31 August 2008

Maybe more interesting than the Palin wikipedia-editing

Maybe you'll find this more interesting than the observation that "someone" edited Palin's Wikipedia entry the day before McCain announced her VP-ness: a brief piece on Slashdot cites a Washington Post article regarding Cyveillance, the software company that noticed the last-minute edits in the first place.

Am probably a few days behind on this one, but still.


30 August 2008

Note to self: crazy 20+ year "intellectual syllabus"

Hello, future self:

Various experts in life-planning suggest that you're much more likely to meet your goals if you write them down. Why does this matter? Who knows. You'd think that having them rattling around in your head would be enough.

Really, I think the important step is coming up with a schedule: prioritizing. After all, we have what, about two hours each night that could be devoted to things like this?

I've thought about what my short-term "personal syllabus" could be, and for the last few months we've had more important family-oriented things to focus on instead. But I imagine that when I turn 40 or 50, I might look back at my young 30s, and wished I had focused on some sort of developmental plan.

Here's what I'm thinking as a purely intellectual list of knowledge-goals. Not interpersonal, not health-related, not financial. Just stuff I'd like to know well.

Fundamental "Thought Patterns"
I'm convinced that math - such as modern algebra - dives the deepest into the most fundamentally bare thought-shapes. It makes you carve away all of the assumptions you didn't know you had. Maybe advanced math is hard because it is so simple. It's hard because it's so easy to jump thoughtlessly to the wrong conclusions...

Abstract Algebra: (Artin? Should start with Maxfield...)
Discrete Math: (Liu)

Essential Math - read or re-read:
The 2-vol Harvard "math for physicists" (Bamberg & Sternberg)
Differential equations (re-do Boyce & DiPrima)
Fourier analysis (Oppenheim or find a copy of Bracewell)
Review your vector calculus
Information Theory / Communication Theory
Maybe, complex variables (Churchill, Needham)

Engineering / Physics / CS
CM / QM (Skim French, then do Griffiths, Shankar)
Control theory
Optimization (Stengel?)
Circuit Design (and RF)
Optical system design (finish the central chapters of Hecht), i.e. lens design (Kingslake, Smith MOE)- and Fourier optics (Goodman)
OS X or XP app dev't
Web app dev't
Complexity / complex adaptive systems (Santa Fe...) / ALife: (Kauffman, Waldrop)

Humanities / the Arts (I hear my friends laughing)
Look @ list of suggested works in the Western Canon
Plenty of contemporary fiction
Stay current in industrial design (I.D.) and graphic design (PRINT)
Color theory
Various biographies
Keep reading up on contemporary art / conceptual art

Analysis (McWilliams)
Games (Berne)

Business / Marketing
Marketing texts, accounting, valuations
Disruptive technologies (Christensen)

Skills / Crafts / Games
Drumming (Morello)
Go (Yoshinori)
machine shop
electronic prototyping and low-volume fabrication (possibly something better than Fab)
photography (get a clue)

World and Business Current Affairs
WSJ / The Week / New Scientist, etc.
(already reading various scientific journals, attending conferences)

This is just a list for me. Now that I've blogged it, there's the aspect of making it public. Priorities? Yaaaak!


26 August 2008

nerd confession

Tonight I was popping popcorn and daydreaming about what changes I'd like to make to our kitchen and I caught myself referring to the pantry as our "L2 cache."


ps Maybe I get points for it actually being a pretty good analogy.

Technology Review magazine's new roster of top young innovators

Technology Review magazine announces the 2008 "TR-35" top young innovators under 35.


25 August 2008

Emily is Not Real

Building on the last few posts about innovation, cinema, and computer graphics -- when you watch this brief video, keep in mind that THIS IS NOT REAL. It is a demonstration of advances in computer graphics. (via BoingBoing)


We're deeply into the time when it's safe to question the validity of many forms of photographic evidence, huh?


23 August 2008

Brief reviews: a good story about AI and a pretty bad book about innovation. Plus: cinema technology!

Hi -

Cryptography, bitmaps, cash, and blood
I finished the high-tech fast-paced thriller Daemon, and I loved it as much as I had hoped. Sure, it's a quick summer read that lacks poetry or a deeper meaning, but if you are into computers, information technology, AI, big business, rapid prototyping, or video games, I guarantee you'll tear through this in a few days. (As long, of course, as you can ignore the aforementioned misuse of apostrophes. We'll let that go.)

Oddly, I have more to say about a book I liked less:

Regarding innovation
In my opinion, you can safely skip Scott Berkun's The Myths of Innovation, a thin O'Reilly hardcover that might have been more appropriately packaged as an invited lecture at a business school course. It is a light-hearted, well-intentioned brochure of a book with myth-chapters such as, "Your boss knows more about innovation than you" and "Innovation is always good." It relies on Google for a healthy percentage of its examples, e.g., tales of Japanese businessmen touring Google, wondering disappointedly where the room is in which ideas happen, and relies on the Internet for many of its URL and Wikipedia-laden citations.

