How the only surviving Hamilton Metalplane just happened to float by…

Mid-Summer 2013 #9 by rdonovan
Mid-Summer 2013 #9, a photo by rdonovan on Flickr.

Back in July, in between meetings, I just happened to note a rather curious site. A plane. But rather than flying past, it was sailing north on Lake Washington on barge. Luckily I had my 400m lens on the camera and was able to capture it as it floated past. I then started some research…and quite an interesting story developed!

I found the plane from its registration number NC-879H. It turns out it is a 1929 Hamilton H-47 Metalplane (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_H-47). It was one of the first all metal aircraft ever made. These aircraft helped Northwest Airlines start commercial air service as well as pioneered air mail delivery within North America. This particular example is the only flyable H-47 still around. This particular aircraft was originally sold to the Ontario Provincial Air Service as a floatplane as CF-OAJ. After cycling through several owners, it was lying unused in Alaksa by 1947. In 1951, Northwest Airlines Captain Harry McKee and a band of volunteers backed by the airline itself acquired the aircraft, took it to Minneapolis, and began restoring it – a process which was never completed. Jack Lysdale bought the aircraft in 1972 and restored it to fully airworthy condition, where it flew until 1978 and was subsequently placed in storage again. The aircraft was sold at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in early 2010 to Pole Pass Airways and is flown by Seattle property developer Howard S. Wright. During recent years, it has made several airshow appearances including Oshkosh in 2010. Now, under Pole Pass’s ownership – the aircraft is being restored to its original floatplane status and being matched with a pair of vintage Edo floats at Kenmore Air (which explained its journey up Lake Washington by barge).

It will be exciting to see this aircraft back in its original form gracing the skies of the Pacific Northwest.

Misadventures with Windows 8.1 and BootCamp on a MacBook Pro

This weekend, I put Windows 8.1 Enterprise Edition 64-bit on a 15″ mid-2011 MacBook Pro. It turned out to be much more of a (mis)adventure than I anticipated.

What I Tried and Failed

My goal was to simply burn a USB-stick installer, put Windows 8.1 on it, and then put the Bootcamp 5 software on it and install Windows. That’s where it all went wrong:

  • First, I used the Microsoft Store utility to burn the Windows 8.1 Enterprise x64 ISO to the USB stick – big mistake. It formats the USB stick using a MBR partition table. A Mac cannot be booted off of a USB stick unless it has a GPT partition table. To fix, I ended up using my 15″ Retina MacBook Pro to re-create the USB stick because you can’t create in MacOS a Windows installer stick unless you do so on a Mac without an optical drive.
  • Second, it turns out the Boot Camp Assistant won’t actually partition the drive unless you have a Windows installer disc in the optical drive. To fix, I had to actually burn a copy of the installation media and put it in the optical drive.
  • Third, it turns out there is a bug (either in Apple’s firmware or Windows 8/8.1 setup – my suspicion is its an Apple problem) that will not let you install from a USB stick. The error was totally non-obvious – it said that the hard disk was partitioned as MBR but it needed GPT. To fix, I ended up installing from the recently burned DVD. The problem is definitely isolated to Mac models with an optical drive – as I did not have this issue on my Retina MacBook Pro or MacBook Air without optical drives.
Conclusions
What I was able to conclude from this exercise is that if your Mac has an optical drive, chances are you won’t be able to install from a USB stick. So the correct sequence would have been:
  1. Burn the Windows DVD to a re-writeable optical disc using whatever means are preferred.
  2. Download the BootCamp 5 software from Apple’s site in Windows.
  3. Copy the folder structure to the just-burned optical disc.
  4. Run Boot Camp Assistant and install Windows.
  5. Install the supplementary BootCamp software afterwards.
If on a Mac without an optical drive, simply use the Boot Camp Assistant to create a USB stick with everything on it, install Windows from it, and then install the supplementary software.
Lastly, after finally getting everything working – I had to go into Power Settings / Advanced Power settings and disable Adaptive Brightness in order to get the screen brightness to function properly. Once all that was done, Windows 8.1 on a Mac has been fantastic.
Hope this helps!

My Take: Adobe Creative Cloud, Office 365, Software Subscriptions, and Old Photos

OK, so I am taking the plunge. Sometime before the expiration of the July 31st cut-off for the CS6 migration promotion, I’ll be switching to Creative Cloud. Why? Feature-value.

I have been playing with an evaluation of Lightroom 5 (which coincidentally is the only product still available on a perpetual license). I’m sold. And now I want what’s coming in Photoshop CC. Why? I’ll let you be the judge.

Let’s start with a photo I took in 2006 when I was much more of a novice (though to be fair, I’m still a novice) in DSLR photography:

Image

It’s a nice photo. But it could be oh, so much sharper. Maybe, something like this – tweaked with the new filters in Lightroom 5:

Image

Now, I can’t wait to play with the even better features in Photoshop CC. I have a lot of good photos from my early days when I didn’t know what I was doing (and shooting only in JPEG with lower quality lenses and a much older body). The software has the potential to breathe new life into a lot of old “good” photos and make them “great” photos. The value is there. Sign me up. Especially while the CS6 promotion is in effect.

That said, the outcry over the subscription licensing is amazing. I have two perspectives on this. The first is from an industry direction. This is the wave of the future. Creative Cloud and Office 365 are the most mainstream examples. The trend started with lower end consumer services like ad-free versions of popular services as well as large enterprise Line-of-Business applications like Salesforce. Now “professional” and “mainstream” applications are filling in from the middle.

The pace of innovation in the technology industry no longer allows for multi-year ship cycles, but instead demands near real-time delivery. And the licensing models have to change as a consequence. Outside of the consumer mainstream, most organizations were paying for perpetual licenses and maintenance. The reality is that subscriptions are comparable – they just look different. And in some cases they are more cost effective. The biggest downside (and upside) is that you are turning a CapEx into an OpEx.

As a case in point, if you bought every Adobe Creative Suite upgrade + Lightroom upgrade the day it came out (e.g you’re committed to innovation, generally like me) – you are paying about the same per year as if you are signing up for Creative Cloud. You are just paying a big lump every year to year and a half, instead of every month. It feels different. But at the end of the day, it’s about a wash.

That being said, whenever you change how something works, there is the process of change management. This is where Adobe made a very polarizing move by forcing people to switch – and in a very short time. So far the bet appears to be paying off based on their recent financial results. Time will tell.

It could have been done with a lot more grace, however. Microsoft, who can do no right in people’s eyes no matter what seemingly, has done a much better job with Office 365. They have perpetuated their old business models. So there is no culture shock. If you want to keep doing things the way you have always done them, that’s great. But they have introduced substantial incremental value with Office 365. To-date, depending on the option, you get things like:

  • Office for iOS
  • Varying levels of Web/cloud features (e.g. – Skydrive storage, Web applications)
  • Cost/benefit of cloud infrastructure vs. running on-premise (the real benefit varies by organization/user)
  • Multiple desktop OS support (e.g. – you can be Web, Windows, or Mac or some combo)
  • Multiple device support (which is a huge first for Microsoft)
  • And more coming seemingly all the time…

This was a much better way to manage the change – as adoption is taking off and nobody is screaming much (yet).

In closing? I’m excited about breathing new life into a bunch of old photos, absolutely resolute that subscription models are the wave of the future, and convinced that the key to doing it right is having an elegant transition like Microsoft versus an electroshock like Adobe.

PS – In-Flight WiFi really rocks. Written over Montana at 34,000 feet on United 675.

My Review of Windows Phone 8

My first smartphone was a Windows Mobile device – a Motorola MPX200 to be precise. And that was all I used for the next few years culminating with the Treo 750W on Windows Mobile 6.5.

Then, the iPhone 3G came around. Everything about my iPod and phone was combined into one. And everything Windows Mobile 6.5 did, the iPhone did better – or had an application for that. I have been a steady user of the iPhone, having used the 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S and frankly never looked back.

With the debut of the Nokia Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8, it seemed to be time to give Microsoft another shot. So while in Canada I picked up an unlocked penta-band device and used it on both Bell Mobility in Canada and AT&T in the United States. And this is my take after some hardcore daily usage using the “Portico” update.

The Good:

  • Industrial design and build quality is fantastic
  • Voice quality is as good or better than any cell phone I have had since switching to a GSM phone in the United States
  • E-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks are best-in-class; I live by Outlook and this is by far the best experience I have used on a mobile device
  • Integrated Office support is also best-in-class; zero issues opening and working with documents
  • Bluetooth contact pairing and caller ID support is better than any device I have used
  • Battery life has been outstanding
  • Contact filtering is truly useful – especially once you merge in all of your social networks. The search to then get back to all of your contacts is extremely well-done.
  • The Nokia application collection makes the phone truly stand-out (at least amongst its peers) and helps close the “app-gap”
  • Camera quality is absolutely fantastic (daylight focus issues fixed after the “Portico” update)
  • You can use the device while wearing gloves – very handy when working in and traveling to cold climates like Ottawa
  • Native QR codes support in the Bing application is seriously cool

The Bad:

  • Dial functions over Bluetooth break routinely in the car; after placing a call it becomes unpaired from my vehicle and I can never get it to repair without rebooting the vehicle
  • There is a serious lack of applications – including some promised ones. Notable misses from things I have become used to or depend upon:
    • Instagram (despite being promised)
    • United Airlines
    • Air Canada
    • Comcast’s series of applications
    • Tivo
    • Google+
    • Urbanspoon
    • Opentable
    • Yelp
    • Egencia
    • eBay Motors
    • Uber and Taximagic
  • Synchronizing the device with my iTunes Library was a disaster, despite this being a “feature”:
    • It took over 2 days to synchronize my photographs (8,000) – when continuously connected and synchronizing
    • Seemingly less than 15% of the music tracks I selected to sync actually copied – despite them all being either ripped from CD, pure MP3, or DRM-free music
    • I was never able to send an audio file to use as a ringtone successfully
  • IE10 is just not as smooth nor as well-performing as Safari on a handheld device
  • Some applications are substitutes and not as good as their original versions:
    • BoxFiles (in lieu of Dropbox)
    • MetroTalk (in lieu of Google Voice)
  • Other applications I use such as Evernote or Twitter or Facebook are lacking features from their iOS brethren
  • The Lumia 920 is not preconfigured for other carriers as an unlocked iPhone is; instead you have to know to download the Nokia Access Point application, find it (it’s in Settings and isn’t an application), and then occasionally tweak it further if a setting has changed – it is not a world-ready plug-n-play solution

The Verdict:

I wanted to make this my primary phone. I really, truly did. But it was actually the basics  that killed it for me. I use Bluetooth extensively; having it not work reliably is a non-starter. Likewise for sync. – if I have to dredge up an iPod and start carrying yet-another-device for a primary use case, it’s kind of defeating the purpose of having a multifunctional device.

The lack of applications is definitely annoying. But it not the end-of-the-world. Though I imagine if I had used it for more than a few weeks, it would have gotten on my nerves.

That said, I will definitely miss the superior e-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks interface – coupled with native Office support.

So, for now, Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 has earned it’s keep as my international phone for use while traveling on other carriers. I only hope that with further evolution some of the gaps can be closed and it will be able to make it to my primary phone.

It’s frustratingly close…

Out of Pseudo-Stealth Mode

To summarize the last twelve months: wow!

Since the acquisition of Cactus Commerce by Ascentium, a big part of my day job was working on integrating the two businesses into a new brand and value proposition. This finally came to fruition with the launch of the SMITH brand a few weeks back, along with the retirement of Cactus Commerce and Ascentium brands. Check out www.smith.co to see the results!

But, the real focus has been capitalizing on the opportunity with the transition of the Commerce Server business. The last year has seen us extracting the product from Redmond; re-branding it; doing lots of 1×1 engagement with customers, partners, & analysts; and now debuting what’s next…

Last Friday brings the Release Preview of Commerce Server 10, which addresses being CMS-agnostic and the challenge of proper separation of business and presentation logic to allow HTML/CSS/JavaScript designers to make look-and-feel changes. Likewise, our new brand – commerceserver.net – debuted, which sees the right management structure and branding to effectively curate the global partner ecosystem for the product.

The initial reactions have been very positive – nothing like Peter Sheldon’s excellent post from Forrester Research to sum it all up: http://blogs.forrester.com/peter_sheldon/12-11-30-commerce_server_cactus_commerce_ascentium_the_path_forward_0

These changes have been a long time coming. We had to get it right. And with them finally seeing the light of day, I can finally come out of pseudo-stealth mode. 🙂

V8 Vantage – the Farewell Review

Ottawa Fall Colors '09 #78 by rdonovan
Ottawa Fall Colors ’09 #78, a photo by rdonovan on Flickr.

I admit it. Jeremy Clarkson was right. Those who bought the V8 Vantage would probably just end up wishing they buying a DB9. I can now count myself in that boat, having worked a trade of my V8 Vantage for a DB9.

There are many things to like about the Vantage. First, the sound. It sounds like a proper sports car. Nothing else sounds like it. Second, the handling – it’s brilliant and like playing a video game. You can feel every nuance of the road.

The performance is very good – but you have to push the car psychotically hard to get at it. This is a matter of preference. I am in the camp where I would prefer something more fluidly available.

The lack of front park distance control makes parking a challenge. As you can’t see a bloody thing out the front. But the sie makes fitting into narrow spaces a breeze.

However, what absolutely, totally did it for me was the transmission. It is an Italian-designed F1 paddle-shift with computer controlled clutch. And it’s horrible.

Yes, it can shift in milliseconds. But that isn’t that useful in every day life. The fact that the clutch burns and grinds in parking lot or stop-and-go-traffic is annoying. Even more annoying is when you can’t get at the gear you want.

More annoying still is stopping – and starting – while you agonizingly wait for the clutch to engage. And hope it does before the car coming in the opposite direction nails you. Or, when it engages – it ENGAGES and you are off with a huge streak of burning rubber.

But what absolutely did it was a catastrophic failure to proceed leaving the car stuck in neutral – and a $550 towing bill to get it to the dealer in Montreal from Ottawa. And finding out this kind of failure isn’t at all uncommon. And costs $10K+ to rectify out of warranty.

So with a year left on the warranty, it’s time to find something else. And that something else will be a DB9 – with an automatic. The Vantage is a great car – but if you get one, get a 6-speed.

Fun with Lightroom and RAW – Part 2

San Miguel Dusk #32 by rdonovan
San Miguel Dusk #32, a photo by rdonovan on Flickr.

Now, here is the exact same photograph as from last week/last post – but with considerably different color and tone settings utilized.

Because all of the data is there – and it can be processed quite differently – I have been able to re-render the same image very differently.

The only problem with this – is that I end up spending way too much time in Lightroom now deciding what I actually like…

Why High ISO and Multi-Autofocus Matters

Atotonilco & Vicinity #13 by rdonovan
Atotonilco & Vicinity #13, a photo by rdonovan on Flickr.

One of the more interesting locations I visited in San Miguel was the Church at Atotonilco. It is a World Heritage site – and upon perusing its interior it is easy to see why.

However, it is anything but a museum. It is a working Church – and services are held regularly. And there are many worshippers present even when services are not being held.

And, there is no flash photography allowed – for good reason.

Hence, it poses something of a photographic challenge – as there is no loitering around to setup a tripod for a long-exposure. I managed to capture this and other photos simply by using the high ISO and multiple auto-focus points on the camera to get a good shot – in a big hurry with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with no image stabilization.

The results were fantastic. I have rarely succeeded with these types of shots with my previous gear.