Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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It’s only been a day since I last said that I had no intentions to get my fingers dirty by using Windows in any form, colour or taste. And sure enough this afternoon I found myself using a Windows computer. But only because I went to the library to use their negative scanner which happens to be connected to a Windows computer.

The scanner looked like it was quite a good one. A largish device – Nikon 9000 or so –  that can take two strips of 35mm negatives in one go (or even two mid-format, 6cm×9cm negatives). It seems to scan at 4000 dpi or so which seems to be a lot. At least it generates enormous 10 megapixel files (about 20MB for a 8-bit greyscale scan) from tiny negatives. That may have been overdoing it but I figured it’d be better to get the best quality from the beginning rather than having to come back there just to re-scan one.

On the downside, the machine was really slow. It seemed to scan every negative at east twice – to get the brightness right – and did so at glacial speeds. Luckily with a library around it, there were enough things to do other than watching Windows leave large white patches on the screen while struggling with tasks like writing a file.

Windows screen with many whiteout areas

Admittedly, the guys there seem to have managed to make Windows use my normal home folder from their Linux system, so I assume that writing files meant writing to a network which tends to be more critical (and to be honest I don’t know how often a Mac will freeze when writing large quantities of data to a network drive – although I tend to think that usually just the Finder will freeze while all the other applications don’t care). So, uh, it was a bit of a pain – particularly when I was foolish enough to try and look at the images that had already been scanned in Photoshop while scanning was still in progress – but in the end it worked. And I was happy to see that I could store a gigabyte of files in my home folder without some quota complaints coming up. (Although Windows kept complaining that it couldn’t write the log file for the scanning – which was saved in the same folder as the images – it popped up an instrusive yellow ‘speech bubble’ with truncated text after every image, so I was a bit concerned).

Windows asking for my attention to tell me that some file couldn't be written

Uh, and Nikon’s scanning software was a royal pain. Everything started really smoothly with the scanner / software automatically recognising the type of negatives I inserted (there are different frames for the different types of negatives and they looked like each of them had its typed coded into a number of gaps and stubs at the front). But then the pain began. I couldn’t save my setup of wanting to scan black and white negatives to a greyscale image (I couldn’t even manually save that setting because some file couldn’t be written) and thus had to re-do those clicks for each set of negatives that I inserted.

To make things just a bit more painful, the programmers made sure that you can set up the general scanning mode for all negatives in one go but you have to set the resolution and bit-depth individually. Which resulted in me having just the first image of my first sets being scanned in 16 bit colour depth for the first few rounds. Not tragic for me in this case, but still annoying and making me not envy the people who have to use that software on a daily basis.

On my way back home I had a first look at the photos on Jan-Phillip’s shiny new 20″ iMac – gorgeous screen if you’re on an iBook otherwise – to see some details and do a preliminary comparison to similar digital photos he took a the same occasion (Lightroom does look quite nice and fast!). The first round suggested that my push-developed negatives do look a bit more grainy than they should but that they still have very good contrast which makes their digital counterparts look a bit stale. Of course we’ll grant the digital photos some tweaking of their curves and other settings, so the final word on this isn’t out yet.

Back home I started downloading the photos I had scanned. Once you’re dealing with amounts of data in the ten digit byte range, things are a bit inconvenient. Even with a 6Mbit DSL line it takes a whole to just copy everything over. In fact – as I was also doing some backup activities at the same time, I got the impression that the iBook / OS X doesn’t exactly shine. While copying 10-20MB/s from an external USB drive to an external FireWire drive and doing that comparatively insignificant download the ‘red’ load on the system was quite high and everything felt rather sluggish. Coming to think about it, I inserted a DVD into the drive which still hasn’t appeared on the desktop.

Loads of system activity while there's mostly copying going on.

April 7, 2006, 0:54

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