Memorial Day Miscellanea

Holidays – today is, of course, Memorial Day in the U.S. – are great excuses to kick back, relax, and get away from it all. Everyone has their preferred way of doing so, some more common than others.

In addition to tinkering with old computers and radios, I like to tinker with old cameras. Today, where Moore’s Law is nearly as applicable to digital cameras as it once was to computers, “old” can be ambiguous, so allow me to profess my undying platonic love for inexpensive all-mechanical batteryless cameras. Autofocus? Motor drives? Light meters? A photography luddite craves not these things.

One useful thing people who play with old cameras – at least, those without rangefinders or through-the-lens focus – frequently need to do is estimate distances. Most are pretty bad at this, or get put off by the seeming complexity and need for precision, but they needn’t be. Don’t let the lack of a rangefinder or other focussing aid put you off from using an old camera; you don’t need to be able to accurately estimate the distance of everything you see – most photographers can get away really only needing to learn two and a half distances – six or eight feet, fifteen or twenty feet, and “near enough to infinity”. With a little practice – well under half an hour, say, spent walking around your backyard with a camera – it’s well possible to be able to estimate eight feet to within a couple of inches, or twenty feet to within a couple of feet; well within even the most critical depth of field at modest (f/8-f/16) apertures with most elderly cameras and lenses. For anything else, it’s generally possible to take a few steps forward or backward to get to one of those practiced distances from your now in-focus subject; this was one of the secrets of press photographers back in the 1940s and 1950s; they wouldn’t generally even try to focus on moving subjects, just set their cameras for a particular distance, say twenty feet, and make the exposure when the subject was the correct distance away.

Even if you’re using a manual camera with a coupled rangefinder, through-the-lens focus, or whatever, it can still be useful to be able to estimate a couple useful distances for “grab shots” and surrepetitious photography – or flash photography in low light. Wide-angles are of course wonderful for that sort of thing, in that hyperfocal distances are incredibly modest, and depth of field fairly incredible, but classic cameras more often than not have “normal” length lenses…

On a related note, if you’re ever evaluating a rangefinder, or even SLR camera at a junk store or flea market or whatever, try to focus on something at close distance – eight or ten feet, say – and compare the focus markings on the lens with what you see in the rangefinder or viewfinder. Lenses very, very rarely lie; rangefinders and focus screens often do. If the camera body says something at arm’s length is in focus, but the lens says it happens to be focussed at 25′, there’s probably a problem…

Unrelated to cameras in any way whatsoever, a wistful computer-related thought: Hardware RNGs and PRNGs are relatively simple, relatively inexpensive, small, and have minimal power requirements. The crypto world has talked about external RNGs and PRNGs for years, but there doesn’t seem to be any framework, that I’m aware of, for the use of, say, an USB RNG-on-a-stick (or, dare one dream, full crypto co-processor on-a-stick.) The lack of widespread crypto hardware, and poor performance of older systems performing everything in software has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the development, let alone adoption, of very (even, dare I say, absurdly?) powerful encryption in consumer applications. While there’s no inherent insecurity in 128-bit SSL, and no fundamental reason we couldn’t have, say, 4096-bit SSL, the extra processing overhead on such a transaction – for both the client and the server – today preclude anything like widespread adoption of such a thing. Servers can easily be upgraded with crypto-accelerator cards, however; laptops, as a rule, can’t. A $40 USB crypto accelerator is far from impossible, today; what is lacking is any kind of framework or support for it. As with most other things in life – and all things crypto – standards are important. Ah, well; one can always dream.

I’m working on a couple of big things, including an exciting announcement or two, that I hope will reach fruition in the next week or two. In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and you – yes, you – Do you have dreams? Hopes? Fears? Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Interesting government, military, or corporate documents you’d like to share? Don’t keep them to yourself, let everyone in on the fun…

Published in: Geekiness, General | on May 28th, 2007| Comments Off on Memorial Day Miscellanea

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