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Archive for October, 2014

The Benefits of a Mobile Access Point

It could be argued that with modern Android phones offering to act as WIFI access points, there is no longer a need for the likes of the THREE WIFI pocket Access points, the successor to “WIFI dongles”.

three access pointMine has been sitting in my case doing nothing for the better part of a year and it is only by chance that I’ve never handed it back. I use my phone as an access point and that generally works well for my laptop and tablet.

But this week, all of that changed. We’re having a week off for the school holidays and my wife Maureen and I are in Cornwall, staying in a little cottage.  When we got here, the promised WIFI never padded out.

The building was split in two with the owners in one half and us in the other. The access point was in their half and the walls were just too much for the connection – in addition they have a limited connection and asked that we take it easy – that is just NOT what either of us do as we have so many gadgets that need WIFI for updates, browsing, email, watching video etc.

In addition we had friends with us both of whom spend much of their spare time on the web – such is the modern world. 

To make things worse, I’d just installed some cloud software on the phone which wanted to back up all 8,000 photos from the phone to the cloud – not to mention the usual numerous updates of Apps and laptop programs and operating system.

A part-time next-door WIFI was just not going to do it.

My first line of attack was to use my phone as an access point – after all it has 4G and I have an unlimited use contract with 3. Well, that option vanished as I realised I had almost no signal.

It was at this point I realised I still had the dongle-type unit in my bag, a black THREE-based unit able to share a 3G connection with several devices/ people at once. I switched it on and… nothing – months of lying around and the battery was utterly flat – but within 10 minutes of charging it had enough power to run and I was delighted to find FULL SIGNAL.

Unlike phones these gadgets are designed for no other purpose than to take in a 3G signal and re-broadcast as WIFI… and they do it very well, In addition I could stick it in a window for best signal. The unit gave access throughput the tiny cottage without any problems for the week, left charging 24-7 and requiring a reboot only once in the process (most likely due to too many gadgets trying to access it).

If I don’t use this again for a while, the unit has well and truly earned it’s keep. The weather down here has been and continues to be ATTROCIOUS and so we’ve spent slightly more time indoors than we expected. The continuous, high speed, reliable connection has been more than welcome.

The camera never Lies, or does it?

I should stress at the beginning that I am neither a doctor nor an optician so if I use the wrong terms, consider the source.

I have however been fascinated by photography since getting my first SLR in my very early teens. That was followed by a few years of getting my hands covered in chemicals as I learned how it all worked. The move to digital was a no-brainer but offers so many possibilities.

They say “the camera never lies”.

There is a world of difference between the camera and your eye and I will use that to challenge the above statement (ignoring of course the wider truth that some “CGI” is now indistinguishable from reality – and if you still believe that CGI is not “real” take a look at this stunning piece of video – the first few seconds defy believe).

When a camera takes a picture, let’s say outside in the brilliant sunlight (clearly not in the Northeast of England) with some trees and dark shadows, it records faithfully what it can… and therein lies the rub – “what it can”.

The camera stores images in digital memory. It stores 3 colours – red, green and blue and it stores them with a limited dynamic range – that is, the range from the lowest brilliance to the highest brilliance and that is FAR from complete. Technically there are only so many digital “bits” and so only so many “levels” of any of the colours – the range is just not wide enough for reality – and it would not make any difference if it was – because your screens you view the images on are ALSO not capable of reproducing the brilliance of sunlight.

So I will firstly argue that the camera DOES lie in that it does not show you the complete range from the darkest shadow to the brilliant sunlight.

That is the first issue with “normal” photos and though there are ways to improve this (RAW images contain more bits-per-pixel than JPG – and HDR photos take multiple exposures to try to “cluge” a wide dynamic range picture) the result is often beautiful and WELL worth pursuing but far from perfect and the mechanism (as described above) for displaying the image is also far from perfect as it, too is unable to display the brilliance of sunlight down to the darkness of the deepest shadows (we’re ignoring the fact that the image is flat rather than 3D – that’s a WHOLE other discussion).

But this is only the beginning.  When you use your EYES to look at a similar scene of high contrast, your eyes and brain cheat in many ways, NONE of which are replicated by the camera.

a) You see a combination of the truth and what you expect to see. That is why people sometimes see “ghosts” – if we are not sure what it is we’re looking at – the brain desperately tries to create sense out of disorder.  There is a video out there that demonstrates this.

b) The individual sensors in your eyes can selectively desensitise to give you a non-linear image of wider dynamic range than a camera would manage. i.e. areas of strong light are suppressed over time – dark areas are magnified – one would guess the history of this is – if you spotted the animal in the shadows that was coming to get you – you survived.

When you look at an image on a screen, your eyes do not work the same way that they do when looking at real life – because the screen image does not have the dynamic range from dark to light to trigger the same responses in the cells.

Don’t believe me? Do you squint when you see a photo of bright sunlight? No. If you look at a photo of darkness will more detail emerge from that photo the longer you look at it? No.

Beautiful piece by Matthew Sullivan in HDRSo when someone comes along with a beautiful HDR photo and the photographic “experts” complain about HDR not being “pure” it reminds me of the people who say that valves are best (generalisation – the old ways are best) – I find myself smiling.

I take photos with the best equipment I care to carry around (more often that not a modern Android phone) and I often use photo tools to render those images to as near as what I THOUGHT I saw or I WANTED to remember and that, at the end of the day is what matters – unless of course you’re selling the images and even then – the image on the right is nothing like reality – but it would still look lovely on a wall. A “pure” photo can never reproduce reality exactly – so treat the camera as an artistic tool and enjoy.

A note for Android lovers… “Camera FV-5” app promises RAW format images. If you have something like a modern Samsung or similar phone with high grade camera – you’re in for a treat! RAW will allow a greater range of post-editing as there is more information to start with.

Pete.

Life

Peter Scargill in SpainSince coming back from Galera in Spain in the summer, life has been hectic – Maureen went back to school for a while, was recently off again but is now back in action. Hollyberry Cottage has been packed but we managed one day to get some essential maintenance in. I’ve been to Brussels for meetings and managed to fit in a trip to the Mini-Europe, I’ve been back and forth to Blackpool for FSB meetings, visited Jodrell Bank, been on a cruise just off Guernsey and next week we’re taking a short trip to Cornwall to go see the Eden Project, something we’ve been meaning to do for years but somehow never gotten around to it. We will of course post pics in here and on Facebook – I’m just hoping we get something remotely like decent weather.

The rest of the time has been filled with day to day emails and phone calls. I’m sitting here surrounded by new technology, trying to get a little WIFI board working and my friend Jonathan has brought me a wonderful tiny blue display which we’re considering right now to be a wonderful idea like the laser was – magical product but what can you do with it – well we certainly found plenty of uses for the laser!

Of course no blog entry is complete without a decent size photo – so here’s a picture of breakfast at a wonderful little cafe in Bellingham – good healthy stuff.

Breakfast at a cafe in Bellingham, Northumberland

ESP8266 WIFI Miracle Board

tmp64FI’m currently working with a miraculous little board called the #ESPN8266 from #ESPRESSIF which could revolutionise low cost side of the “Internet of Things”… essentially a tiny circuit board that allows low cost control systems to interact with the Internet via WIFI in the way your phone does – but it’s WAY too technical for this blog I fear so anyone interested might head on over to my tech blog.

The idea of WIFI controlled gadgets is nothing new of course but for the first time this can now be done extremely cheaply. If you’re interested, head on over to the blog.

The Richmond Event (#ITDF)

Several of you have asked where I’ve been this week and what I’ve been doing – so here it is..

West Quays Shopping CentreOn Wednesday I flew down to Southampton (from Newcastle) in the morning to embark on what is now the second Richmond event I’ve attended… the annual IT Director’s Forum.  The journey consisted of the flight and a train ride to Southampton Central station.

Thanks to flight times etc., I ended up with some time to burn and went for a short visit to the West Quays Shopping Centre, nothing to write home about but a pleasant and modern centre with a decent mix of the usual imagination-less chair restaurants, the only exception in my view being Pizza Express who do a pretty good imitation of a real pizza – and that’s where I had lunch.

Aurora ShipLooking at the street signs the docks didn’t look that far away so rather than taking the planned shuttle bus as per the previous year, I walked down to the docks. Won’t do that again,the weather was nice but it was quite a hike and I arrived at Dock 10 late afternoon in time to board the Aurora with utterly flattened feet.

Aurora entranceOnce safely on-board the Aurora (a P&O ship able to handle 1200 passengers – the smallest of the fleet) I attended the opening talk by the proprietor of Richmond events who broke the bad news that the broadband was going to be crap throughout the event.

