Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful in 2015

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

As I ponder the year that is almost finished and the year ahead, I am thankful for many things.  Here are a few:

  • I am thankful to be spending today with my family who are loved and loving.
  • I am thankful to be living in a comfortable home and sharing a wonderful meal together.
  • I am thankful to work with thoughtful, talented and dedicated people.
  • I am thankful to be living in a country where freedom of expression and freedom of religion are such an important part of our legal and social framework.
  • I am thankful to be living in an age where so much knowledge is instantly available.

What are you thankful for today?

You might also like:

Making Memories Matters
Thankful for Bioprinting
Who Can Tell How Events Will be Transformed

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hard Choices, Thoughtful Decisions

I was born in the final months of the Eisenhower administration and I have a great deal of respect for his accomplishments during the Second World War and afterward. However, that does not mean that I would like to see a return to the deportation policies or the tax rates of the Eisenhower era.

Politics often frustrate me.  When I hear politicians or elected officials support policies which are based on either bad economics, bad psychology or both, I worry about future of our country and planet. That future is important enough that I have decided to comment more on political issues than I have in the past.

I agree with those who claim that there is a bias in the media. There are examples of extremely biased news on both the left and the right. The most consistent bias is the preference for sensationalism. Every medium wants to enhance their ratings and the most unusual, most radical, most provocative statements are the ones that bring in viewers.

This bias is most unfortunate during the election cycle because it reduces the conversation to the lowest level and tends to boost the popularity of the most outrageous candidates. The bravado that sounds good in a debate or a news sound bite, does not serve us well in working through difficult social issues in our own country or with our neighbors.

One of the best ways to move beyond the hype cycle is to read the books that have been written by the candidates. These books, whether biographical or prescriptive, provide a much greater insight into the decision making process that will be used in forging future policies.

My reading for this week is Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices. Focusing on her years as Secretary of State, Hard Choices is great review of recent world history and a wonderful lesson in what you can accomplish when your goal is to tear down walls rather than build walls.

You might also like:

The Curse of the Visionary
The Paradox of Certainty
Adam Curtis at the True False Film Festival

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Every Image Possible - In Every Direction

When Lytro introduced their first light field camera in February of 2012, it was the first commercially available camera to capture images which could be focused after the image is captured is saved.

The original Lytro camera captured the light field by using an 8x optical zoom lens to focus the scene on a micro-lens array adhered to a standard digital image sensor. The micro lenses allow each area of the sensor to capture the image from one view with a total capture of 11 million rays. From these rays, a two dimensional or three dimensional representation can be computed for any view and these can be recalculated based upon input from the viewer.

Last week, Lytro introduced a very unusual looking spherical camera that captures the light field in 360 degrees.  By capturing all of the rays of light in a 360 degree circle, the Lytro Immerge is designed for creating virtual reality content that can be used with the upcoming Occulus Rift and other virtual reality headsets.

By capturing the entire spherical light field, the Immerge will allow software to calculate exactly what a viewer would see in the original scene as they move their head in the virtual reality headset. Even the light and shadows will be calculated correctly.

The Immerge platform, including a camera rig and custom server, is expected to ship in early 2016.

You might also like:
Every Image Possible
Cellphone Array Camera
Cameras of the Future

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Learning Through Analogy

We have a remarkable ability to learn quickly through direct experience, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. We seem to be hardwired to understand that the results we experience from an event will be be similar the next time we see the same event. By itself, this learning method would be greatly limited by the fact that no two events are exactly the same.

We are also endowed with the power of analogy. Analogy gives us the capability to recognize when situations are similar and extend the conclusions we make from our direct experience to other experiences which appear similar.

Our ability to learn through analogy grows as our experience grows and we have a greater knowledge base to mine for similarities. One of the best ways to stimulate creativity is to actively cultivate analogical thinking.

Here are some questions that can develop analogical problem solving:

  • How does this situation resemble anything I have experienced before
  • What worked and didn't work then?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • Who else has experienced a similar situation?
  • How did they handle it?
  • How did that turn out?
  • What if they had done something differently?
  • Is this part of a long term trend?
  • When in history have similar patterns occurred?
  • Who were the winners and losers that time?
  • Is this part of a cyclical pattern?
  • How does the rest of the cycle typically play out?

Like most creative skills, the ability to see useful analogies is strengthened by a rich pool of knowledge and a strong sense of history.

