~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Copyright Lawsuit Shakedown

There's a legal storm brewing on the 'net. The owners of a large newspaper, through a partner firm, are running around suing small websites, forums, personal blogs, and a few larger sites too, over copyright infringement.  They don't care if it's a liberal site, conservative site, a non-profit site, a hobby site, or a blog that gets just a dozen views per day, the goal is to get money.

Generally, properly licensing an article or photo from another site might cost $25 or so, much  more if it's a bigger site with special content or a unique photo and the material is to be used commercially.

From private bloggers, non-profit groups, and other small fry the newspaper is asking as much as $150,000 in "damages" for minor articles, sometimes for copying as few as five sentences.  It seems that "copyright infringement" has being used like brass knuckles or a cudgel to get money from little people who cannot afford to defend themselves in Federal Court over a relatively minor matter.

What am I talking about?  Read the article here on the Las Vegas Sun newspaper website and peruse their archives on the subject.  If you keep a blog or run a website and like to copy and paste info from one website to another it would be good to inform yourself of what some bottom feeding lawyers are doing with US copyright law in the pursuit of profits, as opposed to justice.

On a more personal note, I understand the need to protect original content from overt copying.  It takes time and money to create original text and photos, even for an small blog like this one.  Not long ago I found seven full blog entries from 40on2 re-posted on a commercial website.  I was not a happy blogger!  I sent the site owner a polite e-mail and the entries disappeared the next day and I got an apology.  I wasn't after money, I just want my work to be my own.  Since I don't profit from 40on2 no one else should either!   I know some of what I post here gets copied elsewhere on the 'net and I'm ok with that if it's only a bit of a post or a picture and I'm given a link back and credit.  But taking whole blog entries was excessive.

I wonder what will happen in the long term, if rapacious lawyers in pursuit of money, not justice, succeed in beating down scores of small websites.  It cannot help but change how the Internet works and how information is shared, or worse, not shared. 

In the long term I think freedom of conversation and information will prevail but in the mean time ordinary  people are being damaged financially so rich people can get richer.  Gee, what a surprise.

Oct 3 Addendum:  And what happens when popular motorcycle magazines opt for the heavy handed technique in dealing with bike blogs or websites that "borrow" content?  Worse, perhaps we will one day see TV commercials for shady lawyers asking "Do you own a blog or website?  Has your content been used without your permission?  Don't be cheated by others, call 1-800-SUE-4MNY. Just pay a $1500 fee and we'll sue everyone who's ever quoted your blog hoping to get a couple of thousand dollars from each of them!  You'll be rich!"   Nice.  Let's hope a court or Congress fixes this mess before it gets further out of hand.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Volkswagen Motorcycle Talk Again?

Will there be offspring?
[For an update on VW+motorcycle please see my April 2012 blog entry.]

Back in December of 2009 I commented on the purchase of Suzuki Motor Corporation by my former employer, Volkswagen. "Volkswagen and Suzuki Do the Deed". That blog entry is here.

A friend in Germany sent me a link to an article entitled "Mit Ferdinand Piëch im neuen Phaeton" on the German news site FAZ.NET.  He thought I'd find the piece interesting as it has to do with VW's imperious and brilliant leader, Dr.Ferdinand Piech, a man I've seen many times, greeted once (it healed a wart on my hand), and who probably doesn't know I exist although he's seen my work many times.

The article is in German so I filtered it through Google Translate.  Never a perfect translation but good enough for me.  Buried in the article was a question about VW's future and wider product plans. VW is huge, not many Americans realize how huge, and the scope of the vehicles produced covers quite a range and circles the globe.

Here's the most interesting bit, note Dr. Piech's answer after the writer's statement/question:

"But the VW group has indeed set for the future not just on cars. Piëch: 'Correct. The truck business is very important. Motorcycles, co-generation plants, marine engines 115,000 hp, with turbines. All that we can do.'" [italics mine - DK] 

Apparently the most powerful and richest auto industry man in the world still has a twinkle in his eye for motorcycles.  Maybe he's just talking about Suzuki as the "Motorräder" part of the game but I'd never try guess Piech's intent, smarter men than me have tried and lost big time.   It will be very interesting to see how motorcycles fit into his still unfolding global vision for Volkswagen.  At the least, I'm hoping that Piech's passion for winning (he designed the Porsche 917 amongst other cars and set the parameters for the Bugatti Veyron) will cause him to funnel additional buckets of money into Suzuki's floundering MotoGP program.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Motorcycle Camera Fever

2001.  Morro Bay, CA.  Camera: Nikon CoolPix 990.
Click for larger, better looking image
I haven't owned as many cameras as I have motorcycles but that isn't for lack of wanting.  Actually, when I was still working, my employer typically provided me with better equipment, upgraded more often, than I could afford.  Besides, I spent all my extra money on motorcycles.   Since 2008 I've been shooting the Nikon D90 , bought and paid for with my own money as a retirement gift to myself.  I really love the camera and the images it produces are as good as you can get without spending considerably more money.

Camera space, the final frontier. The
D90 camera case hogs the saddlebag.
The only real fault with the Nikon, in terms of using it for motorcycle stuff, is it's size.  It's not as big as some DSLR cameras but it's pretty good sized and takes up a lot of space in the saddlebag or tank bag.  I've tried riding with it slung around my neck and besides being uncomfortable, it seems to invite disaster of one sort or another.

I've gotten a lot fussier about my pictures since I began shooting the D90, my eyes have been opened, as it were. I'll spare you the discussion of dynamic range, pixel density, blah, blah blah.    Few people other than my wife ever see my photos full size on my nice, color corrected monitor, but I see them, and mushy pixels jump out at me like a bug splat right at eye level on the bike's windscreen.  I can't not see them.  I'm willing to always learn and improve my photography but there are times when the camera could try harder too.  Pocket cameras, or "point 'n shoots" are getting very nice but generally lack in image quality if you're the persnickety sort when it comes to photos or like to do a lot of cropping and editing.  