This was swiftly followed by a keynote speech by Mary Portas who described her experiences and views on everything from the smallest stores struggling to come into the 21st century through to the largest supermarket chains.

Considering that Mary’s website describes her as “the UK’s foremost authority on retail and brand communication, I must say I didn’t entirely agree with everything she said, especially on supermarkets  and didn’t consider her that inspirational but Mary Portasnon-the-less she managed to entertain everyone. With all on-board, mid-evening we set off on our journey to the channel Islands which was to take most of the night. Dinner was a casual affair and our hosts were pleasantly un-commercial – we all had a nice time.

Shortly after arriving on the board, I’d met up briefly with Elle who is one of the organisers and it’s really nice that she’s been reading my blog since last year and keeping up with what I’ve been doing so I hope she likes this.

With the ship under way to our destination just a few miles docked off the channel islands, dinner was fine if a little pretentious (“Braised Pave of beef” and other strange titles such as “Baked Tartiflette Potatoes littered the menu) but the important point of course was that the hopeful suppliers paid for the drinks. The night was interesting – I’ve no gripes about my room, balcony view of the sea and sizeable area for a ship, the room was comfortable, the movement in the face of considerable sea-power was not. Everyone commented next morning that the night was “rough”.

Around Guernsey and the IslandsSo the way this works is simple enough – 3-night cruise, sponsored by sales organisations – IT directors and professionals get the decent rooms around the outside of the ship, the sales people get the inner rooms – they pay, we don’t – simple enough. In return we agree to meet them in short matchmaking sessions in between insightful seminars – obviously they hope we’ll do business and in many cases that works.

All in all though it takes a bit of stamina, a worthwhile two whole days of which I’ve just finished the first. Saturday morning we disembark – I’ll be taking the coach this time to the central train station which is then just one stop to the airport. Should be back by lunchtime Saturday which is great as I’ve some R&D to do before we have friends over for the evening.

John AmaechiThursday morning we started bright and early, breakfast sponsored in my case by a company called Capita. Breakfast was ok but it’s the one meal of the day I’d rather  have a buffet.  I went on to participate in a discussion on BIG DATA which was more than useful followed by another REALLY interesting discussion on mobile access and security. In each case a facilitator enabled maybe a dozen of us to collaborate and share ideas. 

tmp60A1I facilitated a couple of these discussions the previous year and it was gratifying that some folk remembered me! I then listened to a talk by John Amaechi MBE, a psychologist who is notable by his basketball background and the fact that he stands 6ft 9 inches and 23 stones in weight (and has size 15 shoes) – very interesting as he described the difference between good and bad management.

Lunch was great – I met a couple of people I’m sure to keep in touch with as we have similar interests. After a couple of business meetings in the afternoon, I attended a talk by David Smith – economic editor of the Sunday times who made some predictions for the future and described the on-going effects of the recession – interesting that China is now the leading economy and the entire wealth of the world is steadily moving in that direction.

We had a great session with Clive Panto who put us through some intelligence tests which I have to say my group failed miserably but had a REALLY good laugh in the process (If I tell you that one of the tests was to drop an egg from the ceiling to the ground without breaking it – within 5 minutes we’d broken our first egg and when it came to the presentation of results, which I did – we had the perfect solution, sadly as I was just about to climb the ladders to the ceiling (yes, on a moving ship) the egg fell out of my hands and smashed on the floor which resulted in lots of laughter..

PoolThat evening after celebration drinks (as these events have now been going on for 25 years) we had the first of two Black-tie dinners – interesting as I didn’t bring a black tie.

Well, it’s an IT director’s event – I figured open neck might be more the norm – that’s what I get for thinking. I was not however alone by any means.

Friday and more business “dating” meetings, some talks including one about the automation of life and work in the age of smart machines (in which I’m particularly interested of course as someone deeply entrenched in the “Internet of Things”) and the question in one talk was asked “are we innovating ourselves out of the door. The last session of the day was a wine and cheese tasting event, I found time to go soak in the pool, visit a short cheese and wine testing and then the second formal dinner.

tmp74E9Meanwhile I’ve been asked whether I will chair and present at a major Intranet event next year which gives me something to ponder over the next few days.

And that, in a nutshell, is that. Hope you found the blog interesting. And just for that… here’s a picture of some cows I took on the way home and a map showing where the ship was docked for the duration.

Cows

The cruise