Rebel vs. PowerShot

Wondering lately where I want to land on the spectrum between convenience and quality when comparing an ultra-portable Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS (Digital Elph) and a Canon Rebel EOS. The PowerShot is the size of a deck of cards and weighs ounces. The Rebel (a DSLr camera) easily weighs five times more and has much more bulk – it’s not going to fit neatly into a belt holster that doesn’t get in your way while hiking or biking. I’m not eager to have several pounds dangling from my neck, but at the same time, wouldn’t mind stepping up my game quality-wise in the photo department. Neither camera at my disposal is the latest model in its respective line, but I assumed the Rebel would take far better pictures by default.

Decided to do an informal test to find out. Running both cameras in fully automatic mode (since that’s what I use most often, and since it’s the only way to compare fairly), I took a handful of shots in the back yard, attempting to make the images as close to identical as possible. Tried to get a range of shots in full sun, mixed shadow, and shadow. Included one flash shot and one macro shot as well.

One significant difference not accounted for here is the fact that the Rebel has a full range of manual options that the PowerShot doesn’t have. On the other hand, the PowerShot has a quite good movie mode, which the Rebel lacks completely.

The results weren’t nearly as clear cut as I expected. Comparing the images below, I have a fairly clear preference for one of the columns, but prefer a few images from the opposite column. Can you tell which column is which camera? Which column do you prefer overall?

a1 b1
a2 b2
a3 b3
a4 b4
a5 b5
a6 b6
a7 b7
a9 b9

Pollywogs Redux

Back in 2006, I posted a digitized copy of a 1950s Coast Guard hazing ritual on YouTube. In July 2008, the video suddenly became unavailable, with no reason given as to why, other than “Violation of terms of service.” I suspected that the video may have angered veterans who felt that the video depicted the military in an unflattering light, and that they had flagged it enough times that it was removed. I blogged about the takedown here.

A few nights ago, the Knight Digital Media Center (where I work) had as a guest speaker YouTube’s news manager Olivia Ma, who delivered a fantastic presentation. I took the opportunity to talk to her and try to find out what was behind the takedown, and whether anything could be done. In my view, the video was far more tame than tons of stuff on YouTube, and had historical/documentary relevance as well.

Ma took up the issue with her team and today let me know that the video had been reinstated, noting that it “qualified as EDSA (educational, documentary, scientific or artistic).”

While the version I put up on Vimeo in the interim is of higher quality, I’m happy to again be able to embed the YouTube version:

I’m now trying to learn what I can about any official appeals process for this kind of situation.

Goodbye Chronicle

I just did something really hard – called up the San Francisco Chronicle and canceled the home subscription we’ve kept up for more than a decade. Working at a journalism school, I know exactly how difficult things are for newspapers these days, and how there is no online revenue model available that comes anywhere close to replacing revenue from print subscriptions. I really don’t want to pull my financial support, but the print edition just doesn’t make sense for our lifestyles anymore.

I’ve got nothing against the Chronicle. I’ve enjoyed it for years. Granted, we generally  only read it in 5 or 10-minute skim-bursts in the mornings, but I always enjoyed those sessions. Unfortunately, over the past few months, we’ve stopped the skimming too. The sad truth is that right now I’m looking across the room at a week-old stack of unopened newspapers on the kitchen table. We haven’t even taken the rubber bands off a week’s worth of great journalism.

So where has that time gone? Mornings are a whirlwind of pushups and smoothie making, combing the boy’s hair and packing his lunch, going over the day’s plans. And then there’s the morning email – it usually takes close to 45 minutes just to parse all the stuff that comes in overnight, every night. And part of that email time includes skimming the daily email digests I get from NY Times, Washington Post, and the LA Times. It’s not like I’m not getting any news. Just that my lifestyle lends itself so much better to reading news on the computer than in print.

On top of that, my Twitter addiction has made a huge impact. Stories that really matter to me (rather than to the editors at the Chron) find their way to the top through the organic bubbling process of the hive mind. As much as I hate to admit it, I find that spending 15 minutes on Twitter is way more efficient at surfacing great daily reading than any single newspaper (and yes, some of the articles I end up reading will be at the web sites of mainstream media houses). In effect, I’m subscribed to the whole internet – why do I need a dead tree version of just one city’s paper?

Finally, there’s the iPad. We don’t own one – just borrowed one from work a few times. But from those tests, it became quickly apparent that the iPad could give us the best of both worlds. If we could replace all of our print subscriptions (oh yeah – there are five magazine subscriptions in this house that are also going mostly unread) with iPad versions, we’d feel less guilty about the wasted paper, have less clutter, and (ideally) pay much less. We’ll see how that plan pans out.

Chronicle – I love you and support you in principle. But it no longer makes sense to support you with our wallets. So long and thanks for the good times.

Jaron Larnier Presentation

Loose notes from the SXSW 2010 session Untitled by Jaron Larnier.

Wasn’t sure what to expect from this session, which had no title and no description. But a few weeks ago, the photo professor at the J-School handed me a copy of Larnier’s new book You Are Not a Gadget, a sort of backlash manifesto against the digital age. Well, that’s not entirely fair — it’s not so much a backlash as it is a reasoned, thoughtful wander through some of the gotchas and backwaters of the digital age. Larnier talks about dignity, culture, black boxes, the history of our relationship to technology, mean-ness in online communities, and everything in between. His talk was as meandering as the book is, but inspirational and amazing at every turn. Though difficult to encapsulate, Larnier and his thread is something I feel everyone and tech should be listening to.

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danah boyd: Privacy and Publicity

Loose notes from SXSW 2010 session by social network researcher danah boyd: Privacy and Publicity

Just because people put info in public places doesn’t mean it was meant to be aggregated. Just because something is public doesn’t mean people expect it to be publicized.

What people mean by privacy is more complicated than what can be summarized in a sound bite. A conversation with a friend could be spread by that friend. *Trust* is what allows us to go forward with the conversation. We don’t always navigate privacy well.

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Five Teenagers

J-School students have been doing amazing work this semester on a trio of hyperlocal news sites: Mission Loc@l, Richmond Confidential, and Oakland North. I’m particularly moved by their multimedia feature piece, Five Teenagers, which takes a look at “Teens On Target or TNT, an after-school program based at East Oakland’s Castlemont High School. TNT trains students to teach violence prevention in the city’s middle schools.”

The video above is excerpted from the piece, but be sure to visit and check out the whole package, which interviews five teens, breaks down some chilling numbers, and provides an embedded map of regional homicides thanks to Oakland Crimespotting.

I was also impressed by the lack of Flash in this piece – everything is done with JQuery. Multimedia journalism and Flash go hand-in-hand (just surf through the projects listed at Interactive Narratives and count how many are done in Flash vs. standard methods). But slowly, multimedia journalists are beginning to realize that the downsides of Flash that we web standards geeks rant about are real, not just theoretical. At the same time, the quality, reliability, and ease-of-use of Javascript libraries like JQuery really are making it possible for non-programmers to put packages like this together.

Great work, guys!

Back to the Land

From the New York Times blog And the Pursuit of Happiness, Maira Kalman explores the relationship between agrarian societies, fast food culture, and how “the fabric of our lives is bound in the food we eat.”

Back to the Land – Do the affluent have access to the really healthy food while the less affluent do not?

Nothing earth-shattering in what she’s saying – it’s the way she’s assembling her ideas that I love – the unusual, homespun visual presentation supports the spirit of what she’s communicating.


A labor-intensive way to way to blog, but that’s exactly perfect when what you’re writing about is the importance of slowing down the cultural experience, and the significance of real work by real people.

Beautiful stuff. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Birdhouse 960

960 Blog look different? At first glance, not by much, but I’ve just completed a massive cleanup of the back-end, replacing the old HTML/CSS with the 960 Grid System, starting with the 960bc (blank canvas) WordPress theme. While I was at it, took the opportunity to search/replace out a bunch of old non-semantic code buried in the posts, updated or replaced a lot of plugins, and killed off a few old features that had out-lived their usefulness.

The biggest news: After years of preaching the HTML validation gospel to students, I still hadn’t gotten around to trying to make my own platform validate… but the Foobar Blog finally does! Well, almost. There will always be 3rd party code outside your control that can’t be hammered into shape. The biggest offenders here are embedded Flickr slideshows and WordPress’ own embedded Gallery feature. Ugh. But aside from that, we’re pretty darn close to clean. Everything I can control validates at least.

The old design had accreted slowly over the years, from a patchwork of parts built and gathered. Original intention was to go for a clean break and adopt a modern 3rd-party theme, but the more I searched, the more I felt like I loved the “Cheap Thrills” design that’s evolved here (not available for download, sorry). So I decided to port Cheap Thrills to 960. It wasn’t all roses, since the divs in this theme hug each other so tightly, while 960 assumes margins everywhere. A lot of fiddling with negative margins, and I haven’t  solved the equal height divs problem quite yet. Will do soon.

New in this pimplementation:

  • Much wider content area. Goal is to be able to show full-width video and slideshows, plus code samples that don’t fold to the next line or stretch out of the content space.
  • Syntax highlighting for code samples (example)
  • Tag cloud (see sidebar) – I’ve been tagging random articles for a long time but didn’t want to display a cloud until there were enough of them to warrant it. Still haven’t gone through and tagged the entire site history, but the cloud is picking up steam.
  • General cleanup. Cruft removal. So. Much. Cruft.
  • Somewhat wider sidebar – more room for Image from Nowhere and Recent Comments. Some of the old Images from Nowhere look a bit stretched but future ones will be generated larger.
  • Replaced my old handmade RSS-based Twitter integration with Twitter for WordPress. Super clean – much better for DIY theme builders than the usual TwitterTools.
  • The old Democracy plugin for polling appears to have been abandoned. Replaced it with the much cleaner WP-Polls, which also meant manually copying all of the old Poll data into the new system (ugh!). See the Pollster section.
  • Replaced the old contact form  in the shacker contacter with the much simpler Contact Form 7.
  • Nips and tucks galore.

Process took way longer than expected of course – everything does – but these things had been gnawing away at me for a long time now. Feels great to have it all done. Haven’t done any cross-browser testing yet – let me know if something doesn’t look right for you.

Can’t say enough good things about 960 Grid. We’ve standardized on it at work, and it really does make life easier. Not without its warts, but much more pleasant than the YUI grid it replaces.

Cognitive Surplus

There’s an expression I hear a bit too often, in reference to other people’s chosen pastimes. It’s usually used in a negative sense, and more often than not, the pastimes being referred to are things like blogging, or Twittering.

“People have too much time on their hands” … or …  “Where do people find the time?”

Clay Shirky had a similar conversation recently, regarding the thousands of people who spend their free time culling, cultivating, editing, and massaging the vast fount of human knowledge that is Wikipedia.

“Where do people find the time?” A fair question, until you look at it in comparison to the amount of time people spend watching television. As it turns out, Wikipedia represents, collectively, about 100 million hours of thought. Meanwhile, watching television consumes around two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year.

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought. And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is.

Shirky is talking about this in terms of “cognitive surplus” — all the brain power that’s sitting idle in a consumptive state, rather than a productive state. That’s not quite fair – we all need to consume information if we’re going to produce information. And oh yeah – we all owe ourselves a bit of “veg time” every day. But before you ask the question “where do people find the time” in regards to any person’s pastime that doesn’t interest you personally, remember that the average American watches 8+ hours of TV per day.

That in itself is a stunning statistic, and I’m not sure how to digest it – if you subtract time for work, school, eating, etc. I can’t see how a person could even watch two hours per day (I’m guessing that a lot of people simply leave the TV on all the time), but still. That’s a whole lot of cognitive surplus.