Archive for May, 2007

How scary can a corporate story be?

May 30, 2007

It’s the story of SEX.COM – a book written by Kieren McCarthy. And according to reviewer Guy Kewney, this book is a true horror story.

And the cleverness of the way McCarthy presents it, is that you think you’re going to read a racy description of the high life of a few wealthy California dotcom millionaires, playing at pornography – but what you end up soaking into your soul, is a deep understanding of the pioneering days of the Internet.

And the story you actually read, being one you would probably have dismissed if you were told what it was about as “boring, business stuff” – this boring tale is actually the one that has you staying up late into the night, unable to say: “I’ll finish it in the morning!” And it’s the tale of corporate deception, implacable monopoly abuse and downright evil around the boardroom, which means that when you turn the last page and switch off the light, the darkness of the night is almost tangible and fearful. But the monster that lurks beyond the curtains isn’t the drug-crazed obsessive geek; it’s not the relentless, bullying conman.

It’s the corporate giant which waits for you beyond the borders of sleep, with nightmares where you find yourself, too, helpless to resist a foe beyond your power and apparently immune to the Law. It’s a brilliant bit of writing. Read it if you dare. is published by Quercus Non-Fiction at £12.99 – ISBN 10: 1 905204 66 3 ISBN 13: 978 1 905204 66 3

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My mask smells nicer than your jockstrap…

May 29, 2007

Japanese for beginners? You could say that.

USB for hay fever?Someone actually went to the trouble of trying to find out why this young woman is considering plugging her face mask into her PC’s USB comms port.

They fed the advertising blurb that comes with the picture into a translator. It has to be said: things rather go down hill from there.

Here’s Google’s translation: “Because season of the pollen which starts from now on, there is no ginger however the mask is attached, the steaming/evaporation … it does between the mask and the mouth, becomes stifling and, furthermore it becomes unpleasant… the air outside is sent in the mask … oral original displeasure is lightened.”

So, here’s the real deal. What this is, is an anti-halitosis device. Your face mask gets wet and steamy and basically, it smells. And the fans blow the stink away. OK?

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Want to understand “RAW” photography?

May 26, 2007

I found this. The original site is Cambridge In Colour and this is from their Tutorials


The RAW file format is digital photography’s equivalent of a negative in film photography: it contains untouched, “raw” pixel information straight from the digital camera’s sensor. The RAW file format has yet to undergo demosaicing, and so it contains just one red, green, or blue value at each pixel location. Digital cameras normally “develop” this RAW file by converting it into a full color JPEG or TIFF image file, and then store the RAW file in your memory card. Digital cameras have to make several interpretive decisions when they develop a RAW file, and so the RAW file format offers you more control over how the final JPEG or TIFF image is generated. This section aims to illustrate the technical advantages of RAW files, and makes suggestions about when to use the RAW file format.


A RAW file is developed into a final JPEG or TIFF image in several steps, each of which may contain several irreversible image adjustments. One key advantage of RAW is that it allows the photographer to postpone applying these adjustments– giving more flexibility to the photographer to later apply these themselves, in a way which best suits each image. The following diagram illustrates the sequence of adjustments:

RAW Image Read Bayer Image Debayerized image Final Image from RAW RAW file recorded on memory card

 Demosaicing     White Balance Tone Curves Contrast Color
 Saturation Sharpening Conversion to 8-bit JPEG Compression

 Demoisaicing and white balance involve interpreting and converting the bayer array into an image with all three colors at each pixel, and occur in the same step. The bayer array is what makes the first image appear more pixelated than the other two, and gives the image a greenish tint.

Our eyes perceive differences in lightness logarithmically, and so when light intensity quadruples we only perceive this as a doubling in the amount of light. A digital camera, on the other hand, records differences in lightness linearly– twice the light intensity produces twice the response in the camera sensor. This is why the first and second images above look so much darker than the third. In order for the numbers recorded within a digital camera to be shown as we perceive them, tone curves need to be applied.

Color saturation and contrast may also be adjusted, depending on the setting within your camera. The image is then sharpened to offset the softening caused by demosaicing, which is visible in the second image.

The high bit depth RAW image is then converted into 8-bits per channel, and compressed into a JPEG based on the compression setting within your camera. Up until this step, RAW image information most likely resided within the digital camera’s memory buffer.

There are several advantages to performing any of the above RAW conversion steps afterwards on a personal computer, as opposed to within a digital camera. The next sections describe how using RAW files can enhance these RAW conversion steps.


Demosaicing is a very processor-intensive step, and so the best demosaicing algorithms require more processing power than is practical within today’s digital cameras. Most digital cameras therefore take quality-compromising shortcuts to convert a RAW file into a TIFF or JPEG in a reasonable amount of time. Performing the demosaicing step on a personal computer allows for the best algorithms since a PC has many times more processing power than a typical digital camera. Better algorithms can squeeze a little more out of your camera sensor by producing more resolution, less noise, better small-scale color accuracy and reduced moiré. Note the resolution advantage shown below:


JPEG (in-camera)

Images from actual camera tests with a Canon EOS 20D using an ISO 12233 resolution test chart. Differential between RAW and JPEG resolution may vary camera model and conversion software.

The in-camera JPEG image is not able to resolve lines as closely spaced as those in the RAW image. Even so, a RAW file cannot achieve the ideal lines shown, because the process of demosaicing always introduces some softening to the image. Only sensors which capture all three colors at each pixel location could achieve the ideal image shown at the bottom (such as Foveon-type sensors).


White balance is the process of removing unrealistic color casts, so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your photo. Color casts within JPEG images can often be removed in post-processing, but at the cost of bit depth and color gamut. This is because the white balance has effectively been set twice: once in RAW conversion and then again in post-processing. RAW files give you the ability to set the white balance of a photo after the picture has been taken– without unnecessarily destroying bits.


Digital cameras actually record each color channel with more precision than the 8-bits (256 levels) per channel used for JPEG images (see “Understanding Bit Depth“). Most current cameras capture each color with 12-bits of precision (212 = 4096 levels) per color channel, providing several times more levels than could be achieved by using an in-camera JPEG. Higher bit depth decreases the susceptibility to posterization, and increases your flexibility when choosing a color space and in post-processing.


The RAW file format usually provides considerably more “dynamic range” than a JPEG file, depending on how the camera creates its JPEG. Dynamic range refers to the range of light to dark which can be captured by a camera before becoming completely white or black, respectively. Since the raw color data has not been converted into logarithmic values using curves (see overview), the exposure of a RAW file can be adjusted slightly– after the photo has been taken. Exposure compensation can correct for metering errors, or can help bring out lost shadow or highlight detail. The following example was taken directly into the setting sun, and shows the same RAW file with -1 stop, 0 (no change), and +1 stop exposure compensation. Move your mouse over each to see how exposure compensation affects the image:

Apply Exposure Compensation:

Apply Exposure Compensation: Note: +1 or -1 stop refers to a doubling or halving of the light used for an exposure, respectively. A stop can also be listed in terms of eV, and so +1 stop is equivalent to +1 eV. Note the broad range of shadow and highlight detail across the three images. Similar results could not be achieved by merely brightening or darkening a JPEG file– both in dynamic range and in the smoothness of tones. A graduated neutral density filter (see Dynamic Range within the Techniques section) could then be used to better utilize this broad dynamic range.


 Since a RAW file is untouched, sharpening has not been applied within the camera. Much like demosaicing, better sharpening algorithms are often far more processor intensive. Sharpening performed on a personal computer can thus create fewer halo artifacts for an equivalent amount of sharpening (see “Sharpening Using an Unsharp Mask” for examples of sharpening artifacts). Since sharpness depends on the intended viewing distance of your image, the RAW file format also provides more control over what type and how much sharpening is applied (given your purpose). Sharpening is usually the last post-processing step since it cannot be undone, so having a pre-sharpened JPEG is not optimal.


The RAW file format uses a lossless compression, and so it does not suffer from the compression artifacts visible with “lossy” JPEG compression. RAW files contain more information and achieve better compression than TIFF, but without the compression artifacts of JPEG. Compression: Image shown at 200%. Lossy JPEG compression at 60% in Adobe Photoshop. Note: Kodak and Nikon employ a slightly lossy RAW compression algorithm, although any artifacts are much lower than would be perceived with a similar JPEG image. The efficiency of RAW compression also varies with digital camera manufacturer. DISADVANTAGES * RAW files are much larger than similar JPEG files, and so fewer photos can fit within the same memory card. * RAW files are more time consuming since they may require manually applying each conversion step. * RAW files often take longer to be written to a memory card since they are larger, therefore most digital cameras may not achieve the same frame rate as with JPEG. * RAW files cannot be given to others immediately since they require specific software to load them, therefore it may be necessary to first convert them into JPEG. * RAW files require a more powerful computer with more temporary memory (RAM).


One problem with the RAW file format is that it is not very standardized. Each camera has their own proprietary RAW file format, and so one program may not be able to read all formats. Fortunately, Adobe has announced a digital negative (DNG) specification which aims to standardize the RAW file format. In addition, any camera which has the ability to save RAW files should come with its own software to read them. Good RAW conversion software can perform batch processes and often automates all conversion steps except those which you choose to modify. This can mitigate or even eliminate the ease of use advantage of JPEG files. Many newer cameras can save both RAW and JPEG images simultaneously. This provides you with an immediate final image, but retains the RAW “negative” just in case more flexibility is desired later


So which is better: RAW or JPEG? There is no single answer, as this depends on the type of photography you are doing. In most cases, RAW files will provide the best solution due to their technical advantages and the decreasing cost of large memory cards. RAW files give the photographer far more control, but with this comes the trade-off of speed, storage space and ease of use. The RAW trade-off is sometimes not worth it for sports and press photographers, although landscape and most fine art photographers often choose RAW in order to maximize the image quality potential of their digital camera.

Bent Spoon Copyright Act

May 25, 2007

Urban Shamanism!Wendy Grossman, writing her net.wars column in newswireless this week, says:

“I hazard no guesses as to Geller’s motives when he contacted YouTube, cited the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, claimed copyright in a 13-minute video critiquing his claims, and demanded the video’s removal. But in doing so, he attracted the attention of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which does not take DMCA takedowns lightly.”

Geller may lose.

“In a perfect world, the question of whether Geller actually has paranormal powers would have long since been resolved through scientific testing. But in the end, whether he has such powers or not, he is relatively insignificant. If he has a paranormal ability to affect metal, it seems to be largely useless for anything other than showmanship,”

writes Grossman.

“But shouldn’t it have changed the world?”

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coup for EU’s Reding, not many dead

May 24, 2007

Excitement over the cut in roaming charges in the European Community was universal. Or… was it?

One analyst told NewsWireless: “It won’t make as much difference as people seem to think. For a start, several carriers have anticipated the legislation and started scaling back on their roaming charges a year ago. Vodafone will be able to claim that its average cost per minute for making and receiving calls is already lower than the new EU tariff.”

Also, the average mobile user was only slightly affected, said this analyst. “It’s a shock to get a bill after your two-week holiday in Greece or Spain, perhaps. But as a proportion of your annual phone spend, it’s a one-off. Corporate users have roaming deals with their network providers, and don’t pay anything like the headline rates. So it’s a good PR stunt for Reding, but in reality, it isn’t going to affect the carriers a lot.”

Full story at newswireless.

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Phone cells? or honey cells? Is wireless really the problem for bees?

May 23, 2007

Interesting take on the theory that cellphones and WiFi are causing “colony collapse disaster” in bee-hives.

"wild" honeycombResearchers have suggested that one possible explanation for “Colony Collapse Disaster” or CCD – where bees desert their hives – might be cellular radio, or WiFi. Some wireless experts are sceptical about the number of hives located near hotspots, and so for one possible alternative solution, it might be worth studying how big the bees are, and how long it takes them to fill a honeycomb cell with honey.

More at

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Yes, why doesn’t IKEA do PC kits?

May 18, 2007

/>And another thing, Wendy: did you install Vista on your ?
new toy?

This week’s net.wars raises a good question:

…you really have to wonder why Ikea hasn’t started selling flat-packed computer kits.

But if the redoubtable Wendy Grossman built a PC, as she says, did she install XP, or Vista?

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IBM Alphaworks terms and conditions

May 16, 2007

Scary – isn’t it?
alphaWorks Services | Terms of Use

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Welcome to alphaWorks Services: online delivery of emerging software services from IBM research and development labs. Try them out and let us know what you think.

alphaWorks Services Use Agreement

Please read this agreement carefully. Your use of any service made available through alphaWorks Services (“the Service”) indicates that You accept the following terms and conditions. If You do not agree to these terms and conditions, You may not use the Service.


You may submit information to alphaWorks Services, which IBM will use to run a designated program, generate results, and provide the results to You, which may include software, over the World Wide Web. You may use the results for your own personal, lawful research. You agree not to imply that the results have any warranty or endorsement from IBM. IBM provides this Service at no charge. You agree not to send automated queries of any sort to alphaWorks Services.

Any information that You submit to IBM and the results are considered non-confidential, and IBM will be free to disclose them for any purpose. IBM will not return to You the information You submit. For quality control and other purposes, IBM may monitor your use of the Service and transmission of information through it. IBM is not responsible for any third party seeing or obtaining information or results transmitted through the Service.

For alphaWorks Services which accept user-submitted materials, You also agree not to submit anyone else’s copyrightable material to alphaWorks Services unless You obtain written permission of the copyright holder to license the copyrightable material to IBM, consistent with the terms of this Agreement. You also agree not to submit any Software to IBM through the Service. You represent that the information you submit does not violate a privacy, publicity or moral right, or disclose personal, government, business or other information without permission. You agree not to submit to the Service any material that: (a) is inaccurate, harmful, obscene, defamatory or otherwise offensive or objectionable to IBM or other users of the Service; or (b) violates laws of which you are aware. Information relating to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and IBM’s designated agent can be found at ( ). If You are a student or employee of a college or university, a member of the university’s intellectual property licensing department or other authorized person must approve the terms of this Agreement.


The term of this Agreement will begin when You first use the Service, and will end the earliest of when You stop using the Service, or when IBM withdraws or ends your access to the Service. IBM may terminate your use of the Service and remove any information submitted by You from IBM’s website, at any time and for any reason.



You are solely responsible for determining the appropriateness of this Service for your purpose, and assume all risks associated with its use, including risks connected with your submission of information. The risks You assume include, but are not limited to, the risks of program errors; damage to or loss of information, programs or equipment; and unavailability or interruption of operations. Neither IBM nor its suppliers are responsible for the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, reliability, content or availability of the Service or results from it.

IBM will not be liable for any direct damages; special, incidental, or indirect damages; or economic consequential damages (including lost profits or savings), even if IBM has been advised of the possibility of such damages. IBM will not be liable for the loss of or damage to your information or results, or any damages claimed by You based on a third party claim, including a licensor of information You submit. Some jurisdictions do not allow for the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so these exclusions and limitations may not apply to You.

The information You provide may be posted on the alphaWorks Services website. Anyone who agrees to the terms of this Agreement can access and download such information for her or his personal use for ninety days from downloading. You agree to indemnify and hold IBM harmless from all damages, liabilities, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, incurred by IBM as a result of any claim, proceeding or judgment arising out of your use of the Service or the results, your submission of information, or out of IBM’s disclosure, copying, distribution, display, performance, or preparation of derivative works of the information that You provide to IBM.


By entering into this Agreement You grant IBM a perpetual, worldwide and irrevocable license under all intellectual property rights (including copyright) to use, copy, distribute, sublicense, display, perform and prepare derivative works of any information that You provide to IBM, including but not limited to arrangements, visualizations, and selections of information, and feedback and suggestions You provide to IBM. For any information You provide to IBM that originates from a third party, You state that You are not aware of anyone who holds intellectual property or other rights, such as rights to privacy, that could prevent IBM from exercising the rights listed in this paragraph.


This Agreement is governed by the laws of the State of New York, without regard to its conflicts of laws provisions. IBM provides the Service to You in the United States. You agree to comply with all applicable United States laws, including those regarding the export of data, whether or not You use the Service in the United States. You are also responsible for complying with all other laws and regulations that apply to your use of the Service.

This Agreement, the Terms of Use Agreement for alphaWorks software (if You are provided software in using this Service) and the IBM Terms of Use (located at ) are the only agreements we have regarding your use of the Service. They replace all other communications and agreements we may have had prior to this Agreement. IBM may modify this Agreement at any time by posting a new agreement with the Service. If You do not accept the modification, You must promptly stop using the Service. By continuing to use the Service, You accept the modification. Neither party will bring a legal action arising out of this Agreement more than one year after the cause of action arose.

If any part of this Agreement is held to be invalid or unenforceable, it will not affect the validity or enforceability of the rest of the Agreement. Without further action of the parties, that part will be reformed to the minimum extent necessary to make it valid and enforceable.

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Rocket Stove: how to make more efficient space heating

May 16, 2007

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#In the last 13 years, variations of the Rocket Stove have been built in over 20 countries.

Efficiency: 12-42%. The efficiency depends on type of a heat exchanger used.
ConstructionSimple to construct with a number of different materials.  The simplest Rocket Stove can be built with thick tin cans and wood ash (5,000 of these were built in refugee camps in Zaire).
Material costs $0-$20 US. In Honduras we made a simple refugee version of this stove for approximately $1.50 US in material costs.
Life expectancy: Is 2 weeks to ten years depending on the materials used.

The Rocket elbow can be made from different materials to improve its durability.  We have used sand/clay (Lorena), pumice/concrete, heavy steel pipe, 430 stainless steel or special heat resistant ceramic.  Currently all of our stoves in Honduras are built with this type of refractory ceramic.



Each of our wood cookstoves incorporates a unique combustion chamber. This is how the Rocket elbow works:



This elbow is then placed inside of a container that is filled with insulation . The container can be made from almost any material. We have used 5 gallon drums, brick, clay, cement. For insulation we suggest using wood ash or pearlite, or pumice,. Do not use massive things such as earth, sand,or cement. These will rob heat from the stove and reduce your combustion efficiency. For optimal use we recommend a 9″ chimney and a 4″ fuel feed magazine.

The Rocket stove is an improvement over the three stone fire but it is only one part of the equation. In order to really save fuel wood we must maximize the heat transfer to the pot.


This picture shows a thin piece of metal (a skirt) wrapped around the pot. This skirt forces the hot flue gases to rub against the bottom and the sides of the pots. The gap between the pot and the skirt should be about 1cm (assuming you are using an average-sized pot).  In our tests, this simple heat exchanger (an old coffee can works well!) almost doubles the efficiency of the rocket stove.

Back to Stove Page | Back Home


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As Bill Gates plans to buy Yahoo for the advertising…

May 9, 2007

Seattle blogger Todd Bishop reports his Sermon on Media. He says that reading will go ‘completely online’ and yet, he seems not to understand the drawbacks of computer display technology. Quote from Todd’s blog:

In fact the only drawbacks of the digital form are the things associated with the device: how big is it, heavy is it, how many hours of power does it have, how much do I have to spend to buy it? But those are things that once you achieve that threshold, in terms of the convenience and the cost, then you see a dramatic change in behavior. Today, for people who read newspapers and magazines, even the most avid PC user probably still does quite a bit of reading on print. As the device moves down in size and simplicity, that will change, and so somewhere in the next five-year period we’ll hit that transition point, and things will be even more dramatic than they are today.”

Well, yes. He’s obviously done some homework! But has he done enough? Does he really understand e-paper?

On the printed page vs. the screen: “Reading is going to go completely online. We believe that as we get the smaller form factor, the screen has gotten good enough. Why is reading online better? It’s up to date, you can navigate, you can follow links.

Yeah, sure. And the resolution is a fifth of even poor newsprint; and you can’t pick the screen up and hand it to a friend to laugh over, and you can’t lie down and hold it above your head, and if you don’t read fast, your battery runs down and all the print vanishes.

The ads in the online reading are completely targeted as opposed to just being run-of-print, where many of the readers will find them completely irrelevant. The ads can be in new and richer formats.

Again, he’s assuming PCs. But not all display technologies can cope with these “new and richer formats” and (more to the point!) these new and richer adverts can be blocked!

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