Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tough Weekend in Ann Arbor for Football and Firefighters

Growing up in the era of the Fab Five, Michigan has always seemed to me as an eviable school to attend with its mix of great sports and academics. Then you see the football stadium, known as "The Big House," and the crowd of 110,000 makes you feel quite insignificant. At the same time, it is an awesome spectacle to witness. It also gave me a good excuse to visit my good college friend Lee Higgins in Ann Arbor for the weekend.

The last time I had seen Lee was at his wedding, and now he had a giant one-year-old baby, Taylor, and a two-year-old dog, Chase. Taylor is a happy-go-lucky baby that is very photogenic as you can see below.

So was The Big House. The thing that struck me about the stadium was that even from the top you still had a good view of the field; you didn't need binoculars like some large stadiums. The design was genius. The stands went right up to the sidelines and endzones. There was no wasted space between rows either.

Unfortunately, Michigan was outclassed by a solid Penn State team and lost 35-10. The second half was cold and rainy, and we were happy when it ended. Ann Arbor was a pretty college town with the leaves at their most brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange. It reminded me of New England. The nightlife was nothing special for a Saturday night, maybe that was due to the loss. On the way home I saw seven or eight firetruckers with their lights on parked near the main strip. I told Lee to pull over. An old building that once had Pinball machines was still smoking. It was likely arson, and some dorm rooms next door were ruined in the blaze.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Three Men We Should All Be Thanking

From left to right, Charles Kao, Willard Boyle, and George Smith, won the Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday for their work that led to digital cameras and fiber-optic cables. (Reuters and NAE)

Now that digital photography and the Internet are a daily part of most people's lives, it is only natural to thank the inventors of this revolutionary technology: Willard Boyle, George Smith, and Charles Kao. These three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday for their work back in the 1960s.

Bell Lab researchers Willard Boyle, left, and George Smith, invented what would become the charge-coupled device, CCD, in a discussion of less than an hour in 1969. (Associated Press)

Since I am a photographer, I will first give a brief story on Willard Boyle and George Smith. In 1969, these scientists were trying to develop new memory chips for data storage. Boyle was working on something he called a PicturePhone. One day they met in Boyle's office in Murray Hill, N.J., and discussed ideas. In less than an hour they came up with an idea for an image sensor that could turn light into digital data. Within a week they had built a prototype of a CCD, or charge-coupled device. This device eliminated the need for photographers and videographers to capture footage on film. Acting like a camera's eye, a CCD gathers and reads light onto a grid of electronic pixels that can be transferred to computers and televisions. The CCD is used in today's digital cameras and Hubble Space Telescope.

Graphic of how a CCD, or the eye of a camera (also known as a sensor), turns light into electronic signals that can be viewed on computer and television screens. (Source: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

Charles Kao, who received half of the $1.4 million in prize money awarded to the scientists, helped make fiber-optic cables usable for the modern phone and data traffic, and the circulatory system of the Internet. In 1966, Kao made a discovery that let light travel over great distances using optical glass fibers. Light can carry a lot more data than microwaves or radio waves. At the time, impurities in the glass fibers absorbed much of the light. While working in Harlow, England, Kao developed a way to get rid of the impurities. Today optical fibers transfer words, sounds, and images around the world in a split second. If we were to unravel all of the glass fibers that wind around the globe, we would get a single thread over one billion kilometers long – which is enough to encircle the globe more than 25,000 times – and is increasing by thousands of kilometers every hour.

Charles Kao works on an early experiment with fiber optics at the Standard Telecommunications Laboratory in the U.K. in the 1960s. (European Pressphoto Agency)

Artistic view of global communication. (Source: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

(Source: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)