Photoshop Disasters

Seetharaman Narayanan did more to alter reality than 99.99999999 percent of people in this world. It’s ridiculous how much the look of everything changed after Photoshop. All the ads, illustrations, all the graphics in the world look different than they did in the 70s and 80s.

If you wish, Adobe website will give you a number of useful lessons on how to use Adobe trademarks, such as:

“CORRECT: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.
INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.”

and

“CORRECT: The image was enhanced with Adobe® Photoshop® Elements software.
INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.
INCORRECT: The image was Photoshopped.
INCORRECT: The image was Adobe® Photoshopped. “

Meanwhile everything I see around me in printed form has been photoshopped to death. These days when a professional digital camera is cheaper than a copy of Adobe® Photoshop® software and the streets of major cities are full of starving young models, the photoshopers out there would rather spend hours doing unnatural things with expensive stock photos.

I could understand this if the companies who would be doing this were short on money. But you know, when the same crappy stock photo is used in an ad for Vagisil and an O’Reilly book cover? That’s ridiculous.

There’s this blog that I’ve been reading lately called “Office Snapshots”. Recently they showed pictures of the offices of Vertrue. The seem to have spent more on a single chair than on the design of their “about us” page. Take a look: the title of the graphic boldly states “WHO WE ARE”. Judging by the graphic the answer is: “We are some smiling office drones from a crummy stock photo.”

Another fun blog that I’ve been reading is Photoshop Disasters. They mock crummy designers. After reading it I started paying a bit more attention to the small details of various ads. It’s crazy how many disturbing details there are. For instance, just now, I picked up a copy of some magazine that my wife was reading. Literally the first ad that I saw had a 6-fingered model:

Alteration of reality in photographs is not a new phenomenon, of course. There’s a great book called “The Commissar Vanishes” about the way photographs were altered in the Soviet times, especially to disappear repressed individuals. Besides sequences of photos of Stalin together with “disappearing” commissars, there’s a portrait of Stalin done by a pretty incompetent painter. Stalin, upon seeing the picture, crossed out the ear and wrote the following:

“This ear says that the artist is not well schooled in anatomy. J.Stalin.”

“The ear screams and shouts against anatomy. J.S.”

I don’t have a scan of that page, but believe you me, that ear was almost as disturbing much of the photoshopped models in today’s ads.

Canon vs. Nikon

I often get asked for advice on what digital camera to buy. I’d estimate that I was asked that at least a dozen times in the last couple of years. I’ve been asked by co-workers, friends, family.

I usually explain things this way: there are two classes of cameras — SLR and what used to be called “rangefinder“. SLRs range from bulky and heavy to galaxy sized black hole; from very expensive to small-Manhattan-studio-apartment-down-payment expensive. Rangefinders range from 007-spy-camera-sized to brick-sized; from very cheap to pretty damn expensive. The image quality on both types ranges from crappy to very good.

SLRs have one huge advantage: they look professional. And expensive. Two advantages. Well, actually while we are at it, there is a third advantage, and the only one that matters. Some SLRs come as a part of a camera system. A camera system is a collection of accessories that your camera can take. It includes lenses, flashes, extension rings, adapters, and other various obscure doodads like focusing screens and right angle viewfinders. Repeat with me – it’s not the camera body and the lens it comes with. It’s the System that matters.

When you are buying a non-system camera, you have to make a one piece investment as you won’t be able to upgrade it later. With system SLRs, your investment in lenses, flashes and other accessories is separate and much longer lasting than investment in the body of the camera. More than that, you’ll have a choice of several camera bodies at different price points. But the main thing is, you can have a lens and accessory collection and it will stay with you for many years.

In the olden days there were popular rangefinder systems and even TLR systems. Not anymore. But the main reason for rangefinder popularity still remains: they are smaller and easier to use than SLRs. A picture taken with a well-made rangefinder will be almost indistinguishable from that taken with a well-made SLR with a normal range lens (that is, not a macro or telephoto or something even more exotic). Rangefinders add something to photography that no SLR can add – spontaneity. To be able to whip a camera out of your shirt pocket and take a picture is priceless. 70% of photographic opportunities disappear in the time that it takes to take an SLR out of the bag.

I often try to steer people into buying a nice rangefinder because I know that they’ll take it with them more, take more pictures and enjoy it more. A camera that wants to stay at home is not of much use, unless, of course, like me, you are Ok with dragging a heavy bag with you everywhere.

If it’s the SLR that they want, I explain the choice even simpler. You have to buy into a major camera system, which these days means Canon or Nikon. Once you buy your camera and lenses, you are pretty much stuck with the system, unless you never buy any expensive lenses.

Canon and Nikon systems are pretty equivalent in quality and variety. They are both awesome. Generally Nikon stuff is heavier and sturdier, and also more expensive. Just about anybody finds that appealing. I find the relative heaviness a huge drawback. Picture quality at slow shutter speed is mainly limited by three factors: sensor quality, lens quality and camera shake. So, if you are not using a tripod for every shot, a heavy, although sturdy camera is a huge drawback – it will make your hands shake a lot more than a lighter one. For these two reasons I am, and always was a fan of Canon.

Most of the people I ever advised on purchasing a camera bought Nikons though. More than that, most of my friends and co-workers are Nikon owners already. As a rule of thumb, prosumers that I know like Nikons. In general, among professionals and amateurs, Canon and Nikon are represented equally, as far as I can tell.

I do have one observation that might raise a lot of controversy. I find, in my empirical observations, that Canon owners take and share way more pictures than Nikon owners. Nikons are usually found stashed away at home, while Canons are out there in the world, taking pictures. Since 2000, I took about 25K photos, and a I guess I am a typical Canon user. So is Travis Ruse, one of my favorite photobloggers. So is Tema Lebedev, my favorite travel blogger. What about you, Nikonophiles? Where are your pictures?

Philip Greenspun has a nice technical Canon vs Nikon comparison, as well as a good description of the Canon system, and one of Nikon.

I’ve added a camera-related poll.

Amen


My paternal grandmother, the matriarch of the family, a mechanical engineer and a workaholic, was the main driving force behind our move to America. She woke up at 5 am every day to prepare a meal for the family and start cleaning. She loved America, but did not live long enough to enjoy her life here. Her luck ran out a several years after my family arrived in the US — pancreatic cancer destroyed her body. The surgeons operated, but could not help her.

My grandfather, on the other hand was a bit luckier. He also had an operation in the US – a quadruple bypass, which fixed his heart that was weakened by several small heart attacks. In all likelihood, if he did not immigrate, his heart would have given out earlier, as these operations were not widely available in Ukraine.

Gramps lived an extraordinary life, squeaking by on his luck more than once. The picture of him and my grandma you see above is from their vacation on a Soviet cruise ship. I took a scan from a page of my personal photo album that he lovingly created for me, complete with his accurately printed titles. “October 1984, Cruise on ‘Admiral Nakhimov’, Odessa-Yalta” the caption reads. In August 1986, Admiral Nakhimov became the Soviet Titanic, colliding with cargo ship Pyotr Vasyev, mostly though gross incompetence of and dereliction of duty by the two captains.

Having survived Stalin’s purges was mostly pure luck for my grandparents. Having relatives in the USA actually tipped the odds in the wrong direction. My grandparents did have a chance to emigrate in the pre-war wave. One of my grandpa’s friends tried to talk him into going to America and starting a construction business. Good construction engineers like you are hard to find there, he said. My grandma did not want to go at that time, leaving their elderly parents behind. I remember seeing a letter from my grandpa’s friend, who actually started a construction business in the US and struck it rich. The zip code on the letter stuck in my mind for some reason back then, and now I know what it meant — it was 90210. In any case, I think the major reason why my grandfather did not get arrested adn “disappeared” is his easygoing personality. He was a very gentle person, with a small circle of good friends and absolutely no enemies. That, and his luck.

My grandfather had some luck in WWII as well. Very early on in the war a few of his egghead friends called on him to volunteer to a newly formed and somewhat secret division. He spent the war very close to the hottest front points, but not actually in them. He did not shoot or got shot at. In fact, he was handling lots and lots of paperwork. That paperwork was generated by strange-looking cars with antennas, egg-headed mathematicians and grandpa’s friends, who were fluent in several languages. I always knew my grandfather as an extremely meticulous person, especially about paperwork. This quality is very important in the business of code breaking as well as in the construction business.

After the war gramps was poor as a churchmouse. His wartime spoils were limited to the fork and the polishing cloth that I wrote about earlier. To fix their finances my grandparents headed to the boom island of Sakhalin. Sakhalin is an island right next to Japan that looks like a fish from above. The history of Sakhalin’s population is strange and convoluted. Chinese, Japanese, Ainu, Russians and others co-inhabited it. Japan and Russia fought for complete control of it, and finally, after WWII Soviet Russia won. Japanese were driven out and it became a Soviet frontier, rich in oil and other natural resourses. Engineers were desperately needed, and even within the confines of non-market economy, wages were much higher there. My grandparents made a good living there, sending money back to their parent and saving a lot to start their independent life back in Odessa. My dad, whom they took along, meanwhile, learned to ski and to catch smelts, strange little fish that smell like fresh cucumbers.

Back to Odessa they went, where they continued their careers. They bought a few things with their Sakhalin earnings, such as the nice modern furniture and a color TV that I later enjoyed. There are many buildings in Odessa that were built under the supervision of my grandfather. Later he became a college instructor, and taught architects and builders.

Without ever hearing about another famous Odessan who also happens to share his first name, one Yakov Pokhis better known as Yakov Smirnoff, gramps liked to repeat the famous catchphrase. “What a country! What won’t they think of!” — he used to say when I showed him a gadget or when he read about something in a newspaper or saw something on TV.

Grandfather’s luck ran out at the age of 91. He caught pneumonia. In the hospital, he started to get a little better, but then suddenly coded. His heart probably simply gave out, and the house doctor could not revive him. I talked to that doctor, and it was bad. Decent doctors say “I am sorry for your loss” and not “what is it that you want to know”; they do not mix pronouns, even if they speak broken English. I can only hope that he did everything that he could to save my grandfather.

Here’s literally the last picture I ever took of him (it was earlier this year). My latest digital camera and flash impressed gramps a lot, as it came a long way from the huge camera he and his father used to have (I pointed out that the quality of that old-timey camera was probably better).

As I learned from the eulogy delivered by a rabbi at the funeral, 91 is a special age. In Hebrew letter code 91 means Amen. Aleph = 1, Mem = 40, Nun = 50. Gramps lived a good life, and I am very grateful for having him with us that long. I am also grateful that his death was quick and I hope mostly without suffering. He is finally back with grandma. Amen.

Three Years of Poor Grammar, Bad Spelling and Procrastination

I started this blog in May of 2002. I got my first digital camera around this time as well. So, it’s time to look back at my 3 years of blogging and 3 years of digital photography.

My mostly backed up (is yours?) photo folder holds about 27 gigabytes of photos, which translates into about 16,500 files (I use Picasa to organize them and a usb drive for backup). That’s about 458 rolls of 36 exposure film. At 5-6 bucks a pop for film and then a couple of bucks for processing that’s a lot of mon-ay. Of course I print a lot less and mostly show pictures in the blog, but still this is a huge economy.

In three years of blogging I wrote 824 posts containing 117,274 words. Considering an average of half an hour per post that’s about 50 eight hour work days. That is a lot of time, people. Considering that I do not write posts at work, this is a very sizable chunk of my free time. I could have written a book in this amount of time.

According to Feedburner my current readership is puny. 47 (a special number, isn’t it?) livejournal readers, 8 from Bloglines, and a couple of others, some of which are probably bots. When I hosted my site in Livejournal it seemed like I had about 250 readers, but as it turned out most of those were just “you added me, I added you” kind of deals. Even then I was far behind Ripley the Cat (and I find it very hard to get over this fact).

So, sob story about the number of readers aside, now I am a member of the elite group of bloggers who have been doing this for 3 years. How elite, you might ask? Let’s ask Mighty Google. Here is a graph of how many results come back to “x year(s) of blogging”, where x is “one”, “two”, “three”, etc. This, of course has just a slight correlation with the number of years people have been blogging, as “hundred years of blogging” brings back three results.

My website that hit the Information Superhighway back in 1996. It helped my future wife find me and gave me some rudimentary skills for my first web job. The blog hasn’t been so useful or popular, it seems. Maybe back then there was less good content on the web, and now there are shite waterfalls of it. Or maybe I need do something to market it. Like asking my staunch 47 + 8 + x readers to link to their favorite post or two (all of the old posts are searchable from http://www.deadprogrammer.com). Right?

iPhoto Retro or John Sculley’s Gift To The World of Photography

I collect 20th century technology antiques. They are not expensive and don’t take up much space – perfect for my cubicle museum.

My shelf at work houses a small, but growing collection of monstrous early cellphones. There are a couple of gigantic vacuum tubes (some from an early Univac), a core memory plane, a multiprocessor unit from an Amdahl mainframe, a weird hardwired logic unit from a forgotten computing machine. My latest purchase is rather interesting – the first consumer digital camera.

A $700 piece of equipment in 1994 Apple Quicktake 100 cameras sell for just a few bucks on eBay. I first saw one mentioned in this outstanding livejournal post. This guy’s camera still had some images in it which provided a weird time tunnel into some office party in 1994. I guess the people in the photos were celebrating extravagant Mac purchases.

I bought two cameras on eBay for just a few bucks each, and one came with a cable and a floppy with PC software. Not even hoping that it’d work I plugged in the serial cable, installed the software on my Win 2000 machine, turned on the camera and ran the program. It worked the first time.

Here are the two Apple QuickTake 100’s that I purchased. I bought two so I could take stereo images and view them on my 100 year old stereoscope. In a couple of years I think I’ll be able to buy a couple of iPod photo thingies for a few bucks and do what this guy did.

Times Square at night in full .3 megapixel power (compressed to 500 width).

Times Square at night with lower resolution option turned on

Snow storm in Brooklyn

Considering how difficult lighting conditions were the results are respectable. Usability wise these cameras are lacking. Even though they look like those binoculars from Star Wars movies, they have a very nasty lens cover that is very hard to open without leaving a nice fingerprint on the lens. Taking portrait orientated pictures is rather hard.

So here I am, paying tribute to one of the last Apple products of John Sculley’s era at Apple (note how Apple CEOs are arranged in a timeline at Wikipedia – just like kings). I wonder if Steve Jobs will ever consider making an Apple digital camera. So far the fate of Apple Newton shows that to Jobs anything ever touched by Sculley is taboo.

Does Your Digital Camera Have Enough Bling?

I was researching subminiature digital cameras when I stumbled on a webpage of a company that makes an affordable diamond studded digital camera.

That’s right. MINOX DD1 Diamond has 8 synthetic diamonds.

Mechanical watch manufacturers used to proudly advertise how many synthetic “jewels” were used in the watch mechanism. Then radio manufacturers used to brag about the number of transistors (sometimes even adding unnecessary transistors to the circuit). Now it is all about megahertz, megabytes and megapixels. Don’t you think it’s time to go back to jewels?

Z-Ray Vision

Man: “Psst, you want to buy organ? Fresh and cheap, ready for transplant.”
Fry: “Ooh, what’s this?”
Man: “Ah, is x-ray eye. See through anything.”
Fry: “Wait a minute, this says z-ray.”
Man: “Z is just as good! In fact is better, is two more than x!”

Futurama episode 1ACV07 – My Three Suns

Well, you all know that I consider Canon Powershot G2 and G3 the best digital cameras a normal person can actually afford. You also probably know that I pay close attention to naming schemes. So here’s a little story with a surprise ending for you.

The granfather of the camera I like so much was Pro 70, which was the first camera to have a flip screen.

The next one was called Powershot G1. It was a very popular and well designed camera. It’s sensor was very sensitive to IR radiation which makes it probably the best digital camera for infrared photography. The biggest complaint was the color of the body. Most photographers hate silver plastic.

Next up was Powershot G2. It was almost identical to G3 with slight changes to UI and optics. Most G2s were made out of the same ugly silver plastic, but there was a special all black edition. I was lucky enough to buy a black G2. I had to order it from Canada.

Powershot G3 was the next camera in G series. Again, slight changes in UI, optics and more significantly a 4 megapixel sensor. Again, silver. Will they ever listen?

Now, the next camera is called Powershot G5. It has a 5 megapixel sensor which according to reports is a bit crappier than the one in G3. At least they dropped the silver plastic.

But wait, what happened to Powershot G4? Did it suffer the fate of Netscape 5? The rumour floated around that G4 was trademarked by Apple. Well, Apple has a Powermac G5 also.

The correct answer appears to be this:
“The word “four” is read as “si” in Chinese Mandarin and “shi” in Japanese, a close homonym for the word for death in both languages and in the Cantonese dialect spoken in Hong Kong. “

Hmm, I wonder how those Powermacs sold in Japan and China.

Workin’ late

I go through Times Square almost every day on my way to work and back home. Yesterday I was working until midnight, so on my way back I took some pictures with my brand new digital camera. The train + train + bus ride that usually takes 1.5 hours took me 3 hours this time because of subway repairs. I should really move to Manhattan.

I know, I know, it’s a cliché. Still.. I pass this by every day.


Scientists are having a major breakthrough with death rays in a lab on top of Ernst & Young building.


I really hate the crudely photoshopped ad on top. They are reusing the “flashing” dude in subway ads by mirror flipping him. The ad is for Revlon, I think.


I could not figure how to crop this picture, but this seems to work.

Untitled

My new digital camera is on it’s way from Canada.

I’s a special black finish edition of Canon Powershot G2. B&H and Adorama did not have it in stock, and the only place selling it on the web was Photocreative in Canada.
I am going to name my new camera Hoser.
Don’t you hate silvery finishes in cameras, eh?

Meanwhile — another photo from my archive.