It has been a while!
I am currently sitting at a coffee shop, with 30 min to go before catching the train north; I have drunk my coffee, eaten my toast, caught up on the news headlines and observed passers by. I have even scoured my friends photo galleries on Facebook..
The year in retrospect has been a good one, and like the years past, complete with iys Ups and downs.
Despite my recent disappointment in Windows attempt to take on Apple and Google; read: dismal fail in app options compared to both the Apple and Google app stores, I have moved one step closer to bringing my Home Automation System alive, with all bar the speakers ordered for the ‘Touch automated home sound system‘.
I admit, I am looking forward to blowing the dust off this shelved project and sharing it with friends.
As I sit here typing this, I realise not only am I sipping my way through my eighth coffee for the day, but if I was a regular 40 hour a week worker (roughly 8hrs a day), I would have clocked off some 20 minutes ago, the current time being only 2.30pm.
My days are usually filled by a variety of tasks, the ’9-5′ job takes up most of it, especially bleeding past the hours of 9-5. Other parts of my day are taken up with a combination of tasks, the most common and my personal favorite being in the subject of photography – whether it is dabbling with an idea in Photoshop or reading up on the next best thing when it comes to lenses. Where software development has failed, photography has become my new creative outlet. But this is nothing new; looking back at my photography archive (aptly named ‘Kodak Moments’ as at the time of its creation back in 2001 my camera was a Kodak 1.3 MegaPixel camera) it is full of various photos, more commonly than not landscape shots.
I recall back in 1997, my first camera, a Canon film camera – I found it behind the back seat of the Ford Mondeo my family hired for our month long frolick around England – Like a dog marking its territory, I flipped open the film cover ripped out the now exposed film as if doing so gave me ownership of the camera. (It boggles the mind now as I write this… what was on that camera?) Having put new film into it, I now had the tool to illustrate the adventurous daily tales I wrote in my journal. What I vividly recall of the experience was that nothing could taint a photograph more than people being in the shot. That Canon camera never glanced its lens eye on human flesh again.
Ironically, most recently in fact, I have become obsessed with portrait photography. In fact, just to the right of my laptop as I write this is the 2011 DigitalDSLR Magazine edition of ‘The Essential Guide to Portraits’ – the bible for DSLR enthusiasts — I own their Essential Guide to Landscapes too!.
I guess the attraction of Portrait’s comes hand in hand with a fantastic camera. My Nikon for instance, the entry level DSLR that it is (D3100) takes phenomenal portraits; I recall the morning after the first time I shot studio portraits with it, looking over the photos on the laptop, just praying that 10 or so out of the hundreds taken turned out okay, I was blown away with the professional high quality, at 1:1 you could see the pores in the skin, every shade of blue which made up the models eyes – I was in love; portraiture had become my new creative outlet.
I still dabble with landscape photography and other forms of photography to this day, I am still very passionate over Landscape photography – just moreso over portraits.
I always loved food (stay with me here), and when the first series of Masterchef Australia concluded, I thought wow, what a great thing to try out for. I never did get around to it. Now in its third season, the contestants are in a whole new level compared to season 1. Season 1 contestants were food enthusiasts, they liked food, they enjoyed cooking. Season 3 on the other hand are food freaks. Every day people who’s eyes light up the size of saucepans at the drop of the name ‘Adriano Zumbo’ as if he was as common a name/person as Brad Pitt. I soon came to the conclusion if I didn’t know who these chefs were, then clearly I was never good enough to go on a show like Masterchef.
Similar to the Master Chef contestants and their association with Adriano Zumbo, the legendary pastry chef that he is, I too have a fanatic fixation with Annie Leibovitz, in particular her ‘Disney Dream Portraits’. Like Zumbo’s macaroon croquembouche was for the Masterchef contestants, the Disney Dream Portraits would be the most epic of projects to endeavor – something I would love to do.
There are a whole collection of these photos, but the ones below are personal favorites; probably the first of which I would like to one day reproduce.
