Sun, 31 Aug 2008

New Project: ImageGetter

I put together a little project that attempts to gather the "zeitgeist" image from a particular web site, and returns it.

Here's how it might work... Imagine a message boards application, like PHPBB, for example. As you type in a URL to share, a little bit of javascript gets executed which loads an image from a remote page for you to include with the link.

Here's a Web 1.0 way of illustrating it (I need to get a nice AJAX library installed on my blog, so the 2.0 version is forthcoming). Just type in a URL into the box and click "Go". A new window will open with the "zeitgeist image", if there is an image that seems suitable. Works on sites like flickr, but not so much on google, although I suspect I could tweak it to work.

Let me know what sites you've tried it on, and whether it worked, or if it didn't, what image you think it should have brought up.

Sat, 16 Aug 2008

1.977 centimeters

Type the following query into google: "(100 m) / (50.58 s) * 0.01 seconds in centimeters" (or you can just click)... The answer you get back will look like this:

((100 m) / (50.58 s)) * (0.01 seconds) = 1.97706603 centimeters

What does this equation tell us?

Michael Phelps swam the 100m butterfly in 50.58 seconds, at an average rate of 1.97 meters per second (or roughly 6 feet every second).

He won this race by 1/100th of a second.

That means that he won this race by approximately 1.97706603 centimeters. For those of you not quite sure how far that is, (just ask Google "1.97706603 centimeters in inches") it's basically 3/4". This is remarkable for two reasons.

First, if they had touched closer to 3/8" apart, 1/200ths of a second would have elapsed between the touches, and the calibration of the timers would not have been able to tell the times apart-- that is, Cavic's time would likely have been the same as Phelps if they had touched any closer than 3/8ths of an inch because at the (average) speed they were swimming, such distance would represent a quantum of time less than 1/100th of a second.

Second, the irony is that the only reason he won by that much is that he thought he lost:
As soon as I took that last half stroke, to be honest, I thought I'd lost the race. I guess that was the difference because if I had glided then I would have came up short.
If he didn't think he had lost, he wouldn't have taken another stroke, and wouldn't have beaten Cavic.


Fri, 15 Aug 2008

Olympic Swimming - A Bit Much?

Variety is the spice of life, as they say, but Olympic swimming is a little overboard.

I guess I'm an olympic "purist". While I appreciate many olympic sports, I don't think the olympics is the right venue for them.

The original motto of the Olympics is "Citius, Altius, Fortius" ("Faster, Stronger, Higher"), so my unconventional opinion is that the olympics ought to consist purely of events that you can set world records in (by the way, these tend to be measures of faster, stronger higher...).

What does that leave in the olympics? Cycling, Rowing, Swimming, Track & Field, Triathlon, and Weightlifting. Everything else, in my wonderfully simplified world, would be cut.

I did admit it was an unconventional opinion, no?

Further, I think each of these remaining sports ought to be distilled down to "faster, stronger, higher", which means they ought to eliminate the butterfly, backstroke and the breaststroke in swimming. They're simply concocted forms that cripple swimmers from swimming faster. (Track and Field could also benefit from killing events like the hurdles, speedwalking, and steeplechase, but at least you don't see stuff like the "100m crabwalk" and the "200m wheelbarrow" or the "400m bearwalk"... And weightlifting would lose the snatch, since all lifters can generally lift more using the clean and jerk-- but if you can do better with a snatch, more power to you.)

Anyway, olympic swimming would be a little less... obese... if it consisted of just 16 events-- 8 for women, 8 for men, six each of individual races of varying length from 50m to 1500m, and 2 each of relays. If you swim one of the other strokes faster than the freestyle, you're welcome to use it. The idea is to get from start to finish as fast as possible, in the water, and again, you ought to be able to do it any way you want, whether that's underwater, dolphin kicking all the way, or doing the doggy paddle.

Some of the events I would evict can either focus on existing annual or quadrannual events which attract the stars as much as or more than the olympics, and those that don't have such events could either create them, if there are enough viewers/fans to sustain it, or go on and sulk back into obscurity (rhythmic gymnastics, I'm talking about you).

Meanwhile, any of the existing sports wanting to change their format to faster/stronger/higher could come back. For example, in Gymnastics, the vault could become a distance event... "Nastia Lukin vaulted 34 feet!" or "Yang Wei held the iron cross for 17 seconds on the rings!" or "Kerry Walsh spiked a ball with the net at 2.25m" would work for me... Go ahead, call me crazy. :)

Name/Blog: Jeff Lechtanski
Title: Olympic Sympathizer
Comment/Excerpt: Following a strict constructionist model, confining the games to only timed events is too stringent. The ancient games included boxing and wrestling. And once you open the gates to competitions where your only goal is to take out the competitor, it is a slippery slope. You end up with beach volleyball.

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Exactly...
Comment/Excerpt: That's why I didn't bother starting down the slope... I was tempted to keep boxing and wrestling for precisely the reason you stated, but it foiled my plan. Last thing we need is olympic golf, polo, arm wrestling, thumb wrestling (hey, why not?), and kickball.

Tue, 12 Aug 2008

New Blog Layout

I've widened the layout of my blog in anticipation of highlighting more of my photography. The previous layout favored more whitespace, but the wider format will play nicer not only for landscape photography, but allow for larger feature images.

Stay tuned for more!

Mon, 11 Aug 2008

Testing New Blog Feature

I'm testing a new feature I'm building that will automatically add EXIF data to images I load into my blog.
This is a test:

File name : blog_images/4th.jpg File size : 84395 bytes File date : 2009:04:30 15:35:18 Resolution : 470 x 706

Photo of Lake Washington

Taken July 4th, 2008

Name/Blog: Christine
Title: Wow
Comment/Excerpt: You have become an amazing photographer!!

Exif Feature Added

I've added an exif feature, as you can see from the previous blog entry.

What this means for readers is that I can automagically include EXIF data (data that cameras encode into a jpg about how it was taken) for specific images by using a custom tag when I'm creating blog entries.

What this means for blosxom users who read my blog (just Rus, I presume) is that if you want to take advantage of this, I have a plugin for you, called add_exif.

If you don't use blosxom, and want a similar feature for your blog, and are reasonably comfortable with perl scripts, go ahead and take a look at the plugin... It wouldn't be hard to make an SSI out of it.

To see it in action, scroll down and observe what the image looks like below without a mouseover, and what happens when you mouse over it.

Name/Blog: rus
Title: oooo... very nice!
Comment/Excerpt: great work, nicely done!

Fri, 08 Aug 2008

Mac vs. PC - $78 to $355 difference!

I've covered the topic of the Mac vs. PC price myth before, but a couple of recent developments led me to redo the comparison.

First, on a mailing list I'm on, one reader remarked, "[I] can't find a way to justify the ultra premium price which I find to be approximately 4x what I can build a Linux box for".

Second, Tom's Hardware recently published an article on "The Apple Mac Cost Misconception", where they compared a $2000 laptop from Dell and Apple, and a $2780 Mac Pro vs. a comparable home-built PC. The results, unsurprising to me, is that the Mac Pro is about a latte's difference ($5.87) away from the PC, which you have to take the time to put together yourself and doesn't come with an integrated warranty.

The problem with Tom's comparison, however, is that they didn't look at the low end of the scale. Now, all comparisons can be assailed in some fashion, including mine. What's important to state first and foremost is the thesis of the comparison. Namely, what could you get for your money if you were thinking about spending $599 for an entry-level Mac Mini from Apple? To make the comparison as fair as possible, I tried to replicate the market segment of the Mac Mini, by selecting the mini-ATX PC form factor (17cm x 17cm), and as similar as possible hardware.

I long ago (in 1998) abandoned the PC market, so I don't claim to have used the cheapest PC components. Surely, some of these can be found cheaper, but I think it's still illustrative to the point of "is a Mac really more expensive?" Rather, I followed in Tom's footsteps, for better or worse, as much as I could, to get pricing for the components. (I, like them, used's pricing and chose the cheapest, but most comparable component they sold. If anyone is interested, I'll post the URLs of all the products separately.)

Without any further ado, here's the price comparison: (boldface indicates line item winner)
Apple Mac Mini $599.00 Homebuilt Mini-ITX PC Chassis Included APEX Mini-ITX Case $ 55.99 Intel Core2Due 1.83Ghz CPU Included Intel Core2Duo 1.83Ghz CPU $278.75 Apple integrated motherboard Included JetWay Socket M Motherboard $189.99 1 External 400Mbps 1394b port Included 1 Internal only 1394b port Included 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet Included 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet Included 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 2x512MB Included Transcend 512MB RAM x2 $ 63.98 80GB Serial ATA drive Included TOSHIBA SATA 80GB drive $ 52.99 8X Slot-loading Combo drive Included ASUS 16x Combo Drive $ 13.99 Built-in Bluetooth 2.0 Included cirago USB 2.0 Bluetooth Dongle $ 6.50 Integrated consumes 1 USB Port Built-in 802.11g Wireless Included Zonet 802.11g PCI Adapter $ 13.99 MacOS X Leopard Included Ubuntu Linux Media $ 1.75 ---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------- Total $599.00 $677.93 Extras: Apple iLife 08 Not Available w/iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, GarageBand Optical SPDIF Input & Output Analog input/output only Front Row Media Center Software Not Available Apple Infrared Remote Not Available

In summary, the Mac mini is hands down a winner in just about every conceivable category. The attractive chassis is designed for the computer, and offers a convenient slot drive, and ports on the back for all of the features of the computer. For example, the handbuilt model has on-board firewire, but no external firewire port. Sure, you can buy a simple Firewire PCI card for less than $15, but the motherboard, chassis, and design spec of a mini-computer doesn't have room for it.

The one area the PC outpaces the Mac mini is in its 16X combo drive, compared to the mini's 8X drive. But this is more than made up for, in my mind, by the slot-loading drive which doesn't compete with other stuff on your desktop when the tray ejects.

Aside from this, the Mac mini runs up the score in every other category. Built-in bluetooth means no need to consume a USB slot with a clumsy dongle. The Mac mini has optical input and output via SPDIF mini jacks, which you'd have to buy a separate card for on the PC-- if you're willing to lose 802.11g. But even in that configuration, the price drops by $14 (lose 802.11g) and climbs by at least $25-30 or more dollars to get the optical SPDIF in/out ports via the PCI slot.

The gap widens a little more, or a lot more, depending on the software comparison. I compared the configuration to Ubuntu Linux, which isn't quite for everyone. However, the poster on the mailing list I'm on mentioned Linux, so I included the $1.75 media cost for Ubuntu. The price difference is dramatically different if you consider the comparison, as Tom's Hardware did it, with Windows Vista Ultimate, at another $277.49!

Finally, the Mac comes with all the hardware installed, a guarantee that the particular hardware configuration is going to work out of the box, no hardware or OS installation required, with no driver tweaks or OS support nightmares, a 1 year warranty, and the ability to take the box to an Apple store to have it serviced, if necessary.

Only those who already have (and discount the cost of) a spare wireless card, bluetooth dongle, DVD drive and spare 2.5" laptop drive could come close to the price of a Mac mini. More realistically, depending on the OS and specific options, the general public would be looking at a premium of anywhere between $78 to $355 more for a comparable PC than for a Mac mini.

Name/Blog: stiiky
Title: International...?
Comment/Excerpt: Hi, I have been reading many, many of these fighting comparisons between folks, on which is the better option and one is more expensive than the other etc etc. What i find interesting is the narrow scope to which all of these comparisons adhere. I live in Australia, and i will say that the Mac price gap is far more extended here. The same spec'd mac mini here costs $849. Now, to my mind, the comparison becomes blurred at that point. I recently put together a system, on paper, comparable to the top end imac (from a hardware point of view) for under $1000 (including 24" samsumg monitor). When you start comparing things at a performance level ,where the niche factor of board size plays less role, it is more difficult to compare. I know that there is the argument, as ever, that the OS is what you pay for. But if you are the type of person to assemble your system yourself, you are likely to be able to manipulate your OS to get he most out of it. And even for the mac experience there are Linux flavours which offer (admittedly impersonated) features like the mac: eg dashboard and the windows/file manager layout/spotlight. I am not saying either way, i have both, just saying that it changes for individuals as well as for locations. Many wishes for your future Blogging. Stiiky

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Response to stiiky
Comment/Excerpt: You make a good point, the price comparisons can vary from country to country, and product by product. I will say, however, that comparing to the "top end imac" which is an all in one form factor, may not be a fair comparison for some people... For those who care less if their CPU and display are separate units, your comparison will demonstrate the value of a PC. On the other hand, finding an enclosure that you can build a PC to the back of an LCD, well, that's custom work that will not be cost competitive to "build yourself"...

Name/Blog: Stiiky
Title: The points are never not valid
Comment/Excerpt: This will go back and forward forever. Of course, form factor will be a factor in it all, and the eye candy associated with things is the only feature to distinguish between anyone's "guns". If that was to be taken out of account, you could always set up a good, strong PC, hook it up to a decent projector and, for about the cost of the iMac, you have an ENORMOUS screen, form factor is not an issue and everything is hunky doory :p I don't often comment on these things, because there are so very many threads which do contest this exact point of view. I only chose to here, because i thought you presented a very well balanced and level headed argument. I want to say that, having read some of the other posts on here, i like the cut of your jib andi will concede that personal flavour and taste are the biggest factors between people. i look forward to reading many more posts in the future. regards, Stiiky PS a Vesa mounton the back of your lcd coul solve the form factor :p

Name/Blog: Khan
Comment/Excerpt: I think you made my point there, though. :) That is, if a PC costs the same as an iMac, you can hook the iMac up to the projector and voila... Enormous screen, and form factor is not an issue. In that case, then it simply comes down to user preference... If you ever want to run OS X (legally) you have to choose the Mac. If you want to run Windows or Linux, pick either the Mac or the PC, both will run either OS well enough.

Name/Blog: stiiky
Comment/Excerpt: just to clarify...i meant you could get the pc AND the projector(where i am at least) for the cost of the iMac. Bit of a difference there.

Thu, 07 Aug 2008

Blue Angels at Seafair 2008

On Sunday I took a couple hours to get out of the house and snap some pics of the Blue Angels from Mercer Island.

You can check out all of the pics by clicking on the image, which links to my photoset at Flickr.

Most pictures were taken with my 70-300mm 4-5.6IS/USM lens... However this outing really helped me see the shortcomings of the lens (warning: the remainder of this post consists of photo-geekery, safe to stop reading if this kind of stuff bores you :)...

Don't get me wrong, it is a quite excellent lens, particularly for the money. But here's where this lens, in my opinion, falls a bit short.

  • The lens has a maximum aperture of f4 at 70mm, and 5.6 at 300mm. This means keeping the lens in manual mode requires you adjust the ISO or exposure constantly if you have to dynamically zoom in/out. As a result all of the pics were taken in auto mode, which means that on my XTI, no RAW images (for maximum flexibility in digital post-processing).
  • The USM focus is really slow. If the autofocus happens to miss the object you're trying to focus on (like a fast flying jet), by the time it focuses close and goes back out far, the objective you're trying to shoot might be out of visual range.
  • When you spend over $500 on a lens from Canon, they really should throw in the lens hood. Or, put another way, if you're buying a lens, and it doesn't come with a hood, you're either getting somewhat false economy (considering Canon's high end lenses come with them, price comparisons of cheaper lenses against an L series should include a hood to compare apples to apples)
  • I didn't use a polarizing filter (I've yet to make a significant invest in any filters for my lenses) but I can see how it'd be frustrating to use one with this lens-- the front lens rotates as you zoom in/out, so adjusting the filter would be a pain during action photography.

I like the 70-300mm range that this lens provides as a "walk around" lens. Certainly the 70-300mm is no slouch for landscape or still photography, but for action shots, its no surprise that people opt for the faster L series lenses. I'm not frustrated enough that I'd consider replacing this lens with an L series lens (for one, most affordable lenses stop at 200mm, and I find the extra 100mm of zoom extremly useful)... but I might rent a lens for action photography in the future.

Mon, 04 Aug 2008

Happy 4th of July

I'm getting a lot better at fireworks photography. Here's one of the best of a few dozen pics I took.

Happy 4th of July!

Name/Blog: Christine
Comment/Excerpt: Amazing photo!! Nice job.

Name/Blog: Tim
Title: very nice!
Comment/Excerpt: that's a great shot!

Name/Blog: Justin
Title: nice fireworks
Comment/Excerpt: If you wouldn't mind, I'd love a little blurb about your camera settings, lenses, tripods used to make that shot.

Sun, 03 Aug 2008

What's your TravelIQ?

I was on tripadvisor, and found a neat flash app that test your world geography skills.

Post your scores in the comments!


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