Friday, December 08, 2006

Adobe Digital Photo Guides

John Nack on Adobe has links to a scad of downloadable digital photo guides:

Adobe has commissioned a number of digital photography guides from industry heavy hitters, covering everything from metadata to color management, digital workflow to black & white conversion. The complete list with links is in this post's extended entry, so check 'em out when you have a sec.

I haven't checked them out in detail, but there looks to be a lot of interesting material here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Next Search

Paul Lamere is the principal investigator for an interesting project over at Sun Labs called "Search Inside the Music." It's stated goal is "to explore new methods of categorizing, indexing and organizing large collections of music to allow more effective ways of searching through these collections." I know that I have an ongoing background task to add metadata to my music as a way to create useful playlists semi-automagically, but it never seems to be enough. So anything along these lines that worked well would a real nice-to-have. 

The project focuses in part on using acoustical similarity algorithms to help group together music. The idea is that if you like, say, Jefferson Airplane you may like other music with that psychedelic rock sound. What's just as interesting though is that Paul's project is now also looking at using social data to recommend and organize music based on the preferences of those with similar music tastes.

In fact, over on his blog, Paul makes the provocative statement:

Recommendation is the next 'search'. Companies are trying hard to give people good recommendations - the web is becoming populated with music recommenders  such as, myStrands, Qloud, and iLike. Companies like netflix are offering million dollar prizes for improved recommendations.   If you are building a site with lots of content - whether it is music, video, blogs or dinner recipes - you will do well to include a recommender. 

I've been a bit cool to the whole tagging phenomenon especially when it comes to attaching metaphysical significance to, e.g., a tag of "film" vs. a tag of "movie." (Folksonomies was one term from the early tag hype that--fortunately--seems to have departed the stage after its 15 minutes.) However, as these various networks of music, photos, bookmarks, video, etc. grow, human recommendations and rankings are clearly emerging as at least one important way of making sense out of the stupefying quantity of data in the network.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sharing and Selling Photos

A few months back, Wired Magazine published a rather breathless article on crowdsourcing, "[t]he new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D." I'm unconvinced by the significance or scalability for much of the crowdsourcing described. Amateur videos look, well, amateur for the most part.

And other efforts such as Amazon's Mechanical Turk haven't really gone anywhere. (The idea behind Mechanical Turk is that computers are truly bad at some things--such as recognizing objects in photos--that just about any person can do easily. But, as the article acknowledges, the real "killer app" hasn't appeared; perusing the current listings turns up more ordinary tasks that people are somehow hoping to get done for rates way below minimum wage.) Egoboo-style work is a cousin to crowdsourcing but it assumes there's a desire among (competent) people to contribute their time for free.

But one area where crowdsourcing does seem to have had some material impact is stock phoography. iStockPhoto is perhaps the best known of the so-called "micro-stock" sites. Pricing? From $1 for "web-ready" resolution up to $20 or $40 for the highest resolutions. (In other words, dirt cheap by normal stock standards.) Photos on the site are inspected for quality and other issues (such as trademarked logos and such). Model release forms are also required for any recognizable faces. In other words, buyers can have reasonable confidence that what they see is what they get without any surprises lurking. In my view, this is a big reason why micro-stock from a company like iStockPhoto is more attractive than other forms of crowdsourcing. The photos are known quantities and the transaction to buy them is as simple as pointing and clicking. (Getty, a large traditional photo stock agency, bought iStockPhoto--apparently in the "if you can't beat them, join them, vein.")

I'd just add that I think it a mistake to conflate all amateur and semi-pro photo sites as Scoble does in this post or to confuse the needs and desires of amateur photographers with those of professional art directors using photos. A site like Flickr is far more about sharing photos and interacting with a photographic community than it is about selling photos. Indeed, Flickr does nothing to facilitate such sales; it's up to a potential buyer to contact the photographer directly. There's nothing wrong with that--and, indeed, I can see a graphics professional coming across some perfect photo for a project in Flickr--but it's not really Flickr's purpose.

Although other sites, perhaps most notably smugmug, try harder to strike a balance between photo sharers and photo sellers, there tend to be rather fundamental differences in priorities and preferences between professional stock photography and amateur art and play. It's not a matter of gear or talent, but between producing and packaging photos in a way that they can be easily sold to users of stock--or in a way that meets our own needs and desires. 

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Adobe Soundbooth Beta

As readers of this blog know, I've been working with the beta of Adobe Lightroom. I see that Adobe now also has a beta for a new piece of software called Soundbooth, which they describe as "a brand new application built in the spirit of Sound Edit 16 and Cool Edit that provides the tools video editors, designers, and others who do not specialize in audio need to accomplish their everyday work."

I don't do a lot of work with audio but perhaps this will provide the incentive for me to bring over some bits and pieces of analog media that I don't want to chuck but which I can't replace in digital form.

Shipping Luggage?

Given that I'm hopping around the country on crutches at the moment--owing to a broken foot--an ad for The Luggage Club in the airline magazine caught my eye. (BTW, the TSA seems to be at a complete loss as to how to handle passengars with crutches; among other things, your carry-ons--including laptop taken out of its case--are left lying on the conveyor table to crash to the ground or walk away while they conduct their hand inspection of you. But that's another rant.)

I've discussed some other possible consequences of carry-on restrictions before. Apparently, they've also been a boon for the luggage shipment business according to this LA Times article. I do note that my flight from Boston to Las Vegas, looking to be predominantly vacation travelers, had very lightly loaded overhead bins--something I last remember from, well, never.

Unfortunately, the door to door services are--as might be expected--pricey. Indeed, The Luggage Club doesn't even provide any pricing guidelines on its site that I can see; the aforementioned LA Times article says to expect about $100 per bag each way. The site also suggests that the service is marketed toward some fairly specific classes of users--people with bulky sports equipment like golf clubs or scuba gear or businesses with tradeshow material.

So, nice idea. But, given that we're no longer living in Internet Boom 1.0, it's an idea whose economics make it a niche.

Skirmishes on Second Life Shores

The tension between the Professional and the Amateur, the Commercial and the Personal, the Pradmatic and the Uncompromising pervade today's Internet. I've written about this conflict before--both in the context of the current imbroglio over the GPLv3 draft and more generally.

