The Great Flickr Shitr

The first picture I uploaded to Flickr, taken in July 2004

Flickr was one of the earliest social networks, starting in February 2004, and, among other things, pioneered the use of the hashtag, which later became a key part of the Twitter experience. It was a place where you could upload photos/descriptions, connect with other users, join groups, make comments, and create themed collections of your own photos.

I joined in July 2004, and it really felt like a small and friendly community in those days. Of course, it was hard to see how they would ever make money.

They were acquired by Yahoo in 2005, and the long downhill descent began. There are three things that Yahoo did that are variously upsetting and annoying.

The first was that they neglected it, allowing its performance to get worse, and were particularly slow to respond to the smartphone revolution. Even as the iPhone became the most ubiquitous camera used by Flickr photographers, the Flickr app experience was kludgy. As Instagram demonstrated how simple a photo sharing social network could be, Flickr’s was complicated and slow. Even today, if someone shares a photo from Flickr to Twitter, it loads extremely slowly, making for a poor user experience.

The second thing was that they tried to drive Flickr users towards Yahoo as a web portal at a time when the very idea of a web portal was becoming ridiculous. But Yahoo are an advertising company, and that’s what they wanted to do. So they loaded an ugly, clashing Yahoo menu bar at the top of the Flickr site, and they forced everyone to use a Yahoo log-in rather than their old Flickr log-in.

Which is when the problems began for me.

The third thing was that Yahoo did what all these tech companies do: they tried to avoid their user support responsibilities by pushing people towards forums, where the same questions get posted over and over again, with similar answers, and nobody ever gets helped, and the secret portal into actual technical support is hard to find and opaque. All of which is the inevitable result of a free service that clearly doesn’t stand a chance of making money through advertising and which becomes a white elephant, or a millstone hanging around the neck of a slowly dying corporation.

Yahoo is acquired by Verizon, Flickr slips further down the list of priorities, and more and more people find themselves in the same situation as me: unable to resolve the log-in, or successfully recover lost passwords. In 2013, Yahoo was hacked, and 3 billion user accounts were compromised.

Around the same time, my Flickr log-in and password corrupted in some bizarre way and went from being a recognisable email/password to being long strings of random characters.

Like this: 0753036973656d61dc27j2gs1s29h4g8

That’s not my own corrupted log-in, but mine was very similar, and so was the password. I mean, it’s not even an email address. In time, I was unable to get in at all, and after a fruitless run-in with Yahoo support, I ended up creating a new Flickr account so I could continue to upload pictures.

But it was never the same, and I was never happy, and I eventually stopped using the service.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 20.54.00The screen grab left shows a sample of the many Flickr users who are having issues accessing their accounts.

My own problems were exacerbated by the way my Yahoo identities seemed to burgeon. When Yahoo acquired Flickr, I already had a hidden Yahoo identity, because my then-internet provider, BT, used Yahoo as the backbone for its “” email service. But somehow, I ended up with and identities. Over time, and attempts to log into Flickr, these have expanded, and I now appear to have four distinct ways of logging into Yahoo. Four!

But here’s the thing. Every single one of them connects to the new/replacement Flickr account, and none of them will connect to my 2004 vintage Flickr account. So I have four Yahoo log-ins, and no way to get into my old Flickr. In my mind, at least one of the log-ins should resolve to the old 2004 account, but no longer does. So it’s an orphaned account, is what it is. There’s a case here for keeping hold of all of your old computers, phones, and other devices, because account details might be cached/stored. O for the iMac that used to be in the garage.

And it has been five years.

I’ve tried on a couple of occasions to get help from Yahoo. When I saw the news that Flickr is being sold to Smugmug, I thought it was time to try again.

