@FriendFeed

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Who knows when I'll get up the nerve/time/patience/interest/huevos to post some lengthy post here again. If interested I'd suggest checking out what I'm doing at FriendFeed. It nicely pulls together my Twitter tweets, Flickr photos and whatever else I deem worthy of linking into that soup.

I was going to start piping my FriendFeed stream to this page and RSS feed but I haven't quite figured out the right blend yet.

Now back to my regularly scheduled absence of blog posts.

Cheap Bastard #1

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And so begins the first in a series of postings where I detail how I can sometimes be a cheap bastard. To start things off I bring your three recent examples:

  1. .Mac Trial account surfing
    The GTD software I was using only did sync'ing through .mac and rather than fork over the $100 per year I instead just created a new trial account every three months and copied the single backup file across. I just couldn't stomach giving Apple more of my money to store less than 25KB of my data on their servers. The iPod belt clip I bought when I thought I'd lost mine (but now just sits gathering dust) should more than cover the bandwidth and harddrive storage costs. I no longer trial-surf as my current software doesn't support sync'ing yet.

  2. MAKE Magazine subscription
    When MAKE Magazine was just starting out they used to offer a T-shirt with their yearly magazine subscriptions. My mother-in-law got me a subscription for Christmas but neglected to ask for the T-shirt. When I called to renew the subscription a year later and also order a boxed set of MAKE's first year I asked if they could throw in a T-shirt since I didn't get one the first time. The guy on the phone was so dismissive of the idea that I reacted by cancelling my whole order and hanging up. I haven't read MAKE magazine since last November. I miss it. Stupid T-shirt.

  3. Haggle with a poor student
    I saw a 20mm Nikon lens being advertised on Craigslist recently and contacted the seller to show my interest. I talked him down from his $410 asking price to $250 even after finding out he was a student selling his camera gear so he could buy textbooks. I still cringe a little thinking about this.

Well, those are mine. Anyone else have examples of their recent cheap-bastardisms?

Photographic Utopia

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It seems to me the ideal camera is one which doesn't involve a series of tradeoffs but instead allows one to dictate the photograph they intend to take.

With current cameras, if you want a shallow depth-of-field (DOF), you need to have your aperture wide open. To have your aperture wide open means more light so you need to adjust your shutter speed to compensate. If you shutter speed is already at its maximum (or faster than you would prefer) then you need to adjust your ISO speed to make your film/sensor less sensitive.

If you are less concerned about DOF but would rather freeze those sprinters in their place, then you need to make sure you shutter speed is set fast enough to avoid any motion blur. Once shutter speed is determined, then comes aperture to compensate, then possibly ISO to compensate even further to make sure you have enough light for your shot. It is all about juggling light.

This whole tradeoff process becomes even more pertinent in low-light situations where there is even less light to be juggled. Regardless of what kind of DOF or shutter speed you desire, you will inevitably need to increase your ISO to get the shot your desire (or use a tripod to keep your camera still for that 0.5s exposure -- or, god forbid, use your flash!). One of the serious downsides of an elevated ISO is a graininess in the resultant photo that, for reasons beyond me, has been mirrored in the migration from film to digital sensors. Is there some scientific reason why both both an ultra-sensitive sheet of chemicals and an ultra-sensitive array of electronic light-sensors need display graininess in roughly the same respect? The most recent digital cameras are finally exhibiting less graininess at higher ISOs, but this is a fairly new development and they are crazy expensive.

Rather than dealing with Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO I would prefer to have just two big dials on my camera simply labeled depth-of-field and motion-blur. Two dials. That's all I need. Graininess can be added as needed in Photoshop later. Don't make me worry about all the dang tradeoffs, instead just let me craft the photo I want and not worry about having to tweak, test and compensate for the light levels and the sensitivity of the sensor I happen to be holding.

If I want a nice highway-overpass shot of long lines of blurred brake-lights and head-lights all in focus, then crank up the motion-blur and crank-open the DOF. If I instead want a super-crisp capture of that water droplet falling against a soft blurred background, then drop the motion-blur right down to nothing and lower that DOF nice and narrow.

I definitely think we're moving toward this type of camera interaction, but we're still a number of years out. Cameras sensitive enough to even allow this ignorance of trade-offs are out of reach to anyone except high-end digital photographers. Ironic, no?

Flickr Google Gadget

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If you are a fan of Flickr and happen to use iGoogle you may want to check out a Flickr Gadget I recently wrote. It looks like this:

The gadget currently offers three tabs/views. You can see either the latest photos from your Flickr contacts (requires specifying your flickr userid in the settings), a sampling from recent 'interesting' photos, or specify keywords to search across all Flickr photos. You can view larger versions of the thumbnails overlaid in the gadget or jump right into Flickr proper.

I enjoyed creating the gadget and would love to hear any feedback or ideas for improvements.

To add the gadget to your iGoogle page just click the screenshot above or install with this button:

Disclaimer: I work on the iGoogle team at Google.

Email DOT com

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Having one's email address appear plaintext on a website is something most people try and avoid. Spammer's actively harvest email addresses from the public web and very few want their address on yet another spam list. In situations where it is unavoidable, people often use techniques like spelling out their address (Eg. user AT example DOT com) or adding in extra text (Eg. user_NOSPAM@example.com) or a variety of other approaches. Unfortunately these are easily detectable and extractable with some simple regular expressions and don't do much more than maybe prevent copy-and-paste of your address for legitimate users and maybe force spammers to add another regular expression to their script.

Some quick searches with Google shows how common these approaches are and also how easy it is to detect such patterns.

A slightly better approach, although not always feasible depending on the input restrictions, is to use JavaScript to write out the address. Something simple like:

<script>
document.write("us");
document.write("er@ex");
document.write("ample");
document.write(".com");
</script>

If a spammer were to process each scanned webpage with a JavaScript engine before extracting the addresses then the above wouldn't work, but the overhead (technically and CPU) is such that I don't see this happening anytime soon.

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