Talking With Dinosaurs
 There are times when it's worthwhile standing back to look at the overall picture - not always easy when things are coming at you like snow balls in a fight and the natural reaction is just to fend off each incoming volley. But the panorama rather than the particular can give a wonderful perspective on things - like viewing Google Earth and trying to spot the tiny dot that is your house.Before we had it, who would have believed we needed instant communication? Now that we have it how can we possibly live without it ?It doesn't seem so but it must have been nearly twenty years ago talking with some friends who were in at the early days of IT, the subject of electronic mail came up. I was puzzled by this concept. What was wrong with a post-it note?This was in the days when a fax machine was the latest must-have device for a business, and the pinnacle of high speed written communication, and when a so-called mobile phone came complete with a car-sized battery and a range about as far as you could throw it.It sounded like a bit of a gimmick in inter-office communication, and serious anorak territory, especially to someone who had no interest in the computer experience at the time. It seems hard to grasp now how much the magical box has intruded into our businesses and even our personal lives, but from those secret squirrel beginnings, the internet, and email as we now all know it, has become a world-wide phenomenon.Such is the power of the net, that in recalling the conversation, I went to search for the Cambridge postgraduate who was talking about it all those years ago and discovered in minutes her recent career paths, publications and her current position in senior research post with Yahoo in Silicon Valley. I'm sure she'll be amused that the old sceptic now spends half his day with his head in the Ethernet, and even his photography is at the mercy of the magic chip.The man who helped make those chips, co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, made an observation as early as the 1960s about the dramatic development potential of his product. What has since become know as Moore' Law, initially related to the size and performance of the integrated circuit - the essential building brick of any electronic brain. He saw the pace of innovation doubling its capabilities every twelve months.Though often debated, this has been found to be mostly correct and has indeed been extended to cover the fact that things get smaller, cheaper, and their capacity increases in direct proportion.It goes for portable storage devices, hard drive space and RAM. It even goes for digital cameras which have increased their pixel quota over the last decade while getting progressively smaller.It begs the question where will it all end. Moore himself states that the progression cannot be indefinite because eventually the devices will reach the miniaturisation of atomic levels and a whole new world of nanotechnology opens up with a whole new pile of implications.Suffice it to say that as far as the world we live and work in, the immediate consequences of Moore's law hit us every day. Where a decade ago a customer could muster up no more information than could be contained on a floppy disc, now the ubiquitous memory stick can contain a thousand times more data or more. All of that still needs to be searched and sorted before it can be sent to print, and this seems to be the major issue for the copy shop.

Unless you are continually updating computers and software - a major expense - there is a good chance that at least some of your customers will be using technology further up Moore's evolutionary chain than you. And that technology gap is likely to get bigger, that's the implication.It is a current issue between the people who make the chips like Intel and AMD, and those who make the software, like Mircosoft, and the applications which drive printers and the like. The software, they say, is way behind the hardware technology and needs to buck its ideas up.Even Microsoft's much heralded Vista cannot fully utilise the potential performance of current and future multi-core processors, and uses up an awful lot of power just to stand still.If, like most copy shops, you are running XP or even Windows 2000, despite updates, you are essentially running a technology years behind the state-of-the-art hardware, and the pace of progress continues relentlessly.You will also have the other issue of customers still battling with Windows 98, together with any or all of the variations of programme used to create digital originals.Oh yes, and not forgetting those people - they still exist - who refuse to have anything to do with a computer at all.It is hard to pitch a level on which to negotiate with a customer without understanding where they stand in the technology chain, and difficult to judge who is harder to deal with - one who knows little or one who thinks he knows a lot. The cultural divide can be the IT equivalent of talking with dinosaurs or
rocket scientists.A good example of built-in evolutionary obsolescence is the stand alone print machine which became popular from several manufacturers in high street locations. Many of them use XP or even 2000 as a base operating system, with a nice user-friendly touch screen so the customer can browse his or her pictures and select those to enlarge, edit or print. Designed some years ago, they were never expected to have to deal with hundreds or even thousands of images which can now be stored on current memory cards, and the task will fry their little brains.Having been in a local shop recently where a customer had sat patiently for an hour editing his precious images from a 1GB memory card, only to have the machine freeze solid and crash when he tried to print, it's not pleasant.If you have ever tried to use the standard Windows print driver to process a large number of images, you will have found that it struggles or just works itself to a standstill somewhere in the system. Ever since I went digital in photography and print, and began these columns, I have argued that there was a specialist role for the copy shop in image management because we were in the front line of the electronic information revolution, and as a result had to be very quick learners and fast to adapt. I am happy that Martin's Law seems to be correct, and unfortunately natural selection seems to have come down heavily on the high street mini labs and others who didn't evolve to meet that challenge.What we will be battling with in another ten years is a lot harder to predict.On a more immediate note, the challenge of handling multiple image files, which by their nature are large, is an increasing one. As a result of the hardware developments listed earlier, customers' cameras and portable storage devices can contain not only quantity, but images of considerable size which can push applications to their limits and beyond.The favourite approach is to do a quick check of the number and type of contents, and then chose an appropriate browser and edit tool. If dealing solely with picture files that are pixel based, and not vector graphics, then Photoshop is the tool of choice. Other photo editing suites, like Paint Shop Pro, are all very well, but Adobe have a pedigree and a continuity that runs through all the various editions right up to the current CS3.It means that anyone familiar with the brand will be able to talk the same terms and recognise a similar user interface.Like getting into a car and finding the clutch is always on the left and the accelerator on the right, it just has that convenience.A multiple file browser was one of the weak features on earlier versions of Photoshop. Though it existed it was memory hungry, and slow as a result. For CS2, Abobe introduced Bridge, which runs independently, giving a variable size thumbnail view, as well as all relevant picture information, and camera data including copyright if included.

This information can be added to, files renamed and copied, and even re-arranged in the folder by simply moving the thumbnail to a different position. This is very handy for images that need to be placed in a particular order, or sequenced for cataloguing.Individual images can be labelled for priority, content, or later selection, so they can be easily found again - as for example when our designer Rachel was presented with three thousand images of a quad bike event to pick a dozen for a four page magazine spread!Adobe Bridge doesn't do editing. For that, the chosen image opens in Photoshop for treatment, but once done and saved, the preview is rapidly updated. It doesn't do printing either so again you need to go back to the
parent programme to prepare a contact sheet or individual prints.Extensis produce an excellent bit of very useful software in their Portfolio. I am still on 7 though version 8 is available, and is part of a complete file management system. The advantage of Portfolio is that it will open a thumbnail, or at least catalogue, everything in a folder for convenient archive. You can add information, keywords and title, and it automatically backs up files with smaller preview items.

It can also print an annotated contact sheet, and even create web pages from the collection if required, it's a pretty sophisticated tool, and worth the time if you are going to be handling a lot and a variety of files on a particular job.More recently Adobe have introduced Lightroom, and I must admit to being increasingly taken with this software, as it's intended to be the digital equivalent of the traditional darkroom and hence more suitable for old chemical hands like myself.

If I was new to digital, I would definitely find Lightroom a more friendly and familiar environment than the steep learning curve that is Photoshop. It does all of the image adjustments, but in a much more photographic way, with exposure, tint and vibrancy, rather than levels and curves.Again it gives you viewing options, with a preview which is quickly updated, and file handling is very fast because you are not processing full sized files. The processing takes place when you are satisfied with the development and store the imported files.I found Lightroom very handy for getting through lots of digital images where one or two minor tweaks on individual shots are needed on exposure or white balance, rather than the more long-handed use of saved actions in Photoshop itself.Digital images still lack the tonal lenience of conventional film, and the ability to knock back the taken exposure a quarter of a stop or more, after the picture has been taken, helps to correct this. It just helps to create an image that is really spot on rather than just average.It can be a little bit galling when the customer doesn't appreciate your expertise, as recently when I'd recovered an exceedingly poor image to produce a fairly nice large print, only to hear him announce what a good camera he must have! I always say when asked that the good thing about digital photography is that anyone can take a picture - and the bad news is that anyone can take a picture!