Yahoo’s response is basically robotic. You give them the details of your account(s) and you still get a response along the lines of “I cannot find the account with the details you have given. Please give…”

I got exactly the same automated response as last time. Replying to their emails rarely elicits a human response. They send through a link to “security questions”, which ask you things you could only know if you had access to the account. It’s enraging, and obscure:

  1. Name five private groups or private albums on the account
  2. Give the date of the last charge in the format dd/mm/yyyy
  3. Name the 3rd party services that are linked to the account (apart from Facebook/Tumblr)

My response to (1) is, I don’t know, I haven’t been able to see inside the account for five years.

My response to (2) is, I don’t even know what this question is asking.

My response to (3) is, I don’t know, I haven’t been able to see inside the account for five years.

We went through this three times.

Each time, I replied to their email saying I didn’t understand and couldn’t possibly answer their questions. Each time, I didn’t get a response until I filled in something on the security page. Each time, I was then told that my responses were inadequate.

In the end, they refused to give me access to my account—but they did offer to delete it on my behalf. Consider the warped logic of that: no, we can’t verify your identity, but yes, we will delete all these photos that might not belong to you, because why not.

Meanwhile, I still have four different Yahoo log-ins that all give access to the wrong Flickr account. Meanwhile, I continue to receive communications to my secondary email address which are aimed at my original identity.

The only solution appears to be for me to click through 3,600 photos and manually download them, then add them to the other account, and try to live with the knowledge that the kudos attached to being a 2004 early adopter of this pioneering service is no longer mine.

And this is probably my most popular Flickr photo, taken in 1998 but scanned in 2005


The Ile-d’Yeu is a 30 minute ferry journey from the French mainland, off the Vendée coast. 

vendee - 4

The Vendée is my favourite part of France: a different kind of landscape, with (I seem to recall) the second best microclimate in France. The Cote d’Azur gets first prize for sunshine, and has the calm, warm waters of the Mediterranean and its beaches to boast of; but it also has overcrowding, endless traffic queues and nowhere to park. A few summers ago, we took a day trip to an island off the Southern coast, and encountered a fabulously beautiful beach on the clear turquoise sea which was a long but thin strip of sand — and there was not enough room on it to lay down a towel.

vendee - 6.jpgThe Vendée has a long coastline on the blue Atlantic (Le Grand Large) with vast sandy beaches interspersed with rocky sections which have tidal pools full of sealife. It’s a great base for a more traditional seaside holiday, for both sunbathing and rockpool exploration, for kite-flying, beach tennis, body surfing, and more. It would also be a great base for a biology/geography field trip, what with the life teeming in the rock pools and the different types of vegetation in the sand dunes as they progress inland. Best of all, even in the peak of summer season, the beaches are not so slammed that you can’t move. You can in fact spread out without finding your face in someone else’s crotch. In the South, if you manage to fight your way through the traffic and the wildfires to get somewhere; and if you manage to find somewhere to park; and if you manage to find a postage stamp sized patch of beach to sit down on, you are also surrounded by the strutting and preening of the Beautiful People (ugly oligarchs) and their giant yachts.

I love the architecture of the Vendée: white houses with red tiled roofs, blue shutters. There are variations on this, and people paint  their shutters different colours, but the traditional Vendée house has two small single-storey sections joined to a two-storey central section. The best of them squat in the dunes, or among the pines, and the sun bounces blindingly off the white sides, and there are no gutters because there’s a collective self delusion that it never rains.

vendee - 1The Ile-d’Yeu has a small port on one side, several sandy beaches, and a rocky coast with a ruined castle. Like a society, it has rules. Visitors are allowed, but not with their cars. Only islanders are allowed to have cars.

I was naively optimistic about this. Far too many beauty spots are ruined by the motor car. Let’s face it: everywhere is ruined by the motor car: towns, cities, countryside. But it’s especially jarring when you visit somewhere ancient and mediaeval, somewhere quaint and relatively untouched by modernity. I remember visiting the hillside fortress village of Gordes and being depressed by the unending stream of noisy traffic. And wherever you go, its a universal truth that even the pedestrian zones, the zones pietons, are blighted by the eternal presence of the busy-and-important person who decides  they are the exception, and so you are always dodging cars and vans as they edge forward at an ironic walking pace and you are forever encountering that peculiar sense of privileged entitlement which is a constant reminder that you live in a capitalist dystopia.

So! I was excited at the prospect of an island with very few motor cars and where everyone hires a bike. An egalitarian utopia of pedal power!

Every island is a microcosm of society

But of course, was disappointed. Of course, the people with cars, the locals, the islanders, asserted their privilege aggressively and selfishly, with no sense that they were part of a society. They treated bicycles as a nuisance to be dispatched, and were they ever determined to overtake — even if there were another 15 bicycles in front of the one they passed dangerously close — even if there was another slow-moving car in front of those 15 bicycles — and in front of that car another 15 bicycles, and so on, all the way into town. It was bicycles all the way down. But no! They must get past, because such is the privilege of car ownership. And of course, the tourists, bless them, mostly unused to the cycling life, were pathetically deferential to their superiors on four wheels and simply accepted this state of affairs, while I wanted to scream at the top of my voice, vous roulez a la vitesse d’un vélo, ou vouz achetez un vélo! Often, overtaken, I would pedal harder, catch up, overtake them, and then act as a rolling roadblock, sitting in front of them with my middle finger dancing in front of their windscreen. Fuckers! It’s not that I hate motorists; I am a motorist, after all. But I hate people who think they are more entitled, and there is no escape from them, ever. Up against the wall! Oh, okay, I admit it: I hate motorists, including myself.

vendee - 5Even worse, it turned out, that as well as hiring a bicycle from one of the myriad hire shops (including the horrifically named Bi-Clown), you could also hire shonky old cars, most of them vintage Citroens and Renaults. For a mere €80 par jour, you could lord it over the cyclists like a rich second-home owning Parisienne. What a way to conspicuously consume! Belching black smoke from a shitty old chugger for a week for the price of a half-decent bicycle. And while you’re at it, park on the pavement, why don’t you?


It’s an island, so I personally don’t think longer than a week’s stay is necessary. There are only so many things to see, and the town is both small and expensive. I saw some wonderfully colourful cotton shirts, but at €70 apiece in the sale, they were beyond my means, as were most other things you saw in the shops, from tinned sardines to nautically-themed t-shirts. They did a nice line in branding: the island’s name shortened to an assertive YE on everything from polo shirts to wet bags and keyrings.

vendee - 3.jpgThe house we were renting was a  miracle in packin’  ‘em in. Including bicycle hire, we’re talking €5000 for the fortnight, split between a number of families. The first week, three or four families shared, and then we changed over for our week with four more. Each bedroom was constructed with a mezzanine, so that a poky room for two became a poky room for four. I think there were five bedrooms and at least three bathrooms. We got an ensuite bathroom to ourselves, which was a solid reminder to me that the ensuite bathroom or toilet is an abomination that Shouldn’t Be Allowed. Not with walls that thin!

The ethos was that everybody ate together, most of the time, which led to some late mealtimes as everyone drifted in and eventually got around to lighting the barbecue. If you’ve never cooked regularly for 15 people, here’s an example: one day I barbecued 2.5kg of chicken breasts with four trays of sausages, thinking this would be an excessive amount of food. The leftovers were enough to half-fill a cereal bowl. A huge pot of moules (mussels) was accompanied by four bags of oven frites. If I had my way, we’d have done our own thing, eaten when we were hungry, and not had to deal with such catering at scale.

There was lots of seafood, on which I’m not keen. Freshly caught tuna was sliced into steaks and grilled: good, especially with my improvised sweet/sour sauce made with apricot jam, vinegar, and chilli/ginger. But the next tuna brought in was eaten raw, sushi-style. Not my thing. There were also mullet, grey and red, and other huge fish (hake, I think, merlu in French), all caught locally. I would have liked the time to cook and prepare these creatively, but they were just cooked whole and consumed in scraps by the multitude.

