25 January 2008

What J-Fav doesn't know about Thanksgiving, 1984

Hi -

I thought I'd step outside the usual link-posting to share something that I'm not sure J-Fav even knows about me, which is the significance of Thanksgiving, 1984. You know, as it relates to time travel.

When I was younger, but old enough to know that my engineering mindset would land me somewhere in engineering/science-ville, I wondered for a moment about time travel. Since, obviously, if time travel became a common mode of spatio-temporal transportation, I'd be working at the time machine factory or have time-traveler buddies. (Look, I thought a lot of weird stuff up in fifth grade.)

So, the logic went: The popular press said that although time travel into the future is unlikely, perhaps one could skip back to the past. Somehow. I don't know how, something about spinning massive chunks of ultra-dense black cylinders near the mouths of black holes or something like that.

Then I wondered if I really would ever get to travel back in time.

Then I wondered if there was I way I could make sure to find out that I'd travel back in time, such as hiding a note near a landmark, or winning the lottery and saving the money for myself somewhere.

I finally decided that I would pick a date and location that I would travel back to if I ever had the chance, and meet my younger self there, and then as my (original) younger self grew up, I'd always remember that event. Since I'm bad at remembering just about everything, I figured the name of a holiday and an important-sounding year would be easy enough to reference back for a date.

So I picked Thanksgiving, 1984, in the town of West Orange, NJ.

Then I realized that if I was destined one day to travel in time, I'd be able to find out ahead of time - immediately - as soon as it was clear that I've fixed that date and location in my brain. Right? As long as it's after Thanksgiving, 1984, and assuming I won't forget that date, if I suddenly have a recollection of meeting my older self over Thanksgiving dinner in fourth grade, then I've proved that I will at some point in the future travel backwards to meet myself.

Except there's one problem.

There's, like, 100 places much more interesting to visit than that.

And then I start feeling guilty, because in 1984 I feel like there are a bunch of people I could run to and say very important things to that would change the course of their lives, and how selfish it would be of me to squander my one chance for time travel on mere tourism.

So, I suppose that it's insufficient for me to simply remember a date and place. I must still convince myself that's where I'm going, and not be seduced at the last second into traveling somewhere more interesting. Assuming I do get a chance to turn back the clock, I'd need to stop waffling about my destination if I want to know ahead of time if I'll get that chance.

In retrospect, this feels a lot less logical than it did in fifth grade.


24 January 2008

How lenses are made...

...or as J-Fav might call it, "optics porn."

The folks at Gizmodo linked to a YouTube clip from the Discovery Channel showing how multi-element lenses are made. Craftmanship!

With all the attention given to dust, it's funny how the technicians don't have to wear hairnets and are allowed to wear jewelry on their hands (e.g. large wedding rings). In any case, you can't argue with the final result.

Looks like this was filmed at JML Optical.


22 January 2008

Patting ourselves on the back

Hi -

Now that the "press embargo" is lifted, I can now share some good news with you. Actuality Medical is a finalist in the Saatchi & Saatchi "Award for World Changing Ideas" for the PerspectaRAD hologram-like cancer treatment system.

I thought you might get a kick out of the judging panel and the 10 finalists, which include a water-purification drinking straw, the One Laptop Per Child effort, and a 3-D printer that somehow prints out organs and bones. Here's the press release. (pat, pat)


A six-and-a-half minute talk on robotic locomotion

A brief TED talk by Hod Lipson, whose work I've mentioned a few times here in the past.

Oh, and for you John Maeda fans -- a fast, energetic talk about simplicity and complexity.


20 January 2008

An assortment of links

Hello -

We saw the Blue Man Group tonight (Boston) for the second time in several years, and had a really great time. I won't spoil any of their antics for you, but I was thinking about why the performance appeals to me beyond the obvious first layer of "they do very creative stuff, with smart humor, and play some really mean drums, while broadcasting the message that individuality is a Good Thing, in a way that makes you feel connected to some really alien blue guys." I think that another reason that it's enjoyable is that it combats a sense of cynicism that's been festering in me over the years about there being "nothing new under the sun." Live performances, contemporary art, discontinuous scientific discoveries, and clever product introductions are really healthy things to ponder and enjoy, I think. Since I'm so disconnected from modern theater, tonight's performance hit me as a particularly cool and empathetic collection of creative jumps and, heck, I just really liked it.


The other night, J-Fav and I were watching a Nova episode regarding the gradual scientific progress towards making materials at absolute zero, culminating most recently with Bose-Einstein condensate stuff (your friend, the fifth state of matter!) at places like MIT, Boulder, and Harvard. I wondered how I'd define science, particularly as opposed to engineering. (Which, if you're a scientist or engineer, you hear about all the time - so the next three sentences are painfully obvious.) Anyhow, I decided that science is the discovery of nature's secrets - either in terms of cataloging one's observations or making ever-more-precise predictive models, even though the ultimate "why" is always just out of reach. Meanwhile, engineering is the making of things that take advantage of the scientists' discoveries. Usually, this requires a bunch of middlemen called "applied physicists," the nice folks who brought you things like the transistor.

With that banal thought out of my system, here are a few things from the ol' "Read Later" bookmarks folder:

Suddenly, with the TV in the background, I feel like the only person in America not paying attention to this football game between the Giants and Green Bay... a last minute amazing touchdown that was un-did. See you.


16 January 2008

A news site shows you... how to cite it

Sure, a recent article in ScienceDaily about "acoustic cloaking" is interesting, but check out the bottom of the page - there is a box that hands you MLA and APA bibliographic references in case you choose to cite them.

(article link via GeekPress)


15 January 2008

MacBook Air

Steve Jobs announced the world's thinnest laptop computer at MacWorld 2008: the MacBook Air. (Apple site) (gizmodo coverage)


13 January 2008

A simple salad

(Owning up to the "...and food" part of this blog's description.)

The other night I was cooking from one of my favorite cookbooks, the out-of-print and frankly dubious-sounding Bon Appetit Every Night Cooking: Fast and Fun: A Real-Life Guide to Getting Dinner on the Table [amazon], and came across a really basic but very light, lemony side-salad.

  • Some decent salad greens (the expensive leafy stuff in a plastic box, good for three dinners)
  • A lemon to squeeze out a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Two garlic cloves, chopped up
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • A few turns of good (i.e. Kosher or sea-) salt and pepper

That's it! In my opinion, a whole family of good salads are those that make you sweat from the acidity. To get the companion recipe, I'll spare you the tasty details about seared marinated lemon-garlic shrimp and warm new baby potatoes.


ps Oh, the Pats won again. J-Fav and I were out seeing the movie Juno - go out and see it! - and returned home to find the last few seconds ticking down. Why though, in the post-game press interrogation, are there so many questions about what clothes the athletes wear?

pps Okay, more about Juno. Here's the trailer. It's edgy and smart and funny and just a very nice film. Although the trailer (and the first 30 minutes of the film) would suggest that the director might be a bit inclined to copy the visual and musical vocabularies of Wes Anderson, really, honest, it's a good movie. Don't worry about the xylophone-laden soundtrack. Heck, one of the other songs includes the words, "I never met a Toby I didn't like." ("Tire Swing," Kimya Dawson) How about that?

09 January 2008

Then, the TV went silent.

I was watching TV (ok, fine, "Menace II Society"), when suddenly the loud commercial break went completely silent and this aired.


ps Here is another.

pps So what did I do? I wrote this. Maybe it was lost on me!

07 January 2008

CES 2008: Three Interesting Displays

Powerpoint in Your Pocket
It's CES 2008. Texas Instruments demonstrated a much-anticipated prototype of a "picoprojector," a projection display mounted in something the size of a remote control. The concept is that one day, your cell phone could contain a projector! Here is a video clip from Gizmodo.

Fabs Churning Out Glass the Size of Queen Size Beds
Oh, and, lest you think the LCD and plasma displays at Best Buy are large, check out this 150" plasma. (This is a tremendous technical feat, requiring making glass the size of your bed with limiting thickness variations to the order of microns, but I won't bore you with all that.)

Samsung's 3D-Ready HDTVs
Presumably you'll need to wear polarized glasses a-la IMAX, but still.


05 January 2008

Upcoming 3-D Display Conference

Hello -

This is a reminder to 3-D-philes everywhere that it is now time to register for the SPIE-IS&T Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference, which is the place to be to meet 3-D display researchers from around the globe. Learn more about SD&A 2008 at http://www.stereoscopic.org/.

Speaking of which, Actuality Medical is presenting two papers - one regarding our work in applying volumetric 3-D displays to cancer treatment planning, the other about how to get 20 million pixels out of a projector that only has 0.8 million... and how to make a defocused projector look better than it ought to on its own.

For those of you who enjoy cross-eye stereo photographs, here is what the volumetric system looks like. The numbers in the upper right are actually floating above a medical scan - they are a "3-D ruler" measurement in virtual space. (To view this, cross your eyes so they overlap, and then let yourself relax for a good 30 seconds for the focus to become sharp.)

This is an image of a patient with a large brain tumor, as if looking down, looking up at the ceiling.