Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

October 30, 2007

Using Flickr Photos to Make a 3D Model of the World

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 7:59 pm

New Scientist magazine published a fascinating article yesterday about a group of scientists who are using photos from Flickr to create 3D models of objects like Notre Dame cathedral or the duomo in Pisa, Italy. Normally, 3D modeling is an arduous process that involves setting up cameras at carefully selected locations, each offering a different angle and view. By arranging the cameras in a precise way, it’s possible to use computers to stitch together a detailed model of the object in three dimensions.
This type of 3D modeling makes sense when you’re trying to map out an object of a limited size, such as a car, but what if you wanted to make a 3D map of the entire world? Using traditional methods, this would be impossible, since it’s totally impractical to send out teams of trained individuals all over the world with their cameras deployed in a mathematically precise way.
So a group of researchers in Washington state and Germany decided to try a new approach. Photo sharing sites like Flickr contain millions of photos taken by members of the public. Consequently, certain places frequented by tourists have been photographed many thousands of times from innumerable angles. Notre Dame, for example, is featured in more than 200,000 photos in Flickr – and the researchers know that because many Flickr users have taken the time to tag their pics as such.
The team created software that would ingest all the photos contained in Flickr tagged for a particular object. It would then examine each photo to see if it contained an angle that would be useful for modeling. Some photos would get eliminated because they featured a person in them, were blurry or exposed inappropriately, but anything else that was within an acceptable range would be analyzed in comparison with other photos. The system would then connect the dots and create a 3D model.
“The system provides an opportunity to use the billions of user-contributed images available online to ‘reconstruct the world’ without relying on specialised equipment,” researcher Michael Goesele told New Scientist. “The quality of the reconstructions we can achieve from mere internet data is comparable to models acquired with traditional methods such as very expensive laser scanning systems. Overall, we see this as a very first step into an exciting new area – think of reconstructing Rome from the about one million images available on Flickr alone.”
So far, the results are impressive. But don’t expect to see certain details like color and contrast. Instead, they look more they’re cast in wax: perfectly proportioned but monochrome and gummy. Here’s Notre Dame: the real thing and the 3D model. Click on the model for a more detailed view.

On the project’s website, you can view several other examples of objects they’ve renderered, as well as a video in which you can zoom in on the details of Notre Dame’s facade.
I find all of this really intriguing, not only from the perspectives of technological innovation and crowdsourcing, but from a copyright perspective as well. For example, the Notre Dame model is based on more than 650 photos, selected from the original pool of 200,000 potential photos. Given that this was done for research, I think the scientists could easily make the case that it’s a situation of fair use. But what if Google Maps wanted to take this technology and apply it to their own 3D model of the world? That would mean that photos taken by you, me and lots of other people would be analyzed, processed and rendered into a derivative work. Would such a commercial effort require permission of every photographer involved?
Given the fact that millions of Flickr photos have been licensed under various Creative Commons licenses, that might make this easier to sort out. For example, any photo licensed with a “no derivatives” requirement could be filtered out. Photos licensed merely with an attribution requirement would be the easiest to deal with, but you’d still have to be able to point to a list of all the Flickr users whose work contributed to the effort. You could also base it entirely on photos that were licensed with noncommercial or “share-alike” requirements, but any 3D models produced using those photos would have to follow those rules as well.
No matter how you slice it, though, one thing seems certain – it would be hard for the producer of a 3D model developed this way to claim sole ownership of it. These models wouldn’t exist without the contributions of countless individual photographers, most of whom probably have no idea that they contributed in the first place. So if one were to make a model of the whole world, employing millions of photos from millions of people, we’d all have an ownership stake in it, even if it’s just a small visual share. Who knows – maybe those pics you took on your last vacation may actually end up part of a public good. -andy

October 28, 2007

Martin Luther King III on Blogging, the Media and the Jena 6 Protests

Filed under: Media & Politics,Video — Andy Carvin @ 10:30 pm

Martin Luther King III talks about the role that African American bloggers and media outlets, particularly urban radio stations, played in raising the profile of the Jena 6 defendants, leading to the massive protests that took place last month in Jena, LA.
Formats available: mp4, iPod, mobile

Martin Luther King III Discusses Media Ownership

Filed under: Media & Politics,Video — Andy Carvin @ 6:48 pm

On October 24th, IFOCOS and United Press International hosted a conference about journalism, activism and social media. Among the guest speakers was Martin Luther King III, son of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a veteran civil rights activist in his own right. During the Q&A, MLK III talked about how ordinary Americans are generous and very willing to offer assistance during times of crisis such as Hurricane Katrina, but the media often allows important stories to fall away from public consciousness, impacting the public's attention on the crisis. He continued by expressing concern regarding the impact of media concentration and cross-ownership at the local level, but the moderator then steered the conversation in another direction. So when the moderator opened the Q&A to the audience, I asked MLK III if he would like to elaborate on media ownership and its effects on the quality of local journalism. In this video, you'll see both his initial comments on media concentration, followed up by his answer to my question. -andy

Formats available: mp4, iPod, mobile

Brookside Gardens in Bloom

Filed under: Video — Andy Carvin @ 3:26 pm

Last spring I borrowed a Nokia N93 video phone for a couple of months and shot some footage at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD. For some reason I totally forgot about the footage for many months, and just got around to editing the video. Better late than never, I guess. -andy
Formats available: mp4, iPod, mobile

