Sunday, October 19, 2008


While I've been creating panoramas by stitching multiple digital images together for several years now, I've always wanted a robotic panorama head to ease the workload. The image pictured above is actually comprised of 44 individual images, four rows of seven images. As you can imagine, moving a tripod head manually while ensuring that the spacing is correct and not missing a 'frame' is cumbersome, tedious, and very error-prone... and you don't realize you've made an error until later when processing the images. Don't ask me how I know this!, a spinoff from the Global Connection Project project from Carnegie-Mellon University, aims to provide a site where individuals can use high-resolution images from multi-row panoramas to explore distant parts of the world. The hope is to bring people together.

In order to facilitate creation of multi-row panoramas by the average photographer, CMU worked with an external company to create the Gigapan robotic panorama head. Thru the miracle of modern microprocessor technology, and a couple of stepper motors, this mount allows the user to use a small point-and-shoot digital camera, using the viewfinder to indicate the camera's field of view, identifying the upper-left and lower-right corners of the desired panorama. Once this is done, the user presses a button and the Gigapan robot head automatically starts taking pictures, continuing without human input until the job is done. also supplies a free panoramic stitching software package that automates the creation of a single, huge image from a series of individual images, and will also upload the resultant image to the website.

Now, the creation of a robotic panorama head isn't news; units like the Peace River Systems' PixOrb and the Rodeon VR have been around for years... but we're talking anywhere from $4000 for the Rodeon to over $11,000 for the PixOrb. Definitely out of the reach of the average photographer. The Gigapan head goes for under $300, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Although it is a solidly build product, it is sized for point-and-shoot digital cameras. The unit is physically too small to handle a dSLR with a long telephoto lens (although the image show above, of Seattle, was taken on a Gigapan using my Sigma SD14 and 70-200/2.8 lens, a heavy combination that really overpowered the unit and required me to physically assist the head in order to prevent the stepper motors from 'slipping' due to the weight, missing 'steps' and thus getting out of sync). Gigasystems, the spinoff company that was formed to market the Gigapan robot head, is planning to eventually introduce a larger, more powerful head suitable for dSLRs and 'bridge' digital cameras.

However, all is not lost. I've picked up an Orion TeleTrack astronomical alt-azimuth robotic mount, designed to support computer control of a telescope, and am working on a control unit that will give this much more robust mount the same capabilities of the Gigapan, with dSLRs and long, heavy, powerful, sharp lenses. Some European hackers have adapted this head to work with homebrew software on mobile Linux devices, but I'm currently building a self-contained controller that will mimic the functionality of the Gigapan. The goal is to create a self-contained unit that has the same ease of use, while supporting a quality camera at an affordable price (well under $1,000).

I'll post more information as my project progresses. Until then, feel free to look at

Don't Know Who To Vote For? Look At Their Records!

In "Torn Between Obama and McCain" Dane Stangler, a senior research analyst at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, writes on his dilemna in choosing which candidate deserves his vote.

If this article is an example of the caliber of analytical thought found in our nation's best and brightest, then no wonder this country is in the mess it's in... and may God help us.

Stangler's dilemna can be summed up thus: Although I disagree with most of Obama's policies and positions, and agree with most of McCain's, McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his VP is so indefensible on the merits and such an egregious example of political pandering that it virtually compels me (and all intelligent people) towards Obama.

The sheer idiocy of such a statement astounds me.

First, despite all of the criticisms directed against Palin by the chattering classes, the woman is an elected governor of a state with approval ratings above 80%, and has a clear track record of confronting and cleaning up corruption in government even when she encounters it in her own party. Can any of these things be said about Obama, much less Joe "J-O-B-S is my favorite three-letter word" Biden?

If McCain's selection of Palin reflects badly on him (and I disagree), then what does Obama's selection of the gaffe-ridden incompetent Biden say about him? Biden is a man who has been wrong about almost every major foreign policy issue in the past two decades, from opposing the first Gulf War to suggesting giving Iran $200 million after 9/11 in order to get "Arabs" to like us to opposing the surge and proposing the breakup of Iraq into three separate countries in violation of the country's sovereignity. Yet Obama selected Biden specifically for his 'foreign policy expertise.'

Don't even get me started on the character issue. Biden had to drop out of the '88 presidential campaign because he lied about his background and his record. Here's a man who bragged about his IQ, his college "scholarship" (that he never received), his award as the outstanding Poli Sci student (that he never received), etc., and he still lies as evidenced by the astounding number of whoppers he uttered during the Biden-Palen VP debate. If the choice for VP is between a confirmed liar with a track record of bad judgment or an inexperienced governor with a decade of executive experience and who has risen to every challenge and succeeded against the odds, I'll take Palin any time.

Similarly, we have a charismatic candidate with an impressive resume and a solid record of accomplishment... and then there's Barack Obama. What has this man actually done? Yes, he worked with Bill Ayers and the Annenburg Challenge, spending over $150 million(!) on Chicago schools... and are the schools any better? Not according to the people who have to send their children to them, or standardized test results, etc. This is the sum total of Obama's executive experience: $150 million spent with nothing to show for it. Contrast that with the much-maligned Sarah Palin, who runs a state with a budget surplus, who negotiated additional royalties on oil from the oil companies and gave that cash back to the residents of her state. Or with John McCain, who capped his Navy career by commanding the largest squadron in the Navy, receiving an excellent fitness report (and the Navy isn't a forgiving grader... just ask John Kerry).

Here's a simple test for a president: would you hire this person to manage your business and give him access to the company checkbook? How would you answer this, Mr. Stangler?