Chasing pixels

Posted: 08.09.04
Pixel sketch

People ask from time to time, "What do you do?" People who don't know me ask that question, assuming I actually do something—it's because I'm such a snappy dresser and drive such a nice car, they figure to have that I must do something. I tell them I chase pixels. That usually scares away the causal inquiries and allows me to go back to my wine or laptop. Some people, either not able to take a hint, or just bored, persist. "What's that mean?" they ask. I counter with, "Do you know what a pixel is?" That usually stops the second wave, and most people will say, "Oh, yeah, sure, very interesting," and then turn back to their knitting or sports page. But there's always that one person at the cocktail party, or in the elevator, or at the UFO meeting who will persist and ask, "What's a pixel?" I then say, "It's the tiny little dots of light that make up all the displays in your life, your TV, computer, mobile phone, and the giant signs here in the casino." That usually traps me into a lengthy discussion, distracting me from my nail clipping, and forcing me to draw a picture. This is the usual picture I draw, and I'm thinking of having it printed on the back of my business card.

As the chart shows, we get into a lot of things, usually at the semiconductor area, but always driven by the impact and influence of the pixel.

Pixels are so much a part of our lives that we really do take them for granted, yet it's amazing how really diverse our business is getting as many of us chase the ubiquitous pixel. And when you look at the diagram you see how easily it could be drawn with almost any other center of gravity and still have many of the same elements—imagine it drawn for a CPU-centric view of the world, or memory, or displays, etc.

And those of us in all the five major spheres look at the others and think how nice it would be if all we had to do was worry about one thing like they do. But no one can these days. The TV folks have to know far more about CPUs and OSs then they'd like, and the content people have to know a lot more about pixel shaders than ever before, while the industrial and aerospace folks are learning about the benefits of PCI Express, and 500-MHz memory, and the phone companies know they have to get SoCs —topics none of them maybe even knew about five years ago, let alone had to be knowledgeable about.

You can also redraw this kind of chart through linking elements—APIs, for example, linking GPUs and OS, or CPUs, etc., and as an organization chart with the segments as the top-row boxes and the components stringing down below them.

So our view of the universe is through the pixel. We see things in terms of how they influence the pixel, and in some cases as in consumer surveys, how pixels influence them. We see pixels everywhere, in our dashboards (GPS, radio signage), in our homes (clocks, remote controls, AV windows, and refrigerators, plus the usual suspects like TVs and DVDs, etc.), in the streets (crossing signs, animated billboards, displays in department stores, public transport and taxis, and movie marquees), the doctor's and dentist's office, restaurants, and of course airports. But we're sensitized to it; they may be camouflaged to others, to us they jump out.

So after I draw my pictures and try to explain what a pixel is and how they are part of our lives, I usually point some out to the inquirer, "There, see that? Those are pixels." Amazed, they usually drift away seeing a new universe and telling their friends, "Hey, look at this, those are pixels, y'know."