12 January 2016

A post-mortem for the Romanian Wiki Loves Monuments 2015

For the foreseeable future I do not intend to return as an organizer for Wiki Loves Monuments, five years of working on the Romanian edition is enough for a person, the time has come for new blood and new enthusiasm. Myself I am burned enough. And, arguably, any community project has to attract new contributors, if not perhaps it lived its life.
Note: I won't be totally out of the picture, if there is a Wiki Loves Monuments in 2016, I will most likely contribute some pictures and if the organizers will feel a need for punctual help or want to borrow some experience, I should be available.

With this melodramatic intro over, is the time go back to the topic: a "post-mortem" is a cold analysis of a project, made after its end, looking at what worked and what didn't. The intention for it is to be as objective as possible, a learning experience for future similar projects.

Ansamblul bisericii evanghelice fortificate din Archita MS-II-a-A-15596
Ansamblul bisericii evanghelice fortificate din Archita by Silvia Nichita,
released under CC-BY-SA, winner of the Romanian competition.

The good

Having the fifth edition in a row happen and bring results in line with the previous editions is by itself a success. Is not trivial to have people volunteering to make it happen, sponsors to put money, contributors to participate... and having it work year after year.

It was also a success for the team when it managed to secure the funding, first with a sponsorship from Ixia which had put the things in motion and later a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation, which allowed for a lot of activities to take place. It was useful to have the infrastructure already set-up on Wikimedia Commons, Romanian Wikipedia and the website, which is hosted by RLUG/ProLinux, as it was useful to have Asociaţia ARCHÉ handling the money, as a legal entity (traditionally, the project is run by an informal group of people and needs such legal coverage).

~6000 images uploaded in one month (~5600 at Commons and ~400 at Romanian Wikipedia) is a success. Compared with previous years, is not the best, nor the worst, but in the international context, we are in the top third of the 33 participating countries.

At the first sight, 127 participants is kind of low compared with previous years (only 2013 was lower) and definitely under the 200 mark we hoped for. But that mark was optimistic, there are not many Romanian Free Software/Free Culture projects with so many contributors.

For the Wiki Weekend expedition we had a few empty places on the bus, but in the end there are 600 images (504 at Commons and 86 more at Romanian Wikipedia) within the expedition category, which is 10% of the total images.

Wiki Loves Monuments 2015 exhibition in Bucharest 52
Photo exhibition in Bucharest

It was for the first time we held an Edit-a-thon, so we lack terms for comparison, but any way you take it, especially for a first, is a success to have 10 participants, 702 images (628 at Commons and 74 more at Romanian Wikipedia) and 11 Wikipedia articles.

Also a first time was the new article writing contest, where 6 people added a total of 343 Wikipedia articles, most of which are stubs, but they are at least an inviting start. Lacking a reference point, I don't know how to call this other than a success.

The photo exhibition with winning images was open at F64 Cafe in Bucharest for about 3 weeks. The exhibition was quite small and its opening was pretty much an intimate event, so the impact was not impressive, but there is a chance for the situation to improve, if we stick to the plan and the exhibition will move to several other (and more visible places) in the coming months.

Also, a positive is the top 10 of winning images, this is good stuff. Not only by my subjective opinion, but also the fact that one of ours makes on the international winners list.

I left this for the last, since the social media impact is kind of a mixed bag: we ran a "photo of the day" thing for the entire duration of the contest (the month of September), which on facebook it was really weak, with a top of 22 likes for an image but on Google Plus it was much better (tenfold or better). Here I assume total responsibility for selecting and sharing the images and not spamming at all.

Wiki Weekend 2015 la Conacul Marghiloman
Wiki Weekend expedition

The bad

From the things we did badly, the most important I consider is being late to everything. We were late to apply for the Wikimedia Foundation grant, which in turn was approved even more late. Not having the funds secured, we missed to opportunity to promote the contest in advance and may be an important cause for the somewhat weaker participation. We were late in planning and announcing the expedition, and this can explain the weak participation. We were late announcing the winners and were late awarding the prizes and opening the exhibition, thus breaking a few promises. In front of the community I can't say more than I am sorry, we did poorly with this, please don't judge us too badly for it.

