Category Archives: Sci-Tech

Quick as a Flash: David’s New SSD

imageAfter careful consideration, including a review of this Tom’s Hardware article, and consultation with my friend Rip, who made a similar purchase last year, I finally sprang for a solid-state drive for my desktop PC.  I went with the 128 GB Crucial drive, and just spent the last 8 hours or so installing it.  (Breakdown of time required: installation of drive = 3 minutes; reinstallation of Windows and all of my software = 7.95 hours). 

But so worth it—this thing is fast!  With approximately the same software installed, my Windows 7 start time has dropped from a minimum of 3:11 or so before the upgrade to right around 1:30 now.  More importantly the computer feels faster, more noticeably than it did, for example, after my last processor upgrade.  I moved my data directories and my sizable Steam games directory onto a spinning drive (following Keith Survell’s instructions here), leaving ample room on the SSD for Windows and my other programs.  Every time I run an application, I find myself smiling as it pops open so much faster than expected.  Hey, when you spend as much time in front of a keyboard as I do, believe me, these things matter. 

Great upgrade.

Playing with iPhone’s New HDR Camera

Along with several much-appreciated bug fixes, version 4.1 of Apple’s iOS for iPhone, released this week, brought with it a few new features.  I’ve been playing with one of them: built-in high dynamic range (HDR) photography. 

HDR is, Wikipedia tells us, "a set of techniques that allow a greater …range of luminance between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than standard …photographic methods. This …allows HDR images to more accurately represent the wide range of intensity levels found in real scenes."  In photography, the effect is accomplished by taking multiple exposures of the same scene, then merging them algorithmically.  I’ve done some HDR experimentation previously using my Canon S90, which does the necessary exposure bracketing, but actually getting an HDR photograph required, at minimum, uploading the pictures to the computer, firing up the image editing software, and running an HDR process to merge them.  Depending on the software you were using, it could be more complicated still.

With iOS 4.1, the procedures is somewhat simpler: turn HDR on, and take a picture.  All of the processing is done in-device.

By default, iOS saves both a standard and HDR image of each picture you take, which makes it very easy to do A/B comparisons.  Here, for example, are both versions of a picture I took outside the mall last night.  Notice the greater definition to the lights in the picture on the right.  There is also variation in shading visible in the lamp shade at the top left of the HDR image that is blown out in the standard shot.


Here’s another example, taken at the same location in a different direction.  As before, there’s less bloom around light sources like the Barnes & Noble sign, and much more detail visible through the store windows in the HDR shot.


Keep in mind that these are all handheld shots with a camera phone—at night, an area of particular weakness for the iPhone historically.  Particularly arriving as it does within a free iOS upgrade, I have to say the new HDR feature is pretty fantastic.

E-books During Taxi and Take-off

I’ve heard a key motivation behind the FAA requirenent that people “turn off and stow all personal electronics” at the start and end of a commercial flight is that airlines don’t want passengers stumbling over laptops and the like while trying to deplane during an emergency. But I wonder: is there any reason to think that something as compact as a Kindle or an iPad is any more distracting or cumbersome than a newspaper or paperback?

As a frequent traveller, I can certainly appreciate an abundance of caution and a “better safe than sorry” attitude. But as a taxpaying iPad owner, I think I can reasonably expect that some of the ridicolous waste I fund with my tax dollars be diverted instead to something truly worthwhile–like funding a study confirming my suspicion that e-books can safely be put on equal footing with the dead tree variety during taxi and take-off.

Apple iPad Case Micro-Review

…based on four months of use.  Aesthetically: I like it a lot.  Looks good.  Nice texture to the surface; it’s nice and grippy.  Easy to slip the iPad into and out of.  Clever folding design that lets you angle the iPad for typing or viewing.

Cons: it could provide better protection; I am not kind to my gear, and while the case cover is fairly stiff, the soft back of the case provides only minimal protection.  The back of my iPad has gotten significantly dented and dimpled during its time in my briefcase.

Bottom line: a nice, reasonably economical case, as long as you’re not abusive to your electronics.  If you tend to bang things around, you might want to look into something that offers more protection.

