James O'Neill's Blog

September 4, 2008

It’s not about computation, it’s connection and visualization

Filed under: General musings,Photography,Working at Microsoft — jamesone111 @ 1:10 pm

Yesterday Microsoft UK had its company conference in Brighton, and I always have mixed feelings about these affairs. We transported 1000 people 100 miles and told and with no sense of irony whatsoever we told them about what the company was doing about the environment, showed them a video of the office they had led behind and showed them clips of Microsoft people telling them what it was like to work at Microsoft. I’ve been involved in enough events of my own to feel some sympathy for the organizers. What is informative to one person might seem insultingly obvious to someone else. What one person finds riveting makes someone else want to gnaw their own leg off. There are occasions where you need to gather the whole company together and yet when you make attendance mandatory, people think "They wouldn’t need to make it mandatory if people wanted to go".

But at most of these events there is a segment where you turn to a colleague afterwards and say "that was worth coming for". For a lot of people where I was sitting the speaker who had that effect was an external one, Sir Mark Grundy. It’s an odd thing, still, to see a head teacher get a knighthood: Grundy got his for turning round a pair of schools in the Midlands; but I suspect it was more than just having a good plan and executing on it. The guy believes in something: "I’ve never met a pupil who came to school to fail" was one thing he came out with – he’s very articulate and his passion comes through when he speaks. But for us the big thing was the difference technology made to his business: he talked about teenagers and threw out the question "why is life at home so connected (messenger, Email, even Xbox live) but when kids come to school we expect them to be happy to be told to open a book and copy out a diagram", so his student portal is a way of linking students together (and shutting students out of it has become one of his best disciplinary tools) . Since he gets how important it is to have parents on side – he’s got a portal to show them information too – from PerformancePoint among other sources. And other heads ask him why the providers who deliver their services can’t do that. But this idea of taking a lot of … stuff and using the power of software to make sense of it carried on he had a love of Deep-zoom (and got a good laugh when he said he liked the old name, Sea-Dragon "Did someone on work experience choose the new name ?"), and Photosynth. And another Deep zoom-like product (I’m not sure the base IS deep zoom) and that’s PPTPlex (watch the videos there to get some idea). It was the first time I’d seen someone use it on stage, and it was enough of a spur to get me to install it when I got home, and if you’re attending any of my events in the near future I may experiment with it.
I’d planned to do a photosynth of the area round the royal pavilion so I whizzed off at lunch time and shot that. I have the details that I can find in there. Which came back to one of Sir Mark’s points : this is the kind of technology kids should be getting exposed to and if not, ask "why not ?"

Indeed.

 

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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

August 25, 2008

Photosynth – follow up

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 4:30 pm

My post last week on Photosynth was best with gremlins – first I managed to link to PhotoSyth (missing the N). The www.Photosynth.com stopped re-directing to www.photoSynth.net. Then the interest was so high that the servers couldn’t keep up and more capacity had to be added … so the synths I tried to build all failed. Grrr. It involves uploading a lot of files and with my Internet connection running at 8Mbits/Sec download and 256bits per minute upload (or so it seems) it’s a long process to have fail.

As of this morning it all seems to be working. So I re-synthed the set of Pictures I shot of Blenheim Palace  and Microsoft UK’s campus for the version we were able to play with last year. The current generation of synther is much better than what we had then. But what I shot at Blenheim doesn’t join up to a single synth (but click the "three dots" icon or press M and you can move between sub-syths. As a demo I quite like to Zoom in on the inscription on the base of the triumphal column then zoom out and pull the camera back.

Paul Foster has also a synth from some Pictures I shot of the London eye – three of us shot about 5GB of Photos in a couple of hours and I’m going to be trying various things with mine – so have a look at the "All Jamesone’s synths" page

Sadly, some of the great synths we built with the BBC have gone in the the process of doing the update. I’d love to see their Trafalgar square one re-done – possibly even with the new Trafalgar Square synths merged in. On the plus side, the original St Marks Square synth from the preview has been re-done. Now it is possible to link to a specific place- so if you want to find Stephen Hawking in there (and the comments tell you how) you can click the icon on the right outside the picture and get a link to your friends. Although we only see what someone standing in a public place would have seen (so it’s not invading his privacy) I don’t feel right posting the link myself.

 

Update. Some more of my London eye pictures have synthed up quite nicely I’d start here

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

August 21, 2008

Photosynth – 3 words. Create Your Synth

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 1:32 pm

I’ve mentioned Photosynth a few times, and I had a mail this morning which said we’ve have gone live with a public version. You can read the press release here, but really just go to http://www.photosynth.net/ . Have a look at what others have done, but I’d really encourage people to try it : you’ll see the words “Create your synth” at the bottom left – Click it, install it, Enjoy it.


I’ve had access to some pre-release versions and I need to rebuild them for the public site, links will follow shortly.


Update. Thanks to Steve J and Matt M for pointing out the typo in the link. Fingers not as fast as Brain – and not for the first time !
Update 2. Yesterday I the documents I had were using the .COM address, which redirected to Photosynth.net. The site seemed to have a few first day nerves, and this morning the .com redirect is not working. (Sigh. Go straight to photosynth.net)


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

May 5, 2008

Something for the photographers: Silverlight Deep-zoom formerly "Sea-Dragon"

Filed under: Beta Products,Photography — jamesone111 @ 9:52 am

With all the other stuff I’ve been doing lately I’m champing at the bit to get out and take some more photos. Still here I am slaving over a hot laptop.


Search suggests haven’t mentioned Sea-Dragon before – but I’ve talked about Photosynth, which is one of the technologies that use it. We’ve been saying since at least last October that Sea-Dragon is going into Silverlight.  Which is exciting stuff, it’s also getting a new name “Deep zoom”.  Eileen picked up some stuff on this – we have Deep Zoom Composer available for Download. I’ve had a brief play with it but it’s output is really intended to go into something else*; more interesting – to me at least is Photo Zoom. Imagine a “contact sheet” view of your photos with pretty much unlimited zoom in and out. That, in a nutshell is Photozoom. As yet it is not a fully featured photo gallery – it doesn’t have the tags and other text that I’d want but as a proof of concept of where this is heading it’s exciting stuff.


We always have bit “in the works” that I can’t really talk about, but an interesting bit of software came my way this week, and the folks behind it have said I can talk about what it produces. What they’ve given some of us is a test harness for both ideas, and code to implement them. In what form these see the light of day outside the company and when – if at all – remains to be seen.


So here is one of my favourite pictures, party because I sold it a print of it to someone whose London Office is in there


st pauls Click for the Deep zoom version


The original was 38 Mega-Pixel image and the print was 150×21 CM in size (60″ x 8″ ) an 8:1 aspect ratio is lousy to view on screen and even worse if you want to store it online.
But now I have a version set up for deep zoom. – I can find the window of my patron’s office, but I can move around it interactively much like looking at a big print hanging on the wall.


Before you click through (a) It needs Silverlight 2 Beta installed. If you get an error about Invalid XML character after installing Silverlight you need to close and restart the browser. (b) The experience is OK with the glidepoint device on my laptop, but it’s much better with a wheel mouse.


