January 2005

Update on Art & Optics

Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati

Some time ago I posted about the ongoing debate between David Hockney and our Cheif Scientist, David Stork, about whether the great painters of the 15th century “cheated” by secretly using optical devices like the camera obscura. Hockney thinks the realism one suddenly sees in paintings around 1430 proves that such devices were used, even though no record of them can be found (they were secret, remember?). Stork thinks it’s hogwash, and has both proposed numerous ways the realism could have been acheived using technology known to exist at the time and pointed out reasons the optical techniques Hockney proposes wouldn’t have worked anyway.

Now the New Scientist is reporting that evidence of one alternative technology Stork suggested has been found:

Separate findings will be published in March by Thomas Ketelsen, a curator at the Museum of Prints, Drawings and Manuscripts in Dresden, Germany. Hockney has argued that the similarity between Jan van Eyck’s drawing Portrait of Niccolò Albergati and a larger oil painting of the same name could only have been achieved using optical projections. But using a microscope, Ketelsen has found evidence of previously unseen pinpricks in the drawing – suggesting the copying method was mechanical, not optical. He suggests that a type of reducing compass called a “reductionzirkel” might have been used.

Falco points out that the pinpricks could have been made 50 years after van Eyck’s death by someone wishing to copy it, or even 500 years after. “Holes can’t be carbon dated,” he says. But Stork thinks the mounting evidence can’t be ignored. “The evidence doesn’t support Hockney,” he says.

“The debate is fascinating,” Hockney says. “But it cannot end just because someone found pinpricks.”

Hockney’s argument was never strong to begin with, but it’s starting to sound like he’s join the ranks of creationists, alien abduction followers and conspiracy nuts. If so, he may as well have ended his last sentence after the fourth word…

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Mac mini & iPod Shuffle

Mac mini

To quote a coworker of mine, “Apple’s going to make unspeakable amounts of money on these.” I’m especially glad to see the Mac mini, since it’s exactly what I’ve been searching around for as the media hub of a new entertainment center I’m putting together now that I’m no longer in a one-bedroom apartment. Cheap ($499 starting, a little over $600 for the bluetooth & 80G version I want), small (6.5″ x 6.5″ x 2″), and quiet — it’ll be my combination CD jukebox, DVD player and MIDI munger for my keyboard.

As for the iPod Shuffle, I could really see this becoming the satellite-radio killer. If the iPod is your music collection in your pocket and the iPod mini is your jogging music / music wherever you want, the iPod Shuffle is going to be the daily download. Mix it with iMix, Wiretap Pro and/or a Radio Shark and you’ve got a personalized commercial-free radio with a “next song” feature. You miss out on realtime info like traffic reports (which really should go to your GPS/nav system anyway) and breaking news, but how much news breaks between the time I leave for my commute and arrive at my destination? I’d also miss out on Howard Stern if I don’t go with satellite radio, but for me that’s a feature, not a bug.

As is traditional, Apple’s stock is down almost %6 as of this writing. Me? I just put in a buy order…

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Times-for-fee (IWTBF!)

BusinessWeek and Reuters mention that the New York Times is “considering” moving to a pay-for-content model for their web-based news, though they’ve no immediate plans to do so. Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly comments :

For all the big talk in the blogosphere, if this happened it would pretty much spell the end of political blogging. Without a copious supply of online newspapers and magazines providing the raw material, there are very few bloggers who would have anything left to say.

I doubt that, though honestly I’m not sure it would be a bad thing if it happened. Riffing off my basic belief that the trend towards decentralized communication are too powerful for one company (or even one cartel) to reverse, I see one of two things happening should the NYT make such a move:

  1. Bloggers keep going just as before without the NYT, linking to other news sources that are still free or to AP or local paper stories that talk about the NYT articles rather than linking to the NYT directly. In the end this could damage the Times’ status as the paper of record for US online news-junkies, but they’d probably keep their reputation among the pros.
  2. Other news sources follow suit, and people start caching the pages directly and putting them online as “context for this quote.” Then people get fed up with how it takes 10 seconds to cut-and-paste a copy, and all new blogging software settles on extensions and interface paradigms that automatically make a local cache of anything you link to (ala the Cache plug-in for MovableType). Newspapers realize that people are still reading their content but now they’ve lost control of the frame, presentation and banner ads. They briefly consider pulling an RIAA and going all lawsuit crazy, but then realize that (a) unlike the recording industry their value is so time-critical that there are plenty of other ways to monetize their content, and (b) it’s generally bad to follow in the footsteps of a someone currently sinking in quicksand anyway.

Personally, my money’s on #2 happening regardless of what the Times does.

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