Screen Gogs

Prague, in the summer, is a beer-drinkers paradise. Beer gardens dot the city, the people watching is unparalleled, and the long, warm days make it wonderful to sit inthe shade of an old tree and sip a fine Czech pivo while writing.

Unfortunately, that same pleasant sun makes it nearly impossible to see the screen of a typical laptop. Even in the shade it’s just too bright out there. I had been designing in my head a special “writing outdoors” laptop with an ultra-bright screen. They have them, but they are power hogs, so the rest of the computer would be taken up completely by batteries. There would be no optical drive and maybe even no hard drive, just enough flash RAM to hold the OS and Jer’s Novel Writer, and a USB port to use for file transfer.

But then I noticed something. I can hardly see my phone screen at all when I’m wearing my shades, but if I turn it 90 degrees, there it is. The light is polarized. And there lies the key to outdoor laptop use. Construct the screen so that the light is polarized in a particular direction. Create glasses that are extremely dark except for light polarized in that one tiny notch. As Voltaire would say, “Voila!” The relative brightness of the screen would be increased without burning through batteries.

I don’t know what it would take to make lenses that were that specific to a particular polarization angle and very dark in all others, but I bet it could be done.

Best of all, Geeks would finally be able to get some fresh air and sunshine.

28 thoughts on “Screen Gogs

  1. There’s already a watch that does that. For his birthday, I got Pat a special yachting watch. Under ordinary circumstances, it’s an ordinary analog wrist watch, but on top of that analog dial is an LCD display that can be set to show such things as a sailing race start countdown. If one is wearing polarized sunglasses, that watch’s supplementary display shows up even when it’s turned off.

    You’re definitely onto something here. Yes, you’d have to have your computer users wear polarized glasses, but if the vast majority of geeks already wear glasses, and if the cost of polarized lenses (at least at Costco) is only $20 more than ordinary lenses, you’ve got a huge market.

  2. What you need is a bastardization of the peril sensitive glasses that Zaphod wears, but set to go black at the first sign of geekness.

  3. After life guarding I learned the value of polarized glasses. I can see my watch at certain angles but I can not see my PDA from any direction or the radio in the car. What is really interesting is wearing polarized glasses and a motorcycle helmet with a plastic visor. The road takes on random colors.

  4. Jer,

    According to the Technorati site, no one has laid claim to the get-poor-quick “tag”. It seems like MR&HBI, as original publisher of the concept, should get some love on this subject. Can you fix the situation?

  5. Since getting polarized sunglasses, I have noticed that some cars with tinted windows have a moire interference pattern. This is not visible from inside the car, but when one is outside the car, it can be quite dramatic, especially on rear windows with electric defrosters.

  6. One thing I noticed on my ipod id when I turn off the light I can see it better in the sun. Maybe a feature that turns the color’s to a basic led sceen into black and white would do the trick .

    But I’ll buy stock in your idea Jer.

  7. OK, I know this is off topic, but with the 20th Anniversary Boys’ Bacchanal coming up, I had to put this in …

    Gerald and I just spent the last several hours playing a game of Monopoly. Ordinarily, as time goes on, one player gets stronger while the other players get weaker, until the weaker players go bankrupt. But that didn’t happen this time. We got into a weird sort of balance. During the beginning phase of the game, he seemed to be the lucky one; he ended up getting half again as many properties as I did. But I got the only monopoly, on Mediterranean and Baltic, and I got both utilities. We each got two railroads. I quickly developed Mediterranean and Baltic into hotels.

    From that point on, I was outperforming Gerald, but we were both continuing to gain wealth — I was gaining faster than he was, but we were both gaining. After about six hours, we called it quits. His net worth was about $10,000, while mine was about $25,000. Had we continued until dawn, he probably would have been worth $25,000 and I worth $100,000. And the game could probably go on infinitely.

    Yes, I know it’s a board game and is therefore not necessarily a great model for reality — but it’s interesting that we reached a point where nobody was losing, and nobody COULD lose. Maybe politicians and economists should take note. Yes, in real life, it’s probably a lot more complicated than a board game, but perhaps there is, indeed, a way to reach an equilibrium in which nobody loses and everybody gains.

    Meanwhile, we at Five O’Clock Somewhere look forward to the 20th anniversary bacchanal. We’re working on making sure both the games closet and the beer closet are properly full.

  8. As far as the technorati thing goes, I must have implemented it wrong, as my posts should be showing up there. I think I need to tag them differently to get more interesting matches when people click the link, anyway.

    I’ll probably bag the thing, but I’d like to know what I’m doing wrong.

  9. The original powerbook (100) wasn’t backlit, was 1-bit color, and worked great in the sun (and weighed next to nothing) … it had a highly reflective surface behind the LCD, and all the LCD did was block light in two directions … better contrast in the sun than indoors.

    An idea was floated years ago to have all headlights be polarized in the same direction as a polarized windshield (think 45 degrees for example clarity), so that on-coming traffic lights would be dimmed and you could have screaming-bright headlights. Don’t know what happened to it.

    You can buy polarizing film (sticky-backed), and put it on your laptop (or, better, a velcro-secured glare screen) and glasses (or, better, the clip-on shades). I think you have a winner.

  10. I have noticed, as a side effect of laptops’ screens becoming bigger, more powerful, and more brightly lit, that battery life is much shorter than it used to be. For those who want more freedom from the grid, the older, more primitive models are much better.

    Speaking of Apples, we went to a performance of the traveling troupe of Cats. During intermission, Gerald and Pat went to look into the orchestra pit to see what was there, and they discovered two sets of percussion instruments, and a half-dozen Apple computers.

  11. It’s the processors in the newer laptops burning through the batteries, but the screens are definitely a factor as well.

    The LCD screen in my laptop is polarized, but exactly out of phase with my shades. The shades are oriented to cut glare, so I want to keep them the way they are. I sent an e-mail to apple asking them to rotate their screens, but I doubt they’ll do it.

  12. Interesting, however, if you could get a rotated screen polarization as an option on a custom-built machine.

  13. Here’s an odd incident:

    On the freeway yesterday, I was passing one of these new mercedes coupes. The rear badges were hard to read, and so as I passed it, I looked in my side view mirror to confirm the tell-tale tri-star on the grill. As I looked in the mirror the wheels were doing that funny movie film thing where the stagecoach wheels rotate backwards in slower motion. Strange.

    1. I was not watching a movie, this was real life.

    2. Could the mirror have been vibrating at just the right frequency to set this up?

    3. Is the side view mirror polarized? And if so, so what? The wheels are round, how would the polarization matter?

    4. I thought coupe meant two doors, and a sedan was four door.

  14. What you may have been seeing were wheels that have an outer disk that keeps spinning even when the car is stopped. If they were spinning at a different rate than the structural parts underneath, you could get an effect like that.

    Wheels like that are just another way of saying “I have more dollars than brain cells.”

  15. As far as the polarization of the LCD screens, there’s actually a good reason they are rotated the way they are. You can see it if you view the screen off-angle on the vertical axis and then try tipping the screen around the horizontal axis. The change in appearance as you move side-to-side is much less. (It is different on different machines – on my Mac the change as I tilt the screen is less pronounced than on my PC. I haven’t tried fuego’s PC yet, it has a really nice screen.)

    So it’s time to cobble together a pair od poloroid shades rotated 90 degrees. Lousy for driving, but good for computing.

  16. The decorative wheels idea is a good guess. It may ultimately be the correct answer. I’m a little doubtful because the driver was 50+ bottleblond realtor type. Not your typical gangsta spinners wheel buyer. But ya never know…

    I think you should buy some for the crusader-mobile. Pirates were the original gangsta bing-bling types. What the hell else are you gonna spend all that movie cash on? Seriously?

  17. As for the wheels — those spinner things are OUT OUT OUT. The folks at MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” never use them — they’re just too silly. Now, they’ve put a whole lot of other bling onto wheels, and maybe some of that might be appropriate — gold-plated spoke wheels, shiny chrome wheels with simulated gemstones mounted in them, and sometimes something of elegant simplicity, chrome five-spoke wheels with run-flat tires.

    As for your bottle-blond wanna-be, he probably had the mistaken notion that spinners were tha thang.

    Wonder what would happen if you called in Xzibit as a consultant on the Crusader. Hey, he’s from Albuquerque, he might be interested.

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