Nikon unleashes smokin' new Nikon D4.1 digital SLR


I've been a Canon man for more than a decade. But you know, I've always envied Nikon users, especially when it comes to lens quality. And I really love how Nikon bodies can do wireless flash without any need for an external controller.

The problem is, I've invested so heavily in Canon gear that migrating to Nikon has always been too painful to think about. But you know, I think Nikon has finally pushed me over the edge. I just read about their upcoming D4.1 SLR — and man, is it cool.

According to the article, the "technology behind the New Nikon D4.1 DSLR is an outgrowth of Nikon's patents for VR ("vibration reduction") lenses. By very, very quickly moving the lens in front of a single pixel sensor the entire image can be captured using the "sweet spot" of a lens."

Is that freakin' amazing, or what?

To read the entire article, click here.

By the way, is it April yet?

Need to parallelize your code for multi-core execution?

I'm always on the lookout for websites and tutorials dedicated to writing parallel code, so I was glad to see that Intel's Clay Breshears has written a new programmer's guide called The Art of Concurrency.

I don't know anyone who has used the book — not a surprise, given that it only comes out in May — but the premise looks good. Rather than focus on theoretical programming models, the book promises to provide a hands-on, experience-based approach to parallelizing existing code.

To learn more about the book, visit the O'Reilly website.


The world's shortest product demo?

I feel sorry for some of my QNX colleagues. They'll be at the Embedded Systems conference next week, shilling the QNX fastboot demo. The problem with the fastboot demo is that it, well, boots fast. You flip the button, and it turns on. End of story. If the person viewing the demo isn't paying attention, they miss the whole thing. Fortunately, the solution is simple: you just flip the button again.

The demo is pretty impressive, in its fleeting way. Historically, x86 systems (like the one on your desktop) use a BIOS to boot. Now, the BIOS is useful on a desktop or laptop system, but serves little purpose on an x86 embedded system -- aside from making it boot slower. QNX fastboot technology eliminates the BIOS, allowing systems based on the Intel Atom and other x86 chips to achieve "instant on".

For evidence, check out the YouTube video and fast forward to the 1:50 mark. You'll see how QNX fastboot technology reduces boot time from about 17 seconds to under a second. But, please, pay close attention. Or you'll miss the whole thing.


Cold fusion: Is it for real this time?

I just came across an EE Times article that states U.S. Navy researchers have experimentally confirmed cold fusion. If true, this is awfully, well, cool!

Chances are, this is the real thing. Back in 1989, two researchers reported that they had achieved cold fusion, but no one could replicate their results. The newspapers had a field day with that one. So I'm assuming that the U.S Navy made sure their results were solid before going public.


Wanted: A flashy multimedia OS for my digital photo frame

I must admit, I got the digital photo frame market all wrong. I thought digital frames were simply glorified JPEG viewers, but after buying one for my wife, I've come to realize that the companies building these devices have far greater ambitions.

Already, many digital photo frames serve as multimedia centers that play music and video from a variety of storage media. Some even access photos over the Internet. They don't necessarily do a great job of performing these functions — yet. But clearly, they have the potential to become a major access point for a variety of online services and content.

For instance, many wireless operators see 3G-enabled digital frames as a tool for breaking into the home market — a market that, until now, has eluded them.

The digital frame I bought my wife does a fantastic job of displaying JPEGs. The images are clean and sharp, with good color balance. But now that I’ve used the frame for a while, I’m beginning to wish that it had a more robust operating system and application stack. For instance, I would like really like:

  • Wi-Fi support — Some frames support this, and I can see why. It lets you view your latest photos without having to use the Sneakernet

  • A Flickr widget — Lots of people store and share their photos on social media sites like Flickr. A Flickr widget would let me view my online photos, as well as any photos that friends and colleagues have posted. 

  • A YouTube widget — Because what good is a digital frame if it doesn’t let you watch silly animal clips

  • Custom slideshows — Lots of photo programs, including PhotoShop Elements, let you tag photos with arbitrary terms like "birthday" or "vacation" or "trip to Italy". A digital frame that supports tags would let me create custom slideshows on the fly. 

  • Custom MP3 playlists — My wife's digital frame lets me play songs stored in a specific folder, but it doesn’t let me generate playlists on the fly. For instance, if I'm watching a slideshow on my wedding, I might want to select a romantic song and ask the digital frame to "play more music like this." 

  • Integration with iPods and other music players — My wife's digital frame can play MP3 files stored on USB sticks and other flash media, but it doesn't seem to work with iPods and other similar devices. How many people store their music collection on a USB stick? 

  • Better screen fonts — My wife's digital frame doesn't truncate long file names (thank goodness), but in many cases, you can't still can't see the full file name of an image because the text font is too large and too wide. 

  • Adobe Flash user interface — The graphical menus on my wife's digital frame are okay, but they'd look a lot slicker implemented in Flash. Also, by supporting Flash, the frame could play Flash movies downloaded from the Internet. 

The interesting thing is, companies making infotainment systems for cars are already using QNX middleware to achieve many of these goals. So what’s to stop digital frame manufacturers from also using QNX? Not much, I think.


Why slow car sales are bad for consumers

Why is it that people like to do what everybody else is doing? I'm sure that psychologists, sociologists, sociobiologists, and even theologians could weigh in with a learned answer, but the fact remains: People do what other people do.

This behavior pattern has huge implications for economics. Remember the dot-com bust? (As if you wouldn't.) It had a lot to do with millions of people investing in companies whose business models they didn't understand. So why did they invest? Because everyone else was.

Even when people diversify their investments, they tend to diversify in the same way. As a result, they all become exposed to the same market fluctuations.

And so it is with automobiles. It seems that everybody these days isn't buying a car. Now I realize that many people have a damned good reason to avoid buying a new set of wheels — unemployment, for example. But really, the reason a lot of people aren't buying is because, well, a lot of other people aren't buying.

Now that's okay in the short term. But in the long term, it's bad, especially for consumers.

Consider the following diagram, which illustrates a simple fact: The longer you wait to buy a new car, the more desperately you need one.

The problem is, the underlying "me too" dynamic that prohibits people from buying cars continues to work beneath the surface. So, once enough people give in to their desperation and decide to buy a car, there's a good chance that millions of other people will decide to do the exact same thing.

But the cars won't be there, for the simple reason that automakers had to scale back (or go out of business) because of poor demand. And what do you get when high demand collides with limited supply? Well, let's just say that it's a bad time to ask your local car salesperson for a "good deal" on that nice little sports coupe. Unless, of course, you like being laughed at in public.

(BTW, if the diagram seems familiar, I adapted it, with considerable license, from an illustration in William Jevons' Theory of Political Economy.)


Ford Canada asks for consumer incentives, not bailouts

Last week, Wheels.ca blogger John Leblanc argued that consumer incentives are helping to keep German car makers in the black. Today, John posted a blog on how Ford Canada is asking the Canadian goverment to take a cue from Germany and to give consumers $3500 when they trade in their old cars for new ones.

This approach has merits: it helps ensure that auto dealers, not just auto makers, stay in business. It also allows consumers to upgrade to cars that burn less fuel and generate less pollution. (Mind you, building a new car consumes energy and generates some degree of pollution, so I'm not totally convinced as to the environmental benefit.)

I like Ford's approach, but admittedly, government incentives can only go so far. Do such incentives only prolong the eventual decline of the companies they are trying to support? Or are they the best way to ensure that the companies stay afloat until the economy recovers?


When words and pictures come together

It's Friday afternoon. It's been a hard week. You need a break. So why not "Wordle" for a little while?

Wordle lets you create colorful word clouds out of text. In fact, you don't even have to type anything: simply cut and paste the URL of a web page, and Wordle will get to work. It's really easy to use, and you can experiment almost endlessly to create different effects. Here, for example, is a "Wordle" I created out of one of my blog entries:

Click image to enlarge.

Wordle can be addictive, so do yourself a favor: Start playing *after* you've completed that project your boss has been dunning you about.

Should the government give you money to buy a new car?

Back in 1955, the CEO of GM proclaimed that "what is good for General Motors is good for America." Strangely enough, one could argue that what is good for General Motors is also good for Toyota, Ford, and other automakers who, at first glance, would appear to benefit from GM's misfortune.

The reason is simple: many automakers share the same suppliers. If GM were to collapse, parts of the supply chain could also collapse. And that would create major headaches for GM's competitors. It's not surprising, then, that even Toyota has voiced support for bailing out American automakers.

I understand the motivation behind the bailouts. But I question whether the government is channeling money in the right direction.

Consider the facts. People in the U.S. and Canada aren't buying cars. Which means that U.S. automakers aren't making money. Bailouts don't fix that. So why not fix the actual problem, and get Americans and Canadians to start buying again?

The German government seems to have gotten the point. Today, John Leblanc, a blogger for Wheels.ca, posted a story on how the German goverment is offering consumers $4000 to trade in their old vehicles. (To qualify, a vehicle must be at least nine years of age.)

The bottom line? Car sales in Germany have risen 21%, compared to February 2008. In comparison, car sales in the U.S. have fallen 41%.

Is the $4000 incentive solely responsible for the huge gap between Germany and the U.S.? Probably not. But you've got to admit, the approach makes a lot of sense. After all, I'd rather see automakers make money than be handed money.

What about you? Do you think Germany has chosen the better approach? Or is this goverment incentive, like so many others, doomed to backfire?


Could the auto industry benefit from a little LTE?

A couple of weeks ago, Alcatel-Lucent announced the ng Connect program, a multi-industry initiative dedicated to the deployment of wireless broadband based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) and other high-bandwidth technologies.

Translation: Imagine a world where you can access high-speed Internet from just about anywhere. The park. The beach. The local bike trail. All without wires or cables. Just one big ubiquitous wireless network.

But here's the kicker: The second paragraph of the announcement, which includes a quote from QNX CEO Dan Dodge, focuses on how wireless broadband will transform tomorrow's automobile. Not netbooks, not cellphones, not portable music players, but the car. You know, that thing nobody is buying.

Has Alcatel-Lucent been smoking something? Or are they on to something? Maybe I'm biased, but I'm leaning towards door number two.

Let's step back a bit. The car, despite falling on temporary hard times, is the one thing that almost everyone in the world either has or wants. So, no question, the market will recover in one form or another. At the same time, automakers today are more desperate than ever to differentiate their vehicles from those of the competition. Adding cool applications -- navigation, multimedia, etc. -- is one way they hope to achieve that.

Just one problem: The car needs to run a lot of software to support these applications -- software that can become obsolete long before the car is ready for the junk heap. So automakers need a way to update software and content easily, without forcing customers to schlep their cars back to the dealership. Automakers also need to host as many applications as posible in the "cloud" -- that way, cars can access new applications on the fly, without need for software upgrades. Better yet, subscription-based cloud applications can provide automakers with a source of ongoing revenue. And revenue, if you haven't noticed, is the one thing that automakers need more than anything else.

A technology like LTE can make all this possible. So, maybe Alcatel-Lucent isn't so crazy to promote the broadband-enabled car. After all, the car is the one big thing that, until now, hasn't been transformed by the Internet.

Now, if only someone could figure out how to wirelessly power my car's block heater, that would really be something...