So many things…

Last week was our all company meetup in Park City, Utah. We rarely had more than a couple of minutes pause throughout the entire seven-day get-together. We spent the time working, eating, and having fun (not so much sleeping). As a distributed company, we don’t normally have much time to “rag-chew” or “shoot-the-breeze.” It seems kind of crazy that we could be “busy” having fun together, but this is the time in which we build the relationships that make our teams work. It’s pretty valuable to get to know the people you interact with and these meetups foster good communication.

Four hundred of us came from all over; some had traveled over thirty hours jumping through airports and over oceans. I was thankful to hangout with friends I’ve made over the past year and a half and glad to meet new ones. I’m really surrounded by amazing people at Automattic. We’ve got such an incredible mix of people from various background and interests and skills and it’s pretty unbelievable to cram all that together in one place.

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My attempt at rocking the cowbell with my coworkers – Team Simperium

Now that I’m back in the United States, my team stays in pretty good contact due to timezones overlapping – we hail from Buenos Aires, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tucson. That’s it for now though as we won’t see each other again until next year.

This year at the meetup was a bit busier than last year for me because I was leading a project group and we had to come up with something and demonstrate it at the end of the week. We made some tools to make making tools easier for developers. Programming for programmers to make programming easier. Anyway, long story short we were helping make it easier to write better code and evaluate the quality of code different developers submit day in and day out.

When I did finally get some free time I took to the skies! Actually, I took my camera out to shoot the skies, but it sounds better that way. I also had the chance to tag along on a photo tour through the Albion Basin with a professional photographer guide.

Throughout the week we fed on nutrition, coffee, and adrenaline. I probably tallied an average of three and a half hours of sleep each night and totally hit it hard when I returned to Tucson. I was out and a little bit under the weather, but a few good nights of sleep restored me (for more adventurous fun at an educational hackathon). It’s pretty amazing the kind of tradeoffs we can make (for a short bit of time). Oh yeah, and watch out for those Automattic parties – we’re a rowdy bunch!

Clicky Steve put together an excellent photo journal of the week on his blog, all my friends are jpegs.

Functional PHP

A technical post for those interested in “Functional Programming” and PHP

Fluffy and Flakey

Over the course of the past week, I had a chance to write some brand new PHP code and I took the opportunity to try writing in a (mostly) purely functional style. The experience turned out to be very pleasant and definitely helped us to accomplish our goals as we figured out the details and changes the project needed.

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Rightness. Equality. Transparency.

Volkswagon just admitted they did something very bad. They rigged their engines to cheat on emissions tests and to disable completely in real driving situations. This is so bad on so many levels because it took so much premeditation. Here’s the gist of it:

If the car detected that the steering wheel wasn’t rotating, that the outside temperature and pressure wasn’t changing, and that the engine has been running in certain atypical driving conditions, it would clamp down on the emissions controls to make sure they operated at peak performance.

Unfortunately, these emissions controls must have made the driving experience so much worse that they realized it would kill the marketability of the vehicles. Regardless, the company choose to disable the emissions controls by default and only turn them on when the car detects that it’s being tested. This gave it more punch on the road. What was the effect? Emissions over forty times higher than legally allowed.

No one even tried to discover this. A research team noticed during unrelated testing that the emissions seemed different in the lab verses on the road.

Whatever their CEO might say about this being the cause of a few employees, as a software developer I can’t buy it. First of all, someone on some testing team must have discovered that the car wasn’t peppy enough. Correspondence with engineering teams must have revealed the source of the problem as the emissions system. At this point, the matter must have been investigated but found to be unresolvable with the current implementation. The matter would have probably been brought up with a higher-up product manager, who brought it up even higher, then somewhere along the lines came the suggestion to cheat the tests.

It couldn’t have ended there though. Some team would have had to brainstorm ways to do this, a software team would have been formed. They would have researched models for detecting emissions test conditions, and then would have had to spend time with testing departments to field-test their predictions. In the end, the code would have passed several levels of code review and acceptance.

There’s no end to the culpability here and so many people who could have blown the whistle, but nobody did. Another New York Times author made a good connection between this deceit and the importance of open-source software in critical systems like these. The code hiding the deception was veiled behind intellectual property laws and off-limits to third party audits.

On one final note, to get a little political or controversial, I wonder how big of a deal this will actually become at large. There are about eleven million affected cars out there and they were the product of a company intentionally hoodwinking the public in order to protect their profits. I’ve often heard people throw a stink about immigrants coming up from Mexico on the sole grounds that what they are doing is illegal: it doesn’t matter why, even if the migration stems from a deep-seated and very valid desire to protect one’s family from the imposing threat of the drug war. The clincher is that the actual act of crossing the border was an illegal act and thus the families should go back. Does this ideal transfer to situations like this one with Volkswagon? Will it drive up people’s blood pressure to hear about another car cheating on the emissions exam?

Shake Reduction

Fluffy and Flakey

Blur reduction is the next step in improving my astrophography. In fact, I’ve spent lots of time reading and researching blue reduction techniques. With most of what I do, the camera is actually in focus, but the distortions in the lens distort the picture in ways related to the shape of the glass.

Although not directly applicable, I tried out Photoshop‘s shake reduction tool which implements a similar method of deblurring – iterative deconvolution based on inferring a blur kernel from the image. A friend sent me the following test image, taken while on the road and providing plenty of motion blur to eliminate.

You can click on the photos to enlarge them. I’ve also been wanting to get more familiar with ImageMagick‘s tools for similar problems. Specifically we can use Fred’s deconvolution script to perform a non-iterative deconvolution of a source image and a given filter, or…

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The first shot is Dublin was enough to get me excited, but take away that moist ocean air and replace it with a dry desert sky and things really start to shape up. Here’s my second attempt at capturing the Milky Way and the first one I consider successful. May many more follow with even more breathtaking views into our amazing home in the universe.

Snell Family Photos

My first successful shot of the Milky Way, just an hour and a half west of Tucson at the base of Kitt Peak. After about three hours and about three hundred source images, this appears to be the only one that came out – a composition of thirty-two twelve-second exposures on ISO6400 at f/4.5.

My last attempt in Dublin gave me high expectations, but I was using my “nifty fifty” which opens up all the way to f/1.8 and really screams for a little lens. It’s hard to beat the wide-angle view though that my 10-18mm provides.

Desert astrophotography is great: 80º in the middle of the night, 48% relative humidity, and an amazing sky. It was easy to see the Milky Way with unaided eyesight, but it was nothing more than a cloudy white streak across the horizon above. The ground illumination came purely from our own galaxy while…

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Megapixel Munching

What’s the difference between the “M” and “L” setting on my camera? What’s the difference in the final image between the 10 megapixel and 20 megapixel settings?

Fluffy and Flakey

A friend recently sent me some test pictures from his new Canon PowerShot SX710. He was comparing the quality settings and sending me the results. Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to dig in myself.

These are the originals scaled down for viewing on the web. We will use some 100% crops of these for comparison. The first thing I want to do, however, is get the images out of JPEG where subsequent saves will lose information.

Then we make the crops. Since we’re only dealing with two images, I manually found the crop coordinates by visually matching features in Photoshop. Note that I resized the smaller crop to match the larger one and did so after the crop command for ImageMagick.

These were all shot at the same aperture, ISO setting, and exposure length and there’s not too much difference between the shots. The higher-quality and…

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Last night’s fierce storms were a great opportunity to try and capture some lightning. Unfortunately, for the most part the clouds were so thick that all I saw was a strobe-like effect on a huge gray mass, but every once in a while a good photo came through.

Snell Family Photos

I enjoy seeing the world in a different light. Colors during the day are so washed out from the sun that we miss out on much of the beauty of the objects we see. They take on a different hue at nighttime and in different lighting.

Here the house is illuminated from the side and you can see specular reflections on the roofs and the siding. The grass is green and well lit while other parts of the scene are darker. Things that are normally bright aren’t. It reminds me of the shot I took of the Stephansdom in Vienna where the shadows extend upward towards the peak of the roof instead of downward towards the ground.

More Adventuring-043The framing also worked out well with the lightning. It’s not a bolt discharging the cloud, it’s a web of tentacles reaching across the field of view towards the home, reaching out and…

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Last moments in Berlin

just sitting here
woke up early
a restful night
long journey ahead

bright moon in the morning light

nothing special
nothing outlandish
just berlin
just me

residents in daily berlin life

i wish the kleines frühstück
were available right now
but starbucks will have to do
it is a good day in berlin

so long berlin

Mobile Wi-Fi Power Tools

Traveling with a Mac? Maybe you will find these commands handy when trying to manage the jungle of public WiFi.

Fluffy and Flakey

As a digital nomad I find myself trying to work among a plethora of WiFi arrangements and issues. One of the most common frustrations is the act of connecting/reconnecting to a network, and had I taken the time a year ago to develop the following scripts, I would have more than made up for the spent time. Nonetheless, the inspiration and know-how only came after a time of brushing up my BASH-fu while reading man bash.

These snippets should be saved in ~/.bash_profile or ~/.bashrc depending on your setup.

Problem 1: Randomize MAC address

Although programs exist to do this for you, none are required. I’ve been manually running it from the terminal and making up the numbers on the fly, but a more automated and more random solution is better.

Running macr from the command line will immediately prompt your for your password (if not already cached) and…

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Painting the Sky

First I wrote about the personal experience for my photographic expedition in Ireland, but here I’m adding a technical howto on transforming bland images into the awesome.

Fluffy and Flakey

In part one of this series on noise and computational photography, I wrote about some of the basics of what we can do with software-enhanced imaging. Now that I have a host of new source images of the night sky from the edge of Ireland it’s time to start processing them and see what we can get in practice.

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