Phone Coolness vs. Network Quality

Rip wonders:

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Why are the world’s coolest phones (iPhone, EVO, etc) only available on the world’s crappiest networks (AT&T, Sprint). Quality, please!?!Sun Sep 05 18:45:15 via web

It’s been a decade since I was on Sprint, and so haven’t kept tabs on their network quality.  In AT&T’s case, however, I’m betting part of the problem is that having a cool enough phone degrades your network quality. 

According to this NY Times article from late last year, AT&T’s network capacity is actually well ahead of its competition. But the iPhone was the first phone to make mobile Internet worthwhile, and its success reportedly drove a 4,000 percent increase in data volume on AT&T.  As much as I liked it personally, I think their original all-you-can-use data plans created a major free-rider problem that saturated whatever capacity they threw at it.  And their worst network issues being in San Francisco and New York, where all the tech journalists live, certainly didn’t help their press.  Here in Houston, I’m pretty happy with my service quality, and it’s noticeably better on the iPhone 4 than it was on the iPhone 3G I used previously.

It will be interesting to see if their recent move to metered pricing will improve things.  I would argue it would have been better still had they adopted an all-David-Gaw-can-use-and-screw-everyone-else model, but I can see how they’d have difficulty marketing that to anyone but me.

Exterior STS-124 Launch Video, With Sound

Video of space shuttle flight STS-124, launched late May 31, 2008, via @adamsbaldwin.  It goes from being mildly interesting to being amazing right around 1:51.  Embed after the jump.

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“Updates temporarily delayed”

Ah, iPhone delivery day has arrived as, coincidentally enough, the following message appears on the FedEx order status page:

Package deliveries are proceeding as normal; however tracking updates are temporarily being delayed. Please try back later.

I wonder if the delay has something to do with 600,000 eager Apple customers hitting refresh every five minutes as they wait for their pre-ordered iPhone 4 to show up?

Attempting to Order an iPhone 4…



Popular item, I’m guessing?

Is Plaxo Running Out of Steam?

image As a long-time Plaxo user, I’m a bit concerned that despite the service’s announced intention to redouble its focus on being a "smart, socially-aware, and pervasive address book," its capabilities in that area seem to be deteriorating, rather than improving.

Of the the top 10 e-mail clients in 2009, according to CampaignMonitor—various versions of Outlook, Outlook Express, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, the iPhone, Apple Mail, GMail, and Lotus Notes—the basic Plaxo service appears now to sync with only Apple Mail. Yahoo! and Hotmail are no longer supported, contact synchronization with GMail was never available, to my knowledge, and synchronization with Outlook is available only as a premium service. Nor does the proliferation of comment spam on the Plaxo blog instill confidence that the site is being actively maintained.

I’ve been a Plaxo fan for years, so it’s rather disappointing, really.

Comcast recently unveiled a social TV service called Tunerfish that was developed by employees of Plaxo, which Comcast acquired in 2008.  That, combined with the stagnation noted above suggests that Plaxo itself may not be Comcast’s highest priority.  Is Plaxo to remain an ongoing concern?  I do hope so.

Now That’s What I Call Parking Assist

Forget the car-turns-the-wheel-while-you-work-the-gas-pedal crap that the first generation of self-parking cars put you through.  Via Autoblog, here’s a video of Junior, Stanford’s entry in the 2007 DARPA Grand Challenge (it took second place) demonstrating without human intervention how I want my next car to park itself:

What’s interesting to me about this—aside from the obvious Transporter-esque bad-assery of it all—is the evident focus on dealing with the full range of possible vehicle dynamics.  Developing technologies that allow autonomous vehicles to operate in varied conditions is an important step towards the eventual development of self-driving cars and of course, once those technology mature, genocidal robot overlords.  Judging by this, it seems like researchers are making real progress.

There’s another video explaining the technology at work in Junior’s parking maneuver in Autoblog’s original post, and there’s also a related video here of Stanford’s self-driving Audi TT, showing off its ability to negotiate an off-road oval in preparation for its planned assault on Pike’s Peak this September.