October 22, 2007

Questions I’d Ask Mitt Romney

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 10:26 am

Michael Arrington of Techcrunch is going to be interviewing presidential candidate Mitt Romney later this week and he’s asking for your help. Michael’s looking for questions he can ask Romney, and he’s open to engaging the candidate on issues related to education technology and the digital divide.
Here are the questions I’ve thrown into the ring:
- Do you support the federal E-Rate program, the initiative that subsidizes Internet access in low-income schools and libraries? Why or why not?
- No Child Left Behind mandates that all students must be “technologically literate” by the eighth grade but doesn’t expand on the subject. In your mind, what technology skills should every eighth grader possess, and why?
- The U.S. continues to struggle when it comes to producing enough college graduates who major in disciplines related to science, technology, engineering or math. What reforms would you make in K-12 education in order to increase the number of students who go on to college to study these disciplines?
- What do you think of MIT’s so-called $100 laptop? Do you see it offering any benefit to US students?
- Congress is currently considering legislation that would block access to online social networks at schools and libraries that accept federal E-Rate funding. Do you think this legislation would help protect kids against online threats, or does it undermine educators’ abilities to use the Internet creatively in their classrooms?
- How do you personally define the term “digital divide”? Do you believe there is still a digital divide in this country? Would you use that term to describe it, if you were president? What would you do as president to alleviate it?
If you’ve got any questions of your own, feel free to post them on Techcrunch . You’re more than welcome to share them here, too, but I can’t guarantee that Arrington will read my blog with much frequency. :-)

October 18, 2007

Del McCoury Band Performs “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” at NPR

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andy Carvin @ 4:32 pm

The Del McCoury Band

Today was an absolute treat. My friends at Talk of the Nation invited NPR staff to sit in studio 4A while bluegrass legend Del McCoury performed live for the show. There were probably no more than 20 of us in the studio, and they were marvelous. I wouldn’t even consider myself a bluegrass fan, yet I loved every moment of it. Del was a great storyteller, taking questions from the audience, and they played four songs, including one of my all-time favorites – Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” I could barely believe my ears when Del announced he would play it. Normally it’s performed on a solo guitar – I’ve tried playing it for years but have never mastered it – but Del and his band did the song justice and then some by rendering it bluegrass style.
Perhaps the best moment in the show was when a 10-year-old boy name James called and said he was a mandolin player. He even offered to play a song for us, and he was amazing! Because he played it through his speakerphone, the quality wasn’t very good, but it rendered the song like an old-time recording from the 1920s. It was a magical moment.
Talk of the Nation has posted a video of Del performing ’52 Vincent on their website. I made a recording of it myself on my cameraphone, but the audio is so bad I won’t make you suffer through it. -andy

October 12, 2007

Train Goin’ Home

Filed under: Travel,Video — Andy Carvin @ 7:26 pm

There’s nothing like going home on a train. -andy
Formats available: mp4, iPod, mobile

October 10, 2007

Jay Rosen’s Six Lessons from

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 12:03 pm

Jay Rosen of is talking about some of the lessons learned from their first networked journalism experiment with Wired News, which focused on trends in crowdsourcing. He said there were six lessons, but he threw in a seventh for good measure.
1. Division of labor is key in distributed reporting projects. You need to think about what task, and what size of task, you expect people to do.
2. You have to get the motivations right. If you don’t understand participants’ motivations, you can’t figure out how to define the work.
3. Watch for rising coordination costs. More users=more costs, ie answering questions, giving out instructions, etc. You can get your project run into the ground by succeeding with lots of people.
4. If I go off and do something for you, now I have to come back and give you that data. When this happens, people need to see how their contribution fits into the puzzle.
5. Share background knowledge. The more background they have, the easier it’ll be to find data that’s significant.
6. Existing communities already know how to interact and work. They’re better than starting from scratch.
7. The one percent rule – only about one percent of users will actively get involved in creating content, while 10 percent might be involved in peripheral activities like commenting.

“The Newspaper Became Ours”

Filed under: Citizen Journalism — Andy Carvin @ 9:42 am

Steve Garfield got the last word in the opening session of the networked journalism summit, which focused on local initiatives. John Wilpers had been talking about BostonNow, the Boston-based newspaper that focuses on citizen journalism content. Wilpers said that BostonNow is managing to crack the walls of old media slowly, but they’re making progress; for example, they now have a blogger and photographer credentialed to cover the Red Sox.
As the session wrapped up, Steve got the microphone and said that prior to BostonNow coming to town, “the newspapers were theirs” – incumbent media outlets called all the shots and didn’t take citizen journalists seriously. With the advent of BostonNow, Steve said, “the newspaper became ours.” Local bloggers now feel they have a larger stake in the media, and hundreds of them are taking advantage of it. -andy

It’s Your Newsroom

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 9:31 am

Dan Barkin of the News & Observer is on stage at the Networked Journalism Summit talking about Your Newsroom, a collaborative news space for North Carolina residence. They’ve basically handed over the editorial reins to the public, so users can submit their own content relevant to the local community. Photos seem to be a big hit, and they’re highlighted prominently at the top of the page. You can also submit your own event listings, blog posts and discussion forums. I remember when the News & Observer was one of the most innovative online newspapers back in the mid-90s, but frankly I lost track of what they’ve been doing more recently, so I’m looking forward to digging into Your Newsroom to see what they’ve been doing lately.

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