September and the inner demons of detritus

This CD, as I begin to write these words today, is exactly 20 years old.

It’s never been played. It’s a virgin.

What is the Quadrumatrix? A 20-year-old CD-R, that's what!

What happened?

I found the CD during a recent archaeological dig in the basement. It wanted to be found because, just a few days prior, a colleague had given a presentation about techno music, complete with a live demo of his mixing skills. While none of the gear and tools he showcased were entirely unfamiliar to me, it did get me to wax nostalgic about the crudeness of the tools and methods we used to create our own series of mixing projects back in the day – and we didn’t use turntables or CDJs either. We relied on audio files while my colleague mixed tracks live via his Spotify account. He publishes his mixes on YouTube, we distributed ours via CD-R. Does anyone even use those things anymore?

I’m starting to feel old. Things have changed.

This particular CD was the runt of the litter. It’s that extra disc (four, actually) with the cracked case that never found a customer.  It’s that disc I wanted to gift to someone or slip in somewhere when I got rid of a larger batch. I remember the project as clearly as if it was just 20 days ago. How could the last two decades have flown by so quickly? I shudder to realise that in another 20 years’ time I’ll be as old as my father when he died.

And so the CD continues to hang around. Contrary to expectations it still plays!

There are many others like it in the basement: CDs that have never been listened to by me (or anyone else), DVDs of movies I have yet to watch (or see again), and documents to be scanned. There’s material for art ideas that have yet to be realised and tech that’s getting more vintage with each passing year it waits to be rediscovered.

The issue with dated media and technical matter became more palpable when I realised that yet another birthday was looming. Every year is getting shorter, I never seem to find the time (and all those other Floydianisms permeated by the clichéd stench of a mid-life crisis). Why am I even bothering with this stuff? Wake me up when September ends!

There be many monsters hiding in the dungeon.

I’ve butchered my fair share of dead and obsolete computers, collecting and hoarding cables, drives, brackets and other components — only to throw them out again after a few years because technology leapfrogged on while I wasn’t paying attention.

More laplink cables, PS/2 adapters, beige bay covers and ribbon cables than anyone needs!

I needed to jettison ballast.

Beyond throwing out a load of stuff that isn’t worth putting up for sale I also repaired a tape deck I was given over eight years ago. I knew I wouldn’t be keeping it but fixed it nonetheless simply because my inner demons demanded that something be done with it. The deck exists. It is here for a reason and suffers the same existential crisis as “Bomb 20” in John Carpenter’s movie Dark Star. Its destiny had to be fulfilled… I couldn’t just ignore it or throw it out.

This may explain why I was holed up in the basement for much of the last two months, clearing out detritus that nobody but me cares about. How did I get here? Is this where I wanted to be when I grow up?

Wouldn’t one be better off being in the here and now with the ones you love?

This one goes out to the ones I love!

In fact, I had a long string of wise words and profound shower thoughts about the passage of time and the meaning of life lined up for this post but, alas, they got lost.

…because more shit was about to happen. And we had a short holiday trip coming up.

The first day of vacation started off like any other Saturday: wake up, take a leak, make coffee, sit down to read email.

Except… I couldn’t. My desktop machine had died overnight. Just like that. No warning.

This was not the downtime I had in mind for my holiday. Whilst we took our three furry monsters to the beach, the demon of lost data waited for me at home.

After ruling out the usual suspects I concluded that the motherboard had failed. I can’t remember when that last happened but figured this was as good a time as any to upgrade my 8-year-old machine. Has it really been that long? When you operate more computers than may be healthy for your own sanity you can easily lose track of their vintage.

Upgrade options were many, and it was then that I realised how desktop computers have all but been replaced by laptops (or mini-PCs). Those that remain fall into the categories of stodgy “office desktops” or “gaming PCs” in a bewildering array of illuminated designs.

Cool but absurd gaming PC case design (image via Amazon)

Since my requirements are somewhere in between, I ultimately ended up buying two refurbished Dell Precision workstations and outfitted them with a range of new (as well as a few of the existing) components. My days of constantly tinkering under the hood of my main computer are over; the benefits of 3.2GHz vs. 3.5GHz are far less significant than the difference between a 286 chugging along at 16MHz vs. one clocking in at 20MHz. I expect stuff to work, and it must do so reliably. I’m getting too old for this shit.

My keyboard, in fact, still has a (grey) PS/2 connector, and it’s the best I’ve ever owned. During the latest cleaning I noticed that it recently celebrated its 30th birthday!

This called for a return into the depths of the dungeon where I dug out another assortment of spare parts I will never use. What flew out this time was several video cards, a bunch of PSUs without SATA connectors and, most pertinently, a stash of PATA drives! Modern motherboards only support SATA and/or NVMe – no more ATA/IDE connectors, no more ribbon cables! Layouts have changed.

Demons from the days of 40-pin ribbon cables and "Molex" connectors

The mission, specifically, was to fit every last ATA/IDE device I had left into two old spare machines that I’ve now put up for sale. To be honest, it was kinda fun to get my hands dirty again by spinning up old devices and exercising these 7200 RPM speed demons.

Other demons to be exorcised remain. When I grow up I’ll be stable.

We now resume our regular programming schedule.

All photos by unless noted otherwise.

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Panoramio: To boldly go where no Google car has gone before

Well, how about that?

No sooner had I removed all my photos from Google Places did Google dispatch their fleet of Street View cars to fill in the missing locations in Germany!

It’s just coincidence, of course.

Although both statements are correct they are completely unrelated.

Still, seeing as this year seems to be revolving around nothing but salaried work and digitising my stash of photos, there is a bit of a story to tell. It begins with Flickr.

Flickr is/was a great place to showcase photographs. I’ve been using it for nearly 20 years. Naturally, many of my photos featured city or rural environments with an emphasis on places or objects within them. Eventually I discovered a site called Panoramio.

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Photo stitching software

In my previous post I wrote that AI-based utilities have no place in my personal photo enhancement toolbox. Their results have been more miss than hit on my digitised snapshots. One set of utilities, however, has managed to generate results that almost border on the magical: Photo stitching software.

Many modern cameras and smartphones today feature the ability to create panoramic or 360-degree images but it is stitching software that is able to take photos, ideally from the same vantage point, of one or more subjects and almost seamlessly stitch them together into one larger picture.

So long as the focal point and lighting are similar, the results can be quite amazing.

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Photo restoration through AI? Nope!

In late April I was finally able to declare my photo digitisation project “completed”.

It took me exactly one year to clean up, research, name, and sort over 7,000 scans and photos which ultimately made it into my personal “digital photo album” (if that’s what a stringent directory structure can be called) – and that’s excluding the time spent scanning them in the first place, or culling the ones that didn’t make it.

At this point it would be remiss not to mention AI photo enhancement software.

Despite the recent incredible developments in artificial intelligence and image generation, I remain steadfast that AI still has no role in the workflow for digitising personal snapshots on prints, slides or negatives. While I obviously made basic edits like cropping, or adjusting brightness, contrast, white balance and colours so that the viewer can actually see what’s going on in a photo, my experiences with AI services (read: face enhancing) have done nothing but confirm a phenomenon that’s already been termed “identity shift“.

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AI Photo Enhancement: Boon or Bust for Old Photos?

Digitizing old family photos is a great way to preserve family history and memories for future generations. But let’s face it: old photos can be faded, scratched, and just plain old-looking. That’s where AI-powered photo enhancement software comes in. But is it really the panacea it’s cracked up to be? Let’s take a closer look.

First, let’s talk about the pros of using AI for photo enhancement. There’s no doubt that AI algorithms have come a long way in recent years, and can do an impressive job of restoring old photos. They can remove scratches, fix exposure, and even colorize black and white photos. Plus, the process is much faster than doing it by hand, and can be done without damaging the original photo.

But here’s the thing: while AI can certainly enhance old photos, it can also strip them of their authenticity. By applying a uniform algorithm to every photo, you run the risk of losing the unique character and quirks that make each old photo special. Sure, the photos may look “better” after being run through an AI algorithm, but at what cost? Are you willing to sacrifice the authenticity and character of your family’s history for the sake of a uniform aesthetic?

Before and after automatic photo restoration

Another issue to consider is the potential for AI to add details that were never there to begin with. While it’s true that AI algorithms can restore lost details, such as color and contrast, they can also introduce new details that were never in the original photo. This can happen when the algorithm tries to “guess” what should be in the photo based on surrounding pixels. While this can result in a more aesthetically pleasing image, it can also result in an inaccurate representation of the original photo.

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Current status: Still sorting photos

It’s March 2023, and it’s been about one year since I started digitising my photo collection.

Once I established a proper workflow, the task of scanning slides, negatives, and photo prints was a surprisingly quick (albeit tedious) process — and I will be writing a few words about that another time. What I hadn’t counted on was the amount of time that researching, naming, and sorting of the resultant scans would ultimately take. I will probably be writing a few words about these aspects, too (time permitting).

As a matter of fact, I’m still busy sorting through scanned photos now: it’s shocking to realise that I have more pictures of a puppy I sold last year than of my own mother’s entire lifetime!

While most snaps have now found a home in a rearranged folder scheme, there’s also a stack of vernacular garbage being deleted because it’s lost all meaning and relevance (which I have written about before).

On the other hand, there are some wonderful photographs among the family stash of slides and negatives which, although I have no personal relationship with the captured moments and they have no place in my (digital) photo album, are good enough to keep for their own sake.

African sunset over industrial billowing chimneys, early seventies

Then there are others such as those my father took in the early seventies during the construction of the Cabora Bassa hydroelectric power scheme that may hold some historical or geopolitical interest to random strangers.

Cabora Bassa Dam under construction, early seventies

These will likely end up on Wikimedia Commons whereas other photos of public interest may find refuge at Google Places. Flickr, too, seems worth returning to, and there’s an assemblage of new material for the Human Clock.

This stuff can keep a man way too occupied. That’s all for now.

Photos via Herbert Hönigsperger Snr.

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Review: 2022

Well, here we are again: it’s Christmas 2022. Another year draws to a close.

2022 was a bit of a blurry blemish despite several significant events in my personal life.

If it wasn’t for calendars, one could be forgiven for feeling that we’re still in 2020 or went way back to the year 1920. Indeed, 2022 may be remembered as the fuzzy period during which the world turned into a steaming pile of shit – but only in part due to pollution or climate change: it’s humanity that’s lagging behind its own technological advances.

In 2022 it became illegal to have sex in Indonesia – unless you’re married. The Iranian morality police also stepped up their game and took to beating women to death for not wearing their hijab correctly while the Taliban decided that Afghani women need not be educated. American women’s constitutional right to an abortion was revoked.

Of course there were the usual mass shootings and hurricanes in the USA.

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Photography: What’s the point?

Here’s a photo of a puppy.

Cuteness overload: One month old labrador puppy

Ain’t it just adorable?

Of course it is! Everyone likes pictures of cute puppies.

But why am I showing you this photo? Because I’m proud of it.

No, not so much for its photographic technique but because I’m rather chuffed about the subject matter and everything that goes with the birth of a litter. Not surprisingly, over the last few months I took many cute pictures for reasons which include not only tracking the puppies’ development but also for advertising: many served as “product photos” (harsh as this may sound) because most of the puppies were put on the market.

Then there’s the aspect of personal memories.

Much in the same manner that proud parents take countless pictures of their children (whose numbers tend to diminish as the novelty wears off), photos serve as reminders of what the offspring looked like at a certain age because “they grow up so fast”. They will never look the same again.

Photos and the memories behind them are priceless – for a period.

With that said and now that certain affairs have been gotten in order and the puppies are bigger, I can return to the project of digitising my photo albums and consolidating what amounts to a rough count of over 8000 photos. There are duplicates, some are plain rubbish, and there are others that have completely lost all purpose and meaning over time.

Consequently, many are being deleted, and this has made me ponder about what it is that makes us take photos in the first place.

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