19 December 2005

Most of 2005

I think this list is a "Most of 200x" instead of "Best of 200x."

The most...
  • exciting personal news: we're expecting our first child in April!
  • troubling baby-related hyped-up product: the $879 stroller
  • thought-provoking art piece I saw: Bill Viola's The Greeting, a slow-motion piece depicting three women talking to each other.
  • enduringly compelling contemporary artist: Gerhard Richter (SFMOMA overview)
  • cute website, regardless of my suspected immunity to such: Cute Overload
  • consistently enjoyable gadget purchased: 512 MB iPod Shuffle
  • unsuspected conversion: from cat-tolerant to cat-loving (Sua Sponte's photos of our new cat, Edison "Danger" Favalora)
  • surprisingly non-inflammatory Blog post between J-Fav and me: Are You a Bright? (Which would have been, had I innocently added a link to the Extropy Institute Mission, purely out of curiosity.)
  • belly-hurtingly, crying-in-the-airport-terminal, funny book: Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans - The Best of McSweeney's, Humor Category
  • desired new CD which I somehow didn't buy for myself: Boards of Canada, "Music Has the Right to Children"
  • unexpected new interest, aside from Go: handheld video game online magazines, especially 1UP and their weekly 30-minute shows where 30-somethings pontificate about the Nintendo DS
  • surprising genre I listened to, from the point of view of someone who doesn't know me very well: Gangsta Rap
  • uncharacteristic recipe learned, seeing as how I don't really drink: hot buttered rum (1 teasp. butter, 1 teasp. sugar, 1 shot rum, 1 cup boiling water)
  • interesting, especially good for cocktail-party conversation among MBAs if only I went to such things, new marketing concept: Danny Hillis's 7 Stages of a Mythic Experience (1/4 down from top of page)
  • obfuscated phrase: see above
  • unrelenting scientific obsessions, outside of work, which I am compelled to bore people about: emergence, theoretical evolutionary biology, especially Kauffman's discussion of percolation theory and Boolean networks - and complexity theory in general
  • enjoyed book in pre-contemporary art, despite initial misgivings: The Informed Eye
  • concise browsable text on product usability that I wish all engineers had to read: Universal Design
  • enjoyable new publication: The Week magazine
  • creative serial entrepreneur: Yonald Chery @ Calenova
  • creative parallel entrepreneur: David Oliver @ Cusp Design
  • embarrassing admission about my decaying technical skills: that I sometimes forget what tokens require semicolons in C
  • {confusing, funny, compelling, anti-Fox network} movie seen: Syriana, 40 Year Old Virgin, Proof, Outfoxed
  • impressive facial hair among soda-loving world-class linguists: Norvin Richards (evidence!)

Well, there you have it.

I invite you - nay, I implore you - to start a list of your own "Most of 2005" on your blog. I look forward to reading it! Feel free to use any of the above headings, if you'd like.


Soon: Most-of-2005

Hi -

Soon I'll be making a little list of "Most of 2005" - for me, for you, for whoever cares - with books, music, ideas, people, constellations, colors of construction paper, worst creme brulees, most enduring lines of poetry, favorite entries from Pepys' diary, most unusual affixed-letter-signs-on-buildings, most alienating pieces of conceptual art, whatever.

Like: Most intriguing piece of conceptual art, most useful 30-minute new recipe learned, etc.

For the heck of it.

I invite you to do the same on your blog! Here's to starting our own little meme in the blog world.


New 3-D Display Article

Laser Focus World magazine (yes, there is such a thing) profiles several autostereoscopic (no-goggles-needed) 3-D displays, including our very own Perspecta display in the article IMAGE ENGINEERING: Adding depth to displays.

g-fav, listening to Boards of Canada: geogaddi

17 December 2005

For Jopesche, mostly

Gmail is smart; it serves up email-content-specific links alongside the message browser. For example, in an email I wrote about the work of Stuart Kauffman (yes, I know, I can't stop talking about his work), it served up an advertisement for:

Redfish Group: Bringing Software to Life
  • self-organizing systems design
  • 3D interactive visualization
  • web application design
  • agent based modeling
  • peer2peer network design
Jopesche, they offer visualization tools of complex networks, which reminded me of the work you did on visualizing LiveJournal connectivity and cliques.

Woah, how "meta." I didn't email you, I blogged to you thinking you'd see it. How presumptuous.

That's all. J-Fav and I returned from a fun party at our blog-less friend EB's house. So I shall end this now.


16 December 2005


Artsy T-Shirts have been the rage for, what, four years now? Graphic design portals point to scores of t-shirt shops; Urban Outfitters has piles of t-shirts in 80s color schemes and pseudo-hokey designs from nonexistent camps and outings; and, well, I like some of them.

