses. Small percent fluctuations in the two large numbers can have devastating impact on that wee tiny difference, the result often spreading all over the map (red to black and back to red again)! In a likewise reasoning, it’s probably ‘easier’ for the visual cortex to distinguish colours in terms of how different they are from red vs. green or yellow vs. blue than to actually translate some absolute values of energy absorption into a real world color sensation! Sounds amazing! We see colours in terms of differences of somehow ‘opponent’ primary colours! Jeez! God must have been real smart when He thought of that!

In my further ‘quest for the truth’ I was deeply disturbed and intrigued by the ‘signalling processes’ of retina light sensitive cells, the so-called cones and rods. Especially the part that said it were mere proteins, called ‘opsins’ (being firmly fixed in place by 'drilling' thru cone and rod cell membranes with their seven alpha-helix ‘screws’ each), which are responsible for ‘tuning’ a key molecule, a derivative of vitamin-A called ‘retinal’, into absorbing photon energy of predefined wavelengths. Indeed, energy absorption occurs in the form of bell-shaped spectra spanning along large parts of the entire region of visible wavelengths, and it does not happen by any means at only in a few single individual frequencies. There goes the monitor RGB colour reproduction model! There are of course maxima in each spectrum, correspondingly at three ‘special’ wavelengths of 564 (red), 534 (green) and 420 (blue) nanometers, but there’s also energy absorption in each of the spectra along many more frequencies around the peak. In the absence of light, retinals are typically bound to their ‘hosting’ opsins, and wait for photons to ‘pay’ them a visit. 11-Cis-Retinals (that’s how subject matter experts call the specific initial retinal conformations) basically resemble grizzly bears waiting with open-wide gobs to pluck red salmons mid air as the latter jump-swim upstream... Got the picture? When a retinal ‘plucks’ and 'sucks off' energy from an entering photon, one of the molecule’s carbon bindings, the one at the eleventh retinal carbon atom position, breaks up and part of the retinal body twists to bind again in a new spacial position; it isomerizes in other words into the so-called trans-all-Retinal. In that state, it subsequently breaks away from the hosting opsin, which in turn triggers a complex but lightning fast signalling pathway (some chemical events happen in pico secs indeed) in order to send a ‘signal’ to the optical nerve fibers with which the cone/rod cells are synapsed. The pathway of signalling events is kind of reminiscent of a tile layout in a Guinness Book of Records domino tile falling competition. A causes B that in turn forces C to happen and, because of that, D kicks off E... until significant electric potential is built upon the cone/rod cell membrane (a phenomenon known as transduction). This eventually signals the initial trigger from the ‘plucked’ salmon (sorry photon) towards an attached ganglion (a nerve cell) in the optical nerve. Gazillion times a day, for each of the seven and a half billion human inhabitants of planet Earth. Not to mention the remaining living creatures large and small...

Curiosity killed the cat, they say, but I ain’t no cat whatsoever, so, there was still something I didn’t quite get and wanted to find out. It really bothered me to gradually learn how nature worked for colour vision and I hadn’t yet a clue! The theory goes like this: Depending on the type of cone, in other words, red-, green- or blue-sensitive, absorption spectra are positioned around laterally displaced maxima (see graph in the following paragraph). In reality, a single 11-Cis-Retinal molecule without bounds to opsins will be normally excited by photons in the ultra violet region of the electromagnetic spectrum!!! In other words, a 11-Cis-Retinal needs real hot Kelvin stuff to work-out; it needs to swallow high energy UV photons indeed. In the UV region there are photons of considerable energy that normally get filtered away, largely in the atmosphere and also in our eyes before they reach the retina. Therefore, our own retinals in our cones and rods won’t be typically isomerized by invisible UV light, not ever, unless you’re crazy enough to look straight into the sun without sunglasses.  Now, then, retinals sitting entangled among the alpha-helices of their ‘hosting’ opsins in any of the three cone types, and waiting for photons to come by, were eventually found to isomerize by photons of lesser than UV energy, coming this time from the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact they appear to be happy with mere photons of blue, green and red visible light, right? How could this be achieved, then? What is that those three opsins have that they become capable of tuning their retinals into isomerization by sucking less than needed photon energy? C'm on, I almost gave away the answer...

Now, like you all dudes know, opsins are proteins, and as such they are macromolecules that appear like long chains of a 'backbone' upon which, few atoms apart, amino acids are suspended, one at the time. Most of them buggers are electrically neutral and hate water (hydrophobic), but some are just the opposite, they love to flirt with water all the time (hydrophilic, with OH+ bits hanging out). If you come to think about it, it’s all about electric energy states forming in the neighbourhood of the connected retinals, them waiting for light to shine, get excited and get the hell-outta there, real quick. These electric potential states must then logically be the result of which amino-acids precisely participate in the retinal ‘entourage’! In other words, how many hydrophilic among them are suspended really close to our target 11-Cis? The more electrical energy present the lesser incident energy will be needed to break the Gordian knot of Carbon nr 11, right? Scientists found that opsins with green and red light absorption sensitivity are structurally a lot more alike with only 4% different amino acids hanging from their backbone. I bet you, this difference will be more outspoken in the neighbourhood of the 11-Cis-Retinal attachments than in the remainder of the protein. This 4% difference is just enough (evolution has managed) to make the green and red absorption spectra (L and M) look very much the same, but nevertheless spatially apart and having red and green (564 and 534 nanometers) located maxima respectively. Also, they seem to be cell-manufactured based on genes located in our X chromosomes, meaning that female humans (with two X’s mainly unless you are called Jamie-Lee Curtis) are less likely to suffer from red and green cone malfunctions or possible absence of such cones altogether, or in colloquial tongue, suffer from red-green colour-blindness. Amazing how nature works, innit?