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Electronics, jokes Better Light founder and CEO Mike Collette, has been his passion ever since he stuck his parents' car keys in a wall outlet at the age of two. "I haven't been able to let go since," he laughs.
A mostly self-taught follower of the technology, Collette enjoys dabbling in all things electrical--from radios and instrumentation to CCDs and photography. He recalls reading everything he could get his hands on from the public library in junior high and high school, and he spent a few years in college before moving out to California in 1978, where he landed a job as a technician. Soon after, he moved on to several positions as an engineer, and ultimately landed at Beckman Instruments, where he says he learned as much about the politics of a large company as he did about the technology.
Collette is one of those rare individuals, able to possess a combination of scientist, evangelist, marketer, and advisor, all reflected in the success of Better Light.
Tell me about the founding of Better Light.
Before I started Better Light, I spent a number of years as an instrumentation engineer at a number of companies here in the Bay Area. I had the opportunity to work briefly for Jim Dunn at Dunn Instruments on a very high-performance digital film recorder and really got smitten by the potential for digital imaging. Also during that time I worked with Howard Barney on the very first BarneyScan film scanner, and I saw one of the first versions of what later became Photoshop.
Several years later, in the early '90s, I started a side project developing a 4x5 film scanner using a Loral monochrome CCD. But instead of doing three passes, like the Leaf 45 scanner that had recently been introduced, I devised a scheme that was going to capture all colors in a single pass. Because the sensor is monochrome, this was going to require a multiplexed light source, so the light would be changing--red, green, blue--essentially for every line of the capture.
My day job was working for a biotech instrument company on an optical detection system, and some of that research exposed me to linear CCDs. In the course of my reading I discovered the brand-new Kodak trilinear color CCD and immediately realized I could simplify the film scanner design considerably because with just white light, I could now capture red, green, and blue in a single pass. As I thought more about it, I realized that with the advent of three color stripes on the CCD, we could put this thing into the form …