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Experimenting With Light on Apple Laptops 120

Posted by Hemos
from the the-joy-of-light dept.
venkatg writes "Soon after Apple introduced sudden motion sensors in their PowerBooks in early 2005, Amit Singh had shown how these sensors can be used for creative purposes (covered by Slashdot earlier as Having Fun With PowerBook Motion Sensors and PowerBook As A New Kind Of Human Interface Device). This time around Singh discusses 'Experimenting With Light' in a new article whereby by light he means the ambient light sensors and the illuminated backlight keyboard sensors in Apple's laptops. The article shows (source code is included) how one can measure ambient light and do things with it. It also shows things like how to get/set illuminated keyboard brightness and display brightness or do fade transitions of the keyboard lighting. So now that we have all these motion and light sensors under control, is there a MacBook discotheque in the works?"
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Experimenting With Light on Apple Laptops

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  • Great (Score:3, Funny)

    by dubmun (891874) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:34AM (#15561093) Homepage Journal
    Now we can finally communicate with the aliens!
  • by Ant P. (974313) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:35AM (#15561099) Homepage
    Is it just one light, or can individual keys be lit up? You could do a lot more with it that way.
    • i believe it lights up the keyboard altogether.
    • Interesting thought. You could use a concept like that to teach typing to young children, like one of those old programs from the 80s.

      I suppose you could also make use of that idea to light up hotkeys applicable to RTS games, MMO games, etc.

      Guess it just depends on whether individual key lighting is possible, and then how much programming would have to be implemented into an application to use the feature.

      • It would be a cool concept, much like some "training keyboards" (of the musical variety) which light up keys for you to follow along. Now in reality I'd question how much someone can learn by just pressing the lighted key rather than really learning things properly (or by the all-black Das Keyboard!), but I suppose it could at least help you get a feel for it. However, as far as I can tell, you can only change the intensity of the backlight as a whole, not the individual keys, and the strength of the back
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 19, 2006 @11:25AM (#15562193)
      The keyboard illumination does not allow for individual key lighting.

      The mechanism is a mat of fiber-optic cables which are illuminated by just two leds, which also cannot be independantly controlled.
      • The mechanism is a mat of fiber-optic cables which are illuminated by just two leds, which also cannot be independantly controlled.

        Okay. I'll bite. I admit I have no theoretical knowledge of the lighting system in the backlit keyboards... but, if they can't be independently-controlled, then why can they independently malfunction, as mine did on my 1.25 Aluminum?

        Apple wants $220 to restore 'one channel' of the backlighting. []which governs most of the numeric keys along the top, Shift, Fn, Control, etc,

    • Even though it looks like each letter is individually lit, there is only one light underneath the keyboard. The letters on the keys are simply transparent. Of course, there is a keyboard that can truly take advantage of individually lit keys:
      http://www.artlebedev.com/portfolio/optimus/ [artlebedev.com]
      • Thats a really nice keyboard on that site - bets on how much it'll cost when it comes out? With full software support, it'd be well worth having. You could even play gams on it - press the lit key, or some game of tetris or something. I can also see pranks where some malware swaps the keys around, so you type your bank pin into the wrong app...
  • by JonTurner (178845) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:36AM (#15561101) Journal
    (mumbles to self...) Let's see... motion sensors, ambient light sensors, lots of indicator LEDS, backlit keyboard. Yep, we've got everything we need!(/mumbles)

    Coming soon, from a black-hat hacker near you:
    Siezure-O-Rama 1.0 !! Now, with 38% more unconsciousness!

  • by MudButt (853616) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:37AM (#15561104)
    It would be pretty cool if someone wrote a program that makes your keyboard randomly blink a la The Original Star Trek (or many other 60's sci-fi shows). Am I the only one that's still impressed by random flashing lights on a computer? I know... I'm easily ammused...

    • It would look better if the keys were lit independently. But as I understand, you can only control the overall keyboard brightness. This would look as if some circut gets overloaded and the keyboard doesn't get enough power.
      What would be better is keys that light independently - imagine keys flashing in rows or in circles (like sound waves in water) or in random order, looking like old-school mainframes shown in movies.
    • by qray (805206)
      While the lights on computers on sci-fi shows may have been random. Lights on real computers were hardly random. I worked with mini-computers that had a bank of LED's on the front. These corresponded to the bits of the CPU registers and CPU flags. A knowledgeable person could potentially figure out the crash location and some of the state of the machine during a crash. So the sci-fi shows weren't all inaccurate. Though it's reason for being in the movies is much like the sound of space ships roaring by in o
    • or how about a typing tutor that worked like the Billy Jean video with your fingers doing the walking?
  • When the MacBook gets too hot. Honestly, I love Apple and their designs, but they tend to put TOO much engineering into one aspect of their computers and not in other areas. The MacBooks get way too hot, het they have a nice and completely useless ambient light detection hardware. Perhaps if this ambient light detection hardware was replaced with, say, another fan, then perhaps the laptops wouldn't become space heaters so quickly.

