Are “Low Light” iPhone Camera Apps Bogus?

There are a number of iPhone camera apps that promise to have superior performance in low light settings by using the iPhone’s accelerometer. The basic idea is very simple and intuitive. To quote from the Night Camera web site:

Due to low light condition, the shutter time is longer, and even small shaking from the tapping of the camera button will make the photo un-usable.

So, we created Night Camera, the app to prevent the blur at the first place. Using the built-in iPhone accelerometer, it automatically shoots the photo when it detects the iPhone being stable, so you have a real chance to get some good photos at night.

Sounds very compelling. Basically image stabilization (or rather image selection based on stability data) on inexpensive hardware.

There is one problem with this, which is that the iPhone according to this post uses a camera module that has a fixed 200ms rolling shutter. This seems very plausible, as most camera modules of cell phone use this technique. There also is plenty of photo evidence that this is the case. With a rolling shutter, the exposure time of the CMOS sensor is fixed. In other words, the claim that the shutter time is longer at night is wrong. Unless I am missing something, the makers of the above application at least don’t understand how the iPhone camera works.

Now it may be that in general the accelerometer could be useful for enhancing image quality by reducing movement. However anecdotal evidence shows no visible improvement, and the above app has only 2.5 start on iTunes.

VC Fundraising falls off a cliff

The NVCA Numbers are here, and they look worse than I would have expected. Only 25 new funds were raised in Q2/2009 vs. 82 funds in Q2 of last year.

Typically the initial tally by the NVCA increases by 15% or so as additional closes are announced (see Estimate in the graph for where I think we will end up), but even then this number is very low the worst we have seen in the last decade. Total capital raised was $1.7 billion.

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Venture Captial Update

The NVCA published its latest numbers on VC fundraising, and as expected they are not pretty. Only 40 new funds were raised for a total of $4.31 billion. Both numbers are just above half the rate at which firms were raising money before the current downturn hit.

While low, these number are actually better than I would have expected. The total amount raised is slightly higher than last quarter. Usually the NVCA numbers in the first press release are about 5-10% below the final numbers, thus one would expect this to look even better. However about 25% of the total funding amount is just from two funds (August and Bain), this might skew the numbers. And I would expect the downturn to continue.

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MIT Technology Review names OpenFlow a Top 10 Technology of 2009

The Technology Review today published its list of Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2009 or short “TR10”. One of the Technologies is “Software Defined Networking” and the very well written article heavily focuses on our OpenFlow efforts at Stanford.

A second technology that is highlighted is Siri’s personal assistant software. I am really looking forward to trying out Siri’s product when it goes into beta later this year. For full disclosure, Morgenthaler is an investor in Siri.

Are banks training their customers to be Phished?

When booking travel for our second trip to Europe this year,  the badly tuned Falcon Fraud Manager triggered for both of our payment cards again. It blocked Isabelle’s card and sent out an alert for mine. This itself is bad enough, but how they both banks are then verifying the transaction seems like a recipe for setting up their customers to be phished via the phone.

About 12 hours or so after booking travel I received a voice mail saying they had detected a potentially fraudulent transaction on my credit card, and it asked me to call back the number 1-888-918-7313.

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RFC 5408 on IBE Architecture Published

RFC 5408 which describes a Security Architecture for Identity-Based Encryption. It includes protocols for key requests and public parameter requests as well as some basic building blocks for federation. The system described is similar to what Voltage uses for their IBE based encryption solutions. If you are interested in how Identity-Based Encrpytion systems scale in practice and don’t mind reading RFCs, it is a worthwhile read.

Thanks to my co-authors Mark Schertler and Luther Martin. Specifically Luther deserves the majority of the credit for moving this through the process over the past two (or more?) years. Also thanks to Terence Spies at Voltage, as well as Eric Rescorla, Tim Polk and Blake Ramsdell at the IETF for their support.

Venture Capital Decline

When Morgenthaler raised their last fund I wrote that it looks like Venture Capital is ready for a shake-out. If anything the Q4 numbers from the NVCA/Venture Economics confirm this trend. Below the graph for Venture Funds closed for each quarter over the past 3 years.

Only 43 venture funds where closed in Q4, and the total capital raised was $3.3 billion. This is down from 84 funds raising $11.6 billion a in Q4 of 2007. This brings venture fund raising back to the levels we saw right after the crash of 2000. I would expect to see a further decline for all of the next year in both number of funds as well as total capital. What this means for the venture industry is that if you have fully invested your old fund, and not yet raised a new fund (or at least had an initial closing), you may be in a very difficult situation. Howeve if you just raised a fund, you can expect less competition (and thus hopefully better returns) in the next few years.

Morgenthaler Announces Closing of 9th Fund

Morgenthaler Ventures (where I am currently an EIR) announced today that they closed their ninth fund. In a normal market, this would have been business as usual and not be particularly newsworthy. However the current financial markets are anything but normal.

According to the NVCA release, the number of venture funds closed over the last quarters is:

    1Q'07           83
    2Q'07           83
    3Q'07           78
    4Q'07           85
    1Q'08           70
    2Q'08           76
    3Q'08           55

In 3Q of this year we saw a steep drop. However the impact of the current liquidity crisis and the resulting stock market decline didn’t become fully apparent until October. If I would have to bet, I would expect 4Q to look a lot worse. Venture Beat recently wrote about this and concluded that essentially what we are seeing, is a shakeout in the VC industry. While I haven’t seen numbers yet that conclusively demonstrate this, it intuitively makes sense. Firms that were burnt badly in the post-bubble of 2000-2003, now have fully invested their funds and realize that in the current financial climate they can’t raise additional capital. One would expect new entrants in the Venture Capital space to be the most vulnerable. A firm like Morgenthaler with almost 40 years of track record and an established network of LP’s is naturally in a much better position.

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And one more demo…

OpenFlow Demo at the GEC3
OpenFlow Demo at the GEC3

We just finished the OpenFlow Demo at the GENI Engineering Conference, and it was amazing. We showed our new OpenFlow protocol running on switches from Cisco, Juniper, HP and NEC. Our experimental network stretched half way around the globe from Stanford to Tokyo via New York. It used fibers from  Internet2, CalRen and JGN2plus.

Over this network we showed how we can move around a running game server from one physical host to another without the game even getting interrupted. We demonstrated how you can route a network connection with a simple drag and drop interface (e.g. a TCP flow inside Stanford going via Tokyo and Houston). We even sent a running game server to Tokyo from Stanford, without losing the connection.

Press coverage of the demo included articles English, Japanese, Swedish and Spanish. The OpenFlow web site recieved a few thousand hits, with visitors from every major company in the networking space. All this was made possible by about 40 people from Stanford, Internet2, Cisco, Juniper, HP and NEC had been working on this for months.

As a result of this, OpenFlow is building momentum. NEC announced during the conference support for OpenFlow in their product, and more announcements will follow. By mid next year we are hoping to have pilot deployments at 6-10 universities, and I would hope we will see commercial deployments in that time frame as well. All in all a huge step forward for OpenFlow.

Best Paper Award for Neda, Yashar, McKeown et. al

Congratulations to Neda, Yashar, Monia, Nick and Geoff for their best paper award at the Internet Measurement Conference. Their paper Experimental Study of Router Buffer Sizing tests out recent results on  buffer requirements of high-speed routers that serve highly aggregated traffic. Amongst other things it verifies the C/sqrt(n) result from my thesis as well as my former office mate Yashar Ganjali’s work on very small buffers and find that they hold well.

It is great to see this work getting recognized, but what is even more encouraging is that two router vendors privately confirmed to me that the next generation of some of their products will have substantially smaller buffers. This not only reduces power consumption, but also means that we are less likely to see latency spike whenever peering points or core links are congested.