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Amuse Yourself While I Talk:

The Video:

My presentation:

The blog article:

The raw-photo dump:

The Kickstarter:

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 00:02

Beardathon or Beardoff - You Decide

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Current state of the face - Beardy:

Current Leaderboard:    Beard-On   45   |  Beard-Off    81

Detailed Breakdown link.


The Contest!

Whether you hate it or love it, my facial hair is on the chopping block for charity between now and the New Years holidays.  Your CHARITABLE DONATION to the FrankWater charity will be the decider of the trajectory that my facial hair takes during the entire year of 2012.  This all was spawned by my planned participation in the 2012 Rickshaw Run, a charity-fundraiser race.  The final determination will be made at midnight the night of December 31st, the kickoff of the race event.


Your Dollars Vote on my Facial Hair in Three Easy Steps:

  1. Develop an opinion on how my face should look during the entire year of 2012.
  2. Visit this link to donate to the Frankwater charity.  Back your opinion with some bucks!
  3. Indicate your preference for my face in the comment, or if you with to stay anonymous, email me and we can make other arrangements.

Beard History:

More than two years ago I embarked on a strange journey of facial hair in early 2009, I looked something like this a bit after the last shave:

As it turns out, graduate school does strange things to people, and by the end of my Masters thesis, I was sporting what many refer to as a "Professor Beard":

Well, that came and went straight into "Barbarian":

A few months later, scientific testing revealed that I had passed a level of beardyness most people refer to as "Unsavory":

What does the future hold for my facial hair?

You decide here!

Last Updated on Monday, 26 December 2011 19:27

The Making of an Effigy (Kinect + Architecture + Fire = Fun!)

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I know what you are here for, so lets start with some porno for pyros:

Photo credit Derrick (Donut) Peterson

February 11 was my first introduction to the Burning Flipside community.  Thanks to the suggestion of a good friend (you know who you are!), I found myself huddled by a tiny wood stove in a freezing cold warehouse staring at a some diagrams that looked something like the following:

Credit to Dotti Spearman (Pretend)

I had never been privy to a large build like this before;  I had some idea the amount of work that was in store for us, but not a clear idea of exactly what I had to add.  During the initial planning weeks, I spent a good amount of time talking to Dotti (Pretend), our rock-star architect and DaFT lead, and had a fun idea. . .

In parallel to this project, I had been playing with the Microsoft Kinect, a device designed to sit atop a television set, and sense the movement and gestures of game players for XBOX.  Right around this time, libfreenect and supporting Python/cython code was hot off the presses and extremely glitchy.  I had been prototyping code to map caves in the Austin area, most significantly Airman's cave, but in my testing it did a reasonable job on convex objects as well.  I suggested, that we might be able to use the Kinect to scan an actual model, thusly incorporate a true human form into the design.  She was ecstatic, and over the next week, I got my code on . . . hard . . .

  1. I wrangled down the libfreenect Python/cython drivers as well as the python wrappers to vlfeat
  2. I wrote code to co-register the depth and image cameras (fundamental matrix estimation)
  3. Coded up a capture routine to record the depth and image camera information at about 15 frames per second, and dump them to disk via pytables.   (I Added a post-process compression later)
  4. Wrangled the depth camera information into .ply based meshes, (including depth culling, quality pruning, and aberrational correction)
  5. Incorporated a SIFT based keypoint detector (from the vlfeat library) to estimate camera pose changes, and transform the output meshes accordingly.

Additionally, I threw together an extremely ghetto steady camera stand from parts found on the hack-shelf in the Austin Hackerspace, including a monster transformer as counter-weight, a metal spoon handle, and a sheet-metal laptop tray.  The lovely and talented KT served as the model for our scan, and posed extremely patiently during the whole process.  Here is myself and KT (also at the hacker space):

Photo credit to Dotti (Pretend)

Here is a shot through the eyes of the Kinect (Depth is false colored on the right, and visual image on the left):

Below is the computed mesh that came from that image above on the left:

We did three scans, each taking about 3 minutes, and generating ~1.5 GB of uncompressed data.  The second scan turned out the best (I missed a significant section of her back on the third), and the post-processing fun began.  I algorithmically estimated the camera's position throughout time in each subsequent frame, then transformed and outputted ~150 .ply mesh files.  Based on these I selected, hand-cleaned, smoothed, and aligned about 30 of these using Meshlab, a tool which had a much fast global ICP algorithm.  Coloring all the overlapping meshes differently gives a feel for the complexity of the assembly:

(~20 Million polygons when finished)

The meshes were merged and imported into sketchup.  These went through a couple geometric operations, and were augmented with hands and feet (features which were below the attainable resolution of the Kinect) and sliced into ~200 sections per form.  From the sketchup design, these cross-sections and a half-ton of salvaged plywood were fed into a CNC router (a ShopBot - graciously hosted by Dave Umlas and Marrilee Ratcliff of the epic "Fire of Fires" Temple)

The output was several trucks full of scrap, >100 pounds of saw-dust, and ~400 pieces of wood which we came to affectionately refer to as "the lady bits."  The collation, transport, and assembly of these pieces presented a unique hoard of challenges.  I can not emphasize enough the efforts of more than two dozen people in their assembly, but the end effect was simply stunning.  Here you see our charming model next to her 5.5 times larger wooden embodiment.

