Digital Cameras, and another Adobe Lightroom Plug

This time, from a much higher-profile blogger than me–Tim Bray.  The bulk of the post is actually about digital SLRs (DSLRs), more specifically, Bray’s follow-on commentary to this post by Dave Sifry.   The starter kit looks decent, but the estimate of how many RAW files a 4GB Compact Flash (CF) card will hold makes me wonder if Canon’s RAW files are bigger than Nikon’s.  I have a D70s I’ve been shooting with for about two years, and a 2 GB CF holds over 350 RAW files.

The only place where I might differ with Bray’s additional points is the first one on camera brands.  Canon and Nikon between them own the vast majority of the film and digital camera markets.  This is important because it means you’re far more likely to find used equipment of good quality in those brands than with Pentax, Sony, etc.  In my own case, the reason I got the D70s was that my friend Sandro found a refurbished one for $600 at Penn Camera.  Maybe 6 months before that, the same camera cost $1200 new.  New lenses get pretty expensive once you get faster than about f/4, so good used ones also keep things affordable.

Lightroom: Day 24

My earlier plan of a longer series of posts on the ins-and-outs of Lightroom was devoured by work, holiday stuff, etc. In this post, I’ll talk briefly about Navigator, collections, and the Slideshow portion of the workflow.


This feature, available in the Library and Develop portions of the workflow lets you look at various areas of a selected photo. You can zoom in as far as an 11:1 ratio. It’s quite useful in Develop, since at least some of the edits you can make (red eye reduction, spot removal) are most successful when you get in really close. I haven’t used this feature a ton, but I certainly haven’t found anything like it in iPhoto.


Collections are the mechanism for organizing groups of photos in Lightroom. They appear to be equivalent to iPhoto albums. In Lightroom, photos have to be in a collection before they can be sorted. Unlike iPhoto, Lightroom allows you to sort photos both in the filmstrip and the grid view. The number of photos displayed per row in the grid view also adjusts automatically based on how large you make the application window (it’s a manual adjustment in iPhoto).


In this amount of time using Lightroom, I only have one complaint: when you play a slideshow directly from the software, it starts reverting to earlier slides after you’ve displayed around 50. At least, that was my experience when I used to help a friend present photos from his trips to various Seventh-day Adventist churches. I’m hoping it’s some sort of trialware restriction, because that would be a pretty major bug otherwise.

Slideshows export as PDFs, with one slide per page. There are five default templates, and the software lets you create your own. You can change slide backdrops, text overlays, and layouts in a number of interesting ways. If I get some time before the trial runs out, I’ll make some sample outputs available in a subsequent post.

In retrospect, I should have used the Preview app in slideshow mode to present the slides, since there weren’t transitions, music, or anything else requiring Lightroom to run it.


If Lightroom is on when you connect a camera or memory card to your Mac, a dialog pops up that lets you decide how to import the pictures. It didn’t interfere with iPhoto when I used it.

Sight and Sound Theatre

My sister and I spent the weekend with my parents and an aunt to watch the Christmas shows at Sight and Sound Theatre, in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.  We were fortunate enough to see both Miracle of Christmas and Voices of Christmas.  Both shows are Christian-themed musicals with live animals and very impressive set design.  The Millenium Theatre, where Miracle of Christmas was staged, is large enough to have front and side stages.  There was plenty of action to both sides, and the show also used the center aisles to move people and animals in and out.  They even had the actors playing angels on wires, flying them around at heights of what must have been at least 30 feet for some scenes.  I really enjoyed both shows.

Are Exceptions Always Errors?

It would be easy enough to assume so–but surprisingly, that’s not always the case. So the following quote from this post:

“If there’s an exception, it should be assumed that something is terribly wrong; otherwise, it wouldn’t be called an exception.”

isn’t true in all cases. In chapter 18 of Applied Microsoft .NET Framework Programming (page 402), Jeffrey Richter writes the following:

“Another common misconception is that an ‘exception’ identifies an ‘error’.”

“An exception is the violation of a programmatic interface’s implicit assumptions.”

He goes on to use a number of different examples where an thrown exception is not because of an error. Before reading Richter, I certainly believed that exceptions were errors–and implemented application logging on the basis of that belief. The exception that showed me this didn’t always apply was ThreadAbortException. This exception gets thrown if you call Response.Redirect(url). The redirect happens just fine, but an exception is still thrown. The reason? When that overload of Response.Redirect is called, execution of the page where it’s called is stopped immediately by default. This violates the assumption that a page will execute fully, but is not an error. Calling Response.Redirect(url,false) prevents ThreadAbortException from being thrown, but it also means you have to write your logic slightly differently.

The other place I’d differ with the original author (Billy McCafferty) is in his description of “swallow and forget”, which is:

} catch (Exception ex) {

The fact that it’s logged means there’s somewhere to look to find out what exception was thrown.  I would define “swallow and forget” this way:

}catch(Exception ex){


Of course, if you actually catch the generic exception, FxCop would flag that as a user violation.  I’m sure McCafferty was using this as an example.

SourceForge to the Rescue

I’d been hunting around for awhile trying to find a tool to automatically convert some .resx files into Excel so the translation company we’re using for one of our applications would have something convenient to work with.  It wasn’t until today that I found RESX2WORD.  It’s actually 2 utilities: one executable to convert .resx files into Word documents, and another to do the reverse.

The resulting Word from the resx2word executable has a paragraph of instructions to the translator and automatically duplicates the lines that need translating.

Google Webmaster Tools

I just started playing with Google Webmaster Tools yesterday.  I was very interested to find out where this blog has been showing up in search results.  According to the “top search queries” stats, the queries my site appeared most for were “ndbunit” and “failed mergers”.  Considering that I only wrote one post about NDbUnit, and one about the Daimler-Chrysler split, I found that surprising.

Webmaster Tools includes a lot more statistics that look as if they’d be very informative.  I’ll explore them later, as well as trying out the sitemap functionality.

Lessons Learned: The Failure of Virtual Case File

I came across this article about the failure of the Virtual Case File project about a week ago. I read things like this in the hope of learning from the mistakes of others (instead of having to make them myself). What follows are some of the conclusions I drew from reading the article, and how they might apply to other projects.

Have the Right People in the Right Roles

The author of the article (Harry Goldstein) calls the appointment of Larry Depew to manage the VCF project “an auspicious start”. Since Depew had no IT project management experience, putting him in charge of a project so large with such high stakes struck me as a mistake. This error was compounded by having him play the role of customer advocate as well. In order to play of the role of project manager effectively, you can’t be on a particular side. Building consensus that serves the needs of all stakeholders as well as possible simply couldn’t happen with one person playing both roles.

Balance Ambition and Resources

The FBI wanted the VCF to be a one-stop shop for all things investigative. But they lacked both the necessary infrastructure and the people to make this a realistic goal. A better approach would have prioritized the most challenging of the individual existing systems to replace (or the one with the greatest potential to boost productivity of FBI agents), and focused the efforts there. The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 exposed how far behind the FBI was from a technology perspective, added a ton of political pressure to hit a home run with the new system, and probably created unrealistically high expectations as well.

Enterprise Architecture is Vital

This part of Goldstein’s article provided an excellent definition of enterprise architecture, which I’ve included in full below:

This blueprint describes at a high level an organization’s mission and operations, how it organizes and uses technology to accomplish its tasks, and how the IT system is structured and designed to achieve those objectives. Besides describing how an organization operates currently, the enterprise architecture also states how it wants to operate in the future, and includes a road map–a transition plan–for getting there.

Unfortunately, the FBI didn’t have an enterprise architecture. This meant there was nothing guiding the decisions on what hardware and software to buy.

Delivering Earlier Means Dropping Features

When you combine ambition beyond available resources with shorter deadlines, disaster is virtual certainty. When SAIC agreed to deliver six months earlier than initially agreed, that should have been contingent on dropping certain features. Instead, they tried to deliver everything by having eight teams work in parallel. This meant integration of the individual components would have to be nearly flawless–a dubious proposition at best.

Projects Fail in the Requirements Phase

When a project fails, execution is usually blamed. The truth is that failed projects fail much earlier than that–in requirements. Requirements failures can take many forms, including:

  • No written requirements
  • Constantly changing requirements
  • Requirements that specify “how” instead of “what”

The last two items describes the VCF’s requirements failure. The 800+ page document described web pages, form button captions, and logos instead of what the system needed to do.

In addition, it appears that there wasn’t a requirements traceability matrix as part of the planning documents.  The VCF as delivered in December 2003 (and rejected by the FBI), did things that there weren’t requirements for.  Building what wasn’t specified certainly wasted money and man-hours that could have been better spent.  I also inferred from the article that comprehensive test scenarios weren’t created until after the completed system had been delivered.  That could have (and should have) happened earlier than it did.

Buy or Borrow Before You Build

Particularly in the face of deadline pressure, it is vital that development buy existing components (or use open source) and integrate them wherever practical instead of building everything from scratch.  While we may believe that the problem we’re trying to solve is so unique that no software exists to address it, the truth is that viable software solutions exist to subsets of many of the problems we face.  SAIC building an “an e-mail-like system” when the FBI was already using GroupWise for e-mail was a failure in two respects.  From an opportunity cost perspective, the time this team spent re-inventing the wheel couldn’t be spent working on other functionality that actually needed to be custom built.  They missed an opportunity to leverage existing functionality.

Prototype for Usability Before You Build

Teams that build successful web applications come up with usability prototypes before code gets written.  At previous employers (marchFIRST and Lockheed-Martin in particular), after “comps” of key pages in the site were done, usability testing would take place to make sure that using the system would be intuitive for the user.  Particularly in e-commerce, if a user can’t understand your site, they’ll go somewhere else to buy what they want.  I attribute much of Amazon’s success to just how easy they make it to buy things.

In the case of the VCF, the system was 25% complete before the FBI decided they wanted “bread crumbs”.  A usability prototype would have caught this.  What really surprises me is that this functionality was left out of the design in the first place.  I can’t think of any website, whether it’s one I’ve built or one I’ve used, that didn’t have bread crumbs.  That seemed like a gigantic oversight to me.