Thursday, February 28, 2008

Internet Opportunities

1> Web pages are read-only
2> Web pages require a server
3> Web servers can be censored
4> Web links are unidirectional
5> Hypertext Markup Language is really Hypertext Formatting Language
6> IP4 is running out of addresses
7> The internet backbone isn’t redundant, nor is it survivable
8> The last mile is still in the hands of corporations
9> Internet Access, instead of Internet Connectivity
10> Insecure operating systems on the end nodes

These are the challenges/opportunities that we need to meet.

Thoughts on Genius, Youth, and a new Renessance

I'm observing myself, and my interactions with the world. One of the things I've noticed is that I'm doing something novel with the whole Synthetic Aperture project... standing on the shoulders of Mark Levoy, and his group at Stanford. Looking at the situation and thinking about how I got here leads me to some conclusions which I want to discuss.

The nature of communications changed when the printing press became widespread. The ability of a person to take a large chunk of time and effort, and to store a piece of their knowledge and to share it with a wide audience, brought about a flowering of learning that brought about an age of rationalism.

Over time consolidation of the means of sharing knowledge crept in, leading to a series of middlemen who effectively filter our global conversations.

I believe that the web, and the advent of search engines give us a new set of tools for communication. We have an opportunity to see how we've gotten here, and to discuss where we want to go. The whole nature of this is changing.

Doc Searls first talked about using search engines as new source of news feeds, I cautioned him about the dangers of tuning feedback loops wrongly... and pretty much dismissed the idea. I threw out a good idea when I did that... fortunately nothing is 100% good or bad... and I now use this very idea sometimes.

Google and the other search engines are powerful tools that help you find knowledge based on keywords. Now it's a bit too much like magic for my comfort because it's all keyword based... you have to know how to find just the right words to find something that is outside the most popular usage of words for a given area of interest, but it works.

Subscribing to searches (which is what Doc does)... means that you've got a set of things that you've decided to stay informed about by using the same magic words on a continuing basis. (A spell?)

Casting a spell, and keeping it alive, allows you to effectively have a personal clipping service for ALL of the knowledge that's within the intake range of Google.

Unlike the print revolution, which allowed the transport of knowledge... Google allows the ability to sift through an appreciable chunk of ALL knowledge, and to see all new stuff that pops up over time.

If anyone, anywhere says Doc Searls in a post, there is now a non-zero probabilty that he'll know about it. Imagine being able to tell whenever someone mentions your name? Now you can, and it's called Ego Surfing.

Now.. this means that someone can become interested in a subject, and keep informed on the latest thinking on the subject.. and others so interested will find each other. Thanks to some social networks which helped me to find Robert Scoble as a credible source of new stuff... I saw his interview of Mark Levoy, and the demo about post-facto refocusing of images... and got interested in doing it myself.

Now I can keep up with it, and converse with others by using some magic spells and patience.

I believe their is an age bias if you look for sources of innovation globally. I firmly believe the quote about standing on the shoulders of giants. Innovation happens when you rub ideas together... this is most likely when at least one of the ideas is new in a person's mind... this I believe leads to a bias of young inventors, followed by a lifetime of tweaking or polishing up of previous work... that is going to change.

I wouldn't have heard of Mark Levoy if it weren't for the web... or if I had, it would have been in my youth, before his current work was in progress... so it would have only been through an existing social network that I could have heard of his research without the web. If the web weren't around... only students and other academics would be hearing about it now.

Since we can now become interested in new ideas and follow up on them much more easily outside the academic framework of knowledge sharing... age is far less of a factor in innovation.

I'm interested in any follow up or conversation... and suggestions for magic spells to help me with that in mind.

Thanks for your time and attention.


Thoughts on George Lakoff (via Dave Winer)

I'm about 3 hours into Dave Winer's podcast where he is interviewing George Lakoff, which is intersting when you consider it's only about an hour long.... ; George has some very deep ideas, which disturb my mental map... so it's taking more than 100% focus.

On the surface, it seems to be that Lakoff is talking about clever use of words. (Framing) This evokes stories of magic in my mind... and there's a strong relevance there. That then ties into the sorcerers apprentice story... which makes it dangerous...

There are chains of thought you can take from there... all different depending on your history, gentle reader.

The true power is when you take the mystery out of this stuff... and try to get it back down to the basics, and use it as a tool.

You have to do a LOT of work in order to find out what the core models people use to conceptualize their world. There are ways to learn this and share this information, but like any other set of tools, a basic literacy is required... a skill set.

It's sufficiently interesting that I want to learn more... much more about this.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Synthetic Focus - An example

These two images come from the same source, a sequence of images taken last night in front of Macy's on State Street in Chicago, Illinois on my way home. The individual pictures were taken using a tripod, which was moved about 4" to the right after each shot. I threw out a few frames because they were too blurry.