The D90's size is a problem, not only for the aforementioned storage reasons, but I've found in many situations taking up and pointing a large black camera at someone has the effect of freezing them like a deer caught in the headlights.  Any naturalness evaporates instantly.  Worse, some folks mistake me for a professional photographer of some sort (ha!) and get wary of why I'm taking pictures and what I might do with the images.  Frankly, these days I'm not sure I can blame them.  No one wants to wind up as a joke picture on Facebook or YouTube.  I love to take candid pictures of people but from person-to-person perspective, the big cameras make it much more difficult.

So I've been pondering a smaller camera to carry on the bike but not one so small that the image quality is unacceptable.  I also need a camera that my artist wife can use, her little point n shoot is showing it's age and her eye, as an artist, is good enough that she deserves to get the most she can from her pictures without the compromises the 4 year old Olympus has when shooting in low light, something she seems to often do.

So I offer up the current candidates for your perusal and consideration should you be thinking of a new camera for yourself and your motorcycle exploits.  They make a good starting point if you're ready to move up from the basic cameras to a mid-range item:

Sony Alpha NEX-3

The new Sony has lots of new features and goodies and a really nice image sensor.  One feature that appeals is a built in panorama mode.  You'll have to visit a store and try it out for yourself to see how cool it works.  The articulated rear view screen is huge and swings into a position that allows shooting from near waist level, a nice point for getting more interesting shots of bikes and riders. The camera size is moderate compared to the D90 but not compact and yet offers interchangeable lenses like DSLR cameras do.  The price is the highest of the bunch but it offers more features and potentially better image quality than anything but a big camera.  It also has the largest physical size image sensor of the lot and that's an important thing. More info on it here.

Olympus E-PL1

The Olympus is part of a new generation of cameras with a new type of sensor, larger than a point n shoot, smaller than your typical DSLR sensor, and all crammed into a mid-size camera and again with interchangeable lenses.  Like the Sony, the size of the Oly is moderate, could fit into a jacket pocket if you have big pockets. It has a very traditional look to it, which I like; no one ever accused me of being a style maven.  In handling the camera I liked the size and balance but the lack of an articulated view screen like the Sony has is a negative point and the menu system is a bit obtuse.  More info here.

Canon S95

Last and not least, is the new Canon S95.  It's a full on compact camera, a point n shoot, but Canon has gone all out to get the image quality to a level that probably surpasses most other point n shoot cameras that don't cost a freakin' fortune.  It has some enviable low light capabilities, which is appealing, and it is indeed small enough to fit into a shirt or jacket pocket, no need to give up valuable saddlebag or tank bag space.  More info here.

Nikon Coolpix P7000

Form follows function or sometimes
there's just no budget for styling.
A late entry that's popped up since I started working on this entry is the new Nikon CoolPix P7000.  It's much smaller than it looks in the picture and in addition to the usual full auto mode has those wonderful manual controls that camera geeks love.

Sadly, the Nikon does win the award for being butt ugly but as with the BMW GS, sometimes function has to win out over form.

It's also priced between the Canon and the Olympus and appears to offer a lot of bang for the buck including being the only camera in the bunch with a viewfinder in addition to the rear LCD view screen.

I admit to an affinity for Nikons and the CoolPix series, I've shot literally tens of thousands of photos with them including the ones at the top and bottom of this post.  More info here on the brand new, as yet not-in-the-stores Nikon.  Some great photos, too.

None of these cameras are cheap in terms of what the average person might be willing to pay for a camera.  The simple fact is that there is always a trade off between price and image quality.  In general, spend more, get more.  If your pictures are important to you spending more is a reasonable thing to do.  I think each one of them is worth their street price of $399 - $549.  I can pretty much guarantee you that if you buy a good camera, learn to use it properly, that you'll be so pleased with the photos that you'll wonder why you didn't upgrade sooner.  Sort of like going from the 250cc bike to full size road bike.

So I'm pondering these cameras, working up my courage to make a decision, wondering what I have in the garage that I can sell on eBay to raise some money (old tools, 35mm film camera equipment, family heirlooms).   Funny but I'm more likely to buy a motorcycle on impulse than a camera.  I can't claim to understand that beyond the fact that motorcycle fever is a more powerful disease than camera fever.

And one more picture from my 2001 California coast trip on my 2001 Kawasaki Concours, here along Highway 1.

Nikon 990 and 3.34 MP did a pretty nice job with some 2010 tweaking with Nikon image editing software.  If it wasn't for the lack of modern features like image stabilization a used 990 would still make a fine motorcycle camera.

*Camera images are copyright their respective companies.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Life Gets In The Way

My BMW R90S. California, 1974
The picture above of the R90S, my all time favorite motorcycle, has nothing to do with this post.  In fact, it's pretty much the only motorcycle content.  Family matters have dragged me away from what my wife refers to as my "rich on-line life" here at the blog and elsewhere.  I suspect sarcasm on her part.

For the last three weeks my little world has revolved around moving Biker Mom from the picturesque California central coast to decidedly unpicturesque central Arizona, surely proof that clean and virtuous living doesn't always pay off.   Metro Phoenix is no substitute for Pismo Beach when it comes to weather, scenery, seafood, or much of anything else except that more family is here than there and when you start closing in on 90 years old family is a good thing to have handy even if your family is me.

Back to motorcycle content shortly.  Riding weather is almost civilized now in the mornings.

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison