A long-awaited followup on transparent computer monitors

Hacker
Glass computer and keyboard; stylish model looks like he’s up to something.

About 15 years ago, I poked fun at the then-mini-trend of stylish models posing in front of transparent computer monitors, often with glass, see-through keyboards on glass desks. Back in the day, there was no such thing as see-through comptuer monitors, so these overly-stylized depictions could have been used to open up the topic of hacking in some vaguely lavish setting; or it could have just as easily been used to sell the clothes, hairstyles and makeup of the models depicted.

Stumbling on my old article on a random browse made me search again for more such depictions. Well, apparently, glass monitors appear to be closer to reality than they were in the past.

Maybe these go as far back as 2011. Let’s see…

Monitor looks like it's see-through all right...
Monitor on this laptop looks like it’s see-through all right… Clicking on this image leads to the original blog article.
Really transparent
OK … so now you’re just fucking with me.

Turns out, the only trick here was to remove the laptop from the desk, take an image, then import it as their desktop, carefully lining up the monitor with the real background behind the laptop.

Virtual see-through monitor
So, they are not necessarily made of glass, and are definitely not see-through. Got it.

A year later, in 2012, a person narrating on a YouTube channel called The Panin Group, claimed to have patented a glass which can pick up light rays and have a see-through effect in a more genuine way:

See-through-monitor
See-through-monitor still requires a rear projector, which would appear to leave the user staring into a light beam. Looks kind of OK, but no cigar yet.
A see-through monitor used as an office partition
Oh, wait.

The image immediately above is from a website called the “OLED Store” (link is embedded in the image above, natch). Right now, they appear to be selling big versions of actual transparent monitors for office partitions and kiosks. This is apparently a recent phenomenon, with LG releasing its transparent OLED monitors for retail sale only since April of 2023. Transparent OLEDs are already being used on the windows of some subways in China and LRTs in Japan, enabling passengers to see computer images as well as look outside. In the United States, The Smithsonian Museum has been using a 55″ transparent OLED display for one of its exhibits since December of 2021.

A 55″ transparent OLED monitor by Planar currently retails on E-Bay for $16,000.00. But for that low price, you only get a used one. And yes, it is possible to get a similar QianZi knockoff monitor new for a mere $10,086 from Amazon. Both monitors only have 1080p (1K) resolution, and are not sold as TV or computer monitors; rather they are classified as signage.  LG was supposed to have an actual television out this month, but the best I could find was from one Canadian retailer who is selling signage with an MSRP of $30,190. This is from a Waterloo, Ontario based company called PC-Canada. They are currently on sale there at a steal for $27,120. Get ’em while they’re hot!

The only use case I can imagine for the 55″ LG monitor is for some rich business tycoon to check his stock report while watching the seagulls fly by his window. This photo is from the LG website (clicking on the image gets you to the LG website). LG is currently selling these monitors as “signage”, meaning public signs with changing messaging, or kiosks.

Visits: 469

OceanGate-Gate

OceanGate
Clicking on this image gets you to one version of the story. David Ryder/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by David Ryder / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

On the 18th of June, 2023, a submersible named Titan owned by the company OceanGate, disappeared in international waters in the North Atlantic, 400 nautical miles (740 km) south of St.John’s, Newfoundland, close to the wreck of the Titanic ocean liner which went down 1912. The United States Navy picked up a loud sound in the vicinity of Titan on their SOSUS (SOund SUrveillance System) as the multinational search was proceeding. But suspecting a problem with Titan, and not knowing much else, the search continued in a race against time, before Titan’s oxygen ran out. Yesterday, hopes were dashed as parts of Titan were found adrift on the ocean floor, signifying a catastrophic implosion of the pressure hull, which at 12,000 feet below sea level, must have instantly killed all on board.

An implosion of a 9′ diameter, 22′ long sub (about the size of a minivan) would have an energy about equal to a quarter ton of dynamite. It is likely that there may not even be bodies to recover, due to this magnitude of destructive force. At a depth of over 10,000 feet, the implosion would kill all on board in under 0.1 seconds due to the intense pressure at that depth. 0.1 seconds would not be enough time for anyone to comprehend their fate, nor for their nervous systems to react.

