“The Wonderful World of Early Photography” on Neatorama

February 25, 2008

There’s an excellent overview of the fascinating early days of photography on the Neatorama blog.

From the camera obscura to the first human portrait, the first color photograph, the first underwater photo, to the first American woman to be photographed with her eyes open (in 1839), you’re certain to learn something about the development of photography that will surprise you.

[The distinction about being the first American woman photographed with her eyes open comes about due to the early practice of funeral photography of the recently deceased.]


“In the 1880s, French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey wanted to learn how birds fly, so he invented a photographic gun, which uses a rotating glass plate to take 12 consecutive pictures per second.”


Alien Intelligence: UFOs or Dogs?

February 15, 2008


According to a poll reported in the New York Times in 2003, there are three million Americans who believe they have had some kind of encounter with an alien.

My opinion is that if Americans wanted to have an encounter with an alien intelligence they probably have one sleeping on a rug right in their own home. I submit that the family dog possesses a mind that is is at least as alien to most dog owners as any “grey” with huge black almond-shaped eyes and an unsettling tendency to probe human orifices.

My interest is to explore the canine mind and leave the extraterrestrial brain to the province of science fiction and needy fantasists.

People who claim they’ve met aliens, been aboard their space craft or given birth to alien-human hybrid babies are 1.) suffering from a delusion and 2.) have no understanding of the size of the universe.

How can I so easily dismiss the multitude of reports by millions of otherwise sane and sober folks? Let’s take a look at how big a place this universe is anyway.

Physics tells us that it is impossible to achieve speeds greater than that of light itself. The commonly used denominator light year is defined as the distance light travels in one Earth year, approximately 6 trillion miles. Let’s assume that we could actually build a ship capable of sustaining life that matches the speed of light.

Leaving Earth we pass the Moon in 1 1/2 seconds. Venus flies by us in 2 1/2 minutes. The recently down-graded Pluto would take us 5 1/2 hours. So far so good. It will now take us several months at this speed to leave behind the gravitational influence of the Sun and escape our solar system. To get to the closest star, Proxima Centauri we’ve got to travel for more than four years.

Here comes the problem. To get to the center of our own galaxy, one of billions observable by the Hubble Space Telescope, will take us 25,000 years. To get to the outer edge of the Milky Way requires 50,000 years at the speed of light. Wait, it gets worse. The closest galaxy to us is Andromeda. To get there we’d need to travel for 2.5 million years.

The farthest objects we can see with the HST would require a journey of 12 billion years. For comparison the age of the universe is currently believed to be 14.8 billion years.

So while the odds certainly favor the possibility of intelligent life out there among the stars, the distances between us and them are almost incomprehensibly vast. Which makes the thousands of reports of alien ships seen or boarded since 1947 seem highly unlikely. Instead, E.T., the greys and the rest of the intergalactic menagerie come from that universe between our ears, the human brain, than from the one we see when we gaze into the night sky.

In future posts we’ll explore the genuine mysteries and complexities of the canine mind; the alien at our feet.

Source: Hubble: the Mirror on the Universe, Robin Kerrod & Carole Stott, Firefly Books, 2007. (Above) A cluster of galaxies 2.2 billion light years from Earth. Photo from Space.com, the Best Hubble Images,

Bob Dylan – “Tangled Up in Blue” Rolling Thunder Revue 1975

February 13, 2008

It was 1966 when I first discovered Bob Dylan and for me, like so many others, his songs became the musical backdrop of my formative years. Of all the talents to come up through folk and rock in the 1960s, his work is the most likely to endure into the far future, in my opinion.

It’s impossible for me to select a single song in his vast catalog as my favorite but Tangled Up in Blue stands apart for me. That’s because I lived through many of the scenes referenced in the lyrics, after a fashion. Tangled Up in Blue is, for me, the most personal of all his great tunes for that reason.

This live version from his Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975 shifts the perspective from first person to third yet it remains one of the best renditions primarily because it is stripped down to simply Dylan, acoustic guitar and harmonica.

Tangled Up in Blue YouTube video

Note: Please ignore the comments section on this video. This applies to almost all comments and replies that have become one defining feature of Web 2.0. As the Arabic proverb goes, “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”


Dogs in Danger.com

February 11, 2008

DogsinDanger.com is a new non-profit organization devoted to saving the millions of dogs who are running out of time in local shelters all across the country. No one group, or single approach can stem this tide of killing abandoned dogs. But this is certainly a step in the right direction.

James Serpell, author of the excellent book In the Company of Animals estimates that we euthanize less than 5% of the US canine population each year. So while the percentage is small, the absolute number is still unconscionably high.

The truth is we are doing better today than we were in the 1970s and 1980s when the estimates were around 13 million dogs killed a year. But we must drive this number down further. Dogsindanger.com is one way to do that. Check them out if you are interested in adopting a dog and saving a life.

–from their website:

DogsInDanger.com is a nonprofit national shelter outreach program at the forefront of a grassroots movement trying to help shelters save the lives of millions of innocent dogs.

We are a nation of dog lovers. Then why is it that the shelters that are expected to provide these animals with a second chance at life are instead being forced to euthanize them?

Shelters are the last line for millions of innocent dogs. The public has no idea of the magnitude of this national tragedy. The sad reality is that over four million dogs are killed each year in shelters. Why, in a country of dog lovers, are so many dogs homeless?

Because their families abandon them, for reasons like job change, divorce and new baby… and most shelters don’t have the necessary programs to get the dogs the exposure they need to find new homes. Shelters find homes for many dogs, but millions are euthanized. For far too long we have been told there is no other way.

DogsInDanger.com believes in the power of compassion, and that Americans would do more to help and adopt shelter dogs, if only they knew how many dogs shelters were forced to euthanize. We also believe that shelters don’t really want to euthanize dogs, if they had any other option. Simply put, we have chosen a path of technology as a means of connecting these scared, abandoned shelter dogs with the loving homes they deserve. As a nonprofit organization, we seek no other gain except for the happiness we see in the face of a dog as he faithfully walks out through the shelter doors, in perfect step with his loving new family.

It may be uncomfortable for some to see lists of names and photos of dogs scheduled to be euthanized, but, the truth is uncomfortable. By making it personal, we believe more people will be compelled to help these dogs. Thus dogsindanger.com refuses to present a sanitized version of the truth. Our ultimate goal is to see a day where healthy and treatable animals are no longer killed by their most trusted friends.


Pet Food: A Dog’s Breakfast – Canadian TV documentary

February 7, 2008


–from the CBC web site


Do we really know what we’re feeding our pets? In the Spring of 2007, pet owners across North America were devastated when upwards of 50,000 of their beloved pet dogs and cats fell seriously ill after eating tainted pet food. Many of the animals died. Menu Foods of Toronto, the manufacturer, initiated the biggest recall of pet food in North American history.

In the wake of the scandal, the trust pet food makers so carefully nurtured with pet lovers has been severely shaken, and the $16 billion dollar pet food industry has come under public scrutiny as never before. Pet owners and governments are asking: Is pet food both nutritious, and safe? Does it live up to the claims of its makers? Is the industry adequately regulated?

Yap films’ new documentary, PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, investigates, and discovers that a ‘dog’s breakfast’ may be just that.

This exposé takes viewers inside the world of pet food manufacturing and is essential viewing for every pet owner.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST features critics of the industry, foremost among them Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, a California vet, and insider who used to work in the pet food industry. She says the recall of food made by Menu Foods of Toronto is a sign of larger problems. “Unfortunately the pet food industry is cutting corners, is not doing the testing it says it’s doing, is not using the quality of ingredients it wants pet owners to believe are in that bag and can, and is not forthcoming with pet owners about those facts. It is not a truthful industry.”

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST profiles three pet owners who say their pets have been made ill or died as a result of eating tainted food. They are plaintiffs in class action lawsuits seeking to recover not only money spent on vet bills, but also compensation for the emotional trauma they have suffered. One of the owners, Jovanna Kovacevic of Toronto, says, “You get very close to a cat. It’s not just an animal, it’s a member of your family. One of her cats died after eating food that was later recalled. Another is still sick and needs ongoing, and ruinously expensive, veterinary care. “It’s not my fault”, she says, “so you want them to pay for their mistakes. You’re angry.”

As Vancouver class action lawyer Lucianna Brasil explains, the claim for emotional damages indicates how our view of pets has changed over the past decades. Animals used to be thought of as companions. Now they are more like members of the family – like substitute children. In fact, about two thirds of pet owners are childless. Even though under the current law, pets are considered ‘property’, the pet food industry strongly promotes the view that pets are family members and markets its products on that basis.

Critics also say there is a big gap between how the companies want consumers to perceive their product and what it actually is. Pet food commercials and labels show fetchingly presented ingredients that humans would be happy to eat. The pet food industry often refers to its products as “human grade’. But Elizabeth Hodgkins says this kind of marketing is misleading. “I think many pet owners would be very surprised to learn about the ingredients that are actually going into the can or the bag of food that they’re feeding to their pet. They would be shocked.” Hodgkins goes into the kitchen to reveal the secrets of what’s actually in your pet’s food and how it’s made.

Dr. Meg Smart, of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, says that expensive pet foods labelled ‘premium’ are often no better or different than cheaper food. The program tests that assertion in a feed testing lab. And Smart also brews a strange concoction, made of old leather boots, wood shavings and motor oil, which in theory could pass one of the minimum standards for pet food, even though it’s inedible. Smart – an educator of veterinarians – also warns that many vets don’t know as much about pet food as consumers think they do. The program offers advice for those wondering what they should be feeding their pets.

As seen in PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, there is a growing call among consumer activists for greater regulation that will bring the pet food industry to heel. Your pet’s life may depend on it.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST is produced by yap films in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation


February 7, 2008

EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File Format, and is a standard for storing interchange information in image files, especially those using JPEG compression. Most digital cameras now use the EXIF format. The format is part of the DCF standard created by the Japanese Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association to encourage interoperability between imaging devices.

Go to their site and find specs, programs that make use of EXIF data and a forum to discuss EXIF related issues with other photographers.

Fred Miranda.com: A Great Place for Photographers

February 7, 2008

FredMiranda.com is a great forum for photographers of all skill levels. Reviews, forums, articles, weekly photo assignments and great, reasonably priced software plug-ins and actions for a wide range of digital cameras. Check it out and tell ’em necessity sent ya’!


Free, On-line Tutorials: Photoshop, Flash, CSS, PHP, Illustrator, Javascript and more

February 6, 2008

When I was a kid in the fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Simpson told me that when I grew up education was going to be a life-long enterprise since, unlike previous generations, I would need to continually learn new skills in order to make a living.

As Mrs. Simpson was paid to socialize and indoctrinate our fifth grade class and turn us into good American consumers, useful knowledge was not on the curricula. However, in spite of that, she actually was right about that life-long education thing.


Here’s a great spot to find free tutorials on a wide variety of software, the skilled use of which, will help you make the bread to become a good consumer. Remember, if a day goes by without you buying something, the terrorists win. Don’t let that happen. Go here www.good-tutorials.com and check out their collection of over 22 thousand tutorials.


Real World Color Management

February 5, 2008

Who you gonna call when you need a Macbeth Color Checker? Or a CMYK ramp? Why, you’re gonna call Bruce Fraser, Chris Murphy and Fred Bunting, authors of Real World Color Management. They’ll even tell you how (and when) to use them. Look, this book is recommended by Design Tools Monthly’s Jay Nelson. What more do you require?

In their book you’ll learn to:

• Assess the components of your color management system for easy troubleshooting and optimal results
• Build fool-proof display, input, and output ICC profiles using the latest hardware and software solutions
• Evaluate and edit existing ICC profiles
• Implement the ideal color-management workflow for your environment
• Take advantage of color-management services built into your operating system
• Refine color-management practices used in popular graphics and publishing applications

“Bruce Fraser, Chris Murphy, and Fred Bunting have created a scientifically accurate, designer-friendly, and completely practical resource for anyone wanting to understand how color works or simply to get predictable color from their particular workflow.”
—Jay Nelson, Design Tools Monthly

“This is the best—absolute best—book on managing color I’ve ever seen!”
—Peter Bauer, Photoshop User magazine


In Search of Memory by Eric R. Kandel

February 5, 2008

I’ve been fascinated by memory since, oh, I can’t remember when. One of the best books on the subject I’ve ever read was Daniel Schacter’s Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past from 1997. I would still recommend that book as a great place to start exploring this field. The sad truth is that the primary way in which researchers learn about memory is by studying people who for various reasons have memory deficits. Their personal stories can be heartbreaking, aside from the scientific information we can glean from their tragic situations.


Now, a decade later there’s another phenomenal book that deals with the discovery of the molecular basis for memory by Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory. Everything that make you, YOU is tied into memory: personality, emotions, skills, our likes and dislikes. Without that continuous chain of memory that stretches back to our infancy how could we know who we are, what we are capable of?

And don’t be afraid that this is one dense slog through a lot of mind-numbing statistics, experiments and discoveries. Kandel’s book is filled with hot sex, Hollywood orgies, porn stars, suburban exhibitionism and perverse, though intriguing, variations on intercourse.

OK, that last part I made up.

But don’t let the lack of sensationalism deter you. This is essential reading if you want to know how your mind works.

Kandel, who received the Nobel Prize in 2000, traces advances in understanding learning and memory. His own groundbreaking findings showed that learning produces changes in behavior by modifying the strength of connections between nerve cells. He conveys his immense grasp of the science beautifully, but it is his personal recollections that make the book especially compelling. He begins with his searing childhood memories of the German annexation of Austria and his family’s escape to the U.S. when he was nine. And he ends with a conference he organized in Vienna to examine the strange reluctance of Austria (unlike Germany) to acknowledge its role in the Holocaust. One comes away in awe of the scientific advances—and of a life well and fully lived.

–from Scientific American

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