Doing Some Magick with Photos

If you’ve checked out any of the (many) photos I’ve posted, you might have noticed that I watermark my photos. It’s subtle, but in the bottom right hand corner of every photo it says “”.

[thumb id=”1154″]

Why do I do this? Well, as much as I’d like to assume that people are good, there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there that will grab photos off the Internet for their own use. By watermarking the photo, I’m decreasing its value to these people. (Yes, the watermark could be removed, but it’d take time and effort to do so. The photo thieves are more likely to just head elsewhere to grab some photos.)

In addition to the watermarking, I also rotate some photos (depending on which way they were taken) and resize them for the web. Unfortunately, when I have a lot of photos to process, this can be a time-consuming pain. Initially, my process looked like this:

  1. Load one photo in Irfanview
  2. Open up Irfanview’s Thumbnail mode
  3. Select all images to process
  4. Use Irfanview’s lossless-JPEG rotate function to auto-rotate all photos
  5. Open up Irfanview’s Batch Conversion mode
  6. Select all photos to process and conversion settings (e.g. new height/width)
  7. Wait until Batch Conversion is done.
  8. Open up Picture Shark.
  9. Select All Photos
  10. Select Watermark
  11. Wait until watermark is applied to all photos
  12. Post photos

You can see how this would make photo posting a pain, but each step was necessary. I couldn’t post sideways photos and couldn’t post full-res pictures either. There’s the download time issue as well as the aforementioned picture thieves.

That’s when I remembered about ImageMagick. ImageMagick is a freeware photo manipulation program that is often used on servers to, well, manipulate images. My server, for example, uses it to make thumbnails out of the photos I upload. The only problem is that ImageMagick doesn’t have an graphical interface. It is run by a series of command line statements. This is perfectly fine for a script running on a server, but not as good for a human user.

Since all I wanted to do was run the same commands over and over, and since I know how to program, I wrote a Photo Processor script. It would let me specify the directory that the photos were in, whether I wanted them resized/rotated/watermarked and even allowed me to select which watermark. This way, B could use the same script for My new photo processing process was:

  1. Run Script
  2. Copy/Paste name of directory with photos
  3. Answer dialogs for resizing/rotating/watermarking photos.
  4. Wait until script finishes
  5. Post photos

Much easier, right?

When Monkey was born to Tarzan and Jane over at HisBoysCanSwim, I noticed that their photos of Monkey merely had some text at the bottom of them. This would be easily stripped out by a picture thief so I offered my Photo Processor script. And while I was working on it, I figured I’d post a version for everyone else out there.

The first thing you’ll need to do is install a copy of ImageMagick on your PC. In the configuration screen during setup (the one with all of the checkboxes), make sure that you check the box for “Install ImageMagickObject OLE Control for VBScript, Visual Basic, and WSH.” (See image below.)

[thumb id=”1167″]

Once that is done, download my Photo Processor script. When you run the script, first you’ll need to enter the directory of the photos to be processed (e.g. C:\Photos\My Trip To The Beach\). Don’t worry if they’re your originals, the altered versions will be saved in newly created subdirectories. After you enter the directory, simply answer a few Yes/No questions to set whether the photos are rotated and/or resized and sit back and wait for the script to do its job. To add a watermark, put a PNG image in the same directory as the script and name it “Watermark.png.”

If you have any questions about this script, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Tiny Copyrights and Defamatory Tweets

Recently, two news stories caught my eye. The first involves a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The case involved a newspaper clipping service called Infopaq. People would sign up with Infopaq and specify what keywords they wanted to keep an eye out for. Infopaq would then scan in articles, find the keywords, and print a listing with those keywords, the five words before and after the keywords, where the article appeared and how far down in the article the keywords appeared. The Danish newspaper industry took exception with this business plan and sued. Infopaq claimed that since their scanning was temporary (they didn’t print whole articles out, just the 11 word snippets), they fell under the copyright exemptions. The Court, however, ruled against them.

The worrying part isn’t that they were dinged for scanning the articles. That, I would have almost expected. Instead, they were dinged for 1) using 11 word snippets and 2) clients being able to print out the snippets. The Court found that 11 word snippets were still covered by copyright law. To give you an example of how ridiculous this is, I’ll quote an 11 word snippet from the article about the ruling: “means that there is a risk that the reproduction will remain”. According to the Court, since you, the reader, could print this blog post out and keep it indefinitely, I’ve now committed copyright infringement.

Of course, I live in the US, so I doubt the ECJ could do anything against me. Still, given the propensity for nations to follow one another over the copyright madness cliff, something like this worries me. Were the “11 word snippet” ruling to be used widely, services like Google News would go dark. Simple quoting from a source (a necessary part of research and protected by Fair Use) would land one in a big, boiling pot of copyright lawsuit soup. I’m not sure what appeals options Infopaq has, but if they have any, let’s hope that this ruling is overturned.

The other story that caught my eye was the tale of Amanda Bonnen from Chicago. Frustrated with her apartment situation, she did what many of us would do: She tweeted about it. Specifically, she wrote: “Who said sleeping in a mouldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.”

Now, many fine companies monitor Twitter and would have taken her complaint as an opportunity to turn bad PR into good by working with her to formulate an appropriate resolution to her. Not Horizon, though. They sued her for $50,000 in defamation damages claiming that because her Twitter profile was public, her 53 character tweet was published “throughout the world.” That’s almost $1,000 in defamation per character! Horizon probably didn’t win any PR points for their “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” quote either.

Of course, a classic Streisand Effect has occurred. Had Horizon just ignored her, her tweet would have vanished amoung the millions posted around that time. At most, a few of her friends might have retweeted it before it faded into obscurity. (A Google Cache check shows that she had a mere 17 followers.) Instead, major news organizations, blogs and other websites have picked up the story. People are tweeting and retweeting about it much more than Amanda Bonnen would ever have been able to do by herself. Horizon should ask themselves whether suing her for $50,000 over this 53 character tweet was the appropriate action since it caused much more “defamation” than the original tweet did.

The lesson here for companies: Don’t be a sue first, ask questions later kind of institution. Work with your customers for a positive outcome. Then, even if you need to resort to ignoring the person’s problem or (as a last resort) sue them, you can point to your good faith efforts to work with them. That will soften any “big bad company suing a poor defenseless person” PR blow and you might even come out on top PR-wise.

The lesson for users: Don’t assume that what you post on Twitter (or on your blog, Facebook, etc) is just between you and a close-knit group of friends. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say into a microphone in front of a full football stadium of people. This doesn’t mean you should live in fear over being sued for every little tweet/post/update, but keep in mind that you are putting this stuff out on a public network. Don’t say “Housing Co Landlords stink” when “my landlord stinks” would suffice or when “Tried to work with Housing Co Landlords to resolve my problem, but getting frustrated” would be more descriptive.

Share Your EA Sports Active Custom Workouts

I fell in love with EA Sports Active the minute I first started working out with it. Let me rephrase that. It was more of a love/hate relationship. I loved working out to it. My body sometimes hated the fact that I was forcing it to run, squat, jump, box, etc instead of just sitting on the couch. Slowly, though, I felt my strength increasing so I upped the workouts from Easy to Medium. I even venture into Hard from time to time. Mainly for the Custom Workouts.

This is one of the strengths of EA Sports Active. The Custom Workouts. You can design your own workout and share it with others playing on your Nintendo Wii system. I made a tennis workout that B likes to do when her knees need a rest. I also made a quite tiring running one.

Do you have a favorite custom workout for EA Sports Active? Head on over, add it to the mix, and post a link to it in the comments section below. Don’t forget to spread the word. The more people who contribute, the more valuable this resource will be.

The Jammie Thomas Verdict and Ridiculous Copyright Fees

Recently, Jammie Thomas-Rasset lost her court case and the RIAA was awarded $1.92 million for the 24 songs that she was found to have infringed. To those of you keeping score, that’s $80,000 per song.  You might wonder just how a song can be worth more than many new cars.  Well, part of the problem is that copyright fines are outdated.  The laws regulating them come from a time when copyright infringers were mainly for-profit operations.  These people would make many copies of cassette tapes/VHS tapes and sell them on the street for less than a legitimate copy.  For this offense, the for-profit operations could be charged $750 – $150,000 per infringement.

This is all well and good, but today’s infringer is more likely to be a home user with no profit motive behind their infringement.  They might not even know that they are infringing on copyrights.  They just heard from a friend that they could get free music by downloading Kazaa/BitTorrent/etc.  They might not have even been aware that the program opened their hard drive’s music folder for the entire world to see/download.  Now, I’ll agree that ignorance of the law shouldn’t be too much of a defense, but the current fines seem excessive even if they shared out their music directory willingly.

Let’s explore just how that $80,000 works out.  The first point to consider is that Jammie Thomas-Rasset wasn’t charged with downloading music.  Despite what the media keeps reporting, people are charged with sharing songs out, not downloading them.  This isn’t to say that downloading songs without the permission of the copyright holder is legal, just that it is hard to detect/prosecute.  So we’re not really talking about $80,000 per song but an $80,000 fine for the copies that are assumed to have been made and lost sales that are assumed to have happened because Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s MP3 file was shared out online.

For the sake of argument, I’ll make the big assumption that each download made from her shared copy is a lost sale.  In reality, I don’t believe that every illegal download is a lost sale, but let’s run with the 1 copy = 1 lost sale figure for now.  Given that the average price of a song online is $0.99, the $80,0000 per shared file works out to 80,808 copies made. Now, I haven’t seen any claims by the RIAA as to how long those files were shared out, but I don’t think that any residential file sharer is going to share out over 80,000 copies in any reasonable length of time.  Any formal study of the average number of song downloads per file sharer would run into the same copyright difficulties that Jammie Thomas-Rasset did.  In addition, as I said before, every illegal download isn’t a lost sale.  Some people, absent the shared file, would buy the songs, but song wouldn’t.  Some people will even buy the song after sampling it via an illegal download.  The illegal download to lost sale calculation is murky at best.

I don’t belong to that segment of the "Information Wants To Be Free" movement who thinks that everything should be put online for free for anyone.  I definitely think that some fine is needed for people who share copyrighted content out without the copyright owner’s permission.  However, over 80,000x the value of the uploaded material is unreasonable and leads to bankruptcy over a civil offense. 

So what should the laws be changed to?  Well, I think that a reasonable amount would be 10x the equivalent purchase price of the item.  In the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, her 24 music files would be "worth" $0.99 each (iTunes price).  Ten times that figure would give her a total fine of $237.60.  This is much smaller and yet it isn’t insignificant.  Losing $240 can be a financial sting that makes you take notice.

For larger file sharers, the penalties would rise, but not to bankruptcy levels.  The RIAA initially accused Jammie Thomas-Rasset of sharing out 1,700 files but limited their court claims to 24 files.  Had they gone after all 1,700 and won, my proposed fine would total $16,830.  This would be a huge financial hit, but one that she would be likely to recover from eventually.  They could set up a payment plan and she would need to tighten her belt, but it would be doable.  The equivalent verdict that the jury awarded would have been $136 million.  This would have just driven her deep into bankrupcy.  (The $1.92 million might just do that anyway.)

Our copyright laws need serious updating.  In no other area do you not have to prove specific damage amounts to get a ridiculous level of return on your product’s worth.

Must See Television and The Real Reason for Cable Bandwidth Caps

A few weeks ago, Time Warner Cable announced the expansion of bandwidth cap trials.  Their plan was to cap users at various levels (from 1GB to 40GB depending on how much you paid) with overage fees if you went over.  They claimed this was to help protect their networks from bandwidth hogs, but don’t believe them.  Claims of a so-called "exaflood" have been debunked.  In the end, there is one big reason for cable companies to cap bandwidth and I can sum it up in two words:  Internet Video.

With the rise of Hulu, YouTube, Netflix and other legal online video offerings, the reliance on cable TV has dimished.  (I won’t touch upon illegal online video offerings now.  These are much more vast, but open up a whole other complicated set of arguments.)  Nowadays, you can watch nearly all of your favorite shows online without worrying about timeslots or channel numbers.  If I miss the latest episode of Heroes (i.e. if my DVR experiences technical difficulties), I can watch it online the very next day.  In some respects, the online offering is even better than the broadcast version.  The ads are fewer and the "schedule" doesn’t require a DVR to adjust.  I can watch it whenever I want, whereever I want (assuming a computer and high-speed Internet access).  The broadcast version can either be watched whenever I want – in front of the TV with my DVR – or whereever I am at the time that the show airs assuming a TV is nearby.

This scares Cable companies.  If people can get good, legal cable content online, Cable TV subscriptions could drop and cable companies would face dire financial straits.  The cable company response is to cap Internet usage.  This results in a win-win for cable companies.  If people don’t use their capped Internet for online video, cable wins.  If people use their capped Internet for online video and wind up with overage fees, cable wins.

In the case of Time Warner Cable, their caps plans were pushed back by angry consumers.  However, they haven’t tossed the plans.  They just sent them back to the PR department to get a nicy shiny coat of PR paint.  Expect them to be released again either in a quieter fashion or with some glitzier PR attached to them.  (In fact, there are already some signs that they’re going the quiet path. At least 3 users have been disconnected for exceeding some nebulous cap that Time Warner won’t name.)

I happen to have Time Warner Cable, Digital Phone, and RoadRunner Internet access.  Where Digital Phone is concerned, I don’t have much choice.  I refuse to go back to Verizon and their many hidden fees.  There just isn’t another option beyond ditching our land-line entirely.  Not sure if we’re ready for that.  Likewise, there isn’t much option for Internet access.  FIOS doesn’t reach our home yet and DSL is much slower than my current cable speeds.  So I decided to aim my rebellion at Time Warner Cable’s Cable TV service.

First, I looked into DirecTV.  I examined a few different plans and options and came to the conclusion that we could save $100-200 the first year with DirecTV.  However, the second year and third years would deplete those savings.  Then I got to thinking: What is our "Must See TV" anyway?  What are the shows that if the TV worked for them, we wouldn’t mind if it was dark for all else.  For me, it is Heroes, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Mythbusters.  For my wife, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Private Practice and The Biggest Loser.  Of those, only Batman and Mythbusters aren’t online already.  I might survive without Batman, but I need a weekly dose of Mythbusting action.

NHL currently likes Secret Agent Oso and Penguins of Madagascar, but he’s versitile TV-wise.  His "favorite show" changes on a monthly basis.  Given a steady supply of purchased DVDs (and a set top box to play them on), he could be satisfied.  The same goes for JSL and his Sesame Street addiction.  If we dropped cable TV entirely, we would save over $65 per month, or about $790 per year.  If we only used half of those saved funds to buy DVDs (which would be ripped onto the set top video player), we would be able to spend $33 per month on DVDs.  We would still save nearly $400 per year.  Alternatively, we could get a subscription to Netflix for $16.99 per month and would save over $586.  Either way, our cable TV habits could be satiated by non-cable TV sources.

We’re not going to drop cable TV tomorrow, but it certainly something for us to mull over.  The lure of saving nearly $600 every year is pretty strong.

1 13 14 15 16 17