Among the 5 dead were vessel pilot Stockton Rush, age 61, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the owners of Titan. Others were tourists Hamish Harding (age 58), Shahzada Dawood (age 48) along with his 19 year-old son Suleman; and Paul-Henry Nargeolet (age 77). Suleman had initially not wanted to board the Titan, but decided that he would be in the capsule with his father Shahzada because it was just after Father’s day. Two of the 5 were billionaires.

The story has all the elements of tragedy if you choose as the tragic hero pilot and CEO Stockton Rush, whose hubris could fill volumes. He had a peculiar style of hubris, one of the innovative engineer, champion of free markets — that is, free of pesky regulations made to keep things like submarines, safe. In Stockton’s own words: “There hasn’t been an injury in the commercial sub industry in over 35 years,” according to Smithsonian magazine back in 2019. “It’s obscenely safe because they have all these regulations. But it also hasn’t innovated or grown — because they have all these regulations.” Stockton saw this as an obstacle to be overcome.

The four passengers signed a waiver before embarking on the trip. As part of their waiver they signed, the estates of the passengers would pay for any expenses for search and rescue, even in the event those efforts become fruitless. While for some that may be a warning, others would likely see it as an invitation to adventure.

Another way that this is a compelling story concerns the privelege of wealth. These expeditions cost $250,000US for each passenger. Only the rich could afford such luxuries.

The construction of the Titan appeared free of regulation. Apart from the dubious decision to make the pressure hull out of carbon fibre (a material that is not designed for that kind of stress), there was also no escape hatch, and no way to exit from within the vessel for any reason. Exiting would require someone from outside the vessel to undo bolts which fasten the exit hatch to the vessel body. This means that even if they would have successfully risen to the ocean surface, their oxygen can still run out unless there was someone outside the vessel waiting nearby with a socket wrench.

The Titan was controlled by a modified Logitech F710 Wireless Game Controller, which you could get at BestBuy in Canada for 40 bucks, and is similar to a GameBoy controller. While the carbon that make up much of its body is stronger than steel, it can be surprisingly brittle, and can shatter like an eggshell under the right conditions. OceanGate, makers of Titan claimed on their website, that the ship was “designed and engineered by OceanGate Inc. in collaboration [with] experts from NASA, Boeing, and the University of Washington“, all three of whom denied any association with OceanGate whatsoever.

Titan lacked an independent navigation system. The pilot relied on constant guidance from a support ship, which notified Titan’s position and direction information by text message. Its propulsion system lacked redundancy to guard against engine failures. It lacked a black box to record the operation of the vessel.

While 5 deaths of wealthy people have been decried as a tragedy and given wall-to-wall news coverage, other deaths of less wealthy people this week were treated as more of a statistic, and given much more marginal coverage.

The Adriana, carrying far too many passengers to be safe.

Earlier this week, we hear about a fishing boat called the Adriana, headed for Italy, which recently sank in the Mediterranean near Pylos, Greece, carrying 700 migrants including 100 children. They sought refuge from war, poverty and the effefcts of climate change with little more than the clothes on their back. According to Democracy Now!, they paid human traffickers the equivalent of thousands of dollars to ferry them from Libya. Many of these passengers originated from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The small boat was critically overcrowded, and soon capsized causing many to fall into the sea, according to The New York Times, after making some erratic sharp turns. 104 were rescued, with 78 known dead, and the rest missing, presumed drowned in that part of the Mediterranean, which was 13,000 feet deep, beyond the reach of divers.

Most of the survivors were men, as women and children were held below deck, presumably to protect them from the elements. It is likely that none held below deck survived the capsizing, according to a report from Al Jazeera.

Both news sources – Democracy Now! and The New York TImes – offer conflicting explanations as to why the Greek Hellenic Coast Guard didn’t activate a rescue. According to Democracy Now!, coast guard authorities knew well ahead of the tragedy that the Adriana was in trouble, but chose not to initiate a rescue operation. The Times cite a statement from the Hellenic Coast Guard themselves, who said the boat’s crew declined their offers of assistance on at least two occasions. These statements can be considered suspect, given Greece’s tough stance on migration.

Overall, the UN International Organization on Migration says that in 2022, of 3879 migrant deaths just from the Middle East and North Africa regions, 92% of them are unidentified. And since official statistics are so lacking, the actual number of dead from these regions may be much higher.

Visits: 151

The Obfuscation of Electronics: The Behringer Xenyx 502

This is more like a meta-review. I have gone to Canada Computes where nearly the entire Behringer line is sold, and was impressed by the specs. But does it do what I want, the way I want it?

I face a number of obstacles, being a fuddy-duddy former college DJ. For one thing many of the commonplace terms have changed, obfuscating what I think they’re saying, versus the actual intent when I purchase the stuff and find out for myself. It’s a Wittgenstein thing. Sussing out the exigetical intent of the interface, even as explained by the user manual available online, is an essay in near-futility only to be appreciated by interpreters of ancient Hebrew texts or Egyptian hieroglyphs. That is, knowing the words on the labels and diagrams isn’t enough: what is the meaning?

Watching the audio reviewers on You Tube try and tackle this interface (and there were a surprising number of them, and we’re only talking about this particular product, the Xenyx 502, made by Behringer) revealed a litany of awkward hesitations and skipping of knobs and jacks they knew nothing about. This was even true of the professional reviews. The YouTube review on the Behringer site, done by a kid who looks and acts not a day older than 15, is an embarassment and should be taken down. The only good parts occured when he was reading from the manual.

Indeed, what do they mean? And I am going beyond the obvious: no-one needs to tell me about the function of the phone pot or the main mix pot; I think I can figure out the RCA ins and outs on the middle right of the unit; nor about the LED level meter; nor about the balance or panorama (Pan) settings. I also managed to figure out that the PA-system style mike connectors are called XLR connectors. That’s that 3-pin jack on the top lefto corner of the photo. Then there are 8 of what used to be called “quarter-inch jacks” across the top of the unit, but are today called TRS jacks (for tip/ring/sleeve). Fair enough.

But what puzzles me to no end is the TRS jack just below the XLR jack. This is where the exegiesis comes in, and all that Wittgenstein stuff. And the reason it drives me crazy is because, really, I don’t have XLR plugs on my microphones. Instead, I have a pair of mikes with TRS plugs. These plugs are the most common in existence. We even used quarter-inch plugs when I worked as a college DJ. XLRs were something you hooked up to a PA system at your local school. XLRs often suffered from not being sealed all that well, resulting in a low-frequency electronic “buzz” that would have made them unsuitable for recording.

On one of the You Tube demos, a guy on the video (HobbitAssassin08) says that the “Line In” for Channel 1 (that is the TRS jack in question) can be used with TRS-style mikes with their own battery (and therefore have no need for the “phantom power” feature that Behrninger brags about). This is almost perfect. However, my mikes (TRS in my case probably means Tandy/Radio Shack, with the requisite quarter inch mono jacks) have no power of their own. They are basic professional mikes with a magnet and a diaphragm, which produces the current and the signal for my voice. It needs an amp or a recorder to process the signal. The specs say the mixer jack has a minimum of 10,000 ohms impedance. My mike is rated at 500 ohms (30% tolerance — depends on the frequency).

The power supply is proprietary. Also, channel 1 only works with line or mike inputs but not both. The other four channels are part of two stereo channels. If you plug a source into the left channel only, you get mono.  5 channels in, 3 out: the three are for two separate stereo outputs and one headphone output. The whole mixer board is slightly larger than your hand.

Will I buy it? That’s the question that has been driving me batty this past week. Looks like this mixer board is not compatable with my existing mics, and that I will have to purchase yet another mike or a pair of them if I am to buy this one. Looks like I will have to look elsewhere for a mixer board.

Visits: 140

Microphones Part 2: The war of silence

With the levels down so low, my test recording needed post-processing. I used Adobe Audition 1.5. In most of these audio-doctoring softwares, all you need to do is to normalize the levels, so that “0” is the highest your levels should go. Audition had a “Normalize” setting, and of course that also boosted the background and electronic noise, along with my voice.

