This morning my HP laptop strongly suggested I upgrade its included support software today (the HP Support Assistant). I foolishly accepted its offer and spent the next four hours ruing that decision, and trying to correct the damage it did. The upgrade somehow screwed itself up (rendering the HP Support Assistant broken) and along the way also screwed up my Visual Basic scripting support. I found numerous links which talked about related problems but none that fixed mine. Most solutions revolved around removing the registry keys for the VB scripting DLL and then re-registering the DLL. For some reason re-registering the DLLs didn't seem to work for me, despite running the command shell elevated.
Ultimately I exported the registry entries from another working Windows 7 x64 computer and merged them on the ailing laptop. I then uninstalled the HP Software Framework and the HP Software Assistant and then reinstalled them in that same order. And voila, at long last everything worked.
For anyone who needs them, here are the registry keys in question for fixing your VBscript install on Windows 7 x64: HP Support Assistant VB Scripting Registry Fix .
Included are registry keys (and DLLs) related to the 32 bit support and the 64 bit support. All you need to do is merge (by opening) the 5 registry keys included (the five .reg files in the two directories). I include the DLLs just for reference, in case your installation has a damaged DLL.
A common approach used by motivational speakers to help encourage their audience is to give examples of notable achievers and their achievements. The bigger the achievement, the more obstacles that opposed the achievement, the better. The story of a man or woman simply living a contented life and raising contented children is eschewed in favor of rags to riches stories and tales of mentally or physically handicapped people overcoming against all odds.
While this approach of using dramatic success stories to motivate people can be effective, it is not universally so. The inherent problem with the approach, as typically practiced, is in the poor selection and erroneous over-simplifications of the achiever and his/her achievements. The purpose of citing the success of others is to show the de-motivated that they too can achieve, that others who had similar (or more severe) challenges were able under somewhat similar circumstances to achieve truly impressive outcomes. With the proper selection of achiever and achievement this method is highly effective. All humans respond to this general approach, it is fundamental to how we learn. We are all more likely to attempt something we know others to have done successfully (or nearly been successful doing). However, if the achiever and achievement chosen for use as a motivational example is inappropriate, the motivatee will not respond, and may become highly suspicious of the motivator's abilities to motivate.
The selection criteria for a suitable achiever and achievement is quite simple. The achievement must not be heavily dependent on chance. Any achievement must contain within its story a basic recipe for success such that others could duplicate it. And, equally importantly, the achiever's success must not have been dependent on choices that the motivatee would refuse to make (on the grounds of moral, religious objections).
An example of a violation of the first criteria would be a fortune made from a piece of land a person inherited that happened to become valuable by way of a highway expansion. That person's tale of achievement is not a useful example. No choices of any particular merit were involved in the achievement.
An example of a violation of the second criteria would be a local drug dealer who made $1,500,000 in one year without having more than a 7th grade education. While the financial achievement is impressive, particularly against a backdrop of limited tuition, few motivatees would be willing to engage themselves in the illicit narcotics trade.
While these examples were artificially created to highlight the issues, and may seem extreme, the problem is that most achievers and achievements raised by motivational speakers are no better, they all rely upon over-simplifications which merely hide the violations.
It is often argued that complicating negative elements within the stories of achievers and their achievements can be ignored, arguing that the negative issue was not central to the achievement. The danger with this argument is that it fails to acknowledge that these strongly negative elements are often common byproducts/side-effects of the very personalities that are required by those who succeed. As a crude example, studies show that high achievers are more likely to be unfaithful to their wives/husbands. Some of this increased infidelity can be explained by the greater opportunities for unfaithfulness afforded to those achievers (products of their money, power, position, travel, etc.), but surely the most significant factor is their own psychology, which in an achiever usually places a far greater value on their own needs than those of others.
Below is a list of examples of some people and companies often used as motivational references which possess hidden violations of the motivational criteria. References to them invariably contain gross over-simplifications which hide elements of luck and immorality that makes them unduplicable for most motivatees.
- Apple - While a huge success in most people's eyes, I fear for a world in which others duplicate Apple's approach to technology and business. I think a reasonable argument can be made that Apple is highly immoral in the constraints they place on their end-users, in their monopolistic practices in business, in their treatment of business partners, in their tax dodging, in their use of underpaid and overworked labor, and more.
- YouTube - YouTube is the de facto video sharing site, a startup that within a few years was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in stock. The founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, certainly have achieved. But is their tale one that should be told in a motivational context? Was their success largely independent of luck? Was their success moral? YouTube was purchased by Google because of its popularity and ubiquity. But why was it popular? The reason is quite simple, illegal content. YouTube contained (and contains) volumes of pirated TV/movies/music/etc. and much of the content people created to upload included pirated music tracks. YouTube made (and continues to make) token efforts to remove copyright infringing content, but they do little more than mandated by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA does not make a website responsible for the actions of their users so long as the website removes infringing material when notified of it. YouTube has been the target of numerous lawsuits related to the violations of copyright on their site, including a $1 billion dollar suit involving Viacom. YouTube may continue to prevail in court, hiding behind the DMCA, but this hardly seems to absolve them of the immorality involved in profiting from illegal activity. Other sites doing essentially the same thing (sharing/hosting video) have not been so lucky, being shut down and sued into oblivion, see the ongoing tale of MegaUpload, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megaupload for comparison.
- Skype has been a marvelous success, connecting the world with audio/video conferencing. While they would seem to be an amazing motivational story, the reality is a little more complicated. Skype was founded by the owners of Kazaa, a peer to peer platform shut down for illegally sharing movies, music, and software. The founders took their million in ill-gotten gains, their celebrity, and founded a new company to essentially launder their money/reputation. While there are no doubt valuable lessons present in the tale of Skype's success, growth, etc. the overall story is unsuitable and unadaptable.
- Napster is now one of the popular music streaming services, but they began as one of the first peer-to-peer systems for illegally sharing music, movies, tv shows, software, etc. They could not be now what they are without having been what they were.
- Google - By any reasonable account Google is a huge success story, but throughout its short life it's also been involved in quite a but of arguably immoral activities, the scope of which is too big to get into here.
- Microsoft - Microsoft is in many ways a success stories, but its success has been achieved through various arguably unethical methods. For example, they have bought up competing companies only to shut them down. They have used their near monopoly on home and business desktop PCs to dominate indirectly related software products, such as their integration of Internet Explorer into the OS so as to destroy the market share of Netscape. They have given away various products of theirs for free (or at deep discounts) so as to destroy competitors. There are no doubt specific elements of the Microsoft, Google, etc. story which may be valuable for motivation but they must be picked carefully.
- Einstein - Inarguably brilliant, but is his story one which others can or should? He cheated routinely on his wife, had an illegitimate child he neglected (to the point where no one knows what happened to the child), married his cousin, and had two other children who felt profoundly neglected. Dissection of his brain showed particular structural elements which probably explain elements of his success, which makes his story less useful when told to the vast majority of people who lack those advantages.
- Thomas Jefferson - A brilliant man, but his treatment of people as property, his cheating on his wife, his fathering children with at least one slave, etc. make him a person I would hope people would not emulate. Surely Jefferson's selfish, private drives mirror his professional, public drives. Strip Jefferson of his selfishness in his personal life and no doubt his other accomplishments would have suffered.
- Lance Armstrong - Clearly a high achieving, dedicated athlete, his Tour de France legacy will not soon be forgotten. But while he seems like a great example for us all, certain questions exist. The doping allegations against him seem more likely valid than not. And when one considers his tremendous ability it's hard to ignore that his genetics have been found to explain much of his ability. His heart is unusually large, his lungs are unusually capable. He has been more scientifically investigated than perhaps any athlete. While his conditioning allows him to maximize his genetic abilities, and that is worthy of praise, one can't help but acknowledge that without those genetic gifts he would likely never have been a world class cyclist. And if he had not performed so well early in life, he may never have devoted himself to the sport.
- John Nash - Nobel prize winner, as shown in A Beautiful Mind. The movie's message is that John Nash was able to use his beautiful mind not only to conquer his severe mental demons but also to achieve his world changing Game Theory equations. But would it be responsible to encourage other schizophrenics to do likewise? If Josh Nash could conquer his schizophrenia without medication why shouldn't all such patients try? John Nash's triumph over schizophrenia can hardly be called a total success, nor did it come about without the specific and lingering injury of quite a few people around him. His process of self-curing occurred over a decade or more, and involved periodic, reluctant inpatient treatments with medication and electroshock. How many schizophrenics encouraged to go off their medication to do battle with their own psyches would take their lives within the ten years Nash required to treat himself? In the case of John Nash the movie also overlooked his homosexual experiences, the illegitimate child he had and refused to care for, his treatment of the legitimate child he did care for, his divorce/real relationship with his wife, and many other things (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2001/12/a_real_number.html). And so the question must be asked, is John Nash really a good person to laud in the context of a motivational speech? Do we want to people large numbers of people with serious mental illnesses to believe that they can conquer their mental disorders on their own? Can we not argue that his decision to value personal mathematics achievement over the health and welfare of his wife and children is not sufficient to deny him credit as a suitable example for those needing motivating?
