Thursday, May 21, 2015

Are You Divergent?

Divergent Trilogy
In Veronica Roth's dystopian Divergent trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, the people are sorted and separated into factions based upon their primary modes of thinking and acting. The objective is allow each group to use their strengths to maximize their contribution to the community as a whole.

The system ultimately degenerates into war between the factions due to mistrust and lack of respect for the values and skill of the members of other factions. The focus on communal thought and behavior is also a mental straitjacket for some of the more creative thinkers in each faction.

The heroine and hero of the books are Tris and Four whose methods of thought don't fit neatly into the factional categories. Labeled as "Divergents" by the factional leaders, they are feared and considered threats to society. Their ability to approach situations using a broader skill set makes them unpredictable, uncontrollable and disruptive.

I believe that Tris and Four are good role models for business leaders. The market respects and rewards those who can create disruptive business models. The probability of building a disruptive business is much higher if you can look at situations differently than others.

How divergent are you?

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What is augmented reality?

Augmented Reality in Mini Cooper.
Image from Car and Driver
Last December, when I predicted the top technological stories of 2015, I overlooked augmented reality. In the last few weeks however, there has been an explosion of news stories featuring this futuristic medium.

Augmented reality is a media experience that adds digital information to the world that you can interact with in the same manner that you interact with the physical world.  According to Dr. Alan Craig in his book Understanding Augmented Reality Concepts and Applications, there are four key aspects of an augmented reality experience:

  • The physical world is augmented by digital information superimposed on a view of the physical world.
  • The information is displayed in registration with the physical world.
  • The information displayed is dependent on the location of the real world and the physical perspective of the person in the physical world.
  • The information displayed is interactive in a way that allows the user to sense the information and make changes to the information if desired.

While there are many mobile applications that provide supplemental information about the real world based upon the location of the user, most do not meet the definition of augmented reality because they do not display that information in registration with the physical world.

At the Shanghai Auto Festival a few weeks ago, the Mini Cooper division of BMW demonstrated in an interesting application of augmented reality where a driver wearing a special pair of glasses can "see through" the blind spots caused by the car's roof and sides.  When the driver looks in the direction of the blind spots, the system replaces the roof and sides with views from cameras located at the exterior of the car.

Many of the early augmented reality applications were designed to add information to printed material. When the user aimed a device's camera at selected content on the printed piece, the content was replaced with a video or a three dimensional representation that added information to the printed content. This is an interesting use case because the "reality" being augmented is itself a two dimensional representation of a different reality. In my opinion, most of the print applications of augmented reality have been mostly gimmicks and not very useful.

Beyond print enhancement, digital augmentation of the real world has tremendous value in entertainment, transportation and many other fields. Some of the most useful applications will be in automotive safety where the systems can highlight potential dangers before the driver might see them without the augmentation.

What part of your reality would you like to augment?

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Monday, May 4, 2015

The Price is Wright

The Price Tower
Before Terri and I left Bartlesville, Oklahoma, we stopped to see the Price Tower which is the only realized skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We found it to be an unusual and uniquely beautiful structure.

In designing the Price Tower, Wright was inspired by the shape and structure of a tree. Like a tree trunk, the central elevator shaft supports the entire structure. The 19 floors of the building branch out from the central core and the outer walls are clad in patinated copper which creates an effect similar to leaves.

The tower currently houses the Price Tower Arts Center which focuses on art architecture and design. It is was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior in March of 2007.

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Science and Serendipity

Hula Hoop Image by Eren Emre Kanal
Hula Hoop Image by Eren Emre Kanal
While returning home from the Oklahoma Festival of the Arts, we decided to visit the Phillips Petroleum Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In the museum, we learned a wonderful story about the discover of crystalline polypropylene and high-density polyethylene that beautifully illustrates the role that serendipity sometimes plays in scientific discovery.

In June of 1951, Phillip's researchers Paul Hogan and Robert Banks were looking for a better method to convert natural gas into gasoline. While experimenting with catalysts, they noticed a solid white powder that was clogging up their instruments. After looking closely at the newly discovered substance, they immediately switched the focus of their research and developed the plastics that would help transform the latter half of the 20th century.

Phillips introduced high-density polyethylene in 1954 under the brand name Marlex. While the new plastic would eventually be used in everything from baby bottles to automotive bumpers, it was the Hula Hoop which brought widespread popularity to the new material.

What will you discover today?

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Oklahoma Festival of the Arts 2015

Double-fired raku pot by Barry Bernstein Raku
Last Friday, Terri and I attended the Oklahoma Festival of the Arts in downtown Oklahoma City. This is an outdoor festival in a beautiful setting at the city's Festival Plaza and in the Myriad Gardens. 

It is fun to visit an art show in another community because you see different art than you do at the shows in your hometown. The 144 visual artists were selected from more than 540 applicants and the level of creativity and craftsmanship was extremely high.

There were twelve photographic artists exhibiting and I was able to talk with most of them. In addition to beautiful landscapes, many of the photographers focused on a a specialized type of subject which made each booth unique. Beyond the content, the printing quality was outstanding including film images hand enlarged to silver halide photo paper, canvas gallery wraps and prints on aluminum. Some of the metal prints on aluminum had been printed by Black River Imaging.

Our only acquisition at the show was a beautiful double-fired Raku pot with a dragon's tail cutout from Barry Bernstein Raku. Barry showed us a  fascinating video on his phone on how he achieves such intense color saturation on his pieces.

Are you planning to visit an art festival this Spring?

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

iPhoneography in Near Darkness?

LinX Imaging Sensors
LinX Imaging Sensors
Last week's purchase of LinX Imaging by Apple hints strongly that the capabilities of the camera in the iPhone are going to increase dramatically. The use of multiple sensors can allow the capture of images in low light situations with a small device without blurring.

There are several ways to enable a camera to capture an image in near darkness:

  • Longer Exposure - Even the simplest camera can capture an image in near darkness be extending the exposure time. However, this requires a tripod to prevent camera shake and anything that moves in the subject will be blurred.
  • Larger Lens - Professional sports photographers and event photographers invest in large lenses with a wide aperture to allow the collection of more light by the image sensor. This adds weight and bulk to the camera as well as a narrow depth of field when shooting at the full open aperture.
  • Multiple Exposures - Many of the current models of consumer cameras can work in very low light conditions by capturing multiple exposures and combining them to compute the final image. The images are digitally aligned which eliminates blur caused by camera shake, but this technique still blurs anything that moves in the subject.
  • Multiple Sensors - The multiple sensor approach used by LinX Imaging captures multiple exposures simultaneously which collects far more light than a single small sensor could. Because all of the captures happen at the same time, there are no problems with camera shake or subject blur. The distance between the sensors mean that each capture is at a slightly different angle which provides information required to create a stereoscopic image or a depth map for separating the main subject from the background.

How would you use an iPhone that can take pictures by candlelight?

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mathew Brady and the Beginnings of Photojournalism

Mathew Brady after the Battle of Bull Run
Mathew Brady after the Battle of Bull Run
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the United States Civil War.  The Civil War was the first major conflict to be captured photographically and one of the most famous photographers of the era was Mathew Brady.

Brady, who was a portrait photographer in New York City before the war, wanted to document the war with photographs and financed the project himself. He and his assistants captured thousands of images of civil war battlefields and soldiers and contributed greatly to our understanding of the conflict.

After the war, there were few people who wanted to purchase the war images and Brady's studio was forced into bankruptcy. Despite the lack of commercial success, Brady is generally recognized as the founder of photojournalism and is now one of the best known photographers of the 19th century.

General Ulysses S. Grant by Mathew Brady
General Ulysses S. Grant by Mathew Brady

The Franklin Paper Mill and the Petersburg Railroad Bridge in Richmand, VA in 1865 by Mathew Brady
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