It turns out that using cheap USB cables with the Raspberry Pi is a bad idea. I was experiencing very odd SSH behavior: anything that sent a chunk of data quickly (e.g., pasting several lines of code into a vi buffer) would kill the SSH session. Replacing the USB cable with a better one solved it. Apparently cheap USB cables use 28 AWG wire for both data and power lines, while better ones use 24 AWG wire for power. Thicker wires means less resistance, meaning a better ability to withstand the apparently monstrous power draws behind pasting code!

Autographer first impressions

AutographerWe got an Autographer wearable camera at work last week and I tried it out for a couple of days. It’s interesting to see the Microsoft SenseCam commercialized, and to try it out. My main impressions so far:

    • Holy cow, this thing is expensive! £399, or about $640! The closest competitor, Memoto, will be a still-shocking $279 when released. Is an Autographer worth two Memotos? Is a Memoto worth one Memoto? We’ll see…
    • The device is shockingly cheap-feeling given the price. The black finish shows off fingerprints and overall it’s chintzy feeling. I think at least part of the reason is that it’s quite light, which is nice for wearability.
    • The very-obvious camera lens cover is so, so important for this kind of device. OMG Life (the company behind the Autographer) obviously learned quickly from the public discussion around Google Glass and its omnipresent camera. Although I’ve worn head-mounted display-based wearable computers on and off for over a decade, I’ve felt uncomfortable with Glass due to the public worry about continual photography or filming. A lens cover is a clear indication of whether or not the wearer is likely to be taking photos at any given moment.
    • Back to build quality: unfortunately, the lens cover is too short and annoying to turn to be useful. The principle of microinteractions suggests that such tasks be able to be accomplished in under four seconds; in fact, this is such a minor and potentially frequent task that it should be doable in under a second. Sadly, the Autographer’s twistable lens cap requires two hands (one to steady the device and one to turn) and a fair amount of effort, making it nearly not worth doing.
    • Images: as one would expect, there are a lot of useless images. In fact, mostly the images are useless. Here’s a typical screen of photos as shown in the Autographer interface:autographer bowls
      Yes, that’s me working on the computer and eating a bowl of soup. Maybe not a very fair test, but there it is. I also have a quite compelling grid of 99 identical pictures of the ceiling taken over a 30-minute period when I set the Autographer down on my dresser.
    • The interface for browsing photos is pretty rudimentary and could (and hopefully will!) improve with time. Some image analysis could compress “events” such as the above soup bowl sequence into one summary image, and discard 98 of the 99 identical ceiling photos.
    •  The image quality is surprisingly good! Here are links to two full size photos, one in the relative dark of the kitchen at night and one outside:
      autographer outsideautographer kitchen
      The fisheye effect is a bit annoying but some Photoshop fiddling can take care of it:

autographer kitchen dewarped

In the end, for two days of wearing and 15 minutes of sorting through images, I got one picture of holding my son’s hands as he is learning to walk. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a cute photo—but was it worth wearing and remembering to charge a $700 device? Not in its current incarnation, but I don’t think there are any fundamental issues keeping it from becoming something worthwhile in a year or two. I’ll look forward to seeing what’s next in the wearable camera space.

Maker Faire 2012

Some things I saw at the Maker Faire that I thought were worth noting (in no particular order).