Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kirk is back in Austin

He blogged about it here: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/03/its-all-about-ruby-slippers.html
He's posted quite a few shots here: http://gallery.me.com/kirktuck#100220&view=mosaic&sel=0

Good reading.

Orlando Drivers Beware: Another Speed Trap on Rouse Road

This particular speed trap ('speed zone') was amazing and annoying in the number of officers lined up by the road; there were at least 5. They were sitting at the intersection of Lokanotosa Trail and Rouse Road (just north of J. Blanchard). The really nasty part of this is that speeding fines are doubled in a construction zone, and all of Rouse is now under construction from Colonial north to University. So if you're in the area or have to travel through it for whatever reason, remember that it's mostly posted 35. Except for the very short section at Colonial that's posted 40.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Building PHP 5.3.2 on RHEL 5.3 with MySQL 5.1.44-community

Just a fast note on how I built PHP 5.3.2 on 64-bit RHEL 5.3 (before I forget).

I'm building with:
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server 5.3 64-bit on a Dell 690
  • Apache httpd 2.2.15 (built from source)
  • MySQL 5.1.44-community 64-bit (installed from RPM)
  • PHP 5.3.2 (built from source)
 My PHP configure line:

./configure --prefix=/usr/local/php.5.3.2 --with-apxs2=/usr/local/http.2.2.15/bin/apxs --with-libdir=lib64 --with-mysql

The biggest show-stopper was PHP's initial configuration failure to note it was running on a 64-bit system and failing to find various 64-bit MySQL libraries automagically (which I think it should). I had to bumble around via Google for several days (between tasks in my Real Job) before I finally found the solution. After adding 'with-libdir=lib64' it configured and built.

I ran 'make test' and let the system check itself out, and it turns out I 'may have found a problem with PHP.' So I've sent in the test report. But from what I could see the failures (it that's what they were) were extremely few and very obscure.

Now on to installation, configuration, and running an internal wiki.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Safe Trip, Kirk


Me by keith
Originally uploaded by Kirk.rev2.0
Kirk Tuck is my new BFF. Well, perhaps my new BPFF (Best Photographic Friend Forever). Assuming, of course, that my other BPFF, Matthew Robertson, doesn't read this and decide to disown me. Or something worse. You can never tell about Canadians. Especially around hockey season. But I digress...

Kirk's accomplished a lot in his professional life in and around Austin, Texas. Many of his accomplishments are documented in his books and on his blog and website, and he's posted enough of his work to drive home the point that he's a Photographer (like Matthew), as apposed to someone like me who just knows how to operate the camera.

Kirk's always written his blog entries with an ernestness and honesty many of us have come to appreciate. Kirk's opened his personal and professional life up a bit in his blog, and so it's with a certain degree of sadness I read his most current entry.

Kirk's been planning a road trip for a while now, in which he hoped "to recapture [his] love and passion for photography through the metaphor of a road trip." He approached this project with the same openness and zeal he's always displayed, and he outlined what he planned to take on his road trip:
EP-2 with kit lens and Nikon 50mm 1.2 (for video)
Tascam DR100 audio recorder and Rode Videomic (for audio)
Olympus E3 with the 35-100mm
Olympus E30 with the 14-35 mm
Gitzo Carbon fiber tripod with Arcatech head
Profoto 600b power pack and head for high powered flash.
Two light stands, one soft box and one circular diffuser.
Sekonic Light Meter
10 eight gig CF cards
6 eight gig SD cards
Now compare this with what he wrote in his latest blog entry, right before he left:
Cameras? I'll take some. All little pixie sensor cameras. A small bag of pixie system lenses. A tripod. A bucket of batteries. No studio flash. No stands. No umbrellas. Nothing that feels like work. It's the new Pixie Camera Aesthetic.
Sounds a bit dark and burned out, doesn't it? Maybe that's why he titled his latest "The mechanics of hitting the wall."

I'll let your read the details; there's no need to repeat them here. My greatest hope is that Kirk does recapture his love and passion for photography. If he doesn't and in the process he drifts away, then as a community we'll have lost a truly important personality; a witty, intelligent, sincere, and above all, honest man.

Safe trip, Kirk, and I hope you come back to us whole again.

The Lemmings have Leaped

According to TUAW:
The early adopters are out in force today. Based on analysis from Fortune's Apple 2.0 blog & the investors of the AAPL board on Investor Village, it seems that as many as 50,000 iPads were pre-ordered in its first two hours of availability this morning. That's pretty staggering demand, especially considering that on a typical day Apple only receives an average of 15,000 online orders for all products combined.
Then later in the day TUAW reported ""Overwhelming" demand limiting iPad in-store pickup."

Then there are these two humorous articles from Gizmodo (one more humorous than the other)
The second link hits on my biggest complaint about the iPhone/Touch/iPad device, and that's the "closed app ecosystem":
The iPad only runs apps from the App Store. The same App Store that is notorious for banning apps for no real reason, such as Google Voice. Sure, netbooks might not have touchscreens, but you can install whatever software you'd like on them. Want to run a different browser on your iPad? Too bad!
Glad to see I'm not the only 'kook' that objects to the Apple peonage.

I'm no Amazing Kreskin, so I'm going to have to wait and see if this latest device is the runaway freight train that the staunch Apple supporters claim it will be, or if it will run off its rails and over the side.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Buyer's Remorse

Buyer's remorse is an emotional condition whereby a person feels remorse or regret after a purchase. It is frequently associated with the purchase of higher value items which could be considered unnecessary although it may also stem from a sense of not wishing to be "wrong". This may also be described as the "ill-purchase feeling".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buyer's_remorse

I've suffered buyer's remorse in the past on certain items, most notably the Nokia 770. Now I've begun to suffer from it again, this time with the Apple iPod Touch.

The Touch is everything the 770 isn't; lightweight, sleek, fast, easy to operate, and capable of playing music and video. The Touch is a multimedia and technological tour de force when compared to the 770. Unfortunately there's one key characteristic where the two devices are diametrically different; the Touch is locked down, while the 770 is an open platform.

Long before I purchased the Touch I wrote high praise about the iPhone and how I thought it far superior to the Nokia 770 (and the follow-on N800 and N900 devices). I stand by those words, based on the information I had at the time as well as personal experiences. There was, however, one point that needs to be re-quoted:
Freedom. The Linux zealots will tell you that the Linux-based N800 gives you freedom as in speech, as well as in beer. Well, to quote Kris Kristofferson's "Me & Bobby Mcgee", "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." What good is free when it's a distant second best? Especially when you have to pay $400 for the device to enjoy said freedom?
I am not about to recant and beg forgiveness. The Nokia 770 was, and still is, a huge waste of my time and money. But at least it was a fully open platform, so open that the device's embedded version of Linux could be rebuilt and the device reflashed with it. We're talking about not just adding mere applications, but the embedded operating system, the entire software underpinnings itself.

By contrast, I've paid $400 for a device that is so locked down that any attempt to change it outside of Apple's proscriptions puts me in jeopardy of criminal prosecution. This isn't the first device with such draconian powers I've purchased; I've owned multiple game consoles over the years, starting with the Nintendo NES from the 80's, through Sega, Nintendo's N64, Sony's PS1 and PS2 and back again to the Nintendo Wii. They've all been locked, and I've purchased them and the locked content (games) with nary a peep.

So why am I am complaining now? What's changed? It's a combination of issues, starting with the fact that I no longer find Steve Jobs' taste in design all that compelling. I've had enough time to use Apple hardware and software to realize that once you get past the pretty shiny bits, that it's no better than offerings from Microsoft, or heaven forbid, Android (a.k.a Linux).

Just one example of the many flaws in Apple's devices is the display. I said before and continue to state that the 800 x 480 display on the 770 was and continues to be far superior to any display on any hand-held device produced by Apple. Multitouch and zoom might be great on the Touch, but if the display matched the quality of the Nokia, it would be far more optional than the necessity it is today.

Going back to software for the Touch, the only marketplace I can obtain software in is Apple's. There is no other marketplace. You'd think I could go to one run by Best Buy, or Walmart, but I can't. I have to go through Apple, and Apple's capricious changing rules for what will be available, and what won't. That is, unless I jailbreak my device. Why am I forced to jailbreak a $400 device in order to exercise my right to use it any way I see fit? What have I ever done to be treated as the equivalent of a digital peon to Apple? Who gave Apple the right to, in essence, treat me as if I was automatically guilty by locking down that class of device?

Why, I did. I did when I walked into an Apple store (along with millions of others) and plunked down my cash for the pretty shiny device, and thus willingly and unthinkingly traded away a goodly chunk of my rights to that piece of hardware so that I could be personally entertained. That's what galls me more than anything else. I deliberately did it, and I have no one else to blame but myself.

Over the last 18 months, since I purchased the device, I've come to resent the power I willingly gave away. I've watched as my small wad of cash, combined with so many of millions of others, be used as a blunt instrument by Jobs and Apple. The latest example of this is Apple's lawsuit against HTC, the manufacturer of Android and Window's Mobile devices. Here I am, under the delusion the market is truly open, and hoping to purchase an equivalent device from someone else other than Apple, until Apple comes along and disabuses silly me. Just like Microsoft has done in the past, Apple is doing everything in it's power to stifle competition. It's no longer innovating its way to (monopolistic?) dominance, it's turned to litigation in force.

I can't take my Touch back, but I can certainly change my buying habits. I don't know what I'll purchase in the future when the Touch finally breaks (and rest assured, break it will), but it won't be Apple, or any other hamstrung device like Apple's. It has to be, it must be, open. We got here on open standards and open machines built from them. If we sell out our open heritage then we're going to slowly slide into the world Cory Doctorow wrote about in "Unwirer". And I'll be damned if I'm going to let that happen without a fight.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Another E-Series Wishlist

I would like to thank Bill for letting me be a guest writer on his excellent site. My name's Matthew, and I'm both a photographer and a camera enthusiast. I can normally be found idly writing reviews, but Bill has kindly offered me the opportunity to add my thoughts to his discussion of the future of the E-series cameras. While I'm certainly a friend of Olympus, using both an E-1 and E-3, my primary cameras are a D700 for 'serious' and a GH1 for 'fun' photography. Those two have shaped a lot of my thinking about what works and what's important, and what I want to see in the next top-level E-series SLR.

Three Things:
There's currently a division between those who insist on optical viewfinders and those who think that the migration to electronic finders is inevitable. Put another way, it's between those who haven't used the EVF on a G1, GH1, or E-P2, and those who have. Having an optical finder as good as the E-3's is hardly a tragedy, but an electronic finder with a live-view camera can show better information than just the current shooting settings.

Micro-4/3 cameras already have live histograms, but it's based on a theoretical jpeg. How an 8-bit tonal scale maps out is irrelevant these days, and the jpeg conversion may have very little in common with what the sensor is actually recording. Fix that - show the real exposure range, with true clipping levels. How I work that into the displayable dynamic range of my finished image is my own business.

Another useful exposure tool is the zebra pattern that camcorders can use as a less-annoying alternative to our flashing highlight warning, and they show it on the preview image. This would provide immediate and useful information that's simpler than a histogram and easier to interpret.

Finally, there's the matter of focusing. Phase-detect focus, and its limited focus points, is an OVF work-around with a number of problems. Contrast-detection is getting smarter, faster, and allows more options. Face detection, subject tracking, and placing variably-sized focus areas (almost) anywhere in the frame are already established technologies. What we lack is an easy way to see what will be sharpest in our photos.

In his Luminous-Landscape article on 'Video DSLRs vs Camcorders', Michael Reichmann discusses both 'zebraing' and Peaking, which is the term for having a camcorder emphasize the area of greatest sharpness. Adding an optional colour halo to the sharpest area would be a vast improvement for manual focus, and need be no more distracting than the little boxes that currently show the general area that the autofocus system has selected. Panasonic already does this in its high-end video cameras - it's an existing technology that just needs to make the conceptual leap. Make it an option for focus confirmation during autofocus as well - and make it live, so that we can see when we've shifted the camera - and CDAF cameras will be able to offer something that old SLRs can't match.

Give me those three things - a raw histogram, peaking focus confirmation, and zebra exposure warnings - in an EVF camera and I'll buy it. The rest are just details.

Playing Cards:
I would like the next pro E-series camera to have dual SD card slots. They've made the leap to SD with the digital Pens, and now its time for the SLRs to follow as well. Asking to keep the CF slot and have SD to replace the vestigial flipper of the current xD slot is just predicting the obvious - it's time for Olympus to be bold and get ahead of the curve. Shake off the ghost of Smartmedia past - SD cards are fast enough, common enough, and durable enough for professional use. Twin cards in the same format allows us to have better interchangeability while carrying less stuff. It's a win-win.

And while they're at it, give us the ability to alternate the cards for each shot. Photos 1-3-5 go on one card, photos 2-4-6 go on the other. With the current fill-and-flip system used by Canon and Nikon, it will be no consolation to the bride that only the photos from the ceremony OR the reception are preserved - it's much better to lose the best photo of the kiss but preserve the ones that were shot a split-second before and a split-second after it.

If the next E-Pro camera records video, then also give us the option to put video only on one card, and stills only on the other. This will give new life to the slower, but cheaper, Class 4 cards. Personally, I'm on the fence about video; it's a nice step-up feature in my GH1 that I might use some day, but I've also watched many people buy Canon SLRs because they record 1080 'full' HD versus Nikon's 1440x720 video. Kirk Tuck makes a good case in his post on the future of the E-system for including better sound controls, input, and monitoring. Without that, our fancy video-SLRs become nothing more than MOS cameras, and we need a separate audio recorder to plug our microphones into. The early selling point of integrating video was that journalists would no longer need a separate video camera; now they need to step it up so that film-makers don't need a separate sound source.

The View:
Articulated LCDs are fantastic. How about going one step further, and building an articulating EVF into the camera body? Given how useful a high-resolution EVF is going to become, being able to pivot it upwards will be fantastic for working from a tripod.

Bill touched on this as well: I have a love-hate relationship with the EVF eye-sensor on my GH1. I love that it activates the EVF when I raise the camera to my eye. I hate that it turns the LCD off when I flip the screen out and cradle it for a steadier low-level shot. A simple sensor to tell when the LCD is deployed would be an elegant solution, and shouldn't be difficult to implement.

Finally, grid lines in on the LCD and EVF are lingering source of irritation. Somehow they haven't evolved beyond the simple electronic overlays of the last decade. Make them thinner, so that they actually mean something. And make them something other than white. Dedicate a little computing power to make them translucent, or have them invert the colour or tonality of what's underneath them. As EVFs take over and LCDs get better, this will become more important.

Give it time:
Then there are the things that will continue to improve. EVFs and LCDs will get better, contrast-detect autofocus will get faster, tracking will get smarter. Dynamic range will improve, noise will get lower, and pixel counts will (eventually) increase. This is the natural way of things. It also goes without saying that the body should be weather-sealed and solidly built; this is the natural way of a top-tier Olympus SLR.

In his review of the E-P2, Bill wrote "I purchased this camera in part to participate in the next step of camera evolution." That's something that resonated very strongly with me. If what I'm describing sounds like an advanced hybrid of the GH1 and E-3, it's not a coincidence. William Gibson has said that the future is already here, but it isn't evenly distributed yet. What we have now, from Olympus and others, is great. If the future is a logical extrapolation of the present, then what we will have will be even better, no matter what form it takes.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Notice of Baggage Inspection

ViolationLast Tuesday my wife flew via Southwest down to Ft. Lauderdale to visit a long-time friend and education associate. Both times her one piece of luggage was inspected, and this little white slip of paper was left in her luggage letting her know of this personal violation inspection.

Here's part of what the Notice of Baggage Inspection says:
To protect you and your fellow passengers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is required by law* to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection... (emphasis mine)

* Section 110(b) of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, 49 U.S.C 44901(c)-(e)
This is minor to what others have experienced at the hands of the TSA, but it's chilling reminder of what others have experienced, far worse than what my wife experienced. This crude security has been with us since 2001, a product of the Bush Administration's government by paranoia. Having been a 'loyal' Democrat, I had high hopes that then-President-elect Obama would either revamp the TSA into something more logical and effective, or remove the TSA entirely. But nothing has happened, like so much else that hasn't happened.

We have reached a point in our nation's history where we've lost so much we once took for granted, such as a reasonable expectation that our personal possessions will not be rifled through (an example of unreasonable search that used to be covered by the forth amendment).

I used to be able to walk all the way to the gate to say goodbye or to say hello. Before the TSA and its rules I would have pushed my wife in her wheelchair all the way to the gate and made sure she got on, and greeted her when she came back. Now I turn her over to others to wheel her to her gate, and live in fear that something might go wrong because someone in the TSA is having a bad day.

We have gone so far down the slippery slope.

Update
When I told my wife about the Chicago investigation into complaints about the TSA, she told me about here own experiences. She has an artificial left knee, and after three back operations, plenty of surgical titanium to set the alarms off. She was, of course, physically searched both times. Her observation is that if you're in a wheel chair you're 'treated' to a lot more attention and searches. So much for the ADA.

Links:
The TSA Blog