Monday, March 21, 2011

Fuji FinePix x100 - The perfect walk-around camera?

The new (not yet in the US) Fuji x100 camera has enthusiast and professional photographers chomping at the bit. I preordered mine from B&H Photo and I'm dying in anticipation of its arrival. This camera will provide high end SLR quality and control, in a light weight all in one package. There are a few similar options out there, but not one with all these features, such as the hybrid viewfinder, dials for all the manual controls, APS-C (large) sensor, and a classic look which is just gorgeous!

This camera will cost as much as an SLR with similar lens, or even a micro 4/3 with similar lens and viewfinder, so it's no break in price. But if you know what you are doing with a camera, the Fuji x100 is the camera to have when you don't want to look like a pro, or carry the weight of a full SLR kit.

My next best choice is the Olympus E-PL1 or 2 with a Panasonic 20mm 1.7 lens.

I'll post more about it once I get it. My wife took over the E-PL1 I had, but I'm not letting her take this one!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Finally, Block sites in Google search!

Goodbye Experts Exchange!

I hate experts exchange. When looking for an answer to a technical question, I think I finally found a result in google. I click and wham, I didn't bother to see the link was for experts exchange. An annoying search result which wants you to pay to see answers. I have 2 problems with it. 1. I'm finding answers for my job, I'm not going to pay experts exchange for my employer's benefit. 2. I get paid no matter how long it takes me to find an answer.

Now, with google you can click on a search result you don't like, then click the back button and A new link will appear asking if you want to block the site from ALL future results!

BYE BYE Experts Exchange!

Monday, March 14, 2011

2D Light Depth Calculator

Last time I talked about light depth and calculating it in one dimension, now I will add another dimension. The 2d depth calculator I have created lets you handle more complex scenarios and is more visual. The drawing is to scale, but the scale is whatever you want it to be. If you want to use centimeters, then each square represents a centimeter. If you want feet, then each square is a foot (a square foot more accurately). Each solid cintrifical line represents a full stop of light difference from the previous solid line. Dashed lines, available at greater distances represent 1/3 stops. The amount of light loss you are willing to accept from the front of the subject to the back of the subject is up to you.

To use the tool:
Determine an appropriate scale for your subject. ie. Shooting a car or group of people you may want to use feet. Shooting a lego design, you may want to use a lego standard, 1 stud. etc.
Measure your subject in the scale you have chosen. (A lego figure is about 1 stud deep, and 2.5 studs wide)
Using another piece of paper with the same grid on it, cut out your subject based on your measurements.
Place the cutout on top of the lighting calculator and move your subject around to find the perfect distance for your effect.

So if you move your subject real close to the light source, you will notice the front of the subject will be 1 stop brighter than the back. Move your subject back and now your subject bay only have 1/3 stop difference from front to back. But this is a 2D calculator, so you also see where the edges and corners start to drop in light.

Attached is a low res version. It will still work fine. So go ahead and print it full page.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Handling Y-Cam Security Camera files on my FTP server

The y-cam is generating hundreds of files a day. The files are very small (about 65K) but they become a mess to keep organized. To handle this I have developed a solution. It's still a work in progress and is not fully implemented, but here is what it does:

Every night at midnight my Ubuntu server will:
  • Clear a temp folder
  • Move all the pictures to the temp folder
  • Renumber the pictures in sequential order
  • Convert the pictures to an MP4 time lapse video
  • Email the video to my gmail account

I have two cameras so this process will happen for each camera. It takes less than a minute to complete the process. This gets the videos off site (gmail), and keeps the surveillance organized.

As I said, this is a work in progress. I don't actually have the script running automatically. Right now it does everything from end to end, except renumber the pictures. The Y-Cam has an option to automatically number the images sequentially, but it doesn't start over. I had hoped that the y-cam would start over once the folder was cleared.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Security Camera Follow-up

I purchased a y-cam knight. It's just like the y-cam black except it is white. The knight offers Wifi and Cat5 connectivity, night vision with IR leds, web based interface and management, motion detection, automatic sending of pictures to email, ftp, etc, and more. The Y-cam costs about $260 and has an optional outdoor enclosure for $100 more. You can not simply aim this through a window because once the night vision turns on, the camera is blinded by glare.

I created an account on my FTP server which the knight logs into to upload pictures any time it detects movement. This has been working well and it gives me something to look back on.

I also purchased the Axis M101 to do a comparison. In general the axis cameras are more expensive, but they are supposed to be good cameras. However after some testing I have determined the axis is harder to tune as far as motion detection goes and has a worse picture. For the most part, it sends to the FTP server just the same.

Y-cam has also released a new Y-Cam bullet model which is supposedly even better at night, and comes in an outdoor weather proof enclosure. The bullet itself is smaller than the y-cam knight in the outdoor enclosure, but it has a rather thick bundle of cables which you will have a hard time getting through a wall. I have installed one of these at my parents house and it is working well.

