Tag Archives: technology

Shiny things #2

Items of interest from around and about …

Femtech – Genevieve Bell’s research shows that (older) women are now tech’s lead adopters.

‘More Olympics cash in tie in nonsense’ – Douglas Murphy’s latest take down of London2012.

Mean Streets no more – an analysis of how NYC radically reduced its crime rate.

And from the old NYC … performance art legend Penny Arcade talks to Run-Riot about bringing her ‘sex and censorship’ show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! to the West End.

An anecdote to twee – vandalised vintage crockery from TrixieDelicious on Etsy (as keenly recommended by Regretsy).

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Netmasked Avengers — The Coming of the Digilantes

Tracking down the rioters, the high-tech way…

Not quite the Big Society our current leaders wished for, but we’ve seen some signs, over the past few chaotic days, of Londoners taking the protection of the streets into their own hands (Dalston shop-owners, we salute you)

Now we read in Forbes that a group of community-minded developers are working to identify some of the ‘malefactors’ from the London riots themselves, the high-tech way.

Un-inclined to suit-up and hit the streets, RLSH-style, these more technically-savvy crime-busters propose to run images of the rioters through off-the-shelf facial-recognition software, to put names to the shameful images of the past few days.

The plan might yet, we, guess, run aground on the rocks of the Law, but we wish them well in their quest.

UPDATE 15 August 2011: Evidently their software didn’t make the grade, and they’ve given up, to slink back into the shadows from whence they came…

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Lytro In Depth…

Some answers to our questions…

Following our post on Lytro’s revolutionary Light Field camera technology, we emailed them with some questions.

The nice people at Lytro’s PR agency (The OutCast Agency) have replied, and we offer you their unedited answers, below.

The most interesting point to note, is that it seems Lytro’s Light Field tech will play friendly with other lenses — so in theory it’s not out of the question to shoe-horn it into an existing camera-bag full of legacy kit. That’s exciting for any pro photographer with an investment in ‘classic glass’. More ambiguous is their claim that ‘we make use of the pixels you would traditionally throw away’ — they seem to be focussed here on most people’s on-screen viewing experience rather than the (admittedly) few of us who produce large, high-resolution prints, and whom rather than ‘throwing away’ pixels, resort to 50+ megapixel digital backs for fashion shoots… if indeed they’re counting on substituting depth information for resolution, then I admit to a diminished interest in their technology. ‘Better than HD’ resolution is, after all, fewer pixels than I’m using typing this on my MacBook…

But wait and see. Of course, we’ll only really be able to tell you more when we get our hands on one of their cameras…

BST: When will we get to see a product shot of the camera?

Lytro: The camera will be released later this year.

Is the technology in theory compatible with legacy lenses? From a quick look at Dr Ng’s original papers, it would seem that the Light Field microlenses are positioned after a traditional lens assembly — so is it possible that a Light Field body could work with classic lenses?

Lytro’s light field technology works with any camera that involves a sensor behind a lens. The magic is in the light field sensor and the software the processes the light field into pictures.

Why release what appears to be a consumer camera at a point where the consumer camera market is rapidly losing market share to smartphones?

We have a significant lead in making this technology available to consumers and believe that we can forever change how we all take and experience pictures. The camera market is in fact projected to grow from $38B in 2010 to $44B by 2015 and we believe Lytro technology could even expand that demand.

Any licensing deals in the works with the big players (ok we don’t really expect an answer to that)?

Our current strategy is to introduce this technology to people in a Lytro-branded camera that is fast, simple and magical to use.

Is the system *in theory* capable of working with video? We’re excited both about single-lens 3D and real-time depth-based compositing!

Video is entirely possible with light field. It will just require solving difficult software challenges. It is on our long-term roadmap but will not be available in our first product.

The demo images on the site are fairly low-rez — is there a tradeoff between resolution and the Light Field capabilities?

The amount of megapixels, or resolution, is fundamentally about how big of a 2D photograph one can print. So, when viewed on even big screen monitors, the 14 Megapixel camera ends up throwing away over 90% of the pixels. In fact, the lens on most point-and-shoots have a fraction of the resolution of their sensors! With light field technology, we make use of the pixels you would traditionally throw away. We use those pixels to retain the depth information of the scene. This has many benefits including, focusing after the picture is taken to any subject in the scene, on to displaying 3D pictures, even holographic when that is available. Light field resolution provides better than HD quality today.