Photo credit Derrick (Donut) Peterson

In keeping with the nature of burn events, the true beauty of this structure was born out in the flames.

Photo credit Derrick (Donut) Peterson

There is really nothing like seeing thousands of hours of human effort vested in the conception, design, and fabrication of something so ephemeral.

Photo credit Derrick (Donut) Peterson

In closing, I want to say thank you to everyone involved.  As all our work was reduced to ash and cinders, I felt more connected to the Austin community than I ever did before.

I have heard the Sirens call of effigy design, and I know it will be my turn soon.  When that time comes, I hope I can create something even half as beautiful and moving as Dotti did for us!  Happy burn and thanks again!


More Links:

Like DaFT on facebook

Watch It Burn! (make sure to select the "HD" option)

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 June 2011 20:22

VSDI and Neural Noise

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The visual system is fundamental to how we perceive, process, and act on information in our every day lives. The study of the visual system is particularly challenging as quantification of neural dynamics require the capture of information at simultaneously high spatial and temporal resolutions. These simultaneous demands make voltage sensitive dye imaging (VSDI) a particularly powerful tool to study these phenomenon, as it allows for the capture of activity below the scales possible by fMRI and EEG.

This resolution comes with several tradeoffs and technical challenges. Most notably, VSDI signals are marred by several different sources of noise which drastically complicate signal acquisition. Many of these noise sources are physically driven, including illumination, shot, and electrical noise sources, but the more difficult ones are biologically based, specifically heart-beat, respiration, and other hemodynamic artifacts. In addition to that there exists actual neural noise which may be relevant to perceptual decision making.

VSDI is a relatively new technique, and there are few well established methods for analysis and quantification of both the signal and noise sources inherent to the method. I am interested in both the simulation and modeling of both the voltage sensitive dye imaging (VSDI) method, and the actual underlying cortical dynamics it seeks to measure. Co-advising from Dr. Seidemann and Dr. Geisler has gives me excellent resources in both the biological underpinnings of of a new technique, as well as the theoretical and computational aspects of the problem. I hope to primarily focus on algorithms which separate, quantify, and explain these systems, with the ultimate goal of advancing the understanding of the visual system as a whole.


Dear Verizon Wireless: Where is my HTC Incredible?

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Dear Verizon Wireless,

Let me start by saying that I am patient guy, but I am not f*#%ing stupid.  When I ordered my HTC Incredible at your Tucson store (5480 Speedway) I felt as though I was engaging in an age old practice of exchanging money, in this case 327.29 dollars American, for a product/service, in this case a cellular telephone.    Now my expectations in this exchange are really pretty modest in my opinion:

  1. I don't like being lied to.
  2. I don't like being lied to repeatedly.
  3. I don't like being lied to repeatedly in a way that insults my intelligence.

I know your unlimited data plan only includes 5GB and you will undoubtedly cripple the phone software somehow.  With that said, you have succeeded admirably in disappointing my even very modest expectations.  Lets start from the beginning.  For the last couple of months I have been considering the purchase of a smartphone.  I had long yearned for a Nexus 1 however there was no equivalent within the Verizon market.  The early Verizon Droid felt so cludgy in comparison, and I was pleased to hear that the Incredible was a reasonable equivalent, and in many ways superior.  After some reading and conference with a good friend of mine I decided that the HTC Incredible was a phone I would enjoy.

I called several stores asking if they "had the phone in stock" which was pretty much a futile exercise.  I made these phone calls knowing that the HTC Incredible was a tricky phone to find given both consumer demand and the ramped up production of the Evo was putting HTC behind.  The responses I got to this query were the first set of sales lies that I don't blame you for:

" . . . of course we do!  We can have one for you in the next couple weeks!"

". . . sure, come in and we can set up an order!"

. . . and at least two other similar levels of moderate indirection that salespeople earn a living on. The phrase "in stock" I suppose could be interpreted as "could have shipped to you maybe before the month is out," I see how some employees could make that mistake.

