The iPhone camera comes of age

One of my first jobs was working as a professional photographer for the city of Albany documenting the city and its people. While that never morphed into a career, I have always had a love for photography. That is why I was intrigued when I heard that this month’s issue of Bon Appetit magazine comes with an interesting twist: all of its feature stories were shot with iPhone cameras by its professional food photographers.

The edict came from its editorial staff, and it was a smart move. For one thing, it shows just how far the iPhone camera has come: the latest models sport a 12 megapixel rear-facing camera, which is certainly closing in on what the best digital SLR cameras used by today’s pros normally tote around. (You can see below as one example.) And not to be outdone, but some of the Samsung Android phones have 16 megapixel cameras. One thing still lacking from the iPhone is having better control over depth of field, although there are rudimentary finger swipe gestures to help.

Cheese fries never looked as good. (from Bon Appetit)

But this isn’t just how many pixels you can put into a camera, but the fact that an iPhone camera is so ubiquitous that it can function for magazine work.

I started out in my teens with a Pentax SLR that used 35mm film and eventually graduated to first a 120-sized twin lens and then eventually to a 4×5 view camera. This latter beast required cut sheet film and a strong back to carry all the gear around, not to mention corresponding darkroom equipment that could handle the larger-sized film. I still have many of the negatives that I shot with this camera, but I haven’t had a darkroom for decades so I had to take some of them to the lab to get digital scans made.

The editors interview the photographers for the iPhone issue, who have some interesting things to say and recommIMG_1866endations for budding food photographers. First, shoot from above or the side but never at an angle. That makes for more dramatic photos and better compositions. Indeed, composition is key. I realize that many of my own food photos suffer from this issue, such as the one here taken at the Ikea cafeteria.

Second, the camera is just a tool. As one of the magazine’s photographers said,

In the past, the bigger and scarier-looking the camera you pulled out, the more intense and professional you looked. Now, you have to let go of the ego you attach to the tool, and the iPhone is the ultimate expression of that.

Understanding light and exposure helps to make for better pictures. Seems like a truism, but this becomes more important given the limited controls you have from the iPhone.

When in doubt, use a tripod. The pros came with adapters that could fit their phones accordingly, which is always a good idea to get just the shot you want.

Finally, that much-maligned selfie-stick can come in handy, especially for those overhead shots of what is served on the dinner table. One photographer didn’t come with one at their shoot, and had to go buy one to get the right shot. (For the rest of us, please put them away on the street!)

Bitcoin is more than just about the coins

bitcoinI have written a series of stories for the IBM site While many of us think about alternative currencies (like this photo of a rental agency in NYC that will rent you an apartment in Bitcoin), banks are leveraging the blockchain technologies to produce more efficient funds transfer mechanisms, and others are getting involved in blockchain for more mundane and non-financial reasons. And there are even some companies who are paying their employees in Bitcoin because it could be a more stable currency.

Finally, here is a post summarizing some of my beginner mistakes with getting involved in Bitcoin experiments, should you want to avoid them yourself.

The best business collaboration movie is all about cars

Rich and Amy Hansen and their 71 Mustang

It is ironic that I found myself enjoying “A Faster Horse,” a recent movie about the making of the 2015 model Ford Mustang directed by David Gelb.

I am not a car person: I view a car as basic transportation and not a statement about my lifestyle or whatever. But the movie shows how hard it is for businesspeople to collaborate on complex projects, such as designing a completely new version of the classic American muscle car that has sold more than nine million units over its 50 year tenure.

Too often those of us deeply steeped in high tech forget that the industrial revolution happened many years ago and people were collaborating without emails, Sharepoint, the Internet, or What’s App. While the folks at Ford have all of those tools and more, what is interesting is Gelb’s perspective on how the various work teams had to pull off this major redesign. You see the early sketches on paper, computer modeling, clay models and then the various factory pieces coming together with the 2015 Mustangs ready to sell last fall.

Speaking of car sales, wanna guess how much that first 1965 Mustang went on sale for? The answer is at the end of this post.

There were several scenes in the film that were my favorites. One is a meeting to deal with a crisis: the drivetrain parts are off by one millimeter, and this gap is making the car not very reliable and not very drivable. The team gets together for a meeting to try to close the gap: meanwhile the production line is stalled until the work around can be implemented. This is collaboration at its best. What is amazing is how this small a gap could have torpedoed the entire project.

There are lots of meetings around the speakerphone as the engineering team tries to figure out ways to shave weight and increase fuel economy, all while adding styling and new features to the 2015 model. They are actually pretty interesting, even for this non-car guy. Again, it is all about working together to solve the particular problem. At one point, one of the engineers isn’t happy that some issue would have been fixed by spending $1.34 per car. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you realize that Ford will be making hundreds of thousands of Mustangs, and this $1.34 increase is taking a lot of profit off the table down the road.

My favorite other scenes are about this father-daughter team Rich and 13-year old Amy Hansen. Over the past four years, the two worked on renovating a classic 1971 Mustang (pictured above) and have it finished just in time to drive it across country to the new Mustang launch party in North Carolina. I was jealous of them not because they produced a beautiful car, but because the kid really knows her stuff and was deep into the project. Again, this is another useful note on collaboration. Certainly, there are many dads of teens that wouldn’t even consider working with their daughters on classic cars. Now this kid has some solid skills even if she just uses them to change a tire and oil.

If your startup is going to host a movie night, consider this flick. It shows you what is needed to pull together and produce a great project, even if it is a car.

By the way, that 1965 Mustang sold for somewhere around $2,750. The restored classic cars are now going for $30,000 or more in good condition. Even accounting for 50 years’ worth of inflation that is a pretty good investment.

Why you might need live cybersecurity exercises

When it comes to preparing for cyber attacks, there are a variety of tools and techniques that you should employ: firewalls and intrusion detection devices for sure. But some tools are less obvious, and involve more of the human organizational element. This is where a company called CyberGym comes into play.

In one of my favorite scenes from Jerzy Kosinski’s Cockpit, the secret agent protagonist is applying to become a spy. He is sitting in a room with his fellow recruits, waiting for the testing period to begin. What he and his compatriots don’t realize that is that the waiting room is actually under observation and part of the testing process to see how well the newbies will collaborate with each other. The recruits are subjected to a variety of temperature extremes and every so often an employee will come in to tell them that there will be additional delays before the tests will begin. The goal is figure out which of the recruits will get annoyed with the forced wait and how each one will endure these hardships. This is a lot like the CyberGym live fire exercise: you want to see how people do under pressure and how they will create allies. Who is going to crack and make things difficult with others? Who is going to demonstrate leadership?

CyberGym was co-founded by managers from the Israel Electric Corporation and has some specific facilities that relate to SCADA controls and power conditioning equipment that are found in the typical power plant. It has been used by global corporations from many different industries. The average engagement last several days as they run through a series of attacks and other malware intrusions.

IMG_2006I visited CyberGym‘s offices in Israel last month as part of a trip that was partially sponsored by the America-Israel Friendship League and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Their operation is contained in a series of huts that are scattered around a historic eucalyptus grove about a half hour north of Tel Aviv. The notion is that nothing prepares a group of IT security workers better than having to be part of a live fire-fight exercise. One hut contains the attack team, a second contains the defending team, and a third is for judges and observers. Each team contains both security staff, IT and corporate management, and others from a specific company.

The idea is to replay a particular attack and see how the teams respond. Since its inception, CyberGym has conducted hundreds of these exercises, and they now have facilities in Portugal and the Czech Republic in addition to Israel. They look to see what the defenders do first, how they work together, and what things they fall down on. When I visited, the company’s founder Ofir Hason said that often the right response wasn’t anything technical, but coordinating what the team was going to do and how they actually worked together.

Fighting cyberthreats is a team effort, and involves a combination of technical and non-technical skills. Often convincing your management that you have to do something relies more on your power of persuasion than knowing how to block a remote shell executable or neutralize some malware. I like the name CyberGym too, because it implies that you need to condition your response “muscles” with real exercises, not just doing some academic threat management scenarios. Like a physical gym, you need to bulk up and do some resistance training to build your strength and add to your conditioning.

Sure, there are other teamwork-building exercises that can be done less expensively (everyone falling backwards or trying to climb through a ropes course) – but these aren’t specific to the cybersecurity realm and don’t really address this specific realm. If you want to see how your cyber team handles the next attack, you might want to book some time at the gym – the CyberGym that is.

Network World: Netanyahu wants Israel to become a cyber power

It isn’t often that a speech from a head of state at a tech conference is relevant to IT security managers, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address at last week’s third annual CyberTech 2016 focused on where the Israeli government and its IT security industry are heading.

Netanyahu offered a plan for cross-country sharing of cybersecurity threats, demonstrated his knowledge of the tech industry, described the economic opportunities of cyber-tech and outlined policy changes that he wants to see to further strengthen Israel’s role in both overall technology and cybersecurity in particular. You can read more in my story on Israeli cybertech progress in today’s Network World.

TechTarget seminar: How to make the move to hybrid cloud computing

The benefits of cloud computing have been hammered into IT – streamlined processes, improved accessibility, greater flexibility, and so on – but latent concerns around security, performance, and access have kept many organizations from realizing the true value of the cloud.

You need to objectively compare the capabilities and costs of cloud services against those of traditional on-premises infrastructure – even if you’re already doing some mix of the two (in fact, especially if you’re doing a mix of the two).

This five-city event provides that objective perspective by focusing on building a data center infrastructure that realizes the true value of cloud computing across your IT infrastructure – including automation, high availability, appropriate utilization rates – and not just limited, low-impact use cases. Sign up for one of the cities that I will be speaking here.

Network World: Google’s Pixel C Android tablet is sexy but won’t replace your laptop

NexusRYUKey_O_SILVER_TQFPixel C is the first all-Google Android tablet. It has a 10.2 inch screen and is designed to be used with a companion keyboard that also doubles as a protective cover. The tablet isn’t quite a total replacement for your laptop but it could qualify as the sexiest Android tablet on the market. The Pixel C shouldn’t be confused with an earlier Pixel model, which is a fully decked out Chromebook laptop that costs twice as much.

In my review today for Network World, I talk about the pros and cons for this tablet, and the unique magnetic keyboard that is its most interesting feature.