The time has come to make good on all the things you promised for yourself last new years eve. For some, it may of been as simple as promising you’ll drink less as you picked yourself up from the roadside curb outside your mates place, for others, perhaps it is putting yourself first before anyone else for a change, or indeed perhaps as bold as starting out a new venture – in what ever case, on the evening of December 31st you made a promise to yourself, and now it is time to collect.
As anyone would tell you change does not come easy, nor does it come cheaply. It is an investment, of time, money and indeed your own self worth – hence why this post is being written in June rather than January. It has taken a lot of time, effort and some third party persuasion to finally get to where I am now – on the precipice of what could become an exciting new chapter.
Do I mean to be so cryptic? I certainly do; all will be revealed in time.
As for yourself, if you are not preparing your own comeback, I suggest you think back to the night of the 31st and get started!
Unless you live in the middle of Siberia, completely isolated from the outside world, chances are you are familiar with the term ‘App’. In June 2007, Steve Jobs re-coined the phrase ‘App’ and gave it new meaning, with the term popularly being used to strictly refer to the quirky applications available to the iPhone series. From there, spreading like wildfire, the App has spread to cover the whole Apple range of touch devices and onto third party touch platforms such as Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.
Just as 1994 was the beginning of the Spice Girls reign, so is 2011 (more so than previous years) the reign of Apps for touch devices.
Although Jobsie got a head start in the market place, other global institutes eventually turned the touch device cat walk into a popularity contest. Although Apple may of had the initial numbers, audiences love variety, and this variety stems not just in branding flavour, but what the brands allow you to do.
Microsoft developed a software deployment methodology similar to that of Apples. Software applications had to be vetted before entering the market place, thus eliminating malicious applications and pornography. Google on the other hand, flung the doors wide open.
Being the Microsoft fanboy that I am (largely due to being a Windows software developer by day, and the fact that Apple products are too pricey), I have jumped onto the Microsoft wagon and recently begun developing apps for the Windows Phone 7.
The process has been slow, as any developer would tell you, it all starts with an idea, and frankly, I didn’t have many to begin with. Now however, I have a few sitting on a back burner brewing away and hence – this post – further more, hence the launch of a new page ‘www.saorrento.com/wp7‘ where I can archive and showcase my app development for WP7.
It has been quite some time since I last went out on a early morning shoot. Up until this point, a lot of the sunrise and sunset photography that I have taken has been based around the Perth CBD. Unfortunately, home is located neither near the city, coast line or hills (which have been the amphitheatre for some fantastic storms lately), so wherever I chose to go, becomes a bit of a commitment, and especially for sunrise or sunset photography, something that requires timing and dedication.
Being some months closer to winter from my last sunrise expedition, sunrise was now an almost an hour later, thus allowing me to comfortably get up at 5am (well, as comfortably as one could), rather than 4am on the previous occasion.
This morning was a thirty minute jaunt out to the Swan Valley for some vineyard sunrise shots. The weather in Perth has been quite dry and hot for the past few months, and with yesterdays low of 21, followed by rain and a night min of 9 degrees, I hoped that the vineyards might be a bit foggy and hazy in the early morning. Unfortunately, there was no fog, but the grapes were in season, and looking rather stunning in their juicy splendour.
I will admit though, Sunrise shots do still scare me a little – in the sense that, I still find myself fumbling the controls, trying out various setting combinations for that perfect shot – it becomes a real art, to capture a sunrise the way the human eye perceives it.
Formula for the perfect sunrise shot:
Light Cloud (which alas I didn’t have)
Perhaps some fog/mist in the distance (if the subject is a valley or landscape)
This week we got word from Red Ink that our building license had been issued by the City of Armadale, which of course means the building can commence! Hopefully we can expect slab down within two weeks of this post.
Despite the building component finally starting (I have been waiting for this for almost 10 months), I have once again started to shelve my recent addition to my ‘home projects’ for a short while at least. I first started dabbling away at various projects for the benefit of the future house, weeks after first signing up the house design (see here for more information).