That's fine.  I concluded that if I wanted this phone, I was going to have to go into a store, and place an order and wait however long.  I came into the store (6/4/2010), and was told by a woman named Yevzeza, that if I placed an order now, I could have the phone shipped by the 23rd of that month.  Needing to do some travel over July, and move to Austin in August, this seemed optimal to me.  I would have a new phone well before having to leave town.  Great.  I plonked down my Visa and tendered a transaction.

Then I waited.  I didn't expect anything to happen before that date.  I did however expect something to happen on that date.  An email ship-notification or some form of communication at the very minimum.  The 23rd came and went without any such event.

I called the store next day seeking some more information.  After navigating the terrible phone system, I managed to get a human whose interest in me cratered after realizing that I wasn't planning on buying anything:

Me: "So what is the ship date?"

NoNameGiven: "Well . . . I am with another customer right now, can we call you back with that information when . . . "

(Really, why would you answer the phone when trying to interact with someone else?  This sounds like a hard dodge to me.)

Me: "Thats fine."  The irony that he asked me for my phone number after "looking at my records" still amuses me, but whatever.

That return phone call never actually happened.  Really, this was my bad.  I should have learned by now that store-based sales-folks are useless for anything that doesn't involve you giving them money.

Anyway.  I call the corporate 2-join-in number, which after some navigation sends you to a clever voice recognition system asking about the nature of your problem.  The first time I took this seriously, thinking it may "help direct my call", it then forwarded my to the "store locater."  Well thats ok.  These things are new and unreliable, so I figured I would try again . . .  after several tries of various levels of seriousness, I discovered muttering, "BRAAAAIIIIINNNNNZZZZZ!", in your best zombie voice gets a human on the phone fairly quickly.  Whatever.

The tech named Matt informed me it would be shipped on the 25th.  Ok.  Cool.  Two day delay.  No problem!  Giving that much money to a large impotent corporation and having things ship only two days late after a 2.5 week wait, I still consider a victory.

Well, the 25th came and went again without any information received from anybody.  Great.  I tried getting information through their web interface, which merely posted me an email explaining that:

Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for choosing Verizon Wireless, we appreciate your business. You have reached the Internet Orders Department. Your Order was not submitted via the Internet so there is not an Order number to track on line.  Please contact the store directly for further information regarding your Order.

Due to the high demand of the HTC Incredible, your order is still awaiting shipment. Since payment has been taken we can not make any updates at this time. (Is there a way to get a phone without paying for it?) We apologize for the additional wait this may have caused.

Below is our expected shipping schedule for your area.

[Blank line?]

Orders where payment was taken on 6/4 will ship by 6/25

Wow!  Two pieces of corroborated information!  I bet it is in the mail, but Verizon is just a bit incompetent in the shipping.  Thats fine.  I suppose I should call and get my tracking number!  So I call again, pass the zombie test, and talk to Matt #2, who kindly informs me that

Matt #2: "Your order will ship on the 25th."

Me:  "Ummmm . . . . so yesterday?  Today is the 26th."

Matt #2:  "Huh.  Yeah.  (Laughing) that is funny."

Me: "  . . . "

Matt #2:  "I don't know that now, but I can call you back . . . "

Again, giving my phone number etc. I increasingly feel that this is just a standard dodge/stall tactic.  Again.  No return phone call.

This brings me to today.  Monday the 28th.  I call again and get a tech I will refer to as Mumble, who again offers to call me back (not even asking for my number this time).

Really Verizon?  Really?  I am an easy guy to please.  Just tell me you f*$&ed this one up and give me a date you actually plan to send me the damn thing at!


A soon to be canceled CC payment, and x-customer,

--Matthew R. Goodman

PS: If you want to call and talk you really ought to know where to reach me.


Update 6/28 - c. Noon-

Talked to Brandon on the phone.  Again promised a call in the next 24 hours.  Wheeee.  Ship date the 30th?!?!? GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Update 6/28 - Evening -

They acknowledged my tweet-plaint, replied with a DM, again name and number . . . still waiting to hear from anyone on the other side.

Update 6/28 - (2 hrs later)

Got a number of visits from * and *, bringing the page views to just over 200!  I am not sure if I would be upset or delighted to have to buy more bandwidth this month.

Update 6/29 - c. Noon -

Got a return phone call!  Almost died of shock.  Congrats on being 1/4.

Apparently the new ship date is anywhere between the 30th, and July 7th!  What?  They should probably add a clause to their customer support that says "All phones guaranteed to ship in 3-6 eons!"   New guy was at least apologetic, though he tried to make Verizon "the victim of demand" something that utterly fails to evoke sympathy.  We have all the people giving us money, and no phones to give them!  Woe is us!

Another source of amusement was how he indicated that "you can't even order an iPhone," which in reference to this saga makes a lot of sense.  Why make promises you can't keep?  WTG Verizon.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 June 2010 21:01
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