Now I needed noise reduction. Adobe has a fancy dancy noise reduction interface which is useable for the brave of heart. The main idea is to highlight “silence” (a moment of pure background noise) somewhere on your waveform, in order for Adobe to get a snapshot of the frequencies that need to be attenuated with the noise reduction. When I tried it, the noise was virtually eliminated when there was only noise, especially at the start, but the noise seems to have a reverberation, since if the noise is at the end, it fades in a stepwise fashion. The noise in the middle is reduced substantially, but not enough to compare with other noise reduction that I know about, like Dolby or ANRS. DBX would have been good, if they could have licensed it.

Audacity won the war of silence, in making the background noise pretty much inaudible, with its noise reduction scheme, which had a far simpler interface. The noise reduction was equally effective in the silent bits and the parts with talking. I used the same strategy in giving it a sample of pure background noise to its noise reduction profile. I found that only the very lowest setting on their “Less/More” slider would not make me sound like I’m living in a tin can, or even disappear altogether.

To be fair, I was using Audition 1.5, against the latest version of Audacity. I hear that Audition is somewhere around version 3.0. But I am happy with Audacity, since Adobe charges a pretty penny for its sound editing software.

Visits: 76

OK, So I am trying to build a home theatre with a quad-core system box …

And part of such a home theatre would consist of a way to hook up the Bravia I bought on sale to the mainboard, which has HDMI on it. My strategy was to enjoy both cable and “free” internet television through either the keyboard or the remote device. So, then there was the TV Tuner card I had to configure. Windows Media Center said that my card “could not be configured in Canada”. I phone the retailer who sold me the card, and indeed they too found to their horror that it could not be configured with Windows Media. I was instructed to send it back and get a replacement.

I think I am an unfortunate victim of “trade barriers”. Perhaps some CRTC regulation is preventing Windows from allowing this card to work, so by law, Windows is telling me that it is a criminal offense to configure my card.

I check out the card, and it is from AverMedia, a comapny based in Taipei, Taiwan. Well, what competition is left in Canada if Chinese-made TV tuner cards are left out? There are a host of brands provided by Happauge (based in Long Island last I heard), but I think that is it for any major brands. Yes, if you’re Canadian, you buy either American or Chinese. Since you can’t buy Chinese, it’s American or nothing. Not that I expect there to be any Canadian brands, but, I am suprised to see a lack of any European brands at the stores I visited.

Maybe it’s nice to hear once in a while that the Chinese are not given too much of an easy ride in our economy. But this time, I got burned by that idea.

Visits: 89

Version 2 of the TI Nspire operating system

My main complaint about the Nspire and Nspire CAS, the need to have some kind of input statement in its programmnig language, looks like it is closer to reality. I just have to fiddle with it some more to see if it can really place data in tables (or now, spreadsheets), and see if I can really do I/O in a running program as was the case for the TI-84 family. To be clear, I am not using the new “touchpad” version of the CAS, I am using the slightly older version, which had the original keyboard.

When I did a test statement

Request "---> ", j
and ran it, the calculator came back with a screen using “–>” as a prompt, and a blank for me to input something. I entered “36”, then the input window disappeared, then the string

--> 36
was output. The input window seems cumbersome.  That could be because I like command line input, and think it has less memory overhead on a device where every byte of RAM is precious.

At any rate, the value is stored in j, and this was proven by doing the multiplication

4j
and I got 144. This was on a calculator whose memory was cleared due to the OS upgrade. The cursor is much more sensitive, and there is a noticeable speed impovement over prior OS versions.

I tried to make a simple program, and got nowhere with the Request statement, when I placed it inside a FOR/END FOR loop in a named program.

Visits: 114

Rube-Goldberg Machines V

Another one. A couple of years ago, this was a Honda Accord commercial, and it caused quite a sensation when it got released. It took over 606 takes and cost over 6 million dollars to make. Any minor misfirings resulted in having to set everything up from scratch, all over again. It was a 2-minute ad spot which was released in the UK in 2006.

Visits: 67