Ratpoison, Conkeror

With the increasing complexity of modern user interfaces the number of annoying bugs grows. What is worse, number of long standing unfixed annoying bugs grows. The overall number of bugs grows and I’m able to do something only with a small part of them. Complex user interfaces have been being released without coming through a serious testing process (a typical example is GNOME).

One way how to handle this situation is to move from the complex user interfaces that don’t work to simpler ones that do. I’ve recently switched from Sawfish and GNOME panel to Ratpoison and XFCE panel and I’ve been happy with the change so far. Ratpoison is, together with Stumpwm and Ion, a very simple window manager – no window buttons, no borders, no workspaces, no systray, no customization dialogs, no mouse support. Instead you receive a window manager that works, can be easily and completely operated from a keyboard, utilizes maximum of your screen space and is well customizable. I was surprised how little of the complex functionality of other window managers I actually need. Ratpoison seems to offer all I need and to be more comfortable for me than classic window managers.

At the same time I switched from Firefox to Conkeror. The primary reason was that I got annoyed by being unable to reasonably operate Firefox from keyboard. Conkeror is similar to the window managers mentioned above (no wonder – Ratpoison, Stumpwm and Conkeror were written by the same author). There are no toolbars, menus and other decorations, it can be operated from keyboard and it uses Emacs concepts (interactive commands invoked by M-x, buffers, mode line, minibuffer, echo area). Unlike Ratpoison, Conkeror has not been feature complete yet but it’s possible to invoke the standard Firefox interface from it in case you need it. Additionally Conkeror is just another user interface to the web browser and as such it can’t fix Firefox fatal bugs (such as crashes or freezes on certain pages). Anyway, I like it and I don’t miss the standard Firefox interface often.

Well, here is a screenshot of my current desktop, do you like it? :-)

ratpoison-conkeror.jpg

First year over

I’ve successfully finished my first year of distant study of civil engineering. Some fun, some hard work, as the distant study is mostly based on working out a lot of exercises. You can either actually make the exercises or you can copy them (which is formally disallowed of course). IMO the first way, although sometimes very time consuming, is better than learning the subjects by repeating exams and it is definitely much more effective measured by the actually gathered knowledge.

It proved to be manageable, but I can’t recommend combining a regular job, building your new house by your own hands, extending your family, studying a school, etc. It’s somewhat demanding :-). I hope I’ll be able to manage things better in the next years.

Film sensitivity

When I scanned photos from the Fuji Superia 400 film I was very unhappy with grainy shadows. The grain seems to be really worse there than in brighter areas even when considering the effect of higher noise visibility in dark areas. I couldn’t get rid of it even when I tried to significantly overexpose. By chance I found explanation of the problem in an old issue of the Czech PHOTO life magazine.

Actual sensitivity of negative amateur Fuji films (and this is likely to apply to other vendors’ films as well) is very different from what one could assume looking at the declared ISO number. First, it is actually significantly higher than declared, protecting you from underexposition. Second, maximum sensitivity (i.e. the ability to capture minimum light without underexposition) is about the same regardless of the declared sensitivity, the difference between Fuji Superia 100 and 400 is reported to be only about 0,5 EV. When you expose Fuji Superia 100 at ISO 50, you can go up to 4 EV from the middle towards darkness before the material gets underexposed, while when you expose Fuji Superia 400 as ISO 200, you’ve got only about 2,5 EV.

This explains what I observe – even when overexposing the ISO 400 film twice, there is a big risk of underexposed shadows, resulting in overgrown grain (note that according to Fujifilm specifications standard grain size should be about the same in properly exposed Superia 100 and 400). Indeed, scanning my latest Fuji Superia 100 film seems to confirm the facts. When I compare results from an ISO 400 film exposed as ISO 200 and from an ISO 100 film exposed as ISO 70, there is not much difference in the look of the grain in the highlights. But the grain is much worse in shadows of the ISO 400 film, while in the ISO 100 film the grain is about the same as in highlights there. So there is no point for me to use an ISO 400 film which is more expensive and provides lower dynamic range, while it offers only slight advantage in maximum sensitivity.

Sensitivity is one of the areas where digital easily beats film. Where I’m limited to ISO 50-100 with film, good digital cameras can go safely up to ISO 400-800. Additionally, the higher depth of field allows to use one step wider aperture. And finally, image stabilizers become common, which adds further 2-3 steps. Summed up, DSLRs can provide at least 6 EV advantage over film in nature photography.