volvo v50

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 

Volvo v50 rental car review

volvo v50.jpg
A really lovely car, very pleasant to drive and exceptionally comfortable, competent, and solid.
Posted at 22:00:33 GMT-0700

Category: Related Links

Panoramic Photography

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a panoramic photography product under development. The sample picture they showed was from burning man and the sight reminded me of a company I started way back in 1997 or 1998 with Steve Schaffran, my brother Dan Gessel, and Ken Peters. Steve did most of the business work, Ken built the circuit, and my brother wrote a stitcher application and a fast viewer in openGL.

The View From Center Camp
The view from center camp.

We made a couple of panoramic tripod heads together: an automatic one and a manual one. They were designed around the old Kodak DCS 120, a camera with a full MegaPixel of resolution.

CAD model of the panoramic system

The manual version was an indexing head that held the camera fairly rigidly and had a kinematic indexing table so that index points were, in theory, subpixel accurate. Of course that depends on the stability of one’s tripod (something we did not, alas, address).

The automatic version had a similar indexing head, but was driven by a small gear motor. The system ran on 8 AA batteries and communicated with the camera via the serial cable. There were two modes: high and low resolution.

Seamless Imaging Automatic Panorama Head

In high resolution mode the circuit would tell the camera to zoom all the way in and then start indexing and taking pictures at each point.

In low resolution mode the circuit would zoom the camera all the way out and take a picture every other index point. We had considered doing 3 modes (with a 3x zoom lens) but the camera did not (primitive device that it was) report the actual zoom so there was no way to seek a point other than the ends.

Like the gigapan project, I found burning man an interesting subject… but that was a decade earlier and the crowds were a lot smaller.

The view from the base of the man.

Our camp ( was, that year, exiled some distance from the main camp, but that is a whole different story.

The View from Camp
The view from the camp.

Posted at 00:00:14 GMT-0700

Category: FabricationphotoTechnology

Chevy Uplander

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 

Rental car review: Chevy Uplander

Chevy Uplander.jpg
The Chevy Uplander is a cross between a mini van and an SUV, but is really just a minivan with an extended nose and a half decent engine. The performance is surprisingly good for a van with hard acceleration and no problem hitting highway passing speeds. The suspension is sort of amusing: the van seems to rock constantly in a kind of reassuring put the baby to sleep kind of way at the smallest bump.
The van has a ton of room and a good stereo. It is fairly comfortable to drive and not particularly fatiguing, but not exactly sporty or fun.
  • Quiet – Not too bad but some noise from the huge cabin.
  • Comfortable – fairly comfortable.
  • Engine – a moderate engine, fairly responsive for the size of the vehicle.
  • Suspension – ugh. Wobbles side to side.
  • Basic amenities – everything that could be reasonably powered is.
  • Stereo – acceptable but nothing great.
  • Security – not very – everything inside is visible.
Posted at 13:00:25 GMT-0700

Category: photoRental carsReviews

Ford Mustang

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 

Rental car review: Ford Mustang

ford mustang.jpg

I got this car with plastic on the steering wheel, the back seat belts buckled, and 5 miles on the odometer.  I very much enjoy mustangs: they’re fast and throaty and fun to drive and equipped with loud and amusing stereos.

They are small in the trunk and the back seats are pretty useless – definitely not where you want to stuff an large, elderly coworker.  But the car is fun.  Fast and fun.

The engine has more show than go – the sound of the engine is one of big power and extreme performance.  While the car handles much better than most rental cars, it does not live up to the sound of the exhaust.  A nice Audi or Volvo, for example, will accelerate faster, harder, and longer and take turns better, but never call attention to themselves while doing it.

On the other hand, actually going really fast is not always relevant: having fun is more to the point and the mustang is fun.  It feels spry and agile and powerful and serves well to take years off the driver’s age.  It’s the prefect car to cruise suburban malls, especially if one dye’s one’s hair or wears a toupee.  If chicks aren’t the goal, then it certainly makes getting to work an exercise in regression therapy.

Aside from the throaty roar and sporty performance, road noise is poorly isolated but well compensated for by a loud, bass-heavy stereo typically equipped with a CD-MP3 changer that can hold 6 CDs (or maybe 60 albums) which means on older cars one can often find heavy metal compilations forgotten in the changer.  Not so much classical.

  • Quiet – Not very quiet.
  • Comfortable – fairly comfortable.
  • Engine – a great engine for a rental car, a lot of fun.
  • Suspension – very good for a rental car.
  • Basic amenities – everything that could be reasonably powered is.
  • Stereo – killer stereo: loud and plays MP3s off a 6 CD changer.
  • Security – small but secure trunk.
Posted at 15:00:26 GMT-0700

Category: photoRental carsReviews

windows sucks

Friday, July 18, 2008 

Why do people use windows for embeded applications? It sucks and costs money! How stupid can you be?

windows sucks.jpg
This “startup screen” was at this stage for at least 30 minutes. No flight updates. For once it wasn’t BSODed.
Posted at 20:00:33 GMT-0700

Category: photoTechnology

4th of Juplaya

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 

Carolyn and I went out to the Black Rock Desert to partake in the 4th of Juplaya experience. Kent put together (along with Dismal crew) an amazing fireworks show, well worth the trip. We drove out in my old ’79 F250, which is becoming a classic (apparently the 78 and 79 are much desired according to a nice ranger we met), and camped in it.


The show was really great. It was, by far, the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. The pyrotechnics weren’t necessarily as big as a city-sponsored show, but they were close, “crowd interactive,” and very creative. Photographs, especially with a point-and-shoot digital, do not do justice the experience.


We camped with Nephology/FKO, and had a very nice time with our “neighbors.” Vera and Eric caravanned out with us and we ended up next to Simon and Julia. Between us we had brought a lot of good food and enough cooking apparatus to make very nice meals like citrus marinade for the ribs and chicken and butter lettuce and sides of seared vegetables and yams.


The fourth is a good time to head out – the playa is uncrowded and if you must avoid an impromptu rave that sets up near by you can just drive straight away until the sound fades to zero a mile or two away. By doing so, we slept very soundly in the back of the truck.

On the way out we took a very pretty dirt road that paralleled the paved road between 80 and Gerlach. We ended up driving down it a bit further than anticipated and the GPS told us to take a right at a “road” (as it was named on the GPS map) we could barely discern from the desert.


After an hour of crawling over washouts and flash creeks we found ourselves at a gate and a fork in the road. While waiting for the GPS to figure out which direction led to pavement (the battery died, the cigarette lighter in the truck doesn’t work so it was bare wires against he pins to wake up the GPS)… there was a fairly significant “BOOM” from under the hood and the engine stopped suddenly and a could of steam spurted out…


We were 25 miles or so from the last place we saw a human being and an indeterminate distance from the nearest paved road or even cell service. It was about 1pm. About 105F. Not the best time to be out in the middle of nowhere with the top blown off the radiator.


After inventorying what was in the back of the truck I dug out some ratchet straps, cut down a stick I found by the side of the road with the vestigial saw on my multi-tool, and used the stapler to fabricate a seal from a rag and strapped the radiator back together so it wasn’t blowing out steam fast enough to flood the distributor. I refilled the radiator with drinking water and we were ready to go. We found ourselves walking distance from a ranch where the lovely Annette there let us a refill our water bottles and we managed to drive over the pass and out to the paved road. With a few adjustments and minor events we made it all the way to I80 where the truck finally gave up.

There we met a friendly rattler who kept us company until AAA showed up and took us to Waynes Auto repair in Sparks. They seemed to know F250s pretty well, so they’re doing all the work the truck needs at the moment.

Posted at 23:00:44 GMT-0700

Category: OddphotoPlacesvideo

Cadillac DTS review

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 

Cadillac DTS.jpg

The Cadillac was a surprisingly pleasant and responsive car.  It is definitely a heavy thing, and while the V8 seemed quite powerful, it did not jump like a scalded cat… or even a mildly surprised cat when one stomped on the accelerator.   However an inattentive foot would easily close on 100 on the highway without any clear indication that excessive speed was being achieved.

The DTS seems like a “sporty” model with firm seats and a suspension that is designed to avoid the cartoonish body roll that exemplifies luxury American cars.  But, amusingly, only one axis was identified: while the car handles turns very well, it pitches like a steamer under acceleration; pitching so much that the headlight beams come off the tarmac if you floor it at night.

As rentals go, it is quiet and comfortable and sportier than a Taurus, it is definitely a premium rental with a premium sound system and over the top automation.

  • Quiet – Very quiet but the AC’s lowest setting was very loud for such a car.
  • Comfortable –  very comfortable with an old-person seat-exit setting.
  • Engine – a powerful engine but no match for the mass of the car.
  • Suspension – pretty good for turning but amusing under acceleration or braking.
  • Basic amenities – everything that could possibly be powered is.
  • Stereo – very nice sound.
  • Security – good, a big private trunk.
Posted at 22:00:32 GMT-0700

Category: photoRental carsReviews

Rental car review Buick Allure

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 

Rental Car Review: Buick Allure
Buick Allure.jpg

The Buick Allure is similar to the Toyota Avalon in form and function, but isn’t quite up to the task. The Buick is a nominally acceptable American car, but Buick dashboards are (and always have been) these strange, broad flat things that don’t really appeal to me. The car is a reasonable four door sedan, neither particularly bad at anything nor particularly good.

  • Quiet – generally quiet, but got a bit noisy on the 401. The AC system is a bit too zealous – it’s hard to just get a vent function on a nice day and the windows open are noisy.
  • Comfortable – fairly comfortable.
  • Engine – a moderate engine, responsive but not astonishingly so.
  • Suspension – it works well enough but isn’t super agile.
  • Basic amenities – everything that could be reasonably powered is.
  • Stereo – it was good enough but the high frequency speakers point straight to the center and so it sound unbalanced (the driver’s side tweeter pointing at the passenger and being inaudible to the driver).
  • Security – the trunk is large and secure.
Posted at 12:33:57 GMT-0700

Category: photoRental carsReviews