Archive for the ‘Intellectual Poperty’ Category

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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SOPA/PIPA Blackout Protest Day

January 18th, 2012 No comments

The timing is terrible for me to have the time to write a proper post. In short, SOPA and PIPA are a bad thing for freedom and the Internet and the American public needs to make sure neither become law. I may not have time to write a long post but I made the time to call my reps.

For now, some links:

SOPA Resistance Day begins at Ars

LA Times:Where’s my Wikipedia? SOPA, PIPA blackout coming

Mashable: Why SOPA Is Dangerous

Why SOPA Threatens the DMCA Safe Harbor

No Flying Cars – Technology wins and losses – Harvard Law School Blog Post

Call, speak to person, don’t just click some online petition. Call, write a paper letter. Be impossible not to notice.

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History Revised as it Happened – The Patent Wars circa 1997

August 6th, 2011 No comments

Have a look at this video clip: Macworld Expo 1997 Park Plaza Castle, Boston

If you don’t have the time for the whole clip, just watch the last third or so outlined below.

Remember, if you’re old enough, what was being said in the press at the time.  If you were ‘in the industry’ back then my hunch is, even as you watch you’ll notice things that actually happened that were, at best, mischaracterized in the press and in the thing people didn’t yet call ‘the blogosphere’.

After the summary, I’ll let you in on the real deal.

At about 2/3rds into the clip Steve Jobs talks about Apple’s relationship with Microsoft: “The discussions actually began..uh… because there were some..uhh… patent disputes.” – Steve Jobs who very rarely says “uhh”

The results of that discussion?

1) A five year deal to cross-license patents. I think, quite likely, this agreement has been renewed and this is why we have a that can talk to Exchange servers and other useful elements of MacOS and Windows interoperability. (Update 8.13.2012: The Verge seems to have dug up the actual agreement.)

2)  Microsoft committed to 5 years of support for Office on the Mac including the same number of releases for Mac as for Windows.

3) IE would become the default browser on MacOS.

The crowd booed.  You may recall, there was a little bit of tech industry drama at the time around the issue of Netscape vs IE.  My how times haven’t really changed.

Remember, at the time, Netscape Navigator and the OpenDoc-based CyberDog were also installed as alternative browsers with IE on MacOS 8 because, as Steve says in the clip “…we believe in choice”.

An amusing side note, especially for those who were at Macworld Expo in ’97 is that throughout the conference, Apple employee presentations where reference was made to IE the phrase “My Browser Of Choice”  came with it.  The phrase “My Browser of Choice” was uttered with the same formality and occasional knowing smirk one often sees on the sports star holding the Gatorade bottle label-out toward the camera when drinking. The same glance that says “Yeah but when the camera looks away, we both know I’m going to spit this Lion piss  out and drink water.” in a manner so subtle it lets them keep the endorsement, barely.

4)  Apple and Microsoft will collaborate on Java to ensure compatibility.

Listen to Steve as he says this in the presentation. One gets he sense he and Gates agreed even then that client-side Java would turn out to be about as useful as… well… about exactly as useful it has turned out to be.

5) Microsoft would invest 150 million dollars at market price in non-voting shares of Apple Computer . Microsoft would hold those shares for at least three years. You can google for yourself what those shares would be worth now and find out how much too soon Microsoft sold. (Disclosure: I have been long AAPL since right around then)

Gates then shows up on the big screen before the gathered faithful and says , among other things, that Microsoft had more than 8 million customers on Macintosh. Think about that number when you recall the talk of the Mac’s allegedly non-exitstent market share at the time. Think about that word ‘customers’.  That number from Gates didn’t count Macs in the installed base, it was a count of customers, not seats of Office shipped on trivial-to-copy floppy disks. The press at the time would have had the world believe there were no Macs in use other than the million or so sold in a typical quarter at the time. Considering that I personally touched about a thousand Macs in 1997 as part of my consulting practice it always struck me absurd when I’d read how many people thought Mac market share was the same as quarterly sales.

Bill Gates announced Office ’98 for Mac.  Those who remember those days will recall that the version of Office in the wild prior to ’98 was 4.2.1.  Many may recall how many people fought to keep Word 5 working because the version of Word that came with Office 4.2.1 was Word 6. A version of Word so bad that MacOS 7.5.2 seemed like stable software. (Hint: 7.5.2 is considered by many to be the single worst major release of MacOS in Apple’s history and yes, 7.5.2 was a major release despite the version number. PowerMacs, Open Transport, fun, fun, fun) As Gates promised, Office 98 was pretty darned good and actually very Mac-like especially for a Microsoft product.

At the time, the MacBU, The  Mac Business Unit  at Microsoft (Pronounced MacBoo) was the most profitable unit at Microsoft. Note, profit doesn’t mean revenue, clearly Windows and Windows Office and, perhaps even Flight Siumlator dwarfed the MacBU in sales but Microsoft themselves described MacBU as ‘the most profitable unit’  around and after the release of  MacOffice 98.

Common themes in the coverage then were ‘Apple taking sides in the Browser War’, ‘Apple being bought by Microsoft’, ‘Apple settled the “look and feel lawsuit”,  ‘Apple concedes that Microsoft won the fight for the desktop’, ‘Apple bailed out by Microsoft’ (go look at the financial history. Even at the time, 150 million did not , by a long shot, constitute a bailout), Generally speaking the press missed the point.

Don’t believe me that those beliefs became the ‘conventional wisdom’ about that day in 1997?

Here’s two easy links: and

Search, you’ll find more.

Now that you’ve seen what I saw when I was there, here are a few things you may not have been aware that reveal the real nature of the deal .

The press described, on the rare occasions they mentioned it at all,  the patent cross licensing deal as if it was settling the old ‘look and feel lawsuit’. It wasn’t, that lawsuit. It was this one. At the time one could find on the interwebs side by side comparisons of Microsoft Video For Windows and QuickTime for Windows source code.  (some comparison is still here) Whole chunks of code matched byte for byte line after line. I saw it. The San Francisco Canyon company ‘helped write’ both products for two different clients.

The press at the time would also have had us (existing and would-be customers of beleaguered Apple Computer) believe that Microsoft’s rummaging in their couch and pulling out $150 millon in Cheeto-crumb-covered change to buy a few Apple shares was a concession in the famous United States of America. vs Microsoft anti-trust trial. You don’t have to be a lawyer to realize that if you are accused of being a monopolist, buying a stake in the other company you share 100% of a market with isn’t going to make you less of a monopolist.

The investment was part of a settlement deal. Just that simple.

Microsoft wanted Apple to “Knife the Baby”. Wanted Apple to kill QuickTime in exchange for Microsoft’s willingness to continue to make a tidy profit from selling Office to Mac users.

Where did I get such a vile turn of phrase as “Knife The Baby”, why from legal testimony of course.  Give that document a read.  (It was also printed  as “Don’t Knife The Baby” on some t-shirts  produced by [redacted] and circulated within the QuickTime engineering team at the time.)

Having read it, ask yourself if the patent dispute that brought Apple and Microsoft to the table for a discussion  was driven by evidence that source code for Video for Windows and QuickTime for Windows were, alledgedly, so similar .

Could Apple have, perhaps won a lot of concessions, been able to ‘facilitate’ collaboration because Microsoft might have preferred announcing cooperation to announcing that they’d settled a lawsuit they may have thought they’d lose horribly?

Now, those astute among you may be scratching your chin thinking about why Apple doesn’t want Flash on iOS and whether it’s the exact same reason Microsoft was worried about QuickTime.

Those who have been paying really close attention might remember QuickTime Wired Sprites. Some might even recall this little footnote: (Disclosure: As it happens, I was honored to have won enough support from Apple to get some of the movies built in projects I worked on onto Apple’s “known to be safe” list. I am eternally grateful to my friends then on the QuickTime Team for being willing to help.)

A grizzled veteran might likely speculate that “Multiple vulnerabilities… in QuickTime’s Flash media handler” were just too much to patch. It’s logical to assume Apple had to rely on Adobe to fix those vulnerabilities and, perhaps that Adobe wouldn’t or couldn’t.  This was the first time QuickTime ever ‘broke content’ in any significant way. These were dark days.

Now, knowing all this, and why Microsoft wanted Apple to “Knife The Baby”, perhaps it’s one might conclude it’s time to encourage Apple to do the one thing they never did back in the ‘good old days’:  Create and sell tools to author HTML 5 rich media. This notion, beloved readers, will be a topic for another day: Truly enable a standard and not leave it to languish or fragment as a ‘third party opportunity’.


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