As for bread, apparently the local bakery produced wonderful baguettes, of which 8-10 were dispatched daily. I even found a couple of fresh GF loaves on the island, and these were much better than the vacuum packed supermarket breads.

Things you realise they got wrong in Jaws

vendee - 7Jaws is set on an island, and they got right the idea that the “islanders” tolerate visitors only as an economic necessity. They also got right that arrival scene: with the hordes of people arriving by ferry from the mainland. But, in reality, most of the “islanders” are just rich people with second homes. They’re visitors themselves, and they should ride fucking bikes and stop trying to lord it over the rest of us. And the arrival scene is happening all the time, every 30 minutes, another boatload gets off to stay, and another boatload gets on to leave.

Chief Brody wanted to close “the beach” but on an island there is never just one beach:  there are lots of little beaches, and if there was a shark, there would be lots of places for it to operate, some of them — even on a small island — isolated and wild. And if there was a shark, it would probably feed 15 people.

Islands are hills in the sea

One difference between the Ile-d’Yeu and the mainland of the Vendée is that the island undulates a bit. Nothing too dramatic, but whereas much of the Vendée coast was reclaimed from the sea by Dutch geo-engineers hundreds of years ago* and is therefore mostly flat until you get about 15 miles inland, the island itself is a hill in the sea, which is higher in the middle, and has a rocky coast that does rise and descend steeply in places. None of this was beyond the ability of even temporary cyclists, but the nature of the bikes that you can hire made it harder than it ought to be.

vendee - 10The geometry of the bikes we hired was simply terrible. Even a mild incline would cause burning pain in your backside. I don’t know: the saddle wasn’t far enough back from the  pedals or something. So although you never really cycled more than a couple of kilometres at a time, you felt it in your legs when you arrived. Our longest ride was a circuit of about half the island on a day when the Atlantic swelled and there was wind and drizzling rain. It was bracing, though the younger you were, the less fun you found it. The kids and I were dreaming of a Mars bar and a coffee, and we came across a man with a van in an isolated cove who was offering both for €1 apiece to our unalloyed joy. But the youngest kid, their cousin, went into a steep decline. Problem with a cycling holiday, though: if you’re tired and you want to go home, you still have to pedal to get there.

*St. Benoist-sur-Mer, for example, is a few kilometres from the sea, these days.

Shut down, log off, fade away

Mini DV TapeWe are surrounded by digital ephemera.

A while ago now, I reactivated the Facebook account (total of friends = 1), just so there would be one place on the internet where you could find me by my actual name. My timeline consisted almost entirely of my Instagram feed. But I hate Facebook, always have, and as Zuck appears to be preparing to run for office (as a Republican, according to one thing I read), it’s time to kill it. So that’s gone.

I still use Instagram. Although owned by Facebook, it’s fairly harmless, and since I stopped using Flickr (destroyed by Yahoo), it’s the only place I upload photos. But my finger does hover over the button sometimes.

I was attempting to put together a Photos book for 2016 the other day, and I had an enormous number of those red warning triangles, because the “original image could not be found”. Massive database corruption in my Photos library – perhaps caused by my use of CleanMyMac. The photos are there – I can export them and re-import them and fix the triangle issue – but the application doesn’t know they’re there. So that is a massive pain in the arse, and brings to stark relief the eternal problem of what is going to become of all our digital photos in 5–10 years. Apart from low-resolution uploads on early Flickr, I’ve got whole clusters of photos missing.

This came up again when I was rewatching my kids’ childhood DVDs a while ago. A couple of years have gone missing, and one of the DVDs wouldn’t play (though I managed to rip the file off it). I noticed an old MiniDV camcorder at work the other day, which nobody (probably) is ever going to use, and it reminded me that I have a case full of MiniDV tapes with my kids’ (unedited) childhoods on, and I have nothing to play them on.

Digital ephemera. We live in a streaming world. Timelines flick by, news churns 24 hours a day, people are up in arms about one thing after another, ricocheting between issues of import and issues of no import as if it were all the same.

I spent half an hour this morning unfollowing a bunch more people on Twitter. People I like and respect, even admire, but I cannot bear to read their political and news tweets, because they make me feel impotent with outrage, powerless, depressed. Muting keywords doesn’t work because things always leak through, and in the end I came to the conclusion that, for the foreseeable future and for my own sanity, I’ll probably end up unfollowing most of the Americans on my feed, and many more besides.

I’ve said it before: complaining on Twitter achieves nothing; the people you need to reach are not on there; it’s not a substitute for activism. Twitter is for jokes, for people-watching, for aphorisms, art, wit, photos, videos, all of that digital ephemera. But it’s not for politics or climate change, or bringing down capitalism or fighting nazis. People get mad about stuff, sure, but never so mad that they put down their phones and do anything.


The balcony

We persuaded my oldest to come away with us in the summer, guessing it might be a while before the whole family went on holiday together. She won’t be with us this Christmas, and who knows what she’ll be wanting to do next summer, after ‘A’ levels?

Anyway, it occurred to me that I might have taken my last balcony shot for a while. I’ve been getting the girls to pose on their grandparents’ balcony in Plancher Bas for years. I’ve mostly remembered to do at least one a year since the first.

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Diminishing tech returns

Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 14.28.09It struck me, as I spent two nights this week trying to sort out my daughter’s problems with her new Apple Music app, that Apple have been releasing a lot of stuff recently that doesn’t work that well.

When I worked for an IT company, we always used to joke about ‘upgrades’ making things worse, and computers being rubbish. The problem for the industry has always been that it relies too much on making stuff obsolete as quickly as seems reasonable (to them) and refreshing/recycling their product cycles. When you depend on your existing customer base for the your future income and profits, you’re always going to be making things steadily worse.

Tech always follows this pattern. Things start off basic, with few features. Then, for a few cycles things might improve as ‘missing’ features are added and the usefulness and functionality of the hardware/software improves. But then, always, a tipping point is reached and the platform is in trouble.

PageMaker was good up to version 5, I seem to remember. Then PageMaker 6 was worse, and then it died, to be replaced by InDesign. InDesign itself is so long in the tooth that it’s too hard for new users to learn properly. Long-term users probably hate and resent it by now, too. Photoshop probably peaked around CS1. The current version, again, is just too hard for a new customer to pick up and use effectively. Think about that: you’re only making something for people who have been using it for years, and who can take on board new features or simply know enough to ignore them.

MS Word peaked around version 5. Apple Pages peaked two or three versions back. iMovie peaked at version 2. iTunes, christ, it’s been so long since it was any good, I don’t even remember.

First computers got to complicated, and they gave us smartphones, which were simpler. Software written for mobiles had to be small, efficient, and fast. But then the hardware kept ‘improving’, so the software got more complex, with more features, demanding more and more of the hardware. So then they introduce the Watch, which gives us a smaller, simpler platform again. But there’s a problem, a perception that even these simpler platforms are starting out too complex.

I’m not sure it’s entirely true of the Watch. I mean, there’s a whole lot of web sites depend on publishing how-to articles and FAQs and reviews, and they have a stake in making things seem a little bit difficult. So I haven’t got a Watch and couldn’t say, but I do know how disappointed I have been in recent years by the following:

  • iMovie – which took a turn for the worse, threw away loads of features (I guess Apple were trying to do the right thing) but just became a lot less useful. This was mainly because Apple have tried to make iOS and MacOS versions more or less identical.
  • Pages – which went from being a fast and efficient word processor and page layout app to being half-crippled for the same reason that iMovie was
  • Aperture – which was better than Photoshop for virtual darkroom duties, but has now been discontinued
  • Photos – which replaces the terrible iPhoto and Aperture, but does less than the latter and is (again, I say this) intentionally crippled so that iOS and MacOS versions match.
  • Various upgrades to the Mac itself, which have created loads of niggles. Slow discovery of WiFi; Mail refusing to send; printers disappearing and reappearing; Airplay, which barely works and means I’ve wasted £ on speakers I never use.
  • And now iTunes/Music, which have fucked things up in bizarre ways. For example, my star ratings have disappeared from about 25% of my tracks; artwork has disappeared; my daughter’s phone kept logging into my Apple ID (how?) and downloading my playlists to her phone (older, with less storage). Twice.
  • Family sharing, ha ha.
  • iCloud, ha ha.

I could go on. Some of the problems don’t even get that much publicity, and I think I know why. People now expect their tech to be complicated and barely functional. All the new users Apple have gained in recent years have come from platforms where this was how things were. But for long-term Mac users (a smaller niche), the way things are now is much, much worse than it ever was.

The case of Photos, and even iMovie, were instances where Apple was trying to do the right thing by users, and strip things back to the basics, trying to make things easier. When it comes to Music, however, they’re glomming on new features and complicating the interface and user experience.

Music discovery and music consumption are in fact two separate things. Mixing them together creates a poor user experience. The nice thing about iOS was in fact the way that the iTunes store, with its fairly useless music discovery tools, was completely separate from the Music listening app. But the new Music throws in your face the frankly terrible curation going on in the iTunes music store when it comes to new music discovery. It reminds me of my old job, a few years ago, when I had to step in to stop the purchasing department from creating new product categories for almost every new product they put into the database – mainly because they didn’t know enough about stuff to know what it was or what it did. In the case of music, different employees are obviously categorising music in different ways, so that the same artist doing the same sort of thing will ends up under Blues, Country, Singer-Songwriter, or Folk, depending on, I guess, who is inputting the data. Or maybe the problem is at record label level.

Anyway, finding new stuff is not easy. And human curators who know less than you do are not going to help.

For a few years, it looked as if Apple might succeed in the Jobsian project of turning computers into appliances. But recent events have sent things off the rails. There are lots of things to love about Tim Cook’s Apple. I love his activism, his focus on diversity, his robust response to dickhead analysts and shareholders. But. We’ve taken several steps backwards from the computers-as-appliances goal. And this is not the first blog entry I have written rueing a recent Apple ‘upgrade’.

Google Photos

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 20.53.50I blogged a while ago about the new Apple Photos for Mac, and gave the post a rather intemperate title because I was frustrated by the application’s refusal to connect to the Store to print a book, and by the outrageously high pricing of Apple’s iCloud storage options.

A lot of tech pundits scratch their heads about why Apple charges (in general) about twice as much for online backup as their nearest competitors, but the answer is simple. They gouge you for storage space because their ideal customer is a consumer who doesn’t really understand or think about technology, wouldn’t consider alternatives, and just pays what Apple charges because it’s Apple and it works with their phone. Most people aren’t very interested in the nuts and bolts and just want stuff that works. That’s Apple’s core market, not the likes of me or the podcasting crowd who know what else is out there.

Something else that is out there – now – is Google’s own Photos app and online service. For a Mac user, the disadvantage is that the Mac interface is browser-based. For an iPhone user, even the icon of Google Photos looks familiar, and what it allows you to do is compelling.

In my assessment of Apple Photos I said I’d rather continue investing in one or two printed books per year to keep my best photos safe. Now Google are offering free, unlimited* backup of all your photos, whilst offering a few very clever features to help you sort through the vast number of images in your library.

I’ve been keeping my own library lean because of how slow iPhoto was, and since switching to Aperture I’ve been trying to delete the out-of-focus or badly composed pictures. I wasn’t trying hard enough though, so last week (when I was on holiday and had time on my hands), I went through all my photos and ruthlessly culled another 300+, reducing my current library (which only goes back about a year) to about 530. I have older libraries on hard drives and DVDs, and a long term ambition is to re-import them and combine them, whilst deleting at least 50 percent of them.

What this means is that when I installed Google Photos, I only had 530 or so pictures to synch to the service. This took several hours – the bulk of it happened overnight, while my phone was plugged in to charge. So if you have a good-sized photo library (and I know there are people out there with 10,000 or so), the initial synch might take several days.

