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Sci-fi and horror author extraordinaire, John Shirley (whom William Gibson dubbed “Cyberpunk Patient Zero”), sent me a link to this fascinating article about the birth of the square pixel in digital imaging. The piece starts out:

Russell Kirsch says he’s sorry.

More than 50 years ago, Kirsch took a picture of his infant son and scanned it into a computer. It was the first digital image: a grainy, black-and-white baby picture that literally changed the way we view the world. With it, the smoothness of images captured on film was shattered to bits.

The square pixel became the norm, thanks in part to Kirsch, and the world got a little bit rougher around the edges.

Now, at the tender age of 81, Russell Kirsch is determined to fix his “mistake” rather than just feeling bad about it:

Kirsch’s method assesses a square-pixel picture with masks that are 6 by 6 pixels each and looks for the best way to divide this larger pixel cleanly into two areas of the greatest contrast. The program tries two different masks over each area — in one, a seam divides the mask into two rough triangles, and in the other a seam creates two rough rectangles. Each mask is then rotated until the program finds the configuration that splits the 6-by-6 area into sections that contrast the most. Then, similar pixels on either side of the seam are fused.

Here’s a picture of his son today (now 53), using Kirsch’s new variably-shaped pixel method (seen on the right).

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[Thanks, John!]

Circling the square