Archive for November, 2007

Luke on Pidgin

Friday, November 30th, 2007

No, that title is not some sort-of bizarre bird rodeo reference, but refers to an interview with my cousin Luke about his participation in the Pidgin universal-open-source instant message client (previously known as gaim). He discussed the development of the client and open source development in general. Congrats on the interview Luke!

The article in ComputerWorld is available without registration.

The article is a month and a half old, but I just found it in a random Google search the other day.

Hybrid Cost Tradeoff

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

So I’ve been starting the quest to buy a new car and one of the technologies I’ve been looking at is Gas-Electric Hybrids. Some time back I did a little cost benefit analysis on the Civic Hybrid and determined that from a purely personal budget economic point of view, it just doesn’t make any sense. Note that I have not attempted to include the intangible global economic benefits due to lowering the impact on the environment. I’m also not including the likely increased cost of ownership of the more mechanically complex Hybrid engine package.

The bottom line, I think, is that most people don’t look much further than their bank account when thinking ‘green’. Until the economy of scale (or the appropriate incentives) can make ‘green’ visibly beneficial to the pocketbook… Don’t get me wrong, if you keep the car long enough, you’ll probably break even, or even end up a few thousand bucks ahead over the life of the car. Most people, however, won’t.

Anyhow, here’s the basic math:

A Flurry of Photos!

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Between portraits at Thanksgiving and some Christmas inspired photo shoots, we’ve generated a whole bunch of new pictures on the gallery.

K, Nate and I went to her Aunt and Uncle’s house near Albany, NY, for Thanksgiving dinner. With the whole Clan there, we used it as an excuse to take some family portraits. I won’t claim that these look like they came from a studio, but they’re much better than the typical “let’s jam around a couch” type family shots. View the whole Thanksgiving album, or go straight to one of the images below.

The Davis/Doucette Clan:
The Clan

The Grandkids and Great-Grandkids:
The Grandkids and Great-Grandkids

We also took a bunch of shots of Nate in one of his Christmas/wintery outfits (thanks Grammie). He’s not likely to be able to fit it a month from now. Although technically we took them yesterday, we put them in the new 7th month album since Christmas is more seventh month than sixth. See last post for the growth chart pic! K was inspired by a shot she saw on one of her scrapbooking forums of a mostly naked baby playing with lights. We modulated slightly to something I think looks a bit more festive. Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Nate and Christmas Lights
Nate and Christmas Lights
Nate and Christmas Lights

Don’t worry Mom… we didn’t let him chew on the lights.

6 months… and you know what that means!

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

It’s growth chart picture time!

We had trouble getting the bear to stay in frame with Nate moving all over. Her sits up just fine, but those arms just won’t stand still long enough for old bear.
6 Months Old

17P/Holmes now Fading…

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

This image certainly doesn’t do it justice, with the fog and waxing 3/4 moon last night, but it is fading as the debris field spreads.
17P/Holmes, 21 November 2007

This image is considerably more processed than the others I’ve posted because of the relatively high level of moon-glow in the background. I stretched the contrast (the brightness ‘curves’ for the imaging folks) pretty significantly to keep the background dark while enhancing the comet itself.

The bright star is Mirfak, alpha Persei, at magnitude 1.82. Monday night, when it was cloudy here, the comet was actually visually overlaid onto the star. I’m sort-of curious whether anybody did any spectral analysis of the cometary debris with such a nice bright spectral source shining through the field.

The fall of Fall

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Some of you who have visited in the last month are aware that I’ve been shooting images for an extended time lapse video. The subject was the maple tree in our front yard through the month of October. I was hoping to capture the entire transition to winter, but unfortunately the computer capturing the images had some kind of crash. By the time I noticed, several days had gone by, irrevocably breaking the chain.

So I give to you two videos which end at the climax of fall color, rather than the true start of winter as I hoped. The first is images taken 15 minutes apart and displayed at 15 frames per second (time compression of 13500x) . I removed the night shots, so each day will transition from sunrise to sunset in about 10 to 12 seconds. This video shows a rather nice demonstration of how much a tree actually moves due to wind, rain, and yes… fog.

Movie one [80.2 MB]

The second uses the same images as the first, but only the image taken at 2PM each day. The images do a sort-of cross-fade transition, so it gives the illusion that a day has passed. This video transitions each day in about 1 second, so almost a month goes by in less than 30 seconds.

Movie two [28.9 MB]

17P/Holmes As Big as the Moon!

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Well actually, the visible debris field is much larger than Jupiter, but this image shows that it is visually as large as the moon. The full moon subtends almost exactly 1/2 degree of the sky. The inner orange circle (overlay from HNSKY*) is also 0.5 degrees.

