andrew catellier

negativesign

Hello 2015.

You dapper rascal you.

Here’s to the new narrative: getting better.

Cheers!

Thoughts on Perceived Scarcity

This scarcity mindset can also be debilitating. It shortens a person’s horizons and narrows his perspective, creating a dangerous tunnel vision. Anxiety also saps brainpower and willpower, reducing mental “bandwidth”, as the authors call it.

Relevant.

(Clearing out the linkblog backlog shamalama bing bang.)

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Crank Up the Internet Outrage Machine

The FCC has recently changed its position on net neutrality and frankly it’s a bad deal. It’s time to contact your representatives and senators. I did.

Despite the fact that the current FCC chairman was formerly a lobbyist for the industry he is now supposed to regulate, the arguments concerning this topic are largely based on court decisions resulting from lawsuits filed against cable TV companies.1

Cable companies secure rights to broadcast content to all their users from the producers of the content. These rights are a significant expense. Additionally, the cable companies were the only party delivering content to their customers. Under these conditions, the court orders cited make sense.

The internet, however, is quite a different beast. Content can and does come from anybody, from your neighbor to Netflix. An ISP’s right to distribute content (via IP or in traditional cable TV fashion) should in no way influence how it delivers other content requested by customers. Your neighbor has the right to send any or all Caturday pictures to whomever he or she wishes. Netflix has already secured rights to distribute content to its customers. If you request either of them, why should an ISP stand in the way?

I could go on and on. Instead, I’ll point to three ways you can protest the proposed rules:

What are you waiting for! This is the internet! Kittens are at stake!

  1. See Section I, page 8.

Mobile Device Pixel Density as It Relates to Video Quality

Joshua Ho writes for AnandTech about when an increase in mobile device pixel density provides no further benefits for its user. Considering some of the tradeoffs inherent in a system comprised of the human visual system and a mobile device, he concludes that screens with a resolution of around 90-100 pixels per degree are a good compromise for typical, RGB-pattern LCD screens.

Ho arrives at his conclusion through a discussion of visual acuity studies. I don’t disagree with him, at least when talking about text and images consisting of simple geometry. More complex static images and videos are different animals, of course.

The human visual system is extremely complex and delving into its complexities are well outside the scope of his (and this) article. That said, I just happen to know about research where a panel of viewers subjectively rated video quality on many different devices, including high and low DPI devices. One of the findings was that viewers judged video quality on both high and low DPI devices (each with the exact same screen size—an iPhone 4 and an iPod Touch) to be statistically similar.

Put differently, a theoretical video service provider could send a 480x320 pixel video to a device with a 960x640 pixel screen and the theoretical viewer would be just as happy as if the service provider had sent a 960x640 pixel video.

In terms of this discussion, high DPI mobile devices passed the point of diminishing returns where video is concerned long ago.

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No FEAR, Kind Of

Jason E. Harrington wrote about his experience as a TSA employee at Chicago’s O’Hare airport (go read the whole thing!). This quote from the essay refers to a letter that he wrote to (and was published by) the New York Times:

“The problem we have here is that you identified yourself as a TSA employee,” she said.

His letter to the Times demonstrated an attempt to take pride in his job and defend his employer. It also recommended a policy change that would allow employees a sense of agency in their work, something that to me is essential to job satisfaction and something that’s missing from a good deal of public and private jobs. He took great care to not disparage and even defend the TSA. His essay continues:

They were words I had heard somewhere before. Suddenly, the admonishment from our annual conduct training flashed through my head—self-identifying as a government employee in a public forum may be grounds for termination.

The basis for this rule is straightforward. Imagine an organization with a mission to teach math to anyone with an interest in learning. If one of the workers employed by this organization publicly endorsed the opinion that nobody uses math as an adult, that organization’s ideology would be diluted. So it is with the United States government. Most federal employes are bound by some form of this rule.

I was shocked. I had been sure the letter would fall under the aegis of public concern, but it looked as though my boss wanted to terminate me. I scrambled for something to say.

“I thought the First Amendment applied here.”

She leaned back in her chair, hands up, palms outfaced. Now she was on the defensive.

“I’m not trying to tread upon your First Amendment rights,” she said. “All I’m saying is: Couldn’t you have run those First Amendment rights past the legal department first?”

She dismissed me with the assurance that we would discuss the matter further at some point in the future.

This exchange concerns me for several reasons.

  1. Termination is a harsh punishment for engaging in civil discourse.
  2. Instead of accepting the letter as a form of feedback and acknowledging Jason as an employee with ideas that could be valuable to the TSA, his action was condemned for disregarding a rule. A wise manager would have attempted to address Jason’s concerns. Perhaps she did but that part of the conversation was omitted from the essay.
  3. As a federal employee, Jason should have received what is sometimes known as No FEAR training—typically bi-yearly training sessions on the rights of federal employees under the No-FEAR Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act/Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act; the former protecting federal employees from retaliation when reporting discrimination in the workplace and the latter protecting federal employees from retaliation when disclosing government fraud, abuse of resources or concerns for public health. TSA employees should receive information about these laws. If they don’t, that is extremely unfortunate and possibly illegal. If they do, Jason would have done well to file official complaints concerning the ineffectiveness of full-body scanning methods and concerning the veiled threat made by his supervisor. That said, it’s conceivable the complaints wouldn’t have gone far.
  4. No-FEAR and WPA/WPEA are great but as far as I know, they don’t apply to contractors doing government work. As the government becomes increasingly dependent on contract labor this limitation is gravely concerning. It is absurd that a federal employee has protected, legal channels to challenge questionable work practices while a contractor in the same position could be tried for treason. It is under this pretense that I strongly disagree that government functions should be contracted to private industry.
  5. The exchange demonstrates a crippling trait possessed by the federal government: the desire for judicial indemnity and public-facing political neutrality, no matter the cost to the public. This trait can and sometimes does neuter the consideration of (federally funded!) scientific findings in policy debates and decisions. As an advocate for research, this trait is extremely disheartening. It causes other problems too, like complicating procurement processes to the point of gross inefficiency.

Finally, I found this part of the essay quite striking:

The I.O. room at O’Hare had a bank of monitors, each with a disabled keyboard—which perfectly summed up my relationship with the TSA. I spent several hours each day looking at nude images of airline passengers with a keyboard that didn’t work, wishing I could be doing what I loved: writing. To pass the time, I phantom-typed passages on the dumb keys: Shakespeare and Nabokov and Baudelaire.

People are so much more than their jobs. American employers seem to have lost sight of this while engrossed in their efforts to squeeze efficiency out of the workforce. In some ways, the quest for economic efficiency has relieved a great deal of us from our humanity.

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Quartz Writer Schools Himself

We all know modern publications use any or all tools at their disposal in order to drive traffic to their websites. I don’t know what it’s like to write for Quartz, but this gaffe is nothing short of embarrassing for Quartz writer Christopher Mims. Let me elaborate.

The linked article, entitled “Intel’s voice recognition will blow Siri out of the water—because it doesn’t use the cloud”, initially exhibited a fundamental lack of understanding of pattern recognition.1 Granted, it’s impossible for one person to have an in-depth knowledge of all the technology utilized by our gadgets.

However, in the update he posted to the article, Mims posted a link to an article he wrote that completely invalidates the title of (and largely the premise of) the piece:

Currently, the everyday magic of understanding voice commands is carried out almost entirely in the cloud, because processing human speech is difficult enough that even a sophisticated smartphone doesn’t have the processing power to do it at a high enough level of reliability.

Ideally, either an editor or Mims himself would have noticed this inconsistency before publishing. That the headline remains unchanged after the update is disappointing. Rather than posting an update and leaving the piece otherwise unchanged, Quartz should take a cue from traditional newspapers and at the very least correct misleading body text and explicitly state the difference between the initial and current article. Specifically, the wording “Intel has a solution.” immediately following the first subheadline needs to be stricken. The tone of the rest of the article should be adjusted as well.

  1. A pattern recognition system relies on either specific or immense training data to deliver accurate results. The Intel solution could depend on recording and processing speech data from each user of its technology (which would then be stored on the user’s mobile device for future reference) to achieve greater accuracy. This possibility is not mentioned in the article.

    Instead, the original (and to a large extent, the current) article states that Intel has somehow magically solved the same problem currently addressed by racks of servers with a chip that can fit in your smartphone.

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On What’s Around You

Time published photos Christopher Morris took early in his career. These photos are a delightful example of a sentiment I highlighted in an earlier post.

Christopher’s photos highlight the value of the ability to remove oneself from the present in order to become a detached observer and document a moment in its unique context.

Though a portrait of “the world as it is” (or “this thing we all see”) is a common photographic project, I believe it’s a project that will always have value partly because it’s my opinion that there aren’t many people who have the skill that Christopher Morris exhibits in this work. There are so many things about our lives that seem unremarkable to us but can be utterly fascinating to those in other cultures or other geographic locations.

Most importantly though, these fascinations can be compounded by time—the inability to physically exist in a specific context facilitates nostalgia.

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canistream.it as a Symptom

Useful for those who have “cut the cord”, canistream.it is a service that will tell you if a movie or television show is available for streaming, purchase or rental. Pretty convenient.

The site is easy to use and its utility is obvious. However, this service shouldn’t need to exist in its current form.

The content producers, the people who make the television shows and movies, are notably absent from canistream.it’s streaming, purchase or rental options. Simply, relatively new businesses like Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Google and many others offer modern ways to access content. Television networks and movie studios do not.

This fact wouldn’t be so hard to swallow if content producers cooperated with the businesses facilitating modern distribution. Notoriously, though, they don’t. Instead of embracing new technologies and fitting them into a modern business plan, the traditional content producers ignored new technologies and have defended their obsolete distribution practices with litigation.

The future is here. Embrace it or move out of the way.

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Leica M9 Arguably Still the Smallest Interchangeable-Lens Camera With 35mm Sensor

Kind of.

My intention was to write a concession to a claim I made in an earlier post which stated that the Leica M9 is the smallest interchangeable-lens camera with a 35mm sensor. The Sony A7 and—more interesting to me—the A7R have been released and I had assumed that these bodies were smaller than the M9.

After doing a little research, I found that the M9 will fit into a smaller circumscribed box than the A7. According to Digital Photography Review:

body length (mm) height (mm) width (mm) box volume (mm3)
Leica M9 139 80 37 408,480
Leica M 240 139 80 42 467,040
Sony A7 127 94 48 573,024

Of course, the viewfinder and grip on the A7 contribute more significantly to the circumscribed box dimensions than the actual displacement of the body. However, circumscribed box dimensions are important when allocating space in a camera bag.

I’ll wait for someone else to do a proper displacement test.