Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Infrared Webcam

A while ago I came across this page. It is instructions on converting a standard webcam from the visible light spectrum to the infrared spectrum. I finally got around to attempting the project myself.

I chose an old Intel CS330 webcam, no more recent than 1998 (yeah, it's pretty old-skool). You'll also need some exposed camera film, a small screwdriver, and a knife.

The basic plan is to open up the webcam, remove the lens housing, remove the Infrared filter from the lens, and replace it with film to filter visible light. Be prepared to damage the webcam--I did not have any problems taking mine apart, modifying, or reassembling, but I cannot vouch for other models.

  1. First we'll remove the case of the webcam. Take off any mounts, unscrew any screws, and otherwise pry the case off. Try not to break any clips, but instead gently remove them with a screwdriver. I also unscrewed and unclipped the USB cable from the circuit board, just to get it out of the way; be careful not to bend any pins.
    Disassembly 1Disassembly 2Disassembly 3

  2. Next unscrew the lens assembly from the circuit board, and unclip it from the mount. Now the CMOS sensor on the circuit board is exposed, so be careful not to scratch it, get dust on it, or even touch it.
    Lens mount disassembly 1Lens mount disassembly 2

  3. If you're lucky, there should be a small red piece of glass against the lens that is the IR filter. Simply remove it. If you are unlucky like me, the filter was painted directly onto the lens. Gently scratch (I know it sounds terrible) the lens with the tip of a knife blade until the red coating flicks off. This is the most difficult part; you need to apply enough pressure to chip off the filter coating, but avoid scratching the glass beneath. I found that it requires more pressure on the knife than you might expect, but it is better to be cautious.
    Filter removal 1Filter removal 2Filter removal 3

  4. Cut a piece of exposed, black photographic film to cover the lens; this will filter visible light, but allow IR wavelengths through. Use film that is as dark as possible, and that does not have a picture negative on it. One can usually find such pieces at the beginning of the roll, before actual pictures have been taken.
    Visible spectrum filter sizing

  5. Use a single fiber of duct tape (one of the grey strings), and lay it over the edge of the lens. Push the film you cut onto this to hold it in place. It will not be the "tightest" of seals, but it will prevent glue from getting caught on the lens, etc. Reassemble the lens mount.
    Lens mount reassembly

  6. Screw the lens assembly back onto the circuit board. Before doing this, blow gently on the CMOS sensor to remove any dust specks that will greatly degrade picture quality. Continue to replace the board in the case, reattach the USB cable, and close the case back up. Don't forget to screw in the screws.
    CMOS sensor

That's it. Now plug your webcam back into your computer and use it like you always have. Except now, the images will be in the IR spectrum. At first glance it will simply look like a black-and-white image of the regular shot, but look closer. You will see that some inks and dyes remain transparent, and others show up nicely. Take a look at a dollar bill, or your arm (the arm is weird--all the veins show up).

If the image looks too dark, you may need a stronger source if IR light. Daylight is normally sufficient, and occasionally an incandescent bulb will overlap into the IR spectrum adequately. However, try pointing a TV remote at the subject and holding down a button if you need more light.

Good luck!

PS. Thanks to for the image hosting.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

StatCounter Tracks My Hits

Take a look on the right-hand column of this page. Scroll down. See the little icon that says "StatCounter?" It looks like this:


StatCounter is a tool I found to see the usage statistics for this web site. It seems to be able to provide some pretty insightful information, including

  • Unique, Returning, and Total visitors
  • Browser, Javascript enabability
  • Operating system, resolution
  • IP address (so yes, I am logging you right now. I guess I should let that be a disclaimer of some sort.)
  • Referring pages, exiting pages
  • Search engines--and the search terms--that users found the site with
  • Length of visits, pages visited
  • Location, ISP

There's probably more I haven't found out yet. But best of all, the service is completely free. If you're looking for some basic demographic information for your blog or site, I'd recommend it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Earth's Population 6.5 Billion

Today Earth's population is projected to hit six-and-a-half billion people at 7:16pm EST, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and its World Population Clock.

As of this post's writing, the world population is an estimated 6,499,923,849 people.

The article on Wired (linked above) also has an interesting commentary on how many people the Earth can actually support.

Here seems like a good place to insert one of my favorite Frank Zappa quotes:
The problem with the world is stupidity. Not saying there should be a capital punishment for stupidity, but why don't we just take the safety labels off of everything and let the problem solve itself?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Torrent Sharers: Beware

Macworld posted an article today about the latest string of MPAA lawsuits.

Now the Motion Picture Association of America is targeting BitTorrent search engines. These sites provide users with the location of meta-data files known as Torrents that instruct a client program (such as uTorrent) on where to find data on a peer-to-peer network.

BitTorrent has until now managed to avoid lawsuits, despite its popularity in sharing movies, music, and other copyrighted material. But the MPAA is filing lawsuits against a number of the most popular Torrent search engines, including TorrentSpy, IsoHunt, and others.

The BitTorrent method of filesharing is quite ingenious. Users gather in a "swarm" around a file. A meta-data text file known as a "torrent" instructs members of the swarm on where pieces of the target data file (such as a software program, movie, music, etc) exist. Consequently, people who are downloading the file can simultaneously upload pieces they already have--these people are known as "peers." Swarm members who are uploading the entire data file are known as "seeds." A server known as a "tracker" keeps track of the swarm members.

BitTorrent users can expect to download things much faster than other P2P users, as long as they contribute to the network by keeping their downloaded:uploaded ratio high; otherwise, BitTorrent throttles their download.

