Saturday, December 22, 2007

Opening Up a Sony Cybershot DSC-L1

I purchased this little guy three years ago, but the lens cover stopped working, displaying the message "ERROR: TURN THE POWER OFF AND ON AGAIN" on the LCD. After searching the web, I only found useless manuals for sale or just basic consumer reviews. Since my fiancee and I already have two other Sony's, I figured I'd open up this one just as a saturday-afternoon adventure. Last time I opened up a consumer electronics device (other than a computer) I was probably 6. It was my first vinyl player whose plate suddenly stopped spinning. As usual, we took it to the nearest electronics repair shop, and they said they'd have to order this new motor, and that it'd cost a lot (sounds familiar?). So I got pissed and I just opened it up on my own at home, and starting touching random electronic components while the thing was still plugged to the wall. Finally, I touched something and the record player started spinning. It was a ridiculous potentiometer (a mere variable resistor)! Couldn't be easier and cheaper to fix, my dad just spent a few cents and I could hear my music again. Although I could have electrocuted myself that day, my mom still prides herself of her son's feat, more so than anything else I ever consciously did. Anyways, I figured I don't need to be an expert to be able to fix today's electronics. They have become more complicated but I am not 6 anymore, and sony electronics engineers haven't become all that much smarter, believe me, you'll see how cheap the shutter cover is. So lets start the step-by-step quest to open the Cybershot DSC-L1. (Do it at your own risk!)

First of all, go to radio shack and get yourself a set of precision screwdrivers. Get good ones since you need good grip here, as the screws will be really tight. Remove the battery from the camera. Now lets unscrew it, literally. There are 4 pairs of screws in total - 2 pairs on the bottom, 2 pairs on each side. The side screws become visible once you open the compartments for the batteries and the compartment for the DC power.

Ok, now that you removed the 8 screws, snap-out the plastic cover on the side where the DC input is. Then try to pull apart the two halves of the camera, the front cover from the back cover. One of the corners is kinda tricky, but just force it a little and it will snap open. Be careful but firm. Now you have the camera opened-up, it should look like this: You can now hook the camera to the outlet as the figure shows. Turn on the camera, and it should work as before. In my case, the shutter cover is stuck, so the lenses don't open or extend. Now notice that there are two switches that sense whether the shutter cover has retracted or not: In the case of my camera, I can fool it to extend the lenses by pressing the top left switch with a screwdriver:
Now unplug the power chord. The next step is to remove the plastic connectors from the front of the camera, so we can detach the two halves of the camera. First remove the two screws that hold the strap, one in the middle, the other near the motor. Do this by carefully using a precision screwdriver to help take the strap from under the plastic holders along its track. After some careful but trivial process, you obtain: Good. Now lets take care of that front cover. If so far it felt like you're performing a careful brain surgery, the next step will be more of an orthopedic surgery, except that you probably don't need a hammer. The problem is that the freakin' asses at sony actually glued the mechanics of the lens cover onto the front steel case. I thought I was doomed at this point, that the only way would be to order another front case, if sony still manufactures them, which I doubt. I got pissed and went for a high-risk brutal operation: to forcibly detach the black part from the steel case. Yes, it feels grotesque but it is the only way. Use a precision screwdriver to help you detach the two parts by "carving" into the glue. Sounds laughable, and looks even more laughable: Notice all the glue? Yeah, now you realize how the lens cover mechanics is by far the crappiest part of this camera. I don't know why sony tried to save money by doing such a shitty job at this, given that it is nothing compared to the cost of the software, signal processing and lens optics. Anyways, this is why probably every owner of the DSC-L1 will have problems with the lens cover at some point. Ok, back to business. Notice that there is a rod with a spring. Be careful with that little spring, it'll easily fall or jump all over the place. Anyways, the problem with my camera was that this rod wasn't perfectly in place, it seems, and that the gears weren't able to grasp the shutter cover. Now try to put that rod in place. First take the lens cover off and slide it all the way to the right of the rod. Carefully place the lens cover back in the track on the black plastic base by first fitting the bottom of it, then the top-right part of the rod, then, by squeezing the spring, fit the left part of the rod into the plastic case. You should feel it snap, and you need to put some pressure to get it to fit. After some patience with the damn spring, it is now time to reconnect the orange strap back into the black plastic support. Start by fitting and screwing the motor tight and move your way to the end of the strap. Plug the camera on the wall. You should end up with this: Now there is a subtle trick to it. The switch in the middle has to be pressed-in. Use a screw driver to press the switch and your finger to snap it in, then screw the middle switch: Ok, now you can turn your camera on to test the shutter cover. It should work! If not, post a comment and I'll try to help. If it worked, now you have to stick the black plastic component back into the metal cover. Do this by positioning it carefully then pressing firmly so that the glue sticks to the metal again (argh this horrendously cheap). Make sure the little transparent LED plastic on top of the shutter cover is in place. Now put the two halves of the camera back together, and screw the outer 8 screws back in. Snap the side plastic cover and you should have your >$100 value reward (>$250 back in the days):

Sunday, December 09, 2007

high quality eps in pdf


One of the problems with pdf conversion is that most pdf converters
("distillers") are configured by default to always use lossy (DCT
Encoding) for color and grayscale images. For a scientific paper, this
produces very poor results. In order to get high quality figures in
the converted PDF, you can either tell the PDF distiller to use
FlateEncode or to use DCTEncode with a high quality factor. Here are
the postscript snippets that allow you to do this:

* Use DCTEncode with a high quality factor: this involves setting
a parameter called "/Qfactor" to a small number. The /Qfactor
parameter actually refers to "Quantization factor". Setting this to
0.15 uses the same settings as "Maximum Quality" mode for Acrobat

systemdict /setdistillerparams known {
<< /ColorACSImageDict << /QFactor 0.15 /Blend 1 /ColorTransform
1 /HSamples [1 1 1 1] /VSamples [1 1 1 1] >>
>> setdistillerparams
} if

* Use FlateEncode: this way, the images that you see in the
converted pdf file will be exactly identical to the EPS images you

systemdict /setdistillerparams known {
<< /AutoFilterColorImages false /ColorImageFilter /FlateEncode
>> setdistillerparams
} if

To use these, simply open up your .eps file in a text editor such as
emacs and insert the text after the end of the "%" commented area at
the beginning of the file. This should automatically work with dvipdfm
conversion as well as the pdf conversion software used on the arXiv

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sources of Inspiration

Two major sources of inspiration have dominated my years at Brown: philosophical/religious essays and biographies.

I am not Jewish nor radically religious, but since it's Hanukkah, I'll mention a collection of practical essays rooted in Jewish wisdom:

Again, I am not blindly religious, but here is my own piece of wisdom - nothing is totally black and white, so be humble to listen, filtering what you like and questioning what you don't like in a constructive way. In fact the above essays are very rational in many ways, although at times they might be slightly simplistic - which is unavoidable even in less religious texts.

The essays are quite effective in inciting energy and vitality. My favorite ones:

It is interesting how Catholicism, although rooted in Judaism, has forgotten a little about a more proactive attitude towards achieving things in practice. Being meek and humble can be a very important concept, but that doesn't mean you should act foolish or abstain yourself from achieving. This is a recurring confusion among Catholics and paints a wrong image of Catholicism in the mind of non-Catholics. Anyways, human affairs are complicated, again, nothing is black-and-white.

I finish this part of this post with a quotation from one of the essays that is particularly well suited to my research

"You couldn't buy an eye for a million dollars. Yet God gave you -- for free -- a pair of eyes that work more accurately, quickly and efficiently than the most sophisticated digital vision devices."

Basically the Rabbi is challenging us researchers in the field : he wrote an essay that is supposed to offer timeless wisdom - and he certainly thinks machine vision doesn't work as good as human vision, and probably never will !!!!


The second part of this post is about these fantastic biographies of mathematicians and scientists we are used to hear about. I have just read a particularly amazing one, from Grassman. The man was never recognized as a major mathematician at his time, mostly taught at high schools, and yet had discovered a stupendous amount of concepts which, 100 years later, are now the basic "look and feel" of math.

After struggling all his life to get his ideas accepted, obtaining little visibility, and being criticized by major mathematicians for his abstract presentation, he finalizes his years by insisting on publishing yet another edition of his work, with a magnificent foreword:

==The following is an extract from the Foreword of Die Ausdehnungslehre: Vollständig und in strenger Form bearbeitet published by Grassmann in 1862:==

"I remain completely confident that the labour I have expended on the science presented here and which has demanded a significant part of my life as well as the most strenuous application of my powers, will not be lost. It is true that I am aware that the form which I have given the science is imperfect and must be imperfect. But I know and feel obliged to state (though I run the risk of seeming arrogant) that even if this work should again remain unused for another seventeen years or even longer, without entering into the actual development of science, still that time will come when it will be brought forth from the dust of oblivion and when ideas now dormant will bring forth fruit. I know that if I also fail to gather around me (as I have until now desired in vain) a circle of scholars, whom I could fructify with these ideas, and whom I could stimulate to develop and enrich them further, yet there will come a time when these ideas, perhaps in a new form, will arise anew and will enter into a living communication with contemporary developments. For truth is eternal and divine and no phase of it ... can pass without a trace; it remains in existence even if the cloth in which weak mortals dress it disintegrates into dust."

And ditto - his truth remains and there's nothing you can do about it. This is a sublime example of unshakable belief in ones purest thoughts, and this brings us back to one of the wisdom articles above - Use Your Inner Guide.

The full biography can be found at: