Monday, June 29, 2009

The intersection of the online/sharing culture, copyright, and photography

Seth Anderson at B12 Solipsism has an excellent series of posts (here, here, and here) about the intersection of the new online/sharing culture, copyright, and photography.

The first post is about the issue of copyright and fair use--many people fail to understand that "fair use" means you have already violated copyright, but you have a valid legal excuse. In photography, Seth points out that the ability to take an excerpt is potentially not possible, leaving every use of a photograph without permission a copyright violation.

The second post is a dust-up by a writer for the New York Times, who argued it was okay to print out a copy of any Flickr photograph and put it up in your private residence. This did not go over well with people who create--i.e., the photographers. While it may be ok for certain Creative Commons and Public Domain photographs, it is a violation of copyright to do that to a owned photograph. The legal question is, as I mentioned above, is this use considered Fair? You would be surprised at the muddled mess in the case law. A professor for instance lost a copyright case because he made personal copies of many science papers and kept them in his office. The turning distinction on that case was the amount of papers he made copies of that drove the copyright violation from "fair use" to a civil violation. Is one printed photo fair use? What if you decorate your whole apartment with them? What size can your print fairly? What about your friends' apartments?

The issues are completely muddy and complex--as a photographer, for instance, I feel I should be compensated for my work. Websites like say Chicagoist or Treehugger use flickr CC shared images to illustrate their stories. In the traditional media, the photographer would be compensated for their work, either by being employed or by a fee. This is not being done at all for most of the non-traditional sites on the internet. It is also a truth that these sites probably couldn't afford the going rate for photographs. Getting your image out for people to see for a photographer is a very important thing, but is it driving the image creation business out of a profession and into the hands of casual photographers? (The latin term amateur is perfect for here but misused--these photographers love what they do and are often just as good as a pro, but the amateurs are not paid).

You would be surprised what it costs to get the rights to every photograph in a magazine. Years ago I was paid once for an image covering less than 1/4 of a page in a small publication more than it costs for ten years of Flickr Pro. More recently, if someone can't get the image use for free, they move on to find another CC licensed image. At what point do I give away my images? For specific charity non-profits? For non-profits? The National Geographic Society is a non-profit, should they get images for free? For school textbooks? For medical school textbooks? There are no good answers, except I am sure there will be fewer pro photographers out there in the future.

There is also the new culture driven out of the Free Software/File Sharing culture where the belief is all content is free and the driving force behind creation of works is not the desire to make money; if you make money you have to find a way to do it selling something tangible, whether it be technical support, concerts, or physical items. This belief is moving beyond the software paradigm, is being fought in the music and movie industries (and being lost completely by the industries), and now is moving into books, photography, and other creative markets. Google was asking illustrators to create for free custom themes for the search engine. Google, a company with a 134 Billion market capitalization, was asking artists to work for free.

I benefit from many of these changes. I listen to music online (and I also still buy CDs, old fashioned me). I work in a field that utilizes free software every day. It is conflicting internally to know that somewhere an artisan may end their craft because they cannot afford to continue, because I chose the free option. I also know there are things I cannot do unless the cost is cheap enough for me to afford. For me, much work remains to allow the creative domains and artists the ability to ply their crafts in the future. I do not know how to get there from here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Venus AND Earth from Mars

I missed something in the last post--the image is Venus and Earth from Mars. Venus is the bright point in the center, and Earth is the faint object moving to the lower right of Venus.

This is from fredk at

Friday, June 12, 2009

The end of analog TV in Chicago

I watched the end of analog TV at noon today for Channels 2,5, and 7. They unceremoniously just cut the power--one in a commercial and two in soaps. Fox 32 is still broadcasting in analog with a constant scroll, and all the low-power and non-profits are still on, save WTTW.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kayuga impact and the videos you should watch

The Japanese Space Agency JAXA just deorbited their lunar orbiting spacecraft Kayuga.

Watch this, this, this (embedded below), or this, turn on the HD for sure, and raise a toast to the mission.

UPDATE: Oh heck, you should see one taken from the ISS while passing over Japan. Again, don't forget to hit the HD version.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Audio isolation transformer

I used to record audio off my Tivo on my desktop computer--but when I had the cable TV connected, I would get a loud hum. The reason for this is related to the idea of "ground" in electrical systems, which are used as a reference point for zero voltage and/or safety purposes. The kicker was the cable TV cable offered a different path to ground compared to the PC's ground.

For consumer generic audio connections, the audio signal (a varying AC voltage of about one volt) is compared to the ground of the system. Hence the two connectors on an RCA connector, signal and ground, or three connectors on a stereo jack: left, right, and ground. If your ground happens to be varying up and down at 60 times a second (because it's not a good ground, for instance), you will also get that hum on your output.

For some professional audio systems, the reference ground is brought with the signal, so you have three connections for any channel. When both the signal and ground vary up and down in sync, it's easy to subtract the pickup noise and have a clean signal.

In simple, single systems, either approach works fine. The problem is when you start interconnecting equipment.

Stereo audio isolation transformer in altoids tin

I made a stereo isolation audio transformer to solve this problem. The left and right channels enter a 1:1 600ohm audio transformer, which transmits the audio signal (which is AC) but blocks any DC connection. This prevents ground loops and currents between the two devices. I got the two transformers from old modems. One of the jacks is a fancy panel mount, the other is from an old sound card, and this old one is actually needed, because it is plastic, isolating it from the case, which is connected to the ground of the panel mount jack. Of course, I put everything in an Altoids tin.

I suppose it would also help if I put some ferrite on the inputs to also reduce RFI/EMI problems, but I haven't yet. Just having this device between a shortwave radio and a PC has reduced interference pickup quite a bit.

You can see more photos of the build at Essentially, 1. Measure and Mark your holes. 2. Make a small punch to keep drill centered. 3. Drill a pilot hole, then the right size. 4. Solder the connections. I used a multimeter to figure out which connection was which on the transformers. 5. Hot glue for stability.

Parts cost: about $2.50 for the 3.5mm stereo panel mount. Everything else I scrounged for from old parts, not counting my time. Here's the equivalent commercial product at $32: I do enjoy the look of that commercial case.