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Thoughts on a Digital Life


Several things have occurred lately to make me think of how changing technology has affected me personally in many ways.  I have been in semiconductors since 1984 and a market analyst since 1992.  Sometimes one has to stop and reflect on how the fast paced technology trends impact us.

 

“Please don’t take my Kodachrome away!”

 

Sorry Paul Simon, but they are taking your Kodachrome away.  The song will now have a more nostalgic tone to it.  This week it was reported that Kodak will discontinue its oldest film stock due to declining customer demand.  Kodachrome is a victim of the digital age.  Today about 70% of Kodak revenue is from its digital business.

 

Kodachrome has been around for 74 years, but today represents less than 1 percent of Kodak’s total annual sales and there is only one commercial lab in the world that still handles its.  Kodachrome was favored by still and motion picture photographers for its rich but realistic tones, vibrant colors and durability.  This was due to its unique formula and materials. 

 

Kodak was down to manufacturing Kodachrome about once a year.  This next run will be its last.  A final roll will be shot by famed photojournalist Steve McCurry.  The film and photos will be donated to the George Eastman House museum of international photography in Rochester, NY.

 

I felt a personal connection with this story.  My first full time engineering job after graduating college was with Eastman Kodak, in Rochester, NY.  I was a hardware engineer in the copier duplicator division.  It was also the 100 year anniversary of the company so I become well educated on the history and development of Kodak.

 

The company was founded in 1880 by a daring young man who was an accountant by training who liked to play with the latest technology.  George Eastman’s invention of dry film was revolutionary.  Remember those movies showing photographers in the 19th century with large unwieldy cameras and glass plates that needed special chemicals?  Eastman’s dry film brought photography to the general public.  The Brownie camera introduced in 1900 was a hugely successful consumer product.

 

When I worked at Kodak, there were about 50,000 people employed in Rochester and more world wide.  Kodak employed about one person in ten in the Rochester area.  Sadly, today, it is just a shadow of its former self.

 

About 10 years ago I had a conference call held jointly with Intel and Kodak.  They were promoting kiosks with Intel technology to convert film photos to digital format.  I mentioned I used to work at Kodak and remembered its history and string of innovations.  I asked the Kodak spokesperson what kind of time frame he foresaw for film’s eventual obsolescence and Kodak’s transition to all digital.  Good thing we were separated by many miles.  If he could have jumped through the phone to grab my throat he would have.  He was upset with my question and declared that film would never become obsolete.

 

I would like to think that if George Eastman were still around he would have been at the forefront of digital photography and would have been determined to obsolete his dry film invention himself.  I am glad to see that Kodak is well regarded in digital photography today.  My daughter is a talented amateur photographer (and I do not say that just because I’m her dad) who loves her Kodak digital camera.

 

The move to digital photography also means that the infrastructure to support film is also destined for demolition.  Over the years I have seen news footage of various Kodak buildings in Rochester imploded.  These were huge structures, most of them without any windows, which were used for manufacturing and processing film.  All those familiar buildings in KodakPark and along

Ridge Road
have been razed.  But the photos and memories are still there and we move on.

 

Shopping for Gigabytes at Costco

 

Just the other day I am doing my weekend shopping at Costco.  I call my wife with a question.

 

“Honey, you said you wanted to get Amanda some other little thing for her birthday.  Does she need another external hard drive for backing up all her photos?  I’m in Costco and they have one from Western Digital.”

 

“How big?”

 

“It’s 500GB and has backup software installed.”

 

“How much?”

 

“Its 80 bucks and I have a coupon in the Costco booklet for $20 off.”

 

“Can you get more than one?”

 

“No, it says ‘limit one.’”

 

“Well, OK, get it.  Oh, and I need some more contact lens solution and don’t forget to get toilet paper.”

 

Did we ever imagine the day would come when we would routinely go shopping for HDD’s in Costco like we were picking up a dozen eggs, bread, and running shoes?  I just bought a half a terabyte of storage for just $60 at Costco!

 

I seem to recall the PC I bought in 1992 had an 80MB HDD and we thought, “WOW!”  I did a little research to be sure.  In 1992 HDD was roughly $4 per MB.  You could buy a 120MB HDD (not external at the time) for $499 retail.  That day at Costco I paid $0.012 per MB – literally just pennies for megabytes. 

 

 

Flash Drives just a flash?

 

My wife got into a “purge the house” mode.  She found several flash drives we received over the years from trade shows or as giveaways from various companies.  We thought maybe our kids would like them, but they were only 1 or 2 GB.  What do kids today need with such small amount of storage?  I know I should not be surprised since I am an analyst, but it still is interesting to see it happen up close and personal.

 

 

Do you know where your Gameboy is?

 

Along with the Flash drives my wife dug up some old toys that our kids had clamored for when they were younger.  She found some Gameboys, yes more than one, including mine!  There was even a kid’s digital camera that inserted into the game cartridge slot and a small black and white printer for it.  The camera and printer were given away via Freecycle.  I was amazed how quickly they went.

 

Of course my son and daughter don’t care about these anymore.  For my son the Gameboy is not quite the same as his Wii, or Xbox360 or PC for MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Game).  He still finds the Gameboy to be a bit quaint.  My wife wanted to give away the old Nintendo SNES, but he wants to hold onto it.  He probably thinks of it as an antique.  How long before we see these on the “Antique Roadshow” PBS TV program?

 

Tetris is 25 years old!

 

The only problem I have is I have no idea where the Tetris game cartridge is for my Gameboy.  BTW can you believe that Tetris just celebrated its 25th anniversary?  Tetris is the best export from Russia since vodka.  I have enjoyed Tetris in its many forms over the years.  My all-time favorite is the 3D version, Tetrisphere, for the Nintendo N64.  I like to fire that up every now and then.  I have completely dominated Tetrisphere (not that I’m bragging) so it is not such a challenge anymore, rather I challenge myself to outdo myself.  Have I gained any benefits from playing Tetris over the years?  You should see me pack the car for long trips.  My wife and kids just place the luggage next to the car and let me do my thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell to Analog TV

 

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper

                                    “The Hollow Men”, TS Eliot

 

Well it has finally happened.  On June 12, 2009, analog TV transmission in the US came to an end and all broadcast TV is digital.  I thought I would have seen all the channels just go to static simultaneously.  However, in Phoenix, each station flickered out at different times during the day.

 

I have had an old analog TV sitting in the corner of my kitchen counter for many years.  It was a 13-inch black and white TV my wife bought while she was in college.  On the back it has a sticker – manufactured January 1979.  Who knew JC Penney used to make such dependable TVs?  I have replaced the rabbit ears on it a few times.

 

As we were approaching the fateful date I thought of my memories of TV.  I know it sounds funny that it was an old BW TV, but when I used it I remembered some of the shows that I grew up with – I Love Lucy, Felix the Cat, The Ed Sullivan Show, and so many more.  It was a thrill when my parents surprised me with a color TV around 1967.  The world on color TV seemed so different.  Batman was still a tough guy even if he wore lavender tights.

 

I stood by for that final farewell to analog, but no big hoopla or good bye.  Each station just stopped at a time of their own choosing.  One station in Phoenix kept the analog signal active after midnight.  It was transmitting information on how to hook up a converter box to the analog TV and how to get help.  Well that got kind of boring by the third time it cycled through.

 

I looked at that TV we have had all these years and all I could think was, “well what am I going to do with this old piece of garbage now?”  Until I know how they are going to handle recycling in Phoenix it is sitting in my garage.

 

The memories are still there and we move on.

 

 

Tony Massimini

Chief of Technology

tonym@semico.com

 

 

Post Script:  Just found the Tetris game for the Gameboy!  Now for that external charger; I know it has to be somewhere in this house.

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