Saturday, May 19, 2018

Gemini and Bip. A marriage made in ... China.


I bought an Amazfit Bip to go with my new Gemini PDA. The Amazfit displays all the notifications from the Gemini (including who's calling) without having to open the Gemini or take it out of a pocket or bag. Other reasons for choosing the Amazfit include its exceptional battery life, easy to read display and very low cost (about US$60). After a couple of months (it arrived before the Gemini) the Amazfit Bip isn't disappointing.

As a reference, my last watch was a Samsung Gear S2. Before that, a Ticwatch and before that a Pebble Steel 2 and an original Pebble. Functionally, the Amazfit Bip is most like a Pebble 2 watch though, from a few feet, it looks like an Apple watch until you notice that the crown (button) is in the middle of the right side rather than displaced toward the top.

Like the Pebble, the screen is a low-resolution reflective colour display covered with Corning Gorilla Glass. The screen is the main reason the Bip has such a good battery life. Expect to use about 3% of battery a day, without GPS tracking or heartrate monitoring. Be aware though that loading any of the custom watch faces from the phone app will severely increase battery consumption; even when that face isn't active on the watch (don't ask me why; I don't know). Unlike a lot of expensive watches, the display is perfectly readable in bright sunlight and has a good back-light for darker situations.

If you are more of an active type, the watch supports activity tracking for running, walking, cycling and treadmill. Activity tracking will use the GPS (except treadmill) and will monitor your heart rate. Stats will be synchronised with the phone app. I am not a sporty person, but I am getting older and trying to avoid 'death by rocking chair' - the Bip is ideal for measuring and prompting for this basic fitness level and beyond.

As well as activity tracking and notifications, the Bip shows weather, alarm, timer, and stopwatch. It is also exceptionally light at only 32g. If you are worried about the light, polycarbonate, construction then consider that you can get more than five Amazfit Bips for the price of one Apple watch. My Bip is two month's old now and there isn't a mark on it but, at US$60, it's very replaceable.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Gemini has landed

After months of waiting, my Gemini finally left the production-line and landed on my desk.
I think that, like many others, when I first heard about the Gemini my thoughts ran along the lines of, "great, now I can write on a phone without losing half the screen, wrestling with swipe input, and having autocorrect get me into trouble." Well, after forty-eight hours with the Gemini, that is exactly what I have found, but also that there is something more significant going on - a sort of paradigm shift in how I think about and use my new 'phone'.

I thought that the Gemini was a phone with a keyboard. I was wrong; it is a mini-laptop that also acts as a phone and message centre. That might sound like semantics, but it actually points to a paradigm shift in thinking and use. The Gemini is not just a phone replacement; it can replace both phone and laptop when away from home base. The operative word is 'can' because It depends on how you work and what your work entails.

For a few years, I have attempted to use mainly 'cloud' based tools so that I could pretty much work anywhere, on any device that was available. Typically I would use a desktop, one of two laptops (small and large) and a phone. The Gemini is managing to replace both of my laptops and my phone. Which means that I  use a desktop (mainly photography and graphic design) and the Gemini - nothing else is necessary; the Gemini and the desktop cover all the bases.

This is big. It reduces my reliance on so many separate devices and the Gemini is sufficiently capable that I have even found myself using it to write when sitting in front of the desktop - simply because I am doing something else on the desktop screen - the Gemini and its keyboard are that good. Yes, I am only forty-eight hours in and the Gemini still has to prove its reliability but, once that is confirmed, I'll probably be moving a couple of laptops along to a new home.

Read about the Gemini here and here.

Monday, April 2, 2018

360 - A walk in the park?

So, I bought a 360 camera. Not top of the range but good enough to produce more than acceptable results at an affordable price. The “MiSphere” arrived a couple of weeks ago and, with fifty plus years of conventional photography behind me, I hadn’t realised how steep the learning curve was going to be. Old dogs and new tricks is a phrase that immediately came to mind.

It’s not so much the age of the dog (though that’s undeniable) but the number of new tricks involved. Starting from the most basic - how do you hold a camera that can see ‘everything’? Without taking evasive action, every shot can be a ‘selfie’ (I’ve always hated selfies). If the sun is out, it’s in your picture - with all the attendant issues that sun-strike produces - especially for fisheye lenses.

And those things are just for starters, wait until you get your photos into the digital darkroom; that’s when the fun really begins. If you thought that Lightroom and Photoshop were more than enough, then think again - you’ll need to master spherical stitching, tools heavily reliant on the JPG format and EXIF injection so that your 360s show up properly on the web.

And don’t get me started on 360 video …

For an old photographer, 360 photography is fun; if only because it’s like starting out on the photographic journey all over again. Yes, you still need the old photography knowledge but applied in ways that hadn’t previously been relevant. Going digital (back in the 2000s) was a big change, but going 360 is a much larger conceptual leap.


A lot of published 360 photography focuses on the weird and wacky, like ‘tiny planet’ shots (above) that can include a complete environment or table of dinner guests. But 360 photography opens up other possibilities, like the selection of multiple pictures from one 360 photo - almost an ‘after the fact’ composition tool. All three pictures on this page, for example, come from a single 360 photo. (An art filter was applied to the third image.)


If you had ever felt that your photographs were getting old and staid, 360 photography could well be the jolt that gets you thinking afresh about taking pictures.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Life laughs, and a forced smile

I don’t drink alcohol. It’s not a religious thing (anymore), I just don’t feel the need for alcohol in order to have a good time. I’m also not pedantic about it, and am able to have a drink if I want to - I think I had a glass of wine a year or two back. All this is to say that alcohol is a non-issue in my life - I can take it or leave it and usually choose to leave it.

It has, therefore, been a source of some mild amusement that my kidney condition has permanently swollen my stomach to the ‘six-month pregnant’ stage. Not that anyone would think that a seventy-year-old man was pregnant (I mention it only for the size comparison). But there is a certain irony in the fact that my body looks as if it might have spent a large part of its life supporting the bar at my local pub.

I have learned to live with the implied criticism occasioned by a distended stomach, and the unspoken disapproval of the athletically inclined. And so it was, with the sort of amusement only found on the far side of “you’re kidding, right?” that I learned that my painfully swollen foot was called “gout”. Yes, that gout - the disease of kings, and often the result of too much beer. Only in this case …

I wouldn’t mind wandering around bearing the marks of a profligate life, only I seem to have missed out on the profligate part. It’s one thing to pay the price for a misspent youth, it’s quite another to apparently pay for one you never had. Then, on the precipice of self-pity, I’m reminded that it is Easter - and that mine is such a tiny, tiny, cross.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Fractal Diaries

It's been a long time - though not unproductive. So here is a short collection of fractals. They don't score very highly for 'fractal purity' but it has been fun 'adulterating' them with other fractals and alien colouring schemes. I hope you enjoy them:
Fractal Forest
Fractal Finger
Ice Forest
Armoured Arachnid
Hot Line

Fractal Reflections
Lava Flow
Sun Totems