The AnswersThatWork Blog

Monday, 27th November 2006

A woman, a PC, the Internet, a Phone Company, and your Privacy

I read what I thought was an amazingly scary story today on CNN Entertainment — via the Internet, someone stalked Chester Bennington, lead singer of the Grammy-winning rock group Linkin Park.

My interest in this story is not the stalking part, but what is not being talked about in the case :  allegedly, so far, a woman uses a PC at a national laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, where she works (well, it's now "used to work"!), to hack into a phone company in order to obtain someone's cell phone bills, the phone numbers that person called, the digital pictures that person emailed from their cell phone, the text messages that person sent and received, that person's home details, their email details, and their email history. 

In nowadays' world organizations like Sandia need to exist.  However, this woman was caught only because she started seriously bothering the musician and his family.  This brings the nagging question :  how many rogue employees are there out there working for organizations like Sandia and easily breaking into phone companies' records, Bank systems, corporate networks, etc...,  and accessing and selling the information on, or using it for blackmail purposes, or, even, manipulating/modifying the information — anyone seen "Changing Lanes" with Samuel L Jackson lately ?

And, just as an aside, I'd love to know the name of the cell phone company that was so easily hacked into — I sure don't want them as my provider !!

—— (TUT) SpaceMan

Sunday, 18th November 2006

Quality, Quantity, State of the Art, High-Definition, and a Lens !

So how many mega pixels does your camera have?  6M?  8M?  10M?

In this day and age, with so much technology changing so quickly, most people have come to believe that anything that's 'state-of-the-art ' must be the best.  So a digital camera with 8 Million pixels has to be better than one with 6 Million.  More pixels means better pictures – Right ?

But there's an element of taking great photos that seems to have been forgotten in all this… the lens.  That little, or maybe not so little, piece of glass that collects all the light and focuses it on to the sensor.

I was reminded of this recently when the band I play drums for went to meet the company who will be recording and video taping one of our concerts for a DVD we plan to make.  We'd never seen any of their work before so they were keen to show us how 'state-of-the-art' all their equipment is.  They were particularly proud of their brand-new Sony HDV cameras which they had used to shoot a promo video for another band.  The definition is so high you can see each of the singer's individual nasal hairs in glorious close up as well as every fibre in the backdrop.

So we took it home and showed it to a friend of ours who works as a producer for the BBC.  She was very impressed by the sharpness of the picture but felt we should aim for a film look rather than a video look.  Then we showed her some video that had been shot four years ago on an old Canon XL1 and her immediate response was  "That's it! This is what it should look like".

When we compared the two we realised she was right.  The HDV video was exactly that – High Definition.  The Canon footage, on the other hand, didn't look as sharp but at the same time it had a quality about it that the HDV just couldn't match.

So what 's the difference ?  Well, the Canon has a lens which is almost as big as the entire Sony HDV camera, lens and all, and it's the lens that collects the light.  A bigger lens means you collect more light, and light, and what you can do with it and thanks to it, is where great pictures start.

And that quality feel ?  Impossible to define but you absolutely know it when you see it.  I could go into great detail about how Canon make superior lenses and point you to charts and tests that prove it.  However, when I compare the pictures side by side the ones shot on the Canon have a look about them that I can't quantify but which says quality.  And that's what we want for our video.

The same is true for still cameras or even cell phone cameras.  Getting more pixels isn't going to give you better pictures if the lens is rubbish, and way too many of them are.  What you really need to know is what pictures taken on that camera look like.  Nowadays, most camera stores allow you to take sample pictures with the cameras on display and will put the card into a picture viewer for you to check the results.  So take your time to compare.  Put the pictures of one camera next to the pictures taken on another camera and ask yourself which ones look the best.  Trust your own eyes.  Then buy that one.  You might be surprised to find you don't need as many pixels as you thought, and not being able to see the singer's individual nose hairs could be considered a bonus !

—— (MM-2)

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