Goin’ digital

My 20 year old travel companion   http://www.worldofescher.com/gallery/jpgs/P11.jpg
http://www.pictosphere.com/jpegs/portrait_small.jpg   4 dimensional candleholder

We’ll be on the right coast this week, with a new content grabber, the Canon PowerShot S70, wide enough for architectural photography. If the weather smiles on us, there may be things to discuss. Hopefully, the author will find that the transition from emulsion (and a 10-pound SLR with bulky shift lens) to CompactFlash is as liberating as the transition from handwriting to WordPress.

What will be interesting for my techie side is what you can do in post-photography to build architectural images, given 7.1 megapixels and some good tools. Panorama Tools (or a freeware replacement for it) should help compensate the loss of a real tilt-shift lens. The transformations of this little software package are pretty astounding. I like the attitude of the developer, Helmut Dersch, when he states that with his software and the right equipment “previously impossible effects can be realized.” Off we go.

Err. Guess what–every silver lining has an IP cloud around it. Apparently the folks at Pictosphere feel that they own Helmut’s stuff:

We believe Helmut Dersch has made a non-profit contribution to the field of spherical photography, as have many of those who use his software. We plan no legal action in enforcing our patents against Dr. Dersch, nor against non-profit users of his software in the United States. While this is our policy, it should be clearly understood that we believe the “PT” suite of software tools uses technology encompassed by our patents, and that if you are using the tools commercially in the United States, you need to purchase the appropriate Pictosphere™ license (e.g., Click Away™) in fairness to us. We have invested considerable resources and many years to open up the spherical industry commercially to a legal, non-click-fee solution, and we believe this will benefit everyone in the industry. Furthermore, you need to be aware that other than for PT-Viewer, you may have third party exposure if you are using the “PT” tools commercially, (although it may not be worth it for someone to prove in court whose tools you are really using). We are distributing PT-Viewer under the GNU license, alongside our product. Because, as has been previously stated, a Pictosphere™ Click Away™ software license includes a license to Ford Oxaal’s patents, and because Ford Oxaal’s patents alone, so far as we know, cover PT-Viewer, Click Away™ users are free to use PT-Viewer.

And poor Pictosphere is trying to extort from the big boys: iPix and their ilk. Ain’t patents wonderful. The underlying math of mapping pixels from one space to another is in every graphics textbook around. I’m not “commercial” so I’m not going to worry (yet).


The web that will be

Kentfield map

It would be nice to have the web be the platform for software development, and after several years of the doldrums, the folks at Google and Yahoo! have grabbed the attention of developers everywhere. They are starting to share former secrets on development sites.

Some of the things that might make it happen for developers, now that the box has been opened again:


Web sites, such as Position Is Everything are continuing to expand the knowledge required to produce acceptable user interfaces in a web browser.

X Forms

Coming, eventually, to everyone. Now available as a Flash 6 plugin, or in Mozilla (beta). Watch this space. Or another X-language: Laszlo.

XPath and XQuery

There are commercial and open source XQuery servers now available, so getting simple access to XML databases of all kinds is getting easier. When all the web’s content is expressible as XML queries, what could happen? Ask Udell.

Ajax (asynchronous HTTP using Javascript)

The talk is heating up, and we’ll probably find that Ajax works its way into a slew of new possibilities.

REST (keep it simple web services)

REST is back because of Yahoo’s bold decision not to jump on the SOAP + WS-yada-yada-yada bandwagon.

Beyond HTML and Javascript, you get into the more robust and complicated platforms:

Java Web Start

Java is still out there as a client-side solution, even though Microsoft would wish it away. If it had a true open source following, which could happen any day now, Java Web Start could provide a way to build applications of arbitrary complexity deployed on any platform.

Servlet Engine in a Box

Using existing technologies it is pretty easy to package any application inside a desktop web application server and avoid all installation problems.

Mono (Cross-platform .NET)

Using a cross-platform system with rich user interface and networking, the
mono project is trying to regain the write-once, deploy anywhere philosophy that Java first started.

The human landscape

http://www.cineclasico.com/western/peliculas/01.jpg   http://www.avopolis.gr/cinema/avve14.jpg
http://www.sensesofcinema.com/images/taste.gif   Central do Brasil

I wanted to express my affiliation with observers of the edges of landscape. There is something deep and moving about understanding the contradiction between the smallness of the individual when seen in the context of a frontier landscape and the immense power that human civilization has had in changing the face of the planet. Some of the best observations of this dilemma can be seen in films of the last 50 years, when directors found the striking point of view of the wide angle lens.

J. B. Jackson was the premier American commentator on how our country’s unique cultural history, especially in the wild West, has evolved from its original inhabitants to the time of the automobile culture of the 20th century.

When and if I get the time, I want to go back to the films of John Ford.

Michelangelo Antonioni was one of the first filmmakers to understand how the landscape can frame human stories. His placement of troubled characters in abandoned, unexpected urban and desert locations highlights the universality of their plight.

Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997 film, Taste of Cherry, leads to contemplation on the meaning of human life in an era of ongoing sprawl and militarism.

Walter Salles’s recent pictures, Central do Brasil, Behind the Sun and the Motorcycle Diaries are other sources of contemplation on the “lost” places of human settlement and the exploitation of the subsistence workers who live on the edge.

Visions 2: How to codify human knowledge


What is the longest running unfinished project on the web older than the web itself? How about Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project. Did TBL base the web on Xanadu? I haven’t done the reading. Now that hard disks and network storage is so cheap, and processing power is even cheaper, why can’t we finish the project?

It could be the most important universal data model ever created. I think Ward Cunningham also deserves some credit for taking this forward.

About four years ago, I stumbled on Ka-Ping Yee’s (probably some karass version of what I would be if I were a real computer scientist) Crit Link project, originally published under the auspices of Doug Englebart’s Foresight Institute, and now gone (it’s supposed to be at crit.org, but I think not; nor is it on Ka-Ping’s zesty.ca. The first self-commenting system that I know of. Also take a look at Wendy Seltzer’s work, the Annotation Engine. Funny how a lawyer who cares about electronic freedoms is also into Xanadu.

End of the world as we know it

Kilimanjaro 2004, from Wikipedia   http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2005/ALLPOLITICS/03/17/steroids.baseball/story.canseco01.jpg

OK. There are days when the items in the news look like a conspiracy. Today was one of those days. There’s a thread of the threat of extinction about it all. The headless and heartless U.S. Senate attached a rider to a budget bill to open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, using as a justification the fact that gas prices for America’s SUVs are at an all time high ($2.05 a gallon nationally), and crude oil stands at $57 a barrel. OPEC agrees to raise production levels twice by 500,000 barrels per day, but “the market” still thinks that world petroleum demand will continue to outstrip supply (now at about 87 million bpd). Stay tuned to see how open the oil taps will go this summer, and whether Al-Zarqawi can destroy Iraq’s flow. I want to keep track of these numbers from now on. Time to buy gold?

Meantime, what is the alternative, nuclear energy? Great idea, except that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports today that scientists trying to find a way to make the proposed Yucca Mountain long term plutonium waste repository safe for the next 100,000 years couldn’t even use uncooked data. Apparently, they fudged their computer models to show that the effects of underground water would not cause our hot waste to leak out into the environment–anything to get this horrible project built.

OK. Nuclear is on hold, then, so how about coal? Well, it turns out that two studie released today show that even if we were to stop burning all fossil fuels today, we could expect air temperatures to rise over a degree in the next few centuries, and sea level should rise at least a meter. I will never get to see the snows of Kilimanjaro even in a photo (see above). Guess what? We’re not going to stop burning fossil fuels.

And what else do we do with oil, gas and coal? Make poisonous chemicals like pesticides and steroids. So it’s either goodbye Bangladesh (experts say we have plenty of time to “adapt”–build dikes, move cities–all fun) or hello, Jose (Canseco). I’m going to remember this day.

Visions 1: How to build a computer


Unfortunately for the world, we are losing visionaries at an unacceptable rate. This month marked the passing of Jef Raskin, who believed (against all odds) that computer systems can be built that don’t break and are understandable to users. At his death, he was working on putting into use a way for users to work quickly and efficiently with computers. To quote from Raskin’s proposal (nicknamed “Archie” for RCHI or the Raskin Center Humane Interface):


A user should never be responsible for cleaning up the system, whether it is leftover debris from internal operations, fragmentation of the file structure, garbage collection, or whatever.

Computer resources belong to users, not to developers.


The state of the system, when it has been turned off or slept and then turned on again, is whatever state it was in when it was turned off or entered into the sleep state. The saved appearance, which reflects the saved state, includes cursor position, selection markings, and all other indications of state. In other words, the way it looked and worked when you left is exactly the way it looks and will work when you return.

Even though these are old ideas of Jef’s (from the dawn of the Macintosh era), the juggernaut of commercial computing ignored them, leading to our wonderful world of “AutoSave”, “AutoBackup”, and “Save As”; programs that crash leaving unworkable documents, the delete and backspace keys, and other oddities that we all work with everyday.

Like the Dvorak keyboard, Archie could help us get to the point that I blithely tell the teaching staff will come “in the next generation,” when using computers is an uncomplex as answering a telephone (an old-style telephone with the “pick up equals answer” syntax).

We may have to wait for the demise of the “computer” for this to happen.