*Update. My colleague Marc Holmes gave me some info, which is now on his blog, to show me how to upload my frist DeepZoomComposer project to silverlight. You can see it here nothing too fancy, just a few pictures that I happen to like. in one project.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 7, 2008

SD cards (again)

Filed under: Music and Media,Photography,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 4:37 pm

I was about to say some things about Vista and TV when I realized I had actually said them a few months ago

When your TV programmes are FILES there’s a different psychological relationship to them compared with TAPE. VHS cassettes were something you recorded over and over. You taped a programme watched it, taped over it. ..it’s easy to buy the DVD of the show … But with files we’re conditioned to Save them, why call them files if you don’t, well, file them ?

Memory cards for photos have got so cheap, I’m seriously considering using memory cards only once (with back-up copies).

Memory cards and photos first, A few weeks ago, I had a sad experience with my (almost) new diving camera…  Normally there is a 1GB Mini-SD card in an adapter for plugged into my laptop for Vista to use as a ReadyBoost device. When I heard that one of the changes in SP1 is that Vista uses Readyboost to speed up the time to come back from sleep I thought I’d stick an old card in the SD slot semi-permanently: ,it stays in when I put the laptop in its bag – although because it sticks out there’s risk of damaging the adapter.
At the end of my last dive trip I swapped the ReadBoost card with the one in my camera so as not to lose it while I downloaded my photos. When I came to swap the cards back the Mini SD card came out of the camera leaving the adapter stuck fast. To cut a long story short the SD slot was damaged, not covered by warranty and the quote to fix it was greater than the cost of a new camera – which arrived this morning.

With 7 day shop charging round the £6 mark for 2GB Micro-SD cards by Kingston and SanDisk (compatible with my phone and with a much safer adapter) I really should get rid of the old Mini cards, but that’s hard to do, Psychologically, we’re conditioned not to throw these things away. So, I tried to get a bit more life out of a device with a replacement cost less than a prawn sandwich  and it cost me a camera. As if to add insult to injury, the card itself died this weekend. I had two of them so the other is nowin the laptop – but at the first sign of trouble it’s going in the bin. As if to prove the that these events always come in the threes, the SD socket on my Portable Hard-disk/Card reader has decided to play dead as well. Grrrr. But on the bright side when I got it my biggest memory card was 512MB. Now I can shove 10GB of SD in my pocket. And it is still useful as storage photo photos and MediaCenter recordings. 

When I rebuilt my machine for Vista SP1 I managed to reset some of the settings in MediaCenter. Mostly, I like the Media parts of Vista, but every now and then they drive me nuts and it’s usually around storage. Firstly MediaCenter seems to insist on keeping 5% of my disk space free. Keeping the last 1GB from 20GB might make sense, but keeping the last 50GB from 1TB probably doesn’t. I’ve not found any setting to manage this. The problem is compounded because it over estimates the space needed by a recording, and sometimes, wrongly, says there won’t be space for a programme (e.g. 3 hours of Grand Prix coverage would have needed about 4-5GB of space, with 12GB free Media center said "No") . Worse, it keeps free space by deleting recordings unless you tell it not to:  infuriatingly last week it was told to record two programs back to back, and deleted the first one seconds after it was made. This sent me off to BBC iPlayer, which has become Vista Compatible since last time I wrote about it. I was surprised how small the file size was for good  quality with the iPlayer, which I daresay I’ll talk more about another time.
Since I’m pushed for space it makes sense to move the files off the machine but here comes the next irritation… Different channels run different levels of compression:  I recorded the same Episodes of Ashes to Ashes, on when first shown on BBC-one (2.30 GB) and repeated on BBC Four (1.70GB). A US drama on Channel 4 is 1.42 GB, but re-broadcast on on E4 it was 1.05 GB. So… I the number of 1 hour Episodes I can burn onto a data DVD varies dramatically: if I use Stephen Toub’s DVR-MS Editor to trim the channel 4 shows down, they’re only 40 minutes of actual programme so I can fit in 6 episodes on a disk; an hour of BBC is an Hour of programme and only 1 fits.  I can get 150 Minutes with a video DVD – and unlike Media Center’s files, a DVD will play on my Xbox. But making a DVD is a long process, not just because the transcoding takes time but also  because psychology cuts in again: unlike files-on-a-DVD-disk, a "proper" DVD feels wrong if it has all the extraneous crud of a recording, so it needs to be edited and before you know it you’re going to the trouble of making bootleg DVDs. The time it takes to make one is worth more than the cost of the commercial DVD – and I like to own the artifact anyway.   (And working for a company based around intellectual property, I really shouldn’t be making bootlegs).

With 8GB SD cards now available below £20 may the smart thing would be get some and treat them like VHS tapes; that would be more battery efficient when travelling too. Streamlining the media I use for everything sounds attractive. 

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

February 21, 2008

Testing Pictures

Filed under: Photography,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 11:51 pm

[UPDATE]

I’ve been refining my EXIF Library for .NET, and the blogging utilities I wrote in Powershell. Now I have Upload-BlogFile (on community server which hosts this blog it will only upload pictures) and NEW-blog post. Getting pictures which match some selection criteria, uploading them, building the HTML to display them (using the title in their EXIF data to caption them) and posting the HTML to my blog is all done in one line of Powershell It’s a long line, but here it is. Split over 3 lines for readability

dir E:\DCIM\102PENTX\Develops\*small* | ForEach-Object -Begin {[String]$myHtml=""} 

-Process {$myHtml += '<p><img src="' + (upload-blogfile $_.fullname) + '" /></p><p><b>' +  (get-image $_.fullname).title + '</b></p>'} -end {New-BlogPost -body $myHtml -Title "Testing Pictures"}

Shortly, I’ll write a longer post explaining these and with the code available for download, but I LOVE this 3 block FOR {before loop} {loop} {after you’ve finished}. In VB etc it doesn’t matter, but in a script it means you can keep the stuff you’re doing the FOR for in one line, even some of it falls outside actual loop. I’m doubt if that’s a PowerShell invention, but wherever it came from it’s seems something akin to genius the first time you see it.  The results of the code are below the line.

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Frozen Sage

Frozen Sage 2

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

February 17, 2008

On film …

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 4:44 pm

Skimming down my feeds this weekend I found a post from Scoble on obsolete skills (a new wiki has grown up). One was "developing film".

Unless you’ve done it it’s hard to describe the rituals of processing and printing black and white film. It goes something like this.

  • In the dark (or with your arms sealed in a dark bag) open the film canister and load the film into a "spiral". The spiral holds the film wound up but with a gap so the chemicals can get to it
  • Put the spiral in a developing tank, which has a light-tight funnel for pour chemicals in and out
  • Mix chemicals. For black and white you need developer, fixer and two lots of water. They should all be at the same temperature as big changes can "shock" the film
  • Pour developer into the tank. Shake it. Bang the tank to get rid of bubbles. Wait, occasionally shaking the tank
  • After the appointed time pour out the developer. Pour in water (this might be "stop bath" solution if you’re very fancy). Shake, pout out, pour in the fixer, shake again, bang to get rid of bubbles.
  • Wait. Wait a bit longer. Pour out the fixer, pour in water. Open the tank and lift out the spiral to see if the film has any pictures on it.
  • Rinse the film. Add "wetting agent" at the end so the water runs off as you run it through your fingers (or a squeegee if you’re fancy) . Hang up away from dust to dry.

It’s a tactile process, a bit like baking your own bread, and like baking it has it’s rituals (the way you you bang the tank, or shake it). Like baking it has its smells too, although I’ll take the smell of bread over photographic chemicals any day. I miss all of that, truly I do. But it was so time consuming. There are some photos which are only possible with particular kinds of film nothing in the digital world quite matches Kodak High-Speed Infra-Red, which has just gone out of production. I bought 10 rolls of it because… why exactly ? I guess I can’t bear the thought of not being able to create some of the IRs I’ve done in the past, although I haven’t shot a roll of the Kodak in 3 years. Those rolls cost me £10 each.

I’ve just ordered an extra 4GB SD card for £8.99 (non UK readers, that’s a little under $20 US). That’s less than cost of that Kodak stock, although you can just about buy a roll of colour print film and get it processed for £8.99. Worst case shooting RAW files that card will hold something like 250 pictures, shooting JPGs it will be more like 1400. So even if I only used the card once – it costs only about 1/30th of film. It does pose the question why do I bother erasing and reusing memory cards… why not just use them once and file them as a backups ? I suspect they don’t last forever – I wonder what the expected life of something stored on SD is.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

January 22, 2008

The Wow of powershell (again)

Filed under: Photography,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 12:19 am

I’ve recently bought Efficasoft’s GPS utilities  for my phone – I keep thinking about GeoTagging photos. I was toying with writing a GPS logger of my own, but for $17.95 Efficasoft gave me that and a bunch of other things which range from the useful to the clever party trick. For example it has no maps, but you can give it co-ordinates of known points on an image file and it manipulates it accordingly. It will save key points as well as recording a track. Money well spent; it even has a choice of log formats, it’s own compact format or a standard dump of the NMEA 0183 sentences sent back by the GPS device. The problem is that these are not exactly easy to read; they look like this

$GPRMC,132206.042,A,5207.8403,N,00059.2248,W,20.059710,146.77,200108,,*2C
$GPGSA,A,3,19,28,22,11,,,,,,,,,25.2,11.2,22.5*02
$GPRMC,132209.041,A,5207.8272,N,00059.2093,W,20.324416,137.87,200108,,*21
$GPGSA,A,3,03,19,22,11,,,,,,,,,4.0,1.6,3.7*3E
$GPGSV,2,1,07,19,71,151,32,11,41,269,34,22,39,058,49,03,37,145,33*75

The ones which begin $GPGSV, and $GPGSA are satellite diagnostics and of no interest to me here. I only want the  lines beginning $GPRMC which are the “Recommended Minimum data”


$GPRMC,132206.042,A,5207.8403,N,00059.2248,W,20.059710,146.77,200108,,*2C
Translates  as time=13:22:06.42, GPS Status OK, Latitude 52 degrees 07.8403 minutes North, Longitude 0 degrees 59.2248 minutes west. Speed 20.059710 knots, track 146.77 degrees, date 20 Jan 2008,,checksum.


Now what I want to do is to take that data and do something like this

$myPhoto=Get-Picture “picture.jpg”

 

Get-GPS_co-ordinates_at ($myPhoto.DateTimeTaken)

$myPhoto.geotag(NS,Latitude,EW,Logitude)

$myphoto.bitmap.save(“TaggedPicture.JPG”


Easy. But Get-GPS-Coordinates at a given time ? A pipe dream surely ? Here’s how I did it.


Since it’s all comma separated to start with, I wanted to use PowerShell’s built in Import-CSV. But I wanted to strip out the lines that weren’t relevant. That’s easy enough, but here’s a trick, Get-Content returns an array of strings, one for each line, so if I put my header in an array of strings and add the cleaned up file content to it I get a useful CSV file.

@(“HEADERS”) +  ( get-content FILE.log | where {$_ -match “GPRMC” } ) > temp.csv

I’d like to pipe this into Import-CSV, but it insists on a file (Imust check if that has changed in the V2 CTP), so the next bit processes that.  Using Select-object , I can pare the data dow and splice the date and time together forcing the result to a DATE-TIME type – that accounts for most of the next bit

import-csv temp.csv | select-Object -property NS, latitude, EW , longitude , @{Name=”DateTime”; Expression =
{[DateTime]::ParseExact(($_.Date+$_.Time),”ddMMyyHHmmss.fff”,[System.Globalization.CultureInfo]::InvariantCulture)}} |

 So now I’ve got a collection of objects with North/South, Latitude, East/West, Longitude , DateTime. Now to find the one that matches the photo’s date and time.  Part of my brain took this as an idle process and came up with  “| Sort-on (Difference between GPS time and photo time) | select the first one”  it took me an age to realize I needed the absolute (not signed) value to sort successfully, which meant calling up the system.math library

sort -Property @{ Expression={[system.math]::abs(($_.datetime – $MyPhoto.TimeTAKEN).totalMilliseconds)}} | 
select-object -First 1 |

Finally I added a GeoCode routine to the Exif library I published in August, so I can pipe the results into $myPhoto.GeoCode

foreach-object {$MyPhoto.geoTag($_.Latitude, $_.NS, $_.Longitude, $_.EW)}

Granted it is a heck of a long line, but Import | Select | sort | select | geoTag is one of only 4 lines needed: one to get the Photo (which is actually $MyPhoto=new-object oneimage.exifimage “Picture.jpg”), one to make the CSV file and one to save the result at the end. I don’t want to think about how much VB script it would take to parse the file, and find which date was closest


I’ve added the latest version of my EXIF class here, for anyone who wants to play.


Disclaimer . Like any code on my blog, this code is provided as an Example for illustration purposes is only. It comes with No support and No warranty that it is fit for any purpose whatsoever.

Technorati tags: EXIF, Powershell, Windows, Photography

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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 13, 2007

Shooting fish.

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 5:22 pm






 


Eagle-Ray


Coral Head


 ReefShark

A while ago I wrote about getting a new camera to take diving. Rather spookily one of the mails in my inbox when I got back from my dive trip last night was asking about underwater cameras , so here’s what I replied about the new Canon

 


One of the observations of my recent dive trip was “You don’t buy the right dive kit first time … it’s always the second one that’s right” I started with a 2002 vintage Pentax optio 430RS – which was 18 months old and made redundant by my purchase of a DSLR.  I bought a housing and put it to use underwater. Not a great experience.

Learnings.


  1. Start-up time and Shutter lag matter a lot.  Power saving means the camera will turn off during a dive. If it takes 6 seconds to power up and 2 seconds from press to take the shark that just swam by isn’t going to be captured.
  2. Batteries matter a bit.  A camera with a dead battery on a dive boat ….  You need spares. AA’s are a plus (you can raid a torch if need be !)
  3. Big, standard memory cards are good (on my trip someone had a fuji with XD cards, both laptops we had with us could read SD, one could read CF.  But  XD and memory stick – forget it.).
  4. Screen. The tiny screens of 2002 are usable underwater, but bigger is definitely better.  A conventional view finder would be a hindrance underwater IMHO.
  5. Exposure. There’s less red light at depth. The Pentax would tend to over expose to try to compensate. An “Underwater mode” suggests the camera “gets it”
  6. Wide Angle and Macro. The more water between you and what you’re shooting, the more red light is absorbed and the more particles get in the way. Because of the usual underwater effects (Snell’s law) a 38mm equivalent lens becomes more like a 55mm underwater.

I went to cameras underwater’s web site and the only compacts I could find which ticked all the boxes were Canons (Pentax no longer do housings, Sony, Fuji, Olympus use daft memory, Casio batteries are proprietary, some Nikons use AAs but, it seems, not the ones with housings); with the 570IS looking the best with 7MP, 4x zoom, image stabilization and an underwater mode.  (I got mine from AJ Electronics – who are currently quoting £114, for UK sourced product – when I bought ,it was £140 shipped, with £50 back from Canon)

The housing I imported from a company called Aiko trading for $199 US.
I don’t shoot many Macros and the Canon focuses closer than Pentax did anyhow. I’d seen the Inon fish eye converter  and wanted that to solve the wide angle issue – it promises huge depth of field and very close focusing too.  I went with Aiko because they could supply the lens ($359) and the mounting kit for it ($75) as well as Canon’s housing. With shipping and import duty the extra bits cost about £370 (dwarfing the £90 the camera cost).

A purpose designed alternative would be Sealife’s DC600, but it’s less convenient out of the water, doesn’t support SDHC (high capacity) and costs more than the Canon + housing.  It has a cheaper (though not as wide) wide angle converter but no Inon mounting kit. The Dive operator I was with last week rents out the Sealife, which suggests it’s reliable and easy to get on with (its buttons are easier to work with “fat fingers”)

I was worried that I had joined the “all the gear and no idea” brigade with all these bits, but the proof is in the pictures. They do need some tweaking afterwards (for contrast, and white balance  – I’m going to try a magic filter at some stage). None of these pictures (or the one I posted earlier) would have been possible with my old set-up.  So I’m happy. Not that I’d recommend other people buy the same – your mileage (or depth) WILL vary, but for anyone trying choose a camera that should give and idea of criteria to consider. 


 


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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 1, 2007

From the "I want one of those" file.

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 8:07 pm

I was sure Scoble mentioned Eye fi ages ago …. He did. 

How’s this for Cool. A 2GB SD card with integrated WiFi. Set it up and it sends pictures to Web services or your PC, and if it can’t find where it is supposed to send them there is a 2GB buffer until you’re back in Range.

There’s a review at DP Review, or you visit http://www.eye.fi  (in case you didn’t know .FI is the top level domain for Finland, if you want to buy one it’s eye.fi/buy ) Only US suppliers at the moment, priced at $99 so with $2.08 to £1 that will be about £110 when it gets here

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

October 31, 2007

Phase one: Capture one V4 has a new beta.

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 6:55 pm

Hot on the heels of the announcement that Phase one and Microsoft had entered an alliance I got a mail to tell me about Capture one 4 beta 2. The web site has one of the most annoying bits of flash I’ve seen a while. There’s a control to turn the cheesy music off but you can’t do anything about the loud “tock” that’s emitted when you hover over anything.

It looks like the UI has had a major re-vamp -which it puts me in mind of Adobe LightRoom (which I still haven’t bought for myself). Functionally it hasn’t changed much: but a nice feature is you can have multiple variants of the processing for the same RAW image. This means that you can keep a set of processing changes and try something different. It’s able to straighten pictures now (why it wasn’t before I don’t know), and can handle DNG. But it still can’t print as far as I can tell it has no answer for Lightroom’s lovely back and white handling and split toning. Give me those things and and a clone / healing brush and I can work in a single program.

Like it’s predecessor it does the things it does really well I’d say it’s worth a look if you’re serious about your photography. But I can see people going for the more complete offering from Adobe. I’ll probably want both.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

October 30, 2007

Phase one strategic alliance

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 12:10 am

I’ve been using Phase One’s “Capture one” software for the last 3 years and I like it better than anything else I’ve tried for processing RAW images. So I was interested when one of the photography forums linked to this press release.

“Microsoft and Phase One Form Strategic Alliance to Improve Digital Photography Solutions” it says.
In Plain Words, Gowers says we can’t send some words into the world naked, and have to give them a dressing gown, for example “Alliances” are always called strategic. Does this tell me what will come of it ? No.

The release also talks about “HD Photo, Photosynth, Digital Image Suite and other products that provide superior solutions for professional photographers and enthusiasts alike.”
HD photo hasn’t seen much adoption, Photosynth is available as product, and Digital image suite has been killed off.

Our record with software for the photo-enthusiast is at best, patchy. The one high spot being indexing pictures in Vista, and the basics provided in photo gallery (and its “Live” sister which works on XP) . This deal doesn’t say anything about Microsoft getting the rights to any Phase one software so I don’t know what the alliance is for. Still if I get to evangelise about Capture One I won’t be complaining.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

September 3, 2007

So long Compact flash: a new camera

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 11:09 am

It’s amazing to see a technology to go from “new”to “Obsolete” in half a dozen years. I remember buying an IBM Microdrive in 2001 – a power hungry and rather unreliable device it was, the jacket for my iPAQ would take CF type II cards. A year later my first digital compact camera took CF but only Type I so I spent £70 on a 64MB card. (Today I can buy four cards, 4GB in capacity for that)  In 2003 first digital SLR also took CF. Both cameras came from Pentax; I loved the SLR but was indifferent to the compact. Pentax have gone totally SD since, so my updated SLR takes SD cards, my last 3 phones have used SD or a derivative of it. My previous laptop had SD support and I’ve added SD support to the Dell. Since the secondhand value for the compact was close to zero I put it in a scuba housing. But it wasn’t great. Its short-life proprietary batteries mean I have to take a charger and a second battery on dive trips. The Screen is small, the shutter lag dreadful.

I began to cast around for a new camera and the newer Pentax models don’t have dive housings; which meant changing brands: no great loss in compacts. My requirements didn’t seem so very tough.

  • Dive housing available
  • AA Batteries
  • SD Memory

I didn’t have any megapixel requirement -I’ll repeat something I’ve said before more megapixels means the image formed by the lens is recorded with greater fidelity. The lenses on most compacts don’t justify the pixels the marketing folk won’t the put behind them.  I wanted a shorter shutter lag -but what we put up with in 2002 wouldn’t sell today. A bigger LCD seems to be standard too -that makes things easier underwater.  

The list shrank pretty quickly. This brand uses proprietary batteries. That brand used memory stick. These other Brands didn’t have dive housings. But Canon’s Powershot A570IS ticked all the boxes, with the bonus of a dedicated Underwater mode and Image stabilization. I’ve been robust about Canon FUD that in-body stabilization doesn’t work, it does. Canon SLRs just don’t feel right in my hands; brand loyalty to Pentax isn’t absolute, but it’s stronger than any Brand antipathy I have for Canon. As it was, over the bank holiday weekend Canon were running a £50 cash-back promotion, a bit of checking found that the camera – (list price £220) could be shipped to my door for £140 – £90 after the cash back. Decision made.

It’s amazing to see how compacts have come on in 5 years.

  2002: Pentax Optio 430RS 2007 Canon Powesrhot A570IS
Cost ~ £400 ( List price £600) ~ £100 (List price £220)
Display 1 sq inch (1.2 x 9: diagonal 1.5″) 3 sq inch (2.0 x 1.5 diagonal 2.5″)
Shutter Lag Intrusively slow Tolerably slow
USB 1.0 requires driver (mini-b connector) 2.0 plug and play (mini-b connector)
Apperture f/2.6 or f/5 (wide)
f/4.8 or f/9.2(tele)
f/2.6 – f/8 in 1/3 stop steps (wide)
f/5.5 – f/8 (tele)
Zoom range 3x in 6 steps  (38-113mm equivalent on 7.2 x 5.3 mm sensor) 4x  in 7 steps(35-140mm equivalent on 5.8×4.3mm sensor).
Megapixels 4 7
ISO 100,200 80,100,200,400,800,1600
Video 320×240 14 fps (Mute) 640×480 30fps with (surprisingly good) sound
Other   Image stabilization, Facial recognition auto-focus,Voice notes, underwater mode,  Rule of thirds grid, stitch assist mode, Red eye removal

As I said I don’t see the greater pixel count as giving me higher resolution pictures. The Canon’s imaging chip is only 2/3 the size of the Pentax’s one, I doubt if it’s lens is any better – but to give those pixels the same amount of detail to digitize it needs be much better. It’s capturing an inferior image with greater fidelity.  More pixels in a smaller area and higher ISO rating mean Canon need to be aggressive with noise reduction, which reduces detail.

When I care about quality I’ve got my SLR, with a couple of fantastic Pentax prime lenses. The new compact’s job is to get pictures that the old one missed, in places where the SLR won’t go. And I’m happy it will do that.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

August 7, 2007

Photosynth. Rocket Science ?

Filed under: Photography — jamesone111 @ 4:46 pm

I’ve mentioned Photosynth a few times before. I came back from lunch today to see some new collections which we have done with NASA are now live. It’s great stuff. Go take a look.

 

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

August 3, 2007

A VB class for EXIF picture properties – and using it from Powershell.

Filed under: Photography,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 12:55 pm

I have been carrying on with my project to make EXIF data available in PowerShell.

When I searched for Powershell and EXIF it turned up this Blog post of Scott Hanselman’s. He talks about a “nice little photo library” that extracts and interprets EXIF data from images, but when I tried to get hold of copy the link was dead, so I thought “How hard can it be ?” and looked the example in the VB Express’s help. The answer was “Not very hard”, and I built a class library I built goes like this.

Public Class ExifImage

‘ Declare Constants, variables, subs and functions

‘ – use PUBLIC to make them available to things which use the class.

Public BitMap As System.Drawing.Bitmap

 

‘ I have lots of constants and a couple of functions to process information – just one shown here

Public Const ExifIDDateTimeTaken As Integer = 36867

 

‘ NEW is invoked when an item of this class is instantiated. Here I want to get a BITMAP object

Public Sub New(ByVal s As String)

Me.BitMap = New System.Drawing.Bitmap(s)

End Sub

 

‘ Now declare code to return properties. I don’t want to write properties, so I declare them read only

ReadOnly Property DateTimeTaken() As String

Get

DateTimeTaken = {what ever code you need}

End Get

End Property

 

End class

This probably the time to say that it should be possible to create a new class which inherits everything from an existing class but System.Drawing.Bitmap doesn’t allow this. So I just created a new object which contained a system.drawing.bitmap object – and made it accessible for other code which wanted to do anything beyond providing access to the 40 or so properties I wanted.. Those 40 properties meant quite a lot of code, but it was very repetitive stuff: even where I needed long SELECT … CASE constructs to output “Flash switched on, but did not fire” or whatever for each of 20 different numbers values, it was mostly cutting and pasting. Parsing the maker note field to get Pentax specific information took a bit more work. Having compiled my code it was simply a case of loading it with  
[reflection.assembly]::loadfile(“C:\…longpath…\OneImage.dll”) 

Now I can do something like this to get an image with my exif properties,

$foo = New-Object oneimage.exifimage -argumentlist “I:\DCIM\100PENTX\IMGP3797.JPG” 
The [Tab] Key will expand $foo’s properties so I can do this
PS C:\Users\Jamesone\Pictures> $foo.Flash

Flash off


That post of Scott’s talks about “spot-welding” new properties on to existing objects. Not object inheritance, mind you, “super-gluing.” Like it or hate it, like super-glue, you have to respect that it solves problems. I copied his XML wholesale replaced his type name with mine and loaded it with

Update-TypeData My.Types.PS1XML

Which let me get a directory with the DatePhotoTaken field. I got a bit more adventurous and build a different XML file which would show me bytes per pixel – a quick way to find out which files have been heavily compressed and which haven’t

<Types>
     <Type>
        <Name>System.IO.FileInfo</Name>
        <Members>
           <ScriptProperty>
                <Name>BytesPerPixel</Name>
                <GetScriptBlock>
                if ($this.Extension -match “jpg|raw”)
                 {
                  $photo = new-object oneimage.exifimage $this.FullName
                  $this.length / ($photo.Height * $photo.width)
                }
                </GetScriptBlock>
            </ScriptProperty>
          </Members>
     </Type>
</Types>

I’ve attached the VB code and DLL so you can experiment. Disclaimer . Like any code on my blog, this code is provided as an Example for illustration purposes is only. It comes with No support and No warranty that it is fit for any purpose whatsoever.
Update – the code has been revised, and the link below has changed


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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

July 13, 2007

Exploring Photographic EXIF data (using PowerShell, of course)

Filed under: Photography,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 5:34 pm

My PowerShell project for the last few days has been to get into the EXIF data which is embedded in Pictures. It turns out to be a bit easier than I imagined.

The first thing I found is that the .NET framework has a “BITMAP” object-class which gives access to these properties. Just get a new instance of the object passing it the file name: this works for JPEGs and TIFFs. It doesn’t work for RAW files from my camera (presumably because Windows doesn’t see those as bit maps)

The Second thing I found is Powershell doesn’t load the required assembly by default – which spawned the earlier post about VB complementing PowerShell. So before I can get the object I need to do this 

[reflection.assembly]::loadfile( "C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727\System.Drawing.dll")

Then I can do this

$foo=New-Object -TypeName system.drawing.bitmap -ArgumentList "C:\Dump\Unsorted Pictures\Tour\RAW\TdF23760.JPG"

The object has an array of propertyItems . Each PropertyItem object has an ID, a type, a size, and a value. This is pretty flexible but it is also a darn nuisance for anyone wanting to code for the first time, because you have to know, for example that field ID 271 (or 0x010F in hex) means “Maker name”, and type 7 means string.  or ID 41996 (0xA40C hex) means “Subject distance” and type 3 means 16 bit integer; but the value isn’t in feet or meters but  a value of 1 Means “Macro”, 2 means “Close” and 3 means “Distant”. Worst of all 37380 (0x9204) means “Exposure compensation” and type 10 means “Expressed as the Ratio of 2 32 bit signed integers”. 

$foo.GetPropertyItem(271) will get the Maker name property (if it exists – it will return an error if the property hasn’t been set), but before we can get properties we’re interested in we need to find a list of IDs. I’ve already got EXIF UTILS from HUGSAN and it’s documentation covers ID, so does the competing EXIFTOOL and there are others. Here are the main fields – not an exhaustive list.

