News and Views from Dave Wilson

Computer

Musical Formation Quadrotors

by on Mar.01, 2012, under Computer, Miscellaneous

Does it get more cool than this (robotically speaking)? A formation of quadricoptors playing the James Bond theme. Congratulations to the folks at the University of Pennsylvania who came up with this.

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Photos from BEST Robotics Competition

by on Nov.28, 2011, under Computer, Miscellaneous, Photography

My photos from the recent BEST Robotics Competition Texas/New Mexico regional are now online. You can find the full set here or, if you are interested mainly in pictures of the Dripping Springs Middle School team, you can find these images here.



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BEST Robotics Competition video

by on Nov.23, 2011, under Computer, Miscellaneous

I’ve been neglecting this blog horribly recently! Lots has been going on both at and away from work and I’m afraid posting here just didn’t bubble high enough on the priority list to get my attention. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with a few posts over the Thanksgiving weekend but, in the meantime, here’s a little video I pulled together using some timelapse sequences I shot last weekend up in Dallas where Cameron and I were attending the BEST Robotics Competition Texas/New Mexico regional final with his school robotics team.

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Tiger Robotics First Drive

by on Sep.30, 2011, under Computer, Miscellaneous

The kids at the Dripping Springs Middle School robotics club passed a huge milestone yesterday evening when they got their first robot up and running! This is a great start – they’ve proven they can build a basic platform, wire up the control system, write, compile and download software, configure the wireless controllers and get the whole thing to work together to make the robot move. There’s still a lot of work ahead before competing in the BEST competition but there were lots of happy kids at DSMS last night.



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Beautiful Robotic Bird

by on Sep.14, 2011, under Computer, Miscellaneous

I love to hear about people doing wonderful things with our products so I was delighted to read about this project from German robotics designer Festo. They have produced an autonomous, robotic bird that can fly purely by flapping its wings. The bird is controlled by one of our Stellaris microcontrollers (an lm3s811 to be specific).



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End of a Web Era

by on Sep.04, 2010, under Computer, Miscellaneous

Today marks the end of an era for me. Despite the fact that I’ve been out of the PC video business for almost 15 years (and out of the video business completely for 3 years), I was still managing a rather popular site documenting PC video codecs. The site, www.fourcc.org was set up after a heated discussion with Microsoft who, at the time, required people to register their video codecs with them but then didn’t actually make registration information available so, if you had a new pixel format to support, you had no idea if there was an existing registration for it or not. The site aimed to cure this problem by providing a place where people could register their codec and pixel format identifiers (Four Character Codes – fourccs) but which would also document what those fourccs actually meant so that developers could reuse them as required.

The site took off rather quickly and today is getting somewhere around 22,000 hits (or 3500 page views) each day. I, however, have been neglecting it horribly for a few years so recently decided to sell it so someone still in the business who has a track record of doing good things with similar sites.

All the best, Bjarne – I hope the site is as good to you as it has been to me over the last decade and a bit.

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Cracking the HDR Noise Problem

by on Mar.26, 2010, under Computer, Photography

I’ve been doing HDR for 3 or 4 years and have spent all that time beating my head off the issue of noise in the Photomatix output. The tone mapping settings I use don’t help any since they accentuate texture and we all know that digital noise is a great example of high frequency texture. Even when I am holding back a bit on the gamma, though, the results are typically somewhat grainier than I would like. Part of the time I convince myself that this is fine and that the noise is adding to the result – grainy black and white pictures are really common and often considered artistic after all – but most of the time I end up in Photoshop mixing in chunks of one or other of the original exposures to try to cover over the splotchy mess that Photomatix turned my clear blue sky into.

During this time, I had read plenty about noise reduction software but hadn’t really bothered looking into it in any great detail since I had seen what Lightroom’s noise reduction did and it wasn’t impressive. If Adobe couldn’t make a huge difference, surely no-one else would be doing a great deal better so why spend $70 or so on yet another plug-in? As it turns out, however, I was hopelessly wrong.

I’ve spent some time this week playing with a couple of noise reduction plug-ins and am, frankly, gobsmacked at what an amazing job both of these products do at reducing image noise but, more importantly, preserving fine detail. Anyone can get rid of noise by blurring an image enough but these tools get rid of the noise AND keep all my nice sharp edges and tiny details crisp and clean. I have no idea how they manage it but it truly is a wonder to behold!

