Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mathew Brady and the Beginnings of Photojournalism

Mathew Brady after the Battle of Bull Run
Mathew Brady after the Battle of Bull Run
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the United States Civil War.  The Civil War was the first major conflict to be captured photographically and one of the most famous photographers of the era was Mathew Brady.

Brady, who was a portrait photographer in New York City before the war, wanted to document the war with photographs and financed the project himself. He and his assistants captured thousands of images of civil war battlefields and soldiers and contributed greatly to our understanding of the conflict.

After the war, there were few people who wanted to purchase the war images and Brady's studio was forced into bankruptcy. Despite the lack of commercial success, Brady is generally recognized as the founder of photojournalism and is now one of the best known photographers of the 19th century.

General Ulysses S. Grant by Mathew Brady
General Ulysses S. Grant by Mathew Brady

The Franklin Paper Mill and the Petersburg Railroad Bridge in Richmand, VA in 1865 by Mathew Brady
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Sunday, April 5, 2015

The First Photographer

View from the Window at Le Gras
View from the Window at Le Gras
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce is credited with the invention of photography and capturing the first photographic image. View from the Window at Le Gras was captured in 1826 or 1827 with a camera obscura on a pewter plate that had been coated with a photosensitive emulsion of bitumen of Judea dissolved in lavender oil.

Niépce developed his process to simplify the creation of lithographic printing plates. Lithographic plates of images were often created by using a camera obscura to project the image and manually tracing the image onto the plate. His lack of skill in drawing and tracing inspired him to find a better method.

The fact that the buildings are lit by the sun from both directions indicate that the exposure must have been eight to nine hours.  However, modern researchers experimenting with similar materials have suggested that the exposure might have taken several days.

Niépce named his process Heliography and was not able to successfully commercialize it during his lifetime.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

From the Specific to the General and Back Again

Fractal Flame via Pixabay
Generalization is the primary natural learning method for humans. When we experience an event followed by another event, we assume the second event was caused by the first.  When we observe a series of similar events with similar patterns, we can generalize a rule that guides our behavior. This process is the basis behind the maxim "experience is the best teacher."

There are serious flaws with the process of generalization.  Because we are designed to look for patterns of correlation and causality, we often see them where they don't exist. An inability to sort out the signal from the noise leads to strange superstitions and false expectations.

We also value recent experience and personally observed experience more highly than historical perspective.  This is the cause of most financial bubbles.  In 2007, when housing values were soaring and everyone had a neighbor who had sold their house at a great profit, it was easy to overlook that the prices would eventually collapse back to the historical trend line.

Even with these tendencies to overgeneralize, the method generally works at the macro level. It is pretty easy to view the time savings and weight reductions from additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry and predict that additive manufacturing will continue to be a growth industry.  The necessity of reducing the cost of sensors and communications as more and more consumer products become connected to the internet predicts that the printed electronics industry will experience explosive growth.

Bringing the general back to the specific is the gigantic challenge. Additive manufacturing may boom, but which companies have the right technology and management team to lead the charge? Bioprinting will transform medicine, but will Organovo stay in the lead or be eclipsed by some other upstart organization? Will Thin Film Electonics ASA tranform their technical lead in printed electronics into a profitable future?

The difficulty in answering these types of questions is what keeps tech investing interesting. The roller coaster changes in valuations are also both thrilling and frightening.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Prefer Reading e-Books

Since I work in the printing industry, I see and sometimes share articles that explain why people prefer reading printed books over e-books. At the risk of angering my colleagues, I do not actually hold that opinion.

 I have been an avid reader from a very early age and worked in a library as a teen. My office at home is lined with bookcases full of books and we often keep books of photography on the coffee table.  I even work for a company that makes photo books. So I appreciate the artistic value of a well made book. 

When I am reading though, I prefer my iPad. When I have the luxury of curling up to read in my favorite chair at home, the form of the book doesn't matter.  But I do much of my reading while traveling. This includes airplanes, restuarants and hotel rooms. Here are the reasons that the iPad is a better tool in those environments:



 Most single books are heavier than a modern tablet, but a trip of any length presents an opportunity to read several books. Carrying a book for the flight out, one for the hotel and a third for the trip home adds up to a lot of weight.


Many books that I want to read are only available in hardback versions which can seem huge in tight spaces. Airplane trays are not very wide and it can be a struggle to coordinate a book and a cup of coffee on the tray at the same time. In restuarants, single diners are often assigned to narrow tables without room for both a book and a plate.



Fine dining is usually accompanied by low light levels and hotels don't always position lamps and chairs in a way that provides good light for reading. This is exacerbated by the fact that a book has left and right pages. To keep each page in the best light, the book has to be shifted back and forth on each page change. The iPad provides its own light and allows me to position it and scale the text size to best fit the space available.

 While I have seen the references to studies that appear to show a higher comprehension level when reading a printed book, I don't feel that it makes any difference to me. I don't detect any difference in the amount of content that I remember whether the content comes from a printed book, an e-book or an audio book. After a short time has passed, I don't even think about how I "read" the book.

The argument that e-book readers are more easily distracted seems like a red herring. I have an iPhone with me at all times and it is just as easy to close a printed book and check email or Facebook as it is to close the Kindle app to check those things.

Do you prefer printed or electronic books?

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Adam Curtis at the True False Film Festival

Once a year, Terri and I spend an intense and mind expanding weekend watching documentary films at the True False Film Festival. This year, our film choices included over six hours of fascinating content by the British filmmaker Adam Curtis.

With my background in marketing, I was particularly amused by The Century of Self which explores how the theories of Sigmund Freud and his predecessors in the field of psychoanalysis were adapted by corporations and eventually governments to influence purchasing and voting behavior.

The Century of Self predicts that politicians who target our irrational, primitive impulses rather than appealing to our rational, conscious minds will devolve democracy into a system where narrow self-interests are all that matter. In the thirteen years that have passed since the release of the film, that prediction has proven to be remarkably accurate.

Adam Curtis
Filmmaker Adam Curtis in 2005
We also saw a new film by Curtis. Bitterlake explores the experience of Western governments in Afghanistan since the end of the Second World War. It argues that the world, particularly the Middle East, is more complex than Western policy makers want to believe. The simple narratives that we tell ourselves lead to the failed and destructive policies which are implemented.

The title of the film comes from the 1945 meeting of Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, on a ship in the Great Bitter Lake on the Suez Canal. Agreements made at the meeting laid the groundwork for much of what has happened in the region since.

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Print the Legend Highlights the Drama of Entrepreneurship

Print the Legend
While many people admire and envy the entrepreneurs who start successful companies, few can envision the reality of building a company while under pressure from investors, customers and competitors. Print the Legend, a Netflix original documentary, highlights those challenges clearly as it tracks the creation of the 3D printing companies Makerbot and Formlabs.

Makerbot's Bre Pettis and Formlab's Max Lobovsky have dramatically different personalities, but they faced similar pressures as their companies grew and both had to make difficult decisions about people, policies and partners as they moved from the startup phase into full production mode. Print the Legend follows this progression and highlights both the drama and the impact of those decisions.

As I have written frequent in this blog, I believe that 3D printing is one of the most important technologies impacting manufacturing. That's what drew me to watch this movie on the day it was released. After seeing it, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship, regardless of their interest in 3D printing.

What is your favorite movie about entrepreneurship?

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Walter Arnold and the Art of Abandonment

The Final View by Walter Arnold
The Final View by Walter Arnold
Last week, during the WPPI convention in Las Vegas, I met a brilliant photographic artist with an unusual body of work. In his Art of Abandonment series, Walter Arnold has captured the beauty of sites that have been abandoned and neglected. By using high dynamic range photography and printing exclusively on aluminum, he creates prints that have an intense saturation and an almost eerie feeling.

Arnold's initial inspiration for the Art of Abandonment was an airplane graveyard in St. Augustine, Florida that he discover in 2009.  Other sites in the series include Grossinger's Resort in the Catskills of New York, The Scranton Lace Company in Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Tennessee Brewery in Memphis, Tennessee.

For the last five years, Arnold has used Black River Imaging to produce the metal prints that he sells at art festivals and galleries.  In his presentation at WPPI, he pointed out that he has his images printed on metal because it provides "astounding depth and dimension.

Check out Walter Arnold's unique images at where his blog highlights the images and the stories behind the images.

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