Configuring a new Olympus E-PM1

For an upcoming camping trip I bought an Olympus E-PM1 camera. The camera is a lot smaller and lighter than my Canon Rebel XTI, plus I’d have less cash weighing down my pocket… a win win! Actually, I got a refurbished model, so it was quite a good deal (about one quarter the price of the high-end version, which has all of the same internals).

As you can see from this top view, the size will be a lot more convenient for a backpacking trip than the Canon.

With lens fully zoomed it grows a lot! It’s not that much zoom though.

I’m curious to see how the camera will compare to the point-and-shoots the rest of my family will bring on the trip.  I’ve been very happy with my Canon’s ability to take low-light photos (anything indoor at night ends up needing a flash or looking grainy on most P&S cameras). This camera has an image sensor size smaller than the Canon’s, but it is still quite a bit larger than a typical P&S, so it should make nice crisp pictures. Of course for nature photography, what you are aiming at has more impact than the quality of your camera body. Here’s proof from our trip to Katahdin back in 2005:

The camera is somewhat notorious for being poorly configured out of the box. Here are the steps I took to improve on the defaults:

  • Enable the full settings menu. You’ll need this to access most useful controls.
    • Setup->Wrench->Menu Display->Turn on the cog shaped one
  • Switch to the “Super Control Panel (SCP)”. This will change the menu you see when you hit “OK” in shooting mode so that it is more comprehensive and easier to access.
    • Go to the new settings menu (the cogs)->D/Display->Control Settings->P/A/S/M->Make it so everything is turned off except for SCP
  • Make the arrows cycle through pictures instead of the dial (which is really stupid)
    • Setup->Cogs->B/Button/Dial->Dial Function->(play button)->set this to the “enlarge a picture” option
  • Make the movie record button do something useful (i.e., not record videos). I have it toggle between using auto-focus on the whole image or just the center point
    • Setup->Cogs->B/Button/Button Functions->(record button)->[…]HP
    • Setup->Cogs->A/AF/MF->[…] Set Home (you have to scroll down)->Set it to the one with a single square in the middle
    • Originally I skipped the second step, in which case the button won’t do anything useful

I usually use the “P” mode, which has the camera guess the right aperture and shutter speed. It is still fairly easy to customize these–hit the UP button, then use L/R to change shutter speed (brightness) and UP/Down to change F value (depth of focus). Remember if you have trouble with it picking the wrong thing to focus on that you can hit the red record button to swap between full-auto focus and center-target focus (assuming you followed the steps above).

I haven’t taken any real pictures yet, so I’ll leave you with this decidedly unflattering self-portrait.


I’ve spent a lot of hours driving and cleaning the house lately, and that means I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts. Lately I’ve been especially enjoying Radiolab, a show out of the public radio station in New York.  My good buddies Chris Knauer and Ira Glass both recommended the show to me ages ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I began listening regularly. It’s a quirky show similar to This American Life in the type of stories it covers, but is generally more focused on science topics, making it especially interesting to me.  All the back episodes are available free online.  Here I’ll ruin a few of the episodes for you by describing some of the more surprising findings:

Google maps thinks I can bike this 2,964 mile route in 10 days and 15 hours (after 1183 turns and no sleep). I'm less confident.

5/16/2010 Limits – talks about the limits on our bodies and minds. They claim that the human body is very conservative about its own limits, and will make you sore and exhausted long before you really come anywhere close to running out of energy. The energy gets saved just in case something truly terrible happens and the body needs to release some extra bursts. They describe the Race Across America, which sounds like an absolutely horrible experience.  People bike all the way across the country, more or less non-stop; sleep is “optional”.  The winner usually takes about 8-9 days, and bikes 22 hours each day. The radio show describes a rider from the Slovenian army who has won the race in five of the last seven years. Not surprisingly, he basically goes crazy after a day or two of pushing his body so hard, but this just leads to him having vivid hallucinations about being chased by enemy soldiers… in turn, these terrifying visions fill up his adrenaline and trick his body into giving him just a little bit more energy.

6/28/2010 Oops – this show covers various unlikely events and their even more unlikely consequences. One segment discusses the Berkeley Pit in Montana, a lake of toxic waste leftover from mining operations. The spot is of course a huge eyesore, but it was even worse in 1995 when a flock of over 300 snow geese landed in the pool thinking it would make a nice rest stop… they were sadly mistaken. Despite the poisonous nature of the pollutants in the pit, biologists have recently found a number of amazingly hardy microorganisms able to survive there.  One of them is even able to do a remarkably good job at transforming the waste into less harmful substances. The kicker: that particular microorganism has only been found one other place–the bowels of snow geese!

