Tuesday, January 31, 2006

More Parasitic Mind Control

The story of the mind-controlling hairworm and The Loom article about the effects of toxoplasmosis on rats leaves me looking for more examples. In the process of Googling, I found this article from an '01 issue of the Journal of Arachnology. Get this, there's a parasitic wasp in Costa Rica that preys on spiders and sufficiently alters the physiology (mind, whatever) of the host spider to the extent that it causes it to spin special, radically different and hithertofore unspun webs for the sake of the wasp larvae...


William G. Eberhard: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Escuela deBiologı´a, Universidad de Costa Rica, Ciudad Universitaria, Costa Rica. 2001. The Journal of Arachnology 29:354–366

"On the evening that it will kill its host, the orb-weaving spider Plesiometa argyra, thelarva of the ichneumonid wasp Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga induces the spider to perform highly stereotypedconstruction behavior and build an otherwise unique ‘‘cocoon web’’ that is particularly well designed to support the wasp larva’s cocoon."


(Ichneumonidae = Just plain evil)

How MAPI beat VIM

I like reading Tom Evslin's blog, Fractals of Change. He's experienced and smart and often funny too. Lately, he's offered an interesting post on the history of MAPI in which he makes an important point regarding the importance of technological infrastructure and the importance of APIS.

"I was running the Microsoft Mail group when we developed MAPI and defeated VIM. So you can blame me (partly) if you hate your Exchange Server or your Outlook client."


Monday, January 30, 2006


Lately, I've seen the following repeatedly bookmarked in Open Source with Linux and Windows downloads. There are numerous examples of the algorithm in action on the site.

"GREYCSTORATION is an image regularization algorithm which processes an image by locally removing small variations of pixel intensities while preserving significant global image features, such as sharp edges and corners. The most direct application of image regularization is denoising. By extension, it can also be used to inpaint or resize images."


Miniaturize Effect

Lately, there's been a lot of buzz about the "tilt-shift" photography of Olivo Barbieri. Resynthesizer author Paul Harrison discusses simulation of the technique using gradients as blur maps.


Microsoft buys Seadragon

Last July, I made a little post about Seadragon. Now, via Robert Scoble, it looks like Microsoft is buying Seadragon. Here's a Seattle Times article with more details. Congrats to the Seadragon folks!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ye Olde Curiosity Link Shop

Various linkage...

1. Beautiful photos of China
2. The Many Faces of Cosplay (people dressing up for anime convention).
3. Simplest DIY motor demo.
4. Margin of Majority (Republican dominance in the South).
5. Quit Complaining About Your Job (hilarious picture collection).
6. 1946 Encyclopedia Britannica film on democracy and despotism.
7. Brad DeLong: How Evil Is Google?

(credits: 1. John Nack, 2. Antipixel, 3. Brainwagon, 4. The Reading Experience, 5. 3 Quarks Daily, 6. Boing Boing, 7. Brad Delong)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Disney buys Pixar

"Walt Disney announced Tuesday that it's paying $7.4 billion in stock to acquire Pixar Animation Studios--a deal that puts Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs on Disney's board of directors."


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Summer in Corniglia

To Build a Fire...

KWC keeps me up-to-date with Mythbusters. His latest post notes the results of Mythbusters investigation of starting fires without matches. How does one start a fire with a chocolate bar and a soda can? Google led me to an interesting series of articles on How to build a fire with water, ice, a soda can and a chocolate bar, stones, broken lightbulbs, spoons, etc.

The Return of the Puppet Masters

Mind-controlling parasites have traditionally been found in works of science fiction. Making the rounds not too long ago was an article on the Nematomorph hairworm, a parasitic worm that turns grasshoppers into suicide machines. The following Loom article by Carl Zimmer raises new disturbing questions in this area:

"Are brain parasites altering the personalities of three billion people? The
question emerged a few years ago, and it shows no signs of going away.

"I first encountered this idea while working on my book
Parasite Rex. I was
investigating the remarkable ability parasites have to manipulate the behavior
of their hosts. The lancet fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum, for example, forces
its ant host to clamp itself to the tip of grass blades, where a grazing mammal
might eat it. It's in the fluke's interest to get eaten, because only by getting
into the gut of a sheep or some other grazer can it complete its life cycle.
Another fluke, Euhaplorchis californiensis, causes infected fish to shimmy and
jump, greatly increasing the chance that wading birds will grab them.

continued here

(via the excellent 3 Quarks Daily)

Yet Another Very Questionable Genius Test

Here's another one of those very questionable genius tests making the rounds.


"According to MENSA, if you get 19 + of these, you are a 'genius'. Only 2 MENSA members achieved full marks. See how well you do."

Sure thing.

Ironically, the genius test doesn't seem to score questions 24 & 32 correctly.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Adjectives, Subjects & Objects

The word random has been with us a long time. According to OED etymology, it was originally a term used by soldiers to mean forcefully as opposed to carefully. If a thing was thrown forcefully, the result was unpredictable.

People today often describe a thing as random, almost as if randomness is a property of the thing. When you think about it, the meaning of random hinges on deeper philosophical puzzles, questions of physical determinism and such.

In a purely deterministic universe, everything down to tiniest particle would follow a determined course. In such a universe, the word random would express properties of observers and their abilities to make accurate predictions more than it would express an inherent property of things observed.

Another universe might be quintessentially random to its core (although I'm not sure what that exactly that would mean), and in it, the word random could truly be a property of the observed rather than the observer.

Other words getting stuck in my craw lately for similar reasons are complex and complexity. These words are being bandied about a lot as if they're universals, as if there's some absolute standard of complexity stuffed away in the basement of a French university.

Granted, it's a useful term in the relative sense, but seeing the universe as complex and making Paleyesque inferences based on such observations seems to lead to a whole lot of post hoc reasoning.

If an earthworm could think at all, I imagine it would find a bottle opener complex. Or, perhaps somewhere in the universe there's greater intelligence that finds human complexities simplistic. When we refer to a thing as complex, we may be saying more about ourselves than are about the object of wonder.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Konica Minolta getting out of camera business

"Konica Minolta will stop making cameras and most photo-related products in favor of more profitable areas like color copiers and optical devices, it announced Thursday."

more at Red Herring


Stumbled onto a Math Geek shop I haven't seen before:

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cool New Honda Ad

Here's a link to the excellent new Honda spot done by Wieden + Kennedy, London. All of the sounds--from wind to rain to engines to windshield wipers--are the work of a choir. Very well done! Very cool! Nice work!

(via: The Big Picture: Essays & Effluvia)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Accelerator: Microsoft GPGPU

via, a new Microsoft paper on GPGPU:

"GPUs are difficult to program for general-purpose uses. Programmers must learn graphics APIs and convert their applications to use graphics pipeline operations. We describe Accelerator, a system that simplifies the programming of GPUs for general-purpose uses. Accelerator provides a high-level data-parallel programming model as a library that is available from a conventional imperative programming language. The library translates the data-parallel operations on-the-fly to optimized GPU pixel shader code and API calls. We describe the compilation techniques used to produce optimized pixel shader code. We demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach by providing results for a set of compute-intensive benchmarks drawn from image processing and computer vision. The speeds of the Accelerator versions of the benchmarks are typically within 50\% of the speeds of hand-written pixel shader code. Some benchmarks significantly outperform C versions running on a CPU: they are up to 18 times faster than C code running on a CPU."


Monday, January 16, 2006

Wile E. Coyote Eat Your Heart Out

I haven't seen magnets this strong since the last time I watched the Road Runner cartoon.

Large metal objects sucked into MRIs.

(via BrainWagon)

Mirror Neurons

Cells That Read Minds. This NYT article on mirror neurons is not only interesting from a scientific perspective; it's interesting from a philosophical perspective as well.

"Social emotions like guilt, shame, pride, embarrassment, disgust and lust are based on a uniquely human mirror neuron system found in a part of the brain called the insula, Dr. Keysers said. In a study not yet published, he found that when people watched a hand go forward to caress someone and then saw another hand push it away rudely, the insula registered the social pain of rejection. Humiliation appears to be mapped in the brain by the same mechanisms that encode real physical pain, he said."


In Praise of Slow Design

Great little article by Design Observer's Michael Bierut on the history of the design of The New Yorker:

"I got what I wanted for Christmas: The Complete New Yorker, which, as you probably know, is a digital archive of every issue of the weekly magazine since its first on February 21, 1925 on eight DVDs: every cover, every page, every story, every cartoon, every ad. I've been going through it compulsively ever since. I've read the work of Dorothy Parker, J. D. Salinger, Robert Benchley, Pauline Kael, Robert Caro and Raymond Carver as subscribers first did; wallowed in the nightclub listings that conjure a lost world where "there's Billie Holiday to listen to" at the Downbeat on 52nd; and gaped at covers, funny and tragic, by Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, Art Spiegelman and Maira Kalman. From a journalistic, literary and historical point of view, the New Yorker archive is endlessly fascinating. "


Saturday, January 14, 2006

CD-Rs May Last Only Two Years

Technology Review: "For anyone who's spent an inordinate amount of time burning music and photos CDs, here is a disturbing story from the IDG News Service. Turns out those CD-Rs and CD-RW that were supposed to last a lifetime...may only accomplish that if you live for two years."


Bayes rules

The 1/5/2006 edition of The Economist had an article on Bayesian reasoning, Bayes rules:

"Indeed, one of the most impressive things Dr Griffiths and Dr Tenenbaum have shown is the range of distributions the mind can cope with. Besides Erlang, they tested people with examples of normal distributions, power-law distributions and, in the case of baking cakes, a complex and irregular distribution. They found that people could cope equally well with all of them, cakes included. Indeed, they are so confident of their method that they think it could be reversed in those cases where the shape of a distribution in the real world is still a matter of debate."

I found the link via a post at Haiku Factory which also links to commentary at another blog I enjoy, Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science.

Electronic Imaging 2006

The IS&T/SPIE 18th annual symposium on Electronic Imaging 2006 is held this week (1/15 - 1/19) in San Jose. If you're like me, not going to be there but still curious, here's a link to their 85-page program.

BusinessWeek: "Math Will Rock Your World"

Business Week has an interesting article on the new math entrepreneurs:

"A generation ago, quants turned finance upside down. Now they're mapping out ad campaigns and building new businesses from mountains of personal data..."



Bunnies do Star Wars

Angry Alien has added several 30 second bunny reënactments since I last visited. They're up to 16 and counting, now including: The Big Chill, Highlander, Rocky Horror, Scream, Star Wars and War of the Worlds.


Lake Como

Nikon to Stop Making Most Film Cameras

Forgot to post a link to this.

"TOKYO, Thursday, Jan. 12 - The Nikon Corporation, the Japanese camera maker, said Thursday that it would stop making most of its film cameras and lenses in order to focus on digital cameras."


Top Scientific Visualization Problems

While perusing sites, I found this paper by Dr. Christopher R Johnson at University of Utah:

"Scientific visualization as currently understood and practiced is still a relatively new discipline. As a result, we visualization researchers are not necessarily accustomed to undertaking the sorts of self-examinations that other scientists routinely undergo in relation to their work. Yet if we are to create a disciplinary culture focused on matters of real scientific importance and committed to real progress, it is essential that we ask ourselves hard questions on an ongoing basis. What are the most important research issues facing us? What underlying assumptions need to be challenged and perhaps abandoned? What practices need to be reviewed? In this article, I attempt to start a discussion of these issues by proposing a list of top research problems and issues in scientific visualization."


Video: Imogen Heap on Letterman

ArjanWrites posts links to Imogen Heap on Letterman. She's currently selling out a short tour in the U.S. Looks like Portland (1/28) and Seattle (1/29) are the only shows left that haven't sold out.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Markov Pie

Markov Chain Visualization

A Markov Chain is a finite state machine with sets of probabilities associated with each transition. They're often visualized with a directed graph where edge transitions are labeled with the associated probabilities.

I'm not sure if I should be ashamed to admit it, but I love pie charts. I think they're really effective means of conveying proportions and composition. I once suggested putting a pie chart in an ANOVA report to show SS distribution, and I distinctly remember the resident statistical advisor, a department chair at a big university, initial bristling at the thought, because I think he felt pie charts should be left to USA Today. Never had the time to do it, but after my defense he warmed up to the idea.

So, anyhow, the thought of the day is to render Markov Chains with states represented in the form of pie charts. I've intentionally left the transitional probabilities off the labels in an attempt to defend the utility of the pies. The size of the slice represents the size of the transitional proability.

graphical models / probabilistic networks: 1, 2, 3, 4

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Pseudonym: A Great American Tradition

"During the eighteenth century, it was common for writers and journalists to use pseudonyms, or false names, when they created newspaper articles and letters to the editor. Franklin used this convention extensively throughout his life, sometimes to express an idea that might have been considered slanderous or even illegal by the authorities; other times to present two sides of an issue, much like the point-counterpoint style of journalism used today."


(From that I infer that Mr. Franklin probably even wrote things some people found annoying.)

The Color Game

From time to time, I sweep Ken Perlin's site and check out his Java applets. I hadn't seen this one before. A colored ball bounces below a ring. Click on the colored balls at the bottom to change the color of the bouncing ball. When the color of the ball matches the color of the ring, you get a point. There's something inexplicably fun about it.


Charles Manson looks like Charles Manson

You can sign up for free at and check out their new face recognition technology. One feature will match your mug with their celebrity database so you can find out which celebrity you most resemble (according to their algorithms).

Because image processing is a big chunk of my job and I was feeling devious, I decided to find out which celebrity looks most like Charles Manson. And the answer is: Charles Manson looks most like Charles Manson (the little box at the left is the match).

So the technology certainly worked well with a dead match, but I'm a little surprised he is in the database. Telling potential customers they look like Charles Manson isn't the greatest sales pitch. I've surmised I don't look like Charles Manson. With a beard, I matched Demi Moore. Thankfully my masculinity was rescued by a clean-shaven shot matching Oscar Niemeyer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Intel Macs

I've seen a number of comments related to the new Intel-based Macs showcased at MacWorld. Most intruiging to me is notion of being able to write optimized code that runs on Macs and Windows, especially SSE, SSE2 and beyond (a subject to which I'm going to be devoting more thought). My hat goes off to Apple for a lot of good developer documentation in this area (1, 2, 3, etc.).

Monday, January 09, 2006

Adobe Lightroom

A lot is being said about Adobe's new digital photograph application, Lightroom. I'm going to say something different--that I'm happy to see several Minnesoooootan engineers involved in the creation of a new Adobe application (congratulations!).

Over the past 10 years, it seems this town has become sort of an accidental Silicon Prairie. The short and non-specific story goes something like this.

In the mid 1990s, circumstances drew an Adobe employee back here. This led to the creation of a local development office. Later, he and some other folks left that office and started a new company which was subsequently acquired by Macromedia.

Meanwhile, across town, an NWA pilot created Jasc Software and Paint Shop Pro, which was acquired last year by Corel.

Adobe, Macromedia, Jasc, Corel. Maybe Apple and Microsoft can get on the stick and follow suit. :-)

Egg + Face

I don't believe I've ever linked to Crooked Timber for a technology scoop. (Kudos to Kieran Healy!) The voice track for the following demos comes from Microsoft's CES demos of Windows Vista. The video track, I presume, comes from Mac afficionados.

"So now Windows users can see what exciting, innovative, ground-breaking features are coming in the areas of the user interface, and smart search technologies."

Too funny!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

What is Computer Science?

A little over a week ago, Joel Spolsky posted an essay, The Perils of Java Schools. For the most part, I think he hits his marks well with this one, especially when he says, "But what about the CS mission of CS departments? They're not vocational schools!" (Suresh at Geomblog posted similar thoughts last month.)

I'm noting this mostly because it's a question I find interesting. Maybe it's a topic to which I need to devote some of my own words. Maybe it's a topic that will simply be a recurring theme for linkage around here.

The original impetus behind this post, however, was Joel's collection of links in the following paragraph:

"The other hard course for many young CS students was the course where you learned functional programming, including recursive programming. MIT set the bar very high for these courses, creating a required course (6.001) and a textbook (Abelson & Sussman's Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs) which were used at dozens or even hundreds of top CS schools as the de facto introduction to computer science. (You can, and should, watch an older version of the lectures online.)"

I didn't know the Abelson and Sussman lectures were available online. In the words of Bill and Ted, "Excellent!" Also, if you follow the links Structure and Interpretation... is available online as well.

Richard Hamming

Found a very interesting talk by Richard Hamming on Paul Graham's site:

"The title of my talk is, ``You and Your Research.'' It is not about managing research, it is about how you individually do your research. I could give a talk on the other subject-- but it's not, it's about you. I'm not talking about ordinary run-of-the-mill research; I'm talking about great research. And for the sake of describing great research I'll occasionally say Nobel-Prize type of work. It doesn't have to gain the Nobel Prize, but I mean those kinds of things which we perceive are significant things. Relativity, if you want, Shannon's information theory, any number of outstanding theories-- that's the kind of thing I'm talking about." continued

Reflections on a Super Ball

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Turn, Turn, Turn

It was time for a blog makeover... A little photo editing... A little CSS tinkering here and there... Presto! There it is.

Things have been a bit quiet around this place. I don't watch television frequently(other than The Daily Show), and when I do it's almost always a DVD (since I've developed an apparently horrible and incurable tolerance for commercials. Life's too short).

Fortunately or unfortunately, I decided to give the Lost: The First Season a spin, and I find it hard to believe opiates could be more addictive.

It's been keeping me busy. It's hard to walk away from, and very well done!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

ZeFrank's Alphabet

Typographic hijinx from ZeFrank.




When you paint on the Retrievr's little canvas (I made the yellow splotch above), "matching" Flickr images appear on the right. Thanks to ResearchBuzz for this one. It's reasonably fast, and it's interesting to see what shows up in response to one's doodling.


What's that Stuff?

I stumbled onto an interesting collection of articles titled What's that Stuff? from Chemical & Engineering News published by the American Chemical Society. Items covered include ice cream, silly putty, monosodium glutamate, kitty litter, etc. I didn't find an index on the ACS site, but the following Goggle search should do the trick: site:

Monday, January 02, 2006

Snow on the Mountain

Spirit Mountain, Duluth

The Joy of Exclusionary Keywords

I left a comment over at 0xDE (anonymous, I couldn't figure out how to get the attribution to work). The basic problem discussed in his post is the declining usefulness of Google due to the burgeoning number of sites selling stuff. More and more, it seems every search is returning a sales pitch.

Searching for me is becoming a fine art. There are right ways and wrong ways to do it. For example, if you do an unqualified search for X and cancer, naturally, you're going to find the web page of some yahoo claiming X causes cancer.

When I search for most information, a good proportion of which amounts to professional research, I tend to append "" to Google searches which restricts the search primarily to colleges and universities. Unfortunately, great institutions such as Cambridge, Oxford ( sites) don't make the cut. I may just create a special search page to fix this problem.

My comment over at 0xDE, however, notes the joy of using exclusionary search terms. If you prepend a minus sign to a term, it will be excluded from the search. I suggested using -price or -order since most sites selling things want money (although, in retrospect, order is a pretty general term).

Therein lies the challenge of the day...

What's the best exclusionary Google keyword to generally filter out peddlers?

Dangerous Ideas

Answers to the 2006 Edge question have been published. Last year, the question was What do you believe that you can't prove? This year, thinkers respond to Steven Pinker's submission: What is your most dangerous idea?


Finding Needles in Haystacks

ZDNet article on work at CWRU by Romani Pilla:

"Finding useful information in oceans of data is an increasingly complex problem in many scientific areas. This is why researchers from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) have created new statistical techniques to isolate useful signals buried in large datasets coming from particle physics experiments, such as the ones run in a particle collider."