It should be noted that BitTorrent, like all P2P networks, has legitimate uses. In fact, BitTorrent is perhaps the most legitimently used network. Many large files or PDF documents are often just hosted as torrents to keep server bandwidth down and file download time lower.

Writely Shows the Potential of Web2.0

The Web2.0 and AJAX craze is showing us dozens of potential web-based applications that might one day bring the desktop-based computing world as we know it to its knees. AJAX programs include meebo for instant messaging, Gmail for email and chat, and more.

But one AJAX application has really caught my eye: Writely, a web-based word processor.

While only in beta, Writely can seem a little rough around the edges, and occasionally makes a few mistakes. But it has the potential to rival desktop-based solutions such as OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Word. In fact, Writely can upload existing HTML, plaintext, rich-text, MS Word Documents, and OpenOffice .odt and .sxw documents. It can support .gif, .png, .jpg, and .bmp images for embedding in your files.

I experimented a bit with Writely, but came away happy. I only had a few minor problems, as is expected from a beta service. I lost some tab formatting in an rtf document that I uploaded. I had trouble getting cut/copy/paste to work, but the problem appears to be a compatibility issue with Firefox that can be fixed. And the Undo button wouldn't work for autocorrections made by the spell-checker. Also, Writely provides an RSS feed of documents you made public (i.e., available for others to see), but this proved a bit finicky. I did not experiment with Writely's vast set of collaboration tools, but they seem easy to use and powerful.

I successfully created a test document from scratch online, applied various special formatting, bulleted and numbered lists, tables, page breaks, horizontal lines, hyperlinks, and just plain content. I exported it to MS Word .doc successfully.

Overall, Writely as it stands provides a free, efficient, clean solution to most word processor users. I look forward to it coming out of beta as a functioning and streamlined product. If more web developers can create applications (and I don't use that term lightly; Writely came across as equally powerful to many desktop programs) with Writely's potential, then Web2.0 might succeed.

EDIT: Slashdot recently posted a thread about Web2.0 that features some more AJAX examples worthy of mention.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What is Happening, Google?

Google is both the web surfer's and the investors dream. With a clean interface that provides quick and accurate search results, and a stock that closed today at $378.07/share, the search giant is an unquestionable technological powerhouse. It has filled the niche once occupied by Yahoo, and is considered on par with Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.

But Google's been claiming some poor press lately, and not all unwarranted. Recently, Google has been taking fire from human-rights advocates worldwide for its self-censorship in China. The google.cn domain has existed for some time under the same technology as the common google.com engine, but Chinese users became frustrated with their government's blocks on sensitive material. Now Google has gone public, and it has decided to save costs by doing the censoring itself. How can a company devoted to finding accurate and unbiased information perform such an unethical act to limit freedom of information?

On the domestic front, Google has launched to wide public support a number of services that are undermining the company's slogan of "Don't be Evil." But privacy and security concerns have constantly been raised. Google's AdSense advertising scheme targets text-based ads to users search queries. But it also reads the contents of Gmail users' private email messages to match relevant ads for the user. AdSense also scans users' Atom feeds if they use Google's feed aggregation--both embedded in Gmail, and independent in the user's Google account.

Recently Google also began logging a user's searches if he is signed into his Google account. This is while the company is fighting court subpoenas in federal cases for search logs (scroll in the link to the second excerpt: "...Demographics of its users"). Google, you can't sit on the fence. Either keep all the information and make it available to whoever needs it and notify users they are under surveillance, or delete any record of me. I shouldn't have to exempt myself from logging routines. Play it safe--let the users choose to opt-in, not be forced to opt-out.

And Google's Desktop Search service has just entered version 3. And for the third time security analysts scream out warnings. An index of files on your computer like DS keeps is like a treasure map for hackers--and Google is notorious for not securing this index file adequately. If the index is found by a malicious hacker, he can use it to find personal information, credit card information, browsing histories, and a myriad of other private items that you don't want public.

Despite all of this, I still use Google. And I use many of Google's other services, including Gmail, Google Maps and Earth, and Picasa (I don't use Desktop Search; I use Copernic's instead). Even with the privacy and security concerns, Google's services do their job well. The search is clean and efficient, the services are fast, and all of them carry small but handy features that just makes a users life easier. But I also run a tight ship on my computer. It is heavily firewalled (both software and hardware), I'm very careful with spam and what information I make available, I scan for viruses and malware every few days, and I don't go all gung-ho downloading whatever I see online. Most users aren't this careful, and it is for these people that Google may pose a security and privacy risk.

My Forty-Two Cents is Live!

Hello, World!

I finally decided to join the hordes of internet junkies known as "bloggers" today. Actually, I decided at 6:24pm EST.

So anyways, welcome. I'm glad to see somebody is reading this blog. I can tell you now that its content will vary. My interests vary, so whatever happens to catch my eye in the news, on an Atom feed, in another blog, etc. is fair game for me to post about.

When you look at my blog site, one of the most prominent features is the title: My Forty-Two Cents. In Douglas Adams' humorous and enlightening commentary on "life, the universe, and everything," The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the answer is simply 42. Much emphasis is also put on the fact that nobody actually knows the question to which the answer is 42, but that's an entirely different matter. And of course, "My Forty-Two Cents" is a pun on "My Two Cents."

I'll try to post as often as I can, but sometimes these types of things slip through the cracks. Please be patient, because I know the entire cyber-community is simply on the edge of its seat to read what I have to say. But then again, that's what Stephen Hawking thought when he said his book The Universe in a Nutshell belonged on every person's coffee table. And he's a lot smarter than I am.