29 September 2008

A better reason why this week is historic

This is a story buried under the headlines about the economy: on the fourth attempt - SpaceX's Falcon is now the first privately-built space vehicle to reach Earth orbit from a ground launch.

The employees go wild around 2:49 because that's the point at which things failed on the third attempt. SpaceX was founded by eBay founder Elon Musk.


26 September 2008

A defense-oriented braintrust you might not have heard of, and...

"JASON members all have security clearances, and they include physicists, biologists, chemists, oceanographers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. They are selected for their scientific brilliance, and, over the years, have included eleven Nobel Prize laureates and several dozen members of the United States National Academy of Sciences." (Wikipedia).

Here is a supposed list of members. If this is up your alley, see Ann Finkbeiner's The Jasons: The Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite. It's at Barnes & Noble stores, and available through Amazon.

GOOD Magazine: Pay what you want.
Subscriptions to GOOD magazine are now "pay what you want," down to $1 that's donated to charity.

The Week magazine
Have you checked out this weekly compilation of news from the US and around the world? Highlights include: summaries of top news stories, impressions of what others think of the US, interesting real estate finds, explanations of key issues "from scratch," and snippets about good television programming, food, and gadgets. If I only subscribed to one news publication, this would be it.


19 September 2008

It's a Boy!

Hi there -

We joyfully welcomed our new baby boy - Gabriel Mark Favalora - this Thursday in the wee hours of the morning. Little "Gabe" is doing well and is blessing us with quite a bit of cozy sleep-time while mom and dad recharge our rest-batteries. We are particularly thankful that Gabe is happy and healthy, and that we have family members having fun with Toby back at Chez Favingham.

His middle name is in honor of my brother, Mark, who passed away when I was younger.

At long last, Toby got to meet Gabe - he's been talking about him for months. Ultimately, we used the name we chose rather than Toby's, because Toby wanted to name him "hot dog." Although I think that would have been cool, too.

Toby sizes up his little brother.

(You know, just in case you missed my announcement on any other remaining electronic media...)

So, blogging will be light for the time being as we settle in.


16 September 2008

Taleb's "Limits of Statistics" & the Financial Crashes

See Edge for "The Fourth Quadrant: A Map of the Limits of Statistics" by Black Swan author Nassim Taleb, whose work Anthony suggested a few posts below. With plenty o' charts and graphs.

"...Are we using models of uncertainty to produce certainties?

This masquerade does not seem to come from statisticians—but from the commoditized, "me-too" users of the products. Professional statisticians can be remarkably introspective and self-critical. Recently, the American Statistical Association had a special panel session on the "black swan" concept at the annual Joint Statistical Meeting in Denver last August. They insistently made a distinction between the "statisticians" (those who deal with the subject itself and design the tools and methods) and those in other fields who pick up statistical tools from textbooks without really understanding them. For them it is a problem with statistical education and half-baked expertise. Alas, this category of blind users includes regulators and risk managers, whom I accuse of creating more risk than they reduce.

So the good news is that we can identify where the danger zone is located, which I call "the fourth quadrant", and show it on a map with more or less clear boundaries. A map is a useful thing because you know where you are safe and where your knowledge is questionable. So I drew for the Edge readers a tableau showing the boundaries where statistics works well and where it is questionable or unreliable. Now once you identify where the danger zone is, where your knowledge is no longer valid, you can easily make some policy rules: how to conduct yourself in that fourth quadrant; what to avoid..."


14 September 2008

An insane amount of engineered light at NIN concert

Wired online has a writeup and 10+ minute video of Nine Inch Nail's latest tour - including a massive LED screen, some sort of foreground screen, and computers that supply real-time rendering for 40% of the performance. "NIN Dazzles With Lasers, LEDs and Stealth Screens."

[gloat] Tickets are available online; they're going through South America and back up again. Their Worcester date was moved to November. (I got two tickets!!!). [/gloat]


ps Blogger was smart (or stupid) enough to hide "gloat" when I put it in greater-than less-than signs.

11 September 2008

Math art: click, stand back, and squint

Hi -
I did a new round of portraits that play on simple themes of image processing. (Back in 2006 I did a few by hand, here.)

Here are a few fun experiments with various types of halftoning, in which you draw a bunch of little discs whose sizes are proportional to how dark those parts of the photo are. You can take it to extremes:

Graphics[{Table[Disk[{j,Dimensions[photoregion][[1]]-i}, dotsize[i,j]],{i,1,Dimensions[photoregion][[1]],1},{j,1,Dimensions[photoregion][[2]],20}]},Frame->True]

Graphics[{Table[Disk[{j,Dimensions[photoregion][[1]]-i}, dotsize[i,j]],{i,1,Dimensions[photoregion][[1]],3},{j,1,Dimensions[photoregion][[2]],1}]}, Background->LightBlue]

Hey, it's J-Fav as if drawn by an old thermal-paper fax machine.

10 September 2008

My iTunes galactic battle visualizer

Hi -

I figure I'm just as read-up as the next guy when it comes to recent Apple product releases, but I didn't realize until tonight that the visualizer has been upgraded in a really cool way. It reminds me of an OpenGL visualization of several galactic orbs either trying to destroy (or mate with) a sad little dark planet.

Or both, if you're listening to Nine Inch Nails. In any case, click on this thing:

Now the only thing standing in the way of my ascension to nirvana is the ability to put images into Blogger posts where your cursor is instead of at the very top...


ps Does one "ascend" to nirvana?

08 September 2008

BEAM robots & Esquire video

Hello -

There are some intricate, hand-made, analog, simple "robots" that are classified in their (Tilden-esque) BEAM taxonomy at Simon Fraser's site. Neat stuff! I might've first read about these back in 1998, and still intend to try to make some. Gotta find my old Weller soldering iron...

Also - the Esquire magazine with E-Ink cover (and inside advertisement) is out. Already, YouTube videos are available:


01 September 2008

Wonderful historian's 17-minute history of the computer

George Dyson's brief discussion about the origins of modern computation - including some humorous snippets from the first computer engineers' and programmers' notebooks - is available for you to see as a recorded TED video. This is a great way to relax and learn some interesting stuff at the end of the holiday weekend.

The George Dyson video is here. Ever since I had the privilege of seeing him talk in Mountain View recently I've been hoping to find any videos online...

(The little "expand" icon in the upper right of the video screen will make the slides much easier to see.)