Monday, January 31, 2005

The Golden Mean

The Golden Mean . Philosophically, Golden Mean refers to the "middle path," the best path between excess and deficiency as expressed by Confucius, Buddha and Aristotle. Mathematically speaking, Golden Mean refers to 1.61803399; it's also known as the Golden Ratio, the Golden Section and the Divine Proportion. Both interest me.

If I were to enumerate a list of what I think are ills in American society, the list would include a contention that we're too prone to extremes. If left doesn't work, it seems the next attempt will not be steering for the center but rather madly to the right. If not up, how about straight down? Staight forward be damned! How about a balanced diet? Of course not, the solution is the elimination of carbs.

Although America has produced many who have flown to extremely high heights, I still think we could do better with a little more emphasis on balance. The most prominent Western philosopher to address the Golden Mean was Aristotle in Book II of the Nichomachean Ethics. I think those passages have deserved greater emphasis in our culture. One reason I'm noting this is for future reference. A number of instances of what I consider "going to extremes" come to mind, and hopefully I'll find the time to note them in the future.

Moving on to the mathematical Golden Mean (Golden Section) is a book titled Geometry of Design by Kimberly Elam, published 2001 by Princeton Architectural Press. It's a nicely illustrated little study of proportion in composition and the place where graphic design and geometry cross paths.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Merrill C. Berman

Merrill Berman owns one of the largest collections of graphic design artifacts. Here are links to an interview at typotheque and the online Merrill C. Berman collection.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Flickr Color Fields

Experimental color picker by Jim Bumgardner via kwc.

Zeno's pair o' docs...

Via Book Moot and a whole bunch of others, amazing news regarding the recovery of lost classics... The search for the lost library of Rome... "Even in our age of hyperbole, it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of what is at stake here: nothing less than the lost intellectual inheritance of western civilisation..."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

David Lanham

Check out the sketches and the nice layout at the site of David Lanham.

Gödel & Snow White

The article Gödel and Einstein: Friendship and Relativity from the Chronicle of Higher Education contained an interesting fact about Kurt Gödel. His favorite movie was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. An article on the friendship between Gödel and Einstein, this paragraph notes their disparate tastes:

"..Their tastes, however, remained distinct. Einstein, a violinist, could never bring his friend to subject himself to the likes of Beethoven and Mozart. Gödel, in turn, had no more success in dragging Einstein to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, his favorite movie. History, sadly, does not record which of the seven dwarfs was Gödel's favorite, but we do know why he favored fairy tales: "Only fables," he said, "present the world as it should be and as if it had meaning." (That meaning, of course, may be dark. It is not known whether Alan Turing acquired an affection for Snow White from Gödel when visiting the institute in the 1930s, but some have heard an echo of the dark side of Snow White in Turing's decision to end his life by eating a poisoned apple when, as a reward for his having broken the "Enigma" code of the German navy, the British government ordered him to receive hormone injections as a "cure" for his homosexuality.)..."

Saturday, January 22, 2005


A link in to Prime numbers, the zeta function and li piqued my curiousity. It turned out to be an interesting page by British mathematician Matthew Watkins devoted to the subjects listed in the title. It's the first time I've stumbled onto a discussion of Li on the Net, and I wouldn't have known anything about Li had I not first stumbled onto architect David Wade's Li: Dynamic Form in Nature shortly after its publication.

Wade's book is compendium of dynamic forms in nature. According to Wade, natural forms have long been studied in Chinese culture, and this study (perhaps I should say 'perspective') is referred to as "Li."

"Li reflect the order and pattern in Nature... but it is not pattern thought of as something dead, like a mosaic: it is dynamic pattern as embodied in all things living, and in human relationships, and in the highest human
values" -- Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China.

The book initially interested me because it seemed like a perfect little reference for pattern generation and texture synthesis, but it interests me perhaps even more on a philosophical level as it fits in with interests in questions mathematical reality and relationships between ideas and existence, abstractions and concretes, mathematics and nature, etc.

It's a great little book, well worth $10. It's part of the Wooden Books, and I noticed from Watkins' page that he too has published a little book in the series I think I'm going to have to get: Useful Mathematical and Physical Formulae.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

If you want to build a ship...

A favorite quote I once happened upon while perusing Paul Dourish's site...

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless mmensity of the sea. -- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Edward Tufte & Beautiful Evidence

How to Lie...

I've been using this blog as a personal public notepad of graphics related things (with an occasional comment here and there). I looked long and hard for a blog devoted to such items of interest, but I came up fairly empty-handed in my quest, so I decided to just take a note here and there subject to waxing and waning time and inclination. (I do recommend an RSS feed on the graphics tag at

I'm going to deviate from the occasional link-of-note post and make a book recommendation, a recommendation for an old favorite. The problem with making book recommendations is that there's always going to be someone who says "Yeah, well, duh!" somewhere, somehow, even if not in the space of comments somewhere out in the ether, I'm sure. (Not that I really have to worry too much about comments--anything outside the realms of snide remarks and spam will be quite welcome.)

In spite of the obligatory yeah-well-duh companions with book recommendations, there's always a first time for everyone with every book, and this post is meant for those who are unfamiliar with a little book titled "How to Lie with Statistics," which is a great short read, and it doesn't require anything near a degree in mathematics.

One reason I'm recommending this book is that I haven't seen it recommended very often (and certainly not enough), and I don't want great books to be forgotten. A late mentor of mine, a public policy professor, used it as one of the references in classes he taught. I also ran into it on Jim Blinn's page in a section titled "Really Good Books That Have Changed My Life." I can't think of seeing it reference any where else for some time.

It's an old book now, its 50th anniversary was last year. Under the guise of teaching you how to lie with statistics, author Darrell Huff does a wonderful job of showing how fact and figures can be misused and abused as they often are both intentionally and unintentionally. Time and time, again I've found myself speaking with well-educated adults who have fallen into some of the classic statistical traps described in the 142 pages of this book.

I realize that if this were a really decent review, I'd devote much more time and space to the actual contents of the book. The table of contents and excerpts are available at the Amazon link above. My chief concern is doing my part to raise awareness and currency, but I will give an example.

Once I attended a market research presentation. A major finding of the research was that 50% of a particular company's sales were made to corporate customers. This struck me as a surprisingly high number, so I asked how the number was determined. When it was revealed that the number was derived by analyzing returned registration cards, it was clear that the entire study relied on the highly questionable assumption that home users are as likely to fill out a software registration card as corporations with organized I.T. departments.

Getting a statistically valid sample is tricky business. It's often very hard to do, and I've frequently seen some egregious errors made by people who should know better. Huff opens with an example that includes a number of potential sampling errors factoring into the formulation of a reported average salary for Harvard graduates; he notes how salaries tend to be overreported, the most prosperous people are often the easiest to track down, etc.

In closing, I'd like to say that even though my old mentor used it as a reference for college coursework, I think this book is accessible enough for high school students--if not generally, at least in advanced placement classes. If you're a high school teacher in an appropriate discipline, I feel you could do your students a great service by using it as a reference given the extent to which facts and figures are presented in the mainstream media. We need critical thinkers in today's society, perhaps more now than ever before.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Picasa 2.0 released

Picasa 2.0 (via BoingBoing).

Sunday, January 16, 2005

ALE & Irani-Peleg Rendering

Graphic Design from the 1920's & 1930's

Travel related ephemera via On a related note, the Smithsonian's Czech Book Covers from the 1920's & 1930's (via Languor Management). Also, some classic deco railway work here.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Steve's Computer Graphics Index

Steve Hollasch has been around on the web for quite a while, and he has a nice collection of graphics links on his Steve's Computer Graphics Index page.

Geo-tagging and Flickr

Via Scoble, this page.

Flash Experiments

Interesting links to fun with Flash:

Jared Tarbel
Andre Michelle
(and, of course, Ze Frank)

Also, Make your own snowflake.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Graphics Papers Links

Two Wrongs

According to Forbes a Microsoft executive says:

"We will have a stand-alone antivirus product that is one of the things you can buy from Microsoft, but we're not announcing anything today," said Rich Kaplan, vice president for Microsoft's security business and technology unit.

All this recent business about Microsoft and antivirus software leads me to only one thought: abstracted away from reality. The antivirus software market exists because Microsoft hasn't created an operating system that's sufficiently secure and thereby immune to so many problems related to viruses, trojans, spyware and the like (the security issues have known and addressed for decades).

1. Your product doesn't do what it should. 2. This creates a new market for companies (Norton, McAfee, et al) who help clean up the mess resulting from your product not doing what it should. 3. Now you're going to jump in and compete in this market and outdo the companies who create products that exist because your product doesn't do what it should?

I'm not sure what's next. Maybe Gillette will start marketing dull razors so they can start selling bandages.

Friday, January 07, 2005

4096 Color Wheel Version 2.1

Game Theory Links

Via, MIT's OpenCourseWare and GameTheory.Net

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Gallery of Computation

Via Geomblog, this Gallery of Computation is very cool.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Snow on the Mountain