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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Few Comments

I've once again put way too much effort into responding to a comment. In the entry, Ray Comfort: Quote Miner Extraordinaire, someone left a short comment about there being no evidence for evolution, and about me being a "secular version of Ray Comfort." So, I left a lengthy comment disagreeing.

On another note, if anyone tried to access the blog earlier this week, you may have discovered a blank page. Apparently, my hosting company decided to set my disk space quota to 100 MB (well below what my site actually uses, and well, well below what the limit had been in the past), which kept the blog from rebuilding correctly. I don't know how long it had been down before I noticed, but hopefully it wasn't too long. Once I contacted the hosting company, they were pretty quick to correct the problem, and I now have plenty of disk space for the time being.

Between the time I spent resolving the hosting issue, and the time I spent writing that comment, I doubt I'll have time to make a real post this week.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reminder of Texas BoE

Just a reminder to anybody who lives in Texas - the final vote on the state science standards is this week. If you haven't already done so, write you board member today.

More Info:
Steve Schafersman's Blog
Strengths & Limitations Entry on this Blog
Results from Earlier Meeting on this Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Terrafugia - Are Flying Cars Finally Here?

A little less than two years ago, I wrote an entry, Where's My Flying Car? After discussing all the tradeoffs of a roadable aircraft, my conclusion was:

Yes, it's possible to make a roadable aircraft, but the compromises necessary add a fair amount of weight, reducing the useful load you can carry. For some people, this reduced useful load would be offset by the greater mobility, but for many applications, it's not worth it.

I posted a follow up to that, When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage?, listing some of the practical limitations to aircraft becoming an everyman's vehicle.

Well, one of the latest entries into the roadable aircraft niche is a company named Terrafugia. They've been developing their concept for the past few years, and just recently achieved their maiden flight. According to their FAQ, their approach isn't an attempt to make a jack of all trades, but rather "to design a vehicle for pilots that brings additional ground capability to an airplane instead of attempting to make a car fly." They think that modern lightweight composite materials will make their concept more successful than previous roadable aircraft.

I would love to see this concept become successful, but I still have the same reservations as before. Using the same modern lightweight composite materials, a conventional aircraft will still be lighter than the Terrafugia. But, as I wrote before, maybe the added mobility at the cost of payload/range will be worthwhile to some.

Anyway, here's a video of their maiden flight. Another video and pictures are available on the Terrafugia website.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review - The Egyptian Book of the Dead

The ancient Egyptians, as almost everyone knows, believed in an afterlife. It's why, for example, they put so much effort into mummifying the dead. Their conception of the afterlife, though, was a bit different than the Christian one that most people in this country are used to. There wasn't a simple, one time judgement, after which the deceased either went to heaven or hell. The afterlife was more like a parallel world, and the dead would have to know how to get around. Fortunately for them, their religion knew all about the afterlife, and so could give them advice.

In early periods of Egypt, this advice was appeared as inscriptions in the deceased's tomb. As time wore on, these inscriptions were transfered to papyri, and the collection became known as 'The Book of Going Forth by Day.' When modern Europeans discovered the collection in the mid 1800s, they dubbed it the Egyptian 'Book of the Dead.' The book was not canonical, in the same sense as most of use are used to with the Bible. A few passages were included in nearly every copy of the Book of the Dead, but for other passages, it was up to the whimsy of the scribe or his customer.

In 1888, a British Egyptologist by the name of E.A. Wallis Budge acquired a papyrus, which upon closer inspection, turned out to be a very well preserved copy of the Book of the Dead, originally intended for a scribe named Ani. Subsequently, it became known as the Papyrus of Ani. In order to make the papyrus easier to work with, Budge had it cut into 37 approximately equal length sheets, and had these sheets glued to boards. He also commissioned a detailed facsimile. Unfortunelty, his 'preservation' method took a toll on the original papyrus, but fortunately the facsimile did preserve what it looked like.

Budge set to work translating the papyrus, and in 1895 published his translation. The book consisted of three parts. The first was an extensive introduction, giving the reader a great deal of information on Egyptian religious beliefs. The second section showed a transcription of the heiroglyphics, along with a transliteration and a word for word translation. For each line of heiroglyphs, the transliteration and word for word translation appeared directly underneath. The third section was a 'plain' English translation of the entire collection (actually, written very much in the style of the King James version of the Bible). The first and third sections were extensively annotated, with some pages having more footnotes than body. Budge wasn't afraid to show multiple translations of a few passages, where other Egyptologists disagreed with him. He also included translations from other copies of the Book of the Dead when the Papyrus of Ani left out passages, or when the Papyrus of Ani differed significantly from the norm.

Going backwards in my review, I'll review the third section first. It was interesting, but I have to admit that I got bored reading it, and it turned into a bit of a slog to complete. Just imagine trying to read something like the Bible, including all the 'begat' sections, when it's a foreign religion that nobody at all even believes in anymore. Still, I have to say that it was worth reading at least once.

The second section I only glanced at. I don't know how to read heiroglyphics, nor how to speak Egyptian, so there really wasn't much point in studying those. I did figure out the symbols for 'your' and 'gods,' but that's about it.

The first section was great. I know now that it wasn't entirely accurate, but it was still very interesting to read. I've already mentioned it briefly in a previous blog entry, but this first section is where Budge related a bit of Egyptian mythology to us modern readers. Reading the legend of Osiris was very interesting (he was the god who had been killed and resurrected, and it was through him that Egyptians hoped to attain eternal life). But what I found especially interesting was just how much more complicated the Egyptian concept of a human was than I'd ever realized. Coming from a Christian perspective, we're used to the concept of a material body being a container for a soul. It's a simple, two part system. Not so with the ancient Egyptians. Just consider these quotes from Budge (the ellipses can be over a page in this quote):

There is, however, no doubt that from first to last the Egyptians firmly believed that besides the soul there was some other element of the man that would rise again. The preservation of the corruptible body too was in some way connected with the life in the world to come, and its preservation was necessary to ensure eternal life; otherwise the prayers recited to this end would have been futile, and the time honoured custom of mummifying the dead would have had no meaning. The never ending existence of the soul is asserted in a passage quoted above without reference to Osiris; but the frequent mention of the uniting of his bones, and of the gathering together of his members,[3] and the doing away with all corruption from his body, seems to show that the pious Egyptian connected these things with the resurrection of his own body in some form, and he argued that what had been done for him who was proclaimed to be giver and source of life must be necessary for mortal man.

The physical body of man considered as a whole was called khat, a word which seems to be connected with the idea of something which is liable to decay...

But the body does not lie in the tomb inoperative, for by the prayers and ceremonies on the day of burial it is endowed with the power of changing into a sahu, or spiritual body. Thus we have such phrases as, "I germinate like the plants,"[3] "My flesh germinateth,"[4] "I exist, I exist, I live, I live, I germinate, I germinate,"[5] "thy soul liveth, thy body germinateth by the command of Ra himself without diminution, and without defect, like unto Ra for ever and ever."...

In close connection with the natural and spiritual bodies stood the heart, or rather that part of it which was the seat of the power of life and the fountain of good and evil thoughts. And in addition to the natural and spiritual bodies, man also bad an abstract individuality or personality endowed with all his characteristic attributes. This abstract personality had an absolutely independent existence. It could move freely from place to place, separating itself from, or uniting itself to, the body at will, and also enjoying life with the gods in heaven.This was the ka,[1] a word which at times conveys the meanings of its Coptic equivalent {Coptic kw}, and of {Greek ei?'dwlon}, image, genius, double, character, disposition, and mental attributes...

To that part of man which beyond all doubt was believed to enjoy an eternal existence in heaven in a state of glory, the Egyptians gave the name ba, a word which means something like "sublime," "noble," and which has always hitherto been translated by "soul." The ba is not incorporeal, for although it dwells in the ka, and is in some respects, like the heart, the principle of life in man, still it possesses both substance and form: in form it is depicted as a human-headed hawk, and in nature and substance it is stated to be exceedingly refined or ethereal...

In connection with the ka and ba must be mentioned the khaibit or shadow of the man, which the Egyptians regarded as a part of the human economy. It may be compared with the {Greek skia'} and umbra of the Greeks and Romans. It was supposed to have an entirely independent existence and to be able to separate itself from the body; it was free to move wherever it pleased, and, like the ka and ba, it partook of the funeral offerings in the tomb, which it visited at will...

Another important and apparently eternal part of man was the khu, which, judging from the meaning of the word, may be defined as a "shining" or translucent, intangible casing or covering of the body, which is frequently depicted in the form of a mummy. For want of a better word khu has often been translated "shining one," "glorious," "intelligence," and the like, but in certain cases it may be tolerably well rendered by "spirit."...

Yet another part of a man was supposed to exist in heaven, to which the Egyptians gave the name sekhem. The word has been rendered by "power," "form," and the like, but it is very difficult to find any expression which will represent the Egyptian conception of the sekhem...

Finally, the name, ren, of a man was believed to exist in heaven, and. in the pyramid texts we are told that

nefer en Pepi pen hena ren-f anx Pepi pen hena ka-f

Happy is Pepi this with his name, liveth Pepi this with his ka.

Thus, as we have seen, the whole man consisted of a natural body, a spiritual body, a heart, a double, a soul, a shadow, an intangible ethereal casing or spirit, a form, and a name. All these were, however, bound together inseparably, and the welfare of any single one of them concerned the welfare of all. For the well-being of the spiritual parts it was necessary to preserve from decay the natural body; and certain passages in the pyramid texts seem to show that a belief in the resurrection of the natural body existed in the earliest dynasties.

That's a whole lot more interesting than a simple binary belief.

One thing that Budge's translation didn't have were any images of the papyrus, itself, which made it very frustrating when he was describing the vignettes. I read that this was because he intended the translation to be a companion to the facsimile, and not a stand alone volume. Fortunately for us in the digital age, we can find images of the original papyrus online, for free. The highest quality images I could find were from The British Museum. You can search their online database, and then request high quality versions of the images, which they will then e-mail to you. You have to sign up for the service, and it's a bit cumbersome when you're used to the Internet providing instant gratification, but it does give the opportunity to see very high quality scans with only an overnight wait. To find the images, go to the following page, and search for 'Papyrus of Ani:'

As far as the rest of the book, there are many sites where it can be found online if you want to read it for free. As always, Project Gutenberg has the book in multiple formats.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, particularly the introduction, which was actually more of a history lesson in ancient Egyptian religion. However, after doing more research on the book, it appears that Budge made several mistakes. This is understandable, of course, considering how much we've learned since Budge performed the translation. However, if one were interested in getting the most accurate picture of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, there are probably better sources out there.

For more information on the Book of the Dead, I found the following pages to be pretty informative. These pages are from the website of a modern translation.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video

We recently purchased a Casio EX-F1 where I work. This is a pretty high end digital camera, mostly intended for still photography, but we basically bought it for a single reason - to record high speed video. You see, we do a fair amount of testing on new propeller and rotor designs. These spin pretty fast, and if there's a problem, things can happen too quickly for a conventional camcorder to capture much. We've always wanted to use a high speed video system, but traditional options are expensive and a bit out of our budget. The cheapest traditional system I found was $5000, with prices more typically in the 5 figures, and going up into 6 figures for high end systems. So, when the Casio EX-F1 came out, offering high speed video at under $1000, I researched it, and decided that it would be a good option for us.

I took the camera home with me for a weekend to figure out the settings, and we've started using it at work, so I've had a chance to see how it works. I haven't exhaustively put it through its paces, but I figured that my first impression might still be valuable to some people. And even if you aren't considering purchasing this camera, high speed videos are still cool to watch.

Since this review is rather long, I've added an index below, to allow you to jump to the different sections. I realize I could have divided this into multiple blog entries, but since much of the length is simply pictures, I didn't think that made as much sense as the way I've done it.

A few notes on all video clips included here - first, I created YouTube versions to embed. They're embedded at the original resolution. But obviously, the YouTube processing introduces a layer of artifacts not present in the original videos, so I've also included links to .mov files. These have all been trimmed using QuickTime 7.6. Finally, most videos were made leaving the camera on auto (though I used manual focus on several).

Frame Rate & Resolution

Okay, I guess a quick discussion of frame rate and resolution is important in a discussion of high speed video. First, just to rattle off the capabilities of the EX-F1, it will record 300 fps @ 512x384, 600 fps @ 432x192, and 1200 fps @ 336x96 (note that fps is 'frames per second'). You'll notice that the resolution gets lower the higher the frame rate. There's only so fast the camera can record information, so the trade off is resolution vs. frames per second. That's not unique to the EX-F1. All digital high speed video systems have this trade off. It's just that higher end systems can record higher resolutions for a given frame rate, and most can record to significantly higher frame rates. For example, a $20k camera I looked at was capable of 4000 fps at 512x512, and I saw cameras that could get 1,000,000 fps.

The camera saves the high speed videos to a 30 fps QuickTime movie. So, when you play these videos, the 300 fps videos have been slowed down 10x from real life, the 600 fps videos by 20x, and the 1200 fps videos by 40x.

Now, to give a comparison that most people will be familiar with, I'll describe the standard that most camcorders use (at least, what most camcorders have used in the U.S. until right about now - many new camcorders use HD and progressive scan which are just a bit different). The U.S. uses the NTSC (National Television System Committee) standard. NTSC is recorded at just shy of 30 fps (frames per second), with 486 horizontal lines making up the picture. If you're used to computer images and seeing resolutions displayed in pixels x pixels, that resolution as horizontal lines may seem a little odd. But remember, this standard was created for cathode ray tubes, where an electron beam scanned across the tube to create the image. The lines actually were analog waves. Since the aspect ratio for NTSC is 4:3, this works out to a pixel resolution of 648x486, assuming square pixels. (As a note, when I capture video using Windows Movie Maker, only 640x480 gets captured).

The frame rate for NTSC is a little more complicated than just 30 pictures per second. NTSC is interlaced. For every frame, there are actually two pictures, known as fields. The first field is displayed on all of the even lines, and the second field is displayed on all the odd lines. On old cathode ray tubes, that's the acutal order that the electron beam scanned the lines - even lines first then odd lines. I've heard people say that this was to create more fluid motion, but it also seems to be that it was to allow the 60 Hz AC power supplied over the power lines to be used to time the cameras.

Anyway, what it means is that NTSC records 30 frames per second, or 60 fields per second. A regular screenshot will show both pictures interlaced, but image editing software (such as Adobe Photoshop), can pull out the separate fields. So, with a little work, NTSC gives you 60 fps for analysis. Below are a few images to help illustrate all this.

NTSC Interlaced Screen Capture
Cropped Portion of a Single Interlaced Frame

NTSC Screen Capture - Even Lines Masked Out
Even Lines Masked Out

NTSC Screen Capture - Odd Lines Masked Out
Odd Lines Masked Out

NTSC Screen Capture - De-Interlaced with Photoshop Filter, Empty Lines Filled by Interpolation
Photoshop's De-Interlace by Interpolation Filter for First Field

Progressive scan is what most people probably think of when they think of how movies work - it's simply a series of images without interlacing. So now when you see the 'i' (interlaced) and 'p' (progressive) behind resolutions for TVs, you'll know what it means. Now, just to mention a few other standards that most consumers are probably familiar with, PAL (European standard) is 25 fps interlaced @ 720x576. HDTV actually has several resolutions and frame rates. The current resolutions are 1280x720 and 1920x1080, and the current frame rates are 24 fps always progressive, 25 fps interlaced or progressive, and 30 fps interlaced or progressive. Higher quality standards have already been laid out, but aren't yet supported.

Bird Videos (Focus Limitation)

Here's one of the first high speed videos I took, and one of the prettiest. It's a seagull flying around my backyard. This first clip is pretty much just a beauty shot, done at 300 fps.

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.seagull.300.1.mov

This second clip is actually from the same recording as the one above, and I'm including it to show one of the drawbacks of high speed video. The auto focus doesn't work. So, even though the seagull was in focus for the above clip, by the time it got further away, it was blurry.

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.seagull.300.2.mov

Extended Version:
Download: ex-f1.seagull.300.2b.mov or Watch on YouTube

Balloon Videos (frame rate comparison)

I think it's the law that when you get a high speed camera, you have to pop a water balloon. Unfortunately, the only balloons I had the weekend I brought home the camera were the type you use to make balloon animals. Anyway, below are some videos to give a comparison of the different frame rates (as well as a couple videos thrown in just because they're cool).

300 fps, 512x384:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.balloon.300.mov

600 fps, 432x192:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.balloon.600.1.mov

600 fps, 432x192:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.balloon.600.2.mov

1200 fps, 336x96:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.balloon.1200.mov

And a bonus video, because I like it:

600 fps, 432x192:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.balloon.600.3.mov

Match Videos (Light Requirements)

High speed video needs lots of light. The higher the frame rate, the quicker the shutter speed has to be, so the more light you'll need. All the videos above were filmed outside during the day, when there was plenty of light to illuminate the scene. However, if you do filming indoors at night, normal lighting may not be good enough. The videos below illustrate this. Note the background is practically black in the 1200 fps video. These were not shot in a dark room. It was what people would normally consider well lit. It's just a lot less light than outdoors in the day. If you want to film high speed indoors, consider getting some bright lights.

I'll also note here that you can adjust the shutter speed. Obviously, at a minimum, it needs to be the same as the frame rate you're trying to record. However, you can manually set the shutter speed to be faster. This could be important for capturing high speed objects without motion blur. Outdoors on a sunny day, I was able to use a shutter speed of 1/10,000 of a second decently. The camera will go as fast as 1/40,000 of a second, but there just wasn't enough light for that quick of a shutter speed. If you wanted to do that, you'd have to add some artificial lighting.

300 fps, 512x384:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.match.300.mov

600 fps, 432x192:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.match.600.mov

1200 fps, 336x96:

Download Original Video File: ex-f1.match.1200.mov

Detail of Image Quality

Okay, after watching all those videos, I think it's clear that this high speed video can be pretty useful. However, it's not perfect. One of the differences between the Casio EX-F1 and those high end cameras I looked at, besides just resolution and frame rate, is the amount of compression that's used for the recorded video. With the high end camera, each frame is pretty much the quality you'd expect from a regular still photo of the same resolution. With the EX-F1, there's enough compression to noticeably degrade the quality.

To show the compression artifacts, I have a comparison below. I took a 6 MP still photo with the camera as one reference. The high speed video for this case was 600 fps. Since the camera reduces the field of view for high speed video, I cropped and resized the still photo to approximately match the field of view of the video (300 fps uses the full field of view, 600 fps is cropped a bit, and 1200 fps is cropped even more). To view the original still photo, click on the link, 'Original Full Res Still' below. The first image is the photo scaled to the same size as the video, with the red rectangle showing the field of view that's recorded to high speed video. The second image below is just that portion from inside the red rectangle, but saved as a bmp (from the original 6 MP still) so that there aren't any compression artifacts. The third image below is a screenshot from the high speed video, also saved as a bmp so that the only compression artifacts are due to the video itself, not my saving the screenshot.

Original Full Res Still

Full Field of View of Camera, Resized to Same Scale as High Speed Video
Full Field of View of Camera, Resized to Same Scale as High Speed Video

Resized Still Photo, Cropped to Same Field of View as High Speed Video
Resized Still Photo, Cropped to Same Field of View as High Speed Video

Screen Capture from 600 fps High Speed Video
Screen Capture from 600 fps High Speed Video

Then, I picked three areas to zoom in on. First is the steel barrel right around the center of the image. The first picture below is that part of the image from the original 6 MP still, shown at full resolution (but saved as a jpg, so there may be some artifacts in there from my save). The second image below is from the original still resized to match the resolution of the high speed video, and then blown up 6 times to give a better view. The third image is from the high speed video, also blown up 6 times. (Note that the reason the image on the left is smaller is that the original image was 5.5x the resolution of the high speed video. I wanted to blow up the smaller images by a whole number so there weren't any funny effects from the scaling.) I'll note that these still photo and high speed video were taken on the same day, but not at exactly the same times. I'm pretty sure the tripod got moved a bit some time in between.

Detail of Barrel from Full Res Still Photo Detail of Barrel from Resized Still Photo, Then Expanded 6x Detail of Barrel from High Speed Screen Capture, Then Expanded 6x
Detail of Barrel from Full Res Still Photo, Then Detail of Barrel from Resized Still Photo Expanded 6x, Then Detail of Barrel from High Speed Screen Capture Expanded 6x

Next is a detail of a pallet. This is towards the right of the full size image, about a third of the way up from the bottom. The images are formatted the same as those above - full res still first, then resized still zoomed in 6x, then screen capture from high speed zoomed in 6x.

Detail of Pallet from Full Res Still Photo
Detail of Pallet from Full Res Still Photo

Detail of Pallet from Resized Still Photo, Then Expanded 6x
Detail of Pallet from Resized Still Photo, Then Expanded 6x

Detail of Pallet from High Speed Screen Capture, Then Expanded 6x
Detail of Pallet from High Speed Screen Capture, Then Expanded 6x

Finally is a detail of a hose. This is towards the left of the full size image, about a quarter of the way up from the bottom. Again, the images are formatted the same as those above - full res still first, then resized still zoomed in 6x, then screen capture from high speed zoomed in 6x.

Detail of Hose from Full Res Still Photo
Detail of Hose from Full Res Still Photo

Detail of Hose from Resized Still Photo, Then Expanded 6x
Detail of Hose from Resized Still Photo, Then Expanded 6x

Detail of Hose from High Speed Screen Capture, Then Expanded 6x
Detail of Hose from High Speed Screen Capture, Then Expanded 6x

Additional Comments

High speed video recording time, so far as I've been able to tell, is limited only by the size of your memory card. One of the times when we forgot to stop recording after a rotor test, I think we recorded about 20 minutes of high speed video before stopping the camera (i.e. 20 minutes of real time - 400 minutes of playback time).

If you buy this camera, and you don't already have good video editing software, you need to at least buy the pro version of QuickTime. Last I checked, the license was only $30, which is peanuts compared to what you'd spend on this camera. Recall what I wrote above, about how much the high speed video slows down the action. You need some way to trim the videos to just what you really want to see. For example, when I did the water balloon videos above, I'd get the camera filming, and then tell my daughter to go ahead and pop the balloon. Well, the delay between when I hit the record button and when she actually popped the balloon could be two to three seconds. At the 1200 fps speed, 3 seconds of reality takes 2 minutes to play back.

The camera doesn't come with an AC adapter. The battery life seems to be pretty good, but if you're going to be using for applications similar to what we're doing, it would be nice to be able to just plug it in and not worry about battery charge levels. You can purchase an adapter separately, to the tune of $60.

Like I said, we bought the camera pretty much solely for the high speed video. However, since it's intended mainly as a still camera, it does have some pretty interesting still options, as well. It can snap full resolution 6MP stills at up to 60 pictures per second. These are stored in an internal buffer until you decide to save them, so there is a limit to how long of a time period you can record this way. The limit is 60 pictures, so the time depends on how fast you set the camera to take the pictures. However, there are a few different modes that give you flexibility on that. One mode is to continually overwrite the buffer, so that it always contains the latest 60 pictures. Then, when you fully depress the shutter button, it saves all the pictures stored in the buffer. So, it is possible to get 1 second worth of 60 fps 6 MP images, which could be pretty handy.

Comparing the stills to my wife's Canon SLR, I don't think the still quality from the Casio was as good. That's subjective, and not based on any exhaustive testing. But, I figure it's worth mentioning in case anyone was considering the camera primarily to take still photos.

I guess that pretty much covers my initial impressions of the camera. I know I spent a good portion of this review pointing out the shortcomings, but that's so people know what to expect from the camera. Personally, I'm very happy with it, and think that it will be a great tool for our testing. Although it may not take the best stills, they're still better than my point and shoot Sony. And I'd definitely recommend it for its high speed video capability. It's something that nothing else can touch in the price range right now.

More Info

I found the following review on Amazon to be very helpful:


Update 2014-06-17: I embedded YouTube versions of all the videos to make them easier to watch. I also updated the Amazon link to one that works again. And let me just add, I'm shocked that this camera is still the best option out there for budget high speed video 5 years after it was first introduced, and indeed, after it was discontinued by Casio. I would have thought that surely, somebody would have come out with a better $1000 camera by now, or a cheaper camera that does what this one does. But alas, Casio's new high speed options aren't even as good as this, and no other manufacturer has stepped up to the plate. You'd think the fact that people are paying full price and higher for used versions of this camera, or even up to $2500 for new ones still in the box, would be enough evidence of demand that some manufacturer somewhere would start making a camera with this capability.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TAKS Test Day

Test Anxiety, from http://cms.colum.edu/psychobabble/features/Once again, it's time for the TAKS Test - a single test that elementary school students must pass (within 3 attempts) in order to move on to the next grade. No pressure or anything.

I didn't grow up here in Texas, so these tests were a foreign concept to me when my daughter started taking them, and didn't seem like such a bad thing. Sure, I'd taken standardized tests in elementary school, but they were never so important. But with these tests carrying so much weight for the students themselves, bonuses the teachers will receive, and funding the schools will receive, teachers end up training students specifically to take these tests, rather than giving them a better well rounded education. Since 3rd grade is when students have to pass the reading TAKS, for months part of my daughter's homework last year was to read a minimum amount every week. I actually thought the reading was a good idea. But as soon as the students took the TAKS, that homework disappeared. The students were not being made to read to broaden their vocabulary, improve their comprehension, or foster any type of love for reading. No, as I later found out, they were just being trained to improve their reading endurance, so that they'd be able to get through the test. In fourth grade, it's the writing TAKS. A couple weeks ago I was asking my daughter what she'd learned in each subject that week. When I asked her about science, she said that they weren't doing science anymore, they were just using that time to practice for the TAKS.

Man, the sooner Texas gets away from this type of testing, the better.

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