Mathematics Tech

An ode to a pixel

In August this year, MIT Press published “A Biography of the Pixel” by Alvy Ray Smith. The book examined the history of the digital dot and its journey from cave paintings to the world of Pixar.

[…] Today, almost all the pictures we encounter are digital—mediated by the pixel and irretrievably separated from their media; museums and kindergartens are two of the last outposts of the analog. Smith explains, engagingly and accessibly, how pictures composed of invisible stuff become visible—that is, how digital pixels convert to analog display elements. Taking the special case of digital movies to represent all of Digital Light (his term for pictures constructed of pixels), and drawing on his decades of work in the field, Smith approaches his subject from multiple angles—art, technology, entertainment, business, and history.

Joseph Fourier features extensively in the book thanks to his significant mathematical advancements, notably the Fourier series which lead to the Fourier analysis amongst other things. For more on his role, I highly recommend you read this essay via Aeon.co.

Then 3rd November, kottke.org covered the same book. Perhaps it’s reductive to reference a reference but it illustrates how important a book like this is. Pixels are crucial in our modern lives. I wouldn’t be able to see what I was typing without them, nor would I be able to watch TV in the background. And Google’s flagship smartphone would have a different name.

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