Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

November 4th, 2003

Another candle shot

Candle reflected in water. I need to continue practising my photography on things other than candles. They seem to co-operate and produce nice images, whereas things like the blanket of fog we are currently wrapped in fail to produce anything at all…

November 4th, 2003

Fixes for IE

I’ve updated the style sheet for my weblog so the site should now display properly in IE. It used to push all of the text down when I included an image in my post, but now should be fine. (Thanks to Robin for pointing this out!)

November 3rd, 2003

The rain continues

It’s still raining, and the forecast is for similar weather all week. With luck we get a respite on Thursday before a Friday of flurries or rain.

Pigeon on the fence.This lunch time I headed to a small park near the office to take a few pictures. It was raining on and off so I didn’t spend long there. The cloudy sky made taking pictures hard, I’ve got several that look OK but aren’t particularly sharp due to camera shake.

By bringing the exposure compensation down 1.5 stops I got the benefit of a faster exposure as well as capturing the days grey dreary light more accurately. The best of the resulting photos is probably this pigeon on the fence. Click to enlarge.

November 2nd, 2003

A new camera

After much consideration I made a decission and have purchased a new digital camera. In the end I went with the Canon 10D and a 28-105mm/3.5-4.5 lens.

I planned to spend Saturday afternoon familiarising myself with the controls, charging batteries, and installing required software. This part went without a hitch, but with it getting dark so soon these days I had no time to take photos outside (except a downtown night shot).

Candle flame in the dark. I wanted to spend Sunday morning walking around photographing the trees in the neighbourhood parks, but I woke up to rain. I have continued to mess around inside, but with no tripod and little light I’ve been limited in what I can try and do. I did take a nice candle shot though.

October 30th, 2003

Football news

It’s very rare that I take any interest at all in the football world, but the news that Perugia is looking to sign a top female player is great news. It’s only a first step in what will be a very long process of making professional football accessible to women and men equally.

October 29th, 2003

Agonising over choice

One year and ten months ago I purchased a digital camera. I had taken virtually no photos in my life prior to making the decision to buy a digital camera, but hoped this would change once I had bought one. Since purchasing my A20 I’ve take roughly two and half thousand pictures, so I’m going to count this decision as a success.

I take photos mainly when going somewhere or during an event. I don’t carry my camera with me all the time, and I don’t make trips specifically for the purpose of taking photographs. My camera is completely automatic, does fairly well for portraits, and works poorly in low light.

In much the same way as moving from film to digital was the trigger to take more photos, I’m now contemplating a move to a better digital camera in order to turn photography into something of a hobby. The number of good photos on the ‘net has been part of the inspiration behind this, particularly the amazing photos on Sensitive Light.

A better digital camera means moving to something that allows full automatic, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual operation. I also want something that works well in low light conditions, is fast (as in responsive), and can take different lenses. The best camera that fits this description is the Canon Digital Rebel (AKA 300D). This can be had for a rather large chunk of change and for $100 more you can get an 18-55mm lens with it.

My dilemma is whether I’m better off spending the, not inconsiderable, extra money to get a Canon 10D instead. There are several advantages of getting the 10D:

  • There are several reports that the 300D underexposes pictures, particularly when using flash indoors. I’ve not seen anyone reporting similar problems with the 10D.
  • The 10D has a higher quality case with better layout of controls (e.g. two dials versus one).
  • The 10D has a few extra combinations of features that the 300D is lacking.
  • The 10D can buffer more images before writing to the CF card.

There are also two downsides to the 10D: It’s heavier and it doesn’t come with a lens. The lack of lens is not just an expense problem. Affordable lenses start at 24 or 28mm, rather than the 300D’s bundled 18mm, which on these digital cameras makes more of a difference than on a 35mm camera. The challenge of trying to choose a good first lens for the 10D is also a problem. I’m leaning towards the 28-105mm/3.5-4.5 USM because it’s had better reviews than the 24-85mm/3.5-4.5 USM and is cheaper than the 29-135mm/3.5-5.6 USM IS.

With roughly a CAD$1000 (~£500) price difference between the two combinations (300D with 18-55mm and 10D with 28-105mm) it is proving to be an agonising choice. I’m not adverse (or rather not too adverse) to spending extra for better equipment, but this is for a hobby that I don’t yet have.

October 26th, 2003

The fourth annual night of dread

Last night was the fourth annual night of dread. Last years account of the night of dread gives some idea of what it’s about, and this year I managed to take some photos worth posting.

Taking photo’s of this event with my digital compact camera is very difficult. The camera really doesn’t work to well in low light due to a small lens and a maximum ISO of 150. This means that I need to use the flash almost exclusively, which is hard to do in a large open space. Consequently I took a lot of pictures, and very few actually turned out usable.

A small selection of these can now be found in a new public album “The fourth annual night of dread.

October 23rd, 2003

The VOIP Market

Vonage has received a considerable amount of press recently for its VOIP telephone service. The offering is certainly very compelling: for $35 per month you get unlimited national and Canadian calls and your phone can have one of a selection of area codes (or even multiple numbers from different area codes). The only thing you need is a high speed Internet connection, which incidentally means you can run this US phone number from anywhere in the world.

The shake-up that this will bring to the already very competitive US phone market is significant. With 39% of all residential Internet connections in the US being broadband there is a large and growing number of people who can take advantage of this type of service. Residential pricing is going to continue to fall, so businesses offering this type of VOIP service are going to have to keep a very tight lid on costs to maintain profitability. Expect to see all billing being done on-line with simple price plans used to keep software complexity low. There will also be a significant drive by VOIP providers to target small to medium businesses where extra services can be used to differentiate against competing products.

It is hard to predict how well this model will work in Europe, an equally sized, but very fragmented market. The biggest challenge is going to be termination costs. In Europe calls to mobiles are not paid for by the owner of the mobile, but rather the caller (“calling party pays”). This means offering a flat rate for all calls will be difficult, because the costs incurred when calls are made to mobile phones are significantly higher than those made to a land line.

The difference in termination charges are daunting, according to Oftel the termination cost to a land line is approximately 0.5ppm (pence per min), compared to 5ppm for a mobile termination. US calls to European mobiles are usually charged at the same rate as landlines, which means that either carriers are subsidising international mobile calls with revenue from land line calls, or mobile carriers are charging less for international termination. I doubt that this pricing can be extended to cover calls from within a country, even if the calls are routed over the Internet to the US, so mobile termination is likely to be just as expensive for VOIP carriers as everyone else. With mobile penetration rates of 80% in parts of Europe (e.g. UK, Italy) will an offering of unlimited land line calls be attractive? If priced correctly it could be , especially if the offer extends to unlimited calls to most of Europe and North America.

October 21st, 2003

Writing web pages in OpenOffice

Writing web page content in OpenOffice is a lot easier than writing pages in a text editor, even though I’ve been using HTMLText rather than raw HTML. The PubTal OpenOffice plugin (available here) works well enough that I could convert my remaining pages over to using PubTal.

I’ve been avoiding moving the last of my archived content over to PubTal because it’s stuff that I don’t really care about any more. With OpenOffice I could just drag and drop existing pages out of my web browser, and then clean up a few things like the relative links. The main benefit of having done this is that all of the pages on my site now validate, and they are all produced using the same template.

I haven’t decided yet whether to convert other pages from HTMLText to OpenOffice, but it’s tempting for ease of maintenance.

October 18th, 2003

A change in direction

I am having to reconsider the use of AbiWord as an editor for web page content. The reason for this is not due to a flaw in the idea itself, but rather the quality of the AbiWord software. Even the stable version (2.0) has some significant bugs that make it untrustworthy for handling important content.

The two most serious problems I’ve hit are:

  • AbiWord sometimes generates invalid XML.
  • AbiWord occasionally writes files that it then can not read.

I will continue to maintain and distribute the AbiWord plugin in the hope that future versions of the software will address these fatal defects, but I am now going to look at alternative editors.

The most promising is OpenOffice. The software is well maintained by a large team, is regarded as being of high quality, and the file format is very well documented. My initial impression of the file format is that it will be easier to handle than the AbiWord format turned out to be.

The biggest drawback to attempting an OpenOffice PubTal plugin is the huge numbers of features that OpenOffice has. Most of these features will not translate well into a web page, and so will have to be ignored by the plugin.

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at