Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kodak -- Two Stories

There are two stories of a more-or-less personal nature that may help explain Kodak's eventual demise, coincidentally both occurring in 1996.

But first, a fair warning that these are not the "oh boy you're gonna get a real knee-slap out of these" kind of stories. These are the kind of stories for those who read instruction manuals and find themselves impressed that the technical nature of the content is accurate and comprehensible, that the font usage and spelling is tended to, and that the love for the product from those who made it in the proverbial corporate basement manages to eek upwards through the floorboards somehow.

First story (this one not so personal):

In 1996 Kodak released their first two consumer-level digital cameras. One of them was the DC25, featuring something as advanced as an LCD-based preview screen so if you didn't like the photo you had just taken you could immediately delete it, thus freeing up memory to take an additional photo. This was important since the on-board storage space (no memory cards of any sort allowed) only held twelve exposures at sub-VGA (493x373 pixels) resolution. I only mention these specs to give an idea of how primitive this device was, compared to current digital camera technology, and how far we've come.

And how far we've come... That DC25 retailed for $600 and it was flying off the shelves, one of them right into my hands. Kodak was well on its way to dominate what would become a healthy, wealthy and (in their case) truly integrated market involving the manufacture of sophisticated hardware components, industrial product and software design, marketing, distribution, points-of-sale, and value-added services (print kiosks, professional-quality blow-ups, etc) where to this day some real cash can be made.

Other, more sophisticated camera models with more storage space and features, were released in a few of the following years and then... they stopped.

What did they do? What they did is they decided that the future of consumer-level photography was, and always would be, celluloid film. After all, the cost of a roll of film, and the subsequently necessary step of development services, would always be more profitable -- per exposure -- than digital. They also bet the farm that producing traditional film stock footage (for TV, movies and the like) was, and forever would be, the medium of choice.

The rest of that, history.

Second story (this one much more personal):

I was a student at RIT in Rochester, NY (Kodak's home base) in 1996. I was assigned, as a class exercise in team work, to partner with a long-time Kodak employee and give follow-through to a professional-level implementation project from start to finish. Perform situation analysis, acquire specs, draw up a proposal, implement, deliver, etc.

Here's what we came up with: Some years prior Kodak had developed internally their own flavor of what is known in the computer technology industry as an "expert system", in this case basically a simple structured text file-based database that allowed a user to, by answering a series of self-directed questions, arrive at the answer/solution/data he needed in order to get on with his work. The pre-existing architecture of this file format (which happened to be called "CCAG", but you could call it "Little Orphan Annie" if it at all suits you) is that each workstation needed to have installed on it (a) its own copy of the CCAG interpreter program, and (b) its own copy of the CCAG data file.

Net problem: Every time the CCAG data file (or the interpreter program) needed to be updated the I.T. person would need to individually deploy to EACH WORKSTATION, off a floppy disk or the like, a new copy of one, the other, or both. For those old enough to remember such horrors, think back to having to update, say, network driver files, then updating config.sys etc, on EACH computer in your company or institution, one at a time, on what otherwise would have been a nice Saturday afternoon playing catch with your favorite imaginary dog.

The solution I proposed was to write a WEB-based CCAG interpreter, so that the CCAG data file would exist, only once, on the web server, and the users would be able to access it using their web browsers through the web-based CCAG interpreter I had written. This way any improvements or edits to the CCAG file need only be done once, in one place, and all users would benefit from it instantaneously and simultaneously. This would not have required changing the format or syntax of their pre-existing CCAG data files, so all of their accumulated knowledge base could be leveraged as-is, and since everybody (yes, even as of 1996) at Kodak already had a Web browser, no additional software need be installed on the user workstations. No confusion, argument, or miscommunication.

And so this I did implement. I presented the working system to my "client", who stared at it, pensively. "Uh... thanks", he said. "This works really well. Wow." He went away, back to do his job the way he always had been, and I never heard from him again, even after applying there for an internship that Summer.

Every year I wonder less why I don't work at Kodak; one of life's little bullets dodged.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dear Mexico

The problem with the War On Drugs is that it is the only, last way to make people want war.  What a way to make jobs.

As long as you play along, and force cartels to be cartels (because that is the only currently-viable way to move product), you are complicit in this travesty (either explicitly or implicitly; your choice).

So, here's a modest proposal:  Let us have it.  Declare failure, and our "victory".  "You win, we lose; suckers."  laissez faire the fuck out of us.  We take it up the ass through the border until we can't take any more.  Problem solved.  And we can all get back to the business of shoveling shit up our nose, but at least it will be real shit, and we won't have to lie about it, and people who didn't see it coming don't have to disappear.

Or do you want a real war?

This, now, here, because we missed it before

The text, for you, as always, in truth and uncut.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Dear AT&T

High Data Usage Alert
Dear JUAN [something],

Like other wireless companies, AT&T is taking steps to manage exploding demand for mobile data. We're responding on many levels, including investing billions in our wireless network this year and working to acquire more network capacity.

As mentioned on a previous bill, we're also taking additional, more immediate steps to help address network congestion and improve reliability. One of these steps involves a change for some customers who use extraordinarily large amounts of data in a single billing period - about 12 times more data than the average smartphone user.

For the current billing cycle, your data usage indicates you could be affected by this change. Here's how it works:

Smartphone customers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced speeds once their usage in a billing cycle reaches the level that puts them among the top 5 percent of heaviest data users. These customers can still use unlimited data and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle.

We're writing because you are in the top 5 percent of heaviest data users for this billing cycle. Because we recognize that data usage can change from month to month, you will not see reduced speeds this billing cycle.

Beginning with your next billing cycle, we'll send you a text message if you are approaching the top 5 percent of heaviest data users. We'll also send you a second text message if you cross into the top 5 percent of heaviest users, at which point you may see reduced speeds for the rest of the month.

[and then they go on to tell me what i can do for them and their troubles. blah blah]

The response:

My dear AT&T:

I have a contract with you for unlimited data.

Now:  How much less money would you like me to give you?  Until I receive a response, you are in breach of contract.  Be careful; there's trouble ahead.



Something I may or may not recommend depending on which ad is shown: