i like when this didn’t require me to enter a title before i entered a post

1. I was on this stupid thing where I thought I should start carrying a fake phone and wallet in case I was mugged. So I bought an iPhone 3G for $20 on eBay, which is the same exact phone I had nine years ago. It is ridiculously small and uses a different dock connector and has a shit camera and plastic back and is missing about every feature you could imagine. No Siri, no Apple Pay, no Find my Phone, no Facetime, no front camera. The OS is stuck like six or seven versions ago. I think the current Facebook app wouldn’t even fit on this phone. It’s sort of wonderful.

2. My allergies are so insanely bad since I got back from Alaska. I always joke about moving there like the Anthony Edwards character from Northern Exposure, who lived in a geodesic dome to escape his allergies, but I’ll be god damned, that would actually work.

3. My new watch tracks my sleep now with the Sleep++ app, and I don’t have to remember to start the app first – it just figures it out. It’s amazing to see how much I sleep when I take Ambien, and how many times I wake up in the middle of the night when I don’t.

4. For some freak reason, I didn’t drive my car at all this week. When I had to drive somewhere Friday, it was caked with a layer of dirt like I’d left it outside at Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980 or whenever that was.

5. I remember people selling bottles and jars of ashes after M.S.H. blew up. This was all pre-internet, so I’m not sure how I knew about this. Maybe it was in the el-cheapo ads in the very back of Parade magazine, where they normally sold biblical coins that were supposed to be older than Jesus but were actually punched out of sheet metal from Ford Pintos and then artificially aged in vats of Coca-Cola.

6. I’ve been writing the bulk of my next book by hand. No reason, except I write a lot of it in diners. It’s challenging, because I can’t read my own handwriting, and I only get maybe a hundred words per page of these little pocket notebooks.

7. I started reading about the bad effects of cortisol, the stress hormone, and how it stops you from losing fat and makes allergies worse, and now I am convinced that is like the nexus of every problem I have right now. And googling “get rid of cortisol” gives you ten million pages that basically just say to sleep more and be happy about your life, and maybe eat more salad.

8. I subscribed to a Facebook group about people who grew up in my home town, and everyone in the group is functionally illiterate. Like, they don’t know the difference between “to,” “two,” and “too.”

9. I also looked up my home town on TripAdvisor, and the top ten restaurants included Cracker Barrel, Perkin’s, and Texas Roadhouse.

10. I was going to go on a big rant about tenderloin sandwiches and mandala effect, but my dinner is here. (I ordered a salad for some inexplicable reason. Maybe the cortisol thing. I need to stop it with the Joe Rogan Podcast.)


Shut The Fuck Up About Megapixels

I hate it when people think that more megapixels are better.  They are wrong.

This has been bugging the shit out of me ever since the latest Mars lander touched down.  Once people heard the probe had a two megapixel camera, the circle-jerk started.  “HEY MAN WTF DID THEY USE THAT CAMERA MY ANDROID HAS AN 8 MEGAPIXEL NASA SUX GLGLGLGLG”

Okay, back up a few steps.  Back in the old days, a camera worked by focusing light through a pinhole and onto a sheet of film, which chemically trapped that blast of light into something you could hang on a wall (after you did some developing process to the sheet involving trays of chemicals in a dark room, or dropping the shit off at Walgreen’s and waiting a week.)  That pinhole then evolved into a glass lens or a series of lenses that could be used to optically process what image ended up on what paper.

Digital cameras do away with the film part by using a computer chip that’s sensitive to light, called an image sensor.  That image sensor is divided up into millions of little pixels.  The number of pixels determines the camera’s resolution.  So if that sensor had 1024 by 1024 little square dots that reacted to light, it would be a one megapixel sensor. The sensors aren’t typically square, though; they’re usually in some rectangular format, which is why all of the pictures in your Facebook albums aren’t perfect squares.  An average cell phone is going to have a sensor that has an active area of about 5.3mm by 4.0 mm.  A consumer point/shoot is going to be a couple times wider and taller.  Canon’s DSLRs are either APS-C (22.2×14.8mm) or APS-H (28.7x19mm).  There are full format cameras that are even bigger.  Obviously, the bigger a sensor, the more it weighs, costs, and uses power.

When you take the size of the image sensor and divide it up by the number of pixels, you’re going to get the size of each pixel.  It’s like cutting a cake.  If I take one of those big sheet cakes from Kroger and cut it into four pieces, each piece is going to have 2876 Weight Watchers points in it, and will put you into a diabetic coma.  If you have to cut up the same cake for an office of six hundred people, each piece would conveniently fit in a thimble.  (A 16×24″ sheet cake cut into 2″ squares feeds 96 people, unless you’re serving it in Indiana, in which case it will serve about two dozen people, provided nobody’s scooter batteries die during the meal and leave them stranded away from the cake.)

The iPhone 4S uses a 4.54 x 3.42mm sensor.  Its capture size is 3264×2448, or 8 megapixels.  The Curiosity uses cameras based on the Kodak KAI-2020 sensor, which is a 1600×1200 capture size on a 13.36 x 9.52 mm chip.  That means the iPhone has a pixel size of 1.4 micrometers (or microns) square, and the KAI-2020 has a pixel pitch of 7.4 microns.  With a cell phone camera, you’re “serving” far more people cake, but with the larger format camera, you’re starting with a much bigger cake and sharing it with far fewer people.  So it “serves” nowhere near as many people, but those are some giant chunks of cake.

What does the size of the pixel mean?  First, you get much more detail with a larger pixel size, because the image that’s transferred through the optics and onto the sensor is going to be captured more faithfully.  It’s why your old 110 or disc film camera took such shitty pictures, and your 35mm camera didn’t; the larger a camera’s format, the more area it had to capture the image.  A small pixel size also limits the dynamic range, or the amount of range between highlight and shadow.  If you’re ever tried to take a picture with your cell phone when an extremely bright light was in the image, and you got  a shot of a bright ball of white surrounded by darkness, it’s because your camera couldn’t handle the dynamic range between the two.  And also, the smaller the pixel, the more noise that’s added to the picture, especially in low light conditions.

That doesn’t mean all high-megapixel cameras are junk, just high-megapixel cameras with small image sensors.  If you go pick up a Nikon D800, it’s a 36 megapixel camera, but it’s got a 24 x 35.9 mm sensor, so it’s a 4.88 micron pixel pitch.  That’s not quite the 7ish of NASA’s camera, but it’s much better than the 1.4 of an iPhone.  Of course, that D800 is going to cost you three grand plus lenses, and it’s not going to fit in your pocket or make phone calls or play Angry Birds.

There are a bunch of other factors involved in the difference between the Curiosity’s cameras and the ones on your phone.  First, your phone doesn’t have to deal with radiation or temperature extremes.  Also, they shopped around for a camera in 2004, and then tested the living fuck out of it before putting it on a rocket for space.  Your camera phone probably has a couple of tiny plastic lenses, while NASA hung much more complex optics off of their units.  And their budget was slightly bigger than that of a cell phone manufacturer, so they didn’t have to pinch pennies on the sensors they used.  And NASA typically takes a bunch of pictures, sends them on the slow link back to earth, then stitches them into the much larger images that you see.

It’s a shame that people are taught to judge hardware by numbers like this, and that we’re marketed hardware based on them.  I remember when I worked at Samsung, a meeting erupted into a giant argument, because everyone but me and another guy believed — KNEW — that a higher megapixel camera was always better, because… it had more megapixels.  It’s like when people talk about how their computer is so much better because it has a higher clock speed, without mentioning that their OS is burning way more cycles running crapware and antivirus software.  The 450 horsepower in a 36,000 pound low-geared John Deere is not better than the 430 horsepower in a 3200 pound Corvette.  It isn’t.


Patents, Apple, Whatever

There’s been a lot of coverage in the news about Apple’s various patent wars against Samsung and others, and the gist of the coverage is that the patent system was 100% fine up until Apple woke up one morning and decided to destroy anyone making a rectangle-shaped touchscreen phone.

I have no real arguments for or against the system, but one argument I keep hearing is “well what if someone patented the car?”  Funny thing is, someone did.  Check it: and the patent itself:

George Selden was granted a patent for his “road locomotive”, and forced all other car manufacturers to license it, for a .75% royalty.  Ford later fought this in court, and lost; it was only on appeal that they were able overturn the patent.  The eight year legal battle almost bankrupted Ford.  This happened, by the way, over 100 years ago.

Another example of the fact that the patent system wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns until the invention of the iPhone: did you know that the Wright brothers were awarded a patent on the airplane?  More specifically, it was a patent on flight controls in all three axes, but they vigorously fought (and initially won) a huge lawsuit against Curtiss. It effectively blocked the building of airplanes in the US until the first World War, when the government stepped in and formed a patent pool.  (More info:

There have been countless patent battles in the last century, and this Apple/Samsung thing is just the latest iteration.  I think it’s different now because people have such an attachment to their devices, that their brand loyalty becomes the newest us versus them.  Look at the comments on any of these news blogs from the Apple or Android or Microsoft fans (or whatever pejorative term you prefer) and you’ll find a level of hate and vitriol usually seldom found outside of a political news web site.  And in the days of page count-generated revenue, it’s far too easy for the gizmodos and engadgets of the world to throw up a daily article saying “is the new XYZ an iWhatever killer?” and let the ad imprints roll.

I am an Apple user, and that obviously influences my opinions.  But I also worked at a Samsung R&D lab, and saw things internally that strengthen those opinions. I should probably go back and re-read my NDA and exit papers before I say anything about Samsung and their design aesthetic.  I wouldn’t want Samsung to send me to prison for libel.

Anyway, the patent system may be horrible and broken, but the idea that it suddenly happened recently is off by a century or so.


HD is the new SD

What happened to the allure of the HDTV?  I was thinking about this the other day, as I tried to shoehorn some more crap in my storage space and realized that the little 15″ analog CRT TV I have in there is probably never going to see service again and is just wasting a couple of cubic feet of precious space.   (Did I throw it out?  Of course not.  The second I do, our main TV will blow up and I’ll be forced to play Call of Duty by sound only.  Besides, I’d probably get sent to Guantanamo Bay as a terror suspect for chucking a TV into a dumpster here in the people’s republic.)  I mean, it took something like twenty years from the time the Japanese had (analog) HD in every home from the time they finally shut off the old systems here in the US.  And for all of that time, HD was in this virtual limbo.  It was like space travel – sure, you’ve got some Russians hanging out in a space station, drinking Tang and dissecting mouse livers in zero-G, but the time from the first space shuttle launch to the expected time when anyone can go to a United Airlines terminal, drop a credit card, and take a flight to the moon is somewhere between forever and never.

(Side note: if Virgin or United or whoever starts offering those low earth orbit flights, do you think they would give you mileage?  Because if so, you’re going to rack up something like 400,000-some miles per day.  Fly for a week, and you can turn that shit in for roughly 2500 years’ worth of Sports Illustrated subscriptions.)

I remember the first time I ever saw an HDTV set.  It was at a Magnolia hi-fi shop in Lynnwood, in like 97 or 98 – they had this big-screen, I think a rear projector, since that was about all they had back then.  And one of the local stations – I think KOMO – was broadcasting 24 hours in HD, but they only had like two hours a week of actual programming, so they ran this loop of some crap they filmed, like a news helicopter flying over the mountains, shooting the evergreen trees scrolling by, some clouds or mist in the distance, snow-covered peaks, that sort of thing.  And I was absolutely floored by the quality of the broadcast, the way it looked like much more than just doubling the number of lines or whatever.  The color depth, the richness, was simply amazing.  And then I talked to the sales guy, and of course the set cost as much as my car, and you had to buy a laserdisc player, and none of the cable systems did anything, so you had to get some rabbit ears, and they hoped that in a few years, about ten percent of shows might be in HD, and the whole thing seemed as probable as getting a working jet pack with a completely legal death ray add-on system.

I never thought about making the jump to HDTV for a while – I never had enough room or cash to buy a rear-projector system.  When I moved to Astoria in 1999, I bought the most TV $500 would buy, which was a 27″ Panasonic CRT set that lasted me ten years.  I thought about HDTV only because in New York, all of the networks started broadcasting in the early 2000s, and I couldn’t get shit with my rabbit ears hooked up to my analog set.  The rumor was a good HDTV tuner with an analog output would potentially give me clear pictures, or at least I’d trade the snow in the picture for pixelation compression errors.  But I didn’t want to drop hundreds on a box just to eat up more of my writing time on crappy network shows, so I forgot about it.  (There was also an issue that the highest point in New York City, which was the central point for all HDTV service since 1998, suddenly vanished in September of 2001.)

I did buy a HDTV in 2009, when we moved into this new place, for a few reasons.  First, I could junk that old 27″, and not have to move it or buy a bulky piece of furniture for it to sit on.  The thin-screen LCD revolution happened after the turn of the century, and after a few years of enjoying the fruits of a 20″ LCD monitor on my desktop, I got a nice Samsung TV for the house.  And then less than a year later, Samsung gave all of their employees a bigger LCD TV as a year-end gift (probably to clear out stock for their new LED TVs, which look great but are awesomely expensive right now).

I remember all of the madness about the big switch, when the evil socialist Obama government would pull the plug on the analog TV standard and leave us all without our daily doses of Judge Judy and Matlock reruns.  The whole thing seemed like a joke to me, since I first heard about the changeover something like twenty years before, and if you’ve got cable, it doesn’t even matter anyway.  But people freaked the fuck out, and the government changed the transition date and spent billions (literally!) of money on education, and coupons for converter boxes.  It’s an amazing testament to this country’s priorities that people die in the streets without healthcare, but threaten to shut off people’s TV, and we’ll organize and blow federal money like there’s an asteroid headed straight to the earth and we need to get Bruce Willis on that thing with a nuke and a drilling platform, pronto.

So I’ve had the HDTV hookup for a year and a half now, and I guess sometimes I notice the difference.  But it’s one of those news memes that seemed like the end of the universe in early 2009, but in ten years, nobody’s even going to remember a time when we didn’t have HDTV.  And the real question is, when will the next big switch happen?  NTSC in the US went from 1941 to 2009 with color TV starting in 1951 (and then stopping, and restarting in 1953).  I’m guessing the next big move to make all TVs obsolete won’t take 56 years.  The next big format war is going to be over 3D TV, and of course, every major manufacturer has their own format, and has their own hallucination that their format will prevail and that by next year, all of us will be replacing our TVs with their new crap.  If they had their way, we’d replace our TVs every year, and also buy a new cell phone every year, and a new computer.  I expect Samsung’s home appliance division to get in the game too, and come out with some new planned obsolescence strategy for their clothes washers and refrigerators too.

Now I just need Comcast to get with the digital revolution and give me a new DVR that has an actual HDMI out, so I don’t need to keep hitting the screen format button and try to figure out if a person’s face is really bloated or if I’m supposed to be watching something in 4:3 instead of 16:9.