By attempting to show that many high achievers are not suitable as exemplars for motivational speakers I am not trying to suggest that there exist no achievers who are suitable. Quite the contrary, I believe there exist a wealth of suitable achievers, though I think many are ignored by motivational speakers for not having achieved "enough". The problem with the highest achievers is that they appear far more likely to possess strongly negative attributes/character flaws. There are far more and far less flawed individuals who would serve as better role models, and it is they who should be celebrated and used as encouragement to motivatees.
The damage done by poor selection of achievers is that the motivatee loses faith in his being able to achieve without becoming someone he is not (lucky or immoral). This loss of faith is hard to repair.
Flying multi-rotor (particularly quadcopter) radio-controlled vehicles is a lot of fun and you can do amazing things with them, in particular some beautiful aerial photography. While most r/c pilots do this by looking up at their craft from whatever their distance happens to be at the moment, a growing number of r/c enthusiasts are using FPV (first person view) to remotely control their vehicles. By using a tiny video camera with an attached transmitter the pilot can virtually fly their quadcopter as though they were a miniature pilot located inside it. Aside from just being a lot of fun, this perspective makes it possible to fly over far longer distances than one could by merely looking at the craft from the ground. The equipment to do FPV is not cheap, however, with decent entry-level setups of camera, transmitter, and receiver costing $1,000. And so I couldn't help but wonder why no one talks about using the ubiquitous smart cell phone with its included cameras as an alternative solution. The cell phone has a number of advantages over a typical FPV setup, namely that with the right apps running it can record its own video, it can operate over almost infinite distance with its use of cellular networks for data transmission, it can operate with very high bandwidth over 4G or wifi (though very limited distance with wifi), it can log its own flight path by recording its GPS positions, and if it crashes it can transmit its location to make recovery easy. With all these advantages in a package that can cost just $100 it's hard to imagine it not used by everyone!
From what I understand in talking to a few people, the issue comes down to video quality, latency, and the possibility that the connection just drops out. Few people want to risk their $1,500 and up r/c darling on Sprint's or AT&T's potentially spotty and variably efficient cell coverage. And the current video streaming software available as apps for the key FPV feature are not intended for mission critical, near real time transmission. Imagine trying to drive a car or pilot a plane with Skype. You might do just fine for a while, as long as sender and receiver have good signals but if either gets into trouble the video suddenly becomes erratic, delayed, and pictured objects become indistinct and it would be impossible to make critical operating decisions based on that.
Given the enormous complexities being overcome daily by dedicated enthusiasts of r/c flying this seems like a challenge that can fairly easily be overcome. One of the key pieces of software this community has developed and continually refined is the "flight controller", or the software which takes signals from the pilot's transmitter (the device with the joysticks that he uses to control the vehicle) and turns those into adjustments to motors and control surfaces. Many flight controllers now even come with amazingly sophisticated auto pilot features, like the ability to hover motionless in one spot (despite winds, etc.), to fly home in the event that signal is lost or a fault develops, to automatically land if batteries are low, and even to navigate on its own, flying between coordinates previously supplied to it. If all that can be achieved surely the FPV via cell phone problem can be overcome!
There are three problems that need to be addressed: loss of signal, degradation of signal, and overall quality of video.
Loss of video signal is clearly a very real problem and no amount of clever software can make up for a lack of inputs from the pilot, but such situations can be appropriately handled to minimize negative impact. As I mentioned above, many flight controllers now include safety modes such as hover, automatic return home, and automatic landing. The pilot with such an onboard autopilot can at the flick of a switch tell his craft to do the appropriate thing, presumably either hovering to wait and see if signal is restored or begin to return home at least enough to regain the signal. Also, the FPV app in the cell phone can be optimized to recover quickly from any network failure (once the underlying data connection is restored). And if this was to all develop and become more sophisticated clearly an integration of the FPV app and the onboard flight controller would be ideal, allowing the FPV app to command auto pilot features directly in the event of network loss as well as be the means of transmitting flight controller telemetry to the ground during routine flight (and perhaps controlling other features of the flight controller as well).
Degradation of signal and overall quality of video are related problems. The key here is, I believe, to develop a video codec or perhaps just an application of existing codecs that focuses on the critical visual data FPV pilots need. While users of video streaming applications like Skype want overall picture quality to be good, an FPV pilot is primarily focused on visual information related to the orientation of their craft relative to ground, potential physical obstacles in their path, and anything necessary to continue whatever flight motion they were executing. If the signal degrades and there is less bandwidth over which to send video it's most important that the critical parts of the pilot's picture continue to appear in near real time! How exactly one extracts or prioritizes those features I am not sure at this point, but I am fairly certain it's an achievable goal. One need only think of situations they have been in when their own vision has degraded due to environmental factors like darkness, fog, smoke, etc. to realize that our brains can seize upon very small and sometimes indistinct cues to maintain orientation. An algorithm could be developed to prioritize the sending of lesser quality video data related to horizon and to nearby obstacles (elements of the frame which the algorithm have noted move more relative to the overall background). And with the ongoing development in the areas of computers interpreting images to extract features like faces, eye positions, smiles, body positions, etc. it should present little challenge to have the FPV app be able to maintain an awareness of very crude items like the horizon and those objects most likely to represent near obstacles. This specific data could even be transmitted using ultra-low bandwidth as mere vector data rather than actual color images, in other words allowing the second receiving cell phone app to reconstruct the approximate figures overlapping whatever video may or may not be coming in.
Hopefully these things will see development in the near future because it can hardly be argued that the potential here is huge.
I recently bought the Blade mQX micro quadcopter and it is absolutely amazing! If you think it looks fun you'd be a fool not to buy one and see just how much. For $129 (Bind-n-Fly) or $169 (Ready to Fly) you just can't go wrong.
The mQX is super responsive, acrobatic, and (near as I can tell) indestructible.
This is my very first quad and very first "real" r/c anything; I've only owned two or three of those cheap, indestructible indoor foam helicopters. Stepping up to the mQX was definitely not easy, but neither was it too great a step to make. If I can do it, you can do it too! But I would ***strongly*** recommend buying the Phoenix R/C simulator and flying the Gaui 330X model (that's the only simulator I've seen with a quad model in it). I spent hours flying the Gaui in the balloon popping trainer of the Phoenix simulator and it made a profound difference on my flying ability. I had serious doubts that a simulator could help with real world flying, especially given that I was flying a non-mQX model, but was happily proven completely wrong. My real world flying made a quantum leap after a few nights of simulator flying
One of the most impressive things about the mQX is how inconceivably strong it is. In my early flights especially I would get disoriented and send the mQX screaming into the ground and it sustained absolutely no lasting damage (the canopy was destroyed and I had to bend a propeller blade back to straight a couple times but that's it).
And, coolest of all, the mQX is powerful enough to mount any of the tiny 808 cameras. I put a jumbo keychain 1080p camera on it and it seemed to fly as responsively as it always did, and for seemingly almost as long as it always did. It amazes me that I could have a HD aerial camera platform for under $200. (Obviously it's no $1,000 stabilized system, but on a very calm day with a good pilot consciously flying for a particular shot, it's stunning!)
I don't usually bother to evangelize a product, but this one deserves it!
If you're interested, check out my beginner's guide to flying r/c helicopters, planes, or quadcopters.
I recently began a campaign of de-cluttering my life by scanning all my bulky paper documents into an e-filing system (Rack2-Filer via the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500). During yesterday's scanning foray I hit my cache of veterinary bills, covering the five years I've had Osita, my Chow-Shar Pei mix and briefly Lupa, my very old stray coy dog. Out of an abundance of curiosity I wanted to see just what owning dogs actually cost me, so I added up my bills and here's the somewhat shocking information conclusion I came to:
Cost of Five Years of Dog Ownership
Veterinary services (exams, surgery, x-rays, blood work, treatments, etc. but excluding medication): $20,832
Food and medicine (estimated): $8,550
Rent increase related to dog (landlord was charging $100 extra/month): $5,400
My medical bills related to breaking up a minor dog fight where my nose got cut (not reflecting 70% coverage by insurance): $5,000
Boarding for 6 or 7 trips I had to take: $2,890
Total: $42,672 or approximately $8,500 / year
Dogs have medical needs, just like people do. Every dog I've owned has at some point required significant medical tests and/or intervention. A seizure disorder here, a torn ligament there, kidney problems, eye problems, cancer, you name it. All have issues at some point in their lives, and the costs of diagnosing and treating those issues is astronomical. I have treated my pets with the only ethical standard I understand, extending to them the same support I would any loved one, human or canine. If they have a medical need I will meet it, as best as I can, as best as modern medical science can, and their enjoyment of life allows. The bills above include no radical treatments, no experimental procedures, and only one surgery (to treat entropion, where a dogs lower eyelid is turned inward and the lashes rub against the eye). The bulk of the cost was for diagnostic testing (to test for Addison's disease, to investigate a seizure), for three brief hospital stays (following a seizure and to get fluids related to kidney disease), and the rest for routine blood work, x-rays, urine/fecal cultures, etc.
Let me make clear that I don't regret any of it, but as I am not wealthy and have few assets to speak of (no house, no IRA, no savings, no stocks/bonds), the absence of this money is certainly very palpable. So the question I can't help but think about is, could I have done anything differently to lower the costs, and related to that, is it morally right to spend so much on one or two dogs when a) so many other dogs are being killed in shelters for lack of resources, and b) I ultimately would like to have a family and resources saved today could be used for them on some tomorrow.
The question of lowering the costs is fairly easy to answer. I could not have ethically made different medical choices for them. If my dog has a grand mal seizure and there is no known epilepsy history the dog needs emergency medical attention to investigate the cause and ensure that if the cause is heart/blood clot related that the proper treatment is given. To do otherwise would simply be unthinkable to me. If altering treatment isn't possible the only option to lower costs is securing cheaper (but equivalent) services. I ultimately have done just that, moving to the country where veterinarians charge half as much (an office visit that used to cost me $75 in Los Angeles now costs me $35, a hospital stay that would cost $3,000 now costs $1,500).
The morality question is a harder one to answer and in fact I think no answer is truly possible. I do believe it is arguably immoral to divert resources to pets that ultimately could be saved and used to meaningfully benefit your children. It may be I will always have resources enough to care for my future children, and that any money saved now would not matter, but I cannot know this now, and my resources and savings are so extremely limited that I truly can't morally make that bet. And, I cannot argue that the resources I've tied up in significantly improving the life of two dogs wouldn't be better spent saving the lives of ten, twenty, thirty, or more dogs who otherwise have died in shelters. My only answer to the question then is, yes, my actions in medically supporting my dogs in the way I am is immoral. That said, having begun it, I am comfortable with and plan to continue this immorality for I see no other acceptable alternative; I owe a duty to those humans and animals I form bonds with, and I must on no account break those. And as we are all in varying degrees immoral creatures, I am not uncomfortable with the recognition of some of my wrongs.
It's been years since I had anything for sale on eBay... I recently wanted to sell a new Lytro camera I'd pre-ordered last year and upon receipt realized I didn't want. eBay seemed like the right place to sell it, what with the national exposure, safety of seeing people's reputation, etc. And ultimately it proved the right place to sell except for one critical component, fees! Yikes! I had no idea just how high fees had gotten.
I was just trying to get out of my Lytro without losing any money, I wasn't trying to turn a profit. I paid $499 + $43.66 taxes + $10 shipping, so I'd need to end up with $552.66 after auction-related fees. I ended up having to set my Buy it Now price at $649, that $100 difference being completely eaten up by fees!
eBay & PayPal Fees
$58.41 Final Value Fee (9% of the sale price)
$1.27 Final Value Fee on Shipping (9% of the shipping price)
$5.99 Reserve Price Auction Fee
$19.53 PayPal Fees (3% of payment)
Total: $85.20 fees
And in fact I spent another $12 on listings for two previous auctions for the same item where the item didn't sell at the reserve price I set making my total fees $97.20 on a $650 sale. Arguably I didn't have to spend that $12 if I'd set the reserve lower, but this item was just released and eBay prices were initially quite a bit higher, so the reserve prices were reasonable at that moment.
Ignoring my two failed auctions, my effective eBay and PayPal fees were 13.1% of the sale price, which seems more than a little insane. Now I more fully understand why people sell things on Craigslist. No fees! I've sold on Craigslist, too, but I just did it because I was selling non-ship-able things to people locally.
Lesson learned... Avoid selling on eBay like the plague! Unless the item you're selling has no definite value to you (e.g., you've got a rare book sitting around you want to liquidate but you're not going to bother trying to maximize what you get for it). What a pity... All this time I imagined eBay was a bargain... not so.
Now in my early post-Lytro days I've been wondering how I could achieve the same effect with better results, not wanting to wait the years it might take for them to come up with a suitable next generation model. Lytro's only real selling point at this moment is it's ability to take "living pictures" (their parlance), which really just means a photo which is interactive in as much as you can focus on different items in the picture by tapping those items. The technology may be capable of quite a bit more, but that's all it currently delivers, and it delivers that with poor resolution, graininess, and restrictive requirements on lighting/action.
Living Pictures without Lytro
Why couldn't I achieve the exact same effect with far better results using my existing digital camera? I could, and did! Here's my "living picture" proof, using just an ordinary digital camera and a bit of human assistance.
No Lytro was required for this "living picture", just an ordinary digital camera (in this case a Sony NEX 5). Click on different objects in this scene to change focus depth!
...and now for Lytro's version...
Lytro's "living picture"! Click on different objects in this scene to change focus depth!
It doesn't take an expert in photo analysis to see that the non-Lytro picture looks much better: sharper, higher resolution, less grainy, and more realistic colors.
Faking Lytro Manually
Making Cameras Support Lytro-Like Effects
Many cameras these days have a feature called "exposure bracketing" which takes reacts to a shutter button press by taking a series of pictures at different exposure settings. You then review the photos later and determine which photo looked the best. Why then could you not have a "focus bracketing" feature which does the same thing but with focus? The simplest approach would be to take multiple photos as the camera automatically walks the focus back from infinity to macro taking as many photos as necessary to achieve a desirable effect, perhaps as few as 5 or 10 would be needed to achieve a reasonable effect; with the aperture appropriately set any given picture's depth of field is wide enough to allow significant ranges to be sharply focused. You would then need some mechanism for assigning clickable regions to the photo frames which happened to be in focus in that region. This would likely be a fairly trivial software problem to solve. All of this could be done with minimal camera intelligence, since it would just be varying focus distance in a fixed manner. A far better but slightly more complicated solution would be to do automatic, intelligent focus bracketing using the camera's built-in autofocus system. Many cameras (particularly in phones) allow you to select a region of the scene which should be in focus. It would thus be easy for the camera to break down the scene into a search grid it would scan looking for objects upon which to focus, taking a single picture at each focus depth (one photo per range, according to the depth of field). The camera could record which grid location contained an object at a certain focal distance away, this being usable later to relate clicks on an image to a particular focused frame. The advantage of this approach is that it might be far quicker and more efficient, needing only as many frames as a scene objects' depths require. A scene which had two people in the foreground hugging and a church in the background would probably require just two photos to make a "living picture", people around a table at a birthday table with a cake in the center and a bounce house in the background may require 5 or 6 photos to make a Lytro-like image.
Working with Motion
These approaches share one significant weakness which is the fact that using multiple sequentially taken images negates the ability to capture any action-oriented scenes. While modern digital cameras take rapid-fire photos, and those with exposure bracketing take three or so shots in a half second, that's certainly slow enough to make any significant movement within the scene noticeable when switching between frames. Still, as action is easily blurred with the first generation Lytro, this hardly seems any sort of argument against this alternate approach. An interesting solution to this problem and that of the inability to easily alter most existing camera's firmware, would be to use a replacement lens that split a single digital frame into multiple differently focused reproductions of the scene. Just as I use a Loreo 3-D lens to merge the images captured by two lenses onto one digital frame, so to could one produce a system that would use four or perhaps nine lenses to capture one instant onto one digital frame through small lenses focused at slightly different depths. Software could then easily split apart the single digital image into its component frames and do an easy focus analysis to determine what regions in each were in focus, with viewer software showing those as appropriate in response to touch. The limitations of this approach would be related to the increased lighting requirements (or decreased action) as a result of the smaller lens, the expected poorer quality of each lens (related to cost and it being more a novelty manufacture than embraced by lens giants), and the reduced resolution (as your effective megapixel image would be the original value divided by the number of lenses within the lens). Many stereo photographer setups coordinate two cameras to take their photos in concert, getting around all these issues, which you could also do to solve this problem, though I can imagine nothing more cumbersome.
The Lomo Oktomat as seen on Lomography has eight lenses which it uses to 2.5 seconds of motion across a single analog film frame it has divided into 8 regions. The same multi-lens approach but used simultaneously, with each lens focused slightly differently, could capture motion with Lytro-like aesthetics.
Focus Bracketing leads to Focus Stacking (Hyperfocus)
As I began to look into the practicality of these approaches I was pleased to discover that "focus bracketing" was being done manually, though with an intriguingly different goal. Rather than produce a living picture where you can focus on different elements in a scene, a process called focus stacking is used to take and then (using software) merge photos taken at different focus settings to produce a single image in which everything in the scene is in focus. The software involved analyses each photograph in the stack, each of the identical scene where only the focus is varied, and uses the regions of each photo which are in focus to produce the combined image in which everything is in focus. This approach produces very impressive results. The only limitations to this system is the requirement for a still scene, and the strong recommendation (if not requirement) that you use a tripod when taking your shots so as little varies as possible.
Series of images demonstrating a 6 image focus bracket of a Tachinid fly. First two images illustrate typical DOF of a single image at f/10 while the third image is the composite of 6 images. From Focus Stacking entry on Wikipedia.
The aesthetic of a photo in which most things are in focus is quiet different from one in which only those things you select are in focus, but from a technical standpoint they are quite similar, since both situations require one possess the data pertaining to every element in a scene being in focus. And a viewer could (and likely would) be given the option of viewing such a photo as he/she wished. Do they want to see the photo traditionally (one, non-interactive focus point), as a "living picture" where they can choose the object in focus, or as a photo in which everything is in focus?
Focus Bracketing Available Today on your Canon PowerShot
A little further research led me to find a rather intriguing ability to add automatic focus bracketing to an entire range of camera models, via the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK). CHDK allows you to safely, temporarily use a highly configurable and extensible alternative firmware in your Canon PowerShot. And users have used this to add focus bracketing for the purposes of focus stacking, and included detailed instructions on just how you can do it, too.
Coming Soon as an iPhone & Android Camera App
This integration of camera and software is a natural fit for an iPhone and Android app, where the app can control the capturing of the image and intelligent variation of focus and then do the simple post-processing to make the image click-focus-able. While I haven't seen such an app, I'm sure it'll come soon. I'd write it myself if I had the time.
Until the Future Comes
The point is that until Lytro demonstrates just what can be done with a light field camera, beyond merely creating a low-resolution "living picture", there's really no technical justification for placing the technology in people's hands when the same problem could be solved as effectively with traditional digital cameras. If demand existed (and perhaps it will come) for this image experience, no light fields need apply. Hopefully traditional digital camera companies will see the aesthetic value and include support in their firmware (for intelligent focus bracketing) and co-ordinated desktop software, app developers will launch good living picture capturing app cameras, and hopefully Lytro will demonstrate the additional merits of capturing and reproducing images from light fields.
There are few musicians I react to quite like I do Andrew Bird. The notes coming out of his instruments I enjoy quite a lot, but his lyrics I find distractingly infuriating. His lyrics remind me of the comments a teacher's pet might make after being called upon in a high school physics class. His goal is to convince everyone, and probably first and foremost himself, that he's smart. Andrew Bird's lyrics drip with this unnatural self-congratulatory alleged cleverness, weaving supposedly big words with arcane references. He reminds me a lot of the columnist George Will, who seems to feel compelled to include in every column at least 5 - 10 words no ordinary citizen of Earth has heard within their lifetime. We get it, you guys want us to think you are very smart! Congratulations, someone give them a f-cking prize. Now, please get on with the business of being understandable and understood.
For some reason Andrew Bird reminds me of San Francisco. I've only visited a few times, and while I loved it, I couldn't help but feel that the city is a whole is just a bunch of hipster people trying to out-cool each other while everyone else is left to do the real work of running the nation while they smile and take all the credit (see Apple and iEverything, Google and gEverything).
Oh, and a similar-ish musician who I think does it just right, being a musical super genius without trying to beat you over the head with it, see Beirut.
I pre-ordered the Lytro back in October, excited by the stunning live demos on their site. A camera that captures a focus-less light field and allows you to do the focal interpretation later was just too amazing not to buy. The potential and real advantages were immediately obvious: stunning "live" photos, potential for effective single lens 3-D capture, potential for faster picture taking with no need to wait for auto focus, no out of focus pictures, ability to take better pictures in worse light conditions, ability to capture subtler image detail across the objects photographed.
My Lytro was one of the first to be shipped and it arrived just three days ago. Sadly Lytro's absolute requirement that you have a Mac with version 10.6.6 or higher to view your photos, it wasn't until today that I could actually try it out. My initial excitement that had become frustration rebounded at the chance to see just what this camera could do! Sadly upon viewing the photos I'd taken it beat a hasty retreat.
The Lytro is cool, but I cannot imagine myself actually using this thing in my daily life. It can take amazing pictures, as proven by the stunning live demos on the Lytro site. But I now appreciate just how many pictures must have been sifted through to pick out those hypnotically good ones. If you've got the time and the artistic inclination I have no doubt you can and will do amazing things, but the vast majority of my shots look awful.
Here's what I discovered:
- The camera's effective resolution is low! Your pictures are 1024 x 1024.
- The lens requires a lot of light*! Unless conditions are right your images will be extremely grainy.
- Everything must be still*! Motion, both your own and other people's, must be minimized otherwise your photo will likely be blurry.
- Mac and only Mac! Unless you normally use a Mac daily (which I don't) you're just going to be annoyed by the absolute necessity of the Mac software. You cannot view images or export images without using the Mac software.
* Obviously capturing a scene sharply involves a trade-off between light and motion; less light is fine if all is still, and more motion is fine if there is enough light. I'm just saying that in "ordinary" life situations where people move, where light can be low, and where your hand isn't stabilized, this camera can be trouble.
My experience of my Lytro has, therefore, been pretty disappointing. I imagined myself taking this camera with me everywhere, eager to capture "living pictures" to use their lingo, freezing moments in a manipulatable form. But now I imagine carrying this thing around would only breed frustration as I could never rely on images I took coming out right. Some would stun but all too many moments would be unenjoyably grainy and blurry. As it stands I'm better off with the clearer dimensional realities captured by my ever-present Evo 3-D and where appropriate my Sony NEX 5.
And so my Lytro is now up for sale on eBay. If it were more amazing or much cheaper I'd keep it for those special moments where I could afford to experiment, but at $499 I don't want to be a guinea pig.
Immensely popular conservative radio talk show host recently Rush Limbaugh used the terms "slut" and "prostitute" to refer to a student advocate for mandated funding of female contraception. Sandra Fluke's comments before a congress panel can probably be summed as fellow students didn't have a lot of money and providing contraception as part of health care would encourage contraception use, which benefits the whole of society (fewer children born to unfit parents, more people completing college, fewer abortions, etc.). Rush Limbaugh felt that paying for contraception was equivalent to subsidizing the sexual behavior of these women, and opined that a) they must be having a lot of sex if they need help paying for it, b) accepting money for sex makes them prostitutes, and c) if we are all paying for it then we should all be able to watch, and they should make their escapades available online.
Aside from the obvious misogyny I can't help but observe that health care involves subsidizing prevention and treatment for lots of things upon which we all may not agree, and the notion that sexual activities should be singled out as worthy of debate is wildly hypocritical. Rush Limbaugh has engaged in a lot of activities which I do not wish to subsidize. Rush Limbaugh drinks, he smokes, he has abused drugs, he has engaged in sex with multiple women, and he probably eats more and does less exercise than would be ideal. He no doubt has health insurance and has relied upon it in part for the treatment of many conditions stemming from his activities and lack thereof. So like it or not money other healthy and right-acting people put into their health care plans has been diverted and will continue to be diverted to pay for the consequences of Rush Limbaugh's bodily abuses. That is the very nature of insurance, take from the well to give to the sick, regardless of a cruelly detailed exploration of fault. If Rush Limbaugh were not a talk show host but in the employ of a religious group or of the federal government these health care expenses stemming from questionable activity would be entirely covered. So why does he (and why do conservatives in general) feel the prevention and treatment of the consequences of drinking, smoking, and drug abuse are ok to subsidize but the prevention of the consequences of sex is not? It is because he is a hypocrite, pure and simple. And his abusive descriptions of Sandra Fluke show him to be a very nasty human being, which seems a sad turn.
In the early nineties while in college I often listened to Rush. I rarely agreed with his politics and was in no way a "ditto head", but I often respected his ability to enunciate his difference of opinion. Having caught moments of his shows a few times in recent years, I have been surprised to see the direction his discourse has taken. He was always a bit of a bully but exercised some polite restraint. Now a seeming mirror of the nasty turn in our nation's political discourse he often seems just plain nasty. I hope our nation (Rush very much included) finds its way back.