Here's what happens when you align the images to produce a virtual focal plane on the Chicago Theater sign.

Chicago Theater Sign

Here's what you get when you take the same images, and align them on the clock at Macy's.

Chicago Clock

It's interesting to see what can be done with no budget at a bit of work. It's confocal imaging, and it's cool!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fear and loathing in 2008

This is what I'm afraid of:

Unlike 1929... we don't have overcapacity in manufacturing, we have "just in time" and "global supply chains"

Unlike 1929... we don't have the world's largest oil reserves, we're the biggest importer

Unlike 1929... we don't have a currency backed by gold

Unlike 1929... we don't have a first class railroad infrastructure

Unlike 1929... we don't have working mass transit for most cities

Like 1929... we do have a banking industry that went out of control

Like 1929... a lot of people have their life savings tied up in paper assets (stocks)

Like 1929... people think that things are only going to take a minor dip and keep going up

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Synthetic Aperture Photography with Hugin - an introduction

I found this by a very circuitous route:

I don't think this is from a single shot. The work of Mark Levoy and
the other Computational Photography people use many, many shots and
"choose" the rays they'd like from the large, virtual aperture created
by moving the camera. What I'd like to know is, how is he "choosing"
the focal plane in this setup?

It also appears to be distinct from Tufuse, which uses focus-bracketed
shots (this technique does not require focus bracketed shots).

Hopefully he does a more comprehensive writeup detailing his
technique, or someone here has a little more info.

Daniel Reetz

So.. here's how I do it (and why)...

I use Hugin, a program which is designed to stitch panoramas for it's ability to precisely remap photographs to fit into the same plane in 3 dimensions. It's a short cut to avoid a lot of programming and debugging that I'd rather not due for what was to be a simple experiment to satisfy my curiosity.

The use of Hugin also means that I don't have all of the nice equations and things which can precisely do what I want to be able to do next.. dynamically move the focus plane. I may go there, and do the grunt work for this and other reasons.... but not right now.

The general point of it all is to generate a virtual focal plane which allows the combining of several views into a new coherent composite. This has the benefit of forcing anything not in the focal plane out of focus, and into the bokeh of the photo.

Louis Vuitton - Overview

I saw this window on my way to work last Wednesday. I thought it would be interesting to try the technique to see how well it worked at getting rid of the annoying chains while still showing the merchandise. I took several photos being sure to move in both the horizontal and vertical directions while keeping the same distance from the window.

I then used Hugin to manually place pairs of "control points" on the drawing on the notepad on the left display. I then told Hugin to allow each image to have it's own X and Y offset to compensate for the motion of the camera. (The feature was originally added to help stitch together scanned images, but turns out to be quite usable for my purposes as well)

Once you've entered a sufficient number of control point pairs, you can then have the program optimize the merge parameters and output a series of images which are all remapped to be blended into a panorama.

I then take the results, use Paint Shop Pro to combine them into a layered image, and set the transparency of each layer to result in the average pixel value of all layers.

I've done this with 10 frames taken a bit closer to the window shown above, and you can see it as a slide show.


I hope this answers your questions, and gives others a bit of a jumping off point.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pritzker Pavilion on a cold winter's day

Pritzker Pavilion 02

This is from the same cold morning on the 13th as all of the other photos. The sky was a clear magic blue. Next time I need to use a tripod and plan out the edges better.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Synthetic Aperture with slide show


This is the result of 10 photographs aligned and combined using Hugin and Paint Shop Pro. I've put them into a slide show at Flickr. This allows you to see how the image builds over time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is the web different? - Hell yes!

Dave Rogers points to Dave Weinberger's post "Is the web different". I'm here to put myself firmly in all three camps... which actually puts me in Dave's camp trashing the previous three... ;-)

  • I'm a web utopian because I do believe that the connectivity of the internet, as expressed via the web can be used by those who want to make the world a bit better. I believe that blogging is a long term good, because it enables conversations and knowledge sharing that would otherwise never happen. Google is your friend here... if you know the magic spell to use... aka the right key words
  • I'm a web dystopian because I realize that the web is biased towards an infrastructure that requires corporate or government approval to keep the lights on... making censorship a root issue that is always a constraint, unlike email. (I can say ANYTHING in an email to a friend, and it doesn't stop it from arriving)
  • I'm a realist because I know there are always ways around things. For example... you really can't say ANYTHING in an unencrypted email because it's being read by the authorities, who might flag you as dangerous.
  • I'm a realist because you can have perfect encryption, if you're willing to pay the freight and do things right... making censorship hard again.
  • I'm a tangentialist because I keep going off on tangents.. (do those have anything to do with Tangiers?)... ha ha
Anyway... Dave Rogers seems to point out that Dave Weinberger's analysis is deeply flawed... he's right. So is my analysis of all of their stuff... because I'm human.

I think the web is different because its host environment is ephemeral, and can disappear in a flash. If the server isn't there when you want the page, the page doesn't exist.. for anyone, anywhere. This is a virtue and vulnerability... the essence of the web.

Email is store and forward... like letters, or phone calls, or FedEx for data. Once information is shipped... it stays shipped, you can't unship a package by confiscating a truck.

The pages sit on the server, vulnerable to all number of attacks from faulty power or hardware, to rogue Federal Judges, or rogue Submarines for that matter. The ability to share information via the web is ALWAYS provisional, subject to approval.

It's amazing to see how well it's done, even with it's deep flaws. (I've written plenty of times about the true crap that is HTML, for example).

It's a mixed bag... and this is a long enough ramble... I hope you find value in it.

Summary: The web is fragile

Monday, February 18, 2008

Synthetic Aperture - First Results

The computational photography project continues...


This is a set of 21 images that have been aligned and remapped using Hugin, and then averaged into a single image using Paint Shop Pro. The source nodes were spaced two sidewalk blocks apart from each other (approximately 1.5 meters). Thus we have an image which is a very crude approximation of the image you would get with a 30 meter wide camera.

I don't know how to calculate the equivalent aperture value... if you know, please leave it in the comments below.

I'm amazed that it works at all... and impressed as to how cool it looks.. it's a surprisingly good bokeh, don't you think?

Ice on the Chicago River


I squeezed this one in on the way home last week. It's actually two frames that I used Hugin to stitch together. I used ISO200, and f22, with 30 second exposures with incandescent white balance. Other than the stitching, it's straight from the camera.

The water was very still, and I watched while the shutter was open.. it wasn't moving at all. The vibration from the bridge appears to have averaged itself away as I hoped it would.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wrong focus

Bad focus

My goal is to show a clear photograph of the Chicago Cultural Center, without the trees in the foreground obscuring the lower half of the building. It didn't work, because the wrong focal plane got used. I'll be working to fix that on my train time in the next week.

This is the first result of one of the many photographic experiments I kicked off yesterday morning in Millennium Park in Chicago. Here we have the combined exposure of 21 frames into a single image. This is called Synthetic Aperture Photography, a part of Computational Photography which I'm currently exploring.

I was inspired by the work of Mark Levoy of Stanford. I first became aware of his work through this interview with Robert Scoble on PodTech.

I used a development snapshot of Hugin / Enfuse which I got from Panospace. The automatic results worked... as you can see, it's not the focused on the Chicago Cultural Center... which was my intended target.

I'll keep adding data points, and moving the focus to the proper place... but it's encouraging to know that it'll eventually work.

This wouldn't have happened without blogs, and the web. It was possible before all of this, but far less likely. The velocity with which science and experimentation can happen is increasing because of this, and other advances in knowledge sharing. It's a great ride!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cold Blue Bean

It's a cold and very clear day in Chicago... I took a series of photos for some experiments that I'll be sharing the results of in the next few weeks. Here's one that I really like, straight from the camera, with no editing at all.

Cold blue bean

Friday, February 01, 2008

Microsoft Flickr Live

Microsoft Flickr Live
Originally uploaded by dr_lopbot
This is what we're in for... it's not good.

Flickr Exodus?

We were all peeved when we had to give up our Flickr ID for one from Yahoo... but that was peanuts compared to being asked to trust a criminal enterprise with our photos.

Unlike Taran, I do think there will be an exodus from Flickr if M$ takes over.

Jason seems to in a wait and see kinda mood, but warns M$ to keep it's hands off.

Post Flickr?

Now that Microsoft is attempting to do a hostile takeover of Yahoo... and thus Flickr... I'm wondering what the world is going to look like Post-Flickr.

I've grown to like Flickr... but I have a well earned deep distrust of Microsoft. So... if they take over Flickr, I'm going to yank ALL of my photos... and I'm sure there will be many others who do the same. The question is then where do we move them to?

Missing - $51,032,000,000

So now the banks in the US are short $51,032,000,000... they had $42,281,000,000 in November... and now have -$8,751,000,000 according to the Federal Reserve, who regulate such matters. (Look in the second column of numbers... Depository Institutions - Non-Borrowed Reserves).

This means that the banks in the United States who are depository institutions are now $48,930,000,000 below what the are required to have as reserves.

Maybe I'm being a tin-foil-hat conspiracy theorist, but aren't banks supposed to be where the money is?