29 November 2007

Optical Cancer Detection @ BU

This is probably late notice for those of you interested in attending, but on Friday I'll be at Optical Imaging for Medicine and Biology: Applications in Cancer Detection, a conference at Boston University. (Details)


ps Did you catch the Technology Review article on a large-scale simulation of the brain? The article is interesting, but be sure to spend some time looking at the gallery on the project's work site: Blue Brain Project (presumably named for the IBM partnership).

27 November 2007

Amazing Flight Delay Map, and Design, Design, Design.

Happy Holidays! Welcome back.

Flight Wait. Do me a favor and click here. It's a 1-page website that shows you how delayed flights are into various airports with color-coded lines.

A new design firm that's not bound by engineering reality: non-object. (Thanks, DOliver!)

Grand Theft Auto-esque Coca Cola advertisement. (YouTube)

Brief Andy Warhol "interview." Y'know, I've heard about his style, but I've never heard an interview. (YouTube)

This guy designs the fake futuristic computer interfaces for movies: Mark Coleran. His demo real most definitely doesn't suck.

Intrigued by what's on the computer screens in Star Trek or being manipulated in Minority Report? Reality is pretty much in sync with the dreams of special effects artists. Here are a few examples:

You've probably seen Jeff Han's fabulous touch screen and very thoughtful demos (turn up the volume):

The folks at University of Toronto made a 3-D CAD program that interpreted how you point and "squeeze" your fingers as commands to a mechanical design program. It won the UIST 2004 Best Paper Award:

(Click here for .AVI video, and here for the paper.)

The Microsoft Surface (yes, this is real):

You can have wall-sized or book-sized holograms made-to-order from Zebra Imaging:

...and can mix computer graphics with reality to get "augmented reality," in which the synthetic objects act like they're being pushed around by forces in the real world:

And I should plug Actuality's 3-D display; here's what it looked like back in 2002:

Want to learn more about advanced human-computer interfaces? Check out Prof. Hiroshi Ishii's lab at the MIT Media Lab: the Tangible Media Group.


23 November 2007


It is my obligation to keep your "RSS" status indicator lit in your hunt for things to click on while digesting turkey leftovers. So:

Happy Thanksgiving!


19 November 2007

Ivy "Football," iPhoto, and stuff

Hello -

We returned from a weekend in Connecticut to visit family and go to The Game, shorthand for the annual Yale / harvard football game. My friends know that I'm more of a fan of the tailgate than the sport, but this year was a bit of a doozy for all of us: the pre-game traffic was molasses (forcing GEB to deposit her car exactly 2.8 miles from the Bowl and walk there with little Edith), we lost big time, and... well, actually, that's it. J-Fav, T-Fav, and I got some dinner with GEB somewhere near the sea of abandoned cars and then rounded back to campus for a sentimental walk at night.

(Alumni: new buildings! everywhere! CCL has been replaced by Bass Library. There's a giant concrete-and-glass engineering building next to Watson. The Trumbull basement now looks like a high-end rebuild of WLH.)

Photos of the game. If any of you want your likeness removed, just email me.

The Game 2007

Click to see some photos of The Game.

Oh, and:

iTunes trick. Wish there was an easier way to automatically give good names to your photos, other than DSC00421.jpg? Well, after you import your "roll," select the photos, go to Photos > Batch Change. Select "Set (Title) to (Text)", type in a label, and check "Append a number to each photo." and blam-o! Everything's renamed and numbered!

Amazon.com's e-book reader with no service or subscription fee downloads books and Wikipedia pages wirelessly. Check out Kindle.

Reviews of VC funds by entrepreneurs. TheFunded.com (thanks Ted)

That's all,


15 November 2007

Extra: Marching band video game emulation

Fellow band-geeks,

This is a video of the U.C. Berkeley marching band routine of Pong, Super Mario Brothers, Zelda... Oh, yeah!


ps The "reductionist" (or not) conversation is still going on down there \/ .

14 November 2007

IKEA product names... and some other nonsense

I seem to have disappeared for a bit, sorry about that. Thought you might enjoy:

What are you lookin' at, EKTORP?
David Byrne (yes, David Byrne has a blog! I hadn't known...) wonders aloud about IKEA - is it some odd video game-like world? - and teaches us, via Wikipedia, what IKEA's product-naming conventions are! Here you go. The IKEA stuff is at the bottom. (Surprise to me, actually. I thought it was Haagen-Dazs-esque nonsense.)