Hmm, a self-referential "You Are Here" map:

Link: iwasateenage.com

There's always the hip "Threadless" online store (link to: Best Selling, half of which are sold out.)

I think Busted Tees has the most clever stuff, but I guess it's also the least politically correct.





13 December 2005

Video Games / Nerd Skills

For a genuine nerd, I don't have the complete roster of nerd skills. For example, I don't know enough about Linux, I hate vi, I've never used OOP, and I have never used Bluetooth. Furthermore, I don't spend my idle time playing video games. Don't know those terms? Lucky!

However, that may change. I have been hoping Santa will bring me a portable game system as an escapist after-dinner or en-route-to-Houston-again activity. I've been researching this stuff in magazines and online & see there's quite a video gamer culture out there!

Ziff-Davis publishes a few gaming mags; a good one is 1UP (online), run basically by people I'd imagine being friends with in college. They have an online streaming "TV show" that I find really amusing. Try it out. Click the "Stream the broadband video!" button on any of these episodes. These guys are so... sincere... about gaming. I watched a few episodes at work in the name of market research. J-Fav and I laughed over several episodes tonight.

The 1UP Show Index from 1UP.com

Go, Diesel, Etc.
Tuesday nights are "go" nights for me. However, I think I lack the innate skills required (i.e. good spatial memory... ironically) to succeed in this game. It is disheartening. Fortunately Prof. B. and I managed to play a 13x13 game at the club tonight. Then, went to the Diesel, which actually had a floating printed copy of the Postsecret book. (Have you seen this yet?)

Electronic Music
I like electronic music, like "trace," IDM, and all that. Someone named Ishkur set up a comprehensive site with hundreds of samples of different electronica genres: Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music. I mean, where else could you hear the difference between your house, breakbeat, jungle, and techno genres? WARNING: Time sink; I spent an hour with this last night. Turn up your speakers and have fun.


11 December 2005

Post-Maine Dispatch

Semiannual Trip to Portland, ME
Twice a year, I drive up to Portland to spend a half-day reflecting. I bring a notebook, a science book, a go book, and let my thoughts settle at the Breaking New Grounds cafe. (Photo: Flickr / Cafe Geek.)
The woman working there - who I think has been there for every visit I've made for the past three years - was playing music that I liked very much from a band called "American Football." It is a wash of sound; guitar, drums, trumpet, vocals. Probably won't help you imagine their sound if I said this is coffe-shop music, played loud and with enough detail to be interesting if you notice but a perfect background for wandering thoughts if you don't.

Went up the street to Bull Moose Music (151 Middle Street) and bought American Football's self-titled CD. I listened to it three times on the ride home.

Try This Band: American Football
Want to hear it? Your computer speakers won't do it justice; this is meant to be played LOUD, while you read a book or ponder cafe visitors' nose rings. Try out... I dunno... "The One With the Wurlitzer."
The One With the Wurlitzer

Back in 024XX
Quick ride home, hanging with J-Fav and Eddie.

Flashback: 2000
American Football is the kind of band they'd play at 1369 back in the day before laptop computer squatters took over every seat for the entire day. Ah, 1369.... Same dude worked there for at least 5 years. Played stuff that sounded like Godspeed you! Black Emperor's album, "lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven!"


08 December 2005

Useful: Lowest Gas Station Prices

MSNBC has a useful tool that shows you a list of gas prices - including the lowest - near your ZIP code. They claim to receive pricing data from over 90,000 gas stations around the U.S.


07 December 2005


Not Tired of Ted
J-Fav and I hung out with the... with the... I don't know what their blog-world names are, but "Ted" finally has a blog: Tired of Ted.

Flying Turtles! Rabid Ferrets!
I think you will enjoy this radio commercial [very short] from DialM4Mercury. Not only that, but this particular voice-over-ee was a groomsman at our wedding. "I know, Tepper, dial 'M' for Mercury..."

13x13 / 19x19
I don't suppose anyone knows where to buy reversible 13x13 / 19x19 go boards? DIdn't think so. Our Go Association has 'em though, I think. Samarkind has 9x9/13x13.

Refocusing Photos *After* You Take Them
This was reported earlier, but I thought you might enjoy the work of Ren Ng at Stanford on Light Field Photography with a Hand-Held Plenoptic Camera. Try out the movie at the bottom of the page [.WMV, 9 MB] even if you don't know a ton about optics. Perhaps one day the idea of "focusing" your camera will seem antiquated.