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A camera you focus AFTER taking the picture.

Lytro.com / Eric Cheng — click the kitteh!

Photography has always required a few technical decisions before shooting. You (or your expert proxy, the camera’s computer) need at the very least, to focus the lens and set the exposure, based on your artistic intent, the subject at hand, its setting, and various parameters related to constraints specific to your lens and sensor or film stock.

Those choices always take a little time, and define irrevocable characteristics of the final image. A seriously out-of-focus subject will always remain a blur, while a blown-out highlight will always glare whitely and detail-less out of the print. Short of repainting the subject, there are limits even to post-processing stalwarts such as Photoshop.

But of course ‘exposure’ and ‘focus’ are concepts of optical engineering, of the process of photography, not characteristics of the world. The visual world is a field of light, from within which field a photograph is constructed by placing the limitations of a specific combination of lens and sensor at a specific location, at a point of time. The visual world itself is neither focussed nor unfocussed, neither over- or under-lit. It is merely light.

What if we could capture more fully a description of that field of light, and, after the fact, at our leisure, decide on what should hold focus, what should be the depth of field, what should be a highlight, what a mid-tone, what deep mystery of shadow? Aesthetically, such a choice offers obvious freedoms. Pragmatically, it means that time need not be wasted on camera-system configuration, but rather in getting access to, and framing the shot –- important for sports, street and wildlife photographers alike.

Two emergent technologies offer to deliver on that promise of leisurely, post-production exposure and focus. On the exposure front, High Dynamic Range sensors have been ‘the next big thing’ for several years now. When it comes to focus, the revolution may have just taken place. US-based startup Lytro has decloaked from stealth mode to announce its first Light Field camera, based on founder and CEO Dr. Ren Ng’s academic research. The camera itself is still vapourware, but Lytro’s algorithms are demonstrated in interactive Flash images on their site. Click on any part of an image, and hey presto, it springs into focus. This is a genuinely disruptive imaging technology, and comes with other interesting claims, including massively improved low-light performance, and single-lens 3-D.

It all looks cool — though rather low-rez — in the demos. Given the potential value of their intellectual property, we’re surprised that Lytro aren’t focussed (ahem) on licensing it out to the big players. Instead, they are (apparently) planning to swim their cool tech, under the flag of a startup brand, into the perilous waters of the consumer electronics market, buoyed only by a vapourware product and a brand positioning — living pictures — which is a weak undersell of the scope of their innovation. One has to wonder, why not aim elsewhere? Why not focus on the professional photography customers to whom Lytro’s very real benefits should have a high commercial value? Why, indeed? Is it possible, for example, their Light Field technology throws away resolution in exchange for its magic? Maybe there’s no way to integrate it with legacy optics, which would reduce its utility for professional photographers? There’s simply not sufficient information on Lytro’s site to tell.

Damn, though, their tech is cool, and double-damn I want one of their cameras, to take for a spin some steamy night at Superstore. We’ve asked them for an interview. We will keep you posted. In the meantime, we’re off to read Dr Ng’s original research papers…

UPDATE — some answers from Lytro

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Kid Creators

More altruistic hacking for kids.

scratch.pngScratch is a free programming tool that allows anyone to create their own animated stories, video games and interactive artworks has been developed. Primarily aimed at children, Scratch does not require prior knowledge of complex computer languages (although, given the apparent hacker mentality of most digital natives this might not be an issue).

Instead, it uses a simple graphical interface that allows programs to be assembled like building blocks.

“These days, kids interact with all kinds of dynamic things on screen but it is usually a one-way street — they are usually interacting with things that other people have created,” said Professor Mitchel Resnick, one of the researchers at the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT which developed Scratch. Resnick also invented Lego Mindstorms, a robotics toolkit often used in teaching.

With Scratch we want to let kids to be the creators. We want them to create interesting dynamic things on the computer.

The program works by making the act of creating a computer program more like building with Lego bricks.

“Kids make programs by snapping blocks together,” said Professor Resnick, whose position is in part supported by the toy company (way to survive in the 21st century, Lego!).

Objects and characters, chosen from a menu and created in a paint editor or simply cut and pasted off the web, are animated by snapping together different “action” blocks into stacks.

“They don’t have to worry about the obscure punctuation and syntax common in most programming languages,” he said.

Each block contains a separate command, such as “move” or “play drum” and each action can be modified from a drop-down menu. Blocks can only be stacked if they fit together.