Now this very real world conflict is arriving at the shores of the  Second Life virtual world--with the same intensity and emotion with which it has been fought and is being fought elsewhere. Take this reaction by Urizenus Sklar to the launch of Crayon, a new marketing company, within Second Life.

For two and a half years I watched Second Life residents work like dogs, often without remuneration to build the wonderful mind-blowing place that it is today. All forms of fantastic structures and vehicles emerged in the space, from psychedelic cities to dark medieval fortresses to delicate gravity-defying elven castles. Artificial life forms appeared, reproduced and evolved in gorgeous gardens, while the skies were dotted by magnificent and elegant otherworldly flying machines. Virtual sporting events ranged from elven archery tournaments to giant snail races.

 In Februrary of 2006, I took a sabbatical from Second Life to pursue other projects. When I returned eight months later I was flabbergasted by what I saw. Second Life, now with 1 million subscribers, was being invaded by an army of old world meat-space corporations, ranging from Reebok and American Apparel to GM and Nissan. The traditional newsmedia was hyperventilating in its awe of the old meat-space corporations and the "innovative" things they were doing in second life, and could not stop writing about it...

 Most disgusting of all for me, however, was when the "new media" consulting firm Crayon announced, three years into the life of Second Life, that it was going to be the "first corporation to launch in Second Life." In a press release they claimed to be offering a "new way of thinking" and called their new corporation a "mash-up", a term that I found descriptive of their press release, which was a word salad jargon-fest. What was clear from the language of their announcement was that they had absolutely no idea about the history of Second Life, nor what it was about. No doubt the "launch" – in reality a public relations stunt to feed back to the meat-space world – was a great success; meat-space corporations would hire these posers to represent them because they must be on the bleeding edge: gosh golly, they "launched" in a video game!

 Incensed by these events, I unloaded on the PR firms in the Herald, accusing them of being "a bunch of desperate clueless fucktards trying to show how bleeding-edgy they are." Of course after my critical post came the defenders of Crayon etc. accusing me of being opposed to the future, and having a "potty mouth" and sounding "like a lunatic." But this wasn't the future calling: you don't blaze a path to the future by charging into a new space and ignoring what is happening around you, nor by recycling your old rust belt industrial design ideas in a new medium, and more importantly, if the discourse of cyberculture offends your delicate ears, then just keep the fuck away thank you very much.

For the whole thing and some additional commentary, see this post on the Strumpette PR blog.

I've little interest in choosing sides here. However, I think it's fair to say that the more successful communities almost inevitably go commercial at some level or, at least, (as in the case of Wikipedia) have to deal with the glare of some bright and probing lights. Given this, it's natural that we'll see ongoing splinters of counterculture splitting off from the Web 2.0 or Virtual World or whatever success stories as they inevitably go mainstream as a result.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Who Uses Yellow Pages?

Robert Scoble writes that: "I don’t even know where mine are. I’d hate to work there, although there’s still money left in that old model cause there’s still lots of people who don’t look to their computers for everything."

I only partially agree. I don't use Yellow Pages nearly as much as I used to, but they're still pretty handy for tracking down what I might call "location-dependent services"--i.e. a local plumber, furnace repair guy, or nearby tree nurseries. Part of the issue in using the computer is that many of these types of businesses don't have Web presences. For this reason and others, Web tools that provide results based on physical location, such as Google Maps, are fairly incomplete relative to the Yellow Pages. (The fact that the Yellow Pages are close to a de facto monopoly in any given locale helps them aggregate essentially all the relevant local advertisers. Google's market power notwithstanding, location-based search and directories in the online world are far more fragmented.)

I don't dispute that, in general, the (physical) Yellow Pages have declined and will continue to decline in importance--if for no other reason that if I'm having trouble tracking some item I need down, I'll simply go online and buy it if possible. However, given that searching based on location is yet something else that search doesn't do well today--see this posting here for a description of some other problems--the big yellow book provides at least an interim alternative.

Animated Knots

I use a fair number of knots in my various outdoor activities, but I tend to forget all but the most common when I haven't used them for a while. Animated Knots by Grog has great animated, step-by-step illustrations for dozens of different knots. This is definitely one of those cases where I think the computer can go beyond what is possible on the printed page.

Hat tip to Cool Tools.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Java Unit Conversion Calculator

I've been playing around with some Java programming using Sun's NetBeans 5.5 IDE, primarily for the Matisse GUI builder. As a programming exercise, I reimplemented a little Unit conversion calculator (things like inches to feet as well as a lot more exotic stuff) that I originally wrote and sold as a Windows shareware application way back when. Unfortunately, that app used some old Win16 libraries so it was sort of broken on current systems.

In any case, this new app largely recreates the previous version's function and it's in Java, so it should run on anything with reasonable graphics that has J2SE 5.0 or later installed. I've tested it on Windows XP and SUSE LINUX 10. It could still stand some polishing; e.g. it doesn't have an installer. But it appears to basically work. You can download it here:

Further Thoughts on Adobe Lightroom

I took a look at the Beta 3 of Adobe Lightroom a while back. I've been working with Beta 4 (on Windows) over the past few weeks. My take? Progress, but much distance left to cover and some nagging concerns.

First, to the progress. Performance is significantly improved. I had actually given up on trying to use Beta 3; it was just too slow. (On a middling but respectable Athlon 64 3000+ with 1GB of memory.) While Beta 4 isn't quite a speed demon, it's certainly usable--which tends to alleviate my concerns that the performance issues were something fundamental and architectural. I would hope that performance improves still further by the time the product is released, but at least it's getting into the ballpark now.

Now for the bad news. And, yes, it's still a beta. But a quick perusal of the forums paints a pretty clear picture of a product that still needs a lot of work to improve reliability and squash bugs. However, likewise, I have no reason to believe these won't get fixed by the time the product is released--assuming that Adobe takes the time to do so. Not that I've been using the program heavily, but I have imported several thousand images and used them to process several hundred images for a big flickr upload session. And it's held together for me quite well.

In fact, my bigger concerns are not whether Adobe can get this program working and tuned. I think that's likely. Rather, I still have some of the same questions that I had after I looked at the program the last time. I still have an issue with the way the program essentially treats the photos in a completely separate organizational metaphor and classification scheme than the one on the disk. Given that Lightroom (and Photoshop) certainly won't be the only applications I use, I can't say I really like this approach. Perhaps I'll adapt or otherwise find a comfortable way to slip Lightroom's metaphors and workflow into mine--but that's perhaps the bigger concern for me than the performance and bugs of the moment.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Canon Missing a Midrange Mark?

Not that I'm in the market for a replacement for my Canon Powershot G5 (about which I've written recently) but, out of a sort of proprietary interest, I still like to see what Canon's doing with that part of the line. For those not steeped in Canon's digital camera product line, the Gx is essentially the high-end of Canon's more-or-less pocketable digital camera. A large pocket to be sure. It also has a fair degree of manual control, a moderately fast lens, and a usable (if not exactly great) viewfinder. It also supports RAW mode, a camera-specific storage format that preserves the maximum amount of image data for later processing in the PC. It's ubiquitous is digital SLRs and the like but far less common in lower-end models. I think of my G5 as occupying a tier between true "point and shoots" and SLRs--albeit without fully allowing a traditional "rangefinder" level of control. Which is one of the things I like about it and, frankly, is a category of camera that largely disappeared in latter film days.

The G7 continues to improve on its predecessors in the expected ways. More pixels, more sensitivity, bigger zoom. It's abandoned it's rotating and pivoting screen in favor of a fixed, larger screen--which I may or may not find a reasonable tradeoff; the G5 design was sort of nice and I actually found I didn't use the screen for a lot of applications--just the optical viewfinder. It would be nice if that viewfinder were improved; it's not obvious one way or the other from the photographs. Although the lens is still fairly fast (f2.8), the f-stop range remains fairly narrow (f2.8-4.8)

Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that the G7 drops RAW mode. Dpreview speculates that this is to protect the sale of entry-level digital SLRs--presumably they're referring to non-interchangeable lens DSLR's here. That seems plausible; after all the electronics can't cost much and with the ongoing increase in flash memory densities, RAW should be a better fit with a wider range of camera rather than a poorer one. However, whatever the reason, it seems a bad idea. Canon has a product line here that is very close to being a really nice "digital rangefinder." But it seems determined to remain merely close.

Utah Photographs

I finally go around to sorting and processing some Utah (Arches/Canyonlands/Moab area) photographs from last March and have them up on flickr.As I noted earlier, I imagine that this is going to be the primary way that I post most of my photos from now on. It just works--and the bandwidth's plentiful and the backups taken care of for me. I find that I create highly customized Web pages but rarely these days. In any case, flickr seems the lowest energy way to post photos unless I have the time and energy to really craft some web pages around a particular topic.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Flickr account

I've tended to create my own websites, or at least one-off web pages for my photos, but I've been revisiting some of the way I do things in light of the wide variety of free, or inexpensive, services. To that end, I've setup a Flickr account. I'll probably continue to put together trip collections in a somewhat more organized manner, but I figured this would be good for the odds and ends.

Why YouTube >> Google Video

I was wondering about this and did some searching ("googling" :-)) and came upon this post by Nate Elliott of Jupiter Research who has this to say:

I asked Benjamin Lehmann, who covers European Content for Jupiter, and he cited two factors. First, he says the fact you can embed YouTube video on any site you want (your blog, your MySpace page, whatever), whereas you can't do that with Google Video, is an enormous advantage for YouTube (I agree). Second, he thinks the slight head-start YouTube had over Google Video was a factor (I personally don't think it was).

Nate goes on to say that he "can't think of anything great they've [Google] built outside of search. They're a one-trick pony; but it's one hell of a good trick." That seems about right. Without having delved into all the numbers, Flickr (now owned by Yahoo!) is likely #1 in photo sharing, Google doesn't have a social tag-sharing site like, Google's Orkut is clearly back-of-the-pack when it comes to social networking, lots of people have Gmail accounts but it's hardly dominant and my sense is that Gmail chat is not widely used, Froogle is far from a dominant price shopping engine, and so forth. The Google brand is essentially universally known--and generally admired--but it hasn't vaulted Google into leadership in new businesses. Indeed, what's remarkable is just how well Google as a whole does in spite of all these (relative) duds.

There's one other interesting dynamic here to. Whatever barriers to access the Web may lower and level, there's still a very strong tendency to have real category winners--at least until someone comes along with a markedly better mousetrap. (That's one reason I think, contra the above analysis, that being first may have been a factor in YouTube's favor. On the other hand, YouTube wasn't really a household name by the time Google Video hit the scene, so I could be persuaded either way on this one.) We could have a myriad of photo sites, but Flickr is the one. It's a combination of social network effects, the way that ideas and services spread virally and unpredictably, and just a limit in the time and energy people have to continually evaluate a lot of different things. If "everyone" else is using Netflix for DVDs-by-mail, I guess I will too.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Own Your Own Pacific Atoll

Dominic_Chama_cloud_1962-6x4.jpgIt looks like a charming place, And, as the U.S. GSA Office of Property disposal notes, it could even be used for ecotourism! Well, yes, there is the little matter that "it was used by the Defense Department for storage of chemical munitions and as a missile test site in the 1950's and 60's." But I'm sure it's been thoroughly cleaned up. What's more, although the GSA inexplicably forgot to tout this selling point, it also turns out that Johnson Atoll has a historic past, having been the site of thermonuclear testing including "Tightrope"--a Nike Hercules missile with a W-31 warhead missile defense system test, regarded as the last true US atmospheric nuclear test--conducted 2 miles from the atoll on November 4, 1962. Pretty sand beaches and a piece of history--how could one lose building an ecotourism lodge on a place like that?

via Howl @ the Moon and Missing Links

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Schrodinger's Cat and Websites

James Governor over at RedMonk has some interesting thoughts on "Why Building Scalable Web Sites is only Half the Problem." It's a sort of Web 2.0 Schrodinger's Cat which he explains thusly:

As many of you are aware, is completely lame from a portal stickiness standpoint, which is why we're working on a redesign right now. But our feeds rock, because the content is rich. So when it comes to Feed/Portal duality we're definitely skewed to Feed.

Intriguingly - Google is considerably stronger on Portal than feed/APIs. That is - people go to Google to do things. Yahoo would appear to have more APIs and feed-based services available, but hasn't found a way to successfully turn its Feediness to dollars.

