31 May 2007

Some things to click on

Jobs / Gates Highlight Reel from "D5" Conference
Right here.

Two New Books on 3-D Technologies, or, "It's a Good Week for Wiley"
A textbook by the late Stephen Benton - holography pioneer and beloved MIT educator - and V. Michael Bove of the Media Lab is now available through Wiley: Holographic Imaging.

A new book by Barry Blundell presents an extensive history of volumetric 3-D displays - an incredible treasure trove of articles, photographs, and patent references: Enhanced Visualization: Making Space for 3-D Images.

Graphic Design
New website, with portfolio, of British design firm Wink. For some reason I thought this'd appeal to Flavia, not sure why. And "This Ain't No Disco" is a blog dedicated to posting photographs of the interiors of design firms!

Horrific Ice Cream
This is funny in an unsettling kind of way.

Not Becoming an Irritating Yuppie
A brief essay by Waiter.

Four Categories of Marketing Persuasion
...by Seth Godin

Google Maps - Zooming in on Your Home's Window? ("They're spying on my cat!")
Yes, as you've probably heard, Google is working with a firm that takes photos from many different angles along major streets. This really is worth clicking on and trying out. You can "swivel around" when you're viewing; look down the street, up, to the left, the right.

Confessions of a Car Salesman
An Edmunds employee goes undercover.

A Romantic Musical Interlude
"Juice & June" by Kris Delmhorst. I don't think I know anyone who doesn't have a crush on her, including J-Fav.

I Can't Resist
Here are a few photos of the 1-year-old Toby:

Hanging out at Walden Pond.

You know, chalk drawing, and stuff.

In this photo, set in idyllic Westerly, RI, I think J-Fav was just trying to get out of camera-shot. Or did Toby just tell a joke? We may never know.


27 May 2007

Attempt to write a GA

This is really just a note-to-self:

This week I started playing with my MacBook's XCode IDE by putting together a simple genetic algorithm. Melanie Mitchell (1997) suggests the following programming exercise: put something together that ends up evolving binary strings of all 1s (i.e. a typical chromosome might start out as "0110001010110011" and after 20 generations of fitness-proportionate selection, roulette-wheel sampling, and 70% crossover, look like "1111011111111111." What fancy terminology.)

Paraphrasing Mitchell's description of a simple GA, the steps are along the lines of:

  1. Start with a randomly generated population of n l-bit chromosomes.
  2. Calculate the fitness f(x) of each chromosome x in the population.
  3. Repeat the following until n offspring are created:
    1. Pick two "parents," with so-called roulette-wheel sampling so that it's more likely to pick fitter parents. (Where fitness is the number of ones in the chromosome.)
    2. With some probability PROB_XOVR (like, 70%) cross over at a randomly-selected junction within the two chromosomes. These are two offspring.
    3. With some probability PROB_MUT (like, 0.1%) mutate (flip) each spot in each offspring chromosome.
  4. Replace the current population with the new population.
  5. Go to step 2. (You can go 20, 100, or however long it takes to evolve a fit population.)

Anyhow, it worked! I was surprised by what an impact crossover has, but it's probably the caffeine making me think fuzzy.

With a population of 100 and a chromosome length of 20, the average fitness (the number of 1s at the beginning of the universe) was, say, 9.8. By the 48th generation the average fitness was about 17, and by the next generation chromosomes started to appear with all 1s.

Here's another run. A snippet of Generation 0 shows what you'd expect; each of the length-20 chromosomes has about 10 zeros and 10 ones (in this run, 9.86):

totalfitness = 986. avgfitness = 9.860000.
Generation 0.

By generation 23 the population had become much more 1-laden. The average fitness climbed to 17.3:

Generation 23.
Found a gene with all 1s at generation 23.
Found a gene with all 1s at generation 23.
totalfitness = 1730. avgfitness = 17.299999.
Generation 23.


I guess the next step is plotting population fitness as a function of generation. That would be an excuse to re-learn file I/O.


24 May 2007

A Novel Interlude

Just finished reading Douglas Coupland's Generation X. It was his first novel - rife with pop-cultural references to the 80s - and perhaps I read his work in reverse order. Anyhow, one section reads as follows. (The setup: a large and Brady-esque family has a dwindling Christmas homecoming attendance and various suburban dysfunctions. The main character, the 20-something Andy Palmer, has been mysteriously buying every variety of candle he could find, quietly at work trying to restore some semblance, of, well...) If you want to read more, I suggest Microserfs, Life After God, Hey Nostradamus!, or jPod, in which his Gap/McDonalds/Helvetica-everywhere sensibilities all in full force.

Have you ever tried to light thousands of candles? It takes longer than you think. Using a simple white dinner candle as a punk, with a dish underneath to collect the drippings, I light my babies' wicks -- my grids of votives, platoons of yahrzeits and occasional rogue sand candles. I light them all, and I can feel the room heating up. A window has to be opened to allow oxygen and cold winds into the room. I finish.

Soon the three resident Palmer family members assemble at the top of the stairs. "All set, Andy. We're coming down," calls my Dad, assisted by the percussion of Tyler's feet clomping down the stairs and his background vocals of "new skis, new skis, new skis, new skis . . ."

Mom mentions that she smells wax, but her voice trails off quickly. I can see that they have rounded the corner and can see and feel the buttery yellow pressure of flames dancing outward from the living room door. They round the corner.

"Oh, my --" says Mom, as the three of them enter the room, speechless, turning in slow circles, seeing the normally dreary living room covered with a molten living cake-icing of white fire, all surfaces devoured in flame -- a dazzling fleeting empire of ideal light. All of us are instantaneously disembodied from the vulgarities of gravity; we enter a realm in which all bodies can perform acrobatics like an astronaut in orbit, cheered on by febrile, licking shadows.

"It's like Paris . . ." says Dad, referring, I'm sure to Notre Dame cathedral as he inhales the air -- hot and slightly singed, the way air must smell, say, after a UFO leaves a circular scorchburn in a wheat field.

I'm looking at the results of my production, too. In my head I'm reinventing this old space in its burst of chrome yellow. The effect is more than even I'd considered; this light is painlessly and without rancor burning acetylene holes in my forehead and plucking me out from my body. This light is also making the eyes of my family burn, if only momentarily, with the possibilities of existence in our time.

"Oh, Andy," says my mother, sitting down. "Do you know what this is like? It's like the dream everyone gets sometimes -- the one where you're in your house and you suddenly discover a new room that you never knew was there. But once you've seen the room you say to yourself, 'Oh, how obvious -- of course that room is there. It always has been.'"

Tyler and Dad sit down, with the pleasing clumsiness of jackpot lottery winners. "It's a video, Andy," says Tyler, "a total video."

But there is a problem.

Later on life reverts to normal. The candles slowly snuff themelves out and normal morning life resumes. Mom goes to fetch a pot of coffee; Dad deactivates the actinium heart of the smoke detectors to preclude a sonic disaster; Tyler loots his stocking and demolishes his gifts. ("New skis! I can die now!")

But I get this feeling --

It is a feeling that our emotions, while wonderful, are transpiring in a vacuum, and I think it boils down to the fact that we're middle class.

You see, when you're middle class, you have to live with the fact that history will ignore you. You have to live with the fact that history can never champion your causes and that history will never feel sorry for you. It is the price that is paid for day-to-day comfort and silence. And because of this price, all happiness is sterile; all sadnesses go unpitied.

And any small moments of intense, flaring beauty such as this morning's will be utterly forgotten, dissolved in time like a super-8 film left out in the rain, without sound, and quickly replaced by thousands of silently growing trees.

22 May 2007

3-D, Baby Signing, and...

A Couple of Three-Dimensional Things
The June 2007 issue of Scientific American just hit newsstands, and it has a four-page article about volumetric 3-D displays including your favorite 3-D visualization company, Actuality. Check it out next time you're in B&N.

The annual 3-D display research conference, IS&T/SPIE Stereoscopic Displays & Applicatons, is now accepting abstracts for the 2008 conference in sunny San Jose, California. Abstracts are due July 16, 2007.

Teaching Your Toddler Sign Language Actually Works
When I was a less clueful pre-dad, I went to quite a few classes at the various maternity shops around town, such as Isis Maternity. They sold all sorts of toys, gadgets, and doo-dads, including a DVD/book combo that would teach us how to teach young pre-TFav how to... sign!?

Well, a year later & I'm a believer. I'm posting this for all the other parents who might be Googling, "Does baby sign language work?" Yes. We got Joseph Garcia's Sign With Your Baby; we tried using signs like "more," "milk," "food," "water," and "please do daddy's patent-filing take-home work" from months 6-8 and just sort of gave up. Then, to our surprise, Toby began using the signs at around 10 months that he observed a few months earlier.

This is a great help for us and hopefully a relief for him. He can let us know if he's thirsty, if he's looking for Eddie, if he wants a banana, and now and then strings a couple of signs together. Otherwise I could imagine him getting quite frustrated without us knowing what's wrong!

No Smelly Fish!
Where else but Boingboing could you find a link to a blog that posts only "passive-agressive notes from roommates, neighbors, coworkers and strangers"?

The Things That'll Get You Noticed on YouTube
This laughing baby still makes me laugh. A guy teaching you how to beat-box, you know, while driving in his car, who just happened to be videotaped. Perhaps a diplomatic safe-for-work title of this one would be, "gentleman playing The Entertainer whilst self-hand-squeezing."

Any XKCD Fans Go to Randall's Talk?
...at MIT.

Look at the Spam that Got Through My Filter
I was about to delete a spam e-mail today -- the usual thing with hyperlinks to click and weird phrases -- and then I noticed the following in hyperfine type underneath:

Don't you find it worrying that doctors call treating you their "practice" ?
Do they have the word "dictionary" in the dictionary?
What do you call a female daddy long legs?
If croutons are stale bread, why do they come in airtight packages?
If a transport truck carrying a load of cars gets into a car accident, does it increase the number of the cars in the pile-up?
In France do people just ask for toast and get French toast? or do they have to ask for American toast?
Why is it called a "drive through" if you have to stop?
Why does mineral water that has "trickled through mountains for centuries" go out of date next year?
If Milli Vanilli fell in the woods, would someone else make a sound ?

