In our Brooklyn neighborhood, retail is done at the personal level by entrepreneurs in storefronts on the avenue, not way out of town at giant, globalized, mall-clotting chain stores. This season, three familiar stores have gone out of business, made obsolete by the changing technologies, market dynamics and brutal business models of digital communications.
We always talk about how technology has conquered time and distance, the three-dimensional world doesn’t hold us back as much. Everything we want is just a click away, but we lose the physical, tactile sense of life. I take lots more photos these days, but they’re JPEG files in my home server. I miss the boxes of snapshots I can sort and stack. The Amazon and Netflix robots recommend exactly the DVD titles I’m likely to want, but I miss browsing stacks of videocassettes and going to real widescreen movies. Services like podcasting and Pandora are breathtaking capabilities, but album covers and liner notes and even the fixed set of tracks on an album were important, designed parts of the music experience.
We’re still figuring out how to live well in this digitized society. People are obsessed by their Crackberries and spend way too much money on new TV sets. Eventually we’ll get it right, understand what’s important, learn which things to say No to. Another storefront just opened on the avenue, a big expansion of a whole-in-the-wall start-up that’s now doing a booming business in High Quality Stationery. Apparently, there’s a global trend towards nice writing papers and fancy envelopes.
Our visual environment keeps getting more beautiful. As digital imaging technologies mature, old time sign painters have been replaced by grand format digital systems that can blow up any PhotoShop image to the side of a ten story building. And as this picture of Times Square from Wired New York reveals, a lot of the best looking signs have the best looking people, often with the fewest pieces of clothing.
According to InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, the wide format outdoor graphics market is one of the fastest-growing areas of digital printing. By 2008, giant ink jets are expected to produce more than 1 billion square feet of outdoor graphics in North America.
The first thing we do when we get a new technology is try to produce the same old work with the shiny new equipment. Much of the discussion about digital cameras, for example, centers around how many pixels and how many features you need to duplicate the functions of a traditional film camera. That’s fine, but in the conference program for the Digital Photography + Imaging Expo, we’re also interested in the things that are uniquely possible with digital technology. Once there’s a computer inside your camera — once the images are stored in ones and zeroes — new applications are born: emailed snapshots, networked databases, desktop photo printing, wireless photoblogging, collaborative retouching, instant proofing and more.
One of the most beautiful new digital photography formats is the 360° panorama. Artists using Apple’s pioneering QuickTime VR and other image processing tools create virtual reality scenes that viewers can “walk through” on a PC screen. Award-winning panorama photographer Jook Leung and his team at 360VR Studio produce stunning panoramas and virtual tours that have to be viewed on a computer screen. (See the highlights on 360VR’s home page and on-line gallery, but be sure to have a robust PC with the right software installed.) This is a new photography application you can’t manage without digitization. While it’s possible for Leung to print panoramas to paper, it somehow seems like a 20th Century use of a 21st Century technology.
There are a lot of digital printing services on the Internet. You can get anything from 4″x6″ snapshots to 6′ wide grand format sign segments from your downloaded picture files. One of the coolest is Confoti.com which prints your photos onto 1″ diameter confetti disks. Send up to 10 different images and get a bag of custom confetti — 800 two-side custom image pieces plus 2,400 smaller generic pieces — for $16.95. That’s roughly nine 8-1/2″x11″ pages of two-sided color printer output die-cut and mixed with generic confetti. Confoti also prints stickers and durign the conventions this summer showcased both Bush and Kerry campaign confetti.
Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when they come for you? The dashboard video cameras that give us so much pleasure in syndicated televisions shows like “World’s Most Dangerous Police Chases” will soon have a handheld Camera 2. At the U.S. Maritime Security Expo in New York this month, Camlite Video Systems showed a cop-sized flashlight with a camera wirelessly linked to a Sony Video Walkman. (The whole rig is available in an attractive fanny pack option.) With a range of only 1,000 feet, a fairly grainy analog signal, and a price tag of upwards of $3,500, you probably won’t find this unit in many civilian applications. The brochure suggests DUI stops, searches and seizures, domestic distubances and “patron removal incidents.” But as part of the pervasive video surveillance trend, it may not be too long before somebody launches a late night show along the lines of “World’s Weirdest Cavity Searches.”
Working on the DPIEXPO Conference Program, we’ve been thinking a lot abut the inevitable digital camera: Five years from now, what will the computer in our cameras look like? > 14 megapixels, 100 GB removable drives or mini-DVDs, on-board PhotoShop Elements, WiFi and Bluetooth, voice interface, video and probably some video editing. You can go crazy projecting which features will happen when, but you can always be sure things will get faster, better and cheaper now that cameras are a digital information technology.
One of the best ideas for digital photography is a Global Positioning Satellite receiver built into the camera. Ricoh’s Caplio Pro G3, available from GeoSpatial Experts, supports a Compact Flash GPS receiver that adds latitude and longtitude to the standard time and date stamp. It’s a little pricey for now, but eventually it’ll be standard equipment on high-end prosumer cameras.
Coupled with smart digital asset management photo album software, someday you’ll be able to say: “Show me all the pictures I took on vacation in Italy, sorted by date and time.” Sure there are lots of enterprise and security apps for location-stamped images, but regular folk can use all the help we can get tagging the images with more than the digital camera’s useless “P00017.JPG” file naming conventions.
There’s no way to maintain decorum on the Internet. Anybody with a web browser and an attitude can pop your balloon of self-regard. And you can’t underestimate the self-control of the Web user. As our homeroom teacher used to say, “One smart alec can ruin it for all the nice boys and girls in class.”
The Smoking Gun, the excellent documentation and celebrity mug shot site owned by Court TV, ran a game on PhotoStamps, a trial project of Stamps.com and the U.S. Postal Service to let users download their digital images onto legal U.S. postage stamps. The stamps cost more than twice as much as regular stamps, but of course they are very cool.
Digital veterans will jump ahead immediately to the first question: What if I download porn to my stamp? The fine print in the Terms and Conditions says:
You further agree not to use the PhotoStamps website or service:
A. For any unlawful purposes;
B. To upload, order for print, or otherwise transmit or communicate any material that is obscene, offensive, blasphemous, pornographic, unlawful, deceptive, threatening, menacing, abusive, harmful, an invasion of privacy or publicity rights, supportive of unlawful action, defamatory, libelous, vulgar, illegal, or otherwise objectionable…
Apparently human censors check each image to make sure Paragraph B is honored, but human censors are only human. The folks at The Smoking Gun sent scandalous images of people who will probably never rate a U.S. stamp: deceased Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, indicted Yugoslav war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, probably deceased Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, executed Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and other reprobates.
The wise guys say they did it to make the point that only heroes should be honored on U.S. postage, and they say that — in keeping with the spirit of the fine print — they’ll never use the stamps for real. Nevertheless, it’s not hard to imagine what happens at the end of the PhotoStamps trial project: the plug gets pulled, the exec who thought of it gets fired, the whole idea gets shoveled down the memory hole.
“Neither snow nor rain not heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers,” but a couple of smart alecs with Internet attitude can put the kibosh on a really neat idea, and the rest of the class gets punished.
These days, high-end digital cameras for professional photographers are packing 14 megapixels of image resolution, and sub-$1,000 prosumer models like the Canon EOS 300D dSLR provide as many as 6.3 megapixels. Conventional wisdom equates resolution with image quality, and imaging geeks are always boasting about their megapixels. As in most areas of life, though, it’s not how many pixels you have but what you do with them that counts.
Going for the pixel record is the European Space Agency which is building a space camera with 1 gigapixel — 1,000 megapixels — focused on an array of 170 CCD chips. Once launched in 2010 or so, Gaia will park itself 1.5 million kilometers further out from the Sun and start snapping digital pictures of the universe. The gigapixel space camera is designed to capture one thousand million stars … or one gigasun.
Bet on it: By the time the camera is launched, you’ll start seeing ads for a 2 gigapixel camera that you can buy on the web for half the price of Gaia.
Music, photos, videos, CAT scans — once all media becomes digital, we’ll be able to carry everything we care about around in shirtpocket devices like Apple’s wildly successful iPod digital music player. The iPod, with its signature white ear bud headphones, is really a 40 gigabyte disk drive in a pretty and rugged 5.6 ounce case. Apple will sell more than 3 million iPods this year by some estimates and has digitally vended over 70 million songs to users around the world via the Internet.
40 gigabytes translates into more than 10,000 tunes, way more than any human needs. But now the folks at Belkin have come up with a good way to use all that storage space: digital photographs. With the Belkin $80 Digital Camera Link, photographers plug in hot machines like the Kodak DX, Canon EOS, Fuji FinePix and Sony CyberShot and download picture files directly to their iPods to free up space onboard the camera. Nowadays, the Compact Flash cards and microdrives in cameras top out at 1 gigabyte, so the iPod’s capacity could come in handy in the field.
In fact, since the Belkin link uses a regular USB cable and the relatively new Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP) found in Windows XP and Mac OS X, it’s probably compatible with many different kinds of digital devices. You might be able to load it with ripped DVDs, ebooks, a lifetime of email archives and your up-to-date MRI scans from the doctor’s office.