Thursday, 17 November 2011

By on November 17th, 2011 in computing, photography, science kits

08:44 – Apparently, some people took one of my comments yesterday to mean that I was planning to abandon Linux for Windows. I’m not. What I may do is buy a low-end PC with Windows on it to do some stuff that requires Windows.

For example, right now I’m driving to the post office to mail kits. The USPS has a web site where I could print labels with postage and have the mailman pick up the kits at our home. That’d save me a lot of trips to the post office, but the problem is that I’ve never gotten that site to work properly on our Linux boxes. When I try to use it, it goes off into an endless loop. I think the problem is the version of Adobe Reader rather than Linux per se, but of course that still means it doesn’t work on Linux. And there are a few other Windows-only applications that might be useful for the business. I am and always have been practical about operating systems. They’re not a religious issue for me. If I need Windows, I’ll use Windows. If I need OS X, I’ll buy a Mac. I prefer to use Linux simply because it’s secure and doesn’t lock me in to a corporate walled garden, as the alternatives do.

And, speaking of kits, we just sold the last chemistry kit in stock. We had to increase prices on the new batch by $10 per kit. We’ll be assembling three dozen of those over the next couple of weeks. We’re still accepting orders for kits to be shipped the week of December 4th. With Christmas and the winter semester approaching, this new batch probably won’t last long, so I also need to get orders placed for the components we need to build another batch.

09:49 – Old memories. I used to do a lot of darkroom work, including processing color film, which was a big deal to do in a home darkroom back in the 60’s. There were kits available: E3 and later E4 for processing Ektachrome color slides, and other kits for processing color negatives and color prints. I ran through all of those, but was looking for a new challenge. So I decided to process Kodachrome at home.

Kodachrome is (was) utterly different from standard color films and papers. Those were called “substantive”, which meant they had the color couplers built into the emulsion layers. There was just one development step, during which an organic chemical in the developer reacted with each of the three color couplers to form the three dyes needed to make up the color image. Kodachrome, on the other hand, was actually a black and white film. No color couplers. Instead, it had three separate black and white emulsion layers, each sensitive to only part of the color spectrum. During processing (which, IIRC, involved more than 30 separate steps) the film was first developed in an ordinary black-and-white developer and then exposed individually to monochromatic light to fog the unexposed silver halides in each emulsion layer. After each layer was fogged to reverse it, it was developed with a specific developer that produced the appropriate dye for that layer. The final layer was fogged with white light and then color-developed. There were numerous intermediate steps.

I actually got recognizable results on my first attempt. Not good, but recognizable. So I wrote Kodak to ask them for some tips. By return mail, I got a very polite letter from Kodak, which basically said as inoffensively as possible that they didn’t believe I was doing what I claimed to be doing. So I mailed the guy back and told him I most certainly was. He then, again very politely, basically asked me to prove it by sending him a Kodachrome slide developed as a negative. So I did that.

It was a couple of weeks before I heard back from him, and when I did he was asking me if I’d like to come up to Rochester for a job interview. I replied, thanking him for his interest, but explaining that my parents thought it would be inappropriate for me to apply for a job with Kodak since I was still in junior high school.

Oh, yeah. The reason I was thinking about this is that we just sold the last kit in stock to a guy who’s a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology–sometimes called Kodak Institute of Technology–where I did graduate work. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, RIT isn’t actually in Rochester, NY. It’s in South Henrietta, NY. I used to have a great t-shirt for the South Henrietta Institute of Technology.

26 Comments and discussion on "Thursday, 17 November 2011"

  1. Paul Jones says:

    Ah, I read this just after posting smart-ass on your last thread.

    Seriously, Windows7 was a big improvement over Vista. I haven’t used Ubuntu but always found Linux systems “we” built to be a bit better than Windows. With Vista it was enough of a difference to easily tolerate the rough edges and relative lack of function on Linux. With Win7, I’m back to preferring the easy road.

    It does make sense, I think, for you to have a Windows system up and running just to do the stuff Linux won’t do. Not to mention that I’ll benefit because you won’t be able to tell me anymore that you haven’t used Windows in years…

  2. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Oh, I still won’t “use” Windows, other than as an appliance. I have no intentions of learning anything about it. Nor is that because it’s Windows rather than Linux. I’ve been using Linux exclusively since 4 July 2004, and I still don’t know anything about it. I use it as an ordinary user. When I need to do something I don’t know how to do, I first search the web and if that doesn’t give me the answer I call my Linux guru, Brian Bilbrey.

    Do you really think you could tear the stars from my shoulders? I know you have 18 years and some mass on me, but I’m still pretty mean for an old guy.

  3. Brad says:

    If you just need Windows for one, specific task, use a virtual macine – they are eqsy to set up, and ideal for this kind of thing. Save the state once it’s set up, and revert to this saved state on power down.

  4. Miles_Teg says:

    The High Priest of Linux evangelism wrote:

    “Apparently, some people took one of my comments yesterday to mean that I was planning to abandon Linux for Windows. I’m not. What I may do is buy a low-end PC with Windows on it to do some stuff that requires Windows.”

    I don’t think anyone took you seriously. We all knew it was a gag, hence my facetious suggestion about getting a low end PC with a DeathStar and generic memory. I think we were all just playing along…

    Don’t you have a Windows laptop? That you used for an astronomy related program? Perhaps you should keep a few of the demo systems you build as backups. I try to have 3-4 fairly current PCs in the house for when one fails and I need to access the Internet.

  5. Miles_Teg says:

    RBT wrote:

    “During processing (which, IIRC, involved more than 30 separate steps)…”

    I take it this was easy to screw up and if you made a mistake you were buggered.

    I only ever played with developing B&W but wasn’t really interested so I left it to the pros. I started on B&W, went to colour slide film (mainly Kodachrome I think, but occasionally Ektachrome to see what it was like) and then back to colour prints.

    A thing I found about Kodak slides that some of them appeared that they’d had bits scratched off them. They cam back from the lab normal but after a while in my slide box these gashes appeared, basically ruining them.

    Was there any particular reason for you trying Kodachrome? Was it better than Ektachrome in some substantial way?

  6. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Yes, the process was extraordinarily fussy. A difference of one degree Fahrenheit was sufficient to make a noticeable difference in the results. I ended up using large tubs as water baths to maintain a stable temperature. And seconds counted in terms of timing of the various steps.

    Yes, Kodachrome was a much, much better slide film than Ektachrome or any of the other competitors. (I remember trying Anscochrome, which was E4-compatible, and it really sucked, particularly Anscochrome 500, which had grain big enough to be nearly visible to the naked eye.) The non-substantive Kodachrome had much, much finer grain. Also, because the dyes were introduced separately for each layer in Kodachrome, fewer compromises needed to made, so Kodachrome slides were an order of magnitude more stable than Ektachromes. Also, the color was much better. (With Ektachrome, they had to come up with three color couplers that would produce sorta-kinda the correct dye colors with all three being color-developed simultaneously by one color developing agent. With Kodachrome, they could use the best combinations available of color couplers and color developers for each layer.)

  7. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Oh, yeah. The bits flaking off were probably the lacquer that was used to coat the emulsion side of the slide. That problem wasn’t unique to Kodachrome. Kodak and other film companies used various formulations over the years, but it wasn’t easy to get one that filled all requirements. Obviously, it had to be as clear and colorless as possible. For production processing, it had to dry very quickly. And of course it couldn’t have any adverse effects on the film itself or the dyes.

  8. BGrigg says:

    Oh, I still won’t “use” Windows, other than as an appliance.

    I didn’t know computers were anything BUT appliances?

  9. Miles_Teg says:

    Hmm, my father used Agfa slide film and I never noticed that problem on his slides.

  10. Raymond Thompson says:

    I used various types of films over the years. Having recently scanned all my transparencies into digital (and throwing the transparencies out) my unscientific results were:

    Kodachrome: Almost as pristine as they day they came back from Kodak. Some slides were 40 years old. The color was still superb and rich.

    Ektachrome: Turning more blue than normal but still in very good condition.

    Agfachrome: For the most part everything that was not red was now basically clear and the red was fading. None of the slides were usuable.

    Seattle Film Works: (Yeh, I got suckered a couple of times). What image? The transparencies were blank except for the occassional smudge that I assume was a deep shadow. Complete junk.

    Fujichrome: Still in remarkable shape. Colors were excellent although not quite as vivid as Kodachrome

    I also had some negatives to scan.

    Kodacolor: Color had not deterioated to my eye from the day the stuff was exposed. Colors were excellent and rendered very nicely when inverted by the scanner software.

    Fujicolor: About the same as Kodacolor.

    I never strayed above the ISO 160 of high speed Ektachrome except on the rare occassion when I pushed to 400. None of the ISO 400 slides survived my moves and were tossed along the way. I mean why save roller derby pictures (yes, I went to a few matches for something to do).

    Most of my Kodachrome was ISO 25 with a few at ISO 64. Most of my images from that time were of scenery in bright light.

    I miss Kodachrome until I start realizing what my digital camera is capable of accomplishing. Multiple ISO settings, no problem. High ISO no problem with a little denoising applied. And the ability to manipulate in PS after the fact doing things that would not have been possible in a $2,000,000.00 darkroom 30 years ago.

  11. Raymond Thompson says:

    Mr. Grigg: Your Kindle Fire just arrived about 8.3 minutes ago. I am waiting on the delivery of the cover to complete the package I will send.

  12. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Agfachrome was roughly similar to Ektachrome. The color rendering was different, but the level of grain was about the same, comparing similar ASA speeds.

    The issue with any of the substantive films was that the color couplers were present in the emulsion layers as tiny globs. The actual silver halide emulsion might be relatively fine-grained, but when it was color-developed, each of those blogs of color couplers was either developed or not developed, according to whether they were in contact with one or more exposed and developed silver halide grains. So, what otherwise would have been a small silver grain got converted into a relatively large blob of dye.

    With Kodachrome, both the color coupler and the color developer were present in the color developer. When a grain of silver was developed, it produced oxidation products in tiny amounts, which then reacted with the color coupler present in solution. The resulting dye blobs were therefore much, much smaller. If you look at a substantive film like Ektachrome under a microscope, you see what looks like a gravel bed with relatively large individual colored chunks. If you do the same with Kodachrome, you see something more like a sandy beach, with tiny little blobs of color. The difference is extraordinary.

    Okay, now that I’ve told everyone more than they ever wanted to know about developing color film, I’ll shut up. Do they even still make color film? If so, I suspect it won’t be long before it’s discontinued. Low-end digital cameras have gotten so cheap that they’re likely to kill off disposable film cameras.

  13. Paul Jones says:

    “Do you really think you could tear the stars from my shoulders?”

    Colin is on my side.

  14. Chad says:

    I didn’t know computers were anything BUT appliances?

    Agreed. I think they stopped being enthusiast/hobby pieces years ago. Now, I just want to turn it on, accomplish tasks A, B, and C, then turn it off.

  15. Raymond Thompson says:

    Do they even still make color film?

    Yes. You can still purchase color film from B&H and higher end camera stores. They are still selling P&S cameras with film, disposable cameras.

    But I think that film will eventually, say within 10 years, be almost completely gone. Almost everyone will have a digital camera in their cell phone. And true digital may get down to the “fill up the card”, “send in the camera”, “get your pictures”, “get another camera”. Sort of like the first Kodak consumer camera. No USB port or access to the internal memory.

  16. Dave B. says:

    Do they even still make color film?

    And evidently they still sell it (and have one hour photo developing) somewhere in our sleepy little town of 10,000 people. Or at least they did this year before I got my wife a digital camera of her very own as an anniversary gift this summer.

  17. OFD says:

    Wow, the bruiting about of manly testosterone in here just waffles the senses…tearing stars off peoples’ shoulders…manly masses of meanness, jeezum crow…

    Good thing, I guess, that I can hide in here behind my 24″ screen running Windows 7 Ultimate and we have two ferocious golden retrievers standing by….

  18. BGrigg says:

    Don’t you mean furocious?

  19. Miles_Teg says:

    Have they eaten your cats yet?

  20. Miles_Teg says:

    RBT wrote:

    “Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, RIT isn’t actually in Rochester, NY. It’s in South Henrietta, NY. I used to have a great t-shirt for the South Henrietta Institute of Technology.”

    Is that were the Paul Dirac t-shirt incident occurred?

  21. Miles_Teg says:

    RBT wrote:

    “Okay, now that I’ve told everyone more than they ever wanted to know about developing color film, I’ll shut up. Do they even still make color film? If so, I suspect it won’t be long before it’s discontinued. Low-end digital cameras have gotten so cheap that they’re likely to kill off disposable film cameras.”

    I’ve found the discussion quite interesting, especially as it pertains to colour changed and the “scraping” problem I observed 40 years ago. I really must start scanning everything, although it’s tedious.

    One of my former bosses, a Vietnamese refugee who was self taught in photography (outstanding) and piano (excellent, to my untrained ear) said 12 or so years ago that colour film was doomed, but that B&W film would live on for quite a while in niches. I thought he was nuts; this is when printing from digital cameras was more expensive than from film and a good digital camera cost over $10k. Well, he’s been proved right.

  22. Dave B. says:

    Might I suggest you skip buying a Windows PC and try running Windows under VMware on your Linux box first. (Unless of course you already have a KVM switch.)

    I’ve found it to be a pain to have to physically move back and forth between different PCs because they have different applications.

  23. OFD says:

    What Dave B. said, except I had issues with VMware and found Virtual Box friendlier and easier. I also really like the idea of the KVM switch and one nice big flat screen.

  24. Randall Sluder says:

    Re: the USPS website

    I use it all the time to print labels with postage. Not as convenient or quick to use as the FedEx site, but at least now they accept PayPal.

    I’m running Linux Mint 11 which is based on Ubuntu Natty 11.04. The default document viewer is Evince ( Pretty basic for pdf but it works fine with USPS.

  25. Raymond Thompson says:

    According to this link they new tests have confirmed earlier indications that some particles can travel faster than light.

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