Giving the SAT the Finger

There is apparently a research report circulating suggesting it is possible to predict a child’s performance on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) by looking at the relative lengths of her index and ring fingers. The link to an article on that research arrived in my inbox earlier this week. While I won’t simply dismiss this research as junk science, the article does seem Onion-esque.

In the end, does it really matter? What is a parent or mother-to-be going to do with this information? Will expecting mothers begin estrogen and testosterone supplement regiments during pregnancy which is sure to create other physiological changes during those critical early stages of development? Will parents hire tutors for their two week-olds to make up for what are destined to be verbal or mathematical deficiencies in their children with stubby index or ring fingers?

I am not a parent, but if one asked my opinion, I would say show them your child’s middle finger and keep it moving.

If I were a parent, I would take a polyglot child over one nice with analogies any day but that’s not something we test for (care about?) in the U.S. Furthermore, if pop music, texting, IM’ing and MySpace are any indication, English is a second language for today’s American youth already.

I have been in Europe just over a week for work and the number of times I wished I had learned another language vs. the number of times I wished I had a sweet analogy is 100:1.

My ring fingers are both considerably longer than my index fingers. I have a mathematical/analytical leaning and scored better on my math SATs than verbal. I went to MIT! However, I also have a penchant for the written word and the gift of gab. I work in marketing! This “research” was probably done by people with short ring fingers. Bah! :sarcastic:

Tip: Creating a Digital Panorama

I have published an overview explaining the steps for creating a digital panorama from start to finish. This article was inspired by the panorama I shot of Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze on May 27, which was also featured in my recent post about my visit to Florence, Italy. It is pretty detailed so I put the entire article in its own page. I have included the introductory sections in case you are just passing through or unsure whether you care to read the article in its entirety.

Overview

A panorama is a large composite picture created by stitching together a series of overlapping smaller photos. This is done to capture a broader aspect ratio and higher resolution of a scene than a single picture is capable, even when it is captured with a wide angle lens. The best panoramas are created from two or more photos with overlapping vertical or horizontal regions across the entire scene. When the photos are combined, they recreate a full 90°, 180°, 360° (and anywhere in between) of a given scene.

Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze (Florence, Italy) panorama
Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze, May 27, 2007, Florence, Italy

Introduction

The quality, popularity and relative simplicity of digital cameras and photo processing software have made creating digital panoramas much easier today than just a few years ago. Creating a decent panorama using a digital camera is greatly simplified, as in most cases, by having the proper equipment and workflow.

As with single-image digital photography — and photography, in general — adhering to the fundamentals by controlling focus & lighting is a must. The omelette is only as good as the ingredients that go in it. If you take a crappy set of photos, you will end up with a crappy panorama. The more control you have and exert over the process of capturing the individual photos, the better the final panorama will be when you will later stitch them together. For this reason, point-and-shoot digital cameras are great for their convenience but not ideal for capturing panoramas. You can use point-and-shoot cameras to capture a panorama but you won’t get anywhere near the results possible with a basic digital SLR which provide more control for capturing a consistent set of images across the entire scene.

Other must-have equipment, in my opinion, is a good tripod. Camera shake will kill a panorama. Tripods also help you control the level of the camera as you pan it across the scene capturing the individual photos. Imagine taking 24 pictures (at 15° intervals) to capture a full 360° scene without using a tripod. Could you keep the camera steady? Would the pictures be anywhere near level from start to finish? Probably not. A tripod is your friend when it comes to panoramas. Invest in one, borrow one or rent one. You won’t be sorry.

Once you have captured a solid photo set, creating the composite becomes an exercise in matching the overlapping regions and correcting for lens artifacts & color shifts then transforming (or warping) the images so they can be joined into the final panorama. By investing more in equipment specifically designed for capturing panoramas, one can completely eliminate such corrections and transformations from the workflow. However, such equipment can be very expensive. The good news is there are several relatively inexpensive computer software programs that automate the image corrections and will even automatically stitch the images together for you.

Pictured above is the most recent panorama I created. It is of Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze in Florence, Italy taken on May 27, 2007. The final, high-resolution image has a resolution of 7097×3624 pixels. My current camera is a Nikon D200 which has a maximum resolution of 3872×2592. So how did I create a single image 1.8x wider and 1.4x taller than my camera can capture? By taking 7 separate, overlapping pictures and stitching them together.

In the following article, I will take you through the process, equipment and software I used to create the picture above from start to finish. Let’s get started.

Read the entire article…

Taking the train from Florence to Milan

NH Grand Hotel Verdi (Milan, Italy) room keyI made it to Milan just after 1PM as scheduled. I am staying at NH Grand Hotel Verdi which is a €5 taxi from Milano Centrale train station. The hotel rooms are modern but the lobby, lifts and hallways are rather dated. Here I was thinking the Sheraton Firenze Hotel has olskool keys. Check out the behemoth to the right. That round thing is a solid brass disc about 1/2″ thick. The entire key chain easily weighs a pound. Yikes!

Anyway, the train was easy. The only blemish was the Italian woman seated directly across from me who insisted on using up all her anytime, free & clear, whenever minutes calling up her fifty-five faves during the 3 hour ride. I understand why the FAA doesn’t want to allow cell phones during flights. Thankfully I had the aural serenity provided by my Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones and Zune playing Salif Keita’s M’Bemba.

Alas, I’m here for work and only for a short time so I won’t have nearly as much time or things to blog.

The Internet access in Italy is horrible. Not only are hotels charging through the nose (€17-€22 or $23-$29 per day!) but the speeds and reliability are abysmal. Downloads don’t complete or take forever. Many sites are either blocked or cannot be found. It is extremely frustrating.

Touring Florence, Italy: Day 2

As I mentioned in my May 25 post rain has been expected in Florence all week. Well, it finally came today…in force. I woke up at 7:30 again but was piddling around editing photos and planning for today’s trip. I messed around and missed the last morning shuttle which meant I had to wait for the afternoon rotation to begin at 3:30.

The lightning storm started around noon and the rain was coming down in buckets. I was so happy I had missed the morning shuttle as I could just imagine me crouched somewhere in the city waiting out the rain with a couple hundred of my fellow tourists. I had lunch at the hotel (the food here is excellent, by the way) which consisted of broiled sole with buffalo mozzarella to start and gnocchi with scampi and wild mushrooms as the main. It wasn’t as good as lunch yesterday but it was a good dining experience nonetheless.

The rain finally died down around 2:30 so I caught the 3:30 shuttle. This time I got off at the first stop, Ponte Vecchio. As you may recall, today was the day to tour the eastern half of the city and Ponte Vecchio was the nearest to city center the shuttle stopped. Because the sky was dull and gray, and the ground was still wet, the picture taking wasn’t stellar. I considered throwing in the towel and doing the museum circuit (my rainy day backup) but almost every other tourist must have had the same game plan as every museum I passed had a line that wrapped around the front and one side. The outdoors would have to do.

Below is the map chronologically listing each of my major stops during my tours yesterday and today. Numbers 1-7 are from Day 1. Letters A-K are from today, Day 2. The sights aren’t listed on the map unfortunately so I have provided a list of today’s stops below. I already fully documented yesterday’s journey which calls out each stop 1-7 by name.

Map of Keith's Tour of Florence, Italy

A. Pointe Vecchio
B. Galleria degli Uffizi
C. Piazza della Signoria
D. Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze
E. Sinagoga (a synagogue)
F. Piazza M. D’azeglio
G. Istituto degli Innocenti
H. Piazza S. S. Annunziata
I. Piazza San Marco
J. San Lorenzo
K. Stazione Santa Maria Novella

The picture I’m proudest of from today is the panorama at Santa Croce (stop ‘D’) below.

Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze Panorama

This composite image was created from 7 individual portrait shots stitched together. The resolution of the final image is 7097×3624 before leveling and cropping! Of course I downconverted it for my blog considering I doubt any of you have a monitor that can display a picture 7000 pixels wide.

My trusty tripod came in handy for this shot. I will do a more detailed write-up of the steps involved in capturing panoramas later on. I think my Internet connection just expired and I was hoping to get this post out before I leave for Milan tomorrow morning. 🙁