More Megapixels, More Image Quality?

We have experienced the increase of the megapixels on digital cameras during the past few years, I still remember when 0.5 megapixels was the largest image size we could find meanwhile nowadays we can find cameras with 24.3 megapixels and the megapixels will continue to increase as the camera companies keep telling users that largest megapixels translate in better image quality. Personally, as an amateur photographer and researcher in the field of image processing, I think that most of the time an image with more than 6 megapixels is a waste of memory and camera resources.

Let me start explaining the reasoning camera makers use to convince user that more megapixels is better: Printing quality. As you know, a good printing quality is achieved when the printing resolution is equal or higher than 300 PPI (pixels per inch) and, therefore, if you want to print a large image with good quality you would need to have a large image, for example with a 2 megapixels image the largest print size at 300 PPI would be of 14.7 cm x 9.7 cm (5.8” x 3.8”). You can do the math yourself, but in the page of Imagine 123 you will find a table of the image size and printing sizes you may have. The camera makers tell users that with larger pixels they won’t just be able to print in larger format but also they will obtain more detailed photographs since you will have more pixels to represent the objects in the image. I don’t say this claim is completely false, but you need to consider other aspects that aren’t as straightforward as the concept “bigger is better” and this discussion has been in the air since some years ago as you can see in this cnet news note from 2007.
If we accept as a fact that most photography enthusiasts don’t print their photos in large format, then the camera makers just have the detail in the image as the only reason to offer users more and more megapixels every day. But, it is really true that more megapixels are synonym of more detail? My answer is yes for just few cases but most of the times is a big no. Let me explain you my reasons:

First we need to consider the sensor of a digital camera, it is an array of light sensitive elements and each pixel will correspond to a small area of the sensor, meaning that the information in each pixel is the sum of the light arriving through the lenses into the pixel area. Now, if we keep the size of the sensor constant and we increase the megapixels the resulting pixel size will be reduced and therefore less light will arrive to each pixel increasing the effects of electrical noise in the sensor degrading not just the sensitivity to finer tonal gradations but also the quality of the image in dim conditions. As an example, I took two different photographs using my camera with 6 megapixels (2816 x 2112 pixels) and a 7.18 mm sensor and one of the cameras of the HORUS system with just 1 megapixel (1024 x 768 pixels) but a 8 mm sensor, i.e., more than twice larger pixels. You can see how there is more noise in the image captured with the 6 megapixels camera despite the fact that there are more pixels to represent the same object. You can see the complete pictures in my blog.
My camera
HORUS system camera

The noise is not a problem in highly illuminated scenes, that’s one of the few cases were bigger is better, but for dim conditions the camera makers try to solve the problem using clever image processing methods, for example increasing the gain of the light sensor and using filtering algorithms to reduce the noise, most of the times reducing also the image size. As you can imagine, the image processing will end up with an altered image and for purists this could be a downside of using cameras with large megapixels.  
At the end, maybe professional photographers will fully exploit the advantages of large images, but we must keep in mind that the image quality is not completely determined by the megapixels of it, we also must take into account the camera’s optics (lenses) and especially the sensor’s size and sensitivity and, therefore, we shouldn’t trick ourselves into the “bigger is better” mantra of most of the camera makers and sellers.

Go Daddy and SOPA

Today Mashable wrote an article arguing that it’s time to give Go Daddy a break. Since it was recognized that Go Daddy was a supporter of SOPA Reddit and the rest of the internets have been lambasting Go Daddy for it’s stance. Go Daddy has responded to the internet three different times, each with a strong change in its tone. First, it responded with a very caviler attitude as if there was nothing that the web could do against them for their SOPA support. Once there was announced an official domain move day of December 29th and thousands of domains fled Go Daddy, the company changed their stance from Supporter to “no longer supports” SOPA. Once the 29th hit even more sites moved from Go Daddy which has forced Go Daddy to officially oppose SOPA. However, even this hasn’t placated the internet and members of sites like Reddit are calling for more domain name changes. Mashable things enough is enough. The point has been made the company has changed its stance.

The author, Todd Wasserman, doesn’t seem to understand why members of sites like Reddit would be so upset and still out for blood. Sites like imgur are moving from Go Daddy, even though the official stance has changed and the boycott domain change day has passed. Should they still change? I think they should. What Wasserman doesn’t understand is this is as much an emotional response as a logical one.

The initial response basically marginalized the most active users of the internet, which include many domain name holders and entrepreneurs. Effectively saying to their clients, you don’t matter to us you pay us and we’ll do what we want to the internet. These are technologically savvy consumers that really understand how the internet works and have an expectation of how they should be treated on the internet. This was akin to kicking a hornets nest.

The slow response to the internet’s concerns allowed users to find additional information about Go Daddy’s involvement in SOPA. It was discovered that Go Daddy actually helped write the bill and was exempt from it. This represented a betrayal of the highest order. A company that has gotten rich on the back of user created content from start-up companies, blogs, video sites, etc, was helping to destroy the very content that made it rich. Talk about a Judas move.

When the company then switched to doesn’t support SOPA, this just further angered communities like Reddit, because it didn’t go far enough. Internet users wanted the company to condemn the bill with all the force it could muster. However, it took a half measure approach and did nothing to actually make users on happy. Content owners want to be sure that their domain registrar was as against the bill as they were. Otherwise, all of their protests and content could easily be cut off while Go Daddy continued to profit off of the users content.

So, should the full reversal after the boycott have helped placate the internet? I don’t think so. The company was disingenuous in their initial responses rebuffing serious concerns from the most savvy of their users. These users were able to explain to the less savvy the actual hazards of a domain registrar supporting SOPA. The half measure changes showed that the company was only bowing to pressure and likely could have changed positions as quickly as it had once the boycott was announced.

Making an example out of Go Daddy makes it known to other large companies that bills like SOPA are completely unacceptable and support of them will not be tolerated if you’re a web based service or company. Should the internet relax on Go Daddy? No, not until they begin making campaign contributions against the bill’s supporters, actively works to lobby against it through transparently working to write bills to fully protect the internet from future legislation like this. Changing its stance seems some what opportunistic and I know I need more action than a statement. Working to oust members that support it, would be putting its money where its mouth is.

If I made video games, this is how I’d deal with Piracy

Piracy is something of a real issue. It can impact the livelihoods of artists as well as the big companies. However, the methods that companies go to when fighting piracy are extreme and infuriate end users. The people that listen to music or play games for the love of music or video games.

My friends over at KMBOD have written in the past about how horrible some of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems are on video games. These systems require continual verification that the game has actually been purchased. In some cases it makes the game unplayable or extremely difficult to play. In some cases the user must be online the entire time regardless of the type of game the user is playing. It makes sense for the game to be online if you’re playing multiplayer games, but if you’re playing a single version of the game why would you need to be online? Why should the game suddenly crash if you get disconnected from the internet? These types of things anger the gaming community and drive them away from specific titles and potentially entire publishing companies. Some publishing companies are Electronic Arts and Valve.

I don’t think that DRM is the right system to use. For one it’s easy to get around if you really want to and many players kind of look at DRM as a challenge something they should get around and publish online as a community service. It’s not just video games that do this, but also DVDs, Blu Ray and CD’s. In fact in the US it’s illegal under the DMCA to circumvent DRM.

So what would I do instead? Since there are a fair number of pretty easy distribution channels for video games now. There’s Steam, EA’s origin and a few other ones that I’m not really aware of. There’s also buying it from Amazon, Best Buy, Game Stop and a bunch of other stores. So access to the game is pretty easy. Price might be an issue, but for good games people are willing to pay a premium, just look at the sales of Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3. Huge blockbuster games. These changes are mostly for First Person Shooters, but similar type changes could apply for other types of video games, such as RPGs or strategy games.

Despite the ease of access people still pirate because they want to try before they drop $60 on a game. So what I’d do is make it as easy as possible to access both legally and illegally. I fully believe in the try before you buy model. However, for copies that weren’t installed from a CD or downloaded from an online distributor like Steam the game quality would be diminished. For instance many gamers complain about the number of frames per second for a game. Video is shot at 60 fps and the human eye can’t see much faster than that, but we can tell the difference if it’s much slower than that amount. In the illegal versions I would make the game run at 30 fps, but it would initially start at the 60 fps and over the course of a minute or two and have a little note flash that if you buy the game you can get the full 60 fps.

Another feature that gamers complain about is the perspective within the game (field of view FOV). They describe it as feeling like your playing with your head in the monitor. basically it’s restriction on peripheral vision. Again I would start the game out with full vision and then slowly move the POV into the “monitor” restricting the view and giving the paying customers an advantage over the pirate customers.

I would also make the user do less damage than their paying counter parts. This would reduce the number of kills and make the player less effective on the playing field and more likely to die and less likely to kill. Finally, the last thing I would do is to have a little pirate flag next to any player that didn’t legally purchase the game so all of the other players would know when some one hadn’t bought the game. In games where kill counts matter this could cause users to be banned from servers and reduce the ease access for playing.

None of these things would ruin the game to the point that some one wouldn’t want to play it. What it would do though is push people towards paying to be able to compete at the same level as everyone else.

Good men are hard to find

This week my grandfather, Paul Joseph Kapsar Sr., passed away. He was a good man. He was honest, caring and willing to help those in need. His service was beautiful and I’m extremely grateful I was able to come back to be part of the service. He’s had a serious impact on my life and the way I look at things, because he was honest and respected honesty. He respected hard work and was never afraid to get his hands dirty. We need more people like my grandpa. People that are reliable and that you can trust to do the right thing.

Despite all his great qualities society never rewarded him the way that it rewards the cut throat businessmen. My grandpa didn’t pass away a rich man in money, but in life. I feel that in many ways he was significantly better off than those that are willing to compromise their morals and ethics to make more money or to get reelected.

I think that we need people like my grandfather in positions of authority. Why? He was ethical and would have come up with a balanced approach to dealing with the economic crisis rather than the brutal or over coddling approach of the republicans or democrats respectively. He would not be a supporter of SOPA or of the recent changes of the NDAA which limit our freedoms. He was a vet and cherished everything that came with protecting the United States.

His passing has made me realize the pitiful state of our country’s leadership. The republican primary is a contest between who is willing to go lower. Gingrich is willing to destroy the check and balances of the Constitution. Romney doesn’t open his mouth without lying about his opponents or Obama. Perry is one of the biggest bigots on earth. The only republican willing to stand beside his ethics and moral positions is Ron Paul and his economic policies would be disastrous. Lamar Smith the guy pushing SOPA, will vote for a bill even whenever an argument pointed out how flawed the bill was, and he agreed with the argument.

Our financial sector things that they are entitled to whatever type of bonuses they are getting handed out and decry free loaders that get unemployment, when they have been given more government money than all of the American People combined. It would have been cheaper for the federal government to give money to the home owners to buy underwater houses than to save the banks.

Our country is experiencing a moral bankruptcy which seems destined to drive it into the ground. The future is made all the darker when a great man like my grandfather has passed away.

Billions and trillions

One of Carl Sagan’s books that I really like is “Billions and Billions”, where he wrote about the importance of exponentials, the connection between hunting and football, the true size of the universe, the decline of our planet, government and even abortion. Though I read it in English, I once, in a friend’s house, found a Spanish translation of the book and I was surprised when I realized the translated title: “Miles de Millones”, which means “Thousands of Millions”. If you are a native English speaker you might be thinking “Why were you surprised? A billion is a thousand millions, in other words it is 109”, and that is the main reason I decided to write about this because in most Spanish speaking countries the term “Billion” means a million of millions, i.e. 1012, and probably now you understand my surprise.
Historically, the term billion in English was first used to design 1012 following the French numbering system and it was introduced in the 15th century[1]. Now that meaning is part of the denominated long-scale system where a trillion is 1018, meanwhile in the short-scale system, used in most of the English speaking countries, a billion is 109 and a trillion is 1012. Surprisingly, the short-scale meaning was introduced also by France in the late 17th century even though they officially use the long-scale system nowadays. In the past, England used the long-scale system for a long time but they changed to the short-scale one, meaning that when reading old documents from England you must be careful about the meaning of billion and trillion.
If you are used to the exponential notation, then this whole discussion might be pointless since you use an unambiguous way to describe large quantities that doesn’t need the confusing terms billion and trillion. In that sense, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) suggests to avoid the use of billion or trillion since their meaning is language dependent and I think that scientists that publish or communicate their work should be aware of this language ambiguity and avoid it or at least be clear about the scale they use. As a recent example, we have the news about the MIT camera that is able to capture video at the speed of light, where they use in the title the sentence “one trillion frames per second” and they even use the word trillion over all the official website of the project, I couldn’t find a footnote or an explanation of the scale they are using and, therefore, after my first excitement about having a camera capturing data at 1018frames per second I had to use my common sense to realize that they are talking of 1012 frames per second since their results have time lengths of nanoseconds (10-9 seconds) and hundreds of picoseconds (100 times 10-12seconds). I’m not saying that their results lost importance because the camera works just at 1012 fps, that’s still very impressive if we take into account that most of the video cameras we had commercially don’t go further than 30 or 60 fps and that the fastest video camera I have worked with has a maximum frame rate of 1000 fps. I’m just saying that at first I imagined the amount of data captured and the transfer and storage capacities needed to work with it but later everything looked a little bit smaller because my reference frame was using the large-scale system.
In a globalized world, where communication between people from different countries and languages is a common thing, we need to have standards to communicate our ideas unambiguously and we must try to allow everyone to fully understand the information we are sharing with them, even though their common sense should be enough for them to understand us. Since there is not a chance that we have an standard meaning for billion and trillion in the world, I invite everyone to avoid their use or at least to give an explanation of the meaning of those words in their work.


[1]Smith, David Eugene. History of Mathematics. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 84–86. ISBN 978-0486204307.

SOPA hearing today

For all of those interested in protecting the Internet today is the last day to try to prevent congress from passing SOPA. This law, would censor the internet. There have been a lot of people talking about this law on both sides of the argument. Chris Dodd president of the RIAA is pushing heavily for this law. He argues that if China has the same ability to control content in China, then the US should have the exact same authority. In a previous blog I argue that this is the biggest killer to internet innovation. Effectively this would create a Great FireWall of the US.

Opponents of the law have started a censorship the internet campaign. I tweeted one of these yesterday. Effectively it blocked out parts of your writing in simulation of the final impact of the law. In addition to these campaigns a few other big hitters have come out against the law, including the Writers’ Guild of America. This group understands that copyright laws shouldn’t dictate the future of the internet and it’s openness. In addition yesterday the EFF posted an open letter from internet leaders arguing that SOPA would crush innovation. I strongly suggest reading this letter. It’s written by the people that created things like IPv6. These people know what they are talking about.

We users have had a blessing in disguise with the MegaUpload and Universal Music Company DMCA Take down issue. Effectively, they took down legal songs using a copyright provisions in addition to taking down videos ABOUT the discussion.

So what are some of the key problems with this bill? It requires DNS level blocking. Which could potentially break the internet. It takes down entire domains if there is a single alleged copyrighted material online. It can block payment to sites through requiring Master Card and Visa to shut down payment for the site. All of these have to happen within Five DAYS. Nothing gets done in five days in any business.

There are additional problems with these laws and our foreign policy. Recently Hilary Clinton gave an extensive speech on net freedom and how repressive regimes are censoring the internet and killing free speech. So, our international rhetoric is completely out of line with what we’re doing internally. Furthermore, this is going to create problems with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has decided to institute a policy framework which is effectively the opposite that everything SOPA stands for. Finally, this has a negative impact with the #NoDisconnect policy that the EU has recently pushed for.

If you want to keep up to date with the comments being discussed in the hearing today. Follow @EFFLive as they are tweeting comments from congressional leaders about the problems with this law. Additionally, please contact your congressional leaders today (scroll down to the bottom) about this issue.

Watch Live Stream Here: http://www.keepthewebopen.com/sopa

Additional Reading:
Internet Blacklist vs. Constitution – EFF
SOPA and Educators – EFF
Recent SOPA amendments – TechDirt
DC Decided to Regulate Hollywood to prevent innovation – TechDirt

MegaUpload and the DMCA

We’ve recently had a perfect example of the dangers of giving copyright holder more powerful weapons in their war on “piracy.” Megaupload works as a service where a user can upload content and allow other people to download it or share it at a later point in time. A good amount of the material is, in fact, copyrighted. There are versions of Game of Thrones and plenty of other videos. This services has totally legitimate uses though. There are competing services that you can use, something like DropBox or GoogleDocs which works in a slightly different manner. The users is required actively share the files. In Megaupload the uploader doesn’t have to actively share the file it can be accessed by many people.

MegaUpload would be a sure fire target if SOPA or Protect IP gets passed. What would happen is that MegaUpload would effectively be blacklisted from the Internet and cease to exist if they can’t fix the problem within five days. Additionally, any payments they would receive can also be blocked. This of course isn’t anything new, but recently Universal Music decided to use a DMCA take down notice to remove a MegaUpload video from YouTube.

This happens on a regular basis. These companies have programs that look for copyrighted material and then any offending material is issued a take down notice, which YouTube is required by federal law to comply with. There’s just one problem in this case. MegaUpload claims to own all of the copyrights to this song and video. Universal was issuing a false take down notice. As a result MegaUpload is now suing Universal.

What can we take from this? Well, that giving the authority of content control to companies that have an incentive to silence material that is harmful to their business is a bad thing. In this case, we have a company abusing state authorized power to censor a music video about another company. We should expect this type of behavior to continue if these copyright holders are given additional authority to censor the internet.

It appears that not only are record labels abusing their authority, but the DHS had seized a website, Dajaz1.com, for over a year without any sort of recourse. Particularly troubling in this case is that the blog did contain copyrighted material, but it was given to the blogger by the record labels and artists.

As users of the internet we all should be extremely concerned about what is happening on the internet in the name of Copyright. Freedom of culture is something we all enjoy and relish, however actions by Universal and the DHS severely threaten our cultural freedom and ability to have public discourse on the usage of technology. MegaUpload was using famous pop stars to stake a claim that they are a legitimate company. Using a law in an illegal manner was trying to silence that conversation.