And you know what makes them most likeable? This, from their About Us page: “While we hope to make nice money out of FeedPress, we don’t depend on this service to feed our cats so we won’t kill it just because it didn’t grew fast enough. We want to make a nice service for nice users.” (bold emphasis added by me) – did you read that, Google?
I have cleaned my digital camera sensors for the longest time, beginning with the D70, then the Fuji S5pro (the hybrid of Nikon D200 body and mechanics, with part Fuji electronics and sensor), and the venerable D700 that is still our main portrait camera. It has always been a relatively easy, fast and painless effort.
My cleaning process was mostly a combination of dry cleaning (with an Arctic Butterfly nylon brush) and wet cleaning (using the inexpensive “Eclipse” cleaning fluid, and Visible Dust’s green “Ultra MXD-100″ swabs). It always worked, flawlessly. Sometimes it took 2-3 swabs to get the sensor clean, but it was still very economical.
Not so with the D800. I found tiny little streaks on the sensor after the wet cleaning. Residue from the cleaning fluid. This is what it looks like:
(click to enlarge — this has been edited to the extreme to make the streaks more visible; the problem is that with some long exposure black & white photography, it’s not unlikely to use such strong edits)
At first I thought my cleaning fluid had expired – well, not expired, but absorbed too much water: these highly concentrated alcohols are all hygroscopic, and the bottle of Eclipse that I had was about 2 years old.
So I bought a new bottle of “Eclipse” (~$10 at nearby Calumet) – no change. So I thought that I best try Visible Dust’s recommended cleaning fluid, the “VDust Plus”, with the blue cap. The tiny bottle costs ~$25 – way, way overpriced if you ask me. Especially after the first cleaning attempts, which left me with the same streaks on the D800 sensor.
Frustrated, I wrote an email to the Visible Dust support, asking for advice. It took them a day or two to reply, and they told me that the recommended swab for cleaning the D800 is their orange colored “DHAP-Vswab®” type (I challenge you to find that information on their website, which still talks of the D3 and D700 as “new” Nikon sensors). They also told me that I maybe needed the “Smear Away” cleaning fluid instead, with the red cap.
Since I had just wasted my remaining green swabs, I thought I’d try the recommended orange swabs first, and ordered a 12-pack of them (~$45). And while the texture of the fabric on the swab certainly is different, you may have already guessed it: no change, and more streaks. I tried using the cleaning fluid very sparingly so that it wouldn’t be too must, but allowing it to slowly spread over the swab. It was no use.
I was then looking at the “Smear Away” cleaning fluid (again, ~$25 for the tiny bottle), to find in the description that for this one, VD recommended to use the green swabs! (~$45 for the 12-pack). Which would have meant $25+$45 = another $70 for the eventuality of then, maybe, getting rid of the streaks on my sensor that would move and shift from here to there with each new cleaning attempt (and $3 swab that went into the trashcan after each swipe).
That was the point where I gave up. I’m not saying that Visible Dust’s products don’t work. They just didn’t work for me, and I haven’t tried the “Smear Away” – maybe I had some special contamination on the sensor, who knows. It was just too much of a gamble at this point for me.
So, I decided to let the professionals at Kurt’s Camera Repair on Mission Gorge Road do their job. I’ve only had the best experiences with Kurt’s in the past. After explaining the problem they asked me what particular cleaning fluid and swabs I had used, and then told me it would perhaps take 2 days for the cleaning. The next morning already though, they called me that my camera was ready for pick-up. I did not only have a super clean sensor (yay!!!) – they also cleaned the mirror chamber, focusing screen and mirror as far as possible, and the camera exteriors as well. I’m a fan! :-)
Needless to say also that the clean sensor lasted a little less than a week. One trip into the desert was enough to have at least one dust spot on the sensor again. :-P But those are easy to remove in post, and just something digital photographers have to live and deal with. The streaks were FAR worse, and a nightmare to fix in post.
I’m looking into different new approaches to cleaning the sensor myself now. When I find something that works, I’ll write about it here.
I may pick up writing about certain photo/tech related topics here on my personal blog again more often. I gave up this type of blogging about 1.5 years ago, but there are certain experiences that I find worth sharing, but too technical for the general audience on my photography website.
Those who know me for a while have probably witnessed my slow transition from an excited Google fan (I was a “Top Contributor” to the help forums for Picasa and Picasa Web Albums, both German and International, until Summer 2011) to a rather skeptical, critical user that carefully looks at Google’s product offerings.
Most recently, I try to use alternatives wherever it makes sense (and is not too much of a pain in the butt to switch – one of those is Google Voice, because my GV number is all over the place as the primary contact phone number, and I’m not really prepared to make the switch to an alternative service like Line2 yet).
Why? The death of Google Reader was the straw that broke the camels back. I just don’t want to use services that are offered by a company that has so much power and money that they just don’t have to care about niche products of a more geeky and specialized nature anymore (IMHO, it’s what made Google such a charming company, originally), and only cater features to the majority of, lets be honest, “not-so tech-savvy anymore” users.
Today, I think that specialized companies that have a narrower line of products are preferable over the offerings of giants like Google – it just seems more unlikely to me that a smaller company is going to kill their own business. Also, Google Reader has shown how stifling Google’s dominance was in the online RSS feed reader market. Or just look at the situation of web mail services now. Is there a serious alternative to GMail? So, those smaller companies need support from normal users to allow them to create and innovate.
While I have replaced a good amount of Google services in my digital life with alternatives (the full list is at the end of this post), there are some leftovers: my contacts and calendar in particular still are on Google’s servers – because I still have an Android phone. Which finally (ahem) brings me to the point of this post: Android 4.4 aka “KitKat”.
The company behind KitKat is Nestlé. And I find it weird that (former?) “don’t be evil” company Google now teams up with Nestlé, one of the most despicable trans-national “big food” corporations on the planet. Nestlé’s latest stunt includes it’s lobbying on whether water is a “right” or a “need” – and indeed, thanks to Nestlé, it was deemed a need, and not a right! Which translates to: yes, humans need water to survive, and ideally, they buy it from Nestlé – after they dried out natural wells and took people’s groundwater, that is. That is all documented in the movie “Bottled Life“.
I avoid Nestlé products wherever I can, and whenever I’m aware of who’s really behind a brand name (and did so long before Android KitKat). Perrier? Arrowhead? San Pellegrino? Poland Springs? Those are all Nestlé waters…
And Nestlé and Google? How does that go together? It’s doesn’t, IMHO. And I think it is important to raise awareness of this combination. Why would a company like Google, that serves organic and local food to it’s employees, combine forces with a GMO-loving, environment-exploiting company like Nestlé, for a stupid marketing stunt? Have they completely lost any sense of decency and proportion?
I don’t know. What I do know is that this Samsung thing here on my desk is my last Android phone. I can’t support this. Not with money, and for sure not with my data, either.
You should really have named it Key Lime Pie, Google.
Last not least, here is my list of my alternatives to Google’s services and offerings:
- My email is not on Google’s servers anymore – I have my own domain, and it includes email, so I use that. Not webmail though – the web frontends that my hoster provides are just no match for the functionality of GMail. My mail client is Thunderbird on the desktop, and Aquamail on Android – IMAP works just fine.
- My primary browser is Firefox – it’s the only remaining independent browser with a serious market share. I only use Chrome for Google+ and Facebook (that way, they can spy on each other, and track my movements on their worst competitor’s platform – well, at least that’s my imaginary, wishful thinking… they probably don’t care too much, but it makes me feel better;-).
- My blogs are on WordPress (hosted, or self-hosted, in the case of my photography website), instead of Google’s Blogger (another product that is dying a slow death if you ask me).
- I’m using Level3′s DNS servers in our home network now, and not Google’s (and not my ISPs, either…)
- My search engine of choice is Duck Duck Go for a while now, and I’m quite happy with it (if I really need Google’s search results for whatever reasons [it's getting rarer and rarer as DDG is catching up], I’m using Startpage).
- My notes are kept in Evernote, instead of Google Keep.
- Public documents and photos are stored in the cloud in Dropbox, or Tresorit (when privacy and security are important), and not Google Drive.
- I’m working on my documents with LibreOffice, installed locally, instead of using Google Docs online.
- Oh and, my RSS reader of choice is G2Reader. (and while I don’t need any of their premium features, I paid them – as I said: these alternatives need our support)
I recently watched the fundraising/trailer/teaser for the “Unsound” movie, about the survival of musicians and creatives in the digital age:
There are two things that don’t seem to be mentioned in this video: one is that we can listen to music “on demand”, in radio-like quality, on video and audio streaming sites any time nowadays.
[UPDATE: David Byrne just wrote an excellent article about Spotify that goes along these observations - why pay when you can stream?]
In the past, when we wanted to just listen to a song (ie. not buy the record), we had to be in front of the radio when it was aired, and record the (crappy, compressed and expanded) radio quality onto (crappy) compact cassettes. If we bought the single it was far more expensive than it is buying a digital download of a single track today. And if we bought the album we probably got 2-3 likeable songs, with the rest being “meh” and/or “fillers” (depending on one’s taste and degree of devotional fandom;-).
Today however, we can a) listen to music whenever we want to, for free (YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Vimeo etc.), and if we really like a song, we can b) buy just that one song through iTunes, Amazon, etc. - and most often, that’s a 99 cent sale, instead of a $12-$15 sale for an album. But the musicians still produced the entire album. And no one is recording music onto compact cassettes in front of the radio anymore.
Looking at it that way, I think that YouTube is actually the single worst offender. I can’t understand why musicians and labels are watching and letting it happen that people upload entire albums, and YouTube does nothing about it, even though it’s a crystal clear copyright infringement. Is getting paid fractions of a cent per play really lucrative?! Also, there’s a plethora of “YouTube to MP3″ download services/apps – because for an awful lot of people, the radio-like YouTube quality is enough as long as they can get the music for free.
[Addition: what's most upsetting on YT are the "music lovers" that comment "thanks for posting this" to uploads of entire albums. Albums that they could buy in near mint condition through the discogs.com marketplace for $7 plus shipping. If those people were actually music lovers that cared, they'd perhaps leave a comment like "why are you posting this?!" instead.]
But there’s more, and that’s the other thing that has changed: music doesn’t “age” anymore, with regards to the recording/playback medium. Compact cassettes, tapes, vinyl records, even CDs (if you expose them to UV light long enough, scratch them badly, etc.) – all physical records age, and their quality deteriorates. After a while, listening to music from such a medium was just no joy anymore. Compact cassettes were the worst, probably because the way that we treated them: stored in the car, in a temperature range from “freezing” to “baking”, rewound, fast forwarded, flipped, etc. etc. – or thing of the mobile players (“aka” Walkman).
Today? A digital download lasts forever. A file will remain perfect (in the case of lossless audio like FLAC, even bit-perfect), no matter how many times you play it, and no matter what you do with it. The worst that can happen is a catastrophic hard disk failure, and for that, we usually have backups, or convenient services like “auto rip” from Amazon, the “best quality match” (or whatever it is called) from Apple in iTunes, the “access on every device” from Google, and so on.
What’s more: copying doesn’t degrade the quality, either! Again, back in the days, when I was a pupil or student and couldn’t afford to buy all records that I wanted – we made (legal) private copies, from vinyl and CD to compact cassettes. A copy of a copy would sound rather crappy already, and a copy of a copy of a copy… just forget it. It was horrible.
And I used to throw away worn compact cassettes. Vinyl records would break, or if you forgot them in the sun, get wavy and bent beyond being playable. I would “lose” some music and renew it with different music, but today I have so much music on my hard disk, and so much music is available absolutely for free that I do not feel the “urge” to buy a certain record (album) or even single track anymore.
I don’t have a solution. DRM could be used to limit the time a song can be played, but that ship has sailed because of the different formats that the big players tried to push and establish. There was no leading DRM format, and the winner was the DRM-free MP3 format (a pity that not even Ogg Vorbis made it – how stupid can content providers be to ignore an open and royalty free format?!).
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like DRM. I actually don’t like digital downloads either. I still prefer physical releases (but digital downloads allow me to choose based on how much I value a certain recording). It’s just that, right now, if we accept the old limitations (inferior, radio like quality), we can access everything that we want for free, and if we buy digital, it will last forever, it can be spread and copied forever, and as the “Unsound” trailer shows, that’s not a good thing…
While listening to Irezumi’s wonderful ambient album “Endurance” (inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s tragic Antarctic expedition, it is one amazing ambient album that I’d highly recommend; you can still get normally priced copies of the limited edition, on discogs.com for example) I was wondering what else the Snowblood label may have released… only to find out… nothing. Bummer!
A brief exchange with Hoshin on Facebook revealed that in the somewhat difficult times right now, the label is dormant; I of course asked why they’re not at least doing an electronic release on Bandcamp to raise some funds, but they prefer to have both a physical and a download release ready at the same time. For now, the best we can do is to enjoy the otherwise unreleased work on Soundcloud. I’m particularly fond of Esylt’s collection:
I must admit I haven’t paid much attention to the output of Swedish duo Carbon Based Lifeforms because I found “World of Sleepers” not too different from their first album on Ultimae, but their fourth album “Twentythree” released in 2011 is quite different: almost beatless, ethereal ambient. Really beautiful. For starters, check out the hauntingly beautiful “Somewhere in Russia” (you have to give it a couple of minutes though, as is usual with ambient… this is not your 2 1/2 minute long dumbed down radio pop).
And 5 Euros (less than $7) for the download version probably qualifies as a steal.