So why the shelving? well, if I didn’t, with my enthusiasm I would work both day and night and have the project completed within weeks. The problem with this is, I then have a further seven months wait ahead of me before I can even dream of installing the various projects in the house – and between that time, as with anything tech, advances will be made and I will find that various components of the product will be out of date. So why not just slow the development process down a little and each month take reflection of where it is going and how the outside world has changed. Not a lot of development projects have that luxury – so I may as well take advantage of it!
The shelving process involved re-organising, backing up and documenting all the ‘house projects’ that I have currently developed or dabbled in, the most impressive of these being the foundations of a ‘Home Automation System’, which currently controls the playback of music throughout the house, provides a 7 day local weather forecast and can optionally receive verbal commands and speak back.
The latest module addition to this (which is currently being shelved) is the Digital Surveylance component. Already this project has taken strides; the facial detection and recognition modules are well and truly proven, as is the playback module that pieces the raw footage and the recognition modules together. What is missing still is a source.
Up until last month, the source footage I have been using for the project has come from a antiquated Logitech USB webcam, and the webcam within my laptop. Therefore, in order to capture the frames at a rate I desired a small USB Capture engine was developed. The question always lingered though was USB the way to go, or should I check out Ethernet or IP Cameras?
Well last week I purchased a cute Foscam F18918W IP Camera. All up, it is a brilliant little camera – ideal if you were setting up an amateur home security system, or pet/baby monitoring system. The camera comes with a web interface allowing for easy control using a web browser. The camera can be panned and tilted by the interface, with 300 degrees of horizontal movement.
The camera is also capable of distinguishing movement and alarming the user either via FTP and/or email if movement is detected. There are three recording options available too, either all the time, only on movement detection or scheduled. All the frames are transferred by FTP, so an FTP service will be required – but you can always set one up at home using FireFTP rather easily. Another brilliant feature of this Foscam is the Infra Red night vision. The camera seamlessly adapts to the lighting conditions around it resulting in a perfect balance of lighting and contrast frame by frame.
BEST of all, the API for the camera is documented in an SDK pdf, which means, I was able to very very easily create a C# console for the camera. The console allowed me to move the camera along its axis, manually grab frames through the webservice (which was slow, averaging at 1 frame every few seconds), enable/disable motion detection, setup a FTP service and instruct the camera to use it, ie ‘Start Record’ and ‘Stop Record’.
Although not as fast as a manual grab, I found letting the Foscam ‘try’ to send the frames itself using the FTP protocol was at least incredibly less taxing on the computer system. Despite being obviously slower, I managed to speed this process up by creating a local FTP service on the same network. The only real kicker here is the Foscam established a fresh connection with the FTP service each time it wanted to send a frame (which was every second) rather than keep the FTP session open for the life of the service.
Unfortunately it was the poor speed that I could grab frames at, combined with the poor resolution of the camera (0.3Megapixels), that has recently caused me to temporarily shelve the project. As my next move would be to blow more money on a HD USB Camera. I have it on good authority however that Foscam is working on a newer model, and this model will have a higher megapixel camera – just how high, I do not know.
Though it should be stressed, the camera resolution would be close to tolerable, had I not wanted to engage facial recognition up to 6 meters away from the camera.
So I will shelve this project for now, quite satisfied with the C# Console for the Foscam IP Camera, and await til I return from Vietnam before purchasing a higher resolution camera. Though from my peaking at Ebay, in order to satisfy my resolution demands and frame rate capture it looks as though it may be a USB camera with Infra-Red LEDs.
A comprehensive video surveillance system can become a bit of a juggling act when it comes to the balance of an efficient surveillance blanket without taking it too far. There is a fine line between monitoring for illegal activity and being accused of illegal activity.
Especially when you are setting up a security system for your own home, be it an out of the box plug and play purchase or something more sophisticated and customised, you can easily go over board. Sure you want your home to be secure and safe, but unless behind those four walls lays the Cross of Coronado, it may not be prudent to have video surveillance in the bathroom or bedrooms.
To that extent, I have concerns about leaving the interior video surveillance operational while the house is occupied, as unintentional it may be, it could be seen as a breach of privacy. The only exception to this would be if you were running facial recognition to identify friend from foe, in these circumstances ‘friends’ would need to be aware that security recordings are taking place.
The outdoor perimeter cameras on the other hand are a different story, since they would be running continuous facial detection and friend or foe style testing to determine who was approaching the house.
Ultimately however, the more footage and the better blanketed the secure zone is, the more fun you can have with the data. Aside from the obvious applications such as a mere facial detection system you can step it up to facial recognition, to tracing movements to ultimately being able to ask the ‘house computer’ where ‘Joe Bloggs’ went to.
Just blowing the dust off my old 2010 face detection project (still under development)… Just amazed at the precision of the detection algorithm, especially in the photo montage below – quite surprising results.
The algorithm as it stands detects approx 67% of faces – exceptions being those which are not facing the camera enough, with a fail rate, detecting artefacts rather than faces, artefacts being necklaces, emblems and in some extreme cases boobs is at a low 0.07%
I am sure at some future stage there will be more posts on this ‘pet project‘..
Despite being used as comical satire, Jeremy Clarkson’s (BBC TopGear) signature phrase ‘how hard can it be?‘ (usually followed by one of his co-hosts in fear of a jinx responding back ‘don’t say that!‘) is a phrase that I find myself thinking of quite often.
In the age where it is cheaper to import a good from China, some 12,000km away, rather than have it made by a local within walking distance it is interesting to see just how dependant modern day culture is of ‘some one else doing it’. These parallels are also drawn in the Engraving industry, which I have become apart of for the past four years. Where once upon a time, the signage and engraving labour was handled personally by either an individual or group of people, jobs are now being processed by machine. Although this advancement is considered progress, since a machine never tires, or argues with its employers can process jobs at a far superior rate and often to a higher level of quality, the particular skill set of doing a task manually is at risk of becoming lost, and usually they are, since there is no need to pass the knowledge on.
Personally, I believe to do a particular task well you need to understand the process, and by process I do not mean the intricate steps of pressing various buttons and loading up trays for a machine, rather understanding how the task is done manually. After all, knowing this means that you have an understanding far superior to that of the machine, and more importantly might possibly imagine up a more efficient way of performing the task. Machines don’t evolve, humanity evolves and we continually upgrade and re-design machines to stay current with us.
Anyway, enough focus on machines, clearly I have been watching too much of Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles lately!
Coming back to my original point, I am endeavouring to dip my hands creatively into as many different tasks as possible for instance, one to save for a later post, binding my own books. When you take a look at a book bind it is rather simple, and for a machine to do it nowadays means that for quite a long time before that it was done manually – more on that at another time.
This latest spir of creativity is in the form of invitation cards, more specifically wedding invitation cards. Since my sister is getting married in seven months time, and with the wedding dress sorted, along with venue bookings and cake design, attention has finally fallen to the wedding invitations. I had always assumed that wedding invitations were personally created by the bride and groom, a somewhat rite of passage in the whole wedding process, surprisingly though I discovered a lot of companies offering the service of doing the invitations for you. Although the designs of these ‘professionals’ were, well, quite professional in appearance, the materials involved were all off the shelf products at your local Wedding Stationery store, and with my sister actually considering outsourcing her invitations to the Bridal company that she bought her wedding dress from, the cocky British voice of Jeremy Clarkson echoed through my mind – how hard can it be? With that thought, I raided the local Wedding Stationery shop for no more than $30 worth of supplies, about four different coloured and textured cards, some paper, stickers and design-routed scissors and just as in TopGear, ‘queued the music’.
Although merely a first attempt, the seven designs I knocked together in a matter of hours indicates that not only can anyone do it themselves, but still achieve a quality finish, for a fraction of the price. Sure there is a learning curve involved, but where is the fun if everything in life is handed out to you on a platter?