Category Archives: Thoughts

Blog Spring Cleaning, 2017 edition

This site has sat dormant for a year or two, but the intention to write has never died.

I’m going to try building new connections through the web to this blog, and unpublish some old posts that are not meaningful to current interests. Trim the fat. Clean and oil the engine.

TIME FOR SPRING CLEANING!

In the last year I’ve built a small collection of systems, and contributed to some others. I want to try and get more active on GitHub, fixing bugs in projects I’ve discovered.

A lot of ideas.

It’s 4:50 AM, and I’ve been up for 90 minutes, getting work done. Time for more work.

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The Importance of Design (Work SMARTER, not HARDER!)

Today is a great day! It’s one of many that have been inspiring toward planning things.

In the last year, I’ve completed a number of projects, and returned to development of some long-delayed projects.

Through the course of 2013, plus the end of 2012, I’ve developed a new perspective. It’s a perspective, and a respect, for design and planning. These concepts have become so valuable to me now, to the point I am prioritizing them above action/execution.  That’s a challenge, because I’m obsessively action-oriented. In October 2013, I wrote on my giant whiteboard a new mantra, one I like to repeat everyday, in large blue letters: “Work SMARTER, not HARDER”.

The above 3 paragraphs were typed without planning the subject of each. The remainder is going to be planned! hahaha…

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Towers of Hanoi puzzle game applied to real-life and work

The Towers of Hanoi game is a very clean, effective puzzle to learn problem solving, and also learn problem analysis. It’s easy to play with 2-3 discs, and becomes more challenging for inexperienced people with more discs.

After learning the method to solving, it becomes easy, where each additional disc simply doubles the time it takes to solve the puzzle. The real challenge then becomes keeping track of which level within which stack you need to move.

I often refer to this puzzle in conversation, when doing things in life that require moving lots of stuff, physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s come up in my facebook status messages.

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Caffeine and Quantum mechanics (Late-night thoughts on metaphysics)

Just drank some coffee and effortfully trying to develop a new project for the next couple months. And I’m getting into metaphysics. It’s dangerous, mostly because the conjecturing while alone in the wee hours of the morning is time consuming and not really productive. But it’s so addictive, and I’ll just type a bit of it here for fun.

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How payment systems work, and setting up a payment system – part 1

There are lots of ways to get value for one’s own labour or servicing. That’s the more abstract way of saying “there are lots of ways to get paid”…. Cash, trade/barter, cheques/checks, credit. Most times, money goes into a bank account. That’s if you want to keep the money in a safe place. Also by storing it in a bank, the bank’s communication services can help make it easy for you to pay for stuff. And, for you to be paid, for stuff.

Background of this post
I’m sharing information, trying to make this post a short reference document out of my recent experience.  There are sometimes a lot of fees to chip away at your profit. The fees are most often ignored by people, called “a necessary business expense”. That’s true but they shouldn’t be ignored, or taken lightly. Today I saved one small business client $400, by looking at a different provider of credit card terminals than previously considered. And I’m now on the path to save him another $600 for a separate payment card terminal. I have a merchant account myself, and every month there are more fees, but I’m quickly learning the different fees for everything, so I’ll be saving my own self 400-1000 soon.

What is a payment system
A payment system handles money going from one place to another.  For the purpose of this article, I’m limiting discussion to the moment of payment to the money being in one’s account.

Security and Signatures
Cheques are cheap methods of payment, but the payer has to pay up front for the little pieces of paper, custom printed with security codes and what-have-you, to make the payer and payee/seller more comfortable. And that’s what a lot of the fees go to: comfort. Comfort brought by security. And the security is usually good, but sometimes unnecessary, thus an unnecessary expense. But the most useful security system is the personal identification number (PIN) associated with an account. The account is encoded on a magnetic strip on a swipe card, and read by a stripe reader. I’m ignoring the chip card technology for the moment.

The general retail stores are slowly converting to use a chip with PIN on Visa/Mastercards, and that saves the signature. The signature is being replaced by the PIN at the physical terminal, and the signature is already replaced by the security code on the back of the card, for online transactions. A person can also deposit into a bank account at an ATM/ABM without signing or stamping the cheque because the PIN used with the card represents the signature… that’s the general policy at my bank anyway.

The security is often end-to-end, meaning the merchant is locked-out of the electronic communications between the payment terminal and the payment processor company.

Further sections to be written:

Payment Terminology
Tons of hardware, lots of software, so what is the best approach?
What fees are involved with a payment system?
How is a transaction made?
What are reasonable processing fees of a transaction?
Where the money goes… and how to get it!

 

 

 

 

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Do you really want that job? (aka The Incompetent Client)

Here’s a hypothetical situation for you: let’s say an organization wants you to make amazing new signs for a promotion… and you recommend to the buyers/client that they install these new signs in specific locations, but there was a past track record of incompetence, such as previously installing a series of signs all upside down. Would you do the job? (And how does that even happen? Who knows!)

I love the funny pictures that show ridiculous things like that.  Actually working with or for people who would make foolish mistakes, and NOT admit, correct and learn from them, is infuriating, but part of life.

These are things that crossed my mind today.

How does a person guarantee they will get paid? Or how does a person guarantee that his/her own work is respected and used appropriately? If the work is compensated, but trashed, it is not very good to use on a resume or as a client success story for referrals. And if the work is paid, but used or implemented inappropriately, that could be difficult to use for referrals too. Worse yet, someone could see the client’s poor use of the product and conclude the maker/product was at fault, rather than the faulty use by the user/client.

These are all based on a thought of dealing with clients with poor knowledge, attitudes, or behaviour. But again in life, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. They could be great people, with good knowledge but the market rejects the work.

Whatever the situation or client, I think the BEST approach is: make a great first impression for yourself and the proposal, be truthful and open and create a very short term plan (a bootstrap plan) and then get up-front retainer fees received and in the bank. Then begin to build momentum, maybe by frequent and productive meetings, and optional ongoing compensation as appropriate.

This is a relatively new business technique to me. But it’s such a great one. The last several clients I have worked with as an independent, I used this technique, to great success. Now in a group with some partners, I am seeing clients coming in who have lots of gusto and excitement to have us do projects, but I’m feeling the risk if their gusto and excitement is not balanced with their budget.

So unfortunately, there is a high risk of loss to the momentum of the business relationship, and to my own business. For example, when loss of a prospective or active client does happen, morale may drop, affecting the ability to get new clients or perform other standard business tasks like proper accounting and invoicing. Really, I am reflecting on an experience that nearly killed my potential right out of the gate, in 2009, a few months before completely dedicating to iPhone and mobile.

Putting a project on hold, or even canceling one for whatever reason, or worse yet losing a client… I cannot let these bother me, and it is much easier to get on with life and other work if I have been paid properly. Then I will just walk on, looking forward to the exciting potential for the next days and the next weeks.

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Chocolate Hallelujah! The search for chocolate nougat in gold wrapper concludes

Have you ever bought a product that you love, then later when trying to buy it again you discover the company that makes it, or else the company that sells/retails it… goes out of business?

What do you do if you threw out the packaging, and were not certain exactly how to get it again? Another supplier? Another company buying the original company and re-releasing the product?

Granted, this is assuming you need the product and are unable or unwilling to take alternatives, because of whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem right.

This is the case for me and the nougat chocolate bar. I only ever bought one, and it was beyond beautiful.  It came in a very nice gold foil wrap, and I bought it with a bunch of other chocolate from a confectionary shop. The bunch of other chocolate was very good, but after the purchase, let it suffice for this story, individuals in the store had nasty behaviours and attitudes.  The merchandise was good, but I didn’t go back. The chocolate stash disappeared over time, including the beautifully gold-foil-wrapped nougat bar. “This chocolate nougat is so amazing, keeping the package is a great idea, for a reference to buy it in the future!  I’m likely to go to another confectionary store soon.” was my thinking, but unfortunately it went in the trash.
And soon after, the chocolate store went out of business, for whatever reason I won’t speculate on.

Thus an insatiable craving has harassed my sweet tooth for several years. Of course, hershey’s kisses come and go, sweet tarts/mini-pies from specialty shops and the like… 30 LBs of chocolates from World’s Finest chocolate factory outlet store in Campbellford, Ontario including several pounds of delectable mint meltaways… and so much more.

But I keep looking for this one product, that gold-wrapped foil nougat bar.

Now I knew this: the nougat bar had a gold wrapper, it didn’t have any diacritic like the two-dot diaeresis/umlaut above the u, and it was not white candy, rather it was chocolate brown… and chocolate tasting. Oh! And it tasted quite a bit like Toblerone, but I was much more enamoured with this nougat chocolate than Toblerone bars. And yes, one last thing: it was not manufactured in North America… Europe somewhere. I did read the back of the label, and I think it was the UK.. but not certain.

So there isn’t much to go on.. a lot of vague notions of the product, and that’s all anyone in a chocolate or confectionary store would get from me, as I sought the candy.

Finally, tonight, something clicked… I thought “Google is your friend.” Yes! Yes it is! Try “nougat gold wrapper” in a google search and see what comes up.

WOW!

One of the first pages is Mondo, and behold, the description for their Vanilla Soft product ends with: “Yes, this is the original and famous nougat in a golden wrapper”.

My search had ended! But reading the description of the main products of Mondo nougat concern me, the description of the nougat products makes no mention of chocolate except their explicit “Chocolate Nougat” bar, and yet the word chocolate was extremely absent from the Vanilla Soft product.. And the pictures of the Vanilla Soft wrapper were small but unfamiliar, so another search for some better images was important.

At this point I think it’s important to say, I want to try out several of these Mondo Nougat products, they do look very tempting.  Cherry.. mmm. Cappuccino, Vanilla crunchy!

Clicking back, I decided, before doing an image search, to just check out the rest of the search results from “nougat gold wrapper”.

Another in the list caught my eye… and made me laugh. The part of the google search results that displays an excerpt of text containing my search words contained the following:

” this one with its classic gold wrapper caught my eye”

Hey! So lets check this out…
the page is http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/08/german-nougat-chocolate-bars-from-wendler-of-nurnberg.html

This article shows up-close pictures of a gold-wrapper product, and my taste buds and eyes danced a duet. The wrapper looks just like I remember it (as long as memory isn’t totally failing with a fake memory) and it’s from a German company called Wendler.

Another search for “Nougat Chocolate Bar from Wendler of Nürnberg” lead to the product page on germandeli.com where some product reviews included:

the best chocolate ever!!! (by dom&tay) We bought this at a german fair in Chicago and we took it back home and ate it in class and it was just AMAZING!! We want some more please!

and

Awesome chocolate
(by Marianne) This chocolate bar is the best you will find. My grand mother lived in Germany and sent me these ever since I was a child. I am so excited to find them here online. I couldn’t find them in any store in our area and Milwaukee has a lot of German items for sale. My son has been asking me to find them for him, too and now he will get a couple along with his b-day gift, I know he will be thrilled. Enjoy!

This has brought much happiness to the sweet tooth, and it is waiting, salivating for the chance to order some of these.

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Best Techniques for 360 Panorama on iPhone

360 Panorama is a revolutionary app.  It is made by Occipital (occipital.com) and has been under constant improvement, both the app and the web-site since it was released in late 2010.  Check out the 360Verse web app!

A short history of my use of the app:

I got the app in early December 2010, and captured several Christmas light panoramas.  They were amazing, and the ease at which I could just stand and spin around made me so happy.  Having experience stitching dozens and dozens of photos into 40-80 megapixel panoramas, this made me so happy to save such time. And for better or worse, I am a perfectionist.  Despite how amazing and excited these christmas light panoramas were, I found them flawed. All my attempts were challenged by light intensity, and were full of tilting, so I felt either I needed to figure out some techniques to improve, or the app needed updating or both. And the app has been updated several times with several new features, and greatly improved image blending/stitching! Awesome!

 

Getting a satisfying 360-degree photo is so easy (wahoo!!!), but to add that little extra bit of quality, I’ve come up with a handful of techniques that can be used to improve the finished result.

Quick Bonus Tips! 

  1. Keep the iPhone as close to you as possible, right in front of your face.  Holding it at arms length can confuse it for certain near-by objects.  This tip came directly from Occipital after I finally asked for help in late February 2011.
  2. Also don’t lower it down to your chest or waist when capturing the ground, and don’t stick it way up above your head when capturing the sky.  Only rotate it up and down, right in front of your face, and spin your body to get the side images.

The Best Tips

The following are the most important techniques to solve the most significant problems I found occurring in most panoramas:

  1. Achieving the best camera exposure levels in the first shot
  2. Moving around so the images to blend together properly, primarily to fix broken horizons
  3. Moving so the internal gyroscope does not start to go sideways, resulting in tilted-looking buildings like Leaning Tower of Pisa.. or the horizon on a lake doesn’t tilt.

1. Get Best Exposure for the Environment’s Light

Determining the best exposure is often a bit of a guess, but the best way to get it is aiming the camera toward the brightest point in the 360 environment for light or average environments … obviously the sun, if you’re outside, or some light wall inside, etc.  In a darker environment, aim the camera at the darkest place so it compensates and the rest of the 360 view is easier to see, not all black.  And then, start capturing, and quickly spin around and find any places in the environment that you really like and want to see in the panorama, and if they appear way too dark or too light, then you might want to restart, and aim the camera a bit off from whatever you aimed at initially.  Then you can either assume the camera has a good initial exposure and continue to make the panorama or you can do a quick spot check again.  I usually do one single test and then do the panorama.. Although, I would have done a third on Lake Louise if I had the time (I was annoying family members who were also in the canoe, requesting them to spin the boat around! haha..)

Here are two pairs of panoramas with separate light/dark versions, Lake Louise and Grotto Mountain Pond:

  • Lake Louise light (the water texture is much more detailed than the dark version, but the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is farther and harder to see here… the dark one is closer)

 

  • Lake Louise dark (the trees on the mountain are harder to see, and water is darker compared with the light version, but the two landmarks Mount Victoria and Chateau Lake Louise are easy to see)

 

  • Grotto Mountain Pond light (easy-to-see large mountain on left, almost bleached-white mountain on right)

 

  • Grotto Mountain Pond dark (easy-to-see mountain on right, almost total black mountain on left)

I felt rushed for time at Grotto Mountain Pond, so I couldn’t get a well balanced 3rd panorama.  .. Ahem.. Actually, these were the 3rd and 4th. The 1st and 2nd were each destroyed by separate incoming SMS text messages. Bah!! Airplane mode fixed that. hahaha!

This technique was important for the panorama in the field with mountains in Canmore (http://360.io/HkKLEB)  I did 2 or 3 spot checks before I finished the field-with-mountains, because there is a huge amount of dynamic range.

First I aimed at the sun, so the sky was darker and all the clouds were detailed, but the mountains turned totally black.

Then tried lighter a bit, once or twice, until I liked the balance between bright sky clouds and the dark mountains. This was used by Occipital in the 360verse, and a viewer commented on it, inspiring me to write all this information.

