Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Google's new offspring

I've used for some time their Google Docs service that offered on-line Spreadsheets and Text editing and now the third complement has come to life: Presentations have been added to the mix and offer, like the other tools, easy collaboration among a group of users of the same documents.

I've used a shared spreadsheet for marking lab sessions across a group of teachers and it proved quite useful.

Of course none of these tools compare very well against a locally installed Office application, but it just uses on any networked computer and its free and your documents are accessible from anywhere on the net.

When you factor in the possible collaboration between several people on the same documents Google's proposal becomes much more attactive plus you save lots of emails.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Excel 2007 bug

I've just read on Slashdot about an error in Excel's multiplication. Details can be found in this Google group thread. In short, it seems a multiplication whose result gives 65,535 (which is 2^16 -1 or 0xFFFF in hex) will return 100,000.

I haven't tested it myself yet, but it seems several other people did. I would be worried if I were using that software for any calculation.

Update: I've already tested and it happened indeed (see the picture). Cell A1 shows the offending formula and A2 shows you the result of that formula (which should be 65,535 instead). However, I've tested other multiplications whose result should be the same and they all seemed to work ok. That's funny. (BTW, decimal point is "," in my locale in case you are wondering).

Monday, September 17, 2007

HDR with RAW files

While I mentioned HDR on a previous entry, at the time I comented the need of three (or more) different exposures to obtain an HDR image. More recently I have learned that you can use the same software to obtain the same result with just one photo.

The basic idea is that camera sensor have significantly more resolution than the 8 bits per color of JPEG. Some cameras -- unfortunately the most expensive ones -- allow you to access to the original sampled data. The so called RAW format. After some processing a JPEG file can be obtained changing, for example, the exposure one f-stop up or down (this is like dark-room magic).

In the above image I took a single exposure and I used Canon's RAW processing software to obtain three JPEG files with exposure values -1, 0 and +1 from the original shot. Then the three were combined with (the trial version of) Photomatix software.

Original shot is shown below for you to compare.

Update: Actually, thanks to one of your postings I've learned that Photomatix can also take a RAW file as input to create an HDR file. So there is no need then to create three or more different exposures from the original RAW file. Some samples in here.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Supress belief

After returning from holidays I've came across two different stories that somehow did not look right and turned out to be a scam or a hoax.

First one was a person who told me about a recent e-mail she got from a friend who, interestingly, claimed to be in Nigeria and lost her wallet in a cab. The twist was that the message was apparently coming from a real person that she knew.

I tend to be quite suspicious whenever somebody asks me money by email, specially if the requester is based in Nigeria (419 scam is a classic).

This time it was a new variation, based on hijacking a person's email account (gmail, hotmail, etc) so they take control of that person's email and they use his/her address book contacts. This way the person receiving the scam email believe they are talking to a person they know. If they are lucky you will rush to Western Union to wire the money trying to help your friend.

The second weird news came from a good friend who was worried about the news that spread over the 'net claiming something fishy was going on with certain index in the futures market. If you are like me, the futures market is something as well known as the pop singers of North Korea. So we tend not to question certain claims we do not understand.

I was surprised none of the press acknowledge this news, so I get suspicious too. After a few days I could find that nothing seems wrong. So, once again, it's a good idea to triple check the data you receive, specially when it seems a hard to swallow one.

The fact the internet can help news move faster does not mean it is making them any more reliable.