Tech Myths: Boosting Reality

Long ago, in a life epoch far, far away, I did a fair amount of religious studies—Western, Eastern, primitive, you name it. Here in the West, we have this tradition that reality is defined by our five senses. We don’t just judge books by their covers—they essentially are their covers. From ancient Greek philosophy comes the entire industry of modern marketing. In the other parts of the world, though, “reality” is a different, more fluid thing. In fact, in some traditions, there is no reality. We are all simply figments, illusions, transitory things forever striving to be free of the delusion all around us. If you want to understand where the Wachowski brothers found the roots behind The Matrix, start with old school Hinduism.

Now you’ll understand why I was drawn to the theme of boosting reality for this week’s episode of tech myths. Who’s to say that what we see is fixed and “real”? Perhaps reality can be...modified.

That’s right. There’s a signpost up ahead. You’re now crossing over into the Tech Myth Zone, your one-stop source for tech-related curiosity, high velocity, and (every so often in our forums) heated animosity. Got a tech myth or supposed view of electronic reality that you think needs challenging? Don’t be shy. You know you want answers. Email us or post in the forum below. Your innocent brilliance could surprise us all.

First up in this episode, it’s Geeks Gone Wild II, where we return to the mountains and try to boost our otherwise lame cell phone reception with ordinary camp gear. And while we’re on a natural theme, let’s delve into some deep debate on compact fluorescent lighting—how dangerous is it when you boost your mercury levels by busting a bulb? Finally, it’s time for a double-dose of reality-bending by not only boosting what can normally be captured by your digital camera but by accomplishing this feat for shockingly little money.”

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  • Anonymous
    I have been able to improve the reception of my Samsung A-640. I was complaining at work one day about the poor cell coverage I experienced inside my home (usually only one or two bars), and at the time... I had no land line, so decent coverage was kindof important.

    He told me to buy some wire, cut off a piece a 7 - 10 feet long, wrap as much as you can around the antenna in a tight coil (A-640 has an antenna that pulls out about two inches, so I extended the antenna and wrapped the wire around it), you then throw the other end of the wire up into a tree (or in my case... attach it to a hook in the ceiling)

    I was able to get between one and two additional bars and I stopped dropping calls!
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  • Anonymous
    You really should try to avoid buying Rockstar energy drink. It's a company started by right wing talk show host Michael Savage, a notorious racist and homophobe who is, nonetheless very influential due to his syndicated radio show. He makes Rush look like a thoughtful person.
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  • DarkMantle
    Great read as always.
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  • williamvw
    ButIDigressYou really should try to avoid buying Rockstar energy drink. It's a company started by right wing talk show host Michael Savage, a notorious racist and homophobe who is, nonetheless very influential due to his syndicated radio show. He makes Rush look like a thoughtful person.

    Based on a few minutes of reading online, it seems the company that produces Rockstar is actually owned by Savage's son, Russell G. Weiner. Savage's wife is the CFO. Now, I definitely do NOT want to turn Tech Myths or Tom's Guide into a political debate forum. None of us are here for that purpose. That said, no, I definitely do not agree with most of Michael Savage's positions or statements. However, the only political similarities or cooperation I find between father and son were their founding of the Paul Revere Society in 1996, which had the mission of combating illegal immigration. I can find no other political, financial, religious, or any other link between them. I am not going to condemn the son, who openly supported California's Jerry Brown, for the father's views and actions. I'm sure there are plenty of us who strive not to emulate our parents, both internally and externally. Whatever reasons there are not to drink Rockstar, I don't believe Michael Savage is one of them. Can we go back to discussing technology now?
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  • MJRSnyder
    Since when did they sell Doritos in a can? I want some
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  • dingumf
    "The five individual exposures were rendered in Photomatix Pro software in its Generate HDR Image mode."

    Isn't that cheating
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  • williamvw
    dingumf"The five individual exposures were rendered in Photomatix Pro software in its Generate HDR Image mode."Isn't that cheating

    Not at all. The goal was to perform HDR imaging that ANYONE could do, not just owners of Photoshop or specialists with a ton of costly tools.
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  • Draven35
    If you're trying to capture as much of the dynamic range as possible, start with exposure turned so there is plenty of detail in the shadows, but the rest of the image is overexposed, then gradually step up the exposure so that the highlights have detail but the rest of the image is underexposed. Seven exposures seems to be adequate, but more is better. HDR images shot this way or a mirror ball are often used in visual effects, because a quick mirror ball photo will give you the actual lighting from the scene you are placing effects into instead of having to approximate it in your 3d software.
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  • duckmanx88
    you shouldn't drink energy drinks regardless of who makes them. $2 of sugar and chemicals. want energy? eat fruits and vegetables.
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  • andyviant
    Now I haven't done any recent studies on radio wave frequencies and their interactions with materials, but it seems from what i remember that your can parabolas could actually STOP the microwaves going b/t the phone and tower. Metal is picky when it comes to absorbing or reflecting microwaves. This is why a fork will spark, and a CD will crizzle, but the inside of the oven is made of metal, which doesn't do either (because it configured to reflect). So this definitely seems like it COULD work, under ideal circumstances with ideal materials, but it's definitely hit or miss. Unsure why this seems to be so successful w/ wifi waves...maybe the short vs. long range wave strength is at fault.

    Also to note: how many cell phones
    are made out of aluminum -- wrapping a can part way around a phone seems to go directly against the design decision to avoid use of metal in the phones shell.
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  • Gutbop
    “Intensely amazing. But it has to be Photoshopped. I've lived near this bridge my entire life and the underbelly of it has always looked nasty-skanky. How did he get Cathedral Park to look so beautiful? It has to be fake....


    No, it’s not fake at all. In Wilson’s own words, here’s how he created the image: “While I am principally a Canon shooter professionally, I enjoy using my Pentax K20D with its complement of fixed focal length Limited series lenses for much of my personal work. In this photo, taken of the St. Johns Bridge just prior to official sunset, I used the 21mm set at f8 in a five shot auto exposure bracket with each exposure two stops apart in aperture priority. The five individual exposures were rendered in Photomatix Pro software in its Generate HDR Image mode. The resultant image was finalized in Topaz Adjust software.”

    Topaz Adjust is a Photoshop Filter. So basically, your friend was right. It is Photoshopped. I don't think he was questioning whether it was a real picture. He just noticed that there were some image adjustments, which there definitely were.
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  • andyviant
    GutbopHe just noticed that there were some image adjustments, which there definitely were.


    True, but if that's the attitude towards making any photo look more like how the human eye sees a subject, then many techniques result in fakes. You could say that many advancements in photography are fake adjustments, even if they're built into the camera, white balance comes to mind.

    I don't understand why some people (generally speaking, not you Gutbop) get so upset when photographers use photoshop to enhance photos...especially when attempting to more realistically portray the subject.
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  • Gutbop
    andyviantTrue, but if that's the attitude towards making any photo look more like how the human eye sees a subject, then many techniques result in fakes. You could say that many advancements in photography are fake adjustments, even if they're built into the camera, white balance comes to mind. I don't understand why some people (generally speaking, not you Gutbop) get so upset when photographers use photoshop to enhance photos...especially when attempting to more realistically portray the subject.


    Hey, I'm all about making things look pretty. My wife has a degree in Graphic Design, and she works at a photo studio doing their retouching, layouts, viewings, etc. I love the work she does.

    I'm just saying... don't say something's not photoshopped when it is.
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  • kittle
    Interesting about the CFL bulbs.

    Makes me wonder about the broken CFL bulb I saw in home depot when I was buying one -- still in its plastic box, but the thing was definately broken. I just left it behind & went along my way.
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  • kittle
    Interesting on the CFL Bulbs.

    Makes me wonder about the broken one i saw at Home Depot a while back. It was still in its plastic box -- but definately broken.
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  • wayneepalmer
    Two things on the CFL's. First, when they do all those energy efficiency calculations, they never take into account the fact that in the process off adding heat they also heat up the room.

    Yes in hot climates this is a minus but, when you live up near the Canadian border and it gets so cold outside in the winter you swear you can see the air start to liquefy, the cost of heating bills is way beyond others and these bulbs are actually about as efficient as most furnaces in heating a room so that heat isn't wasted and measurably reduces furnace run time.

    Secondly, CFL fires aren't a fallacy. I've actually had one make a popping sound and ignite in an open mount in a ceiling fan in my kitchen. Did get the adrenaline up for the morning but coffee is a much safer wake up.
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  • Anonymous
    Talking about the benefits of using the heat from light bulbs just doesn't hack it. If these bulbs were as "efficient as most furnaces" at heating up rooms, then electric heating would cost far less than oil or gas and we all know that electric heating is by FAR much more expensive, which is why almost no one uses it in the northeast. Electric heating is used in the south more where there are many fewer heating days because the cost of installing electric heat is much less than using a furnace plus air ducts or boiler & baseboard.

    Stick to the topic at hand - how efficient are the bulbs at generating *light*. LEDs are more efficient, but the cost, even though it has come down quite a bit, is still too high to be put to general use. A few more years though and LEDs will be the lighting of choice for almost all uses.
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  • zodiacfml
    well, photography is quite part science and art. i'm more on the science part, to get accurate information/image since digital cameras for me still needs a lot of improvement.

    breakage of CFL in my house is very rare and when it does in airy/open environment. my concern is which best type of lighting to use, which to me, is actually none. each type performs well for a function, incandescents for rare use, CFL for general use, and LEDs for long term/near 24 hour use.
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  • Anonymous
    The solution for CFLs is really simple: though still a bit expensive, we must move completely to LEDs as soon as we can. The long-term economy and practicity (you may not need to change a LED bulb your entire life!) are worth it.
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  • Anonymous
    Well, there is still the basic fact that color temperature, color rendering, and the basic mood of the lighting emitted by all current CFL and led lightbulb substitutes... well, it just plain sucks. I like and use cold cathode tube lighting in book lights and led lighting in pocket flashlights. I love them in those applications. The new Cree XRE Q4 5A emmitters even put out very nice light with great color rendering, but none of it holds a candle to the quality of light from bulbs such as the GE Reveal series of incandescent lights. Or decent halogen lighting for that matter. CFL's also suck in many outdoor bulb applications due to warm up time. You really don't want a motion sensor light to take time to warm up. Same goes for outside lighting on a switch for when something goes bump in the night. Not to mention, once again, the light quality sucks. Especially outside where the greater presence of browns and greens really brings out the low quality of the light.

    Maybe I'm just selfish, but I frankly don't care enough about saving energy to put up with the atrocious light emitted by current CFL or led light bulb replacements. Sorry, but I just won't do it.

    Now that said, it isn't as though flourescent lighting always sucks. Daylight toned tubular bulbs exist and make great interior area lighting. Painters use them to great effect. The still have the annoying 60hz pulse and most make audible noise that tungsten lighting does not in quiet environments, but they have their applications. Also, led tech gets better by the day. It may be in the next few years that leds can really rival tungsten lighting in color rendition. It won't be long after that when they become a viable alternative economically.

    Until then, I don't care about the mercury, and damn my carbon footprint, I want some decent friggin light!
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