Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Photography Retrospective

The above link refers to the top 100 photography blogs, as per Sarah Scraffod. Its an interesting ...and useful... mix.

It served as a reminder to me that my images are getting backlogged. There's still 1000+ images to review & import from Tanzania last month. Plus there's tons of old stuff that should probably be revisited and either scanned or rescanned, such as this 1994 image from Yellowstone Canyon:

Approx 10 year old flatbed scan of 120 film (Mamiya 645)

I don't even know if 'sharpen' filters existed back when this one was done. By today's standards, its resolution is downright fuzzy.


Winter Traction: Snow tires versus 4WD - which is better?

Many years ago (turns out to be 1999), Car and Driver magazine did a comparison test for winter driving, where they asked the question of if you could only have one or the other ... snow tires -OR- four wheel drive ... which would be more beneficial?

Obviously, having both 4WD and snow tires is the best combination, but the intent here was to ask which provided more of the benefits, since neither one is free.

By supreme providence, I happened to rediscovered this 1999 article. It is linked above (and again here).

Its a nice read, but I know that we all want a shorter summary.

Here's Car&Driver's tests summary:

Hill-Climbing Traction: 4WD
Straight-Line Acceleration Performance: 4WD
Braking: Snow Tires
Handling/Lateral Acceleration: Snow Tires
Handling/Slalom: Snow Tires

And C&D's conclusion:

Four-wheel drive helps get cars going. When it comes time to brake or change direction on low-traction surfaces, the extra mass of the driveline becomes more of a detriment. Folks who live in hilly places that get snow may need the climbing capability of four-wheel drive...Almost everyone else will most likely be better served by using winter tires. Acceleration takes longer, but in an emergency, the handling behavior and improved lateral grip of two-wheel drive and winter tires -- in the slippery stuff -- are the safer bets.

In other words, snows before 4WD.

If you need a catchy sound-byte, try:

With 4WD, you may have 4 wheel 'go', but everyone has 4 wheel 'stop'.

The general reprocussions are that 4WD without snows will get you moving...but into trouble from which your tires aren't adequate to save you from. Snows without 4WD might not let you get moving as easily, but you'll have better roadhandling and shorter stops, which means more likely to get home safely.

Its winter again in the Northeast USA, so let's all be careful out there.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Taylor Ham Nation

This one is for those friends and family members that live outside of 'Taylor Ham Nation'. Of course, some are also probably missing out on RAPA Brand Scrapple too:

Ledger Live - 12-18-08

To mail order from the company mentioned, click here


Thursday, December 18, 2008

So much for that last minute gift idea

For the photographer in your life, if they had any serious interest in a telephoto lens, the Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6 USM was the stuff of fantasies ... until they realize that someone's got to carry it!

As the B&H Newsletter of this past summer stated,
"...calling this lens a 'tele' is like calling King Kong a monkey."

Despite the asking price of $99,000 (for a used lens!), this toy was sold.

So much for that very very generous last minute shopping gift.
You'll just have to make due with an EF 400mm DO IS USM instead :-)


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cayman Brac after Hurricane Paloma

In November 2008, the 71st anniversary of the great Storm of 1932 was noted to nearly the same exact day with Hurricane Palmoa hitting the island as a Category 4 storm.

With modern technology, there's photos online that document the damage this time. Here's three such slide shows:

Amongst others, the Rotary Clubs of Grand Cayman is accepting donations to help those in need. Their website is:

We also understand that Robert Walton is working to help conserve the endangered Cayman Brac Parrot, as its habitat and food sources have obviously also been severely impacted by this storm.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Making a left turn in Albuqurque

It seems that the end-of-year travel isn't quite over yet. A short notice meeting, but it did the afford the opportunity to catch up with a familymember.

With a few hours on Sunday to see the region, we travelled on the Sandia Peak tram ("World's Longest passenger aerial tramway") to the top of Sandia Peak. At an elevation of 10,378 feet, this sea level flatlander was sucking wind. At least I remembered from Cuzco, Peru to go slow and not over-exert.

After attending business, the return home wasn't quite smooth, due to delays caused by heavy rain in the NYC metro area, but it could have been a lot worse than an extra ~2 hours.

And my thoughts were "At least I've now flown on American Airlines in 2008 so as to keep that Frequent Flier account still technically active", but FFM accounts vary in their rules and AAdvantage has expired another 34,625 miles on me this year.

And in this age of computers, my most recent flights on AA from two days ago still haven't posted their mileage credits.

...and the airlines wonder why I have clear preferences as to where I take my business when I have a reasonable choice in the matter.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A busy fall...

The last few months have been quite busy, with a bit of globe-hopping. Within the past three months, I think there were 3 weeks in Europe, 2 weeks in the Caribbean, 2 weeks in Africa and a quick trip from the East to the West Coast to present a paper and vamoose back home.

Thus, there's the latest batch of travel photographs organized and sorted while getting ready for winter to hit us locally. In taking a break from that project (1000 down, 2000 to go), the subject of travel while exploring found an interesting website utility, namely the ability to make up personal "Been There" travel maps from Phillips 66.



If you're looking for changes since 2007, well, there's just Denmark.
In the meantime, there's still plenty of things on the "1000 Places before you Die" list that remain to be worked on.

And since it is that time of year for one's annual holiday contribution to Capitalism, it is quite obviously way behind schedule as a result of not really being at home for half of the time over the past few months. Plus there's more important things. Just last night, we spent a solid hour on an expensive long distance phone call to a friend who survived having half of their house fall on top of them from a Category 4 Hurricane a few weeks ago. The gift wasn't really our offers to send Care packages, but simply the opportunity for a listening ear for them to be able to give that big emotional 'dump'. Nevertheless, we'll be putting together a package for them over the next week or so with some surprises, since they have months of clean-up and recovery to do.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Evacuation Day ... and local history


The obscure US Holiday of Evacuation Day dates from November 25, 1783, to commemorate when the British left the USA on that date in 1781, marking a final end to the Revolutionary War.

The 225th Anniversary of Evacuation Day was in the news locally in New Jersey this month, since NJ was a crossroads of the American Revolution, and to this day, there's several "George Washington Slept Here" historical homes in the area, as well as his HQ for Jockey Hollow, the 1779-90 Winter Bivouac for the Continental Army.

Upon reading of this local history of how the local hilltops were used to light fires to serve as communication (warning) beacons for an impending British attack, we were debating if on the night of the 25th we could find a few hours venture out a dozen miles down the road to Fort Nonsense in Morristown, where the newspapers were reporting that there would be a modern beacon lit to commemorate.

Naturally, we didn't make a more proximate connection. The name of the housing development that we live in is ... Beacon Hill.

Yes, there was another one of the 23 known hilltop signals located at the top of the hilltop ridge that we live on. It was restored last year by Denville Boy Scout Troop 118.

Its yet another surprise discovery of local history ...


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It done burned down


Dateline: Tanzania

Some of our time this month was spent on Safari in southern & western Tanzania.

While at Ruaha National Park, we spent some time chatting with the camp manager, who had previously been working at Mikumi.

We found that a controlled fire ... done poorly ... last season had burned out of control and up over the hilltop where a camp that we had previously stayed at, destroying all of the facilities.

Thus, this Banda - it done burned down:

Great views, great memories ...

Fortunately, word is that the Foxes do intend to rebuild the camp; it will just take some time.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Iranian photoshop manipulation? An illustration

There's been media reports (eg, NY Times) this week about Iran's missile test ... and how the images distributed very well likely might have been faked - - a Photoshop manipulation.

I'm sure others have already done this, but I didn't notice any examples, so I've put one together quickly for anyone else looking for the same: here's a very simple Photoshop overlay of the two ("4 missiles" and "3 missiles") photographs, so that people can decide for themselves how suspicious they are of if this is (or isn't) a manipulation.

In other words, 'decide for yourself'.
(you can click on the image for a larger version)


Monday, July 7, 2008

Green Snake Oil?

In the news today: Toyota is planning on putting a solar panel on their Prius.

Sounds good, doesn't it? An electric hybrid that's able to be partially powered by the sun.


How are we sure that its not essentially just a clever sales gimmick?

Here's one take on the "Reality Check" of physics.

A conventional solar panel (Mitsubishi; Sharp) provides 185W of output, and is 65" long x 33" wide: call it roughly 5ft x 3ft. Let's assume no sunroof, so you can install two of them on the roof of a car like a Prius.

Those two panels result in roughly 370W of power under ideal conditions. Let's assume that there's another 10% of roof real estate available and round up the number to a conveniently easy to work with 400W of output.

The article (see link) reports that the A/C system needs up to 5kW of power. Standardizing units, that's 5,000W.

Thus, the panel can provide (400W/5,000W) = 8% of the A/C system's peak demand.

Thus, you can run your A/C "totally on solar" if you only run it at ~8% of its capacity. That doesn't sound like all that much cooling capacity to me.

Okay, let's look at things differently: let's assume that the solar panels can charge the battery pack, even though this isn't mentioned in the article. While we're also at it, let's be an irrational optimist and assume that this storage will be 100% efficient and has no other trade-off factors (such as needing a bigger battery).

So how much power can we store? Classically, solar systems are discussed and designed around the time of day which results in roughly 80% of the total daily collection. This is commonly defined as 10AM-3PM, which is a period of 5 hours. True, there is solar gain before 10AM and after 3PM, but generally it isn't planned for too much, as the sun angle, strength and shading factors are some of the factors for why the panels run at below their ratings and all of these other hours of daylight only collect around ~20%. This is classical Pareto Principle.

So in those 5 hours of good gain, the panels will run at their rating, so this sytem will generate 5hr * 400W =2,000W-Hrs.

Continuing to assume that idealized 100% efficient storage battery, this means that the system can provide 0.4 hours (24 minutes) worth of full A/C per day. For a to/from work commute, that's 12 minutes each way...assuming that you park your car in the sun at work and don't go out to lunch.

Okay, it is better than nothing, but do keep in mind that those panels aren't free. Their retail price is around $2,000.

And more importantly, they aren't weighless. In standard trim, they're just over 35lbs each. Figure that with packaging economies, they can be reduced from 70lbs down to around a 50lb increase in vehicle curb weights. Now ask yourself: an increase of 50lbs in the vehicle's weight hurt the car's fuel economy by how much?

And ditto for that idealized 100% efficient battery. To do 2000 W-hr worth of power storage, you're roughly going to need a battery roughly the size/capacity of a standard automotive Lead-Acid battery. In NiMH, I'd SWAG it at another $500 and 25-30lbs increase in curb weight.

This is just a quick "back of envelope" system analysis, but it looks like at least a 50% salesmanship snake oil for a 'Green' product to me at this point. I'd personally like to see a more comprehensive one done with real values, to specifically include how much the vehicle's cost goes up, weight goes up and MPG goes down (because of that higher weight).

Don't hold your breath.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Customer Service in the Internet Age

The above links to an MSNBC article of the title:
"Complaining Couple Banned from Cruise Line".

Briefly, the article discusses how a cruise line (Royal Caribbean) chose to permanently decline the business from a particular customer (that sounds nicer than "ban"). Apparently, they had found reason to complain ... and apparently ask for meaningful financial compensation ... over 80% of the time (5 out of 6 cruises).

There's a few interesting points in this topic.

First, there are most definitely consumers (such as the Morans) who will frequently exploit any excuse to forcibly leverage a cost concession. In this regards, Royal Caribbean is better off without them and does have the right to decline their business.

However, there is the issue with 'freedom of opinion' on discussion groups. It is safe to say that literally no discussion group has been free of pressure from special interests to delete or amend existing comments, which frequently leads to censorship issues.

There is an old saying that the Internet interprets censorship as network damage and routes around it

In general, this potential problem rapidly becomes a slippery slope when the Message Board is being hosted by the company...a case of where Marketing trumps ethics and fear of "Brand Damage" is more important than hearing real consumer feedback (in order to improve the Brand): it is a manifestation where the corporation reveals a lack of confidence in the strength of their Brand.

A few years ago, I was a reader of just such a group that was hosted to benefit Divi Resorts (a Timeshare company) and there rapidly became a zero tolerance ... enforced through censorship ... for any and all possible criticism from their customers. As such, the group was a sham: nothing more than a marketing mouthpiece, not a source of honest, balanced information, or for frank consumer/supplier dialog... something that would be more expected when one has spent $10K+ for a timeshare. And what was the fate of property that Divi had rejected years worth of customer 'feedback' about? Its death spiral continued until it was shut down in 2006. Glad I'm not a big investor in Divi Resorts, as any company who clearly chooses to ignore repeated warnings about their product's shortcomings is not going to be particularly successful in the long run.

Thus, the general conclusion that I have come to is that the only discussion groups that can be functionally trusted are those upon which censorship is impossible, which is USENET, or a Message Board whose official published policy is that all discord will be discussed fully in the open for the public to witness firsthand (good luck finding one of these).

But there is good news for this for consumers in that the Internet - - despite its shortcomings - - has been a resource that has restored some power back to the consumer, for previously isolated individuals can now communicate, and it is common to compare the company's response. It used to be that a company could merely tell 50 customers, "Gosh, you're the first one that this has ever happened to!" to try to smooth things over and to minimize financial recompense, but today, that claim is far more likely to get caught and thus revealed as a lie.

Since its only a fairly small percentages of consumer who have caught on to this information sharing, and that information is still dispersed across the 'Net, a businesses' tactics to use 20th Century spin-doctoring will still work 80% of the time. However, the downside risk is that when it doesn't fly, that business gets hit hard because their claims get destroyed by these collaborative power of 21st Century communications, and then they get nailed a second time ...even harder... for having flat-out lied to multiple customers.

This is not the case here with Royal Caribbean, but the amazing part is that a surprising number of companies still "Don't Get It". Here, RC was in a pattern of responding to individual complaints - - they didn't see the pattern until it was pointed out to them by other consumers.

And for the Morans? The Internet revealed their pattern of behavior, which in this case is now helping a business to avoid future complaints from them. Yes, its a two-way street: they made their bed, so now they have to lie in it.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Election Politics for the "bad-at-math" taxpayer (and Journalists)

In the news today is that our esteemed political leaders want to suspend the current Administration's practice of adding to the USA's Strategic Oil Reserve.

The argument being promoted is that those 70,000 barrels/day are part of the reason why gasoline is approaching $4/gallon.

Well, let's apply some classical "Supply & Demand" examination of this claim:

As per the US DOT (URL above), the amount of crude oil imported in 2006 (the 2007 numbers will be updated in June 2008) was...

10,118,000 barrels/day

And US Net Petroleum Imports were:
12,390,000 barrels/day

Plus there was also U.S. Crude Oil Production:
5,102,000 barrels/day

So we're asking about the significance of 70,000 barrels/day in the contect of (12.39 million + 5.1 million) used per day:

70,000 / (12,390,000 + 5,109,000) = 0.004 = 0.4%

Assuming that the difference results in a linear cost savings,
0.4% of $4 is a whopping 1.6 cents per gallon

Why gosh! I'll only need to buy ~200 gallons of gas in order to save all of $3.

If $3 is going to make/break your life in 2008, drop me an email explaining how: I'll consider sending you $5 and you can name your children after me and make me your write-in candidate in November. At least McCain's and Hillery's "18 cent Fed Tax" moratorium was willing to spend all of $30 in their attempt to buy your vote.

So the conclusion is here that the math shows that the crude oil deposits into the Strategic Oil Reserve is a non-issue in the marketplace: the total change potential is for less than one half of one percent. Thus, this is simple election year wrangling in the form of a "Strategic Political Topic Reserve", which the Lawmakers will use to make themselves look like they're busy working hard for you, the common taxpayer.

But unfortunately, as the saying goes, don't confuse Activity with Progress.

And let's not forget our Journalists out there: how many of them are bad at math and won't think to run the numbers?


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Psystar Mac clone could save me all of $18!

Here's an interesting confluence of observations:

Despite what Ben Charny (Dow Jones Newswires) claims:

"At $400, the Psystar box is a quarter of the cost of Apple's Mac Mini, the Apple computer most like Psystar's."

... the facts are that the MSRP on the basic Apple Macintosh mini is $599.
Not 4 x $400 = $1600. A wee Journalistic 'Oops'.

So the difference isn't that dramatic.

But what's also been quickly lost in the noise is that the $400 price being thrown around for the Psytar Macintosh clone doesn't include Mac OS, for which they want an additional $155 for Leopard (10.5), which brings its real (honest) price to $554 total.

So the difference is: $599 - $554 = $45.

$45 is less than a 10% difference, yet people are so excited over it with this new clone.

But this $45 difference is before one even start to look for deals on the Apple mini, such as if one is eligible for a discount (such as EDU). Well, as a Federal Employee, it turns out that I can buy the base mini from Apple for $563, so the price difference for me is a whopping $18.

So if I'm willing risk IP/EULA issues, as well as not have a functional Apple 'Software Update' feature to maintain the system, I can save all of $18?

Thanks, but no thanks.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Adobe Photoshop Express, Copyrights and IP

The Big Media reviews of Adobe's Photoshop Express are out today on Google News.   

So far, it appears that most of them must have been written early last week, before the news of the actual contents of Adobe's EULA hit at ZDNET, Ars Techica, MacRumors and others...all because of individual readership (not professional journalists) of the "Fine Print".

Apple Computer had a far more humorous EULA error this path month too - their fine print in Safari 3.1 for Windows said that it could only be legally run on Apple hardware.

Here's the fine print from Adobe:

Use of Your Content. Adobe does not claim ownership of Your Content. However, with respect to Your Content that you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant Adobe a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, derive revenue or other remuneration from, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other Materials or works in any format or medium now known or later developed."

The key part is what it allows - - not what the alleges was its intent .  To that end, this text essentially gives to Adobe a free and unlimited license that they can do anything with, including selling your works, creating derivatives, selling it as Stock Photography, "Derive Revenue" etc, etc. .. and all without ever being required to give even a penny back to the actual Copyright holder.

I'd read enough.  This has shades of "Photo Contest" all over it.  

Photo contest?  Yup - you should go read their Fine Print inclusions sometimes too:  what you find is that they similarly leave themselves highly unconstrained.  It wouldn't be at all surprising if the underlying intent of at least a few of them isn't really to have a good old fashioned contest, but to harvest images with which to build a Stock Collection for free.

Thus, I've pulled my test photos OFF of Photoshop Express, just like I've stopped  entering 'Contests'.  

Thus, if you see this image out there, you know its probably been stolen without permission from its Copyright Holder:

Mufindi Starry Night, Copyright 2006  H. Huntzinger

Mufindi Starry Night (Tanzania 2006).

In the meantime, there's one possible "Poison Pill" for businesses that try to (cough) borrow Intellectual Property (IP) in this fashion:  the Photography Model Release.  An identifiable individual who hasn't signed a Modeling Release can cause trouble, although its also likely that a lawyer would argue that this "Perpetual License" puts the responsibility back on the Copyright Holder.  Well, maybe the IP owner does have a Model Release - - but Adobe (and all the rest) didn't buy a copy of that document.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

John Gilmore was right

I recently ran across what I thought would be an interesting blog from former Apple Executive  for Federal sales, David Sobotta.   After a fairly straightforward dialog exchange ... which by definition, must have included some elements of disagreement (else why bother to reply), Dave terminated the dialog.  The topic wasn't really all that important, or profound: we simply disagreed, based on our personal perspectives.  It didn't even bother me if Mr. Sobotta wanted to curtail the discussion because he tired of it, nor even using his Moderator responsibility to have done this...that would have merely been rude.  

Instead, what bothered me was that he cut things off so as to get the last word in, a childish way to "win" a disagreement.  FWIW, this isn't my interpretation of what happened, for in this blog posting  David made his motive and intentions explicitly clear that that was precisely what he chose to do. 

Were I willing to stoop to David's level, I could have listed each of my discussion points here, where David can't touch it, to childishly get in my own "last word".  But I loathe being a hypocrite, so that won't be happening here.

So why am I writing anything?  Because this is unfortunately yet another example of something that I'm finding disappointing ... no, make that downright disturbing ... which is yet another example of someone who proves himself incapable of recognizing that with the Information Genie out of the bottle, all liars invariably get caught.  

This is precisely what Gilmore was warning of a decade ago:  the nature of IT is that if one tries to squash something in one outlet, there's now hundreds of alternative venues, so the word still gets out.  

There's already been hundreds of corporations who have learned this lesson by getting burned over the past decade - they were applying their 20th Century belief that they can manipulate and selectively lie without getting caught - - but then got caught, courtesy of this unbottled IT Genie.  It is effectively the Pandora's Box of the 21st Century.  

Overall, it does seem that there's a segment of the population who are otherwise very very smart people who think that their intelligence lets them stay on top of the lies that they make and avoid self-contradiction.  Unfortunately for them (my online friends know that I'm probably thinking of a certain former Clemson University Professor too), archives have a 'perfect' memory that merely takes perseverance to search, which reveals the self-contradictory claims and other hyperbola that people try to employ to obscure reality to try to force it to conform to their biases.

Thus, as John Gilmore reportedly said:
"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it".

And the latest example is in the news this week, namely the drama of the website "Wikileaks", which posted documents that revealed criminal banking activities in the Cayman Islands.  It is the apparent crook who is trying to get the website shut down, so as to squelch the dissemination of evidence of his criminal activity.   But in the meantime, the news of the event has probably caused a few thousand more copies to get spawned.   To try to suppress them all is an exercise in futility, so the next thing we know, the criminal will be claiming that he's a victim...of getting caught.  


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why Webpages were invented

I was thinking of an old college friend today, Saint John Morrison, and got a chuckle from an old comment that he had made.

Essentially, it was that the real reason why the Internet invented the Webpage.

You see, it was for computer programmers to be able to put up photographs of their pet cats.  It wasn't for distributing esoteric data from NASA, to cure cancer, or even to sell books.  It was to share a photo of their cat. 

So with a photo online of our latest, here's a small Webpage tribute to good old (and not really a curmudgeon)  Saint John Morrison.