Topaz DeNoise as seen when launched from within Photoshop

Topaz DeNoise as seen when launched from within Photoshop (click for larger image)

The first tool I looked at was Topaz DeNoise. I’ve read a lot about Topaz Adjust and seen a lot of great images which use it, but had not heard quite so much about their noise reduction tool. It turned out to be a good find – clean user interface, pretty easy to use and quite a few presets for common noise reduction scenarios. Using it on some of my worst Photomatix images, it did a respectable job of cleaning up the skies without smearing the detail but it did seem to leave some rather odd low frequency artifacts behind. This may have been due to the fact that I was using it without having read the whole manual, I suppose, but in the time I spent playing with the tool, I didn’t get as good a result as I managed to get with the second package I tried.

The user interface of the Noiseware Pro Photoshop plug-in.

The user interface of the Noiseware Pro Photoshop plug-in. (click for larger image)

Noiseware from Imagenomic is a piece of software that made my jaw drop. It’s ability to remove noise and clean up an image is almost unbelievable. For HDR, where I am typically keen to remove noise from a sky without affecting other areas, it’s ability to remove noise based on particular colours is fantastic but, even without tweaking any of those sliders, I was stunned by how good a job it did of tidying up my images. I’ve included a couple of examples below showing 100% sections of a particularly noisy image (you can see the original here). I wish I had played with this software a lot earlier since I would have saved many hours masking skies in Photoshop had I known it was so impressive.

Detail before using Noiseware (click for larger version)

Detail before using Noiseware (click for larger version)

Details after using Noiseware (click for larger image)

Details after using Noiseware (click for larger image)

If you’ve been using this kind of software for a while, you’re probably laughing at me right now but, if you’re not, take some advice from a guy how has wasted a great deal of time trying to solve this problem and treat yourself to a couple of hours with one of these pieces of software. Both are available as free evaluation downloads. Like me, though, I expect you’ll have your credit card out within 5 minutes.

Edit: I was so impressed with Noiseware Pro that I asked the nice people at Imagenomic if I could offer a discount code. They were nice enough to agree and are offering 15% off the product to readers of this blog. Click here to get to the order form then use code “DaveWilson” when you are checking out to get the discount. Apparently they like my work too since they are also featuring it on their gallery page.

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Photomatix Discount

by on Feb.08, 2010, under Computer, Photography

Wells Fargo Tower

Wells Fargo Tower, originally uploaded by DaveWilsonPhotography.

The nice folks over at HDRSoft, the makers of my HDR software of choice, Photomatix Pro, have signed me up for their affiliate program. This is a win-win-win arrangement as far as I can see since all parties benefit – you get a discount, HDRSoft get a sale and I get a commission. I’ve seen several others advertising HDRSoft discount codes but didn’t realise before this week that the arrangement involved a seller commission. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I thought it would be right to mention this.

If you are buying a copy of Photomatix and use the coupon code “DaveWilson” when you are checking out, you will receive a 15% discount on the purchase, and I will thank you very much.

Despite the mutually beneficial arrangement, I should point out that I have been a huge fan of this software for several years now and, as regular readers will know, have pretty much been acting as an HDRSoft salesman for most of this time!

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Moving with the times

by on Jan.16, 2010, under Computer, Photography

I’ve always considered myself an early adopter but, thinking about it, I’m actually rather behind the times these days. We are probably the only house in Austin without an HDTV (which is doubly weird given that I used to work in software development for HD satellite and cable settop boxes) and both my computer monitors are still CRTs. My computer, until this weekend, was a rather clunky and extremely unreliable HP system running Windows XP on a dual-core AMD Athlon 64. Much as I love Adobe Lightroom 2, running it felt very similar to wading through syrup.

Things changed this week, though. In anticipation of my upcoming expedition to Utah and in celebration of the start of a new tax year, I’ve bought my first laptop and fully intend this to become my main digital darkroom machine with the HP relegated to the role of file and print server. The new machine is a Dell Studio XPS 16 with a Core2Duo CPU, 6MB L2 cache, 7200rpm hard disk, upgraded graphics card and 64 bit Windows 7. It’s an absolute screamer (for a Windows machine)!

I’ve installed 64 bit versions of all my software where these versions are available. Lightroom 2, Lightroom 3 Beta, Photoshop CS4 and Photomatix Pro 3.2 all come in “double-wide” versions and the performance difference compared to my old machine is staggering. Lightroom exports happen in a very small number of seconds and, even more impressively, I can view the effects of slider changes in the Develop module in real time! No more “move the slider, wait for the effect”!

Couple this superb performance with the fact that the display is absolutely gorgeous (allegedly having a colour gamut encompassing the whole AdobeRGB space) and I’m definitely enjoying this as my new mobile office.

Oh, I almost forgot – it’s red too.

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FIRST Robotics Competition 2010

by on Jan.09, 2010, under Computer, Miscellaneous, News Commentary

The game for this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition, “Breakaway”, has been announced and it looks like it should be a fun one! Teams now have a frantic 6 weeks to design, build and program their machines for the competition.



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