Thoughts

On the ephemerality of digital publishing

For all the ease of use and low cost of entry of digital publishing, there’s its inescapable ephemeral nature. I’m not talking about digital books, photographs, music and movies, although there’s a lot to be said about those things as well. That sort of distributed publishing puts a copy of your creation on someone else’s device, and is thus more buffeted against the inevitable loss or data corruption that occurs, because copies of your creation will likely survive somewhere. What I want to talk about is this very thing I’m using right now to publish this: my website.

It could be perceived as a contradiction in appearances to talk about how fleeting my website will be as it’s coming up on 20 years of existence (that’s right, my website will turn 20 later this year, after I turn 44). But I’m thinking beyond my lifetime. I’d like the things I write about, the photographs I take, the videos I make, to reach the generations of the future. I know there’s a lot of drivel out there on the web that won’t stand the test of time, because it’s made specifically for the now, to appeal to trends and other passing nonsense, but I don’t spend my time on those things. At least some of the things I write about are likely applicable or useful 50-100 years down the road, and just as I appreciate books, music and movies published 50-100 years ago, I hope my digital creations will be appreciated a century into the future. But how will it get there? How will my website survive 100 years?

In the past, articles were published on paper, books were published on paper, then we had negatives we could look at; books were scanned. Now when we publish posts and articles on websites, exactly how will this electronic (HTML + CSS + Scripts) format make it down the road? If we die and our domain name is no longer paid up, the website goes down. Should we be hosting our site on a platform like WordPress.com, when we stop paying the site domain may change back to the free WP subdomain, some site services will stop working, but the site will continue to stay up, but until when? Does WP have a plan to exist and function well in 100 years? Does any web publishing platform or social network plan to be around in 100 years? Will YouTube or Facebook be around in 100 years? What if they undergo so many changes in the way things get published and shown to the public that my content can no longer be ported onto the new versions of the software, and it gets left behind? Then there’s the basic nature of a business: it needs money to survive. The “freemium” plans of today, where you get some free services but the better ones cost money, aren’t futureproof. At some point, a company decides it’s had enough of freeloaders and switches to all paid accounts.

The thing with a book or a magazine is that once it’s printed, once it’s made, no further effort is needed to “keep it alive”, and this isn’t the case with digital publishing, where once you’ve made something digital, you still need further energy to keep the web server up and running, more energy to keep it patched up and upgraded, more energy to swap out parts that fail, more energy for the internet bandwidth, etc., energy that translates into utility bills, bandwidth bills and man hours, in perpetuity. None of this is needed with a printed book. It just sits in someone’s library and requires no effort and no energy to simply be there, storing its information for posterity, until someone takes it out, blows off the dust and stats turning its pages to read it. The act of turning a page requires little energy. The act of reading and considering the information that you’re reading consumes quite a bit of mental energy, but the same amount would go into reading something digital. So you see, digital publishing may seem easier and less expensive at the get-go, but it turns out to be mightily complicated and expensive to keep going over decades and decades.

Unless you’ve got the foresight to set up a trust with enough financial resources to keep your digital presence (websites, social media accounts, etc.) up and running, chances are you will be digitally defunct soon after you die or, depending on the circumstances of your last years, say a debilitating disease that won’t allow you to carry on your online presence, you’ll be digitally dead years before your actual death.

I know about services such as the Internet Archive. They’re well-meaning and I wish them the best of luck in storing all of the data, but they’re slow on lookups, and they tend to mess up a page’s style, which is kind of like crinkling up the printed pages in your favorite book and forcing you to read them like that from then on.

We need some way to make a site future-proof, to either make the individual articles or posts digitally distributable, or to come up with ways to make web servers consume less resources, much less resources, so that it’s economically feasible to keep a lot of data up and available in the future at much lower costs than today. I know about printing web pages as PDFs, and that’s something, but how many people do that? I want a clean, ad free, well-formatted, digital copy of a post or article made available to me, automatically. Perhaps solid state storage, on optical non-moving media of sorts, is the way that computers might work, so that the data, once written to that media, consumes no power while it’s not accessed, and the power needed to read it from them is insignificant. This way we could afford to prepay to keep our website up for the next 100 years, and it wouldn’t cost a ridiculous amount.

The current model, of paying yearly for a domain name and monthly or yearly for a web hosting package and a site publishing platform that you need to keep upgrading and updating, or else it’s subject to hacking, isn’t futureproof. It costs a lot and it needs a lot of attention — attention and money that it won’t get once someone’s gone.

We need to make it easier, or as digital information inevitably gets wiped out with time, the valuable sites and articles, that ones that might have made a difference in someone’s future life, if only they’d been available to them, do remain available to them, just like a book or a magazine on a shelf.

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Thoughts

My vision for the towns and villages of the future

As I hinted in my previous post, I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for some time, and I hope to do it justice. If what I write here seems scattered, it’s because I haven’t been keeping notes on my ideas, though I’ve had many, so this is more or less ex tempore.

Even though I’ve made my thoughts on overpopulation pretty clear in previous posts (here is one of them), it’s important to state once again that I don’t believe the natural world can support as many humans as there are in the world for much longer, and something will happen to cut our numbers down. Nature will either do it for us, through the use of a blunt instrument such as a nasty disease or a series of natural catastrophes, or we can do it ourselves, by limiting the number of children we have. I have written previously that I believe one child per family would provide an immediate and constant decrease in population for the foreseeable future, and the ideal way to do it is for each family to commit to this by themselves, or we may get into a situation in the future where it will be mandated upon us.

In many ways, we are living in the best of times, and I’ve written about this in the past as well. It would be a great pity and a great loss if catastrophic events cut down the world population indiscriminately, reducing our civilization and technology back to medieval times, but that may well happen if we don’t take action ourselves. The best way to go about this is to ensure that we decrease the world population while we maintain and continue to develop the comforts that make modern life so worth it. I’m talking about modern plumbing, modern surgery, modern dentistry, modern electricity installations, modern computing, etc. Losing these would set us back hundreds of years, but that’s just what will happen through some sort of cataclysmic events if we don’t reduce our numbers proactively.

There are population controls built into nature for every species. I don’t think I need to say more on this. Nature documentaries abound, and you can see for yourselves that every species is subject to either natural predators or natural diseases that limit its numbers. When those fail, food supplies become limited and numbers once again fall. But we as humans have managed to evade our predators and our diseases, and we’ve also managed to pump up the production of our foods, to the point where there are much too many of us around. We are literally eating everything in sight and we’re consuming everything we can get our hands on. This cannot go on. Something will happen. It sounds ominous, I know, but just look around you. Everything in nature is governed by natural laws. We have been stepping all over those laws. How much longer do you think this planet upon which we’re so dependent will tolerate our numbers and our crimes against nature?

At this point you might be asking what this has to do with the towns and cities of the future. Well, this was the preamble that now allows me to say that these settlements of the future will have greatly reduced populations (one way or another), yet if we have been proactive, they will have maintained all of the modern comforts and will also provide gainful employment for people from all sorts of trades and occupations. That will be the hat trick.

Let’s look at population density. Clearly, lower population density is going to be a natural result of less population, but how about some numbers? There are many studies on this and I could link to a few, but I’d like you to do your own research on this. What feels comfortable to you? What feels overpopulated to you? For example, my house sits on a plot of land that’s about 1200 square meters in a small town in Southern Transilvania. The plots for the houses around me vary in size but I would say on average, they’re about 1000 square meters. This is enough space for a good-sized house, a driveway, a courtyard and a garden, plus some nicely-sized trees. I find this to be a good size for a plot of land in a town. Any smaller and it would feel cramped. Any bigger and it would of course be better 🙂. As for apartment buildings, that’s a different story. I would say about 100 square meters is the minimum for up to two people, but more importantly, and this is something I rarely found in apartments, there should be a minimum ceiling height, and it shouldn’t be 2.4 or 2.6 meters, but more like 2.8 or 3 meters. A small room is much more bearable when the ceilings are higher.

How about in the countryside, in a village? There, a decent plot of land that would allow you run a moderately self-sufficient household would have to be at least 3000 square meters, though that’s a bit small by my account. Let’s go with a number that’s easier to remember: 5000 square meters. That would allow you to have a bigger courtyard where you could round up your animals, keep a tractor or two, have a good-sized garden in the back to grow vegetables, etc, and you’d still have space for a good-sized house, a barn and various annexes such as stables, hen houses, etc. And you’d need some additional farmland outside the village, but since I’m not a farmer, I can’t speak to the size of those plots of land.

So 1000 square meters in towns and 5000 square meters in villages sounds good to me. And in order to meet the demands of farmland in-between settlements, we’d need to ensure a good distance between them. I can speak to the distance, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of driving. In order for these distances to be enjoyable and for the cars to be run properly, so the engines to have a chance to heat up during each drive, 10 minutes would have to be the minimum, with a 20 minute relative max, otherwise the drive gets a bit tedious, especially if you have to do it often.

How about the size of towns and villages? What numbers should we be looking at? Once again, I’ll speak to what I know. My town has about 47,000 inhabitants. By most standards, it’s a small town. But as it turns out, 47,000 people are too many for its infrastructure. The streets can get crowded during rush hour, partly because they were built for a much smaller town and partly because there are simply too many people crowded into the edges of the town, into neighborhoods full of apartment buildings built during communist times. When all those people get into their cars or into trolleys and start going through a medieval town that was built for about 10,000 people, it’s too much. So if we’re going to try to preserve the existing infrastructure, and I think we should, our town could probably handle somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 people, and of course these numbers would be different for each town or city. Some people would be much more comfortable living in larger cities, but even there, I would caution against encouraging ridiculous growth. I could look at one city where I grew up, and that’s Cluj-Napoca. It’s one of the most prosperous cities in Romania right now, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s become unlivable. It’s much too big, much too crowded, much too stretched out, much too expensive and it’s chaos to try and get through it during the day. I wouldn’t want to live there.

As long as I’m on the subject of density, I’d like you to think about another number. When you walk through your town or city, count the people around you and think about what feels comfortable to you and what feels overcrowded. To me, more than 1 person per 10 square meters feels overcrowded. 10 square meters may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It’s about 3 meters by 3 meters, roughly. Given that our personal space is roughly about 1 square meter, we’d need at least 1-2 meters of space around us which could be navigated by other people without impinging on our personal space (keep in mind they may be carrying bags as well), and you’re already at 9 square meters (1 sq m + 2 sq m in each direction). Add another square meter to the total for a little more buffer and you’re at 10 square meters. I guess at peak times we could go as low as 1 person per 5 square meters, but anything lower than that would be overcrowding and even though you may not realize it, your body would feel the effects. Your heart rate would go up, your stress levels would go up, you may get a headache, etc.

Let’s talk about transport and roads. There are huge costs associated with building and maintaining roads and highways. There are also so many vehicles on the roads. Should the population levels come down, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but we’d still have this ongoing debate about pollution and consumption of natural resources and so on and so forth. I for one love cars and furthermore, I love old cars. While I enjoy the convenience and reliability of modern cars, I love the way old cars look, inside and out, and I love their fantastic, cushioned ride quality that’s so easy on the back, especially during long drives. If there were a way to combine the advantages of new and old cars, I’d be all for that. Some people say electric cars are the future. I’m not so sure, not unless we invent batteries with much higher capacities and whose raw materials aren’t as toxic and difficult to obtain from the ground. A number of years ago, I had a rough idea about a car that might be able to harness the gravitational force of the Earth and turn it into propulsion and possibly even levitation, but it’s something that has so far stayed in the realm of scifi. Beyond a wild hunch that this might be doable, I don’t have the scientific knowhow to even begin planning a prototype. The advantage of such a (scifi) vehicle would be that it wouldn’t pollute and it wouldn’t need the tremendous expenditure of paved roads, since it would be able to float just off the ground. Back to reality though: I’d be happy with cars that pollute less, last longer and look better, and by better I mean they should look more like the old cars, with organic curves and endearing appeal.

Let’s talk about buildings and architecture. I think most buildings in existence today are copy-paste jobs and have little to no originality that would make them worth saving when they start breaking down, and that’s a great pity. In terms of environmental impact, getting a house or a larger structure built takes a tremendous amount of natural resources and manual labor, and if you’re just building some nondescript box with cheap materials, you’re guilty of not only using up natural resources, but also for using them improperly, for a structure that will eventually be torn down. Furthemore, if you’re gilding that same crappy architecture with expensive finishings that you then tear down every decade in a stupid effort to keep up with fashion, you’re guilty a third time. There’s an old saying with a clear message that goes, “three strikes and you’re out”.

I think all structures built should have a planned lifespan of at least 100 years. Given the age of so many of the historic buildings in Europe, I think we could successfully plan for building lifespans of 500 years and we could and we should be building structures that could make it to 1,000 years. We owe it to ourselves (to our collective civilization and advancement) and we owe it to the planet, to build structures that last as long as possible, so that once we’ve used up valuable natural resources, we’ve put those resources to very good use. And there should be real, concerted effort from governments everywhere to conserve and restore historic buildings with time-proven methods, using high quality, traditional, natural materials and workmanship.

I’ll give you one pertinent example: in Southern Transilvania, we have many Saxon villages and fortified churches whose architecture was shaped by the industrious people that built them and whose architecture further shaped the land and created an integral artistic and historic whole that is unique in Europe and in the entire world. Nowadays, most of those churches are falling down and the houses are occupied by people who no longer see their historic significance or even appreciate their aesthetic appeal. Historic facades are being mangled. Historic reliefs, sills, cornices, socles, thrusts, pilasters, frontons, gables, porticos, brackets and other ornamental shapes are being stripped away and the bare walls are being covered with styrofoam insulation, with no regard for what was once there or for what will happen to a breathing brick wall once it’s sealed up. We have villages where the churches no longer exist, so even if the houses may still be historically accurate, the village has lost its focal point, or where the churches still stand, but they’re out of place, being surrounded by houses which have entirely lost their shape and are now some ugly, non-descript boxes for the so-called living, painted in garish colors. Ideally, the historic sections of these villages would be declared historic monuments and the whole ensemble (fortifications, church, schoolhouse, village center and village houses) would be conserved and restored accordingly.

Let’s talk about law enforcement, or as I sometimes call it, pruning one’s garden. I’d really like our collective societies to have stricter rules around what is and is not acceptable behavior in public, around public order and noise levels, and about gainful participation in society through work or other involvement such as volunteering, and about the consequences of not doing so. I’d like our towns and village to be quiet, peaceful places where we can do our work and live our lives undisturbed and without disturbing others.

I’d love to see noise violations punished more severely — and this is much more important, with frequency and constancy. I’d love to see people who play loud music get serious fines, now and in the future, and it doesn’t matter whether they do it at home or in their cars. I for one have had it with people whose loud speakers blare and boom up and down our streets and I’d like this kind of behavior stamped out completely. I’d love to see bad behaviors in public punished instantly, even if it means having policemen beating down offenders with sticks on the spot, like they used to do not so long ago.

I am all for people having rights under the law, and I am very glad for the equitable treatment we now espouse for people of different races and particularly for the equitable treatment of women. These advances are humane, they make sense, and they should have happened earlier. But there is a flip side to this: some of these rights should not be inalienable; they should be based on behavior. In the future (and also in the present), participation in society should afford you the same rights as anyone else who participates in that society, but if you’re just a parasite who portends to be part of a society but does not contribute to it through work or other proper involvement, you should, by rights, lose some of your rights. Let me give you some present-day examples.

Those who continually shirk work should not get aid from the government, and those who abuse society’s aid mechanisms by having multiple children just so they can get extra money, should also have their aid cut off, and they should be put to work. But there are currently no legal mechanisms in the EU through which someone can forcibly be put to work, so what we have now, although not many countries talk about it openly, is a certain percentage of the people in those countries who know they can’t be forced to work and who actively choose not to work and live on aid all of the time. This needs to stop in the future. It’s not sustainable and it’s not tolerable.

There are also no legal mechanisms through which policemen can adequately defend themselves and arrest people, should they be attacked. I don’t know if this is the case throughout Europe, but I know, directly from policemen, that it’s what’s going on right now in Romania. Should a policeman pull out his gun and defend himself in Romania right now, it would most certainly mean jail time for him. Should they want to arrest someone, they’d have no jail to take them to, because most, if not all police stations have no holding cells. You can’t put someone in county jail without due process, and you can’t leave someone violent or too drunk on the streets, so what do you do? Right now there’s nothing to do, so policemen will sometimes take these people for a ride to the station, hoping they’ll cool off. This needs to change in the future.

There are also no legal mechanisms to force someone to pay police fines. Ridiculously enough, if they have a job, they can be forced to do it, but if they don’t, if they’re parasites, they can go to court and argue they have no job to pay the fine with, or they can go to their local mayor and get a written excuse from the fine. These local yokel mayors are only too happy to give them these written excuses, because they’re desperate for cheap votes and don’t want to put in the work that wins real votes. Lots of nasty characters take advantage of these loopholes in the current laws and they go on offending, knowing there won’t be serious consequences. So we literally have people in Romania who’ve been violent toward their families or toward the police, or have committed other illegalities, who are staying at home on government aid because they don’t want to work, who are not paying their fines because they have no jobs, and who are also making more children so they can get more government aid. That’s a trifecta of crime and it goes on, unpunished. This needs to stop in the future, which I’m hoping will be much more orderly and disciplined. I’m all for rights, but in a logical and rational world, there are also consequences to one’s actions.

These are the things that come to my mind when I think of the future of cities, towns and villages. Thanks for reading!

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We need to focus our efforts on finding more permanent ways to store data. What we have now is inadequate. Hard drives are susceptible to failure, data corruption and data erasure (see effects of EM pulses for example). CDs and DVDs become unreadable after several years and archival-quality optical media also stops working after 10-15 years, not to mention that the hardware itself that reads and writes to media changes so fast that media written in the past may become unreadable in the future simply because there’s nothing to read it anymore. I don’t think digital bits and codecs are a future-proof solution, but I do think imagery (stills or sequences of stills) and text are the way to go. It’s the way past cultures and civilizations have passed on their knowledge. However, we need to move past pictographs on cave walls and cuneiform writing on stone tablets. Our data storage needs are quite large and we need systems that can accommodate these requirements.

We need to be able to read/write data to permanent media that stores it for hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of years, so that we don’t lose our collective knowledge, so that future generations can benefit from all our discoveries, study us, find out what worked and what didn’t.

We need to find ways to store our knowledge permanently in ways that can be easily accessed and read in the future. We need to start thinking long-term when it comes to inventing and marketing data storage devices. I hope this post spurs you on to do some thinking of your own about this topic. Who knows what you might invent?

Thoughts

A look at what’s ahead in terms of resources and the economy

The TED channel published two interesting videos recently which present two points of view about the Earth, in terms of its resources and economy. The first is from Paul Gilding, entitled “The Earth is full“, and the second is from Peter Diamandis, entitled “Abundance is our future“.

I invite you to watch both points of view, which are at first in seeming opposition but after some consideration, are both saying pretty much the same thing, namely this:

Our current economic models, based on carbon forms of energy, will soon reach their lifespan, and we have some choices to make ahead as we transition to other economic models and other ways of generating our energy and making our stuff.

We can have a smooth transition or we can have a rocky one, with elements of anarchy and possible energy and water wars.

What’s clear on both sides is that we need to something about it and we need to start doing it now.

The wonderful thing is there are solutions to our energy and pollution problems emerging now and if they’re implemented correctly, we will not only avert any potential crises but we will come out ahead of the curve.

What are we waiting for? Let’s do it!

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Thoughts

What’s next in data storage?

My recent musings on high definition and the state of the technology behind it have spurred me to think about data storage (not that it’s a new subject for me). But so far, I’ve commented only on what’s already been developed, and didn’t take the time to think about what’s next.

What’s the motivation behind this post? It’s simple. For Ligia’s Kitchen, it costs me about 10.5 GB for 5 minutes of final, edited footage of show, with a one-camera setup. What goes into the 10.5GB? There’s the raw footage (and sound files, if I use a standalone mic), the edits, and the final, published footage. When I use two cameras, the space needed can easily go up by 1.5-2.5x, depending on the shots I need to get. I shoot and edit in 1080p, and output to 720p.

My storage needs are okay for now. I’ve got plenty of space, and if I keep going at this rate, I should be fine. But… and there’s always a but, isn’t there… I have more show ideas in mind. And there’s the hypothetical possibility of shooting with a RED camera at some point in the future, if certain factors come together to allow it. So I’m thinking ahead.

Current hard drive technology (bits of data on disks) has certainly come a long way. Those of us who’ve been in the business long enough know what prices used to be like for capacities that are laughable by today’s standards. Back in 1999, I paid $275 for a 27GB hard drive. My laptop’s drive in college could store a grand total of 120MB. And when I began to learn programming, I’d load the code into memory from tape…

I remember being really excited about Hitachi’s new Perpendicular Magnetic Recording Technology, which came out in early 2006. They even had an animation on their website, which they’ve taken down since. That technology is behind all of the new hard drives that are on the market today, by the way. Hitachi came up with a way to get the bits of data to stand up (hence the term perpendicular) instead of lying down on hard drive platters, thus doubling the amount of data that could be stored onto them.

There are two roads ahead when it comes to data storage, of which one is more likely to succeed:

  • Optical storage (this is probably the future of storage)
  • Biological storage

Let’s first look at biological storage. One particular article made the rounds lately: researchers at the Chinese University in Hong Kong have managed to store 90GB of data in 1g of bacteria. While it sounds exciting, the idea of storing my data in petri dishes on my desk doesn’t readily appeal to me, and certain complications come up:

  • 1g of bacteria is about 10 million cells (that’s a LOT); one must start thinking about the potential for bio hazards when you work with bacteria.
  • The data is stored in a bacteria’s DNA, which means it’s encrypted (a good thing), but it’s also subject to significant mutation (a bad thing) and it takes a long time to retrieve it because you need a gene sequencer, which is tedious and expensive (a bad thing).

I’m not against this. Hey, if they can make it safe and fast, okay. But I believe this is going to be relegated to special applications. The article suggests the technique is currently used to store copyright information for newly created organisms (I wonder how many new bacteria researchers as a whole have created, and is it any wonder antibiotics have such a hard time working against them when we keep playing God). I also see this sort of data storage as a way for spies to operate, or for governments to keep certain secrets.

Okay, onto more cheery stuff, like optical storage. I’ve always thought there was massive potential here, and am glad to see significant work has already been done to make this a reality. There are two technologies which are feasible, according to research that’s already been done:

  • HDSS (Holographic Data Storage Systems), which so far can store up to 1TB of data in a crystal the size of a sugar cube, but doesn’t yet allow rewrites
  • 3D optical data storage, which so far can store up to 1TB of data onto a 1.2mm thick optical disc

These developments are very encouraging. Optical storage is safe, and its potential capacities are huge, possibly endless. And when you think about computer hardware, and how manufacturers are looking at using optical technology in the bridges and buses and wires inside the hardware, because it’s incredibly fast, you start to see how optical makes sense. Let’s also not forget fiber optic cabling, and its incredible capacity to carry data. It certainly looks like optical is the future!

So what’s going to happen to the standard 3.5″ form factor of today’s hard drives? Well, it’s likely that it will stay the same, even though it the storage technology inside it might change. We’ll have crystals and lasers instead of platters and heads, but they’ll likely be able to fit them in there somehow. I don’t think we’ll need to start keeping crystal libraries on our desks, like in Superman’s Crystal Cave, and sticking various-sized crystals into our computers any time soon, although it did look pretty cool when Christopher Reeve did it in the movie.

It really all depends on how soon this new technology will come to market. Right now, there’s clearly enough vested interest in the 3.5″ and 2.5″ form factors to motivate drive manufacturers to shoehorn the new technologies into those shapes, but if optical hard drives won’t be here for the next 5-10 years, then it’s possible that the form factor will change as well. We are after all moving to smaller, sleeker shapes for most computers, notebooks and desktops alike.

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Is Canon at work on a mirrorless “DSLR”?

Given the popularity of, and interest in mirrorless “DSLRs” like the Sony NEX-5 or NEX-3, Olympus E-P2 or E-PL1, Panasonic GF1 or G2, and the Samsung NX-10, I believe Canon is at work on their version of the “micro-DSLR”, and has been for at least a few months. (Why do I use quotes when I call them DSLRs? See this.)

Another hint of the upcoming launch is the restlessness in the Rebel line of cameras. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen so many new models launched in such a short span of time. It’s probable that Canon wanted to see what features consumers really want in an entry-level DSLR now that video and small size are the new must-haves, what cameras their competitors come up with, then take their time designing an entirely new body for the camera. Keep in mind they’re very entrenched in the classic SLR design, as their EOS line shows. A mirrorless DSLR without a viewfinder, or with a significantly different viewfinder, and a much smaller body, can be a serious challenge for any company.

Here’s what I think (and hope) will be in the new Canon EOS “Elph” (I made the name up, I don’t know what it’ll be called):

A 14 or 16-megapixel APS-C sensor — they’re going to choose less noise at high ISO, and that will mean less resolution, but that’s okay by me. I’m not too happy with the noise levels in the 7D. They might even downgrade the resolution to 12 megapixels, who knows…

High ISO capabilities — up to 12,800 natively, and possibly even up to 102,400 via ISO expansion. They’ll need to do this, because the Sony NEX line has raised the bar.

Fast frame rate — 5 fps, possibly even 7 fps. Again, this is because the NEX cameras have raised the bar. They can go up to 7 fps in burst mode. The mirrorless cameras can do about 3 fps.

14-bit image bit depth — pretty much all DSLRs are either there or going there.

Full HD Video Recording, with AF — it’s going to have to be full 1080p video, because Sony has raised the bar for all cameras in this category. I do hope though that Canon will make it 1080p, not 1080i, at selectable frame rates. AF is going to be tricky but will need to be implemented. Canon will have a choice of using the current USM AF built into its lenses, which can be slow, or build a new line of lenses, like Sony did for its NEX line, with fast, quiet AF that can’t be picked up by the microphone. I do hope we won’t have to invest in new lenses.

New lenses? This is possible, in which case they’ll be smaller and lighter, but my guess is Canon will either modify the mount or put out an adapter that will allow us to fully use existing EF or EF-S lenses.

Same 19-point AF system as in the 7D — I honestly hope it’s not the same old 9-point AF system used in the Rebel line and in my 1st gen 5D and the 5D Mark II, because it seems to be troublesome in cameras with higher resolutions.

In-camera panorama stitching — Canon, please put this in! I was blown away by Sony’s Sweep Panorama feature.

In-camera HDR — yes, HDR is overrated and I can’t stand most HDR photographs, but when used judiciously and for the right scenes, HDR can help you can get a properly exposed photograph without blown areas.

Optical viewfinder — I know I just said a mirrorless DSLR won’t have an optical viewfinder, but think how cool it would be if Canon could somehow fit a great pentaprism inside a mirrorless body!

Better dust reductionsome people seem to be having trouble with the dust reduction system in the 5D Mark II. Perhaps this warrants a closer look from Canon. I’m sure there are ways to improve things, especially in a camera that will have no mirror, and where the sensor will be exposed to the open air during every lens change.

SDHC, not CF cards — I would have loved to see Canon adopt SDHC cards for the 7D. SDHC cards are smaller and less expensive than CF cards, so why keep using CF cards?

Tiltable LCD — the Sony NEX line has them, the Canon G11 has it, so why shouldn’t this new camera have it as well?

External microphone input — this is a must, as the in-camera microphone is never enough for quality video sound.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think? Don’t ask me how it’ll look though. I don’t know, and I’d like to be pleasantly surprised when I see it. I’d like it to be flatter and smaller than a Rebel, but with a good grip, and a good selection of physical controls. It doesn’t have to be too light, but it should be light enough and sturdy enough so that it’s easily carried anywhere.

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Thoughts

So long, Contenture

According to their website and blog, Contenture is going out of business. That’s unfortunate. I signed up with them back in June of 2008, endorsed their services here on my site, and while I didn’t make a lot of money with them, I knew the idea of micropayments for web content was something that would eventually catch on, if only given enough time to take root. It’s sad to see them go, and I’m sorry they couldn’t hang on until they saw some profits.

I only know of one other company that offers similar monetization services, and it’s called CancelAds. Here’s hoping they stay in business, and the idea of micropayments/subscriptions for web content continues to gain momentum.

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Reviews

Using Contenture to handle micropayments

Back in April, I wrote about micropayments, and why I thought they were an equitable way to reward web publishers for their time and effort. I shared my thoughts on ad revenues, which, for most people, are minimal and not enough to live on, unless you are one of the relatively few websites that gets massive amounts of traffic.

In that same article, I also talked about how I thought micropayments should work, via a standard, instant way to charge readers a few cents per article, through protocols that were integrated into each browser. Instead of charging fees for each transaction, which would be impractical for such small amounts, micropayment processing centers would charge for bundles of transactions which exceed a set limit.

Fast forward a few months, and ZDNet publishes an interview with Barry Diller, one of the early Internet millionaires, where he talks about the very same thing: the need to go beyond falling ad revenues by charging small amounts for useful information. That article was hotly debated on FriendFeed, which is where I found out about it. Among the comments, I found one pointing me to Contenture, a newly launched micropayment system (it saw the light of day on 5/26).

contenture

Contenture’s method of handling micropayments is different from what I envisioned, in that it involves a monthly subscription. Here’s how they say it works:

“… a fully automated system that requires no user interaction. Users simply pay a set fee to Contenture on a monthly basis, and that money is automatically distributed to the sites they visit. How much each site gets from each user is determined by how often that user visits that web site, relative to all of the other Contenture sites they visit. Users get their seamless experience, and the site actually makes money. Everybody wins.”

So what’s involved on my end? I installed Contenture’s WordPress plugin and pasted in an extra line of code to customize the ad hiding behavior. Others might need to paste a Javascript snippet in their footer, which is basically what the plugin does for you.

On your end (the reader), the code will check to see if you’re a Contenture user, and will automatically distribute your subscription fee to the websites that you visit, based on how often you visit each site. As an immediate benefit, all ads on my site are hidden from you. They’ll load as the page loads, but they blink out of view and the ad space collapses unto itself as soon as the page finishes loading. It’s pretty cool.

Other benefits I might be able to offer you in the future are the ability to view exclusive content, or perhaps to even close off the archives to those who aren’t Contenture users, although I’m not too keen on that, since Google won’t be able to index me properly any more if I do it. At any rate, the ability to offer more benefits is built in, and that’s nice.

Contenture’s model is opt-in (also called freemium) and so it has some limitations, in that I don’t get paid for everyone that accesses my content. My micropayment model, the one I envisioned and the one Barry Diller and others are talking about, is standardized across platforms and browsers and works for everyone, all the time. Eventually, I think we’ll get there, but Contenture has made a good start of it, and they did it now, which is why I signed up with them.

To let site visitors know they can support my site, I placed a small link in the header, as you can see below. I also have a link in the footer, also shown below.

header-screenshot

footer-screenshot

I look forward to seeing Contenture’s user base grow, so I can tell whether I’ve made the right choice. I want to keep writing and publishing online for a long time to come, but the only feasible way for me to do that is if I get rewarded properly for my efforts. I believe micropayments are the way to do it. It’s affordable for the readers, and it scales up nicely for me, the web publisher. Time will tell exactly which micropayment method will work best, and you can be sure I’ll continue to monitor the options available out there.

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Thoughts

Predictions about computer drives in the future

72GB SanDisk SSD SATA 1.8"

On 1/16/09, Computer World published an article where the author paints a future full of SSDs. He puts forth the idea that drives will not only be replaced by memory chips, but that these memory chips will be integrated into the motherboard, doing away with the SATA interface. There are a number of things I don’t agree with in that article, and I’m not the only one who’s annoyed. Others have called out the author for his statements as well.

For one thing, let’s remember that computer memory once relied on chips integrated into the central circuits. Going back to that sort of approach would be like going back in time. Weren’t we supposed to progress, not regress? The advantages have to be truly worthwhile, and I’m not convinced.

A claim made in the article is that of increased speed: “By making the drive part of a system’s core architecture — instead of a peripheral device — data I/O performance could initially double, quadruple or more.” I love these nebulous claims, don’t you? It could double, quadruple or more. Hey, why not 8x faster? Maybe 16x faster? Let’s just inflate the numbers, it looks great on paper…

From my experience, I noticed that transfer speeds to flash memory vary tremendously — based on how much used space there is on the memory itself, or the file size. Larger files transfer much faster than smaller ones. Sure, in my experience, there was a SATA or USB interface in the way, but that doesn’t change what happens with the flash memory itself.

We should also keep in mind that flash memory is limited in the number of write operations it can take before it expires. On the other hand, regular hard drives have a much longer life span. I for one don’t want to be in a situation where I have to replace an expensive SSD on my laptop because I’ve saved one too many files and it has just gone belly up.

That brings to mind another issue: will these SSDs be soldered onto the motherboard, or can I pull them out and replace them as needed, like I do with RAM modules? I think you can readily imagine how inconvenient it would be to have to service your computer if its SSD is soldered onto the motherboard.

How about space on the SSD? What do I do if I want to increase the space on my drive? Do I have to buy another full SSD? I’d much prefer we had SSD bays, like RAM bays, where I could stick additional SSD modules to automatically increase the space, just like it works with RAM. A partitioning tool integrated within the OS should then allow me to resize my existing partitions and spread them over the newly available space, or to create another partition out of that space.

I keep hearing people say that 250GB or 160GB is plenty of space for your laptop. That’s nonsense. I’m always maxing out my laptop’s hard drive when I go on trips, because I fill it with photographs and videos which I then unload to my external storage when I get home.

I find that for my needs, a 500GB or 1TB laptop hard drive is what I need right now. At some point in the future, I may need more. I haven’t started working with HD video for example. I know that’s a tremendous space hog. I think a 1TB drive would be the minimum I would need if I started to work in that arena.

With SSDs, price is still an issue, and so is space, at least for now. I just don’t find it practical to spend money on SSDs at the moment, and I don’t think my opinion will change unless their prices and storage specs start to match those of regular hard drives.While we’re on the subject of price, where in the world did Gartner get their figure of 38 cents per gigabyte? That’s the figure quoted in the article. I’m sorry, Gartner, but you folks need to check your math. I came up with 9 cents per gigabyte recently.

On the other hand, I do understand that the additional interface between the motherboard and the hard drive is a bottleneck. If we can do something to speed that up, I’m all for it. But you’ve got to prove to me (and to other consumers out there) that your technology is affordable and reliable and offers tangible benefits other than tech media hype.

I’m also excited about the possibility of increasing drive space on a modular basis, where I simply put in more SSD modules in expansion bays on the motherboard, like I do with RAM. But there’s no indication that we’re heading in that direction from the article itself. Until we get to that point, I’ll still continue to think that SSDs are aimed at the wrong market segment. Not everyone is a MacBook Air-toting management type. The bulk of computer users out there need affordable technology with plenty of storage, well made, and reliable over 3-4 years or more. SSDs just aren’t there yet.

Image used courtesy of SanDisk Corporation.

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