Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Where to find me

I've started posting my original material on Medium. You can find me at My regular posts are consolidated at

See you there...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Paper vs e-readers: which causes more eye strain?

I've been a member of the Society for Imaging Science and Technology since the early 90's.  That's not to say I understand most of what is published in their Journal, the JIST published quarterly.  But I have the utmost respect for the imaging scientists that are constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of displays, cameras, printers, and readers.  And every once in a while I come across a research paper that even I can understand.

Such is the case with an article from the newest JIST studying the effect of different reading media on eye fatigue. Sonomi Inoue and Makoto Omodani from Tokai University in Japan set up the study.  Here's the premise:

Emerging progress in electronic display technologies has
already produced high performance television displays with
large and flat screens. Display technologies seem to have al-
ready successfully received customer satisfaction as television
screens. On the other hand, customers are often complaining
about displays as document screens. We still generally prefer
reading on paper than on electronic displays. Eye fatigue
is one of general disadvantages of reading on displays. Eye
fatigue is an essential subject to be solved for electronic

Inoue and Omodani looked at paper, electronic paper, and displays for their research.  They were looking to test the hypothesis that the digital display is the reason for eye fatigue when reading text. What they found was that the "impact of reading style"--whether the book was hand-held or stationary--had a big impact on eye fatigue.

The authors discovered earlier "a tendency that the hand-held reading style, regardless of reading medium, offer readers a favorable impression in terms of readability and fatigue" and sought to quantify that finding.  After determining now to measure eye fatigue they set out to see what they could find.

Their conclusions?
  1. The free condition for media handling offers lower fatigue (statistically significant) than the fixed condition, regardless of the medium.
  2. The media (reflective/emissive) showed no significant difference in terms of eye fatigue
  3. Electronic media that can be hand held are expected to reduce eye fatigue.
If you want to read a bit more about the science behind your reading pleasure you can find the entire article here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Samsung Partners with Blurb for Unique Native Photo Printing App. From @whattheythink

Last month, Blurb announced a global partnership with Samsung for auto-creating photo books and magazines on the company’s new GALAXY S 4 smartphone, available today from T-Mobile and later this week from other carriers. Senior Editor Cary Sherburne spoke with Blurb SVP Bruce Watermann who shared details about the app and his thoughts about mobile and print in general.

By Cary Sherburne
Published: April 24, 2013
In mid-March, we noted the announcement by Blurb of its global partnership with Samsung to provide an app that makes it easy for consumers to auto-create photo books and magazines. This is another great example of the opportunities created by today’s mobile and digital world that ultimately will extend the life and value of printed materials.  Bruce Watermann explains, and also shares his thoughts about the future of print.
WTT:  This is a very exciting announcement.  As I understand it, this is the biggest smartphone launch yet for Samsung, with millions of Galaxy S 4 phones expected to be sold.
BW:  Yes, the official launch is today, April 24th, with T-Mobile and other carriers including Sprint and AT&T to following in a few days.
WTT:  Tell us about the photo book app that will be native with the phone.
BW:  It is called Story Album, and it was developed by Samsung. Samsung developed the software that lays out the albums and prepares images for publication in book form, either digital or printed.  We created the cloud-based app that handles the rendering, transactionpayment processing in seven currencies, printing, and shipping to 70 countriesfor printed book. sThe app will be pre-installed in the Galaxy S 4 phone and is slated for other Samsung mobile devices later this year.
WTT:  Why do you think Samsung was interested in developing an app for printed photo books?
BW:  This phone has a 5” inch screen and a 13 megapixel camera as well as a number of other great features. There is a lot of opportunity to do stuff with that camera and with the phone, and I believe Samsung wanted to give its customers way to do more with all of their photos, the opportunity to not only capture the images, but quickly and easily commemorate special life events in a much more permanent way.
WTT:  This phone has a 5” screen.  Sounds big …
BW:  It is definitely big, but a lot of people seem to be okay with it.  I think Samsung is really looking ahead and thinking about phones being a traveling computer.  Certainly from the perspective of making a book, the larger screen is a good thing. That extra inch of screen space is significant if you are going to use it as a creation, rather than just a consumption, device.
WTT:  Once someone creates a book in Story Album and decides to print, what happens?
BW:  Our cloud-based back-end app takes over and prepares the file for printing.  Users have the option of choosing a 7x7” book, which is already a standard Blurb size, or a 5x5” book which is exclusive to Samsung, kind of like a “brag book” size. The smaller book will be perfect bound and a 20-page book will sell for $8.95 plus a nominal shipping fee. The larger book has a choice of either soft cover or hard cover, what we call an “ImageWrap.” We use UPS Mail Innovations for shipping which keeps the shipping costs down. Standard production is four days, but we are working on a number of options we think will enable us to bring that number down. Shipping time depends on the customer’s location around the world,but runs 6-12 days
WTT:  Your release references a network of six printing locations, which I assume are partners.  Where will these books initially be printed and on what equipment?
BW:  Our official statement about our printing network is that we utilize six printing facilities on three different continents shipping to more than 70 countries with transactions in seven currencies and eight languages.  Our confidentiality agreements with our partners preclude us from disclosing who those partners are.  However, the books initially will be printed on an HP Indigo 10000, and the application has been optimized for that device.  This gives us the level of quality we need, and the sheet size gives us the multiple-up capability that drives the individual unit cost down to what we consider to be a consumer sweet spot, where it is an easy decision for the user to buy the printed book once they have assembled it.
WTT:  I am sure you must have done some volume projections.
BW:  We believe that mobile devices will soon become the standard for personal creation as well as consumption. But how quickly that happens is anyone’s guess. News reports indicate that Samsung expects to ship 4X the number of these phones as compared to the S3, which was their most successful phone to date when they released it. This is pretty quickly going to become the biggest smartphone launch in the world. Of course, the photo book app will not ramp up to full speed on day one, but we initially have a dedicated HP Indigo 10000 to handle the volume if we need it. We have also worked closely with HP during the development process. They have been terrific to work with, helping us ensure that we optimize the app for that press and that we can fast-track new equipment as needed.  We are upset up to increase global capacity quickly as demand grows.
WTT:  Is this an application you expect to see move to inkjet?
BW:  With consumers who choose to create printed items, there are two key criteria for success: quality and price.  Right now, the HP Indigo has the quality we need, and the sheet size and other factors allow us to address the price criterion.  I think inkjet will play a role as it continues to evolve both in terms of quality and the availability and cost of substrates.
WTT:  Do you expect to see similar offerings from other phone manufacturers?
BW:  If this is successful, you have to think that others will copy it. But keep in mind that it is a lot of work to carry this off.  It is not just a matter of building an app. For the digital books, it is easier, but for printed products, you have to work out all of the logistics, and that is what we excel at, and why Samsung chose us as their partner. Since the beginning, we have been a global company and we already ship to all of the countries that are important to them. As the smartphone moves toward becoming the primary computer for many people, especially the 35 years and below age group, we will also be looking at how we can create new solutions with partners.  You will see more from us on the mobile front moving forward.
WTT:  I think many in the printing industry see mobile communications, or electronic communications in general, as a threat.  What message would you have for them?
BW:  Generally speaking, we still don’t have at a leadership level in the printing industry people from the mobile and internet generation.  The average age at Blurb is 29 years old, and that keeps me grounded with respect to what’s coming. I think sometimes the printing business tries to force its way in instead of doing the things that come naturally.  That happened with personalization and transpromo, and it is easy to go overboard with service providers believing that is the Holy Grail.  As this generation moves higher into the organizations, they will begin to see the natural way print fits into the ecosystem, and that’s when the rubber meets the road.  Unfortunately, we are a little ways off from that, but it will be exciting.  When I started with Corbis in 1993, there was no digital stock photography to be downloaded, or even shipped on CDs.  It was all transparencies.  That doesn’t even exist anymore; that transition is complete. The bottom line is that print has to be always good; it can’t be just okay. These consumers will consider it a waste if the quality isn’t good. There is a business around that, and you have to tip your hat to the fact that some things deserve to go digital and they don’t deserve to go to print. In transitional situations like this, there are always opportunities, but there are, unfortunately, casualties as well.
WTT:  So looking out a few months or years?
BW:  People will be willing to pay for print because it will be more rare, but the quality has to be good.  Look at the Xerox iGen4 with its matte toner as an example.  That’s a great product and the quality is really nice.  The fact that print is going to become more valuable will enable people to do more research to continue to bring innovative products to market.  The digital technology will continue to be better and increasingly consistent. Keep in mind that that future audience, people who are now 35 and younger, are not going through ads in the newspaper; that’s not how they find things.
I recently received a catalog from Home Depot with high end home products.  I could not believe the quality and the accuracy of the color swatches. Even five or six years ago, would you trust something you get in the mail with color accuracy?  These are spot on. The fact that people are now giving that kind of thought to these printed products is a sea change.  I’m bullish about the future of the industry and the benefits this transition can bring. While the transition that is underway has been tough on printing businesses, those who learn to monetize print in this new environment will be successful, and there are already a number of companies who have done that.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

RIP Efi Arazi, the "Father of Israeli Hi-Tech".

Efi Arazi died today. The "Father of Israeli Hi-Tech", Efi had a great influence on a generation of print innovators.  I'd like to remember him in this post for two industries that heavily influenced my career; commercial photofinishing and stock photography.

In the pre-digital age, photo-finishers were nearly 100% silver halide-based.  "Photographic quality" was the standard and other color solutions were far inferior.  But in the late 80's an improving color laser technology represented by the Canon CLC 500 offered professionals the first "good enough" color quality in a much faster turn time and lower price than photographic prints.  But the CLC 500 was still just a color copier in many ways, with accessories like slide carousel changers the only real hat tip to production speeds.  Enter EFI.  Efi Arazi's company created print controllers for digital devices like the CLC 500, allowing for printing from multiple "workstations", which were just very basic PCs or Macs.  Suddenly commercial photo-finishers had a new production tool from which they could turn around color prints in minutes rather than hours as well as creating a pre-RIPped queue for upcoming jobs.  It was truly a major breakthrough for the photo industry and proved that digital technologies were really the wave of the future and drove the growth of high-volume scanning via technologies like Kodak PhotoCD.

But before Efi disrupted the color copy business, he was key in developing the first CCD scanner.  Taking learnings from his work at MIT and with NASA, his company Scitex, the first Israeli high-tech firm, created many innovations for the commercial printing industry.  But the CCD scanner is what changed the stock photography industry forever.

Before the Scitex SmartScanners arrived, getting photographic imagery to print required a tedious and expensive process using drum scanners and oils.  The cost for dropping photos into your printed piece often ran over $250.  Using CCD technology to capture slices of the image via a two-dimensional array, flatbed and transparency scanners were born.

Once it was possible to remove much of the labor costs from the scanning process, Scitex continued to innovate in speeding up the workflow while continuing to improve the quality of the resulting files.  Today this technology is the backbone of any digital scanning device.

For my old company Corbis, this allowed for our grand scheme of building a multi-million image digital library that was the gateway for today's stock photography business.  The cost-per-scan could be reduced greatly, and with a significant improvement in quality over the floundering PhotoCD. Over much wailing and gnashing of teeth from commercial printers who used scanning as a profit center, digital stock photography became the norm.  

While Efi is gone, his legacy lives on for me in the many, many friends I have made that were directly touched by his genius.  To my colleagues who were so influenced by him who are now spread out around the print business, and those that have moved on to other industries, he lives on through you.  We truly have lived through a golden age of innovation, driven in a very big part by a small country in the Middle East.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The digital/analog dichotomy

What's old is new.  We've all heard that before but what does it mean? My wife loves old appliances and furnishings because of the inherent quality of construction and classic style. Lapels get skinny, lapels get wide. You can buy a mobile phone headset that is simply an old school handset.

The more things get digital the more call for analog. Is that just conjecture or fact?  In the visual communications sector I can give a bit of guidance there.

It's hard to believe but in 1994 if you wanted to license a photo to use in your ad campaign you would call a stock photography agency, they would research their files -- and I mean real files, as in file cabinets --, send you transparencies that were duplicates of the photographer's original, and after you made your choice you would take it to the designer who would have it scanned at high resolution for the final print use.  That was the world before companies like PhotoDisc, Corbis, and DigitalStock began scanning images en masse and creating online libraries where you could search for what you needed on your own online.  I lived both sides of that equation, running a professional photo lab that specialized in high-quality duplicates but also taking the archive of the company that became Corbis from 5000 to 1,000,000 images in two years.   At Corbis we were writing the rules of production and storage as we went along but 13 years after I left the company my favorite project was working with David Alexander, founder of A&I in Los Angeles, as we curated the Bettmann Archive to find cool, old negatives that would make good art photos suitable for framing.  We both felt early on that as photography continued to get more digital there would be a valuable market for the real and tangible. We were right.

Spring forward to last month and the announcement of the new Samsung Galaxy S 4. It is a marvel of technology, with all of the linear improvements in speed and resolution you would expect along with some new high-profile features like eye-tracking. But what feature did Samsung announce as part of their new 13 megapixel camera? An option for physical book and magazine output powered by Blurb.

Blurb has always been a dichotomy.  A Web 2.0 company that was founded as the investment markets were heating up post-bust, we were without a doubt "new media" and ecommerce but with an initial product and strategy that was solidly analog.  That strategy was once again confirmed with the announcement that Samsung had chosen Blurb as their global partner.

With ebooks many of the best user experiences are those that most closely match analog.  At Blurb we're always looking for ways to make our ebook offering what our users need to encourage creativity and authorship. There will continue to be progress on that front, but with the new will always be strong reference to the old.  Yes, print usage will continue to diminish over the coming years and rightfully so. Physical, disposable, limited-life content like news and research should live in the digital realm.  But as we spend more and more time looking at pixels on a screen, the reflective experience will remain live and well -- and valuable.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Are Ebooks Really Books? From @Forbes


In one sense, ebooks are books in that they deliver a certain kind of information of a certain length and scope in one place using mostly (if not entirely) the written word. In another sense, ebooks are more like software.

Two important ways:

– Once the first copy of an ebook is produced, creating a nearly infinite amount of copies is free or very cheap and takes a few seconds; with books, creating that second copy takes some time and effort
– The thing the consumer gets when purchasing a book (a physical object with information contained in it) is not what most consumers gets when “buying” an ebook: license access to a piece of software with information in it

In both of those ways, ebooks are much more like software than what we generally think of as a book.

Semantics aside, why is this important?

“Digital books are triggering tectonic shifts in education,” writes Digital Book World blogger Beth Bacon. More school systems are buying electronic devices for their students and experimenting — if not embracing — ebooks and digital content in the learning process. For these schools with huge budgets to apply to the problem of educating their pupils, ebooks are much more like software.

When the school buys them, they don’t get a physical object that can be easily shared and reused; and, on the other hand, that needs to be stored and accounted for physically and maintained. What they do get is this new kind of thing that they need to manage (pieces of software) across another new kind of thing (hundreds or thousands of devices).

Read on here......

I'm off balance.

I have too much stuff in my wallet. I'm off balance and it's not because I've got so much cash that I'm carrying around. It's that I have too much plastic. But for the life of me I can't cut back. I need help.

Here's my issue. I travel a bit for work and I don't like having stuff for home and stuff for on-the-road. I'd forget to substitute and end up missing something I really need. I already have a separate card holder for of my various affinity memberships that lives in my travel backpack. I'm talking about the stuff I really need.

So what's in there?
  1. Drivers license
  2. Primary credit card (AmEx Platinum--the frequent traveler's best friend)
  3. Secondary credit card (Alaska Airlines Visa--for places that don't take AmEx, and there are quite a few)
  4. HSA Visa (to administer my health savings account--used for all prescriptions and medical expenses)
  5. Corporate AmEx (for things like company entertainment and reoccurring charges)
  6. Seattle Public Library card
  7. Health club membership card
  8. Checking account debit card
  9. Petco Pals card (the tiny version)
  10. QFC grocery card (the tiny version)
  11. AAA card (I have a 1952 International pick-up and you ever know when it may decide to quit)
  12. Car2Go membership card (when you need it you've got to have it!)
  13. Zipcar zipcard (ditto as above)
  14. Voters registration card
  15. Health insurance card
  16. Prescription insurance card
  17. Dental insurance card
  18. Auto insurance card
  19. Arboretum Foundation membership card (for discounts at nurseries)
  20. Starbucks Gold card

So you see my problem. My back hurts even thinking about it. I've thought about weaning off a couple of the credit cards but where do you leave them? I already hide cards from Barney's NY, Nordstrom and Macy's and you know what? I never have them when need them so I always have the hassle of having the clerk look up my info.

OK, maybe take out the AAA card as long as I have my number in my phone. Voter's registration? Seems un-American to not carry it. And until places like Starbucks can consistently work via mobile app scanning I'm not comfortable going all digital. So do I live with the rear-pocket weight and bulk or is there a solution? I'm open to ideas but here is my requirement. I carry three things always. My keys, my iPhone5, my wallet. I don't want a fourth.

Suggestions encouraged.