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August 11, 2008

GigaPan — 'The GigaPan process allows users to upload, share, and explore brilliant gigapixel+ panoramas from around the globe'


I read about this new technology in Anne Eisenberg's July 20, 2008 New York Times Business section "Novelties" column where she wrote, "A new, inexpensive robotic device from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University attaches snugly to almost any digital camera, tilting and panning it to fashion highly detailed panoramic vistas."

Here's the Times piece.

    Sweeping Panoramas, Courtesy of a Robot

    Robots already cut the grass and vacuum rugs. Now they are helping with a more artistic job: creating vast photographic panoramas with ordinary cameras.

    A new, inexpensive robotic device from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University attaches snugly to almost any standard digital camera, tilting and panning it to fashion highly detailed panoramic vistas — whether of the Grand Canyon, a rain forest or a backyard Easter egg hunt. The robot is called GigaPan, named “giga” for the billion or more pixels it can marshal for a typical panorama. It creates the huge, high-resolution vista by extending its robotic finger and repeatedly clicking the camera shutter, taking tens, hundreds or even thousands of overlapping images, each at a slightly different angle, that are then stitched together by software to create one gigapixel shot.

    Viewers can explore a panorama in detail when it is displayed on a computer screen, clicking on any part of the image and then zooming in for crisp close-ups. You can move from an overall shot of the forest, for instance, to an image of one small moth resting on the side of a single tree trunk.

    The roboticized camera mount and related software were devised by a team led by Randy Sargent, a senior systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon West and the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and Illah Nourbakhsh, an associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. The work was part of a project to introduce people to different countries and cultures through images.

    The GigaPan provides a low-cost alternative to sophisticated motorized camera mounts on the market used to take panoramic photos, said Greg Downing, co-founder of the xRez Studio in Santa Monica, Calif., which specializes in gigapixel photography. The motorized mounts can cost thousands of dollars, he said, and typically require a high-end camera.

    Dr. Nourbakhsh said the Carnegie Mellon robotic mount, to be released commercially later this year, would be priced “so that as many people as possible can afford to use it.”

    “We hope it will cost in the low hundreds of dollars — well below $500,” he said. The GigaPan will attach to any ordinary point-and-shoot digital camera.

    About 300 test models of the GigaPan robot and software have been tried worldwide during the past year by scientists, schoolchildren and photography fans, among others, Dr. Nourbakhsh said.

    People can share their panoramas at a Web site provided by Carnegie Mellon (www.gigapan.org).

    Ronald C. Schott, an assistant professor of geology at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., who tried the GigaPan during its testing phase, has posted many of his panoramas at the site. Preparing to shoot the pictures is straightforward, he said. The photographer attaches the mount to an ordinary tripod, attaches the camera and decides on the breadth of the scene. Then the robot goes to work, dividing the total vista into segments and clicking away.

    Dr. Schott, who had earlier tried to create panoramas on his own by moving the tripod for each shot, thought that the robot did a far better job. “Doing it manually was tedious and often ineffective,” he said.

    Dr. Schott’s GigaPan images can be seen at (http://www.gigapan.org/viewProfile.php?userid=1252). “As you zoom in you get progressively higher resolution images, and at the deepest level is the fully detailed image that the robot shot,” he said.

    The details in these images often surprise him. “I find things I hadn’t noticed when I was in the field,” he said. “This gives you the joy of discovery not found in traditional photos.”

    Richard Palmer, an environmental health specialist at the Hawaii State Department of Health in Honolulu, also tested the GigaPan. One main advantage of the system, he said, is that users can use a telephoto lens rather than a wide-angle one, providing more detail and depth to the image.

    “That means that when you zoom in to look at the images, you are viewing them just as you would if you were looking through a pair of binoculars” with powerful magnification, he said. “You can take panoramas from video, but you won’t have a still image that you can stop and look at in this high detail.”

    One of Dr. Palmer’s panoramas — of Hanauma Bay on the coast of Oahu in Hawaii — has 1,750 total frames, 25 rows by 70 columns. (http://share.gigapan.org/viewGigapan.php?id=5322) The exposures and number of frames were calculated automatically by the computer inside the GigaPan.

    It took about an hour and a half for the robot to shoot the scene in a fairly silent process, with only “a low hum, and the steady click of the camera,” he said.

    Dr. Palmer was busy, too, during the shoot. The robotic device attracted a lot of attention from bystanders as it captured the scene, and he ended up protecting it from them, lest they overturned it.

    Dr. Palmer plans to use the GigaPan both for artistic images and for documenting Hawaii’s natural ecosystems. “It’s another way to be creative,” he said. “It’s therapy.”

August 11, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mega Beanbag Chair


From the website:

    Giant Beanbag Chair

    Do you remember when beanbag chairs first came around?

    Did you always hope for something more substantial, longer-lasting, with better full-body support — beanbag chairs for adults and kids alike?

    You’ve found them.

    High-quality polyurethane microfoam supports and cradles your body in comfort, moving with every twist and turn to provide support for almost any position.

    And because they contain only surplus furniture-grade foam otherwise earmarked for landfills, our giant beanbag chairs are eco-friendly — and ultra-comfortable.

    Soft, durable microfiber covers resist stains and zip off easily for machine washing.

    Vacuum-packed for shipping, beanbag chairs expand to full size (6 feet in diameter x 1 foot high) in 24 hours.


Four colors:



August 11, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

World's smallest snake discovered on Barbados


Short story shorter: It's about four inches long and as thin as spaghetti.

Here's Scott Norris's August 3, 2008 National Geographic News story with the details.

    World's Smallest Snake Discovered, Study Says

    The world's smallest snake — and perhaps the smallest possible snake — has been discovered on the Caribbean island of Barbados, a new study says.

    At about ten centimeters long (less than four inches), the diminutive reptile might easily be mistaken for an earthworm, and could comfortably curl up on a U.S. quarter [top], researchers say.

    A second new species, only slightly larger, was found on the neighboring island of St. Lucia.

    Genetic tests and studies of the snakes' physical features identified the animals as new species, said biologist Blair Hedges of Penn State university, who led the study team.

    Both new species belong to a little-known group of known as thread snakes — also called worm snakes and slender blind snakes. Short and slender, thread snakes burrow in the soil and live on a diet of insect larvae.

    Finding the smallest snake completes an odd trifecta for Hedges, who also led the teams that discovered the world's smallest lizard and smallest frog.

    "The frog and lizard are also found on Caribbean islands," he said. "But [my] describing all three [for science] is somewhat of a coincidence."

    Unfortunately the smallest snake — which Hedges calls Leptotyphlops carlae — may be on the verge of extinction. It appears to be live on only a few square kilometers of forest on Barbados, where almost all the original forests have been cleared.

    "I think it should be considered critically endangered because of its limited habitat, apparent rarity, and ongoing threats," said Hedges, whose study will be published tomorrow in the journal Zootaxa.

    The world's roughly 3,100 known snake species show an enormous range in body size, from the Caribbean thread snakes to the roughly 30-foot long (10-meter-long) reticulated python.

    Many of the smallest snake species are found on oceanic islands — a pattern that holds true for other animals too.

    "A number of island species have evolved extremes in size, small and large, apparently because they have come to occupy vacant niches that are normally filled [by other species] on the continents," Hedges explained.

    "For example, if centipedes are missing from an island, a snake species can evolve to a smaller size and eat the food normally consumed by the centipede."

    But there are limits.

    Hedges believes the Barbados thread snake may be at or near the smallest size possible for snakes, due to an evolutionary trade-off between size and reproductive strategy.

    Any further miniaturization, he said, would prevent the snakes from producing offspring large enough to forage independently and consume insect prey.

    Among the five L. carlae individuals Hedges examined was a pregnant female bearing a single, elongated egg — a rarity among snakes, which tend to produce more offspring in a brood.

    But multiple eggs mean smaller eggs, and Hedges speculated that if the Barbados thread snake's eggs were any smaller, they would result in offspring too small too survive.

    Nathan Kley, a biologist at Stony Brook University in New York, said it may be too soon to declare the Barbados thread snake the world's smallest.

    Several closely related species are only fractions of an inch longer, and those species are known from only a few observations or museum specimens.

    "The true natural size ranges for all of these species remains extremely poorly documented," Kley said.

    "Most [thread snakes] are extraordinarily small, and most exhibit secretive, burrowing lifestyles, so they often escape detection."

    Even if the new species is the shortest, Kley noted, others are even thinner, resulting in a smaller body volume.

    "For my money, it's these extremely slender taxa that are more highly miniaturized," he said.

August 11, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Race Clock


Created by industrial designer Ignacio Pilotto.


Where can I get one?

[via Milena Castulovich]

August 11, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Is Verlyn Klinkenborg William Gibson's secret identity?

The thought occurred to me while reading Klinkenborg's superb essay on yesterday's New York Times editorial page about his observations of people walking on a New York City sidewalk the other evening while he was sitting outdoors at a restaurant.

Long story short: "Watching the passers-by holding the smart phones in front of them as they walked was like watching a parade of monks with heads bowed over their breviaries."

Just wait.

In a few years everyone will be walking along with upright heads 'cause they'll be seeing what's currently on their handhelds' screens on their contact lenses or glasses in a fully-integrated, real-time heads-up display.

Gibson wondered if the the Internet is an extension of our nervous system.

Not yet — but not never.

Here's Klinkenborg's piece.

    The Smart-Phone Attitude

    Things were strange enough when New Yorkers used ordinary cellphones. It was common, in those days, to see a straight-walking, pavement-eating New York pedestrian — the kind who growled at tourists holding open maps — turn into a creature with no more sense of direction than a pigeon on foot, once the phone was clapped to the ear.

    According to one estimate, there will be five billion people using mobile phones by 2011, which means that, for some part of each day, most of our species will be reduced to wandering aimlessly.

    But smart phones are changing everything. They are not meant to be held to the ear, for the simple reason that they are barely phones at all. This is especially true of the iPhone, which is more computer than phone.

    I had an outdoor seat at a restaurant the other night in a neighborhood with high smart-phone density. Watching the passers-by holding their smart phones in front of them as they walked was like watching a parade of monks with heads bowed over their breviaries. As night settled in, I could see the glow of the screens shining upward on the faces of their owners, who were being guided down the street by peripheral vision and the feel of the sidewalk under their feet. It was like being in one of R. Crumb’s street scenes — everyone lost in a private thought bubble, everyone walking with a private posture.

    Were they Twittering? Following their G.P.S.? Checking their stocks? Reading their e-mail? Texting a friend? Playing Crash Bandicoot? It makes no difference. I remember how strange it used to seem just to see someone reading a paperback or a folded newspaper while walking down the street. Now we are all getting to be that someone.

    I used to believe that talking on a cellphone had no effect on my walking pace or directional stability. But after watching so many other pedestrians drunk with conversation, I realized that I am just as susceptible. And after switching to a smart phone, I had to switch to a new way of walking. I find it hard to ignore the gentle ping and throb that tells me new e-mail has arrived. So when my pocket pulses, I duck into a doorway or line myself up behind a lamppost, out of the current like a trout behind a rock. I feel at times like a remote-controlled robot, but I honor the first law of New York: keep moving or get out of the way.

August 11, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

August 11, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Jonathan Margolis, Financial Times 'Technopolis' columnist extraordinaire, sorts me out


Margolis's column in the FT's "How To Spend It" magazine is my favorite feature in the paper.

Therefore I am doubly appalled to have messed up my facts in my July 13, 2008 post headlined "World's most expensive AV cable," in which I attributed this claim to Margolis's FT column of the previous day.

Margolis wrote back, "The information that I made this erroneous claim is itself erroneous! It's a fantasy. I made no such claim."

He's correct.

Here's what he wrote: "I must put in a plug (ha ha) for the cables that I was sent with the speakers, from Nordost (www.nordost.com), whose cables can cost up to £16,500 a pair. These were from its Red Dawn range, at a more sensible £575 for a 2-metre pair, worth it to give such magnificent speakers a fair chance."

Note that nowhere did he address the matter of the world's most expensive AV cable.

My apology to Margolis for my muck-up.

August 11, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack



"Modische Socken für koreanische Gummischuhe."

Created by Berlin-based POG Design, whose Jan-Philipp Wittrin was kind enough to take a moment away from culture-hacking to send me word of what they're up to over at Wrangelstrasse 20.

August 11, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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