Monday, October 27, 2008

Neodymium bulbs sacrifice colour rendering index and aren't full-spectrum or like daylight or sunlight

I thought that neodymium glass light bulbs (like GE Reveal or Sylvania Daylight Plus) just tweaked the spectrum a bit. Today I ran across a post which said their spectrum is irregular and they have a pretty low colour rendering index (CRI) of about 70. Since that's just one post on a message board, I did a bit of research. I found the same issue mentioned in other sources such as a PDF on Colour Rendering Index and LEDs and a page talking about the disadvantages of full-spectrum light sources. The latter lists the CRI of a 60W GE Reveal A-lamp as 78. (Note that fluorescents generally have a higher CRI!) Another page claims "Reveal© bulbs produce CRIs in the neighborhood of 92-93" and shows a graph comparing spectra. In the graph you can see the sharp dip in the yellow region. Neigher the spectrum of the neodymium glass bulb or the normal incandescent bulb is at all like sunlight or daylight (for example, there's this graph from an article on light sources). Neither daylight nor sunlight have a sharp dip in yellow, and both have considerably less red than neodymium bulbs.


Yes, 10 conductor RJ45 connectors do exist. They're called RJ45-10. Among other things, they're used to connect monitoring cables to APC uninterruptible power supplies. The same connector is used for simple (dumb) level based signals, serial (smart) communication and USB. According to APC, this particular UPS only supports USB, and they still fail to use a standard USB connector.

So, here's how I made an RJ45-10 from an RJ45-8. The metal for the side connections is from an RJ45 jack. Behind the connector you see a temporary connection to a USB cable.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

DragDropUpload 1.6.8 slows down Firefox extremely on some pages

DragDropUpload is a Firefox extension which allows files to be dragged into form fields instead of using the Browse button. I think that's how file uploads should work; the Browse button is ridiculous.

Version 1.6.8 slows down Firefox to the point of unusability on some sites. Replacing dragdropupload.jar (in the corresponding extension directiory in the profile) with the one from 1.6.7 seems to fix this problem. (Yes, this means 1.6.7 is installed but Firefox thinks 1.6.8 is installed. It's exactly what I want. I don't want to be nagged to upgrade to 1.6.8.)

I set up outbound firewall filters in Vista

A recent Lifehacker article on firewalls inspired me to set up outbound firewalling. By default, the Vista firewall does not block outgoing connections. However, the Vista firewall can handle both incoming and outgoing connections.

It's quite easy to configure. You can find "Windows Firewall with Advanced Security" in "Administrative Tools" in the start menu. (I usually just type a part of the name instead of using folders.) This runs a management console for configuring the firewall.

By default, anything outgoing is permitted unless blocked by a rule, and there are no blocking rules. If you had something you wanted to block you could create an outbound rule, but if you want to control outbound communication, you should probably set up the firewall to block anything which doesn't match a rule. If you select "Windows Firewall with Advanced Security" in the left pane, you will see the current setup. A "Windows Firewall Properties" link allows you to change settings. You should change settings for all three profiles (Domain, Private and Public).

The firewall comes with some outbound rules which permit some communication, but these are definitely not sufficient. For example, even Internet Explorer and Windows Update are blocked. It's easy to create new rules which permit particular programs. If you create a custom rule, you can even define which services running under that program are allowed to communicate. For example, if you create a rule for %SystemRoot%\system32\svchost.exe and specify the "Windows Update" service, that will not permit any other service to communicate.

There is one very obvious thing missing: a dialog which tells you when some program is initiating outbound communication and allows you to permit, block or create a rule for that communication. However, so far this has not been a problem for me. In a few cases it might be tricky to find what program needs to be permitted. For example Spybot Search & Destroy uses SDUpdate.exe for updates and to allow ping and tracert to work you need to permit those things to System. However, finding this wasn't hard for me.

There are plenty of firewall applications for Windows, and several are even free. It's just nice to see that I don't even need a firewall application. I'm impressed with what Microsoft. This is another example of how Vista is better than XP.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The best virus scanner, for free

When I looked at information about virus scanners at sites like AV-Comparatives, I came to the conclusion that Kaspersky Anti-Virus is best. The scanner part (without realtime protection) is available for free at The interface seems to be a Java applet, but the scanning part seems to use a downloaded executable and downloaded Kaspersky extended signatures.

In Firefox 3.0.3 it couldn't detect Java (even though it Java is installed and functional), but it woked fine in Internet Explorer 7.0. That's fine for me because in Vista the browser must be run as Administrator, and I don't want to run the browser I use for web browsing (Firefox) as Administrator. It allows scanning of critical areas, the whole system or particular folders, and it seems reasonably fast.

Signature based detection of malware isn't a perfect solution, but this is the best scanner. I feel it's definitely good enough for occasional checkups. Note that if you have a file which you actually think might be suspicious, you're better off using one of the web sites which scan it using multiple scanners, like VirusTotal or Jotti's malware scan, and even those aren't guaranteed to catch everything.

I'm abandoning my account

When I first read about, I thought it's such a great idea. I enthusiastically joined. I convinced friends to join, and I fixed a Rockbox bug so I could submit tracks from my portable music player.

However, wasn't actually useful to me. I was finding new music from a variety of sources, and wasn't one of them. seemed better regarding social interaction; for example the way journal entries can be connected to music is cool. But for the most part I could have just posted on my blog instead.

Part of the reason why wasn't useful might be that what I played often might not accurately depict what I really like. I'll have to think about this idea some more.

So, I'm going to stop submitting to and I'm going to erase my scrobbled data. I don't feel like deleting my account yet however. That feels too irreversible for now, and I have some journal entries here which aren't duplicated elsewhere.

If I post more about music I listen to, that will be on my blog here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some wisdom from Douglas Adams

This seems like a good day for some wisdom from Douglas Adams:

"It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see...."
"You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?"
"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."
"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."
"I did," said Ford. "It is."
"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't the people get rid of the lizards?"
"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've got all the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."
"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"
"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."
"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"
"Because if they don't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"

That's from the start of Chapter 36 of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. It's a great book. All of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books are great. I highly recommend them and other works by Douglas Adams.

So okay, it's not really that bad and the leaders aren't actually lizards (no matter what David Icke might say). However, it's worth noting that the lizards I know wouldn't object to microscopic patterns of charge, magnetism, dye or texture. They might object to some plants, but they probably wouldn't object that violently. Oh, and they certainly don't have wars.

So, make sure you choose one today so the wrong ones don't get in.

C-770 won't turn off, probably due to switch

My Olympus C-770 camera worked fine today but after downloading the photos I wasn't able to turn it off. Normally it stayed in playback mode, but if I very quickly moved from still image or video camera modes to off, the camera would stay in that mode. After resetting it and taking the battery out and moving the switch around the problem remained.

I decided that it was probably a problem with the switch so I took the back off. This was fairly straightforward. Some screws are behind the battery and cable doors. At the hot shoe, removing one screw releases the springy metal part, revealing four more screws which release the thick metal part, revealing one screw holding the back. There were two ribbon cables and one two wire cable, which were easy to disconnect.

Upon inspection, everything seemed fine around the switch, so I decided to disassemble the switch. This required removing two screws in the vicinity of the switch, bending it back, prying off the grey part one operates, bending four tabs holding the metal body of the switch and removing the black plastic part of the switch. This revealed that the switch was basically a set of four pairs of carbon covered areas on a flexible circuit board. The plastic part which moves has small metal part with two springy leaves which bridge these pairs of carbon covered areas. This sucks. It's ridiculously cheap and it's bound to wear out and fail. Also, I found others who experienced the same problem:

I'm now wondering how to fix this... unswitch. I wonder what sort of repair will last. I guess I'll do some research on the topic tomorrow.

[ Also posted to Olympus-C730-c740-c750 Yahoo Group ]

Update 1: I assumed a pad wore out or was dirty. (I probably shouldn't have assumed that, considering the off position stopped working suddenly and never worked again.) The pad seems fine. It's just not connected to the circuit board connector. I think the break may be at the worn line below the contact pads. (This must be what the moving part of the switch slides on. There is also another somewhat less worn line above the pads.) I guess some conductive glue could fix this, but would it stand the sliding? I've also contacted Olympus asking for a replacement button circuit board.

Update 2: It's now clear what happened. The outer plastic part of the switch (the part you touch) slides on the circuit board on two rather sharp edges (top and bottom). The trace leading to the bottom left pad is the thinnest of all traces going under these edges, and so it was cut. Still no response from Olympus.

Update 3: I got a response from the e-mail I sent to It's a long and useless message about how they recommend that their cameras only be serviced at authorized service centres and how they only sell very few user replaceable parts. I'll try calling them at 1 800 201 7766 next. I guess I'll attempt repairing the break with an automotive rear window defroster repair kit.

Update 4: Calling Olympus was an irritating waste of time. They refuse to sell the part, saying that they want cameras repaired at authorized service centres, or saying that their legal department doesn't let them sell parts for liability reasons.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Extreme closeups using my webcam

Here are some extreme closeups taken using my webcam, an Intel PC Camera Pro. This is closer than it can normally focus; I had opened the case so the lens could be unscrewed further (and farther lens means closer focus). These images were taken quite a while ago. I just ran across them and though I should share the best ones.
Motorola MC68705P3S microcontroller:
A microwaved CD from the perfect angle:
CRT monitor (displaying a Linux icon in Windows):
A shirt:
An chip from an old video card:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why I won't call myself an atheist.

Yesterday, a blog post about two possible definitions of atheism became quite popular on Digg. I didn't like the tone of the post because it seemed to attack agnosticism a bit. However, I was intrigued by the two definitions of atheism:
  1. An atheist believes that God does not exist.
  2. An atheist does not believe that God exists.
I always thought atheism meant the first thing. That seemed to me how people portrayed it. To me the stereotypical atheist view is that science explains everything and so there's no need for religion. I cannot agree with that because science has a big gaping hole in understanding of consciousness. (Yes, some claim to explain it scientifically, but they only gloss over it, at best only hypothesizing about related physical phenomena while claiming they have an answer about consciousness.) That hole in scientific understanding is sufficiently large and of such a nature that it doesn't seem that current science can even approach it and one cannot rule out some sort of religion-like explanation. At the same time, religion often seems ridiculous, so I can't say I believe that either. So, I say I don't know and I call myself agnostic.

I can't say I object very much to applying the second definition to myself. My main objection is that it seems to be biased toward the belief that God doesn't exist while I'm saying I simply don't know. Actually, I'm pretty sure God doesn't exist as portrayed by religions I know about. There, "does not believe" is entirely appropriate. It just does not seem to be appropriate considering the idea of God in general. (Note that my idea of what the possible nature of God might be is quite broad. God might even be something I cannot imagine.)

Then there's the issue of a term having multiple meanings. I wouldn't want to say I am an atheist using meaning two and then have it misinterpreted as meaning one.

EDIT: Oh, and what about religion which doesn't involve God or deities? Neither definition addresses belief in such religions, and such religions do exist. The core of Buddhism doesn't seem to include deities.

Taking religion literally is insane

To demonstrate why I reject religion, I am going to talk about one example: the story of Noah and the Flood.

In that story God floods the Earth and kills all people except Noah and his family. The flood presumably also kills all the land animals except the ones Noah takes in his Ark.

This story is almost celebrated. There are cute pictures of the ark and animals for kids and there are even children's books based on it. It might seem cute until you consider the death and destruction which is conveniently ignored. It's actually like having cute pictures showing how wonderful the Holocaust was.

Supposedly all of the people that got killed were wicked. That's hard to believe. Does it mean even children and newborns were evil? What about the whole killing aspect? Most people seem to be okay with punishing evil, but did they all really deserve the death penalty? Oh, and what about the animals? Drowning animals is cruelty. Why did they deserve it? Surely an omnipotent being can be more selective in its wrath.

Then there's the impossibility of the whole thing. Consider all the species of land animals, the way some only live in remote regions, and the way some require very specific food. Consider how many employees a zoo needs, and many more animals the ark would have. Okay, that could be resolved with divine assistance. A more serious problem is that a global flood would leave some unmistakable traces for geologists and archaeologists. I don't mean what some say are traces, because those couldn't possibly be from such a recent flood and they're not worldwide. The Bible didn't say anything about God hiding the evidence.

After the flood, God said he wouldn't do it again, which may seem nice, except that he's apparently still free to hurt people and end the world in any other way. For an example, read Revelations.

If it seemed like the flood happened, I might conclude that God was messing with people as evolutionary algorithms. However, considering the lack of evidence that it happened there is one very satisfying answer: it's fiction and metaphor.

Free will is paradoxical

Free will seems quite obvious intuitively. However, it also seems impossible.

If the brain is a bunch of matter and energy following the laws of physics, how can there be any free will? People are then just machines, like computers.

There is a simple way out of that: you could claim there's something else (eg. a soul) affecting the brain. However, the same fundamental problem remains regarding whatever is in control. If there are a bunch of deterministic processes involved, it's a machine. If it's not deterministic then it's randomness, not freedom. If something is manipulating the probabilities, then consider the processes involved in that. It's again the same problem.

It doesn't seem like any kind of process science knows about would resolve this. There would have to be some weird intentionality force in control, whose properties I cannot imagine. Now suppose this magic free will force does something. What caused it to do that? Again, the same sort of problem can arise.

Another way to look at it is that free will supposedly cuts the chain of causation. Events are generally consequences of other events, but free will events are supposedly caused by a being with free will and not a part of the overall chain of consequences. That doesn't even seem true; actions by people do seem to be related to causes. Yes, it's possible to stop a cause from leading to action or redirect it, but that's really only due to another cause. Oh, and choosing between causes is also due to causes. Once again there is a risk of infinite regress.

Based on all of this it seems like free will is probably an illusion. I can't say that's certain, but based on science it certainly seems far more probable than that free will exists. Yet from my own point of view, it seems so obvious free will exists, and the idea that it doesn't exist seems unacceptable. A world without free will would be like a movie, either entirely deterministic or with random elements, except that I'm watching the movie as a character in it and I constantly have a delusional perception that there is free will. I hope that's not the way reality is.

The core mystery about this universe

Consciousness is a key part of human life. You're not just a machine consisting of matter following the laws of physics; you also experience things. This gets taken for granted, but it actually seems inexplicable. It seems like the core mystery about this universe. It's the reason I'm not an atheist.

The problem is quite simple. We know there's consciousness because we experience it. Science tells us about the nature of matter, energy and physical laws. We know nothing about the connection between consciousness and physics.

I can think of many unanswered questions about human consciousness. Why does a person have a point of view? How is continuity maintained as atoms and even cells are replaced? Why is consciousness linked to the brain only? Why does consciousness stay linked to one particular brain and body? Why is there only one consciousness linked to one brain and body? How does consciousness arise as a new person is formed? What happens to consciousness when a person dies?

Then there's also the question of what is conscious. I know I am conscious, but I can't even prove that other people are conscious. There seems to be no way to prove or disprove that something is conscious. For example, you cannot prove that a rock isn't conscious. However, if it was conscious, what would it be conscious of? Humans have structures which take input, process information and give outputs. Rocks don't have the same sort of thing. What about a computer? It can certainly have capable structures for input, information processing and output. However, the nature of information processing is typically quite different from humans. For example, one cannot really say a computer sees if it takes information from a webcam and compresses and records video. What about a single cell, what could its consciousness be like?

Then there's the question of how consciousness arises. Is an egg cell conscious? Is a sperm conscious? If they were, how did that arise? They come from a bodies which were aware of one consciousness relating to their brains. What happens when the two merge? How is the result conscious while there aren't even any nerve cells in it? You could also ask the question about physical objects. When a stone is quarried or when a brick is made, how can that get its own consciousness? What about if you break a stone in two? What about when it's put into a building?

The question of what happens when a person dies seems to be the only question that's routinely considered. However, it seems like all the effort put into answering this question just leads to myths and theories, and there are no real answers.

Another issue relating to consciousness is free will. It's often taken for granted, but it's actually quite paradoxical. A human is a bunch of matter and energy. There are various physical laws which explain how matter and energy functions. Where is the free will there? It seems like free will could only exist if something else was influencing this bunch of matter and energy. It wouldn't necessarily have to break the laws of physics; maybe it could just affect probability. So far, it doesn't seem like there's any evidence of something like this happening. (Free will is paradoxical even if it does this, but that's probably outside the scope of this post.)

So, there are a lot of questions about consciousness, and there aren't really any answers. Many people claim to give answers. Some talk about myths, some talk about information processing, some invent new myths, and so on. It doesn't seem like there's any credible and sufficient answer.

I have some ideas about how consciousness might work. The brain might just be a sort of antenna, connecting with something which we cannot see. Alternatively, maybe this reality is made of consciousness and matter is only something secondary, like a fractal decoration. This second theory seems more appealing but I can't say I know enough to conclude that it is true. All I really know is that I don't know and that I currently cannot understand this universe.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Religulous was fun and worthwhile

Bill Maher's Religulous was a lot of fun. It was a great way to get some enjoyment from the many ridiculous stupidities in religion. Ordinarily, some things about religion seem upsetting, but Bill Maher was great at presenting it as comedy. I laughed more than when watching comedy movies with a fictional plot.

I don't think the movie was very good as a documentary however. It seemed to show some bias regarding particular religions. Bill Maher criticized Catholicism but the two Catholic priests he talked to seemed to be the most reasonable of all the people interviewed. He also seemed to leave Judaism alone for the most part, and he seemed biased against Palestinians and maybe Islam. Oh, and he neglected all the eastern religions, but I hear that was intentional because it would have been too much to fit into one movie.

I'm not sure I learned anything from the movie. However, it was a lot of fun and I think it helped me overcome respect I had for religion. Overcoming respect for religion is important. If you view religion as something better than other insane ramblings, you're still a bit religious.

I strongly recommend the movie to everyone.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Photosynth seems promising with video

Earlier, Photosynth disappointed me. Today I tried it using video and I'm more happy with the results.

I chose my 8 mm analog video camera (Sony CCD-TR96) as the source because I thought it would offer most suitable candidates. I searched through quite a bit of video, seeking an especially good candidate so I could test this idea without wondering whether a failure was due to the particular scene. I wanted something without nearby people or water, without obstructions and with a fairly straightforward geometry that is nevertheless more than just one panorama. Eventually I decided to try it using video taken at the mountain fortress of Klis in Croatia.

I captured the entire segment at 8 FPS through the video input of my Intel PC Camera Pro webcam using VirtualDub. Then I cut out some parts which I didn't feel were appropriate for Photosynth (scenes of people, low quality zooms of Split, frames with a date overlay and a few other small bits), cropped noisy edges and saved the result as an image sequence.

I ended up with 555 images. I thought about cutting down that number by decimating the frame rate, but it was all only 16.4 MB so I decided not to. Photosynth warned me that there may be problems if I try to synth more than 300 images, but I ignored the warning because of the overall size. Matching took a long time, sometimes using all four cores, but it wasn't too bad. The rest of the process didn't take long.

The result is quite nice and I don't feel like it was a lot of work. In fact it was fun and it was less work than writing this post. I'll probably do more of these.

A cool hypnagogic experience

When I'm ready to fall asleep and I allow myself to fall asleep but there is some stimulus which prevents me from falling asleep I sometimes have interesting hypnagogic experiences. / music seems to work best for this.

Last night I was listening to In Search of a Meaningful Moment by Shulman. I chose that album because I vividly remember listening to it when I was with a friend I had argued with earlier that day, and I was wondering if listening to it would lead to any useful insights regarding the argument. Suddenly I found myself being/creating a physical structure. It was the structure people construct to further their own aims/agendas in social situations. I was experiencing this as a physical structure existing in some other space. Then I heard some talk about shamanism, dreams and boundaries between states. I was amazed by how it seemed relevant to my experience, perhaps describing the nature of my experience, and then I woke up refreshed.

I just searched through a few tracks and found it after 5:00 in A Magnificent Void. Then I searched Google and found that the quote is from the movie Waking Life. How appropriate!

[ copied from my journal ]

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Canada now has a National Do Not Call List

Canada finally has a way to stop telemarketing calls. You can add your number to the National Do Not Call List. Then, after 31 days, if a telemarketer does call the CRTC may impose a penalty of up to $1,500 per violation for individuals and up to $15,000 per violation for corporations.

Certain organizations such as charities and political parties are exempt from the National Do Not Call List. If you want to stop those calls, there is another service called iOptOut. It's not run by the government but it seems legit.