I’ve really enjoyed listening to these and other episodes of the show.  Sometimes the results from one segment of the show are used a bit too freely to make claims about later parts, but it is still quite thought provoking. The two hosts make a great pair, and give the show a nice style.  Highly recommended!

Conference in Montana

I just got back from a conference in Big Sky, Montana. The conference hotel was up in the mountains at a ski resort, and although they were starting to get their first snow of the season, the slopes weren’t quite ready yet. The scenery was quit breathtaking (especially for someone from New Jersey), but unfortunately I only got to walk around and take pictures during one of the cloudy days. The conference itself was quite interesting. It was much busier than any of the others I’ve been to. I met a number of new interesting people, and got to see a few other familiar faces which was nice.

Proposal #2 Done!

proposalI did one sort of proposal earlier this spring, but on July 1st I defended my thesis proposal.

I won’t bore you with the details, but you can all imagine it as collection of groundbreaking work exploring how virtualization can be used to make computers more efficient, improve reliability, and generally save the world from all sorts of evil.

It’s pretty exciting, and having finished that after 4 years puts me in a good position to finish my PhD well ahead of the average in my department…

SSH Tunneling Tutorial

Note: this post is another technical one, so if you are a member of my immediate family, you probably won’t find it of much interest.  If “ports” make you think of boats (rather than the numbers 80 and 22), then why don’t you mosey on over to my christmas photos?

I frequently have trouble communicating between systems which are separated by different private LANs. This often happens when you have your computer on a home wireless network which is separated from the rest of the internet via a router and firewall.  Fortunately, SSH tunnels can be used to link these machines together, provided you know which ports need to be interfaced and you have a common server which both machines can reach. Here is how. Continue reading Learning Center

I am pleased to annouce the grand opening of the Learning Center. There isn’t too much in there right now, and mostly it is just notes for myself.  In any case, some of it might be useful to somebody, so rather than just keeping it hidden away I figure I will share it.

Most of the information is pretty technical, so unless you are interested in doing some Bash shell scripting or need to make some regression plots in R, it may not be of much use.

CS By the Numbers

The CRA (Computing Research Association) runs the Taulbee Survey which studies trends in computer science education and employment.  There are some pretty interesting numbers in the reports which came out earlier this year.

BS and PhD Production

I was first surprised to see just how many PhDs are being awarded. Almost 1800 new PhDs were produced last year, and the growth compared to the 90s and early 2000s is pretty staggering. The report suggests that the numbers will be even higher in the coming year, although the rate of increase is expected to drop.

On the other hand, undergraduate CS enrollment is doing terribly right now. I’d blame this partly on bad stereotypes about computer science, but mainly on most undergraduates having no real logical basis for why they choose a major.  Sadly, I’m not sure if that will ever change.

Continue reading

Easy as…cake

I’ve been trying out CakePHP, a framework for creating DB driven PHP based websites using the MVC design pattern.

Warning: In case the above sentence didn’t make this clear, this post is largely technical gibberish. If that’s not your thing, then you can move along and look at the pretty pictures from a hiking trip up Mt. Monadnock from back in September.

My feelings with CakePHP so far are mixed. As with many open source projects, the documentation for getting started is a little rough.  To help with that, here is the list of resources I’ve found most useful so far.

Continue reading

Beginner Digital SLR Resources

About a month ago I spent a lot of money on a Canon Xti Digital SLR camera. It has been fun learning about photography and how all this stuff works. While I’m still taking lots of pictures of people with telephone poles and such coming out of their heads, I’m gradually getting a bit better. I have learned a great deal about the technical aspects of photography such as apertures and shutter speeds which didn’t apply to point and shoot cameras. Here are my notes and some useful resources.

Continue reading

Free Learning

I just heard of Lecturefox, a site which provides listings of publicly available courses from not only MIT’s Open Courseware, but a number of other schools ranging from UC Berkeley and Kent State to Oxford. It is great to see so much information being made available freely online, I just wish I had a bit more time to actually go through some of the videos. Lecturefox primarily emphasizes courses from scientific fields (it is run by a pair of self-trained German computer scientists), but they also have listings from other fields like economics and philosophy. Some of the offerings are full blown courses with video or audio and lecture notes, while others are recorded lectures from visiting speakers.

I don’t have any sense of the quality of the different offerings–there are certainly some courses I’ve taken in the past which would be extremely boring to watch on video, so it’s not clear to me how useful many of these full lecture series courses would really be. On the other hand, some of the shorter “guest lecture” style talks might be more self contained and accessible.

A few that sounded interesting: