Thursday, December 29, 2005

10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year

I regularly check out David Pogue's column in the New York Times to see if he discusses some technology I am unfamiliar with and in today's column he listed the folding memory card as one of the ten greatest gadgets of the year. Somehow this new product from SanDisk had passed under my radar. Of course, many workstations now come with ports for a variety of different storage devices including the standard SanDisk memory chip so this product represents a different take on a common problem for computers without the new multiple device ports.

"After taking a few digital photos, the next step, for most people, is getting them onto the computer. That usually involves a U.S.B. cable, which is one more thing to carry and avoid misplacing.

SanDisk's better idea is to take the memory card out of the camera and stick it directly into your computer's U.S.B. port.

That's possible with the SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus card. It looks just like any other SD memory card, except that it folds on tiny hinges. When you fold it back on itself, you reveal a set of metal contacts that slide directly into the U.S.B. jack of your Mac or PC. The computer sees the card as an external drive, and you can download the photos as you always do - except that you've eliminated the need to carry around a cable."

He also mentioned a front-side connector offered on Hewlett-Packard's latest rear projection TV sets. I whole-heartedly endorse this feature but I must tell David it is not entirely a new concept. My Mitsubishi rear projection TV that I have owned for something like eight years features AV jacks in the convenient drop down control panel on the front of the set. Like the home theater setups David describes, my system's rat's nest of cables lies between the big screen on one side and an entertainment center/display cabinet on the other. If I must manipulate the wire connections, I must remove the smaller television in the entertainment center on the dining room side and crawl through the hole to get to the back of the big screen on the living room side - not my favorite activity.

Wednesday night I came home from work only to find that my three-month old DVR had had a melt down. Instead of thrashing around behind the big screen to unhook the other devices so I and the Dish network technician could trouble shoot the receiver without other components attached, I unhooked the output cables from the DVR receiver then simply used a set of patch cables to plug it directly into the front AV jacks on the big screen to test its behavior without intervening devices - sweet!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Chance to Meet the Author Online

When I was at the Historical Novel Society national conference last spring I talked about the importance of an author blog for marketing purposes at a general session. Either someone was listening or understands the value of blogs in communications and marketing as I do.

"Shoppers looking to pick up Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, 'The Position,' on Amazon.com last week found the usual readers' comments and excerpts from reviews. They also found something unexpected: posts on the subject of literature from Ms. Wolitzer herself.

"The program gives people who are interested in a particular author a way to get new insights into them, and gives the authors a way to develop more of a one-on-one relationship with readers," said Jani Strand, a spokeswoman for Amazon. The authors write on "anything they'd like their readers to know about them," Ms. Strand said, including what inspired their books and details about their experiences. Authors are free to update their blogs as often or as little as they like, and a linked profile page has information about other books, reading recommendations, personal information and, in some cases, e-mail addresses."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Simultaneous Release of DVDs with feature films an adventure in marketing

I'm so glad to hear that the film industry is considering simultaneous release for movies and DVDs. I always believed it would not really hurt theater sales because I think a theater experience is usually a social event for the younger audiences more than the preferred viewing environment for older audiences. Many older film enthusiasts have added home theater systems (at least surround sound) to their home viewing environments and feel more comfortable there without the distractions of other people hopping up and down to use the restroom or going to the concession stand. In addition, many of us, although we enjoy immersive sound, can hardly bear the volume that is used in many commercial theaters. We also appreciate the ability to pause a film to answer nature's call, often a more frequent requirement with age, without missing any of the action.


So, I applaud Todd Wagner, the CEO of 2929 Entertainment, the company, cofounded by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, that's experimenting with the "simultaneous release" program who was interviewed in this piece by David Pogue that appeared in the New York Times Circuits section.

"Simultaneous release," or "day and date," means releasing a new movie on TV, on DVD, and in the theaters all on the same day--a radical proposal that could shake up the movie industry...."

"This idea has been perceived as an attack on the exhibition [movie-theater] industry. It is not.

It was designed to try to increase DVD sales. It was designed to try to reach the kind of folks who are not gonna go to the movie theater on a regular basis. And that is an enormous percentage of the population.

I'm supposed to assume that they'll still be interested in my movie five months from now [when the DVD comes out]? I would argue that might be a dangerous assumption.

So our argument is that there is potentially this impulse buy. These people in their 30s and 40s and 50s, wife, kid, may not go to the movie theater. But they would pay a premium to have first-run, theatrical-quality movies that they can either watch on T.V., be downloaded, be delivered to their doorstep on a DVD or eventually HD-DVD, et cetera, et cetera. And let's see if we can go after them.

Look at Russia. In Russia, 99 percent of the DVDs are pirated. You walk in the subway system, there's all the movies--before they're even in the theaters.

That's not even simultaneous release; that's "DVD first," if you will. And yet the theater industry in Russia is doing very well."

Wagner also pointed out the current expense of two advertising campaigns, one for the film and one for the DVD.

"Advertising, as you well know these days, has gone from one big spends to two big spends. A spend to try to get people to go to the theater, a spend in another five months to try to get you to buy the DVD.

In the world today of information clutter, to get the public excited, for the second time, about that movie that they heard about five months later -- wow, that's really hard. So if you could do it once and have an efficient advertising spend, perhaps that's not so bad.

We've seen the lessons of the music industry. We know how technology is today. We know that this generation wants things now. We know it's a digital world. By the way, the day-and-date thing could also reduce piracy, because everything is available simultaneously everywhere in every medium. Maybe it's worth thinking about."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Take Your Cable Channels With You on the Road


Take New York Times: I found the following article quite interesting. Just the other day I was reading about the new PocketDish accessory available from Dish Network which allows you to download DVR content from your satellite receiver, as well as photos, MP3 files, and games to a 4" x 3" pocket device. This product seems to take the technology a step further by facilitating direct streaming from your cable or satellite's receiver.


"In 2002, Blake Krikorian and his brother Jason were beside themselves. Their beloved San Francisco Giants were in a pennant race, yet Blake and Jason, two Silicon Valley engineers, were traveling so much that they missed many of the games on television.

Desperate, they signed up for a service that offered live audio and video of the games over the Internet, only to find that subscribers from San Francisco could not watch Giants games because of blackout restrictions.

The idea for Slingbox was born. The Krikorians decided to find a way to let cable and satellite television customers watch what was on their home televisions while they were on the road. After several years developing the product, their company, Sling Media, released its first boxes in July.

Just as TiVo and other digital video recorders ushered in the concept of 'time shifting' a few years ago, the Slingbox promises to make 'place shifting' a reality for households. By letting consumers connect with their cable or satellite hookups when they travel, Slingbox has the potential to splinter further the way television is watched."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wikipedia scandal reopens the academy vs. open source debate

"...Rather than throw things on the Web and let a consensus emerge, in other words, researchers prefer having a few known authorities inspect the work before it's published by a known press. The credibility of authority, both the reviewer and the journal, are seen as more valid than the credibility of consensus."

The report made a big issue that almost half of those academics polled thought open access publishing would undermine the current system of academic publishing, but 41% said it would be a good thing.

"The fact is that while 'open source has no quality control,' as the headline writer put it in David Coursey's recent column, authority is no longer all it's cracked up to be. Authority can be corrupt. Authority can be an excuse for not thinking. Authority may say there are weapons of mass destruction or that oral sex isn't sex."

I didn't realize until recently that academics, particularly those in the sciences, actually pay journals to publish their articles. I spent many years as a freelance writer and editor and, in my publishing experience, that practice is called subsidy publishing. The quality of subsidy publishing has always been suspect because the goal of the publisher is to make money from the writer, as well as from the sale of the publication, so quality control is sometimes quite lax. I would tend to agree with this writer that "authority" is definitely not what it's cracked up to be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

MP3 Fm Modulator W/ USB Port And Audio Input


Cyberguys.com:I had lunch with a friend today and we discussed products designed to work with audio devices like the iPod. He told me that a friend of his gave him an MP3 Fm Modulator that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter. It has a USB input that you can use to plug in a variety of USB devices whose contents are then broadcast over one of seven FM radio frequencies (87.7, 87.9, 88.1, 88.3, 88.5, 88.7, 88.9) through your car's stereo system.

Before Audible.com introduced the ability to download their audio books and burn them to CD, I had attempted to use several different cassette to MP3 adapters with my MP3 players in an effort to listen to their contents with my car's stereo instead of using earphones (which I think is illegal in this state). None of the brands I tested would work. So I tried an adapter that used the AM radio frequency to broadcast music from a connected player but I couldn't get it to work either.

Part of the problem I had was the inability to set my radio to a particular frequency. The model I have in my Ford Explorer autoscans for broadcasts and apparently did not receive a signal of sufficient strength from the adapter to lock in on the required frequency. I might have the same problem with this device but at least it gives you more frequencies to try.

"Play music from a USB thumb drive or from almost any portable CD, DVD or MP3 player right through your car's radio with the FM audio modulator. It has convenient Play, Stop, and Track selection controls as well as 7 LCD indicators for preset FM frequencies. The wireless modulator lets nearly any USB thumb drive function like an MP3 player and the 3.5mm stereo input jack is great for your iPod or other portable audio devices."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Copyright Wars - Epilogue

Well, in one last swing at me, the National Portrait Gallery fired off an invoice to the University for the four images I am using on my historical doll website. Of course, I would not authorize payment so I had to forward the invoice to the General Counsel's office. Unfortunately, the General Counsel would not commit time to refute their claim because of the relatively (to them) small amount of money involved. They told me to remove the pictures in question and instructed the Computing Center to disable my website if I did not cooperate. Talk about strong armed tactics!

I find the whole episode very disturbing because essentially, it means that as long as there are institutions out there willing to ignore court rulings and make extortinate demands for copyright they do not hold and other institutions who are unwilling to challenge them, the extortion involving use of public domain works will continue!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Pen Gets a Whole Lot Mightier


New York Times: I found this article particularly interesting because several years ago I purchased a "smart" pen scanner to evaluate and found that it was much more difficult to produce accurate results with it than the demonstrator at Comdex displayed. Supposedly it was designed to allow you to easily scan article snippets and business cards into your PDA or laptop but I found negotiating the tiny menu with button clicks far too slow and frustrating to be efficient enough to recommend to my colleagues.

Apparently, the reviewer of this "pentop" also expressed a little irritation about navigating its menu as well although it is at least audio-enabled. There was no mention of speech recognition. It would be really nice if, when listening to the audio menu, you could reply "yes" when it gets to the option you want. Perhaps that will come with future enhancements. I was intrigued by the interactive testing and math studies applications though.

"The Fly Pentop Computer, made for children ages 8 to 14, is essentially a computer in a pen, with a computer chip, a speaker and a tiny camera. But Fly's maker, LeapFrog (maker of LeapPad, the popular interactive book reader), has much greater ambitions.

Fly Through Math, for example, is dedicated to multiplication and division. You write the digits of a math problem into the squares of the included graph paper. Like a watchful parent or teacher, the Fly's little voice-over elf comments immediately when, for example, you forget to carry the 1 or misplace a decimal point. This in-problem feedback is far more helpful than a computer program that just tells you that your final answer is wrong.

Then there's Fly Through Tests. From a Web site (flypentop.com), your sixth- through eighth-grader can download multiple-choice quizzes in PDF format that correspond to the chapters of specific popular published textbooks (math, science or social studies). You print them onto the blank paper that comes with this cartridge, and voilĂ : instant interactive tests, specific to the textbook you're using in class."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Wild Earth game looks to combine natural studies with photography skill development


I was checking for game updates to post to my web log about games with historical themes and I came across a new offering from European developer Digital Jester called "Wild Earth" that is scheduled for a Q1 2006 release.

"Featuring breathtaking landscapes from the African Serengeti National Park, Wild Earth is a stunning adventure which allows players to experience the African wildlife in its natural environment.

Players embark on various assignments, each of which feature different photographic objectives, challenging the player to explore the lush 3D world and take the best photographs of animals and environmental features.

At the end of each assignment, an html article is created using the player’s own photographs which provides additional in-depth information and insight. These articles can be printed, saved or shared.


Features

* Accurate and beautifully recreated wildlife including elephants, cheetahs, lions, crocodiles and more.

* Simulated weather conditions – (racing clouds, rainfall, dust devils, thunder storms).

* Immersive 3D environments (open plains, rocky outcrops, lakes, streams etc).

* Diverse missions including specific night-time challenges, wild animal tracking and exploration of the Serengeti terrain.

* Stirring soundtrack created by world music label Talking Drum Records.

* Creative game design; players are encouraged to practice and develop photography skills.

* Differing skill levels for more advanced photography challenges.

* Personalised gameplay utilising players photographs in html articles.

* Non-violent family oriented gameplay mechanic."

This game reminds me very much of one of my first and favorite simulation games that got me hooked on the genre, Eco: East Africa. This new take on the wildlife theme incorporates learning photography as well as learning about the natural world (two of my favorite things) and stands a very good chance of demonstrating how video games can be effective learning tools and cross-discipline to boot.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Now Playing: Your Home Video (New York Times)

It looks like more entrepreneurs are jumping on the video sharing site bandwagon. I checked out Google Video and OurMedia. OurMedia appears to have features similar to Flickr. For educational purposes these sites would make it possible to create an online repository for screen-captured help files and learning objects that included video or animation converted to video.


"The entrepreneurs who have started companies like ClipShack, Vimeo, YouTube and Blip.tv are betting that as consumers discover the video abilities built into their cellphones and digital still cameras, and get better at editing the often-lengthy video from their camcorders, they will be eager to share video on the Web. While most of the services are free today, the entrepreneurs eventually hope to make money by selling ads or charging fees for premium levels of service.

Sharing video on the Web is still a new notion. 'A lot of people haven't really come to terms with the idea that they can publish their own video online,' said Jakob Lodwick, the founder of Vimeo, based in Manhattan. 'For the longest time, video has always been connected to a physical tape or a disc. There are still a lot of people who aren't even comfortable sharing their photos online yet.'

But many early users of video-sharing services have encountered frustrations with other means of distribution. Ms. Tallent, who lives in Marina del Rey, Calif., said she had tried posting videos directly on her personal Web site, but that was cumbersome, and she ran afoul of her Internet provider's limits on file size.

Paul Krikler, who works for an investment bank in Manhattan, got tired of creating DVD's for his family members so they could enjoy videos of Mr. Krikler's 10-month-old son, Benjamin, chortling at the camera or being fed.

'Making DVD's would've been a less frequent process,' Mr. Krikler said. Using ClipShack, 'I can put up a couple new clips on a Saturday or Sunday every week, and people can go in and see new clips on a Monday.'

Mr. Krikler chooses to allow only his circle of friends and family to view his videos, and says there are about 50 people in that group, including one friend in Australia. He shoots the videos using a digital camera from Canon that is designed mainly to to take still pictures, and sends the videos to ClipShack.

Users of the services can upload cin�ma v�rit�directly from the camera, or painstakingly edit the videos using software like iMovie from Apple or Windows Movie Maker from Microsoft. Some services, like Phanfare, charge a monthly fee, and most, with the exception of Google Video, limit the size of videos.

None of the sites should be considered a reliable sole archive for personal video, however, since many do not allow users to download their original file once it has been uploaded. And there is always the possibility that a site may vanish overnight.

At least two sites, Blip.tv and OurMedia.org, promise more permanence by uploading a copy of each video submitted to the Internet Archive, which is run by a San Francisco nonprofit organization whose mission is long-term preservation of digital material. "

Monday, October 24, 2005

'King Kong' Blurs Line Between Films and Games

New York Times: "Video games are among the fastest-growing, most-profitable businesses in the entertainment world. In the United States, domestic sales of video games and consoles generated $10 billion in revenue last year, compared with movie ticket sales of $9.4 billion. But with the exception of a few well-known directors - like George Lucas, who created a series of Star Wars video games, and Andy and Larry Wachowski, who wrote and directed 'The Matrix' movies and helped create Matrix games - few in Hollywood have been able to successfully operate in both worlds.

But that seems to be changing. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) is among a generation of mainstream movie directors who grew up playing video games. He, and a few others, are now looking to create video games, branding themselves to keep control over franchises while sharing in enormous video game profits.

Having recently completed shooting on a remake of the classic film "King Kong", Jackson wanted to create a video game that allowed players to experience a universe he created that otherwise would be confined to a two-hour movie."

I have great expectations for these kinds of technology "marriages". Years ago I wrote to some game companies suggesting that their technology could be used to create dynamic learning environments and all I got back in reply was a curt "we're in the entertainment business not the education business". Perhaps this imposed segregation was the result of the game industry's reliance on programmers that understood computer logic but lacked the artistic experience needed to produce compelling narrative or cinematic storytelling along with the flash and dash of CGI wizardry.

Once It Was Direct to Video, Now It's Direct to the Web

"As cheaper technology and a seemingly inexhaustible hipness quotient have led to more filmmakers and films being produced, theatrical distribution has become more expensive, the outlets more cautious, and the returns on investments more dubious. The Internet has absorbed some of the spillover, although the bigger success stories - notably, the political films of Robert Greenwald ('Uncovered: The War on Iraq,' 'Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism'), or 'Faster,' a highly lucrative motorcycle documentary narrated by Ewan McGregor - have been niche movies with a core audience.

So what about more general fare with no stars, budgets or hope? That's where IndieFlix, founded by Ms. Andreen and her business partner, the filmmaker Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, comes in. Directors submit their films, which are then posted on the Web site (www.indieflix.com). When users log on and click to buy the films that capture their interest, IndieFlix burns them onto a DVD and ships them out. The price for a feature-length film is $9.95."

I find this trend in film distribution to be a natural evolution of the industry, much in the same way as the online distribution of e-books developed to bypass the traditional, creativity-throttling publishing industry. I guess time will tell if we are able to coax some really interesting work out of new filmmakers with this strategy.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Copyright Wars

This past week I inadvertently became embroiled in a copyright dispute with the National Portrait Gallery in London. Several years ago I created a website about my historical doll collection and the history behind the dolls and the historical figures they represent. One of my site pages features pictures of Queen Elizabeth I and dolls that have been created to represent her. On that page is composited pictures of Queen Elizabeth dolls with historical portraits of the Virgin Queen painted in the 16th century. Because of the age of the portraits of Elizabeth, I was not concerned about copyright because such works are solidly in the public domain.

Well, I got an e-mail from the image librarian of the National Portrait Gallery last week insisting that I was in violation of copyright because they had the portrait in their collection and they do not let anyone else take photographs of it so I must have gotten the portrait illegally from their website. They asked where I got the image. With several years in between now and when I created the website I couldn't remember but being a work in the public domain I was certain it really didn't matter. I had been to copyright workshops and had been told that the U. S. courts do not recognize a simple reproduction (termed a "slavish" copy) of a two-dimensional work of art as copyrightable. This view was recently reinforced with the ruling issued in the BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY, LTD. v. COREL CORP. case.

I consulted our university copyright expert and she said my understanding of the law was consistent with prevailing interpretation. So I responded thus:

"I would like to respectfully point out that most of these portraits were created during the reign of the monarch depicted and therefore copyright has expired long ago. U.S. courts have ruled that a simple reproduction of a work that adds no artistic elements to the original work is not an enforceable capyright because subsequent reproductions could not be distinguished from any others. Possession of a work of art does not confer any copyright privileges to the owner. Unfortunately, this is a main point of contention between museums in particular, and other members of the public.

I would also like to point out that my website is not a commercial site. It is intended for educational purposes only and the derivative images that I created are small and low resolution and not injurious to the profitability of purveyors offering products featuring high quality reproductions. I did not obtain the images from your website and have used them in good faith under my understanding of U.S. copyright laws and the provisions for fair use. I would be happy to include a link to your website to encourage visitors to my site to learn more about British Royalty."

The librarian was undeterred, insisting:

"At present, UK and US copyright law does afford copyright to photographs taken of works that are out of copyright, although I am aware of the Bridgeman v Corel case to which you are referring and which in many experts' opinions reached the wrong decision (it is certainly not binding in the UK, and doubtful even in the US). In any case it has set no precedent. " (I found this comment a little odd. He is esstentially saying a case that has received a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is not binding in the U.S. and sets no precedent ???)

He went on to explain how the gallery's financial resources are limited and that it is expensive to provide images of their collection online for the public to view. He attached a license agreement with the expectation that I would sign it and pay the fees stated.

I replied:

"Although I am a faculty member at the University of Oregon, the website in question was one that I created with my own resources on my own time at home because of my personal interest in history and collecting historical dolls. The site was not produced to support a fee-based or tuition-based course and the University has no claim to copyright for the material included in it. My footer reference providing permission for free use of any of the materials on the site for educational purposes is granting permission for use of my own copyrighted works. The image composites I produced for this site have an obvious artistic element that is substantially different from the original work especially since the doll photographs are my own. I am well aware of the time involved and costs of creating an online image archive as you can see from my own photo archive (see the link below) that contains almost 6,000 of my originial images. I hope you also note that I have granted permission for all visitors to use any of my images in the collection for non-commercial educational purposes through a Creative Commons license. I think the problem here is the apparent difference in our philosophical approach to knowledge sharing. I would think it would be far more advantageous to you to have visitors driven to your site for further information and an opportunity to view the original works in a quality high-resolution format and possibly generate a desire to physically visit your museum or purchase some of your museum-based products than it is to try to limit the non-commercial use and appreciation of art that is essentially part of our collective heritage.
I'm afraid I must decline to complete your license agreement as I do not agree with your interpretation of copyright law. I'm truly sorry you object to my modest efforts to produce a site intended solely to encourage an interest in British history by using a contemporary interest in a collectible art form."

In their reply, the gallery representative explained that they did not have the resources to prosecute every case of infringement so they were willing to provide licensed images of the portraits in question (4) from their website as long as I provided a credit line and link to their website. I thought this would be a reasonable solution until I went up to their website and found that the only images they had available were small (almost thumbnail-sized), dark images that would be totally unsuitable for making any kind of comparison of facial features and costume designs between the doll and the portrait.

So I wrote back to them and said the images they were offering were totally unsuitable for the educational purpose of my site.

They replied that they could supply better quality images but they would cost 25 pounds each. By this time I was getting pretty irritated about the whole business.

I replied:

I will not degrade my website by including totally unsuitable images. The images I am presently using are satisfactory and I do not need high resolution images. I do not acknowledge your claim for copyright on any of the images I am using as I did not obtain them from you (which is obvious since your website has only dark, almost thumbnail-sized images displayed on it) and the courts have not upheld copyright based on a simple, non-enhanced reproduction of two-dimensional art:
BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY, LTD. v. COREL CORP.
U.S. Law (abstract)
"Absent a genuine difference between the underlying work of art and the copy of it for which protection is sought, the public interest in promoting progress in the arts -- indeed, the constitutional demand [citation omitted] -- could hardly be served. To extend copyrightability to minuscule variations would simply put a weapon for harassment in the hands of mischievous copiers intent on appropriating and monopolizing public domain work. Even in Mazer v. Stein, [347 U.S. 201, 98 L. Ed. 630, 74 S. Ct. 460 (1954)], which held that the statutory terms 'works of art' and 'reproduction of works of art' . . . permit copyright of quite ordinary mass-produced items, the Court expressly held that the objects to be copyrightable, 'must be original, that is, the author's tangible expression of his ideas. 347 U.S. at 214, 74 S. Ct. 468, 98 L. Ed. at 640. No such originality, no such expression, no such ideas here appear." [n37]

[23] The requisite "distinguishable variation," moreover, is not supplied by a change of medium, as "production of a work of art in a different medium cannot by itself constitute the originality required for copyright protection." [n38]

[24] There is little doubt that many photographs, probably the overwhelming majority, reflect at least the modest amount of originality required for copyright protection. "Elements of originality . . . may include posing the subjects, lighting, angle, selection of film and camera, evoking the desired expression, and almost any other variant involved." [n39] But "slavish copying," although doubtless requiring technical skill and effort, does not qualify. [n40] As the Supreme Court indicated in Feist, "sweat of the brow" alone is not the "creative spark" which is the sine qua non of originality. [n41] It therefore is not entirely surprising that an attorney for the Museum of Modern Art, an entity with interests comparable to plaintiff's and its clients, not long ago presented a paper acknowledging that a photograph of a two-dimensional public domain work of art "might not have enough originality to be eligible for its own copyright." [n42]

[25] In this case, plaintiff by its own admission has labored to create "slavish copies" of public domain works of art. While it may be assumed that this required both skill and effort, there was no spark of originality -- indeed, the point of the exercise was to reproduce the underlying works with absolute fidelity. Copyright is not available in these circumstances.

United Kingdom Law

[26] While the Court's conclusion as to the law governing copyrightability renders the point moot, the Court is persuaded that plaintiff's copyright claim would fail even if the governing law were that of the United Kingdom.

[27] Plaintiff's attack on the Court's previous conclusion that its color transparencies are not original and therefore not copyrightable under British law depends primarily on its claim that the Court failed to apply Graves' Case, a nisi prius decision and the supposedly controlling authority that plaintiff did not even cite in its opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment.

[28] Graves' Case in relevant part involved an application to cancel entries on the no longer extant Register of Proprietors of Copyright in Paintings, Drawings and Photographs for three photographs of engravings. [n43] In rejecting the contention that the photographs were not copyrightable because they were copies of the engravings, Justice Blackburn wrote:

"The distinction between an original painting and its copy is well understood, but it is difficult to say what can be meant by an original photograph. All photographs are copies of some object, such as a painting or statue. And it seems to me that a photograph taken from a picture is an original photograph, in so far that to copy it is an infringement of the statute." [n44]

[29] Plaintiff and the amicus therefore argue that plaintiff's photographs of public domain paintings are copyrightable under British law. But they overlook the antiquity of Graves' Case and the subsequent development of the law of originality in the United Kingdom.

[30] Laddie, a modern British copyright treatise the author of which now is a distinguished British judge, discusses the issue at Bar in a helpful manner:

"It is obvious that although a man may get a copyright by taking a photograph of some well-known object like Westminster Abbey, he does not get a monopoly in representing Westminister Abbey as such, any more than an artist would who painted or drew that building. What, then, is the scope of photographic copyright? As always with artistic works, this depends on what makes his photograph original. Under the 1988 Act the author is the person who made the original contribution and it will be evident that this person need not be he who pressed the trigger, who might be a mere assistant. Originality presupposes the exercise of substantial independent skill, labour, judgment and so forth. For this reason it is submitted that a person who makes a photograph merely by placing a drawing or painting on the glass of a photocopying machine and pressing the button gets no copyright at all; but he might get a copyright if he employed skill and labour in assembling the thing to be photocopied, as where he made a montage. It will be evident that in photography there is room for originality in three respects. First, there may be originality which does not depend on creation of the scene or object to be photographed or anything remarkable about its capture, and which resides in such specialties as angle of shot, light and shade, exposure, effects achieved by means of filters, developing techniques etc: in such manner does one photograph of Westminster Abbey differ from another, at least potentially. Secondly, there may be creation of the scene or subject to be photographed. We have already mentioned photo-montage, but a more common instance would be arrangement or posing of a group . . . Thirdly, a person may create a worthwhile photograph by being at the right place at the right time. Here his merit consists of capturing and recording a scene unlikely to recur, eg a battle between an elephant and a tiger . . ." [n45]

[31] Moreover, the authors go on to question the continued authority of Graves' Case under just this analysis:

"It is submitted that Graves' Case (1869) LR 4 QB 715 (photograph of an engraving), a case under the Fine Arts Copyright Act 1862, does not decide the contrary, since there may have been special skill or labour in setting up the equipment to get a good photograph, especially with the rather primitive materials available in those days. Although the judgments do not discuss this aspect it may have been self-evident to any contemporary so as not to require any discussion. If this is wrong it is submitted that Graves' Case is no longer good law and in that case is to be explained as a decision made before the subject of originality had been fully developed by the courts. [n46]

[32] This analysis is quite pertinent in this case. Most photographs are "original" in one if not more of the three respects set out in the treatise and therefore are copyrightable. Plaintiff's problem here is that it seeks protection for the exception that proves the rule: photographs of existing two-dimensional articles (in this case works of art), each of which reproduces the article in the photographic medium as precisely as technology permits. Its transparencies stand in the same relation to the original works of art as a photocopy stands to a page of typescript, a doodle, or a Michelangelo drawing. [n47]

[33] Plaintiff nevertheless argues that the photocopier analogy is inapt because taking a photograph requires greater skill than making a photocopy and because these transparencies involved a change in medium. But the argument is as unpersuasive under British as under U.S. law.

[34] The allegedly greater skill required to make an exact photographic, as opposed to Xerographic or comparable, copy is immaterial. As the Privy Council wrote in Interlego AG v. Tyco Industries, Inc., [n48] "skill, labor or judgment merely in the process of copying cannot confer originality . . . ." [n49] The point is exactly the same as the unprotectibility under U.S. law of a "slavish copy."

[35] Nor is the change in medium, standing alone, significant. The treatise relied upon by plaintiff for the contrary proposition does not support it. It states that "a change of medium will often entitle a reproduction of an existing artistic work to independent protection." [n50] And it goes on to explain:

"Again, an engraver is almost invariably a copyist, but his work may still be original in the sense that he has employed skill and judgment in its production. An engraver produces the resemblance he wishes by means which are very different from those employed by the painter or draughtsman from whom he copies; means which require a high degree of skill and labour. The engraver produces his effect by the management of light and shade, or, as the term of his art expresses it, the chiaroscuro. The required degree of light and shade are produced by different lines and dots; the engraver must decide on the choice of the different lines or dots for himself, and on his choice depends the success of his print." [n51]

[36] Thus, the authors implicitly recognize that a change of medium alone is not sufficient to render the product original and copyrightable. Rather, a copy in a new medium is copyrightable only where, as often but not always is the case, the copier makes some identifiable original contribution. In the words of the Privy Council in Interlogo AG, "there must . . . be some element of material alteration or embellishment which suffices to make the totality of the work an original work." [n52] Indeed, plaintiff's expert effectively concedes the same point, noting that copyright "may" subsist in a photograph of a work of art because "change of medium is likely to amount to a material alteration from the original work, unless the change of medium is so insignificant as not to confer originality . . ." [n53]

[37] Here, as the Court noted in its earlier opinion, "it is uncontested that Bridgeman's images are substantially exact reproductions of public domain works, albeit in a different medium." [n54] There has been no suggestion that they vary significantly from the underlying works. In consequence, the change of medium is immaterial. "

At this point, the only offer I can make as a courtesy to you is to include a reference: The original portrait of Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger may be viewed at the National Portrait Gallery, London, England. I will link this reference to your website. "

The gallery representative replied that he had already explained why the Beckman vs. Corel case did not apply to their images (or should I say the portraits in their collection). He said since he was not making any progress and I refused their more than reasonable offer, there was nothing more he could do but report me to the university webmaster. He also said it was a shame that my website would continue to be unauthorized and unlicensed.

I replied that I had been in constant consultation with the university copyright expert and, in fact, the person I had been cc'ing on all of my responses was the university copyright expert. However, he was more than welcome to communicate with her directly.

I'm afraid I feel no SHAME for using public domain work for noncommercial educational purposes. I guess I won't be visiting the National Portrait Gallery when I travel to London in March.







Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Filemaker Pro 8.0 offers many timesaving features

I've been evaluating Filemaker Pro 8 and I am very pleased with the enhancements included in this release.

The new table import function makes conversions of Filemaker 6 or older files to the new multiple tables in a single file structure of Filemaker 7/8 much easier. The import table function automatically creates the table and appropriate field names with correct data types and, for calculated fields, the formulas as well. The main thing you will need to do is establish a relationship to the newly imported table, remove the relationship to the old external file, and correct any field calculations in the parent file that are based on the old external relationship.

You will still need to add any value lists that existed in the old external file, copy and paste any layouts you wish to retain that were in the old file, and then import any scripts you need from the old file but its still a big time-saver. Recreating the fields was very time-consuming with Filemaker 7 ( I only wish I had version 8 about two months ago when I converted our entire student information system to the new structure!) By the way, if you convert files in the order I suggested - import table with fields, recreate value lists, copy layouts, then import scripts - this will minimize the amount of work you will need to do during the conversion process. If the value lists exist before you copy the layouts, the drop-down or radio-button fields will not have to be reformatted. If the layouts exist before you import the scripts, your script steps calling particular layouts will come over without errors.

Another terrific feature is the new Tab Control object. Each year when I teach the Filemaker Pro interface design workshop, I spend half a class period teaching students how to create a tabbed layout from scratch. Now, you simply choose the tab control object from the tools palette, type in the names of all the tabs you wish, and the tabbed layout is created automatically with each tab already scripted to switch from one collection of data to the next. If you drag and drop fields onto one of the tab layout areas, it automatically becomes grouped with the tab.

To share reports electronically with administrative staff that may not have or know how to use Filemaker Pro, Filemaker Pro 8 now offers a PDF and Excel Maker. You just select Save/Send Records As and choose PDF or Excel. You'll be asked if you want to send all records being browsed or only the current record and if you wish to email it. If you check the email with attachment option, your email client pops up with the file attached for you to add a message and send. You can also send the contents of one or more fields by selecting File -> Send Mail then right-click in the Message Box and select the fields you wish to send. If you address your message to the database email address field (if one exists), it will mail an email to each person with their related information in the message box field.

The new Fast Match function lets you right click on a field with the contents you are interested in and select "Find Matching" and it will automatically find all records containing the same contents. Then you can right click on another field with contents you want to focus on and select "Constrain Found Set" to further filter your results. For example, if I am looking at a set of student records and right click in the last name field of a record containing Harrsch, and select "Find Matching" it will find all records with the last name of Harrsch. Then, if I click in the First Name field on a record with the First Name of Mary and select "Constrain Found Set" it will filter out all records from the first find that do not have Mary in the First Name field. For single criterion finds this fuction is a real timesaver.

A couple of other nice tools include the ability to choose to display a calendar drop-down in a date field format to ease data entry. The new Field list filtering feature automatically limits your sort function field list to only fields that are on the currently selected layout so time spent scrolling to find the appropriate field to sort by is minimized. There is also a spell check as you type function that, like Microsoft Word, underlines possibly misspelled words and suggests replacements. It also now provides mouse-wheel support to scroll through records in a database.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A nice Photoshop tip about the use of Vector Masking

By Jake Redekop

Vector Masking allows one to hide parts of a layer.

Duplicate your image (right click and choose ‘Duplicate Layer’). Now, create a new layer by clicking the ‘Create New Layer’ icon located at the bottom of the layers palette. Fill this new layer with white using the Fill Tool (shortcut: 'g') and move it down one position on your layers palette. Select the top layer (your image) and apply a vector mask to it by clicking this icon: also located at the bottom of the layers palette.

While the vector mask is enabled, anything painted black will be hidden, revealing whatever is behind the layer (in our case, a white canvas) and anything painted white will be visible.

Click on the vector mask and select the brush tool (shortcut: 'b'). Now, with black selected as your foreground color, start painting on areas of the image that you wish to hide. As you do this, you will reveal the white canvas from the layer immediately below your image layer. If you accidentally hide a portion of the image, switch your brush color to white and paint over the mistake. To quickly swap the colors in your swatch, hit the 'x' key. This makes correcting mistakes quick and easy.

Some helpful tips and shortcuts: magnify the image with the Zoom Tool (shortcut 'z') for more precision. While zoomed, press and hold the space bar and left mouse button, and move your mouse to move to other areas of the canvas quickly. Use the '[' and ']' keys to increase or decrease your brush size so as to make getting in those tight spots easier.

Tip: Try using a brush with 50% hardness to smooth any unnaturally rough or discolored edges of your subject caused by the masking process.

Using CSS to create linked "buttons"

I thought this was an interesting tip that I received from Bravenet today:

If you want to take things a step further, you can style your anchor tag to have a width and a height and a background color. This will, in effect, make it look like a button. Add the following to the style tag in your "head" tag:

a {width: 90px; height: 25px; background-color: #fff0df; border: 1px solid #666666; text-align: center; padding-top: 4px;}

Usually, I simply insert a graphic to represent a button but this will create the same effect without going through the trouble of creating the graphic.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Is Brightcove a video version of Flickr?

"As with his earlier ventures, Jeremy Allaire intends to shake up an industry - this time, the world of television - by allowing all types of video producers, from media giants to anyone who has a camcorder, put their work on the Internet and make money if anyone watches it.

Set in an office building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brightcove will offer three interrelated online services. It has tools that let television producers load their video onto its servers, arrange them into programs and display them to Internet users. It will help producers charge fees for their video, if they choose, or sell advertising on their behalf to insert into the programs. And it will broker deals between video creators and Web sites that want to display the video, arranging for the profits from such arrangements to be split any number of ways.

Allaire, [the original developer of Cold Fusion, a product eventually purchased by Macromedia], became Macromedia's chief technical officer and helped oversee the development of Flash, which originally was to add animation to Web sites. His work with Flash video persuaded him to start a company devoted to Net video. So Brightcove's business model does not charge video producers anything to upload their video or to create special Web pages. Instead, he hopes to make money mainly by taking a cut of the advertising revenue and fees the videos generate. (If a producer wants to distribute video with neither ads nor fees, Brightcove will charge them in proportion to how much video users watch.)"

This service sounds similar to the still image sharing service Flickr, recently purchased by Yahoo. If Allaire adds similar features to the service, such as producing clips of various sizes automatically, keyword tagging, grouping, and automatic copyright management through Creative Commons, it could have excellent potential as a source of subject searchable learning objects.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Using Minitripod for camera grip provides stability for low-light images

While I was in Pennsylvania last week I tried my brother's suggestion of using the minitripod that came with my Panasonic FZ20 digital camera as a camera grip when I was photographing exhibits in low light conditions at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I combined this technique with a remote shutter control.

I was quite pleased with the results, capturing images of dark objects (sculpted metal and wood) in a low light environment that I would not have been able to get with a shutter speed priority setting minimum of 1/30th of a second. The accessories in combination with the anti-shake technology built into the camera enabled me to capture well exposed images at a shutter speed of less than 1/15th of a second.

I'll get another chance to experiment with this technique when I visit the Chicago Field Museum in November to see the Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption. exhibit.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Evaluating Timeline programs and producing a Timeline with Filemaker Pro 7

This week I have been evaluating programs that can produce a Timeline. Although I have the Timeliner 5.0 program from Tom Snyder that lets you export a Timeline in HTML, I really wanted the ability to collaborate with colleagues at other locations on a Timeline site so I wanted a program that enables you to not only interactively view a Timeline but add Timeline entries from the web. Most of the online interactive Timelines I found were developed with a combination of PhP, MySQL, and Flash (to provide the graphic animation).

I even discovered that our own New Media Center had developed such a Timeline for one of the campus history courses. However, being a Filemaker Developer, it dawned on me that I could probably produce a Timeline program using Filemaker Pro 7 since it essentially provides the same capabilities as Php and MySQL and the new flexible relationship features of Filemaker Pro 7 coupled with its powerful scripting features and multimedia container fields could probably produce enough graphic complexity to avoid the introduction of a Flash component.

I also wanted the ability to provide a tool that could be used by Faculty to easily produce comparative Timelines and Timelines that could include entries grouped in different ways. So I sketched out a scheme that relates a Timeline definition table to a Timeline entries table. I also related a Timeline Entry Media table to the Entries table.

The Timeline Definition record includes a start and stop date and year, a container field for a banner image, a category field that is a muti-key field, and calculated time increment fields based on elapsed time from the start date or year. Using the start year field you can also define calculated fields for decade and century.

The Entry record includes the Entry Type (person or event - I will colorcode events by type), Title (name for a person), Description, Representative Image, Date, Year, a multikey Category field, a multikey Comparator category field, Select Image, Select Audio, Select Video (used for linking to the Media table), and the Entry ID (Key field for relationship to Media table). Using the Date field you can also define calculated fields for month, year, decade, and century.

The Media Table has the fields Entry ID, Media Type, and a container field to contain the media object.

By relating the Timeline Definition start year (or decade or century) field to the entry record event year, decade, or century calculations using the <= operator then relating the stop year (or decade or century) to the entry record event year, decade, or century calculations using the >= operator, you can produce a display of all events recorded in the entry table that fall between the two dates. By adding a relationship by category, you can filter the events displayed. For example, if the outline definition category field includes the values New York, United States, or North America and you relate it to the category field of the entry records in the Entry table, only events in New York or the United States or North America will display in the Timeline. If you want only events in New York, you place the single value New York in the Timeline Definition category field. If you want to compare a timeline of events in New York with events in the United States, you define a relationship between the Timeline Defintion field Comparator with the Entry category field. Then design a layout that displays the entries from the first relationship above a timeline displaying entries from the second relationship.

Vertical timelines can be produced easily by designing a layout in list view with fields placed in a single column. A horizontal timeline is produced by using the calculated Time increment fields spaced along a demarcated line then linking the Time increment fields to the Entry table with the >= and <= operators and defining portals that refer to these relationships.

