30 January 2007

Douglas Coupland, Garden State, and Real Genius

Nothing says Mundane Blog Post #215 quite like a few YouTube links.

  • Contemporary artist and author Douglas Coupland: interview.
  • The montage scene from "Real Genius, " which accurately depicts life in an Ivy League or CalTech-like applied physics department.
  • You might admit that sometimes you feel... like this. (The song is "Shh" by Frou Frou. [iTunes])
  • Extra bonus for JK, DB, and BB re:Good Will Hunting "2".

Note to self: someone needs to tell Starbucks that an 11.00 pm grande mocha latte does not "pair" with a 5.00 am wake-up requirement.

Hope you have bandwidth,

26 January 2007

BrainTech, 06520, and Phase Velocity

At MIT, Joost Bonsen and Ed Boyden's new class: Neurotechnology Ventures. Yes, you heard that correctly: "...a new seminar and project-related course on the challenges of envisioning, planning, and building startups to bring neuroengineering innovations to the world."

Ed's scanned notebooks, or "Everything I Learned at MIT," quite an interesting math-science array. See middle of page.

My new favorite 2 minute, 21 second song: "Level" by The Raconteurs. Groove-licious!

Seth Godin's (Marketing) Levels of Effort blog post.

Pretty faucet design by Sun Liang.

The nerd equivalent of the disparaging, "That athlete didn't really break the record, he was on performance-enhancing drugs!" is "They didn't slow down light, it was just the phase velocity, not the group velocity!" (Or is it the other way around?) Anyway, here's what this optics smackdown usually pertains to.

Months later, still have that Numa Numa song stuck in my head. [Even sillier version here. Why is Ronald McDonald riding a donkey? Don't ask me.]

06520-2848 blog which alternately praises and ridicules the doings of Yalies.

Go on, humor me. Check out that Raconteurs song.


21 January 2007

Wii, Bjork, Cold's Kryptonite, Big Cool Art Piece

Hello from really cold near-Boston, Mass.

Wii Are Family...
We got a Nintendo Wii and are having a lot of fun with it, particularly playing golf (believe it or not) and trying to get through 200 five-second-long minigames in the extraordinarily creative WarioWare Smooth Moves. Am trying to figure out the Wii Zelda game, a member of the you're-an-elf-on-a-conquest-but-need-a-sword-and-gold video game genre that 16 year-olds are great at, but which I am a bit behind in mastering. (I believe that I am a nerd who lacks most nerd qualifications, such as Linux programming, and "nunchuck skills" per Napoleon Dynamite.)

This heart-warming and goofy Bjork video also includes an unusual cat. Makes me wonder what Eddie does when we're away. "Triumph of the Heart." Stop clicking for 5 minutes and check it out.

Zinc is the New Kryptonite... for the Common Cold
Ok, I'm a believer: Cold-EEZE. Scientific stuff about zinc significantly reducing the duration of your cold.

A hyper-realistic environment built by a contemporary artist
The museum Mass MoCA has a tantalizing description of why the latest exhbition in a football field-sized room is taking so long:

"'While MASS MoCA is known for undertaking intricate and dramatically-scaled installations, this one is an order-of-magnitude more complex than anything we have attempted up to now, requiring, among other things, vast cement walls comprised of over 2 miles of cinder block, an immaculately detailed cinema, and thousands of specific found objects, some of which weigh over 20 tons" said MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson. ' Because of these logistical challenges and some technical snags, the museum needs a bit more time to provide the support this extraordinary work deserves: we do not want to shortchange the quality of what promises to be a landmark work of art for lack of a few extra weeks.' "

See a page about the art of Christoph Buchel. Looks cool!

Ok, back to the zinc.


13 January 2007

Unplayable Music... and Fireflies

Unplayable Music
Ever played in an ensemble?

With sincerest appreciation to RLM for pointing me to this, several pieces of hilariously detailed unplayable music. IMHO, these are worthy of printing out and studying. I stared at the "Fairie's Aire" for a good 20 minutes and kept finding stuff.

Bryan Higgins's collection of various unplayable music scores.

Enjoying the book Sync by Strogatz
I'm only a few chapters in, which explores how on earth a particular species of firefly could be capable of seemingly sudden massive blink-synchrony. It's actually a nasty mathematical problem. Why study this? The author explains,

Beyond serving as an inspiration to engineers, the group behavior of fire flies has broader significance for science as a whole. It represents one of the
few tractable instances of a complex, self-organizing system, where millions of interactions occur simultaneously - when everyone changes the state of everyone else. Virtually all the major unsolved problems in science today have this intricate character. Consider the cascade of biochemical reactions in a single cell and their disruption when the cell turns cancerous; the booms and crashes of the stock market; the emergence of consciousness from the interplay of millions of neurons in the brain; the origin of life from a meshwork of chemical reactions in the primordial soup. All these involve enormous numbers of players linked in complex webs. In every case, astonishing patterns emerge spontaneously. The richness of the world around us is due, in large part, to the miracle of self-organization.

Unfortunately, our minds are bad at grasping these kinds of problems. We're accustomed to thinking in terms of centralized control, clear chains of command, the straightforward logic of cause and effect. But i nhuge, interconnected systems, where every player ultimately affects every other, our standard ways of thinking fall apart. Simple pictures and verbal arguments are too feeble, too myopic. That's what plagues us in economics when we try to anticipate the effect of a tax cut or a change in interest rates, or in ecology, when a new pesticide backfires and produces dire, unintended consequences that propagate through the food chain. (Strogatz, 2003, p. 34)


12 January 2007

Dinner, Caitlin Roran, Phyllotaxis, Car GPS, and Buzzwords

Hello -

The books I mentioned in the last posting have started arriving, and they will keep me busy for a bit. But I can't help but share the following.

Imagine my surprise when I found that not only is there a WikiPedia entry about people trying to deduce the whereabouts and identity of gmail's Ms. Roran, but that it points right here! J-Fav and I agreed that it would be entirely appropriate to invite Caitlin to dinner, even if there's a chance that she's already inundated with requests like that, or would be creeped out, or whatever.

Long story short, after some back-and-forth, and a lot of over-modesty, J-Fav and I had the opportunity to have a really fun dinner. To assuage online fans of Caitlin Roran, she approved putting up a photo. (No, it was neither sushi nor a BBQ!)

Caitlin Roran dinner

In other news -

Your Old Friend Phyllotaxis

If you've ever wondered about why plant stems grow in patterns, you may enjoy this page out of Wolfram's A New Kind of Science. Also, see this deeper work by Douady and Couder, "Phyllotaxis as a Dynamical Self-Organizing Process: Part I..."


CIO Magazine arrives free at our office. Its articles and advertisements crack me up with a heavy dose of IT-buzzword-itis and such abbreviated ad copy that it's as if everyone knows about "cross-platform synergies." Here are some examples of ads and phrases on their website:

  • Lean how to renegotiate and future-proof your outsourcing arrangements
  • Check out this pro-active approach to process outsourcing efficiency and business agility!
  • Learn how Sybase 365 enables directory services through SMS
  • Boost your computing power for higher performance and better business alignment

Visualization Methods

A "periodic table" of visualization methods that's making its way around the web. Unusually broad collection of techniques, even though many smack of things I'd cringe seeing in a stereotypical Fortune 500 boardroom.

A (Much Better) Car GPS

CNet award-winning "Dash" is an upcoming vehicular GPS that updates its maps wirelessly, shares a continuous stream of data about road conditions, and modifies your route based on traffic! It even knows about year-road historic road speeds.

Colbert on CES


06 January 2007

Art, Science, and CS Shopping Spree

Some ideas for us nerds:

(A list of things I just ordered from Amazon, many of which are available used/like-new for some great deals.)

Have any of you read or heard reviews of these books?


02 January 2007

Thoughts for the New Year

(Fortunately, other peoples' thoughts, not mine.)

edge.org's The World Question Center 2007: 150 prominent scientists, philosphers, and other thinkers answer the question "What are you optimistic about? Why?" - 16 pages of stuff.

Seth Godin's reposting of online "What to Read Now/Next."

Hey, Look at That Bright Shiny Object Over There... No, That One!
In 2005 and 2006, my online habits became more channel-surfy than I would have hoped, had I stopped to think about it. Whereas I used to pick up the occasional Wired magazine or read a few news-and-design websites, I find myself darting from page to page, blog to blog, in search of the right-sized chunk of information to make the session worthwhile.

Looking back, I didn't get much out of it. It felt like chugging a few Red Bull caffeine drinks and then tearing into the magazine sections at Barnes & Noble. (With the exception, of course, of the audio skit "Bulbous Bouffant," [.mp3] which I learned about from friend-with-alias Crispy Herb Polenta.)

Though J-Fav and I have considered "no-media" nights for a while, I can pinpoint my frustration with this web-surfing attention deficit trait to the above link of Godin's. So much stuff! So many "human news bots," as Guy Kawasaki calls people like me, who attempt to cull interesting news from an ocean of stuff for one's blog. Are we better for it? Is there a point of diminishing marginal returns in reading news sites, or reading periodicals in general?

I think my pendulum is swinging back. After T-Fav's asleep, Jenn and I hang out chatting and reading -- but the reading is usually online. Spending time "info slurping," as Joost Bonsen put it, is escapist, and I question if its value really is proportional to time. I think it hits a plateau each night. I'd like to step back, read words on paper instead of the screen. One of our iBooks just broke, and that's forced the first step...

Hey, isn't the first step recognizing you have a problem?