    Lets focus on basic principles first before adding superfluous features lik
    • You didn't know MacHeat(TM) was a feature in and of itself? Just fold your book down and place your Starbuck's ® coffee mug on top of it. Vwa-la! Your coffee is hot for hours.

      Those mac guys are so clever.. and the PCs are so user friendly!

      • by JonTurner (178845) on Monday June 19, 2006 @09:16AM (#15561301) Journal
        And don't forget the "Ouch!Hot!Ow!Damn!(tm)" overtemp detection system. In the rare/rumored/unprovable event a MacbookPro(tm) reaches 195 degrees Celcius (as reported by those scurrilous rumor sites) the second- and third-degree burns on your thighs serve as a gentle reminder to take a nice little computing break. Get up. Stretch. Walk around a bit. Bandage wounds. Enjoy!

        Rumoured upgrade for os 1.5 -- face recognition engine uses built-in camera to detect pain threshold. Automatically throttles back CPU if user faints, or collapses from blood loss.
    • The thermal problem is something with the way the thermal paste is applied on the CPU, not the number of fans it has. Besides, light detection hardware, i.e. a photoresistor, costs pennies and fits on a screwhead.
    • by bellers (254327) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:59AM (#15561194) Homepage
      The backlighting isn't something that was invented for the new Macbooks. It's been on the PPC-based powerbooks (that had no heat problem) for at least 2-3 years. Transferring it to the MacBookPros was pretty much a zero-engineering proposition.

      Honestly, shut up until you know what you're talking about.
    • I'm seriously just curious, but does anyone underclock their laptops?

      it looks like a really decent way to use it...
    • All Apple laptops get really hot, especially why they are really used. Last summer I was doing one particular project on my Powerbook, I thought is was going to melt. But all engineering is a compromise, and one compromise Apple makes is to try not have it's computers imitate vacuum cleaners.

      So the principles of engineering, the one that most companies ignore, is to create an optimized system. There is no reason to put in high speed hardware with a slow bus, even though such a thing might look good in

      • Mine only gets hot when the CPU is set to the highest setting. Most of the time I have it on battery with the reduced settings and it's cool.
      • by ronanbear (924575) on Monday June 19, 2006 @09:28AM (#15561366)
        Apple should use the motion sensor to detect when the powerbook is likely to be being used on a lap and automatically lower the power usage to reduce the temperature. That would be a really good way to show off the motion sensor.
        • First they'd need to perfect some artificial intelligence. How is SMS supposed to know when it's on a lap? All it knows is whether it's moving and what its position in space is based on the zero points programmed into it. It doesn't know what kind of surface it's on, and it certainly can't be aware of all the variable positions people use with their notebooks.
          • I imagine that it would be something along the lines of throttling back if the laptop appears to be moving slightly at regular intervals.
          • When a laptop is resting on a lap it is very rarely exactly horizontal. They also tend to move around a little continuously. Maybe planes and trains could easily fool the system but that's not important as there would have to be a bypass in any case.

            Basically there are 3 sensors which could be combined to good effect. The ambient light sensor might be useful (not very likely), the accelerometer and the cpu thermometer. Your legs are usually warmer than room temperature and conduct heat differently. The co

            • According to my SMS information, my computer is rarely horizontal even when stationary. If you want to set a lower max temperature to throttle the fans, why not just have a setting to do it? Any time the computer was moving, it would trip this system. In cars, trains, planes, boats, sure, but also when moving with it in any way, including on armrests or wobbly desks or plastic lecture hall seats. Conducting heat differently is also an inconclusive indicator--it could just be on a warm bed or a sofa in t
      • My PPC PowerBook was getting hot. Hot enough to fry eggs. Eventually I got fed up. Something had to be wrong. I mean, it was nice in the winter when I kept the heat down to save $ but I had a cold -- just hug the laptop. Come Spring, I was afraid the fan would melt.

        Turned out I had a plug-in in my Mail.app (a junk mail filter program I wasn't using anyway, but I installed and left there like a busy doofus) that was running the CPU AND making it take forever to mark email as junk, or to quit the program
      • one compromise Apple makes is to try not have it's computers imitate vacuum cleaners.
        So you're saying Apple wants to make computers that don't suck?
    • Lets focus on basic principles first before adding superfluous features like magnetic power cables

      That's one of my favorite features... I went thru 3 power supplies on previous laptop from tripping over the power cable...

    • They'd do better if they just relicense Windows gaming API (DirectX).
  • Blackout Game (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VorpalRodent (964940) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:43AM (#15561130)
    I recall a game from not too long ago wherein one would push lighted buttons, and they would alternate the lighted status of those buttons around it. The objective was to turn off (or on, I forget) all the buttons on the unit.

    With this, assuming that each key has a light associated with it, one could do the same thing with a whole keyboard.

    And for those who don't have any issues with being violent towards their computers, you could reset it a la Etch-a-Sketch with the motion sensor.

    • Re:Blackout Game (Score:2, Informative)

      by tgpo (976851)
      Lights Out [wikipedia.org]
    • I have the game. It's called Lights Out. Here [hasbro.com] is the manufacturer's page (it's made by Tiger [tigerelectronics.com]), and here [clara.co.uk] is an interesting page about it.

    • by mgabrys_sf (951552) on Monday June 19, 2006 @09:56AM (#15561520) Journal
      20 bucks in shareware for anyone who can program me an etch-a-sketch plug in for photoshop that allows me to wipe a frustrating layout off the screen by me violently shaking the laptop. It would be far more cheaper than therapy.

      (of course one could surmise that anyone who wants this in leu of therapy might have issues - but I'd call those people just plain nuts)
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:46AM (#15561143) Journal
    .... I don't think this article is here as another "Oooh.... the Macbook and Steve Jobs are awesome!" story. The intriguing part is how its users are "thinking different" to an extent Apple themselves didn't seem to. Already, people have taken the relatively boring "sudden motion sensor" that Apple only thought of implementing to help prevent hard drive crashes, and used it for a motion-sensing laptop security system, to roll marbles around in maze games by tilting the laptop, and even to switch virtual desktops by lightly tapping the left or right-hand sides of the machine to "bump" the desktop over one direction or the other.

    Now, they're tackling the ambient light sensors, which again, serve a relatively "boring" (if still useful) purpose. I'm intrigued to see what imaginative people will end up doing with this one too. For starters, I could envision some usefulness in things like making the backlit keyboard blink in a repeating pattern to indicate completion of recording in certain audio programs. (Many recording studio environments are kept dark so you can easily see all the readouts on the displays of the equipment while working. Macbook Pros are going to be popular in these environments, and it might be nice to get a subtle indication it finished transcoding or recording some audio - even if the display went blank due to a screen saver?)
    • ...that this shit has been around as components for PCs (the 'IBM' kind, I know a Mac is a PC) for a long time now. Yet nobody's been running out to buy these as extras to have this sort of fun with. The only thing 'Apple' should be credited with is adding them out of the box indeed... it's the users who are finally having fun with it, because it's there without having to pay extra and attach devices.

      That said.. those new SONY VAIOs (OMG ROOTKIT PONIES!) have a fingerprint reader built-in... c'mon VAIO us
    • Just an observation, as nobody has mentioned it, this is not restricted to just Macs. Some, if not all, of the new Sony Vaio laptops incorporate this to minimize damage to the hard drives if a light physicsl shock to the system occurs.

      If you shake it like an etch-a-scetch you get a window that pops up and tells you the heads are being moved to a safer place or something similiar. The one I saw doing it had an Intel core duo chip in it. A fine piece of machinery. Until something simple broke in the mouse
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:52AM (#15561169)
    As soon as the light dims, iTunes will automatically start the Barry White playlist and some soft porn starts to play via Front Row. All that is left for you to do is to hug yourself and cry yourself to sleep, feeling oh so lonely, lonely, lonely.
    • I think you are on the right track...in all seriousness you could use the keyboard lights as a form of feedback. For example, say you get a new email: Not only will the sound play but the keyboard will blink twice. Also useful if in case you are deaf and can't hear sound. Maybe a "message waiting" blink that could be noticed from across the room would help people just like when the light blinks on a telephone ring. Take a lesson from the Sidekick/hiptop!
      • Take a lesson from the Sidekick/hiptop!


        What? and provide a weak security mechanism that can easily be web accessed to leak Paris Hilton's celebrity contacts?

  • Sounds like fun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ronanbear (924575) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:54AM (#15561176)
    Don't really know if I see much useful application in it but I suppose it can't hurt. It could be really useful for power saving or even some scheduling stuff. It could also have some interesting security applications (say cover the light sensor as part of a keyboard combination)

    I saw a video of the sudden motion sensor being used to switch desktops and it looked really great. Good luck to anyone who thinks they can do something useful. Someday we could all benefit.

    I also find it interesting that sudden motion sensors were available on Thinkpads before Powerbooks but I never heard of people using them in different ways. That's a pretty good advert for Apple. Sums up the image that Apple put out much better than those TV ads.

  • by TristanBrotherton (857376) on Monday June 19, 2006 @08:55AM (#15561178) Homepage
    Fantastic, I wanted to know how to do this so i could write a new mail indicator. Lots of itme i dont like my macbook to speak, so now i can write a script to pulse the keyboard backlights when i get mail. Brilliant, they are bright enough to blind bats so should be quite effective.
    • Nifty cool and all that, and you probably already know what I'm about to tell you, but you can already get Mail to flash the screen instead of beeping if the sound is off. Go into System Preferences -> Universal Access -> Hearing and check "Flash the screen when an alert sound occurs".
  • With a little effort, we can swap out these weak lights with high-intensity lasers! I've always wanted a lappy with a "Real Genius" death ray. Plus, I could use it to make popcorn.
  • auto screen lock - if laptop is not moved for X seconds, lock the screen - analagous to someone using on their lap putting it down on a table

    burglar alarm - if laptop is moved, send a distress call

    intruder detector - if a beam of light shone onto light detector flickers, then intruder detected

  • Other appication (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jackjeff (955699) on Monday June 19, 2006 @09:18AM (#15561311)
    Erling Ellingsen has also been playing with the sudden motion and ambient light sensors. He hacked a Virtual Desktop tool, where you have to hit the laptop, or put your hand over a sensitive area, in order to change desktops.

    http://blog.medallia.com/2006/05/smacbook_pro.html [medallia.com]
  • All you need to do now is strap the laptop to your head (duct tape) and go to the disco. As you dance, the motion sensors and light sensors cause the lights and sound of your Apple laptop to "dance" in time to the music and your cool moves.

    We all knew that Apple users were already "way cool" and this will put them over the top. There's no way we can compete now.

  • by danimrich (584138)
    So now that we have all these motion and light sensors under control is there a MacBook discotheque in the works?

    The MacBooks don't have a lit keyboard or an ambient light sensor, only the MacBook Pros do.

  • cause last time I checked the percentage of power book owners in the laptop sector was less than 7%, and on top of it the people interested in making their PowerBook do flipflops and 'interesting' things with motion sectors and light sensors has to be about 1-2% (at best, maybe).
    • I think the percentage of Slashdot readers using Apple portables is much higher than 7% based on the number of Mac-centric news articles and user postings, so I think it is interesting news to a lot of us (although I won't be the one swinging my 'book around like a lightsaber). And as the slogan says, it's 'News for Nerds', and it doesn't get much nerdier than this.
  • I smell updates for all popular Mac GBA emulators coming :-)

    Finally, a properly emulated version of Boktai [wikipedia.org] for Macs! Or maybe even an official Mac version? One can dream, can't one? :-)

  • So, instead of bashing one camp or the other, how about some ideas of how to use this technology.....

    With the ambient light sensors, you could display an image on the screen and adjust the lighting acording to the ambient light (there were left and right sensors). You could even turn your computer into a sundial (ever post needs a link to the Wiki, so here's mine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_dial [wikipedia.org]). Point your notebook due north and check the time. Too bad the motion sensor didn't include an electron
  • or... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by m874t232 (973431) on Monday June 19, 2006 @10:51AM (#15561934)
    you could just use the built-in camera, which lets you measure not just light levels, but even light levels at hundreds of thousands of pixels!
  • We already have lightsabers [macsaber.com], wouldn't it be nice if we had mind tricks too? You'd just wave your hand over the sensor and the mac would do anything you asked.
  • So now that we have all these motion and light sensors under control, is there a MacBook discotheque in the works?"

    Consider, for a moment, the traditional Mac user. These are often very smart, very intellectual people. They enjoy culture, fine achievements and the arts. They enjoy long philosophical discussions that, whilst boring to many others, are deeply important to them. They prefer an environment that isn't necessarily the most competetive but has a reassuring sense of doing everything right rather th
  • First developer to make a MacBook do this [google.com] will receive 1,000 points, and quite possibly the Coolest Mac App of the Year award. :-)
  • I'd pay for a sensor that would accurately, automatically adjust my diplay's gamma correction to the lighting of the room.

It isn't easy being the parent of a six-year-old. However, it's a pretty small price to pay for having somebody around the house who understands computers.

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