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Archive for March, 2011

Bizarre Week, More Predictable One Ahead

[Or in general, what has been going on]

Once a year I take a break from the Internet, usually for about a week. This need not mean being absent from the Net altogether, just a lot less omnipresent (if present at all). Last year I took my longest break ever (well, since the 90s) from the Internet, lasting about 5 days of zero access to the Net. It was an interesting experience. Usually I take these breaks in summer, but due to problems with the Internet connection (although I do work to have it restored in the new house as quickly as is feasible) this time it happens in spring. Anyway, for those who might be interested, here are my experiences when stepping offline after virtually ‘living’ on the grid on a daily basis for 51 weeks.

First of all, despite initial expectations, there is not much of a yearning to get back online. When the train of thought is interrupted and online activity slips out of mind, so is the desire to get back in there. Typically, there is a feedback loop such as conversations with people and it’s this type of cycle that make it disruptive upon departure. Productivity-wise, being offline is not more productive, but it depends on the definition of productive; activities merely change a bit. It is probably a lot harder taking 7 single days off throughout the year than it is to take one week off. It’s something to do with workflow. Similarly, when it comes to coding, it often works better if a week is set aside and dedicated just to code; transitions that are too frequent lead to mental baggage and distraction; separation between home and work computer sometimes helps eliminate the temptation to mix the two.

Anyway, as I digress, hopefully (if BT keeps its promise) I will be properly back online next week. The ISP is a very bad deal (more expensive than the rivals), but it’s supposed to be unlimited without restrictions, although BT loves to embed antifeatures like throttling and Phorm (spying on packets). Until then I am focused on getting research and development done; in addition, when time permits, I re-plan the operation of Techrights which once a year requires a rethink because technology changes and means of disseminating information (e.g. IRC, microblogging, audiocasting) make delivery a constantly-changing turf. Those who stick to “traditional” paradigms like “old media” did (e.g. newspapers) are doomed to become extinct because everything evolves.

I currently have three jobs, one of which is the business I start with some friends and people whom I know can offer me contracts. This oughtn’t interfere with my operation of this site as well as Techrights (I own about 6 domains at the moment, but these two are by far the most major ones), in fact in some ways these are complementary. There has been a lot of social life recently; now, that — unlike the jobs — can really come to the expense of hobby Web sites. Maybe sleep can give way.

TechBytes Episode 34: Patents and Phones


Direct download as Ogg (0:44:31, 13.7 MB) | Direct download as MP3 (20.4 MB)

Summary: Tim, Gordon, and Roy catch up with news about phones and patents

THIS episode was recorded in a rush and is short because it was recorded over a mobile broadband network (it took a whole night to upload). We touch some important subjects and prepare for possible changes in shows to come.

RSS 64x64The show ends with “Skydiving” by Jonay and Jasmine Kara. We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date.

As embedded (HTML5):


Ogg Theora
(There is also an MP3 version)

Contracting for Scientific Betterment

Tourists checking a map

Helping hand for Free software entrants in science

Earlier this month I wrote about a new ‘umbrella’ under which I’ll be able to accept contracts, as I’ve been doing for about a decade now. The banner chosen for it is “Scientific Freedom” and the official site for it is still not finished even though I’m reasonably happy with the state that it’s in, so it’s now public. I’m fortunate enough to have met skilled people around the Web — people with whom I can share work in case it’s geographically suitable or in cases where workload is high. So even though there’s nothing too new here, the site is new and it makes it abundantly clear that I only ever code for freedom (preferably GPLv3) because it’s beneficial to everyone, the client included.

TechBytes Episode 33: Monopoly, Patents, Monsanto, and More


Direct download as Ogg (1:16:04, 22.9 MB) | Direct download as MP3 (34.8 MB)

Summary: Tim, Gordon, and Roy meet after a long time and catch up with interesting news

IN THIS relatively short episode we finally have Tim back online (ISP issue) and we have discussions about GNU/Linux, desktop environments, patents, Monsanto, copyrights, and even British media (including criticism of the BBC and Rupert Murdoch).

RSS 64x64The show ends with “tears” (the song). We hope you will join us for future shows and consider subscribing to the show via the RSS feed. You can also visit our archives for past shows. If you have an account, consider subscribing to TechBytes in order to keep up to date.

As embedded (HTML5):


Ogg Theora
(There is also an MP3 version)

Working With the FRGC 3-D Faces Database – Part I

Massive dataset explored

Raw face image with holes left

Example face with holes remaining in the data

Face - Phong method
Another example

Smoothed face with no holes or spikes
Same as above, different angle

Summary: Notes, tips, code samples, and pointers relating to FRGC (an ongoing series of posts)

THIS post provides some information of interest to those who may find themselves working with 70 GB of data and some programs [1, 2]. The latter is a FRGC Web site. The package comes with associated applications and scripts written in Java, C++, Perl, etc. The previous post about the dataset (FRGC ver2.0) offers a bit of background that is research-specific (relating to Dr. Ajmal Mian and his Ph.D. student Faisal R. Al-Osaimi), whereas the notes below are a bit more generic. This series of posts is not about statistical models of faces but only about the dataset. This recent message from Face Recognition Research Community contains MATLAB/Octave loader code for a data instance from the dataset, where each 3-D face weighs about 13 MB (compressed):

function [x, y, z, fl] = absload(fname) 
%ABSLOAD Read a UND database range image from file.
%   [X,Y,Z,FL] = ABSLOAD(FILENAME) reads the range image in FILENAME
%   into the variables X,Y,Z,FL.
%   FILENAME is a string that specifies the name of the file
%            to be openned
%   X,Y,Z are matrices representing the 3D co-ords of each point
%   FL    is the flags vector specifying if a point is valid

% open the file
fid = fopen(fname);

% read number of rows
r = fgetl(fid);
r = sscanf(r, '%d');

% read number of columns
c = fgetl(fid);
c = sscanf(c, '%d');

% read junk line
t = fgetl(fid); clear t;

% get flags
fl = fscanf(fid,'%d',[c r])';

% get x
x = fscanf(fid,'%f',[c r])';
% get y
y = fscanf(fid,'%f',[c r])';
% get z
z = fscanf(fid,'%f',[c r])';

% close the file

This just handles one single image. There are many in the current collection:

find | grep .abs | wc
   4950    4950  257215

All of which are compressed:

find | grep .abs.gz | wc
   4950    4950  257215

To get a list of the 3-D faces:

find | grep .abs.gz | awk '/{print $1}' 1>~/files_list.txt

It yields something like the following:


Free Software More Than a Hobby

Throughout my career I’ve always had many eggs in the basket. I’ve usually had multiple jobs and I was never fired; I always succeeded in job interviews (since 2003), except the ones with Google, which came to me three time (I never approached them regarding a job). One thing I’ve learned over the years is that one must choose a job one enjoys, otherwise it’s a chore. I never accepted a job that I disliked. I have been working in two jobs simultaneously several times (simultaneously as in overlapping months/years), sometimes on top of already being a full-time Ph.D. candidate/student. I still work two jobs and I very much enjoy both; it’s like leisure as there is a sense of achievement. Besides all of this, as a hobby I maintain some sites that promote freedom; I was never paid for this. This is part of my reading of material; it’s like a learning experience which also proved beneficial to many others — those who share interests with mine. Being enthusiastic about freedom comes very naturally.

After many years wanting to be running an independent business on the side I’ve decided to start creating a professional site. The original idea was to come up with a new name (and domain), but after much consideration I came to the conclusion that giving visibility to a new name and new site would be a lot of work. As this new blog post from Forbes correctly indicates, reputation matters a lot when seeking business. That’s why I decided to stick with my surname and in the coming days/weeks there will be a formal announcement regarding my third job, in which the work capacity cannot be guaranteed (depends on clients). The focus is affordable scientific computing solutions that put the client in control. In essence, it is about spreading free/open source software and charging for the scarcity, which is skill and (wo)man hours. There is nothing unethical about it.

Together with some friends (I shall add people to the appropriate pages), a new logo, CMS theme, and a soon-to-be redirection (dupe of index.htm will ensure all the older pages remain accessible), will soon have a sort of relaunch. The site no longer attracts about 3,000 visitors per days like it used to (back in the days when it was regularly updated), but we shall see if it takes off not just as a personal workspace with a lot of informal pages. I remain very much committed to all my jobs; starting something as my own ‘boss’ will just be something on the side.

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Original styles created by Ian Main (all acknowledgements) • PHP scripts and styles later modified by Roy Schestowitz • Help yourself to a GPL'd copy
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