Continuous Growth

I just realized, looking at my calendar, that sometime during the month of March, Botzilla has reached its tenth anniversary!

Sometime in March of 1994, after a decade of junkie-like email usage (ihnp4, baby!), I went onto the infant web with my own site via rahul.net, listed on the "NCSA Cool Site of the Day" first as "National Pixel Products," and then (as the site grew past software marketing and photo galleries to include tools and pages on my friend Jim's program The Palace), as "Botzilla" and "The House o' Props n Bots."

I can still remember getting that first copy of NCSA Mosaic for my SGI workstation and being told that I could use it to access interesting data "from more than a hundred different sites!"

So belated cheers, o-tanjobi omedeto gozaimasu, and here's hoping that by the time another ten years have passed we aren't stuck with another Bush in the White House, heh.

Posted March 31, 2004 | Comments (0)

Broadcast News

This morning, on a lark, I decided to make a posting to orkut.com, a "Social Networking" site a la tribe.net, friendster, ryze, etc (actually Orkut is regularly accused of being a tribe.net clone, though it is distinguished by its "invitation only" membership roll).

I'd noticed that after an initial flurry of activity when orkut was going through beta pains (back around February), and then an explosion of new users when it was opened to the public, that it had become somewhat somnolent since then.

Advertisers are keen on exploiting sites like orkut because they feel they can capitalize on the "trust factor" — the theory being that users can be manipulated my word-of-mouth and "grassroots" campaigns via these services. If someone recommends something from within your "tribe," then you'd be more likely to go try it (or more importantly, buy it).

This of course is silly because it violates the very nature of trust — it's something earned over time, not simply assigned as a database entry. It hasn't stopped people from trying, however, nor has it prevented the creation of groups like "Social Networking Entrepreneur" communities on Orkut itself, where like-minded folks get busy convincing one another that Big Profits are lurking Just Around the Corner ("next quarter, really!").

So my test was simple, and took less than five minutes to set up (less than this entry, by far). I would send a message and ask people to click on a link over at photoblogs.org, where they would be logged along with the time they clicked the link. I would know how much "action" Orkut could really generate. I logged onto the "Photography" community, where I was already an active member, and pushed the "send" button with this message:

Hi Orkut "Photography" members, let's try an experiment to see how influential Orkut users can be.

Here's the experiment: Paste this link into your browser:
  http://www.photoblogs.org/update-list/?domain=botzilla.com&action_id=2
(sorry, Orkut's messages can't seem to include direct URL links!) and list "botzblog" as one of your favorite photoblogs. The database will record your vote -- and importantly, WHEN IT WAS CAST.

(You can find the listed blog itself here: http://www.botzilla.com/ -- click on any of the photo links at top to see more photos and photo galleries)

In a few days, I'll send out the numerical results of the experiment, to see how many of our 2800+ "photography" members participated in the experiment, and what effect it had!

Thanks for Playing,
Kevin Bjorke

I repeated the message to the much-smaller "Photobloggers" group, which I figured was almost 100% a membership subset of "Photography." Given that it was a blog-related posting and the idea had come from a discussion on that group, I figured should put it there too.

The population of "Photography" this morning was 2831 members. The population of "Photobloggers" (probably entirely a subset) was 200. So a sample size of around 2800. I figured that many, if not most, people receiving the message would promptly delete it, unread — which is what I often do if the message isn't obviously and immediately interesting to me. I also figured that most of Orkut's user accounts are as torpid as they are on most other user groups and mailing lists (for example, the streetphoto list has around 800 members, but about 20 or 30 (far less than 5%) seem to generate all of the list traffic).

So assuming a 5% participation rate, and a 10% readership rate (all the rest are promptly junked, or just left unread), I figured about fourteen readers. And this from one of Orkut's largest community groups. What kind of advertising would go after such a paltry target? Why is this "untapped market" getting written up in Variety?

Fourteen people, if my note convinced all of them, would be enough to measure, though not enough to significantly affect the general database on photoblogs.org, where "successful" sites typically have hundreds of connections. The experiment would be below "noise" level to that system.

Over the next few hours, a half-dozen people did indeed click the link — and even pass through photoblogs.org's registration process to get there (you can see some of their names here on the photoblogs.org profile page for Botzilla — I've had some fun reading their blogs). I got a supportive email, a couple of fresh blog comments, and three mildly caustic emails accusing me of spamming the community rather than using the public online forums (though I hardly invented the "send a message" button -- it's there on the front page of the community site! Clearly that function is part of the intended design function of Orkut).

This evening, I decided to check into another part of Orkut, particularly a forum on "lowercase semantic web" design, set up by Tantek Çelik of XFN fame. My interest is is trying to build a standalone search method to provide something that photoblogs.org dropped — a method to look at the <meta> keywords of a site and find other sites with "best-match" similar keywords (for example, a scan of botzilla's keywords shows multiple entries like "contax," "black and white," and "london" — another site that had multiple matching keywords would be designated "similar" and thus of possible interest to me). So I wrote a brief query to the forum.

Surprise! No go. My account has been blocked, locked, silenced.

Despite a stated policy of not stomping on accounts without email notification, for some mysterious reason Orkut decided to can me for sending a single, simple message to members of a community in which I was a highly active member. Hurrah! Glad to know Orkut's got a firm grasp on the meaning of the word "Community."


Followup, 1 April: Orkut has restored my account and blamed the "jailing" on "an automated system" (one that apparently takes a few hours to kick-in)

Posted March 30, 2004 | Comments (2)

Coming Soon

Yes, another Street Photography Salon day has come and gone. My entries were admittedly a bit rushed as I've been slamming my schedule for the past couple of weeks, in preparation for my presentations at the 2004 Game Developer's Conference, which has also now come and gone over the past few days.

Our newest computer imaging book, GPU Gems, came out Monday and was an instant hit within the computer world — the guy running the GDC bookstore said its sales far outstripped any other title (including other new ones), by a factor of five or more (the link, BTW, includes an example chapter partly written by yhc). Rebecca and Isaac are now (in their words) "famous" since the book also contains a couple of my photos, in which they appear.

So now there's a bit more breathing space, at least for a couple of weeks before embarking on our next journey (to Florida and the Bahamas for some long-overdue vacation time) — allowing, among other things, for a little time to spend on The Blog.

Posted March 30, 2004 | Comments (0)

Photo Pompier

Quite the sad eruption of pronouncements in this thread over at APUG.

Seems that Les McLean, hardly a stranger to traditional processes, what with his workshops, magazine columns, and books on traditional B&W processes, actually had the temerity to suggest that printing his negatives digitally was a good idea — and that he might actually discuss it on APUG!

Amid a few voices of reason were responses like: "most people who use digital don't know an F-stop from a newton ring" — "...this would cause this site to spiral out of control..." one would think they're discussing gay marriage and the end of English-speaking civilization. Just look what happened to Sweden!

Les's attitude was simple enough: "I will respond positively to any developments in image making that may help me improve how I express myself."

But the siege mentality had already set in: "...the beginning of the breach in the dike..." — "digital forum....trojan horse" and accusations that these attitudes were justified by the supposed bad behavior of outsiders or apostates: "the attitude of everyone I've met "over there" is one of marked INtolerance" — "I don't think that some here 'know what APUG is about'"

Gee, I thought it was about the pictures?

Given the emphasis of some on nostalgic subjects and aesthetics, it all seems close to academic painting, with its emphases on historic and mythical subjects:

L'académisme est une attitude esthétique qui se définit à divers niveaux: chez l'artiste, qui se résigne à cultiver un art de moyens, en appliquant, sans chercher à les dépasser, des recettes d'atelier empruntées à autrui et se garde d'innover pour respecter soit la tradition officiellement établie, soit toute autre tradition artistique ayant fait ses preuves; chez l'amateur d'art, qui prône l'esthétique de la ressemblance, adoptée par la critique officielle, par le jury des Salons, par le public «bourgeois».

"Académisme is an aesthetic attitude defined at various levels: in the artist, who resigns himself to cultivate an art of correctness, while applying, without seeking to exceed them, the recipes of craft borrowed from others while taking care not to innovate, to respect either the officially established tradition or any other artistic tradition having proven reliable; in the art lover, who preaches the esthetics of the resemblance, adopted by official criticism, by the jury of the Shows, and the middle-class public."

Ugh.

Bon appetit, y'all.

Posted March 11, 2004 | Comments (2)

Backlog

Three rolls of Tri-X, Rodinal 1+25; three rolls of Tri-X, Rodinal 1+50; six rolls of TMax-100, Rodinal 1+50. You can rinse and rinse and rinse and still that pink stuff never seems to come completely out of TMX.

The latest round of film shooting was launched by the arrival of the RTS and lenses. The lenses, of course, were intended for the Cantax, but the moment I picked up the RTS I knew I'd have to shoot something with it. The finder is huge and luxurious, even compared to my Canon 35mm's, and far larger than what's visible in the digitals or the Contax G2. The 28mm felt like a 28mm, wide and with crisply-straight horizontals. It's a great, sharp normal optic for the digital, but as a 35mm-format wide-angle lens, it's fantastic. A great complement to its little brother, the 28mm G-Biogon.

I've been selling-off my film cameras one by one but am less convinced of the wisdom of moving them all on. Film shooting is different, and no amount of Photoshop tweaking will make it match film in terms of the picture-making experience. It's a different thing, just as playing the oboe is different from punching-up "oboe" on your Roland keyboard synthesizer. For many purposes — even most purposes — they are equivalent. Digital is better for a lot of things, such as most kinds of journalism. But it's not the same. I won't get rid of all the film cameras just yet (though I still have a sweet AE-1 for sale, CLA'd and all), and the differences are enough to keep me occasionally willing to spend time spotting out one dust speck after another.

Last night Courtney & I went to see Arakimentari, the American-made documentary on Nobuyoshi Araki. He was busy with one camera after another during the shoots (some of the photos from those shoots are in the November 2003 PDN and the March 2004 American Photo), constantly pushing at his subjects with a compact digital then switching to the Pentax 6x7, then dragging his newest Leica to bars in Kabukicho but shooting the barkers on the street with the digi.

Is equipment photography? No, no more than a piano is music. But each instrument has its own character, and Araki-san manages to embrace them all. This, among so many things, must be part of why Daido Moriyama says that Araki, through his grasp of the physical aspects of picture-making, understands "the true nature" of the art.

Posted March 10, 2004 | Comments (0)

Yak Yak

Lots of talking — must be Spring :)

I'll be speaking next week at the March meeting of L.A. Siggraph, on the topic of connections between realtime game-level computer graphics and the highest of the high end in movie special effects and animation.

Among other highlights, expect to see a closeup view of the new NVIDIA development tool, FX Composer, the best tool yet for developing FX and Direct X HLSL shaders for use in interactive games, tools, and programs of almost any kind.

The following week, I'll be giving a talk at GDC 2004 — the annual Game Developers' Conference in San Jose. Be up bright and early at 9AM Wednesday for Cinematic Effects II: The Revenge — and the next day for yet another, different talk (this time on some Image-Based Lighting tricks), as part of the flurry of activity surrounding the release of our latest book, GPU Gems: Programming Techniques, Tips, and Tricks for Real-Time Graphics.

Posted March 08, 2004 | Comments (1)

The Dead Zone

On the other end of the world, a series of photos that tell another Truth, much different from this one.

In a compelling and grim way, without a trace of Barthes-like deconstruction or pretense to art. We're left without any possible recourse but to take these photos at their horrible face value. Direct from the former USSR — The Dead Zone.

(Update only a few hours later: The site has been swamped, or somehow otherwise removed. See here for the scanty details. Try here as an echo view of what has potential as the world's grimmest tourist destination)

Posted March 08, 2004 | Comments (0)

Witness

The simplest and most common use of photography is, as Roland Barthes famously put it, a unary purpose — that is, a direct representation of a thing. The photo is (within a limited scope) interchangeable with that thing. We take the tiny snapshot from our wallet and say proudly: "There's my son."

That photography is not really as directly literal as it looks is something that is constantly at play in the world of art photography, and a hot potato among journalists and their editors; but we usually assume simple unary purpose and function for less rarified pursuits, such as the simple representation of domestic events. How untrue this can be was brought home in a personal way very recently.

Several months ago, I allowed my children to take a brief trip away from home to visit an ailing relative and their cousins. A day after their departure I received some desperate cel calls from them, asking me to come and get them please (an eight hour drive, to a hotel I couldn't identify), they were all alone with no relatives were around, just the person who'd brought them; followed by another angry cel call in the middle of the night from their supposed caretaker, cut off when the phone battery abruptly died. The next morning, I receive a landline call saying that they'll be home soon.

When the children returned another day later, my daughter had a fading black eye, scratched-up arms, and told me she'd gotten them, a couple of minutes after the celphone had died, at the hands of the person who was supposed to be caring for her on the trip. My son told me the same story.

It was the weekend, late in the evening — I took photos of my daughter's injuries, expecting to deal with the appropriate attorneys and/or authorities during the coming week. In the following days I discovered that I was being sued, to lose custody of my children, by the same person who had taken them on this trip. So now the bureaucratic machine starts to grind, absorbing everything in its path.

In go the photos to the court, but it takes months before they actually get to anyone to investigate. The investigator promptly sets the report aside, not even bothering to contact me. Why? I ask weeks later, trying to find out what has happened. "Lack of evidence."

Photographs? Meaningless. How do they know they weren't staged? How do they know I didn't injure my daughter myself? Or maybe this was self-inflicted? How do we know that these children won't just say whatever I've trained them to say?

I was astonished, shaken from my naïve faith in the power of the image. Are they saying this image isn't real, that it's been edited and altered? Not at all. They take it at its direct unary reading. So then surely, I'd think, at a minimum, we have: a photo of an injured child. The children tell a story about this, and the photo appears to match. If this person did what the kids say, that person has committed a crime. If in fact I caused this, haven't I committed a crime? Isn't protecting a child worth even checking? If it's all a fraud, isn't that some other crime? No. And sorry, sir, but this is not open for discussion.

So the issue never goes anywhere near the indignant self-righteous posturing about "dangerous" aesthetic practices on web threads like this one on photo.net, which in turn was spawned and then became the subject of one of Michael Johnson's Sunday Morning Columns. There's no argument about film versus digital, real versus staged, editing or altering or distortions. It's simply not an issue — as far as the legal system is concerned, photographs (and the testimony of minors, even informally) don't mean a doggoned thing when it comes to trying to grasp at The Truth.

Posted March 07, 2004 | Comments (1)

 

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