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issue: 12/01/2000

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

buy the Eyemodule digital camera at

Eyemodule Digital Camera
for Handspring Visor PDAs

- reviewed by Cory Doctorow

Let met start by saying this: the eyemodule camera for the Handspring Visor kicks all kinds of ass. I mean, a digital camera that weighs a couple ounces, is rugged and ready, and shoots hundreds of greyscale images (or a couple dozen color ones) at a time -- you gotta love it.

The eyemodule is a "Springboard Module" -- that is, a snap-in add-on for the Handspring Visor PDA. When the Visor debuted in September 1999, much ink was spilled lauding the PalmOS-based organizer for its revolutionary plug-and-play expansion slot, the Springboard. Dozens of vendors announced ambitious plans for Springboard modules: GPSes, MP3 players, barcode scanners -- the entire universe of handheld computing opened up.

And then it closed again. The announced modules slipped their ship-dates, and slipped them again. Antsy, technology-starved users began to lampoon the barren wasteland of Springboard moduledom. Then came eyemodule. Eyemodule is the first killer Springboard module to be released, a truly useful and novel bit of technology that redefines photography as much as it changes handheld computing.

Unlike its Palm cousin, the Kodak PalmPix (which requires that you hold the Palm up to your face like a camera), the eyemodule embraces the handheld form-factor, shooting like an old-timey single-reflex camera. You stare down into the Visor's screen, using it as your viewfinder, and snap using the either the scroll-up button on the unit or a shutter control on the top of the module. The effect is one of stealth: in three months of heavy, public eyemodule shooting, not one bystander has realized that they were on candid camera.

This is a classic example of the fine work that product-design shop IDEO cranks out with amazing regularity: such icons as the Palm V, the Visor, the stand-up toothpaste tube and the Macintosh AV monitor all started their lives at IDEO -- however, the eyemodule is the first IDEO project to be marketed directly by the company.

You can snap from the hip as you walk down the street, sit on a crowded airplane, or peruse the Picassos at a foto-verboten gallery. The low angle of the shots and the odd play of light and shadow in monochrome snaps gives nearly every shot an air of mystery and drama.

The eyemodule shoots at three resolutions: 8-bit grey at 160 x 120 (9k in storage), 8-bit grey at 320 x 240 (39k in storage), and 8-bit color at 320 x 240 (120k in storage). With a half-filled 8MB Visor Pro/Platinum/Prism, you can store about a hundred greyscale shots before maxing out. Given the ease of use and the infinitude of subjects to be immortalized in bits, shooting a hundred snaps is easier than you think (though the eyemodule does suck batteries like a hazmat vampire).

Image quality is low by traditional digital photography benchmarks, but full-size digital cameras are the wrong yardstick by which to measure the eyemodule's output. Instead, examine the eyemodule's images as things unto themselves. The greyscale pictures have dramatic play of deep shadows and bright highlights, like a still taken from a Super-8 film. The color images have a naive, saturated feel like early sixties beach postcards. While the camera definitely prefers bright light and forelit subjects, interested artifacts can be obtained by shooting backlit or well-lit subjects on dark backgrounds -- I got some awesome shots of the Disneyland castle at night last time I was in Anaheim.

The on-board software is practically perfect. Like any well-designed Springboard module, the eyemodule has its own drivers in its firmware, which gives literal plug-n-play use: plug the eyemodule into the ass-end of your Visor, and in about three seconds your Visor is a camera. You can beam the eyemodule app and any shots to any other Visor owner you happen across, and the simple-but-powerful preferences screen allows you to switch off the rhythm-breaking "Are You Sure" dialog the software delivers before storing images. Like any good digital cam, the software has a facility for paging back through shots in memory, zooming, deleting, renaming, and filing your stored images. On the new Visor Platinum and Prism, images are displayed in 4-bit grey and 8-bit color, respectively.

Conduits for the MacOS and Windows 9*/2K are available for free online, and with the default Visor USB cradle, even four megs of images -- a hundred greyscale pix -- can be transferred in a minute or two. As images are brought over to the desktop, they are converted to JPEGs. If the eyemodule has a major problem, it is that the sync conduit does not produce Web-ready file-names for its synced images -- instead of calling the file "120200_13.45.22.jpg," the conduit names it "12/20/00 1:45:22 PM." Manually renaming dozens or hundreds of files before uploading them to the 'Net is a big ole pain in the ass, to say the least.

But this is hardly an indictment of the camera! Microgram for microgram, millimeter for millimeter, the eyemodule makes the neatest handheld digital images of any device on the market and then some.

eyemodule Springboard Module, $150 (requires Handspring Visor, $150 - $400).

b i o :
Cory Doctorow is a gadget-fixated science-fiction writer and entrepreneur who makes his home in San Francisco, California and Toronto, Canada. He is the co-founder and Chief Evangelist of openCOLA, Inc., and recently won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer at the Hugo Awards in Chicago. His (nearly) daily eyemodule journal can be found at


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