Sunday, March 20, 2016

Nokia 808 Macro

Outdated Smartphone TRIGGER WARNING

Steve Litchfield, who ran one of the biggest Symbian fan sites, decided to compare the Samsung S7 and Nokia 808 cameras. His photographic shootouts are mostly a waste of time because he conducts them haphazardly with arbitrary scoring that typically favors the latest hyped "imaging" phone.

One of his tests shows the S7 with superior macro capabilities. Not a surprise as the 808 is somewhat known to be weak in that area. But one of the responses by Bigley Ling showed a much better macro result for the 808 and so I decided to take a *cough* closer look.

The following image shows a number of the latest smartphones at their closest focusing distance. These images are not mine but are from a review from I've added in a shot I took with an 808 at closest focusing distance. It's not as nice but you get the idea.

You can see that the 808 doesn't get nearly as close which caused many reviewers, including GSMArena, to assume it had mediocre macro capabilities. But that's only half the story.

The 808 is capable of much higher resolution than the others, so the question is whether that resolution advantage can offset its rather large minimum focus distance. To find out, I've cropped, rotated, and resized the original files to make comparison as equal as possible. However, the author of the original piece states that focus was difficult with the Apple, Huawei, and Microsoft smartphones which probably disadvantages them.

I used a tripod and digital zoom to ensure proper focus for the 808.

Normalized Close Focus Roundup

 Apple iPhone 6s Plus

Microsoft Lumia 950

Samsung Galaxy S7

Nokia 808

The S7 and 808 are definitely ahead of the Microsoft and Apple smartphones. The Huawei wasn't included because it was obviously the worst. Between the S7 and 808, I'd have to say the 808 produces a superior result. However, it might just be that my coin has less wear.

And although the S7 does have infinitely better autofocus than the 808, the 808 has much greater working distance* and field of view! 

Finally, I decided to digiscope the 808 to the Pentax Papillio IIs which increases the working distance to 60cm. However, it is hard to align optically and the image is generally inferior to the stock 808. Field of view is also reduced on account of vignetting.

At closer view, however, it can resolve a bit more detail which you can see if you compare George Washington's sideburns. None of the images gain from zooming in the images, but even higher magnification is available if you open the images in new tabs.

Nokia 808 with Papillio II

* The minimum focus distance is 20cm compared to around 7cm for the others. If a system is able to take similarly detailed close up shots as the 808 clearly is, then the 20cm is actually an advantage. You can be about three times further away and capture more background. It's a clear win-win.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Why, all our ranks are broke.

First they came for Tic-Tac-Toe. Then they came for checkers. And they even took down chess. But exhausting the search space for those games was inevitable. More than a googol but apparently not more than a Google.

Go was always the game the computers were never meant to win. Too many moves to brute force or create massive move databases for. But it looks like Google's DeepMind is going to beat one of very best human players.

The initial skeptic in me found it hard to see DeepMind as anything but a kind of savant in the same vein as Deep Blue. At least with Watson's victory over Ken Jennings, the AI applications were more generalizable. But DeepMind, if the writing on the tin is correct, uses neural networks to learn; it is able to play video games by looking at the screen.

So it does seem to be a real breakthrough in the field of AI. But with so many of the means that become available to us, the ends we seek disappoint.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Okay OpTics, you win

Not OpTic gaming, but "optics" as a shorthand for public perception. I've been seeing it more frequently but can't think of an already existing alternative from my limited vocabulary. So that automatically makes it better than meme, problematic, and methodology. 

Are there any better candidates for expressing "public perception" than "optics"?

Impression, reaction, or response don't capture the public part of public perception. There are a million or so words in the English language so I'm sure there is a word that does work. Omote might be a good loanword candidate. I'm not really sure why "optics" got me worked up but the whole "how is this going to look to the public?" mentality reeks of the personality ethic Steven Covey taught against. But maybe it's a good shibboleth for PR and PR wannabe types.

My guess is that "optics" will quickly cycle through corporate-speak land and maybe end up dying off in hacky West Wing type smart political dramas.

* Omote does have deeper and complex cultural meanings which aren't reflected in "optics" in the same way that proper etiquette and saving face differ from avoiding gaffes and avoiding scandal.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Big Short aka Falling Short

Got around to watching The Big Short and vaguely recall having the same reservations I had towards the book.  On my old blog, I'm sure I'd done some commentary on the book or maybe that was back in business school, but the movie/book completely whiffed with regard to the role of ratings agencies in the 2008 crash.

There's a scene where Steve Carrell goes to Standard and Poors asking whether the agency actually examined the risk profile of the mortgages that made up the various instruments they were rating and the representative for S&P confesses that if they don't give the big banks the AAA ratings they ask for, the banks will just head down to Moody's (their chief competitor). Oh, it's just those evil Wall Street profiteers again! More regulations would solve things!*

But this explanation as to why S&P gave garbage assets AAA ratings was grossly incomplete. Imagine you started a business that gave safety ratings for food and you sold your findings to interested parties. Dining guides would be a prime market.

Dining guides would only buy your ratings if they were accurate. Now it is certainly possible and in many instances likely that an unhygienic restaurant would try to buy a higher rating than deserved. And you might even accept their bribe. But once people found out, your business would be ruined. The general incentive is to try to provide accurate ratings even if you were a super greedy unscrupulous businessman. It's the best way to stay profitable.

The overall goals of the company, of course, are not always shared by every employee. That is, commissions might entice reviewer employees to do a superficial inspection and accept bribes. Defects in compensation and management structure all impair the ability of a company to accomplish its goals and companies that have the best systems in place for eliminating those defects are the ones that will enjoy higher profits.

In the short term, it's possible to boost profits by giving dirty restaurants A+ hygiene ratings. If your company had given Chipotle or Jack in the Box an A+ during the food poisoning scandal time, not only would dining guides no longer purchase your ratings services but restaurants would have little incentive to pay for a discredited rating.

It would not be long before a competitor ratings service captured your marketshare.

So why did S&P and Moody's give top ratings to junk securities?

Because government regulations specifically mandated the use of ratings from those two companies.

Imagine if the government made a law saying that all food safety ratings must come from your company. Guidebooks are required to pay for your service and at that point, it doesn't matter if your ratings are bought and paid for; the fact that your business is relatively insulated from failure means that taking bribes is be more profitable even in the long term.

* And the movie more or less closes with the theme that regulations would have prevented the crisis. More outrageous is the quick glossing over the fact that the government, nominally the representative of the people, forced us to bail out and protect the big banks and ratings agencies. It's one thing to be scammed by a company, but to have a party come in and force you to continue to support that company claiming it is "for your own and the greater good" is lunacy. But that's what happened.

How it should have ended: the shorts get their money, all the companies that placed the bad bets would have lost enormous value and gone under, we would have eliminated the NRSRO regulations that let the ratings agencies get away with fraud, the companies that were prudent in lending and securitization and performed due diligence in risk assessment would be thriving today instead of being suffocated by the zaibatsu that we were constantly told "needed to be saved".