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Kodak Disc Film and Camera
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Are cell phone photos the 110/disc/APS photos of our day?

I’ve heard it said that the best camera is the one you have with you. Sure, any picture is better than no picture, but with cell phones today many people don’t ever bother to bring a better camera, even if it’s small and fits in their pocket.

Kodak Disc Film and Camera
Kodak Disc Film and Camera (Wikimedia Commons)

Obsolete Film Formats

The reasons 110 film, disc film and APS film (known as Kodak Advantix, Fuji Nexia, etc.) were created were all more or less the same – to allow the creation of smaller cameras that used more convenient film cartridges. Cartridges of various kinds allowed consumers to take pictures without worrying about advancing the film, and take the film out of the camera without having to rewind the film back into the film canister.

These formats were popular because 35mm film cameras were more complicated to use, and more prone to making mistakes (opening the camera before rewinding the film, for example). The biggest problem with these formats is that in order to make their cameras smaller, the size of the negatives are necessarily smaller than 35mm film. Smaller negatives means lower quality and higher grain.

The last format APS, was the highest quality of these formats, yet still lower than 35mm quality. APS film was introduced in 1996 and discontinued in 2004. The life of APS film was short because it was released just as digital cameras came into existence (the Apple Quicktake 100 was released in 1994). As digital cameras became more popular and cheaper, they surpassed the convenience factor of APS film, and there was almost no reason to buy APS film anymore.

It’s not so easy to get prints from these older formats. Your best best would be to get your old film scanned now. 110 and APS film can be scanned by many more places than disc film, so consider yourself lucky on two counts if your photos are not on disc film (bad quality and hard to scan).

Amazingly, the 35mm film cassette, introduced in 1934, is still in use. Additionally, the ‘full frame’ digital camera sensor is the same size as a single frame of 35mm film.

As good as cell phone cameras are…

For every person who says cell phone camera photos are bad, there is certainly someone who will show an amazing photo taken using their cell phone. Apple’s 1.24.14 ad which coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Mac, and was filmed on a single day around the globe using only iPhone 5s phones is amazing, and probably made some people think all they needed to be the next Spielberg was an iPhone 5s. Watching the Behind the Scenes video, however, should firmly bring everyone back down to earth as to how much skill, equipment (gyroscopic stabilization, microphones and lighting) and personnel were needed to make the video:

The truth is that many camera phones are capable of beautiful photos, when used in ideal situations. Ideal meaning the ideal amount and direction of light, not overly quick motion, time to focus, etc. The reality is of course usually much different. You might be able to touch to focus on many phones, but will you have time to do so before the photo you wanted disappears? Might you take the picture before the camera focuses properly? How many of you with state-of-the-art smart phones take blurry photos?

Besides the size of the sensor, the lack of optical zoom, the inability to focus quickly, etc. another big problem with cell phone cameras is the lack of a powerful flash. There just isn’t a very good range possibly from such a small flash.

Parallel History

For all of the children of the 70s, 80s, and 90s whose parents chose the convenience of cartridge film formats, whose childhoods are documented in grainy photographs that are extremely difficult to print or scan today, the children growing up today will in a somewhat parallel fashion, feel your pain. While there are likely to be many more photos taken on parents’ cell phones today than on film cameras of yesteryear, and while digital files can last forever (although back up people – a friend of mine just lost 8 years of photos in a hard drive failure), there are going to be a lot of photos taken on cell phones that are blurry and grainy (technically it’s noisy, not grainy, but let’s just call it grainy), and generally just bad quality.

How many times did you think you got a great shot on your camera just to realize when reviewing it later that it was blurry, or the light was so bad that the image came out super grainy (sometimes just as bad as disc film)? How many times have you just copied your photos to a folder somewhere not to review them for years, and then find out how grainy and/or blurry the photos are?

 

Noisy Photo
Zoomed-in cell phone photo

I was reminded of these facts recently at a presentation done with the first graders in my daughter’s school. Imagine a massive dimly-lit rented theater space with hundreds of parents and grandparents seated stadium style, shooting photos from a considerable distance from the stage, their child/grandchild a little dot in the frame of their cell phone or tablet. Almost everyone at this recent event was shooting photos with their phones, with a sprinkling of tablets, a small number of compact digital cameras, and a handful, maybe, of DSLRs showing up. Since cell phone cameras don’t have optical zoom, when those parents shot photos of their children they digitally zoomed to get the picture of their child, further pixelating the images. Out of the thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of images generated in that single event by all of those cell phones, how many images are actually decent quality? My photo, from the mentioned event, was taken near the front row. Imagine what the photos from the parents 20 rows back look like.

Basically, it’s been over 40 years since film cartridge formats were introduced, and somehow we’re still spitting out grainy photos for convenience’s sake.

p.s. I did take the photo above, but just to record the GPS data to sync later with my photos taken on my dedicated camera. It doesn’t have GPS, but I can sync the GPS from the above photo into the photos from my other camera via software (I use MyTracks for this purpose).

Just for fun

Just for fun, here’s an advertisement for Kodak disc film from what must be 1982, when the film was introduced:

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Stephen Wolfram
Video

Stephen Wolfram never disappoints…

No one will come away from this video amazed at how humble Stephen Wolfram is, but that’s not the point of the video. It’s an introduction to a forthcoming programming language from Stephen Wolfram, named appropriately enough Wolfram Language, that attempts to build on the past 30 years of his work creating Mathematica, his book A New Kind of Science (humbly referred to on his site as Wolfram Science), and Wolfram|Alpha. It takes the knowledge and algorithms built in to Wolfram|Alpha and makes them available in a symbolic programming language. The demo is fairly entertaining (considering its topic) and it should be very interesting to see what  is done with this language once it’s available to the general public.

For more information, see the Wolfram Language section of the Wolfram Research web site.

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Israeli Companies Purchases
Image

Jon Medved interviewed on recent Israeli exits

Great interview with Jonathan Medved, on Bloomberg TV in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress (MWC), about Israeli companies and the many large exits recently, both acquisitions (shown in the graphic above) and the recent IPO of Wix.

Last time I saw Jonathan Medved was actually in Barcelona at an earlier MWC when he was CEO of Vringo. Now he’s running the very interesting OurCrowd crowdfunding firm, where accredited investors can invest a minimum of $10,000 into startups (a VC for the masses – or at least the accredited masses). Take a look:


or view it on Bloomberg’s web site.

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Stabilized Biking
Video

What happens when you try to video mountain biking using your phone?

This is just a fun post of some video I filmed last week while mountain biking in my hometown of Modi’in. This trail is on a hill behind a major highway. There are a few things I’d like to point out about the video.

I filmed it using an iPhone 4S mounted very securely to my bike using a machined aluminum Rokform bike mount that screws into the steering tube. The mount and the phone do not move at all. The blurry parts and wavy video that makes it look like I’m on an acid trip must have something to do with the CMOS sensor in the camera. A GoPro this is not. I don’t know how current iPhones perform with extreme video situations like this, but I hope they’re better.

The stabilization correction is done using software called Elasty. It normally would remove the black edges, making the video rectangular as it was originally (losing some of the edges), but I think the rotating box is more dramatic and gives you a better sense of what the stabilization software is doing. Youtube added the extra black space on the left and right sides of the video, I guess everything they do needs to fit into their box.

That’s it, just a bit of pre-weekend fun.

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Viber Sticker Store
Video

What the heck are stickers? A half billion dollar and growing business…

I’ve noticed something when talking to friends about messaging. If they’re not from Asia (yes, technically I live in Asia, but Israel is not Asian in that sense) they don’t get what stickers are all about. Why would they really? In the United States, and I believe Europe as well, stickers are more or less irrelevant. I would venture to guess that most Americans think stickers are just fancy emoticons.

Facebook Messenger Sticker Store
Facebook Messenger Sticker Store

Facebook added stickers to it’s messenger app, but although it’s called the ‘Sticker Store’ it appears they’re all free. Perhaps this is a first step towards commercialization in the future, but I think if you get something for free you don’t really appreciate it, and in this case it probably means most Facebook users ignore this feature. It’s also, as I mentioned, viewed as just bigger emoticon.

Viber, which just sold a couple of days ago for $900M to the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, implemented a sticker store as its first monetization strategy, followed by connecting calls to the traditional phone network.

Stickers, in fact, are available on all the major messaging platforms with the solitary exception of WhatsApp. See the nice chart from Mark Watts-Jones on the 10 ways messaging apps monetize at the end of my earlier article on messaging, and you’ll notice that stickers are the only monetization strategy used by every single messaging app (except, again, WhatsApp). No other monetization strategy is so universal.

The question is for a feature that most people in the US hardly understand, or rather misunderstand, how is it such an important money-maker in other parts of the world? For the most part, it is a cultural difference. In the US, people like cute things like Hello Kitty, and perhaps buy Hello Kitty backpacks for their daughter in first grade. For the most part, however, Americans don’t OBSESS over Hello Kitty. In fact I would say that in general Americans aren’t really into cute at all, at least not as adults. Every country has a different cultural view of cute marketing. In Asian countries, especially Japan, it is a major force. Perhaps just slightly less so in countries like China and South Korea. It’s no surprise then that stickers, which are for the most part super-cute, have found a market in Asia, and in the Asian-origin messaging applications like WeChat, KakaoTalk, LINE and the Rakuten-purchased Viber. It’s also possible that stickers took off in Asia first due to the difficulty in typing in their native languages on cell phones. Inserting an animated sticker can convey a person’s emotions or feelings quickly that would take a lot of work to send via text.

Viber Sticker Store
Viber Sticker Store

So if you come from a culture where cute is paramount, and then selling cute makes sense. The next leap, however, is a little harder for people not used to it to understand. Watch the video above. It’s a television commercial for LINE (a Japanese messaging company), broadcast in the Philippines. Do you notice the difference between how they’re using stickers in the commercial as opposed to how you may have used a emoticon in the US? Emoticons are usually punctuation. They end the conversation. Perhaps there’s a little back and forth with them, but it’s usually short and at the end of the conversation. In the commercial above, the stickers ARE the conversation.

Imagine for a moment that you had to converse using pictographs only. Chances are you’d want a lot of pictographs to choose from, right? Actually, pictograph isn’t strictly speaking the correct word. A pictograph is an image that represents a word or words. Many stickers would be better described as representing emotions, not words. In addition, stickers are frequently animated. So if you had to communicate using stickers, you’d probably want a lot to choose from, which would explain the estimated half billion dollar market that currently exists for stickers.

Will that number go up or down? Right now Facebook is offering brand-name stickers from companies like Disney and Dreamworks for free. Are they receiving funding from those media companies, or are they eating the cost? How does that effect the ability of companies like LINE and Viber to charge for sticker packs? What if Rakuten starts giving away sticker packs to try to hurt LINE’s revenue stream as they start implementing their e-commerce revenue streams into Viber? It’s an interesting market, with a lot of disruption coming in the near future.

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Standard

The first public introduction of the Macintosh was in Boston

1984 Mac Introduction at BCS

In 1984, Apple famously announced the Macintosh on January 22 in the iconic Ridley Scott directed ‘1984‘ commercial during the Superbowl. Not well known is that the ad was actually shown a few months earlier to a group of computer dealers behind closed doors. The ad announced the imminent launch of the Mac on January 24th, 1984.The Mac was indeed introduced on the 24th, at the Apple Annual Shareholder’s Meeting, and was to become available publicly hours later.

Video of the shareholder’s meeting was found on a Betamax tape in 2004, and released online in 2005. For a bit of history behind what happens in that video, see Andy Hertzfeld’s great description on his folklore.org site called The Times They Are A-Changin’.

The initial introduction was to Apple’s shareholders who went to Cupertino, CA, and was not open to the public. The first public introduction of the Macintosh was actually six days later, across the country in Boston, MA. It took place at a meeting of the Boston Computer Society (BCS). BCS was run by a 20-year old college student, Jonathan Rotenberg, who had founded the society in 1977 at the age of 13. At its peak, it was the largest computer user organization in the world.

I myself spent a summer volunteering for the BCS in the late 1980s – biking 12 miles round trip each day to and from their office in downtown Boston. I remember Jonathan Rotenberg, and seeing lots of people come through the office there, including most memorably Richard Stallman. I’m not sure why Richard Stallman sticks out in my mind, but he’s an interesting person and I remember next seeing him in 1998 at the first LinuxWorld Conference in San Jose, CA (where he spoke on a panel about the ‘future’ of Linux with Eric Raymond, Guido Van Rollum, Linus Torvalds and Larry Wall).

In any case, it is not thus surprising that when Steve Jobs wanted to introduce the Macintosh at a meeting open to the public, he did so at a meeting run by the Boston Computer Society. It was the pre-eminent computer user organization, and if you watch the presentation from the shareholder’s meeting, you’ll notice this one is similar in script, but very different in presentation. In the shareholder’s meeting, Jobs is presenting to, well, shareholders. There is a technical presentation, but also discussion of cash flow and other mundane information. This presentation is to the users. The enthusiasts. The people who were going to buy the Mac. You can see that Jobs is more in his element here, preaching to the choir, and that this is perhaps the first of what Jobs would much later become famous for – his slick keynote presentations.

Of particular interest is the Q&A session in the second half where users asked all kinds of questions of Jobs and the whole Macintosh team. I liked this answer at one point: “We hope to put a Macintosh in a book, with flat-panel technology” – well Jobs did in fact do that, although quite a few years later.

