Saturday, December 31, 2005

Central Limit Theorem Jr.

A while back, I linked to a Three-Toed Sloth post with a comment about kids and the Central Limit Theorem and followed up with a blog post about teaching it to kids. Today, I took my own kids to the Minnesota Science Museum and snapped a picture of a nice contraption designed to demonstrate the CLT to kids.

This is a pachinko-style machine. Put a penny under a hammer (lower right), pull the hammer back and let go. The penny shoots up to the top and drops through a slot in the center of the top of the machine. Next, the penny falls into a triangular lattice of plastic hexagons.

A Normal Distribution serves as the backdrop to the bins collecting pennies at the bottom of the machine.

Monday, December 26, 2005


On that train all graphite aglitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
(More leisure for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young

I.G.Y. by Donald Fagen

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Alaafia, Amaithi, Amani, Baris, béke, damai, der friede, Enh Taiwain, Fifa, fred, Hasiti, Heddwch, Heiwa, Hetep, Hoa Binh, Irini, kapayapaan, kev sib haum xeeb, Khanaghutyun, Layeni, malu, mir, nanomonsetôtse, Nyeinjanyei, pace, paci, paco, paix, pakoj, pasch, Pau, pax, paz, peoc'h, Peoning Hwa, pokoj, py'guapy, rahu, Rauha, rongo, Rukun, salaam, Santiphap, sérë, Shanti, Sholem, Sidi, Soksang, Solh, Spokoj, Sulh, taika, tlamatcanemiliztli, Tsumukikiatu, Tutkium, Ukuthula, uxolo, vrede, Waki Qiwebis, Wetaskiwin, Wolakota


Michael Reichmann, Jeff Schewe, Thomas Knoll and many other photographers went on a fantastic photographic expedition to Antarctica. There's an extensive trip report on Photoshop News that includes a large collection of excellent photos. Definitely worth checking out.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Satan Exists!

Brian Leiter puckishly posted a link to over 300 Proofs of God's Existence. After reading them quite carefully, I am slowly coming to the conclusion this is satire. In offering a proof of Satan's existence, I, on the other hand, am dead serious: CD & DVD packaging.

Update: I stumbled onto an alleged New Yorker piece by Steve Martin on the subject:

The burning gates of Hell were opened and the designer of CD packaging entered to the Devil's fanfare. "We've been wanting him down here for a long time," The One of Pure Evil said to his infernal minions, "but we decided to wait because he was doing such good work above, wrapping the CDs with cellophane and that sticky tape strip. Ask him to dinner and be sure to invite the computer-manual people too." continued

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Saturday, December 17, 2005

The History of Christmas

Much in the news is an alleged "War on Christmas."

The History Channel has a nice article on the history of Christmas...

"The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight."


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Richard Feynman Lecture Videos

"A set of four priceless archival recordings from the University of Auckland (New Zealand) of the outstanding Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman - arguably the greatest science lecturer ever. Although the recording is of modest technical quality the exceptional personal style and unique delivery shine through."


(big hat tip: 3QuarksDaily)

What does "soy un perdedor" mean?

Answer: Soy un perdedor means I'm a loser.

One of the strange things about having any sort of web site is perusing the referral logs and seeing what brings people to one's site. Many bloggers become accidental Google authorities for the strangest things, and they often post the unlikely search terms that bring people to their sites.

I get quite a few searches coming to me from people searching for the meaning of "soy un perdedor. " They wind up at this site because that was a title of a post containing a collection of links to games you can't lose earlier this year.

Unfortunately, that post provides no translation, so I'm afraid these searchers all leave here empty-handed. I can't have that, so the result is this post. The Spanish words occur numerous times in Beck's first hit, Loser. I imagine that's why people are searching.

I wouldn't be surprised to find people searching for "soy un pair da door" or "soy oon pairdador" or "soy one paredador" or "soy un pare the door" or "soy oon pairda door." I guess we'll see.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dodging and Burning Bacteria

"In an unusual proof-of-concept display, researchers have developed a way to create photographs with living bacteria. The results are not only much sharper than what can be produced with a photo printer, but also point the way to a new industry—building useful objects from living organisms." more at National Geographic

(ht: 3quarksdaily)

Canon Picture Styles

An interesting digital photography development, Canon has created picture style definitions that can be applied in camera or, post-download, in software:

"The EOS-1D Mark II N/EOS 5D and later EOS DIGITAL offer not only presets, but also the ability to add new Picture Styles, which will allow you let you enjoy a wider range of photographic expression."



The Hubris of the Humanities

"The best argument against ''intelligent design'' has always been humanity itself. At a time when only 40 percent of Americans believe in evolution, and only 13 percent know what a molecule is, we're an argument at best for ''mediocre design.'' But put aside the evolution debate for a moment...."

12/06 NYT opinion piece by Nicholas D. Kristof making the rounds. I'm linking to it in support of scientific literacy. You'll need Times Select to read it. (Of course other bloggers might cite more of it.)


Monday, December 12, 2005

World Population Cartogram


Old news by blogospheric standards, but ob post. (ht: geomblog)

Shockwave Imaging

"New digital video technology, combined with some classic imaging techniques, reveals shock waves as never before."

Interesting article at American Scientist: link
(ht: 3quarksdaily)

Lumix DMC-FZ5

Boing Boing highlights this cool Lumix digicam made by Panasonic. 5M-pixel, sharp lens with amazing range, image stabilization. $350. The stories below are worth reading.

original story: Cool Tools
cited here: Boing Boing

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Film in 2005: Part IV of possibly more...

Parents and children. Children and parents. Five films seen in 2005 fall into this group: familial dysfunction and children vying for the affection of their father (The Bee Season), divorce, joint custody and parents vying for the affection of their children (The Squid and the Whale), a tale of a man in search of his son (Broken Flowers), and two sons trying to understand themselves and their fathers My Architect (2003) and Tell Them Who You Are.

Of the five, Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray, a film I'll jokingly refer to as the year's best and only Dadaist film, is the least of the five for me. Although intruiging and interesting at times, I walked away shrugging. The Bee Season and The Squid and the Whale both fall somewhere in the middle; the latter was probably the the stronger film of the two, but I feel a complicating factor in that the former had a certain likeable quality I'm having trouble putting my finger on.

My Architect and Tell Them Who You Are were my favorites of the five. Both are father quests, shot by sons looking for their fathers and, in the process trying, to understand things about themselves.

My Architect is the work of Nathaniel Kahn, son of the great 20th century architect Louis I. Kahn who died a lonely death from a heart attack in a Penn Station bathroom in 1974. The result of five years of work, the film is very personal and moving. In addition to presenting a fascinating biography, a moving personal question, and some incredible architecture, the film includes interviews with master architects B.V. Doshi, Frank Gehry, the late Philip Johnson and I.M. Pei. An excellent film.

Tell Them Who You Are is also a film made by a son trying to understand a highly successful father. This time, the filmmaking son is Mark Wexler and the famous father is legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler. The key difference between this film and My Architect is that the father in this film is still alive (very much alive), a fact which, of course, amounts to entirely different perspectives and dynamics. The reviews of this film are mixed. Some critics found it indulgent and insincere while others gave it high marks. I was fascinated by the dynamics and found the film meaningful in ways that transcended the two main characters, son and father.

(to be continued... hopefully)

Film in 2005: Part III of possibly more...

When I close my eyes can I still see scenes from The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). The year 1952, two young men on an old Norton sputtering into a misty-green South American horizon accompanied by Gustavo Santaolalla's breathtaking soundtrack. It's an example of some incredible filmmaking.

Metacritic, a great review site, has a collection of reviews here. NYT's A.O. Scott says it well: "Mr. Bernal's soulful, magnetic performance notwithstanding, the real star of the film is South America itself, revealed in the cinematographer Eric Gautier's misty green images as a land of jarring and enigmatic beauty."

Many of the reviews of Garden State (2004) seem to have a certain air of spite or schadenfreude to them, gleefully kicking sand in the face of an insolent upstart. As far as it all goes, I think Zach Braff should be commended. Existential: Yes. The Graduate reborn: No. That said, it was much better film than a lot of truly mediocre films I've seen reviewed too favorably. Natalie Portman did a great job. (And the soundtrack was the best pop soundtrack in recent years).

(to be continued... hopefully)

Film in 2005: Part II of possibly more...

Moving on to three films containing Owen Wilson...

As far as Wes Anderson fandom goes, I was late to the party, but better late than never. I finally got around to seeing Bottle Rocket (1996) this past year and absolutely loved it. If you're a Wes Anderson fan and you've never seen this, his first film, I know what you should be doing tonight.

2005 also had me watching Anderson's Life Aquatic, an experience which led to strange reactions. Drawing on my experiences and what I liked about Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums, I expected a different film. I left feeling a little unsatisfied and angry, but the more I reflected, the more it grew on me. Note: On the soundtrack, Seu Jorge's excellent Portuguese versions of David Bowie are worth a listen.