We also had a problem with the jury: one of its members simply became silent exactly when he was needed to do his part of the work. So at the time when we were supposed to count the notes, sort the results and publish them, we were in fact searching for replacements for that jury member. That was a human resources error and a lesson: do not rely on people who don't care about your project.

Another failure was the attempt to collaborate with a traditional photography festival. There was no synergy and my estimate is that not even 1% of our final images came as a result of it. Personally I can't tell what went wrong here, as I was not involved at all with it, I could only speculate some obvious reasons, but prefer not to do that. Much like anyone else, I also wait for a more pertinent analysis.

We had no media partners, not for the contest, not for the exhibition, not for anything. This is related to the first bad point above, being late. We didn't know in advance what we will really do, so it was not possible to forge any media partnership nor to announce our intentions in advance.

There is also a problem with the source of the incoming images: the bulk of them came from very few people. 75% of the images were uploaded by the top 12 participants, or close to 60% by the top 5, or close to 23% by an one single person. This isn't healthy at all. Consider that the top contributor by number of images, who also was a big contributor last year, due to personal issues most likely won't be available next year, it starts to look grim. If it want to continue growing, the contest must find some new audience and new participants.

Biserica Calvaria de la Cluj-Mănăștur, vedere sud-vestică, 2014
Biserica Calvaria de la Cluj-Mănăștur, vedere sud-vestică by Pan Ioan,
released under CC-BY-SA, 2nd place in the national contest, 13rd place in the international contest

The ugly

The thing is, in any human activity there will be parts that go well (the good) and parts that go not so well (the bad), but there are also parts which are frustrating and no matter how hard you work, they will happen anyway. In my Wiki Loves Monuments 2015 experience, those all were related to the community.

Now I am not a newbie to the Free Software/Free Culture communities and know well what to expect: they do mirror closely any human community, so is to be expected to encounter politics, power plays, egos, hidden agendas, individuals with total lack of social skills and such. I do have the guts to deal with them, Hell! if needed I can be a versed troll too! I'm not crying here, just listing some ugly things people can expect.

Traditionally we targeted the Romanian Wiki Loves Monuments to people outside the existing Wikipedia community, since a major goal for the project was attracting new contributors. However, this edition we tried additional things, like the article contest, which was addressed to existing contributors and even to existing heavy contributors. It went with flames, accusation of cheating and strong language. Not nice at all!

Our organizing team as a whole was blamed for not having many Wikipedia contributions. Yes, it is true that myself, I contribute occasionally and my contributions are more likely to be to Commons than Romanian Wikipedia (as an user, I prefer to read the English Wikipedia anyway) and yes, is true two of my colleagues signed-up only a year before, when they joined the 2014 organizing team and their contributions were related strictly to the contest, but you know what else is true? For five years, every single year we ran calls for help and in all those years there was one single existing contributor even who really replied and joined the team (unfortunately, for logistic reasons his contributions were limited, he lives abroad, does not use social media and such). So I had no problem replying "pleas join the team and make this happen!"

But don't imagine this is limited to the local community! One example is when I had the idea that nominating some of the pictures as quality images can be in itself some kind of reward for their contributors. I did not run the nominations myself, so I was not the one to be the most frustrated, but I observed the process. Most of the pictures are rejected with negative feedback from a number of people, who sit themselves on large numbers (sometime thousands) of average pictures labeled as "quality" (while winners of national or even international competitions are not good enough).

And don't get me started on those clueless people who start talking trash on your grant request without reading it entirely or understanding the issue...

RO IL Crama Hagianoff 10
Almost random monument image from the contest

Conclusion

I guess any such writing needs a conclusion, so I'll try to come with one: running such a project can be fun, it can be even rewarding on a personal level, but for a finite while. Fresh air and a fresh perspective are needed.

