SmugMug – After a Few Months

I switched from Flickr to using SmugMug for hosting my photos a few months ago, and it’s been a mixed experience.

The Good

  • I now have all my photos on my own domain. I’m contributing content to my own site, rather than one owned by Yahoo!.
  • I can run ads on photo pages. It doesn’t bring in a lot of money (barely anything, actually) but at least the money is coming to me.
  • I can make the photo part of the site look like it’s really part of my own site, not just a link to someone else’s site.
  • The photos are presented well, with nice big views, taking advantage of bigger screens well.
  • It’s nice to be supporting a small family-run business, rather than a division of Yahoo! that could potentially get sold again any time.

The Bad

  • It’s taken a lot of work to get things organised as I like them, and it’s still a bit odd. Every photo has to be in a gallery, and because I don’t think of photos in galleries, I’m ending up with lots of tiny galleries, often with only one or two photos in them.
  • I can set up ‘smart galleries’, which pick up on keywords, and fill themselves automatically. I’ve used this for gathering pictures of specific things, or taken in specific places, and it’s really nice and flexible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work reliably. Photos rarely appear in the galleries they should straight away. Sometimes they never do, unless you edit the gallery settings, and save them again. It means I can’t set this stuff up then just forget about it.
  • Searching works well. Sometimes. Other times, it’s frustratingly slow. At the moment, I’m looking for a picture of a cup of coffee, but every time I search, I get a ‘gateway timeout’ error.
  • Although SmugMug does have some social features, it lags a long way behind Flickr. There aren’t as many features, there aren’t as many users to interact with, and the users there tend not to use the social aspects. Even without taking part in Flickr recently, I’ve had photos ‘favorited’, and had comments posted. Not a single photo has been given a ‘thumbs-up’ (or down) on SmugMug. I’ve had one comment, but that was just a stream of abuse that I deleted straight away.

The Ugly

  • Since ditching Flickr, they’ve released a beta version of their new photo page, and it works much better than the old one. It solves most of the problems.
  • When returning to Flickr, it’s quite startling just how quick everything is, and how it all just works.
  • Flickr is cheaper. By more than any ad revenue is ever likely to bring me.

The Conclusion

I haven’t reached one yet, but ditching SmugMug and returning to Flickr is feeling increasingly likely. I like SmugMug, and there are features there, but not on Flickr, that pros probably need. I don’t. It’s making uploading photos feel more like a chore.

I’ll probably start uploading all my recent photos to Flickr again, and see how things go from there. Unfortunately, my Mac is currently out of action, waiting for a new hard drive, so I’ll have to wait until it returns.

Recipe: Marmite and Mustard Fried Rice

I came up with this recipe when I was a student, which probably tells you most of what you need to know about it.

I had a big bag of rice. One day, I found I had no money, and nothing in to eat. In the fridge, I had a jar of Marmite and a jar of English mustard. I like mustard. I bought the Marmite with the intention of trying to like it, but I failed.

I decided I’d better come up with a recipe that used Marmite, mustard and rice. So Marmite and Mustard Fried Rice was born.

Most people have been pleasantly surprised on tasting it, though it usually comes under the heading of ‘not bad’ rather than being a gourmet delight. It’s easy and cheap, though, so it was good student fuel.

I usually use basmati rice, but long grain should be fine too.

Cook as normal. For basmati rice, I just cook one cup of rice per two cups of water – the measure you use doesn’t matter, as long as it’s 2:1 by volume. As you start boiling the rice, add Marmite and mustard. I generally use a generous spoon of each, but it depends on how much rice you’re making, and how strong you want the flavours to be. A reasonably generous amount of Marmite is important, as it helps the textures later.

Boil until the rice is done, stirring often to make sure the Marmite and mustard mix in well. Get a pan heated up as it’s finishing. Either a frying pan or a wok will do the job, with a little oil.

Chuck the rice in the frying pan/wok. Pat it down, and let one side cook well, then flip it over. You’re aiming to get quite a bit of the rice to go crispy.

Once both sides are crispy, serve it. If you’re doing a lot, and it’s quite thick, you may want to break it up to get the crispy bits mixed into it, then cook it again, so more of the rice is crispy.

Serve with the beer you’ve been able to afford because you spent so little on food.

Being Without My Mac

I’ve enjoyed having a Mac, ever since I made the switch. Now, though, my Mac is unwell. I’ve booked in at the Apple store to take it in – I think it needs a new hard drive. Until then, though, I only have my old Windows XP Tablet PC. It’s quite old, and slow, with a small screen, and no access to any of the data on my Mac’s hard drive, or any of the external drives I used.

So. How’s that working out for me?

Surprisingly well, really. It’s not pleasant, but it’s usable for a while. I think I miss the hardware more than the software, though I certainly prefer Mac OS to Windows XP. The screen is so small and so low down that I’m feeling the risk of neck ache, and it doesn’t feel good for my eyes. I’ve been spoiled with that 24″ screen, though!

One of the first things I did was to install ResophNotes, which gives me access to my writing and ‘thinking’ space – the same data I’d normally access through Notational Velocidy on the Mac. I have DropBox, so many of my current files are still available. Although I use Apple’s Mail app for my email, it’s all stored in Gmail, so I can just open a browser tab and I have my email all up to date. I’m a little in limbo at the moment for calendars, but Google Calendar is currently my ‘master’, so I have that available.

I keep my notes in Evernote, so I just updated that to the latest version and let it sync. I’m using the web version of Twitter instead of the Tweetie (or Twitter official) client. My tasks are all in Remember The Milk, so they’re online anyway.

I had access to all of my most important data very quickly.

I’m still missing all the data on my external drives. Windows would be able to access them if they weren’t in Mac OS Extended format, but that would mean I wouldn’t be able to use Time Machine to keep them backed up. And since it’s Time Machine that means I’ll be able to bring my Mac home with a new hard drive and get it back up and running to pretty much where I was, I’m happy with the trade-off.

Things I like: Newton Faulkner

I have a friend who is a complete music nut. She is forever finding new stuff for me to listen to and while some of it hasn’t quite rocked my world, there are few artists I’ll be forever grateful to her for introducing me to. One of them being Newton Faulkner.

My love of guitar players is well known around these parts. Newton’s guitar style is different to the type I usually go for. As a contrast to the loud, blood-pumping rock of my usual favourites, Newton’s style is relaxed acoustic but not in your traditional style.

This was the video my friend linked me to by way of introduction to Newton:

Playing ‘Teardrop’, his cover of the Massive Attack song which is perhaps better known these days as the theme tune to House.

If that performance doesn’t convince you, maybe his one-man interpretation of Bohemian Rhapsody will?

As for his own compositions, the gorgeous, relaxed tunes are accompanied by some beautifully witty lyrics:

“I feel like a muppet with a drunken puppeteer, but I’ll survive.” – Into The Light

“Tip-toe down the hall, open the door, find out that God is a small sausage roll.” – Full Fat

“I thought by now I could have figured it all out, but now I’m further back, feels kinda stupid.” – Ageing Superhero

And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe the ginger dreadlocks will?

Find out more here:

Hand Built by Robots on Amazon UK

Rebuilt by Humans on Amazon UK

Hand Built by Robots on Amazon US

Rebuilt by Humans on Amazon US

Newton’s Official Site

Things I Like: Fenix P2D Torch

  • Update, July 2011: I lost this torch, and replaced it with a slightly bigger and brighter Fenix. This one turned up a couple of weeks later, and now Sam uses it. Still a great little torch.

Fenix P2D Torch

Torches are always a compromise. The smallest ones are never very bright, and the brightest ones are hardly convenient to carry around. Things have moved on a lot in recent years, with big improvements in LEDs, and better use of lithium and rechargeable batteries, but the compromises are still there. Unless you’re really quite geeky about your gadgets, or you have specific needs (like camping, or walking home after dark) you probably won’t care much what sort of torch you have.