The last Owen Wilson film I saw in 2005 was Wedding Crashers, a film that made me laugh so hard my cheeks hurt. Many found 40-year-old Virgin funnier, but large sums of money accompanied by threats of corporal punishment would be required to get me to see 40 again. I found it crass, tiresome and painfully predictable.

Finally, a Wes Anderson factoid.

Kumar Pullana (b. 1919) was cast in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and Tennenbaums. Others may remember him as Gupta from Spielberg's The Terminal. According to his bio on IMDB, Kumar was discovered by Wes Anderson, and he is the "Former proprietor of the Cosmic Cup coffee shop on Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas where director Wes Anderson used to hang out."

(to be continued... hopefully)

Film in 2005: Part I of possibly more...

Note: I began writing on films I've seen in 2005 and the post became so long that I decided to break it up into parts and post pieces as I have time. As was the case with music, not all of these films were released in 2005.


Corporations, corporations, corporations. The new Walmart film would round out the list nicely, but I've yet to see it. This year I saw three documentaries critical of big corporations including Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The Corporation and The Yes Men (2003), all of which I consider worth seeing.

Enron is a fascinating and often shocking documentarian study of a corporation were things went wrong, very wrong. The Corporation takes a critical look at the social function of corporations and corporate ethics tracing the history of the corporation from its beginnings to the present day.

The Yes Men (2003) is a film about The Yes Men, a few activists who are hilarious and, regardless of one's politics, a good example of how much just how much mischief and mayhem a couple of intelligent people can engineer in service to their cause. (Margaret Mead was right.) If you're unfamiliar with them, check out their site. Their fake WTO site ( has a PageRank higher than the real WTO site (!

Corporations also play villainous roles in The Constant Gardener and Syriana. The Constant Gardener, was a good film, although I'm still left wondering what Ralph Fiennes' character actually did for a living. Syriana was a great film, but be forewarned, Syriana is, to say the least, a multithreaded story (some theater patrons were clearly confused). It is complex and full of rotating plotlines, but also cohesive and very well done.

If you limit yourself to one George Clooney film per year, I'd see Syriana before Good Night, and Good Luck. The latter was a good film, and it's true that David Strathairn's rendition of Edward R. Murrow rocked, but I think GN&GL was overpraised by reviewers who were hungry for the film's political and social commentary at a time when such commentary in the mainstream media seems to be lacking. Don't get me wrong, GN&GL was good, but--contrary to IMDB--I don't think it's a film of the caliber of All the President's Men. The latter is unquestionably a four star film, in spite of the fact that IMDB users have rated it 0.1 points lower than Good Night, and Good Luck.

Continuing on the corporate theme, the big corporation functions mostly as a backdrop in the film In Good Company starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson. Corporate takeover, clueless young executive (Grace) becomes boss of "old" guy (Quaid) and clueless young executive has a thing for "old" guy's daughter (Johansson). IGC was a much better film than I was expecting. About a Boy's Paul Weitz deserves a lot of credit for good writing and direction. Iron & Wine star on a soundtrack I enjoyed enough to add it to my 2005 music list.

(to be continued... hopefully)

Day of the Iguana

A shot taken on Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun. If you remember the film Against All Odds, it was the island to which Jeff Bridges chased Rachel Ward and steaminess ensued.

The cliffs at the tip of the island where this photo was taken were considerably more magical before the area was sadly transformed into the Garrafon "Eco Park," which judging from the web site must have been hammered pretty hard by Wilma.

Hacking a 2005 Toyota Corolla

A few months ago, fed up with my gas bills, I purchased a 2005 Corolla XRS. Overall, I have been extremely happy with the vehicle, but there's one thing about it that's been driving me crazy, and I've mentioned it before. It's the paternalistic #$#& beeping. It emits a relentess shrill beep whilst in reverse and more of the same when the passenger isn't buckled up (which I recommend, but it turns into annoying "alright already!" when the passenger is buckling up or has to unbuckle for some reason).

I spent some time searching the Internet looking for hacks. In various Toyota forums on the Net, numerous complaints have been made and countless frustrations voiced regarding the beeping. Profoundly irritating to me are the forum members who elicited responses such as "Hey, the beeping is there for your own good! Better annoyed than dead!" The wit and wisdom of folks impervious to the idea of individuals being able to buckle up without first being aurally violated.

The warranted solution really calls for a wire cutter or, better yet, wrapping a white-knuckled fist around a select wire and jerking a tricep while grunting a choice expletive. But! I did manage to find a hack to kill the passenger seat belt beep. As I recall, I finally got it to work with the following steps:

1. Set odometer to normal (not Trip A or Trip B).
2. Turned ignition off.
3. Ensured driver seat belt was unbuckled.
4. Turned ignition on (don't start).
5. Gymnastics: With left hand grabbed seat belt. With right, pressed and held trip clock reset.
6. Held trip clock down for around 15 seconds.
7. Buckled driver seat belt.
8. Unbuckled driver seat belt.
9. Odometer switched into edit mode.
10. Pressed trip clock until odomter indicated beep in OFF mode.
11. Turned ignition off.

Voila! No more annoying passenger beep.

I'm still looking for a hack to eliminate the beep that occurs when the vehicle is in reverse.

Friday, December 09, 2005

My first semi-reflective 2005 list...

The Grammy nominations are out, so it's soon time for the music industry's perennial toast to quantity. I don't feel I've listened to enough discs in 2005 to warrant a 10 best list; frankly as far as it all goes, I've been hard pressed to find many classic-discs-to-be this year. Given that, I'm making this a list of the best music I discovered in 2005, regardless of when it was actually released.

The Best CD of [those I discovered in] 2005

It's a three-way tie. Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake (1969), Bryter Later by Nick Drake (1970) and Pink Moon by Nick Drake (1972). I'm sure I've heard him before, but an appearance on the Garden State soundtrack and couple of appearances in commercials brought Mr. Drake back into the limelight.

Honorable mention: Careless Love by Madeleine Peyroux (2004), The Garden State Soundtrack (2004), In Good Company Soundtrack (2004), Riot on an Empty Street by Kings of Convenience (2004), Poetry & Aeroplanes by Teitur (2003), Anything Else But the Truth by The Honorary Title (2004), Jackinabox by Turin Brakes (2005), Two Way Monologue by Sondre Lerche (2004). Details by Frou Frou (2002), and Bem-Vinda Vontade by Mice Parade (2005), The Life Aquatic Soundtrack (2004), The Motorcycle Diaries soundtrack by Gustavo Santoalalla (2004).

Without putting too much work into it, coming up with a list of favorite songs [discovered in] the year 2005 was easier.

The Best Songs of [those I discovered in] 2005

Us by Regina Spektor (2004). Vocals.
Misread by Kings of Convenience (2004). Best intro ever.
If I Ever Feel Better by Phoenix (2000). Catchy thing sticks in my head.
Starman by Seu Jorge (2004). Portuguese Bowie.
Inside & Out by Feist (2005). Best Bee Gees remake ever.
Everybody Wants You by Josh Kelly (2003).
Shade of Shadow by Teitur (2003). A favorite from a good disc.
Breathe by Telepopmusik (2002). Cool, dreamy, dance.
Breathe (2AM) by Anna Nalick (2005).
Breathe In by Frou Frou (2002). Imogen Heap's Amazing voice.
Maybe it's Just Me by Butch Walker (2004). Good pop tune.
Track You Down by Sondre Lerche (2004). Bad translation, but I like it.
Good Day by the Click Five (2005). 80s pop reminder.
The Irish Keep Gate Crashing by The Thrills (2004). "I can smell your Catholic shame."
Jackinabox by Turin Brakes (2005). Great song from this year's release.
Last Clown by Turin Brakes (2005). Another good song from this year's release.
Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz (2005). Yup.
Novacaine for the Soul by the Eels (1996). Ancient song, don't know how I missed it.
Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie (2005). Another real 2005 song!
Miles from Monterey by West Indian Girl (2004). Excellent.
Swingset Chain by Loquat (2005). Recent addition to my fave list.
Pink Moon by Nick Drake (1972). How to choose from so many great songs?
Catch the Sun by Jamie Cullum (2005). Remake of Doves tune.
Number 1 by Goldfrapp (2005). A good disc I should have included on the best list.

2005 discs I still need to hear: Fiona Apple, Ryan Adams, Kate Bush, Sufjan Stevens, My Morning Jacket, Iron & Wine, Jamiroquai.

Discs the critics love, but I don't get it: White Stripes (my vote for the group most desperately in need of more members), Franz Ferdinand (who occasionally fool me into believing the Strokes are starting to experiment a little), Sleater Kinney, Kanye West

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

LU Decomposition in GPU

"We present a novel algorithm to solve dense linear systems using graphics processors (GPUs). We reduce matrix decomposition and row operations to a series of rasterization problems on the GPU architecure. These include new techniques for streaming index pairs, swapping rows and columns and parallelizing the computation to utilize multiple vertex and fragment processors. "


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mice Parade - Bem-Vinda Vontade

Last year, Googling my way through a cross section of computer science and philosophy, I stumbled onto a post on A. J. Ayer and a boo-hooray search engine at a blog titled The Research Notebook of a Beleaguered Hack by Carson Reynolds. I enjoyed the post and subscribed to the blog's RSS feed. He recently posted his favorite music from 2005, which led me to Bem-Vinda Vontade by Mice Parade, which I've found to be a very cool and interesting disc. It's worth a listen.

One of the things I love about subscribing to a music service is that I can click on recommendations such as this and listen freely... such an excellent way to discover new music.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Calamari Katamari

"Nir Adar is a New York based Food Stylist and Artist. Before coming to the US to begin this leg of his career 13 years ago, Nir worked as a chef and restaurant consultant, traveling the world following his passion for food. "

Strange, yet fascinating. Check out the art section of site Nir Adar.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Gap + Spike Jonze

Pardon Our Dust, a great new spot for The Gap directed by Spike Jonze.



Digicam Keychain

Here's a nice stocking stuffer. These miniature digital camera keychain fobs sell for around $20 and work better than I would have expected. Cheap! With 2MB they hold around twenty 640 x 480 color photos. The demosaic is done post-download by PC software that comes with the cam. Don't get me wrong, these devices aren't going to knock the D70 off the market, but... twenty bucks! Made in China, they're being marketed by various manufacturers. Ask Google for [digital camera keychain].

Computational Photography Link Roundup

Seems there's a fake-biography-free Wikipedia page on Computational Photography. Marc Levoy and Bennett Wilburn's page at Stanford contains links to their papers on Synthetic Aperture, Large Camera Arrays, Dual Photography and Dual Slice Photography. Ramesh Raskar's course page contains a links to courses currently offered and a good collection of links to papers, notes to his 2005 SIGGRAPH presentation slides and code for Graph Cuts, bilateral filtering and Gradient domain reconstruction. Alexei Efros' 15-463 course page at CMU. Frédo Durand's MIT 6.A44 course page includes a lot of nice slides in PPT & PDF.

Consumer Bloglash

Concurring Opinions offers an insightful piece on the recent consumer backlash against Sony and

"A few weeks ago, Sony BMG suffered a public relations nightmare sparked by a blogger for its use of hidden DRM software in people's computers. The latest company to face the wrath of the blogosphere is, an online merchant of cameras..."


Friday, December 02, 2005

Studio Espinoza

It's about time to hunt down a cool graphic design site and give it a plug. This time, thanks to Drawn!, it's the great work at Studio Espinoza. Check it out.


CG India

CG India has recently risen to the top in "Computer Graphics" at Technorati. It's a nice blog, and I'm sure I'll be linking to it in the future.


Silicon Valley Job Hopping and Innovation

"In Silicon Valley, Job Hopping Contributes to Innovation - New York Times : By VIRGINIA POSTREL: FOR four decades, through booms, busts and bubbles, Silicon Valley has maintained an amazingly innovative business environment. Companies and technologies rise and fall. Hot start-ups morph into giant corporations. Cutting-edge products become mature commodities. Business models change. Through it all, the area remains creative and resilient - and more successful than other technology centers, notably the Route 128 area around Boston."

(ht: Brad Delong)


Originally uploaded by metamerist.


There are a number of things regarding globalization that I've been waiting to hear someone say in this Leiter Reports post and the referenced PDF by Richard Freeman.

"This is almost certainly the largest and fastest growth in labor supply in all of human history. It is actually a remarkable testimony to the durability of our mixed capitalist system that it has not been more disruptive than it has been (at least so far). One can view this change as throwing us back into a situation that is *conceptually* (though not practically, things are too different) similar to the situation Marx was theorizing about in the mid 19th century, when the rural population was a huge "reserve army" whose availability helped to blunt wage growth. Capital owners have a huge pool of underemployed and underpaid labor to draw on, and this increases their power very significantly compared to labor. So what we are looking at is a huge shift in the relative bargaining power of capital vs. labor."


Killer Squirrels

Russian squirrel pack 'kills dog'

"Local people suggest hunger is driving squirrels to extremes. Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park, local media report."

BBC News

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On Fanaticism

I'm feeling a little irritated by what I see as a fanaticism that exists on both sides of the political spectrum. My thought for the day is a quote from a recommended book, Eric Hoffer's True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.

"The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not." - Eric Hoffer

(Here are some more Eric Hoffer quotes.)

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre
Originally uploaded by metamerist.