This one turned out even more nonspectacular than I feared.

I decided to capture the March 20, 2015 solar eclipse in a simulated scanner photo. Without a good view to record, I hurriedly set up my computer, a Lenovo X220 paid for with Shuttleworth Foundation money, and the camera in a window at work, overlooking the street outside. At 09:55, Swedish time, a two hour recording session began. I'd neglected one crucial thing, though: The Logitech C920 I used has automatic exposure compensation, which I didn't turn off. That's called a fail.

My two hour video turned out pretty decently exposure compensated by the camera, and the resulting photo showed signs of the eclipse, but in a way that largely reminds me of a Fresnel lens, intensity wise.

Not very dramatic. The real life experience was that of an overcast spring day rapidly turning into a soon-to-be thunderstormy spring day, but this was far from reflected in the image. I was going to leave the experiment in this state, and move on. But then, in what could be described as a kind of Tron moment (During the production of the 1982 movie Tron, there was a problem; If you realize that you've been using the stacks of boxes of photographic film sheets in the wrong order, and accidentally introduced quite notable jumps in the brightness in the final product, what are you going to do? Scrap the whole run, and order new stacks of boxes of photographic film sheets? That's expensive. Release the thing as it is? It doesn't look very good… And there's the Tron moment: The scene takes place inside a computer. Why not add some electrical sparks, flashes and anomalies that seem to cause the changes in brightness? Perfect!) I realized something:

In the camera's field of view, there's a really bright lamp, belonging to a building site, and pointing into the camera. That lamp and its flare is overexposed in bright sunlight, and, I reasoned, should become even more overexposed when the camera compensate for the lack of daylight during the eclipse.

After another two hours of video processing, I had a curve describing the number of overexposed pixels in that area. It looked like it could be used, and after some research on how much of the sun that was blocked (up to 82%), I fed the numbers and the image through some math. The final result still wasn't all that dramatic, but now the center of it showed a definite drop in brightness. Definitely not perfect; had I remembered to lock the exposure, the overcast sky at the end of the street wouldn't be banded, and if I had taken a little bit more time to position the camera, I could have had the dark band right through it instead of through the wall.

This experiment, although mostly a failure, gave me more insight in OpenCV, forced me to consider how data is structured in NumPy, and made me think outside the box. Not too bad for a largely failed experiment.

Game on!

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the Intel® RealSense™ App Challenge 2014, with the comment "This looks like stuff you're into, doesn't it?". Indeed it did, or, rather, indeed it did look like stuff I'd like to be into.


This is what I didn't submit to the competition:

Creative Senz3D camera

Creative Senz3D.

  • Take one of those Intel® RealSense™ cameras.
  • Add a 3D screen (A 3D TV, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard are just a few possibilities.)
  • Combine those with a pair of force feedback gloves,

and you have a system that would let you manipulate virtual objects by hand and touch.

I've wanted one of those since I began playing with raytracers, as a modeling tool. This setup would, however, fit each and every one of the App Challenge's categories, not just 3D modeling:

  • Gaming + Play (As a combined controlling and visualising system)
  • Learning / Edutainment (The ability to physically alter virtual objects can help immensely in understanding how they work in reality)
  • Interact Naturally (Well, it is, after all, pretty natural to manipulate things with your hands)
  • Collaboration / Creation (Combine two of these systems, put them in different places, and share a pseudophysical workbench at each location. Collaborate and create away!)
  • Open Innovation ("Move the sofa to the left, will you?" "Ok! *push*")


Of the things in the equipment list, I think the gloves are a bit tricky. There aren't too many half-decent, affordable gloves on the market. CyberGlove Systems CyberGrasp looks really nice, but I suspect they are a bit on the pricey side. The same company's CyberTouch (and the successor CyberTouch II) use fingertip vibrators to signal contact. I'd like a glove with, at least, fingertip feedback, but with inflatable cushions (or something similar; electroactive polymers could possibly provide a means to press against the fingertip with greater accuracy and speed), to make it possible to touch things lightly or more firmly, rather than just knowing that you're touching them.

Unless you have a whole force feedback exoskeleton arm, the experience would of course be very limited. It'd still be better than nothing.


Depending on the type of display device chosen, entirely different sets of limitations would be imposed on the system. If the display device is a 3D TV, the user would be tethered rather tightly to it, as it has to remain within the user's visual field, and all objects available for physical manipulation would have to be placed in the space between the user and the TV.

A head mounted display could enable a larger visual field to be used, and make it possible to walk short distances to change the perspective, but the user would still be locked into the area seen by the Intel® RealSense™ thingamabob. Given the somewhat small range of 0.2 to 1.2 meters from the camera, this could be a big problem. If a greater range is needed, the Kinect could be a better choice, with its range of 0.8 to 4 meters, but probably come with a resolution penalty.


The contest rules mention that participants must show a good understanding of the device's API. I must confess that I haven't taken the time to read the specs, but I feel confident in guessing a few things:

There's a 3D sensing device that is able to identify eyes and mouth, and thereby probably able to determine the user's head tilt. Possibly swivel and pan, too. In the case of a head mounted display, swivel, pan and tilt could be determined using both devices in cooperation. The camera is able to determine, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, the user's X, Y and Z position in space, something that could be tricky to get from a head mounted display, and next to impossible if using a simple 3D TV and glasses.

One big if is if the 3D camera is any good at tracking such a head mounted display, or if you'd have to put a face mask on it…


There are several reasons I didn't submit any of this to the competition; one is that I wouldn't have the time or money to actually build the system even if I got the 3D hardware in my hands (but yes, I'd like to experiment with it), and another is that I get the feeling that I've expanded the scope way beyond what's expected, while at the same time having reduced the RealSense™ part of it all to a much smaller component than Intel® would like me to. What's their definition of "an app"?


2015-01-23: Yes, this looks really nice: Microsoft's HoloLens. Gimme please?

Let me tell you a thing or two about Shuttleworth Foundation:

In a way, they're nuts. In so many other ways, they are brave, admirable and simply brilliant. They are, in their own words, "looking for social innovators who are helping to change the world for the better", and when they find one, they offer a year's salary, take care of getting the innovator rid of his or her day job in favor of a fellowship, and help getting the innovator's project off the ground and in the air by enabling access to their network of good people. (I'm not sure, but I suspect the have their own MacGyver running around and non-violently righting wrongs around the world, too. Don't quote me on that, though.)

But that's not all

Once in a while, they ask their Fellows if they know about any change agents that would benefit from a somewhat smaller amount of money and effort, and call that the Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant. One of those is what I have received, in recognition of my work and purpose with Outstanding Experiments; for being open not only with what has been accomplished, but also with what has not been done, due to lack of money, inspiration or momentum.

The feedback I've gotten regarding this blog has been practically exclusively positive. (None negative, but a few persons have asked a few pretty neutral questions.) That's not bad for something I just had to do, to set my languishing ideas free, and hopefully sow a seed of inspiration in the minds of my readers. I thank my readers for that encouragement, and continue shaving experiments off my backlog, one at a time.

The grant is far from large enough to realize, for example, the Lava radiator, but more than enough to help in numerous other ways related to this blog. The first thing I'm going to get is a proper SSL certificate, and start migrating the whole domain from insecure HTTP to HTTPS. It may look like a small and strange step, but I'm a believer in personal privacy, and making things difficult to eavesdrop, however insignificant they seem. More experiments will be improved by the help of Shuttleworth Foundation in the future; just wait and see.

Wishing and hoping and thinking

When I say Shuttleworth Foundation is kind of nuts, I mean that in the best way possible. I wholeheartedly support the idea of enabling social change without solely focusing on economic gain. I wish I had the guts to be that nuts, but I'm not quite there, though I do have an experiment or two queued up that tread that territory.

Digging deep

One benefit of writing a blog like this one is that while you think of the next project to outstand, you just might stumble over another old project that you'd simply forgotten about. This is one of those.

