Monday, July 16, 2007

two storms, long ago



I recently ended up with a free flatbed scanner, and I thought I'd try my hand at scanning some old photos I took as a kid. The scanner is about 9 years old and has some highly original notions about color fidelity, so here are a couple that looked good in greyscale. I took both of these with a little 110 camera I got for Christmas one year, if I remember right.

I'm not entirely sure when or where the first photo was taken. It was in an old photo album, and the other photos were of a family vacation to Yellowstone back in the early 1980s. (circa 1984, I'm guessing.) In any case, I assume it's from that trip since it's in that album, but I'm not 100% sure, and there's not a lot of context to be had from the photo itself. I never got into the habit of writing on the backs of photos, so no clues there either. I rather like the photo though. I'd be happy with this one if I took it today.

Second photo is a storm over the Pacific back in February 1979. I know the month and year because we were driving down the coast on another family vacation, and the weather was like this the whole time, which meant that I missed the big solar eclipse on Feb. 26th, 1979. So this would've been a few days before the eclipse, I expect.

Back in the present day, getting the scanner working under Ubuntu was a mildly irritating challenge. At first I was pleased to learn that Ubuntu came with SANE, an open-source scanner package that plays much the same role TWAIN does on Windows. It even had a driver for my particular scanner, and initially I couldn't believe my luck. And then it just wouldn't detect the scanner. It just refused to see it. After a great deal of searching about, I finally hit on the problem. The scanner's one of those old parallel port jobs, and the problem wasn't that SANE didn't see the scanner, it's that it didn't see the parallel port. Seems that if the kernel module for the parallel port device isn't loaded, and it isn't by default on Ubuntu, you have to modprobe ppdev as root to get the damn thing into the kernel. That causes /dev/parport0 to magically appear in /dev, but the device only grants access to root by default. I suppose you could run xsane as root if you wanted to, although it screams bloody murder when you do that (and rightly so). Or you could make the SANE backend suid root, but that's bad news too. Changing the permissions on the device seems like the least bad approach, or at least that's what I've been doing so far. Then there's xsane's peculiar gui to puzzle out. And I'm still not sure how to make colors come out correctly. Whoever designed the scanner was clearly a huge fan of blue-green. Other colors, not so much.

Honestly, I don't know how we ever got by without digital photos.

It occurred to me recently that it ought to be feasible to pack the innards of a digital camera into a 110 or 126 film cartridge. You could haul that mid-60's Instamatic out of mom's closet, brush off the dust, and start taking digital photos. The cartridge would need an image sensor (obviously), memory, a small battery, some support circuitry, and probably a USB connector somewhere. Everything else -- optics, shutter, flash, etc. -- would be provided by the surrounding vintage camera. It'd be a cool, geeky retrotech thing to have, but actually making something like this would be far beyond my measly skills with a soldering iron, and selling it would be far beyond my even measlier marketing/PR skills. Volunteers, anyone?

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