March 2007 Archives

HDR Stained Glass 3
High Dynamic Range image of
stained glass in cathedral in Lisboa
After the ICANN board meeting yesterday, some of us went sightseeing. We visited a beautiful cathedral. It was amazingly fun and full of wonderful photo opportunities after spending a week trying find interesting shots in conference rooms and my hotel room.

One thing I realized after taking some shots of the stained glass was that the cathedral was a perfect opportunity for High Dynamics Range (HDR) imaging. The Wikipedia article describes HDR thus:

In computer graphics and photography, high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) is a set of techniques that allow a far greater dynamic range of exposures (i.e. a large difference between light and dark areas) than normal digital imaging techniques. The intention of HDRI is to accurately represent the wide range of intensity levels found in real scenes ranging from direct sunlight to the deepest shadows.

HDRI was originally developed for use with purely computer-generated images. Later, methods were developed to produce a HDR image from a set of photos taken with a range of exposures. With the rising popularity of digital cameras and easy to use desktop software, the term "HDR" is now popularly used[1] to refer to the process of tone mapping together bracketed exposures of normal digital images, giving the end result a high, often exaggerated dynamic range; however, in this case neither the input nor the output qualify as "true" HDRI.

Because I didn't have a tripod, I couldn't shoot bracketed images, but I was able to take the RAW files that I was shooting and use Photomatix to render HDR images of some of the stained glass shots.

HDR Stained Glass Stained Glass

Here is an example of the same image. The first one has gone through HDR and the second one has only had the levels adjusted. (Sorry, I rotated and cropped the second one so they don't look identical.) You can clearly see that in the second image, you lose detail in both the shadows and the highlights, whereas the first one is able to preserve both. You can argue that the HDR image is "doctored" but some argue that HDR is similar to the way our eyes work. Our eyes, apparently, are able to adjust VERY quickly to the brightness and change "aperture" as it scans between highlights and shadows providing with us with high dynamic range imaging in real life.

I think an argument can be made that HDR is "cheating", but I think it's a fascinating technique that I'm going to try learning more about. Hat tip to Justin who first turned me on to this and to Pat who helped me find the software. Also, I've heard that you can use Photoshop to do HDR, but that Photomatix is easier to use. Pat has a very cool landscape HDR shot and Justin has been experimenting with hand-held HDR.

The application by ICM for the .xxx sTLD has been rejected by the ICANN Board by a 9-5 vote in favor of a resolution to reject the application. Susan Crawford's comments on why she voted against this resolution echo my feelings. I have continued to vote in favor of granting .xxx to ICM and voted against this resolution to reject the application. ICANN is not chartered to be involved in trying to determine whether specific content is appropriate or not. ICANN should not be determining whether top level domains (TLDs) will solve the world's problems or not. We were asked to review an application based on whether the application met the requirements of the Request for Proposal (RFP). My view is that the applicant met the requirements of the RFP and that not granting the applicant their request for the right to run the .xxx TLD is wrong. If the RFP was wrong, this should be taken into consideration when thinking about the next round and not affect our current decision.

On the other hand, as a member of the board, I will respect the majority vote of the board. We have been working on this proposal for years and we have spent a tremendous amount of effort in trying to understanding the arguments and evidence presented to us by a huge number of parties. I urge the public and people who have not been tracking this issue not to over-simplify this issue and read Susan's comments carefully. This is NOT about whether we are for or against pornography. This is about the ICANN process and the role of ICANN.

Njeri Rionge
Njeri Rionge
I've been spending more and more of my time over the last few days looking at the world through the viewfinder of my M8. The predominantly interesting thing here to look at are people. The lighting of the conference is the standard tungsten lighting that causes my M8 sensor to turn everything into a horrible magenta hue. I've figured out how to basically correct for this, but the lighting in most of the meeting rooms is so boring anyway, that my focus has started to shift away from trying to do anything fancy in color during the sessions. Ian gave me some advice about increasing the contrast and shadows of my black and white images for that "Leica look" which seems to help pictures that have boring lighting in color.

The result of looking for characteristic expressions and gestures of everyone here and trying to capture them has been a renewed appreciation for the diversity and depth of the people attending this ICANN meeting. The effect of spending time editing and tweaking the images of my favorite people has really been satisfying and enlightening.

I should probably wait until I'm finished with the conference before posting this, but as an anxious blogger, I'm going to post this now. I am uploading additional photos throughout the day so please come back or refresh the sets if you want to see them as they come in.

You can view the Black and White images as a flickr slideshow or in the normal set view. I have uploaded the color shots as well, but put them in another set and put both sets together as a collection. I was going to go back and "do the B&W Leica thing" on the color images, but since I've got a constant flow of new images, I'm going to focus my post-processing on the new stuff for now.

The photos are licensed under a CC Attribution license of course.

Ian Bogost is helping me figure out my "workflow" and my post processing. He's giving me very good advice on the shots. As I work on trying to figure out how much perfection to work on in the context of my workflow, I realize that I'm getting more and more confused about the role of Flickr on my photography.

My Flickr feed currently consists of everything from quick shots uploaded immediately from my camera phone to quick portraits shot, processed and uploaded in minutes with my Leica to 6X6 film shot with my Hasselblad scanned with my film scanner. The feed also includes my WoW screen shots. It contains everything from presence to "art" and everything mashuped up in between.

I used to upload images to photo.net, but there is a max size and the traffic there seems low. I've started uploading to JPG Magazine, but it's rather intimating and probably still a bit too high end for me.

Any thoughts? How does everyone else manage to separate the various versions of photography in your life and what makes the most sense from the perspective of a viewer? Inevitably, "want to see my pictures?" has been the dread of any house guest, photos usually being more interesting to the photographer than anyone else. Do you even CARE about my photos? If so, what is the best way to present them to you?

From the perspective of a viewer, crappy photos from friends of other friends that tells me a story, or slightly crappy pictures of friends where a gesture or expression make the image for me, or amazing photos from people I don't know - these all "do it" for me. Crappy photos from people I don't know, or even "nice" images from people I don't know are just noise to me. The context is so important. I guess maybe I'll start splitting up my feeds to Radar, Flickr and JPG Magazine or something and blog links here when I want you to look at them. ;-)

M8 with Luigi Crescenzi case

At GDC, Ian Bogost and I were geeking out about the Leica M8. He showed me his M8 and the amazing leather case he had for it. Later I asked him to refer me to his source. There is a guy named Luigi Crescenzi in Italy that makes them. You email Luigi via the somewhat crazy looking website. He took my order immediately and I got it a few days later. I've been sporting it for a few days now and I'm in otaku bliss. The case is really great and has that special handmade loving workmanship thing that really gets me going. It reminds me a bit of some scene from Pattern Recognition.

Following Ian's example, I've started reading and posting to the Leica forums, the mother-lode of Leica otaku madness.

I sort of knew this, but it's clear now. Leicaism isn't really about wanting a "better" camera. It's an excessive obsessive syndrome.

Swimp3
I got my SwiMP3 a few days ago and have used it three times so far. I had been using Dolphin mp3 player recently.

They are very different devices. Both of them mount as an external drive on my Mac and both only play mp3. (No iTunes music store for you!) The Dolphin has earbuds that double as ear plugs, but the rubber buds tend to fall off and I've almost lost them a few times. The SwiMP3 uses bone conduction. The bone conduction works fairly well, but is weak on the high-end compared to the Dolphin. The SwiMP3 also tends to be audible from the outside when you have it jacked up enough to groove to.

One other problem I've had is that Japanese pools tend to be more crowded and stuffy about things like no-jewelry rules and caps. I have a feeling I'm going to be told that I can use them. So far I've been sneaking them in.

Overall, the experience of listening to music in the pool is relaxing and fun. However, it does sort of distract me when I'm trying to focus on fixing my stroke.

Has anyone tried any of the other under-water music players for swimming?

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I have a stupid question... Is there a risk swimming in a pool in a country where the water is not potable or does the chlorine basically "clean" the water?

Ever since the OS X update, Aperture keeps crashing. Bah!

Mar 16 15:52:09 joi crashdump[4663]: Aperture crashed
I reinstalled it and ran a bunch of disk/directory repairs, but no go. I'm switching to Adobe Bridge.

UPDATE: Someone at Apple just told me that the patch I made to the system to get it to do M8 RAW is probably the problem causing the crashing. They also told me that Apple is working on M8 RAW support. Stay tuned!

I am visiting Mozilla today for a board meeting. After a few inquiries, I was able to track down Stuart Parmenter who is working on the color profile issue that I blogged about in my last post. The good news is that Stuart is a photo and color geek and has already figured this out and fixed it. (It is Bug 16769 in Bugzilla@Mozilla.) Firefox 3.0 will have a bunch of improvements including dealing with color profiles in images properly. There are a few more tests that are required, but it will soon be in the tree and should be available in the Alpha of Firefox 3.0.

Special thanks to Stuart for the tutorial on color!

UPDATE: Special special thanks to Tim Rowley who did most of the implementation part in Mozilla.

UPDATE 2: The fix should be in Alpha 4 of Firefox 3.0 not Alpha 3 that is coming out next in a week or two.

Conference pass for my M8
I got the Leica M8 last week. My logic was that I had a lot of M series lenses already. I had waited too long to get the Digital back for my R8 and it was way too low-resolution by the time I finally got it. I didn't want to wait so long to get the M8.

Although I guess I'm still happy I got the M8, I didn't do my research and there are a number of bugs that I'm having to work around.

I already knew about the first bug by the time I actually got my M8. I wanted to use Aperture for my workflow, but Apple doesn't support Leica M8 RAW format so you need to make a fake RAW profile for the M8 and use the Adobe RAW converter to convert the M8 RAW files before importing them into Aperture. (Thanks for the pointer Ian.) One more step, but OK. Fine. I'm going to assume that Apple will eventually support the M8. (Maybe a bad assumption.)

I encountered my second bug when I started shooting at SXSW. Black cloth and other things in the conference sessions came out looking purple instead of black. Several people saw me visibly panic as I previewed photos that I was taking of Phillip Torrone who had a black shirt on. Someone told me to google "IR Leica M8". Tadaaa... a serious flaw.

The Leica sensor is overly sensitive to infrared and certain materials when lit by a source with strong IR (The lights in the conference) will show up as purple. Since it's not a color balance issue, you can't just white balance it out. The Leica forums explained that the Pro version of Capture One had profiles that could substantially improve the image and make it look almost right. However, it looks like you will need to get a special UV/IR filter and a firmware upgrade that is still TBD from Leica to correct for it. Doh. Even after the firmware comes out, needing a new filter for all of my lenses really puts a dent in the amazing backward compatibility that Leica is all about.

After sort of getting this all working, I finally uploaded a bunch of stuff to Flickr and noticed that things looked washed out and lacked saturation compared to how they appeared on my screen. It turns out that Firefox on the Mac doesn't recognize the ICC profile tags so I need to remap the colors and export the images in Aperture instead of just dragging them into Flickr. (Thanks Kevin!) I'm exporting to sRGB IEC61966-2.1 which seems to fix it.

Compare an image remapped/exported to sRGB IEC61966-2.1
SET Players
to
one which is not
SET Players
in Firefox and Safari on a Mac. They will look the same in Safari, but the second one will look washed out in Firefox.) I also learned, from the same post that Macs and Windows machines typically use a different gamma so even if I get the colors right, the gamma will be off for most of the world. There is a page that clearly describes these phenomena.

I guess the lesson here is that the closer you get to perfection, the harder it gets. I'm not upset and I'm learning a lot about imaging and color in the process. It's just amazing how complicated the world of digital photography has become for me in the last few days.

UPDATE: After the OSX update, Aperture is crashing randomly and frequently. Anyone else getting this?

John Poisson
I'm an investor in John Poisson's company Tiny Pictures which is the developer/operator of Radar. Radar is a cool photo sharing site for people who aren't exhibitionist weirdos like me. John and his team have worked with people like my sister trying to figure out the behavior of the mobile youth (and non-youth) and focused on the "Full-Time Intimate Community" (FTIC). FTICs are the close group of friends (usually around 8-10 people) with whom you share presence. Most mobile youths know whether members of their FTIC are awake, at school, happy, sick, finished with their homework, etc. They use their mobile phones to keep in touch with their FTIC usually sending state changes by text message. The idea behind Radar is to use photos as a presence stream to your intimate friends so you can share a richer presence and make short comments on the stream of images that show up in the "channels" from your friends.

Because of it's rather intimate and private nature, you end up snapping photos for their presence value over perfect artistic value and because of the private nature of the friends list, the content is also often more intimate.

I'm "joi" on Radar. Shoot me an email if you want to be my Radar friend. Like Twitter and LinkedIn, I'm only friending people I really know so apologies in advance if I don't accept all friend requests.


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Austin Hilton Pool in the morning
Austin Hilton Pool at 5:30AM

I have not been swimming for over a week because I injured my shoulder while trying to win a battle with the water. Although the stationary bike has been interesting and used muscles that were surprised by the sudden call to arms, I've missed my swimming.

When I checked into the Austin Hilton, I notice some sign saying "heated pool". I also noticed that it was open from 5:30AM. This morning, some remnant jet lag from some trip woke me up at 5AM. It looked chilly, dark and wet outside, but the idea of swimming in a heated pool in this weather appealed to me in an avantouinti sort of way. (Marko turned me on to avantouinti and now I'm a convert.)

As I sat in the whirlpool warming up and doing some stretching, Matt's voice and the Total Immersion images from the DVD that Seth sent me filled my mind. I rigged up my goggles with the Dolphin mp3 player that Pete suggested on my music in the water post. (I tried ordering the Kiefer SwiMP3, but wasn't able to get it. I just re-ordered it from someone on eBay after Austin told me on Twitter that he got one there.)

Anyway, it all came together for me today. While The Orb from Jeff's playlist set the tone with the sounds of pink fluffy clouds, I was able to make peace with the water. The flip turn that I had been struggling with seemed to come naturally - Matt's tips coming to mind as I made each turn. The "swim like a fish" images from Total Immersion helped me pace myself and swim without feeling out of breath. It felt very peaceful and it felt like I had made peace with the water.

I finished up with with a short session of my attempt at the Maha Mudra and Pranayama that Jay is teaching me. I had the steam room in the deserted locker-room all to myself.

Clearly, I have much to learn and my swimming stroke is still crap, but I felt like I had hit a milestone of sorts. As I sat down to write this post, I realized how much this journey is result of the amazing support of my friends starting with Shawn's advice to try a vegan diet. Thanks everyone.

Tesla Coil Music at Dorkbot
Leica M8 1/30 ISO640 - Elmarit 135mm

Just saw the Tesla coil music demo at Dorkbot at SXSW. It was amazing. I'm not sure exactly how the technology works, but hey use a computer to control the frequency of a tesla coil so it "plays" music. This image was taken while the coils were playing the theme from Ghost Busters.

As I sit here and put together my presentation for today, I'm reminded of the days when I used to spin records in nightclubs. First, I try to figure out who the audience is. Then I try to figure out generally what I want to say. After that, I pick up my favorite songs or groups of songs and throw them into the box. (In the case of my presentation, it is arguments, videos and images.) Then I try to figure out what stays, what order they should be presented and how the transitions between the different elements should work.

Anyway... back to work on my presentation.

/cast Dispel Procrastination (Rank 11)

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I was invited to GDC Prime this year to talk about "More than MMOs: Let Them Build It. How user-created content has transformed online games into a new web platform."

What is GDC Prime? "GDC Prime is an executive-level conference that takes place during the week of GDC. This event includes tailored content as well as exclusive networking and VIP access to GDC. Space is limited and passes are available by invitation only."

The next obvious question is, what is GDC? "The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is the official trade event "by developers for developers" of computer, console, mobile, arcade, online games, and location based entertainment."

If you're in the game industry, you know about GDC. If you're like me and were never a game industry professional, odds are you didn't know about it... at least until now.

Anyway, having never attended this conference, I decided not to prepare my talk until I arrived and got a good look at my audience. It's actually a fascinating mashup of the old-school, hacker, anti-establishment gaming culture that I remember and a slick Hollywood-style "buzz" of a multi-billion dollar content industry.

I'm in the middle of reading Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever by John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade. It's an HBS book from 2004 that argues that "they" (the baby boomer generation the authors represent) are misinterpreting and underestimating the size and impact of the gaming culture. They describe gamers as a newer and bigger generation than the baby boomers and assert that the thing that ties them together is gaming. They explain that gaming is bigger than the commercial Internet and only slightly smaller than TV in its cultural impact.

I had a slightly awkward feeling reading this book and talking to some of the game industry execs, I think I've started to understand. My first experience with computers was writing software in a research lab during the day and writing my own games on the lab computers at night. All of my teenage coding experience revolved around writing games or hacking game code. Later, I played MUDs and one of the main points of trying to become a max-level Wizard on a MUD was to be allowed to create your own worlds and monsters. Although I had interacted with parts of the gaming industry, for some reason, I still had the image of the gaming industry as a bunch of hackers who understand hacking... or at least the importance of "user-generated content."

The sense that I got yesterday was that the gaming industry was basically the same mass production and mass distribution content industry machine that Hollywood movies and television are. And... while there are certain companies and individuals who are bridging the gap between the gaming industry and the Internet, the gaming industry is making the same mistakes that the content guys have been making since the beginning of networked computers. They ALWAYS over-estimate the importance of the content and vastly underestimate the desire of users/people to communicate with each other and share.

History is riddled with examples like Minitel, the French videotex service that survived through personal communication despite the designers almost forgetting to put that feature in. There was Delphi whose architecture blew up because it was designed to deliver pages of information to users, not information between users. More recently there are the commercial video streaming companies continuing to struggle as user generated video sites like YouTube boom.

One way to think about this evolution is that as we empower the user through better computers and better networks, we are going from content to context. We used to listen to records and later CD's to wallow in our loneliness with self-pity laced teenage tunes. Later karaoke and video games came out which allowed us to interact with the content and feel a bit more involved and less lonely. Now we have MySpace, texting, blogging, Wikipedia and an explosion of online community generating content models. It is becoming less and less about content and more and more about context - less about professional content and more and more about us. The professional content is important and will never go away, but it is becoming more of a platform or substrate on which the users build their own communities, interaction and play.

My fear is that many game industry executives are losing touch with the new gamers that are emerging as our devices get networked. "Got Game" clumps MMORPGs together with other games as sufficiently similar to each other. I believe that for the purposes of trying to contrast the gamers from the baby boomers, this may be true, but I think that imagining that you can make games like you've always made them in the Internet era is a big mistake. The problem is that the gaming industry is so huge and profitable... and arrogant... that the lessons that we may be learning on the Internet are having a hard time penetrating the board rooms and design meetings of big gaming companies.

On the other hand, a lot of the usual suspects who "get it" are here and appear to be thoroughly networked. I'm hoping that these catalyst/bridge types will connect these two disconnected worlds and help the gaming industry from making the same mistake that the music industry made - getting disconnected from the needs of their users and waging a "war on piracy" against them.

My flying mount
Jonkichi my mage hit Level 70 this weekend. Just updated my Rupture profile for Jonkichi. The grind from 60 to 70 was relatively fun and I enjoyed the new content. I'm also really enjoying my flying mount, although I can't afford an epic one yet.

As you can see in my gear list, I'm still wearing my T2 hat from Onyxia, but have replaced just about everything else.


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I turned my compost yesterday and was rewarded this morning. As part of my morning ritual, I've been taking out the previous day's kitchen waste to the compost in the morning. I lifted the compost today and was greeted by a cloud of steam from a warm and happy compost pile. It smelled happy and told me that it would feed my veggie garden this summer.

Happy.

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Several people asked about what kind of meditation I am doing. I'm doing a version of Kriya Yoga. You can find an explanation of the whole thing one the download page of the Kriya Yoga site of Ennio Nimis. In particular, I am focusing mostly on Maha Mudra and Kriya Pranayama which are pages 106-108 in section 2. The diagram on page 104 shows the path that your focus should take up and down your spine. I'm also taking random teachings about meditation that I've read in the past to try to keep my focus and fade out the chatter of my loose thoughts.

I'm still quite a beginner, but I'm excited by my gradual progress. It has become a very important part of my morning ritual and only takes 20 minutes or so including the stretching.

Does anyone use Aperture and RAW images? I'm having trouble. I've downloaded and installed the RAW update, but it doesn't seem like Aperture recognizes the RAW DNG files from my Leica DIGITAL-MODUL-R. My Adobe Bridge deals with them fine. Any ideas? Thanks in advance for any advice.

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