When I became a father, I realized that my children will grow up and live their lives in my science fiction. How would they perceive all the things I grew up with, and thought were pretty neat? I pondered the possibility to create a web site to tell my children about all those things that they never will have to touch, things I grew up with, but has become so obsolete they will not return.

The bright future

  • VHS tape and compact cassettes are two examples. Mechanical media recorders in general is something I have a hard time imagining my children to use, other than out of curiosity.
  • Thin ethernet is another thing. BNC connectors, terminators, finding out which computer is interfering with the whole network. My first home network was a three-computer 10BASE2 network, consisting of two Linux machines and one Amiga. I've never used thick ethernet, and I'm not particularly sorry about that, though I have friends with somewhat fond memories of that kind of network.
  • Wired phones. I mean, how 18th century is that? They couldn't even text, let alone surf the net. I bet they'll never have to look somebody up in a paper phone book, or try reaching someone, standing in a phone booth, searching for leftover coins in their pockets. On the other hand, they'll probably not experience the excitement of finding forgotten return coins in phone booths, either.
  • One last, phone related point: Area codes. They're definitely on their way out, and when my children get their own phones, area codes will probably be long gone.
  • Being forced to make plans in advance. No, they'll still have to do that, but to a lesser extent. That's one advantage of cell phones (Ok, I lied in the previous point.) that I rather enjoy, being able to meet up with someone on a whim, or tell my wife that I happened to take the children's mittens to work, no need to search for them.
  • Vinyl records... Now, that's something they just might come in contact with. That technology is surprisingly resilient, for some reason.

The bleak future

There are, of course, things that were better in the past. My children will grow up in a world where it quite possibly is illegal to break open and peek inside media players and other devices that even remotely handle copyrighted material. Not that there will be much to see inside them, though; probably a few monolithic, integrated circuits and a few capacitors along with a ridiculously dangerous battery. But the principle!

When I grew up, you could build an FM radio receiver from bits of wire, some transistors and a few coils, resistors and capacitors. In a few years, there might not be any analog transmitters to receive, as more and more stations go digital. (On the other hand, they will be able to buy small, over-powered building blocks, even more so than today's BeagleBone Black or Raspberry Pi, and build really cool stuff with them in mere minutes.)

My children will have a hard time evading being logged and analyzed for marketing and other purposes. Anything they do will be registered, unless they cut themselves off from society by leaving phones and cards at home. I reached the age of 40 before laws were passed that anything we do with our phones and computers throughout Europe must be logged and kept for 6 to 24 months.

Those laws were later revoked, but not before the entire infrastructure and related procedures were implemented, and they were revoked on mere technicalities. They will be back, in some form or another, and my children will be subject to them.

In the future, it might be suspicious to use cash instead of electronic money, making it even more difficult to not having your shopping habits logged.

Some more stuff

In my research for this post, I asked a few friends for tips about obsolete and emerging technologies, some of which I've written about in the preceding paragraphs, and some of which I'm going to present in a list below, for the reader to ponder:

Spirit duplicator

Spirit duplicator.
Photo by Kimsaka (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Not being constantly being monitored by technology. Even today, taking a walk in the forest without carrying your phone can be a bit scary.
  • Being able to take things apart, and repair or improve them, will be more difficult.
  • Pocket calculators, as things instead of an app.
  • Portable music players. Again, as things, rather than apps.
  • Pencils, the sharpen-it-yourself variety.
  • Your grandchildren might not be able to buy cheap paperback books.
  • Scheduled TV broadcasts.
  • Paper encyclopedias.
  • Computers without network access.
  • Spirit duplicators. Those bluish-purplish copies did have a rather unique fragrance, didn't they?

And "Saker du slipper"? Roughly translated, it would be "Things you won't have to experience or care about".

What do you think our children won't have to deal with in the future? What do you think is unfortunate that they won't experience?

This is exciting!

[TL;DR version: I'm a genius visionary, but I don't follow through.]

Really, this is exciting! But first, some background:

On the sixth of August, 2012, I finally aquired a Google Maps API key for an experiment.

I wanted to build an app, connected to Google Maps, that enabled users to share the locations of free and open Wi-Fi spots. It would be pretty basic, but I felt that it could be really useful. Who hasn't been stranded somewhere, in desperate need of a friendly Wi-Fi spot open for public use?

The app itself was planned to be able to find open access points, automatically test them for connectivity and some basic security checks, and connect to them. Once online, the app would post the GPS location of the spot for other users to find on a public map, and let the user find other spots to use.

The database behind all this would of course contain other types of open or at least somewhat open spots, completely open being preferred over spots using captive portals or demanding payment or memberships in order to allow access. All of this would have made it much easier to find connectivity when in need.

The only service remotely similar to what I wanted that I could find in Sweden at that time was

While this service technically covered the "let me find wifi on a map" part, it was based on the creator's other map services, locating and rating more static things, such as sushi restaurants or cafes. Wi-Fi spots were manually entered and maintained by the site's users, and in combination with the rather volatile nature of many Wi-Fi spots this lead to a data quality level that I found unsatisfactory.

WorldWideWifi's data was to be automatically collected in the general case, and manually maintained for the subset of spots that people actually would care for enough to spend time on.

I felt that this approach would give a higher level of data quality and provide automatic maintenance of the database. It would have worked something like this:

  • When a user entered a wireless network not previously recorded, the app would alert the user and ask for permission to connect to* and categorize** the network.

  • * This would be illegal in some countries, which probably would become mostly white areas on the map. Automatically connecting to and categorizing open networks without user intervention would probably be illegal in even more countries.

    ** The categories would include, among other things:
    • Openness, ranging from "open" where it was possible to use essential ports, like 80, 443, 22, 6667 and the like, to "www only" for those strange places that call port 80 "the Internet". Due to spammers, I wouldn't have counted mail related ports as essential, though.
    • Speed, measured against a few known good bandwidth targets
    • Whether there is a captive portal or not, requiring some sort of confirmation before the network can be used. The categorizer would of course be aware of and able to fill in such confirmations before continuing the categorizing process.
    • If payment is required

    The spot would then be submitted for inclusion in the database.

  • When a user entered an already registered spot that hadn't been validated for a certain amount of time, the app would connect and run a series of validation tests, confirming the spot's status.
  • If the user arrived at a spot, based on GPS location, that no longer was active, the spot would be marked as potentially unavailable in the map, and a notification would be sent to the spot maintainer if one existed. If the spot wasn't restored within a reasonable time, it would be unceremoniously deleted from the database.

And how is this exciting?

It exists. Not in every detail the same as WorldWideWiFi, but close enough. About the same time in 2012, when I began my research for this project, a Swedish company was founded; Instabridge. Let me quote from their welcome letter:

With Instabridge you can:
1) Get free wifi all over the world
2) Use your friends wifi networks without having to input the password
3) Keep your wifi networks in sync between all of your devices

Point 1 covers the basics of WorldWideWiFi. A quick test of the app showed that it categorizes spots according to freeness (as in gratis, captive portals and such things) and speed, at least. I'm not sure it cares about openness (as in what you can access through the spot), and whether they prune the database automatically I do not know. The app's wording suggest that it's able to automatically categorize open spots without user intervention, but I haven't tried doing that yet. It's really keen on sending the user's personal data to Instabridge, though, in the name of convenience.

Points 2 and 3 are functionality that wasn't going to be covered by Worl... Let's call it WWWF from now on, ok? WWWF wasn't going to handle points 2 and 3. I didn't have any wish to be responsible for people's private network passwords.

It was planned to let WWWF members review the spots, though, much like wifikartan's service, and taking care of people's login credentials felt like enough responsibility.

OpenCellID heatmap

OpenCellID heatmap. Wi-Fi heatmaps seem to be scarce; this will have to do.
Photo by Markus591 (CC BY-SA).


In 2012, I envisioned a world wide Wi-Fi map, mainly powered by and accessed through a smartphone app. At about the same time, a company was founded around essentially that same vision, and in 2013, they got an award for being bloody geniuses. Good work!