Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Professional Photography Problem and The Richter Scales

David Galbraith has some original angles on the Lane Hartwell/Richter scales incident that I've written about here and here that I thought worth sharing. I've ended up sucked way too deeply into this entire controversy. I'm not sure I fully agree with everything David has to say, but let me share a few of his observations:

The professional photography market is moving from a craft dominated industry of recording events to an artistic one with room for a minority of top creatives, in the same way that it did for painting in the 19th Century.

You cannot quote a photograph. There is no Internet compromise with teaser clips, as there is for music and video.

A shrinking marketplace [because so much free amateur or low-cost photography sufficient] is perceived to be increasing. The current law is on the side of the photographer but the de facto practice isn't and there is no available solution for those who want compromise.

This is why there will be war.

I'm not sure I agree with the implication of some of David's other comments that "The zero cost ubiquity of digital images mean that the sum total quality of amateur output is often better than the sum total of professionals." However, the universal availability of material that's "good enough" for a lot of purposes does tend to drag down professional pricing.

At some level, this is just how capitalism works. However, it also tends to make certain professions--or slices of those professions--just not economically viable. Maybe that's OK (or inevitable). But we may to accept some concomitant loss of some level of artistic quality in culture as a result.

Links for 12-20-07

And with this, I sign off for the year. Enjoy the holidays, one and all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Links for 12-19-07

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Catching Up on Links (12-18-07)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Apropos of nothing in particular

George Burns supposedly once said: "Too bad that all the people who know how to run this country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair."

Based on some recent experiences I'm led inexorably to the conclusion that, today, those people are spending all their available hours posting comments to stories and posts on the Internet.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Links for 12-07-2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007


There may be just enough truth in this to make it really hilarious.

[UPDATE: This video by the Richter Scales got pulled. Which is a story in itself.]

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Links for 12-05-2007

I spent a good chunk of the day trying to better automate this process but at the moment, it's Gdata API 1, ghaff 0. In any case, a script that Stephen Shankland forwarded to me recently makes the process easier, even if I do still need to cut & paste.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Links for 12-03-2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hearts of Darkness on DVD

By way of Very Short List (a great daily email by the way), I see that Hearts of Darkness - A Filmmaker's Apocalypse--a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now--is coming to DVD for the first time. I have an older laserdisc copy--yes, really, laserdisc. Today, Apocalypse Now is widely, though of course not universally, regarded as the best of the films about or set in the Vietnam War. However, for many years, films such as The Deer Hunter and Platoon were more highly regarded.

In any case, the film production, as documented in Hearts of Darkness, was a fiasco. To quote Very Short List:

Narrated by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor (who also shot the on-set footage), and directed by Fax Behr and George Hickenlooper, Hearts plays like a paint-by-numbers demonstration of how not to make a big film: The Apocalypse Now production is underfunded, the crew is overworked, and the script is unresolved. The actors are either too high (Dennis Hopper), too sick (Martin Sheen, who suffered a heart attack on the set), or too weird (Marlon Brando) to perform; meanwhile, monsoons destroy the sets.

It's a great documentary about the making of a classic film. Check it out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sony and Life Blowups

In a pair of previous posts on the CNET Blog Network and here, I noted that a photograph that Sony used in its "When Timing is Everything" and the original version published in Life Magazine weren't quite the same although they were clearly from the same sequence. However, the deltas are hard to see in the shrunk online versions. (In fact, I initially thought that they were the same photograph.) Therefore, I'm posting a couple of blowups--one from the Sony ad and one from the original 1965 John Dominis photo as published in The Best of Life.

The top photo is a scan from The Best of Life.

Original photo as published in Life

The bottom is from the recent Sony ad.

Photo used in Sony ad

It's clear from these that the differences are not just the dust (which could well be written off to retouching) but also the position of the baboon's mouth. These are different photos in the sequence.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More Sony Funniness

[UPDATE: As a few people have commented--some more politely than others--the point of the ad is bad timing, not good timing. So I missed this point of the ad. That said, I'll still argue that this particular instance of Sony's ad campaign is so subtle as to be a bad choice as I discuss on my other blog.]

Earlier today, I blogged ("Sony: When timing is everything...") over on my Pervasive Datacenter blog on the CNET Blog Network about a Sony ad for their A700 DSLR headlined "In Photography: Timing is Everything." One problem: the photo that they chose to highlight their camera's motion-capturing virtuosity was from 1965. It was probably captured on Nikon gear and, in any case, predated Sony's entry into cameras by decades.

There's actually a secondary layer to this latest Sony mis-step that's more subtle but just as amusing. Unlike the origin of the photo, it's conjecture, but I'm pretty confident is something close to reality.

Sony didn't use the John Dominis photograph that appeared in Life Magazine in 1965. Rather, it used a very similar image that was perhaps one or two frames separated in a motor drive sequence. (This being 1965, we're talking film of course.)

Now, while acknowledging that photographic choice is subjective, I think the frame published in Life (as can be seen on Getty Images) is the slightly better photo than the one Sony chose to use in its ad.  The differences are subtle, yes, but in the Life/Getty version you can see the baboon's lower body better and it appears to be shouting defiantly. In the Sony ad, its mouth appears to be closed and its body is largely obscured by dust. (The differences are probably more obvious in the original ad and a large blowup of the Life photo I have in The Best of Life, but trust me on this.)

Why did Sony use this alternate image? Well, perhaps it liked the picture more. I'm skeptical. I don't. And neither did a couple of other photographers I quizzed. I suppose it's possible that whoever chose the photograph just had a more highly-tuned sense of what made a great photograph than did Life's photo editors in 1965. Wouldn't bet on that one. The more likely hypothesis for me is that the alternate image was cheaper to use. (Or perhaps there were restrictions on using the original photograph.)

Whichever the case, the net result is that not only did Sony pick a competitor's camera to illustrate "Timing is Everything." They (it would appear) implicitly chose to go with a tagline that might be better described as "Pretty close timing is fairly important."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I've Started Writing a New Blog

I have a new blog over at the CNET Blog Network, The Pervasive Datacenter. It will feature a combination of posts from Illuminata Perspectives and pieces written specifically for the blog. To quote my introductory post:

This blog will have its home base in the datacenter itself and will cover topics from servers big and small, to multi-core processors, to operating systems, to virtualization, to power and cooling concerns. However, it will also look at the software and the services out in the network cloud that are consuming datacenter computing cycles and storage and thereby determining the future of the back-end. I'll also spend some time on the bigger questions: Is Software as a Service the next big thing or merely Application Service Providers warmed over? What's the future of Open Source in a Web-delivered software model? Do operating systems even matter any longer?

And, because my premise is that the pervasive datacenter touches everything, I'll feel free to, now and then, head out to the very edge of the network. I'll try to stay clear of overly trendy and self-referential debates, but will write about important trends in client devices from UltraMobile PCs to cameras and the services that run on them.

I'll also keep this blog active at some level. However, I expect that musings and discussions that relate to computing in most forms will tend to migrate over to The Pervasive Datacenter. What remains here will be more along the lines of personal interests and links to material that others may find interesting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

TiVo Series3 and HD Get eSATA

eSATA (external SATA) lets you connect low-cost external drives to a computer with much higher performance than USB and Firewire. Frankly, it's a standard that has taken way too long to be broadly adopted. Whenever I open up a computer case--often to add or swap out storage--something often goes wrong and things end up broken. Much better to keep most of your PC's storage in an external array. Thus, I note approvingly that TiVo Sewries3 and HD models are reportedly getting their eSATA ports enabled with the latest TiVo software.

I guess it's time to make the high-def TiVo jump. I'd been holding off mostly because I had made some unofficial upgrades to my Series2 to add capacity. However, TiVo has a deal going that would let me transfer my lifetime subscription to a new HD model. Now that I know the upgrade won't result in diminished disk capacity, I guess I should make the plunge. The only other downside is that it will mean dealing with Comcast at some point to get a CableCARD when I upgrade my cable service to take advantage of the high-def capabilities.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Twittering Away

I haven't exactly become a full convert to the "micro-blogging" Twitter service. But, as I've become more serious about using Facebook--and have become exposed to Twitter through its Facebook app in the process--I'm starting to understand the attraction. Why haven't I been intrigued before now? Well, Adam Engst captures it perfectly in Confessions of a Twitter Convert.

Frankly, I put much of the blame on Twitter itself, asking as it does, "What are you doing?" as a way of prompting people to post 140-character messages. For the most part, as I acerbically noted before, no one cares what you're doing. However, that's not entirely true, and what I missed in my quick and disdainful overview is that a certain number of people do care what you're doing, as long as it's interesting, funny, or relevant in some other way. And here's the other thing - they, not you, get to decide if you're interesting, funny, or relevant.

Adam goes on to say

To help you think about what to twitter about, let me suggest some alternatives to Twitter's "What are you doing?" question:

  • What do you think about some current event?
  • Tell us about something funny you just saw.
  • What neat thing have you learned recently?
  • What have you done lately that was particularly cool?
  • What question would you like to ask your followers?
  • Give us a link to the last great article you read.
  • What was your last blog post/Flickr photo/YouTube video?

Now this makes sense. Assuming that you're not one of the self-proclaimed Silicon Valley cognoscenti with thousands of "friends," I'd actually like to hear interesting suggestions and recommendations from a modest list of people with whom I share common interests. In fact, this starts to look a lot like email distribution lists--but both more regularized and less obtrusive.

In short, Twitter's marketing is really bad. Good thing that (conventional) marketing seems not to matter in a Web 2.0 world.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Update and Upcoming

Things have been pretty quiet on this blog of late. It's a combination of a hectic travel month in August and a need to focus some energy on other projects. I haven't been reading much, far less writing; In fact, I finally had to go and hit the big "All Read" button on all my blog subscriptions so that I could start again from a psychologically manageable point. September isn't going to be a lot better. However, I do have a combination of some equipment usage reports and a number of things around digital photography partway-there that I'll get to as I can.

In the meantime, between the hubbub of OSCON and the somewhat less hubbub-ish (but still busy) LinuxWorld, I did get to spend a week in the central Oregon Cascades. I've uploaded some photographs on flickr here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Unix Wars: The More Things Change...

Writing from the O'Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON) a couple of days back, I noted that many of today's debates are taking place in a very different milieu than the Unix Wars that helped spawn Open Source (or more precisely Richard Stallman's "Free Software" in the first place.

However, as Dennis Byron, notes:

Truth in advertising, Gordon--like me--is a "Grey Eagle" (Data General alum), which in addition to meaning that he went through the minicomputer wars, also means that--like me--he has probably seen it all before. It is not surprising then that his and my sense of OSS history agree even though we have never spoken about it. There is one place we differ. He says, "We’re now moving to a world increasingly distant in time and place from the Unix wars." I think the interminable debates about GPL vs other licenses, the Novell/Microsoft agreement, free vs. open, and so forth are just a continuation of the UNIX wars. The AT&T legal issues he talks about have never really been settled.

There's a lot of truth in what Dennis says. There are threads of past debates in today's discussions. For example, the heated debates over attribution clauses in Software as a Service (SaaS) licenses merely recapitulate ancient fights over the so-called "advertising clause" of the original Berkeley license. However, there's even more truth in the macro sense--the sense in which enormous energy is expended over niggling details. To be sure, some of those niggling details can turn out to be incredibly important down the road, but more don't.

Not that this fault is especially the province of the software industry. HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, anyone?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Five Input Devices for the Future. Part 1.

[This was getting a bit lengthier than I intended. So I'll begin with the first two for now.]

There are lots of gadgets out there that people use to communicate with their computers. However, only two--the keyboard and the mouse--are really in broad, mainstream use. If you add controllers for games, there are a few more input devices depending on the genre: game pads, joysticks, and steering wheels. However, although game pads of one sort or another are the predominant way to communicate with gaming consoles, their use on PCs is far more limited and specific to a limited set of uses.

So is it the keyboard and mouse forever? I would be surprised, shocked really, if we were to see anything replace the keyboard and mouse (BTW, I lump trackballs in with mice because they're different ergonomic takes on the same basic function) on the desktop anytime soon. But could one or more of the devices that we see at the fringes today become something truly mainstream--if not universal, then at least a common site on your typical desktop. I think the following are potential candidates.

 1. 6 Degrees-of-Freedom (DOF) controllers. Like most of the things on this list 6-DOF controllers aren't new. They've been used in 3-dimensional computer-aided-design (CAD) applications for a while and they've had price tags to match the pricey software that they've been used with. How they feel to use is a bit hard to describe but it's essentially a sort of knob that you can push down, pull up, rotate, and push or tilt in any direction. Essentially this lets you move and adjust your view through 3-D space using  single control. 6-DOF controllers are interesting today for two reasons. First, we're starting to see inexpensive examples. The 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator PE (Personal Edition) 3D Navigation Device USB ( 3DX-700029 ) is about $55 for a little device with a great feel. Second, we're starting to see 3D environments--other than space battles--where such a device could be really handy. Virtual worlds are one future possibility--especially if they get to be as important as some think they will be. But, even today, navigating through Google Earth with a SpaceNavigator is truly eye-opening. It transforms it into a whole new experience.

2. Write-able screens (most likely multi-touch). I have a basic Wacom Graphire tablet. It's just the latest in a string of tablets that I've owned over the years, but it mostly sits gathering dust. I bought it mostly to edit photos in Photoshop, but I just don't find it all the useful. The problem is that there's essentially a physical disconnect between writing on the tablet and what's happening on the screen. The two things aren't happening in the same place. Tablets are fine for tracing but I don't find them much use to create or edit something that's being displayed on the screen. I imagine that one can develop a better feel, but FWIW I've heard the same thing from professional artists. The best solution is to write on the screen. We've seen some impressive multi-touch demos of late (to say nothing of the iPhone). However, even just having affordable modest-size LCDs we could write on would be a god start. Wacom makes the very snazzy Cintiq, but at $2500, it's clearly a tool for graphics professionals. Why does this matter? I'm happy to make the argument that this is a key missing ingredient to having distributed meetings and discussions. Where's the whiteboard in such a meeting? (Please don't tell me to either do a napkin sketch using a mouse or to draw something, scan it in, and then send it to people. Ick.) A low-end and more-affordable version of the Cintiq would be invaluable for people who need to sketch out a quick idea or a concept. Add in the fact that more and more people have multiple monitors and having one of them be a writable version is a natural.

[More to follow...]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Podcasts and WiFi

Now that people have had a breather of a week or so from the endless iPhone hype, I see it's time to start of the 6G iPod rumor cycle. I'm sort of vaguely interested in this. I have a 4G and have started to think that maybe an upgrade is in order one of these days. The current generation didn't have enough new to make me plunk down a few C notes but I'm definitely curious about what comes next.

The betting money seems to be on something that looks similar to an iPhone but without WiFi or phone capabilities. That makes a lot of sense, but WiFi could be nice. Here's why.

As I've written about previously, one of my personal problems with podcasting is that:

It's not exactly hard to get a podcast onto your portable flash memory music thingamajig. But it does take several steps more than just turning on the freekin' radio. When we get to the point that your home computer handles this all automagically between itself and its counterpart in your car, OK.

I just don't sync my iPod on a regular basis. It's not a big deal to do but I just don't do it. That was always my issue with PDAs as well. I didn't get around to syncing them--which is one reason that my Treo 700p is the first "PDA" that I find truly useful. As a result, I don't have current podcasts on my iPod, which means I don't listen to them, which means I don't think about syncing my iPod to get new podcasts, and so forth.

Automagical syncs though. That would be interesting. I'm afraid it might not be as automatic as I would like in any case (for one thing I don't generally use iTunes as my preferred music organizer) but WiFi would at least open up the possibility of some sort of fairly transparent syncing to a PC on the same wireless network.

(Embarrassed as I am to admit it, this thought got kicked off after running across this digg comment that said: "All I want is an iPod that auto updates all my podcast feeds without needing to connect to a computer. Give it WiFi and let is start downloading as soon as I walk into my house at the end of they day or anyplace that WiFi is connected.")

A Blast from the "distant" Past (c. 1994)

Richard Seltzer notes that:

This video was created by me (Richard Seltzer) and Berthold Langer in February 1994, when we worked at DEC. NCSA (creators of Mosaic, the first Web browsers) and dozens of other organizations, distributed thousands of copies of this video, using it to help spread the word about the business potential of the Web, which, at that time, many business people found difficult to imagine. Thanks to David Wecker and Gene Kusekoski for converting it to avi.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Ultimate AT&T Takedown

I really didn't mean to even mention the iPhone. The story was becoming almost (but not quite) as annoying as the incarceration of certain hotel heiresses that shall remain nameless. But I ran across a truly wonderful line yesterday.

As my colleague John Webster notes in Am I Too Old to be in the iPhone Line?, the biggest problem with the iPhone is AT&T (the only network on which it runs)--and more broadly the telco model of the world where they MUST OWN EVERYTHING. Think of it as Microsoft on steroids.

I'll leave you to read John's piece for the rest. However, for a more succinct (and somewhat less family-friendly) description of AT&T's deficiencies, I refer you to Gizmodo:

Signing up for the iPhone is like being tossed into a menage a trois with Angelina and Rosie O'Donnell. You want the beauty, you have to sleep with the beast.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Links for 06-22-2007

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Links for 06-19-2007

Documentation for Old Systems

The post Hardware Archaeology by Simon Phipps at Sun reminds me of the time a few years back when I got contacted by someone wanting to port NetBSD/OpenBSD to some (very) old Data General Motorola 88000-based AViiON hardware. (I used to work for DG.) He was looking for any code or schematics associated with the hardware and email addresses for engineers who had worked on the platform "as they have a lot to teach us." I had a bit of trouble gently getting the point across that it seemed unlikely anyone at EMC (who purchased DG) would have much interest spending the time/money to chase after old documentation to help get BSD running on a very obsolete piece of hardware.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Links from 06-18-2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Links for 06-12-2007

Separate Professional and Personal Networks?

There's an interesting post to check out by the Fortune technology staff that discusses whether people will maintain separate profiles for their personal and professional lives--and whether those profiles will reside on separate social networks. The discussion builds on an interview with LinkedIn CEO Dan Nye in which he said

said people will build one profile for their personal life and another for their professional life. The argument, self serving as it is, makes a certain amount of sense. Not good to have a prospective employer stumble on to those photos of you freshman year in Delta Kappa Epsilon.

Now, I'm sure that some of the radical transparency/Web 2.0/etc. advocates would argue that there is no such thing as separate professional and personal lives. At some level, I suppose that's true if by "not separate" one means that there are any guarantees that wild drinking stories posed on the Web aren't going to be found by a prospective employer. However, I'm unconvinced that for most people personal and professional lives are quite as intertwined and inseparable as the blogging crowd and others in the coastal high-tech bubbles think they are.

In any case, the Fortune post then goes on to wonder whether such separation need be achieved by a standalone company like LinkedIn or whether it might be more logically implemented as an application on a social network like Facebook.

Wouldn’t it at least be smart, then, for LinkedIn to deploy itself as an application on Facebook, given Facebook’s new open API strategy? Quite possibly, said Nye who pointed out that [LinkedIn founder] Hoffman was an early investor in Facebook, and that Facebook backer Peter Thiel also has money in LinkedIn. “We know each other well,” said Nye. “We like each other.”

Bottom line: the jury is still divided on how much consolidation to expect in social networks, but it will be interesting to see how all these real world social networks hold up when their virtual counterparts begin to merge, or falter….

Friday, June 08, 2007

Links for 06-08-2007

  • ongoing · Thread Herrings
    Lots of good pointers from Tim Bray to discussions about programming for massively threaded resources. (aka the issues surrounding concurrency)
    [tags: programming,processors]
  • A game of inches - Joel on Software
    Clock radios and UIs. And what they tell us about the value of incremental improvements and designing software.
    [tags: design]

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Not My Foleo

Tom Krazit over at CNET has a piece that pretty well summarizes some of the problems that I have with Palm's new Foleo--which is essentially a svelte network computer in a laptop form factor. Although the new not-yet-shipping device has its supporters, the overall chatter has been pretty negative. I hate to pile on, and probably wouldn't, but I'm such a natural customer for this and yet I'm not rally all that interested.

Why am I a natural customer? Well, first of all, I have a Treo 700p, a smartphone that is the intended companion to the Foleo. Second, I am a big fan of Foleo attributes such as small and light. Instant-on too. I used a Jornada 820 for several years for notetaking when I traveled. I only abandoned it when I got a more compact laptop (a Fujitsu P5020) and the lack of wireless networking (and even limited wired networking because of outdated software) became just too limiting. So I get the tradeoffs associated with having something compact and portable; I've consistently tilted in that direction when I've made my device choices.

So why is my initial reaction to the Foleo negative?

Because it's neither fish nor fowl. The Treo is a step function form factor reduction from a laptop (which, of course, brings with it some usability limits). I can pull it out of my pocket to check and respond to email without opening up a "computer." I don't need to carry a bag to transport it. And it gets a full day of battery life or better. In short, it's fundamentally different from a laptop.

This isn’t. It doesn’t have the pocketability of my Treo. At the same time, it’s only incrementally smaller/lighter/faster-to-start than my laptop—while not being able to do lots of things I can do with a laptop. Perhaps if I used a big, high-end “desktop replacement” style of notebook, I’d see this as a more useful intermediate point but as things stand, I really don’t.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Blast From the Past

The 100 oldest dot-com domains. Many are no longer with us. The three oldest are, perhaps unsurprisingly, out of Cambridge Mass with Symbolics obtaining its domain about a month prior to BB&N (the builders of the first Internet routers) who one might reasonably have expected to hold the And, assuming that MCC.COM is Masscomp Computer Corporation, the top five are all out of Massachusetts. Going down the list, one sees the names of most of the computer companies that existed in the mid-1980s in addition to (mostly) other tech companies of one sort or another. Data General (DG.COM), who I used to work for, is about midway down the list.


Via Simon Phipps.

Friday, May 25, 2007

One Thing Netflix Doesn't Do Well

In general, I'm a big fan of Netflix. I'm usually pretty flexible about which movie I watch on a given evening and am happy to choose between what I have checked out from Netflix and what I've purchased and not yet watched. It's certainly not a case of saving money relative to other options. Rather, it's the convenience of sitting down at my computer, listing out what I want to see, and having the rest happen automagically. Over the past few years, I've become of great fan of using the Internet, auto-pay systems, etc. to relegate as many tasks as possible to the "don't have to think about" bin. But back to Netflix.

Another nice thing about Netflix is that if I run across an interesting-looking film on a Website or a Very Short List daily email (very recommended by the way), I can just pop it onto my (long) Netflix queue, for future consideration if nothing else. I was in just such a mode as I was reading an interesting article over on Filmwad called Theatrical Cuts vs Director's Cuts when I was reminded of something that has annoyed me a bit about Netflix in the past. Namely, it often offers just one version of a movie.

To take an example from the article, Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) isn't available from Netflix; only an earlier, apparently out of print version is. There are counterexamples; Netflix offers both cuts of Superman II. However, in my experience, Netflix tends to have just one version of a given film.

I speculate that this decision has more to do with keeping things simple than anything else. After all, Netflix is one of the ultimate "long tail" companies; a few more copies of films popular enough to even merit new, alternative versions would, I assume, be barely a blip in Netflix' DVD inventory. Rather, my guess is that they don't want to risk confusing the average user of their site with film fan minutiae about different director cuts or alternative endings. So, for the most part, they just stock a single version. (As far as I know, Netflix also just stocks the Widescreen version even when a Fullscreen version is also available.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Does Photojournalism Matter?

In his recent post Elegy for the Photojournalist, Nick Carr writes:

I would agree with Gillmor that this trend [citizen photojournalism] seems inevitable, but I'm not so sanguine about its effects. It's not that I have anything against amateur photographers (being one myself); it's that I think we'll find - are finding already, in fact - that while amateur work may be an adequate economic substitute for professional work, there are things that pros can accomplish that amateurs cannot. We see in the decline of professional photojournalism how the Internet's "abundance" can end up constricting our choices as well as expanding them.

My initial reaction was that Nick had overstated the case. His familiar "Does IT Matter?" has always struck me as a similarly (and, I suspect, somewhat deliberately) overstated argument. The underlying trends are quite real. But the logical extrapolations are a fair bit exaggerated.

Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired, has an extensive and thought-provoking comment in which he makes at least a partial counterargument. Among other things, he notes that:

However, while much of what pro photographers once did can be done as well by the greater collective of amateurs, not everything can. Very specific assignments -- a portrait of a famous singer, or the inside of a new designer's home, or a story on elephant trackers -- simply are not going to show up on Flickr. It takes too much coordination, money, and expertise to pull these off.

But the implications of "crowdsourcing" and the changing nature of the news business on photojournalism are, at a minimum, complicated. Kevin goes on to note, among other things, that Flickr (and presumably iStockphoto and the like as well) will become more common for most uses. To a large degree, it will increasingly only be situations where access is controlled for some reason or another (you can't give everyone a photo pass to the Superbowl)--or where a very specific set of images is needed--you need to hire someone, which is to say you need a pro photographer. And, of course, some photographers will through talent or whatever be able to create images consistently recognized as superior--even if the "masses" have similar access to a scene.

Kevin also notes that "The truth is that there were never very many professional make-their-living photographers." In a sense, we've been having this argument for a long time. Life Magazine died recently. But it died before in 1972, prior to which it had essentially defined the category of photojournalism. The competition that time wasn't crowdsourcing. Rather it was the more immediate impact of television news taking the place of a weekly magazine of photographic journalism.

At the end of the day, I'm not (yet) convinced of Nick's argument. There always has been and always will be a tendency for for-profit businesses (especially if those profits are being squeezed) to substitute free, even if it brings the quality down just a bit. And both businesses and individuals have long had to compete with all sorts of free content and with people whose hobby skirts very close to another's profession.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

IRIS for Flickr

Bob Brewin's keynote here at JavaOne is San Francisco yesterday was packed with loads of cool demos. For example, a geospatial browser based on NASA's World Wind (using the Java OpenGL API) deservedly received lots of applause. From a personal perspective though, the one that really stood out for me was IRIS, a "rich client" app that uses Java applets to browse and edit photos stored on the Flickr online photo service. There seems to be some roughness around the edges with the login process (try just browsing a user's photos if you have trouble actually logging in) and Sun's servers hosting the project got hammered by the load after the demo. However, the application is just an amazing advance over Flickr's own fairly crude tools such as Flickr Uploader. It uses Java graphics capabilities to full effect to both edit and show the photos in a Flickr album. What's more, the user doesn't have to explicitly download anything.

Congrats to Ken Russell and his co-workers for putting together this very impressive demo.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Best of Science Fiction Film and TV

Many moons ago, I put together a list of my favorite science fiction books. It's a bit long in the tooth at this point; I'll have to update it one of these days. I'm not as hardcore a science fiction fan as I used to be but I still enjoy the genre when the work is quality which, of course, is far less frequently than otherwise.

I mention this because the other day I ran across a pointer to a best-25 of the last 25 years science fiction projects (LA-speak for TV series and films). I don't find most of these things particularly worthy of comment or even the time to read. They're typically either grindingly conventional or just weird. This one (from Entertainment Weekly of all the bizarre places) however was really quite good. It had a few unconventional choices (such as Galaxy Quest) that I might not have thought to put on such a list, but I actually pretty much agree with them. In addition, one of the nice things about the 25-year cutoff for the list was that it excluded various films and TV shows that were inarguably influential but that are perhaps best enjoyed with a degree of "historical perspective."

So, no real disagreements. Just a few quibbles.

On the film side, I'm not a huge fan of E.T. but I appreciate that it was a hugely popular film. And, on the absolutely opposite pole of filmic character, I didn't really buy into the unremitting darkness of last year's Children of Men. But it's clearly a well-made film. I would probably be inclined to include other films instead however. Possibilities that come to mind are Jurassic Park, Minority Report, eXistenZ, The Abyss, and perhaps a superhero double feature of Batman Begins and Spiderman II. (Superman II misses the 25-year cutoff.)

I have even less disagreement on the TV side. I would be inclined to list Star Trek: Deep Space 9--a darker, deeper, and more serialized series in many ways--along with Star Trek: The Next Generation. (A number of the entries group related projects.) And I'd like to find a spot for Babylon 5. The series has its problems. Some of the acting is pretty stiff and the computer graphics are obviously computer graphics. Uncertainties associated with its renewal at various spots also made the final season feel a bit tacked on. But the strong writing, well-developed story arc, and complex backstory made this series worth watching. It does take some work to get into and, at the end of the day, isn't up to the standards that a newer series such as Battlestar Galactica has set so caveat emptor.

In any case, pretty much everything on the list is worth watching. If you're a science fiction fan, check it out.

Friday, May 04, 2007

THE NUMBER and the law

I normally stay away from commenting, linking to, or otherwise getting involved when tsunami-class memes envelop the Internet. I'm talking, of course, about the AACS decryption key and the subsequent takedown notices associated with it. However, I did want to take the time to point to a post that deserves to be at the top of the pile.

09 f9: A Legal Primer from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is succinct, readable, and provides a nice overview of the legal landscape associated with this firestorm. It's important because probably 90 percent of what's been posted about this assumes that the takedown notices are about copyright. However, as the EFF explains:

Is the key copyrightable? It doesn't matter. The AACS-LA takedown letter is not claiming that the key is copyrightable, but rather that it is (or is a component of) a circumvention technology. The DMCA does not require that a circumvention technology be, itself, copyrightable to enjoy protection.

The EFF also notes that:

The AACS-LA presumably would argue that the key is a "component" or "part" of a "technology" that circumvents AACS. Moreover, AACS-LA would likely argue that the key was "primarily ... produced" to circumvent AACS, that is has no other commercially significant purpose, and that it is being "marketed" for use in a circumvention technology. The takedown letters seem to take the position that both the poster and the hosting provider are engaged in "trafficking."

The AACS-LA will also doubtless point to the DMCA cases brought against 2600 magazine for posting the DeCSS code back in 2000 (EFF was counsel to the defendant). In that case, both the district court and court of appeals concluded that posting DeCSS to a website violated the DMCA.

In other words, you may disagree with the current state of US copyright law as embodied in the DMCA. You may think the the DeCSS (the encryption code for non-high def DVDs)case was wrongly decided. You may think that much of what the content producers do in attempts to protect their intellectual property is stupid and counter-productive. I'd agree with more than a little of that. However, as the EFF explains, the legal effort to quash the publication of this number may be vain but, as a matter of current law, it's probably on reasonable ground.

Which isn't to say that it should be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Links for 04-17-2007

Sorry for slightly wacky formatting. My script that pulls things off of won't seem to pull today's posts for some reason.

Interesting take on Blogger "zombies" by James Governor: "you really don’t want to be in a position in the five to ten year time-frame where everyone blames you for every network security breach, even if its nothing to do with you. Just ask Microsoft."

The problem with overdoing the transparency.

Interesting stats here: Japanese is the largest language in the blogosphere with 37% of posts in Japanese. Only .16% of visits to YouTube, .2% of visits to Flickr and 4.59% of visits to Wikipedia are "participation visits". (That actually seems pretty good participation rate for Wikipedia.)

Now that's Internet time: YouTube went from zero to dominant market leader in just 6 weeks

Monday, April 16, 2007

Links for 04-16-2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Links for 04-13-2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kodak - Winds of Change

According to the person who posted this:
This is a commercial that was produced for internal use. But it has become so popular, especially with employees, that Kodak has released it for external viewing. It demonstrates that Kodak not only understands it's changing business but also has a sense of humor.

It's quite good. The cynic might be inclined to agree with this YouTube comment by luckyblank though:
Kodak's back indeed... abandoning market share, making knee-jerk marketing decisions, and so on, and so on... but they do know how to produce a funny, self-deprecating commercial when the chips are down and money's no object!

via James.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Om Malik writes in 5 lessons of the Photobucket fiasco: "Free is a tactic, not a business model, and has strings attached to it." (I'm not going to recapitulate the whole bruhaha here, but basically MySpace blocked Photobucket videos that had embedded ads.)

This is just another aspect of the "free API problem" that I wrote about last week and discussed in more detail in the context of January's Mashup Camp at MIT. Reliance on the good will of for-profit corporations is a dangerous page in anyone's business plan. If you're an arts program or a local theatre, perhaps the realities of the market are that you have to depend on the generosity of civic-minded business sponsors. But I sure wouldn't want to sell a business plan to a VC that rested on the hope that Rupert Murdoch's minions might not notice me.

Om Malik's other "rules":

Don’t depend too much on one partner, especially one you don’t have a formal relationship with. Or as one smart commentator writes, “One line of code from that 3rd party literally puts these guys out of business.”

  1. If you are going to depend on one partner, don’t make waves. Stay under the radar. I am sure bragging in Fortune didn’t help Photobucket’s case.
  2. Don’t lose sight of your own mantra. Photobucket said all along it was just a service provider, and didn’t care about page views on its own site. How it was going to scale and build its revenues, based on that model, is a tough question Photobucket didn’t ask itself in the early days.
  3. Pay to play and ensure longevity. Remember, even Google had to pay MySpace, and you the start-up are not that special.
  4. Free is a tactic, not a business model, and has strings attached to it.

[UPDATE: The facts in this particular case seem to be "fluid," but that doesn't matter for any of the basic principles involved.]

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Perils of Free APIs has an interesting post that discusses the perils of depending on a lot of the free APIs out there from the likes of Amazon.
What Alexaholic, Fraxlk, Crappo and Deflinger have proven is that only a delusional sucker would build an application on a publicly traded corporation’s API and expect to reap commercial success.  In other words, if and when you wish to use a company’s API, understand that it’s a short-lived, double-edged solution.  It’s a hobby.  If you don’t see that from Day 1, get out of the business landscape because you will regret the time and energy you spent on your project.
This is exactly the sort of thing that a bunch of us were discussing back in January at Mashup Camp as I discussed in this post of mine at the time.
if you’re serious about building a business on a mapping mashup, “free” services may not be the way to go. At the least, you should have contingency plans in place to transition to a for-fee service either within the API provider or elsewhere. Providing quality of service guarantees likely requires having backup API providers where possible in any case.
Free is nice to play around with. But if you're going to build a business (or even invest a substantial amount of time to develop), it's pretty darn risky to depend on the goodwill of a commercial entity who probably hasn't even published any definitive terms of service around their APIs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Format Wars c. 2007

I confess to finding it really hard to understand the thought processes that allowed us to reach the current state of affairs in high-def DVD. Yes, I know a lot of the history and all that but the current impasse is just so destructive to everyone involved. I don't really buy the thought that the format will be made irrelevant by movie downloads (too complicated, too relatively pricey). However, I have no doubts that very little is happening on the high-def front because consumers don't want to invest in a format that could end up the loser. I suspect, at the end of the day, it will take dual-format readers/writers to make the issue largely irrelevant as with DVD+ and DVD-.
But forget the anecdotal take on the situation. Here's real data from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings from the Wall Street Journal:
WSJ: How important is renting HD-DVD and Blu-ray movies, the two new high-definition disc formats, for Netflix?
Hastings: Tragically small. We have all the titles on HD-DVD and Blu-ray. They're running neck-and-neck, but the total volume is less than 1% of our volume. Consumers want high-def, but the perception of a format war is freezing consumers out. Until that perception stops, very few consumers will try the new high-def discs.
via Hacking NetFlix.

Lasting Appeals

Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune brings us some unexpected statistics from Netflix that show less-watched and less-awarded films now beating out better-known ones for renters and buyers.
“Box office success doesn’t mean it’s going to have a lasting critical appeal, and even an Academy Award is no guarantee,” said Patricia King Hanson, executive editor of the American Film Institute’s Catalog of Feature Films. “Some of the films that are going to be very high on the all-time greatest lists are likely to never have won an Academy Award.”
As both the article and some of the commenters on Hacking Netflix note, there are a number of possible explanations for this data. More people may have seen the blockbusters in the theatres and now are catching up on the "smaller" movies via rental. Or they tend to buy the DVDs of big-name popular films down at Best Buy. Some popular movies, e.g. The Sixth Sense, don't lend themselves as well to repeat viewing as others.
I think there's probably some validity to those explanations. I'm a Netflix subscriber but I picked up The Departed at loss-leader pricing when it came out. So there's one data point (i.e. anecdote) in favor of the counter-explanations.
On the other hand, there are more than a few cases where Oscar winners have proven to be ephemeral favorites compared to some of the also-rans. This piece from The Guardian entitled "Oscar's Greatest Crimes" recaps some of the worst offenses. My all-time vote goes to Apocalypse Now's loss to Kramer vs. Kramer. Whatever the former's flaws it remains a well-admired film whereas Kramer vs. Kramer set a high-water mark for ordinariness (which only lasted a year before the aptly-named Ordinary People eclipsed it.)

Getting Power Right

One wouldn't think at this point in history that getting power outlets right would be such an all-defeating challenge for hotels. Especially, brand-spanking new hotels on the Boston waterfront right next door to the almost equally new convention center. One wouldn't think.
They tried, mind you. There are a couple of sockets thoughtfully provided in the desk lamp so that the usual exercise of crawling around under the desk is avoided. So a "B," at any rate for effort. However, as I've written before, it's execution that's today's thing. The concept by itself doesn't cut it.
And, you see, someone then thought it would be smart to plug said light into a switched outlet which, in the way of such things, means that the power to the sockets is turned off along with the light when one goes to sleep for the night. Leaving no small number of analysts staying at said hotel powerless laptops in the morning. Might want to rethink that. And the clam chowder had to be heated up at their high concept restaurant too.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Single

This is one of the best summaries that I've read about the current situation in the music business from James Robertson's Smalltalk Tidbits, Industry Rants:
The music industry reaction to this is that digital sales are both salvation and damnation. They would like to translate the business model that's been in use for CD's and LP's onto the new world, but what's actually happening is a return to the 50's and 60's - the single is back.

This bothers both executives and artists. Artists have become used to the idea of producing an entire album as an artistic "statement", and executives have gotten used to the revenue stream produced by full album sales. iTunes threw a gear into that set of wheels, and they are still in denial over it. In a very real sense, the DRM fight is a symptom of the larger problem - the unwillingness to accept the change in business conditions.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Links for 03-15-07

Monday, March 12, 2007

Links for 03-12-07

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

DMD Cameras

As I've complained about previously, there's a dearth of a certain class of digital camera. When I bought my Canon G5 a couple of years back it seemed like a step in the right direction:

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.

However, the G7 represented a step backwards in some ways (e.g. removing RAW support and the G5's sometimes handily-pivoting LCD display) and didn't make any real advance in any of the areas where it was still lacking from my perspective--shutter lag, slow focus, narrow f-stop range (albeit with a relatively fast lens), so-so optical viewfinder (at least it has one). Instead, the G7's advances were the ones that look good on spec sheets to the unsophisticated--especially the overexposed megapixels.

Just to be clear, I'm not looking for a Leica here. I'm looking for a moderately-priced, modern analog to film camera like the Olympus XA, Canon QL-17, or Yashica T4. (One can argue about the exact specs, but that's the general category. Reasonable levels of manual control, pocketable at at least some level, and not overly complicated.) I own a couple Olympus XA's and a Canon--although I haven't used them in a while and their light meters aren't too accurate any longer. These would typically be second cameras for folks who are serious about photography--probably SLR users for the most part.

I'd been meaning to write about this for a while, but I got stimulated by this post by Mike Johnston over at The Online Photographer in which he lists 8 "Digital Cameras We Need." I confess to not seeing anything on the list that I'd rush out immediately and buy until he hits the top slot:

1. The DMD. I've ranted about this before, so enuff said. I'm amazed—really, honestly amazed—that we still don't have this. It's so obvious, so crucial for street photography and some kinds of art photography, and it would require absolutely zero in the way of new technical development. It could easily be put together with existing technology. Whoever does it first will instantly create a new digital camera category. I hereby offer my services, free, to any camera company that wants me to spec out what it ought to be. Just because it hasn't existed heretofore doesn't mean it shouldn't—to paraphrase Al Gore, all that's needed is the will to do it, and that's a renewable resource.

Mike points over a longer article on the subject that he wrote over at the Luminous Landscape. I might argue some of the specifics--e.g. the lack of a zoom lens--depending upon the tradeoffs involved. (Likewise, on camera flash is pretty useless as the main light source, but can be handy for fill.) And might wonder if we couldn't even have an option to focus manually. (Retro is in, you know.) But I fully endorse his bottom line which he summarizes as: "Bazillion digital point-and-shoots currently inundating market: tiny sensor, slow zoom. DMD: large sensor, fast prime."

Read the whole thing.

Links for 03-06-07

Monday, March 05, 2007

Links for 03-05-07

Friday, March 02, 2007

Outside Magazine Podcast on Mt. Hood Climbers

I normally stick close to topics at least peripherally connected to IT here. This one probably couldn't be more far afield. However, as I do some mountaineering, this topic is of interest to me and this seemed a particularly good take on the media frenzy around the climbers lost on Mt. Hood last December.

The bottom line is that this event clearly had a very sad outcome but:

  • Climbing in winter is not some whacked-out activity
  • These climbers were very experienced but (presumably) something unexpected happened
  • Accidents happen
  • Oregon Search and Rescue deals with more mushroom pickers than climbers

I don't see the text of Outside Magazine Senior editor Dennis Lewon's column online but there is a podcast. Well worth listening to.

Customized Content Presentation and fishWrap

One of the little Web 2.0 mini-trends going on is the rise of the customized portal. It's not new, of course; you've long been able to customize your My Yahoo! page for example. But there's been a fair explosion of AJAX-y and Flash-y (i.e. highly interactive) sites such as Netvibes and Pageflakes. (There are many others as well.)

But my interest here isn't in discussing these myriad sites per se. Rather, it's to ponder a bit the question of how content gets presented and how much control we exert (and want to exert) over that presentation. I mention these new portals because they very clearly combine layout with content. They're not just a customized choice of information source. They're also a customized presentation of that information. Contrast this, for example, with the typical RSS reader which deliberately extracts the content from its design context.

All this was brought to mind by a recent discussion with Pascal Chenais over at his fishWrap blog. The name of the blog comes from an early MIT Media Lab project in personalized news delivery. As Pascal describes it:

When fishWrap was created it was meant to help incoming MIT freshmen transition into their new community. MIT has a residence orientation period in which the freshmen acquaint themselves to the campus and pick where they will live. In the early 90s this involved non-stop activities in which the dorms and independent living groups would put their best face forward. MIT kept track of where the freshmen traveled through a system called Clearing House. For the freshmen this is a particularly intense and confusing period. To help them with this process a group of freshmen in my Newspapers of the Future seminar proposed using the Media Lab’s personalized news systems to prepare a personalized editions for each of the incoming freshman. Each edition would reflect the things they had experienced on campus the previous day using data from Clearing House and news from their home town. Moreover, the system could include news about majors they were interested and current events. These personalized hardcopy editions were to be delivered to the freshmen each morning to their temporary residence.

Apropos the subject at hand, fishWrap included some very innovative work around optimizing layouts. Pascal notes that the intended use of fishWrap pretty much demanded a physical implementation. After all, there weren't a whole lot of WiFi hotspots in 1993! In addition, as he notes in this follow-up post, even leaving aside that practical detail, the early Web just wasn't a very design-oriented place. Especially before the advent of Cascading Style Sheets (which made it easier to create a consistent look to pair with HTML content), many designers were less than fond of presenting work through the lens of HTML--preferring technologies such as PDF that gave them, the content creator, control over the ultimate output.

It's unclear to me that, for the most part, we will ever be nearly as focused on layout and presentation for our daily, hourly, and minutely information streams as a print newspaper--much less a stylish magazine such as Wired. However, as the tools improve, it does seem more than conceivable that we'll improve on raw data feeds--if only to better our mental filtering, comprehension, retention, and organization.

Which is what good design is supposed to do anyway.

Links for 03-02-07

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Links for 02-27-07

Monday, February 26, 2007

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Friday, February 23, 2007

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

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