A Satisfying Fraction of a Second

Posted in In My Opinion...

I like to do night photography... the theatrical staging and lighting in these scenes just winds my spring. Link, Brassai and Weegee are my heroes. Night photography and business travel go hand in hand, or at least used to. If you're on 50% travel to places that include Tokyo and London and Munich, it's nice to have a passion that can fill the hours after you get out of the labs or meeting rooms.

Osaka used to be one of my regular destinations to give talks or meet with customers. I'd usually add it on to a Tokyo trip and take the bullet train down. My night work breaks down into two categories... street/candid work (mostly when I travel) and still life stuff with huge exposure times that can exceed 30 minutes (mostly when I don't have to screw around with airport security). Train stations are one of the premiere locations to practice candid night photography and the train stations of Japan have been a favorite for that. Japan has an incredible amount of visually fascinating street activity that starts in the late evening hours and that has been another favorite subject matter.

Back in 92 or 93, I was in Osaka with my camera... a late-60's Canon TLb loaded with TMax film that would get pushed past it's rated ASA speed of 3200 to 12,800. Sorry, but as president of ASA, I never say "ISO". Grain is your friend when things are moving in low light. I love that my Canon is both manual and all metal. You can bash a guys brains into a slick mush with it and still take a picture of the body when you were done, so it's still my primary 35mm film camera after 28 years. I digress...

On that trip in the early 90's, I headed over to singularity among interesting places... street musicians, hawkers, alternatively-employed ladies, etc. We (guys I used to travel with) call it "the bridge"... it's not far from The Sony Building. There are ALL kinds of visually (and otherwise) unusual stuff to be seen there after midnight. Next to the bridge is a moderately size open area where two mostly-pedestrian roads come together, one which crosses the bridge. I was across the lane facing the bridge watching the 20-something Japanese guys in their neon satin suits and Elvis DA haircuts attempting to arrange social encounters with some of their lady friends... when I saw this young guy and girl coming my way on an old English 3 speed. He was driving with this purposeful, laboring look to his entire face and body, while the young lady perched on what little rear axle there was. She had this *perfect* gymnast's posture... she *owned* that axle and if I had to guess, she couldn't tell you the guy's name if you asked her. She looked completely at ease with her chin resting on her hand, propped on the guy's shoulder. It looked cool to me and caught my eye well before they got into the "kill zone" I was working with my camera, though they were heading into it. They were approaching a place on the brick pattern where all the lines in the bricks came together, and by some miraculous act of God, all the other people in the shot were just about to be in a perfect place too. The foreground was full of people that seemed to be exiting the shot just for me... It seemed like a photo I had to capture was crystallizing into existence right in front of me. It was mine to screw up.

I probably had 2 and a half sec to get ready. The Canon, being completely manual, meant that I had focus out in front so I picked the vertex of the bricks. My exposure (I was shooting at 12,800 so I could freeze human speed motion adequately in the night lighting) was already set for slower pedestrian motion, and I'd like to have gone up a couple of notches on shutter speed if I had the time. The focus was good so I panned back to the girl on the bike who was looking ahead as she approached her mark. I stepped out of the shadow into an over head light which caught her eye JUST as they crossed the perfect spot on the bricks, and the other 50 people all hit their mark. She looked RIGHT into the center of my lens and I NAILED it. The moment the loud mechanical kachunk was done, everyone scattered and the scene dissolved into it's normal chaos. There was another guy from the US about 20 feet away at the corner with one of those medium format Pentax cameras that looks like a huge 35... he looked over at me and asked "Did you get it?" with a little excitement. I guess I answered with a huge smile because I remember he smiled back and nodded.

That was the most satisfying photographic moment of my life... everything I could control, coupled with the unfolding chaos which I couldn't, all came together perfectly. I was there and ready for "the moment"... my personal "Moonrise over Hernandez" moment.

When you do night work, you're usually out there alone waiting for light to gather in your camera for long periods of time... hours. It's like ice fishing, only you can't eat what you catch. Digital has reduced some of that waiting, but for this picture, there's no way my digital set up (EOS 20D) would have been fast enough to get a keeper. After you finish processing the pictures and show them to a few people, the usual reaction is polite blank stares as they struggle to say something nice ("Oh.... um... I love black and white pictures"... hey... they tried:). I think night photography is one of those things you do strictly for you... for the joy of doing. It's not about what people who look at the end result think. You better really get off standing out in a driving snow at 2am taking 2 or 3 half-hour test Polaroids and explaining to bored cops in their warm cruisers that you're not a terrorist and that big 4x5 Speed Graphic mounted on the massive tripod isn't a portable rocket launcher. Good thing my buddy Rich from Western Digital was there to keep me out of jail when the CHP kid stopped and screwed with us while we were shooting the over pass in the Laguna Canyon Fwy at 2am. (Hey... if anyone knows how I can reach Rich Compeau these days, shoot me an email).

Anyway... my work for ASA used to blend a lot of night photography and I just stumbled across this shot I took on a biz trip, so I thought I'd waste some of your time talking about it. That'll teach you to read this damn blog:) Later.


Isolated Sub-Population Analysis Capabilities of M1 OT Version 6

Posted in In My Opinion...

A dozen or so years ago when I was living on airplanes every day and consulting my butt off, I spent a LOT of time chasing down really screwy behaviors in systems and devices... mostly clock distribution and reception parts using PLLs. The pace was intense and I needed to have a slick set of tricks to get pathologies to give themselves up quickly so I could fly off to the next pay check. My objective was to kill "rescue consults" in a single work day every single time (my work days usually go until well after midnight but I don't consider that cheating). One of the single most effective tools I used to employ for getting to the root cause of any pathology was what I call isolated subpopulation analysis (ISPA). ISPA is about measuring just the "bad stuff", unobscured and undistracted by the myriad of normal behaviors/events in the waveform. It's useful to know how often an anomaly repeats, or how long it lasts, or how many pathological events take place during a single "outbreak" or burst. Or you might want to understand if the occurrence of the pathological events correlates to other events on other waveforms. Various forms of ISPA, both automatic and manually driven, have been a big part of M1 from nearly the start and were a part of literally every rescue consult I ever did.

With the infrastructure for a massively effective mechanism for detecting and locating a wide range of waveform anomalies in place (Hidden Anomaly Location), it finally made sense for us to amp up the ISPA thrust of M1 OT. Version 6 extends the anomaly chase started in Version 5 to its logical conclusion... analysis, and association with events on other waveforms, with the idea of finding the root cause of the anomaly. The plan for Version 6 is to deploy (or in some cases, fill out) a range of methods of creating isolated sub-populations, so those populations can be analyzed using the already very rich analysis and viewing capabilities of M1 OT. The event isolation mechanisms in Version 6 break out as shown in the figure below. The initial release of version 6 contains implements the methods marked with a *, with the others soon to follow.

To answer the question before it's asked, how come we're on version 6 so fast when there's still more to do with HAL? Well the first answer is HAL is its own separate development thread, and will be for years to come. There was no reason not to jump into ISPA now because we're never going to be done with HAL anytime soon (unless you promise to limit the number of ways you can screw up your waveform:). The second answer is ISPA complements HAL and I want to grow them as siblings instead of forcing a generational difference. We're still working on new agents and new ways of using agents so don't be concerned. The third answer is that as a long time finder of waveform problems, I'm pretty excited about ISPA and kicking it out the door now let's me get to the thing I really want to do... let's call it Project X. X will be delivered as part of Version 6 in a month or two, and will bring the human back into M1... we've been pushing on the product's embedded intelligence (replacing the human) pretty hard, but we found something humans are really good at that is useful to the diagnostic process, and a way to complement and lead that process with M1. So Version 6/ISPA hits the beaches today. Sorry for the Secret Squirrel code talk... we definitely have "admirers" that like to try to "flatter" us.

ISPA, coupled with HAL mark a literal revolution in the process of detecting and understanding the kind of issues that every engineering team face and have to conquer to get their design out the door. They will accelerate your time to market by killing problems in your waveforms fast, but that's not the full story. The other revolutionary thing we're going to do with ISPA is not turn it into yet another very expensive boutique module... that you need 5 or 6 other very expensive boutique modules to use... like the folks over at ScopeCo. ISPA is just included in M1 OT and if you're on subscription, boom... you've got ISPA... along with HAL, collaboration, automation, no-cost compliance tests, etc. And it works on all your Tek, Agilent, Yokogawa and LeCroy scopes.

Little Murders - The Gold Standard of Black Comedies

Posted in In My Opinion...

I continue to harden my opinion that blogs are stupid and pointless. But I know there are a few people living even less of a life than I am and reading this, so... for you... here's a review of a movie you need to see...

I stumbled on to "Little Murders" on HBO back in the 70's and seriously enjoyed the dark and intellectual humor. Recently, I bought a copy and snuck it into our family movie night rotation. Having not seen it in so many years, I was a little worried it might not live up to my fond recollection. However, it did not disappoint. Quite the contrary... it turned out to be one of the best movie viewing experiences I've had in years. I saw both my wife and daughter laughing, though to be fair.. I think they expected things delivered a little faster.

In my opinion, Little Murders is the gold standard of dark comedy. Generally, attempting to analyze why a particular piece of art "works" is a silly exercise, but some comments on the high points for me... First, the cast. Vincent Gardenia was one of the finest character actors ever to stand in front of a camera and this was, in my opinion, his magnum opus. Alan Arkin too holds a very special place in "comedies for people who think" and he delivers in Little Murders as well. The underlying vision of the film takes "dark" to never-seen-again levels, and gets there primarily under the power of five of the all-time most perfect rants/soliloquies in the history of film:

  • Lou Jacobi as a judge speaking on the presence of The Deity in marriage vows gives a brilliant, extended, passionate rant on how difficult life was for his generation. The camera angles are *perfect*. The details are perfect. I would have paid just to watch this.
  • Vincent Gardenia, who is to avant garde 70's comedy what Steve McQueen is to WWII prison camp escape movies, delivers an exquisite, progressive, meltdown as he finally gets his arms around, and then recognizes his place in, the mega-apocalyptic New York in which he lives... I wept.

    [police are taking a Stepford Wives-looking woman out in a body bag as Vincent and his wife step past and around it, barely taking notice]

    Wife: "I saw that nice detective again today.. he was here investigating another murder."

    Vincent: <impatiently> "Who got it this time?"

    Wife: "I don't know.. some woman from the other wing"

    Vincent: <relieved> "Thank *GOD*!
  • Alan Arkin was the director and had a cameo as the detective.. His effort to reassure the family after 347 unsolved murders in their neighborhood is spectacular.
  • The marriage vows scene with the radical priest Donald Sutherland interacting with the rest of the cast is rich in exquisite detail.
  • Finally, this introspective, quiet little moment with lead character Elliot Gould... in the dark.. unfolding very slowly.. while he recounts how he once monkey-wrenched his FBI mail watcher in college.. It was slow and intellectual and brilliant.. It didn't advance the plot of the movie.. but when you were done watching it, you were left sitting there reeling from the brilliance of the scene. It too was almost it's own short subject.

If you enjoy dark comedy, find some quiet time and watch this film. Give it time to build. It does start slowly if you compare it to modern films, but I promise you will enjoy it.


An Idiot Speaks

Posted in In My Opinion...

I've had M1 on the market since 1995. One of the things I had in there from the first version was True Differential Thresholding, which reconstructs the signal's cross-over time and voltage exactly the same way the receiving chip does. It was actually critical to some work I was doing for DEC on the Alpha chip. Back then diff probes... what's the right word... sucked. The phase error alone was enough to cause you to chuck them. If there were no physical obstacles to using two single-ended probes, you were vastly better off using M1's built-in True Differential Thresholding. The reasons was that in addition to seeing the signal in precisely the same way that it's used in the circuit, it preserved a boat-load of information jettisoned by the diff-probe method that actually told you very useful things about your circuit, among these crossover-voltage vs time (not the timing of the cross over points but how the crossover VOLTAGE varied vs time). Just like today, the only people who crapped on the idea were......... the guys who make diff probes. Good thing ASA doesn't sell diff probes!

Well... with this history behind me, you had have thought I'd have gotten my arms all around the financial value proposition offered by True Differential Thresholding. But no... in talking with an M1 customer recently, I had HIM tell ME his big insight into what M1 did for him... "M1 saved me enough on diff probes to completely pay for itself". You're welcome Dave. Duh. Can't blame that one on early onset Alzheimer's... I was screwing that up when I was 37. Damn. So the pertinent question for me becomes... what else am I missing?

Every now and then, I've wondered why ScopeCo hasn't ripped this... er... umm... "flattered us"... on this idea too. But I have an idea why now.. it'd cost them more diff probe sales.