Id
Decimal
ID
Hex
Type
Code
Type Name Name Notes
40091 9C9B 1 Byte Title (unicode)  
40093 9C9D 1 Byte Author (Unicode)  
271 10F 2 String Make  
272 110 2 String Model  
305 131 2 String Software Version  
36867 9003 2 String Date Time Taken YYYY:MM:DD HH:MM:SS
34850 8822 3 Integer Exposure Program 1=Manual, 2=Program Normal , 3=Aperture Priority, 4=Shutter Priority, 5=Program Creative, 6=Program Action ,7=Portrait Mode , 8=Landscape Mode
37383 9207 3 Integer Metering Mode 1=Av, 2=Centre, 3=Spot, 4=Multi-spot, 5=Multi-Segment, 6=Partial,255=Other
37385 9209 3 Integer Flash 0=Not Fired,1=Fired,5=Strobe return not detected. 7=Strobe return detected, 9=Flash fired; Compulsory flash mode 13=Flash fired; Compulsory flash mode, Return light not detected, 15=Flash fired; Compulsory flash mode; Return light detected, 16=Flash not fired; Compulsory flash mode, 24=Flash not fired; Auto mode
40961 A001 3 Integer Colour Space 0=sRGB,2=Adobe RGB, 65535=Uncalibrated
41986 A402 3 Integer Exposure Mode 0=Auto,1=Manual,2=Auto Bracket
41987 A403 3 Integer White Balance 0=Auto,1=Manual
41990 A406 3 Integer Scene Capture Mode 0=Standard,1=Landscape,2=Portrait,3=NightScene
41992 A408 3 Integer Contrast 0=Normal,1=Soft,2=Hard
41993 A409 3 Integer Saturation 0=Normal,1=Low,2=High
41994 A40A 3 Integer Sharpness 0=Normal,1=Soft,2=Hard
41996 A40C 3 Integer Subject Range 0=Unknown,1=Macro,2=Close,3=Distant
37384 9208 3 Integer Light Source 0 =Auto ,1=Daylight , 2=Fluorescent, 3 =Tungsten, 4=Flash,9=Fine Weather ,10=Cloudy Weather,11=Shade, 12=Daylight Fluorescent , 13=Day White Fluorescent , 14=Cool White Fluorescent, 15=White Fluorescent 17=Standard Light A , 18=Standard Light B , 19=Standard Light C , 20=D55 , 21=D65 , 22=D75 , 23=D50 24=ISO Studio Tungsten , 255=Other Light Source
34855 8827 3 Long Integer ISO  
40962 A002 4 Long Integer Width  
40963 A003 4 Long Integer Height  
33434 829A 5 Rational:2 Longs Exposure time  
33437 829D 5 Rational:2 Longs F-Number  
37386 920A 5 Rational:2 Longs Focal Len  
37381 9205 5 Rational:2 Longs Max Apperture  
41988 A404 5 Rational:2 Longs Digital Zoom Ratio  
37380 9204 10 Rational:2 Signed longs Exp-bias  
37500 927C 7 Undefined Maker Note {This is vendor specific and needs a whole post of its own}

 For completeness here’s a table of type codes.

1 One or Bytes
2 An array of byte objects encoded as ASCII
3 An unsigned integer (16 bits)
4 A unsigned long integer (32 bits)
5 Rational, an array of two long integers that represent a rational number
6 Not used
7 Undefined
8 Not used
9 Signed Long integer
10 Signed Rational

All these types might make you want to scream but we can cheat. Since all the integers seem to be padded with zeros, we can treat them as long integers. In practice no long integers are used to represent numbers greater than 2^31 so we can treat unsigned Long integers (and ordinary integers) as signed. Finally, Rational numbers are sometimes written as 0,0 to mean 0, but this will cause a divide by zero error. To avoid this we can change the second number from 0 to 1. Since the single number like 123 is  padded with zeros to take the same space as a long, if we treat it like a rational well get 123 / 0 which we convert to 123/1. So we can treat ALL numbers as ratios of signed longs.  I’ll add one more refinement. If the value is 1/123 then it’s probably representing a shutter speed which I want to see in that form, not 0.00813. So I just need to write [fanfare] my first PowerShell function. I can type this in at the prompt (deja Vu for commodore and Applesoft basics which I mentioned recently)

function MakeNumber {
$First =$args[0].value[0] + 256 * $args[0].value[1] + 65536 * $args[0].value[2] + 16777216 * $args[0].value[3] ;
$Second=$args[0].value[4] + 256 * $args[0].value[5] + 65536 * $args[0].value[6] + 16777216 * $args[0].value[7] ;

if ($first -gt 2147483648) {$first = $first  - 4294967296} ;
if ($Second -gt 2147483648) {$Second= $Second - 4294967296} ;
if ($Second -eq 0) {$Second= 1} ;

if (($first –eq 1) -and ($Second -ne 1)) {write-output ("1/" + $Second)}
else {write-output ($first / $second)}
}

The first two lines, smash the two sets of 4 bytes together,  the next two lines convert large-enough numbers to two’s compliment negative ones, the 5th line ensures we don’t divide by zero but divide by one, and the 6th makes sure if the result is 1/ something it comes back as a fraction.   

PS C:\Users\Jamesone> "Shutter speed= " + (makenumber $foo.GetPropertyItem(33434))
Shutter speed= 1/160

PS C:\Users\Jamesone> "Apperture= f/" + (makenumber $foo.GetPropertyItem(33437))
Apperture= f/3.5

PS C:\Users\Jamesone> "ISO= " + (makenumber $foo.GetPropertyItem(34855))
ISO= 100

PS C:\Users\Jamesone> "Width= " + (makenumber $foo.GetPropertyItem(40962))
Width= 3872

Now, it might be my naivety with Powershell but I couldn’t find away to turn an array of bytes into a string, so I had to write my Second powershell function

function MakeString { $s="" ; for ($i=0 ; $i -le $args[0].value.length; $i ++) {$s = $s+ [char]$args[0].value[$i] }; Write-Output $s}

Which is just a for next loop to convert the array to a string; here’s the result  

PS C:\Users\Jamesone> "Model= " + (makestring $foo.GetPropertyItem(272))
Model= PENTAX K10D
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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

July 10, 2007

Vista’s desktop index and PowerShell.

Filed under: Photography,Powershell,Windows Vista,Windows XP — jamesone111 @ 11:38 pm

Vista’s desktop index has changed the way I work. I’ve stopped worrying about folders, any more than I worry about URLs for Internet content.  It’s either obvious or I find it with search.


So… since I have all of my stuff indexed. I should be able to tap into it … shouldn’t I ?


Time to fire up powershell and Live search and have a poke around. There’s quite a good article here which explains Windows Desktop search and the same the database connection strings and SQL syntax work with both the downloadable Windows XP version and the Vista Version.


It’s not rocket science. The first bit is the connection string. “Provider=Search.CollatorDSO;Extended Properties=’Application=Windows’;” . Then it’s the usual SQL stuff. SELECT fields FROM source WHERE conditions


The source bit is always the same: FROM SYSTEMINDEX. Most of the examples I’ve found aren’t very expansive when it comes to the fields.  For example:
SELECT System.filename FROM SYSTEMINDEX where system.fileExtension = “.wma”.


The list of fields is huge, and the best place to start is with the shell properties on MSDN, there’s a core set, a set for documents, a set for mail messages, one for music, one for recorded TV, and the list goes on. So there are are a few useful core ones.








System.Author
System.Title
System.Keywords
System.DateCreated
System.DateModified
System.Size
System.FileExtension
System.FileName
System.ItemFolderPathDisplay
System.Kind

System.kind is particularly useful for narrowing a search down – it groups file extensions into Music, Pictures, documents, etc so you can narrow a search down to Pictures or Documents or Calendar items, e.g.
SELECT system.filename, system.title FROM SYSTEMINDEX WHERE system.kind=”picture”
You can see how the extensions map onto the Kinds in the registry at HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\explorer\Kindmap .


Of course the major use of search is for free text searches and there are two predicates, CONTAINS and FREETEXT. FREETEXT is a blunt instrument it give it the word “Swimming” and it will all find all it’s forms “SWIMS, SWIMMING, SWAM” give it swimming pool and it will find anything with either of those words or any of their forms (put quotes round to search for a phrase). Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees with FREETEXT it’s a bit of a chainsaw. CONTAINS is like keyhole surgery. You can ask it for FORMSOF(“SWIM”) NEAR (“POOL” or “BATHS”) AND “LESSONS”. With CONTAINS the risk is you don’t get the document you want.


So Lets put a query together in powershell; I’m going to look for photos of the racing driver Nigel Mansell on my PC, and I want the camera details at the same time – this isn’t as daft as it sounds. It lets me sort my scanned film photos from my shot-on-digital ones. Here’s the query and the IndexProvider (a smarter man than me might have that permanently in a variable)  


$IndexProvider  = “Provider=Search.CollatorDSO;Extended Properties=’Application=Windows’;”
$SQL=(“SELECT System.FileName , System.Photo.fnumber , System.Photo.exposureTime, system.photo.focallength, system.photo.isoSpeed, System.photo.dateTaken, system.photo.cameramodel, system.author, system.title, system.keywords,system.size,System.ItemFolderPathDisplay
FROM SYSTEMINDEX WHERE Contains(* ,’Mansell’) “)



Contains (*, ‘Mansell’) looks in all the fields – important if I’m searching for Pictures. I’ve found that when you’re working with Powershell objects, the Object browser from Visual Studio (I’m using the FREE Express edition) and I’ve found the parameters that you can pass to the NEW method of an object can save a a few lines of code – I don’t need to create connection and command objects as I did in this earlier example.


$adapter= new-object system.data.oledb.oleDBDataadapter -argumentlist $sql,  $IndexProvider
$ds = new-object system.data.dataset
$adapter.Fill($ds)



$ds.tables[0] shows me results like this (notice the blank fields on the first one giving away it’s a film scan).

SYSTEM.FILENAME              : GP91-23.jpg
SYSTEM.PHOTO.FNUMBER         :
SYSTEM.PHOTO.EXPOSURETIME    :
SYSTEM.PHOTO.FOCALLENGTH     :
SYSTEM.PHOTO.ISOSPEED        :
SYSTEM.PHOTO.DATETAKEN       : 14/07/1991 18:48:35
SYSTEM.PHOTO.CAMERAMODEL     :
SYSTEM.AUTHOR                : {© James O’Neill}
SYSTEM.TITLE                 : Nigel Mansell Williams Renault FW14, Ayrton Senna, British GrandPrix, Silverstone
SYSTEM.KEYWORDS              : {Portfolio}
SYSTEM.SIZE                  : 2992373
SYSTEM.ITEMFOLDERPATHDISPLAY : C:\Users\Jamesone\Pictures\Motor Racing

SYSTEM.FILENAME              : GPM15834+.JPG
SYSTEM.PHOTO.FNUMBER         : 13
SYSTEM.PHOTO.EXPOSURETIME    : 0.008
SYSTEM.PHOTO.FOCALLENGTH     : 100
SYSTEM.PHOTO.ISOSPEED        : 200
SYSTEM.PHOTO.DATETAKEN       : 13/08/2006 11:31:26
SYSTEM.PHOTO.CAMERAMODEL     : PENTAX *ist D
SYSTEM.AUTHOR                : {© James O’Neill 2006}
SYSTEM.TITLE                 : Nigel Mansell, GrandPrix Masters, Silverstone
SYSTEM.KEYWORDS              : {Portfolio}
SYSTEM.SIZE                  : 2797880
SYSTEM.ITEMFOLDERPATHDISPLAY : C:\Users\Jamesone\Pictures\Motor Racing


 


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Digital Image Suite. RIP.

Filed under: Beta Products,Photography — jamesone111 @ 10:51 am

I’ve mentioned Digital image suite before. I always felt I needed to apologise for not using Adobe Photo shop. As several people commented, Photoshop was overkill. Digital image suite let me

  • Straighten Pictures which had been taken at an angle
  • Clone or blend out stray telephone lines, spectators, skin blemishes etc
  • Apply nice black and white effects (mixing red, green and Blue channels, tweaking contrast and toning in one go).
  • Apply “Glow” to portraits, and paint effects.
  • Sharpen the image, or apply selective blur to the background.
  • Stitch Panoramas together.

Vista has some token editing built in. It can rotate 90 degrees, crop, it can adjust levels and colour balance. It can fix red-eye. There’s talk of a “Windows Live” branded version of Vista’s photo gallery which will upload to Live Spaces. But this isn’t expected to offer a lot more. So the news that we’d quietly killed off Digital Image suite was greeted with some dismay by a good handful of the photographers inside Microsoft, one of whom passed on a quote from Directions on Microsoft.

[Digital Image Suite] occupied an uneasy niche between the free photo editing and management software bundled with most digital cameras and Adobe’s more full-featured products for serious amateurs, such as Photoshop Elements …

With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft incorporated many of the features of the Digital Image product line into a free bundled application called Windows Photo Gallery, similar to the way that Apple bundles its iPhoto application with every Macintosh computer. This further reduced the market for a stand-alone version of Digital Image Suite.

… The cancellation of Digital Image means good news for Adobe, which now faces one less competitor in the low end of the imaging software market.

I’m not sure who’s saying Vista incorporates MANY of the features of Digital image suite, when I make it 5 at most. For anyone who thought we wanted to fight Adobe on every front here’s proof that things are rarely that simple.

Update: I forgot this Bonus Link Paul Thurrott has post some information about what’s in the Live Gallery Beta.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

May 31, 2007

ExpressCard (not express delivery), travel and Benchmarks.

Filed under: General musings,How to,Photography,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 5:06 pm

Back in March I wrote that 64 bit Vista marked the end of the line for my Lexar 32bit Cardbus adapter. It got lost in the post on the way from Hong Kong. I gave it enough time to be sure it really was lost and the e-bay seller sent me another which arrived yesterday.  This is (for now) the last piece of a puzzle of how to keep a lot of gadgets charged up and/or to connect to your PC. For me this list is

  • Laptop
  • Portable Hard-disk / card reader
  • Smartphone
  • In-car FM transmitter.
  • Bluetooth GPS puck
  • Bluetooth headset
  • Digital Compact Camera (used mostly for diving)
  • Digital SLR camera

The SLR camera takes SD memory cards and has a non standard USB connector. I sometimes shoot in a studio with my laptop and I’ve mentioned the software for tethered shooting doesn’t work on 64bit, so I  swap memory cards and copy from one while I shoot on another. The expresscard is ideal because

(a) Vista supports it without having to mess about with drivers.
(b) Once fitted it can stay in the slot for ever and there’s no risk of forgetting it.
(c) It’s faster reading than any other method available to me (even if I had got the Lexar device to work).

I didn’t understand why Vista called the Expresscard a USB device until I looked at the “about expresscard” page and saw that “ExpressCard-compliant host platforms must support both the PCI Express and USB interfaces.” So the card is USB in an alternative package – which is what I see when I put Vista’s device manager into “by connection” view. I got odd results when I tried running the  benchmarks that I ran on the old Toshiba  – it’s faster on writes and slower on large reads than the Tosh’s built in SD reader  It’s faster than anything I’ve plugged into a normal USB port but by varying margins depending on whether reads or writes are tested and which cards are in use.

Having bought 2 USB adapter sets (one in my camera flight case, and another with extras in my laptop bag) – I don’t really need to connect the SLR to the laptop: On a day out shooting I slot the memory card into the portable hard disk and press the copy button. For studio shoots (or quick shoots) I put the card in the laptop. On long trips taking the laptop means I can edit pictures and burn backups to DVD or make a secondary copy on the portable hard disk (if I bring it).

The cable rationalization goes further.  I download from the Digital compact camera using a standard Mini-B USB cable. Although the portable hard disk has a “Y” cable to allow it to draw enough current, my Dell Latitude D820 will supply enough current for it to work with the standard Mini-B cable. My new E650 (now also available on Vodafone) no longer needs a special charge cable and can use the same cable in the car or with my Swiss Word Adapter (I’m on my second one of these – thanks to a combination of poor packing on my part and rough baggage handling by Lufthansa).

I’ve changed the FM transmitter I have to play music from the phone – to one with a wider choice of frequencies and a USB power connection. So all my In-car devices are now USB powered : I showed before the “universal” USB power adapter I made; this powers the Bluetooth headset charger or GPS unit form the car, laptop or Swiss world adapter.  I still have to pack 3 mains powered devices the power brick for the dell and the chargers for the camera batteries. All 3 can share one mains cable.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 15, 2007

USB and travel

Filed under: Mobility,Photography — jamesone111 @ 9:50 am





Who says Bluetooth is safer. I walked away unhurt, the car was written off

My "universal" USB power adapter

In a couple of hours I fly off for week working in Athens. I’ve been talking to prospective evangelists this week and I’ve been saying we have a better work/home-life balance than some other parts of Microsoft. .I’ve already spent 20 nights away from my family for work already this year but I’ll spend 20 away scuba diving too. This trip should be worth while (I had the option to say “No” so if it turns out otherwise, I only have myself to blame), but ‘planes and hotel rooms and the packing and unpacking of bags hold no attraction for me.


I’ve mentioned before, that packing up all the gadgets can be a chore. Hopefully my new Orange SPV E650 will arrive soon after I get back. With it’s slide out Keyboard, my Freedom keyboard becomes redundant – I never got in the habit of carrying it which is shame.
Steve picked up on a post of Jason’s about internet connection sharing, I’ve been doing this the hard way since I first had GPRS in 2002 (configure phone as an Bluetooth modem, and tell the PC to dial *99#) and it did make wonder if I should wait for a 3G version but I haven’t felt the need for 3G so far. Orange’s page for the E650 says it IS 3G – I have the details on that page to be right, but Jason has confirmed that it doesn’t have UMTS and I’ll need to buy a new memory card for it. I’ll probably treat the memory card a permanent fixture as I do with my diving camera. It still annoys me that the 4 windows Mobile devices I’ve owned all use different memory.
I’ve mentioned previously that my current C500 phone doesn’t charge from a standard USB charger – it needs the normally unused pin 5 on the mini USB connector shorted to the neighbouring Pin 4, and I soldered my own adapter together. It also needs a 2.5mm-3.5mm adapter to plug my headphones in. The C500 is an HTC design and game of “guess what connectors they’ll slap on this one.” has been going on since they did the first iPaq for Compaq. The E650 (a.k.a HTC S710) delivers audio from a proprietary USB connector needs a Y cable to output to headphones and charge from a standard cable.


I’ve more-or-less ruled out Bluetooth headphones as a solution to the connector problem. I don’t know if can listen to music on my laptop and then take a call from the mobile. They don’t seem that great for travel, The C500 turns Bluetooth off in flight mode; even if the E650 turns WiFi, GSM and Bluetooth on or off separately, using Bluetooth in flight is a bit of a no-no. Using one in car doesn’t seem very smart either. I dumped my Bluetooth earpiece after a road accident, a call didn’t come through when I pressed the button, I looked down at the phone to figure out what had happened, and looked up to see the back of another car closing at about 50 Miles per hour. I’ve recently gone back but my current Bluetooth setup is more dangerous than holding the phone. The earpiece won’t turn off any more, and it beeps it’s incoming call beep when the phone finds “NO SERVICE”. So old, wired, headphones and a new earpiece looks like the way to go. Hopefully any new earpiece will charge from USB – or failing that at 5 Volts- I put a USB connector onto the “tail” from an old universal transformer to power various 5 Volt devices (primarily my GPS Puck).


I’ve been carrying a USB A-Male to A-Female extension cable -I can plug a memory stick or my Hauppauge TV-Stick in for flexibility or use A-Male to B-Male, Mini-B Male or Camera adapters to avoid carrying 3 different leads. (Incidentally for any Pentax users, K10D connector that the I-USB17 cable plugs into is known as a Sanyo connector at Direct USB). Then I have my home made power adapters for the C500, and universal 5V supply. Unfortunately the USB B and Mini-B adapters both came apart. The Dell D820 had a tighter grip on the A end of the mini B adapter than the body did, and the two parted company. My WD external drive pulled the outer sleeve off the B adapter. I decided I’d get a travel kit with a retracting cable and direct replacements for the broken connectors. I found one from Lindy which had the bonus of connectors to turn a USB cable into a phone or Network (RJ11 or RJ45) lead. I can pop my headphones and extra connectors in a pack which takes the same space as the LAN cable I had in my bag. It comes with 10 year warranty, which is just as well because the first time I plugged in the phone connector it pulled apart. Lindy were very good about replacing it, but there do seem to be a lot of badly made connectors out there.


Broken USB connectors.

 


I’m taking the SLR camera on this trip. It’s battery charger can share a mains cable with the Laptop’s power brick, but I’ll just take the spare battery – I’m getting about 750 shots to a battery and I won’t shoot that many this week. Camera, lenses, laptop, cables all fit into one carry on bag with 5 days clothes and toiletries . Who says I can’t travel light ?


Update: I had to leave the SLR behind – for the stupidest reason – no body cap. It only fits in my carry on luggage if I take the lens off the body and the body cap is off leading a life of its own. So I took the “diving” camera ad its charger. The Lindy USB kit has proved its worth – there have been huge problems with the wireless network here, but plenty of wired ports – providing you have a cable. I do – for once.


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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