Hiperwall and NEC at Intelsat

Commercial Integrator published an article on the Hiperwall system built with NEC monitors at Intelsat. Some great pictures of their beautiful system!

A/V vs. IT

I wrote a post for the Hiperwall blog comparing the traditional A/V technology to circuit switching in networks, while the newer IT-based visualization approaches are more like packet switching. Click for more.


Video Wall Fault Tolerance article

I wrote an article for Sound and Communications Magazine on Video Wall Fault Tolerance.


Hiperwall Fault Tolerance

In March, I wrote a post on Fault Tolerance for the Hiperwall blog. I’ll link to it here since my name didn’t get attached to it there.


See the (Really) Big Picture

At Hiperwall, our tagline is “See the big picture” and we do that well. In applications from scientific visualization to control rooms and operations centers, being able to see lots of information in great detail allows our users to understand more clearly and make important decisions quickly. We’ve shown billion pixel images on Hiperwall systems, but haven’t had anything larger until now.

One of our developers used a capability provided by an NVIDIA library that the developers of Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt included in their video game to take an enormous game capture. He chose a resolution of more than 61,000 pixels by 34,000 pixels, so 2 gigapixels altogether. It took an absolute beast of a computer about a minute to render and save the resulting 1 GB file. Once the image was imported into our Hiperwall system, we could see how amazing it looked.

Here we’re showing the image fully zoomed out on our small 24 megapixel Hiperwall, so we can see Geralt on his horse. Click on the photo to see it in more detail.


Geralt in a 2Gpixel image shown on Hiperwall

When we zoom in to see his face, however, we can see the amazing detail in the rendering. We can see details of his witcher eye and the links on his armor. This image shows a zoom level of 1.0, so every pixel on the Hiperwall shows one pixel from the image.

Zoomed in to see Geralt's face

Finally, we animated zooming in on the image, so you can see how smoothly we can manipulate images, even those with 2 billion pixels. (Sorry about the canned music – we had people talking in the room as I shot the video.)

Waves between storms

We had a heckuva storm on Friday and a bit more on Saturday, and it really roiled the ocean. We went to Treasure Island Park in Laguna Beach early this morning and saw lots of crashing surf and splashing waves. I don’t recall ever seeing the sea so active in Laguna, at least not recently. The pictures don’t really do it justice, but you can get some idea of what we saw. The video shows the waves on some rocks – I liked watching the water drain off the rock as the wave subsides.

Problems with Click-Through Software License Agreements and Privacy

Almost every software product has a click-through End User License Agreement (EULA) that we typically just click OK on so we can actually use the software. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to click, because we’re often giving up our privacy or agreeing to other restrictions, but the software companies have us over a barrel, so we dutifully agree and move on. This is a real problem. EULAs were originally intended to protect the software company from liability and to prevent us from ripping them off. More recently, however, they’re throwing in binding arbitration clauses (which can be argued are legitimate protection for the company, but it does restrict our rights) and privacy clauses, which is the subject of this article. I believe these EULA problems can only be fixed through legislation, because competition and free enterprise don’t apply after we’ve already bought the product.

I have a Sleep Number bed and bought the SleepIQ add-on. SleepIQ is a $300 system in the pump (the mattress is filled with air) that measures your breathing, heart rate, and sleep. While it probably isn’t really worth $300, it is pretty cool, so when you buy a Sleep Number bed (and you should – they’re good), buy SleepIQ too. The sensor in the pump talks to an app on my iPhone, and the app was recently updated, which required me to click through a EULA. Well, I read this one, and it stinks. They threw in that they can do nearly anything they want with my private personal information that they’ve collected, including using it for marketing (not a surprise) or selling it to their business partners (bad). If I didn’t agree with the EULA, I needed to disable the SleepIQ system, thus throwing out the $300 I paid. It did say I could continue to use the bed – how generous of them!

This sort of thing isn’t any different than if you bought a car, and when you got it home, the entertainment/navigation system popped up a EULA that required you agree to all sorts of abusive terms or they’d disable all the features. That likely wouldn’t fly in cars, because consumer protection for cars is pretty good (lemon laws) and the consumer outrage would torpedo sales from that manufacturer. Sadly, with most other products, we’re stuck with whatever they want to give us.

What should be done?

I think EULAs should be restricted to EULA things, like defining the protections for the software company and restricting copying and other things. Agreeing to such a EULA could still be required before the user can use the software. Privacy statements have no place in the EULA, and I think protection of our personal data should be a legislated default. In no way should we be forced to give up protection of our private data in order to use the service. Of course, the company can offer us incentives that make the service more effective if we opt in to sharing our information, but it should not be mandatory. There are some services whose whole purpose is to share our data with someone – well they should get our permission explicitly, as well.

The problem is, companies aren’t going to do this voluntarily. There’s profit in our names and email addresses and personal preferences. Selling that information is essentially free money for a company that makes software or other products. Since consumers don’t often know what we’re signing away and realize that we have no choice in doing so, there’s little market pressure to stop this practice. That’s why (I hate to admit it) government should get involved and protect the rights and privacy of its citizens. We need to stop companies forcing customers to agree bad things in order to use services we pay for. This sort of behavior should not be accepted or allowed.

How to log in to your locked Windows 10 computer

For those of us that have used Windows 7 for a long time, the Windows 10 login mechanism is annoying, and that’s doubly so when your machine is locked. So I’ve made a handy guide that describes the login process for a locked Windows 10 system.

  1. Type your password and press Enter. This obviously doesn’t work, because the first few characters are absorbed by the pretty picture screen before it goes away to show the password prompt box.
  2. Notice that it says you typed the wrong password, so type it again and press Enter. This has the effect of selecting the OK button on the screen that told you about the earlier mistake, so this didn’t work either.
  3. Finally the password box is selected, empty, and ready for your input. So type your password again. This one should work.

So that’s it. If we’re used to Windows 7 just having the password box on the lock screen and just being able to type our password to unlock it, it takes typing the password 3 times under Windows 10. Sometimes form does not triumph over function.

Modern Auto Entertainment System Problems

My wife just got a new, modern car with a fancy Ford Sync 3 entertainment system, and I’m a little jealous of that. This is the first car we’ve had with Bluetooth and built-in navigation and the ability to play MP3s and such. But these systems are far from perfect. Every review of pretty much every car other than the Teslas complains about the entertainment systems and how fiddly and unintuitive they are. Somehow Tesla gets it right, while the traditional car companies are terrible at this sort of thing. Or perhaps the reviewers are so impressed by being pushed back in their seat by the Tesla’s massive acceleration and the giant iPad-looking screen is so pretty that they can’t think straight. Or they’re afraid Elon Musk will cancel their Tesla order if they say anything bad.

In any case, I don’t find the Ford Sync 3 to be hard to use, but it is much farther from being good than it should be to fit in the center of the dashboard of an automobile. This version ditches the Microsoft influence for a version built on the QNX real-time operating system bought by RIM a couple years back. QNX is a good choice to build a real-time interactive entertainment system on, but the Sync software on top of it needs a lot of help.

The very first day we got the car, I went out to learn about the Sync system and the damn thing locked up within seconds of me touching it. I had force it to reset, which wasn’t too hard, but messes things up (more below). This happened again this weekend as we were driving. I was in the passenger seat and wondering why it couldn’t find the iPod I stored a bunch of music on (more on that later too), and the touch screen locked up. Once I reset it, it behaved, but having to reset it twice in just over a week tells me it isn’t very reliable, and it needs to be. Anything that could distract or stress a driver should be eliminated as the highest priority, and having your entertainment/navigation system lose its mind is a good way to distract and stress a driver.

Speaking of navigation systems, this Sync 3 system has a proprietary nav system that is reasonably friendly and competent, but not nearly as nice as the old Garmin Nuvi my wife was using. The Sync nav system is quite out of date (Nordstrom has not been in the South Bay Galleria for quite a while now), and Ford says we can purchase map updates from the dealer. Well, it is a new car, so the map should be updated, but isn’t. And my wife’s old Garmin had lifetime map updates included. The biggest thing my wife misses about her Garmin though is the current speed display on the GPS screen. This independent speed display is quite handy if your speedometer is hard to read or not very precise, or you just don’t want to look down often. I can see why Ford wouldn’t want this, because it might show a slight difference between GPS speed and the speedometer, and they wouldn’t want anyone to think their car is reading the wrong speed. But I’ll trust GPS speed any day, and it is a shame it isn’t an option.

Now the biggest problem with resetting the system is that it loses the correct time. That’s right, it forgets the correct time! And if you ask it to set according to the GPS time, it can’t handle Daylight Savings time. Seriously. This should not be a problem in a fancy expensive computerized entertainment/nav system. The Garmin unit that I have and the one my wife had handle Daylight Savings time just fine, so the fact that a modern system can’t is just sloppy/lazy programming.

Another problem is that it keeps locking up the iPod I put a bunch of song on. It seems to me that iPods should be a pretty well known device to be able to handle well, and maybe the problem is on the iPod side, but it shouldn’t lock it up. When that happens, the iPod can’t be found in the source list and has to be re-scanned after I reset the iPod. Yet more distractions that shouldn’t ever happen.

The system has voice commands that are mostly OK, but it is so tedious to use, we just use Siri from our iPhones to make calls and read texts and such. The built-in stuff isn’t nearly as good. Luckily, holding the voice command handle for a couple seconds activates Siri through the built-in sound system.

All this leads to the problem: the car makers want to own this stuff and charge too much for it, so they make their own software and interfaces, and none of it is as good as what Apple and Google make. While CarPlay and AndroidAuto are available in some cars, they are not common yet, and they will still require some interaction with the lousy built-in systems to work. It could be that Tesla has all of this solved, but Ford sure doesn’t.

Opinion: The Unfairness of Rapid Minimum Wage Increases

I never write about politics or economics, because I’m not an expert in these things, but California is about to pass a huge increase in the minimum wage (over time), and that’s something I have an opinion about. Talking about this is a little scary, particularly in California, where my opinion won’t be popular, but my opinion is for a different reason than you think. Lots of noise has been made about how this will hurt small businesses, and more noise has been made about the need for a living wage, and there is truth on both sides, but that’s not what I care about here. I think the wage rise is unfair and demoralizing to the very people it is supposed to help.

In college, I worked a couple of minimum wage jobs. Well, they started at minimum wage, but quickly I took on new responsibilities or showed my value and got raises, which made me very happy. Now if the minimum wage was raised so the new hire makes as much as I do, well then I’d be unhappy. And there’s no way I’d be able to “catch up” to the wage curve the new hire is on.

The effect of these rapid increases over time is that they will compress the salaries of many workers to the minimum wage. Employers are going to have to make everyone earn at least the minimum wage, but if I was earning a dollar more than minimum, I’d guess that that dollar gap wouldn’t be kept after the minimum is raised, because of the newly increased expenses. Hopefully, if the employer is nice and wants to reward achievement, I’d still be a little above minimum, but there’s no guarantee of that. So the new people catch up to previous high achievers each time the minimum wage increases.

You can argue that nothing was taken from the high achievers, and, in fact, they will be caught up in the wave of increasing wages, but I think it would be demoralizing to the high achievers, and they’re the future of the business, so it’s a bad idea to demoralize them. While I was at Northrop Grumman, we had some boom times in the economy where engineers became expensive. We were hiring in new engineers at salaries that weren’t far below the salary that I was earning even after getting good raises every year. This was depressing, because the engineers in my cohort were on a much lower wage curve than these new engineers that started so much higher than we did (even accounting for inflation). The only way to change the curve is to leave and get higher pay at another job, which isn’t what any company would want. So I know how it feels to have new hires fresh out of school earning nearly as much, and it is demoralizing. I can guess this will happen near the minimum wage level as well.

I don’t have a solution to propose. The increase is a done deal and will be signed into law today. But we shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t help as much as people think it will, and I think some of that will be the effect I described above.