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Why digital--Why floppies?

by Pat Hughes

For Christmas last year my siblings and I got together and got our parents a Sony Mavica digital camera. This allowed them to keep us all up to date on their trip around New Zealand this year. At my suggestion we went for a camera with floppy disks. Not only did this type turn out to be (unexpectedly) more expensive but this does sound a bit old fashioned. There are so many alternative methods of data storage so let me explain why this choice and at the same time tell you a bit about travelling in this new age of pics on the web instead of letters.

Floppies are Primitive

Floppy disks might sound a bit primitive in this age of USB ports, Memory Sticks, Sandisks drives, direct CD writing... but it is the very primitive nature of the old 1.44MByte floppy drive that makes it the common denominator no matter where you go.

(I should mention at this point that when I dug into this topic last year I was unaware of Compact Flash memory that fits into a "floppy disk adapter". Live and learn! I'll try to add a note to the end of this article before press on that option as I have just bought a digital camera myself but a business trip has kept me from playing with it until deadline time for this article.)

The following are my parents recollections and stories as they spent 2 months travelling around New Zealand, Singapore and Japan. The errors (as everyone says) are mine but the words are pretty much verbatim.

Challenge #1 - Internet Access

It was a battle just to get a place to send the pictures from sometimes. This has to do with the availability and location of internet cafes of course. Though I've used them in the remotest regions of India (cow chewing garbage, old lady making little stones out of big ones and a child playing in the pile beside might ring a bell from my communiques from India for those reading the AJ a few years ago) it sometimes harder to find internet access in the more modern cities. How many times have you tripped over over an Internet cafe in Tokyo? For those of you that have (or that run one - Sigi :-) then think back only 2 years ago and remember that it was next to impossible to find access.

This seems to go for other cities as well though over all judging from how many pictures my parents put on the net and how often they were able to update them I thought that New Zealand was not too bad. However, my mother says that "New Zealand is lacking over all - no more up to date than China". This seems to reflect the people working in the shops as much as the shops themselves.

Challenge #2 - Each Shop is Different

This was the next battle. Each place had their own rules and levels of knowledge about such things are floppy drives, networks, security, etc as the following comments show.

"We have no floppy drive here M'am". Need I say more? Yes I know that the newest, tiny notebook computers no longer have a built-in floppy drive but rarely does an internet cafe run on notebook computers. Not only are not feasible financially feasible (desktops are always cheaper) but they are also easier to be 'adopted' by what is by nature a transient clientele who may see the portability as being too tempting.

"We can't let you use that floppy disk here - viruses you know". Yes, there are viruses and they do cause a lot of damage. That is why you should use the appropriate software to guard against them. Hiding one's head in the sand is not an appropriate response. (I have encountered a number of companies in Japan where people might even have their e-mail address on their business card but they warn you that they can't receive mail - might get a virus!)

A shop might not want to run virus detection software on every machine (it does cost money to do this legally) so a good solution is to take the floppy disk as the following shop did:

"Give me your floppy and I'll put the pictures on the network. You can access them from upstairs." That worked quite well... once Mom went back and asked how to access the network. :-)

Of course, they should try to avoid the following: "Sorry I damaged your floppy..." How does someone in the computer field damage a floppy? They did replace it with a new floppy with the pictures copied onto it but there was no repeat business for that shop!

However, as we all know from the news and from personal experience most viruses come from the Internet these days. Therefore any company that depends upon the both Internet and computers should be running anti-virus software full time on all machines!

Finally the fellow who took the floppy and e-mailed the pictures to my mother was trying his best but he did not quite grasp the true objective. However, my mother is the first to admit this might have been due to her explanation - certainly the fellow did try hard.

Auckland gets the best marks. The International Cafe is open 24 hours and the Korean fellow who runs it was very helpful and kind which makes a very big difference - this is after all a service industry!

Wellington and Queenstown did well as well with the fellow at the first place willing to let my mother stay past the closing time to finish what they were up to.

Challenge #3 Know Your Tools

Thumbnails: Money Saver

Time is money in an internet cafe. A lot of time is wasted if you can not see the thumbnails (the tiny preview of each picture) of your shots to see what you will put up on the net. How you see these varies between Win98 and Win2000 but in general the Display Icon and go through the options that pop up until you see one that will give you a small picture instead of just a file name.

If the computer has the default for jpg set to be opened in Adobe PhotoShop then the above may not work. You could change the default but the owner of the computer might not like you.

Whether it is the Hotmail Photo Album or the Gallery that my parents used (set up on a Mac by a good friend) the main thing is to get this set up and tried out before you start your trip. Work out how to use it when you have time instead of when you are travelling. After all, you are on vacation and want to spend most of your time taking shots - not figuring out how to put them up for others to view!


How much editing you can do on your camera will depend upon the model you have. Since I have only just purchased mine my knowledge is limited to what I have read and comments I have heard. Editing of your site is also important. My parents can add shots to the site but not delete them. When they put the same picture up twice or put up a comment with no picture (mistakes that are made by all beginners I'm sure) they can not clean that up. They must wait for Koji to make a fix for them. Nor can they rotate a picture that went up sideways but Koji has been great at taking care of this for them and saving a few twisted necks amongst the viewers!

Actually, my parents did receive more information about how to edit the Gallery but not being as computer literate as they would like to be they have left the detailed work for others to do. I have to say that for "not computer literate people" they have more photos upon the internet than I do! (I have none yet so that is easy to beat.)

Advantages of Digital Cameras

One of the greatest advantages of digital cameras is the ability to keep in touch with family and friends and share your journey (or life in general if you want) with them.

It also saves time writing individual letters and postcards. :-) I think that writing to individuals is great but we all know the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" and if you can add your own comment to that picture it is worth that much more. When everyone else can add comments to your pictures as well that increases the value once again.

At this time there are friends and relatives in at least 5 countries looking at my parent's pictures and that is another advantage. You send the website address to those who have web access and they all get to see what you have been up to at their own pace.

Being able to see immediately whether the picture you thought you got is in fact what you did capture. You can see the results immediately, delete what you don't need and take it again if need be.

Less (Intrusion) = More (Shots)

Taking a picture with the viewscreen on the camera instead of the viewfinder seems to be less intrusive. When people see you peering through the viewfinder of a camera (digital or film) they can be shy or outright rude. But when you are just looking down at a... well, it could be a game or cell phone or who knows what, you can get pictuers that you might not otherwise.

Rotate the screen - not your neck

One thing my Dad found was that with the viewscreen being built-in (as opposed to pop-out and able to rotate) that he sometimes found it hard to see the view properly. If he had to hold it up high in the air to get a shot then sunlight would sometimes make it hard to see the screen. Most digital cameras are like this but some pop-out and allow you to rotate the screen including all the way around to see a shot of yourself.

General Advice:

Be sure to learn some computer expressions so that you can speak the language of those with whom it is necessary to converse. Note that this advice goes for both those with the camera as well as those running the internet shops!

A good bag that will carry your camera, camera stand and floppy disks is very important. Nothing is more disappointing than being in the right place at the right time only to find you have no space on the floppy (or film for that matter). You could clean up some of the pictures you have but if the couple of minutes or seconds it takes to do that costs you the picture - what a shame!

Most of all though they suggest that you "use (camera and net), enjoy (yourself) and bluff your way around".

Take A Look

In my mother's own words: "Some picturess are informative, amazing and interesting, some light-hearted and some are... downright questionable! For example being photographed sitting on a Roman toilet. Or toilets that are decorated with various used bottles."

For those of you curious to see what kind of pictures made their way onto the web (and I warn you there are about 200 pics taken during the two months of travelling) the address is:

My father says "we welcome fan mail - from younger ladies for me and older men for my wife". As you can tell my father is not as shy and quiet as I am. <g>

I do request that you be polite in your comments because my parents are over 70 years of age. There are not a lot of people of their age out travelling around the country on buses and in 'youth' hostels and there are far fewer keeping friends at home up-to-date with digital cameras over the internet. In fact, in two months of travel my parents did not meet anyone else in their age group doing this. But I am sure they are out there and if not - well, we'll all get to that age in our own time. :-)

No Film Camera?

In case you are curious they did in fact carry a film camera as well. But until they get back home and develop the pictures they are unsure what exactly is on the film! They could develop the film as they go but then you are back to more luggage - something one tries to cut down on no matter what age you are.


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

May , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN