Teach your children well

Being a proud parent, my father wanted me to excel at everything--especially mathematics. And so I was sent to a fine English public school to learn the craft. Our school was one of the first to own a computer--a state-of-the-art machine from Digital Equipment Corp. (Maynard, MA)--a PDP-8.

Teach your children well

Andy Wilson Editor

andyw@pennwell.com

Being a proud parent, my father wanted me to excel at everything--especially mathematics. And so I was sent to a fine English public school to learn the craft. Our school was one of the first to own a computer--a state-of-the-art machine from Digital Equipment Corp. (Maynard, MA)--a PDP-8.

What I liked most about the PDP-8 were the red levers situated at the front of the machine and the flashing LED lights. When I was first introduced to the machine, I was transfixed. You could see the machine computing!

To maximize the efficiency of learning, four terminals hung off the computer. I was told that a "time-sharing" program in the machine allowed four people to program it at once--a technological miracle. Our task, at age 12, was to program the machine.

Conquering the beast

After writing a few simple programs in BASIC, I became frustrated. I could think faster! And so, I decided to conquer the beast. I would give it a problem it would never figure out. Three nested FOR loops later, my eight-line BASIC program was complete. The program evaluated prime numbers. I typed it into one of the terminals. While other students were busy at their terminals, I ran the program. The machine lit up like a Christmas tree. The other terminals ground to a halt within seconds. The mathematics teacher commended me on the work, pressed a few red levers, reloaded the boot paper tape, and then chided me for disturbing the computer class! What I really needed was a CPU with an independent address generator--or better yet, a DSP. He didn`t understand.

Luckily, technology and teachers have come a long way since the halcyon days of the PDP-8. Nowadays, students have access to Power Macintoshes that they can use to write essays, obtain information from the Web, or study history, geography, and science.

But what of mathematics? When I was in school, mathematics was a one-dimensional subject. If not taught properly, the elegance of the subject rapidly disinterests those who study it. But, with the technology available today, it does not have to be boring. At the heart of every image-processing system is mathematics.

Here, smart teachers are realizing the benefits. Filters, convolution, bicubic polynomial interpolation, morphology, and Fourier transforms may seem tedious on paper. But if applied to images, students can understand visually the underlying mathematics. At the same time, they can gain a deeper understanding of one of the frontiers of science--image analysis and understanding.

The benefit here is obvious. Just the other day, while surfing the Web, I came upon the Cognex positions-available page (http://www. cognex.com). "Four software developers wanted--knowledge of C++, image processing, machine vision." Finding such people is difficult. But, if image processing could be linked to mathematics courses in high schools, things might be different.

Into the schools

With the amount of computer hardware now being used in schools and universities, this would not be difficult. Vendors of image-processing hardware and software could follow the lead set by Apple Computer in donating equipment. Off-the-shelf image-processing packages could then be tailored for educational purposes, introducing students to the visual and practical aspects of image processing, while allowing them to explore commercial hardware and software. If this were accomplished, there would be less classified advertising and more talented people in the vision industry.

More in Boards & Software