How to Deal With Obnoxious Bluetooth Headset Talkers
A funny video clip with Larry David. This is, like, so me. Nothing gets me more rankled during my (not at all yuppie...) visits to Starbucks than the throngs of people TALKING INTO SPACE.

What if 24 were actually set in 1994?
This CollegeHumor video is making the rounds. Quick! Bauer! Log on to AOL!

Regarding Fine Print
The consistently insightful Seth Godin comments about product markings that accentuate the good and hide the bad... and how you can build trust by doing otherwise.

The Game
Boola boola! Go Bulldogs. Here's to another year of keeping one of our behind-the-scenes wedding vows... and to staying awake.

(Actually, if any Yalies are reading this, you might get a weird kick out of the discussion page of that article - an unusually well-worded argument about what the article title should be. Pshaw! (swirls brandy snifter, patriarchially).)


ps Regarding something I mentioned in the midst of all that Enlightenment huffery, I am still struggling with that brief piece that shares this one particular engineering thing for non-engineers because I'm having trouble coming up with a real-world application of it that won't put people to sleep in the process. Other than answering the questions, "why do wagon wheels look like they're spinning backwards in old movies?" and "why can't radio stations be closer together?" which, actually, are really closely related.

pps Literature people: am I alone in disliking the poetry of Ezra Pound? Do you have to swallow a library of ancient Greek and Latin books, with a chaser of Pretentious, to get him?

09 November 2007


A different kind of Twin Paradox

A special post for V-Fav: How could the second of two twins be born 26 minutes before the first? Find out here [geekpress].


03 November 2007

People didn't always think "reductively"? (Or, The Enlightenment)

Hi -

Some person or people explicitly proposed the notion that phenomena can be best understood by breaking them down into parts. Who? When?

I'm so self-conscious about whether anyone reads these notes, and what you might be thinking on the other end of the Tubes, that I'm tempted to label everything "note to self" as to avert any "Wow, Gregg is either naive, or full of himself, or both..." head-scratching over there. Truth is, I've always struggled understanding subjects outside of engineering, science, music, and the visual arts, meaning, well, history, literature, philosophy, and everything else in the department store listing of topics in the college Course Catalog that frightened me. Finally, in my 30s, I'm trying again to understand what people thought about Long Ago. Lately I've been "tricked" into thinking about this stuff -- I pick up a book by a scientist, and lo!, he's talking about mysterious figures during the Enlightenment and the notion that hey, look, this is when people started thinking about problems in the scientific and political worlds and breaking them down to their essences... (it wasn't obvious?) and, well, I just get sucked in to this interesting historic stuff that I couldn't comprehend in high school.

E.g., my memory of four years of grade-school history can be summarized thus:

So, really, I wanted to jot down some notes here in the hopes that I'll actually remember some of this. And fortunately most of you are historians and English-studiers who can correct me if I'm interpreting these things wrong.

I'm still reading Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (E. O. Wilson); I've mentioned this a few times here. Although I think his writing is brilliant and shows strong evidence of his having traversed many diverse fields, I... well... I still don't get the thesis. The kind editors at Amazon explain:

[It's] a wonderfully broad study that encourages scholars to bridge the many gaps that yawn between and within the cultures of science and the arts. No such gaps should exist, Wilson maintains, for the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give understanding a purpose, to lend to us all "a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws."

Wilson (8-9) explains:

Consilience is the key to unification. I prefer this word over "coherence" because its rarity has preserved its precision, whereas coherence has several possible meanings, only one of which is consilience. William Whewell, in his 1840 synthesis The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, was the first to speak of consilience, literally a "jumping together" of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation. He said, "The Consilience of Inductions takes place when an Induction, obtained from one class of facts, coincides with an Induction, obtained from another different class. This Consilience is a test of the truth of the Theory in which it occurs."

Anyhow, this is what Wilson's book is about, but actually I want to make sense of how and when reductionist thinking appeared on the scene. This occupies a chapter or two. It goes like this:

  • "The dream of intellectual unity first came to full flower in the original Enlightenment, an Icarian flight of the mind that spanned the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A vision of secular knowledge in the service of human rights and human progress, it was the West's greatest contribution to civilization. It launched the modern era for the whole world; we are all its legatees. Then it failed." (15)
  • The end of the Enlightenment is the death in 1794 of the Marquis de Condorcet.
  • In 1793, Robespierre royally sucked, man. He took Rousseau really literally, with his suggestion to treat as deviants those people who didn't conform to the "general will," the rule of justice that would try to achieve "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."
  • I can imagine most of you are cringing reading this, as I'd cringe watching someone work out Ohm's Law...
  • Anyway, Condorcet (b: 1743, France) was trained as a mathematician. Evidently he was the first guy to apply mathematical reasoning to the social sciences. So did Laplace, who I had thought was just the guy who came up with a way for engineers do to differential equations easier, but never mind that. Also, "Condorcet was a polymath with a near-photographic memory, for whom knowledge was a treasure to be acquired relentlessly and shared freely." He knew a LOT about, you know, EVERYTHING.
  • At one point, Condorcet fled to a boardinghouse in Paris, and relied on his memory to write a historical tract: Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. In it, he wrote, "The sole foundation for belief in the natural sciences, is the idea that the general laws directing the phenomena of the universe, known or unknown, are necessary and constant. Why should this principle be any less true for the development of the intellectual and moral faculties of man than for other operations of nature?"
  • (Remember, the Enlightenment is a river of thought by a lot of people, like "Bacon, Hobbes, Hume, Locke, and Newton in England; Descartes and the eighteenth-century philosophes around Voltaire in France; Kant and Leibniz in Germany; Grotius in Holland; Galileo in Italy.")
  • Ah, okay, so here's what I was looking for -
  • Regarding reductionism: Francis Bacon -
Science was the engine of the Enlightenment. The more scientifically disposed of the Enlightenment authors agreed that the cosmos is an orderly material existence governed by exact laws. It can be broken down into entities that can be measured an arranged in hierarchies, such as societies, which are made up of persons, whose brains consist of nerves, which in turn are composed of atoms. In principle at least, the atoms can be reassembled into nerves, the nerves into brains, and the persons into societies, with the whole understood as a system of mechanisms and forces. If you still insist on a divine intervention, continued the Enlightenment philosophers, think of the world as God's machine. The conceptual constraints that cloud our vision of the physical world can be eased for the betterment of humanity in every sphere. Thus Condorcet, in an era still unburdened by complicating fact, called for the illumination of the moral and political sciences by the "torch of analysis." (24)

  • "The grand architect of this dream was not Condorcet, or any of the other philosophes who expressed it so well, but Francis Bacon. Among the Enlightenment founders, his spirit is the one that most endures." (Bacon was born in 1561.)
  • "By reflecting on all possible methods of investigation available to his imagination, he concluded that the best among them is induction, which is the gathering of large numbers of facts and the detection of patterns. In order to obtain maximum objectivity, we must entertain only a minimum of preconceptions." (25)
  • "Bacon elaborated on but did not invent the method of induction as a counterpoint to classical and medieval deduction. Still, he deserves the title Father of Induction, on which much of his fame rested in later centuries."
  • "Descartes showed how to do science with the aid of precise deduction, cutting to the quick of each phenomenon and skeletonizing it. The world is three-dimensional, he explained, so let our perception of it be framed in three coordinates..." (30) He felt that mathematics could describe all of knowledge, a vision that came to him in a dream in 1619... "he perceived that the universe is both rational and united throughout by cause and effect. He believed that this conception could be applied from physics to medicine - hence biology - and even to moral reasoning. In this respect, he laid the groundwork for the belief in the unity of learning that was to influence Enlightenment thought profoundly in the eighteenth century."
  • Newton (1684: mass and distance laws of gravity; 1687 the three laws of motion; and, really, the ability to predict just about anything. Co-invent calculus, why don't you! Oh...)
These two final paragraphs really blew me away:

Reductionism, given its unbroken string of successes during the next three centuries, may seem today the obvious best way to have constructed knowledge of the physical world, but it was not so easy to grasp at the dawn of science. Chinese scholars never achieved it. They possessed the same intellectual ability as Western scientists, as evidenced by the fact that, even though far more isolated, they acquired scientific information as rapidly as did the Arabs, who had all of Greek knowledge as a launching ramp. Between the first and thirteenth centuries they led Europe by a wide margin. But according to Joseph Needham, the principal Western chronicler of Chinese scientific endeavors, their focus stayed on holistic properties and on the harmonious, hierarchical relationships of entities, from stars down to mountains and flowers and sand. In this world view the entities of Nature are inseparable and perpetually changing, not discrete and constant as perceived by the Enlightenment thinkers. As a result the Chinese never hit upon the entry point of abstraction and break-apart analytic research attained by European science in the seventeenth century.
Why no Descartes of Newton under the Heavenly Mandate? The reasons were historical and religious. The Chinese had a distaste for abstract codified law, stemming from their unhappy experience with the Legalists, rigid quantifiers of the law who rules during the transition from feudalism to buueaucracy in the Ch'in dynasty (221-206 B.C.). Legalism was based on the belief that people are fundamentally antisocial and must be bent to laws that place the security of the state above their personal desires. Of probably even greater importance, Chinese scholars abandoned the idea of a supreme being with persona and creative properties. No rational Author of Nature existed in their universe; consequently the objects they meticulously described did not follow universal principles, but instead operated within particular rules followed by those entities in the cosmic order. In the absence of a compelling need for the notion of general laws - thoughts in the mind of God, so to speak - little or no search was made for them. (33-34)

I jot this all down because was naively surprised that someone actively came up with the process of understanding a phenomenon by breaking it into parts. (Later chapters show how you can take the parts and hope to predict what happens when they are built back up again.)

But who was it, then? Bacon, Descartes? Or since "...Bacon did not invent the method of induction...", who did? Some bronze-age proto-engineer? If we're not sure, why all this focus on Condorcet and Bacon and Descartes? Because they made the first strong deductive tools?

Wait, now I'm screwing up my terms. (Keeping in mind that inductive reasoning is arguing "down" to the general from observation, and deductive reasoning is arguing "up" from basic laws. This "down" and "up" mnemonic stems from how engineers think. The bits and atoms are at the bottom of our food pyramid; the product is at the top.)

The source of my astonishment is in what I thought the above discussion concerned: when did people decide to break things into elements? I thought that stuff went back tot he ancient Greeks.

I'm not sure I'm clearer on these things.

Or is that just how history works?


ps There's an engineering concept called "thinking in domains," such as the time-and-frequency domains, that is very useful and, frankly, a Big Deal. It makes difficult problems quite tractable, and I doubt there's been reason to apply that thought-model to non-mathy fields because, well, I don't see how you could. I am considering whether to write a brief post that explains this because it might be interesting to those of you who didn't major in engineering. Plus, it would keep me off the rough streets of Arlington.

01 November 2007

Just saying "hi"


Sorry, I'm going to indulge in a bit of traditional what-I-did-tonight-though-no one-should-care blogging to displace the usual 400 links at midnight.

After work, J-Fav, T-Fav, and I tried some of Trader Joe's "just heat it up" Chicken Fajitas and Carnitas (the latter being quite good). After helping a post-Halloween sleepy Toby to bed, we did an enormous garbage run and exhausted the evening's Tivo buffer (which fortunately held The Office but unfortunately not 30 Rock). I did a little personal website updating (new patent, woo-hoo!), and I searched the bookshelves of the house for two books that I just got but cannot, for the life of me, find: Edward O. Wilson's Consilience and Bob Southard's Ordinary Secrets.

Ordinary Secrets is a heartfelt book written by a businessman who, behind the scenes, spent many years quietly investigating meditation and reiki, traveling to beautiful locations to commune with nature, and mastering hypnotherapy. He distilled his findings - as "ordinary Bob" - into a collection of thought exercises and affirmations. It's very distant from the stuff I usually read, and I am enjoying it. Adding to the enjoyment is that Bob was a co-worker of mine, and I keep scratching my head over all the additional things we could have talked about if only I knew that these things were among his interests! Anyhow, you might want to pick it up. [amazon]

As I write this, it's a quarter to midnight. Eddie "Danger" Favalora (our cat) is curled up in a ball, sleeping on the blanket that J-Fav is snoozing under. Her inner clock magically puts her to sleep at exactly 11 pm, something she's demonstrated for eight years now. The only thing I manage to do at 11 pm is become more awake!

I am beginning to see why so many blogs are of this I-brushed-my-teeth-today variety. I will spare you except to add that I have kept with the two things on my "personal syllabus:" learning Mathematica and C++, although, frankly, I am unhappy with the C++ book I chose despite seeking the advice of experts on the xkcd fora. (Note to self: get C++ Primer Plus, and put down The C++ Primer!) The little makeshift study in our guest room has been a good place to hide and read for an hour each night.

It wouldn't be G-Fav's blog without a list of things to click on.

  • Geometry Wars is coming to Wii and DS
  • RLM points out The Mobius (several minutes of seemingly random activity at a Starbucks repeats for an hour)... I also liked Slo-mo Home Depot
  • Sugar Skull tutorial
  • A good graphic design laugh: "The best and worst (corporate) logo remakes of the century" (here)
  • How did I miss this? Tay Zonday's "Chocolate Rain."
  • "The New Nostradamus," an article in Good about an NYU politics professor, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and his extraordinarily good predictions about foreign policy (and other matters).