Looks can be deceiving

It has been almost two weeks since I switched to using Blogger’s new dynamic template.

Browsing the site with the new template works really well; it uses most of the available browser real estate, it looks good on an iPad, it feels nice and fluid, but it also has problems.


For some reason my AdSense integration stopped working, and the AdSense site said my account needs to be verified. AdSense was working fine in the old template, so something in the new template, or switching to the new template, must have triggered this. I’ve had AdSense for almost a year, and in that time I’ve not even made enough for Google to trigger a payment. In order to verify my account, I had to enter a PIN they mailed me on a postcard, entered the amount of a test transfer in my bank account, and entered a PIN read to me on my phone. Two days after the verification steps were completed ads started showing up again.


Very few widgets support the dynamic template, and the options are limited to a handful of very basic widgets.


One of the supported widgets is the label cloud, and as I was configuring it, I decided to do some label cleanup. In the process I noticed that the new Blogger management interface is terrible at editing labels, and that direct links to labels no longer work.


In the old Blogger management interface it was easy and obvious how to add and remove labels, although renaming has never been supported. In the new interface there is only an add option, and to remove a tag, you have to add the same tag again to remove it, I discovered this by accident, as all the Blogger help still refers to the old management interface. Same as the old interface, you can filter all posts that contain a certain label, and then you can select one or more of those posts, and then add, or add again to remove, labels. Now, when a post has been selected, and you change the filter, that post does not get unselected, and when you then apply a label to a visibly selected post, it also applies to any previously selected posts that are not currently in the filter view. This is just silly.


Since I changed some of the labels, and I know that links to labels are case sensitive, this is another silly thing I never understood as label creation and editing is case insensitive, I wanted to test a label link. When clicking a label in the cloud widget on the main blog page, the link works fine, but when you directly navigate to a label link, you get a blank page. Not good.


Since I was so disappointed in only making a few dollars in a year of serving AdSense ads, I decided to create an Amazon Associates account, tag my links to Amazon products, and  show some Amazon ads, hoping I can at least recover the cost of the domain registration fees. It turns out that Blogger no longer natively supports Amazon ads, seems a bit anti-competitive to me, but that’s the nature of their business. Ok, you can host Amazon ads by using HTML in your template, but, the dynamic template does not support any customization, and it does not support any HTML widgets.

That leaves me to using just tagged links to Amazon pages, that is easy enough, just a bit of re-editing old pages. A friend suggested I use Bitly to shorten my Amazon tagged links, that way I can do link tracking, and since adding Bitly I’ve had … 3 clicks, seems I’ll have to keep paying those domain fees after all.

That same friend was kind enough to remind me of my associate obligation, to make it clear to users that I’m an Amazon associate, by adding legalese to my site. Something I would normally do in the footer, but wait, you guessed it, the dynamic template does not support any customization, and all I can do is add the text directly to every post.

Since that is a hassle, here is what I need to say, so I’ll just say it here to get some coverage:

blog.insanegenius.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


Reading the blog on the iPad is a pleasant experience, but, the sidebar widgets that pop out are clearly designed for a mouse, not a finger, as such it is next to impossible to get them to pop out.


I use Windows Live Writer to author my blog posts, it is a great app, and the integrated image posting and sizing is so much easier than any alternatives I’ve tested. Unfortunately, the WYSIWIG functionality does not work with dynamic templates. In order to retrieve the blog template, WLW will make a test post, read the template, and then delete the test post. After making the test post, WLW times out reading the post, but at least it deletes it.

There are some rumblings that WLW may be discontinued, based on its absence from the Windows 8 Metro lineup of Live apps, and in support from the user community, there is a petition to not kill WLW.

A blog subscriber notified me that he was getting some “temporary post” titled posts in his feed. I’ve seen these before in Google Reader, even from Microsoft’s own MSDN and TechNet blogs. It seems that FeedBurner is so hasty that it streams the temporary post created by WLW before WLW had a chance to delete it. No harm, it just looks odd in the stream.


By now I was  pretty fed up with Blogger and the dynamic template, and I started looking for alternative and free blog hosting. There really seems to be only one free and feature rich alternative, and that is WordPress.com. WordPress has an easy to use Blogger importer, that imports posts, comments, and settings. Check out my blog in WordPress format. There is one catch, the free .com version of WordPress does not allow direct advertising, they do the advertising for their own revenue. Not that it really matters as the few dollars I stand to loose is well worth it if I don’t need to deal with Blogger.


I am still hopeful that Google will step up to the plate and fix Blogger and dynamic templates, but at least I know there is an easy migration path to WordPress.

Blogger Dynamic Templates

I just switched to the Blogger Dynamic Template.
You can read about what if offers readers here, and what Blogger wrote about it here.

I am still on the fence about keeping it, or switching back to my old custom template, or adopting one of the standard templates.

It is much easier using standard Blogger templates vs. using custom templates; the template designer keeps up with new Blogger features, or Blogger changes. With custom templates there is always manual CSS and HTML editing involved.

My previous template was a hand made template in order to get a wider reading area, where the default templates are very narrow and wastes tons of space on larger displays. It is also wasteful in space since the main reading area is restricted in width by the presence of the side-bar sections, that leaves lots of open space.

The dynamic template offers lots of customization in terms of width, colors, and fonts, and offers a great reading experience. But, very few of the classic widgets work in the dynamic template, and some widgets have much reduced functionality.

Windows Live Writer, my blog editor of choice, is unable to import the dynamic template for WYSIWIG editing, leaving me with a what you see is not what you get editor.

I will leave the dynamic template active for now, and see if it grows on me.

Let me know what you think of the dynamic template.

Rotation confuses face recognition

I have around fifty thousand digital photos in my library, and it has become impractical to browse through them looking for some event, or some place, or some person. So other than archiving, there really is no value in collecting photos if you can’t go back and find the ones you are looking for.

A few years ago I switched to using Image Ingester Pro and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to import and catalog my photos. Now one of the first things I do after importing photos, is to add keywords describing the event, the place, and the people. But, I still have tens of thousands of photos that have no keywords, and there is no easy or automated way to add keywords to these photos. One thing that can be automated is adding people keywords to photos based on automated face recognition.

Unlike free Windows Live Photo Gallery, or free Google Picasa, or free Apple iPhoto, none of Adobe’s products offer face recognition, something often discussed and complained about in Adobe forums. Professional photographers may argue that face recognition is a gimmick, and I agree that for professional workflows it may not be required, but at less than $300, Photoshop Lightroom is an ideal tool for use by amateur and family photographers, and I think face recognition is a must have feature.

Although Lightroom does not directly offer face recognition, there are convoluted ways to add people keywords to Lightroom using Google Picasa and Jeffrey Friedl’s Picasa Face-Recognition Import plugin. The process requires you to add all your photos to Adobe Lightroom and Google Picasa, then use Picasa to detect faces, and assign them to contacts, then use Jeffrey’s import plugin to add the Picasa people as keywords to photos in Lightroom.

Picasa is not the most friendly app to work with, it may alter photo metadata without your intent, adding support for new RAW formats takes a long time, there are lots of bugs related to managing people and duplicate contacts happens all the time. The Picasa to Lightroom conversion experience is not something I am prepared to deal with on an ongoing basis, unfortunately I am also not aware of any other ways of automatically tagging people in pictures in Lightroom.

The next best thing would be to use an application that does support face recognition in addition to Lightroom, even if the two tools do not integrate or share metadata. Since I was already quite familiar with Picasa, and I have a Mac but don’t use it as a primary machine, that left me with Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG).

Unlike Picasa that uses its own built in image rendering technology, WLPG uses Windows Imaging Component (WIC) technology to render and interpret image metadata. The downside is that you need to install RAW image WIC codecs in order for WLPG to display RAW images, the upside is that you can install a WIC codec instead of waiting for the app to natively support the RAW format. As an example, the Panasonic DMC-LX5 was released July 2010, Picasa added support for DMC-LX5 RW2 files in Picasa 3.9, released December 2011, 17 months after the camera’s release.

WIC does have its drawbacks, some camera manufacturers do not release WIC codecs at all, and some big name manufacturers, like Canon and Nikon, are stuck in the dark ages with no x64 codec support. At this time I am aware of two alternate suppliers of RAW WIC codecs, Axel Rietschin’s FastPictureViewer Codec Pack, and Microsoft’s Camera Codec Pack. Microsoft’s Camera Codec Pack is free, but offers limited camera support, and as we’ll see later, limited Explorer and WLPG integration support. FastPictureViewer Codec Pack (FPVCP) costs $14.95, is frequently updated, supports almost all camera’s and formats under the sun, integrates with Explorer and WLPG, and is what I use.

With FPVCP installed, WLPG was easy to use, the contact and names feature integrated nicely with Windows Live contacts, without any of the weirdness of the equivalent functionality I found with Picasa. Once faces were tagged, a semi automated process requiring manual verification, it was easy to find photos I was looking for, e.g. I could say show me all photos in December 2010, with me, my wife, and our daughter in the picture.

So this finally brings me to the actual problem I wanted to write about. I noticed that WLPG would get confused when tagging faces in some portrait rotated pictures. When you view the image standalone, the faces are correctly recognized, and the bounding rectangles are correctly drawn over the image. But, the thumbnails are completely wrong, taken from a different part of the image. It seems like the thumbnails are taken from the landscape coordinates view of the image, not portrait coordinates of the image.
See the following pictures as an example, note how the thumbnails in the portrait view image are taken from the wrong part of the image:

I reported the problem in the WLPG support forum, and after some back and forth, I provided sample pictures where I could reproduce the problem, but I was told that they were unable to reproduce the problem using the same pictures. As I was not crazy, and I had seen this behavior on two different machines, I wanted to create steps to reproduce the problem.

The sample images were taken of a magazine page taped to a door, using a Canon 5D Mark II, a Panasonic DMC-LX5, a Panasonic DMC-ZS7, and an iPhone 4. I took 5 pictures with each camera in each mode; face centered, face top-left, face top-right, face bottom-left, and face bottom-right. I did this in landscape mode, portrait mode, JPG mode, and RAW mode.

I fired up a clean Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 VM, installed WLPG v15.4.3538.513, and Picasa v3.9, and I dropped my collection of sample images on the machine.

As I viewed the images in Explorer, I immediately noticed a difference between my machine and the test machine, the test machine Explorer view did not display the JPG images using the correct rotation, while my machine did. This is when I remembered that I have FastPictureViewer Codec Pack installed on all my machines, and that this may have something to do with the face rotation problem.

See the following pictures of the Explorer view with and without FPVCP, note how the FPVCP version displays the CR2 thumbnails and displays the JPG files in the right rotation:

Testing Windows Live Photo Gallery showed that as with Explorer, it also does not display the images using the correct rotation. This was a real big disappointment for I can’t believe that a photo application with all the bells and whistles of WLPG neglects to correctly rotate images.

See the following pictures of WLPG with and without the FPVCP, note how the FPVCP version displays the CR2 thumbnails and displays the JPG files in the right rotation:

Since WLPG did not correct the rotation on portrait images, it was unable to recognize any faces in these images. So when Microsoft said they can’t reproduce the problem, they neglected to mention that the portrait images did not render correctly nor detect any pictures at all.

See the following pictures of WLPG with and without the FPVCP, note how the FPVCP version displays the JPG files in the right rotation, but WLPG uses the wrong image coordinates:

Interestingly enough, RAW images in both landscape and portrait detected the faces correctly:

I repeated the tests using Microsoft’s Camera Codec Pack (MCCP).

Notice how MCCP does not correct the rotation of JPG images in Explorer, nor does it render the CR2 file thumbnails in Explorer, vs. FPVCP that does both:

Notice how MCCP does not correct the rotation of JPG images in WLPG, nor does it render the CR2 file thumbnails in WLPG, vs. FPVCP that does both:

I will reply to the Windows Live Photo Gallery support thread with this information, and I will also open a support ticket with FastPictureViewer, let’s see what happens.

[Update : 28 December 2011]
I received an email from from Ardfry Imaging, informing me that they were shipping a x64 DNG codec before FPV existed, and they they are still offering a variety of codecs.