A Biography of the Pixel

  by Alvy Ray Smith, to be published 3 Aug 2021

  from MIT Press (Leonardo Series)

Pre-order on Amazon or Penguin Random House

or at an indie bookstore

See blurbs


 

The Annotations

These are the full annotations of A Biography of the Pixel. They are available online only.

 

Each note is indexed by the page number of the printed book, followed by the opening words (in italics) of the corresponding paragraph.

[Math] indicates the presence of mathematics in the subsequent note.

 

Includes also a full bibliography for both the printed book and the online annotations,

and picture credits for the online annotations.

 

download annotations

 

electronically published 10 May 2021

Adobe Acrobat .pdf format: 396 pages, 2.85 megabytes, 19 pictures

 


 

Blurbs

 

"Alvy Ray Smith is a magician who overturns the visible world and reenvisions everything that happens on a screen. His innovative history of the pixel is remarkable: there are brilliant insights on every page."

—Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired Magazine; author of The Inevitable

"We spend half our day staring at a screen, but where do the images on it come from? This engaging, thoroughly researched book by a pioneer of digital image making explains the history, theory, and technology of every image you see through a computer screen."

—Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google

"Alvy Ray Smith’s authoritative exploration of the history and technology of pixel-based picture making is not only instructive but eminently readable, and indeed, fun!" [see expanded version below]

—Andries Van Dam, Thomas J. Watson Jr. University Professor of Technology and Education and Professor of Computer Science at Brown University; coauthor of Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice

"Until I read this book, I would have been hard pressed to define the pixel as a unified technology that creates everything on television and animated films. Thanks to the father of the pixel, Alvy Ray Smith, for giving me greater insight into the exotic components of our everyday world."

—Marina von Neumann Whitman, Professor Emerita of Business Administration and Public Policy at the University of Michigan; author of The Martian’s Daughter

"Alvy Ray Smith has done a masterful job of weaving his own contribution in helping bring color to computer graphics into this compelling history of our modern digital media world."

—John Markoff, author of Machines of Loving Grace

 

"The history and technology of arguably the greatest of human inventions, the digital computer, has been well documented. Now Alvy Ray Smith has augmented that story with an eminently readable ('no mathematics required'), indeed fun exploration of both the history and the technology of pixel-based computer graphics, today's dominant means for human-computer interaction."

—Andries Van Dam, Thomas J. Watson Jr. University Professor of Technology and Education and Professor of Computer Science at Brown University; coauthor of Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice

 


 

Associated Papers

 

The Dawn of Digital Light

His Just Deserts: A Review of Four Turing Books

How Pixar Used Moore's Law to Predict the Future

Why Do Movies Move?

Shuttering Mechanisms of Zoetrope and Zoopraxiscope

 


 

Associated Genealogies

 

William Kennedy Laurie Dickson

Alexander Schure

 


 

Associated Documents

 

Proposal to the NEA by Smith and DiFrancesco (Xerox PARC), 1974

Alvy's Xerox PARC diary, 8 May 1974 - 16 Jan 1975

Alvy's Xerox PARC hiring Purchase Order, 12 Aug 1974

CAPS Proposal by Alvy (Lucasfilm) to Disney, 30 Jan 1985

Executive Summary of CAPS by Alvy (Pixar) to Pixar, 4 May 1986

Intention Letter to Proceed with CAPS from Disney to Alvy (Pixar), 12 Sept 1986

Management Structure of Pixar, listing Ed and Alvy as the cofounders, 1985-1989

 


 

Creative Commons Licenses

 


Associated Papers (Details)

The Dawn of Digital Light

in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Oct.-Dec. 2016, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 74-91.

Abstract. The pixel serves as a unifying concept bringing computer graphics and image processing, indeed all pixel-mediated fields, into a single world called digital light. This article utilizes known instances and original research to reunify the early history of digital light. It shows that the first pictures, video games, and computer animations were in fact created on the earliest computers. A scholarly presentation of chapter 4 (Dawn).

 

His Just Deserts: A Review of Four Turing Books

in Notices of the AMS, Sept. 2014, vol. 61, no. 8, pp. 891-895.  A review of four books about Alan Turing. AMS = American Mathematical Society. Cover design based on the article, and About the cover for it. Based on part of chapter 3 (Turing).

download

 

How Pixar Used Moore's Law to Predict the Future

in Wired Online, www.wired.com, Opinion, 17 Apr. 2013.  Based on part of chapter 6 (Shapes).

download

 

Why Do Movies Move?

in This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works. John Brockman, ed. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013. pp. 269-272.

Extract. Movies are not smooth. The time between frames is empty. . . . How can we explain this? . . . the explanation is rather important, and one of my favorites.  Based on part of chapter 5 (Movies).

download preprint

 

Shuttering Mechanisms of Zoetrope and Zoopraxiscope

2015

Abstract. Careful simulations of the mechanisms of two early cinema machines, the zoetrope and the zoopraxiscope, reveal how the shuttering actually works.

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