Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sharp marketing takes a dull edge

Over the decades, I’ve generally been impressed with the product designs introduced by Sharp Electronics. If I wanted some gadget or other to fill a particular function, it was often the Sharp offering that I ended up buying. It had the features I was looking for or was more stylish than a competing brand at the same price. I can’t say a lot about the durability of their products. All of them bit the dust at some point, except our microwave oven, which groans as if it is dying every time we turn it on.

So I guess I have to conclude that what has always attracted me to Sharp is their product design, rather than their engineering quality.

But I just saw a banner ad for what Sharp has branded “Quattron quad pixel Technology” (complete with random capitalization), and I have to say this is one of the dumbest, least sharp ideas I’ve ever seen.

The new technology adds a yellow (Y) channel to the existing red (R), green (G), and blue (B) transmissive primaries.

First of all, the claimed product benefit is richer, more vibrant colors on an LCD television screen. I don’t see a lot of benefit there. Aren’t the colors on television garish enough already?

Second, the RGB gamut encompasses Y. In terms of the physics, no new colors are being added to the gamut.

The signal sent to the television is an RGB signal. Processing it to subtract out the Y algebraically and send it to the new Y channel may or may not decrease the overall power consumption of the set at a given brightness. If it does decrease power consumption, maybe this was the reason for developing the technology. In that case, it’s a real consumer benefit and should be the one Sharp is promoting instead of the “more colors” voodoo science they’re touting.

The blurb copy on the page I linked to above is another matter altogether:
Sharp once again demonstrates its leadership in LED LCD TVs [LEDs provide the backlighting; LCDs define the colors. I had to figure this out myself after first wondering if the copywriter had any idea that these are two distinct technologies used in quite different kinds of displays. A link to an explanation would have helped.] with its groundbreaking [mind-boggling?] Quattron quad pixel Technology. For the very first time [Delete “very,” a weak modifier that adds nothing to “first,” which is an absolute.], yellow has been added to the conventional red, green and blue color filter, enabling more colors to be displayed [Not really, as explained above.]. Introducing never-before-seen colors [Never-before-seen colors? Really? Do tell.] to LCD TVs, like sparkling golds, Caribbean blues and sunflower yellows without overdriving the panel [Oh, you had a problem with the panel, whatever that is, being overdriven, whatever that means. If this knowledge is of benefit to the consumer, because, for example, it reduces power consumption (if that’s the case), then explain the benefit to the consumer. Otherwise, you’re just parroting back what some engineer told you and you don’t understand it any more than I do. In any case, it casts doubt on your selling proposition. So just delete the phrase.]. Sharp is redefining the way we see LED LCD TV.
Maybe you’ve seen the cubicle placard that reads “If you can’t dazzle ’em with your brilliance, baffle ’em with your bullshit.”

Honesty matters. Honest. It does.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

All that jazz

For what it’s worth department
There are world travelers and there are world travelers. I did not travel much outside the U.S. when I was young, but in the last few years I’ve had occasion to visit a number of countries in various parts of the world. My wife and I typically stay in brand-name hotels that cater to American business tourists, either in major cities or in tourism-focused towns; and aside from eating street food while walking around, we are likely to be found eating in establishments where an English menu is available. In other words, you would do well to question the authenticity of our experience.

Nonetheless, it has struck us that no matter where we are in the world, the background music in restaurants and stores, the tunes playing on a taxi radio, the songs sung on street corners, are all likely to be American jazz, usually sung in English. I don’t think this is entirely because it is assumed the American tourist clientele will enjoy it; rather, it seems to be ubiquitous and to be ubiquitously enjoyed. We hear rock and hip-hop and other kinds of music, too. But the predominance of jazz and the genuine affection people hold for it is far more obvious outside the U.S. than inside.

Last week we were at a pre-conference banquet in a historic Polish town. The conference attendees were mostly from Europe, with just a few Americans present. The hosts had arranged for a feast of traditional Polish food and had hired a Polish band—a polka band, as a matter of fact.The band played American standards for the most part, arranged as polkas. There were no obviously Polish pieces at all (nor did we have to suffer through the “Beer Barrel Polka,” thankfully).

“American food,” in many parts of the world, is represented by McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Subway. But “American culture” is represented by jazz.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Servant of Two Masters at Yale Rep

How do you get away with staging an eighteenth-century commedia dell’arte farce in twenty-first century America?

Apparently, if you’re Yale Rep, you get away with it quite well.

Great adaptation. Great cast. Excellent music (and musicians). And, as usual (with one recent exception), a wonderful set. Speaking of the contrast with that exception, as plodding and pedestrian as the marionette work was in Compulsion, The Servant of Two Masters included charming, magical puppetry of another sort, first with fireflies, later with butterflies, that were just bits of stage business handled deftly by the ensemble, with no special program credits and no awkward self-consciousness.

What a delightful evening! Life got you down? Go. Enjoy. Forget your troubles.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Trust but verify: the problem of knowledge entropy

NPR has a photo essay, “The Jobs Of Yesteryear: Obsolete Occupations.” The story was researched and produced by Carolyn Beeler and edited by Tanya Ballard Brown of NPR, and it’s a lovely reminiscence for those of us old enough to have seen people doing these jobs.

However, the story exemplifies a problem with the transmittal of knowledge across decades and centuries. Knowledge degrades. There’s noise in the signal.

The NPR essay includes an entry for typesetters (click the arrow to the right of the photo until you get to it). Now that’s something I know about with a degree of intimacy that I would not expect from a photo archivist or a journalist. So it’s obvious to me that the descriptive paragraphs are full of misunderstandings and misstatements (never mind what they are, as the details are irrelevant to the point I’m making). Perhaps there are similar kinds of errors in the other descriptions, regarding occupations I know less about.

This is not a new phenomenon. I’ve been involved in events that were reported on the next day in a newspaper or the next week in a newsmagazine, and I’ve frequently had the experience, as you may have, of finding many factual errors and gross misinterpretations of events in the news story. I have no reason to think this discrepancy between fact and the reporting of the fact is larger or smaller today than it was a hundred or five hundred or a thousand or thirty thousand years ago. Surely you’ve read about psychological experiments involving the accuracy (or lack thereof) in eyewitness accounts of staged events. We’re not wired for reporting facts; we’re wired for remembering emotional states and rationalizing them by attributing them to things we think we saw.

I think this idea has begun to seep into the public consciousness, at least to the extent that literary critics now talk about the unreliable narrator as a feature not only of fiction, where it is an intentional device, but also of biography, autobiography, and memoir, where it is often not intentional at all.

However, I’m not sure the idea has fully penetrated to the extent that everything becomes suspect.

Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman writes often about bad science journalism, in which journalists jump to conclusions completely unsupported by the research they are reporting on. This is just one more area where we should question what we hear and see in the news (irrespective of how reputable a media outlet is or what political slant we believe it has).

But what about books? Books are edited, researched, fact-checked…some of the time. But there are also an overwhelming number of bad books, as there have always been (even before Gutenberg). And even in the most carefully done books, less-than-omniscient authors (all of them, in other words) write things they do not know from personal experience but read about or heard about somewhere else.

Well then, what about primary sources, the documents historians put so much trust in? Those, too, reflect a human interpretation and are subject to error.

What all this comes down to is the idea that maybe we shouldn’t be too sure we know what we think we know; we should be tolerant of others’ differing understandings (unless they’re total lunatics, of course). And just because we heard it on NPR doesn’t always mean it’s true.