Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blinded by the light

Now, this seems like bullshit. The Sunday Times reports:
Roman Abramovich zaps snappers with laser shield
[Abramovich's] boat’s most unusual feature is perhaps the anti-paparazzi “shield”.
Infrared lasers detect the electronic light sensors in nearby cameras, known as charge-coupled devices. When the system detects such a device, it fires a focused beam of light at the camera, disrupting its ability to record a digital image.

Tech mag Wired uncritically repeats the story (some blog comments there are rather more sceptical), as do many other organs that really should know better, and Amateur Photographer ponders the legalities of it.

The claimed tech makes very little sense, though. Most paparazzi use digital SLRs. In these, the sensor is hidden until the very millisecond that the photo is taken. Also, most professional DSLRs use CMOS sensors, not CCDs - even if this putative detection tech will work on both, that's very sloppy reporting.

It's not entirely made-up, though - there is technology that can detect camera CCDs and blind them with lasers. In 2006, Georgia Tech Research News reported on tech in development aimed at stopping illicit recording of movies. That notes:
Current camera-neutralizing technology may never work against single-lens-reflex cameras, which use a folding-mirror viewing system that effectively masks its CCD except when a photo is actually being taken.

It's entirely possible that Abramovich's people have installed a similar system in the belief that it will work against well-equipped paps. But whoever sold it to them is doubtless laughing - and not just at the Russians.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Tech off the geek beat

The Guardian Media section has a slightly annoying article from the paper's technology editor Charles Arthur on why technology journalists are terribly important trend-setters:
Why, though? Because technology is the second-fastest changing field in news (after fashion). You'd watch what the fashion writers are wearing to find out what's going to be in next season. It's the same with technology, but with a longer timelag. Cellan-Jones joined Twitter in March 2007 – long before it became popular. Jemima Kiss, one of the Guardian's best-known Twitterers (and with the largest total of "followers"), joined in December 2006; the service had only been open to the public since July 2006. Ditto for Facebook.
Thus technology journalists were often the first in an organisation to get (or demand) email, the web, to discover Google, YouTube and so on.

Smugness aside, it's annoying because it assumes such a narrow definition of what technology (and technology journalism) actually is. Arthur's talking exclusively about consumer IT, online media, and associated gadgetry - what the venerable blog calls the geek beat. That's a very small area of technology - and, in significant part, a rather trivial one (the comparison to fashion is accurate). If Twitter or Facebook are at all interesting, it's not because of their enabling technologies.

I'm largely a tech journalist, but I'm more often writing about next-gen solar power (in the current Cleantech Magazine), say, than about the latest ICT gizmo (admittedly I do do that regularly for Crain's Manchester Business, though I try to mix it up a bit with proper tech like aerospace composites). At the moment, I'm finishing up a piece on medical devices - a tech area of which I'm rather keen not to be an early adopter of its products.

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