Archive for March, 2012

Terrific Timelines

March 15th, 2012 No comments

Way back when, as in, at the turn of the century, I worked on a project called “Evolution”.

One of the coolest things the Evolution web team built was Deep Time.

I was and I am very proud of what the Evolution team built.

I discovered this is in beta: and I’m very impressed.  The same basic idea evolved, expanded and very, very cool. Still fiddly but very cool.

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Lytro – Misunderstood but with promise

March 8th, 2012 No comments

There’s been a lot of buzz about the Lytro light field camera and with buzz comes inevitable confusion and misunderstanding.

I’ve been watching this technology since I first heard about Lytro many months ago and while I can’t justify the expense of buying the hardware yet, I was and remain extremely intrigued. The problem is that there’s a lot of what I perceive as ‘missing the point’ in how much of the online photo community is reacting to it. One of my favorite photography blogs, Scott Bourne’s  Photofocus features a post there now that addresses a lot of the misunderstandings he and I both see on the web about Lytro.

There’s also something he and I seem to be differing on and he’s called me out on Twitter for having an “agenda”. In part this post is for Scott to better understand what I have been unable to say in 140 character chunks but it’s mostly about the bigger picture, so to speak, with Lytro.

Let’s start with what Lytro is. The best way to do that is to read this from Lytro  themselves to explain it. The link to the CEO’s dissertation is also worth reading, even skimming if you prefer not to get too deep into math and optics to understand better how it works.

There are a few key points the above will make clearer so please, have a read and come back.

Read up? Ok, good, thanks. Here we go. The key points I see as being misunderstood by the web photo community in general.

First, light field needs a lot more pixels than you will see in a final image. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not a ‘flaw’ it’s simply a fact of the technology. The issue is now, with this first product, the final output size of the images is not comparable to what you would get from a similarly priced camera. That’s fine. A similarly priced camera can’t be focused after the fact either. People wrongly compare the low resolution output images to comparably priced or even cell phone cameras and, I think profoundly miss the point. More on this below.

Two, it’s a first product offering and it’s offered as a consumer product. Again, not a problem. It means Lytro can evolve the product and may even manage to do so for customers who already own the hardware. One should never buy a product based on the promise of a future update but a reasonable hope there are such updates in the offing sure is nice and Scott is a reliable source in my experience.

But, even with new features, perhaps even improved image performance in the main area this release seems to fall short, low light, the hardware is inherently limited in this *first* consumer product. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It’s cheep compared to a professional DLSR and one or more good lenses. It’s not intended to be, nor is it a good use of what makes it special to compare its value based on the pixel count of the output files or the spec sheet of a comparably priced camera. There’s something unique here. Something new but, again, more on that below.

What both of these things mean is that this will start, we hope , to get a lot more interesting as time goes by. Light field photography has enormous potential. It has limitations. It has artistic constraints. Constraints are good. They change creativity. Depth of field and how it’s used in composition with focus are limitations of traditional photography that have been the basis of spectacular art. The lack of predetermination of focus and depth of field at capture time adds a new creative dimension and more important, to me, is that the viewer of the image can be empowered to interact.

Lytro’s player provides interactive interface to let the viewer change focus, and, perhaps, in future, depth of field is a new limitation, a new opportunity for the photographer. How do you compose an image where you empower the user to change it as they view it? What do you have to do differently as an artist when you let the viewer engage, when the expectation, the requirement is that you create an image that you know will be used this way? It gets interesting and that’s good!

Years ago, I was interviewed about how I and my then colleagues used another form of photography that allowed the user to interact, to alter what they saw of a photograph. Some of those same ideas apply here and I think Light Field and Lytro will bring a new means of expression to the photographer. I think this is great. Every medium has limitations and often the more interactive the medium the more interesting and challenging it is to do something compelling by using those limitations.

In a Twitter conversation about the following concern, Scott Bourne thought I had an agenda in asking a question I still don’t know the answer to. He’s right. I do. It’s nothing nefarious though. It’s very simple.

I asked Scott if he knew if the Flash application that let viewers of the images interact with the selective functionality made possible with Lytro’s tech had to be hosted at Lytro’s site. By all indications, yes that appears to be the case and that concerns me, a lot. While the Lytro desktop application will let the photographer use selective focus and publish a static image from the source light field image captured by the camera, it seems one must host one’s images at Lytro to publish and share images that allow the viewer to interact. If this is true, this is a problem for two major reasons.

First, editorial. Lytro would take a business risk acting as the publisher of images that may be controversial. The artist should be able to decide how far to push the boundaries of ‘good taste’ (within the limits of the law) and if they want to publish work in the tradition of Andres Serrano rather than Ansel Adams they should be able to do so without concern that Lytro’s business needs preclude them being comfortable hosting the images. Lytro’s Terms Of Use:  indicate that Lytro, wisely, retains the right to decide if images they host are ones they are comfortable with.

Second, business. There’s more to read at that terms of use link above but the current state of affairs, and what I was asking Scott about, would indicate that photographers currently need to rely on Lytro to host images in the Lytro ‘light field picture player’ (A flash app). This has the obvious risk that, should Lytro change their business model, perhaps charge for hosting add advertising or, though Scott reassures me they have plenty of funding, fold or sell out, then the photographer’s images may not be available, or available the same way with the same interactivity in future.

There’s reason to hope right in those same terms of use. Lytro makes reference to approved players and my hope is they release an open source player for their images. They can do this without compromising their IP rights to the light field imaging technology and in doing so, they’d reassure photographers investing not the trivial cost of the camera but the priceless value of their artistic efforts invested in creating images they wanted users to be able to interact with.

This is hardly the last word on this topic and all I seek to do here is start a conversation. Hopefully get Scott and other talented photographers thinking about the interactivity and Lytro to think about opening up what’s needed for people to host their images themselves.

P.S. It should be obvious, I hope, that light field photography, the ability to change focus after the fact is also a possible boon to other non-artistic endeavors from security to manufacturing quality control and machine vision applications. Light field moving from research paper to reality could be huge and Lytro could be a very smart place to invest.


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AT&T and the word “Unlimited”

March 2nd, 2012 No comments

Weasel words may change the meaning of ‘unlimited’ in terms of a court’s interpretation of a contract but the categorically do not change the underlying truth that ATT chose a word they weren’t willing to have mean what it means.


This word you keep using, ‘unlimited’. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

I have an unlimited data plan option on my iPhone. I have had this contract since shortly after the release of the iPhone in June of 2007. I stayed with AT&T to keep that grandfathered plan not because I needed it. Not because Verizon isn’t a MUCH more reliable cell carrier but because if you allow yourself to get on a metered plan, you fall to the mercy of your provider. To see how this is exploited, give this a read:

The thing is, with telcos both wired and wireless, we have more rights than if, for example, they were a restaurant  deciding after we’d ordered the meal that they were charging for ketchup.  With a restaurant, we don’t like the food or the prices? Tough noogies on us for that check.We pay. We leave. We don’t come back. We don’t have any right to tell a restaurant how much they can charge all we can do is choose another and hope market pressures keep prices in check.

With telcos and cable companies we really don’t have that option. We can’t just pay and walk away to a better, cheaper alternative. They have near and sometimes literal monopolies depending where you live, whether your devices are locked to their service.

What we do have is this:

If you’re old enough, recall long distance charges before the government broke up the original AT&T. Now, because of the way spectrum is allocated (wireless spectrum is owned by the people and allocated to companies to sell us back services using that spectrum) and the way Cable Companies and Telcos get access to tearing up the roads and putting up poles

They get this access in exchange for the right to make money selling us connectivity. When we grant them this access to public (public means we own them all citizens own them and we ‘hire’ government to manage them for us) facilities as a way to let them turn a profit we must also demand they find a way to profit in a manner that serves the public good.

This isn’t some hippy-lefty-tree-hugger-99% thing. This is simple logic. They get the right to exploit public resources to make money and with those rights come responsibilities. It’s our job to make sure we get both what we pay for as customers and what we, as a country pay for when we allow them that access.

Today, ATT announced:

” Info for Smartphone customers with Unlimited Data Plans

Do you have an unlimited data plan? If so, we have information to help you manage your account if you use more than 3GB, which means you are in the top 5% of data users in our network. If you have a 4G LTE Smartphone with monthly data usage over 5GB, you’ll also be interested in this information. You can check your usage for this month by dialing *data# on your mobile phone.
If you have one of our tiered data plans, this information will not affect you.
Background: In response to soaring mobile broadband usage and the limited availability of wireless spectrum, we implemented a network management program back in 2011 to help ensure the best possible mobile broadband experience for all of our customers.

If you have a smartphone that works on our 3G or 4G network and still have an unlimited data plan,
• You’ll receive a text message when your usage approaches 3GB in one billing cycle.
• Each time you use 3GB or more in a billing cycle, your data speeds will be reduced for the rest of that billing cycle and then go back to normal.
• The next time you exceed that usage level, your speeds will be reduced without another text message reminder.
If you have a 4G LTE smartphone and still have an unlimited data plan, the same process applies at 5GB of data usage, instead of 3GB.
You’ll still be able to use as much data as you want. That won’t change. Only your data throughput speed will change if you use 3GB or more in one billing cycle on a 3G or 4G smartphone or 5GB or more on a 4G LTE smartphone.”

This is actually a loosening of what they’d allegedly been silently doing before capping at 2GB but now they’re on record.

In my “informed but not a lawyer” opinion:
A lawyer would say this is not within the legal definition of a “reasonable” interpretation of the word “unlimited”.

This is what a lawyer would call ‘breach of contract’.

As a citizen and co-owner with you all, My Fellow Americans, this is not what I want my government to allow them to do with our  spectrum, our rights of way under and over  our land.

So, what I’ll be doing, and what I recommend y’all do too is the following:

– Look into what it takes to file a small claims action in your state. Might win, might lose but either way, it will cost AT&T money to defend themselves or pay because they refused to.

– Go here and file a complaint:

– Contact your representative and complain to them:

Why do you care?

Very simple. If there is no such thing as an ‘unlimited’ plan for data services, wired and wireless, then there will be no “cloud”. There will be no ‘backup to a server’. There will be no “access my data from anywhere”. There will be those who can pay the metered fees and those who can’t. The digital divide will be a chasm. The telcos will be able to skim a piece of the action off everything you do. Netflix will be Netflix’s fees plus however much your ISP charges for having been home with the flu and watched more movies than last month. It will mean if you iTunes Match and want to listen to your music you may pay a bit more for the last few plays of that great new London Calling reissue.

This isn’t some small little narrow issue. This is about the future of the connected world. There is plenty of money to be made selling unlimited connectivity. Our job as customers is to simply make it too expensive not to.

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