First HDR Images

Inspired by this MeFi article, I got myself a Canon A570 camera and loaded it up with the CHDK hack.

The first thing I’ve been trying is HDR Photography. Here’s what I’ve learned about doing it on OS X:

  • Photomatix does an awesome job, is easy to use, and costs some bank ($85).
  • Cinepaint can create HDR images but not tone-map them back into normal viewable images. There is a native OS X version of it but using it is like being kneed repeatedly in the groin. On Linux it’s more like being punched repeatedly in the gut.
  • QTPFSGui is awesome, and available for both Linux and OS X. The beta version (1.9) is much better than the stable 1.8. Trying to use automatic image alignment crashes it, but that’s OK, the manual image align is easy to use. It gives you a wide variety of tonemapping options, many of which look boring, some of which look downright surreal. Good option overall.
  • The Hugin project has created some command line tools that do an awesome job on their own! The main one is called “enfuse.” There’s also “enblend” and “align_image_stack.” There’s a for-pay GUI for enfuse called Bracketeer which makes it easy to use and has neat previews, and one called XFuse which is less slick but at least it’s not the command line.. In the end Enfuse seems to make the most good-looking, naturalistic output of all the options, though if you want the kind of painterly, unusual effects that some HDR photography has, Photomatix and QTPFSGui both do that well.

Anyway, I’ve been putting successful experiments up in this gallery.

UPDATE: It turns out Enfuse is using a technique completely distinct from HDR photography. More on this here.

Textpattern Temptation

WordPress is a great blogging system to just plug in and blog. Everything you need is right there, it’s optimized for blogging awesomeness. Just works on so many levels.

But it’s not so hot if you want to change something, like the look of your site, the theme.

There are tons of themes available for WordPress… People like using pre-made themes, because it hurts so bad to make your own. To make a new WordPress theme, you rip the presentational layer of code off, and put another one on. That’s like a car, where if you want a new paint job, you have to rip the outer body off and weld a new one onto the bare frame.

A lot of people have customized their themes, it but every time I’ve messed with the theme on my blog it’s just led to sadness and dysfunction, which is why I eventually reverted it back to the boring default theme.

I’ve been messing around lately with Textpattern, which is more of a CMS-which-is-set-up-by-default-as-a-blog than a blogging package as such. It was created by Dean Allen, creator of Textile, a very elegant simple markup language, designed to allow you to write in plain text without a bunch of angle brackets, and have your machine translate it into proper HTML. Textile is baked right in to Textpattern, of course.

Textpattern is a really beautiful system. The web interface for the writer/administrator is sophisticated, elegant, and powerful. It’s designed so that once you set it up, everything you need is in the web interface — you should never have to use FTP or the command line to mess with it or add anything to it. (Though maybe you’d need that for a complete upgrade, I don’t know.)

And guess what — it has a templating system you can use to control the look of your site. I mean besides “rewrite the front-end in PHP.” You can rewrite your site, sure, but you do it in the administrative interface, using a system of tags that exist for that purpose. You’re not going to accidentally open giant security holes by playing amateur programmer in a notoriously insecure language…. Sure, you *can* write plugins in PHP to add functionality if the existing functionality isn’t good enough, but hacking PHP is not de rigeur.

I’m just impressed as heck.

Oh, there’s another thing I just remembered, it might have been the thing that got me thinking WordPress might not be so hot. I moved my blog from one host to another, and all my uploaded images/files from the entire history of my site got hosed. I searched like crazy through the database and eventually found what seemed to be the relevant table and column. The column was filled with a bunch of line noise and embedded in it, a set of local paths from my old host. Not knowing what the line noise was, I tried doing a search and replace on those, putting in there the paths from the new host, which just hosed it worse. I asked about this on a WordPress board somewhere and was told that that line noise was serialized PHP expressions.

The database had serialized PHP expressions in it. Huh.

So there was no conceivable way I could fix this stuff by manipulating the database alone. I’d have to write some PHP to pull that stuff out, figure out what format it was in, fix it, and put it back in in serialized form.

I still haven’t gotten around to that, and all my uploaded files are still broken.

Thanks, WordPress! You let PHP bleed into the presentation layer, why not let it bleed into the database as well! Everything’s better when you sprinkle some PHP into it! Cheez.

So I’m thinking about switching. But oh man, switching blog software is a pain. What do you do with all your old posts? You can import them, sure, there’s a wordpress import thingy. But all the permalinks will be different, and such value as I might offer to the search engine world will disappear. I could *force* the permalinks to be the same, I guess, but you know some things are going to break in the import anyway. That way lies madness.

That’s the sort of thing that keeps me from wanting to actually switch over the Blog that Goes Ping. But man, textpattern is so nice. I don’t know how long I can hold out.

Oh, one downside — I’ve tested my desktop blogging client, Ecto, with it, and there are some time zone issues; it posts things into the future. Haven’t figured that one out yet.

Mmm… Textpattern….

Paul Graham Disappoints Again

I used to think Paul Graham’s essays were awesome; then I started to think they completely sucked. I thought I saw a glimmer of awesome today but it didn’t last.

You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss” is an appealing sentiment. So I started reading the essay with interest and even agreeing with it. Then I got to this bit —

Indeed, food is an excellent metaphor to explain what’s wrong with the usual sort of job.

For example, working for a big company is the default thing to do, at least for programmers. How bad could it be? Well, food shows that pretty clearly. If you were dropped at a random point in America today, nearly all the food around you would be bad for you. Humans were not designed to eat white flour, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated vegetable oil. And yet if you analyzed the contents of the average grocery store you’d probably find these four ingredients accounted for most of the calories. “Normal” food is terribly bad for you. The only people who eat what humans were actually designed to eat are a few Birkenstock-wearing weirdos in Berkeley.

If “normal” food is so bad for us, why is it so common? There are two main reasons. One is that it has more immediate appeal. You may feel lousy an hour after eating that pizza, but eating the first couple bites feels great. The other is economies of scale. Producing junk food scales; producing fresh vegetables doesn’t. Which means (a) junk food can be very cheap, and (b) it’s worth spending a lot to market it.

If people have to choose between something that’s cheap, heavily marketed, and appealing in the short term, and something that’s expensive, obscure, and appealing in the long term, which do you think most will choose?

The purpose of food is to keep people alive and functioning. The “bad for us” foods do an admirable job of this. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are things you need to stay alive, and you can get them from peanut butter and donut sandwiches* as well as Tofu and Wheatgrass Surprise.

The difference between the health of somebody who eats a hippie diet and who eats a “white trash” diet is infinitesimal compared to the difference in health between somebody who eats a “white trash” diet and somebody who is actually malnourished. Malnourishment consists of failing to get the basic carbs, fats, protein, and the like, that you need to live, not in failing to get adequate wheatgrass.

There are huge parts of the world whose well-being would be immeasurably improved if they could eat the “terrible” diet that unenlightened Americans eat.

So… it’s completely wrong-headed to think that people eat “bad” foods because they taste good but are not good for you. They may or may not taste very good, but they’re good for you in the fundamental sense that they keep your body from being malnourished. In fact, the main way they’re “bad for you” is social: they mark you as being a member of the underclass. Our Sort of People shop only at Whole Foods, don’t you know.

So that’s Graham for you. Keeps making analogies to programming from domains about which he thinks he knows something but is completely ignorant. It’s probably quite true that we’re not meant to have bosses, but I can’t work up the prima facie faith that Graham might have something useful to say about that fact that I would need to even finish reading his essay.

UPDATE: Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood is equally impressed, but he tackles the content o the essay instead of getting sidetracked completely by a metaphor, like I did.

*jbm: you’ll notice I’m not defending meat-eating in particular here! Just proletarian eating.

Cultural Criticism from Cracked Magazine

Cracked Magazine’s web site has been hiring really good writers for the past couple years, and they constantly deliver lists of fascinating or funny things, often from pop culture.

Today I ran across Hollywood’s 6 Favorite Offensive Stereotypes:

  • The Magic Negro
  • The Gay/Effeminate Psychopath
  • The Latina Maid
  • The Mighty Non-Whitey
  • The Wise, Old Asian Asshole
  • The Cowardly/Incompetent Black Sidekick

Wow. That’s, like, actual left-wing cultural criticism delivered in an amusing and compelling way by the people that gave us the 7 Most Terrifying Corporate Mascots of All Time, the 5 Most Obviously Drug-Fueled TV Appearances Ever, the 8 Most Cringe-Worthy Comic Book Moments Ever, and 5 Movie Martial Artists that Lost a Deathmatch To Dignity.

Not that it’s unprecedented; there are also the 9 Most Racist Disney Characters. And Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky would be proud of the seldom-taught-in-schools history that shows up in 7 Insane Conspiracies That Actually Happened.


I deleted my post on her remarks cause I didn’t want to dwell in the place of extreme anger and frustration I was when I wrote them.

Some people are able to use extreme anger and frustration to say far more constructive things than I can.

For example, Keith Olbermann…. via Larry Lessig.