Slot-Loading Record Player

Where I’m sitting right now, I can see the row of vinyl anchoring our bookshelves. Some great stuff in there.

All lined up with no place to play.

All lined up with no place to play.


I can also see our turntable, not hooked up, trapped in a cabinet that does not allow access enough to open the turntable’s lid. Then it hit me. There’s no need for special cabinet modifications and sliding drawers just to put a circular disc onto a spindle. CD Players have been managing that problem since the very beginning.

If I had a slot-loading turntable, I’d be good to go. I did a brief search for such a thing, and apparently they exist for 45’s, but the only one I found that might work for LPs was a dead link. But with today’s entertainment furniture, it seems like a no-brainer.

While we’re at it, perhaps we could replace the needle with a laser, and extend the lives of our precious vinyl albums.

2

The Class Action Channel

Sometime back in the dark ages a friend came back from Japan and said, “They have a TV channel there that is only advertising! People tune in just to watch ads!”

I was befuddled. In the United States, that tradition was, back then, reserved for the Super Bowl. (Hm… maybe not even then. This was before 1984.)

Now of course we have QVC, an enormously successful company that has television channels devoted simply to advertising. And people watch.

But that’s product advertising. Unscientifically, I thing half the ads I blip past fall into two categories: new medical therapies (mostly drugs), and law firms suing companies for the side effects of the new medical therapies.

With all those dollars being spent, and the country getting older and frankly more cranky, doesn’t it make sense to have the Class Action Channel? “Call in the next fifteen minutes to get in on the ground floor of this major lawsuit! Lyon and Lyin’ have a proven history of corporate blackmail, but you only benefit if you sign up before the settlement. And for the next five minutes we’ll add a bonus Lyon and Lyin’ mouse pad, even if you’re not qualified for the settlement!”

It’s gonna happen.

Regular Guy Sports Network

Sports broadcasting is changing, and the fan is the winner. Now let’s give the fan even more control.

Consider this article by Bill Barnwell at Grantland.com. You don’t have to read the whole article, but there are two key messages: television will not be the best way to consume sports in the near future, and Barnwell is willing to pay $20,000 to not hear the announcers.

That second tidbit was presented as a little bit of humor at the end of his article, but he’s missed the greater opportunity: not only can we happily marginalize the network announcers, we can choose commentators more to our liking. Enter the Regular Guy Sports Network.

There’s not much sadder than the partially-clothed American male sinking ever-further into his sofa cushions as he watches sports on his television. Alone. Or maybe there’s a group of people with no charismatic nucleus. Or just some guy who can’t stand the voice of Bob Costas. What if, with with a few button-presses, our Costas-hater is able to surround himself with a crew of wise-cracking pals? They love the home team as much as he does, they rip on the calls that go against them, they say inappropriate things about the opposing star player. They shred Costas. It’s pretty clear they’re drunk, and talking around Cheetos. Just like real friends would be.

With digital media, it’s a free market. It’s a way for aspiring comedians and articulate fanatics to get an audience. I tune in to the game, but I choose the regular guys that will be in my living room with me. My pals.

When I first thought of Regular Guy Sports Network, it was a digitally-enabled extension of current network broadcasts. Now I wonder, “who needs those guys?” The technology is there, all I need is a directory service to hook me up with my new sports buddies, and a way to keep their words in synch with what I’m watching. Easy peasy.

So come on, RGSN, make it happen!

Money for Nothin’ and Watts for Free

Think about your average solar collector. Even if you have no idea how the dang things work, you know that:

  • They are flat
  • They are black
  • They don’t work in the shade.

What else fits that description? With a few exceptions on the shade angle, the world has a lot of asphalt baking in the sun. A lot. Anyone who’s gone barefoot in the summer knows how hot a street can get. With that much surface area, you would only have to convert a tiny fraction of the solar flux into useable energy to make a huge difference.

So, come on, science (or maybe this is one for the engineers), give us a way to turn all those square miles of asphalt into cheap, low-efficiency solar collectors.

Rethinking Apertures

This is filed under the long-neglected ‘Get Poor Quick’ category, but the means of getting poor follows a discussion of camera lenses in general, with an emphasis on bokeh. Follow me and we’ll turn the whole industry on its head!

I was futzing around with the ol’ camera today, playing with my MIR-24, an older lens in which the Russians one-upped the prestigious German lens they were copying. I wasn’t trying for great photography, I was getting to know my lens by taking a bunch of pictures. It’s a fun lens when one has the time to manually get the focus just right. Here’s one of the shots I took (click to biggerize):

FR5A3546

One of the things I like about this shot is the way the fore- and background are interesting without being distracting. I took the shot with the lens wide open, which narrows the range that is in focus, and makes the foreground and background nicely blurry.

Different lenses will blur things differently; the quality of the blur is referred to with a word bastardized from Japanese, “bokeh”. Good bokeh is often described as “smooth”, while “jittery” is often used to describe bad bokeh.

But neither of those words actually describes what qualities make bokeh good or bad, just how it makes us feel. There is one generally-accepted reason bokeh is good or bad, and two others that are just as important but are not mentioned nearly often enough. I’m here to straighten that all out. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

So let’s think for a moment about what blur actually is. An image is blurred when light from one point in the subject covers more than one point in the image. Think about pictures where lights in the background turn into little circles. Or, if you don’t want to take the trouble to think, here’s an example:

FR5A0060

Note that points of light in the background of the above image are turned into circles. This is a projection of the aperture onto the camera sensor. If you look really closely, in fact, you will see that they are not quite perfect circles, but rounded octagons. The lens I was using has an eight-blade aperture control.

[Side note: When I’m watching TV now, I always take an interest in the shape of distant lights during night scenes. I bet an experienced cinematographer could tell you exactly what lens is being used just by that shape.]

Everyone agrees: the rounder the aperture, the smoother the bokeh. This is mostly true, but it’s far from the whole story. Here’s a look down the barrel of my MIR-24:

FR5A3574

The aperture is a hexagon, and not a terribly symmetric one at that. So, as the lens is stopped down (the aperture is closed) the bokeh will start to look edgy, and the dots from distant lights will be hexagonal. (The shot of the critters above was with the aperture all the way open; the blades are pulled out of the way entirely and the aperture is a nice perfect circle.)

Before we go on, let’s have some fun with aperture shapes!

Just because there’s an aperture control inside the lens, doesn’t mean we have to use it! Here I shoot with my beloved 85mm f/1.2, wide open in all these shots. But in the second shot, I’ve added my own homemade aperture in the shape of a triangle. (I wanted to do a fancier shape, but I’m not that good with the x-acto.)

You can get kits with all sorts of fun shapes, or you can get a camera lens with my new idea built right in. (Well, you might have to wait a while for option b.) Read on!

Back to bokeh. We have the generally-agreed-upon axiom that round apertures make better bokeh. But there’s another factor: The structure of the dots themselves. Some lenses produce nice, even dots, while others produce dots with a bright rim around the outside. And you can see that my homemade triangle aperture produced pretty significant ghosting. Both those things will add to the general unpleasantness of the blurry parts of your photos. So don’t assume that that old lens with the 20-blade aperture that’s nearly a perfect circle at any f-stop will automatically give you good bokeh.

Then there’s the one factor that no lens can compensate for (yet…). Sometimes the subject matter just doesn’t blur well. Here’s a picture that demonstrates a couple of annoying bokeh traits even when the lens is doing its job relatively well:

FR5A1629

The first bokeh annoyance is the fungus in the background. The fungus is very structural, but the way it blurs just doesn’t feel natural. Behind the fungus things get muddled but also don’t feel quite natural. To see why the blur came out the way it did, consider the blade of grass that goes diagonally behind the flower. It is blurred into a perfect, straight, well-defined, sharp-edged area of doubt and uncertainty. All the things that go into a traditional aperture to create “good” bokeh sometimes produce a result that doesn’t feel natural. Lines get exaggerated rather than softened. The line of the grass becomes a line of circles, the light evenly distributed.

The big distracting leaf in the foreground cannot be blamed on the lens, alas. You have no idea how many different crops I tried to get that MF-er out of there.

OK, we’ve finally made it to the get-poor-quick part of this episode. You see, I have come up with a way to control the aperture of the lens that solves ALL the above problems: the aperture can be perfectly circular at any f-stop, or it can have any shape the photographer wants.

The blur in a traditional lens has hard edges because the aperture has hard edges. Metal blades close and open to allow more or less light into the lens. But what if the aperture were not hard-edged? What if the hole that let light through tapered off in opacity toward the edges? Those circles projected onto the sensor would taper as well, softening the edges of the circles, and therefore softening the bokeh. It would look fantastic.

All we have to do is get rid of those dang metal blades and replace them with a ridiculously high-resolution grid of pixels that can be set on a continuum from completely transparent to utterly opaque. The rest is software.

I know that is easier said than done, and even with the march of digital progress the resolution required for this project (a couple of orders of magnitude better than what we could do now – getting down to an almost atomic scale) is a long way away. Or maybe, (better yet!), it’s not digital at all and an electric field could be applied to a film of material that controlled its opacity.

Eventually a system like this will be far cheaper to manufacture than a mechanism with servos and metal blades, and it will add a softness to pictures that can only be dreamt of today.

1

Another Product for Parents

If I had teen-aged children, I’d pay to have a phone-jamming device installed in my cars.

Filed under Get-Poor-Quick because most parents would not want to be prevented from using the phone and texting while driving, either.

Facts Suck

I had a get-poor-quick scheme all put together in my head, the result of musing while flossing and thinking “there has to be a better way!” I thought I was just a little bit of genetic engineering away from perfect teeth forever.

Foolishly, I actually went and looked up some facts before I wrote up the post. I’ll not be making that mistake again! Holy crap facts are the last thing I needed, and not really in keeping with the get-poor-quick ethos.

I did learn that the surface of your teeth is host to an amazingly complex and adaptable ecosystem with 1000 different kinds of bacteria, forming a complex structure that changes as time passes. My little genetically modified tooth scrubbers wouldn’t stand a chance; there’s nothing I could invent that’s not already in there and part of the system.

Unless…

Hang on, I’ll get back to you on this after I don’t check some more facts.

*Sigh* Back to flossing.