Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

At last, Canon S95 RAW format supported on Snow Leopard

It's been half a year since Canon PowerShot S95 appeared. Today I'm happy to learn that together with a software update to the "crashy" iPhoto '11 comes a software update for new cameras on Snow Leopard.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Playing with Kinect

I was learning OpenCV for a new art project, but then I learned that the new Microsoft Kinect device had been hacked by a Spanish student after the bounty offered by Adafruit Technologies.

This news changed it all, as Kinect drivers for several platforms were made available. I needed to extract the silhouette of a person from the exhibit space and having a depth image as the one Kinect provides made my job ten times easier. The previous plan was to keep an image of the background and substract the current frame from it to detect changes. But handling changes in lighting conditions was a bit challenging.

What Kinect provides is a regular color (or infrared) webcam plus a second camera that measures depths (ie. each pixel brightness represents the distance to the kinect of that scene point).

If you want to isolate object from an scene that are at a certain distance from the camera, all you need to mark those pixels between a certain value range on the depth image. Simple, fast and highly effective.

Most of the work has been done using OSX and openFrameworks (an open source framework for interactive applications).

Untitled from Miguel Sanchez on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

How not to buy from Dell

I had some funds to kill and I thought a new small laptop running Windows 7 would help me not to be a total illiterate when it comes to whatever changes come with W7. I wanted to replace my old Acer Travelamte 3002 WTMi that served me well (though loudspeakers failed almost from day one).

A quick look around the web showed that Dell M101z model could be a good choice: good value, acceptable battery time, small and not too heavy. I've never bought from Dell before but I guessed it won't be difficult or unpleasant: I was wrong.

First of all, I wanted Dell to produce an invoice to the name of my employer. I contacted with Dell chat (sorry, not available over the weekend) and I asked them for help. I was provided an email of a Dell representative dealing with my employer. I sent her an email and waited.

After 24h with no answer, I contacted Dell chat again asking how long should I wait to get an answer, as this being my first time with Dell I was not aware of what the typical service delay figure might be.

I was asked (twice) for my phone number and email and a sales person rang me. However, when I informed him that I wanted this sale to be billed to my employer I was told only the person I emailed before could help me. The salesman [kindly] made some checks online and told me I would be getting a response by email that same day. He was right, a few minutes later I received an answer from my "designated Dell representative".

News were not good though. In a one-line answer I was told the model I wanted to buy was not in the representative's list. That was, perhaps, a model to be sold for home users but not to business customers.

I was surprised that no alternative was provided, maybe an alternative model with somehow similar features, or the advice of buying the unit not as a business customer. Well, maybe things are done differently at Dell.

Anyway, I had researched the topic quite a bit and I was still convinced that model was a good deal, so I emailed back stating that I had no trouble paying credit card (instead of my company being billed) as far as I could end up with the laptop and an invoice to the name of my employer.

Once again, I was told what I wanted was not possible. Ok, it seems it is time to give up. Maybe this is the way they work.

So then I went back to the web, and started searching for alternatives. I learned that Hewlett-Packard had a small laptop line called DM1-*. I saw several models on Amazon that looked ok.

But then I was surprised that, when looking at the same HP model in PC City, they were selling Dell M101z there too.

I've bought things in PC City before and I am positive they can produce an invoice to the name of my employer (although they will want me to pay cash or credit card). So, just by chance, I learned how I could buy a Dell M101z and get an invoice to the name of my company. Nobody at Dell figured that out for me, even when that was exactly what I was asking for.

Now I am not sure I'm buying that model from Dell as I try not to favor those companies that do not treat me well as a client.

In these times of economic hardship, it is difficult for me to understand how companies can be so insensitive about their customers needs.

Update: I ended up buying an HP DM1-2150ss laptop instead of the Dell one. It was available at the same price as Dell's but I was not happy with the way Dell had treated me as a prospective customer. HP model was lacking Bluetooth though.

I bought it in PC-City but I cannot recommend them either, as I went through a small nightmare trying to reserve it online. Just to find out later that my on-line reservation served no purpose once I told them I wanted an invoice to the name of my employer. They do not seem to care much about their customers either. I've got my invoice eventually, but it was not easy nor pleasant to deal with them.