Time is a strange beast. As far as we know it always appears to go forward although strange things start to occur in the presence of gravity. Indeed if you synchronized two atomic clocks together then took one of them on a trip around the world with you by the time you got back they’d be wildly out of sync, more than they ever could be through normal drift. This is part of Einstein’s theory of general relativity where time appears to speed up or slow down due to the differing effects of gravity on the two objects which results in time dilation. This effect, whilst so vanishingly small as to be inconsequential in day to day life, becomes a real problem when you want to tell super accurate time, to the point where a new atomic clock might be worthless for telling the time.
Most atomic clocks in the world use a caesium atom to tell time as they transition between two states with an exact and measurable frequency. This allows them to keep time with incredible precision, to the point of not losing even a second of time over the course of hundreds of millions of years. Such accurate time keeping is what has allowed us to develop things like GPS where accurate time keeping allows us to pinpoint locations with amazing accuracy (well, when it’s not fuzzed). However a new type of atomic clock takes accuracy to a whole new level, being able to keep time on the scale of billions of years with pinpoint precision.
The Strontium Optical Atomic Clock comes from researchers working at the University of Colorado and can hold perfect time for 5 billion years. It works by suspending strontium atoms in a framework of lasers and then giving them a slight jolt, sending the atoms oscillating at a highly predictable rate. This allows the researchers to keep time to an incredibly precise level, so precise in fact that minor perturbations in gravity fields have a profound impact on how fast it ticks. As it turns out Earth is somewhat of a gravitational minefield thanks to the tectonic plates under its surface.
You see the further away you are from the Earth’s core the weaker its gravitational pull is and thus time passes just a little bit faster the further away you get. For us humans the difference is imperceptible, fractions of a fraction second that would barely register even if you found yourself floating billions of kilometres away in almost true 0g. However for a time instrument as sensitive as the one the researchers created minor changes in the Earth’s makeup greatly influence its tick rate, making accurate time keeping an incredibly difficult job. Indeed the researchers say that these clocks are likely to only be able to truly useful once we put one in space, far beyond the heavy gravitic influences that are found here on Earth.
It’s amazing that we have the ability to create something like this which throws all our understanding and perceptions around such a common and supposedly well understood phenomenon into question. That, for me, is the true heart of science, uncovering just how much we don’t know about something and then hunting down answers wherever they may lie. Sure, often we’ll end up having more questions when we come out of the end of it but that’s just a function of the vastness of the universe we live in, one that’s filled with ceaseless wonders that we’re yet to discover.
I’ve always been one to try and make whatever technology I’ve bought do something it wasn’t originally intended for. Mostly this is because I want to unlock some of the hidden value that the technology has or enable some functionality that had been disabled by the manufacturer. You can then imagine my excitement when my wife’s parents gave us a Navman MY60T for christmas as whilst I wasn’t 100% sure what underlying operating system it had on it I figured it would be either Android or Windows CE and there are plenty of cool things I could do with either. So not a day after getting it I had secured myself a memory card and began a furious google search to see what could be done with this little device.
Initially I couldn’t find much as this particular model is relatively new. Still figuring that most models don’t change too much I widen my search to try and catch hacks that worked on previous models. After an hour or so I came across an application called MioPocket which appeared to be a wholesale replacement for the underlying operating system. After looking around for a while I discovered a forum dedicated to this software and saw that the community was alive and well, so I decided to give it a try.
Installing MioPocket on the MY60T appeared to be a pretty simple affair. After copying across the needed files to my SD card and creating the required folder (the folder name for the MY60T is SEEKER2_T500E) I restarted my device and was presented with the MioPocket install screen. I ran MioPocket and it appeared to install without a hitch, triggering a reboot of my device. However when it started back up again I recieved an error “Application MortScript.exe encountered a serious error and must shut down” and my Navman froze. Removing the SD card and rebooting the device allowed it to come good again but I was unfortunately unable to use MioPocket.
I searched the GPSPassion forums for a good few hours trying to find a solution to my problem. Most of the posts I found relating to this error appeared to be fixed in current releases and attempting to replicate those changes didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Since I didn’t have much of a clue of how MioPocket was strung together (apart from it being a Windows CE application) I posted up my problems and hoped I’d hit someone else who’d had the same issue and managed to resolve it.
Luckily not a day later did a user get back to me with the required solution. All that was required was to delete the toolhelp.dll files in all the folders on the SD card apart from one, the Windows folder. Doing so allowed my device to install and boot MioPocket successfully. A quick test showed that some applications refused to run (although I didn’t thoroughly test it) but for the most part it was fine, allowing me to run all sorts of weird and wonderful programs on my new found toy. Talking with one of my friends (who was one of the fortunate people to have an i-Mate JasJam back when they were hot) revealed that I could also get Warcraft 2 and Doom running on there if I was so inclined.
So after all that effort is it worth unlocking your GPS so you can run other programs on it? For most people probably not as whenever you’re going to be using your GPS the manufacturer’s included software will more than suffice. However unlocking it can provide extra features that might come in handy like the ability to load in eBooks or a simple calculator. Probably those who will get the most out of such hacks would be the modding community as these devices are excellent value for what they provide. I know I would’ve preferred a device like this to the $450 TV screen I bought for my car almost 5 years ago. So if you’ve got a GPS lying around and an hour or two to spare MioPocket could well be worth a look in, especially if you’ve got that hacker mentality.
I’ve been deep in the social networking world for a long time now and while I’m no expert on how to use them effectively I do recognise their power to drive a product or brand. Most recently this has led me to get involved in the YouTube community, albeit as a consumer more than a producer. Still I couldn’t push back the thought that this was something I’d love to get into, seeing it as a kind of evolution of my blogging efforts of the past couple years. Plus it would give me a great excuse to go gadget shopping and everyone knows I love me a good gadget.
I’d been eyeing off the new Canon DSLRs for quite a while since I’d heard they were capable of doing full HD video recording. Looking over some of the sample videos posted around the Internet the Canon 550D was shaping up to be a good replacement for my 400D, and the camera body by itself could be had quite cheaply. However after bumping into an old friend of my brother he extolled the virtues of the Canon 7D to me, what with its dual processor loveliness and full magnesium body. The camera itself wasn’t too expensive although certainly more than the 550D, and so I resigned myself to get one before our trip over to the USA.
Of course right after that, I started looking at accessories.
Now I’m just a hobbyist photographer and I haven’t invested too much into my kit yet, probably somewhere on the order of $1,500. The 7D by itself would almost double the amount I’d spent thus far but that would still leave me with an expensive camera and only 2 lenses (one of them a not so good kit lens). I then decided I’d need another lens if I was going to do this video thing properly which bumped the total investment up to a point where I started to question just how much I wanted to do this. Thus I decided I should find a cheaper alternative first before sinking almost $3,000 into a hobby that I might not even be interested in.
And so enters the Sony DSC-HX5V.
I had only 2 requirements when I was looking for this camera. The first was that it had to be a compact, not a scaled down DLSR or anything that would be comparable in bulk to my old Canon. Secondly it had to shoot full 1080p HD video as that meant that as long as the quality was at least halfway decent at that resolution I could always scale it down to 720p to get a pretty decent picture. After looking at various Micro 4/3rds and other interchangeable lens cameras I stumbled across Sony’s latest line of compacts and I must say their specs were impressive enough for me to investigate them further.
In particular the HX5V stands out thanks to all the wizardry that they pack into this tiny, pocket sized device. Not only does it support full 1080p video at 50fps but it also does 10 megapixel stills with a 10x optical zoom. Additionally the camera comes equipped with a GPS sensor and a magnetometer so your photos not only have their location in them but also the direction you were facing when you took it. They also managed to fit a stereo microphone on the top of it as well.
Although the camera body is made entirely out of plastic the build quality is good with the whole camera feeling quite solid. The optical zoom action of the camera is quite smooth and is very quiet, great for when you’re using it during video mode. For someone like me with giant hands the camera is actually a bit too small as I can’t hold it comfortably without covering up most of the camera. Still the size lends it to fitting well in your pockets without feeling too bulky so I’m willing to make the trade off for portability. The battery pack is quite adequate for taking hundreds of photos but will run dry rather quickly when recording in full HD video. I think I’ve got about 30~60 minutes total on a full charge, which is pretty reasonable considering its size.
The menu system on the DSC-HX5V is a little confusing at first but most of the regular ones can be found after a few minutes of stumbling around. Thankfully the large LCD on the back informs you what each of the little symbols on the mode dial mean when you switch as some of them (like the auto HDR one) don’t really convey their meaning very well. There’s a button on the back of it to go straight to movie mode which is a nice addition and saves you from having to navigate around unnecessarily.
So how does it shape up as a camera? Well rather than blather on about picture quality and all that I’ll just let the pictures do the talking, below is an album of some pictures I’ve taken over the course of the past month that showcase the camera’s abilities in various conditions:
Ah but I hear you asking, what about the video? Well you won’t be disappointed I’ve compiled a video of some of the footage I’ve taken as well, although I’ve replaced the sound as there wasn’t anything really worth hearing in any of these videos (highly recommend hitting the 1080p button for this one):
Overall I’m very satisfied with this little compact. Whilst it wasn’t exactly cheap by any stretch of the imagination, about $400 on Ebay, the capabilities it provides are well worth the price of admission and it’s the perfect substitute for when my DSLR would be overkill. The picture and video quality are quite good and the auto HDR function provides great pictures even in extremely low light situations. If you’re a budding vlogger or film maker I’d highly recommend this camera as a starting point before you sink thousands of dollars into professional kit. It does unfortunately lack some features (external mic in, bluetooth) which would’ve made it a technological dream but for the price I couldn’t find anything to beat the Sony DSC-HX5V in every area consistently. That might change with the product refresh cycle coming around for this holiday season but that would just mean you could pick one of these up for a bargain price, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed.