postheadericon TECH TALK: RIP mini DV...

One of the things that I remember the most about last week’s jaunt to Bangkok, besides the tasty fruit and the insane scene at Pantip Plaza, was the absence of MiniDV cameras for all the outdoor shooting that you see in and around the huge downtown mega malls.

And I am not talking about tourists snapping clips; I am talking professional filmers just like my bro Sanzip. There they were, out filming sexy Thai models sprawled atop new car hoods as well as shooting crazy young-girl bands blaring out bubble-gum pop...and all these BKK shooters had one thing in common, none of them was using a MiniDV camcorder of the type that has reigned the proconsumer kingdom for decades.

It seems these devices are now officially dead in the eyes of professional videographers. But before I highlight why I’m personally rejoicing the fall of the miniDV, here’s a bit on what is now reigning:

The DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera has dominated the still photography market for years, and in just the past few, has managed to eradicate the competition in the video market as well. Here is what happened: major makers of DSLR cameras such as Canon and Nikon, began beefing up their chips and on-board software to handle video as well as stills. But the killer for digicams (that use MiniDV tape to store video) was the inclusion of bigger image sensors, loving known as CMOS sensors.

Most digicams (affordable by small studios and average citizens) uses a 1/2.5” sensor, making the image surface size 25mm2. But most new DSLR’s have a minimum sensor size of 22.2” with a surface size of 329mm2 or more. Without getting too technical, that means that a typical DSLR will give you lower noise, higher sensitivity, and an increased dynamic range for your vids. Arguably more importantly, large DSLR sensors give you a shallower depth of field at any given aperture. A lower depth of field allows shooters to get that appealing effect when the subject is in full focus, but the background is completely blurred out.

So in short, digital still cameras can now take superior video over video cameras in the same price range. So it has been a no-brainer for any shooter to make the switch. For the price of one good mini-DV cam, you can almost buy two DSLRs, and take great looking HD video at 1080p. Plus, as an added benefit, you don’t have to drag around another camera to take stills – you get a two-in-one special with a good DSLR.

Now onto why I am jumping up and down with joy over this bold new move by camera manufactures. Both Canon and Nikon have made quality lenses forever, and the lenses that used to fit on your old film camera back in the day, may just fit on your brand spanking new DSLR video rig. This gives you some creative options once reserved for use by the folks in Hollywood/Bollywood, who slap on different lens all the time when shooting a full-length feature.

My family’s music studio (Phoenix Studios Nepal) has a collection of old EOS film lenses that fit nicely on the new range of Canon DSLRs. So instead of getting a new Canon XL2 MiniDV cam to replace an aging XL1, we decided to invest in DSLRs, and take advantage of all the still photography lenses that we have lying around in dusty drawers. And that’s working just peachy for our new line of music videos.

This is one of the few advances in technology that have leap-frogged over another lately that actually can save consumers money, instead of the other way around – and without any sacrifice in quality.

I must be dreaming. No more hunting around for a firewire cable when wanting to offload videos to computers. No more worry about recording on a tape that might not last. Everything is now recorded onto fast SD chips that are reusable and fairly cheap. Cheap enough to even use as archive media instead of cluttering up precious HDD space, or having to maintain a huge tape library. But the firewire-lessness of DSLRs is what makes me smile the most. In the past 3 video cameras I’ve owned, the first thing that broke was the on-board firewire plug – difficult to repair and the Achilles’ heal of any video camera made recently.

So here’s to the end of an era, and may the MiniDV now rest in peace.
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postheadericon ECS: Rise of the E-Book


Surprisingly enough, the rise of the electronic or digital book (e-book) began just around the time that the Internet was being hatched in US universities. Michael S. Hart, a grad student at the time, founded Project Gutenberg in 1971, with a goal of distributing 10,000 of the most consulted books in this new format, and to do so by the turn of that century.

The very first e-book was America’s Declaration of Independence, and like most of the early models was distributed in plain text, which made them look no more exciting to read then most emails of the past decade. Today, e-books rival the look and feel of the modern paperback, and have been enhanced to include interactive illustrations, inline hyperlinking, and social networking features (think “I Like This” while reading).

But what exactly is an e-book these days, how do they work, and why the change you might be wondering...

The modern e-book of the 21st century is much more then the book of the 16th century, which for hundreds of years was simply typography applied to paper and bound together with an attractive front and back cover, usually printed at much expense and distributed via publishers, booksellers, and shops. This soon-to-be-arcane format has filled uncountable shelves in millions of brick and mortar libraries around the globe, and it’s probably safe to say that most of the human species has at least held one, if not read several.

Since reading is akin to eating or working or playing as an aspect of what it means to be human, it’s no wonder that any change in the format of the traditional book would raise eyebrows and make us take note. The e-book has done just that by replacing the traditional format of paper and ink with digital bits and bytes, and introducing a new device called the e-book reader.

Now while Michael S. Hart and the folks behind the Gutenberg Project had no such device (just huge super computer to view the new format), with every advance in computer miniaturization, new ideas for the perfect e-book reader have sprouted.

Personal computers were essentially the first mass-produced e-book readers, as e-books could then be read by simply getting a library of books loaded onto a CD. One CD could hold about 600 titles in the older format of the e-book, which was just text and few pictures if you were lucky. Not very exciting, and nothing that would make you drop your favorite paperback and run to your computer whenever you wanted to read.

But then something magical happened. Computers became small enough to place on your lap - comfortably - and now computers can be comfortably held in your hand (just glance down at your new smartphone, for example). This was the game-changer for e-book popularity.

With the invention of the PDA (personal digital assistant) and then smart phones, a near perfect device had been created that could replicate the look and feel of the common book, and could then be filled with e-text books, e-magazines, and entire e-libraries of reading material. Interfaces were devised that simulated how people traditionally read a book: by flipping one page at a time, and placing a bookmark between the pages when it was time to go to bed.

Advances of late in screen resolution has made it possible to make reading small text on small screens comfortable to the eye, as many of us can spend all day flipping pages while studying for exams or getting through a riveting mystery yarn.

In the past few years, dedicated reading devices like the Nook and the Kindle have sold in the millions, as these special tablet PCs have one goal in mind – to provide the reader with a traditional book-reading experience, albeit dependent on battery life instead of ambient light. And these devices also sport e-ink, which is a technology that makes it hard to tell the difference between the device’s screen and a real sheet of paper.

Websites like Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com now sell more e-books then printed books, and at an ever-increasing ratio. Mobile manufactures are fast getting into the e-book frenzy. For example, Apple opened it’s own e-book store and started selling their own flavor, the iBook, to anyone with one of their widely popular iPhones. In just 28 days they sold 1 million copies. E-book sales in the USA now account for 5% of the book selling market, and that figure is growing by leaps and bounds each and every quarter.

Personally, as an avid reader and writer living in Nepal, I have not bought a “physical” book in years...as residents of Nepal know, we don’t have large corner bookstores occupying huge chunks of space in our shopping malls. But most readers in the country do have access to the internet, meaning that with the purchase of a smartphone, dedicated e-book reader or tablet device, we can now download any of the millions of e-book titles online and then read, for example, Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller Unbroken, or if feeling nostalgic, the complete works of William Shakespeare – all while holding our battery operated Wi-Fi “paperback.”
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postheadericon NAMASTE From The Fringe


Namaste all! Jiggy Gaton here on the outer fringes of just about everything, welcoming you to yet another blog - just what the world needs eh? But this one is special - ha! - as it is a one-stop shop where I've wrangled all my articles together from here and there across the internet and posted them all in one place...

Articles published in the Republica (Nepal's premier English-reading newspaper) and in ECS Living (the ostentatious coffee table magazine) are all sorted into two categories: technology and opinion. I am also a contributor to Creativecow.net, which is a place where video and audio professionals gather to share and glare; so my tutorials from that website are posted on this blog as well. Then there is the artistic side of Jiggy that rears it's ugly head at least a few times a day, so artwork included in my articles is also here.

So enjoy!

Live long and prosper,
Jiggy Gaton

Ps. To follow this blog, there are several options on the lower right below the fold: by email and via Google Friends. Feel free to choose which one fits your lifestyle. Also, to find topics of interest, an index has been provided, as well as a localized google search...good luck with that!
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postheadericon TECH TALK: Is High Tech on Crack or What?

Have you ever asked yourself if high tech has gone too high, too far, to the point of just frustrating the heck out of you and making you want to reach for some kind of drug to ease the pain?

This often happens to me, and as a technologist I find that disturbing. For example, this week I am carrying around a new Galaxy tablet that is advertised as both a phone and a netbook replacement (which were advertised as a laptop replacement, which by the way, was advertised as a desktop replacement) and I could not make a call to anyone that had a “real” phone on them.

I am in Bangkok at the moment, and it’s really hot outside even thought it’s supposed to be winter...but the surface temperature of the Galaxy tablet is twice as hot at the barometer reading of 36c. So I am lugging around this hot potato in hopes my colleague can call me, even though I can’t call him, and this Samsung hot potato is really weighing me down – it’s like walking around with a baked Nepali brick.

So I have to ask the manufacturer: why are you selling us albatrosses instead of something we can happily use?

But my wife has another problem with tech that I can also relate to. She can’t keep track of it. The other week she had left her phone at home and her flash drive in the office, and since her laptop battery was dead she could not reach her data that’s now stored in a “cloud” somewhere.

When I had to get some of my stuff outta the cloud today (a few  of my videos uploaded to YouTube) I learned an interesting thing about cloud computing: what you put there may not always be retrievable when you want it, may be hard to figure out how to get even when found, and ultimately does not look as good as it did before sending “up” there.

In short, I had sent perfectly nice videos to YouTube, only to get back films that seemed to be chewed on by chipmunks. My photographer buddy also had a similar experience with Flickr, a popular cloud application that stores your photos for safekeeping and sharing. Well, what he shared with me could not be printed very well after leaving the “cloud” - perhaps there was a thunderstorm or a hurricane, as the photo looked like it had just survived Katrina once it was put on paper.

Now I may sound like I am kvetching again, but do I really need a GPS display in a new set of Ray-Bans? Is it absolutely necessary to have a 1400x900 LCD display on my refrigerator door? Do I really need an alarm clock in my bedroom that is also an iPhone docking station? Yes on that one, since my iPhone will only work office hours before needing a recharge.

It’s this high-tech blend of annoyances that is currently weighing heavily on my mind, even more so then this e-book reader (with e-ink) is weighing in my hands these days.

Are the high-tech wizards in Cupertino and elsewhere aware that what they are conjuring up in development labs and rushing to China for manufacturing may not be ready for prime time? Or have I just become some old tech fogy with drool on the corner of his mouth every time a new version of “i-whatever” comes out?

I hope the answer is the former, and that I am not going to wind up in a Segway automatic walker whose gyroscope goes belly up 10 minutes after the warranty period expires and then drives me right over a cliff, as did one Segway PT to that company’s CEO.

Although, death by technology has never hindered mankind from manufacturing a lot more of it. I wonder how many villages have burned down since humans discovered how to make cooking fires, and we all know about the carnage that the invention of the wheel has brought about, despite today’s denials from Toyota that electronics where not to blame for that “out-of-control” acceleration recall.

However, there is only one bit of old tech that I am advocating a return for today. A traditional Thai coffee drink. I asked for one this morning at a BKK high-tech coffee café, but the twenty-something barista did not have a clue. I would have Googled that for her, but the Internet was down...argg!
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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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