Searching for Animals

searching for animals

The stand alone Google Photos app went live last night and I’m playing with it this morning. I love that I can search my photos for animals, family or San Francisco and it will return meaningful results.

The app is really nice to use now, I love the new month view for quickly moving back through the years. I only wish Google Backup would work on all DNG files. Despite what their documentation says those files aren’t getting backed up. :(

I’m not so fond of the limited editing features. Many of my older photos need to be rotated because they were shot in Jpeg and some app I used long ago changed the rotation bit in the files. To rotate I have to select an image, click the pencil to edit, click the crop tool, click rotate 3 times, save, X. Then move on to another. Hopefully they’ll allow batch editing of photos in the future.

Raw DNG Samples from the Nexus 5

Android L, the next major release of Android will allow apps to get raw data from the camera. This lets photographers extract more information and develop photos a lot more than they could with simple Jpeg files. They’ll be able to “push” the image further to recover blown out highlights and recover detail from shadows.

At least that’s the theory. You’re still working with the relatively small lenses and sensors in camera phones so they’re not going to compare to a DSLR or dedicated camera but images will get closer in quality.

This thread on r/Android has some samples of DNG files you can work on in Lightroom or whatever your RAW processor of choice is. The photos were taken with lcamera as the official Google camera app only records to Jpeg images. I took a stab at the “auto exposure” image here and came up with this:


That’s pretty good for a photo taken by a Nexus 5 at ISO 1635. Lightroom settings were as follows:


  • Temp: -1.65
  • Tint: +59
  • Exposure: -1.65
  • Highlights: -100
  • Shadows: 100
  • Whites: +2
  • Blacks: -29
  • Clarity: +22


  • Sharpening
    • Amount: 67
    • Radius: 1.0
    • Detail: 10
    • Masking: 70
  • Noise Reduction
    • Luminance: 20
    • Detail: 50
    • Contrast: 0

I’m really excited to see what Android L will bring to camera apps once it’s officially out in the wild and more phones have it installed!

Google Cardboard

If you’ve been hankering after an Oculus Rift then Google Cardboard might be something you can use to whet your appetite for virtual reality. It’s basically a cardboard enclosure for your Android phone with two lenses, a magnet and NFC tag. Once assembled you launch the Cardboard app on your phone, put it in the enclosure and use the magnet at the side as a trigger button. Warning, there’s some NSFW language in the video below.

The Tested guys have a blog post with a few more insights and thoughts about Cardboard.

If anything, Google Cardboard brings more credibility to the rumor that Oculus is working with Samsung to create virtual reality goggle frames that can use Samsung Galaxy smartphones as the display. Cardboard’s cheap construction belies its effectiveness–the secret sauce here is in the 40mm lenses and the brilliant magnet-based trigger button.

I’d love to try one out. I wonder if I can get those lenses anywhere nearby?

PSA: Google may penalise you for using Auto-Backup

tl;dr: if you upload a large number of photos Google may stop you uploading new photos to Google Plus. I’m not sure how long the penalty stays in place or if it is lifted at all.

A few weeks ago I decided to use the desktop Auto Backup tool to make a copy of my photo archive on G+. I have over 155,000 photos but I have a relatively slow upload speed of about 50KB/s so I knew it would take a while.

The upload was working fine, Google Awesome started doing it’s #Awesome job making animated GIFs and enhancing photos. Old photos I hadn’t seen in years popped up in stories and animations and I shared some of them too. It all came to a crashing halt last weekend. My photo archive on G+ stands at just over 100,000 images.

First of all the auto backup app stopped working. It did this a few times but by restarting the upload worked again. Not so this time. Then I noticed photos from my phone weren’t being backed up to G+.

I then tried uploading a photo from my photoblog four days ago but that failed too!

Here’s what happens if I try to upload a photo and share it on Google Plus:

Google Plus upload failed

Here’s what it looks like when I try to upload files to the photo uploader:

Google Plus: photo upload server rejected

I did find this post by Brian Rose from 2011 which appears to be the only place a Google employee has discussed these limits. Unfortunately it’s not clear if this is a temporary cool down or permanent ban on uploading.

Hi everyone, thanks for your kindly emails. :-) The original issue reported here should have been resolved in July 2011, but our team has created additional confusion because Picasa uses a generic “Server rejected” error message rather than a more specific error code. There are limits to both filesizes per video (up to 1 GB) and to the number of bytes you upload to your Google account in a certain timeframe. I can’t provide exact details about those limits because they help us address abuse, but the more recent reports I see in this thread look more like what is reported at

That’s also a long thread, so to summarize:
If you’re trying to transfer a large quantity of photos (totaling well over 1 GB) in a short amount of time, you may see our Error 17 or Server rejected errors.
Photos that are uploaded to Picasa Web are saved on your Google account, they do not need to be re-uploaded to Google+. A photo you upload to Picasa Web will be accessible from Google+, and vice versa.
This isn’t related to the amount of free space you have in your storage quota, it’s about the number of bytes you’re pushing to your Google account in a certain timeframe. Deleting photos to free up space shouldn’t have any positive effect.
We’re constantly monitoring how many people hit these server errors and making tweaks to improve the experience for people who regularly share many photos or videos. Since this thread no longer addresses the original issue reported, I’ll lock this discussion to new replies but you can continue discussing this on the thread I linked to above at, thanks.

I found out I can upload files to Google Drive and share them from there but that’s hardly a suitable alternative.

So, why doesn’t the Auto Backup desktop app warn us that this might happen? I’m not the only one to hit this. Comments on this post suggests it might be a temporary ban of 14-30 days but I suspect that’s only a guess.


Meanwhile, Google is still trying to get me to use Auto Backup!


This is quite amazing. Google and NASA are working on robots that will float around the International Space Station helping astronauts or perform maintenance activities independently on station. I love the zero G test of the SPHERE in the video. It looked like a lot of fun!

I found this video on Johnny Chung Lee’s blog post. I remember I started following after he blogged about hacking the Wii motion controller a few years ago. Now into space? Great!

Since the summer of 2013, the Project Tango team has been working closely with a team at the NASA Ames Research Center. The goal: to integrate a Project Tango prototype onto a robotic platform, called SPHERES, that flies inside the International Space Station. The SPHERES program aims to develop zero-gravity autonomous platforms that could act as robotic assistants for astronauts or perform maintenance activities independently on station. The 3D-tracking and mapping capabilities of Project Tango would allow SPHERES to reconstruct a 3D-map of the space station and, for the first time in history, enable autonomous navigation of a floating robotic platform 230 miles above the surface of the earth.

Project Tango and SPHERES are scheduled to be launched into orbit this summer. The future is awesome.

Privacy: Don’t let Gmail show images by default

Recently Gmail started caching all images sent to its users and by default will now display them when you look at your email. At first glance it seems like a good idea. It protects your IP address, stops the sender dropping cookies in your browser and possibly speeds up image loading for you. What it doesn’t do is stop the sender knowing that you opened the email. Your privacy is at risk if you enable this. Marketing efforts just became a lot easier.

A carefully crafted image filename will let the sender know that a particular user viewed his spam email, even if Google host the file on their own servers. Google has to fetch the file from the sender’s server and that will contain a number or string identifying that user.

As soon as that image is opened by Google the sender knows they have a valid email address.

How easy is it to track usage? It’s simple! I wrote a plugin in 2007 called blog voyeur that could track visitors who viewed my blog through RSS readers if they had left comments here. (I’m not using that plugin any more, don’t worry, your anonymity is safe!)

The documentation on the new settings says as much but I doubt many people will look there.

In some cases, senders may be able to know whether an individual has opened a message with unique image links. As always, Gmail scans every message for suspicious content and if Gmail considers a sender or message potentially suspicious, images won’t be displayed and you’ll be asked whether you want to see the images.

Gmail does a good job of spotting spam but legitimate email can contain these tracking images too. I get promotional emails from companies I’ve dealt with. I would much rather they not know when I open or even if I have opened their emails. If I wanted them to know, I’d tell them.
So, when you see that popup informing you that images will be displayed, click on Settings and disable image loading.


I forgot my Android unlock pattern!

Damn. I changed the unlock pattern on my Nexus 7 and stupidly locked it “to test” the code. Unfortunately I got it wrong each time and now my inbox has 20 emails from Cerberus with pictures of the top of my head and occasionally my eyes.

Panic! Luckily there is a way out. Fail enough times and the device asks you to login to your Google account. It’s supposed to appear after 5 or 6 attempts but I have the 20 Cerberus emails and the “Forgot pattern” message did not appear that quickly.

Nothing easier than logging into Google which I try but it says my email or password are incorrect. I try again. No, nothing. Then it hits me. Two step auth. I had to generate a new application specific password. That worked!

A few minutes later and there’s a notification warning me my Google login has failed. After using an application specific password on the lockscreen I had to login again using my real password. Weird.


tl;dr If you have two step auth enabled use an application specific password to login to Google if you forget your Android unlock pattern. Breath again.

Google Reader Alternatives

Google Reader, an online app that allowed you to read and be notified of updates to blogs like this, will close on July 1st. It’s unlikely that anyone reading this isn’t aware of that but just in case. Export your data now!


There are a number of alternatives to Google Reader, each one has it’s own quirks and advantages. Gamma Goblin has listed a few on his blog but I’ll recommend my favourite one, Feedly.

After the frankly stale and unmaintained user interface in Google Reader the UI in Feedly takes some getting used to. At first I hated it but in the last few months they’ve improved it. I could try and describe how they’ve changed it but I’m just a user of the service. I notice when things go wrong but when they work right I don’t notice. However, I was reminded by Joseph Scott that Feedly doesn’t have an export option so make sure you backup your data out of Google Reader or you won’t be able to try other services quite as easily as you can now.

Feedly is moving at a great pace. Make sure you follow their blog (in Feedly, or the WordPress app as it’s on!) for further updates.

Also make sure you subscribe to this blog if you haven’t done so already!