Canon S80

Today I shot a few pictures with my new camera. Wow. It’s very nice. It performs pretty much as explained on dpreview. Conditions were not ideal for photography. It was very cloudy and rainy. There was a thick layer of clouds and the landscape was still covered in (melting) snow. This is difficult for the camera because it has to compensate for the snow and the lack of light. Overall, the camera performed quite well.

As predicted, the camera suffers from quite a bit of color noise if iso values are increased. Basically, anything above 100 has noise. At iso 400, the noise is so bad that this setting should be avoided most of the time. Essentially this is an issue with all digital compact cameras. Other than this, image quality is excellent. And of course the image resolution is 8MP, so a bit of noise is not that bad.

Besides, filtering away color noise is something photoshop is much better at than most cameras. One of the things that attracted me to this camera is that it doesn’t overdo it on filtering noise and throwing away all the details in the process. Similarly, it doesn’t ‘improve’ the contrast which also translates into more detail. The downside of course is that if you want this, you need to tune the pictures yourself in photoshop. That is no problem for me.
Lets start with the lens. This is a 28mm equivalent camera which means that it has a slightly wider angle of view than normal 35 mm equivalent cameras. This is very nice since that means you don’t have to walk all the way back to get your subject framed. It also has a nice zoom range (3.6x). If find that shots at 3x zoom both with this and my previous camera to be quite unmanagable unless the camera is on some stable surface. The resolution of the pictures is of course excellent so I can crop away large portions of the photo and still have something that looks great when printed.

nice example of wide angle shot

The picture above, is a good example of a wide angle shot. Sadly I had to throw away a lot of detail to get the picture down to a web friendly size. Also the picture was touched up in photoshop a bit to cover up for the fact that this was not really a good shot (sun is behind the building, well the clouds).

probably nicest shot of today

This shot is probably the best of the shots I made today. Basically, I walk this path every morning on my way to work. To the right (of the path) is the (frozen) sea. The only things I manipulated in this picture are the levels and curves. Because of the poor light conditions, the original is a bit dark. Also, I must learn to keep an eye on the histogram. Probably I could have gotten a bit more out of the situation with a bit more fiddling with the camera.
To give an impression of the number of pixels that were in the original of this picture, here’s a cropped piece of the same shot:

Cropped guys
So, quite impressive amount of detail. And again, the conditions were really bad for taking photos. This shot was taken at 1/60 second shutter speed. You can’t go much lower without risking a lot of motion blur.

This camera is really easy to use and has a nice user interface. Two elements that not all reviewers enjoyed are the sliding cover (which doubles as on/off switch) and the rotating click wheel thingy (sort of a mechanical equivalent of the ipod wheel). I must say I like both. Especially the wheel thingy makes it really easy to adjust things like shutter speed, aperture or even focus. Much nicer than messing with tiny left & right buttons (as on my powershot A40).

You can find the shots above, and some more, on my photo site.

S80

I first began considering buying a new digital camera around 2004. Forever drooling over dpreview and other sites I ultimately decided not to buy the Canon powershot A90, 520, 620, IS, IS2. Reasons varied from “I don’t really need one right now”, “camera X sure looks nice but lets wait for camera Y” to “my A40 is still pretty nice”.

After reading the reviews of the Canon S80, I decided this camera was perfect for me. Good quality lense, smaller than my clunky Canon Powershot A40, nice zoom range, wide angle lense, 8 mega pixels (yeah I know, not relevant), etc.

This was like three months ago. Since then I’ve gone to several stores, played with a testmodel at Verkkokauppa several times. Price was essentially right. Then I queued to buy it and waited, waited and left the store. I went back on a Saturday (stupid) and again ended up not buying. Then the camera was sold out (i.e. queued for 10 minutes and then left the store disappointed). Today I checked again, they had it and money was exchanged.

Whoohoo!. Currently the battery is charging, after that I’ll make a few pictures with it and maybe upload a few.

More on MS

It’s now a few days after my previous post on the vista delay. The rumour machine on the Vista delays is now rolling. A few days ago this wild claim about 60% of vista being in need of a rewrite started circulating. Inacurate of course but it woke up some people. Now this blogpost on a blog about Microsoft (fequented by many of their employees) made it to slashdot. Regardless of the accuracy of any statements in that post, this is a PR disaster. Lots of people (the entire IT industry, stockholders) read slashdot.

There’s lots of interesting details in the comments on that post that suggest that MS has at least these problems:

  • Management is clueless and generally out of touch with development progress. Claims on release dates are totally disconnected from software development planning. Release dates announced in press releases are wishful thinking at best. This is one of the reasons the date slips so often.
  • Middle management is worse. Either they have failed to communicate down when to release or up when their people tell them release is actually impossible. Either way, they have failed doing what middle management is supposed to do: implement corporate strategy and communicate up when that strategy is not working as expected.
  • Software engineers within MS are extremely frustrated with this. Enough to voice their opinions on a public blog. A lot needs to happen before I start criticizing my employer in public. I know where the money comes from. Really, I’d probably leave long before it would get to this point. So, I interpret this as MS having a few extremely frustrated employees that might very well represent a large silently disgruntled majority. Steve Ballmer seems to be rather impopular in his own company right now (never mind his external image).
  • The best MS software engineers are leaving MS and are replaced with being people of lesser quality because MS now has to compete in the job market. I remember a few years ago that MS could cherry pick from the job market. Now the cherries are leaving. Really, if your best people are leaving and you have billions in cash to fix whatever problem is causing them to leave, you are doing something wrong (like not fixing the problem).
  • Microsoft employees are spilling stock influencing information on public blogs. Opennes is one thing but this is an out of control situation. Regardless of whether they are right, these people are doing a lot of damage.

It’s probably not as bad as the comments suggest but bad enough for MS, if only for all the negative PR. Anyway, I might be revisiting the predictions I made in my previous post. I have a feeling some of them might prove to be correct in a few months already. Very amusing 🙂

that must hurt

Ouch, Forbes unleashes some criticism on Microsoft. Well deserved IMHO. I don’t see the result of six years of development by thousands of software engineers reflected in the currently marketed featureset.

A few small predictions:

  • Vista and office 2007 (or whatever it is called) are going to go into history as the two releases that reversed the growth trend in microsoft marketshare. I expect both products to do worse than their predecessors. First of all, businesses won’t touch either until forced by licensing conditions. Second of all, some businesses might opt for alternatives this time. Particularly Novell seems to be well positioned this time. Also Google will push some lightweight services into the market before the Vista release that are remarkably well suited for adoption in small businesses.
  • I expect this to have consequences for the current leadership. Specifically, I expect Steve & Bill to be pushed to the side lines after this.
  • I expect this to be the last major revision of windows this decade. They may think they are going to do another release before 2010 but reality will catch up with them. In fact, I expect that Vista will be the last time they can justify the insane R&D budget to the shareholders. Six years of development resulting in replacement purchases only is going to be a tough sell to shareholders.
  • Clearly after six years of development, Microsoft stands empty handed. The shares are due for a downward correction. Things are not going well for Microsoft and they are underperforming.
  • This is not the last delay for Vista. They are hoping it will be ready but their development process is the reason it is being delayed so they can’t actually know right now that they will have a release in 365 days. My guess is that they won’t.
  • Customer feedback on the yet to be announced additional beta will cause them to drop more features from Vista. Particularly the userinterface is going to get some heavy criticism (performance, general uglyness) and negative publicity. Something will need to be done about it. After dropping the features, they will move to release candidate status which may last quite a bit longer than they are now planning for.

I love this country

An event I’ve ignored for years and tactically zapped around on the TV is the eurovision song festival. When I was in Sweden, Sweden happened to win it (1999?). I heard about this while partying in BÃ¥gen, a very lousy night club in Ronneby. This year, I might keep an eye on the TV because this guy and his friends are going to represent Finland at this years edition. Wow ….! I hope they win :-).

suspend to ram

Over the years I’ve encountered, and resolved many annoying software issues with Microsoft. This one surely counts as one of the more annoying ones.

The problem is that my previous PC had a beautiful suspend to ram feature, which basically means that whenever you put the machine in stand by mode the system turns of almost completely except for a bit of power to keep the memory going. The technical term for this is ACPI S3 mode. My new PC however, suspends using ACPI S1 mode which means it goes stand by with the harddisk still spinning and the fans still blowing, not my idea of stand by. Naturally this was something I wanted fixed really badly. So I enabled the feature in the bios, set all the power options in windows as they should be and …. no success.

My mistake was to assume that this is a hardware/bios problem. So I kept checking the asrock site for bios updates and browsed through their FAQ, double checked bios settings drivers, etc.. Since this isn’t a problem with their hardware, bios or drivers after all, no solution was found this way. Next stop was google, but I still had the asrock keyword as part of the query so nothing useful came out of that. Then I just gave up and for the past few months I’ve been shutting down the pc completely.

This morning I googled for “force s3 standby” and ended up on this site. I learned a things here:

  • My system supporst S3 just fine, I checked using this sleeper tool.
  • Users with completely different hardware are experiencing the exact same issue (and are equally frustrated).
  • There’s a registry hack you can do but it doesn’t do much good on its own.
  • There’s lots of useless advice on enabling/disabling wake up from standby options on usb devices (my mouse and keyboard are ps/2!).
  • There’s a tool called dumppo which supposedly does something useful.

Ok, the next google query concerned dumppo, which got me here. It appears that this is a Microsoft provided (but totally undocumented) utility that you can use to check and change the ACPI settings. Sure enough my “Min sleep state” was set to S1. The reason? I installed windows XP before I enabled suspend to ram in the bios. Doh! Apparently the ACPI settings are determined forever during setup and no functionality to fix this is included with the OS. After the installation you’re screwed no matter what you toggle in any control panel, bios or other screen. Windows XP just keeps insisting that S1 is the way to do standby.

Dumppo (download from microsoft) apparently is the only way out (short of reinstalling XP). A simple “dumppo.exe admin minsleep=s3” on the command line fixes the problem. Of course this wisdom is not officially documented anywhere on the Microsoft site. There must be millions of users out there that are unable to suspend to ram because of this. Basically all computers sold in the past few years are technically capable of suspend to ram. Many of them have the option disabled in the bios by default.

Anyway, problem solved :-). Just one of these issues ordinary users will never ever figure out. I must have solved hundreds of these issues over the years.

this is so true

I read this interesting article on mathematics and software engineering. Like many software engineers, I’ve had extensive mathematics training during my computer science education and of course in high school. The problem is, I don’t seem to remember much of it. I passed courses on statistics, probability theory, linear algebra, discrete mathematics 1 & 2, temporal logic, etc. I have a vague idea that linear algebra was about mostly about matrix manipulation and resolving formulas. But I haven’t really used any of that stuff since. I did use probability theory on a number of occasions when trying to figure out Bayesian belief networks. But even that is eight years ago now. At the time, I was wrapping my mind around the core algorithms of that technology (which involves some exposure to Bayes’ theory of course) but right now I wouldn’t get very far describing how a Bayesian belief network works. However, I know how to pick up the basics in afternoon of reading and even what to read. If ever needed, I’ll be able to brush up my skills.

And that is the main point of the article. Current mathematics education, especially in highschools, does not teach students the skills they need: namely to be able to aqcuire the mathematics knowledge they need. Instead mathematics education is all about force feeding large amounts of algorithms in the hope that some of it will be remembered. For most people this is not true. The few people that do remember end up studying mathematics. This is what the author of the post I’m citing calls depth first mathematics. They throw lots of stuff on integration theory at you in high school without actually explaining where it is coming from, how it will be useful to you in the future and how this fits in the overall mathematic tradition. So you dutifully learn by doing, pass the exam and then forget all about it in period of two years. That’s how I got through highschool and I even enjoyed doing some of the math.

The author instead pleads for breadth first mathematics. That is, don’t dive straight in to the algorithms but explain where it all comes from, what the concepts are, how they relate to each other. The article I posted a few days ago on an ebook on flying an airplane is a good example of how people can acquire math knowledge. The book assumes a basic understanding of physics. The concepts should trigger some memories of boring physics lessons in highschool. The author does a good job of explaining all the concepts relevant and before you know it you have a aqcuired some in depth knowledge on some crucial aerodynamics. The knowledge is immediately useful because it helps understand why the damn plane doesn’t drop out of the sky. It sticks too, as long the topic of keeping the plane up remains interesting to you.

fun with rendezvous

One of the innovative features in Mac OS X is support for DNS-SD, a.k.a. rendezvous. I was reading about the Java API for this by apple on onJava. Then I wondered if there was a pure Java implementation, because I dislike using native stuff in Java (complicates deployment).

That’s why I like google: “+rendezvous apple pure java” -> this link, right at the top. So two minutes after getting this idea, I’m doing a “jmdns-1.0>java -jar lib\jmdns.jar -browse” as the readme of JmDNS suggests, to launch the swing based dns-sd browser. JmDNS is a 100% pure java implementation of dns-sd that claims to be compatible with the real thing from Apple.

Now the reason I’m posting. I was expecting zero or at most a handful of dns-ds services on my network. I was absolutely shocked by the number of people publicizing these services on the same cable network as I am. There’s dozens of different services, each with multiple devices offering them. It seems the default settings of Apple cause their devices to happily announce all sorts of details about themselves on the lan. The nature of cable networks of course is that the entire neighbourhood is one big lan. So effectively, I’m getting access to all Rendezvous capable devices in my neighbourhood.

Right now, I’m listening to a some AC-DC tracks of one of these users who has kindly shared his music in iTunes, which means my iTunes magically finds this music (courtesy of dns-sd) :-).

Speaking of iTunes. I’m thinking of abandoning it. I like the UI but it crashes way too often. Just now it crashed twice. Yamipod aledgedly is very nice and capable of syncing with my ipod.

more x-plane tweaking

I’ve finally found some optimal settings for my system. The number of objects in the view determines the framerate. X-plane includes an option to display render statistics including number of objects and framerate.

As a benchmark, I start x-plane, take off from jfk and make a turn towards Manhattan. As I make the turn, the worst case scenario in terms of the number of objects kicks in. Seeing the statistics change makes you understand the effect of various options.

My current options:

  • textures: extreme
  • anti-aliasing: 4x
  • resolution 1024×768 (in a window)
  • distance detail: very high
  • objects & roads: both default
  • compress textures: on
  • other options, set to default

The key options here are objects & roads. I’ve experimented with anti aliasing and objects setting whilst keeping an eye on the statistics. In the scenario above with the settings outlined above, I start out facing east (towards the atlantic) with about 2200 objects and 50 fps. As I take off, the number of objects increases to about 2500. Turning towards Manhattan the number goes up to 3600 and the framerate drops to about 25fps.

By changing the objects setting from default to lots (i.e. this comes after default and before tons, mega tons, too many and totally insane). As the names of these settings suggest, most of them are not realistic. going to lots from default means that the turn to Manhattan now drives the number of objects up to 10000. At the same time the framerate drops to 20 fps which is what (by default) is the level where x-plane starts reducing the visibility to keep the framerate up. In other words, you’re fogged in at 20fps. You can actually lower this number but less than 20 fps is not much fun. In fact I consider 25 to be the minimum for enjoyable flying.

Interestingly enough, the numbers are independent of the anti aliasing setting. Anti aliasing happens on the video card, which can easily handle it regardless of the number of object. I’ve disabled it, set it to 2x and set it to 4x. No difference (except visual quality). It’s purely a cpu thing. Somewhere around 8000 it becomes just to much for my poor amd x2 4400+. Too bad only one of the cores is used.

The settings above are a compromise between visual quality and number of objects. I’ve decided that most of the time, it is more important to be able to see every terrain feature in visual range (e.g. rivers, airports and mountains 20 miles away) than it is to see 10000 little cubes of various shapes with various textures in front of me. So I’ve maxed out texture settings & distance settings, turned on anti aliasing, compress textures and I am now seeing good framerates almost everywhere.