Monthly Archives: May, 2012

Film Noir?

It’s strange, but not many of my photos end up in black and white.

I’m not sure why – I do really like monochrome images, and it’s an instant way to make almost any shot look more ‘arty’. Maybe that’s the problem: somehow it feels as if I’m hiding something – not capturing the beauty inherent in the world sufficiently well in colour, so I have to do something artificial – turn on the ‘arty’ switch to make it a bit more pretentious…

This is, of course, rubbish. Our eyes are more sensitive, in most ways, to brightness than they are to colour, and you could argue, therefore, that you are capturing the essence of a scene with fewer distractions if you do so in monochrome. It doesn’t bother me that I’m only capturing it in 2D. Why should I hesitate when it comes to discarding another dimension? Perhaps it’s really that I’m not very good at it! I wonder, though… If Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson could have worked in accurate colour from the start, would they have done so? And would there then be such a strong tradition of black and white in art photography?

Now, from very early on, digital cameras have had various ‘modes’ into which you can switch them to get different effects. Serious photographers avoid these, preferring to capture as pure an image as possible and do any manipulation later ‘in post’, where you have a great deal more choice and control than you do on the camera. In particular, the option to take pictures in a ‘black and white’ mode seemed very silly to me from the moment it appeared on my very first digital camera. Why throw away data as soon as you take the photo, and deny yourself the chance of changing your mind and using colour?

My main current camera is a Lumix GH2, and I’ve been enjoying combining this bit of high-tech kit, via an adaptor, with the old 50mm Olympus Zuiko lens I had as a teenager. (It’s a nice side-benefit of the micro-four-thirds format that you can find adaptors for all sorts of lenses.) Anyway, this retro, all-manual operation set me thinking about such things again today, and I realised that something fundamental had changed since my first rejection of such frivolities as black-and-white mode…

I now shoot everything in RAW.

What this means is that all the data actually captured by the sensor is saved, regardless of any manipulations the camera may have been told to make at the time. So, I tried switching on the black and white mode for the first time, and found it quite an interesting experience, because the LCD viewfinder then shows you, as you’re composing the shot, roughly what your image would look like if you chose to keep it in black and white. This makes you look at the scene in a different way, think more about contrast than colour, without committing you to B&W as the final output. (Unlike the new Leica Monocchrome: for a little over £6000 you can get a camera that only shoots black and white.) It was a grey, overcast day today, so not very exciting lighting conditions, but I may experiment more with this in future.

It is also, I think, quite fun that only digital cameras can do this: only now can you get a preview, as you’re shooting, of the results you would have had to get before there was even colour film!

Recline In Peace

Google thoughtasmuch


Internet giant Google has teamed up with the Daily Mail to develop a unique version of the online search engine which will confirm the enquirer’s prejudices.

Another nice spoof from Newsbiscuit.


Small but powerful

My friend Aideen has been doing fun stuff with the TP-Link micro-routers.

These things are amazingly small – note the relative size of the USB socket – and very cheap.

She’s written it up in a nice blog post here.





Under the Vesari Corridor, Florence.

Using a shutter to capture shutters


I like shutters. Why do we have so few of them in Britain?

These are on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

After the $100 laptop, the $50 desktop?

It’s almost exactly 10 years since we started the Ndiyo project, with the aim of providing computing access to people for something “closer to the cost of a VGA lead than the cost of a computer”. Ndiyo has now formally closed, but it led to many other activities, including the founding of DisplayLink, and successful past projects in collaboration with the GSM Association, No-PC, and others.

Today, there’s some more good news.

Towards the end of Ndiyo’s life we started to experiment with a model we called ‘Hubster‘ – the name coming from using a USB hub as the core of a thin-client terminal, something made possible once DisplayLink’s evolution of the Ndiyo technology allowed monitors, as well as keyboards and mice, to be connected over USB. The idea is to share the power, cost, and the carbon footprint of a PC between two or more users at once, simply by plugging in enough USB peripherals to give the extra users access to it. This is important for everybody, but especially for the poorer parts of the world where the cost of owning one PC per person is prohibitive.

Well, over the last few years, Bernie Thompson at in Seattle has been beavering quietly away to make this more of a reality, by providing DisplayLink-based terminals at reasonable prices and by maintaining the Open Source software to drive them. There are two bits of good news coming from his recent efforts:

  • First, he’s been working with RedHat to get support for USB terminals built in to the standard distribution of Fedora 17. We’re getting very close now to the ideal situation where you can turn any Linux box into a multi-user box simply by plugging in enough components for a new user, and a new login prompt will appear when you do so. Imagine, say, a disaster-relief information centre where one person with a laptop connected to a satellite link can easily provide access for half a dozen members of the team just by plugging them in. And it’s all Open Source. Zero extra software cost per user.
  • Secondly, in an attempt to get the cost of these terminals down and support ongoing development of the Open Source components, he’s launched a Kickstarter project called ‘The $50 Computer‘.

Some may, quite sensibly, ask how this compares to the RaspberryPi, which is, after all, even cheaper, and is a standalone machine. Well, this one comes with a box!

No, seriously, they are both excellent projects – I have a RaspberryPi on order, too – but they fill different roles. RaspberryPi, in the early years at least, will be about teaching people the basics of how computing works.
Bernie and the Plugable team are creating a system where providing fully-featured applications to multiple users at very low cost is something that a non-technical user can do simply by plugging in USB devices.

In some situations, perhaps in an internet cafe, you may just want to give extra users access to a Chrome browser. But with this system you also have the option of providing them with OpenOffice, with Scrivener, with Blender, with Corel Aftershot Pro, with Sublime Text, with Skype, with… well you get the idea! And, of course, with access to however many giga- or terabytes of storage you care to put in the PC.

I think the Kickstarter plan is a great one – I wish it had been around when we started Ndiyo.

Please support it if you can… Even if you don’t need more affordable computing devices, for your kids, your school, your internet cafe, your office, there are millions who do. Billions, in fact.

Every $10 we can shave off the cost of access to IT makes it accessible to many thousands of new people globally… and now you have a chance to help.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser