Monthly Archives: June 2005

Father’s day

It must be getting close to Father’s day, because I’ve noticed that “lantern tv” has recently entered the top 10 terms used by people reaching this blog via a search engine.

I “posted about lantern tv radios”: during the holiday shopping season in 2002. I’d seen one on TV, and another at a store in the mall, and it really depressed me. At the time I wrote that “If your family gives you one, you need to change your life.”

It still strikes me as an incredibly sad gift to give or receive. It’s a gift for a father with no obvious passions (other than TV and ambivalent apocalyptic paranoia) from children who think the best gift option remaining is an ugly device with many functions none of which it does really well.

Apparently its a growing market. Back when I made my first post, I could only find some off-brand device on a survival supply site. Now Coleman “is selling them”:

Death of the camcorder, film at 11.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems to me that recent advances in digital video aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

It’s not that they are going entirely unnoticed. This recent “review of tiny digital cameras”: in the New York Times notes the video abilities of each camera without really considering the implications of a ~$300 device capable of shooting long clips of TV quality video.

I’ve been tracking this since I noticed that the clips shot by my first digital camera, a Nikon CoolPix 990, reminded me of old 8mm home movies. The resolution was poor, the focus was questionable, the colors were oversaturated, the motion was jerky and blurred and the audio was non-existant, but it captured something that a much better still photo couldn’t.

My second digital camera, a Canon PowerShot S400 I bought 18 months ago, improved things somewhat. The image quality had improved a little, but I could shoot up to 3 minutes at a time (longer than a lot of takes in TV and movies), and there was poor quality audio to go along with it. Most importantly, I could carry it in my pocket and the movies were almost as easy to mail around as the photos I took.

Since then, I’ve been waiting for the next step, and we are finally there. My brother just e-mailed me a short clip of my nephew singing me happy birthday that he’d taken with his new Canon Powershot SD400 (or maybe it was the Canon SD500, which has identical video capabilities). The clip was 640×480 @ 30 frames/second, Details were crisp, motion was smooth and there weren’t a lot of ugly compression artifacts. The audio wasn’t bad either (which isn’t to say it was good). Best of all, the camera is about the size of a deck of cards or a pack of cigarettes (depending on your vice), so you can take it anywhere, and you can record until the memory card fills up.

I’m betting that my brother’s DV camcorder is going to see a lot less use now, and I’m sure his won’t be the only one.

Don’t get me wrong, camcorders are better by a lot of criteria. They have lenses with a wider range of zoom, they work better in low light, have better autofocus, image stabilization, more storage, better audio (including the ability to use an external microphone), and a form factor that is probably better for long stable shots but they suffer alot in the convenience department, most are relatively bulky compared to a small camera, and they transfer video in realtime (1 minute of video takes a minute to transfer to your computer).

These new digital cameras, on the other hand, offer good video quality under good lighting and I’d guess that people aren’t going to mind a little jumpyness and mono audio if it means catching a clip of their kids first step they wouldn’t otherwise get.

All this suggests a few opportunities to me. Camera reviewers should be going into more depth on the video abilities of cameras. At this point, they just cover the basics, like resolution, frame rate, and maybe average data rate and maximum clip length. I’d like to know more: what’s the image quality like? are there obvious compression artifacts? can I zoom during a clip? does the camera do a good job of adjusting the focus as the main subject of the scene moves? etc.

Software makers could make it as simple to compress a clip to share with friends and family on the net as they do for resize photos for emailing. Image stabilization in software would also be cool.

It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here.

Ink by the barrel

I’m watching a streaming clip from C-SPAN from a recent Gartner IT Security conference. Bob Woodward is giving opening remarks before the panel discussion starts. Just as he is turning it over, he recounts a dinner with a muckety muck with Simon and Schuster after he published his last book. The exec asks Woodward what his next book is going to be, and has a rather crass and commercial response to to Woodward’s thoughtful evasion. At the end of the dinner, Woodward say’s he’s found his topic, he’s going to write about the publishing industry in New York. The exec responds with a thinly veiled threat, which Woodward takes seriously, that such a book will be the last book Woodward publishes.

The “clip”:rtsp:// is in Real video format. The comment comes about 14:00 in.

The publisher’s threat makes me glad we have alternatives to the old mass media.

Very cool Firefox trick

I’ve long used a shortcut in firefox to do google searches. Rather than relying on the tiny built in search box, I just type “goo blah blah blah” in the URL box and it uses a special bookmark I created to search “blah blah blah” on Google. I’ve also set up a few others as well.

What’s really easy is that they make it extremely easy to set up new search shortcuts. Just right-click on the search box on almost any web page, and you should see an option in the popup menu to add a keyword for this search.

Mozilla Firefox – Smart Keywords