It's a useful organizing notion. I'm not convinced that Google, or at least, belongs in the portal category. Google News perhaps, but the search engine has always assiduously avoided the flashy piles of complementary drek that characterize all the (best?) portal search engine sites. Yahoo--and, especially, My Yahoo--would seem more portal-ish in this regard. The difference becomes even more pronounced if you consider that many (though perhaps not most) people access Google search through a browser toolbar--a Web services-ish form of interaction rather than a portal-oriented once. But classifications of particular sites aside, the basic notion makes sense even if the classification difficulty suggests a certain quantum fuzziness.

My other question is whether it's a duality or a tri-ality or something even more complex. Are feeds and a broader set of mashup-oriented APIs really the same thing? Is delivering RSS/Atom-style content really some mashed-up conglomeration of data? In one sense, I suppose it is; as defined by the negative, all of these things involve not going to a single site and viewing its content. On the other hand, from the perspective of business models, including AdSense and its brethren, a more complex taxonomy of "feed/APIs" may be, at the least, useful to understand the potential economics of various approaches which, after all, is a major driving force behind increasing Website/portal "stickiness."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Is Speech Recognition Ever NOT Going to be Five Years Out

From Ina Fied at CNET's Microsoft Blog:

Microsoft attempted to show financial analysts on Thursday that speech recognition was finally ready for prime time...Things went from bad to worse as the software got few of his words and commands correct. The closest it came was recognizing "I hope you like the DVD" as "I hope you let the DVD..." The crowd finally did make some noise, breaking into snickers as the demo progressed.

I always find it remarkable just how intractable the speech recognition problem has remained outside of very specific, narrow domains with very limited vocabularies. I think it fair to say that few people from decades past would have envisioned the truly remarkable pace of advance that computer hardware has made--and yet be unable to understand a simple spoken sentence.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bandwidth Isn't Free

Remember how bandwidth was going to be free? Or as the subtitle of George Gilder's breathless Telecosm put it: "how infinite bandwidth will revolutionize our world." (I note that used copies of this particular work of fiction go for a penny on Amazon--but I digress.) Of course, bandwidth is neither free nor infinite. That reality carries with it implications that we see daily. Here are just a few recent examples.

Netflix. John Paczkowski over at Good Morning Silicon Valley turns his pen to Netflix' "vaporware video-on-demand service that's poised to become the Duke Nukem Forever of the industry." He quotes Netflix' CEO Reed Hastings' as saying "It would be all too easy to conclude that movie downloading was exploding in growth. The reality is the current Internet movie delivery services continue to show no growth in traffic. Nada. ... the whole industry is held back by the exclusive windows and the Internet to the TV issue. Movie downloading will evolve over the next decade, but it will do so slowly." I get the feeling from John's tone that he doesn't really buy Netflix' view on this, but I certainly don't get the sense that VoD has hit the big time anywhere.

Why? Well, I'd say it was because of Netflix, its competitors, and even the pricing changes it has forced on bricks-and-mortar rentals.As the old saying goes, you can't beat the bandwidth of a station wagon full of backup tapes and the same logic applies to sending DVDs through the mail. Plus you can easily play them on the DVD player that's already attached to your television (or on your computer if you prefer) without going through any lengthy downloads or dealing with expiring copies.

YouTube. To be sure, the issues around VoD aren't solely (or perhaps even primarily) related to bandwidth availability and cost. So let's consider the case of YouTube which is merrily enjoying its 15 minutes of Internet fame as the online repository of all sorts of videos that people upload--not all of which they actually own the rights to. The copyright issue is going to be one YouTube headache (as discussed here by John Battelle). A lot of the infringing may be nominally "harmless" to the copyright owners (such as footage from the World Cup and so forth)--either straight video snips or remixes based on them. (I briefly discussed "remix culture" earlier in this post.) But that's a topic for another day. What caught my eye more recently was this James Robertson post which mentions that YouTube's annual bandwidth cost is looking to be about $18 million.

And it's not a new issue. For example, AdCritic used to be a great site for checking out interesting television ads. Yes, that may seem a bit perverse, but the best ones are really pretty creative if you can watch only the good ones on your schedule. However, AdCritic had to go to a pay model--and a not inexpensive pay model ($100) that essentially takes it out of the casual-use realm. A major reason I suspect is that it's hard to support the costs of video streaming with ads.

Bandwidth may be more plentiful and available than it once was. But it's a long way from free. At the very least, it appears as if the ubiquitous Google ads-funded mode of supporting websites doesn't bring in enough money to cover the bandwidth costs of video streaming.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Early Reactions to Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom is a new program currently in public beta. The Mac beta has been out for a while but the first Windows version (beta 3) just came out. Essentially Lightroom combines a digital image cataloging program with a "develop" module for RAW and other image formats that can be used to apply a variety of global image corrections. (In other words, it can do things like change brightness/contrast/curves, hue, saturation, and the like but not do local touch-ups or make changes only to a selected area of a photo.) It can also create slideshows (which can be exported into formats such as Flash) and print photos individually or in groups. In at least some respects, it competes with Apple's troubled Aperture program. It also replaces the RawShooter software from Pixmantec, a company acquired by Adobe last month.

Rainy weather gave me the opportunity to spend some time with the program last weekend. Initial reaction? Intrigued but cautious. Some observations and reactions.

  • The Windows version is still clearly beta--perhaps even early beta in some aspects. Stability was reasonable enough for me, but it was almost unusably slow. You really need to be able to zip through photos in a cataloging application and you can't really do that with Lightroom as things stand. From browsing through Adobe's Lightroom forums, this problem seems to be both widely observed and acknowledged by Adobe. There's no reason to believe that it won't get better, but is--at the least--something to keep an eye on with future beta releases.
  • More fundamentally architectural is Lightroom's organizational metaphor. Lightroom categorizes imported photos by shoot and collection. Each photo is in one shoot only; it can be in multiple collections. Although it (optionally) allows photos to remain in their original folder locations on a hard drive, the actual hard disk file folders do not play into how Lightroom organizes the catalog. I'm still thinking about what this would mean for my workflow; currently my downloading application (Breeze Systems' Downloader Pro) names my files based on a "job code" and puts them in a directory named for the month the photos were taken. Given that one often accesses digital photos using a variety of applications, I'm not sure of the wisdom in not integrating with the physical directory where files are stored. It seems to add a level of abstraction that is neither necessary nor desirable.
  • In any event, I would probably have to reorganize my files somewhat. Today, I often keep various converted versions of files and the like underneath their original import directories. I would probably want to move these somewhere else so my catalog isn't filled with multiple versions of the same photo--but this is something that would apply to just about any image cataloging program. (I currently use Breeze Systems' BreezeBrowser Pro which, contra Lightroom, explicitly works within the existing directory structure. It's a very nice program but, as the name implies, is more of an image browser than a cataloging program per se.)
  • A number of the pros on the forums seem to be unhappy about the basic concept of having to pull your photos into a catalog to work with them (unlike, I gather, RawShooter). The basic issue is that some of these guys might take thousands of photos at a shoot and they want to quickly process them and get them off their systems as quickly as possible. From their perspective, Lightroom is more oriented toward more fussing with more modest scales of shooting. Although none of this concerns me directly, I see the point that this could perhaps be considered an application more for prosumers than working pros--or at least pros cranking out huge volumes of studio or other such work.
  • Unlike Photoshop, the application interface is "monolithic." I don't have any particular problem with the UI overall, but I dislike that I can't drag the various control panels over to my secondary monitor like I can on Photoshop--leaving the main monitor for just the photo I'm working with.
  • In general, the "develop" module where you apply corrections to the photo seems pretty complete and nice. One interesting component is the "curves" adjustment which I still find a bit of a black art in Photoshop. Adobe's made using it quite a bit more intuitive without sacrificing much power. (And, frankly, if you need more fine-grained curve tweaking than the Develop module provides, you're probably working on the image in Photoshop anyway.)

So, besides performance, my biggest issue is Lightroom's decision to basically ignore the directory structure of images on the hard drive which, at the least, means that I'll have to rethink workflows and that--I'm pretty sure--will make it less straightforward to find and deal with digital images using other software. It will also be interesting to see how this integrates with Photoshop over time--a program that has gone through a couple iterations of built-in image management (currently Adobe Bridge) and which will have to deal with some seriously conflicting requirements to both better integrate with Lightroom while also keeping its huge base of existing users content.

Monday, June 05, 2006

New photos

On the, perhaps more broadly, interesting front I have photos from a Russian trip that I took a couple of years ago now posted. Better late than never. These include a climb of Elbrus as well as some other photos of surrounding areas; also Moscow and St. Petersburg. Additionally, and of doubtless narrower audience, here are snapshots from The Dartmouth Review's 25th Anniversary gala in NY in April.

The Human Factor Triumphs

Prior to speaking with a very pleasant lady on the phone, Comcast was headed toward some very low grades in my book. It may have begun as a problem from my end, but the corporate procedures epitomized non-user-friendly. The end result was no better than a gentleman's "C", but I suppose that's better than an F.

It all started with a penetration of my Linux system at home. Windows-haters--get over it. It happens to Linux too. It appears that someone got in through FTP. I still don't know how they got in (I assure you that I had a non-obvious password), but they ended up sending LOTS of SPAM. In retrospect, I'm a bit annoyed at myself for not being tipped off by a couple of things that should probably have set off alarms. But they didn't and my first indication that something was wrong was that I no longer had an Internet connection.

OF COURSE, I had no contact from Comcast. And, given that I had been having a bunch of cable work done by an electrician the week before, that was naturally the culprit. So back out to my house came the electrician, but no obvious problem was to be found. And it certainly appeared that the problem still existed at the entry to the house. So I next called Comcast. I just got a recored message that there was maintenance ongoing in my area. OK. Annoying, but apparently there's a coincidental service problem.

Flash forward a couple of days at the end of the weekend. Still no service. Well, this time a call to Comcast provides not a message but a relay to a customer service agent who listens to my tale of woe, then mutters something about a note on my file and immediately forward me to a barely intelligible message related to network security and a voice mailbox. A followup call produces a similar result. Said message also includes an email address but after trading various messages back and forth (with stock answers apparently generated in a matter of seconds), it appears to have nothing to do with my case.

Comcast is not doing well here. What finally (and partially) redeems them is that I finally connect to a Comcast network security person on the phone after leaving a voicemail, and the whole problem was resolved in 15 seconds flat. By that time, I had figured out from my logs what had happened, had disconnected the system from my network, and had rebuilt it. That's all the extremely pleasant Comcast security person had to hear. So kudos for Yolande. But did the Comcast procedures and systems need to make it quite so unpleasant and difficult to reach this point? I hate to imagine how this whole process would have appeared to how some Grandmother with a roached copy of Windows.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Demand In Debate

Some interesting back-and-forth between Robert Young and Mark Cuban over at Between the Lines about on-demand programming. Mark's argument centers. Also see Cuban's rejoinder in the comments.

Mark's argument essentially centers around audience inertia and that, in a linear programming world, people will tend to stay tuned to the same channel. The result? Much lower marketing costs compared to a non-linear model such as, for the most part, movies.

We are so used to being blasted with promos for new shows on the networks we watch, that we take it for granted. Its called selling to the people in the church advertising. If you are already in the pews, you are predisposed to like the next sermon and you are certainly a qualified audience to promote the next sermon to. The same applies to TV shows. If you are watching FX, you have an idea of what to expect , and you are the perfect consumer to advertise to.

Robert's rejoinder is that, in a world where the "distribution" of content is no longer limited to finite slices of time on a finite number of channels, who cares? Rather than carefully selecting the projects for a limited number of slots, let a thousand flowers bloom.

But what if programmers didn't have to take such high risks and they didn't have to choose that one from a pool of a hundred or a thousand. So instead of making that one big bet, what if they took the same development dollars and spread it out amongst a number of different projects. This is precisely what Internet TV will allow them to do… something they really couldn't do effectively and efficiently on broadcast TV.

I don't totally buy Mark Cuban's argument. There's no "Must See Thursday" any longer. And while DVRs such as TiVo remain a technology used mostly by an early adopter minority, the fragmentation of audiences across the cable spectrum and the increase in other entertainment choices have already made linear programming a less effective audience-retention strategy than it once was. Studios/networks/gatekeepers may well continue to have some value, but they're going to have to deal with a less linear space one way or another.

But Robert misses an important point, . It assumes that time slots are the only scarce resource. But they're not. Money is too. And it's at least as important. As Mark notes in his follow-up comment: "go to any downloadable content site. There are thousands upon thousands of shows, movies, videos, all produced hoping they would just capture back their costs. Few do... The thing about the gatekeepers in hollywood, if they say yes, they pay you . Most if not all of your costs. then they commit to spend a lot of money promoting you."

Remix Culture and Harvard

Some interesting thoughts by Timothy Burke on remixing, plagiarism and their relationship to creativity and originality over at Easily Distracted. Read the comments too.(Andrew Orlowski, a particular skeptic of remix culture, has also written on the topic here.)

As Burke notes, there are "examples of visual media where the remixes were inspired, entertaining, and emotionally engaging." However, at the same time "remixing" so often becomes an excuse for misappropriation. An additional problem is that of giving credit where credit is due. We've had hundreds of years to figure out what's appropriate in different contexts within print—where and how credit should be given and in what form. For photos, video, music, and even code proper and legal behaviors are far less clear.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Email != Collaboration

There's an interesting post over on the CentralDesktop blog about the problems of using email as a collaboration tool. I'm not sure I agree that all the problems listed are all that problematic—at least in a well-managed IT infrastructure, but the issue of siloed data certainly is:

Think of your Email Inbox as a heavily fortified walled garden. Not mentioning the difficulties many have accessing their Email Inbox outside the corporate firewall, the Email Inbox contains a hodgepodge of business, personal and private information that most people do not want to share with others.

For many folks, the Email Inbox contains their most intimate secrets all mashed together into a single location: business correspondences, contracts, proposals, reminders, tasks, love letters, indiscreet online purchases, dirty jokes, pictures of your spouse (and kids), time-wasting games, inappropriate messages from co-workers and friends and lets not forget spam.

A number of the commenters to the post object that email is not intended as acollaboration tool, but I think that misses the point. Because email is pervasive, it tends to become the hammer for every job, no matter how ill-suited for the task. Furthermore, which vendor of email and personal productivity tools isn't calling them "collaboration tools" today.

As I've argued previously, Wikis and other lightweight Web 2.0 innovations notwithstanding, most of these so-called collaboration tools that people actually use today are far more about the individual than the group.

Different Prices are Confusing??

It may well be true that variable track pricing at the iTunes Music Store could well have ended up as a price increase by another name. The record labels certainly weren't pushing for variable pricing so that they could make less money. Therefore, holding at a 99 cent fixed price—which carries with it a sort of psychological barrier against an across-the-board increase—was probably a good thing for consumers on balance.

But that doesn't make a lot of the commentary from the Apple fan club any less silly. A 99 cent fixed-price for music downloads might be a good compromise for buyers in an imperfect world, but let's not pretend it makes economic sense—especially in a long tail world with negligible distribution and inventory costs. There is virtue in simplicity, but it's hard to credit that a single price for all the music in all the world is best sold at a single, identical price.

I any case, some of the campaigning against variable pricing as variable pricing (as opposed to against price increases) is just silly. Witness the following example from ars-technica:

In our report on variable pricing, we speculated that "polluting" the iTMS with a mishmash of prices would not only confuse potential customers, but possibly stunt the entire online music industry, something we still believe, but looks less likely to happen after today's news:

"Critics of the "mix of prices" ideology say that users will be confused and scared off by prices that are not consistent across the board and possibly end up going back to downloading illegally via P2P. While this sounds ridiculous upon first blush, I personally don't think it's all that far out of the realm of possibility."

Users confused because things they want to buy may have different prices? Somehow I think that most people have figured out how to handle that particular complication of life.

Monday, May 01, 2006

For Red Sox fan Self-Torture

Very cute even if the 1980's vintage Nintendo RBI Baseball graphics can't wholly and completely represent the horror of a ball through the first baseman's legs sort of thing. (It's a Boston thing.)

via James Robertson

Monday, April 17, 2006

I've Been Missing

I've been MIA. My excuse is the combination of a very disruptive and energy-consuming (and checkbook-draining) house reconstruction project and a hectic travel schedule. To put this in perspective; Illuminata moved offices in Nashua March 1 and I didn't see the new digs until April. I pretty much put reading blogs on hiatus much less writing for them the past couple of months. Life continues busy. My main computer is "under construction" and I'm down to NY for the Dartmouth Review's 25th anniversary this weekend, but I'll try to get back to semi-regular posting soon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Micromarkets of the Internet

I suppose I should find the consequences of network effects so commonplace by now that they're hardly with a certain notice, much les the awe—a dawning realization of just how unlikely and improbably something would have been before Web 1.0 (or at least the democratization of Newsgroups). In this case, it's a sideline business so narrow and specialized that it's hard to see how it could ever be made to work if it required print ads (even in the most specialized of magazines) to find an audience.

First a little background. Northgate was one of what was probably the 2nd generation oro so of PC clones. Compatibility issues were in the past mostly. Northgates like Zeos (along with an equally fledging company called Dell and the still surviving though hardly as successful Gateway) sold most of their systems through ads in the like of PC Magazine and Computer Shopper and direct mail. However, Northgate also made a line of keyboards. Now, back then, a lot of people actually cared about keyboard feel. The IBM PC's with their "buckling spring" clicky feel were the gold standard. (Clones are still made.) But the IBM laylout and the sizes of some of their keys weren't to everyone's liking. Northgate responded to this rather finicky need by releasing several keyboards that, among other differences, had a huge ENTER key the way god intended. I have a couple of these, by now, elderly devices.

Unfortunately, the Northgate keyboard on my regular desktop computer started acting up. Besides being filthy, a couple of keys were sticking. Si I tried cleaning it up, and through the over-zealous application of isopropyl alohol (and then other things), I managed to make it go from bad to worse. There was always the ebay option—another form of network effect—but what should Google find for me but someone who actually repairs Northgate keyboards, Robert Tibbetts. In his words:

My second computer was a 1987 Northgate 386 with a Gold Label 102, in 1999 it started going south. Three switches decided not to work anymore. So my brainstorm was to get some Radio Shack contact cleaner, big mistake. Instead of 3 switches, I had about a dozen that did not work. I scrounged around and came up with a used Ultra T that worked OK. It was bought as in new condition, NOT, but it worked. The GL always bugged me, so I decided to take it apart and pull the switches apart. I repaired them and made it work again, now I just replace them. It is just to time consuming to take a switch apart and clean the contacts. So after that I bought some on e-Bay, fixed them and resold them and here we are 4 years later and over 600 refurbed and sold. I keep around 100 keyboards in stock, some are new.Fixing keyboards is just a sideline that I enjoy doing. My main work is wholesale lumber for the last 40 years.

So, if you've got an old Northgate keyboard sitting up in an attic gathering dust. Consider dusting it off and sending it in. The cost for cleaning is about $60 with shipping and all; key switches cost about $5 each to repair. Above all, keep that Radio Shack Contact Cleaner away from them!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Slashdot Going Out of Style?

Jeremy Zawodny asks ifSlashdot is going out of style? [via Eric Boutilier] Speaking for myself, that seems a reasonable projection. I still find it somewhat useful as a pointer to interesting stories, but the actual synopses are often (typically?) incomplete and horribly slanted in one way or another. Perhaps more seriously, the comments never represented well-reasoned commentary from a broad population, but I think they did once represent a somewhat useful window into some of the most fervent Open Source vanguard. Today, with Open Source mainstream and made up of so many communities and diverse interests, the Slashdot crowd is increasingly such a small slice that I'm not sure its zeitgeist tells us anything useful.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blockbuster Sinking

I'm usually suspicious of claims that the "old" way of doing things is dead because the latest favorite trend or company or business model of the techno-elite is going to blow it away. And 95 percent of the people who don't live within the boundaries of the Valley or Boston or RTP have never heard of whatever the hot new thing is. And wouldn't want it if they did.

But sometimes things really do change.

John Paczkowski of Good Morning Silicon Valley notes:
Blockbuster's days are numbered. Hemorrhaging cash, the video rental chain that once claimed a market value of $8.4 billion is today worth just under $700 million... If only it had purchased Netflix when it had the chance. A paltry $50 million and it would have had owned the company that destroyed its single biggest profit-earner -- charging late fees to customers who kept videos past the due date -- and forced it to invest millions in an also-ran online rental business that is too little, too late.

A commenter to the post counters that "i disagree. i used to feel the same way but those of us in the valley are too close to our own technology. go to anywhere outside of a high tech center like our own and blockbuster still thrives." Perhaps. But there's little disputing that Blockbuster's financials are a grim thing indeed.

There may indeed still be a significant demand for bricks-and-mortar video rental—but likely not at the scale or at the price structure of current operations. And here's a very real question: If the corner video store's costs require a premium over online and video-on-demand rental charges, how much additional business will it lose?

Still, we'll have video rental stores for a long time—perhaps most of all in cities. But we may well not have Blockbuster.

Friday, January 06, 2006

RSS Data

via David Berlind
Related: 31 percent of US Internet users use RSS, and most of them do so through My Yahoo.

Also related but contradicting: Recent research conducted by Yahoo! and Ipsos reveals that while 12% of surveyed Yahoo users know what RSS is, only 4% of surveyed Internet users use it (PDF) (and know they use it).

Interesting data but I'm not sure that I see the contradiction. My Yahoo uses RSS as a foundation technology. A fair number of people use My Yahoo but don't know (and in many cases care) how Yahoo is grabbing the feeds they're reading. That aside, a few thoughts:
In a recent post of mine about "Web 2.0" hype and definition, James Governor commented:
i am afraid you're showing your age buddy. kids under the age of 20 have never heard of web 2.0

they use services, but aren't thinking in the abstract. its us old bores talking about it. i hate to say it, but nicholas carr probably called it right when he called us elitist-hippie-boy-scouts

I tend to agree, at least up to a point. This data is a perfect example. People use RSS but they don't think about it. To take another example, how many people using various rich web interfaces like Google Maps have any idea what AJAX is?

At the same time, though, if RSS is truly used that narrowly outside of My Yahoo, that surely argues that blogs and related forms of personal syndication are relevant to a mighty narrow sliver of the population. Without RSS readers (and presumably the knowledge that one is using RSS), anything more than the occasional look-see at a favorite blog or two, or catching the odd post from a Google search, is well nigh impossible.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Wikipedia Experiments

I've written about Wikipedia in the past, most recently here. But I've stayed away from the most recent flaps for a variety of reasons: they were getting so much ink and so many electrons elsewhere, general fatigue with the topic, and a general sense that (as in so many things related to Open Source) positions were often so calcified that scoring points trumped legitimate discussion. Perhaps, as Nicholas Carr suggested in a recent post:
Wikipedia ran into trouble because it assumed - or allowed itself, not unwillingly, to have thrust upon it - a mantle of "authority" that it neither needed nor deserved. It became a cause celebre of techno-romantics who saw it as a harbinger of an internet-enabled era of egalitarian media and universal creativity...

Wikipedia is not an authoritative encyclopedia, and it should stop trying to be one. It's a free-for-all, a rumble-tumble forum where interested people can get together in never-ending, circular conversations and debates about what things mean. Maybe those discussions will resolve themselves into something like the truth. Maybe they won't. Who cares? As soon as you strip away the need to be like an encyclopedia and to be judged like an encyclopedia - as soon as you stop posing as an encyclopedia - you get your freedom back. You lose the need for complicated rules and restrictions and all sorts of tortured hand-wringing and navel-gazing. You don't have to worry about critics because critics don't have anything to criticize. Some facts are wrong? Hey, we never claimed they wouldn't be. Someone created an entry about an imaginary being from Planet Xenat? So what were you expecting - an encyclopedia?

Be that as it may, I've been conducting an experiment of sorts over the past few months. I've been keeping watch on a few Wikipedia articles on which I've done some work and/or interest. Obviously this is anecdotal (and on a small scale at that), but it probably sheds some light all the same. The articles in question are AViiON, Data General, Cambridge (MA), and InfiniBand. Read through the recent histories to get the full thread, but I'm going to pick out a few things I've found indicative and give my overall take.

AViiON: As I detailed previously, there were considerable problems with this article. I did a fair bit of reworking as a result. The result is not as complete as it could be, but IMO it's accurate as far as it goes. Recent changes by others? Minor, but positive. Moving a secondary and unresolved topic (where the AViiON name came from) to the notes. Fixing some minor errors and inconsistencies. I had to make my own meal, but no ones ruined what I prepared and has even added a few spices here and there.

Data General: Not so good. Breathless campaigns against supposedly non-neutral points of view here and only slightly less so here over what seem to me pretty factual statements. But, hey, we have to observe Neutral Point of View (NPOV) even though the concept is pretty silly taken to the extreme. Any conclusion is a point of view. It's only a question of how strong the supporting evidence is and how many people agree with you. No fixup or improvement of most of the problems I pointed out in my earlier post.

Cambridge (MA): Twiddles. No real harm though mostly pretty irrelevant. Additions to people who had once set foot in Cambridge, PC-ish fiddling with how to describe recent immigrants, one quickly-reverted piece of minor vandalism. The article could certainly stand some more history, but it's not seriously deficient for what it is and the changes haven't really been negative.

InfiniBand: I'm uncertain about this sentence that's been added at the end. (As far as I know, Horus is a 32-way chipset for AMD Opteron and can find no online support for what's described here.) That, of course, is one issue with the Wikipedia editing process. Although there are potential forums for discussions (e.g. Talk pages), it's not like a normal collaborative editing process really. As a result, you may respect the original material more than I would in my normal role as editor.

Overall take (for these statistically insignificant examples)?: For the most part-—piddle, twiddle, and resolve. Not one damned thing do we solve. Copyediting's great, but systematic editing, researching, and good writing are better.The "info rot" in these articles was minor. But neither were there step function improvements. Not an F. But a gentleman's C on these topics.

More on Bestselling CD's

In this earlier post, I noted that Chris Anderson had some interesting data which seemed to indicate the decline in CD bestsellers was even more dire than the overall decline. Chris is back with some additional data to reinforce this observation. I won't rehash it here for now because it really needs some normalizing and such to be really definitive. However, because I raised the question in my post, I did want to note that RIAA data on bestselling albums does seem to put one of my questions to rest:
One of the benefits of this multiple award process [a Platinum album is also a Gold album and so forth] is that it allows us to look at a question that commentors raised in the last post: do older albums simply have more time to become a hit, something that would bias this kind of analysis against newer albums? The answer appears to be no. If you go through the database you'll see that albums that achieved Platinum or Multi-Platinum designation almost all did so within a year of going Gold. So most of the sales do seem to be in the first year or two after release.

(In other words, the fact that there have been fewer bestsellers in the past couple of years doesn't seem to be because they haven't had time to "peak" yet.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Massport Continues to Fight For a WiFi Monopoly

As reported in yesterday's Boston Gobe,
Logan International Airport officials' [Logan is operated by Massport] ongoing quest to ban airline lounges from offering passengers free WiFi Internet services is angering a growing array of powerful Capitol Hill lobbying groups, who say Logan could set a dangerous nationwide precedent for squelching wireless services.

At least they've dropped the argument that blocking competing free WiFi would help keep terrorists (presumably cheap or poor terrorists who couldn't afford Massport's $7.95 daily charge) from communicating. They now admit that, along with a bunch of signal interference concerns to which basically no one else attaches any validity, ''Massport would also lose revenue associated with the operation of the central WiFi antenna system at Logan."

The Dying CD Bestseller?

As Ashlee Vance of The Register notes here: "2005 marked a banner year for quashing CD piracy in the courts and on the internet. You'd think sales would gave gone up once again, if you buy into the RIAA's way of thinking." They didn't, of course.
US CD sales in 2005 fell 3.5 per cent year-over-year, according to Nielsen Soundscan. That's quite a blow given that CD sales actually rose by 2.3 per cent in 2004. A sane person might suggest that higher energy costs throughout 2005 ate up a few of those sales or that pricey iPods left less cash to spend on albums. This logic escapes the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA), which again attributes the fall in sales to piracy and which last year attributed the rise in sales to better anti-piracy measures.

The situation is even more dire for blockbuster releases. Chris Anderson, of "Long Tail" fame, presents some data that shows how few all-time topsellers there have been since the millenium (and none at all in 2004 or 2005).

I wonder a bit about the conclusions, some of which are also raised in the comments to the post. For example, I wonder whether it's partly a case of newer albums not having had time to become bestsellers yet. Chris Anderson's take on this (from the comments) is: "Typically albums do most of their total volume of sales in their first year. Looking back at the past years' releases it's a safe bet that there are no slow-burners there who are going to creep in to the Top 100 over time." Which seems reasonable enough. Perhaps there are cyclical trends at work here too, as there have been historically.

However, it's hard to dispute that we live in a world in which the mainstream (often manufactured) pop star may not be dead but where he/she/it competes with accelerated Internet time, (especially) solitary hits being sold on the iTunes Music Store, and a generally much more fragmented and information-rich market. It's much analogous to TV. As the network news shows change their guard, they'll never be the focal point they once were and, as Derek comments, "there will probably never be another TV show with the kind of ratings that "All in the Family" had in the 70's, because there are more channels now. Instead of one show with a 34-rating, there are 50 shows with a 1-rating."

This Week's Memo to Product Designers

Just because you can do something doesn't make it a good idea.

Case study #1: I received one of these travel alarm clocks as a gift. It almost goes without saying that the user interface was atrocious. Anytime instructions for setting a clock begin with "Press Button 1 three times..." you know it's not going to be pretty. But the general badness of UIs is a diatribe for another day. On top of everything else, this clock's "designers" (although that word implies a certain thinking about design that was clearly absent) felt a need to pollute their already over-complicated and overly-modal device with a stopwatch function. I would have hoped that the iPod's success would have encouraged more "Simpler is Better" designs. Apparently not.

Case study #2: The superbright LEDs that have appeared over the past few years have been a real boon for many applications. I do a fair bit of hiking, climbing, camping and the like. The headlamps that use these new LEDs are fantastic. They're small, light, have great battery life, and there's no bulb to burn out at the most inopportune moment. It's even practical to just carry a spare in an emergency kit. (And the latest generation of 1 watt SuperBright LEDs is even better with just a single LED throwing off quite a bit of light (as in this headlamp). But the same LEDs that work so well in flashlights aren't so great used as indicator lights in every piece of electronic gear. I do not, for example, really need a bright blue light staring out dolefully from the otherwise darkened direction of my television and entertainment setup. I've seen cases so bad that a piece of electrical tape was needed to mute the spotlight. Just because LEDs can be so much brighter than in the past doesn't mean that you have to amp up the brightness for everything.