Taking foolproof photos

We read about software that can improve blurry photos these days, and about significant improvements to autofocus on even inexpensive cameras. We look at photos that we take, the washed out ones, and wish we’d have exposed them a little less, or a little more. We wonder how they can be improved.

My solution points to bracketing. This is a current feature on one of my digital cameras, the Panasonic Lumix FZ20. When switched on, it will take three photos with three different exposure times (high, medium and low). I only press the shutter button once, and get three photos from which I pick the best one. Of course, this series of photos can also be used to get high dynamic range (HDR) photographs through manipulation, but the point is, the consumer only needs to press the shutter once. That’s the key.

I believe eventually we’ll see cameras that integrate bracketing into every photo. They’ll not only vary exposure times but also focus. The process will be seamless to us. We’ll press the shutter button once, the camera will only seemingly take one photo, but when we get home and download the photos to our computer, our camera software will allow us to use slider controls to adjust the focus and exposure without damage to the photograph’s quality. We’ll be able to bring different elements in and out of focus, and make the photo brighter or darker, just as we please.

Some really cool news and products

Wired News is running a great FAQ on Intel’s Dual Core processors – what’s on the market now, and what’s going to get here pretty soon. Bottom line – if you’d like some fast laptop processors, wait until the Merom line gets on the market, which will be late August. Perhaps some laptop makers (Apple included) will allow us to pre-order?

The Economist has an insightful article on the history of the PC and what awaits us in the future. Bottom line: some of the basic PC functions, like email and the web, are being relegated to other devices/appliances. The PC’s functions are changing, but that’s not to say its popularity is diminishing.

Western Digital has put out a new mini-HD called the Passport Pocket, at 6GB for $100, that can automatically sync itself to certain folders on your computer, will automatically encrypt the data, and will allow you to enter contact and reward info that will be useful in case you lose it. Only this information will be visible to strangers. Nice!

Merriam Webster has come out with a USB Dictionary and Thesaurus that they’re storing on a 256MB hard drive. The tool comes with a few freebies as well: a phonetic spell correction, a grammar guide, confusable word alerts, and a crossword puzzle solver. Alright!

You’ll finally be able to use that RDS function (RD-what?!) on your radio, with the Kensington iPod FM Transmitter with RDS. What this means is your car’s radio will now be able to display the artist and song info, so you won’t have to endanger yourself and others on the road by squinting at the iPod screen. Very, very nice!

A few up and coming gadgets

Time has a great slideshow of up and coming gadgets. A few that I really like are a new cellphone from Samsung that’s thinner and lighter than the Razr, the Sanyo Xacti HD camcorder, the swivable laptop display from Intel, and the “sideshow” display that allows you to check email and play music without opening the laptop, compatible with Vista. Click on the thumbnails below to view the photos, courtesy of their manufacturers.

Minuscule headset powered by novel battery

I was in my car, driving back from lunch, when I got a call on my cellphone. I’m holding out on buying a Bluetooth headset, because they look ridiculous. So I still have to answer the phone the “old fashioned” way, by flipping it open and pressing Speakerphone. I know, what tough luck… But I realized that these wireless/Bluetooth headsets could be made really tiny, and could fit in the ear, if the battery could be made really small. Sure, it’d be a hassle to change the battery, but what if you didn’t have to? What if the battery charged itself? How could that happen? Well, let’s look at three existing technologies on the market today:

  1. “Perpetual motion” watches: you know, the kind that charge themselves from the movement/agitation of your hand. They’ve been around for a while.
  2. Microphones: both dynamic and condenser types… They use a vibrating wand or membrane to generate an electrical signal. They’ve also been around for a while.
  3. The balance pebbles inside your inner ear: okay, this is more like biological technology, but I do find it interesting that they can move and touch nerve sensors, generating electrical impulses that tell your body how to balance itself.

Given these three very interesting methods of generating energy or electrical impulses, why can’t we make a really tiny battery that can charge itself from the movement of our body, our body heat, or the vibrations caused by our voice? We could be charging the battery as we speak, as we move, etc.

This sort of battery could be used in a tiny headset that could be placed in the ear, or in some other fashion, but the point is, it would be really small, almost unnoticeable. I wouldn’t look like a geek, with a big Bluetooth headset strapped to my ear, a menacing blue light flashing on it, as if I were an android. I’m sure many of you share my feelings here. Instead, I would use a small device, no bigger than the tip of my small finger, or even smaller, that could go inside the ear, or hook right outside the ear canal with a thin wire that goes behind my ear. It would let ambient noise pass through unchanged, but would block it when I’d be using my cellphone.

