Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Great Indian Bastards!

I’d like to start this post by making an assumption. At a first look to the title of this post, nearly all people from India, would be taken aback a bit. They might find it a little bit offensive. That’s absolutely true. IT IS meant to be offensive! But fear not, it’s not meant to be offensive against every Indian, and I can safely predict that if 100 people found the title offensive, nearly 90 people would agree with me. Provided they read this post completely. And if you still are one of the ten people, then the offence was directed at you.

Random HDR!

The inspiration for this post comes from a national news item I saw around 3 hours back on TV. Apparently, in the new “Modi Sarkaar”, the HRD ministry is now headed by someone who isn’t a graduate. Maybe the minister IS a graduate. Heck, I don’t even care if she secretly has done a PhD, or has an IQ that will make Einstein shy. The more interesting fact is the “Big Question” news debate going on, on national TV!
The question the host asks, and I quote, (sort of):-

“Ok, so let us raise the big question tonight! Should educational qualification be used as a measure to judge the competence of a minister? Joining me now….”

And he proceeds to introduce the guests for the debate.  In my opinion, the debate is simply pointless! Everyone knows that educational qualification, can in no way be used to judge the ability of someone to perform a given task. Well, given that nearly (I don’t have an exact figure) 4 million students, throw away 2 years, or even more, of their life to get into a “prestigious” college so that later on, when they go looking for jobs, they get selected easily due to their apparently better level of education. And nearly the same number of students then prepare for exams like GATE and GRE, more or less for the same purpose of obtaining a better higher level degree. For instance, the C++ language they teach to CSE students in IIT’s is wildly different from the language being taught to the students in relatively lower standard college. The working principle of a 4 stroke petrol engine, being taught to the Mechanical IIT-ans is unbelievably different from the ones which are taught to students of local colleges. In a nutshell, it is extremely important to get admission into a good college so that you learn the “better C++” and then sit inside a 4x4 cubical, coding all day, probably for an MNC such as Facebook or Google. That is EXTREMELY important! And that’s just the stream of Non-Medical. I won’t comment on the situation of the Medical and commerce students, because I personally find it a little offensive to comment on something I have very less information about. But, having observed my friends, I can assume the situation is not too different.

Random HDR 2!

You don’t need any qualification to be the Head of the Human Resource and Development, of a country with a population of approx. 1 billion. That’s just insane! You need advanced degrees in education so that you can code endlessly, perhaps work in a bank, or building model bridges, work and do what your superiors says you to do, like fetching your boss a coffee or some other extremely important jobs students get immediately after graduating from colleges. Who cares if all the education mechanism of a country is headed by a person who “maybe” is a graduate?

If the above passages made you go like “WTF is this guy saying? It’s completely stupid!” you, sir/mam are from the 90 person sample size, and I congratulate you. The reason you thought the above content seems stupid is because it IS stupid! And you have the brains needed to detect the stupidity in it. Unfortunately, the 10 people, who don’t detect this cosmic level of stupidity are the ones who have been running the country and all its major systems for quite a while.

My apologies for going so off-topic. So much stupidity made me forgot that this is primarily a science blog!

This post comes courtesy of (yet another) exam result that came out today, and as usual, it was crap for me. If you are starting to think that maybe I’m dumb, then you haven’t been more wrong previously. And I’m not being cocky. While I was writing this post, I was chatting with my friends as well… friends who also scored poorly in the exams… BUT, friends, who can diagnose an engine problem in a car, who constantly talk and chat with me over topics like cosmic inflation, CMB, Multiverse theory, Why Morgan Freeman is legendary, How do I code my app/phone so that it works/looks exactly the way I want it to look, amongst other things, which I can surely claim that no other “topper” has even the faintest idea about. All these friends of mine just had their self-confidence destroyed like Hiroshima. And it has affected me as well, in a bad way, but not as much as you would expect.

Normal Long Exposure (Midnight)
23 seconds ISO 400 

As we struggle to rise up again, I hope that you all have already risen, and doing what you like to do. Because, if you do something you like, you are axiomatically doing it perfectly. And remember, disappointment is for wimps, start getting angry, even if you have to be angry at yourself!

Until my next results, (sooner than you think!)


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Science behind HDR photos

As usual, after the sadness of the whole “Results and Ranks”, comes the period where you really don't care about it anymore. This happens at least with me, and perhaps a good thing for me as well.

This time around, as I've mentioned it before, I took to Photography as a hobby. It took me a while to understand all the basics of photography and I became aware of some of the techniques used to enhance photos. This is going to be a HUGE post, so deal with it. Also, all the photos posted here were captured from my home, yesterday.

Single Photo HDR
Camera EOS 1000D  with GPlus HDR
The original photo straight from SLR
Quite boring, right?

I won't be going into the basics of photography due to the abundance of tutorials available on google, which perhaps will also offer a much better explanation of things. Exempli Gratia, I still don't know the difference in metering modes, although they “seem” to be very important. In this post, I will be talking about the effect which usually results in photos look more like CGI and less like actual images. This is the HDR or High Dynamic Range effect.

The camera (regardless if its a smart phone or bonkers expensive SLR) has a certain range of colors which they can express at a certain degree of exposure. Over exposed images have more detail in the poorly lighted parts of the photo, but a complete washout occurs in the bright part. Underexposure usually results in shadows in the dim lit parts but captures the bright part with much more detail. What HDR basically does is it merges these (usually 3, but can be more) differently exposed images into one single image. For eg, in a scattered cloudy landscape scene, it takes the sky part from the underexposed image, since it has more detail, and the scene part from the overexposed image, which has more detail for the dimly lit subjects, and combines them. This allows for much more range of colors to be present in a single photo, and since we can adjust the range of this “mixing” , we call it High Dynamic Range.

Normally exposed photo of my backyard (sort of)
Here, because of the excessive wind, 3 photo HDR didn't worked well. It resulted in too much ghosting. The app HDR was... well,decent...

Same photo, HDR with Google Plus app

There are softwares, like the Google Plus Photo app, which have inbuilt HDR filter which creates HDR image from a single photo, relying heavily on algorithms and codes. Of course, its good, but its not as good as the real deal, since you can never get the detail of 3 differently exposed photos from just one. Its like the software that converts 2D content into 3D, works, but not that good. However, in cases where the subjects move a lot, like trees swaying in the wind, the single shot HDR is the best way to go, as you would never be able to overlap the images, as explained by the previous set of photos.

Thankfully, nearly all the cameras and smart phones have the option of setting the exposure level, so you can take 3 photos with different exposure and combine them with software. Someone may say that their device has inbuilt HDR mode, especially inside the camera app itself. Well, yes! But, I think that the HDR mode in smart phones isn't that good... and if your device is a DSLR like the EOS 5D MK-III, then shame on you for reading all this, and I will conclude that you are an idiot having more money than you know what to do.

Normal Photo

HDR using Dynamic Photo HDR

What we need to do is that take three photos, in exactly the same position, with exposure -2, 0, and +2. These steps are called stops. So, we need 3 photos, each 2 stops apart. More than 3 also works, but the diff decreases exponentially. Once these photos are captured, copy them to a PC. Now, there are many softwares that can do the HDR effect. The obvious one is Photoshop. Photoshop CS4 and above have HDR command in Files>Automate>(somewhere). There is also one called Photomatix (Professionals only). But the one I use is called Dynamic Photo HDR, which has the advantage of being really easy to use and understand what you are doing and how will it affect the photo, along with the fact that its free! Also the fact that it works with JPEG, RAW, a single photo, and can mimic the HDR effect on videos, makes it perfect for me.

Once again, Photo a normal camera would capture.

Google Plus HDR

Dynamic photo HDR
Probably the best for this set.

The software itself is about 20 MB in size. After loading it, create a new file. Specify the 3 pictures you want to mix, then press the Guess EV button. After a while, you will see a preview of the HDR image. When you proceed, you will be asked to align the images, as the 3 photos will ALWAYS be a little bit different... Use the scrolls to adjust the images (Both sets). If the alignment is way off, use the anti-ghosting feature. (I recommend reading the inbuilt tutorial). When you are satisfied, hit next. After a while, it will say you to “Tone Map HDR”, proceed and start experimenting! Vary the intensity, the colors, the curves, the dynamic lighting, the radius and everything else till you are satisfied with the image. At the bottom right, there is the option to save. 

Standard Camera Click

Google Plus HDR

3 Photo Dynamic photo HDR
Once again the best IMO

HDR photography is a very exciting area. You should try it at least once. BUT, HDR effects work well only outdoors, and that too landscapes. The best HDR effects come where the sky is cloudy, and the sun peeks out. Indoor HDR photos, are very tough to master, but if done properly, can produce radical results. If you want more info on HDR images, the Instruction Manual of the Dynamic Photo HDR has more than enough content, which is super easy to understand, along with adequate theory and tips and tricks.

One more thing, you need brains to figure out if 1 pic HDR will be enough or 3 pictures would be required. Eg:- the first pic of the plane, I obviously cannot take 3 pictures! So single photo HDR, implying the App, would be better. If however the object does not moves, the 3 pic HDR is way ahead of the game.

Trying my 55-250 zoom lens
The TV Tower on the mountain is approx 25 km from my home

Be sure to check out my Google Plus profile for more examples of HDR images. Also, feel free to ask questions and show off your HDR pics to me! I may post some i like here... :)

Good day to all!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Life As I Know It...

I'd like to start off from where i left the post last time. I was successfully able to answer my own question, with the help of some good folks over at Gplus. And as it turned out later, I had already stumbled across the answer to my question long before I even had thought of it... and that's both hilarious and freaky at the same time.

 Oh, and if you don't understand the comic, don't worry! As I said, even I didn't when I read it for the first time.

 When I found the answer, i was a bit more sad than happy, because i used to think that i challenged a theory which all scientists follow. But that was for just a short while.

Just around two days of the post, the results for the exam for which I had been preparing for the last two years came out, and as usual, i didn't do well in them. In India, these exams are not just exams, they, in many cases (unfortunately) end up deciding the course of a persons life. A bad result in this exam(s) is more than enough to destroy the self confidence of any regular kid, and in most of the cases the parents also start brown-beating them. Due to the low scores or ranks, the students are incapable of getting into a stream of their own choice, a field in which they want to study, and their only options are either to drop the year, and prepare for the exam next year (which stats show is a bad way to go, as improvements are rare and not much), or get a paid seat in a private college, which is not only expensive as hell, but also quite pointless.

This time around, I am the one who is struck in the dilemma of dropping or getting a paid seat. Though I still have a couple of other options as of now, I'm not that interested in them too much. Until the final result is declared, I along with perhaps 70% of the students along with me, have nothing better to do except wait (and maybe prepare for any other entrance exam coming their way), and with each passing day, stress levels increasing, self confidence decreasing, mocking by the “toppers” and inferiority complex settling in their minds. All of this happening just because of the way how these students filled up a sheet of paper in 3 hours, which will end up deciding the quality of lives these students will lead.

As I'm typing this, the other half of our generation, who chose the medical path, is getting ready for something insanely similar to happen with them. All I can do for now is wish them Best of luck.

Good day to all...