First Obstacle

Well, in the transition I lost my RSS feed. So if you are one of the 7 people that are subscribed to my blog via Google Reader, you will want to subscribe to the new location. You can go to blog.benmcmurry.com and resubscribe through your browser OR you can enter this URL directly in Google Reader. feed://blog.benmcmurry.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

I’m sorry to those 7 individuals for the inconvenience. Well, one of the seven is me. So I apologize to the 6 others.

A move from WordPress to Blogger

I really like wordpress. It’s functional and aesthetically pleasing. It’s easy to use, open-source, and customizable. But, there are some things that I don’t really like that much. I don’t like the constant updating of the software. It seemed like every time that I logged in it was time for an update. I also didn’t like the commenting system.
So, I decided to move to blogger. There shouldn’t be any hiccups, but it will take me a few days to get the layout like I want. So, thanks for your patience.

Watch this!

Help me win! Watch this video:

I am participating in a competition in Instructional Design at BYU. The first part of the competition was pitching our product to a panel of judges. My team won! For the second part, whichever design team gets the most people to watch their pitch video wins an ipad. Please watch our video. I get 10 points for every unique state or country that views it and 1 point per person. Please tell your friends to watch it too. The deadline for the competition is April 7, 2011 at 11:59pm.

CALL Reading

I am in the thick of reading in preparation for the big “D” . . . and I don’t mean Dallas (which would be fun). . . or divorce (which would be horrible).  No, this “D” is somewhere in the middle and it stands for Dissertation. I plan on defending my prospectus soon. I’ve already started working on one of my articles. As I was hauling my books around the house this evening I thought I should take a picture so I could remember how much fun I am having—and I’m not being sarcastic. Some days are not fun, but for the most part I enjoy what I am doing.

Dana Ferris at BYU

The Linguistics and English Language Department at BYU is sponsoring a lecture series on second language literacy. Today, Dana Ferris was the speaker. It was great to here her speak. She is a very intelligent person with a clear perception of the field. She provided some very helpful insights about teaching. She listed 10 things she feels are the most important in developing literacy.

  1. Extensive reading
  2. Vocabulary Development
  3. Text Selection
  4. Reading Strategies
  5. Reading/Writing Assessment
  6. Peer Response
  7. Teacher Feedback
  8. Grammar Instruction
  9. Written Corrective Feedback
  10. Collaboration Among Faculty

One of the things that I enjoyed about her was her attitude toward working with others. She said we don’t need be prideful and that we don’t need to have a chip on a shoulder. We should be willing to work with English departments and all departments to help ESL student write better. This really stuck out to me. We, as ESL professionals, don’t know everything.

She also brought up some things that teachers do that are “mean.” She said that the high-stakes timed writing is mean. She said that when teachers wait to give feedback until the final draft is “mean.” I agree.

Great Lifehacker Post

I have not been a great blogger lately. I can’t believe that my last post was on May 31st.

This week I saw a great post on lifehacker.com. Lifehacker is an awesome blog with loads of posts about interesting tips about life. This week they had a post on some language tools. Click here to check them out.

I had seen or used most of the tools, but the one I didn’t know about was After the Deadline. So far, it seems to be quite good. It’s a nifty tool that could probably best be described as the Super Hero version of Spelling/Grammar Checkers. Language teachers, especially writing teachers, might find it incredibly helpful. I hope to teach a class at the ELC next semester. If I do, and if it’s writing, I might explore some of these things.

Video for Apple Devices

Lastly, I would like to report on some findings I made with regard to Apple Devices and their supported video playback.

I did some tests with h.264 video encoding. A lot of this won’t mean much, but it’s nice to write it down for future reference.

Ipods do not support:

  • b-frames
  • cabac
  • trellis
  • 8x8dct

Ipods Do support

  • Resolutions greater than what is listed on Apple’s website provided that the height does not exceed the listed height (i.e. 640×480 is listed as the max for the iPod touch, but it will play 855×480.) Of course, it won’t show a high resolution, it will down-convert it to what it can show.
  • 4 reference frames
  • detecelining
  • decoming

I also have to note that handbrake’s presets are pretty good for apple devices.

60hz, 120hz, 240hz, ????

Two posts in one day? That’s strange. In my effort to learn more about video, I explored some new features of current TVs. You might have seen that new TVs have crazy looking labels that say “120hz” or “240hz.” What’s that all about?

Well, I don’t want to get to technical here, but here is a little background information. Broadcast signals are typically 30 frames per second. That’s 30 different images that you see on your screen per second. Well, actually it’s 60 half images. Our brains can fill in information. TVs typically operate at 60hz. The hertz used to refer to energy passed through something in the tv, but now with LCD tvs they really refer to frames per second (fps). So, TVs work could for broadcast.

Film, however, is usually 24 fps. In order to fill up the available 60hz, complicated math has to happen. 24 is not a multiple of 60, so a 3:2 pulldown happens. Some new frames are inserted . . . blah, blah, blah.

So, you’ll find that both 24 and 30 are multiples of 120 and 240. That’s cool because that crazy math doesn’t have to happen, but what is even cooler is that you will get more frames for second, 120 or 240 to be exact. That 24fps that you watched on your tv is multiplied by 5 for 120hz! That’s pretty cool. Sure, it’s a repeat of the same frame 5 times, but you can notice a difference.

I went to Best Buy today and looked at the difference. It takes a second to get used to because the image looks unnatural. Our eyes are so accustomed to slower fps that the more real looking 120 fps looks fake when it reality it actually looks more real. It’s actually pretty cool. I can definitely say that the next tv I buy will have 240hz.

So, lifehacker posted about another post this week on the subject with detailed instructions on how to do this on a PC. I did it! In fact, I did it on my mac under vmware with windows 7. It still worked. At first, the increased fps made me think I was watchin in fast forward, so I had to watch them side-by-side. Sure enough, they were both running at normal speed, but the fps made a world of difference. Here’s a picture of my screen.

DVD Up-conversion Thoughts

This week my students have been working on their video productions. They are required to make an instructional video. I thought that I would use this week to learn some more about video and decided to learn about up-conversion. I have read things here and there, but this week I did some experimentation of my own.

The Basics

Up-conversion is the process of “blowing up” video to take up more pixels. A DVD has about 855×480 (480p)(It’s really 720×480 with non-square pixels, but that’s the square pixel equivalent). Your high end HD videos, like bluray, are at 1920×1080 (1080p). HD signals look nice because there is more information. Up-conversion blows up the original image and then guesses what the missing pixels in between should be. This is pretty tricky. There are lots of different methods for guessing. Some are better than others.

All Modern TVs up-convert. Most TVs are at 1920×1080. It converts any signal it gets to that resolution. Not all TVs up-convert equally. In fact, some are horrible. The point is though, that they all up-convert.

So, why should I get an up-converting DVD player? Well, maybe you shouldn’t. If you have a high-end TV, there is no need. Your TV can do all the work. For example, I have a Samsung TV and a Samsung DVD player that does up-conversion. If I have up-conversion enabled on my DVD player, it sends a 1080p signal to the TV. The TV doesn’t have to do the conversion. However, if I turn off the up-conversion of the DVD player, my TV will do the work.

I tried both. My TV does a much better job than my dvd player. Mind you, neither do that great of a job.

So, do I need an HDMI cable? If you have a device that sends a signal higher than 480p, then yes. Otherwise, component cables are just fine.

An Alternative

I would never buy a $500 dvd player that does up-conversion extremely well. You can find them. Some bluray players do an excellent job of this too. Reviews are a good way to find out which ones work best. One thing that you might not know is that your computer up-converts DVDs. It’s amazing how well that they do to. When you switch your dvd player software to fullscreen, it’s up-converting (assuming that your resolution is high than 480p; if not, there are other problems.). If you were to hook your computer up to your tv, you would be very impressed at the quality. I’m not saying that computers do the best job. It is true that you can get some dedicated DVD players that will knock your socks off, but a computer often does the job.

So, that’s something I learned this week. It was fun!

TESOL 2010

It’s been almost 2 weeks since I attended the TESOL 2010 convention. I have been swamped with work, but wanted to include some notes about the sessions I attended.

I went to a panel on qualitative research. I was expecting more from it. I liked David Freeman’s presentation. I’m not sure what he said about research, but it was good. The next speaker was really good and animated. I really liked what she talked about with active research and qualitative research. I really need to write more and so some self-study. Really this hasn’t talked a lot about qualitative research. Monrage brought up some good points about how it is difficult for English teachers to teach if they themselves have low english proficiency. It really isn’t discussing qualitative research, but using materials that could be used in qualitative work. I like that they published a book. That is really cool.

Another presentation that I went to was on the use of video with pre-service teachers.They used an interesting program. It did a lot of the things that i am looking for in a program, but it wasn’t perfect. I was excited to talk to the presenters afterwards, but they didn’t seem too excited to talk to me. During the time I was there, I did get some great ideas for a good video annotation tool.

Karen Price was a lively presenter. She talked about using Transana for qualitative data analysis. This sparked a lot more questions for me. We’ve been talking about CAQDAS in the qualitative inquiry class and I am appaled at the lack of great tools available, especially for the mac platform. During these two presentations I made a little mindmap that is difficult explain. It should be a database map, and I know how it is mapped.

Overall, I learned that their are really 3 purposes to go to TESOL.

 

  1. Networking
  2. Publisher’s Exibit
  3. Sessions

And yes, these are in order of importance. I did more networking than anything else, I think. I would also have to say that strengthening existing relationships is also important. I get so many good ideas from talking with friends both new and old. I also got loads of ideas from the books I looked at. The sessions are always hit and miss. About 30% of the ones I went to were actually good.

Well, I thought that I would write more, but that’s all I feel like saying.