Privacy Matters

Everyone knows Google is creepy, and that free doesn’t mean free. You pay with data. In this case, you’re letting Google look at all your pictures. All digital photos have metadata, and you’re telling Google a hell of a lot by uploading your pictures. What does Google do with this data? Of course, they’re going to try to monetise it at some point. Now, I’m not keen on advertising and don’t use Facebook, but I do use Gmail. Some people complain about Gmail ads, but I never see them because I access Gmail through Apple Mail. Also, I’m not busy and important enough to get much email, and not much of it matters. I’m not the kind of person who takes naked selfies or whatever, so I figure there’s nothing much in my Photostream that I care if anyone sees. I already upload to Flickr and Instagram (yes, owned by Facebook), so I decided not to be fussy about Google.

It’s what else Google can do with the photos and their metadata that interests me. One thing is the automatic creation of animated Gifs from your burst shots (or banks of very similar photos). You get a notification from the Assistant that Google has created something for you, and there it is. It also occasionally applies a filter to a photo and wants to show it to you, like a keen student who has just discovered Photoshop.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 21.16.33

Over and above this are the Collections, which include Albums and Stories. You an create these yourself, but Google can also create them automatically. The app looks at the time/date and location metadata, and puts related photos together in a time-line, together with location maps (!) and spaces for you to add explanatory captions. If there was a person doing this, it would be decidedly creepy, but artificial intelligence (aka machine learning)? Not so much. It’s just strikingly clever, even supplying titles and an end credit. It’s the sort of clever thing that you want to share with others. So you can see where Google is going with this.Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 21.15.35

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 21.15.10This example selected photos and videos from my last Xmas stay in France, and even took note of when we went out for a meal (in a snowstorm, natch), supplying a map and noting the table decorations, as well as the snowy aftermath (above).Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 21.15.01

All in all, this is worth a look, unless you have lots of nudes or some other reason why you wouldn’t want Google looking over your shoulder.

*There is a paid option if you want to upload uncompressed image files over a 15GB storage space limit. Otherwise, Google is going to compress your pics and give you “good enough” versions.

Apple Photos can fook off

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 20.34.20I’ve been quietly seething since Apple announced that they would no longer be updating Aperture – shortly after I’d finally got around to buying it. I’d been living with the woefully inadequate iPhoto for so long, I was almost in denial about how much quicker an alternative app might be. I simply couldn’t believe that Aperture’s ability to deal with a large-ish photo library would be superior in every way.

I wasn’t all that interested in the advanced editing tools in Aperture (or Lightroom, or Photoshop, for that matter). I’m a snapshot snapper who likes to compose the shot in the camera and my interest in tweaking the resulting photos is restricted to a quick boost here and a quick crop there. I don’t shoot raw and I barely have time to deal with quick edits of the number of photos I take, let alone spend time titivating them. In Aperture, I mostly stuck to the built in pre-sets and I didn’t delve too deeply into its options. I was just grateful to be able to scroll through the library without stuttering.

We’ve all been dealing with this digital photo legacy. Back in the days of negatives and prints, you’d end up with shelves full of photo albums and boxes full of those envelopes that Truprint would send you, and hundreds of negatives that you kept forever without any intention of using them again. With digital photos, that endless storage of negatives has become the endless storage of sub-par snaps, items you should have deleted more or less immediately after import, but kept – simply because you have a life-long photo hoarding habit.

It’s all a bit messy. I’ve got multiple iPhoto libraries dotted about, not even safely backed up, and even in the short time I’ve been using Aperture I’ve accumulated about 60 projects and a dozen albums and the prospect of ever going through them all and organising them fills me with dread.

So to Photos, Apple’s annoyingly generically named replacement for both iPhoto and Aperture. It has been reviewed and discussed widely. It’s okay. Like recent versions of iMovie, it’s stripped back in ways guaranteed to infuriate at times. For example, instead of being able to quickly rate imported photos based on gut reaction between one and five stars, you now only have the option to mark them as favourites – or not. My use of the star rating was fairly precise. Four stars and over might get uploaded to Flickr. One stars would be deleted immediately. Two stars, maybe deleted later. Three stars remained in limbo. Five stars? Well…

Photos does have some decent editing options. Nothing like Aperture, but okay. What I’m missing are the Aperture presets, which were my main way of quickly tweaking pictures. Photos gives you the auto-enhance option, or you can use the same filters you get on your phone – or you can delve into manual settings, which takes more time than I’d like.

When you first launch it, you’re offered the chance to use iCloud storage for all your photos, and having the option to optimise the storage on your devices. But Apple are notoriously expensive for this kind of thing. Why? Because they can, I think. Their core customers are not the kind of people who know or care about what other companies offer. I currently pay £7.49 per year for 20GB of iCloud storage. I pay for this so I can use Pages, Numbers and Keynote and access documents from any of my devices. To accommodate my photos, I’d need to pay £6.99 per month for 500GB. That’s nearly £84 per year, fact fans. Amazon are similarly expensive, but they dangle unlimited photo storage for Prime customers, which is £79 per year, close, but gives you video streaming and free one-day delivery on Amazon orders. Dropbox gives you a terabyte for less than the price of Apple’s 500GB.

I almost went for Apple’s rip-off, but stayed my hand. I thought about it. Do I want to be able to see all my photos on all my devices? Why would I want to do that? I barely look at photos on my phone as it is. I take ’em, I Instagram ’em, and I edit them on my Mac and upload to Flickr. What else? I’ve more or less abandoned the iPad. So if I paid, it would be about having my precious photos safely stored.

But how many of them are really precious? Let’s return to those five-star photos in Aperture. What do I do with them? I print books. For the past few years I’ve paid for (expensive) Apple hardcover photo books – in the largest size. For 20 pages, you end up paying in excess of £35, but you’ve now got something you can keep forever (and hope to rescue should your house burn down). Doing the maths, I can afford to get a couple of these printed per year and still come in under the £84 for iCloud storage. And iCloud storage doesn’t help you deal with the fact that 90% of the photos you’re storing are probably not worth keeping.

So my decision was made: I’d up my book production from one per year (sometimes more than the 20 pages, so more expensive) to two per year, and I’d go on doing what anybody who wants to preserve photos should be doing, which is printing them.

So it was back to Photos and into the Create Book option. There are some new templates to choose from. The process of getting a project started was much more fiddly than in either iPhoto or Aperture. In fact, the process sucked. It’s much harder to get the photos you want to print (from various albums and imports) in one place. When you do finally manage that, and you select the Create Book option, the software automatically populates the pages – at a rate of one photo per page. So you end up with something that would cost a lot more than the (already expensive) £36 or so. Why do this? I think for the same reasons that they rip people off for cloud storage: they’re counting on people not noticing how much more expensive their book just got than the base price on the Choose Template screen.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 20.37.23So I then spent time re-designing the pages to accommodate more photos and then deleting the unwanted ones. Again, a fiddly process. Finally, I’m ready to order.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 20.35.24But the store is unavailable. For updates? But then that message disappears, and you can agree to the terms. But then the Buy Book option is greyed out. When I try to re-add my shipping address, I’m told I live in an Unsupported Country.

I wonder if the store really is closed for updates. I do a search and find the Status page. It’s Green to Go, according to Apple themselves. I try again, and then I give up and open Aperture. I go through the process of re-creating a version of the book in Aperture. I realise I’d never got around to creating an Aperture book. All my previous books were done through iPhoto. Aperture gives you much more control over the editing of pages and content in terms of size, fit, and cropping. I do all this just to test whether the Store is actually down.

And it’s not. So I order the book in Aperture. And then I decide I’ll go on using Aperture till it dies and Apple can fuck off with Photos.