My First Photosynth

If you don’t see anything cool above this sentence, you probably need to install the Silverlight plugin.

If you still can’t see anything, try viewing the synth directly at my page on

Got it? Good.

What you see above is a “Synth” of the fish ladder on the Grand River, just north of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. I created it using Photosynth, a piece of software created by the brilliant folks at the University of Washington and Microsoft.

In a nutshell, here is how it works: Find an interesting object. This could be a building, a car, the space shuttle, someone sitting still, or anything else which is not moving. Take lots and lots of photos of that object, from many different angles and elevations, all around the object. You will probably want to take at least a dozen, and a few hundred is not unreasonable. Once you have your photos, import them into the Photosynth desktop client (Windows only, for the moment), and go make a sandwich. This part takes a while.

Once the tool is done synthesizing the photos, it will give you a link to your page on where you can interact with your new synth. All the instructions for viewing are there on the page if you click the “?”. You can see the scene as a series of 2d slides, in 3d space, as a top view, or as a point cloud.

As you click around you will see that there are a couple of glitches in the viewing experience. As near as I can tell, this is because of two problems with using the fish ladder as the subject of a synth.

First, I couldn’t get photos from every angle, all the way around the structure. There were large degree arcs where I could only see part of one side of the sculpture, and others where I could only see the sculpture from up close, with no surroundings in the photos to provide context.

Second, the structure is hollow, and from many different angles the interior walls are visible. I think that the software became a little confused when trying to match up specific shapes on the photos, when it was not clear if I was inside the sculpture looking out through a doorway, or outside looking in. The fish ladder is uniform gray concrete, with many non-right-angle surface intersections. Photosynth does a good job of mapping points of interest onto a 3d space, but I think that shapes which are different at one level of zoom, but similar at another, cause it to take a “best guess”, which isn’t always right. Example: The corner of a doorway, viewed from straight ahead, is a 90 degree angle. Viewed from directly in front, looking up, it is closer to 45 or 60 degrees. Now find another part of the sculpture where two walls come together at 60 degrees. And make it all uniformly gray concrete.

On the other hand, if you like non-Euclidean experiences, maybe this isn’t a problem.

For a good overview of Photosynth in action, see this video:

Demo of Photosynth at TED

The Psychology of the Freshly Unemployed

Here it is, five days in. I picked up a couple of hours of contract work yesterday, which was nice. Trying to get my head into the game today. The constant rain makes me want to go back to bed. I have a couple of dozen projects which are half-completed, several of which I could get done by the end of the week. I have a few new skill sets I need to work on (mobile web, Android app development, AIR development, augmented reality), but I can feel myself beginning to succumb to option paralysis.

My instincts tell me I am still a full-time worker, and that I am home during the late morning hours means I am either on vacation or this is the weekend. This triggers my “I’ve done enough work this week” reflex, which makes it more difficult to want to spend time in front of the computer. Another oddity is that I am unemployed, but everyone in my peer group is working right now. I am out of synch with the greater part of my life.

Today I am cleaning up my house; clearing off surfaces and removing distractions. Every space can be put to use as a place to think, or meditate, or reflect. Or play. I have discovered that the TV show NUMB3RS is surprisingly inspiring, mostly because the obsessive-compulsive geek part of me can identify with Charlie Eppes.

I also applied for unemployment yesterday, which was the first work-related thing in the past week which has felt “real”. If I have the numbers figured correctly – and it’s a big “if” – unemployment should cover all of my expenses for the next few months, which means I will have time to learn some new skills and do some serious networking. Suddenly being a contractor/freelancer is a lot more appealing. Two years ago this would have been devastating. Now it is kind of invigorating.

My Toolkit

I spent my tax returns this year on a new laptop. Specifically, a 16″ Sony Vaio, with a 1.73 GHz Intel I7 processor, 4 gigs of ram, a 500GB hard drive, and a mobile video card with 1Gb of onboard RAM, pushing a display with 1920×1080 full HD resolution. My desktop PC, a stupendous bad-ass of a gaming/development rig, is about five years old. In fact, it was the first thing I bought when I started my recent ex-job. While still a fine machine, it is not so good for freelancing or contract work as I can’t take it with me to different job sites. Now that I am between jobs, it seems appropriate that I spend my suddenly available time setting up the new machine as a money-making tool. At worst, I hope to make enough money with it to pay for it.

The great thing about the type of development I do is that all of the tools I need are free. So here they are, roughly categorized:

General Web Development
Notepad++ย – my favorite text editor. Been using it for about six years, since Bock turned me on to it.
I.E. Tester – Tool which allows users to test their web sites in multiple versions of Internet Explorer. You can see how your work looks in seven(!) different versions of IE, if you choose.
FileZilla – easy-to-use FTP client
XAMPPย – one-click installer for an AMP (Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack.
Drupal Gardens – A web host which specializes in Drupal 7. Basic accounts are free, but full-featured, and make great test environments.

Adobe Flex SDKย – open-source compiler for Flash and Flex projects
Adobe AIR SDK – Tool kit for developing AIR applications
Adobe Pixel Bender Toolkit – specialized tool for advanced image manipulation

Eclipse – Java development environment
Android SDK – bundle of tools for developing and testing applications for Android phones
Appcelerator TitaniumAndy turned me on to this one; it’s a tool kit for developing mobile and desktop applications.

Artistic and Media
Miro Video Converter – easily converts video files between multiple different formats. Especially useful for web-based video.
Audacity Audio Editor – great tool for editing and manipulating sound files
Picasa – Photo storage, cataloging, and editing
GIMP – open-source Graphics program, in the same family as Photoshop
Blender – 3d model creation, animation, and exporting
Processing – Java-based tool for creating abstract art. Can also be used to create Java applications
Inform 7 – The Inform system is used to create text adventure games (think Zork, or Leather Goddesses from Phobos) using natural language both to create the games and play them.
Photosynthย – awesome tool which can stitch photographs together into a 3d model or scene.
Google Earth Google’s virtual model of the Earth
Flickrย – Where I keep all of my photos. 16,000 and increasing every day.

Writing, Management, Documentation
Google Docs – If you have a gmail account, you get this for free. Word processing, spreadsheet, and much more.
Open Office – Free, open-source alternative to Microsoft Office.

I will update this list as I discover new or alternate tools.

Day 2

…it’s not that I’m worried about finding work, or making money. It’s more a sense of bewilderment. Though I have expected this day for over a year, and have been preparing things for the eventuality, actually walking through that door was a bit of a shock. I have abruptly gone from too much to do in too little time, to the opposite – all the time in the world, and no clue what I am going to do with it. Not having the pressure of a restricted schedule makes lessens the drive to make efficient use of any given moment.

Back at the beginning of the year I made a list of about thirty chores and small jobs which could reasonably be accomplished in about fifteen minutes. Given two hours of free time a day, fifteen minutes is a lot of time. With sixteen hours or more a day, yeah, fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes.

This is the third job in 23 years from which I have been let go. The first one was a produce factory in Eaton Rapids. I was a green-season employee, took a sick day, and was fired the next day. A couple of years later I spent a few weeks working as a landscaper. Started fun, ended badly when the company went out of business. Such is life.

I think my first act will be to spend a week clearing my head. Next week I will start making decisions.