Wouldn’t this be cool?

Are you interested in using this idea? Then please see my rules about using it.

A novel way to search music or movie files

I was in the bathroom, whistling a tune I’d heard in a movie last night (“Anchors Aweigh”, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra,) and wishing I could find out its title, when it occurred to me. Why shouldn’t I be able to search for it?

I should be able to whistle that tune into my computer’s microphone, and have it search the audio and video files on my computer for similar sound patterns. It wouldn’t have to give me an exact match, a few possible matches would be fine. A desktop search engine, like Spotlight, or the Google Search Engine, or the Microsoft/Yahoo flavors, or whatever, brand isn’t important here, could index sound files for sound patterns – in its most basic form, it would search for inflections, and could then expand to more complex characteristics such as pitch, tone, timbre, human/instrument, etc. Wouldn’t this be an amazing thing?

Similarly, this could be expanded to movies. I could speak a phrase I remember from a movie into the microphone, and it would then search my movie files and find the movie and scene where that phrase is spoken. I know this is probably more difficult than a simple inflection in a sound file, but it is possible.

Just brainstorming… a possible offshoot could be searching movie scenes based on descriptions such as: male character dressed in a white shirt and grey pants, black shoes, hair parted from the right, in his 50’s, holding onto the side of Mt. Rushmore, bad guy stepping on his hand. This isn’t hard, it’s… Cary Grant in “North by Northwest”. The computer should be able to do that, too. I realize this may be some years away, but again, I think it’s possible.

Realizing that most people haven’t got extensive movie and music libraries, and sometimes the things they want to find aren’t on their computers, an Internet site could be set up with a large library of movie and music files. People could then whistle a tune into their microphones while they’re on the site, and could search its extensive library for the song where that snippet is found. They could choose to purchase that file afterwards. In a similar fashion, they could do all these other things I’m talking about here, eventually. Wouldn’t this be an amazing use of processing power? I for one look forward to this!

Music players should match genres with equalizer presets

This idea is so simple I can’t believe it’s not already in use! There I was during lunch, listening to my iPod in Shuffle mode, and it dawned on me how annoying it was that if I wanted to change the Equalizer present, I’d have to maneuver through several menus, then when it advanced to the next song, which might be of a different genre, I’d have to adjust the Equalizer once again. Since I didn’t want to bother, I left the Equalizer on None, but how much better would it be if these Equalizer modes could be automatically changed!

It’s so simple, too! They’re already named about the same as Genres, and so all the player would have to do is to look for an Equalizer mode that matches the Genre of the music currently playing. When I’m playing Pop music on my iPod, the Equalizer should automatically switch to the Pop settings; by the way, if you haven’t noticed yet, my last name is Pop. 🙂

There should be some level of tweaking though. I should be able to select different Equalizer presets for different genres, and I should be able to edit presets, as well as create new ones. These last two options are already available in most music players, but what I’m trying to get across here is that they should work together with the genre/equalizer matching.

I look forward to seeing this feature in upcoming versions of the popular music players like iTunes or WMP! I think it should also be integrated into the portable players like the iPods, which were really the impetus for this idea in the first place.

The next media player

I sat down to breakfast this morning and kept thinking about my media and the problems I face when trying to get things properly cataloged, and realized the tools still aren’t out there to do things correctly.

Current media players (such as iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, etc.) are good for playing music, or for playing video, and are fairly good when it comes to cataloging audio, but they have a ways to go when it comes to cataloging video or – and this is the most important thing – cataloging MEDIA.

Let me explain myself. Audio files are one type of media. Video files are another. Writings are yet another. So are photos or graphics. Web pages can use all types, and they can be though of as another media type as well, a hybrid, so to speak. There isn’t a media player out there that combines the ability to play and properly catalog ALL of these different types of media, and in particular, to correlate them in meaningful and flexible ways. Here’s are a few example that illustrate the current shortcomings:

  • I have a song by a certain artist, but I also have his or her music video for that particular song. They are seen as different files by the media player, and they come up as two different search results, when really, a common container should be created for that particular piece, and within it, the two pieces should be displayed together. While playing the song, I should be able to switch seamlessly between the audio version and the video version, without having to restart the song. The lyrics should also be stored as a third piece within that container, and if I want to, I should be able to display the lyrics onscreen for either the audio or the video version of the song.
  • If I have a video file, I should be able to properly catalog it within the media player, but I have yet to find a player that will do it right. iTunes has recently started to offer the ability to view and store videos within its library. It also happens to be my favorite player. Skipping right over the misnomer inherent in the name of the software – Tunes means songs, not videos – it doesn’t allow me to catalog the videos correctly. I can enter tags for the videos, just like I can for the songs, but the same fields that apply to songs (Artist, Composer, Album, etc.) are provided as tags for the videos. That’s wrong. Appropriate, but parallel tags should be provided, such as Actor, Director, Studio, Series, etc.
  • Lyrics can be entered for songs, but they cannot be entered for videos. That’s a clear shortcoming. What if I have a video interview. A transcript is also provided for that interview, in text format. I should be able to store that transcript right alongside the video, so I can access it as needed.
  • Let’s look at books. The audio and written version of books should be stored in the same container in my media player. I should be able to switch between both. Also, if a movie was made of the book, and I have that movie in my library, it should be stored in that same container as well. If I’m reading a paragraph in the book, I should be able to switch directly to the movie scene that deals with that subject if I want to do so. If I want to access a list of the photos (provided with the book), I should be able to browse just the photos.
  • Similarly, if I have an album by an artist, I should be able to see all of the cover art and photos for that album by switching to it while I’m playing the song.
  • In my photo library, I should be able to store audio narration for a single photo or group of photos that I have taken, or have received through email from one of my friends, or have purchased or downloaded from the Internet.
  • These containers that store the different media types for a piece of information, should be easily importable and exportable as a whole or in pieces. If I have two computers at home, I shouldn’t have to re-create each container by combining the pieces. If I want to copy a container from one computer to the other, I should be able to do so without problems, even if one of the computers is Macintosh and the other is Windows or Linux, as long as the media player was written for each of these operating systems.

The good news is that we can do this with the current technology. This isn’t some fairy tale. It should only take about 6 months to 1 1/2 years or so to develop the product. Yes, some of the media types will have to be re-tooled to allow for syncing of text and audio/video, but this CAN be done, and an amazing product awaits at the end of the tunnel.

Audience-inclusive advertising

After the new video iPod launched, and the possibility to purchase and download ad-free TV shows came to light, I realized that the advertising industry would have to come up with some clever ways to keep their audience if they were to maintain revenues. The following ideas sprung to mind:

  • A site can be set up and maintained by a consortium of advertising agencies and brand owners or a neutral body, that would either track viewer product preferences through data mining and random surveys, or would actively encourage users to register and provide product preferences. Alternately, existing user data could be compiled from various databases.
  • Advertising during TV shows that certain user groups watch could be more closely targeted to those groups by ad personalization. Users could register for the chance to have an ad dedicated to them. For example, a sample user we’ll call Jane could indicate that she likes the MINI Cooper, and so when an ad for the Cooper runs during a show that she likes to watch, names can be selected at random from the database of users, and if her name comes up, that ad could say: “This goes out to Jane” before it runs, and end with a “Thanks, Jane!” Quite simple, really, but it serves to capture the audience, since people will stay tuned during the ads just to see if their name will come up.
  • This concept can be expanded to include groups of users, perhaps up to 3-5 identifiable users per ad.
  • Through the medium of the website, brand owners can also take a cue from the users about the kind of products they need to advertise, this time in a more direct way, through hard data. Even more, they can more easily survey the users about the kind of new products they want to see.
  • Another way to keep the audience is to offer prizes for watching the ads and picking through clues that are weaved through both the ads and the shows. Entries can then be registered on the show’s site or at this main site for a chance to win something, perhaps even products featured on the show, or something as banal as an actor’s coat, or the actual bottle of perfume used by an actress on the show. These aren’t things that cost much but mean a lot to the audience.
  • People are making a big deal about product placement, but I think that reaches a saturation point very quickly. You can’t plaster products all over the screen and detract from the value of the story or the entertainment. Product placements works when it’s subtle, weaved into the story, and reinforced through the regular ads.

Gravitational propulsion-levitation vehicle

I’ve had this idea for quite some time – since sometime in 1997 – and I’ve carried it around in my mind, not knowing how to bring it to fruition, and certainly not knowing if I wanted to share it with anyone.

I’ve decided to share this idea with the world because I don’t have the physics knowledge that can allow me to figure it out on my own, and given my current and past schedule, it doesn’t look like I’ll have the time to beef up on physics any time soon. I hope that by sharing it, I can reach someone in whose mind the various pieces I’m going to talk about will click. Maybe this is one person, or a team of people, but that’s the power of the Internet – I can put my idea out there and see what happens!

I have to concede that this is the stuff of science fiction, of Star Trek and Star Wars and the like, but I really do think it can work. I think what makes my idea different from the sci-fi iterations is that it’s grounded – literally and figuratively speaking. I’m talking about gravitation. I have an idea for a vehicle that can move and float by harnessing the gravitational force of the Earth.

Here’s how I think it can work. The gravitational force of the Earth pulls things down to the ground. But it’s a magnetic force. We are attracted by it. If we can somehow deflect the force of attraction, we can move left or right along the surface of the Earth – that’s gravitational propulsion! If we can reverse it, we can rise – that’s gravitational levitation! Okay, so how can one affect a magnetic field or force? Through a magnetic field of opposing polarity. The problem is, I have yet to see a magnet that falls up, not down!

Here’s where it gets interesting. I can offer you the following clues, and I hope that you can put them all together to arrive at a solution:

  • Create – on a small scale – a gravitational field like the Earth’s, and attract other objects to it – this could be microscopic, it doesn’t have to be on a large scale. Once we can create this, we can apply the technology to see if we can create a gravitational field that the Earth “doesn’t like” and thus rejects – if this works, it means we can float, or levitate.
  • Look at the following two products currently on the market. The principles upon which they work is very similar to the way my vehicle can work. One involves an oscillating magnetic pendulum whose direction is determined by the repulsion from neighboring magnetic fields. This illustrates my gravitational propulsion idea. The second is an anti-gravity top, which, once tuned correctly, rises and stays in mid-air while it rotates. Please understand I’m not endorsing or advertising the company selling these products or the products themselves. I’m simply using them to illustrate my ideas. I do think the products are really innovative. I first heard about the levitating magnetic top several years ago, and that’s what helped me think about how my gravitational propulsion vehicle could work.
  • I think the repulsing gravitational field can be generated through the rotation (either parallel or perpendicular, not sure) of a disc or series of discs. It may be that some will have to rotate perpendicularly while others rotate parallel to the Earth. The angle of rotation can be varied to generate propulsion, levitation, or both. I think an important first step would be to generate propulsion alone – 2D movement along the Earth’s surface. That in itself would be a monumentous achievement. Levitation can come later, after the propulsion is perfected.
  • The vehicle can be perpetually moving. A rechargeable battery can be used to set the rotating mechanism in motion, and once the vehicle is moving and generating its own energy – remember, magnetic fields can be used to generate electricity – the energy from the rotating discs can recharge the battery.
  • The same mechanism can be applied to power plants, once perfected. We’ll be able to generate electricity directly from gravitational energy – no more nuclear or coal plants! The best part is that gravitational energy is in endless supply!

Just think of the benefits if we can ever get this idea materialized! I can go on and on, but I’ll let you dream about it: driving over fields of flowers without trampling them under wheels, sailing over water without getting anything wet, floating along the Grand Canyon, putting your hand out the window and picking fruits directly from the top of a tree… We won’t need roads anymore. We won’t pollute anymore. We’ll be able to camp out at the top of Mount Everest, or in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean…

Updated 2/27/13: I watched a documentary entitled “Modern Marvels – Car Tech of the Future” tonight, and was glad to see that others are thinking about this very idea: the capability of controlling gravity through what they call a “gravity capacitor”. See the video on YouTube and turn to 1:26:20.

The personal computer of the future

We’re still several years away from a device that can successfully combine a computer, phone, handheld, digital camera and music/video player, in a size/weight/price combination that’ll make most techies happy. But I’ve already got that device on my wishlist!

By computer, I mean laptop. I think that desktops will eventually disappear. Not only are they energy hogs, but they are simply too big and they aren’t portable. They take up too much space. Bulky desktops are already on their way out. The computer of the future will probably evolve from our current laptop form factor. I think the real breakthrough will come when OLED becomes a mature technology, and virtual keyboards are also viable. By virtual keyboard I mean either film you can type on, or simply a projected keyboard where your fingers breaking light waves trigger key down events.

The computer of the future will have all of the capability that we crave in a form factor that will likely approach the size of our current credit cards. It will probably be thicker, but I can envision a laptop with a rollout OLED or wall projection display and virtual keyboard that boots up in a 1-3 seconds, acts as a cellphone and digital camera, and that’s about 3-4 inches in terms of width/length, and about 1 inch or less in terms of thickness.

A truly portable cellphone

I think we have the capability of building a cellphone that is the size of a credit card, and about as thick as 3-4 credit cards put together. If we would use strip batteries plus an OLED, that could make it work. And I wouldn’t be interested in fancy games or the capability to customize the ringtones or to chat with my friends, etc. I just want a cellphone that’s thin enough and light enough to slip in my shirt pocket without seeing any bulge. I want a cellphone I can slip into my wallet or into an executive brief. The case could be made of magnesium allow or brushed aluminum. Now wouldn’t that look pretty cool?