« January 28, 2007 | Main | January 30, 2007 »

January 29, 2007

Just So Stories, 21st-Century Version: How the Cellphone Camera Was Invented — by Phillippe Kahn


I hadn't ever thought about how it was that this powerful combination — arguably one of the most disruptive technologies in history — came to be before reading Kevin Maney's January 25, 2007 account in USA Today; it follows.

    Baby's arrival inspires birth of cellphone camera — and societal evolution

    A decade ago — 10 lousy years ago — the cellphone camera was invented.

    This is almost impossible to comprehend. The cellphone camera is now almost as much a part of daily life as toothpaste. On an increasingly regular basis, the technology alters world events, as when that Iraqi guard used his cellphone cam to record the hanging of Saddam Hussein. Imagine if cell-cams were around when Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine.

    Motorola CEO Ed Zander told me that his company, which makes cellphone cams, sells more cameras than any camera maker. Gartner Group says that 460 million cellphones with cameras were sold in 2006. By 2010, the number sold per year will pass 1 billion. These things are moving the way McDonald's moves hamburgers.

    Star Trek always gets kudos for getting the future right, but those beam-me-up-Scotty communicators were pitifully camera-less.

    The whole cellphone cam movement started, oddly enough, with one of the great, colorful characters from the flowering of personal computing in the 1980s: Philippe Kahn [above].

    Back in those days, he was a large, contentious, French-accented jazz flautist who started software company Borland. After turning Borland into one of the major early successes in PCs, Kahn was pushed out in 1995 in a dispute about the company's direction. He then launched cellphone software company Starfish, which played a role in his invention of the cellphone camera in 1997.

    A number of companies were messing around with the idea. Putting a camera in a cellphone was becoming nearly as obvious as realizing butter should go on toast. But to make the concept work, somebody had to come up with the knife, so to speak. Kahn gets credit for doing that for the cell-cam.

    Kahn's story of the origin of the cell-cam is kind of cute. It started when his wife, Sonia Lee, roared at him while spending 18 hours in labor. "I'd gone to the Lamaze classes," Kahn, now 54, tells me. "And the second time I said, 'Breathe!' Sonia said, 'Shut up!' So I said, 'OK, I'll sit at this desk and find something to do.' "

    He had come to the hospital outfitted, as usual, with his laptop, cellphone and digital camera. He thought about how clumsy it was to have to take a digital photo, download it to his laptop, post it to a website, then e-mail his friends to tell them where to look — all of which was pretty new at the time. He wanted to snap a picture, hit a button and have it automatically load to the Web.

    As his wife's labor went on, Kahn started fiddling with his hardware and writing code to glue it together. "I had time to make a couple trips to RadioShack to get soldering wire," Kahn says. "I just stayed in the room and made that thing work."

    By the time he was holding his newborn daughter, Kahn could use his jury-rigged contraption to take a digital photo and wirelessly post it for his friends and family.

    Motorola was in the process of buying Starfish, and Kahn says he first showed his invention to his new boss. But Motorola was just getting a new CEO (Chris Galvin) and embarking on one of the most ill-fated projects in global corporate history (the Iridium satellite phone system). Motorola passed on the cellphone camera.

    "Motorola was in turmoil at the time," Kahn explains.

    Kahn formed a new company, LightSurf, to build and market PictureMail — a back-end system that would let a cellphone take a photo and send it somewhere. The first version came out in Japan in 1999, helping spur the Japanese to make the earliest cell-cams. Motorola and Nokia ended up being late to the cell-cam game.

    Cellphone cams evolved quickly. Most these days can take video as well as still photos. Kahn says he had some idea, even in 1997, that cell-cams would make a big impression.

    "It wasn't far from the Rodney King tapes," he says, referring to the citizen-shot video of King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers. "It was clear that a little bit of videotaping had a massive impact on American culture. If you put that in the hands of a lot of people, and there are no barriers to sharing, it's going to have a huge impact."

    For the first time, hundreds of millions of people are carrying an image recording device all the time. It means somebody in a comedy club audience can see Michael Richards blow his wig and immediately capture it and post it on YouTube. The ubiquitous cell-cam seems particularly handy when some actress shows up having forgotten her underwear.

    The always-there devices mean we get first-hand images of disasters, terrorist attacks and crimes. In his state-of-the-city address this month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a program that will let citizens snap cell-cam photos of crimes and send them to 911. Hopefully, not many people will make use of PhotoShop software to etch a rival's license plate number on a photo of an illegally parked car.

    In 1984, George Orwell thought we'd be forced to behave because government cameras were always watching us. Instead, we'll have to behave because every person is a spycam operator.

    Cell-cam photos are the new autograph. See a celebrity, snap a picture and post it. The gadgets are recording innumerable tiny events that used to go into the ether — first baby steps, first kisses, first sales commissions. My 13-year-old son's cellphone is filled with photos of fish he and his friends have caught in a nearby creek, most of them the size of a sausage link.

    Kahn, who is working on a still-secret new company called Fullpower, altered society with his soldered-together contrivance. And the scary thing is, the infiltration of cell-cams is only beginning.


I'm reminded of the spark that kindled the invention of instant photography and made Polaroid a household name: one day in 1943, Edwin H. Land's daughter, three years old at the time, asked him a question: why couldn't she see right away the picture he had just taken of her?

January 29, 2007 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

White noise, distractions and 'mostly say hooray for our side'


99% of what I read falls into one of the above three categories.

White noise is the latest in an endless series of cellphone versions of TV.

Distractions are things like Cisco's lawsuit against Apple for calling the new new thing the iPhone: I mean, we all know how the story ends so why tell it in exquisite detail yet again?

"Mostly say hooray for our side" is GM CEO Rick Wagoner telling anyone who'll listen (the numbers are dwindling as you read this) that his company isn't going to cede primacy in the auto market to Toyota.

The 1% that doesn't fit into one (or more) of the above three categories is where I operate.

"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space."

Just so.

January 29, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's best adjustable bookrest


Let's break it down, shall we?

"World's" — my world; my life to date.

"Best": 1. Of the most excellent or desirable type or quality. 2. most suitable, appropriate, or sensible. — It does what it does with a minimum of weight, fussiness and cost. It lasts: mine is at least 10 years old and has survived many inadvertent immersions in bathtubs — far better than the books and magazines that accompanied the unexpected plunges.

From the website:

    Adjustable Bookholder

    This sturdy holder adjusts in width to hold any book in perfect position — so you can enjoy hands-free reading.

    Wire "arms" swing easily to adjust book's slope to your preference, helping promote correct, comfortable posture.

    Holds hardcovers, paperbacks, cookbooks, magazines, notebooks; folds flat for storage.

    8"W x 8"H x 6-1/2" deep.

    Metal and plastic.



The ferrous-clad bookofjoe guarantee accompanies this post: If you are not 100% satisfied with your bookholder, return it to me and I will refund every penny you paid.

January 29, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

sneakyuses.com — 'I said my bow tie is really a camera' is not just a Simon and Garfunkel lyric


No, it's the underlying premise of Cy Tymony's nifty take on life, as exemplified by his website and two books (above and below).


Warning: Once you start down this path there's no turning back.

Take it from someone who happened on it in his formative years.


*What you read is what I became

January 29, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Earring Stabilizers — Take a load off your lobes


They ain't heavy — they're you're earrings.

Who couldn't use a bit more stability?

From the website:

    Earring Stabilizers

    Slip these lightweight plastic discs on pierced earring posts to hold them secure and level on your ears, keeping you comfy and stylish.

    Great for heavier earrings that need support — 1/2" diameter discs hold them stable so backs won't dig, pinch, or droop.


Set of 12.

$2.99 (earrings not included).

January 29, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

bookofjoe Super Bowl Advertising Extravaganza

This past weekend I was sitting around, doing something close 2 nothing (but different than the day before), when the penny dropped.

After a fashion.

Maybe it was that story about the guy selling his penny bar or perhaps Stuart Elliott's article in the January 26, 2007 New York Times headlined "Multiplying the Payoffs From a Super Bowl Spot."

Whatever the case, it occurred to me — finally — that it's simply absurd for me to be leaving millions of dollars on the table by not carrying advertising during next Sunday's (February 4, 2007) Super Bowl.

I mean, companies trampled each other rushing to the cashier to pay $2.6 million dollars for 30 lousy seconds of Super Bowl TV commercial time.

As of this yoctosecond (that's a good one, eh? But I digress) bidding is open for the First Annual (hey, I'm an optimist — gimme a break) bookofjoe Super Bowl Advertising Extravaganza.

The winnner will receive placement of the first-ever ad on bookofjoe from kickoff time (6:24 p.m. ET next Sunday, February 4, 2007) until 9:01 a.m. Monday, February 5, at which time we'll resume our regularly scheduled programming.

Just think: you get 14 hours and 37 minutes of continuing world-wide exposure to an audience that's considered among the most desirable anywhere.

Compared to the demographics of joeheads, Davos attendees are small beer.

January 29, 2007 at 11:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Investigating your doctor — The best (and worst) states in the country


If indeed sunlight is the best disinfectant then New Jersey is the sunniest state of all when it comes to finding out if your doctor's qualified.

Public Citizen just released a report on how transparent each of the country's 50 states is when it comes to ease of obtaining information — and the quality of that information — by the average joe.

You can read it here, along with much supporting material and additional documentation.

Have fun — and I hope you don't find out your doctor's actually a muffler serviceman in a white coat.

I know a couple of these... but I digress.

January 29, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Personal Handiwork Labels


No more hiding your light under a barrel.

From the website:

    Personalized Handiwork Labels

    Your name on washable fabric labels.

    Please state name: limit 1 line with 18 letters/spaces.

    Specify style [see photo above]: From the Knitting Needles of; Crocheted For You By; Made With Tender Loving Care By; Made Especially For You By; An Original By; Hand Made By.

    7/8" x 2-1/8"each.


Note to file: Forward to Megan Reardon.

20 for $4.99.

January 29, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

« January 28, 2007 | Main | January 30, 2007 »