An adventurous day for my iPhone

For a change of scenery, today I had a run at Woodlands Historic Park. While exploring an alternate path, I stepped over a fence, and somehow my QuadLock belt clip let go, and I dropped my phone. Didn’t realise until I’d driven back home to Brunswick. So began a stressful day. 10:50am.

As soon as I saw this, I realised what had happened. I’d climbed through a fence to investigate an alternate path. It must have caught on the phone and pulled off my belt clip.

At home, I used Find my iPhone to locate it, and this is when I realised what had happened. It was exactly where I’d stepped through the fence. I took another phone with me so I could call and hear the ringtone, and my mountain bike, because my legs were trashed from the run! Walked back and forth over the area, calling repeatedly over a period of about 10 minutes. I then realised I could send an alert sound to it via Find my iPhone. No sound. It clearly was no longer where I’d dropped it. Sent another alert, but this one didn’t get through. Tried calling again – straight to message bank – the phone had stopped responding. 11:50am.

Really disappointed, now, I headed home again. Looked up Find my iPhone again, and was surprised to find it had moved 7.2km to Australia GSM World, Dargie Court, Dallas. That looked mighty suspicious! I mean, they even list iPhone unlocking as one of their services! Not the same ‘unlocking’ as taking control of a phone, but if someone didn’t know, they might have tried the shop. I decided to ring them. The person who answered the phone seemed evasive, but ultimately claimed to have no knowledge of the phone. At this stage, I didn’t realise that the phone icon had changed – a black screen indicates that the phone is off or not connected. Still, what could I do? 12:44pm.

My phone makes a visit to Australia GSM World in Dallas.

Giving up hope now, decided to report it to the Police, after all, the phone shop had to be involved in some way, even if it was only to tell someone “no, we can’t unlock that phone”. So, I’m on the phone to the very lovely person on the Police Help Line, when Find my iPhone reported a new position! This was very strange – the phone was now back at Woodlands, but at the homestead carpark. I thought this was promising – maybe someone was handing it in. I thanked the person on the Police Help Line, and tried, several times, to call the Woodlands Homestead number – nothing. I would have been surprised if it had been open, but it was worth a try. 1:07pm.

Back to Woodlands – this time, by car.

Resigned to losing my phone, had a shower, and some lunch. Returned to my computer and Find my iPhone, to once again be astonished by another reported location. Dimboola Road, Broadmeadows – right outside the Town Hall, and more importantly, opposite the Broadmeadows Police Station! I gave it a minute or two to be sure, before ringing the station. Sadly, no – “no-one has handed in an iPhone, but I’ll take some details” – then, while I was still on the call – “oh wait, someone’s just handing one in now!”. A Council worker handed in the phone. 1:31pm.

And now parked outside the Broadmeadows Town Hall.

Yet another drive out into the northern wilderness, but this time with a happier destination. The lovely policewoman I’d spoken to earlier reunited me with my phone. One last surprise, though… the SIM had been removed!

So, those are the facts, but they raise so many questions! What happened at Australia GSM World? Who took the phone back to Woodlands, and why? When was the SIM removed? Did the phone keep reporting position without it?

The answer to the last question is quite astonishing. Apparently, it can! Once a device has been marked as lost, it will snitch to any other Apple device it can find, and continue to report its location. I am so impressed, and grateful!

Trouble checking in?

Checking in is now mandatory at all shops and venues in Victoria. A lot of people still don’t check in, though. Why?

It’s framed as a compliance problem, but I’m absolutely convinced it’s also a user experience problem, and that a simpler, more robust process, would lead to higher checkin rates. I’ve watched people attempting to scan, and failing at rates of greater than 50% – they are trying to comply, but it’s just too hard.

It’s common now to find yourself standing in a queue to check in – many businesses only have one poster up to scan, so for a variety of reasons, only one person at a time can check in. It should not take so long, and there are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, the Services Victoria app is just slow. I don’t have an brand new phone, but it’s not that old either – still, this app is by far the slowest to load to ready (25 seconds!) of any app I have. This is less of a problem now that the app can be correctly triggered from the camera, but even that didn’t work properly until more recent versions of the app, causing a lot of people to just stop using it.

Second, the codes are very complex. QR codes work best when the string of text is short. These ones, however, encode a monstrous 215 character URL! Here’s one I used today…

Why is this a problem? More characters means more dots in the QR code. More dots means smaller dots, that are harder for cameras to interpret reliably. Add to this, that most are situated in less than perfect lighting, and laminated, so that reflections cause problems as well. You have to be right in front of the poster, cut down reflections, wait for the camera to focus… it’s a perfect storm, really – especially for the sort of cheaper, low powered phones that many older people choose.

Infuriating, because there’s an easy fix – shorten the URL! The two QR codes below do exactly the same thing, but the one on the right has been shortened using bitly (not advocating bitly, just an example!). The result is a far easier code for a phone to read. Use matt lamination sleeves and you’ve solved most of the technical problems.

Original QR code
QR code created from a shortened URL

Blows my mind, really, because on the posters below the QR code, they have an alternate 6 character location code. If they can do it in 6 characters, why do they use 165?

Why use an app at all? If a six character code can be used, why not just use SMS? Phones are pretty good at that stuff! I suppose there’s the problem where a percentage of people have caller ID turned off, but I’d suspect that’s a smaller proportion of people than we have just giving up now.

Of course, the biggest question is, why did Victoria have to develop their own app? Check-in should have been a feature of the Covid Safe app from day 1, feeding into a single, centralised system. The bonus would be people opening the app on a regular basis, instead of it sitting idle, forgotten, and useless on their phones. Just another failure of the federal government to seize leadership when it needed to.

I can’t see the QR code thing going away in a hurry. I really hope they fix it.

Roll your own braided loops

Does anyone else do this? Probably not. The material is very hard to source, the commercial product is not expensive, and most good quality flylines have welded loops already. So why do I do it? I have no idea, but here’s how…

You’re going to need some braided material. I have some Gudebrod. I don’t think they make it any more. It’s too heavy for all my flylines, but it works ok for #8+

It came with a super tricky little hook tool, but I prefer a stout darning needle.

I cut about 24cm. That gives me 8cm of double, and 8cm to attach the flyline.

Fold the line to create an 8cm double.

Insert the needle near the loop and exit about half way/4cm. along the short end.

Thread the tip of the long end through your needle and draw it through with the needle. So now your short end is about 4cm and the long one about 12 cm.

Now, repeat with the short end, drawing it though the long one, and exiting after about 4cm.

If you get the lengths right, the short end will draw up inside the long one, with no cutting required. The long end is now 8cm or so, and ready for you to feed in your flyline.

I like to add a little whip finish with some rod building silk (mine’s also Gudebrod!), and varnish with some UV resin. I also soak a little bit of super glue into the area where the flyline meets the enclosed braid end.

Neat as a pin, eh?

Digitising 35mm negatives – a quick method

Between my father and I, there’s a lot of memories sitting in shoeboxes around the house. They’re not all great photos, but there are some great memories. Scanning them is slow, and when my scanner died recently, I almost gave up. Almost! 😉

This is a clip on macro lens from Struman Optics. It fits on any phone/tablet and produces a reasonable quality image. Most importantly, the macro is only 2.8x magnification. This means the captured area is around the size of a 35mm negative.

I cut a foam block to hold my phone just the right distance (25mm) from the negative.

I used a lightbox I’d already fashioned out of a plastic bucket, and some USB powered LED strip lights… (yes, we’re seriously low budget here!).
The negative carrier is from my old, dead epson scanner, but I don’t think it’d be too hard to fashion one out of card.

Now, here’s one of the fun bits.
On an iPhone, in Settings > Accessibility > Accessiblity Shortcuts … you can set a shortcut to invert colours on the screen. I use a triple click of the home button.

So, when I feed a negative strip through, I can get a reasonable preview of what the image is before capture.

This is important, because… well, TBH, there’s a lot of boring photos!

With iCloud photos, in a very short time, the images are available in the Photos app on my computer. I rotate and flip them before handing them off to Photoshop for the next step.

Invert the image, then head to Curves, and the advanced Options. Using Enhance Per Channel Contrast will get you 95% there most of the time. Save it as the default, and you’re ready to churn through them.

Save and close, and they’re back in Photos and ready for any tagging and fine tuning.

Samples – links open in a new tab:

Fly-tying under lockdown

So, with the COVID-19 virus keeping us all tucked up at home, everyone is moving their activities online. Videoconferencing for the masses – pilates, music, comedy, and … fly-tying!

Yes, I know it’s niche, but it’s a way of keeping social networks going, and keeping fisherpeople sane through these long, dreary days! Running a fly-tying demonstration online, though, comes with some special problems.

  1. Fly fishers, in general, are not tech minded people. Getting set up for video conferencing. The apps, the logins, the cameras – it’s all new stuff. So it needs to be as easy as possible.
  2. A fly in a vice is small, and incredibly difficult to capture satisfactorily with a phone. Not impossible, but you have to know some tricks if you want to host a good looking demo.

Here are my solutions to the problems.

Keeping it simple

Videoconferencing isn’t that hard, and there are a few companies who’ve had enormous growth with our enforced ‘social distancing’. Zoom is the obvious example. You can use it for free – you don’t even need an account to join a meeting. There are a couple of problems, though; Free users can only run time limited meetings, there are many options that new users will find confusing, and with all the extra publicity, there’s a few security issues being highlighted.

Zoom is still good, but from what I’ve seen so far, Jitsi is better. It’s so simple, it’s hard to see how anyone could have problems with it. It’s 100% free, Open Source – so there’s scrutiny of the code. It just works. So, sure, use zoom if you want – it’s fine, but maybe try Jitsi first.

Production values

Fly tying is fine, detailed work. If you can’t get a good image, nobody is going to know what’s going on. The problem is that automatic focussing cameras (eg: phones), focus on the most ‘interesting’ thing they can see. They look for edges, and try to resolve them to remove blur. If there’s anything in the frame other than the fly, the camera is going to focus on the largest thing it can see – you, for example! Not good.

This is how I set up for video of my vice. An LED task light directly above the vice, to avoid annoying shadows and reflections. My phone sitting on a mount (I used a lump of foam) about 15cm in front of my vice, and another 15cm behind, a backdrop of neutral grey paper or cardboard, large enough, that it fills the background of the camera view.

Simple fly-tying video setup.

That’s it. Because your vice is the only ‘interesting’ thing the camera can see, it will focus on that. My iPhone would actually go quite a bit closer, but that would make it hard to tie. Still, adjust the distances to suit, the principles are the same.

The quality of the video is quite impressive.

Hosting the meeting

Whichever platform you use, anything can, and will, go wrong in a live demo. If you want to really do this properly, pre-record your video. Even edit and trim out the clumsy bits if you can be bothered.

Now, run the video in a video player application, and use screen sharing to present it to your meeting. Zoom and Jitsi both allow you to share a specific application window, so you only share the video itself, not your whole distracting desktop. You can talk along with the video – replay bits that people want to see again. It all goes so much more smoothly.

Even better, it’s all run from one device, so you’re not running two meetings through your internet connection at once – less bandwidth, more speed.

Lost… my Mojo!

Light hook meets heavy fish!

Maybe I left it by a lake or a river somewhere – it’s been a year at least, and I’ve been looking everywhere for it, but can’t seem to get it back!

Last weekend was a classic example. I fished the Goulburn and a couple of smaller streams nearby. While everyone is talking about hopper feeders, and posting pics of speckled twigwater gold, I fished pretty solidly for three days – saw maybe two rises the whole time. Caught three fish – the largest was still in the small category.

I don’t think I’m a bad fisherman, I’ve had enough success over the years. I’m a pretty good spotter and most times if I see a fish, I’ll be able to get an eat. I’m just not seeing them. Where I am, they ain’t!

By the third morning, the rain, and plenty of self doubt had rolled in. I didn’t even plan to fish that morning, but you know how it is – just a quick look at this corner… well, it looked pretty good, so I fished!

Within a half hour I’d seen, and got an animated response from a decent brown. It failed to commit though, I suspect my nymph was a bit flashy in that clear water, but by the time I’d switched to a duller model, he’d moved on.

Another 20 minutes, and I was hooked up to another good brown. Not sure what happened there. He was off like a rocket, but maybe the hook didn’t set well, we were only connected for a few seconds. Still, things were looking up. A little while later, and I was tired. Nearly packed it in, but a bit of a breather and a drink, and I decided I’d give it another half hour. 

Well, it was one of those moments. You realise that there’s a fish within a rod length, and you see it so clearly you can count the scales between its eyes. It was a long way between those eyes… this was a big rainbow, and it was looking right at me. Fortunately, I stayed still enough that it just turned around and continued on its beat. Now too deep to see, but I took a punt and flicked the nymph up about 5 metres to let it drift back. The indicator stopped.

A 4 weight glass rod doesn’t offer a lot of resistance, so this fish went straight down and buried itself under a log. I could still feel the powerful throbbing of the fish, but it wasn’t going anywhere. After about 15 seconds, it seemed to have had enough, because it tore through the surface, twisting and cartwheeling at what seemed like eye level – nearly reaching the overhanging trees – it spat the hook.

Was I upset? Not at all – I was a giggling wreck! I don’t know what the fish would have weighed, but the rod was never going to give me much control. I was just amazed and delighted to have made the acquaintance with this fish!

When I got my wits together and looked at the fly, it told the story. I was just totally undergunned.

Funny business, fishing. I’m not going to say I’ve got my mojo back, but maybe I know where I can find it!

Access denied

A couple of years ago Victorian Fisheries Authority and Goulburn Broken CMA put together these excellent signs at various locations around the rivers. They gave fishermen knowledge and certainty about where they were, and were not welcome. Last weekend, I only found one remaining. All the rest I saw were just empty frames. The official line is that they are being stolen. I’m pretty sure that’s utter rubbish, and that this is just vandalism by some landholders, wanting to keep knowledge away from visitors, create confusion about access rights, and block rightful access.

The excellent, and informative signs that *used* to be found along the Goulburn valley.

Add to this, the coincidental appearance of the ‘biosecurity’ signs on farm fences – often within metres of the missing access signs – and you have a pretty clear pattern of a concerted push back by landholders against rightful access to riverbanks. This is just a smokescreen designed to confuse and obstruct.

Landholders don’t ‘own’ the land. Rivers were there long before fences, and will be there long after. But, in just a few years, I’ve noted the serious deterioration of riverbanks at one of my (former) favourite locations due to cattle trampling and collapsing the banks. Farmers can’t hold up the biosecurity flag with one hand, and destroy the environment with the other. They need to be held accountable for the damage they do to public land.

I think it’s well past time the authorities toughened their stance against this behaviour, and set clear rules about river access (for recreation, and grazing) so that everyone knows where they stand.

Trudeau Cuisine – awesome customer service

Really have to give a huge shout out to Trudeau Cuisine.

It was only a pepper grinder, but when a piece of plastic broke off, and Rachel still had the receipt and even the packaging, which clearly stated “Lifetime Guarantee”, we thought, “what have we got to lose?”.

What we expected was the run around: “take it to the reseller”, or “send the item to our distributor”, or one of the usual tactics designed to make claiming warranty more trouble than it’s worth. What we got was: “Sorry, we don’t make that model any more. Here are three of similar value, choose one and we’ll ship it to you.”.

This was rather astonishing, given that we weren’t just around the corner – we’re talking Québec to Melbourne, but less than a week later, we had our shiny new grinder. That is so impressive!

Around about Google Maps

Been a long time since I had a whine about Google Maps, but lately I’ve been noticing some serious issues with directions when I’m out in the country. The worst instances have seen me end up five kilometres away from my intended destination.

Back when Google Maps was new, you couldn’t really trust it, so I developed a habit of checking the suggested directions before starting off. The service improved over time to the point that I’d got used to just trusting it. Now, I’m losing that trust again. Take this example the other day.

I had decided to stop a little short of my final destination, just a few hundred metres down the road, but I noticed that Google had other ideas.

Here, the app is suggesting I take a closed, private road a distance ten times longer than required.

In fact, more than closed, I know it’s impassable in one section – just grassy paddocks, because about 12 months ago, it tried to send me down there in the opposite direction!

Now, once upon a time, you’d take the good with the bad, and accept that there was room for improvement, but these days we expect better.