31 October 2007

Halloween 2007

Or.... "Cute Overload."

I know this blog is usually generic science stuff, but the family had such a fun time tonight that I'd like to share a few photos. Toby, J-Fav, and I went out for Halloween as Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat. Thank you, Grandma Kathy, for the costume!

After visiting a few houses with his friends, Toby became quite adept at grabbing big fistfuls of candy for his pumpkin that we'd lug around with him. Click here for a few photos:

2007 Halloween


29 October 2007

See a bright comet in your backyard

I'm really glad Oberon pointed this out. Comet Holmes just appeared - bright even in Bostonian skies - in Perseus (which is next to Casseopeia, the "W"-looking constellation). Here's how to find it. J-Fav and I found it in less than a minute with binoculars. Have fun!

I did a lot of stargazing in high school, and I admit this is a really funky one. It doesn't have a tail; it's big and white and fuzzy, in front of a backdrop of its pinpoint star neighbors.

(You'll need binoculars for this, unless you have good clear dark skies that will let you notice it's fuzzy.)


27 October 2007

Wff 'n Proof

Hi -

Have you ever played "WFF 'N PROOF: The Game of Modern Logic?" (Yes, Whiffenpoof fans, it was developed at Yale.)

When I was in elementary school, I found a copy of it at home. It purports to be a fun game, one that happens to result in teaching you something called "propositional calculus." It's designed for kids as young as six. I've tried four times to read the instruction manual for this game, and after all these years -- I'm 33 now -- I've only gotten to page 12. Of 168!

It is actually a collection of 21 games, each building upon the lessons of previous ones. I think I understand the first lesson, which teaches you to recognize WFFs, or "well-formed formulas." As the games progress, you improve your logical thinking skills. If anyone ever makes it to the 21st game, that person will be an absolute genius of logical thinking.

J-Fav and I get a kick, though, out of the 1960s linear-programming narrative in the four-page introduction:

Although the WFF 'N PROOF games were designed primarily to be fun -- to be an autotelic activity that learners would voluntarily spend time doing for its own sake -- they were also meant to provide practice in abstract thinking and to teach some mathematical logic. To the extent that WFF 'N PROF is autotelic, [Jeez, do I need to drag out my dictionary after all? -g] it will be played merely because it is fun to play - regardless of the fact that something useful is being learned in the process.
...There are a total of thirteen ideas introduced and used repeatedly in the play of the WFF 'N PROOF games: the definition of a WFF, the definition of a Proof, and eleven Rules of Inference (the Ko, Ki, Co, Ci, R, Ao, Ai, No, Ni, Eo, and Ei Rules). These thirteen ideas, which comprise one formulation of the system of logic called "propositional calculus" (abbreviated 'PC'), are presented very gradually as a learner proceeds through the series of twenty-one games. [zzzz...]

Any of you ever seen this game? It actually looks fun, and sort of kooky at the same time.

(If so, maybe you could tell me if the symbol "A" ("or"), as in "Apq", means "at least one of the following" versus "only one of the following." That is, Boolean OR is different from English OR.)

Hmm, if I were to make it to page 23, I could ponder: "The statement of what is proved by P2 is merely: From 'K-p-Kqr' and 'Kqr', it is valid to infer 'r'."


24 October 2007

uWink, evolutionary biology, Iron & Wine

From the creator of Chuck E. Cheese
uWink is a new restaurant franchise that attempts to incorporate computer screens, video games, and electronic tabletop ordering into your dining experience. It was developed by Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari. Check out the promo video. Does this entice you? Not me; do we really want less human contact when we're out to eat? (In my opinion, though, a "killer app" of in-restaurant PCs might be keeping your kids entertained, as shown at the end of their video.)

"Our fun, casual environment makes it easy for people to interact, have fun, play games, and enjoy delicious, reasonably priced meals. It's not a game arcade or pool hall. uWink is an interactive, social restaurant, where you are in control of your meal and your fun.

uWink provides delicious modern comfort food made with fresh ingredients ordered via touch screen terminals at the table and served by runners, quickly and accurately."

(This kind of that's-going-the-wrong-direction thinking reminds me of a chapter heading in a book about computer graphics we used to quote at work: "What we need around here is more aliasing!")

Stuart Kaufmann is the Director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics
...at the University of Calgary. His most noted contributions are in the field of theoretical evolutionary biology, and tend to be along the lines of exploring the inevitability of the creation of living things (rather than their extraordinary rarity).

"It turns out that the behaviour of genetic networks depends critically on the level at which the genes are connected. If they are heavily connected the system is chaotic, and if they are only lightly connected the system is ordered. An attractive hypothesis is that biological systems, like genetic networks, flourish in a “transition zone” between the ordered and chaotic regimes. I call this transitional phase the complex regime. So biocomplexity refers to biological systems that thrive in this balance between order and chaos. Other examples include the immune and neural systems."

Brief Q&A.

New Music: Iron & Wine
Been listening to a lot of Iron and Wine [YouTube video] for the last few weeks. Picked up "The Shepherd's Dog" during my Sunday biannual trip to Portland, ME. (Where I also was introduced to a new coffee drink: a strong mocha latte with banana syrup.)

Hand-Drawn Holography
Rekindled interest in this technique is explored at the Holography Forum, with links to YouTube clips of the holograms.


ps Oh, and: today, in the US, there are more people playing World of Warcraft than there are farmers.

pps As promised (and hopefully below the Dada comment threshold), there is a documentary about Helvetica. YouTube clip. Documentary web page.

19 October 2007

Weather, DNA, IQ

Hi -

I'm enjoying a good evening over here. It's raining heavily, and I'm upstairs in my new study working through a programming book.

As usual, here are a few links you might get a kick out of:

The creator of the MIT Press logo (and, you know, modern interactive media!)
"Muriel Cooper: The unsung heroine of on-screen style," in the International Herald Tribune.

Real IQ = (width)(height): David Gelernter
Check out Prof. Gelernter's submission to Brockman's "what's your equation?" piece. As you know, Gelernter is a pioneer of parallel computing, artificial intelligence, and has the awful distinction of being a target of the Unabomber at Yale.

Fashion versus Culture?
And this, from Stewart Brand.

A Tiny Do-it-yourself Motor!
From BoingBoing TV.

Irony: 111 Shirtless Men Shopping @ Abercrombie & Fitch
Check out this prank / art event / cultural statement.

Technology Review's expose on "quants" (quantitative traders)

Van Halen Pitch Mishap
If you like VH and get a kick out of snippy musical criticism, check this out & the accompanying brief writeup. Hah! "jump (in pitch)!" from rw370.

"How soon can I google my date's DNA?"
A few bullet points from the master of sequencing, Craig Venter, including "You have more individual bacteria living in your body than you do human cells."

This is some awesome weather
Alright, here you go. Weird bars of clouds (video).

Back to my books...

15 October 2007

Pop psychology; Personal syllabus

"Most Mammals Mark Their Territories With Excretions. Domesticated Primates Mark Their Territories With Ink Excretions on Paper." (p 68)

Ever read any Freud? Up on your stages of development?

I haven't, and really am not. Sure, I've heard about the concepts of oral fixation, imprinting, fight/flight, Alpha males, and even brainwashing, but really hadn't read even the most basic text about them.

Enter Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising, a sort of "owner's manual for the brain." It may be out of print -- my copy took months to get here from Amazon -- but you can download the PDF for free from this site (4 MBytes).

Written in an informal, swear-laden manual that reminds me of the hippie classic Steal This Book, Prometheus Rising summarizes the psychologies of Freud, Jung, and even Carl Sagan. I like it because it's full of insights that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

The book is structured on Wilson's discussion of eight (perhaps classical) brain "circuits," such as:
  • "The Oral Bio-Survival Circuit. This is imprinted by the mother or the first mothering object and conditioned by subsequent nourishment or threat. It is primarily concerned with sucking, feeding, cuddling, and body security. It retreats mechanically from the noxious or predatory - or from anything associated (by imprinting or conditioning) with the noxious or predatory..."
As he explains, "Of course, on top of the hard-wired imprinting of the bio-survival circuit comes 'softer' conditioning. This allows the safe-space perimeter to be generalized outward from the mother's body to the pack or tribe - the 'extended family.' | Every social animal has, in addition to the Darwinian 'instinct' (genetic program) of self-preservation, a similar 'instinct' to protect the gene-pool. This is the basis of altruism, and social animals could not survive without it. | ... | As civilization has advanced, the pack-bond (the tribe, the extended family) has been broken. This is the root of the widely diagnosed 'anomie' or 'alienation' or 'existential anguish' about which so many social critics have written so eloquently. What has happened is that the conditioning of the bio-survival bond to the gene-pool has been replaced by a conditioning of bio-survival drives to hook onto the peculiar tickets which we call "money.' | ... | Welfare-ism, socialism, totalitarianism, etc. represent attempts, in varying degrees of rationality and hysteria, to re-create the tribal bond by making the State stand-in for the gene-pool. Conservatives who claim that no form of Welfare is tolerable to them are asking that people live with total bio-survival anxiety and anomie combined with terror. The conservatives, of course, vaguely recognize this and ask for 'local charity' to replace State Welfare - i.e., they ask for the gene-pool to be restored by magic, among people (denizens of a typical city) who are not genetically related at all."

"On the other hand, the State is not a gene-pool or a tribe, and cannot really play the bio-survival unit convincingly. Everybody on Welfare becomes paranoid, because they are continually worrying that they are going to get cut off ('exiled') for some minor infraction of the increasingly incomprehensible bureaucratic rules. And in real totalitarianism, in which the bogus identification of the State with the tribe is carried to the point of a new mysticism, the paranoia becomes total." (52-53)

Anyhow, each chapter I've read introduces a new primal bio-circuit that is followed by a discussion of what behaviors it induces. A particularly interesting collection of chapters is about brainwashing, in which victims are re-imprinted (with loyalty to their captor) by bringing them to a defenseless, infant-like state and following a method outlined in the book.

There is also an ongoing discussion - a "layering" - of the impact of each brain circuit on one's personality; for example, he discusses a personality grid whose quadrants cover imprint types such as: Hostile Strength (I'm okay; you're not okay); Friendly Strength (I'm okay, you're okay); Hostile Weakness (I'm not okay; you're not okay); and Friendly Weakness (I'm not okay; you're okay).

Also... I haven't read Finnegan's Wake, and I know nothing about literary analysis, but you might get a kick out of his translating the novel's repeating nonsense sounds into strings of cuss-words of our early reptilian brains.

I'm clearly doing a poor book review here. I recommend you take some time out to flip through the text, whose PDF I attached above. It might give you a new perspective on your business meetings!

Do You Have a Personal Syllabus?
In reading some of your blogs, I notice that many of us are still configuring, in our 30s, how best to spend our 24 hours of a day to achieve various personal goals. (Which, after subtracting various demands, becomes 3-4 hours a day, or less.) I see you having hobbies, reading books, writing analytical papers, riding bicycles, raising children, and generally smelling the roses.

Do any of you have (for lack of a better term) a "personal syllabus?" Is there a collection of skills or knowledge you'd like to acquire?

Lately I've been splitting the two, sharpening my knowledge (say) of optics or more math than I was able to pick up in college and grad school -- but also wanting to read fiction, gain better limb independence in bebop drumming, programming in some real language (C++), blah, blah, blah.

Throw this into a blender and I get... nothing. Dilettante-ville. So I gotta pare down.

I don't know what the final reading list is yet. I can bench the optics for a bit, having spent many (many) hours with a few deep texts through which I've gotten to the point that I finally see that some things might just be approximate models of nature rather than some complete picture which fails to exist (and hence I just don't get it). I don't really have the opportunity to practice the drums seriously, either. This leaves me with:
  • C++ Primer (4e), a book on C++ programming staring back at me
  • An even thicker tome about a software application called Mathematica
  • Several math volumes that I've been paging through the years, which is an awfully unproductive way to learn things
  • The books Prometheus Rising and Consilience; and
  • A new private study, just for me, at home, which is a great recharging-area for an introvert like me.
Perhaps by setting these possibilities here I'll be more likely to pick a few homework assignments and stick to them.

Do any of you go through this pruning-of-intellectual-curiosities in the name of actual progress? Like, back-to-school, but at home?


08 October 2007

Note to Self: Vision Papers

Regarding the Fourier transform of (overlaid) stereo pairs:

De Valois, K.K., & Switkes, E. (1980). Spatial frequency specific interaction of dot patterns and gratings. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 77, 662-665. [pdf] (see esp. Fig. 1)

Marr, D., & Poggio, T. (1979). A computational theory of human stereo vision. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. (B), 204, 301-328. [pdf]


07 October 2007

Holiday Weekend Browsing

More East Coast vs. West Coast VC Arguing
The business equivalent of the Red Sox vs Yankees rivalry around Boston is the coastal financing superiority argument. Scott Kirsner reports on the latest, between Draper and Maeder.

A Non-Bullet-Point Presentation
"Inbox Zero" by Merlin Mann. [Lifehacker.com]

A Mass MoCA Exhibit and the Kitchen Lighting it Expires
Co-worker Josh has a nice writeup of a current exhibit and the interior design it inspired.

Nearly Real-Time Flight Tracking
This site is incredible. You can see continuous-time flight path tracking for any flight or any airport. Try it out: flightaware.com.

Simply Too Low-Brow Not to Link to (you've been warned)

Simply Too High-Brow Not to Link to (a tabloid about the West Coast VC scene)


05 October 2007

Airports, Oppenheimer, and the positron

First, did you see Safiri's note about airport paranoia?

Second, here's a passage from American Prometheus, a book about Robert Oppenheimer that my brother-in-law gave me. I hadn't known about his role in postulating the existence of the positron. (Oppenheimer's, not Bryan's. But one never knows.)

"On February 14, 1930, Oppenheimer finished writing a seminal paper, 'On the Theory of Electrons and Protons.' Drawing on Paul Dirac's equation on the electron, Oppenheimer argued that there had to be a positively charged counterpart to the electron -- and that this mysterious counterpart should have the same mass as the electron itself. It could not, as Dirac had suggested, be a proton. Instead, Oppenheimer predicted the existence of an 'anti-electron -- the positron.' Ironically, Dirac had failed to pick up on this implication in his own equation, and he willingly gave Oppenheimer the credit for this insight -- which soon impelled him, Dirac, to propose that perhaps there existed 'a new kind of particle, unknown to experimental physics, having the same mass and opposite charge to an electron.' What he was very tentatively proposing was the existence of antimatter. Dirac suggested naming this elusive particle an 'anti-electron.'

Initially, Dirac himself was not at all comfortable with his own hypothesis. Wolfgang Pauli and even Niels Bohr emphatically rejected it. 'Pauli thought it was nonsense,' Oppenheimer later said. 'Bohr not only thought it was nonsense but was completely incredulous.' It took someone like Oppenheimer to push Dirac into predicting the existence of antimatter. This was Oppenheimer's penchant for original thinking at its best. In 1932 the experimental physicist Carl Anderson proved the existence of the positron, the positively charged antimatter counterpart to the electron. Anderson's discovery came fully two years after Oppenheimer's calculations suggested its theoretical existence. A year later, Dirac won the Nobel Prize."


04 October 2007

Pseudo SRAM: Silicon7

Silicon7 makes (made?) Pseudo SRAM, which is a DRAM that's pin-compatible as SRAM. I.e., you don't need a separate DRAM controller. Here is the block diagram. I think this is cool; it evidently has the ease-of-use of SRAM but with just 1T DRAM transistors. (memory cell)

Somehow this company's existence escaped me, which is even more ironic given that their CEO was my advisor in grad school before I retreated from VLSI. Does anyone know the status of the company?


01 October 2007

"For the next problem, set your calculator to maths."

Hello, dear reader,

I wouldn't have guessed a few years ago that the blog I initiated to share little pointers to various technical nuggets of interest would become, well, a storefront for the comically absurd. In keeping with our absurdist tradition, then, I point you to something mentioned on BoingBoing, and for which I am much happier after viewing.

"Look Around You" is an utterly brilliant set of quite deadpan spoofs of 1970s science educational programs. I laughed so hard that the computer almost fell on the floor. The background music, the titles, the constrained design, the Technicolor color palette, the narrator -- they nailed it.

"What?" you say, "It's 10 minutes long?" Yes. 10 minutes. Sure, you could instead be making 3 1/2 bags of microwave popcorn in that time. But does popcorn make you laugh?

Look Around You 1 - Maths

Look Around You - Brain

Back from much recent traveling,