Sunday, July 31, 2005

Pano Plane... or Playing With Panoramas

AirExpo 2005 C17 #1 (c) 2005 John Clifford, all rights reserved
4 SD10 photos stitched with PanoTools

No, this isn't a post about playing the piano. Instead, I want to talk a little about panoramic photographs, aka 'panoramas' or photos that are much larger in one dimension than the other.

Panoramas can be vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape) in orientation. The earliest panoramas that I'm familiar with were landscapes and were usually sections of conventional photographs that were cropped to give the panoramic format. However, panoramic cameras have existed since the late 1800s; I have one early panorama that was taken in 1917 with a Circut camera (a marriage of a complicated clockworks to a camera that produced some very fine panoramas) at a US Army training camp showing a company of men getting ready to head for France; I'm sure that such photos were popular with the Army itself which commissioned the photos as well as the men in the photos.

The earliest panoramas were created by manually 'stitching' several individual photographs together at the seams. This required dexterity in the darkrooms of the day, and while the results weren't perfect (seams, or differences in exposures, were often visible in the finished panoramas) the pictures were often fascinating. Panoramas were initially created to overcome the lens limitations of early photography; often only one focal length with a correspondingly narrow field of view was available to the photographer. However, panoramas have a beauty and appeal all their own and soon a few photographers started specializing in this form.

Photograph of San Francisco in ruins after the earthquake,
from Lawrence Captive Airship, 2000 feet above San Francisco Bay
1906 Geo. R. Lawrence Co. (from the Library of Congress)

Special cameras dedicated to panoramic photos have been designed and sold for decades, but have not sold well to the general public. Even though these cameras use standard-sized film, the negative format was different and unsuitable for commercial processing; the processor often inadvertantly sliced the panoramic negative assuming the film was separated into standard-sized negatives. During the 1970s, and again in the 1990s, Kodak designed and built consumer cameras with panoramic features in both 110 and APS formats, but these cameras were not generally adopted due to their small negative size and fixed lens design. The expense and complexity of taking panoramas with high-end specialized cameras, and the difficulty of splicing pictures from regular cameras, have kept panoramas out of the province of all but the most dedicated amateur and professional photographers, until now.

Mount Si (c) 2004, John Clifford, all rights reserved
two Nikon 885 photos stitched via Arcsoft Panorama Maker 2000

Digital cameras have revolutionized panoramic photography (along with everything else in the photographic world). Most digital cameras today come with a plethora of accessory software and often panoramic software is included at no charge. These programs let you assemble panoramas from several overlapping photographs and do a remarkably fine job with little or no user input. The picture above, "Mount Si", was made from two separate photos that overlapped by about 20% on the adjacent sides, using Arcsoft's Panorama Maker 2000 software supplied with my Nikon Coolpix 885 camera. Using the panoramic format allowed me to capture a scene that otherwise could not be photographed with my camera; even on it's widest 8mm focal length (equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera) I could only include about half of the mountain.

Capturing scenes like that, or like the shot of Cannon Beach that I posted a week ago, would be impossible with normal cameras. Yes, you might be able to get the same effective field of view with a super-wide-angle lens, but you would lose the detail that exists in the original (the photo that you see above is about 1/8th actual size, the enlarged version you get upon clicking on it is 1/2 actual size). And that leads me to another reason for taking panoramas; I can capture much more detail that I could if I used the appropriate wide-angle lens and just took one photograph. The photo "C5 #2" below is a reduced example of a photo that, at full size, has the horizontal resolution of a 25 megapixel camera. It will look impressive hanging on the wall.

C5 Galaxy #2, (c) 2005 by John Clifford
all rights reserved

4 SD10 photos stitched with PanoTools

Max Lyons was the first non-governmental photographer to create a one-gigapixel digital image (yes, one billion pixels!) (The US government has gigapixel-equivalent camera capabilities for photoreconnaissance.) The race is on: a group of scientists from the Netherlands has created a 2.5 gigapixel image on a bet inspired by discussion of Lyons' photograph. What Lyons and other photographers are doing is stretching the limits of resolution to places where film cannot compete. It is generally accepted that 6- to 8-megapixel APS-sensor digital cameras (not smaller 1/1.8" sensor digicams) have image quality equal to 35mm 100 ASA color film, and medium format imagery is roughly equivalent to a 24 megapixel image.

Imagine then, a film camera that could take a 1-gigapixel image... and you would see the Gigapixl camera, a very large-format negative film camera that digitizes the negative and prints the resultant image on high resolution inkjet printers. At this moment, large format film has one advantage over digital: it is currently impossible to make a 1-gigapixel digital sensor. However, as digital technology advances, expect to see the average consumer digicam producing prints better than the best 35mm cameras of a generation ago... and expect to see digital SLRs produce prints as good or better than the best of today's medium format equipment.

Those who decried digital photography as the end of photography were wrong. It is only the beginning.

Note: You can view a larger version of any photo on my website by clicking on the image. All images, unless otherwise noted, are copyright 2005 John Clifford and all rights are reserved. Please do not copy them without permission.

Monday, July 25, 2005

What Not To Do When Challenged By The Police

Last week, a man was shot and killed in London after he he fled when approached by several police officers, ran into an Underground station while being pursued by the police, and jumped onto a subway train.

Mark Whitby said he was sitting on the Tube at Stockwell Station (search) on Friday when the man ran in to the train car. “As he ran, he was hotly pursued by what I knew to be three plain-clothes police officers,” Whitby told BBC News 24.

"As the man got on the train I looked at his face. He looked from left to right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, like a cornered fox,” Whitby said. "He looked absolutely petrified.”

"He half-tripped, was half-pushed to the floor,” Whitby said. "One of the police officers was holding a black automatic pistol in his left hand. They held it down to him and unloaded five shots into him. I saw it. He's dead, five shots, he's dead."
The man, who was wearing a thick, padded jacket and who had recently been spotted leaving a suspected terrorist safe house that was under police surveillance, was initially believed to be a homicide bomber due to his dress, his Arab-looking features, and his reactions after being confronted by police. It turns out, however, that the individual, Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian national, was not a terrorist but instead was living and working in London illegally after the expiration of his work visa, and he evidently fled from the police so he wouldn't be deported back to Brazil.

Predictably, some are outraged by what they see as an overreaction by the Metropolitan Police who, in their view, illegally gunned down an innocent man. My response: after two terrorist attacks in as many weeks that resulted in the deaths of scores of innocents on London subways and buses, what did Menezes expect? Yes, it is regrettable that an man who was guilty only of illegal immigration is dead. However, the only party to blame for this tragedy is Menezes himself.

He knew what had been happening in London. He knew that police would be especially suspicious and cautious, and especially quick in any attempt to stop another terrorist attack. He knew his visa was expired and he alone made the decision to run.

To those who think the police overreacted, put yourself in their place. Your city has been attacked by terrorists, and you probably have personally seen the bloody results of their carnage. Your department has made every effort to ensure the security of the citizenry while also planning for worst-case scenarios... and a pursued bomb-laden terrorist getting on the subway and detonating himself is about as worst-case as it gets. So... you receive orders to confront a man wearing a thick jacket, in the heat of the summer, who has been seen by police exiting a suspected terrorist nest. Several of you approach the suspect, and some of you are openly armed (which is extremely rare in London). Instead of stopping and showing identification when asked, the suspect instead immediately flees towards the nearest Tube stop and you, of course, pursue.

Now we have a situation where an Arab-looking young man in a thick, padded jacket is fleeing the police and heading towards the subway. This meets every criteria of the terrorist bomber profile. Heavy, padded jacket in warm weather? Check! Looks Arabic? Check! Flees from police? Check! Heads for the subway, dear God? Check!

At this point, Menezes' fate is just about sealed. The only thing he could have done to even possibly keep himself from being shot would have been to immediately take off his jacket and fling it away from himself, throw himself spread-eagled on the ground, and scream "I surrender!!" repeatedly... thus breaking the profile. We know, of course, that Menezes did not do this.

Instead, he vaulted over the subway turnstiles, headed towards the nearest train, and jumped aboard with numerous police carrying shotguns, submachine guns, and handguns openly running after him, clearly convinced that Menezes was indeed a homicide bomber, realizing that perhaps they had only moments to live unless they absolutely and unfailingly prevented the suspect from detonating his bomb, and screaming to other passengers "Get out! Get out!" in an attempt to save as many innocent lives as possible in the probably case they failed.

You see, if Menezes had been a homicide bomber, he would have blown himself up as soon as he got on the train, because even though the police were only seconds behind him, seconds are all that he would have needed. And, standard procedures when apprehending a homicide bomber suspect is, if you are lucky enough to get close enough to shoot him before he detonates himself, then shoot him repeatedly until you are convinced he can no longer act to blow himself up.

Hey, if you don't want the greyhounds to chase you, don't act like the rabbit. It is obvious that the pursuing officers were convinced they would most likely be killed, yet rather than get the heck out of the subway they continued the pursuit and caught the suspect because it offered the only chance to save innocent lives. Knowingly risking violent death to save others is the classic definition of heroism.

So, don't blame the heroes. Blame the person responsible. Blame Menezes, a man who died from terminal stupidity, who did everything wrong. It is a tragedy that an innocent man was killed. But the tragedy is the sole responsibility of the victim, Menezes, and not the London Metropolitan Police.

For more on this subject, follow the link to Captain's Quarters.

Update: Michelle Malkin is reporting that others have picked up on this theme.

Summertime and the Livin' is Easy...

I'm back from vacation... riding the Seattle-to-Portland and spending the week at the Oregon coast. Alas, there was no local number for my ISP, no T-Mobile cell phone service (so I couldn't use Bluetooth and my phone to get on the 'net), and only one Wi-Fi-enabled coffee house which I didn't find until the day before I was leaving.

I promise my faithful readers (all three of 'em) that I'll post more frequently. Until them, here's some pictures to enjoy.

“No Fool Like An Old Fool”
The Jane Fonda Flashback Bus Tour

So, Jane Fonda has decided to join the Rolling Stones and go on tour in a reprise of her 1960s performances as America's most shameful war protester.

"I can't go into any detail except to say that it's going to be pretty exciting," she said.
I dunno... I bet that sitting at the controls of a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun battery that had shot down American pilots was pretty thrilling to Hanoi Jane, certainly more thrilling than riding a Crisco-burning bus. Unless, of course, she manages to grab the original "Partridge Family" schoolbus and Shirley Jones is driving. Now, that would be groovy.

"I have not taken a stand on any war since Vietnam," she said. "I carry a lot of baggage from that."
How much baggage do you think American POWs who were being actively tortured in Hanoi prison camps carry, Jane? Especially when the accompanying soundtrack was you proselytizing about how good and peaceful the peaceloving North Vietnamese were, and how released POWs lied when they reported they were tortured.

Some anti-war protesters got it. Leonard Magruder, a former sociology professor at Suffolk College and founder of "Vietnam Veterans for Academic Reform" notes how shamed and embarrassed many anti-war protesters felt upon realizing how wrong they had been. He quotes Gerald Posner, writing in FrontPage magazine, who realized that he had been duped by protest leaders:

“The enthusiasm [todays] protests kindled in some seemed strange, for all they did for me was bring back shameful memories of my own political naivete thirty years ago.

“As a political science major I thought I had all the answers. The North Vietnamese were merely freedom fighters trying to liberate their country from the shackles of imperialism. The U.S. war was unjust and being waged against innocents.

“Three decades later I have no pride in the memory of those protests. Rather I wonder how it was possible to be so mistaken about real politics and world events. The so-called peace movement had completely deluded itself, conveniently ignoring any evidence that countered its agenda. How was it not possible to have seen that the North was a convenient tool for the Soviet to bleed the US and that it represented one of the most repressive old-line communist dictatorships since Stalin?”
Earth to Hanoi Jane: You were wrong in the 1960s. Your actions, and those of your Soviet-supported leftist fellow travelers (yes, the anti-war movement was encouraged and partially funded by Soviet moles), resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent Vietnamese and Cambodian civilians after the US pulled out of Vietnam and Teddy Kennedy and the Democrats effectively negated our obligations under the 1972 Paris Peace Accords, leaving the South Vietnamese people hanging out to dry. You were wrong then, and you're wrong now.

Haven't you learned anything in the past 40 years?

Note: For those of you who would like to know more about Vietnam and why America failed to accomplish its goals, read this.

Also, Michelle Malkin and La Shawn Barber are covering the story.

Update: Our soldiers have reserved a seat for Jane (ht: InstaPundit).