Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How much difference does a camera sensor really make?

My wife and I have been married for 15 years this year, and we are hoping to take a special vacation together this summer to celebrate. Vacations mean pictures, and when I think about pictures and travel my rampant sense of optimization gets the better of me. I started wondering which camera(s) we should take. Do we take the Sony A7II which sports a full-frame sensor or do I take my Panasonic Lumix FZ-200. Gear for the A7II will be bulky and heavy, however the FZ-200 is entirely self-contained. Both cameras take outstanding photos in bright sunlight, and the lens on the FZ-200 reaches to a 600mm equivalent. The comparable A7II lens (not including body or adapter) is about the size of an old school Thermos and costs $900. That's more than the entire FZ-200 camera costs.

So, how much of a difference does sensor size make? The sensor in the A7II is 31 times as large as the sensor on the FZ-200, but has twice as many pixels. Each pixel, then is roughly 15 times as large as the same pixel on the FZ-200, which means 15 times as much light enters the camera for each pixel. Does that make any practical difference, though?

The image below was shot on both cameras, using in-camera Jpeg compression. They are both using 1/125 shutter speed, 1/3.5 aperture, and ISO 2500 light amplification. From a distance, both halves of the picture look similar. Once you zoom in, though, you can see how much noise the smaller sensor introduces into the photo. Download the full photo at this link.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Double Your Pleasure

While kayaking with a friend yesterday, he mentioned something that piqued my interest. He essentially said that, in terms of dopamine levels, sex and nicotine are on par…and that both pale in comparison to cocaine, which in term can’t compare to methamphetamines.

The image above is attributed to the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, although I was unable to find the exact publication. I was however, able to find an excellent slideshow on PBS (narrated by Dr. Richard Rawson) which discusses the image above.

The baseline is 1. It’s interesting that the cheeseburger is halfway to sex and nicotine is on-par with sex. In the image above you can imagine that a methamphetamine user, whose baseline has been adjusted upwards from 1 to 11, probably doesn’t have good days unless they are using. On the other hand, if the most indulgent you get is an occasional cheeseburger…I’ll hazard a guess that you have a lot of good days, because your expectation for dopamine release is so much lower than even a nicotine user’s expectation.

It seems logical to me, then, that the key to living an extraordinarily happy life might be to limit your own exposure to things that spike dopamine levels. For example, if your typical meal consists of unadorned lettuce…an apple or an orange is perfectly heavenly in comparison. By indulging infrequently in activities which increase dopamine levels significantly, the increase from small pleasures should appear comparatively large.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Being Purposeful

A coworker recently poked her head into my office and casually said "We've drafted an RFP for the new website, can I send it to you for review?"

Although I was pleased by the opportunity to opine, my eyebrows went up as I asked "How about if we get our teams together and make sure we all understand what we're looking for in a website, and then move on to the RFP?" We did, and it was a great conversation. Both the Marketing and Information Services teams had great ideas to add to the conversation, and I am sure that our website will be better for the discussion.

It seemed counterproductive to me that we would consider taking on any part of a project as big as redesigning our website without first understanding what we wanted to get out of the project. Yet...when I asked myself "What am I trying to get out of life?" I could not answer.

For someone as goal oriented as myself, this is a glaring omission. If my goal is to spend as much time with my daughter as possible, perhaps I should quit my job. If my goal is to maximize the amount of travel that Aimee and I do in retirement, perhaps we should downsize our house now rather than when we retire.

Of course there are many answers to this question for each of us. We probably want a mix of things out of life. If you were to write down some of the things you want out of life, how many of your actions today have moved you closer to those goals?

The answer for me today is "None." Tomorrow I will change that.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A strange paradox

Imagine, for a moment, if you discovered that you were going to die in the next ten minutes. Most of us would hardly be at peace with such a prospect. In fact, we'd fight tooth and nail for another ten minutes.

So why is it that we spend so much time trying to escape from reality? We spend tremendous amounts of time using drugs to help us cope with reality, knowing full well that it's unhealthy and leads to terrible decision making. We spend days each year watching television, or even reading books. In fact there are very few things that we can't take to an unhealthy, obsessive level in our quest to avoid reality. In the end we'll regret most of it.

We will regret the extra hours we spent working, the times we went out drinking instead of exercising. In the end we will regret thinking less instead of more, and we will wish that we savored every experience...even the terrible ones. We'll wonder why we bought a new car instead of traveling to Ireland.

I don't know why we do this or what we should do instead. I don't know how to make myself savor each fleeting moment-including the ones I don't like. I'm curious, though...and that's a good start.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

It's all about the goal

I had a race today, and I didn’t do very well. In fact, my race was doomed before I started due to poor planning. It turns out, though, that it was a powerful life lesson. Let’s start with the race itself...

It was cold when we started. About 45 degrees and raining. I signed up for the Olympic distance, which would mean spending about 2 1/2 hours in the rain.

The swim was actually pleasant; the water was substantially warmer than the air. The bike ride was more challenging. Several riders in front of me crashed painfully on a set of nearly invisible, unused railroad tracks. Rain coated my visor and made it tough to see. About 7 miles into the 26 mile course I splashed into a puddle that turned out to be a huge pothole. My water bottle ejected but I pressed on.

My ride suddenly got bumpier. Roads do that. Right? I looked down and noted that the pavement seemed pretty smooth. I pulled off to the side and saw that my rear tire was flat.

The flat wasn’t a problem; we keep spare parts on our bikes. The ten minute tire change was a problem though. I had gotten cold and the delay had destroyed my goal of finishing with an average bike speed of 20 MPH. I called it a day and headed in.

After some reflection, I realized that the day was a failure. Not from the tire, the pothole, or quitting early. Even before that. My two goals this race were to hang with some of my training partners, and the aforementioned 20+ speed. Both of those goals were intolerant of incidents such as a flat. A better approach would have been if I planned to set a personal record for an Olympic where I change a flat. Or, perhaps, a 20MPH bike leg omitting the mile where I changed the flat. In other words, in preparing for the race, it isn’t enough to put a flat kit on the bike. The flat kit needs to be partnered with a compelling, flat-tolerant goal in order to be truly useful.

This doesn’t just apply to cycling or racing. Having fault-tolerant, properly aligned goals is important in our business and personal lives too. How many businesses have we seen fail because they focus narrowly on profitability rather than their entire community? A small change in goal may have made all the difference for them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Emotional Reasoning

As I drove home for lunch today, I remembered that I need to vote on Proposal 1. This immediately made me swear under my breath; then I had an “Aha!” moment.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

VO2 Max Testing

One of the big challenges faced by endurance athletes is estimating fueling requirements for long races. It's difficult to eat during intense exercise, and eating too much can have disastrous results. Eating too little will leave an athlete under-fueled during later portions of their race, which can lead to poor times or dropping out of the race. To help with this dilemma, endurance athletes train their bodies to consume fat more efficiently. The more fat we burn, the less carbohydrate we need to rely on. The problem, though, is that we need to gain a sense of how much fat we burn at various intensities in order to understand how we should fuel when we race. To answer this question, I turned to Spartan Performance for a VO2 max test.

Although finding the facility was a bit of a challenge, I need to note that Connie, Tyler, and Dr. Eisenmann were fantastic. Once I arrived for my appointment Tyler had me change (by the way, they have showers on-site). Next he took some baseline measurements for height and weight. After answering some questions they had me get on the bike where they fitted the heart rate monitor and head gear. The test works by measuring oxygen, carbon dioxide and the amount of exhaled air. A mouthpiece with a hose attached routes your breath through a machine. Although the setup can look a bit scary, it's pretty easy to get used to.


The test protocol was pretty straight-forward. We started with a couple minutes of warmup. The bike is set to require a specific amount of power no matter your cadence. My job was to try to keep my cadence above 60 as the power required to pedal increased. About every minute, Tyler increased the power by 30 watts. Both Tyler and Dr. Eisenmann yelled encouragement while I pedaled through higher resistance levels. Eventually, as Dr. Eisenmann says, the bike always wins. Indeed, it did. As so many other athletes before me, I claimed I could have gone longer.


My VO2 max landed at about 54.5 ml/kg/min, but that wasn't what I was interested in. I wanted to know where to most efficiently produce power for distance racing. That number was more challenging. The low intensity numbers at the beginning of the test were clearly inflated, and the range available before we switch to 100% carbohydrate burning is surprisingly small. Dr. Eisenmann explained that nervousness at the beginning of the test can skew low-end results. Although he offered to re-schedule the test with an alternate protocol, I declined for now. I did get some ballpark numbers, which was my goal. They weren't good.

At a heart rate of 159, 63% of my calorie burn is already coming from carbohydrate. Based on a ventilatory threshold (which is different than, but often correlates with lactate threshold) of 188, a heart rate of 159 puts me smack in the middle of training zone 2. In the middle of zone 3, my carbohydrate to fat burn is about 80% to 20%. If I wanted to stay at a 50/50 fat to carbohydrate burn, I would need to stay right on the line between zone 1 and zone 2 and produce about 145 watts. This isn't very realistic for racing, even for a long race. Instead…I need to start training to eat better on the bike.

What's Next

I intend to do a running test in the near future, and I'll request the protocol that Dr. Eisenmann suggested for my next bike test. That protocol included 3 minute segments instead of 1 minute segments, and reduced load increases by about 15%. Although my results were a bit disappointing, they're informative. I'd much rather understand where I'm at now, than in the middle of a full distance triathlon when I run out of fuel. As the date for Louisville 2015 gets closer, I'll request another set of tests with the altered protocol. My VO2 max should have increased quite a bit by then, as well as ventilatory maximum. Both should indicate more efficient fat burning, and an improvement in VO2 max should indicate a successful training program.

I'd like to thank Tyler, Connie, and Dr. Eisenmann for their help, and I would recommend the same test to other distance athletes. $75 is a reasonable amount to pay for a much deeper understanding of your body. If you're interested in scheduling a test, you can find contact information at