If you're interested in looking at my prototype, it is available for download at:

http://interact.uoregon.edu/techweb/Timeline.fp7

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Blend it like Beckham

I received this Photoshop tip in my Bravenet Webmaster Tips and Tricks newsletter and thought it was really good. I had never tried using the Blend mode options before.


by Jake Redekop


"Layer blend modes are a powerful, but often overlooked, feature of Photoshop. This month we're going to use layer blend modes to correct under or over exposures in your digital photograph collection.

We'll begin with overexposures. The first thing you need to do is duplicate the layer that holds your overexposed photograph. To do this, right click on the layer and chose “Duplicate Layer” from the drop down menu.

You should now have two instances of your photograph. Choose the topmost layer and switch the blending mode to 'Multiply' (located at the top of the layers palette). If you like you results, you are done!

If your photo is still a little light, keep duplicating the topmost layer until you are satisfied; however, if the picture is too dark now, lower the opacity of the top layer until you get the desired color saturation. For the image below, I used two duplicates with the second duplicate set to 15% opacity.


To correct underexposed photographs, follow the same steps as above except use the "Screen" Blend Mode to brighten the image."

Site Pal offers highly configurable virtual agents


A little spendy but very interesting technology.

Here's the character I created.

I dressed her conservatively (more like me) but there are a number of clothing options including uniforms for all the main branches of the military, civilian uniformed occupations, sports, etc. I found a pair of glasses similar to mine and colored her hair (there wasn't a graying option though). I aged her some to get the lines in the neck, widened her face and her shoulders , changed the color of her eyes and added eye makeup. I notice there is a facial features option but it is not available in the demo. Hat choices is also grayed out. The background choices are a bit on the boring side but you can upload your own.

I see their gold package includes an AI engine for answering questions. I tried out the Text-to-Speech feature (available in the Silver and Gold editions) and it is very natural sounding. All the controls are very intuitive and the result is quite impressive. I see you can even hire "professional" voice talent for only $50 per minute!

http://www.oddcast.com/sitepal2/?&affId=16968

Monday, May 09, 2005

Internet Phones Arrive at Home (and Some Need No Computer)

The New York Times: "A few years ago, a buzz began spreading about Internet telephony, a technology allowing telephone conversations to be made across the Internet rather than exclusively over regular phone lines.

More recently, Internet phone technology - also known as voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP - made inroads into businesses using heavy-duty equipment from companies like Cisco.

Now, thanks to providers like Vonage and others, it has found its way into the home. The service is sometimes choppy, but costs are low and quality is satisfactory for routine calls. Moreover, Internet protocol lends itself to inexpensive videoconferencing as well, useful for informal video chats between friends or business associates.

An example of a videoconferencing option that requires no computer is the Broadband Video Phone from Packet8 (www.8x8.com). At $99, this may be the best overall choice for VoIP enthusiasts; it offers fully functional video and audio calling at low cost.

The device looks much like an office phone but has a pop-up screen and can also be hooked up to a television. Its video quality is good but not great - flawless at times, but capable of quickly degrading, especially if either party moves quickly.

As a phone, though, it sparkles. It is hard to tell it is not a regular land line, and that factor separates the device from its peers. Also attractive is its ease of setup: plug in an Ethernet cable and you're all set. Service for the device runs $19.95 a month for unlimited video calls and unlimited voice calls in the United States and Canada."

I'm very pleased to see this technology finally coming into its own. I tried VOIP a number of years ago in its infancy and it turned out quite helpful to a friend who lost his father and was able to call back and forth to the Midwest several times a day to help his mother with funeral arrangements and afterward as she adjusted to living alone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Using Shutter Speed Priority Setting with Panasonic FZ20 the answer to nonflash interior photography

In my second major outing with the Panasonic FZ20 digital camera I obtained much better results indoors where flash was prohibited and low lighting was a significant issue. I was attending the Historical Novel Society conference in Salt Lake City and visited the University of Utah Museum of Fine Art. I set the ISO sensitivity to 400 and used the Shutter Speed priority setting with a speed of 1/30 second. I was then able to get adequately-exposed sharp images thanks to the built-in digital stabilization system in the camera. Although there is increased noise in the images because of the high sensitivity setting, the pictures were still quite acceptable.

I wish I had used this setting more often in Rome. Most museums, both here and in Italy, do not permit the use of tripods (or flash). Even the digital stabilization system cannot compensate enough if the Automatic Program setting drops the shutter speed to less than 1/30 second. Without a tripod this makes it almost impossible, especially with a person like me with familial tremor, to get a sharp image.

I hope to return to Italy in 2008 and reshoot some of the darker exhibits in the Capitoline, National, and Vatican Museums. I also hope to spend several days in Florence next time so I can get a reservation for the Uffitzi Gallery, get an opportunity to photograph the exhibits at the Museum of Roman Civilization in Fermi, and the displays in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

In the meantime I plan to attend the King Tut exhibition in Los Angeles and visit the Getty Museum while I am there as well. I want to experiment a little with the stabilizer mode setting. According to the article I have link referenced the Mode 2 setting (not the default) will actually produce a sharper image:

"When the "mode 1" setting is used, the stabilizer is always running, which helps you compose your photo. Mode 2 only activates the stabilizer when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating camera shake."

I also want to experiment with the White Balance adjustment. I had problems in Rome using the present Program setting when shooting flash pictures of bronze figures. It resulted in them looking like a negative. Perhaps adjusting the white balance would resolve this problem.

Blogger upgrade troublesome

Ever since Blogger upgraded one of its central kernels a couple of weeks ago I have had repeated problems with publishing from the edit posts and compose posts screens. I've reported it twice but the problem seems to continue. It is getting really irritating. I tried to post something last week and it would just keep flashing 0% on the publishing progress screen and never seem to complete the publishing process. However, now that I have returned from a conference and checked the blog, it seemed to have actually published it somehow. Whether it did it without updating the progress screen or tech support forced it after receiving my trouble report I don't know but I hope they get all the kinks worked out soon. It's really annoying.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Flickr Appears to Be Target of Buyout Efforts

I noticed there was a discussion thread on the Flickr bulletin board that was speculating on the impact of a potential buyout from either Yahoo or Google. I love Flickr's ease of use and have over 2000 images posted to my professional Flickr account so of course any rumors about a buyout are a bit unnerving.

However, I must admit that Google's buyout of Blogger turned out to be quite positive. With Google's financial muscle, Blogger was able to go to a full featured totally free product and I have had no regrets about that merger. I don't know what Yahoo would have in mind. I think I would prefer a Google takeover, though, since I understand that Google collaborated on the search mechanism Flickr incorporated into the service and it would be a wonderful enhancement to Google's existing image search service.

Television Media and Computers offer Children Pluses and Minuses

Some interesting research from the National Science Foundation:
US NSF News"A consortium of researchers has reported that very young children’s interactions with TV and computers are a mixed bag of opportunities and cautions, while teenagers’ Internet use has changed so much that the myths of several years ago need to be debunked.

Said Amy Sussman, program manager for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds the five-site Children’s Digital Media Center (CDMC), "Reaping the benefits of various media while avoiding pitfalls is no easy task. Parents and policymakers need to inform their decisions about whether and how to guide their children’s media use through scientific knowledge. Different developmental stages call for different strategies. These and other research studies can help create needed guidance for children at all ages."

"Several individual studies support the 1999 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents do not expose children to electronic screens until they are 2 years old.

One important distinction is between “background TV” and “foreground TV” – that is, TV programs that are playing when young children are around (for example, because the TV is always on in the house) or TV programs designed for young children (for example, Teletubbies). Over a third of the households with children from birth to 6 years old had the TV on most or all of the time, in a study reported by Vandewater and colleagues. Children in these "heavy-television households" watched TV more and read less than other children. In addition, research summarized by Daniel R. Anderson and Tiffany A. Pempek indicates very little evidence that children younger than 2 years old learn much from even so-called "educational" programs and videos, and, furthermore, that background TV may be associated with poorer cognitive outcomes."

What happens when children become teenagers?

"Research findings reveal that teens’ Internet use focuses on identity, sexuality, social attitudes, and values – issues perennially associated with the teenage years. Online dangers include pervasive pornography and other sexually explicit material, disembodied strangers who may pursue others or express hate and racism, and rampant commercialism. However, teenagers also find information they may be hesitant to seek elsewhere, good communication channels with their friends, and advice and support."

Friday, February 25, 2005

Visions of Profit in Podcasting

I have been a big fan of Audible.com since becoming one of it's first customers several years ago. So, I was quite interested in reading about the company's plans to leverage podcasts with its download distribution system. Although I have never ordered any of Audible's periodical subscriptions, I have always thought it would be a great customer service if some of the magazines I subscribe to would offer an audio version that I could listen to on my commute since my attention is less divided then than at home where I am usually bustling about cleaning up the kitchen, taking care of my two puppies, tending my husband, trying to read the paper and catching the occasional remark on television.

The New York Times : "Last week, Audible.com, which in 1994 pioneered the idea of using the Internet to download audio books and other audio material to personal computers, said that it would soon join the podcasting movement. The company, whose business currently includes distributing popular radio programs like 'Car Talk' on a subscription basis over the Internet, now says it intends to make its software and distribution system available to people who want to produce their own podcasts.

'When I started Audible and we started signing up radio partners, people would ask me, 'where does your technology leave radio?,' ' said Donald Katz, Audible's chairman. 'Now it's clear that the creative capacity that is out there greatly outstrips the capacity of the radio pipeline.'"

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sad, Lonely? For a Good Time, Call Vivienne*

The New York Times > Technology > Sad, Lonely? For a Good Time, Call Vivienne*: I see that Artificial Life, the company that produced the software I used to create virtual Caesar, has apparently abandoned their efforts to sell ridiculously priced virtual sales agents and have turned to development of "virtual" friends for lonely cell phone users.

One of the biggest problems they encountered in their original product line, in my opinion, was the amount of time and knowledge it takes to produce a custom virtual agent for a particular company with a specific focus. Now, they are concentrating on producing non-specific "friends" that can be programmed with generic "chit-chat" and used by a much larger pool of potential customers. I suppose this might be a more viable business model but sadly, like the shallow entertainment of "reality" television, it does little to explore the educational potential of their software.

"Eberhard Schoneburg, the chief executive of the software maker Artificial Life Inc. of Hong Kong, may have found the answer: a virtual girlfriend named Vivienne who goes wherever you go.

Vivienne likes to be taken to movies and bars. She loves to be given virtual flowers and chocolates, and she can translate six languages if you travel overseas. She never undresses, although she has some skimpy outfits for the gym, and is a tease who draws the line at anything beyond blowing kisses.

If you marry her in a virtual ceremony, you even end up with a virtual mother-in-law who really does call you in the middle of the night on your cellphone to ask where you are and whether you have been treating her daughter right.

She may sound like a mixed blessing, decidedly high maintenance and perhaps the last resort of losers. But she is nonetheless a concept that cellphone system operators and handset manufacturers are starting to embrace.

Vivienne, the product of computerized voice synthesis, streaming video and text messages, is meant not only to bring business to Artificial Life (she will be available for a monthly fee of $6, not including the airtime costs paid to cellphone operators or the price of virtual chocolates and flowers). But she is also meant to be a lure for the new, higher-tech, third generation, or 3G, cellphones."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Panasonic FZ20 offers challenging options to the digital photographer

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Italy, I have been studying up on the features of our new Panasonic FZ20 Luminix digital camera. I've taken a few shots with it but it seemed to require quite a bit more "fiddling" than my reliable Sony Mavica FD-81. Today, however, I think I identified some of the default settings that may have been causing me some trouble. I noticed that the Auto Focus Continuous setting was not set to on. This meant that there was a slight delay once I pressed the shutter before the camera began it's auto focus routine and may have resulted in some of my earlier images being a little fuzzy. I'm used to the Mavica being focussed almost instantly. I'm hoping that my setting this feature to on will help. I also noticed that the Auto Focus feature was set to only a single point even though the camera is capable of using a nine point focus system. In some of my earlier images, I noticed that the focus seemed less sharp as the image radiated out from the center. I thought it was a result of a shallow depth of field but this may not be the problem after all. I set this feature to the maximum of 9 point focus so we'll see how this affects the overall sharpness of the picture.

I also set the programmable Scene 1 setting to "Party" a setting for obtaining sharp focus in a low light condition. I set the programmable Scene 2 setting to "Scenery" for instant maximum depth of field and sharp focus. These are the majority of types of shots I think I will need.

I have also called our Museum of Art and requested permission to come over and photograph some of their ancient art objects in their exhibition setting so I can determine the best settings for focus and true color reproduction.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Resurrecting a weblog

This weblog was began in September of 2003 using an open source weblog tool called Blosxom that was written in Perl. I really liked the modularity of blosxom and some of the plugins designed for it, especially utilities like the magic link plugin that would recognize a word from your links list and automatically link it to a URL specified in your link list file (Example: Apple would automatically link to http://www.apple.com). However, it became clear over the course of a year that the basic program lacked critical security features that prevented unfortunate events like spammers flooding a blog with advertising through the comments function and code that would prevent the output of an invalid RSS feed or cause internal server errors simply from the use of an international character or reference to a particularly long URL. Therefore, I decided to end my experiment with the tool.

However, I know there are a number of people interested in further development of Blosxom and I wanted to preserve my experiences with the program in the hope that they would prove useful to someone else. Therefore, I transferred all of my posts to this new Blogger blog and, using Blogger's date change utilities, modified the dates of my earlier posts to match the time frame they were actually posted.

I will now go forward with this blog posting my experiences with other technology tools and thoughts about tools in development. Hopefully, other technology enthusiasts will find them helpful as well.