Archive for July, 2008

Roger in Red

Saturday, July 26th, 2008
Roger in Red

I have been very very busy working on lots of things that I can’t talk about.

Roger is but days away from his 8th birthday. In this photo, he is illuminated by the same LEDs I used to illuminate my self-portrait with a bit of emphasis on the less extreme range of lighting.

I like the result. Captured Roger nicely in one of his rare quiet moments.

Hand in the Eye

I also grabbed an extreme close-up of the LEDs reflected in his eye. You can see the shape of the source of illumination.



Appliance Hell: GE Refrigerator & Samsung Microwave

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Recently, we have been experiencing a bit of appliance stupidity in our house.

Replacement parts for our refrigerator seem to be a major profit center for GE and our microwave was clearly designed by jackasses.

Read on for many too many details.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aperture: RAW 1.0 vs. 2.0 (Self Portrait in Red)

Saturday, July 19th, 2008
Self Portrait

A couple of days ago as Ben and I were biking into work, we stopped at an intersection and chatted with one of the folk who maintains the stoplights in the Cupertino / San Jose / Sunnyvale area.

He was in the process of changing out some of the lamps in the cross walk signs, eliminating at least one incandescent lamp and replacing an LED element with a newer model.

I took a moment to examine the LED element that he had removed and he gave it to me. SWEET!

It is somewhere around 60+ reddish-orange LEDs arranged on a printed circuit board in the form of the standard “don’t walk” hand. It is backed by a power supply such that it can be plugged into a standard 120v outlet.

And it is bright. Seriously, blindingly, bright.

I figured it would also make a neat light source for photography and decided to use it as the sole source of illumination for a self portrait. I put the camera on a tripod, used a remote switch to control the shutter, and aimed the LEDs at my head from a slightly down and off-to-the-left position.

Interesting shot. I dig it.

That is pretty much the natural color of the image. I did very little post-processing beyond cropping the image.

Self Portrait in Red (RAW 2.0)

The one processing parameters that I did tweak that had a major impact on the resulting image, was to use Aperture’s RAW 1.0 processor instead of the 2.0 processor.

Much to my surprise, the difference between the two is huge!

Normally, I use the 2.0 processor and don’t think much about it. It does a great job, to these unprofessional eyes.

However, it appears that photos in the extremes of range are not necessarily best processed by the 2.0 pipeline.

Specifically: the only difference between the image on the right and the image above is the use of the 2.0 (right) vs. 1.0 (above) RAW processing pipeline. All other adjustments are the same.

That is a significant difference!

Certainly an eye opener and I will be re-evaulating certain images in light of this.

A bug? Hardly. Converting a RAW image to something that can be rendered on screen requires a relatively complex bit of math that is specifically designed to yield reasonable results given a wide range of reasonable inputs.

This is not a very reasonable image. It is lit by an intense light source comprised of relatively narrow bands of color; mostly orangish red.

I wonder what other RAW pipelines might do with this image? I dropped the original RAQ (w/sidecar) in a zip file on a server, if curious.


Peter asked some interesting questions in the comments.

I played with the image a bit with both the 2.0 and the 1.0 pipeline. I couldn’t post-process the 2.0 image to bring out the level of detail/features found in the 1.0 image. Caveat: I barely know what I’m doing.

Honestly, I’m not sure which image is “less correct”. I like the 1.0 image a lot better in that I like the range of oranges that seem to be utterly missing in the 2.0 image.

My general impression of RAW pipelines is that there is a tremendous amount of math behind the RAW conversion process, but there is also a whole bunch of tuning for aesthetics. Camera sensors simply do not have the dynamic range of the human eye and, thus, RAW conversion is partially about compensating for the limitations of the sensors.

Cocktails: Beautifully Designed Mixology Tool

Saturday, July 12th, 2008
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Prior to prohibition in the United States, gathering together in a party atmosphere, collecting fine quality ingredients, and precisely mixing/serving cocktails was a popular pastime.

Much like microbrewing, much of the lore of fine cocktailing was lost during prohibition. After prohibition ended, the large liquor and beer companies lobbied like hell to pass laws to prevent the resurrection of the craft alcohol and microbrew markets.

In the past 15 or so years, we have enjoyed a huge resurgence of craft brewing. Similarly, about the last decade has seen a growing interest in the art of fine cocktail mixology.

While this has included the rise of some very fine drinking establishments focused on classic cocktails, the hobbyist mixology market is growing rapidly, too.

If you are going to get into Mixology, you need a good recipe guide. Many paper guides exist, the best (that I know of) being Cunningham’s Bartender’s Black Book.

However, you can’t easily search a book by ingredient or flavor. You can’t be standing in a liquor store and think “I have bourbon, what do I need to make a couple of fine cocktails”. Nor can you experience a minor quake while in the liquor store and immediately look up quake related cocktails.

For that, you need an electronic guide and, with the advent of the iPhone application store, wouldn’t it be nice if such a guide were to be available in a device that you are likely already carrying anyway?

Enter Skorpiostech’s Cocktails.

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With over 1,400 cocktail recipes, Cocktails contains a fairly comprehensive list of classic and modern cocktails.

Drinks are indexed by ingredients, flavors, base ingredient, and several other categories.

It is easy to search for a particular ingredient, making it possible to get an idea of the set of drinks you might be able to make given what you have on hand.

As well, you can easily share drinks via email or twitterrific.

All in all, the app is a very solid offering for 1.0. There are some obvious areas for refinement or expansion and I’m looking forward to watching this app evolve.

However, that isn’t the reason why I’m reviewing this otherwise very useful application.

Specifically, I’m calling it out because of the design value.

Cocktails is simply a beautiful app to look at and use. While the list of cocktails is relatively normal looking, the glass icon being the graphical element standout, it is really the recipe page — seen to the right — that shows an incredible attention to detail.

The typography is precise and crisp, with appropriate bits of unicode characters used when necessary.

Also, the background changes color depending on the age of the drink. For example, the Manhattan cocktail dates back to 1888, yet there are many modern versions, too. If you were to flick that recipe to the left, the backgrounds of the recipe would become lighter as the age of the recipe lessens.

A minor detail, sure, but it actually contributes considerably to the usability when simply browsing for a recipe!

Apple Remote: Remote Control Done Right!

Thursday, July 10th, 2008
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This morning, my software update queue was full of goodies.

Notably: iTunes 7.7, iPhone 2.0, and an Apple TV software update! And the App Store is live!

After the updates, the first App I downloaded was the Apple Remote.

Flat out brilliance.

Much like pairing the Apple TV with iTunes, you enter a 4 digit pin number displayed on your iPhone (or iPod touch) on the Apple TV.

Once paired, the user interface is very similar to the iPod UI. Playlists, artists, songs, etc… select what you want to play… displays art work, yada yada.

And in well fell swoop, every other remote (there are 5, if you include two Apple IR Remotes) was obsoleted.

Having bi-directional, fully stateful, communication between the remote and the media playback device is a gigantic game changer. It means that the remote can actually meaningfully tell you what is going on and and can provide UI pertinent to the context implied therein.

That is, you can touch your music, scrub a track with your finger, flick through a playlist and otherwise get your fingers right into your media playback.

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You can even update ratings. For me, being able to update ratings is a huge feature. I have smart playlists that put together random selections of tracks over a certain rating, in a certain genre, that I haven’t heard in a while. It creates a set of personalized radio stations out of my music collection. And now it’ll be even more effective because I’ll be rating many more tracks much more quickly!

This changes the game in my living room. Completely. My media center’s remote is now more powerful than any computer I bought in the 1990s. And every one of my friends who has a similar device can now be a DJ.

It isn’t perfect. At the moment, it doesn’t appear that you can play rental material from the remote interface and you can’t create on-the-go playlists. Nor can you set ratings when controlling an Apple TV (but that is an Apple TV limitation).

Sure, as one commenter pointed out, there are other products that offer this style of remote control.

But I don’t want an expensive, dedicated, limited capability, complex remote with a shoddy user interface. I want the power of a computer to control my media playback. In my hand. Only I don’t want to know it is a computer — I want it to just work. With a high quality user experience and seamless network integration.


You people have dirty minds! The !Adult smart playlist merely filters out all songs for which the word adult appears in the comments. For example, Nine Inch Nail‘s Closer has adult in the comments and will never play when that playlist is selected.