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March 29, 2005

Wavefront Coding — Auto Focus with no moving parts


Yesterday there was a small announcement about a big invention.

Not big in size but, rather, huge in implications.

CDM Optics, an 18-person firm in Boulder, Colorado, sold itself to OmniVision Technologies, which makes imaging chips, for $30 million.

Why should you care?

I don't know.

Maybe you shouldn't.

Maybe I should scrub this because you don't seem all that interested, looking at you.


CDM's proprietary Wavefront Coding increases a digital camera's depth of field without the use of moving parts.

The traditional solution is to reduce the size of the lens opening, but that cuts off light and makes images too dark without extra illumination.


CDM builds a hybrid system that includes the lens and an image sensor.

Their specially-shaped lens distorts light rays, instead of converging them at a single point of focus.

The rays are blurred in a pattern mathematically related to the shape of the lens.

The distortion is then removed using a digital processing chip, increasing depth of field by a factor of five.

R.C. Mercure, Jr., CDM's chief executive and one of the company's three founders, told the Wall Street Journal, "When you start talking to knowledgeable optical people they flat out say it won't work. They think you're selling snake oil."

Clearly, OmniVision doesn't think that's the case.

Within the tight space and dimensions of a camera phone, CDM's technology offers immense improvement in picture quality at low cost since it uses fewer parts.


OmniVision expects to start offering the technology to camera phone makers next year.

[via Don Clark and the Wall Street Journal]

March 29, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



One day back in 2003, Tim Southwell and Iestyn George got to wondering if there might be an audience for a golf-based magazine geared to the Maxim and FHM magazine crowd.

Last year they put out the first issue of GolfPunk magazine and it's been a rocket ride ever since.

Issue 7 is just hitting the newstands and the magazine seems to have hit a sweet spot, what with steadily increasing circulation and word-of-mouth among golfers who don't drive Buicks.

Though the magazine is U.K.-based, over 60% of their website traffic is from the U.S.

George, the magazine's deputy editor, pointed out in a piece he wrote for the March 24 Financial Times that the most obvious difference between his publication and other golf magazines is that he has Bunker Babes explaining the game and a Golf Nurse to help with form problems.

Even the establishment has taken to the magazine, with the PGA and R&A having given it their seal of approval.


As George wrote in his article, "There is a place in golf for young men with vertical hairstyles."

March 29, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



"The ultimate shoe cleaner."

I have no reason to quibble: this baby ($46.91) looks like it would last through anything.

Like having an octopus cleaning your boots.

Three brushes simultaneously strip the sides and sole of your boot of dirt, debris and accumulated shmutz while you stand and survey all that your thousand-yard gaze can encompass.

It's the boot or shoe equivalent of a pit stop during the Indy 500, with all those guys running around cleaning the window, hydrating the driver, filling the tank, and changing the tires in 18 seconds flat.

March 29, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Nothing is too wonderful to be true' — Michael Faraday


Faraday wrote these words in 1849.

One of the greatest experimental scientists ever to walk the planet, he invented the electric motor, generator, dynamo and transformer, essentially creating the science of electrochemistry.

His discoveries were instrumental in bringing to a close the Age of Steam.

He discovered the basics of electromagnetism, from which sprang everything from the electronics industry to Einstein's relativity.

Born in 1791, the son of a blacksmith, at age 14 he was apprenticed to a bookbindery where he read every book he bound.

In one of them, Volume 3 of the Encyclopedia Britannica, an article entitled "Electricity" fascinated him.

He began conducting electrical experiments in the shop and attending public science lectures and demonstrations.

In 1812, at age 21, one of the bookbindery's customers gave him tickets to four lectures at the Royal Institution by Humphrey Davy, the medium's superstar.

He persuaded Davy to take him on as an assistant, then spent years being treated as a glorified valet while working diligently and uncomplainingly in the background.

Finally, he strode to center stage and became recognized as the absolute genius he was.

In 1860-61 he delivered a series of six lectures to young students at London's Royal Institution, in which he stated that all the laws of the universe came into play during the time a candle burns.

Faraday's lectures were collected and published as "The Chemical History of a Candle."

I read it last year simply to get a sense of how this masterful scientist regarded the world.

In language plain yet penetrating Faraday takes simple observations, then turns them at various angles and looks at them from different perspectives, opening up a world where initially there seemed nothing.

Such is mastery.

Well worth the $8.96 it costs at Amazon.

[via Timothy Ferris and the Washington Post]

March 29, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Shoelaces — The mother lode


I don't know about you but I find it impossible to replace shoelaces with ones like those that came with the shoes.

The problem is even more frustrating with shoes like Mephisto and their ilk with their stylish, comfortable, and perfectly matched versions that are unique to each particular shoe style.

Go ahead, try and replace your 45" round grey laces with a similar pair.

You can't.

So you end up with some generic cheapo version you purchase at Walgreen's.


My heart leaped, therefore, when I happened last evening upon this site, which gave a long introduction to what appeared to be a link to a site or site where one could purchase replacement Mephisto laces.

But it turns out not to be that at all, simply a sponsored page that links to Mephisto shoe dealers.

I was fit to be tied.

I'd had enough.

I told my crack research team, as I headed for my cozy bed and book, that before going off duty they were required to find a website where I could buy suitable replacement laces.

I don't know how difficult it was but I'll tell you this: this morning they were all asleep under their desks when I unlocked the solid steel, radiation- and bomb-proof door to my supersecret, deep black computer research headquarters buried beneath a secure, undisclosed mountain in the Blue Ridge.


And there on their computer screens was this site.

They did it.

Every type of shoelace you could ever want, in zillions of colors and lengths.

I ordered up a storm.

This site is a national treasure.

Nice job, team.


Now get back to work.

March 29, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Grafedia.net — 'Hyperlinked graffiti'


"Words written anywhere, then linked to images, video or sound files online."


Most interesting.


"A boundless, interactive publishing platform base, cheap and easy to use."


The system is wide open.


"With Grafedia every surface becomes a potential web page and the entire physical world can be joined with the internet."

March 29, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bill Gates' 'Think Week' — 'World's coolest suggestion box'


Every six months Bill Gates retreats by himself to a secure, undisclosed location on the Pacific Northwest coastline.

There, he reads scores of internal company papers stamped "Microsoft Confidential" in a focused, uninterrupted series of 18–24 hour days.

So intent is he on covering as much material as possible that he had a bathroom built and refrigerator installed in his upstairs study so he wouldn't have to interrupt his flow by going downstairs.

I found Monday's front-page Wall Street Journal article by Robert A. Guth on Gates's "Think Week" easily the most interesting thing I read all day yesterday.

Guth was the first reporter ever allowed to visit Gates at his hideaway, and only on the condition that he keep the location secret.

No one — friends, family or employees — may intrude.

Gates's record is 112 papers read and annotated during a seven-day stretch.

And these papers run 100 pages or more long apiece.

On Gates's thoughts, opinions and judgments of the material he reads depends the future of Microsoft and its employees.

For example, it was material submitted for his Think Week in 1995 that inspired Gates's paper, "The Internet Tidal Wave," caused a radical redirection of Microsoft into the online arena, and led to the ultimate crushing of Netscape by Internet Explorer.

I'm reminded by Gates's Think Week of my smaller-scale version, called by me since forever a "PowerRead."

A PowerRead consists of my going down to Barnes & Noble, selecting perhaps 50 magazines from a wide variety of genres, then going to a quiet corner of the store and plowing through them, uninterrupted except to get up to use the bathroom, for up to five or six hours straight.

I love doing it because I come across tons of stuff I'd never find any other way.

I take notes on the subscription cards that flutter out of the magazines.

I try to do a PowerRead every couple months.

Afterward I'm kind of exhausted, so I usually just watch a movie at home on DVD.

Gates has being doing his Think Weeks since the 1980s.

One way he and I are not alike, I will confess, is that for breaks he allows himself five minutes to solve a daily online bridge problem.

To say that's not my idea of a break is somewhat of an understatement.

One thing I found of great interest in the article is Guth's description of how the material Gates will read is selected.

"Two months before Mr. Gates's February seclusion, his technical assistant, Alex Gounares, collected papers from every corner of Microsoft and culled what he thought should be Mr. Gates's priorities. It's an open call that lets employees of any level reach the top with their ideas."

In my opinion, Alex Gounares is the third most powerful person at Microsoft, behind Gates and Steve Ballmer.

I mean, this guy culls and decides what he thinks "should be Mr. Gates's priorities."

Who is Alex Gounares, and how did he come to occupy so crucial a position?

Who knows?

Maybe he reads bookofjoe and will tell me directly.

Here's the Wall Street Journal article.

    In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft's Future

    He Reads Dozens of Papers In Twice-a-Year Ritual; Security and Mapping Ideas

    Grilled Cheese, Orange Crush

    One way to peek into technology's crystal ball last month was to take a winding road into a cedar forest in the Pacific Northwest to seek out one of tech's top thinkers.

    A sunny Thursday afternoon found him waiting alone behind the gate of his secluded cottage.

    "Hi, thanks for coming," said Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, appearing eager for company after four days alone at the waterfront cottage.

    He was there for his "Think Week," a seven-day stretch of seclusion he uses to ponder the future of technology and then propagate those thoughts across the Microsoft empire.

    It's a twice-yearly ritual that can influence the future of Microsoft and the tech industry.

    A Think Week thought can give the green light to a new technology that millions of people will use or send Microsoft into new markets.

    One week in 1995 inspired Mr. Gates's paper, "The Internet Tidal Wave," that led Microsoft to develop its Internet browser and crush Netscape.

    Plans to create Microsoft's Tablet PC, build more-secure software and start an online videogame business were also catalyzed during Think Weeks.

    Mr. Gates's retreats are famous in the computer industry, but what happens in them has been a tightly held corporate secret.

    Mr. Gates agreed to show his hideaway to a reporter, the first journalist to visit in the many years he's been holding Think Weeks, on the condition that the location be kept secret.

    The week typically starts with Mr. Gates, 49 years old, taking a helicopter or seaplane to the two-story clapboard cottage on a quiet waterfront.

    It's a tidy, relatively modest place with a small bedroom for Mr. Gates.

    During the week he bars all outside visitors -- including family and Microsoft staff -- except for a caretaker who slips him two simple meals a day.

    He starts the morning in bed poring through papers mostly by Microsoft engineers, executives and product managers and scribbling notes on the covers.

    Skipping breakfast, he patters upstairs in his stocking feet to read more papers.

    Noon and dinnertime bring him back downstairs to read papers over meals at the kitchen table, where he has a view of the Olympic Mountains.

    Thursday's lunch was grilled cheese sandwiches and clam chowder. His main staple for the week, he said, is a steady stream of Diet Orange Crush.

    Four days into this Think Week, Mr. Gates had read 56 papers, working 18 hours straight some days.

    His record is 112 papers.

    "I don't know if I'll catch my record, but I'll certainly do 100," he said.

    Among the unread papers: "10 Crazy Ideas to Shake Up Microsoft."

    What had he read of interest this week?

    "Actually, let's go upstairs real quick and I'll show you, because that's where I spend all my time," he responded, as he popped out of his chair and bounded up the stairs two steps at a time, landing in his upstairs study.

    Facing the windows with a water view stood a desk with two Dell personal-computer monitors.

    To the side was a bookshelf lined with "The Great Books" series of literature classics.

    A portrait of Victor Hugo hung on the wall.

    A bathroom and a small refrigerator, stocked with Diet Orange Crush and Diet Coke, were added to the office in recent years, Mr. Gates said, so he could maximize his reading time by not having to go downstairs.

    Papers in bright orange covers littered the floor, their pages stamped "Microsoft Confidential."

    Standing at his desk with ink-stained hands, Mr. Gates flipped through a 62-page paper titled "Virtual Earth," covered with his notes.

    It described future mapping services that deliver travel directions with live images of destinations and details on traffic conditions and other information.

    Some of the ideas he later dismissed as "overly Jetsons," but he prefaced the comments he would send to its authors with a ringing endorsement: "I love the vision here."

    Mr. Gates settled behind the PC monitors, which displayed a database of nearly 300 papers for this week.

    Among the topics: the growth of Internet video, hard-drive capacity and the diminishing advances in microprocessor "clock speed," historically the driver of PC-market growth.

    Other paper topics include trends in digital photography, computing trends in 2005 and ways for software to better handle languages like Vietnamese.

    "There's one here on security that's just a breakthrough," Mr. Gates said, tipping forward in his chair and clicking on a paper titled "Can We Contain Internet Worms?" from Microsoft's research group in England.

    Tellingly, 31 papers on the list -- the largest category -- were on software security, a critical problem for Microsoft.

    The worm paper describes a new way Microsoft might stop the spread of a type of destructive code that has plagued the Internet lately.

    Think Week's reading and thinking spawns a flood of e-mail and comments from Mr. Gates.

    A paper might inspire an e-mail to dozens of employees around the world.

    Employees anticipate the week with hopes that their projects will get a green light or influence the company's direction.

    "It's the world's coolest suggestion box," says Stephen Lawler, a Microsoft general manager of the MapPoint group.

    Working until the wee hours the night before, Mr. Gates had begun spreading his thoughts on the worm paper around the world.

    In an e-mail to Microsoft executives, he mused that the approach seemed almost too good to be true and might have a flaw.

    But if it doesn't, he explained out loud, "we've got to deploy this thing." By morning, he had e-mail responses from as far away as Cambridge, England.

    Mr. Gates has held some form of Think Week since the 1980s, first as a quiet time to visit his grandmother while reading and strategizing.

    Think Week's material has evolved from heaps of paper reports to a computerized library that has fields for Mr. Gates to enter comments and links to related documents -- backed up by paper versions.

    Two months before Mr. Gates's February seclusion, his technical assistant, Alex Gounares, collected papers from every corner of Microsoft and culled what he thought should be Mr. Gates's priorities.

    It's an open call for papers that lets employees of any level reach the top with their ideas.

    Some papers make pleas for more people and money but most are focused on technology trends and development.

    Mr. Gates says he finds the latter "more relaxing" to read.

    "They're rarely saying, 'We're doomed. Give me $100 million and we won't be doomed anymore.' "

    Mr. Gates got a head-start reading over the weekend, arriving at his retreat Monday.

    But he was already worried about his pace the next day.

    "I had worked so hard. I had worked 24 hours" yet he had only finished a dozen papers.

    One of them was a 120-pager titled "The Book of Xenon" that details plans for Microsoft's next videogame machine, codenamed Xenon, and posits a videogames strategy for the next 20 years.

    He soon hit his stride, reading the 80-page "Education Product Strategy at Microsoft" on how to hone the company's appeal to the education market.

    He responded to the authors online, promising that "we're going to get some progress" toward the paper's recommendations, adding that it would be a "tragedy" if the project's funding ended, one author said later.

    Mr. Gates said he e-mailed a note telling Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to read the paper.

    Working through midnight Tuesday, Mr. Gates was feeling punchy.

    Reading a paper titled "Speech Synthesis," he says he began reading aloud words like "anger," "boredom" and "playfulness," pronouncing each in the emotional tone it evoked.

    "It was two in the morning so I was being goofy," he said.

    For breaks, Mr. Gates allowed himself five minutes to solve a daily online bridge problem.

    On Wednesday, he donned shoes for the first time and left the cottage to stroll the beach for 30 minutes.

    "I just walked outside thinking about, actually, video on the Internet," he said.

    As the sun set over the lake Thursday, Mr. Gates vowed to read 24 more papers by bedtime.

    "Tonight, because I'm pretty well slept now, I'll go until like two or three," he said.

    By week's end, Mr. Gates would read 100 papers, send e-mails to hundreds of people and write a Think Week summary for executives.

    He would send his top executives a reading list, including papers on software security and the growing power of cellphones.

    The effects of this Think Week are rippling through Microsoft.

    Yusuf Mehdi, vice president in the MSN online group, says he lugged a 6-inch-thick printout of Mr. Gates's Think Week comments on a business trip.

    In the Office-software division, one group says it used Mr. Gates's comments to change direction on whether to team up with or acquire certain companies. (They won't say which way.)

    A team member was soon in Europe meeting potential partners.

    In the MapPoint unit, source of the "Virtual Earth" paper, Mr. Lawler, the general manager, called a meeting to brainstorm on Mr. Gates's comments.

    Mr. Gates put the kibosh on certain ideas.

    But word of his endorsement of the paper's overall vision had spread across Microsoft, and several other groups including Microsoft's research arm are now involved in the project.

    Craig Bartholomew's spirits lifted when he opened an e-mail with Mr. Gates's comments on his group's education-strategy paper.

    Mr. Bartholomew, the group's general manager, quickly instructed his team to factor the insights into product plans and posted Mr. Gates's comments on an internal Web site to solicit input from the group.

    Before Think Week, there was "hope but there wasn't belief" that the team's plans would fly, he says. "People in my group are optimistic now."

    In the weeks since returning to his regular schedule, Mr. Gates has settled into a stretch of follow-up meetings spawned by Think Week, including two, he says, on security strategy.

    Last week he huddled for two hours with the Virtual Earth team helping plot the group's next move.

    Mr. Gates is well aware of the potential impact of his comments and doesn't take writing them lightly.

    "If I write a comment that says, 'We should do this,' things will be re-orged, engineers will move," he says.


    "It's not like I can just read this paper and say, 'Hey, cool, looks good.' They'll assign 20 people to it then."

March 29, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Iceberg (r11i01)' — by Iñigo Manglano–Ovalle


This 25-foot-tall sculpture is currently floating above a spiral staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago.

It is a model of an real iceberg (r11i01) which measured 460 feet from top to bottom when sighted off Labrador in 1998.

In June 2003, Manglano–Ovalle got topographical profiles (made from sonar and radar scans) of the iceberg from the Canadian Hydraulics Center.

He spent over a year working with architect Colin Franzen to simplify the data while remaining as true as possible to the shape of the iceberg.

The fabrication of the sculpture began in September 2004.

It was designed as a matrix of more than 1,600 tubes connnected by more than 500 joints.

Tubes from 1.5 inches to 9 feet long were cut from aircraft aluminum in the artist's studio.

The plastic and nylon joints, each with its own design, were produced on six machines running 24 hours a day for 30 days.

The thousands of parts were then transported to the museum in suitcases, connected, and the sculpture was hung in the window-lighted Morton Wing staircase, where it will melt away on May 14 of this year.

More on the artist here.

[via Ginger Danto and the New York Times]

March 29, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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