So, for example, if someone wanted to animate a cat walking across the screen they could modify the move block to tell the cat to walk forward 10 steps.

If they then wanted the cat to bang a drum as it walked, they could stack the play-drum block underneath, choosing a sound for the instrument and how long each beat should last.

Other actions, such as speaking, changing colour or triggering music, can then be added to complete the animation.

Scratch is inspired by the method Hip Hop DJs use to mix and scratch records to create new sounds. “With Scratch, our goal is to allow people to mix together all kinds of media, not just sounds, in creative ways,” said Professor Resnick.

“We want people to start from existing materials — grabbing an image, grabbing some sound, maybe even bits of someone else’s program and then extending them and mixing them to make them their own.”

Digital creations can then be shared on a site where users can watch other creations and even borrow elements from other Scratch projects to act as raw materials for their own.

Scratch is now available to download for free and works with both Apple Macs and Windows PCs. If you are reading this close to the launch date (15th May 2007) you might want to wait a little while — coverage from digg.com and the BBC et al caused such a huge amount of interest that their server crashed.

AND a version of the tool is also currently being developed for the XO laptop, designed by the One Laptop Per Child Project.

Source: BBC.

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10 (Important) Emerging Technologies

Technology Review magazine’s annual haul of cool new tech.

It’s list time again — MIT’s Technology Review has just published its annual roundup of important emergent technologies. And what a wide-ranging list it is — ranging from new methods for the early diagnosis of cancer (this time dogs are not required), the mandatory longshot on medical nanotech, and cool new things to do with stretchable silicon. Pick up on the buzzwords now and be prepped for when epigenetics and Diffusion Tensor Imaging start to get namechecked in the mainstream press. Big Hopeful Future or Big Techno-Hype? Read and decide for yourselves.

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Fucking Beyond the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Pondering future sex.

machine-05.jpgABC reports from a recent conference of America’s top sex researchers (including one of our all time icons Annie Sprinkle) that it’s all looking well, a bit mechanical. In a field called ‘teledildonics’ people can already via two remote computers manipulate electronic devices such as a vibrator. According to Steve Rhodes, president of Sinulate Entertainment, “Cybersex is here! The Sinulator lets anyone control your sex toy over the Internet!”:

People who use it are just blown away. This is not something that just the lunatic fringe does. The Iraq war… was kind of a boom for our company.

And it’s not real life relationships that are benefitting. Kyle Machulis (or qDot as he’s known online) talks in this month’s Bon Magazine about all the shagging that goes on in MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). In particular, he’s interested in the sex life of one of the most popular, Second Life. Originally conceived as an economic experiment along the lines of The SIMS, the game emulates the pioneer experience with the slogan, “Your world. Your imagination.” As befits any kind of ecoculture, the game is teeming with sexual experimentation. According to Machulis, who edits a news site MMOrgy.com:

Users can build their own objects and program them themselves. And people make .. well… everything imaginable. It’s hard to be more specific. Literally everything can be found in there. Second Life has been around for three years, and I promise you that every sexual fetish you can imagine is represented.

And it’s now getting truly interactive. The programmers are alert to this: the game has developed a porn mag starring nude female avatars called Slustler, which is both shot and distributed within the world of the game. More recently Second Life was equipped with new hardware, enabling objects that exist only in the virtual world to control physical sex play in real life — in other words, it’s back to teledildonics again.

Entrepreneurs are unsurprisingly looking to cash in by melding traditional video porn with real-life sensation. Brad Abram, president of ZStream3D Multimedia, says that his firm’s “Virtually Jenna”, an online game in which the player has sex with a realistic cartoon of porn star Jenna Jameson, can even link hardware devices following the action to genitalia. Which sounds painful. We’ve already written about realdoll.com whose products recently co-starred with Tom Ford in a racy shoot for W Magazine. Real Dolls have reached such critical mass now that there’s even a Real Dolls Surgery site (as featured on this week’s Popbitch — good lord).

At the other end of spectrum is a recently published book of DIY auto-erotica — Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews — which explores the readers’ wives/Forum territory. Fucking in the future — shiny or sordid — take your pick. sex machine.JPG

With thanks to Tom who reads ABC News so that we don’t have to and apologies to Walter Benjamin. Pictured is the sex machine from Barbarella (top) and Paul Gaertner, inventor of the Thumpstir and Gangbang (above).

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