How cool is that? From a little speck of space debris to a cloud of debris that’s this huge in about 2 weeks.

17P/Holmes, 13 November 2007

Excuse the wiggles in the long exposure (seen on the brighter stars), my setup was a bit weak tonight because all of the neighbors had their porch lights on. I was forced into a pretty non-optimal location for placing the tripod. The jiggle is probably mostly due to the shutter opening and closing causing the camera to move. This is a 10 second exposure at f/2.8, 200mm, 1600 ISO.

* HNSKY is a fairly powerful, but somewhat clunky free home sky/planetarium software. If it had a bit more intuitive user interface this program would rock. It is highly expandable though and it’s pretty hard to complain for the price.

Free Rice.

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Tip of the wooden bowl to my Sis for finding this little Internet site.*

Free Rice is a sort-of vocabulary game where every correct answer causes 10 grains of rice to be donated to food charities world wide. The sponsor adds at the bottom of the page are funding the donations.

My Sis has crazy vocabulary powers and managed to reach a score of 47. My engineering brain topped out at 44, but generally hung around at about 40.

Being the wacko I am, I clicked the first answer repeatedly until I could drive it down into the really easy words…. it bottoms out at 1.

* All credit to the Bad Astronomer for the “Tip of the [appropriate object]” language.


Thursday, November 8th, 2007

It’s that time again. Today was officially my first drive home in the snow this season. Not enough to be slippery or dangerous, just a fluffy falling reminder that fall is truly over.


This is rather depressing, it is made worse by the daylight savings time change, since it is now dark at 5PM. Even a reasonable departure from work puts the whole drive home in the dark of night.


What camera should I get? Last Thoughts.

Monday, November 5th, 2007

So after all of that, if you actually want me to narrow it down to a few choices, I give you the following. Again, I’m only selecting from the Canon line because I simply don’t have enough experience with the competitors.

Unless you have some particular need to get an ultra-miniature, I pretty much don’t recommend them.

“Normal” point and shoot digital cameras
K’s folks have the A400, which is an earlier model of the A460. When I asked about how they liked their camera, K’s Dad was pretty positive. Enjoying many of those features that make digital cameras so easy to own and operate. If you’re not worried about taking masterpiece images, and you want a portable camera that can fit in a large pocket, I recommend the A460 ($120*). If you want a bit more control, higher resolution and a bit larger light gathering ability, consider the A630, a later model A600 series camera ($235). The newer models (A640 and A650) are so expensive, that you would be better off considering the next line up, the S series.

Canon recently came out with the S5 IS ($350) to replace the very popular S3 IS ($270). IS refers to “Image Stabilization”, a feature which removes camera shake to allow shooting with slower shutter speeds. These cameras sport 12x optical zooms, which will really get you up close and personal. This is the class I would recommend for most users who aren’t afraid of a $300 price tag. These cameras pay for their zoom lens with a bit more weight and bit more bulk, but they are great performers. I had an opportunity to try out an earlier S-series (I think it was the S2) and it felt like a ‘real’ camera. These cameras can be battery hogs, so I always recommend buying some rechargeable NiMH AA batteries as your first accessory. If I were buying in this class today, well, I’d probably recommend the S5. It’s a higher resolution camera (which may actually push a bit beyond the limits of the optics) and has a bigger LCD, which drains the batteries a bit harder. Both take 4-AA batteries. They also use an electronic viewfinder (a mini-LCD behind the eyepiece lens), which you should try out to see if you like it. The S5 also has a flash shoe for a large external flash. Anyhow, only you can decide whether the extra $80 is worth it to you.

If you’re serious about your photography, or you already have a Canon EOS film camera, consider a digital SLR. The digital Rebel Xt (2005 model) body is a steal at $430 if you already own a lens to put on it. You can buy the 2006 model, the Rebel XTi, for $150 more at $585. You get a 10 Mp sensor instead of 8 Mp, a 25% bigger LCD, more focus points and various other features. If cost is not a primary concern, the next line of SLRs is the 30D (2005) for just under $1k and the brand new 40D (2007) at $1.3k. Ok, so you’ve got be committed to pay prices like that, and I pretty much would never recommend these to somebody who’s asking. If you have to ask, you probably ought not pay $1k for a camera body.

So what’s my overall recommendation? This is so tough. If you just want to grab some shots, drop $110 for the A460. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, but don’t have an SLR now, go for the S5 at $350. If you have a Canon EOS film camera, you’re comfortable with it, and don’t mind carrying it around, you’ll probably be quite happy with the Rebel Xt for $430. I’m not sure that I can justify the extra 50% for the XTi body.

Good luck!

* All prices from BuyDig, ZipZoomFly, or Buy.Com just to name a few.