23 November 2015

On GIMP's 20th anniversary

I want to congratulate the people behind GIMP on the 20th anniversary since the initial announcement of the project, they came a long way. Myself, I switched to it as my primarily image editor long ago, can't point the date precisely but it was around 12 years ago, back in the GIMP 1.x days, when it's UI was... less than optimal, to say the least. Then I went to use it more and more, even write tutorials, give presentations and such (I rarely do such things these days not because of lack of enthusiasm but because of lack of time).

gimp
I do use GIMP on a daily basis and I earn my living based on it, but I should acknowledge this is a love-hate type of relation. On one hand, I like the power and degree of control it gives to me: it allows to get to the needed result in a predictable way. On the other hand, there are a couple of shortcomings which annoy me plenty and make me rely more and more on darktable for photography work, those are: slooooooooooow speed and poor noise removal in RAW import (which is done via the UFRaw plugin).

12 October 2015

LIF 2015

For the last couple of years I didn't manage to attend myself the Linux Install Fest traditionally organized by ROSEdu at Politehnica University of Bucharest, which is a shame, since there is a lot of cool stuff going on. But such is life, there are so many things to do and so little time left...

However, I learned a bit from watching the graphs from the official website and the pretty pictures published by the local Ubuntu community.

I couldn't stop myself from playing a bit with the charts data and make my own one. Just don't read too much into it, I don't think it shows personal preferences or such (if you DO have a personal preference, you probably don't need an install fest):

lif 2015

Anyway, I just wanted to say: good work ROSEdu!

03 September 2015

How I organize my photos

Not long ago, there was a talk about how people deal with their photos: organize, edit, archive and such, and I gave then a partial answer. Why partial? Because I follow two slightly different processes, one when the photos are made for fun and the other when they are for work. Since that answer was partial and made behind a walled garden, I feel the need to expand it in a public piece. I don't pretend what I do is perfect, actually I recognize some flaws myself, but I got there after years of improvements and is not final.

As a sidenote, I do use a Linux desktop, MATE under Fedora, and almost exclusively Free Software, GIMP, darktable, ImageMagick, UFRaw, G'MIC, but what I do is pretty generic, can be done with various other tools. I may follow with another piece on using these tools.

Fun is fun

organize photos

When I talk about pictures made for fun, I mean they are not made for a paying customer, period. This can include anything from photos made for exhibitions, snapshots with the daughter, pictures for my blog, for Wikipedia and whatnot. Usually I take them with an older APS-C DSLR, a Canon 600D, but sometime I bring the FF DSLR. For the most part, I try to protect the better camera, but sometime I am lazy and grab whatever is closer or greedy and want prettier pictures.

The first thing to be noted is that for fun pictures, in the large majority of cases I shoot in JPEG. ...yes, I hear the outrage for such a blasphemy, but the truth is, JPEG is good enough for most of those pics, RAW would be a waste of space and time. When I feel the shoot is important or the light is really difficult, I do use RAW, even for fun pictures.

As a matter of discipline and to keep myself in shape, I try to take pictures as often as possible, ideally every day, and as soon as possible I download the pictures in my computer and then erase the memory cards. The camera has to be ready at any moment to take as much pictures as possible.

I do not use any fancy software to organize the pictures, just the file manager and a directory structure. Of course, it helps that the file manager, with the right plugin, can display thumbnails even for RAWs. The photos made in a day go into a folder with a name like YYYY-MM-DD, for example yesterday pics are in the folder 2015-09-02. Sometime, when I want to find the folder easier, I add a keyword, as there I have a 2015-08-14-seaside

organize photos

As soon as the pictures are downloaded, I try to process them - the next day probably others will come and the newest are always the most exciting. So, I enter the folder and delete some pictures: those which are failed or boring. I still don't delete enough (or still take too many), but I'm getting there, improving continuously (space is cheap, some will say). From the too many undeleted pictures left, I copy a few in a working folder, to be edited and then published. Every year I have a new working folder, and when there are more pictures from a certain event (say, more than 10), they go in a subfolder.

Almost exclusively I edit my 'for fun' pictures with GIMP, this is the editing software I feel the most comfortable with and the one that gives me the most control. There are not many pictures, so I can take my time with them. If there are RAWs, GIMP will call UFRaw for the import, and in the rare cases it is needed, G'MIC will provide some advanced filters. For batch operations like mass-resize or mass-watermarking, there is ImageMagick.

Speaking of watermarks, I almost never do it, but there are are a few exceptions, like the pictures which I suspect have the potential to be 'stolen' by newspapers (it happened a few times, even with watermarked pictures). I firmly believe a watermark will destroy the image, so I try to avoid that.

Again, because next day may come with another pictures, I try to publish my photos as soon as possible. Still, I don't want to spam my viewers, so sometimes there is a delay. For the photography blog, I don't post more than 4 items a day, and for photography sites (the likes of 500px) I post only once in a while. Social media is something I still have to work on: I lost a lot of readers (or at least interactions with readers) a couple of years ago, I blame the loss on posting too much and try to work on it. Publishing go hand in hand with license, so almost everything shoot for fun is published under a CC-BY-SA license: free to use, free to modify, free to almost anything.

Of course, there is archiving. From time to time (not on a schedule, mostly when I run out of space) I move the unedited pictures, with their directory structure, from the computer's hard drive to two external drives, in a manual process. The edited pictures stay on the computer for the entire year, maybe even next year. They have copies online and at least the copy on G+ is high quality (do you know Facebook destroys your pictures with aggressive compression and metadata removal?)

Flaws

As I said before, I recognize some flaws. The most important couple of them:

  • I do not have continuous backup, there is one only when pictures are moved to the external drives. What is currently on the computer is at danger of data loss. Still, they are 'for fun' pictures and I am lazy, so the loss won't be huge, only at most a few weeks of 'for fun' pictures;
  • When I am away for a while, in a trip or vacation, I can't properly process the photos, so when returning home a lot of work will pile-up. For a while I will have to process both old and new images.

Work is serious

organize photos

For work, you have to deliver the best result from a technical point of view, so when there is a paying customer I use my full frame DSLR, which happens to be a Canon 6D, a camera recognized for its good low-light performance. As for shooting, the pictures are taken as RAW and JPEG. JPEG is there as a backup, while the RAW is the one to be edited. Here I need 1) to get the most possible from the pictures and 2) deal with low-light situations which happens a lot when doing event photography.

Again, as soon as I get home, I download the pictures from the memory cards. But this time I do not delete the cards, I put them in a closet, to have a backup somewhere until the processing is done. Processing the photos for an event may take up to a few weeks.

I have a different directory hierarchy for the work photos, so I copy there all the files, in a directory named after the specific client or work. If the work was an event, the first thing is to make a quick and small selection (10-20 pictures) which I edit fast and deliver the same day, as a preview. The idea is for the client to have something really fast, and if he wants to post pictures on social media while it's hot, he can post pictures from me, not some crappy phone-made images.

Then I parse the files with the file manager and its native image viewer, deleting only very few, and make a selection with images to be edited and delivered. From this selection I copy all the RAWs in a different, working folder.

organize photos

Considering the large amount of images (for a wedding it can be around 1000 pictures), editing with GIMP would be a poor option, so I use darktable instead. After a few days or weeks, depending of the size of the work, images are exported with darktable at a resolution good for large prints. Then for some images that I think need more advanced editing, I open and process them further with GIMP.

After that, I deliver to the client the images, in two sets: one at big, printable, resolution, and another resized for web use. Of course, there is no watermark in sight, the client paid for the images, they are not to be tainted in any way.

If the job requires it, then I start working on the printed album. Here the work is done with GIMP ...blasphemy I hear again? Why not use Scribus? Simple: the print shop requires sRGB JPEGs, and they do a very nice job with that. When there is to be made an engraving on the album's leather cover, I prepare it with Inkscape and save in a vector format (PDF/EPS).

Only after the printed album was delivered to the client I can consider the job done. Then I move the files (sources, edits, album pages) to the two external drives and erase the memory cards.

Of course, somewhere during this process, when I get the time, a few pictures are added to my online portfolios. I have to advertise myself, right? This time, as the images are made for the client, the license can't be a free one. Sorry for that, I wish clients open to free licenses, I would offer a discount for that.

Flaws

  • Since there is a lot of time from when the pictures are taken and until I get them in the backup system, for a while the memory cards are the backup. I could probably change that and save them faster;
  • I still have a lot of work to do with promotion.

organize photos

02 September 2015

The summer is over, the wallpapers are not

I know that after the calendar the sun is over, but looking outside, it looks and feels like the middle of the summer. And the truth is, for the last month I was all the time on the road, so even if the pictures are taken a while ago, only now I got the opportunity to edit them as desktop wallpapers for a blog post. If you like any of them, feel free to use (CC-BY-SA).

sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper

04 August 2015

Some summer wallpapers

It's been a while since my last post here with free (as in CC-BY-SA) "wallpaper-ized" photos and I am not sure anyone missed them, but the hell, it's summer and I have a few appropriate images, let's share them.

sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper
sea wallpaper

01 July 2015

WLE 2015 in... Brazil

Lajedo de Pai Mateus - Pedra do Capacete
By Ruy Carvalho (Own work) CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons

This year I was invited once more to be a jury member for the Brazilian Wiki Loves Earth photo competition (thanks Rodrigo!) and it was a pleasure to witness so many wonderful images (yes, I am a bit jealous for my recent inactivity in travel/landscape photography).

Taking a look at their top 10 winners anyone would probably agree this is quality stuff, which will rightfully enrich Wikipedia. Myself, after seeing the larger (around 600 images) selection for the jury, I dare to conclusion a significant increase in quality over the previous year. And I understand the increase was also in quantity, so it looks like a win-win.

Congratulations to the organizers and all the participants!

PS: take a few more moments to admire the winners from the other countries, they are added to the page gradually, as each local jury get its work done. I still ting the Brazilian pictures are among the best so far :)

Cacimba do Padre - Fernando de Noronha
By Dante Laurini Jr (Own work) CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons

13 May 2015

FREE Firefox?

Let's assume one is a "normal" Firefox user, so based on Windows and with no knowledge about using directly the mirrors (or without intimate knowledge of obscure acronyms). And let's assume the same person wants a FREE web browser, one with no binary blobs, with source available and not blocking the content from its user.

The challenge is, going from the Firefox start page, find a way to download the FREE version, without using external websites (so no Google search).

free firefox 38

Answer: Expand the menu thingy at the top, then go to the About page, then to the blog and find there an apologising post with a deep-buried link inside.

11 February 2015

Kdenlive video formats export

A few years ago I used to regularly publish videos, so back then I started with an evaluation of FOSS video editors available for Fedora. At the time I decided the "winner" to be Kdenlive (at the time PiTiVi was useless, OpenShot unavailable and Blender unknown for its video editing capabilities), despite all the drawbacks of its KDE interface and sudden crashes.

Fast-forward, about a year ago, I needed again some video editing, this time for a home project. Not wanting to deal with KDE again (I don't want to flame KDE, I just find a GTK2 interface more friendly to use and GTK apps integrate better in my desktop), I tried OpenShot and it worked good enough.

Fast-forward again to current times, after upgrading my desktop to Fedora 21 (from F18, no less!) I needed again a video editing task, I fired-up OpenShot but it refused to cooperate (something related to creating a video clip from a sequence of images, something I used it for before), so back to the old friend Kdenlive again.

Yes, Kdenlive can do the work just fine, it just had an unintuitive UI annoyance that had me searching the web to learn where to find a simple option (I was not seeing a tree for the forest). You open the render window and there are not many formats to pick from besides MP4, MPEG-2 and Matroska. Where are the others? Not gone, but hidden behind a "Destination" drop-down.

kdenlive video formats export

I can see why they decided to split the list in smaller sections, it can be quite long, however 1: I didn't see the drop-down and surely many others don't and 2: categories are totally arbitrary: MKV is a file, AVI a media player and WebM a website? Why? Fortunately, you can add them as Favorites or learn their place quite fast (unfortunately,after you close the app and open it again, it will default again to File rendering instead of Favorites)

kdenlive video formats export

Some other issue that made me lose a lot of time is related to video quality. At first I created a video with the default format, which is MP4 with H.264, which from what I tried later is the thest regarding file size / image quality (didn't try WebM, it isn't useful for my client here, who is the type of person using Internet Explorer on Windows 8, so it has to work OOTB). Then I tried to find a set of settings for MPEG2 or AVI/XVid close to it. No luck! By trial and error (which means rendering the video again and again) I settled for one while the file size is not that large (only ~2.5X time larger) and image quality not absolutely horrible (note: my personal projects always default to WebM).

kdenlive video formats export

19 January 2015

Mist wallpapers reloaded

A while ago, a set of misty wallpapers proved to be quite appreciated. Fast forward a year and some more, after another misty morning, here's a new set of free pictures ready to be used as walllpapers.

mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper

20 November 2014

Shooting yourself in the foot, part 53326: Mozilla

Step 1: with bad design decisions one after another (Australis is a shining example of that) slide yourself into irrelevance;
Step 2: when market share goes below some threshold, the main sponsor diminishes (or suspend?) payments;
Step 3: in retaliation, hurt the users by forcing om them a sub-par alternative as a default;
Step 4: profit bleed even more angry users and go even faster into irrelevance.

Brilliant strategy Mozilla!

Myself, I am still using Firefox for the time being, but that's exclusively due to Gecko.

24 October 2014

Winners of Wiki Loves Romania 2014

Organizing Wiki Loves Monuments in Romania this year was the hardest so far. Why so? We had a bigger budget, which allowed us to be more ambitious, so on top of the free photography contest for Wikipedia we had to manage a photo exhibition, a 2 day field trip, an additional contest for juniors, a team of volunteering interns and more. But it was rewarding, the results are notable: over 8200 pictures from 216 contributors.

I will tease with the top 3 photos from the contest, you can see all of them on our website.

1st place: Bogdan Croitoru with Monumentul triumfal Tropaeum Traiani
006 MG 6430 Tropaeum Traiani Adamclisi 006
2nd place: Dragoș Pîrvulescu with Fortificație medievală
Cetatea Râșnov, văzută din șoseaua Cristian-Râșnov.
3rd place: Zsolt Deak pentru Ansamblul bisericii evanghelice fortificat-vedere aeriana
Ansamblul bisericii evanghelice fortificat-vedere aeriana

You can also see the winning pictures, along with highlights from the previous editions and winners of the section dedicated to younger contributors in a photo exhibition opened for 3 weeks at the National Library in Bucharest. After that, the expo will move for a couple more weeks at Universitatea de Vest in Timișoara.

expo

16 September 2014

People sea wallpapers

Usually pictures including people does not make for good desktop wallpaper, one exception is images of your beloved one, which do not make sense to share, and another exception is images of scantily clad celebrities, which is some circles may be popular but in others are highly controversial. But as a photographer I prefer to take photos with people, those pictures have more soul. Still, how such pictures can be turned in generally usable wallpapers? Make sure people are not recognizable, turn them in silhouettes, is a perfectly cromulent way.

people sea wallpaper
people sea wallpaper

15 September 2014

Sunrise sea wallpapers

I was away for the week-end, so I continue clearing the summer wallpapers queue after a small gap (initially planned the climax for the Sunday). Hope you will enjoy them, no matter the timing.

sunrise sea wallpaper
sunrise sea wallpaper
sunrise sea wallpaper

12 September 2014

Sea birds wallpapers

As anticipated, today my free wallpaper series is completed with yet another part from this summer backlog (good new for those uninterested: two more parts and I will stop for a good while). Now is about birds flying above the sea and in front of a rising sun. Quite a lot of empty space to host desktop icons.

sea birds wallpaper
sea birds wallpaper
sea birds wallpaper

11 September 2014

Post-industrial wallpapers

I'm not sure why I liked to call those images "post-industrial" when the cranes in the background are from a large and very active naval yard, still I think they are a worthy addition to the series (and free, of course, as in CC-BY-SA).

post industrial wallpaper
post industrial wallpaper

10 September 2014

Beach wallpapers

As hinted the other day, there are more posts in the queue for my free wallpaper series. Today we are going to the beach! ...and if I wouldn't be so used with the one I keep using for a few years, I could see myself going with the first.

beach wallpaper
beach wallpaper
beach wallpaper