Window into mystery

This X-shaped comet was caught by Hubble a few days ago. Wow. Read about it here.

Comet looks like space ship

Still loving stills, but appreciating the authenticity of video

Stills remain my first love … I even called my company Still Images Inc. when I founded it. But eventually I changed the name to Kindig Omnimedia and then simply Ztories as I perceived that audiences are increasingly media agnostic. All the arrows in the quiver are just tools that serve the storytelling. Note: As I move to Seattle in November, I’ll create a new LLC called either Ztories  or Ztoryteller … which do you like better? Or do you dislike them both? 🙂

But there has been a major shift in the subliminal impact of each medium upon audiences. I got to thinking about this when I responded to a very thoughtful comment by David Patton of Waggener Edstrom on the value of stills in corporate communication, especially presentations.

It seems to me that the perceptions of what’s real or authentic have shifted.  At one time high-resolution stills felt real — photo-journalistic. Then video came to the corporate market, but cameras were clumsy, lots of light was needed, everything was shot with a zoom lens on a contrasty, light-hungry chip… and the end result was that in my view, video had a show-biz air about it, while slide shows felt much more realistic, and therefore much more credible. At least, that’s what I told my clients until they forced me to use video.

Today, with available-light video cameras in most people’s pockets, I would say that video feels as immediate and real as 35mm still pictures ever did. How many people do you know who even shoot with a still camera that big? Only pros and serious amateurs use today’s digital SLRs, and they get higher resolution than large-format (2-1/4 or 4×5) film cameras ever delivered. Most folks shoot with camcorders and tiny duoformat cameras & cell phones. When disgruntled voters rioted in Iran, that’s the kind of imagery that documented it. When we see the world through our friends’ eyes on Facebook, that is the technology formed our perceptions.

In the meantime, the quality of  still cameras has evolved from merely real to sublime. Amazing lenses, timelapse options, and image editing software have now electrified high-end photography with the mediated identity that video once claimed. In most cases, a quality still image can still arrest attention, while digital snapshots and endless hours of unedited video fill our hard drives with too many shots to sort, and too much video to watch. Unless what is unfolding in front of the camera is amazing or surprising — or unless there’s a very creative editorial approach — video may enjoy a claim on credibility but it has lost the fascination it once enjoyed simply because the pictures moved.

And then there’s the “Ken Burns effect”, which once breathed new life into high resolution stills by making them move. That, too, seems to now feel a little over-used and “low-budget”, just as the banal world of video has become. The effect is cool for conveying historical weight, elegance, and clarity of focus. But even Ken Burns uses high def video/film whenever he can.

Compare his use of stills at the beginning and end of this clip

[How Yosemite Got its Name – http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/watch-video/#642)%5D

with what he did here:

[The Indian Idea of Sacredness – http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/watch-video/#755%5D

When he has a choice, Ken is going to use the incredible realism of high definition video or film to tell his story.

And these days, with these cameras, I now prefer cinematic media for that kind of storytelling, as well.

It seems to me, on balance, that well-lit, stable high-def video ought to be the medium of choice whenever a company wants to convey gravitas and photo-realistic credibility; small video cameras with edgier movement and simpler storytelling and lower production values are the best way to deliver documentary style or photo-journalistic impressions.

For dramatic and persuasive storytelling, cinema is still the king of content, and gaining ground. It’s now the only thing (except their Facebook page) that most young people are willing to give their undivided attention to for hours at a time.

But for sheer artistic impact and the crystallization of imagination or reality, still images have regained a lofty place near the center of the visual pantheon.

When you want to tell an audio-visual story about historic events that involves more than dialog and action; when you want to capture the essence of an idea or person, or disturb viewers through visual storytelling, then still images are “still” a great way to go.

Good question

My immediate answer: keep pedaling like mad up this hill.

Sent from my iPhone

Hummer finances

The driver told me, “It’s a true statement, too!”
 
 
Sent from my iPhone

Twitter soon obsolete? Tell me something I didn’t know… :-)

Jason Clark writes a great article in the iMedia Connection blog on the topic, “Why Twitter will soon become obsolete”. Key takeaway from his perspective: Google Wave is the Next Big Thing.

His article is well-researched and tracks other milestones in the social networking world: MySpace, Facebook, all the way back to the email and bulletin boards. Here’s his chart:

JasonClarksTimeline

I have been in the communications business since slightly before this chart started, beginning right out of high school as an apprentice typographer. I started on the NBT of that era, the Mergenthaler VIP machine… arguably the first successful photo-typography system to give hot lead typography a run for its money. No, this does not make me an old man! I’m a very young 56, and if you doubt it, I’ll meet you on the basketball court!

But the accelerating pace of change in all the media and methods of communication throughout my career illustrates why no one should ever think we’ve reached a plateau where we can rest and enjoy the view.

When I started, marketing meant sales, and sales meant “Push”. Shout. Ads. And the media were massive print — either mass-market ads or direct mail — and broadcast. I started on the print side, and the technology for most printed matter on the eve of when I started was the Mergenthaler Linotype machine, which had been the state of the art for about 75 years. (By the way, it was the Mergenthaler Linotype in 1886 that sent Mark Twain into bankruptcy when he sunk a fortune into the Paige typesetting machine). I joined the industry as part of a new wave of young people doing photo-typesetting on primitive computerized electro-mechanical machines. I learned on the Mergenthaler VIP,

Mergenthaler VIP

Mergenthaler VIP

a bonafide Next Big Thing in the advertising and design world, which opened amazing doors of versatility in the form of the written word. It required whole new approaches to every step of the design and printing process.

No one in the communications business had heard of an internet in the 70s.  But we had plenty of new ideas to adapt to and utilize in our work flow. Yes, we were talking at people. (more on that in another post). Yes, the technology of media communications was still firmly in the hands of those who could afford to use it: ad agencies, publishers, producers. But the trend of pleasing audiences, worrying about audience reactions, rapid-fire change and constant personal re-invention goes back at least that far. I’d say it probably goes back to the 50s in some respects, but a major technology revolution accelerated the pace of change in the 60s and 70s.  Here’s my quick list of the Next Big Things that I personally worked with, learned how to use, and then abandoned when something better came along:

  • 1972 – Phototypesetting via paper tape
  • 1973 – Citizens Band radio starts catching on after the oil crisis – By 1982 it has “chat” channels, its own language, etc. (no, I wasn’t a CBer)
  • 1975 – Phototypesetting via OCR
  • 1978 – 1980: Apple II; Visicalc; Wordperfect
  • 1980 – First telecopier I remember seeing – (Analog fax– a spinning drum, 3 to 6 minutes per page!)
  • 1981 – Fedex overnight letters — accelerated turnaround times and a lot less telecopying!
  • 1981 – IBM PC
  • 1981 – Mavica – first digital camera. It’s seen as a NBT, but early results are not practical
  • 1982 – Hayes 300-baud modem
  • 1982 – CD introduced; audio begins to migrate toward Digital realm
  • 1983 – Microsoft Word
  • 1983 – My client Digital was using TCP/IP communication for its internal email; it was 6 more years before Lotus brought Notes to PC users generally — the first real email within average businesses
  • 1983 – Deregulation unleashes a flood of fiber optic bandwidth for telephone data transmission
  • 1984 – Macintosh, and mouse, proportional fonts on a computer; Quark; Photoshop; desktop publishing revolution begins. I sell my printing business to focus on design and audio-visual production
  • 1985 – First cell phones start showing up … in cars only (size of a shoebox)
  • 1985 – First CCD professional video cameras make professional video cameras affordable and versatile
  • 1985 – Spent $2500 on first truly efficient fax
  • 1986 – Began using in-house dedicated computers to create vector-based digital slides, and send via TCP/IP to imaging centers digitally
  • 1986 – Kodak introduces first megapixel digital sensor camera — astronomically expensive and only high-production studios can afford
  • 1986 – First digital video medium introduced – D-1. Not initially trusted for high-end masters. Analog 1-inch lasted another decade
  • 1986 – Digital music production became a reality for music composition
  • 1988 – Purchased our own high resolution imaging camera for making slides digitally inhouse
  • 1988 – Purchased our own analog video editing system (electromechanical)
  • 1989 – First able to create slides entirely digitally
  • 1989 – Corel Draw adds another way to make slides on inexpensive workstations
  • 1989 – Microsoft introduces Power Point
  • 1990 – Non-linear (all-digital) video editing of low-res reference version becomes available (Avid and EMC2) Finishing still has to be done via analog electro-mechanical systems in expensive editing suites using D-2 mastering units
  • 1991 – First known case of Death by Powerpoint (just kidding)
  • 1992 – Digital projection supplants slides in business presentations
  • 1990 – First all-digital compositing system, the Video Toaster, becomes available. I didn’t buy one.
  • 1993 – Mosaic provides first visual user interface for tapping the information of the internet (access to libraries, databases, etc)
  • 1994 – Mosaic’s inventor launches Netscape. That’s when the internet reached my company and daily work life
  • 1994 – Caller ID finally puts phone spammers at a disadvantage
  • 1995 – Yahoo and Altavista emerge to help us search
  • 1995 – Amazon.com launches. Soon it allows readers to post negative reviews on books it sells … the shot heard round the world
  • 1996 – Palm and the idea of PDAs emerges
  • 1997 – Betacam camera package and Ikegami or Sony cameras become the standard
  • 1998 – Google starts a competing service which quickly becomes the verb for search
  • 2000 – FlashForward comes to New York, and my staff and I spend a week learning about this new platform that’s going to “transform the internet”
  • 2001 – Blackberry launches in U.S., allowing PDAs access to email
  • 2002 – Digital cameras begin to make sense for professional communication and quality-conscious amateurs
  • 2002 – Digital video (DV) supplants Betacam
  • 2002 – DVD becomes the fastest growing consumer appliance in history
  • 2003 – National Do Not Call list established, rockets to 62 million signees in 1 year
  • 2003 – Direct-to-plate printing begins to migrate to small print shops, opening doors for custom One-Off brochures
  • 2004 – Final Cut Pro becomes the dominant video editing standard, with 50% market share, and makes complete desktop digital video production possible.

For the last five years, the real action has been in hardware and software that enlarges the audience and its feeling of virtual community, as Jason documents in his article. Inventions from the iPod and iPhone to the xBox and PlayStation to the Pre and beyond become ubiquitous and inexpensive, and the Millennial generation adopts them … and then defines how all mediated digital communication must be prepared and delivered.

More and more, the tools of communication have become intuitive. Special languages, such as those required by everything from CB Radio to IM to Texting to Twitter are getting simpler. Spamming, whether via Direct Mail, Fax, Phone, IM, Email or Twitter hashtags has plagued each platform and eventually simmered down. But with every platform, the word “communication” has skewed in its meaning toward listening rather than speaking: and the power of the audience to penalize the obtuse and intrusive speaker has steadily grown.

For me what is most exciting has been the lowered threshold for response, and in spite of media overload and daily hecticity, an increase in actual participation in dialog. Yes, platforms come, get hot, and then get abandoned or at least back-burnered. Of course each becomes obsolete as soon as something more efficient at transmitting thoughts comes along. Will Twitter be superseded by something from Facebook or Google? Maybe. We’ll all know when it gets here, and we’ll all use it.

There’s never been a year in all the time I’ve been involved with influence that any serious communicator could slow down. Never been a Next Big Thing that wasn’t outclassed by Newer/Bigger Things. And never been a trend that wasn’t upstaged by the trend in line behind it. Since the Linotype hit the wall in 1970, the year before I began my career,  everything has been “soon obsolete.”

But I’m happy to say that changing with the times keeps all of us young, and protects us from obsolescence. If we care about ideas and people, we’ll always be ready for the Next Big Thing.

Eclipse

Hand held but clear enough to show what was happening on a very cold night, here are two views of the eclipse. The first shows the umbral shadow, the terminator between the blown-out normal moon brightness and the sharp shadow of earth cutting across. The illumination of the penumbral shadow shows how the earth’s atmosphere bends the red rays of the sun around the black disc of the earth (as seen from the moon) and puts a distinct reddish glow across the lunar landscape. It is this light that bounces back to us, revealing what would be in darkness if the earth didn’t have an atmosphere.

The second shot shows the moon just before the edge of the umbral shadow covers the moon entirely. Now the colors in the penumbral area are much clearer. I’ve brought Saturn and Regulus into the shot … they weren’t that close in real life.

Eclipse in progress

Eclipse almost full