Well, maybe they're onto something.


19 May 2007

Receptionists, mall photos, and...

Little Toby has been miserably sick for the last few days; I imagine that with the amount of baby Tylenol he's on, the world must look quite Dali-esque through his eyes this weekend. Here are some things I've been poking at while he's been dreaming of flamingoes in a clock-factory:

From Seth Godin: "How to be a Great Receptionist"

Stocks? "Beating" the stock market by investing in companies with high customer satisfaction stores, an article that was mentioned on BoingBoing.net.

An un-conference? I am looking forward to the Nature / Google / O'Reilly "2007 Science Foo Camp" one weekend this summer, to which I was very surprised to receive an invitation. Never having been, I've been checking out Flickr photos to get the vibe -- it is an impromptu "un-conference" of 200 sci/techies who help keep O'Reilly's radar pointed at innovative stuff by having us sign up on-the-spot to give brief presentations on various topics... somewhere at the Googleplex.

History of Charts, Graphs and Diagrams: Check out M. Friendly and D. J. Denis's online gallery.

Completing Mario Bros. in 5 minutes!? Yes, here's the video [Wired].

Better Conference Badges: Hey, font-nerds, check out this article that proposes a better graphic design for conference badges.

Contemporary Photography: Nora Herting's "Free Sitting" is a rethinking (reappropriation?) of shopping-mall photography outlets. Nora's artist statement explains, "The studio portrait has a very structured set of parameters that form a stylistic equation. We are so familiar with it that we are blind to its constructs. I violate these codes in effort to bring them to the viewer's attention. By breaking the rules of the studio portrait, my portraits no longer fulfill their role as social symbols." (See i heart photograph for pointers to more artists.)

Solecism, I hardly know him! Okay wordies, here's an Economist article listing frequently misused words, or as Wikipedia calls them, "Grammatical mistakes and absurdities."

Woah, you know your blog post is over when you've quoted a wiki.


11 May 2007

Hooray! Display Application of the Year Award

Radiation oncology plan for prostate treatment

Now that the press embargo is lifted, I can finally share some great news: Actuality's PerspectaRAD cancer treatment planning technology has been awarded the display industry's highest honor: Display Application of the Year.

The award is issued by the Society of Information Display as the result of a global competition. Here is the press release about the winners of the various product categories -- it's great to be in such good company, such as Motorola, Samsung, and Philips. (And congratulations to E-Ink, on their paper-like electronic display for Motorola's new cell phone!)

Photographs of PerspectaRAD from Technology Review magazine.


01 May 2007

Reader Mailbag

In this first installment of Reader Mailbag, we answer a question from (ahem) Crispy HERB Polenta, who writes:

Do you take requests for blog postings? I was looking at the cover of the new Rolling Stone 40th anniversary issue and wondering how they made it all shiny and stuff, and then I thought, "Why, if anyone knows how this works, it's probably Gregg Favalora, Mister Fun With Optics hisself!" And thus, Mister Fun With Optics, this question. The cover has a silver background that shimmers like a CD -- I'm not sure of my terminology here, whether this is refraction or (my guess) diffraction -- and the interior of the giant "Ro" is made up of lots of tiny red fragments that sparkle in different directions.

I don't think these are new tricks, but I'm really curious how it gets done and embedded in a piece of paper only slightly thicker than normal. How about it, Mister Fun With Optics?

My ego more than adequately stoked, I set out to answer his question.

Hey, Mr. Polenta -

The magazine cover with eye-catching rainbow streaks and colorful sparkles is similar to the packaging on quite a few products these days, such as Edge shaving cream and Listerine.

I suspected that you're quite right; the magazine cover art is indeed diffractive, our rainbowy adjectival friend. When light hits a material with a very fine pattern, such as many hundreds or thousands of grooves or lines or squiggles per millimeter, various colors of the light may change direction. (Red changes direction more than blue.) That's why CDs (and people's hair in sunlight) have rainbow patterns. They're... groovy!

But how is it made? What company manufactures it?

Enter the sleuthy holography folks over at www.HolographyForum.org. According to the crack squad of readers, several companies sell a collection of fairly standard glinty/rainbowy paper. The holo-experts explained that the rainbow stuff is probably made with a very high-resolution version of a dot-matrix printer that can output so many dots per inch that room light breaks up appreciably into its component colors. I don't have the specifics on just what that pattern is, but it gets into Fourier transforms and stuff like that. Probably bunches of superimposed gratings at various angles.

If you want to buy some, maybe the nice folks at Unifoil can help you out; the cover might be from their Unilustre line.

The red sparkles are no less high-tech; Ed Wesley suggests that they're created by WaveFront Technology, Inc. They have all sorts of neat stuff in addition to the White Sparkle Film that composes the Rolling Stone cover.

I hope this answers your question! If you want to learn more, feel free to jump right in to that holographyforum.org link and ask away.