Graphic Design: Test Pilot Collective
Don't remember how I bumped into this (B.?) but the Test Pilot Collective has HUNDREDS of creative illustrations with a modern typographical bent. Scroll down a bit and click on any date.


01 December 2005


Raymond Loewy
The Shell logo, Nabisco logo (and Oreo cookie packaging), the Exxon logo, the U.S. Postal Service Seal, and other things were designed by Raymond Loewy. Check out some case studies here. (I appreciate Prof. Maeda's SIMPLICITY blog for pointing me to this.)

Henry Dreyfuss
While we're on the subject of graphic and industrial designers, I think I owed one of you a response to "who designed the classic round Honeywell thermostat?". Answer: Henry Dreyfuss. He also designed the famous slimline telephone and, evidently, for (John) Deere & Co. "a 'corrugated' radiator shield that farmers could clean with their gloved hands--a change that resulted from watching how people actually worked."

It appears that a combination of a quite-caffeinated grande peppermint mocha (free! on Dec 1) and watching Tim Burton's "Willie Wonka..." put me in a state desperate to show you that industrial designers are really important. I don't know how many people realize that, since, (almost) by definition, good design is not noticed. (There's some ancient quotation about how "the well-designed shoe is not noticed.")



Philippe Starck
I am in no position to summarize this man's work. Check it out. You may be familiar with his juicer: (is it heretical to complain, though, that I can't help wonder how awful those three sharp tines would sound if dragged along a tile counter?)

Otl Aicher
Creater of the Lufthansa logo, the Rotis typeface...

Marcel Breuer
Bauhaus designer of furniture including the "Wassily" tubular armchair:

Massimo Morozzi
I think Morozzi's "Paesaggi Italiana" storage system (1996) looks cool:

Eliot Noyes
Perhaps La Lecturess will already know that Noyes designed the IBM Selectric typewriter (1961). Of course, I wouldn't know that if it weren't for this book on my lap that J-Fav got me.

Paul Rand
This master created the logos of IBM, the original "gift box" UPS logo which they recently DESTROYED, and others (like, yes, the NeXT computer logo for Steve Jobs).

I was hoping to end up with the creater of the classic Toshiba (was it Toshiba?) rice cooker, a design that is reportedly so ingrained in peoples' minds that rice cookers will forever have that rounded-top cylindrical shape...


30 November 2005

McSweeny's Internet Tendency

Some of my Literary Friends Dislike McSweeny's But I Like it Very Much Thank You

You know, Dave Eggers's thing, McSweeny's. Here are a few funny articles for your splendiferous enjoyment this evening:

In-Progress Ideas for New Yorker Cartoons (Scott Underwood)

The iPod Zepto: Inconceivably Small (Jon Fitch) (I wonder if Matthias reads this blog. Hello, Matthias, do you read this blog? If you do, you will notice that the aforementioned humor piece employs the word "otolaryngologist," and I know you will appreciate that.)

Butterball Help-Line Help-Line (Alysia Gray Painter) (The winner of tonight's "best title for a humor piece" contest. Go find it yourself.)

Artwork, You Hoser!
At last! Kids drawings of famous people from Calgary! (due to memepool)

How Creepy; I Mean, How Interesting
One of my favorite finds on the Technorati 100 Popular Blogs list is (currently #2): PostSecret, in which artists write on postcards and, well, take a look.

If Blogger were a bar and I were in it, the bartender would cut me off right about now. G'night.


25 November 2005


Are you a Bright?
"Huh?" I can hear you say. Philosopher Daniel Dennett's article "The Bright Stuff" explains.

So does Richard Dawkins, who writes:

Bright? Yes, bright. Bright is the word, the new noun. I am a bright. You are a bright. She is a bright. We are the brights. Isn't it about time you came out as a bright? Is he a bright? I can't imagine falling for a woman who was not a bright.

Playing Atari 2600 on Thanksgiving Break

Pitfall is still fun, proving again that it's not all about processing power, resolution, or color depth.


24 November 2005

Great Indie "Craft Fair"

Bazaar Bizarre: It's Coming!
As they say, "This isn't your grandmother's craft fair." Far from it. This is a wild, punk, indie, artsy, edgy craft fair held in Boston, LA, and Ohio.

When: The Boston one will be Sunday Dec. 11th, 1:00pm to 8:00pm.
What: Crazy! Incredible! Wonderful gifts perfect for the holidays (and yourself).

Holy smokes, G-Fav, I'm so interested, tell me more! Well, see the vendors of Bazaar Bizarre here.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Turkey Day to y'alls!

g-fav and j-fav
+ eddie

17 November 2005

The Game

The Game
Off to "The Game" I go, the ironically pretentious name for the Harvard/Yale football game. (Ironic because people tell me it's a poor specimen of football.)

It's down in New Haven this year, where the prospect of 5 Kelvin weather is offset by the existence of real seats. (Unlike the little red brick school up here, whose stadium has hard concrete ledges packed twice deep with people.) Man I hate football. Wish I had that sports gene so I wasn't such a stick-in-the-mud.

Portable Gaming
Which game system would you ask Santa for - for business trips: the PSP or the DS?

Art, Books, and Thoughtful Design
Visited Douglas Coupland's website recently?

MIT Media Lab Prof. John Maeda has a delightful blog about the role of simplicity in good design.

MASS MoCA has new exhibits (in their fantastic art-gallery-in-a-former-factory in the Berkshires.)

Graphic design: the book jackets of Alvin Lustig.

Colorful Bubbles
Mad props to Prof. B for telling me that some scientist made colorful bubbles!

Well, off I go to the tundra of New Haven, clothed eight layers deep, with a scowl.


16 November 2005

Cool Music Video Illusions

Michael Gondry directed a new music video - with creative illusions in it - for the White Stripes song "The Denial Twist."

(You may know Michael Gondry's other videos, like the one portraying a rock band as an animated Lego set.)


07 November 2005

Houston (Day 3 of 6)

I have been in Houston for an oil exploration (discovery) trade show called the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

Just in case you were wondering.


06 November 2005

Prof B's Factory

Here is a pretty lavish, bizarre, loud, looping GIF that... well, see it for yourself. Someone called it the "Next Hamster Dance." Is that a good thing? This is what I picture when Prof. B. tells me about the lab he's setting up.

(Oh, don't worry about the URL, it's not NSFW, it's "SFW.")


05 November 2005

Bioengineering competition

I am getting old very quickly. Here is a snippet of a recent MIT press release:

Teams gather for genetic engineering competition

More than 150 students and instructors from 13 universities across North America and Europe will convene at MIT this weekend to unveil their biological designs at the 2005 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition.

The teams worked all summer to design and build engineered biological systems using standard interchangable biological parts called BioBricks. BioBricks, originated at MIT, are made of biological materials that work as molecules inside living organisms.

The competition is part of the new field of synthetic biology, which involes taking apart the stuff of life and refining it so it can be reused easily in potentially useful ways...

Here is the press release. The Endy lab at MIT.

Good night from Houston, TX.


30 October 2005

Experience Spatial 3-D at Future Forward

I will be presenting the Perspecta Spatial 3-D System v1.9 at Scott Kirsner's Future Forward executive retreat on Tuesday in Beverly, Mass.


29 October 2005

Launching 250,000 Superballs Down the Street

Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig created a soothing, colorful commercial for a Sony product by launching 250,000 bright superballs down a San Franciso street. This is not computer graphics. I can't imagine what the clean-up crew faced, but check out the commercial here at the Sony BRAVIA site.

The other pages claim to have behind-the-scenes footage.

28 October 2005

Eddie (11 kyu)

Ko fight with kitty
Goodness, our cat Eddie is beating me at go. Tonight I foolishly attempted to study some defense tactics from one of Janice Kim's books, but Eddie can never resist placing a stone when he hears me shuffle them around...

Watch, I'm having trouble hitting 22k* on IGS; I wonder if Eddie is hanging out in seedy go club rooms when I'm at work.

23 October 2005

Infoviz: Baby names & stock market performance

Here are two websites from the IBM Research mathematician and hard-core data visualization expert Martin Wattenberg.

NameVoyager is a well-designed map of baby name popularity versus year. As you type, the graph arcs and swoons into shape. (Okay, I don't know what I thought the verbs "arc" and "swoon" signify in this context.) According to IBM Research, Mr. Wattenberg developed the site to publicize his wife's book, The Baby Name Wizard.

Map of the Market from SmartMoney depicts company stock performance by color, and the companies are spatially grouped by industry. Green squares represent rising stock price; shades of red represent falling stock price.


18 October 2005

Conway's Game of Life, Animated Physics Applets

Conway's Game of Life

I suppose no science blog is complete without a reference to the cellular automaton known as Conway's Game of Life.

Wikipedia has an article that includes animated illustrations and a vast library of hyperlinks.

From Wikipedia

Can't get enough, can you? How about Eric Weisstein's "Treasure Trove of the Life Cellular Automaton," with plenty of animated GIFs.

p54 Shuttle, From Eric Weisstein's "Treasure Trove."