I wanted a torch that was brighter than the one I was using, but not too big. I was willing to carry something bigger, as long as it wasn’t too inconvenient. At that point, I was using a small Fenix torch, that used a single AAA battery. It was small enough to slip almost unnoticed into a pocket, and was surprisingly bright for its size. We live in a 3rd floor (4th to those in the US) flat, with an external metal staircase, so it’s handy to have some light when climbing them on winter nights.

After a bit of reading and thinking, I ended up with the Fenix P2D Premium Q5, which I’ve been very happy with. It’s probably expensive enough to horrify many people, but more expensive torches are available too. Add in the excuse of using some birthday money (or whatever excuse I actually added in to the mix – I forget), and an expensive torch starts to look like a sensible purchase. Maybe not to you, but to a geek like me trying to justify a new toy.

I’d read that it was the size of a thumb. It’s about the width of my thumb, but a bit longer. It fits very neatly in my fist, not sticking out at either end. It’s light enough than holding and carrying it doesn’t feel like an effort. It’s big enough, though, that it would take up a significant amount of space in an already part-filled pocket. It came with a little pouch on a belt loop, so that’s how I carry it, on my belt next to my Swiss Army knife. I can have it in my hand in about one second, so it’s not much hassle to reach for it.

Fenix P2D Torch - Button

It’s very easy and comfortable to have in hand. In a pocket, it would be quite small on its own, but it’s quite a big thing to add to a pocket that’s already fairly full. For those times when sticking a torch in your mouth is the easiest way to work with both hands, it’s usable, but a bit bigger than you’d want to chew on for too long.

Brightness is even more difficult to describe, but it’s quite impressively bright. On full brightness, when standing on the stairs outside our door, it can light up the ground three floors below quite well. It can light up the houses two long gardens away behind our building. The houses across the street from them, too, but not very noticeably. When standing, it can show up on the ground quite well in daylight, and if I shine it at a 100W light bulb, the bulb throws a clear shadow on the ceiling, even when turned on. It’s 180 lumens, if that helps any.

Fenix P2D Torch - Front

On full brightness, though, it has two limitations:

  • It only lasts for one hour on a battery. Since they’re expensive lithium batteries, burning through one in an evening would be a problem. That’s not so likely to happen, though, because of the second limit:
  • After ten minutes of use, it gets hot enough that Fenix warn that the torch or battery could be damaged. It becomes quite uncomfortable to hold.

With a small twist of the top section, though, it drops from ‘turbo’ mode to ‘general’ mode. Gentle presses of the power switch will then switch between three more power levels, giving between 2 hours of use and 30 hours of use from the same battery. Even on the lowest setting, it’s painful to look into the beam, and quite bright enough to see your way around in the dark.

It has a couple of other tricks, too:

  • In turbo mode, it can also be set to strobe – very fast flashing of the full power light. Not much use day to day, but you can see why it might be useful for law enforcement and military. In a dark environment, it’s quite disorientating.
  • In general mode, the same setting (an extra gentle press of the power button) sets SOS mode – it flashes the morse code for SOS. Probably not very useful halfway up the stairs to a flat in Tiverton, Devon, but could be a nice feature to have if you’re buying it for camping or hiking.

Fenix P2D Torch - On

I bought mine from Heinnie Haynes, and I’ve always found them good. It looks like the P2D isn’t a current model any more, but the PD20 looks very similar, so is probably the replacement.

I bought the Fenix Diffuser Lantern at the same time, which is a useful accessory. It’s just a single piece of plastic that fits over the end of the torch, spreading it’s light in all directions. Sam has used it a few times in place of a lamp at her side of the bed, but it would be a very useful camping accessory.

I also stocked up on the NexTorch CR123A batteries, which makes the torch much cheaper to run. At a rough estimate, I seem likely to get through around three or four batteries a year, so the 12-pack will last a long time.

Unless you either obtain some geeky delight from a torch, or go about the sort of activities that really require such standards of light output, you’re unlikely to want to shell out for a torch like this one. If you do fall into either of those categories, though, it’s a very nice little tool/toy. I have no real need for it, but I love it anyway.