Category Archives: Photography

Kind of Chunderwhelmed

For my birthday (I’m now 100000 in binary) my lovely wife got me a Chumby to place in the kitchen. Specifically, it was to replace the low-quality radio that I had in there. I wanted to be able to listen to internet radio (mostly the KUOW stream) as well as view various photos from flickr.

It does both of the things that I want it to, but neither in the way I actually want.

Internet Radio

Turning on the radio consists of (1) squeeze to bring up control panel. (2) touch  “Music” button, (3)touch to scroll down to “My Streams”, (4)touch to select my favorite station. (5)touch play. Optionally, if I want to get back to the channel/widget display, I have to (6) touch “done”, (7) touch “done” again, and finally ( 8 ) touch “hide control panel”. 

Yes, that’s 1 “squeeze” and 7 touches to turn on the radio and get back to where I was. Sometimes I want to do this with wet and/or soapy hands. 

Flickr Photos

Flickr has a cool feature where you can get the RSS feed of just about any collection of photographs. You can see the photos your contacts have posted, photos uploaded to a particular group, photos tagged with particular tags, etc. It’s a very cool system. I had assumed that I could just point the chumby at a flickr RSS feed for some of my favorite groups and always get a chance to see new different things. Unfortunately, the Flickr widget doesn’t do this. Instead, I created a simple “Chumby set” in my account, and I’m using the chumby like a simple digital picture frame, looping through the same small set of pictures. It’s cool, but not what I had in mind.

What does this mean to me as a developer?

As someone who both produces and consumes software, this speaks to the difference between a feature and a use case. “Flickr Support” is a feature, while “As an off-camera lighting geek, I want to view new strobist group photos, because I enjoy getting new ideas” is a use case. “Internet Radio Support” is a feature, “as a news junkie, I would like to switch on NPR the moment I enter the kitchen because loading/unloading the dishes is a boring low-stimulation activity” is a use case.

Too often, people are thinking/speaking in terms of features when they should be thinking in terms of use cases. This is not to pick on the good people at Chumby, I think what is more likely is that they were thinking in terms of an entirely different set of use cases than I was. 

To be fair, a lot of things work really well. The chumball game is mesmerizing. The motion sensor works much better than I would have expected. The selection of clock widgets is awesome. My favorite is the death star clock. The sound quality is quite good for such small speakers. Much better than the radio I replaced with it.  I’m still planning  on writing a few chumby widgets of my own, and I plan on getting one to use as a bedside clock-radio. I’m just a little sad that this cute funky toy is so close to what I actually want.

(Relatively) Simple Party Photo Booth Project

One of coolest things about digital photography is the instant feedback loop of seeing what the picture looks like. One of the downsides is that your subjects know this, and often want to get the immediate “how did it turn out” feedback. When I was taking the party invitation pictures, Ethan kept tripping over the flash sync cable trying to get a peek at how the pictures looked. My wireless flash setup is arriving any day now, but that still solves only part of the problem.

Mostly inspired by John Harrington’s far cooler (and more expensive/elaborate) party photo booth rig, I set up a simple one for my Son’s 6th birthday party.

For the setup, I put the camera (Canon Digital Rebel XT) on a tripod with the video out (simple RCA plug) piped into my TV. I set the camera “preview display” mode to “hold” so the camera would send a video signal of the last picture taken until the next one was snapped. The video output is not great (my TV reported the signal as 480i), but it’s enough to give you a sense of the lighting and facial expressions.

For lighting, I setup the Vivitar 285HV with shoot-through umbrella camera right as my main lighting. I had a couple of Sunpak DS-20 cheap optical slave flashes floating around the room to give some extra light, which provided some really interesting medium-tone shadows and edge definition.

The backdrop is a combination blue/green screen that I got when I was working at PlayStream, making server-side software that would integrate with a video blogging app from SeriousMagic (now Adobe) which did the background subsitution in real-time. Other than making a few “this is Martin Cron, reporting live from the White House…” fake newscasts, I hadn’t used it much. It’s held to a ceiling beam with bungee cords hooked to a pair of 3M command clips, which mount easily and remove cleanly without having to use any tools.

This whole thing was triggered from the RC-1 remote control, which I set to a two-second delay which worked out well for a couple of reasons. One, the video output would go blank for those two seconds, which would get the kids to stop looking at themselves on the TV and instead look at the lens. Also, the delay insured that the flash (1/4 power) would have enough time to cycle. Most importantly, it gave enough time to get the remote control itself out of frame, as it has to be line-of-sight with the camera.

Lastly, I set up a simple “prop table” out of frame for the kids to pose with hats, safety goggles, sunglasses, etc.

The cool thing about this setup is that it could be replicated pretty cheaply. The video output cable comes with the camera. The RC-1 is around 30 bucks. While I used diffused off-camera flash, you could do it with available light or (perish the thought) on-camera flash. Instead of a fairly exotic backdrop (blue/green screen), you could just line the kids up against a blank wall.

The most important thing is, of course, that the kids (all around six years old) had a great time and I got some good pictures out of it. I’ll be able to send back prints of the best pictures with the thank you notes.