It does have an appealing design, though. The typography cuts against the grain, and it worked for me. Also, Berkun had a cute bibliography, in which words-cited were listed in order of his use, not alphabetically. But it should be taken as a warning that the humorous colophon was nearly as valuable as the rest of the text. Okay, enough. Here's what the reviewers at Amazon say where it currently holds an inexplicable 4.5-star rating.

Okay, okay, I admit that this quotation is thought-provoking:

By idolizing those whom we honor
we do a disservice both to them and
to ourselves... we fail to recognize
that we could go and do likewise. (Charles V. Willie)

(Watch, now the blog-karma will get me; I'll meet Scott Berkun one day, and he'll be an awesome dude, and I'll be all, sorry, I was young and stupid, and we'll laugh, but it'll be a fake-out, and he'll sock me in the gut.)

If you are interested in successful methods of innovating, I strongly recommend Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas (James L. Adams), or if you're curious about the uptake of new products into the market, you could try The Innovator's Dilemma or Crossing the Chasm.

Preview: The History of Technology in the Cinema
If a subtitle ever was capable of making you shout, "amen!," New England tech journalist Scott Kirsner has written Inventing the Movies: Hollywood's Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. He recently was interviewed on NPR by Ira Flatow - discussions ranging from stereo cinema to Hollywood's aversion to technological advances.

There are infamous incorrect predictions at Scott's site, such as:

"I wouldn't give a dime for all the possibilities of [motion pictures with sound]. The public will never accept it." -George Eastman

Hey, I grew up in West Orange, NJ, home of Edison's labs and a particularly neat early movie studio called the Black Maria. It was a black room on a circular wooden track so that assistants could rotate it to admit sunlight as the sun moved across the sky...

The summer-night delirium brings me to my next note, which is that there's a They Might Be Giants song about the Edison Museum that mentions the Black Maria, but that's a tale for another time.


21 August 2008

"The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences"

We're Lucky that Math Describes Reality, Right?
If you've heard Eugene Wigner's quotation that, "[t]he miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve," here is the article that contains it. (1960) Is this actually a transcribed speech?

What if Reality is Math?
I met astrophysicist Max Tegmark at SciFoo; turns out he had a past life in stereoscopy. Anyhow, although I haven't yet read it, you mathy-philosophers might enjoy his "The Mathematical Universe," regarding "an external physical reality completely independent of us humans." You can find it in various formats at arXiv.org.

Separation of Church and State (not)
CNN Online: "Obama, McCain talk issues at pastor's forum."


19 August 2008

And now for something completely different...

J-Fav and I are expecting a new addition to our family very soon, and naming discussions are still underway. I mean, it's clear that we'll be "the Fav four," but what about first names?

So that leads us to today's factoid:

The 677th most popular boy's name in the United States

(not "Xavier," which is 87th)
(okay, to be fair, Xzavier might actually be up around 617; the source's website is a little weird in that regard)

[Source: www.yeahbaby.com]


16 August 2008

Innovative cinema-friendly technologies

Hi -

Now's the time for SIGGRAPH, the premier computer graphics conference - one whose technological advances frequently end up powering the following season's animated films.

For example, although Pixar's movies are compelling for their stories, I'm sure you've been shocked by the amazing realism of all those pixels. If you're not in the field of computer graphics, maybe it would surprise you that it was far from obvious how to get a computer to depict things like fire or hair - or characters seemingly acting under their own volition. So what's on the forefront now?

Here are three examples. Most have brief movies associated with them, so we can stare at the compelling dynamic imagery:

These three advances are particularly applicable to photography:


14 August 2008

Digital TV issues: TiVo and RCN near Boston

Yikes - I came home from a bunch of business travel and am suddenly wondering how to handle the changeover to digital TV in our town of Arlington, MA.

So - I'm trawling the message boards to see (1) how to connect TiVo (Series2, v 9.3...) to the new system, and (2) why we only have 20 channels now.

If anyone recently worked through this, I sure would love the input. At the moment, I am under the impression that I need to locate the "IR blaster" that came with our TiVo, so that it can change the channels indirectly, and to call RCN to find out where our channels went.



11 August 2008

Like Space? (edit)

Also of note: we were treated to a screening of Chris Riley's Sundance-award-winning film "In the Shadow of the Moon," [IGNORE: which evidently is screening later this year in the US.] I highly recommend this very personal view of our voyages to the moon. Trailer (and DVD) at the website.


10 August 2008

Decompression and DAEMON

Back in New England!

I was surprised to hear from so many of you about "SciFoo 2008" [some Flickr photos] this weekend @ the Googleplex. It was a lot of fun to attend, and really very open and friendly - for three days, folks were quite receptive to your plopping down your lunch tray and saying, "Hi! What brings you here?" Their answer could range from "fungi will save the planet" to "I make quantum computers" to something so modest that you knew it was a cover-up for not one but five things they do better than anyone else in the world.

Really, a bunch of folks have blogged about the experience - so if you're curious about the feeling of the event, I recommend checking out the BackReaction blog, starting at August 11, 2008.

The kickoff? An assembly of the 200 of us in a bright-yellow Google conference room so that Tim O'Reilly could encourage us to introduce ourselves - in 3 words or less. For the first time in my life, hearing group introductions gave me goosebumps.

Several whiteboards were arranged up front so that we could claim one-hour sessions to organize discussions about whatever we'd like (e.g., "Towards holographic video"). This was quite a stampede!

My Yalie friends might know what I mean when I say that waiting on line for movies @ LC put me in the right frame of mind for this - my orange sticky is up there somewhere.

It really was like meeting not just your favorite music star, but, well, many "nerd idols" from one's childhood and career. Will spare you the name-dropping.

What's hot? The "tag cloud" would look like: connectome, mitochondrial DNA, space, rain forest, artificial intelligence, history of science, education, influencing your politician, elliptical curve cryptography, and, uh, did I mention mitochondrial DNA?

One significant group of announcements regarded Google's interest to host as much "open" scientific data as possible. That is, if you've sequenced some DNA or scouted the galaxy, they could give you a briefcase with a disk drive for you to load your stuff on to, which they then index. (Let that idea sink in for a moment...) I think Googler Chris DiBona is helping run the effort - GIVE US YOUR DATA!

Somehow I ended up playing percussion twice on Saturday evening, once in a folk-guitar circle (J-Fav laughs and cries at this thought) and also fooling with an actual TENORI-ON handheld sequencer that Chris generously passed around. VIDEO:

Like I said, the event is beginning to be covered by others, so I'll stop there.

Curious anonymous quotations from the quantum computation chat:

  • Regarding the morass around ascribing some underlying sense to the equations modeling quantum mechanics: "It's not my place to saddle these poor equations of motion with interpretation." (someone quoting Murray Gell-Mann)

  • "We're trying to attach words to things that don't begin as words. You're welcome to do so but it won't change your day job."

  • "The first use of the transistor wasn't a supercomputer - it was a hearing aid. What's the quantum hearing aid?"
Oh, I just wanted to second the motion that everything you heard about the quality and quantity of food at Google is true.

In addition, the coffee urns yielded some of the best coffee I've ever had. What was it? "Barefoot Roasters"? I can't recall.


ps Sci-fi book recommendation: Daemon by "Leinad Zeraus". I'm tearing through this fast-paced thriller that traipses through IT systems, video games, international business, and one scary background process. The only minor (very minor) ding is the author's misuse of apostrophes throughout the book, but heck, it's a really fun read. Sample chapters - the first quarter of the book - available here in PDF.

pps More of the Tenori-On (about $1,200):

04 August 2008

Science Foo Camp

Hi -

This weekend I have the opportunity to go to "Science Foo Camp," an informal meeting organized by O'Reilly, Nature, and Google situated at the Google campus. Colleagues describe it as an un-conference in which participants with widely varying backgrounds spontaneously sign up to give (60-minute?) and hopefully back-and-forth discussions about topics such as: my time in space(!), extending the human lifespan, biological engineering, etc.

Am thinking I'll give a survey about hologram-like display technologies, and the underlying components which enable them. Looking at this year's attendee list, I have to admit it's a little daunting. But that's the plan.

photo of 2007 conference board (Steve Jurvetson, flickr)


01 August 2008

A taste of quantum mechanics: single photons doing unexpected things

Or, as they say in my home state of New Jersey, "quannum."

From what I can gather, some of you are interested in my posting more sciency stuff.

Well, here is one of the most beautiful and mysterious aspects of nature, something that really messed with our collective minds back in the 1910s-20s. Something that I was about to try to explain in my own words, but fortunately found a five-minute video that does it much better than I could.

In short, scientists are really confounded by the ways that little "bits" of light act if you shoot them -- even one at a time -- through two thin slits, and then let them whack the wall on the other side. Rather than just getting two clumps of photons, you get a wonderful rippled distribution of them. I guess you could imagine waves, such as water waves, making such a pattern. But photons? One at a time? What, are they colluding with each other as they decide where to fling themselves?

Physicists can now predict very accurately how light will act in a variety of circumstances. All this QM stuff has enabled a century's-worth of amazing new technology, such as, say, the laser, the transistor, you name it. But, frankly, the predictive equations have some pretty wacky philosophical underpinnings. There's still a lot of mystery to be worked out in those underpinnings.

There's self-conscious apology in how some of the equations were derived by the newly-minted Ph.D.s, in their 20s, about to gather up Nobel Prizes in the last century. I mean, it just doesn't make sense at the size-scale that we live in. French and Taylor put it like this in their QM textbook: "Finally, there is all the accumulated evidence that the Schrodinger equations work; they provide the basis for a correct analysis of molecular, atomic, and nuclear systems. Whatever questionable features there may be in the manner of their formulation are swept away in the evidence of their manifest success - a success of which we shall see many examples in this book."

Anyhow, here you are. Go learn yourself five minutes of science:

If this is up your alley, try this text, developed at MIT, which assumes you've had some physics & standard science-major math. Or, jump straight into this one, which was the Harvard QM text for a while.

Great, now I'm all sentimental for that lecture hall, which is at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab where I had an internship after high school...


ps And again, but with electrons: