If you’re okay with giving inconceivable amounts and forms of personal information to Big Data, you may as well use your smart voice assistant to help you process your film too! And while there are no consumer AI’s that have hands yet, they are still willing to help film photographers the best that they can.
My household is spied on by Alexa via several Amazon Echo Dots, standing alone or feeding vacuum tube amplifiers. But I’m sure that Google, Siri, Bigsby and Cortina are just as capable – of film processing, not spying. Well, that too.
So, what do I use Alexa for in terms of processing, exactly? The most useful thing, among a laundry list, is that I’ve found she is a very good timing device. In darkrooms, I used one of those common, classic GraLab Model 300’s without the enlarger plugged in. At home, I got in the habit of just using the timer built into my oven. But the problem with these is that they inevitably and eventually get caked with fixer crud and need to be cleaned regularly and thoroughly. How many GraLab timers have you seen that are so rusty that they resemble one of Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable?
I’ve found that the hands-free nature of the voice assistant is well-suited for reducing the amount of chemistry that ones fingers tend to shed on belongings while processing.
It’s easy. I start pouring, and once my two 5 reel Patterson tanks are filled, I simply say “Alexa, start timer for 10 minutes.” Or whatever the amount of time is. She replies “Your timer for 10 minutes is staring now.” And the countdown begins.
In my kitchen, where I do my processing, I keep a 3rd generation Echo Dot on the windowsill. It’s the version with the embedded LED clock display which is critical to catching the agitation times throughout a cycle. If your voice assistant does not have some way of displaying time, this would be a deal-breaker for my recommendation but many of them do now, so I’ll submit this consideration for your next voice assistant purchase.
In the same vein as the timer, playing music is made much simpler and cleaner while processing when using a voice assistant. Now I don’t need to ruin the face of one of my antique radios with my chemical-dripping fingers. I can just say “Alexa, play songs by the Clash.” Or “Alexa, play songs by Matt and Kim.” Or “Alexa, play songs by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult.” Or “Alexa, play songs by Veruca Salt.” Alexa can even play music from bands that I haven’t photographed or written about!
Smart assistants are also great for doing math and conversions that one sometimes needs while processing. Ounces to milliliters, Fahrenheit to Celsius, etc. You can even text notes to your phone to mark what dates particular chemistry was mixed or how many rolls you’ve processed since making a particular solution etc. It’s also handy to answer the phone or door hands free, without interrupting processing. If you use one of those cool Beseler motorized film agitators, maybe you could hook it up to a smart switch and tell Alexa to turn it on every 30 seconds. And if you have an iRobot Braava, Alexa can also mop the chemicals off your floor after you’re through with processing. The possibilities are as endless as your analog imagination! Though I have yet to see any film-specific skills in the Alexa app. Who will be the first to write one? It seems like connecting the Massive Development Chart would be useful.
When it comes time to scan and edit, you can be sure Alexa is there to keep me entertained and informed too. No need to waste any processor power from the computer I’m scanning with. And if I’m scheduling clients while working, I can ask “Alexa, what is on my calendar?” or “Alexa, what time is sunset?” without taking a break from cloning dust!
So you see, while Alexa isn’t quite ready to feed you a sandwich and squeegee your film for you as Charlie Chaplin may have envisioned…
…she is ready to start working alongside luddite film shooters towards a cleaner kitchen and a loving embrace of our robotic, cloud-based futures.
Recently, I even upgraded my refrigerator so that I can watch Matt Osborne aka Mr. Leica videos while I process.
What smart assistant tasks do you recommend? What heavy film camera would be best to bludgeon Alexa with?
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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