Spamming, 15 years on

How long do you think an email address can stay in the spam lists ? I just quizzed a bunch of friends about this, one immediately answered “indefinitely”. He’s right.

Back in 1992-93, my first job was being a trainee at the INRIA. There was no web back then, we actually witnessed its birth (and all we did was shrug). Usenet was the main channel for discussions, and I used to post in a few newsgroups. Spam was exceptionnal, people doing it (generally college kids who didn’t know better) were rebuked by people receiving their messages and would even apologize when they would realize what they had done.

By some strange twist of fate, I find myself working again at the INRIA today, some 15 years later. I started on april 2nd. When I first logged on my office machine and looked at my mail, I was very surprised to find about 45 spams in it. Most of them were directed at my own address, rather than at one of the mailing lists I had been subscribed to by default.

I was rather surprised but given the amount of spam we get these days, I figured it was to be expected, since it couldn’t be possible that this was because my address was a “once valid” one (since the INRIA has kept the same policy for creating logins and mail addresses, in effect they had “ressurected” an email address that used to exist 15 years ago). Or so I thought. Then I noticed that some of this spam was directed at a host of the inria.fr domain that couldn’t possibly be “seen” from outside. It was the host I used to post to Usenet from.

So it really goes like this : create an email adress, post on Usenet or somewhere where it will be harvested, disable the adress, wait 15 years, enable the adress… and watch the spam pour in.

Yuck.

Concert Photography 101

After screwing up some potentially good shots at the last concert I attended, I figured it would be a nice opportunity to apply one of the principles mentioned in the original article which led me to open this blog : write for yourself, as a way to order your thoughts. So here goes.

A concert is generally fast moving subjects in low, yet high-contrast light conditions. If anybody can think of worse conditions to take pictures, I’m seriously curious to hear about them. Therefore you need wide-aperture lenses. f2.8 is a minimum, constant if possible. Stabilised optics are even better. On my Canon 20D, I am lucky enough to carry the 17-55mm f2.8 IS and the 70-200mm f2.8 IS. The first one is also a very good walk-around lens. The 2nd is of the “pry from my cold dead hands” kind.

Camera setup :

  • aperture priority (AV) mode. Set it to the widest aperture you have.
  • increase ISO, depending on the light conditions. 400 is the usual minimum, 800 is more common, 1600 is tolerable. You need to get 1/25 maximum exposure time (above that, you’ll get motion blur no matter what, IS or not – unless the whole band is under heavy sedation)
  • no flash : it bothers the performers, and it’s useless (except in very small venues, in which case it will bother the performers even more). Don’t even think about it, flash is explicitly forbidden in most venues anyway.
  • spot metering mode (or anything close enough your camera has). This is very important, because your camera has very little chances to figure out the right exposure by itself. More on this below.
  • if needed, under-expose a little. Noise or under-exposure can be fixed (to some extent), blur cannot. So if the current lighting won’t give you a short enough exposure time, set the exposure down a bit. 1.5 stop is generally the most you can afford without getting picture you won’t be able to ressuscitate. Be aware that even the best image noise processors will leave this caracteristic “plastic-like” look on skin, or turn hair into blur (which is avoidable, but takes time).
  • yet, a concert is one of the situations where motion blur can actually look good. But it’s generally better if you have it on the subject you’re shooting while not on the background.
  • standard, “one-shot” auto-focus mode. If your camera has some kind of ‘focus servo’ mode (where the camera automatically keeps focus on the subject if it moves), don’t use it. You’ll be reframing often (and often significantly), and the focus will be messed up. (This is the bit which cost me a bunch of good pictures last time).
  • burst mode : fast moving subjects, talking (well, singing) in many cases – shooting in burst mode will increase your chances of taking a good picture where the subject doesn’t look goofy.

Why spot metering : as I said, you’re shooting subjects in high-contrast light conditions. What’s more, the performers themselves will very often be highly contrasted, namely wearing dark clothes. The part which you want to be properly exposed is the face (a shot where the subject’s face is either under or overexposed will generally look bad, no matter the rest). If you use any other metering mode, it’s quite likely the camera will evaluate an exposure longer than what you need, because of the subject’s dark clothes, or the dark surroundings. Not only you’ll get motion blur, you will also have overexposed faces.

So when shooting, you need to lock light metering on the subject’s face first. Only then go ahead with focusing, reframing if needed (it often is), shooting. This is a quick reflex game, it does take some practice.

Finally, some more general tips : ear plugs, small torch light (always comes in handy), high-capacity memory card. Behave nicely try to be as inconspicuous as possible (don’t ever try to attract the performer’s attention – you’ll be thrown out, and if not you should be).

(add : a compilation of links regarding concert photography).

No choice is bad, some choice is good, more choice is … ?

… paralysis, frustration, and generally unhapiness, as explained by this very interesting post from Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen blog (the video of the TED presentation is worth your time).

Two equally interesting applications to what is explained here :

  • a political/economical one : the current trend of offering a plethora of choices to customers is actually alienating, and is only meant to drive consumption. Another paradox there is that behind all these choices are actually a diminishing numbers of actual makers and suppliers. These choices are actually “more of the same”, or more precisely “an ever-growing more of an every-diminishing same” (cf. Naomi Klein’s No Logo)
  • a UI design / programming one : whenever you want to add another user-configurable option to your program, think hard. Very, very hard. In this case, the frustration will come not from the fear of missing an hypothetic “even better” choice, but from being asked questions you don’t care about, or really don’t want to deal with.
  • To wit, a few hours after reading this post, I was looking at akregator’s configuration panel. In it, there’s an option to set the archive back-end. It’s a combo, with only two choices : “metakit”, or “no archive”. That this option is clearly unfinished is one thing, the real problem is that it should never have been implemented at all. Which end-user wants to deal with that ? This is really geek stuff, and even then, those who take a kick out of trying every single program of their favorite linux distribution, fine-tuning their environment down to the pixel, but never actually produce anything useful.

    This is a spot-on answer to one of my favourite pet peeve : wannabe’s who claim they can’t live without such and such tool or feature, so removing them would be extremely bad, so please leave it or make it an option. They call to freedom while they’re actually selfish morons. This post is part of the clue bat they should be beaten with.