 

2. Preventing Broken Horizons

 

Watch the grid when starting, and try to get the horizon in your first image, rather than a total sky image or total ground image.  Then slowly angle the device up and down to get the sky and ground for this initial horizon image, then return to the horizon and start slowly turning around in a circle. The camera decides to take a picture when there is enough new uncaptured environment in the camera view.  When the camera decides to snap a new picture, try to make it so as much of the new image is overlapping the captured images as possible…. so spinning your body slower helps.  Doing this, will greatly reduce the chance of a broken horizon… except in the final stitch-together when you complete the 360 spin.  It’s much more tricky to get the horizon at the end of the 360 spin to be unbroken.  I think it’s a bit of luck, but it’s partly about keeping the iPhone as still as possible, while spinning.  But as I describe in #3 below, the internal gyroscope can get thrown off so sometimes.  Finally, completing the spin around, hopefully there has been very little broken horizons, and there are no trees or buildings or horizon tilted.  Then start spinning slowly again, capturing the sky and ground in the same manner.  I haven’t determined if it makes a difference to capture only the sky in a spin, and only the ground in another spin, or if the second spin can capture both sky and ground perfectly well simply angling up and down as you spin the second time around.

3. Calibrating the Gyroscope Mid-Capture

The fix for the gyroscope, as described above, is important to limit lines both horizontal (like the horizon especially obvious on lakes/oceans) or vertical (like buildings or trees) from tilting left/right.  It’s best, while keeping the iPhone perfectly untilted left or right, to watch the grid on the screen.  If it starts to tilt, then the gyroscope needs calibration.  So, the best way to do that without ruining the panorama is to keeping the iPhone pointed at an image you’ve already captured, and moving the device rapidly back and forth.  I have found various motions work at different times, either outward and inward around 12-24 inches out from your face, or moving the phone in a circle about 12 inches in diameter, or a figure-8 shape, in front of your face.  Alternatively, quickly spin a bit back over the panorama you’ve captured already about 90 degrees, then return and repeat as needed until the grid is straight again.  That is the best technique for calibrating, and at the same time preventing the camera from snapping a new picture for the panorama that you don’t intend.

Now I’ve created almost 30 panoramas, some uploaded and public, and feeling great confidence in the app, and my own improved use of it.  Hope this info can help you get even more enjoyment from the app.

If you want to see some more of mine, click to view my public panoramas occipital account page.

Follow @360panorama on Twitter to hear about the latest news and additions in the 360verse web app.

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Design updates on Google Calendar

Google Calendar’s visual design was updated recently.

The changes and reasons are explained here:
http://www.google.com/support/calendar/bin/answer.py?answer=1351806&&hl=en

I want to just point out some interesting part of that, the part that is always the most interesting/relevant to my own self:

Why we made these changes

The way people use and experience the web is evolving, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and consistent online experience — one that works no matter which Google product you’re using or what device you’re using it on. The new Google experience that we’re working toward is founded on three key design principles:

Focus: With the design changes in the coming weeks and months, we’re bringing forward the stuff that matters to you and getting all the other clutter out of your way.
Elasticity: The new design will soon allow you to seamlessly transition from your desktop computer to your mobile phone to your tablet, while keeping a consistent visual experience. We aim to bring you this flexibility without sacrificing style or usefulness.
Effortlessness: Our design philosophy is to combine power with simplicity. We want to keep our look simple and clean. But behind the seemingly simple design, the changes use new technologies to make sure you have all the power of the web behind you.

Here are some shrunk images that demonstrate the before-after differences:

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A funny musical instrument

From DailyMotion.comThis is an instrument that is used in serious music productions, but funny by itself, makes me laugh out loud.

It’s known as a jaw harp, or Jew’s harp, or juice harp, or mouth harp, or ozark harp, or trump, or guimbarde. Yes, that many (probably more) various names for the instrument.

So how can it be taken seriously with so many names? How can it be taken seriously when it sounds so funny and is played basically by making a “twang-a-lang” sound inside your mouth?

But it makes for a good laugh. Oh, and I’ve personally owned a jaw harp for at least 15-20 years. But I gave up learning because I didn’t know how it was supposed to be played… sheesh.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4qre7_solo-de-guimbarde_music

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