18 December 2011

Last-minute gift ideas for clever 4-6 yr olds


I'll spare you the one-sentence descriptions. Ideas for holiday gifts for the just-past-little ones:

Toysmith 4M Tin Can Robot [amazon]
Quirkle [amazon]
Hardy Boys
Rory's Story Cubes [amazon]
Howtoons [amazon]
Alex My Art Spinner [amazon]
a bracelet-making kit
Milan art kits [Milan - click "products" etc]
a visit to Parts and Crafts [Somerville]
Praxinoscope kit [amazon]
Strobotop Lightphase Animator [amazon]
box of assorted, instruction-less Legos
chess board
a visit to a planetarium
Lincoln Logs [amazon]
Playmobil Large pirate ship [$! amazon]

...any other ideas?


08 December 2011

Google Street View Car up-close

Hey map-or-optics-lovers,

What's got 15 cameras, three laser scanners, and a very friendly driver? The Google Street View car, which took a little rest this afternoon near the offices of Optics for Hire (Arlington, MA).

This is Almina, who is in the midst of driving west from Boston in towards Arlington and beyond. Her co-worker's car's cameras bumped into something, so Almina is covering any missed areas. There are black non-slip treads on the car's roof because, every morning, Almina walks up onto the car and sets the system up. At night, she covers the optics and has to be careful about the weather. Sometimes, she is asked to drive under underpasses that are too low for the vehicle. Just to be safe, she drives certain routes in her own car before carefully re-driving the route in the Street View car. She said the overpass at the Esplanade is too too low for the car.

The car is sporting 15 or so cameras and what I think are three Class 1 laser-based depth scanners. Peering inside the window, I could see a few computers, a router, and other stuff. A wide bank of cables enters the passenger-side rear window through a couple of big connectors.

Her next mission? Wait for the snow, because Google wants her to drive around to show people "snowy New England."


08 November 2011

How to fix " Windows Update cannot currently check for updates because... "

Note to self (and anyone else searching for help) -


I run a Lenovo T400 ThinkPad with Windows 7 Professional. I have been using Acronis to perform image and file backups. Following a hard drive crash (of a 500 MB Western Digital drive), I put in a brand new 500 MB Western Digital drive and managed to do an image restore and file restore.

After slogging through various bugs (which I am too bleary-eyed to recall), I kept hitting two vexing problems:

1. Windows wouldn't update. I'd get an error message saying that "Windows Update cannot currently check for updates because the update service is not running," and
2. From time to time, Windows was convinced that somehow I wasn't running an authentic version of windows, even though the "it's authentic!" seal appeared in My Computer: Properties.

What worked?

which suggested I go to this particular-language HP driver site to download something called "Intel Rapid Storage Technology" to fix an issue with users of Western Digital Drives: http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/document?docname=c02219204&lc=en&cc=uk&destPage=document&dlc=en&product=

What didn't work (or, rather, what didn't seem to help)?

  • Rebooting
  • Installing a ton of Lenovo ThinkVantage updates (actually this seemed only to cause a new problem related to an ATI video driver)
  • Turning off the update service, deleting the contents of a particular Windows folder, and restarting the update service
  • Generally freaking out at 11 pm
Anyway, I hope Google finds this post so that more Western Digital / Acronis customers find the solution.


19 August 2011

See Gregg's Bookmarks

I have a "Read Later" folder in my browser. You know: you're at work, you notice something interesting, you swipe it to a "read later" folder which only gets visited at 12.30am in obscure hotels in the wrong time zone on some business trip.

Scott Kirsner has a "read Scott's email" blog. In the spirit of that, here's a "See Gregg's Bookmarks" post.

STARTUPS (or, "young companies lacking vowels")
  • New type of patent auction: "covenant not to sue" [PatentNews]


11 July 2011

Some good nonfiction

Hello -

From time to time, friends ask me to recommend good nonfiction. No problem! Here are a few books that have survived the "still glad I read 'em" test a few years later. The focus here is on science and art. (The foci?)

You are not a gadget: a manifesto (J. Lanier). Staying human in a world of Web 2.0-accelerated info-surfing and ambient friend-hood. And octopi.

Consilience: the unity of knowledge (E. O. Wilson). Scientists and humanitarians, unite! Learned lots about the history of science, and I loved the book despite the core message's inability to really hit home.

This is Modern Art (M. Collings) If you even just-sort-of like contemporary art, this book is an awesome, friendly introduction to its many flavors and personalities. Don't know why it averages only 3 stars.

The visual display of quantitative information (E. Tufte) The standard book of good and bad information depiction.

Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion (R. Cialdini) How to know when you're being manipulated, or, a handbook on how to manipulate others.

Learn to Play Go (J. Kim) 'nuff said.

Optics (E. Hecht) "Hey Gregg, what's a good book on optics for someone who's taken calculus?" This one!

Godel, Escher, Bach (D. Hofstader) You seriously haven't read this yet? Go learn some links between patterns, music, DNA, and predicate calculus (or whatever it's called). I only made it 50% through, but when I walked into a cafe with it under my arm, I met a nice woman, and we got married! So, there's that.

Prometheus Rising (R. A. Wilson) Forgive its trippy LSD tone. A book about the various stages of mind, which helps you understand everything from why we swear, to how brainwashing and military indoctrination works, to various forms of enlightenment.

Sync: how order emerges from chaos... (S. H. Strogatz) Complex systems and synchrony, from fireflies to lasers. (See also his textbook on nonlinear dynamic systems.)

Games People Play (E Berne) Try to get your hands on this 1965 paperback that diagrams typical conversational patterns and the child/parent levels from which they originate. Neat stuff!

The Discoveries (A Lightman) Get this! The stories of a handful of awesome 20th century discoveries - and - for real - the journal articles in which they were announced. So cool!

A course in mathematics for students of physics (Bamberg) A Harvard textbook from linear algebra and calculus to differential forms and some really minimal-looking expression of Maxwell's equations. I kid you not, I got this in 1995 and am still reading it.

Dark hero of the information age: in search of Norbert Wiener the father of cybernetics (F Conway) Kids these days. They just don't know that uncle Norbert invented essentially everything.

A People's History of the United States (H Zinn). I am the only person around here who hasn't read this book. Well, I read one chapter. Now I know that the people who came and took North America were really quite mean.

Benton's SPIE milestone series on selected fundamental papers in three-dimensional display (SPIE Press) is just incredible. If you like 3-D display technology. And if you are into that sort of thing, Barry Blundell has a great collection of books which dive deep into the history of display technologies. And I'm not just saying that because I wrote the Forward to one of them.

Two books I read recently and enjoyed were:

Finally, I am in the middle of What Technology Wants, which suggests that our technologies have been evolving in ways similar to organisms. An enjoyable read (for its various historical and trendline anecdotes) so far.

What are some of your favorites?


27 June 2011

New tools for entrepreneurs who make (real, tangible) things (out of atoms)

Hello -

Websites. Mobile. Deal-aggregators. Game layers on life. Blah, blah, blah. What if you want to create and sell a product made of stuff or light?

Entrepreneurs getting into the hardware game have a few tools in 2011 that make it easier than it was, say, in 2005:

  • GrabCAD turns mechanical concepts from napkin sketches (or better) into professionally designed-and-reviewed mechanical drawings for prototype. [note: I haven’t tried ‘em]
  • Optics for Hire turns your optical wish into a prototyped reality. LED light-shaping? Medical device? Zoom lens? Done. They do the optical design, and if you want, the mechanical design. And the electronics. [note: I work for Optics for Hire, but I wouldn’t if I didn’t believe in it]
  • KiCAD is open-source schematic capture.
  • Many firms offer rapid protoyping “personal factories” – AlphaPrototypes, Ponoko, QuickParts, just Google it.

How do you market-test your idea, make a logo, and launch a website? 4-Hour Workweek has some ideas:

  • Goodle AdWords, which is wildly useful
  • Shopify – instant e-commerce websites
  • 99designs.com – logos, websites, and other designed-stuff from a crowd of artists hoping to get your dollars
  • Elance.com – outsource artwork, copywriting, and coding
  • ODesk – even more outsourcing: code, writing, engineering, design

What would you add?


14 June 2011

Projection Summit 2011: Green lasers, “green” projectors, and etendue

Hello from the Orlando office -

This week’s Projection Summit 2011, an Insight Media event, offered a good view of topics of current interest to the A/V professional. (And by “A/V professional,” I mean: people who design digital projectors, buy digital projectors, make the guts of digital projectors, or love the Earth sufficiently to only buy digital projectors that don’t, you know, screw up our little planet.)

Normally I attend conferences like SPIE-IS&T SD&A, or SID, for their 3-D technical content. I was invited to speak at PS2011, and this was my first time attending.

The conference’s Agenda provides abstracts of each talk, so I won’t repeat that. Instead, here’s an overview, and an informal bullet point list of some key take-aways.

(Those take-aways are conveniently provided after this photograph of the impressively chocolatey brownies served at PS2011:)


So, what was covered at PS2011?

  • Autostereo 3D, emphasizing “light field displays:” OFH’s and Zecotek’s time-domain view-scanning systems, and Holografika’s advances in multi-projector 3-D display.
  • Tiled displays and stereoscopic projection (ROAM, Scalable, XpanD, Lightspeed Design, Brawn)
  • Projector components, emphasizing microdisplays, geometry-correction silicon, MEMS, and LEDs
  • Low-power Green Laser (Panel discussion). I learned too late that “green” here meant… the color green: #00FF00, 520 nm, you know.
  • Projectors in Education
  • Green AV (in which “green” meant earth-friendly)
  • Laser-based digital cinema

What were some key takeaways?

  • Gregg Favalora is a brilliant public speaker, and I understand he might be available for paid engagements on topics as diverse as: autostereoscopic display. With the deftness of an Olympic gymnast and the slight-of-hand of… oh, who am I kidding.
  • According to one speaker, JVC seems to be the gold standard of home 3D projection. (I have not heard this comment elsewhere.)
  • According David Chechelashvili of XpanD, the US stereo market is dominated by passive eyewear, Europe and Asia use active. So far.
  • Chris Ward of Lightspeed Design announced a new modulator with very fast rise- / fall-times for passive stereo projection.
  • Jonathan Brawn, who is well-known as an educator in A/V circles, is a really compelling speaker. Here, he explored the difficulties in designing projection systems optimized both for 2-D and 3-D, one of which requires different gain than the other.
  • Syndiant’s CTO, Karl Guttag, voiced a popular sentiment of Projection Summit – green (as in the color) lasers are a critical need in the world of projector components because of their etendue. (I knew I’d get that word in there somehow.)
  • I could listen to Luminus Devices’ Andrei Kazmierski talk for hours about LEDs (honest). Excited to see continued advances from this MASSACHUSETTS-BASED LED fabricator.
  • Ten lashes with a wet noodle for not knowing beforehand who William “Bo” Coggshall was, an eloquent industry analyst in the world of large-screen display. Also, props to a guy who synchronizes his wardrobe with his corporate logo. He discussed the market saturation of educational “interactive whiteboards and interactive projectors” (e.g. SMART Technology); UK & US is nearing saturation, and there’s a big opportunity in developing markets. Evidently there is a not-quite-closed tender in Turkey for 600k units…
  • Len Scrogan gave a fascinating talk about his efforts to guide Boulder, CO’s schools in testing the efficacy of stereoscopic projection. (Test scores have improved, behavior has improved, and kids with vision problems have gone to eye doctors and improved.) See: http://edtechfuture-talk.blogspot.com/ and www.3deyehealth.org .
  • Educators (who genuinely care about helping the earth) and large corporations (who might, but who also care about avoiding bad PR) want their new digital projectors to be eco-friendly. Does that mean the bulbs are recyclable? That the projectors lack Hg? Much discussion about this. Some claims that EnergyStar 2.0 is “useless” for defining requirements of A/V equipment; that Christie Digital is making incredible strides towards eco-friendliness; that TCO Development has a certification process for “…driving IT towards sustainable use…”. Particularly compelling talk from Chris Maione Associates. (It might have helped that his NYC intonation reminded me of my mother country of New Jersey.)

Until next time,


07 June 2011

Summertime Inspirational Reading and Viewing

Hi -

As these months provide us with some time to read more than Tweets and bullet-points, here are a few books, websites, and videos that you might find inspirational or at least thought provoking:

  1. I've long found the accomplishments, creativity, and speaking style of inventor Danny Hillis inspirational. (1) Danny shares two anecdotes about Richard Feynman in this brief video [YouTube]. (2) For you computer geeks, here's a promotional video about the first Connection Machine supercomputer [YouTube].
  2. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson's very brief PSA to get out there and make stuff with atoms instead of bits [YouTube].
  3. Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget is not your average "Web 2.0 is bad for you" book. It's also a book about the brilliance of cephalopods, self-expression, and how to stay human in a world of broad but fleeting interconnectedness. [Amazon]
  4. Have you ever heard of the Jasons, a real-life cluster of top scientists that advise the government? The Jasons: the Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite. [Amazon]
  5. Staying positive, following the beat of your own drummer: some of Seth Godin's brief blog postings still get it right. [Seth's Blog]
  6. In early 2010 I did some self-help / happiness / be-a-better-leader reading. My favorite: Zander and Zander's The Art of Possibility. My least favorite: The Happiness Project, from which I only learned that you really will feel a lot better if you get a good night's sleep. Otherwise, a pass.
  7. Alan Lightman's The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th-Century Science, Including the Original Papers, is awesome. For each of 25 breakthroughs, Lightman tells the story-behind-the-story, and then, yes, really does provide the original journal article in which the discovery was announced. That is so cool.
  8. My kids are 2 and 5, and evidently they like making stuff. Isn't is wonderful that there's also a reawakening of hobbyist / "maker" culture? An example of this around Boston is Parts and Crafts. Or, Make magazine. Etc. Here are some ideas on easy projects to do with your kids.
  9. Are you an entrepreneur? Consider actually attending a networking event. My pre-event reluctance to get my butt out to a meet-and-greet is 100% of the time rewarded with reinvigoration about entrepreneurship. Around Cambridge, MA, the best resource is Greenhorn Connect.
  10. Got a Kindle? Try Science News and PhysOrg.com. Totally worth it.
  11. Go check out the annual Edge question. This year, 159 intellectuals indicate useful modes of thought gathered from doing science, which everyone ought to add to their "mental toolkit." [Edge.org]
  12. Stop reading this stuff, buy a decent notebook, and go create something.
Also two blog posts from Joost Bonsen that have stuck with me:

Have a wonderful and productive June!


02 June 2011

Seeing Saturn with a $25 telescope

Hi -

Ever seen Saturn in a telescope?

Aw, heck. This was supposed to be a blog post about the beauty and "real-ness" of seeing an actual planet in your own backyard with a cheap-o telescope from a flea market, but I'm no poet. I'm not good enough with words. My point was going to be, "We spend hundreds of hours in the Internet, reading words about reality instead of experiencing it. We've seen thousands of images of Saturn in our lives, but it's easy to forget it's a real giant encircled ball millions of miles away. We all ought to buy a telescope, just a tube with a few glass lenses inside, plant it in our driveway, and crouch on our knees late at night to see Saturn for ourselves."

If you're reading this in June, 2011, Saturn is the only planet reasonable to see at night; everything else is sort of clustered near the sun, early in the morning.

TRY THIS: a cool applet will open up on your computer and you can see what Saturn looks like now, along with its moons. (go here, and click "...includes a JavaScript utility...").

Anyhow, in our little 2" or 3" scope, Saturn looked like a tiny yellow O with a line through it, like a letter of some Scandinavian novel held out at arm's-length. Using our imaginations it looked like this:

Anyhow, if you have the chance to grab a decent 3" refractor on a tripod, pick one up!


27 May 2011

Gregg's List, or Shibboleths: Sound Like an Expert in Any Field!

Howdy -

Does your field have a phrase or two which folks use in the hopes that they'll be perceived as an expert? Or, put less snobbishly, what words help you determine if someone's an expert?

Wonder no more! Don't tell anyone - here's a super-secret list of shibboleths for every field. Well, maybe 10 fields. With your help we can round this out.

Autostereoscopic Display Engineering
  • they're getting so much view-aliasing outside the sweet-spot
  • [+5 points] I can't believe they're still spatially-multiplexing, how 1908!
Chef, fancy-dancy
  • coulis
Computer Scientist
  • order log N
  • obviously NP-complete
Entrepreneur, ca. 1998
  • sticky portal with p13n
Entrepreneur, ca. 2011
  • obviously fail fast, and then pivot
Executives who were Once Engineers
  • not really impedance-matched to the customer
Investment Banker
  • they didn't get the optics right on the investment thesis
Optical Engineer
  • That NA will be tough with that fiber
  • ...can squeeze all the etendue out
Physicist, applied
  • Hexagonal close-pack
  • condensate
  • it's normative
Stereoscopic Cinema: engineer
  • obviously too much crosstalk
  • too much vertical disparity
  • (evidently, too much [anything])

Got more? Share your secrets in the comments below.


20 May 2011

Display tech conferences: SID 2011, LA

A return to our blog-roots in display -

I came to SID in search of new stuff in autostereo, chance encounters with colleagues, and a week-long forced “immersion program” back in my native skillset. Hello, 3-D without glasses, I have returned.

What did I find noteworthy? I mean, besides realizing that the volume level on the SID show floor was conducive to actual, rational, lengthy conversation? What a welcome change from CES.

CE Companies Pushing Autostereo Too Soon

Well, that’s what I think, at least.

Toshiba, LG, NEC, and Samsung are displaying various spatially-multiplexed autostereo panels, e.g. parallax barriers and lenticulars. Fraunhofer HHI showed several which used head-tracking to improve the imagery.

Still, universally, observers must position their heads carefully within a sweet spot, so that left- and right- eye zones straddle their nose. I saw many people walk up, try to use a display, and wander away in confusion.

In my opinion, couldn’t more companies try an alternate approach – time-multiplexed displays – that will give you 100 instead of 8 views, with very realistic imagery and freedom in head placement? All it takes is a fast image source, like a DMD… Perhaps that’s just my bias. 3-D that actually works.

A tiny sampling of the autostereo on display:

  • NEC: 7.2” SVGA, 400 cd/m2, demo of dog swatting at butterfly, perhaps 2” of depth, unusual curved “fringing” at upper corners
  • Samsung:
    • 55” 9-view autostereo 1920 x 1080 “LC lenticular,” switchable on/off
    • 15.6” notebook with “moving parallax barrier” 1366 x 768 – looked pretty good to me
  • Hitachi: 4.2” WSVGA, parallax barrier, 600 x 1024, 0.03 x 0.09 mm pitch

I wonder, my fellow researchers, if the key to breaking free from “hold your head still,” might be breaking away from spatial multiplexing?

Here’s what I mean about this. [YouTube playlist]

Some papers

The SID 2011 program lives (lived?) here.

  • Mike Klug gave very impressive talk about Zebra Imaging’s dynamic 3-D display, as part of a co-located conference on the future of touch technology. Photos!
  • Wavien is developing their dual-paraboloid bulbs for digital cinema, and provided analyses trading off arc-length, drive power, and on-screen lumens. Some Barco disagreement from audience. Hilarity ensues.
  • Wavien also spoke of their LED arrays with light-recycling for low-power apps.
  • Kodak: 12-laser digital cinema projector, 11k on-screen lumens. f/6 instead of f/2.6, allowing less expensive lenses.
  • Viewzone tripling. (34.3) National Chiao Tung University / Coretronic Corp (Taiwan) – tripled the number of viewzones on directional sequential backlight systems (like 3M’s) by adding a filter with a sort of repeating trapezoidal cross-section. One could call it the Toblerone Display.
  • Holographic “Retinal” Display. Though I don’t understand the cases in which researchers insist that they are projecting “right into the retina!” (I mean, doesn’t perceived light always enter your eye?) the folks of paper 41.1 managed to create a multi-planar near-eye display ostensibly to help with focus / vergence mismatch pain. Oh, the pain of focus / vergence mismatch.
  • Unfortunate no-show. I was looking forward to V V Petrov’s talk regarding his acousto-optical holographic displays, but he was not present.
  • 360-degree panoramic imaging – in stereo! D Montgomery (Sharp Labs Europe) shocked and amazed in paper 41.4 with their three-truncated-hyperboloidal mirror camera system. Here on Google patents. Plus, if you replace the camera with a projector, it’s a stereoscopic panoramic projector.
  • Physically-accessible 3-D above a tabletop. X Xia et al from Zhejiang University (Hangzhou, China) demonstrated several 3-D displays using various horizontal directional diffusers. These looked very promising. They did remind me of this Actuality invention [YouTube].

Something literally cool

Did you see Samsung’s collection of large transparent displays? One covered the face of a see-through fridge. This video doesn’t quite convey the awesomeness.

Time to Return to the East Coast

I don’t have a tinted-window Mercedes, and I’ve never purchased wrap-around sunglasses, so that’s my signal that this East Coaster needs to return to Beantown.

Oh: this life-sized advertisement struck me as just a wee bit odd. “Oh, come on over, I’m just watching my show. The one about OLED, LCD, and PDP.”




The long hours of this conference-visit and blog-update were brought to you by:

  • Wondering why 30% of the folks in the audience were diligently photographing every slide.
  • Puddle of Mudd, “Drift and Die”
  • Emmanuel Santaorromana, “Metropolitain”
  • David Battenfield, “Sonic Ghazal”
  • Traffic, “Dear Mr. Fantasy (Stereo Version)”
  • Bright Eyes, “Lover I Don’t Have to Love”
  • John Kelley, “Desert Days”

Informally yours,


ps Have you joined the NON-GLASSES 3D DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY group on LinkedIn? There are several autostereo groups, but this one seems to be where it’s at.

25 March 2011

Fix incorrect album art on iPod Touch / how-to

There are complaints that a 2010 iPod software update is related to incorrect artwork appearing for some songs on iPod Touch. This solution (from rockmyplimsoul Jul 28 2009) worked for me, which I found after much searching.

How to repair: Wrong artwork showing up for some iPod songs on iPod screen

This appears to be only a temporary solution. For me, the problem crept back in after a few weeks.

[NOTE: This method will lose any assignment you have set of "checked" and "unchecked" songs. At the end of this process, all songs will be "checked."]
  1. Connect iPod to computer & sync
  2. Click Devices > (your iPod)
  3. In OPTIONS, make sure that "Sync only checked songs and videos" is CHECKED
  4. Click Library > Music
  5. Click any song name
  6. Press Ctrl-A to select all songs
  7. Right click & pick "uncheck selection" (all songs will be unchecked)
  8. Sync (this will remove all songs from your iPod)
  9. Click any song name
  10. Press Ctrl-A to select all songs
  11. Right click & pick "check selection" (all songs will become checked)
  12. Sync (this will load all songs back into your iPod - it will take a long time)
  13. Comment here to let the readers know if this method worked or not
DISCLAIMER: Use this at your own risk. I am not responsible for you losing any music. Etc., etc.


19 January 2011

Optics career profiled in Boston Globe

Hi -

Writer Cindy Atoji profiled me for a piece in the Boston Globe as part of her series regarding people with unusual jobs. I work at Optics for Hire, which helps its clients invent and improve optics-based products. What, that's unusual? Doesn't everyone work on secret projects for Fortune 500 companies who need interesting combinations of lenses, transistors, and precision-machined metal?

"Optics inventor has eye for new technology," Boston.com Job Doc (18-Jan-2011).

In the piece, I mention a few things about 3-D (as in, 3-D movies, 3-D television, and holographic video). Technologists interested in that topic ought to check out January's big conference in that space: SPIE-IS&T Stereoscopic Displays & Applications.


10 January 2011

A lonely atom, or, The Best Few Paragraphs I've Read in a While

Hello -

I've been reading and really enjoying Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants. (I also recommend Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget.)

This excerpt really stuck with me. (He uses the word "technium" to mean the "self-reinforcing system of creation" that includes all of our "tools, machines, and ideas.")

The root of the technium can be traced back to the life of an atom. An atom's brief journey through an everyday technical artifact, such as a flashlight battery, is a flash of existence unlike anything else in its long life.

Most hydrogen atoms were born at the beginning of time. They are as old as time itself. They were created in the fires of the big bang and dispersed into the universe as a uniform warm mist. Thereafter, each atom has been on a lonely journey. When a hydrogen atom drifts in the unconsciousness of deep space, hundreds of kilometers from another atom, it is hardly much more active than the vacuum surrounding it. Time is meaningless without change, and in the vast reaches of space that fill 99.99 percent of the universe, there is little change.

After billions of years, a hydrogen atom might be swept up by the currents of gravity radiating from a congealing galaxy. With the dimmest hint of time and change it slowly drifts in a steady direction toward other stuff. Another billion years later it bumps into the first bit of matter it has ever encountered. After millions of years it meets the second. In time it meets another of its kind, a hydrogen atom. They drift together in mild attraction until aeons later they meet an oxygen atom. Suddenly something weird happens. In a flash of heat they clump together as one water molecule. Maybe they get sucked into the atmosphere circulation of a planet. Under this marriage, they are caught in great cycles of change. Rapidly the molecule is carried up and then rained down into a crowded pool of other jostling atoms. In the company of uncountable numbers of other water molecules it travels this circuit around and around for millions of years, from crammed pools to expansive clouds and back. One day, in a stroke of luck, the water molecule is captured by a chain of unusually active carbons in one pool. Its path is once again accelerated. It spins around in a simple loop, assisting the travel of carbon chains. It enjoys speed, movement, and change such as would not be possible in the comatose recesses of space. The carbon chain is stolen by another chain and reassembled many times until the hydrogen finds itself in a cell constantly rearranging its relations and bonds with other molecules. Now it hardly ever stops changing, never stops interacting.

The hydrogen atoms in a human body completely refresh every seven years. As we age we are really a river of cosmically old atoms. The carbons in our bodies were created in the dust of a star. The bulk of matter in our hands, skin, eyes, and hearts was made near the beginning of time, billions of years ago. We are much older than we look.

(pp. 57-58)


03 January 2011

The D-Cup -ification of optics, or "C'mon, Edmund Optics, really?"

Hi -

I work in the field of optics, meaning that my clients ask our company to design systems ranging from complex lenses to DNA analyzers to various video game technologies. Just as we all get catalogs from, say, Crate & Barrel at home, engineers in optics get catalogs like Edmund Optics or Thor (or whatever) at work. Flip through the pages, and you'll see hundreds of lenses, filters, cameras, lasers, ... :

An obviously very sexy page of lenses

Around 2005, I started to notice that the catalog cover for Edmund Optics was somehow becoming increasingly... how shall we say... sexualized. What used to be a bunch of lenses and a fiber optic would next be a few lenses and an attractive model. A few years later, and (maybe it's just my eagle eye) the model definitely became the emphasis of the cover.

Okay, fine. Attractive models to sell stuff to any customer base, including techies, isn't new. It certainly doesn't help the ongoing mission of Bring More Women Into Science, but I suppose it is in line with common practice, even if you find it objectionable.

Now - Call me prude, but in my opinion Edmund took a bit of a bigger step into Objectification Land with this season's catalog:

C'mon, Edmund, really? Did we have to bring out cartoon superhero D-cup woman?

As my friends will attest, I might be just as blind as the next typical guy when it comes to spotting and complaining about gender stereotypes. But doesn't this seem to cross the line for you? I wonder how the many women who work in optics will react to this, as it's a field as yet uncontaminated by sales tactics like these. Not like it would have excused the artwork, but optics is certainly not an all-men's club.


I will at least accept the flattery that Edmund's catalog is now using a cartoon-bubble motif of "Project deadline looming - what to do now???"-type art, especially as Optics for Hire used it at last year's Photonics West. And we did it without the inflatable model. (Though I must say my CEO and I look dapper in suits.)

Then again, if their marketing department's goal was to get people talking, well, I guess it worked.

Next time, how about choosing any of 100 motivational things - maybe even non misogynistic things - to get people talking?