You might also like:
Learning by Observation
Following the Rails to Promontory Point
Creatives of a Feather Flock Together

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Teaching Through Testing

"Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs" by Onderwijsgek at nl.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 nl via Commons -
Last weekend, President Obama declared that students take too many standardized tests and noted that "our kids should only take tests that are worth taking, tests that are high quality, aimed at good instruction and make sure everybody's on track."

While many educational experts have decried the practice of "teaching to the test" as counter productive and creatively stifling, I feel that there isn't enough discussion of the positive value of teaching through testing.

Our brains are designed to learn the things we encounter frequently.  Each time our neurons fire to retrieve a piece of information, that neural pathway is strengthened making it easier to remember the next time that data is needed. Learning happens most effectively when we are triggered to retrieve the information at regular intervals.

Tests provide a valuable service by determining the areas where our knowledge has gaps and identifying where to focus our study efforts.  They also provide an even more valuable role in providing opportunities to retrieve information frequently enough to enhance the learning process.

Test for enhancing learning should occur often and have low stakes. A variety of different types of tests should be used to nurture multiple learning methods. According to the educational author and blogger Annie Murphy Paul, "testing should inculcate a growth mindset in students by demonstrating that ability grows through exerting effort and making mistakes."

Paul has labeled the type of testing that she encourages as Affirmative Testing and has developed a course to teach educators how to do it well. I encourage you to read her Affirmative Testing Manifesto

You might also like:
Learning by Observation
The IDE3A Process
Penguins, Pandas or People

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Learning by Observation

Sir Issac Newton
Long before any of us understand language, learn to read, or attend school, we have learned a great deal about the world by drawing conclusions from our direct observations. No matter how much knowledge we absorb, we continue to draw new conclusions from our direct experience.

In 1686, Sir Issac Newton published four rules of scientific reasoning in his Principia Mathematica. These rules are essentially how we interpret and generalize from experience whether or not we are conscious of the process. Rather than use Newton's terminology, I am going to interpret these in my own words.

Find the Simplest Explanation

We don't like complexity.  As soon as we find an explanation that appears true and a reasonable explanation, we are content with that answer and stop looking for another explanation.

The Causes are Always the Same

Once we decide that a result is caused by an event, we assume that every time we see that result, it was caused by the same event.

If it is True in our Experience, it is a Universal Truth

Each situation we encounter is new, but we need to decide how to approach it based on our previous experience. If we have seen an event trigger a result in the past, we expect it to trigger the same result this time and every subsequent time.

We are Right Until Proven Otherwise

Once we believe we understand how something works, we are confident that understanding is correct until we see an incident that directly contradicts our conclusions.

These four rules of reasoning are an essential part of our human nature and the reason we are able to learn so much, so quickly. They are also the fundamental underpinning of science. But they also explain why we are so prone to jumping to incorrect conclusions and why it can be so difficult to change our minds once we make a conclusion.

As a child, our understanding of the world is simple and naive. As we have greater experience, our understanding gains nuance as we try to understand the increasing complex interactions we have with others. Our ability to learn from conversation with others, reading, and watching video allows us to expand our understanding beyond our own personal experiences.

At each step, we need to fit the new knowledge into our existing model of how the world works. And at every stage of life, we think we understand things better than we actually do.

You might also like:
From the Specific to the General and Back Again
Reverse Mentoring
The Age of Creativity

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cameras of the Future

Light L16 Camera
Historically, there has been a direct relationship between the size of a camera and the quality of the images that it can capture. Sharper, brighter images were the result of larger lenses to collect light and larger sensors to convert that light to a digital image. Computational imaging ends that relationship.

The L16 is a new camera from Light that packs 16 individual 13 megapixel sensors with three different focal lengths into a size slightly larger than a smartphone. Five of the sensors have a 35mm lens, five have a 70mm lens and six have a 150mm lens. By capturing ten images, simultaneously, at the different focal lengths and different locations on the camera, the device collects data that can be computed into a 52 megapixel image.

While the L16 provides the resolution of a high quality DLSR in a much smaller package, at $1699 the price seems a bit steep to cause many people to rush out and replace their existing DLSR.  However, as the technology progresses and comes down in price, I believe this will be the way most new cameras will be designed.

Light is also working with phone manufacturers to bring the technology into smartphones by late next year.

You might also like:
Cellphone Array Camera 
Every Image Possible
The First Portrait Lens