Saturday, June 30, 2007

New York City considering ridiculous law to force photographers to get a permit

A friend of mine brought this to my attention this morning:


Some tourists, amateur photographers, even would-be filmmakers hoping to make it big on YouTube could soon be forced to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance before taking pictures or filming on city property, including sidewalks.

New rules being considered by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance.

The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment.

Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers.

Nevertheless, the New York Civil Liberties Union says the proposed rules, as strictly interpreted, could have that effect. The group also warns that the rules set the stage for selective and perhaps discriminatory enforcement by police.

“These rules will apply to a huge range of casual photography and filming, including tourists taking snapshots and people making short videos for YouTube,” said Christopher Dunn, the group’s associate legal director.

Mr. Dunn suggested that the city deliberately kept the language vague, and that as a result police would have broad discretion in enforcing the rules. In a letter sent to the film office this week, Mr. Dunn said the proposed rules would potentially apply to tourists in places like Times Square, Rockefeller Center or ground zero, “where people routinely congregate for more than half an hour and photograph or film.”

The rule could also apply to people waiting in line to enter the Empire State Building or other tourist attractions.

The rules define a “single site” as any area within 100 feet of where filming begins. Under the rules, the two or more people would not actually have to be filming, but could simply be holding an ordinary camera and talking to each other.

The rules are intended to set standards for professional filmmakers and photographers, said Ms. Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, but the language of the draft makes no such distinction.

“While the permitting scheme does not distinguish between commercial and other types of filming, we anticipate that these rules will have minimal, if any, impact on tourists and recreational photographers, including those that use tripods,” Ms. Cho said in an e-mail response to questions.

Mr. Dunn said that the civil liberties union asked repeatedly for such a distinction in negotiations on the rules but that city officials refused, ostensibly to avoid creating loopholes that could be exploited by professional filmmakers and photographers.

City officials would not confirm that yesterday. But Mark W. Muschenheim, a lawyer with the city’s law department, which helped draft the rules, said, “There are few instances, if any, where the casual tourist would be affected.”

The film office held a public hearing on the proposed rules yesterday, but no one attended. The only written comments the department received were from the civil liberties group, Ms. Cho said.

Ms. Cho said the office expected to publish a final version of the rules at the end of July. They would go into effect a month later.

The permits would be free and applications could be obtained online, Ms. Cho said. The draft rules say the office could take up to 30 days to issue a permit, but Ms. Cho said she expected that most would be issued within 24 hours."

Yikes!!! Of course, if I travel by myself, I guess I would be safe since it says "two or more". This would set a really bad precedent though. Why do they think they can enforce something like that? Could they just pick any piece of equipment at random? Anyone using a cell phone in New York City...anyone using a laptop in New York City...anyone using an electric razor in New York City..the possibilities and ridiculousness of it could go on and on!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

SnapVillage to offer hosting services for Amateur/Semi-pro stock photography

This article caught my attention. With my image archive growing to over 12,000 images, I am accumulating quite a large resource that has some commercial value. I license my images for free use for non-profit purposes but typically retain the commercial rights. I had written to Google urging them to roll out a service within Flickr that would enable those of us that wished to engage in commercial sales to sell commercial rights with built-in links to Paypal for payment but I hadn't heard anything back from them. Maybe Microsoft/Corbis' entry into the market will nudge them in that direction. In the meantime, I set up an account on SnapVillage and as an experiment uploaded five quality images to see how things work out with them.

Recognizing the growing market for inexpensive online photographs, Corbis, the online stock photo company founded and owned by Bill Gates, plans today to introduce a Web site that allows anyone to upload photographs for sale.

Images scheduled to be available beginning today on SnapVillage.

Called SnapVillage, the site is the latest entrant into the realm of so-called microstock agencies.

Microstock sites take advantage of a phenomenon known as crowd sourcing, whereby thousands of amateur and semiprofessional photographers submit pictures and charge as little as $1 an image. Unlike some other microstock sites, SnapVillage will allow its contributors to set their own prices, ranging from $1 to $50 an image.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hollywood scrambles to get a handle on media for the iPhone

It looks like everyone is trying to figure out how to capitalize on the soon-to-be-released Apple iPhone. From a consumer perspective, though, I wonder if the pricing structure is going to be more accommodating. At present I think it is ridiculous to have to pay something like an additional $40 more a month to receive internet content on a cell phone service already commanding $40 per month. I think $40 per month ought to be all inclusive, especially considering that studios are also raking in PPV fees as well.

"For years, mobile phone carriers like AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint have closely controlled what cellphone users watch, when they watch it, and on what kind of screen they watch it — much the way the networks did with television before new technologies loosened their grip. Many in Hollywood and Silicon Valley hope the iPhone’s multimedia features will make it easier for any mobile-crazed consumer to do the same things they do on the Web: watch their favorite television shows, download maps, send e-mail messages to friends and swap videos.

In what is the beginning of many attempts to make the cellphone more Web friendly, Apple has designed its own application so consumers can receive YouTube videos through a Wi-Fi network. Industry executives predict that as it becomes easier to get information via Wi-Fi networks, more consumers will bypass traditional wireless networks altogether. That prospect, while helpful for phone makers and media concerns, is frightening for service providers if consumers begin to regard them as irrelevant.

“Video, particularly, has largely been behind a wall,” said John Smelzer, the general manager of mobile operations for Fox Interactive Media, referring to the limited and clumsy access most consumers have to news, sports and entertainment on traditional cellphones. “It’s the antithesis of what’s happening on the Web. Any device that replicates the experience online is good for the entire industry. It will help us reach a mass audience,” he said.

Even Mr. Jobs’s competitors, who are quick to point out that the iPhone has limitations, like its sole availability through AT&T, say that it will nudge resistant wireless carriers to pay more attention to their customers’ wishes. “The iPhone is a fantastic device, but they don’t control the network,” said Craig Shapiro, head of content strategy and acquisition for Helio, the mobile phone maker and service company. “For these things to work, though, everyone has to get with the program.”

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Second DISH DVR failure in three years

This was really my week for hard drives I guess. I had noticed that my DISH network DVR had suddenly displayed more recording time available even though I knew I was almost at capacity. I suspect DISH had downloaded an upgrade. I was reasonably pleased with the thought of having more storage capacity but then I noticed my recorded programs were disappearing. Soon I was down to only three episodes of The Tudors and all of my Rome season 2 had disappeared. I wasn't so upset about the Rome series disappearing because I had already preordered the set on DVD from Amazon and will receive it in August but I was really irritated about losing The Tudors since I had set two of the episodes to record while I was in Alaska and then New York. So I didn't get a chance to see episodes 8 and 10.

This same thing happened to me about a year and a half ago with my first DISH DVR. Ironically, I had just finished recording all of Rome Season 1 when it began disappearing. I was really peaved because at that time the DVD set had not been announced. (I have since bought it).

So, I called DISH to tell them the problem had happened again. The woman I talked to said I had to start paying $5.99 a month for a warranty agreement before they would replace the unit. I told her I was already paying $5.00 per month DVR service fee and a $5.99 per month DVR lease fee (since DISH will not let you buy the DVR unit outright) and I was NOT going to pay a monthly warranty fee for a unit I didn't even own. She said she would be right back. She came back on the line and said okay, but I would have to pay shipping and handling. Again I told her I was not going to pay shipping and handling on a unit they owned that was defective! She said she would be right back then came back on the line and said she would send a new receiver with a prepaid shipping label to return the defective one. I told her Thank You! I asked her if this was they length of time these units usually lasted and she insisted that many of her customers had units that lasted up to 8 or 9 years. I thought to myself, not likely since DVRs haven't even been around that long!

In just two days the new unit arrived. I placed it on top of the original unit and transferred the cables to their appropriate outlets (to avoid the spaghetti cords problem) then removed the old unit and turned on the new unit. I started the Check routine and it displayed a warning that it could only talk to one satellite. I called DISH tech support and was told to complete the setup then we would deal with the problem of not being able to receive signals from satellite 110. I completed the rest of the setup and got a selection of channels to appear but channels like History Channel International did not appear in the line up (and I live on History Channel International!). So we set about trying to get the receiver to recognize satellite 110. I tried different transponders but nothing seemed to work. The technician started to ask me about my dish alignment but I told them that it was working fine with my old unit I had just disconnected. Finally, the technician said I had better send the replacement unit back since it, too, was obviously defective, and hook back up my old unit for the time being since it receives all the channels but just can't record. By the time I finished all of that it was almost midnight and I had to go to work the next day!

Anyway, I have shipped the defective replacement back and am presently awaiting another replacement so I can go through all the setup again. I asked the rep if all of these DVRs only last about two years and he said he has had some customers that had DVRs last longer and some that also had DVRS that lasted no longer than mine. (At least he didn't say 8 years...)

I wonder if TIVOs have a better life span? I went up on the TIVO website and the services you get with a TIVO are much better than the one I get from DISH. The TIVO has a regular USB port on it so you can download content to an iPod or other portable device or computer. DISH's device uses a proprietary USB port that only works with their very expensive "PocketDISH" device. The TIVO site also mentions being able to work with video content downloads from Amazon. This would be great but I assume you have to have high-speed internet integrated with your receiver. I live out in the country so my high speed internet is delivered on a separate satellite from Wild Blue because DISH told me they did not have internet service available at this location. If I had integrated internet I would definitely try the TIVO device. It's certainly got to be better than the service I have had so far and it would be great to be able to download movies to my video iPod to help me endure long airline flights.

Are Critical Systems Hardware Contracts Really Worth It?

I had a very frustrating week last week from the viewpoint of a harried system adminstrator. For the first time in almost 20 years of operation, our primary adminstrative server lost a hard drive. Fortunately, we had the server configured in a Raid-5 array so the hot spare kicked in and took over for the failed drive. However, when we contacted Hewlett Packard to obtain a drive replacement under our 4-hour critical systems contract, we discovered that (1) the drive was not in stock in the regional warehouse even though it was only a little over a year old and (2) according to the fine print in the contract, the 4-hour service guarantee only applies if the part is available.

I asked the customer service agent if we were to be compensated for their failure to perform under the terms of the contract such as extending our contract for a year at no cost (which I thought was a reasonable solution) but they refused saying they had no responsibility for their failure since the part was not in stock.

Then, I was told they located the part and I should receive it by the next day. The next day came and I received no hard drive. The next morning I called customer service again and was told that they were doing the best they could to get it to me as fast as possible and after all it had only been a day (!!!) Then another day passed and still no hard drive - actually three days since it went over the weekend and I still had no hard drive on Monday. I obtained the UPS tracking number myself and went up on the UPS website to find out what happened to the drive. All it said was "billing information received". So I called HP back to ask what was going on. I was told they didn't know but would check into it and could I call back. I told them it was their responsibility and that they should call me back when they had an answer. I also told them I didn't care what happened to the original replacement drive, just get me a drive no later than the next day. Needless to say, I did not get a call back. So, I found a number on the web for the Higher Education Account Rep for Oregon and called it. The main rep was out but I reached Brian (I didn't get the last name). Brian tried very hard to get me connected to the right people. Finally I was told that someone from the Critical Systems group would get back to me shortly with an ETA for the part. Before long I got a call from a member of the group with an ETA of 4:59 p.m. that same day. I was skeptical because it was already 4:00 p.m. but the rep insisted it was coming by Sky Courier.

Anyway, I hung around the office until almost 5:30 p.m. but still no drive. I finally went on home. The next morning I was about to call HP AGAIN when I received a call from a man who said he had a package to deliver from UPS and he was down at the bookstore and needed to know where my office was. I was puzzled since UPS delivers here all the time. Anyway, I gave him directions and decided I better walk outside and intercept him just in case. (By this time I was desperate for the part anyway). So, I went outside but didn't see the usual brown UPS truck. Soon a rather well-worn red vehicle pulled up driven by an elderly man and I noticed he had some packages tossed in the back seat. I asked him if he was delivering a package from UPS and he said yes. I noticed he had a rather dog-eared label taped to his dashboard that said "Sky Courier". I signed for the package and took it inside. With bated breath I opened the box and compared the capacity, speed, etc. to make sure it was the correct part since it wasn't absolutely identical and had a different part number, but it did work.

So, after almost a week, I finally got the part I needed for a critical systems server. We were just very fortunate the server did not experience another drive failure while we were waiting for the replacement. Apparently, I was told HP had somehow gotten an incorrect address printed on the delivery label that contained a P.O. Box (I don't know where that came from since we don't have a P.O. Box and HP admits my customer record showed the physical address I had given them) so UPS kept returning it because they don't deliver to P.O. Boxes. However, I'm still of the opinion that if the service I received is indicative of the typical response to a critical systems failure, I don't think paying for 4-hour service is probably worth it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The importance of lens stabilization in new digital cameras

I've always found David Pogue's technology articles interesting and have now had the pleasure of meeting him when I attended two of his workshops. At the photography workshop I attended he mentioned that image stabilization systems come in two flavors, in-camera, and in-lens, but he had no particular opinion about the value of one over the other except that in-lens systems increase the cost of removable lenses on DSLRs. However, in this article he points out what the digital camera producers say about each type:

"Canon and Nikon, which takes the same approach [in-lens stabilizers], argue, however, that in-body stabilizers are far less effective, because they can’t be tailored for the focal length of each individual lens. For example, you need more stabilization at long focal lengths (zoomed in) than short ones. Canon and Nikon say that with an in-lens stabilizer, you can make the aperture four stops smaller without changing the shutter speed, versus about two stops on an in-camera system. Furthermore, only lens-based systems show the stabilized image through the viewfinder."

I recently bought a new camera but opted for a Panasonic FZ-8, a so-called "point-and-shoot" model with a 12X optical zoom lens. I prefer to consider my lens-changing days in my film camera past. I'm more interested in concentrating on composition and the more creative aspects of digital photography than manhandling a lot of "gear". My photography needs are also a bit distinct as well. I am building an image archive of art, history, and science images for faculty to use in the classroom so I photograph thousands of museum exhibits in an environment where I am prohibited from using flash or tripod. For this reason, I use a Fujifilm F30 camera for low-light conditions because it produces excellent images in those conditions with minimal grain (even at ISO 3200) that can usually be practically excised using Photoshop's noise reduction and median functions.

The Panasonic gives me a versatile camera for outdoor detail work with its 12X zoom Also it gives me an Intelligent ISO mode for less than optimum lighting conditions With its excellent image stabilization, I can capture some indoor subjects (such as decently lit lighter-colored statues or reliefs) with more detail than the Fuji. I can almost hand-hold a shot at 1/15 shutterspeed with the Panasonic while I must set my minimum shutter speed on the Fuji to 1/60 because of its lack of image stabilization. The Panasonic, too, can be set up to an ISO of 3200 but I have found that anything above 400 with the Panasonic is too grainy for my taste.

Nonprofits stage virtual events in Second Life

Once again, the virtual world Second Life is the center of innovative ways to share information. I guess I'm going to have to get serious about exploring Second Life more intensely. The cost kind of turned me off. Second Life is advertised as free but the bottom line is if you want to be able to "do" anything in the virtual environment (like save information, create anything permanent, etc.) you need to pay at least $9.95 per month for a minimum account and "purchasing" virtual real estate gets really expensive fast.

"Charities and other nonprofit groups are also beginning to migrate into the so-called metaverse, seeking ways of attracting new donors and hoping to educate a broader audience about the issues they address.

Adventure Ecology, a British group, staged a virtual flood in Second Life to show what global warming might bring, and a psychiatry professor at the University of California, Davis, created a way for his students to experience in Second Life what a person with schizophrenic hallucinations experiences.

"It’s a wonderful awareness-building tool,” said Beth Kanter, a nonprofit consultant. "You can walk someone through an experience there or sit down with them to discuss the work you’re doing in a way that you can’t in the real world or on the Web."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Honda's "Minisodes" on My Space a glimpse of the future of broadcast programming?

"Honda will be the sole sponsor of what Sony Pictures Television is calling the Minisode Network, which is scheduled to begin next week. Visitors to the MySpace Web site (my will be able to watch episodes of 15 vintage Sony series like “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Facts of Life,” “Fantasy Island” and “Who’s the Boss,” edited from their original lengths of 30 or 60 minutes each to an Internet-friendly 4 to 6 minutes."

I thought this development is very interesting. Not only does it address the problem of many web viewers shortened attention span but their tolerance for extended ad space. I doubt that anyone is going to try to skip an 8-second ad. Shortening a 30-minute television episode is not really as daunting as it sounds anyway. If you remove all the advertising from a current 30-minute episode you are usually left with less than 12 minutes of programming. Subtract from that the intro and end credits and you're probably looking at 8 minutes of content. Remove a single scene or lead up dialogue and you've got your 6 minutes.

The one hour episode is a bit more of a challenge. But think about movie trailers. Many people complain that now days you see most of the main scenes of a movie (2.5 - 3 hrs) in the trailer anyway.

I also find it interesting that the amount of video time is geared toward the "YouTube" time limit. Furthermore, Honda has targeted the coveted youth demographic by introducing the new media in My Space.

I watched the example T.J. Hooker episode and noticed the intro credits were applied over the introductory scenes to the episode and the end credits popped by fast but were still readable.