Friday, November 27, 2009

Kindle "Paper" is Too Dark

I wanted to like the Kindle DX. In an effort to bond to it, I downloaded two books I really wanted to read, The Lost City of Z, by David Grann, one of our alum, and A Most Wanted Man, by one of my favorite authors, John le Carre. However, the experience left me somewhat disappointed, and did not compare to the feelings of reading from real paper. Trying to pinpoint the sources of my discomfort, I realized one is that the "paper" behind the ink seems too dark. I decided to perform some scientific testing of my hypothesis. I warmed up our Epson Exression 10000XL with SilverFast v6.6 scanning software, created a scanner profile with an IT-8 target, calibrated our LaCie monitor with the GretagMacbeth Eye-One Display 2 colorimeter, now the X-Rite i1Display 2 (Who the heck comes up with these product names!). I turned on our SoLux 4700K lamp, which reproduces the full color spectrum of natural daylight. In other words, all the things one should do to work in the area of critical color management.

I then scanned a few "pages" of the Kindle DX, the New York Times, and of a newly published hardbound book. The scans included our IT-8 target, whose accuracy was verified. The results were measured in the Lab, or CIE, colorspace, which is designed to approximate human vision. It aspires to perceptual uniformity, and its L component closely matches human perception of lightness. However, to make the results easier to understand, L was converted to K, or grayscale. Here, K=0% means pure white, and K=100% describes pure black. It seems one would want the background of a reading to approach white (K=0%), and the actual printed ink to approach black (K=100%). So, let's see how our calibrated scans measure out. Naturally, the media should be scanned again for verification, and the included images are not the original 400 dpi TIFFs.

First of all, on the Kindle DX, the white background measures as K=42-44%. This is quite high, as mid-gray is K=50%. The black "ink" on the Kindle measures at K=78-80%. The Kindle's white frame measures an average of K=5%.

The New York Times front page paper stock measured K=21-23%, darker than I would have guessed, and the ink at K=68-70%. That was brighter than I would have guessed, and appeared almost pure black to me. I did notice a lot of variation in the inner pages, as much as paper up to K=23-25%, with ink at 73-77%. I found the Times to be considerably easier to read than the Kindle, even accounting for its larger page size.

I scanned Blood's A Rover, a recent popular printed fiction book by James Ellroy. I selected a book which did not have pure white pages, as I noticed many recent fiction books are getting away from that. Here, the paper measured K=7%, and the ink at K=75% (there are slight variations, these are averages). This was the easiest of the three media to read, by far.

The interesting discovery is that the Kindle had the darkest "ink," at K=78-80%, of the above scans, but to me was the hardest and least pleasurable media to read. I believe a major factor was the background "paper" color of K=42-44%, which is almost a mid-gray. If this deficiency can be corrected, I believe it will make using it a more pleasurable experience. It may not help that the outer Kindle frame is almost pure white, increasing the apparent grayness of its "paper." I also think a laminated plankette of bamboo, walnut, ebony, leather, etc. would be more pleasurable to hold and look at than a piece of easily smudgeable white plastic. It was also interesting that the Times' and book's ink, which seemed visually black, was only about 75% black.

Now, don't get me wrong, I believe the Kindle would be extremely useful and much better than printed paper in some situations, and I also believe there is a bright future for e-book readers. Amazon's e-ink is fine, but one thing they need to do is to come up with a better e-paper.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Open Video, Ogg Theora and Critical Mass

A confluence of forces are pushing to the forefront an open, non-proprietary video standard. The critical mass has started emerging at the time of the OpenVideo Conference in NYC last month. The players:
- HTML5 and the new "video" tag, which makes it easier to embed video in a web page.
- Firefox 3.5 includes built-in support for the Ogg container, the Theora video codec and Vorbis audio codec, all of which are open source. No additional plug-ins are required to watch videos in these formats.
- Wikipedia will soon allow uploads of popular video file formats for server-side encoding to Ogg Theora, and will release a new player.
- Content owners such as Al Jazeera, Internet Archives and Metavid making hundreds of thousands of videos available in the Ogg Theora format.
- A new plug-in for Firefox 3.5, Firefogg, that allows encoding to Ogg Theora.
The above from and ReadWriteWeb
More on Ogg Theora from the CEO of, which currently delivers most video as MPEG4 and Flash:

The main problem with the Theora codec is that it's not currently as efficient as the more evolved h.264 and VC-1 codecs. Efficiency results in higher quality at lower bit rates. There are efforts currently underway to improve the codec's efficiency, these are still in the alpha stage.

The codec is not included with the standard Apple QuickTime/MPEG4, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Windows Media/Silverlight installations, another obstacle. YouTube, owned by Google, does not consider Ogg Theora currently good enough to replace its h.264 codec, wrapped in both Flash for web viewing and MPEG4 for downloading. Hopefully, when Ogg Theora is mature enough, some of the big corporate players will jump on the bandwagon. However, other big players have already decided that it is "good enough!"

It's nice to see an open video standard finally arise on the web, competition can only be good for most of us.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Unexpected time to reflect and reorganize

We were without power for two days at the college, through no fault of our own. I had a backlog of comptuer and network related work, and at first I was chagrined. Then I realized it was a good opportunity to step back and take a look. Where have I, and the labs I am involved with, been and where we are going? My brain, notepad, pencil, whiteboard and marker do not need electrical power!

Ninety percent of my time is spent "in the trees," figuring out how to solve countless new problems in using technology, and maintaining our computers in the ATL and DCC with software upgrades and "clean-up" operations. The power loss was an unforeseen but welcome opportunity to step back, see the forest, and evaluate the big picture.

One of the more challenging recent projects has involved subtitling, with three faculty suddenly needing good solutions and workflows. With over 10 programs out there, and little previous personal experience, it took considerable research and testing to find the best one for our needs. We settled on Annotation Edit, a bit pricey, but it has a generous educational discount, and tech support was very responsive. Spending a bit more at the front end, and buying a good solution, usually saves lots of time and aggravation further down the road, and pays for itself.

Another interesting recent project involved assisting a faculty member in purchasing an HD camcorder. We settled on the Canon HG-20, this records to either hard drive or memory card. For a loaner we would have chosen memory card only, but this one had a slightly larger chip, and good low light capture was desirable. I taught her student assistant how to use Final Cut Express to digitize and edit about 20 hours of older Digital-8 tapes for research purposes. It was especially rewarding as the student was an extremely fast learner, I usually only had to show her something once, and she got it, and figured out quite a few things on her own. I love fast learners!

Upcoming projects this summer include:

♥ Researching and piloting a good podcasting solution. Apple's upcoming Snow Leopard Server has both a new built-in Podcast Library and a Blog Server that can be used for podcasting. With our Developer Account we will test the pre-release versions. I will also be investigating the Opencast site for new developments in open source podcasting.

♥ Configuring two new computers for the ATL, a dual boot Mac for video and audio editing and a Windows machine for graphics.

♥ Expanding our lab storage with a new 8 terabyte RAID, this will almost double our storage capacity.

♥ I wish I had the opportunity to attend the Open Video Conference, but will have to settle for watching some of the many interesting on-line videos, and hope to catch up in this rapidly evolving area.

♥ Getting familiar with the Digi Mbox 2 Mini audio interface and ProTools Le 8, we will be installing these in a new 17 computer Mac lab, along with other video and audio production software: Final Cut Express, QuickTime Player Pro, MPEG2 QT component, Flip4Mac Player Pro, Toast, Audacity, iLife 09, iMovie 06, MPEG Streamclip, Perian and Silverlight.

♥ Getting our multicasting, both live and playlists, back up and running. We left this on a back burner, we were all busy with the successful migration to Google Apps for Education.

♥ Conduct a security audit of our servers, and ensure they are as hardened as possible against hacking.

♥ Evaluating the new OS 3 for the iPod Touch, and preparing for some new iPod enabled courses.

♥ Moving support materials from our old wiki (in MediaWiki), to our new one (in Google Sites). This is an ongoing project, and will probably take a year to accomplish. For a while, we will be using both to support the use of technology in education. My approach is to move what is needed, it's too much to move everything, and technology can change faster than I can move. One thing about a wiki, it's never done!

All in all, it will be a busy summer, and gone before we know it!

Once a year I also go through the DCC, storage cabinets, my office, and our storage closet. I organize and dispose of obsolete technology that will not be needed in the future. I am always amazed at the hundreds of items, and thousands of dollars' worth, of software, hardware, printouts, and books that I eliminate. I usually do my clean-up in late August, the power loss enabled me to perform the majority of it now.

When I was a shipwright at Mystic Seaport, I bought and used woodworking tools that were at least a generation old. These older tools, such adzes and chisels, were much better made than their modern counterparts. When I dispose of computer technology that is obsolete after only a couple of years, I often think of my beautifully crafted adze, which must be over 50 years old, and still works like a charm.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Testing YouTube's Fair Use Policy

Sunday, May 3, was Pete Seeger's 90th birthday. There was a big celebration concert in Madison Square Garden on that day, to praise this amazing man, his amazing wife, and his amazing life. I posted a video to YouTube, as a tribute to him, and as a test of YouTube's interpretation of Fair Use law in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C., Section 107

The video is of Pete's performance at the Inauguration Concert in January. According to my interpretation, use of the above clip is allowed under Fair Use. The factors to be considered in determining Fair Use, and my analysis, are:

(1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
No money is being made from posting the video, and it is instructional for the public to hear how Woodie Guthrie's usually unsung lines are finally sung in public. This is also newsworthy.

(2) The nature of the copyrighted work.
This is an interesting area that I need to research further. It appears that "This Land is Your Land" may not even be copyrighted any more. However, HBO may claim that this specific performance is. And Bruce Sprinsteen's agent and recording contractors may also.

(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
This is an easy win. The posted clip is only 5 minutes long, the entire concert was an hour and 54 minutes long. There were other compelling performances.

(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Here again, we win. HBO is not currently making the clip available either at cost or for free, so there is no potential market. If HBO does decide to make the concert video available, it has to be re-analyzed.

Anyhow, it's my little experiment in copyright policy. I'll keep everyone posted regarding any news. If YouTube takes down the video, I will try other hosting services. This post is a draft, if anyone has any ideas on how to improve it, or any feedback at all, I'd like to hear from you.

Note: I heard from Mike below, he made some good points, and will edit this draft to reflect them.

Incidentally, there is a movement to help nominate Pete Seeger for the Nobel Peace Prize.