Feb 282015

I don’t care what color the dress is. Instead, let’s focus on the three questions around this Internet tempest in a teapot that actually are intriguing.

  1. What caused the camera take such a weirdly inaccurate photo?
  2. Why is the human perceptual system causing this image to be perceived differently by some people?
  3. Was one side’s perception of the color more ‘correct’ than the others (spoiler: Yes, and I’ll prove it).

By way of full disclosure, I mostly see the dress as goldish tan and very light blue. However, I am ambi-dress-trous. With some effort, I can force myself to see it as blue/black as well. Below, I’ll show you how you may be able to trick your brain into the seeing it the other way too.  First, a few facts.

  • Secondary photos show that the physical dress is, in reality, blue/black. However, this proves nothing about what the original inaccurate photo of the dress shows. A photo of the dress is not the dress, so knowing the true color of the dress doesn’t change what the original untrue photo shows.
  • The color cues in the photo are unintentionally deceptive. How your visual system interprets these cues leads to the difference in perception of colors.
  • The Photoshop color picker demonstrates that the original, inaccurate photo shows the dress colors to be a very light bluish hue and a goldish brown which fades to tan.

This brings us to the first question: what caused the camera to take a this photo with inaccurate colors?

1. Why the camera screwed up the photo

When a camera takes a photo it tries to determine the correct white balance for the scene. In other words, it has to decide what is true white. It also has to decide what is true black in the photo. To do this the camera scans the image and looks for the whitest white and the blackest black and adjusts the rest of the colors accordingly. This is called “White Balancing.” It usually works quite well but we’ve all seen it fail occasionally in photos when skin tones look blue.

So what caused the camera’s color interpretation error in the original photo? I don’t think it’s a white balance error, I think it’s an exposure error. Why? Because there are three white reference sources in the image and the camera kept them all white.

1. At the top right of the image, behind the dress, is what appears to be daylight coming from a window. We can tell it’s daylight because of the blue halo glow around the top right of the image. That’s called chromatic aberration and it often comes from daylight, so it’s proper to infer we’re seeing through a window to outdoors.

2. Closer to the camera is what appears to be a store display cabinet with internal lighting.

3. The store’s interior ceiling lights which are illuminating the white-to-beige gradient on the floor. These appear to be halogen lights, due to the slightly warmer hue of the light.

Nov 032014

She looked up at me, smiled and shrugged, as if to say “Yeah, so?”

I’d just asked my five year old daughter to take a listen to some new speakers I’d installed. It was a 2.1 stereo system with subwoofer and integrated amplifier, all for less than $80 delivered. The reviews on Amazon offered a lot of praise about the sound quality despite the low price. Once hooked up I was surprised how good they sounded on a reference audio source. Especially for their diminutive size and low price. At that moment my daughter had bounced into the room and I wanted to share the experience of being so pleasantly surprised by a new product. And that was where things went off the rails.

As the impressive sound flowed around us and she stared blankly back at me, I realized “She doesn’t even know what bad audio sounds like. To her, great sounding audio is just audio.” Kids under a certain age simply don’t experience crappy sound often, or perhaps at all. To them, audio reproduction is either ‘great’ or ‘broken’, there is no middle-ground of ‘everyday bad sound’. When I was a teenager, bad audio was pretty much the expected default. Most places we went generally had lousy audio, except perhaps a concert, a theater or an audiophile’s house. The bad sound wasn’t just from terrible speaker design, it was also from substandard materials, poor placement and abysmal audio sources. Whether it was the snap, crackle, pop of an LP on my dad’s $500 turntable, the smeary, muddled sonic mess created by an audio cassette, or the incessant background hum on my cousin’s vintage dashboard 8 track player, it just sounded bad. But it was the kind of bad we were used to.

I did a quick mental rundown of the persistent audio sources in my daughter’s life. She watches a little bit of TV in the living room which has a 5.1 Dolby Digital sound system. Our home theater has a THX certified 7.1 system. The sound systems in our cars are standard manufacturer equipment, which these days sound quite good. She even has a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones for her iPad. The sources feeding into these systems are all at least 44.1 Khz, 16-bit digital recordings compressed with recent generation codecs. Kids these days simply have no experience with how bad a fuzzily modulated sound source over-driving cheap speakers can sound. Yes, I just said “Kids these days” but I’m not devolving into a rant of “In MY day we used to have to…” It’s actually a nice reminder just how far the march of progress has carried us in an area we don’t think about as much as ‘modern wonders’ like computers and mobile phones.

Even setting aside the impact of digitization of sound sources, over the past couple decades the typical quality of sound reproduction per dollar has scaled up dramatically. Although sound design used to be largely a black art, the knowledge of how to engineer low-cost speakers and amplifiers at high quality has become ubiquitous. The cost of components and materials has fallen to the point that even ‘cheap’ gear sounds remarkably good and ‘cost effective’ gear can sound amazing. There’s little additional value in paying top dollar for audiophile-grade equipment. The improvement over well-chosen mainstream gear is negligible. Audio purists used to pay $1,000 and up per speaker. Today, entire 7.1 speaker systems with outstanding quality cost less than $1,000 total. And that’s pretty awesome.

Apr 252012

By popular demand, here is the Table of Strategic Elements slide from my keynote at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam. You can subscribe to updates of this table and other posts in the sidebar. If you remix this table with new categories or layouts, I’d enjoy seeing it.

Table of Strategic Elements

Mar 212012

The Startup Owners Manual
by Steve Blank
The first part of Steve’s previous book for free: http://www.scribd.com/doc/36002151/Four-Steps-to-Epiphany-by-Steve-Blank-PDF-excert
Steve Blank’s slide presentations that cover some of the material in the book: http://www.slideshare.net/sblank

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Running Lean by Ash Maurya
http://www.amazon.com/Running-Lean-Iterate-Plan-Works/dp/1449305172 Continue reading »

Feb 282012

Ever wonder why Amazon can’t offer a cheaper bundle including print, audio & e-book versions? Is it accountants vs. book lovers? Amazon is good at figuring out what we want before we even know it. That’s why I like the company. So it stands out when they miss an opportunity. I buy a lot of books from Amazon. I also buy audiobooks from their Audible division which I listen to while driving. Sometimes I’m torn between buying the printed version of the book, an e-book or an audiobook. They are all ideally suited for different things. When actually reading, I prefer a printed book if it’s a title I think I’ll want to keep, refer to or possibly loan out. If it’s typical Tom Clancy long-flight fodder, then I prefer it as an e-book since longevity, shelveability and loanability are trumped by portability. If I have some drive time coming up, I’ll want to go for the audiobook.

But what if I have a book like Matt Ridley’s excellent Rational Optimist sitting in my Amazon shopping cart? This is a book I’ll definitely want to shelve, refer to and loan out. If I’ve got a two hour drive tomorrow and a cross country flight the next day, I’m confronted with a lousy choice. It seems wasteful to pay full price for the same book three times over. Yet I’d be happy to pay something more to have e-book portability, print book longevity and audiobook convenience. This is a perfect opportunity for Amazon to up sell me. There are upsides for Amazon beyond more revenue. Since I have the electronic copy available immediately as a download, I don’t care if they save money by shipping the printed copy to me slow-boat, instead of second-day. Since I’ll have the printed copy for long-term reference I don’t care if they restrict the digital copy to not be transferable to other devices. This would also open opportunities to implement cross-platform features further solidifying Amazon’s position, such as the ability to pause the audiobook when I drive up to the hotel and have the e-book open up to the correct page later that night in my hotel room. Continue reading »

Feb 242012
(c) Jonna Bell

My creativity does not need to be exercised.

Want to kick off your meeting with “a fun little creativity exercise”? Don’t. Please. You seem nice, so stop now before the love is gone.

Yesterday I was in a meeting that started this way and it reminded me I need to write this letter to all meeting organizers. If you feel the same, you can use my letter too.

Yesterday’s meeting began with an outside consultant brought in to “facilitate the process”. Process? Warning bells started going off in my head. The team that called this meeting is working on a hard problem. They invited a small group of creative thinkers from across the company to this meeting to help. It’s an interesting problem. It’s also a high value problem. I accepted the meeting invite because I want to help this team succeed. I like hard problems. I like helping.

But now this nice lady wants to kick things off with “a fun little creativity exercise”. I look around the room. There are some pretty damn sharp business ninjas assembled here. Serious heavy hitters with Costco family-sized “slam-dunk your problem with a kick-ass creative solution” skills. Is a “creativity exercise” really necessary? Creative problem solving is what these people do. All day, every day. If this was a pick-up basketball game and we’d invited the L.A. Lakers, would this lady feel the need to organize a “fun little basketball exercise” to kick things off? Maybe a quick game of horse to set the mood? Or would she maybe figure Kobe and the boys already have their own exercises and processes along with the experience to know when to apply them? Here’s the rest of my heartfelt love letter to all meeting organizers: Continue reading »

Feb 062012

ipad tablet & child development

Our iPad toddler at 18 months

Done wrong, an iPad can be cerebral junk food to your child. Done right, it’s a magical looking glass into a world of discovery. Our family had to experiment on our own offspring. We didn’t have a choice. There are no scientific studies on whether iPad usage accelerates or impedes child development. Until the science is done, our family (and perhaps yours) are the cutting edge of research. My 2 1/2 year old has used an iPad for nearly two years. We monitored what worked and what didn’t; making adjustments on the way. We’ve learned a lot. It boils down to five principles that can make all the difference.
The 5 Rules

1. Tablets are for two

When a toddler uses an iPad you must be there observing and interacting the entire time. This is hard. Tablets are the best electronic babysitters ever invented. A child might sit there lost in the “10-inch gaze” for days. This tempts weary caregivers to take a much needed break. Don’t. Tablet time = together time.

The results of our real-world experience are clear: Tablet time alone yields poor results, even with the best educational apps. However, with an engaged parent alongside, even a non-educational game can become a wonderful learning experience. The other day we were playing Angry Birds together and saw an intro scene of the pigs putting on an old-style Japanese outdoor play. This triggered a discussion about kabuki theater, what emotions the masks represent and how an alternate tonal scale can make different sounding music. That can’t happen if you’re not there. Continue reading »