Sunday, May 20, 2007

Frames Per Second in birds

I had occasion to visit Hardin Ridge yesterday for the International Migratory Bird Day celebrations. They had several stations, and it was fun for the kids, but one thing I thought was interesting was during a presentation on birds of prey. They displayed a peregrine falcon and talked about its remarkable vision; here's what Steiner has to say about it:

They are equipped with full-color vision and with eyes specially adapted to permit rapid adjustment of focus while moving at speed, and from four to eight times the resolving power of the human eye. Hovering may be compared to looking into a field from a car moving at twenty miles an hour or from one which comes to a standstill every few yards. It would be possible for a human being to see an individual rabbit or large game bird at a range of 600-700-yards; a bird of prey, with about four times the resolving power of the human eye, should therefore be able to see it at a range of nearly two miles.

What particularly caught my attention, though, was when they said that the peregrine can perceive significantly more events per second than humans can. I don't know if it's exactly the same concept, but I assume we're talking about frame rate here; they commented that even when cameras have been attached to these birds as they make one of their amazing, 200 miles-per-hour dives onto some unsuspecting pigeon, all humans can see is blur.

Now, the frame rates they mentioned seemed surprisingly low to me they suggested 18-20 events per second for humans and maybe two or three times that amount for the birds. But I suppose it's an example of flicker, and syncing, where if you perceive the wrong couple of frames in a videogame the action seems all wrong, or maybe the afterimage in the eye causes the slowdown.

So I'm not sure where all this is leading, except maybe that a really cool videogame would be Peregrine: The Stoop for a Pigeon. But I suspect there's a lot of basic science to be done before any game can simulate the visual experience of this amazing animal.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Choosing a Kindergarten

It's a funny thing, but I'm pretty used to being marketed to. When I needed to get a gym membership, the gyms that I went to had someone there to give me a tour; show off the machines and the hot tub; in general make me excited about going there. Or when my wife was checking out nursing homes: she had a very similar experience with people who wanted to make her comfortable and get her interested in coming back, offering her cups of coffee and things.

So when we got the letter about coming to a kindergarten open house, that's sort of the thing I expected. I thought the people would be interested in showing us around and getting us excited - like the gym or the nursing home, trying to sell their product to us, sell us their school. I guess the first warning I should have had came straight from the informational packet, though: there was really nothing there except lots of information about "your child" - "your child" should be able to tie his shoes. "Your child" should have lots of time to read with you. "Your child" needs to be independent enough to go potty all alone. Not a word about this big, new, mysterious place he'll be going to.

So I was expecting some more information on the school at the open house. Unfortunately, what they had for us was another informational packet explaining what "your child" had to do in order to be ready for kindergarten. And who was running the open house? One kindergarten teacher. The school has two, but the other was busy - and I understand she just lost a family member, so that was okay - and the principal apparently had decided that some interviews he had to do were more important than meeting the new parents. I disagree.

So it's very clear when you leave the private sector, even for a heavily regulated industry like nursing homes. We obviously had some amount of choice over our kindergarten, but once we made the important step of purchasing a home, we were pretty much stuck with this one, and I think that the information we got reflected that. I'm not even saying it's intentional - simply that no one's ever thought twice about having to sell their school, because no one has to.

That in a nutshell is the biggest problem with the school system, IMO. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues or whether some more wholehearted attempts will be made at engaging us.