Wednesday, September 1, 2010

NJ's $400m 'Race to the Top' - adults misbehaving

Over the past two weeks, there's been much to do about how locally here in New Jersey, an (ahem) 'error' resulted in losing $400M worth of Federal Aid.

Naturally, the gears of Political Spin turned, to try to avoid responsibility and deflect blame on others: it is the classical "If its good, I get credit, but if its bad, it must be someone else's fault" - - with exactly the underlying message on ethics that that entails. As usual, our 'Leaders' actions in misbehavior sends the worst possible message to our children (and students), which is that its okay to lie and cheat.

And specifically for NJ Governor Chris Christie, we can see that he has conspicuously failed to issue a clear (and equally loud) public apology to those in the Federal Government that he had previously blamed for his own administration's error. Too late to do this now - the train has left the station and his credible opportunity window has passed, and Christie thus gets a failing grade in Ethics Class.

- - -

However, there is another interesting point that has been missed within all of the politically-generated spin-doctoring in regards to the Race to the Top. People have forgotten the very basics: this was a competition, and not all entries were going to win (receive funding).

As such, let's apply one more "What If", centered on Ohio (who just beat NJ out for the last winning spot):

WHAT IF ... Ohio's entry had done a few points better on their entry?

Answer: all of this teeth gnashing and caterwauling on NJ's 4 point mistake would be utterly moot.

In life, there are winners and losers...and it doesn't take long to learn that we won't always win. As such, we need to be honest with ourselves and accept losing graciously ... which includes accepting responsibility for our actions, win or lose. It doesn't matter how lofty one's life position is, or becomes: the buck always stops.


Monday, March 1, 2010

A quick word on 'snowfall' photographs

(Alternate Title: "A foot of snow later...")

Thanks to it being an El Nino winter, there's been quite a bit of wintery mix precipitation that's been hitting the Northeastern USA this past month.

As such, there's the temptation to go take a digital photo that you're going to email to family & friends (probably to get some sympathy for snow shoveling).

So you go out and take a photo during the storm ... and all that nice white snow turns out a yucky dark grey in the photo - - that's probably not what you wanted, so why did this happen?

The short answer is "technology", specifically, your camera's automatic exposure system.

Yes, we've become quite accustomed to auto-everything cameras, but a downside of this is that the camera never knows what you're photographing, so it guesses.

Simplistically, this "guess" is known as 18% grey, and while it works great 90% of the time for us, where it doesn't work so well is when we have a low contrast scene - - and during a heavy snowfall is a low contrast scene.

With a low contrast scene, the camara's educated guesses often goes wrong: it is looking for "dark AND grey AND bright" contrasts, but it can't find what's not there.

So while a white cow in a snowstorm (light on light) or a black cat in a coal mine (dark on dark) are both intuitively obvious to us, for the camera, it sees both as low contrast and hard to figure out. Subsequently, it can get the overall exposure settings wrong.

Typically, the camera's bad guess is that the cow/snow is "too bright" of an overall scene (it can't find true black), so it sets for a short exposure, which turns white into grey (underexposed). Similarly, the cat/coal is interpreted as "too dark" (can't find bright white), so it calls for a long exposure...and this turns black into grey (overexposed).

Here's an example of an image that's was a low contrast light scene, so it was auto-exposed to be a bad "grey" shot (underexposed), which was corrected later in post-processing:

The trick to avoid this problem is pretty simple: be aware of how your 'automatic' camera settings work, and anticipate what it will do based upon what you know is in the picture. The simple rule of thumb to remember is that the camera will want to turn everything grey if the scene lacks a good cue (bright sunny sky for contrast) to help it out.

With digital, its pretty easy to take a test shot and then adjust your settings. And if you forget (or not bother), you can fix the incorrect exposures later in post-processing. Its up to you to decide how much its worth a little bit more effort upfront when taking the picture, both to get better overall results, as well as to save time later from less post-processing.

And of course, if you do choose to override the default exposure while taking the photo to get what you want, do also make sure to remember to set your override settings back to normal afterwords.