digital camera

New Microsoft 2D barcode released at CES

In a surprise move Microsoft released a new 2-dimensional barcode format today at CES. Yes, a barcode. The lines that are on the bottom of your milk carton, when you scan it at the supermarket checkout. And no, today is not April Fool's.

Two-dimensional barcodes are nothing new, and are most often seen on attendee badges at conferences or trade shows, but Microsoft's format is the first to use color and to be aimed at a specific reader device that most people already own: a cell phone with built-in camera.

The system is called Microsoft Tag and the idea is that you can encode URLs, vCards, phone numbers, or any arbitrary text in such a tag. The user then needs a reader application on their cell phone - and those are available already for all major cell phone platforms, including Symbian, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Android, and Blackberry - and once they scan the barcode, they get the encoded contact, are redirected to the website with the specified URL, or can call the encoded telephone number, without having to enter that number or URL or contact info into their cell phone manually.

MissionKitBarCodeFor a quick demonstration, download the beta version of the reader from http://gettag.mobi and install it on your cell phone, then use it to snap a picture of this barcode on the left and it will take your mobile browser to retrieve product information about the Altova MissionKit for Software Architects from our website. Clearly, it doesn't make sense to use these in a blog, but imagine reading an article about the software in a developer publication and being able to go directly to the website without having to type in a URL...

Btw, if you are using an iPhone, you can get the reader application through the familiar AppStore on your iPhone by searching for "Microsoft".

Microsoft envisions that such tags could in the future be printed on business cards, shown in print ads,XMLAficionadoBarCode on billboards, or even shown on TV, and the system is supposedly so flexible that it can deal even with out-of-focus or tiny versions of these barcodes. Hmm, so I created a new tag already for the URL of this XML Aficionado blog, and now I need to think where I should affix this to - maybe I'll print a T-Shirt with this new design and will wear it at the next conference I go to...

Further information and other blog reactions can be found on TechMeme.

TechEd, Open XML, and HDR Photography

While being at TechEd in Orlando, FL, last week, I had lunch with Doug Mahugh and we talked about the upcoming ODF support in Office 2007 SP2, the new features in the Open XML SDK, Altova's new support for Open XML diff/merge in DiffDog, creation of Open XML from StyleVision, and data integration and mapping for Open XML in MapForce, as well as various other XML-related topics.

We also talked about some other industry topics and finally came to chat about HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Doug sent me a few links to some of his recent photos, and this one impressed me the most.

I couldn't help it and had to get the software the same day. However, as I had left my Canon SLR camera at home for this trip, I wasn't able to test-drive HDR imaging until I got back home today:

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Obviously, this isn't a particularly exciting scene - I just shot from our balcony towards the end of the cul-de-sac. I used an automatic exposure bracketing of ±2 and loaded all three images into Photomatix and then played with some settings in the tone-mapping to create some vibrant and surreal colors.

But I still like the result quite a bit - it makes me want to go out and take some HDR photos of Marblehead harbor and experiment with other local scenes where the high dynamic range can come into play nicely.

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

The Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II has been my favorite camera for the past 2 years. Several of my best digital photos were taken with that camera, and I really love the versatility of the EOS series and all the lenses I can use with that body.
I was, therefore, very delighted when Canon recently announced the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III successor model that will ship in November this year:


The technical features are just amazing: a 21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, dual Digic III image processors, 3.0 inch LCD monitor with live-view, 45-point AF, SDHC support, and tons more.

And the sample photos in this gallery are equally impressive (even though only four have been posted so far).

For more details see the whitepaper (PDF).

Sure, it's not a Hasselblad, but then I'm not really a good enough photographer to warrant that either.

So this Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III gets a clear Thumbs Up from me and is hereby officially added to my Christmas wish list....

Geo-coding your photos efficiently

I love to take photos and digital cameras have certainly become the norm since the turn of the century. A new gadget from Sony recently caught my attention, because it promises to provide geo-coded Lat and Lon information for digital photos through GPS logging.

It is called the GPS-CS1KA and works on a surprisingly straight-forward principle: you turn the device on as you are taking pictures and it simply records your GPS position every minute or so. It is powered by just one AA battery and can record up to 10 hours of position data on one charge. The device comes with a USB-cable and associated software that lets you transfer the GPS logs to your computer. Then, when you have downloaded your photos from your digital camera into your computer, the software will automatically match the GPS log to the digital photos based on the timestamp information in will add Lat and Lon data to the JPEG files. This is appended to the file as regular EXIF information in the same way that your camera uses to store its metadata (shutter speed, aperture, etc.).

And why does this XML aficionado care about EXIF data? Well, that is really quite simple: the well-known jhead utility allow you to extract EXIF data from JPEG images to automate the process of building and manipulating image collections, and a very popular patch for jhead does, of course, support XML output, which makes this ideal for creating galleries/archives/directories or doing any other kind of post-processing for Web 2.0 apps.

I recently tested the Sony GPS-CS1KA device during an afternoon sail in Nahant Bay on a friend's boat, and the operation was indeed very simple. Once I had merged the photos with the GPS information, I uploaded the photos to my photo sharing website, which provides direct linking with Google Maps to utilize the included position data. You can see the result by going to this photo gallery and then clicking on “show” underneath the word timeline and zooming out a bit – this will show our approximate track that day and each green marker represents one photo, which you can view by clicking on the marker.