What I like most about having cameras is I can check the status of my house at a moments notice via my iphone. I can see if my wife is home, or if the handy man has arrived. I can also sleep easier knowing that if anything happens I have a picture of it.

Next time I will discuss some of the home grown solutions I am putting in place on my FTP server to handle the hundreds of files I am generating daily.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Schlage Link iphone controlled door locks with z-wave

I purchased the Schlage Link locks from Amazon so I can have better control of people with access to the house. Normally I would give the neighbor a key, my sister a key, my mom a key, the repairman, etc. All of these keys and no control of who copies them, who looses them, etc. In addition, even with all of these keys floating around, I still lock myself out.

Schlage makes a few doorlocks with number pads. I originally bought the model from home depot which handles all the situations above. It costs about $100 and you can assign up to 19 four digit codes. Thats about all it will do. The other benefit of this type of lock is once the door is shut, it's locked. There is no forgetting to lock the door or risk of someone trying to follow you in the house.

However I decided if I'm going to spend $100, I may as well go all the way and get better features. Schlage Link Locks operate identically to the lock above. However, the added feature is the locks can join a home automation network using Z-Wave. Schlage trys to sell you their automation solution but it has a $12 monthly cost and it's actually not compatable with all the neat z-wave products available. The product I have found is called Vera by Mi Casa Verde. It's more of an open solution which promises to not force a vendor lock in. You can use the locks without the Vera. Schlage doesn't include the stand-alone programming instructions, but I had a copy of them from the original locks. All the manual programming worked just fine. Then when you get the Vera you can use the automation.

Some of the great features which are possible:
  • Adding and removing codes remotely
  • Unlocking, locking, and checking the status of the doors remotely (The Schlage deadbolt isn't motorized)
  • Getting (email, sms) alerts when certain codes are used.
  • Seeing a history of lock usage (who came in and when)

The Vera supports macros so I have the Vera turn on lights when the code is entered and turn off the lights when I leave or go to bed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Professional Photogaphy Lighting Depth

I have recently been thinking of lighting depth for use in photographing anything from a group of 40 to a shot of a toddler. When shooting an older child, adult, or small group you can get away with just placing the light and exposing. However when shooting a toddler, the risk is the little one will move closer and farther from the light as they squirm and do anything they can to not cooperate. When shooting a large group the issue becomes getting the people in the front and the back exposed the same.

Lighting depth works just like lens apertures, using the inverse square law. Because we are already used to aperture numbers (2,2.8,4,5.6,8,11,16), we can apply the same numbers to our distance calculation. For example. If our light is 4 feet away from the subject and our background is 8 feet away from the light, the background will be 2 stops darker. This is the same as the brightness difference between f4 and f8. If the background was 5.6 feet away it would only be 1 stop darker. Knowing this you realize you can do a bit of calculation in your head.

Something else to consider. Just to point out the relationship here, you can make your background darker by moving the light closer to the subject or by moving your subject closer to the light. If you move the light closer to the subject, it will also get closer to the background, but the background will actually get darker when you've properly exposed the subject.

This can be a bit to think about, so I will leave this here and follow up with my 2D Lighting depth calculator next time. I am going to try to make this available as a download for you to use.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Verizon FIOS default keys are terribly unsecure.

I've suspected for a while that the Verizon FIOS WEP keys and SSID were correlated. The SSID is the ID your wireless router broadcasts out to any device with a Wifi chip. WEP itself is not very secure and can be cracked faster than I can write this, but it does keep the neighbors out and it's something you're not going to typically do on an Iphone.

However, Kyle Anderson took the time to publish the solution to figuring out the default WEP password on every Verizon FIOS router. provides a free tool to automatically do the calculation too. However after reading Kyle's blog about it, the scary thing about the password is it's not some weak cryptography or scrambling which hides this key, its just in another base. So with a base converter app on your Iphone, you can get access to any FIOS internet your Iphone can see.

I tried Base Converter and Calculator Pro for just 99 cents and it worked like a champ. I can convert the SSID into a WEP key in seconds without any specialized tools and access a FIOS default WIFI.

Here is how: (Note, the steps I'm showing are simply a clarification on the sites referenced above. This should only be used to test or demonstrate the weakness in the default configuration of FIOS routers to encourage users to change their security)
  1. Run Base Pro on your iPhone (Click the link above with your iPhone)
  2. Change Base Pro to Base 36 by dragging the slider to the right.
  3. Type in the SSID backwards. ex. “E3X12″ gets typed in as "21X3E"
  4. Click the button at the top that says Hex (Don't drag the slider to Base 16, there is a small bug) ex. 21X3E becomes 349FCA
  5. Append one of these two prefixes to the result: 1801 or 1F90. ex Try 1801349FCA or 1F90349FCA.
  6. Try both keys to see which one works. (You can determine which key to use with more work, but its easier to just try them.)

That's it. A few easy steps with nothing more than a Base Calculator and you can determine the default FIOS WEP key with your phone.