Aliopacto

Written: 21 Jul 2008 16:33 ()

I've been writing short stories over the years. They tend to disturb, that is the point.

I've now put them onto a new site, http://www.aliopacto.com. Alio pacto is Latin for "a different way", it was the title of a book I started some years ago. One of the stories on that site is from the book, the others are random things, the products of early mornings and days on trains.

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Continuous Exposure

Written: 14 Jul 2008 12:48 (gadgets shouldexist)

It struck me that the whole concept of digital camera, in imitating the old film cameras, has a fundamental inefficiency. There is, perhaps, a better way.

I've been taking photos. Nikon D40X with 18-135mm lens, a fast and efficient tool that produces the quality I was used to in the old days of B&W film SLRs.

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But is the "shutter" the best way to take a picture?

Let me introduce the concept of "Continuous Exposure" or CE. A CE camera has no shutter, though it does have a button for taking pictures. CE needs decent but not perfect optics, it needs no optical zoom, can achieve film speeds of several million ISO, can achieve resolutions of many orders of magnitude better than the actual sensor. The one thing CE is not good at is capturing fast motion.

CE works as follows. The sensor is always active and captures an image continuously, sending it to an image buffer for processing. The image buffer has a very high resolution, as much as 250 megapixels. The sensor data is added, in real time, to the image buffer, using algorithms to detect movement and shake. The image buffer is constantly re-centred around the sensor data. As the image buffer aquires sensor data, it refines the detail of areas where there is more data, so that even in an image with very light and dark areas, both will aquire fine detail. As the sensor provides more and more data for an image, the image buffer gets more and more detail, achieving its full resolution after a fraction of a second or in some cases, a second or two. When the image buffer has fully resolved the image, a small 'Ready' indicator shows on the camera, and the user can take the image. A picture taken before the sensor is ready will show less detail in some areas, especially those moving more rapidly.

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Why use CE? Mainly, it replaces expensive components with software and processing power. A much cheaper sensor, combined with a large image buffer and efficient processor can produce better photos than the best professional equipment. Optical zooming becomes less important, as sufficient detail can be aquired to make very smooth digital zooms. Low light hand-held photography becomes much easier. CE can be combined with video recording; lower-resolution video, and high quality selected images.

CE does not, of course, exist. The way to make it would be to prove the software algorithms capable of producing high quality images from video streams (which can act as a kind of CE sensor simulation). The algorithms, once designed, would need to be turned into silicon, since general purpose computers are not feasible in low power cameras.

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Light Notebook Shootout

Written: 11 Jul 2008 15:08 (gadgets ubuntu)

After several months of using a MacBook Air, I picked up a Lenovo X61.

Both machines have lots of great features but since it's the things that don't work which eventually matter, I'm going to make this shootout by listing all the things that annoy me.

Cost: The MBA is too expensive. Seriously, this is 2008, we don't expect notebooks to require a second mortgage. Yes, the build quality is great, yes the LED screen is sweet, but over 3,000 Euro is way too much for a notebook.

Battery life: The MBA does about 5 hours average, if you don't do anything heavy like watch video. The X61, which I've tuned to use under 10 watts (thanks, PowerTop) gets over 7 hours of work. Why can't I watch more than a couple of hours of video without killing the battery?

Ports: Part of me loves the "zero ports" attitude of the MBA. But the part of me that uses cameras, iPods, and external portable drives thinks that Apple was smoking weed when they decided that one USB slot would suffice for everything. Neat, yes. Practical, no.

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Operating systems: The X61 came with something called "Windows XP". What the heck? I thought they'd have banned that virus trap by now. Still thankfully Ubuntu wiped that out. The MBA refuses to dual-boot Linux. I might be able to wipe OS/X but then how do I manage my iPod? Apple has me trapped, and it's not nice.

Ubuntu: I know this is not part of the X61, but why do I have to tune the operating system to make the notebook work properly? I don't mind editing X.org config files but I'd pay money (seriously) to get an Ubuntu install that works out of the box with my hardware.

Gnome: What is it with that WiFi panel, why can't I get the WiFi to work and worse, why can I not debug the problem??? If you're going to hide stuff, fine. But don't make it impossible to fix when your fancy panels don't work. Update: it magically works, now. Hmfh.

OS/X: Please look at apt-get and learn how software distribution works post-1999. Downloading and clicking on installers is so Windows. No, no, no. Also, Apple, listen: if you want people to stick with your lovely boxes, please make them run KDE or even Gnome so we don't need to find material to run Linux on. It's a 386 CPU, and a BSD kernel, no?

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Real estate: Why does the MBA have a huge bevel around the screen and keyboard? It just makes the thing larger than it needs to be. Chop off an inch all the way around, and suddenly the MBA starts to look more portable. And why does that X61 have a huge bulking battery that weighs more than the rest of the machine? Surely something more elegant could be designed.

Screen: In 2003 my ASUS notebook had 1240x1024 resolution. So why do both the MBA and X61 have pathetic resolutions that hark back to 1999? What, TFT technology hasn't improved since then? We don't need the pixels? Pathetic.

Conclusions:

  • The MBA delivers a perfect experience where "experience" is redefined to mean "75% of what you actually need".
  • The X61 delivers everything you need, where "deliver" means "if you remove the horrid Windows XP and put on a real operating system, you're on your own and Lenovo will pretend you don't exist."

It still astounds me that serious notebook manufacturers have not realized how important it is to deliver fully working, fully specified machines running modern operating systems. Hopefully the crop of cheap small Linux notebooks will show how it should be done.

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