On death, disruption and discs

Every startup’s moonshot dream is to be the one that disrupts the status quo.

Disruptive technologies are innovations that come to replace a process, a product, or technology that is already well-established, giving rise to a new way to operate, be it for consumers, organizations, or both. — SYDLE

The steam engine, for instance, gave rise to an entire industrial revolution. The printing press put a lot of monks out of work while Ford’s automobile assembly-line made mincemeat of the horse-and-buggy business. Amazon, Apple, AirBnb, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, Tesla, Bitcoin, birth control pills, blue LEDs, digital photography, and USB drives are but some of the other names and products that might be tucked away under the blanket term of “disruptive innovations”.

Every inventor strives to be the seed of a disruptive innovation. Most aren’t.

Most, at best, are evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary, and it typically takes years to achieve global reach – let alone immediate adoption at such a pace that what came before it is consigned to the rubbish heap overnight. The last true game changer that impacted me personally was the recordable CD: it allowed me to get rid of hundreds of floppy diskettes, hoard mountains of data, and launched several other obsessions.

That was in the last millennium. I consider most technological innovations part of the normal development cycle.

The latest disruption snuck in via Netflix and my wife.

One day we decided to rearrange the furniture (as people are wont to do), and suddenly there was no place for her DVD collection in the TV cabinet. Truth be told, we don’t even have a player connected anymore, and her DVDs soon found themselves in a box in the basement archives.

Many of her movies (with the obvious exception of the Disney stuff) have appeared on Netflix over the years. Some we watched again, most we didn’t bother with on account of sheer selection and the lustre of new releases. This would likely hold true for most households, in the same way that when you’re at a buffet you’re going to try all the foods you don’t normally dish up at home.

Then, just the other day, that old classic, Jaws, surfaced on Netflix.

I spontaneously decided to watch it (for the umpteenth time) because I was curious about the image quality, knowing about its restoration project. And it looked good!

This got me thinking about my own movie collection and general viewing habits again.

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Hail to the kings of movie soundtracks

Last Saturday I closed a loop that had started 40 years ago: I watched the movie Footloose.

Yes, I’m talking about that old Kevin Bacon chestnut. I finally got around to seeing it.

Some of you may remember that the movie as well its soundtrack were huge hits in 1984; the catchy title song, in particular, was all over the radio and TV. It was almost as big as previous year’s Flashdance.

As for the movie? I never bothered to watch it because I took it for a musical.

Time passes.

We’re now in 1986. The movie Top Gun comes out. It’s hugely popular and complemented by a killer soundtrack lead by “Danger Zone”, another Kenny Loggins track.

Kenny may have been dubbed the “King of Movie Soundtracks” in the eighties but it was ultimately Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer who were pulling the strings.

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Happy Birthday, Flickr!

Flickr turned 20 years old last weekend.

While it may have lost some of its original lustre in recent years, Flickr was, is, and remains one of the prime sites for amateur and professional photographers alike.

It is the OG of photo sharing sites. Flickr managed to survive multiple changes of ownership despite becoming something of a running gag for a period.

It was August 2005 when I signed up, armed with wanderlust and a new 5 megapixel Fujifilm camera. I was ready to share the captured sights and wonders of the world around me.

Plastic flowers for sale at the Oriental Plaza, Johannesburg

Since I knew there’s no way I would compete with far more advanced or prolific photographers and their fancy Canon EOS 300D/Digital Rebel cameras, Flickr’s free tier (restricted to a maximum of 200 photos at the time) was quite adequate for my humble needs. I felt a member of a community and an even larger sense of excitement when one of my photos was selected to appear in a real book. Others turned up on various random sites. When I noticed that many of my photos were of landscapes and cities (ergo: geographically relevant but artistically uninteresting), I moved those over to Panoramio while the best of the best went up on 500px. One must diversify.

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Review: 2023

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?
Another year over, let’s see what went wrong…

That little pandemic which failed to kill off humankind by forcing everyone home has given way to another disruption: Artificial Intelligence. The age of AI is upon us.

Following the pandemic’s end, many tech behemoths such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and Amazon laid off thousands of workers as the industry went into a form of recession; it also allowed CES to take place again for the first time since the pandemic, showcasing the usual palette of dystopian products the world doesn’t need.

The Doomsday Clock has been set at 90 seconds to midnight.

Google went “code red” following ChatGPT’s sudden success, prompting founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin back into active work. In December, Google’s Gemini model would be unveiled. Governments the world over scramble to control and regulate the genie before it figures out how to escape from the bottle.

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

Chinese company Unitree builds a cheap, bipedal humanoid robot that resists simply getting kicked over. In fact, they are reproducing: Robots are starting to build more robots.

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The quality of slide scans

When we were children, photos existed in two formats: as prints and as slides.

The prints were stored in photo albums curated by my parents, and the slides were tucked away in their original little plastic boxes in a bookshelf. Our collective memories were safe.

Every so often we’d find ourselves gathered around the dining room table and Dad would pull out the slides, insert one into the slide viewer and pass it around while recalling an exciting anecdote or another one of his tall tales.

The slides had completely disappeared off my radar until early 2008 when my father brought them over — along with a slide scanner he couldn’t figure out how to operate.

Logik LDScan11 slide scanner

Once we did, the results of those scans were rather scattershot.

We blamed it as much on the scanner as the quality of the slides (which had always been stored properly in a dark and dry place) and some of the original shots (blurry and/or poorly exposed). Nonetheless, we did manage to salvage a few good pictures. My father was generally satisfied with the results and left the scanner as well as the slides in my care because I knew that someday I would revisit them with my trusty old Epson Perfection 3490 Photo flatbed scanner.

That day arrived in early 2020. It was time to digitise all my photos.

By then, my own analogue photo collection consisted of a multitude of prints and Polaroids, the aforementioned 35mm slides as well as the original negatives from my own basic analogue cameras.

Before launching into the project, I made the mistake of looking for inspiration and workflow ideas because, well, it’s not like I’ve never scanned anything before, right?

Advice for the grossly incompetent exists in spades; what follows are my thoughts and experiences on the matter. Brace for impact!

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September and the inner demons of detritus

This CD, as I begin to write these words today, is exactly 20 years old.

It’s never been played. It’s a virgin.

What is the Quadrumatrix? A 20-year-old CD-R, that's what!

What happened?

I found the CD during a recent archaeological dig in the basement. It wanted to be found because, just a few days prior, a colleague had given a presentation about techno music, complete with a live demo of his mixing skills. While none of the gear and tools he showcased were entirely unfamiliar to me, it did get me to wax nostalgic about the crudeness of the tools and methods we used to create our own series of mixing projects back in the day – and we didn’t use turntables or CDJs either. We relied on audio files while my colleague mixed tracks live via his Spotify account. He publishes his mixes on YouTube, we distributed ours via CD-R. Does anyone even use those things anymore?

I’m starting to feel old. Things have changed.

This particular CD was the runt of the litter. It’s that extra disc (four, actually) with the cracked case that never found a customer.  It’s that disc I wanted to gift to someone or slip in somewhere when I got rid of a larger batch. I remember the project as clearly as if it was just 20 days ago. How could the last two decades have flown by so quickly? I shudder to realise that in another 20 years’ time I’ll be as old as my father when he died.

And so the CD continues to hang around. Contrary to expectations it still plays!

There are many others like it in the basement: CDs that have never been listened to by me (or anyone else), DVDs of movies I have yet to watch (or see again), and documents to be scanned. There’s material for art ideas that have yet to be realised and tech that’s getting more vintage with each passing year it waits to be rediscovered.

The issue with dated media and technical matter became more palpable when I realised that yet another birthday was looming. Every year is getting shorter, I never seem to find the time (and all those other Floydianisms permeated by the clichéd stench of a mid-life crisis). Why am I even bothering with this stuff? Wake me up when September ends!

There be many monsters hiding in the dungeon.

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