Technology

Posts filed under Technology

No longer just ‘hokwokwing.hk’

Filed in General, Technology

For those of you who find it difficult to remember my web site's domain, I have registered another one. You can now use either www.hokwokwing.hk or www.gregory.hk. Both domains work equally well for web and email (although the RSS feeds will always refer to hokwokwing.hk for the time being).

I have applied for yet another two domains. I'll let you know when they've been confirmed; quite possibly next week ;-)

Christmas Butterfly

Filed in Digital Hunter, Hong Kong Wildlife, Photo of the Day, Technology

Sometimes you get lucky…

The week before last, just as I was leaving home to go to TVB, I noticed a butterfly in the Christmas trees. The colours struck me immediately and I raced back inside to get my camera. Opportunities like these come once in a lifetime.

The result was a wonderful photograph which looks even better when enlarged.

Christmas Butterfly

The complement of the Christmas tree colours and the butterfly colours were extraordinary. Being able to photograph from below the butterfly made the photo all the more special.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Printer Dilemmas

One day soon, I'll be able to begin printing my favourite photos. It's been a long wait but I'll be finally getting a decent printer. The problem is that most of my photos are wildlife and nature photos featuring vivid colours, and many of the printers available until recently were incapable of faithfully reproducing these colours. My Epson Stylus Photo 1290 is terrible at reproducing nature's colours.

I had planned on getting an HP Photosmart Pro B9180 but HP decided that Hong Kong didn't have enough serious photographers to warrant making that printer available here. Instead of the B9180, HP Hong Kong only offers the older Photosmart 8750 printer with nine ink colours in three cartridges making it an expensive printer to use. The B9180 is available in China though. Unfortunately, I don't know who to trust over there (China even has fake eggs!), and I'd have to make a long trip every time I needed ink supplies or the printer needed servicing. I considered getting the printer from Singapore and a friend actually contacted a familiar reseller while visiting Singapore last week but the warranty was a concern nonetheless.

Canon has the imagePROGRAF iPF5000 which is a great printer, but again it's not available in Hong Kong, and in any case, our home isn't big enough for it. And I have to admit; I simply have no way of justifying the price.

I then heard that Epson was releasing a new printer based on the Epson Stylus Pro 4800. The new one is called the Stylus Pro 3800 and is much smaller than the 4800 but uses many of the same technologies. Unfortunately, the 3800 had not been announced on Epson Hong Kong's web site so it appeared that once again, the serious photographers of Hong Kong were going to get left out.

But late last week, I had to take my Epson 1290 in to get serviced. It was printing red stripes on my photos. I had extended warranty for the four-year-old printer which expires in January of next year so it made sense to get the printer fixed now. Just before leaving the centre, I noticed a display section and walked on over. Without expecting any good news, I habitually asked the attendant about the 3800 and was very pleasantly surprised; almost shocked; to find that Epson will be making it available in Hong Kong, although not as the 3800 but as the 3850. They even had one on display! I was also pleasantly surprised that the attendant understood my technical questions, all of them except the one regarding dMax which he thought only applied to scanners. And he thought Adobe 1998 was the largest profile available. It's not. The Kodak Prophoto profile is much larger and much better suited to wildlife photography.

If the B9180 was available, I would probably have bought it although I've heard that it has problems with dark colours on non-HP paper. If Canon had a smaller printer based on the iPF5000, I might have bought that too. Apparently, they're planning just such a printer called the PIXMA Pro9500; possibly available around March of next year. I wonder if we'll see it in Hong Kong. That said, if I had more space in our home, and if I had money to burn, I'd buy the HP DesignJet Z2100. Now that's a printer, with built-in professional class calibration capabilities. Yum! But we don't have a roomy home, and I don't have money to burn, so the Epson 3850 will probably be my printer for the next few years. Incidentally, Epson's warranty service has been very reliable so that's a big plus.

So finally, I'll have a printer that respects my photos, producing almost all of the colours that my camera captured. Printers have come a long way in the last four or five years. They're still not perfect but they're getting close.

Twenty years ago, Hong Kong people prided themselves in saying that you could buy anything in Hong Kong. They were wrong. I wonder if they're waking up to that fact yet.

New Blog Subscription Options

Filed in General, TechnologyTags: , , ,

As some of you might be aware, the notification system I was using before wasn't working very reliably. I personally had two different email addresses registered with the system but rarely received a notice whenever a new article was added to my blog. Not good!

So I did some searching and found a plugin for MovableType that adds notification capabilities. The plugin is called MT-Notifier and while it's not perfect, it's still very good.

After installing MT-Notifier and testing it a little, I copied the email addresses from the old Bloglet subscription list and added all of those addresses to the new notification system. If you were on the Bloglet list, you should have received a new Notifier confirmation email sometime today. Simply click on the confirmation link in the email and you'll automatically receive www.hokwokwing.hk update notices in the future.

One of the nice things about MT-Notifier is that you can now subscribe to a single article and get notices every time someone (including me) writes a comment for that article. I think those of you who like to comment or question my articles will like this function. To get notices whenever new comments are added to an article, simply turn on the Receive notices whenever new comments are added to this article checkbox at the bottom of the comment form before you submit your comment.

If any of you have problems or suggestions regarding the new notifications, please email me.

eBay. Watch your wallet!

Filed in TechnologyTags: , , , ,

A couple of weeks ago, I finally sold one of my Canon lenses, a high quality 85mm/1.2L lens that still looks and operates as well as the day I purchased it. This was my first eBay transaction and it was a learning experience. It took four auctions before I was able to sell the lens at a price I could be comfortable with. eBay made a lot of money out of me but at least I now have some funding to buy a lens that will be more relevant to the wildlife photos I'm taking these days.

I was lucky. The person who won the auction for my lens (a fellow Australian nonetheless) transferred the money to my PayPal account less than an hour after the conclusion of the auction. There was no doubt about getting the money. In return for their promptness, I packaged and shipped the lens the same day. The buyer was very happy.

But not everyone is lucky and there are many many shysters on eBay.

Trap #1

eBay has a rating system for buyers and sellers. Look at any seller and you'll probably see a bracketed number next to their name indicating the number of feedback messages they have. Click on the number and you can see the list. Some sellers have seemingly very high numbers of feedback messages, numbering 100 or more. The strange thing is that some of the sellers have only been registered with eBay since February of this year. 100 feedback messages in less than four months? Please! Delve deeper into the maze that is eBay and you might find that most if not all of the feedback messages were left by eBay members who themselves have only been members since; yep, you guessed it; February of this year! I'm really going to trust this fellow with my money. (Note: sarcasm implied)

So the seller ratings and feedback messages (which are too short to be meaningful in any way) are of little help.

Trap #2

Many of the sellers have messages in their product descriptions: "Email me here to bid for this item" or "Email me before bidding on this item". What they're really saying is "We're criminals and we want your money. Email me and I'll show you how to give your money away without eBay ever finding out about it".

Trap #3

I'm interested in getting a new Canon telephoto lens, at least 300mm, preferably with Image Stabilisation technology. These are not cheap. I now have a custom search registered with eBay to keep me abreast of all new auctions for items like these. Occasionally, I'll see auctions that look reasonable and believable. Remember though that we're talking about a lot of money and I don't know the people I'm dealing with. Additionally, eBay and PayPal don't protect every purchase, only those with the "Free PayPal Buyer Protection" statement in the seller's listing, and only up to USD1000. So how can I be guaranteed of getting the lens after paying my hard earned money?

Most of these eBay items are in the U.S.A. and there's a company based in the U.S.A. which serves to protect both buyer and seller called Escrow.com. Basically, the buyer pays Escrow.com, after which the seller ships the item. As soon as the buyer receives and confirms the condition of the item, Escrow.com pays the seller. Everyone is protected. There are fees attached but when you're talking about larger amounts of money, a little insurance is worth paying for.

So I see these seductive lenses on eBay and would like to bid. To safeguard myself, I ask the seller if they are willing to ship via Escrow.com with all fees paid for by myself. It is disappointing to see how many sellers refuse the offer. I can only assume that many of the people refusing to use the Escrow.com service are themselves criminals. Some probably hope to get their money asap but most are probably criminals.

Trap #4

Today, I was shown trap number 4. Last week, I bid on a Canon 500mm 4.0 lenses, knowing all too well that if it was a genuine auction, I wouldn't be able to win the item with my current financial constraints. Sure enough, the final selling price of USD3,750 far outbid my sorry attempt of just USD750. Imagine my (guarded) surprise though when I received a message (supposedly) from eBay indicating a second-chance offer for that same lens at the price I had originally bid.

I'm gullible but not that gullible. First problem with the message was the URL it included: "www.ebay.ph". "ph"? eBay's URL is "www.ebay.com". It is possible though that they use different domains for different functions so it was worth a look see. I clicked into the URL (you should never do this at home, especially if your email program displays messages in html format by default). It didn't look very authentic. In fact, the page displayed an error message. No matter. I just copied the item's ID number out of the page, navigated to the real www.ebay.com and searched for the item number. Guess what. The auction was over and I had been outbid; as if this was news to me.

OK. So I load the "My eBay" page to take a look. Sure enough, there's the 500mm lens that I had bid for, and the auction was over. And unsurprisingly, there were no second chance offers for the item. The second chance offer I had received in the 'mail' was a fraud.

Looking back at the original message, it occurred to me that other than the suspicious "www.ebay.ph" domain, one other thing stood out. Well actually, two things. First; and this is something I saw the first moment I read the message; the message directed me to contact the seller directly. eBay doesn't do that. They always advise you to reply to messages via their system so that there are full records of the transaction (and so that they can be sure that you didn't do the transaction behind their backs, thereby avoiding paying them more money). So directing me to contact the seller directly was definitely a no-no. Second thing that stood out; and this one's important; is that the seller's address was wrong. "bigbrowngrumpybear@yahoo.com" (this is the actual email address) is not the address of the seller of the 500mm lens.

Upon reflection, I realise now that there are criminals out there watching other bids. When a costly item's auction finishes, they email fake ebay messages to those people who did not win the auction, offering a second chance to buy the item. It's a fraud, an expensive one.

What scares me though is that I don't consider myself stupid, and yet even I could fall for one or two of these tricks if I was too hungry for any particular item. Actually, I did fall for one trick.

Trap #5

A few weeks ago, I received a message from a supposed eBay seller who claimed to have an item similar to one I had just bid on. If I was interested, I was to click on an included URL and contact them. I clicked the URL (bad bad bad!). The page that loaded appeared to be eBay and I had to log in to continue. Without pause (and without sanity), I logged in only to find that the next page didn't look very eBay-ish at all. Fortunately, I immediately realised that I had been duped, and that someone now had my eBay ID and password. Without a second thought, I quickly logged into the real eBay and changed my password before the scammers had any time to try my password and compromise my account.

Selling and buying on eBay has certainly been an experience. If you're buying anything expensive, eBay's definitely not the place for the uninitiated buyer. Getting defrauded of your hard earned money would be very simple indeed.

So if you plan to buy or sell on eBay, think twice; no, think thrice; about every communication and every action you take. And remember the golden rule: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is; i.e., it's probably a fraud.

Apple, the tyrant of online content?

Filed in General, TechnologyTags: ,

I'm beginning to understand how people with MP3 players that cannot play Apple's FairPlay-protected music files feel, but from a different angle.

In my previous article Hope for a better Asian film/television industry, I stated that we need online stores from which to buy and download Asian-made television and movie content, all without virtual geographic boundaries and all without prejudice or bias to the producers of that content. Only then would the real market emerge, enabling countless talented people in Hong Kong and Asia to do their stuff and create excellent content for the world to enjoy. Two other conditions though were protection of the content to prevent casual piracy and iPod compatibility. The answer to these two conditions was obviously Apple's FairPlay.

The problem? Apple doesn't license FairPlay to anyone else to use although there were suggestions at one stage that companies like Amazon could resell content from Apple's iTunes store via a special arrangement. The result? Only one company, Apple, holds the power to allow independent film and video producers to sell their work online. Apple has the power to decide who can sell and who can't sell their content. They also have the power to decide which content can be sold where. In other words, they have (or soon will) effectively become the largest controller of music and video content in the world.

We could ask someone else to build another content protection system but it would be difficult and time consuming to build something with all the functionality that the iTunes store has; accounts, monthly 'allowances', coupons; and much of that functionality is probably patented by Apple or some other large corporation so that we wouldn't be permitted to duplicate it anyway.

In other words, unless Apple opens an iTunes store in Asia, unless Apple allows independent television and movie content producers to sell their wares through the iTunes store, unless Apple allows the same content to be accessible worldwide, then we; the entertainment talent in Asia; are up the creek without a paddle.

Again, I'm beginning to understand how the non-iPod MP3 player people feel. For me though, the problem is one of not being able to sell the product rather than not being able to play and enjoy the product. If things continue the way they are now, Apple will soon have complete worldwide control of online audio and video content sales regardless of how hard Microsoft and Real work to prevent this scenario. As much as I like Apple, allowing them or any other single entity to have absolute control would not be a good thing.

Perhaps what we really need is an open-source content protection system so that anybody with the desire can set up their own online video content store, selling to anybody regardless of the operating system on their device.

Any takers?

The blog is back!

Filed in Technology

Ok. The blog is back on line on its new home in a new server.

I had to move the blog. There were one or two functions I needed which were once available on TypePad and then taken away; too complicated to discuss here except to say that if I didn't write anything for awhile, the main blog page would gradually shrink until nothing showed except for the sidebars. That won't happen now.

Additionally, I'll be setting up two new blogs. One will be specifically for bird watching so that those of you not interested in my bird photographs won't have to look at them; something akin to being forced to look at a friend's huge collection of baby photos. The other blog will be the story of our pets.

Both blogs are NOT online yet. In fact, I haven't even begun to design them. I've had trouble contributing to this blog recently (busy and sick) so I hope I can find the time to contribute to all three.

In the meantime, feel free to look around as usual and email me if you find any errors in the blog; eg, bad links or missing photographs.

Regards,
Gregory

A new age of video begins

Filed in Music, TechnologyTags: , , , ,

iTunes changed the music landscape around the world, even in places where people were unable to purchase music from the iTunes store because their address was not within an authorised country. Before iTunes, people only had two choices for music; buy it at a music store, or download it from an unauthorised source on the internet. Once iTunes proved to the world that people would legally buy digitised (and medium rip quality at that) music if given the chance, other companies began working out how they could join the bandwagon and divert some of that new money into their own bank accounts.

iTunes allowed people to buy music from a corporately condoned online source. It allowed people to easily search for and sample music before buying it, and in the process allowed consumers to expand their music horizons, discovering new musicians and new genres of music, including those not affiliated with the big record labels. Most significantly perhaps, iTunes has also had a permanent affect on the music business itself.

The strongest controller of any market is the distributor. Distributors are dictators. They are the filters and the bottle necks of any market. If the distributor doesn't make a product available, you won't be able to buy it. If the distributor doesn't advertise a product, you probably won't know about it. For the most part, the big record companies were the distributors of the music we heard and bought. As such, they controlled who became successful musicians, and were even powerful enough to be able to turn singers with no music sense into successful money-making objects. They controlled whose work was marketed, whose work was broadcast over the radio how often, and since air time is a limited commodity, they also indirectly restricted non-affiliated musicians from getting their work heard.

Aspiring musicians for many years looked to the big record labels as the key and singular hope to becoming world renown musicians, to becoming stars and for many, to becoming rich. All of this has now changed; significantly. No longer do musicians need to sort out the big record companies. They can join a growing number of internet sites whose sole purpose is to expose the public to as many musicians and music as possible. Smaller record companies are popping up everywhere except that they're no longer record companies per se; i.e., they no longer need to make records, just record and sell the music directly over the internet without the extraneous manufacturing costs of printing physical product. Consequently, there are now more musicians getting their work heard than ever before.

Since musicians no longer need the big record companies to succeed, distribution is no longer their biggest obstacle. The biggest obstacle for today's musicians has become one of exposure and marketing. If people haven't heard your work, why will they buy it?

Just a few minutes ago, I stated that people can search for and listen to any music they like on the iTunes store. It therefore probably sounds contradictory to first say that and then say that musicians will continue to have problems with exposure and marketing but it's true. The underlying problem is numbers.

When the iTunes store first began, there were only a few hundred musicians available from the store. This meant that people browsing the store had a fair chance of finding and sampling an unknown musician's work. Today though, the store probably has thousands of musicians. That being the case, new musicians may never get noticed.

Marketing is extremely important and despite the power of the internet, traditional advertising methods are still essential today. For most musicians not signed up with the big record labels, radio, TV, outdoor, magazine, newspaper and other print media advertisements will be unaffordable. Consequently, the music market is still skewed in favour of the big record labels and will continue to be so for the near future. On the positive side though, the internet is a very big place, big enough that the big record labels will never control all of its available marketing space. Independent musicians will therefore still have a chance to get their music heard, if they can find the right places on the internet to exhibit their work.

Just as the music world has changed forever, the year 2006 will perhaps witness similar changes in the world of television and video. During January, you will hear multiple announcements relating to the selling and renting of video and television over the internet. At least four big companies have already announced IPTV plans including Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Intel. Additionally, many expect Apple Computer to announce their own new IPTV products early this week when Steve Jobs gives the keynote at this year's MacWorld. IPTV is about to explode.

There's just one downside. For the moment, those of us in smaller countries don't have access to the iTunes store. We probably won't have access to the upcoming video stores either. Unfortunately, the big companies are still trying to control what and where music and video is available. They're setting up virtual boundaries to protect their traditional distribution partners, and for the moment at least, those of us in smaller countries will consequently continue to be second class citizens in the world of online music and video.

Hopefully, the content producers will soon begin to skip the middle man and lose their traditional distribution partners, instead distributing their content directly to the consumer over the internet. Without the middle man, they'll no longer have a reason to use virtual boundaries and we the consumer will finally step into a world where we have almost complete freedom to watch what we like, when we like, no matter where that contents comes from. No longer will we in Hong Kong be forced to watch the first season of LOST while people in the U.S.A. are watching the second season.

Much sooner than previously anticipated, the television and video markets will soon begin to change in a big way, and as long as manufacturers don't begin implanting pin cameras into their television sets and video monitors (i.e., 1984's "big brother"), I'll accept those changes gladly.

iTunes began the revolution in how we get our music, and iTunes was also one of major factors in making IPTV a reality, but can you guess the true precursor of internet music and internet video, the real reason the big corporations are scrambling to make music and video content available over the internet? Two letters: BT. Think about it.

It shouldn’t have been that hard.

Filed in TechnologyTags: , , ,

今日係天后誕正日。我地今日喺蒲台島拍 嘅 。今日見到好多精彩嘅畫面。好玩。
.
Today is the birthday of the Empress of Heaven, a god that many fisherman rely on for protection whenever they go out to sea. .
We went to the Po Toi Island to film for the series "Treasures of Hong Kong". It was a great day, lots of things to see during the celebration.

Instagram image

香港有寶證