Monthly Archives: November 2004

Do you want Freedom Fries with that?

“In Minnesota, pigs are being born with human blood in their veins. In Nevada, there are sheep whose livers and hearts are largely human.”

That's from the front cover of today's Washington Post. Interesting time to be alive, especially if you're a furry fan I suppose. Who needs to worry about a draft when armies of pig men really are on the horizon?

“Weissman says he is thinking about making chimeric mice whose brains are 100 percent human. He proposes keeping tabs on the mice as they develop. If the brains look as if they are taking on a distinctly human architecture — a development that could hint at a glimmer of humanness — they could be killed, he said.”

Remember, if something starts to seem to show humanity, kill it.

That's courtesy of France. Merci, meurtriers.

Old is new, new is old

Obsolete advanced technology fascinates me. For example, in the Victorian era, before the petroleum and internal combustion engine disaster period, steam power ruled. Not only were vehicles and factories and even motorcycles and power lawnmowers driven by steam, but in major cities like London, high pressure water lines snaked the city like power cables do today — instead of using electric motors, elevators were moved by hydraulic pressure, driven by steam pumps. The world of the past wasn't more primitive techologically than our own — it just had different technologies built around different sciences, and a much smaller palette of sciences to choose from.

Another example is acoustic “radar” — remember, RADAR as in detecting objects from far away using radio wave reflections didn't start to become viable until the mid 30s, and wasn't a mature technology until the well into WWII. However, Europe (and Japan and others) had been facing situations — like bombers approaching British shores — for longer than that: thus acoustic location technologies. Some of you may have seen the acoustic locater walls around England for example:

These structures are “tuned” to the shape of distant soundwaves of a certain location and frequency. When sound occurs in that distant location, these curved structures “focus” and amplify that sound locally, thus letting you know that a fleet of airplanes was thirty miles away, giving you time to prepare. Every second counted, and some regions literally carved these into beach cliffs and mounted microphones in them, sending their accoustic signal back to base.

A related piece of technology involved listening horns — literally like an old fashioned horn for those hard of hearing, but much larger, mounted on a tiltable base, and spread far apart. The end effect of this was a steerable acoustic telescope that could not only hear sounds at create distances, but due to stereo effects (the sound being louder on one side than the other), could also directionally locate the sound. By using four horns (two axis) and other multi-axis configurations, full-sky search ability was gained.

The left one is British and the right ones are Japanense. Anyway, it's worth reading about and maybe even experimenting a little bit. After all, if you take one of those pan-and-tilt webcams and used wire clothes hangers to build an armature to hold microphones, there wouldn't be much to programming a PIC (or a PC) to have the camera automatically follow whoever in the room is talking.

Well, I'm going to fiddle with these FTP functions a little more now. I'm hoping to have them running fully by the middle of next week.

PS. Douglas Self deserves an award for The Museum of RetroTech

Image update posted

I've just posted a third image update for this week, with I think about 1,800 new pictures which gets me caught up to some time yesterday; thanks to all the submitters for their images and their patience. Thanks also to Spot for the photo of Mothragirl.

I played a little more with the idea in the entry below. For example, in the pictures above you can see images from my $19.99 webcam. The left picture is a normal snapshot, with the settings optimized to give the best image. The image on the right is about a third of a second long video grab compressed into a single frame in an attempt to reduce noise and increase color depth — I could get much better quality with a longer capture, but I'm doing this manually for now so it's smaller framesets I'm working with. The middle image contains both before and after so you can clearly see the difference. Maybe I'll write a free capture tool for this tomorrow so others can use it — then those of you with cheap webcams can take pictures as good as on a digicam twice the price… I think webcams use a standard API so it might not be hard to write.

Anyway, today's update gets me caught up again, so I'm going to try and squeeze in some programming before I have to get on the next one. I'm sure I'll waste some time on the noise-reduction toy, but mostly I'll be adding new functions to IAM.

PS. Watch this music video. It's worth the time.

Today's invention

A normal digital camera captures footage with 8 bits of color depth per channel. That is, it can capture 256 tones from darkest to lightest of any given color. However, in a lot of lighting situations that's only a fraction of what the human eye can capture, so often a digital camera produces poor images in comparison to what we'd like.

The exposure setting on the camera dictates what range of brightness the CCD is attuned to (and those 256 levels are spread over) by dictating how long it's exposed to the item. Assuming the item you're capturing is immobile, multiple photographs at different exposures can be combined into a single photograph with a virtual bit depth far greater than what the camera should be capable of.

“Standard” Mode

Standard/My Way Split

“My Way”

Anyway… If this was built into a digital camera's BIOS it would instantly improve most digital photos to the level I've demonstrated above or likely better without adding one cent to the cost. However, because it requires no new hardware (and thus no sales) to improve quality, it'll probably never happen…

Congratulations all around

First of all, a big congratulations for Jen and Phil who just got engaged (not that it's a surprise). They joined Rachel and Saira and I for dinner — but there was no dramatic toasting or speeches or anything like that… the engagement had already happened under Jen's initiative.

Second of all, big congratulations to us for finding out where we're living when our lease expires at the end of December. It's somewhere we've talked about before, but it had been back-burnered. We hadn't realized this, but it had been cooking well on that back-burner and the bell on the stove just went off.

Anyway, those are some tourist pictures of the city we're living in and its outskirts. It's down at the tip of the Baja California penninsula in Mexico. If you apply for and get the BME internship, that's where it starts, at least for the first six months (I have trouble with roots, much to Rachel's dismay).