Monday, October 18, 2010

Lighting In the Virtual World

When it comes to realism, lighting in a still image or animated scene can make or break a persons viewing experience. When comparing a computer generated imagine to a photograph the first thing that comes to mind is whether or not it looks as real as the picture. The more real it looks, the more satisfaction is had by the viewer.

Lighting is probably the last thing thought about when it comes to computer graphics, whether you're the animator or the viewer, even though its the key factor in realism. Its a tricky and time consuming process in the 3D world but when the right results are achieved, it's very gratifying.

When setting up a well lit scene multiple factors need to be considered. The time of day and the mood the scene is going to convey are just a couple. If it's during daylight hours the color of the lights should be warmer such as yellow and orange. If its a night time scene then colors should have a more cool blue tone to them.

Normally two or three lights per scene also helps achieve realism. Since real world lighting for the most part always has more than one light source its always best to do the same in the virtual world. Additional things that should be considered are the rays of light, whether its from the sun, and indoor light fixture or spotlight. The type of light is very important.

To achieve a type of mood shadows usually play the most important role. The darker the scene and the more prominent the shadows are, the more negative the mood is. The brighter the scene and the less shadows there are, the happier or more positive the mood is. Another thing to keep in mind when considering shadows is its edge. The softer the edge the more realistic it is. Harder edges are usually used for more non-realistic imagery.

These are just a few of many of the important things to be thought about when it comes to lighting a virtual scene. Any virtual object and or scene can appear real if it's lit properly. Like anything the more time and thought put into it, the better the results. In the end, the greatest compliment a 3D artist can receive, is the viewer not realizing that imagery is computer generated.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Media in the Classroom

Being a graduate student outside of work, teachers often pride themselves in using the “newest up to date” technology. This “new” technology is PowerPoint with more than one color on each slide or a graphic that actually appears on the slide rather than a box with an x mark in it. Most teachers are lucky if they can get the image of the computer to project on the screen (whiteboard) in front of the class. Then I come to work and see how the bare minimum of our work is twice as advanced as what I see in the classroom.

Teachers are fascinated that they can post assignment on Blackboard, a university based networking site which students can log onto and keep track of class assignment grades and chat with other classmates. They are amazed that we can talk to each other without seeing one another.

Now these teachers are the exception as most teachers stand in front of the class and talk, talk, and talk some more without using any visual aids. I believe that my generation is much more visual than past generations, because we have been exposed to so many different media outlets and technological advances. Teachers always say that they want to stay up to date with the times, however they give us articles from the 70s, show us videos from when bell bottom pants were in and insist that power point presentations are the latest thing. Most teachers lecture on how to give a good presentation and they themselves use bright colors, light text, and poor images to serve as teaching tools, and most of us in the room would create a better presentation just from what we know about power point such as movement of text, sounds, pictures, links, and movie players; just to name a few.

Is this a clash of generations, are teachers trying to make productive steps forward, are power points the first steps in trying to be “ in with the times?” Our classrooms seem to be the last places to experience the wave of technology and teachers are the ones struggle to keep their classes engage in their lectures.

Now you see me... now you... still see me.

The past four plane rides I've taken have all qualified me for a "Random Security Screening." For something so random, I feel like my odds have been pretty good since 9/11! With these odds, I'm thinking of purchasing a lottery ticket...

Unfortunately, I don't think the odds have anything to do with it. The fact that I'm pulled out of line constantly to get searched or scanned or virtually strip searched (I'll get to that in a minute) is simply because of how I look. Granted, I am tall, dark, and ruggedly handsome (or so my mother tells me), but I'm also Egyptian. Mind you, I'm a practicing Christian that was born and raised in the United States, but I'm sure it doesn't help at all that I have a big nose and a beard. Maybe I should shave? Then again, I doubt that curly haired Mexicans or Indians are having much luck either, regardless of their facial hair status.

Now, anyone that knows me understands that while I'm not for racial profiling as a policy, I fully understand the heightened alarm when someone even remotely middle-eastern-looking looks at an airport the wrong way (and with the poor service, the high prices, and flight delays, can you really blame them for looking the wrong way?). Hell, I understand that if I saw me in an airport, I'd want to perform a "Random" security search on me as well... that's not really my point.

My point is that these "random" searches aren't very random. That much is obvious when I am literally the only person in a line of 20 people about to board a plane (this is AFTER the security check) that gets politely asked to have my personal belongings checked... for a second time. Let's not sugar coat it. That's racial profiling and security personnel aren't even bothering to hide it anymore. Am I so daft as to think that people that look middle eastern aren't targets for airport security? Of course not, but I at least appreciated it when they cared enough about my feeling to lie to me about it! What happened to grabbing me out of line along with a complimentary white person who I secretly suspect goes behind the curtain and jokes with TSA about the middle eastern sucker who is behind the other curtain having his bag turned inside out...... but I digress.

A few of years ago airline security at least pretended that these screenings were random... now... it seems that the facade has been cast off. There are a few problems with this that actually DECREASE security in airports.

Remember up above where I mentioned virtual strip searches? No? Glance up top... It's ok... I'll wait.

Anyway... so, I was in Boston and they have these nifty new security scanners that you walk through and then stand still for 10 seconds or so. These new scanners are so powerful and sensitive that they can actually see THROUGH your clothing... I'm not joking... you can look it up on Google images (or some other search engine of your choice). Try this link . Let's assume that I'm ok with some poor TSA worker looking at my virtually naked body. And let's say that I'm ok with that TSA employee looking at my friends and family that way. What I'm not ok with is the fact that I'm the only person in a long line of people who has to go though the machine! I used to be completely understanding of the fact that TSA workers had a job to do and that by stopping me in an airport, they were doing that job. "Random" metal detector and bag searches are one thing because of the minimal indignity, but I have to draw the racial profiling line at semi-naked scans of a person's body! I know the scan takes some time and the airport doesn't want to delay everyone, but come on! This is above and beyond... and I'm of the opinion that either everyone goes through this security scan or no one goes through it at all. Aside from the fact that it feels offensive to get singled out "randomly," it feels even weirder to have everyone's eyes looking at you KNOWING why you're getting scanned and knowing that the scanners are seeing you naked.

Even if everyone goes through these scanners (which they don't) for the simple sake of pretending that middle eastern people aren't being hounded at the airport, there are still a number of legal issues that are not addressed...

While this new device is a leap in airport security technology, there are a series of legal issues that this machine raises. First of all, what about privacy considerations? "Random" people are being virtually strip searched without probable cause! Since when does the government have the right to make strip searches mandatory and without cause? Some may argue that consent is implied by the fact that people have purchased a ticket to fly, but people don't really have a choice when it comes to reasonable long distance travel, thus consent may be negated.

There are also potential health and HIPAA violations here. There are all kinds of people walking through this scanner with varying medical conditions. There are people with prosthetics, breast implants, insulin pumps, false body parts (like hips), or who are missing body parts. These people no longer have their privacy available to them and their private medical conditions are potentially visible to the world without proper protections. What about radiation? Many authorities say that these X-rays aren't harmful, but there is disagreeing literature. What about unborn children or fetuses that are exponentially more sensitive to radiation?

Supposedly there are privacy features built in that blur a person's face, so that the scanner cannot see the person being scanned, but we're really just taking the government's word for that when there are some borderline horror stories about the lack of privacy.

Even worse, according to these articles (1 and 2), these scanners are actually being used as porn by some airport workers! Really? The images aren't even that great, but clearly this is an example that people can abuse just about anything! With the increased rate of "random" security searches, I wonder if these airport employees know that their new porn is really made up of a shockingly high number of Middle Easterners, Mexicans, Indians, and other brown people. To make matters worse, the government is possibly in on this as well! The machines have the capability of saving the images that are scanned for later use. Supposedly the government doesn't save the images, but I'll leave that argument between them and the conspiracy theorists out there.

What about children? That's right... I went there even though it is just a repugnant thought. Children could be and have been scanned without a parent's consent. Should children have to go through this scanner when pornography is a potential issue? Should they have to go through it when the issue of whether these scans are safe or not remains unanswered?

Finally, isn't security the purpose of these scanners? A large security risk facing America that was created by TSA officials is precisely the fact that brown people get singled out. All we're doing is telling potential terrorists how to avoid getting searched. Instead of someone with dark hair, brown skin, and a beard packing a bomb in his shorts, you'll have brainwashed, blond haired, blue eyed Americans doing the terrorizing instead! Al Qaeda is recruiting all over the world and they're not just recruiting middle-easterners! Look at this blond woman dubbed "Jihad Jane!"

New technology is great. Keeping America safe from terrorism is a noble and wonderful goal, but there just has to be a better way that doesn't single out certain people for a potentially humiliating violation of privacy.