Interactive Physics Applets will BLOW YOUR MIND
Running a Windows machine or a reasonably fast Mac? Here is an astoundingly broad collection of interactive applets which demonstrate phenomena like: diffraction!, 3-D magnetic fields!, and other wild things.

Really, I mean it, this stuff will make you geek out like you've never geeked out before.

Paul Falstad's math, science, and engineering Java applets.

Like, try the "Ripple Tank Applet" and select "Zone Plate" using the Setup: pulldown in the upper right. Wow! So that's how Fresnel zone plates work!

Or try the "2D Wave Applet" and try "Setup: multiple slit" diffraction and play with the slit width and separation. What does it look like with polychromatic (multi-colored) light? Ever wonder why your credit card hologram is rainbow-y?

And don't even get me started on the 3-D magnetostatic fields applet...


16 October 2005

Playlist: New England Autumn Angst

Here are some tunes for New England autumn evening weather. I'm not sure what the right adjective is, sort of a "things-not-going-one's-way" mood that proceeds from distant sentimentality to anger to focus to a kind of release. Sort of. Whatever, here are some tunes.

  1. Concrete Blonde, "Everybody Knows," Still In Hollywood Everybody Knows
  2. Sting, "Why Should I Cry For You?" Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994
    Why Should I Cry for You?
  3. Damien Rice, "Older Chests," O Older Chests
  4. Kris Delmorst, "Little Wings," Five StoriesLittle Wings
  5. Pearl Jam, "Small Town," 04/19/03: North America - #27 Atlanta Small Town
  6. Bonglab Featuring Members of Supreme Beings of Leisure, "Games Without Frontiers," Leaves From The Tree - A Tribute To The Music of Peter Gabriel
  7. Nine Inch Nails, "Eraser (Polite)," Further Down The Spiral Eraser (Polite)
  8. Nine Inch Nails, "Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)," Further Down The Spiral Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)

  9. Metallica, "Disposable Heroes," Master Of Puppets
  10. The Geto Boys, "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster," Office Space Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta
  11. Van Halen, "Right Now," Right Here, Right Now (Disc 2) [Live] Right Now
  12. The Who, "Eminence Front," It's Hard Eminence Front
  13. Pearl Jam, "Dissident," Vs. Dissident
  14. Jimmy Van M, "ECI-PS," Communicate (Disc 2)

  15. Renegade Soundwave, "Renegade Soundwave," In To The Mix - Hypnotic (1)
  16. The Crystal Method, "Starting Over (Elite Force Mix)," CSII Exclusives - EP Starting Over (Elite Force Mix)
  17. Blackalicious featuring Ledisi, "World of Vibrations," The Craft
    World of Vibrations
  18. Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," Songs from the Big Chair Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Silly me to think Metallica would actually be on iTunes!


14 October 2005

For Prof. B...

Random Nerd Notes

The first printed electronic circuit without using lithography. Press release: BASF Future Business develops new printed electronics technology with partners

Book about theoretical evolutionary biology: The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution (Stuart A. Kauffman)

Only tangentially related, but looks neat: a broad and deep compendium of papers about self-replicating systems: Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines (Robert A. Freitas Jr. and Ralph C. Merkle)

Currently Reading...

Aw, heck. I just got Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules (David Sedaris, ed.) and Best New American Voices: 2006 (Jane Smiley, ed.), which are collections of short stories. Lately, that's all I have the attention span for. They make for good nighttime business-trip hotel reading. Does that make me stupid? Gone are the days of being able to finish... I don't know... The Fountainhead or something.

Also I admit to buying and reading the fifth volume of Hikaru No Go, translated manga about a boy obsessed with playing go.


Pi Pie

Hello from glorious rainy New England.

Pi Pie and Rubik Invadors
Here are two photos from Flickr that I thought were neat. A pi pie:

and pixelated art using Rubik's cubes:

(click on photo for set)

Gotta go, Eddie is demanding attention.


11 October 2005

I'm Still Standin'... (yeah yeah yeah)

Hello from Dallas!

I like it here. However, I am tired, I miss J-Fav, and it's time to return to New England. Will be back Thursday.

I learned interesting things though about corporate benefits at a Major Oil Company overseas. The employees live in houses built by the firm, employee children get free schooling up to 9th grade -- and then have all-expense-paid boarding school tuition anywhere in the world. There is a supermarket in the closed community, and things like 24-hour tennis and golf courts. (I attended a cocktail party / recruiting session to hear a talk by the head of Expatriate Services.)

Also, employees get 6 weeks of paid vacation per year.

Well, I can tell you more when I return.


08 October 2005

"Hook 'em, Horns!"

Howdy -

Here I am in an absolutely gigantic hotel (with several "tower" areas of rooms, large sweeping malls, and two oddly-placed elephant sculptures) in Dallas. There are hundreds of football fans here for the 100th big-rivalry game between Oklahoma and Texas, including two drunken ones I came across at 2am this morning in a lobby who made a horn sign with their hands and asked me if I was a horns fan, too.

At this very moment I am missing a big party with all you friends out in Massachusetts, so I made a good effort to entertain myself here.

As follows.


1 - Set up 3-D display for oil-industry trade show with a great partner company.

2 - Went to the "Deep Ellum" region of restaurants and bars and found good Tex-Mex while the Texas / O.U. game raged on.

3 - Drove to the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth and was thrilled to see some great works. To flaunt my snobbishness, these included:

Gerhard Richter (this site from SFMOMA has a few fantastic examples)

Edward Ruscha

Bill Viola, The Greeting (a slow-motion movie of three women meeting a friend and talking)

Dan Flavin, Diagonal of May 25, 1963

I find some of the photorealistic works of Gerhard Richter very moving; I don't know why. What's weird is that I like the small subset of his paintings which reproduce small sections of magazines or encyclopedias, with a bit of photo and a bit of text. That Ferrari one up there is a painting of a magazine article that's 57 x 78 1/2 inches.

4 - Went to the Texas State Fair and in honor of Professor B. absentee-ism, traded in 10 tickets for a giant Cajun BBQ turkey leg to walk around with.

See ya,


06 October 2005

To Dallas I Go

Tomorrow night I head off to Dallas for a large oil-industry trade show, staffing an exhibit booth.

Yikes, exhibit floors are open from 7.30am to 5pm. 7.30! Funny how computer science trade shows are open, what, from noon to 5? Just kidding.


03 October 2005

Newsweek: Danny Hillis, Inventor

You scientists and engineers might find this story interesting about Danny Hillis, who is responsible for things like RAID storage, 64,000-processor supercomputers, and a computer made out of Tinkertoys that plays tic-tac-toe @ the Boston Museum of Science.

Also, a previous post here about his work and theories.


28 September 2005

Links for the Drowsy

So tired! Here are a few links for you late-night web browsers.

Huh? Corp.

"Our office is really modern and we've got nice computers and stuff. If you ever saw it, you'd say, `Wow, cool office. These guys are legit.'"

Solar-Powered Pocketbook
A university student invented a pocketbook whose innards give off light when the bag is unzipped so that you can find stuff inside.

Innovative Lighting
Artist James Clar has many creative lighting systems, including a hard-wired 3-D grid of LEDs.

Bug in Football Video Game Makes Player 7 Inches Tall
Actually, this one is worth clicking on for a laugh.

Edge is an online publication with viewpoints, articles, and videos from a tight community of intellectuals. The most recent debate concerns "intelligent design," but back issues look at the 10,000 Year Clock, artificial intelligence, biology, physics...

Floating 3-D Images, You Know, in the Air
I got a patent recently that I'm proud of. You can click the "images" button if you're into that sort of thing. (Although not in Safari.)

Good night.


19 September 2005

3-D Displays in Newsweek International

Newsweek Int'l. / MSNBC has a story about companies making 3-D displays and holograms, including Actuality Systems.

"It Doesn't Just Look Real - It Is Real:
The big shift in how we watch will be from flat screen to 3-D."

Techies out there can learn about the difficulty designing such displays (wow, three "D"s) because of the electro-optical bandwidth requirements in an article I wrote for oe magazine called "Spatial 3D: The Death of the Pixel."


18 September 2005

Love that Dirty Water

We are back in our Boston-area home.

Perhaps art and tech hyperlinks can and should wait for another day.


04 September 2005


Finished reading Emergence by Steven Johnson, an introduction to the young science of self-organized complex systems. (Did I use those buzzwords correctly?) I think it's an interesting field because it explores how nature's systems have properties quite different than modular man-made stuff:

Brains, trees, ant colonies, and slime mold are typified by:

  • Many nearly-identical very simple units (neurons, ants, etc.)
  • Ability to deal with new and unfamiliar environments
  • Robustness to partial damage (e.g. Phineas Gage)
  • Lack of a central program or directing-agent (e.g. no "leader" per se, it's distributed and implicit)

Whereas the systems that people design - such as computers, vehicles, and business organizational structures are typified by:

  • Several modules of very different types with strongly-specified inputs and outputs (e.g. your video card uses the AGP convention to get signals from your PC, and DVI to communicate out to your monitor)
  • Strong sensitivity to minor damage
  • Complete lack of sense in new environments
  • Very strong notion of a "central commander"

So, anyway, I like reading about this emergence stuff but have found very few books about it. Unfortunately I did not enjoy Johnson's Emergence because it seemed very topical, failed to reference many of the field's pioneers, and completely lacked mathematical or algorithmic meat.

A particularly scathing review is at Amazon:

Steven Johnson's "Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software" (Scribner, New York, 2001), is a very bad book, shallow, careless, and disappointing. I was lured by its nominal subject, which interests me greatly, and now I'm sorry I bought it. Mr. Johnson is a young - very young - video gamer who has managed to parlay a superficial aquaintance with the vocabulary of modern science into a series of trendy popular books, incomprehensibly praised by such authorities as Steven Pinker and Esther Dyson.

The book opens with a fraudulent pictorial simile, juxtaposing a side view of the human brain and a map of Hamburg ca. 1850. Indeed they do resemble each other, and the reader is supposed to infer (with no help from Johnson) that the resemblance arises from the operation of similar governing principles. Quite apart from the validity of this conclusion, it apparently does not trouble Johnson that the brain is three-dimensional and the city map is essentially two-dimensional, or that the comparison would fail if a frontal view of the brain had been chosen, or if
Paris or El Paso or Denver had been chosen instead of Hamburg.

It gets worse. At the most fundamental level, after reading the book I find it impossible to say what the author means by "emergence", his nominal title. When he discusses ant colonies it appears to mean swarm intelligence; when he discusses video games it appears to mean interactive software; at still other places it appears to mean whatever recent developments in the realm of computers or biophysics or city planning that he approves of.

Moreover, he appears to be totally ignorant of all science and mathematics that preceded his own adolescence. Although he has a great deal to say about self-organizing systems, you will search the index in vain for the names of John Conway, Oskar Morgenstern, John von Neumann, Stanislaw Ulam, Stephen Wolfram, or most of the other pioneers of the field. When he does recognize a figure from antiquity (i.e., pre-1970), it is with worshipful adulation. He italicizes the name of Marvin Minsky as if he were a demigod, and finds a book by Norbert Wiener "curiously brilliant". What exactly is the curiosity?- that a brilliant mathematician should write a brilliant book?
Likewise, you will find no entry in the index under "Boolean networks" or "cellular automata" or "crystallization" or "ferromagnetism." Under "entropy" you will find only the ludicrous assertion that in nonequilibrium thermodynamics "the laws of entropy are temporarily overcome." In short, Mr. Johnson gives new meaning to the phrase "born yesterday," a degree of ignorance and juvenile solipsism that borders on arrogance. I note that other reader-reviewers assert that the book will provide lay persons with an introduction to a new science. No, it won't. The only thing it will provide is an introduction to bad science.

Here are some related sites and books:

02 September 2005

New Orleans mayor to feds: Get off your Asses

Astounding angering transcript of radio interview at CNN Online with the enraged mayor of New Orleans.


Treating cancer with 3-D Display

Dr. James Chu at the Rush University Medical Center used our 3-D display to review radiation therapy plans, as reported in ADVANCE for Imaging and Radiation Therapy Professionals.

(This regards a previous post, with photos.)


28 August 2005

Spaghetti Doesn't Snap in Two

[This is probably of "interest" only to B.B., but who knows.]

The PBS documentary The Best Mind Since Einstein is about the life and achievements of Richard Feynman. It includes clips of world-class scientists like Hans Bethe and Danny Hillis sharing their memories of Feynman.

One segment stuck in my head since 1993. Hillis recounted how he and Feynman spent hours in the kitchen snapping raw spaghetti to try to get it to break in two segments rather than three, coming up with various theories about why it refuses to break in two. Evidently Hillis's story is also in No Ordinary Genius, which parallels the documentary:

If you get a spaghetti stick and you break it, it will almost always break into three pieces. Why is this true -- why does it break into three pieces? We spent the next two hours coming up with crazy theories. We thought up experiments, like breaking it underwater because we thought that might dampen the sound, the vibrations. Well, we ended up at the end of a couple of hours with broken spaghetti all over the kitchen and no real good theory about why spaghetti breaks in three.
Well, wait no more! B. Audoly and S. Neukirch of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie have posted videos and scientific articles about the science of spaghetti-snapping. Their paper (pre-print?) in Physical Review Letters, "Fragmentation of rods by cascading cracks: why spaghetti do not break in half" is online. I like Fig. 4, comparing Barilla Nos. 1, 5, and 7, whose caption begins, "Space-time diagram, in rescaled coordinates, of the breaking events obtained by repeating the experiment [...] for different pasta radii and initial curvatures [kappa-naught]."

By the way, the Vega Science Trust has four free online videos of Feynman giving The Douglass Robb Memorial Lectures.


27 August 2005

Washington County Fair

You might not have predicted it, but I have an odd love of boardwalks and county fairs. Today we went to the Washington County Fair in Greenwich, NY, which is in the vicinity of Saratoga Springs and more generally, Albany.

Thousands of people are there, along with a tractor pull, livestock displays (from 4-H kids who spend the previous 12 months grooming their cows and chickens), and a carnival.

I hope they don't make me line-dance when I get old. Posted by Picasa

The fair had several booths with livestock to pet and admire. Posted by Picasa

Fried food! Posted by Picasa

Wilbur taking a nap. Posted by Picasa

25 August 2005

Houston Redux

Hello from Houston again, my new home-away-from-home. I come here frequently because of the applications of 3-D displays for oil and gas exploration and production.

I am thankful that I am at the end of a very productive and promising Day 2. However, Day 1 was involved with some behind-the-scenes small-scale calamity. Unfortunately I don't feel comfortable writing about the details but I thought you'd get a kick out of the prime character in my tale: a freakin' 18' Penske cargo van which I very unsuccessfully parked at Major Company.

Anyway, for mostly J-Fav's benefit, here is a photo of the truck. Imagine me cruising around in this thing, my dorky face visible behind the windshield. This thing didn't even have "Park" on the automatic gear shift. It had "Reverse," "Neutral," and "Drive," and one gigantic hand-operated emergency brake. It was 11' 6" high, doesn't fit into hotel (or corporate) parking garages, and of course lacks a rear-view mirror. I could run over BMWs if I wanted. I was above eye-level of bus drivers.

So, um:

Rent one from Penske.

Yes, it takes diesel, and yes, that's an additional door on the side of the vehicle.

Back in New England tomorrow night.


23 August 2005


The reference to an interesting paper on you-are-here maps is:

Marvin Levine, "You-are-here maps: psychological considerations," Environment and Behavior, Vol. 14, No. 2, March 1982, pp. 221-237.

21 August 2005

Hoisting Roast Pig

Back from Houston - Grievance Re:Mass. Signage
'Round midnight I came back from Houston. Once again, I-93 was closed from the airport and whatever REALLY IDIOTIC SIGNAGE ENGINEER sort of forgot to make sure that the detour signs spanned all the way from the tunnel to the continuation of Said Interstate. Thank goodness I had a GPS; the signage evaporated somewhere near a completely unmarked 4-way rotary. What do Boston tourists do? Or visiting businesspeople? Mr. Romney, please find the people in charge of Massachusetts state signage and slap them silly. Then give them a copy of any book by Donald Norman or Edward Tufte and send them to IDEO for a summer internship and GET US SOME REAL SIGNAGE.

Maybe I was stuck because of this? Was I really expected to visit the website for the Mass. Turnpike Authority prior to returning home from a business trip, and then map out North Washington Street in case the engineers failed to add signage? Is that even where I was?

[Yes, I do get huffy about these things.]

Oh, and then I made it home so that I could head with J-Fav to something we've been looking forward to:

Back From an Awesome Luau
Our friend RH turned 30 this weekend and held a pig-tac-u-lar luau whose centerpiece was a roast pig.

As I had hoped, La Lecturess perfectly captured the mood of the evening. However, dear reader, I swear, I did not ingest any snout. Honest. Hoofs, tails, yes. But snout?, my word - no. What do you take me for?

Back to Rambling About Human Factors
There is actually a journal article about how to design "You Are Here" maps, you know, for elevators and things. Note to self: add reference when I've found the paper again. (Kind of ironic.)

There is a whole field of study that concerns "usability" - when usability requirements are ignored, for example, you find yourself doing things like:
  • Pulling on a "push" door
  • Guessing incorrectly about which knob turns on the oven burner you want to light
  • Failing to locate your computer's power switch

Here is a brief overview of the field, by Dey Alexander.

A standard, fun, and quite readable introduction - in paperback! - is Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things. Run out and buy it. Why? If you're not a designer, it'll increase your self-image because you'll quit calling yourself stupid when you can't get objects to function the way you wanted. If you are a designer, well, you probably read it already and Chris Wickens's stuff, too.

New Highway Font

This is old news, but the official U.S. highway font has changed! The typeface we all know and love, FWHA Standard Highway Alphabet E now has an alternative: ClearviewHwy.

Read about it at the Typographica blog, and also at the official website for ClearviewHwy.

Image linked from Terminal Design, Inc.