Having discovered that all the upcoming gigs for De Staat are sold out, yesterday evening I had a look at the agenda for Son Mieux, another Dutch band I’ve been enjoying lately. Turns out all of their gigs in NL are sold out for the rest of the year as well, but they’re playing 013 in Tilburg in April 2023, so I’ve snagged a ticket for that date.
Today we spent some time rearranging the last “big” things from the old kitchen. We extracted the built-in fridge from its mountings and put it in the cupboard under the stairs. We moved the freezer and microwave out into the living room. We moved around the furniture in the living room to make space for this, and to make sure that the builders have enough room to work.
I also spent some time reviewing our energy situation. Two years ago we were paying about €0.22 per kWh, and €0.79 per cubic meter of gas. We’re currently with Eneco and the upcoming price increase will put that up to €0.95 per kWH, and €3.40 per cubic meter of gas. We have 20 solar panels on our roof, so that buffers us against these increases a bit. It looks like prices will have a cap on average use from 1 November, but if a household goes above that average, the energy companies can charge whatever rate they like.
The average annual household gas usage is proposed to be 1200 cubic meters per year. Over the last three years, we’ve used on average 1470 cubic meters per year. The new kitchen is going to be all-electric (induction stove!), so we’ll knock a small percentage off that. We can take it down further by being more mindful with the thermostat. Once we’re done with the kitchen we might take a look at replacing the glass around the house with high-efficiency double glazing, and maybe a hybrid heat pump boiler system.
I did this back in 2018 while I was on leave from work to recover from burnout. Four years ago. A lot has changed since then. Maybe I’ll muse on that, maybe I won’t. We’ll see.
I’m just back from another trip to Scotland, which came hot on the heels of a trip to New York. New York was for work, Scotland was for family and work. Mum & dad both had Covid, and mum was briefly in the hospital. I went across as she got home, so that I could be an extra pair of hands around the house while they were still recovering. There was a risk to staying in the same house as two people with known infections, but I managed to avoid catching it again myself. I tested myself every day while I was there, and will continue for a few days more now I’m back home. So far, all negative. Residual immunity from my own illness in July? Were they no longer infectious after their first week? Don’t know. More boosters for under-60s in NL are coming later in the autumn.
In all, I’ve been away for most of the last three weeks: one week in NY/NJ, back home for a few days, then over in Scotland for a week and half. (I spent Wednesday and Friday this week in the new FanDuel office on Freer Street, and Monday in the Clockwise space in Glasgow. The new office is very fancy.) The travel was all very worthwhile, but I do feel somewhat adrift. Glad to be home, although it won’t necessarily be all restful: over the next few weeks we’re getting our kitchen stripped out and a new one installed.
Today Abi and I went out to run a couple of errands in preparation. We brought the leather lounge chair that initially sat in my study and later migrated to the library away to the charity shop where we originally bought it. It always looked much more comfortable than it actually was. We also got a new shit box for the cats, because they’ll be spending time upstairs locked in our room while the builders are at work, and the old one is cracked and smelly. And a couple of plastic basins that we can use for washing dishes while we have no kitchen to use.
For Pictober in 2018 I was mostly using the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000; this time round I’m on a Fujifilm X-T20 with interchangeable lenses. I bought a (second-hand) Fujinon XF 16-80mm before the summer, and it has become my everyday lens. I enjoy having the wide angle capability, and a good bit of zoom reach. I got some great portrait shots of my colleagues during golden hour at the Meadowlands Racetrack a couple of weeks ago. I also seem to be spending most of my time in Fuji’s black and white ACROS film simulation mode.
I’m definitely having a good time with photography. Abi and I were talking about whether it’s time to upgrade our phones this year to get the new iPhone cameras, and I found myself interested but not compelled. My iPhone X is five years old now and it’s fine for the few apps I use. Replacing the batter last year gave it a new lease of life. It’s rare that I don’t get a whole day out of it. iPhone photography has moved on a lot, especially its low-light capabilities, but right now I’m very happy to roll with an old phone and a big camera. I feel like I’m getting better at understanding my equipment, and I’m taking pleasure from that.
I bought a Lumia 930 in October 2015 to replace my old iPhone 4. I didn’t want to spend €800+ on a new iPhone, and my feelings about Android were mixed. The Lumia 930 was the previous year’s Windows Phone flagship. The 930’s camera was very well-regarded (the most important feature for me), and I have always found the Windows Phone UI pleasing. With lots of people waiting for the release of the 2015 Lumia models, I was able to buy a 930 at a great price.
Well, hmm. It still works, but I wouldn’t say I’m loving it.
Let me take a minor niggle first. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I use the default Windows 10 Podcasts app. I pause and restart podcasts from the lock screen all the time. If a podcast has been paused very recently (and I haven’t timed this, but it feels like about five minutes or so, before the phone puts the app into some kind of deeper sleep mode), pressing the side power button will bring up the lock screen with audio playback controls visible. I press play, the podcast starts again, and all is good.
But if the podcast has been paused for longer, I have to press the side button to bring up the lock screen, and then use one of the volume buttons to show the audio controls. Fair enough; another button press doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is the fact that the “play” button doesn’t work immediately. I have to press it twice to get it to actually start the podcast going again.
Minor niggle, but I find it disproportionately annoying. Also, in the last couple of months, every now and then the Podcasts app just won’t stop playing. The controls on the lock screen don’t work; the controls in the app don’t work; plugging and unplugging my headphones doesn’t work; force-quitting the app doesn’t work. The only thing have found that will stop the podcast playing is to reboot the phone. Maybe I should try a different podcasts app. But I’d prefer the default one to work better.
I also have minor gripes about the browser (no ad blocking), the email client (not great at displaying HTML formatted mails), and the lack of apps in the app store (getting better now that Windows 10 has been around for a while).
Worse, though, is the camera. I have taken some pretty nice pictures with it over the last year, but its low light performance has been consistently disappointing. Earlier in the year I also started noticing a pronounced blurring in the bottom left corner side of (landscape) photos. It’s there in portrait orientation as well, but because that part of the picture often captures the sky, it isn’t always obvious.
Here are some of the first photos where I noticed the problem, back in April. (Click for full-resolution versions, and check the bottom left and top left corners respectively.)
I’ve gone back to some of the early photos I took with the phone, looking for sharply focused images with enough detail in that bottom left corner that a problem would be visible. And sure enough, it looks like it has always been there — I just didn’t spot it.
It has bothered me since I became aware of it, but I’ve just put up with it. I’ve learned to frame my photos with that in mind, or to strategically crop them afterwards. But that’s not a great solution, and it has been contributing to my general feeling of discontent with the phone. I’ve been thinking about photos a lot lately (another post about that coming up soon), and earlier this afternoon I downloaded a set of lens correction profile reference images from Adobe for an experiment. I don’t have a tripod for my phone, and I didn’t set up additional lighting, but I took some reference pictures with my Lumia 930 and my iPad mini 2 (2013) anyway.
Even poorly shot reference images like these make it easy to spot flaws. There appears to be some minor vignetting in the top right corner of the Lumia, but it’s obvious that the bottom left corner has some pretty severe distortion going on. I don’t know enough about camera optics to guess whether this is the lens or the sensor, but something is awry. Also: what the heck is going on with the Lumia’s colour processing? This is one of the things I meant by its poor low-light performance. The iPad mini captured the green wall accurately under the indoor LED lighting. The Lumia is just badly confused.
I can live with a podcasts app that has hiccups and crashes. But an unreliable camera makes me sad, and makes makes me use it less — which is exactly why I wanted to upgrade from the iPhone 4 last year. When the iPhone 7 was announced with two cameras in the Plus model I was excited and tempted by it, but I still can’t get past the price tag. I know I could get better photos than even the iPhone 7 would yield from our ten-year-old Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 (which has a colossal aperture compared to every phone camera), but I’m not going to carry that around with me all the time.
Maybe I’ve been going at this with the wrong attitude. I’ve been assuming that there’s nothing I can do about it except wait until I upgrade again. But I just dug out the invoice for the purchase, and apparently the phone is still under warranty for another 9 months. I don’t know if that’s the store’s warranty or the manufacturer’s, but I think I need to find out. I’d happily keep using it for another year if I didn’t feel a twinge of regret every time I wanted to take a picture with it.
Update (20 October): I took the phone back to CoolBlue on Monday, and they took it in for a warranty repair.