28 April 2007

Caffeine is the New Nicotine; Books; 3-D

Caffeine is the New Nicotine
It finally struck me at a Madison Avenue Starbucks while waiting for a meeting to begin; people stylishly clickety-clackiting down the street with latte firmly-in-hand, young traders with Blackberry in one palm and macchiato in the other... and very few people smoking.

Coffee is the new addiction. Coffee is what one hand is holding while the other is cellphoning or notebooking.

Well hey, coffee's healthier! It aids creativity! And although recent finance books devote sections to minimizing frequent micro-purchsaes (a.k.a. "the latte factor"), sometimes you really can get out of Starbucks spending less than $5.

Goodbye C10H14N2, hello C8H10N4O2!

A Sentimental and Non-Proprietary Stroll Down Memory Lane
We 3-D visualization folk are moving into a new office and have unearthed some of the pre-history of our 3-D display technology -- the prototype display we built before completely changing our minds about how 3-D displays should work in 2000.

Whereas today's Perspecta Display launches a whopping 100 million 3-D pixels into floating 3-D space from several souped-up projectors and secret algorithms, one of our first 3-D displays used a jury-rigged collection of 64 laser pointers and a heap of breadboarded circuitry to make a tiny image with about 3/100ths the resolution. You gotta start somewhere, right?

Prototype display and a flanneled 1997-era me.

One reason I'm boring you about this, dear reader, is that I can't imagine getting that prototype through airport security lines anymore as we did back in 2000 for a pharmaceutical design conference. We folded the electronics up into a small briefcase:

Which opened up to look fairly James Bondian:

One sentimental aspect of this is that the system's video card (i.e., you actually plugged this board into your PC) is something I happily made from scratch back in 1999. Here's the front:

And the back, an example of the manual PC board prototyping technique called wire-wrapping:

Ah, ISA cards. Now we're using commercial GPUs with enough horsepower to... kill a horse. (Curious about how this display worked?)

In other news,

Thoughtful friends got me a gift certificate to fuel my book-buying addiction. (Thank you, Fergusbergs.) What'd I get?

  • Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
  • Frederick Brooks, Jr.: The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering
  • Neal Stephenson: The Diamond Age Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
  • Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
  • Melanie Mitchell, An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms


Odd things lingering in the "Read Later" bookmark folder:

There's no green in this photo, honest.

Holo-what, now?

Pseudonymous reader Crispy Fried Polenta posed an optics question that my phalanx of research staffers is working overnight to find answers for. Stay tuned.


14 April 2007

Yo, Linguists (Parallel networks that learn to pronounce English text)

Hello my linguist friends,

In 1987, two researchers built a very small neural network (software app) that they "taught" how to read. That is, they fed it text as input, and it outputted phonemes to "speak" the text. This is well-known work in AI, but the audio is now online!

It is creepy. The several minutes of audio show some of the system's stages of development, which begins with a child-like babble and then becomes intelligible. Back in the 1980s, it took only 24 hours to train on a VAX.

The paper, the audio, and the data are here. Give the MP3 a chance; let it play for a few minutes.

Sejnowski, T. J. and Rosenberg, C. R., "Parallel networks that learn to pronounce English text," Complex Systems 1, 145-168 (1987).


ps I'm not sure how the training worked; that is, how the errors were backpropped into the network.

pps Extra! Extra! Sure, you've seen photos of a total eclipse of the sun... by the moon. But at TED they showed a photo of an eclipse seen by a the Cassini spacecraft due to Saturn. On the investor Steve Jurvetson's Flickr page.

05 April 2007

Art-videos and other things to click on when you should be doing something productive

Hi -

Now that we've explored what books are in our home libraries and made all manner of pinhole cameras, what's next? Here is some new-ish video-art to while away the time while you figure it out.

Several Weird Things to Watch

J-Fav used to cringe when I played this. "Why do you like such desolate stuff? Are you okay?" Music video, "New Family," by Plaid.

Performance artist Laurie Anderson's piece: "National Anthem."

A classic David Byrne self-intervew.

New stuff at Pleix! My older favorites are Netlag and Futureshock's Pride's Paranoia.

Odd Comics?

A most unusual comic strip, "The Perry Bible Fellowship."

I still quite enjoy the half-nerdy/half-sentimental xkcd... and, evidently, there will be a meetup in Cambridge based on this episode.

A Softer World.

More from the Inter-tubes

Not art, but more Web 2.0 foofaraw: Dodgeball. Hey, keep track of your friends on your cellphone?

Funding for very early startups: Y Combinator. Several folks, including a few Harvard CS alums (RTM, Trevor Blackwell...) are funding startups @ $5k + N($5k), where N is the number of founders. In any case, they had a one-day "class" for startups. I thought the transcriptions were interesting, particularly what people had to say about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and young CEO of Facebook.com.

When you ask Google for driving instructions from NY to Dublin, it instructs you to swim.

For You? Awkward Silence.
J-Fav and I laughed hard at this teaser for Viva Pinata.


ps Notes to self: Touretzky's Artificial Neural Networks course notes. Cognitive robotics. Figure out how to get this awful thing out of my head now that it's been in there several months. Chaaaaarlie!