25 Jan 2018

New Look, New Book

Hello readers!

I am at last getting back to you after the long pause here on the Magical Realm. I have some news for you: the most obvious is, of course, the new theme. I have redesigned the Magical Realm so that it is a) more interesting to look at (the old theme was getting a bit long in the tooth) b) works better on high resolution displays—that took some testing and c) references Fallen Love, my new novel.

Subtlety is not really thing when it comes to web design, incidentally. The fallen angel background—and the colour scheme, with its blacks, dark reds and light blue accents—are all meant to quickly convey what my blog and book are about. In that respect, I think I’ve succeeded; however, feedback is appreciated, as the current design should still be considered beta.

Speaking of Fallen Love, I have received a handful of rejections from agents, but several more have yet to reply. In truth, finding representation is a slow and sometimes difficult process—I don’t expect to get an agent on board until February at the earliest. I, and you, dear reader, must remain patient.

Instead, this post will be about two other things: a brief discussion about my Spanish course this month, and a slightly longer (but still concise) explanation into my shiny new 4K monitor!

The Monitor: An Explanation of Sharpness

To translate from the marketing jargon, a 4K monitor is a monitor with a 3840x2160 resolution: that is to say, it has 3840 pixels on the horizontal side, and 2160 on the vertical, to form a matrix of 8.4 million pixels.

This is significantly more than a more standard 1080p display (1920x1080 yielding 2.1MP in total) and quite a bit more even than a 1440 display (2560x1440, 4M pixels in total). What does this mean in practice? Well, a few things. Pixel density is one: on a 27-inch diagonal monitor, a 4K resolution results in a ‘pixel pitch’—a measure of how fine the pixels are—of 163ppi. A 1080 monitor at the same size, by comparison, has only 81.5ppi.

Diagram

The above diagram is a good representation of the phenomenon.

But what does it mean in practice? Images show much more detail, for example: I can now edit my photos and actually see all of my mistakes. If focus is not quite right, or the lens have poor sharpness, or if noise smoothing has smeared detail, or if compression has introduced artifacts; any imperfection is shown up in frightening clarity.

But the biggest difference is text. On a 1080p monitor of the same size, text would look... frankly terrible. (1080p monitors at this size should never have existed: they’re awful for any kind of desktop use.) On a higher resolution 1440p monitor, text would look bearable. On a 4K monitor, text looks... good. Almost as good as a high quality print—the key word being almost.

I will not go into all the details of font rendering and its various technical complexities right now; there are many excellent websites that cover the topic, such as Adobe’s Typekit . I will simply state that it is incredibly difficult to render sharp, clear text on any kind of LCD display—especially one that is desktop size. It’s much easier to print sharp text, and to render it on smaller screens like the ones found in phones.

The reason is ppi, as mentioned above. What we perceive as ‘sharpness’ is determined by how small the individual pixels are relative to our ability to discern them. Sharp text is achieved only when the display has a ppi greater than our eye’s maximum at the display’s typical viewing distance. The PC experts Puget Systems have a nice explanation complete with a ppi calculator: https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Can-you-see-the-difference-with-a-4K-monitor-729/

Another variable, which I haven’t mentioned, is eyesight. Old people with low visual acuity can’t tell the difference between a 4K monitor and a lower resolution equivalent. I, however, possess the eyesight of an eagle. It’s a blessing, but also a curse: even my 4K monitor isn’t nearly good enough.

The Monitor Itself: the LG27UD69

That said, I am very happy with this monitor. It looks beautiful, for one: it has fashionable thin bezels, and a curved stand. For two, the stand supports height adjustment and tilt, and ergonomics are vital to comfortable computer use. Thirdly, contrast is good, especially with proper lighting—though the monitor still suffers from backlight bleed (a common foible with LCD screens). Finally, colour accuracy is OK; the monitor is factory calibrated.

If all of the above sounds complicated—and display technology is complicated—let’s just say that it’s a very good monitor. In fact, it’s probably the best monitor at its price point, and it’s almost as good as LCD tech gets.

I say almost, again, because there are 5K displays out there. That’s right: 14 million pixels! There are only two models on sale right now. The iMac is one (the screen is manufactured by LG, of course) and Philips makes the other.

The reason I didn’t buy the Philips, aside from price, has to do with another complicated aspect of display tech: bandwidth. A 4K monitor can’t be connected to just any computer: to run properly, it needs to be connected via the latest version of HDMI (version 2) or DisplayPort (version 1.2+). Those old VGA and DVI cables aren’t gonna cut it. In fact, I had to buy a new graphics card for my desktop; the installation took all day.

A 5K monitor can only be connected in one of two limited ways. Option 1: two DisplayPort 1.2 cables. Option 2: a single DP 1.3 cable. The former isn’t properly supported under Linux. The latter would work best, but there aren’t any DP 1.3 monitors on the market... yet.

Anyway, I’m pleased with my shiny new monitor. Below are screenshots. (Yes, I’m bragging.)

Spanish

Moving on, I am currently engaged with studying Spanish. The university requires me to study two foreign language courses as part of my degree—a requirement that I dislike intensely. Although Spanish itself is a nice enough language (indeed nicer than Dutch, and not too idiosyncratic) the teaching format just doesn’t work for me. There’s not enough time—only 4 weeks—and there’s too much emphasis on grammar and test-taking.

Still, I must do my best. Español es una lengua muy bonita! Pero no es fácil.

Final Words

This has been a long enough post, and I have conveyed much information to you. I would write more; but alas, time does not permit. My Spanish lessons demand study, and I am occupied with numerous other hassles. I can only ask, instead, that you keep an eye out on the Magical Realm. I am busy now, but there will come the day when Fallen Love will be published. Until then, keep following!

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