Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Virtual Flat Screens: Coming Soon to a Corner near You!

It seems that in this day and age, a day does not pass without hearing about flat screen/plasma/LCD TVs, home cinema systems or flat panel monitors. I shouldn’t grumble about these things after all it is the 21st century (I’m just jealous ‘cos I haven’t got £2000 to blow on a Telly). As you are undoubtedly aware, an alternative to the slim line marvels of the digital age is to get a projector, like the ones used in seminars. These projectors allow you to bump your screen up to colossal sizes, depending on the size of the screen or wall your projecting on to. Herein lies the problem you see: most of us do not have 20 square foot of smooth white wall in our living rooms.

Luckily for us, in the not too distant future perfectly flat walls will no longer be a requirement for projector owners. The University of North Carolina, funded by DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Project Agency) have filed a patent for a projection system that will work on many surfaces.

You see the problem with projectors is, if you point them at an uneven surface, such as the corner of the room, the image displayed will be distorted and unrecognisably skewed. This new system claims to be able to adjust itself to cancel out any distortion, even if you’re projecting onto corners!

The system works by projecting a geometric pattern within the projection that is barely visible to the human eye. A camera built into the projector picks up this pattern. Using the feedback from the pattern, software inside the projector pre-distorts the projection in accordance to the shape of your wall (or corner, door, whatever), and hey presto! You have a perfectly even picture projected onto a perfectly uneven surface. Apparently it only takes a one off 15 second set up procedure to get going, and the system can also fine-tune itself on the fly (e.g. if someone walks in the way of the movie).

Since this project is funded by DARPA, it may be sometime before the technology makes its way onto the home entertainment market. Anyway if your want to read the original patent, you can do so here.

Before I go, I just thought I’d say a big hello to anyone arriving here from the blue fish network.

So, until next time: Stay Casual.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Data Disasters

Good morning, just a quick post today about 2005’s top 10 data disasters. In a press release yesterday Ontrack, a data recovery company announced their top 10 most bizarre/funny data disasters for this year:

10. A PhD candidate lost his entire thesis when a power spike frazzled his USB pen drive, luckily for him Ontrack recovered it (power spikes frying hardware? I thought that happened a lot).

9. A woman accidentally dropped a five-pound clay pot on here laptop’s hard drive, nearly losing a book she’d been working on for half a decade (not really funny, bizarre or amusing).

8. A husband deleted all of the pictures of his newborn baby by pressing the wrong button, needless to say his wife went nuts (again, not really funny, bizarre or amusing).

7. A man’s memory stick was used as a chew by his dog, but the data was recovered despite the teeth marks (your dog ate it? Pull the other one).

6. One guy attempted to recover data off his own hard drive, giving up half way through he sent Ontrack the disassembled disk in a collection of separate baggies (I bet that happens quite a lot- seeing as data recovery costs a fortune).

5. A clock maker suffered from a system meltdown, losing the designs for his new clocks (nothing unusual here).

4. When recovering a multi-drive RAID (random array of inexpensive disks), engineers noticed that a disk was missing. Shortly afterwards the customer found the missing disk in the trash with a hole drilled through it-in accordance with his companies policies (another case of too much red tape, or idiot IT technicians).

3. The Minnesota Twins baseball team now relies upon the services of Ontrack after a senior executive nearly lost crucial scouting records (sounds like a normal disk recovery story to me).

2. A writer attacked her PC with a hammer; engineers could clearly see a hammer imprint on the machine’s case (no surprise there).

1. A customer hoped to recover data from a laptop that had been sitting in a warehouse for a decade. When engineer’s opened up the notebook that time forgot, they were confronted by the husks of hundreds of dead or dying cockroaches (finally, a bizarre story!).

Now you’ll have to excuse my ignorance. The title of the press release this was taken from was Unbelievable but True Tales of Data Disaster and Remarkable Feats of Data Recovery. In my opinion the only unbelievable (and remotely interesting) point in this rather dire top 10 is point 1. Man, I hate cockroaches, so I guess its lucky there aren’t any here in Wales. I know that data recovery is far from the most interesting of businesses but surely they could have mustered up a better top 10 than that, or failing that just released the number 1 most bizarre case.

Sorry for subjecting you to such a boring top 10


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Evolution of the Flybot

Miniaturisation has been the cornerstone of technological advance. It has allowed us shrink computers down from the size of a room to something that fits in you bag, allowing us to cram more processors onto microchips, and cramming more microchips into small devices (e.g. the gracefully petite mobile phones of today). Of course, microscopic intricacy can also be found in nature, I often find myself bewildered at the complexity and intelligence of insects, and often find myself completely dumbfounded by what goes on at the cellular and sub-cellular levels inside all living things.

Its now the 21st century, and you cant go anywhere without seeing an ipod or mobile phone on display as a testament to mankind’s skills at shrinking technology. I began to wonder if we had things nailed to the point where we can begin to compete with nature. So, I thought of something small- Flies.

Flies are a marvel of nature; they are nature’s ace pilots. The can move at speed through the air with control and manoeuvrability that greatly exceeds anything the best helicopters can do today. Their compound vision allows them to spot predators quickly, with their tiny brains processing this information quickly enough so that they can take evasive action. Hover flies can hover pretty much on the spot in the same way as humming birds, with their wings beating at around 1000 times per second.

So flies are fantastically complex, surely no one has even tried to make one I hear you say. Luckily for us the answer to that is yes. A team from Berkeley University is working on a Micromechanical Flying Insect (MFI). Apparently the goal of this project is to develop a 25mm (wingtip-to-wingtip) device capable of sustained autonomous flight. This hugely ambitious device will integrate a camera, sensors, microprocessor, transmitter, and of course wings. This project is not quite off the ground yet (pun intended), but the last few years of research have led to the development of actuators that can produce adequate wing flapping, and a greater understanding of insect flight.

Anyway here is the link to the MFI projects site, but be warned it’s pretty technical:

Also be sure to check out the previous artist impressions of the MFI, just to see how things have been developing over the last few years. You’ll have to click the ‘images’ link on the side, because believe it or not the Berkeley web site still uses frames!

It is clear that when complete the MFI will have numerous roles in modern espionage and reconnaissance. But in time as the technology is superseded what roles will first generation MFI’s play? They could lead to whole new generation of ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries, or perhaps even more reality TV (I hope not). Perhaps someday MFI’s will become so inexpensive they will be a must have gadget, ultimately resulting in a whole new genre of Internet sleaze.

Food for thought dear readers…