Here’s the video:

For some background on this video, and how it was restored and put together, see the article on TIME magazine’s web site.

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Google Glucose Sensing Contact Lens
Video

The end of paper?

Do the success of tablets signal the end of paper?

 

I think we can never truly understand understand what the future will hold, even if we can predict its trajectory. Ray Kurzweil speaks often about how technology grows exponentially. Not only is technology progressing quickly, but the rate at which it is progressing is increasing. This is counter to how many people perceive it. This is best outlined in Kurzweil’s paper The Law of Accelerating Returns. I bring this up because he posits that the 100 years of this century will see the equivalent of 20,000 years of growth at the growth rate at the turn of the century. In other words, even at the growth rate that existed in 2000, it would take 20,000 years to reach the equivalent growth if kept constant, compared to the accelerating growth that really exists and will occur in this century. So how will we consume the written word in 10 years? in 50 years? in 100 years? Can you perceive what the equivalent of 20,000 years of progresss will mean?

One can argue now about the tactile difference in reading a paper book versus reading on an iPad, but what about when you don’t need to feel anything? Perhaps some day we’ll have retina displays literally in our retinas? We won’t need any device to pop up the text of a book and read it clearly. That doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. If Google has Glass now, and we’re experiencing exponential growth, then presumably it won’t be long before the capabilities of Glass are in a contact lens, then in the eye itself. We are already capable of surgically replacing the lens within the eye. Currently that is used for corrective surgery (an alternative to the more common LASIK), but what if at the same time you were correcting your vision you added Google Glass capabilities? What if we could literally pull up any book every written, in any language, and pop it up in our view at will? That changes the tactile argument quite a bit.

Google Glucose Sensing Contact Lens
Google’s Glucose-sensing Contact Lens (Google Blog)

I’ve long been a book collector. I used to spend hours wandering the aisles of bookstores looking for rare and obscure books to add to my collection. Finding bargains in the early days was a real pleasure. A 28 volume dictionary from 1889 I found in a barn in New Hampshire was a real steal. The Internet mostly changed both the wandering around bookstores, and certainly finding bargains. If I want a rare book today, I usually search online first. Bookfinder.com, Alibris.com, Abebooks.com, etc. Every bookstore, from the biggest to the smallest one-person-in-a-barn bookstore is today hooked up to these sites. Many of the more popular older books are spammed (bammed?) into these online listings as print-on-demand books. Many of these same books are also available for free on Google Books.

It’s a different world, but certainly whether new or old almost every book one could want is available in some form online (at least in English). It’s only a matter of time before every book ever published will be online (some for free, some for pay). I’ll be the first to point out that most of the mass-scanned books like those in Google Books are not high quality. Reading one of those scans versus reading a real book is not even close. However, that’s something that can be fixed over time. Most people wouldn’t want to read a real 200 year old book either – the pages might be crumbly, the paper brown (lowering contrast), etc. Google did the best they could under the constraints of the technology when they did it. Eventually those books will either be scanned better, or converted into a format that uses real text layed out properly, scalable, and with all the features we expect in ebooks today. It’s nice to be able search a book, add comments, copy and paste text, etc. I still like the tactile feel of reading a paper book, but at some point the advantages of the digital versions will outweigh the tactile difference. What happens to my hundreds (maybe thousands) of books then? Will my children care? Will a library even accept them as a donation? Will there be physical libraries?

There is some irony that in a time when publishing a book is easier than its ever been, and self-publishing is no longer just a vanity pursuit, that paper books are heading the way of the rotary phone and Betamax. Of course people can publish straight to ebook, and skip paper altogether, but I imagine most people today who want to publish a book would feel that was some kind of fake, along the lines of straight-to-video movies. We don’t really consider them quality movies, so why would we consider straight-to-ebook books real books? Of course as time goes on we’ll get past that (the books, not the movies).

One big winner in the ebook revolution would seem to be the textbook publishing industry. I’ve always been personally offended by the tactics of textbook publishers, who release new ‘editions’ with minor changes every year in an effort to eliminate the second-hand market. Now, with etextbooks, they can link a book to an individual without the ability to sell it to a second party. Once they leave paper behind (and textbook publishers will do it as soon as possible) they no longer need to invest the money in making yearly changes. They no longer need to worry about second-hand sales. It’s win-win for textbook publishers.

In the end, the real question is will we reach a point where publishing a paper book becomes too expensive? As demand for paper books declines, will the cost skyrocket? Inevitably it must, although that is probably in my children’s timeline more than my own. As the video above rightly illustrates, there will always be use for certain kinds of paper.

What do you think the future of the printed book will be?

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