Friday, April 23, 2010

BBC reports on "World's Unluckiest Woman"

For the past ten years the BBC, possibly the most respected news source in the world, has been following the 'fortunes' of an otherwise ordinary person who has been dubbed by the press "The World's Unluckiest Woman".

Dee Safortunado of Scunthorpe, England first came to the attention of scientists early in the new millenium when it was discovered that she was the only person to have actually caught the much-feared Y2K Bug.

In December 2002, when the BBC reported that British Telecom was the most complained about service provider in the UK, BT responded that "the majority" of complaints were from Dee Safortunado (pictured below). With Dee, if anything can go wrong, it does.

In June 2003 the BBC announced that Dee had unwittingly become entangled in the infamous 'War of the IM networks', and Dee was quoted as saying "It's enough to drive you crazy" which any sane person can fully understand.

In September 2003 the BBC reported on the MSBlast worm, and how it had "hit some users hard".

Dee Safortunado was quoted as saying that the vicious worm had in fact hit her so hard that it had knocked the wind out of her and left her with two broken ribs.

At the time there were some public questions over the fact that in photos Dee Safortunado always seemed to be in exactly the same 'stance'. A BBC spokesman responded that this was in truth the result of a freak workplace incident in which Dee had accidently superglued her hands to her head. "She isn't called the World's Unluckiest Woman for nothing." he added.

In June 2005, during the European Union's ultimately doomed attempt to 'metrify' time, Unions complained that "long hours increase stress" and the BBC quoted Dee as saying that being constantly photographed infront of her computer increased her stress almost as much as long hours did.

Dee went on to become a high profile member of the campaign to reject the 100 minute hour and return to the now widely accepted standard of 60 minutes.

Some years later, for their acclaimed December 2009 "Ten years after doomsday" report, the BBC revisted Dee's well-documented problems recovering from the Y2K Bug.

Dee told the BBC that while it was true that "Computer problems caused by the Bug were few and far between", at the time it had badly effected her health and had required a long and painful convalescence. However, in a fascinating twist, doctors have discovered that Dee does not age. "We have been studying Dee for more than a decade," her personal physician stated "and in that time she has not aged a single day. She looks just the same."

Earlier this month Dee returned to the headlines with the recent launch of Microsoft's 'fix it' program.

Knowing of her many well-documented computer related problems, Microsoft found a perfect Guinea pig in Dee and consulted her regularly during the entire development process. Dee said that "Many PC problems can be very frustrating to find and fix" but that between her and Microsoft this was likely to become a thing of the past. However when Dee added that "Windows 7 Was My Idea", sales of the new software reportedly plummeted and she was forced to make a hasty retraction.

The BBC has said that they will continue to follow Dee's trials and tribulations and are currently working on a major feature about her career and future plans once she retires from her role as a government Health and Safety consultant next year.

"One of the advantages of the fact that Dee does not age" a BBC spokesman said "is that we probably don't need a new photo of her for the feature. We actually have a team working on it as I speak... as we believe we may have an old picture on file somewhere which we could use."

Monday, April 12, 2010

train crash photos, Northern Italy, April 12

Following the train crash earlier today in Northern Italy near to the town of Merano, close to the Austrian border, one of our photographers in Italy Alex Rowbotham who lives nearby, has asked me to publicise his images of both the inauguration of the line in 2005 and the landslide, crash scene and rescue operation currently in progress.

Alex's images of the train crash in Northern Italy, April 12 can be accessed here and Alex can be contacted directly by press agencies and the media by email.

Rescue workers . Train hit by landslide in northern Italy 12th April 2010 0905

Alex's report from the scene:

"Just after nine o'clock I heard the air-raid sirens that every village has at their fire stations.

They sounded three times to signify there had been a major accident, usually a major road accident, a forest fire or house fire. They test these sirens each Saturday at midday so to hear them at any other time gives me the shivers.

Now I'm down at the crash site, I can see the train cab is not there at all and the train is hanging off the rails about five metres from the river. It is now only a few trees that are holding up the train and preventing it falling into the river.

The landslide looks like it happened on a bend. There would have been no way the driver could have seen it.

The train is on the wrong side of the river to get equipment to the site by the main road, so the cycle path along the river has been opened up to vehicles. Workers there are trying to build a pontoon across the river in order to get equipment over.

The main road was closed but is now open, although traffic is extremely heavy. There are a lot of fire fighters and ambulances coming and going but it looks like they have managed to get everyone out.

The emergency services have to be praised. Many of them are volunteers from the local communities and they are doing an incredible job with precision and total control.

The width of the landslide is about the length of a train carriage and it looks like it happened just after a bend. There would have been no way the driver could have seen it.

Northern Italy-based photographer Alex Rowbotham's report from the scene of the train crash, Northern Italy, April 12th

UPDATE: Alex has added a set of new images of the rescue operation taken on site today, 13th April.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Microstock: how to avoid Poisonous Pictures

There has been quite a big reaction to my previous article about the perils of companies using microstock images, with comments ranging from 'hilarious', 'there ought to be a health warning attached to all micro stock purchases' and 'I might just frame that and put it in my office' to... 'biased hypocritical nonsense'. I guess you can't please everyone.

Many designers and researchers have also said that providing their clients with a link to the article is a simple and effective way to show them that with photo purchases, it's not just down to price. Buying cheap can end up an expensive mistake.

What I did not explain in the article (and I have had numerous queries about since) is how I found all these examples of the same image being used across multiple sites. With recent technological advances, it has become quick and easy, which is why companies are going to have to really think about the consequences of using microstock images to represent their brand and reputation.

The key is a website called which describes itself as a 'Reverse Image Search', and I think it is a tool that every designer and picture researcher needs to make an integral part of their work. I will now set out a 'how to' on using TinEye in your picture research:

Go to the TinEye website, and download their TinEye plugin for your browser. It's free!

Once it is installed, whenever you see an image on the web, you just need to right click on it. For example, say you want to buy a 'headset' stock image for a website you are designing. You find a nice anonymous image you could use:

Just right click with your mouse, and on the dropdown menu you will see a new option: Search Image on TinEye. Click on that option and a new window will open in your browser, showing all the matches which TinEye has in its database:

28 results in this case. Now, the first thing you need to ask yourself is "is it going to be a problem using this image if so many other sites are using it?" Traditionally the general consensus has been that in many cases this is not a problem, as the odds of someone stumbling across the same image and then highlighting the fact are probably minimal.

But... now we have TinEye.

That means that if you use the image on your website, anyone viewing the image on your site can do exactly what you just did with TinEye. It now takes just one click to find matching images across the web. Okay, so still in many cases, if your client isn't particularly high profile, no big deal. And in this case it is a fairly anonymous stock image.

But what about this?

I have to confess that my Spanish is a little rusty, but words like 'erecciones' and 'eyaculaciones' suggest to me that this is not the sort of 'enhancement' product that you want your help-centre call girls associated with.

Maybe it's time to look for another headset photo.

What you need to find is an image that is not over-used and is not tainted by the 'Poisonous Picture' phenomenon we see above. The Caveat of course is that, while TinEye allows you to find these uses:

1) It is by no means comprehensive. TinEye's database of images is constantly increasing as their spiders crawl the web, so you never know when some 'interesting' new use for an image may turn up.

2) It only shows current uses. Someone may come along next week, buy the same image as you, and use it to promote their business or product.

There is no way you can completely protect yourself unless you 'buyout' rights to the image. In most cases this is going to be too expensive, so what it really comes down to is risk assessment:

You use microstock images to represent your company: there are going to be possibly hundreds if not thousands of websites/businesses out ther using the same 2 dollar images. Also, because they are 2 dollar images, the dodgiest, seediest, fly-by-night businesses will be using them, because why would they pay more?

You use non-microstock Royalty Free images. There may well be quite a few other websites/businesses using those images, but nothing like the same scale as the microstock ones, and the dodgiest, seediest, fly-by-night businesses will not be using them because... they like cheap! (Of course because they are Royalty Free you can't be sure that the same photos are not also being sold as microstock, but that is a whole other can of worms...)

You use Rights Managed images. Not many, if any, other businesses will be using them. As they are Rights Managed, you should also be able to find out if, and where else, they have been used and whether there is a possible conflict of use with a competitor, particularly if you license them direct from the photographer.

You hire a photographer to shoot for you. This is likely to be the most expensive option if you just need one or two photos, but if you need a reasonable number (for instance a variety of shots of your staff at work, your premises and your products) it could actually end up being more economical than buying stock.

Interestingly, I have noticed a growing number of 'high-end' businesses taking this last option, and starting to avoid stock completely, and I can see good reasons for doing so. But a discussion of that will have to wait until another time.

In many cases it may not be a big deal that the girl in that beautiful layout your designer created to promote your business...

...hangs out in some bizarro parallel universe of bad design,

but when it comes to a company as high profile and prestigious as Hilton Hotels ®...

... do they really want it to look like they use the same call centre staff as Viagra Genius dot com?

"Hi, this is Shelley at Viagra Geen... I beg your pardon, I mean at Hilton Worldwide, how may I help you today?"

Microstock photos may be cheap, but they come at a price.