Monday, July 31, 2006

Contradictory Proverbs

Look before you leap.
He who hesitates is lost.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Don't beat your head against a stone wall.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Out of sight, out of mind.

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
Don't cross the bridge until you come to it.

continued here

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Blue Nile - Peace at Last

Another You Tube find. As a longtime time fan of Scotland's The Blue Nile, I enjoyed this 1996 promo for Peace at Last.


A Brief History of the User Interface

This inspires me to write this...

A Brief History of the User Interface

In the beginning were mainframes and teletypes, the question mark prompt. Then came Commodore, Apple, Atari with screens 40 characters wide. Next, IBM, DOS and screens 80 characters wide. As far as user interface guideliness went, it was anarchy and everyone did everything differently. The Mac arrived, and with it came standardization. Hooray! The File and Edit menus are all the same in every application! Inspiration at Microsoft brought Windows.

The feature wars came and bloated the menus of applications beyond all comprehensible boundaries. In the aftermath, the only thing you could find were the File and Edit menus (with new and improved disappearing items designed to flummox Memory Game alumni and other freaks making mnemonic associations with spatial positioning). Customization became the hot new ticket, giving users the freedom to "unstandardize" their user interfaces in any way imaginable.

Experts continued to insist on standardization--at the same time reminding us that mature products diversify and succeed based on factors that are less technical and more emotional. And now things seem to be diverging more and more.

In the words of the eminent philosophers collectively known as Ratt...

Round and Round


Friday, July 28, 2006

You Tube Addiction

Wish I had time to whip up some snappy comments for the horrendously campy stuff, but here goes...

The Monkees (1966-1968), The Partridge Family (1970-1974), The Waltons (1972-1981), Sigmund and the Seamonsters (1973), Hong Kong Phooey (1974), The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978), Land of the Lost (1974-1977), Little House on the Prairie (1974-1983), The Ghost Busters (1975 w/Forrest Tucker & Larry Storch), Far Out Space Nuts (1975-1976), Electra Woman & Dyna Girl (1976), Ark II (1976-1979), The Bionic Woman (1976-1978), Quincy M.E. (1976-1983), The Muppet Show (1976-1981), Love Boat (1977-1986), Bigfoot & Wild Boy (1977), Fantasy Island (1978-1984), The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982), Bosom Buddies (1980-1982), Magnum P.I. (1980-1988), The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983), Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), Square Pegs (1982-1983), Family Ties (1982-1989), Cheers (1982-1993), Wonder Years (1988-1993), Max Headroom (1987), Twin Peaks (1990-1991), Get a Life (1990-1992)...

The days of Lorimar...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What You Think You Know

In March, I posted a favorite Richard Feynman story.

Richard Feynman was once asked by a younger colleague: "Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics." Feynman answered: "I'll prepare a freshman lecture on it." Feynman came back a few days later and said: "I couldn't do it. I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don't really understand it."

In my own life this insight continues to ring true. It's easy for me to believe I understand something when I really don't. Often there are all sorts of holes and cracks in my knowledge that are imperceptible to me. There's often a gap between what I know and what I think I know.

Writing is the ultimate knowledge debugger.

When I want to check my understanding of newly acquired knowledge, I like to sit down and try to write about it. When my understanding is good, lucid words flow relatively freely; but when there are holes and cracks, the writing gets challenging and the holes and cracks become quite apparent.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of this sort of writing.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Logarithmic Image Transformation

Finally, a graphics post... :)

Abstract : An image transformation method, first used by the artist M.C. Escher, and described by Lenstra et al. is generalized for use in a graphics program.

An interesting little paper: link

Lightroom for Windows in Beta

This week Adobe released a Lightroom Beta for Windows.

Congrats to Tim, Brian and the rest of the crew.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Memories of Memoirs

The other day, Nicholas Carr posted "The long tail of unwatched DVDs" in response to a WSJ article on how we Netflix movies we never watch. Mr. Carr calls this phenomenon the "Memoirs of a Geisha effect," noting his experiences with renting but not watching the film.

Here's a snapshot of my Netflix queue.

If you can't read it, the third entry is Memoirs of a Geisha, shipped 04/16/06. Haven't watched it. Haven't returned it.

Damn, he's good! :)

"And They Keeping Changing Their Story"

Last week in California, I stumbled upon a person in a monkey suit and a street corner preacher in a baseball cap exposing "The Great Lie" of evolution with an illustration that appeared to be lifted from a 70s Jack Chick tract.

The preacher trotted out old, alleged errors made by scientists before levying a final supposedly damning criticism of scientists: "And they keep changing their story!"

This is representative of a misconception popular among fundamentalists. Fundamentalists begin with an unalterable book and then proceed to reconcile experience with it. Science is the opposite. Science begins with experience and then proceeds with the creation of a book.

Unlike the book of the fundamentalist, the book of science is alterable. When there's a conflict between experience and the book of science, the book of science is updated to better reflect what is known.

The discovery of errors and new experiences is not heresy to a scientist; nor is it a sign of repeated failure. For the scientist, it's an opportunity for improvement, and scientists tend to find such discoveries exciting rather than disconcerting.

Coincidentally, while I was in L.A., I visited the Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits. One of the exhibits included this plaque noting "Each new fact may require us to completely restructure our previous concepts."

There's nothing wrong with science changing its story. That's how science works, and this is by design. If it's impossible to change the story when the facts say otherwise, it's not science.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Taken last week at the Los Angeles Farmers Market.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The More Things Change...

Pompeiian Panel

A walk through the ruins of Pompeii reinforces one's sense of humanity. Before Vesuvius rained fire and ash down on the city in 79 A.D., these people loved, cried, laughed, worried, lived and died just as we do. Like the Greeks before them, they left behind great thoughts and great works of art without which our civilization wouldn't be the same.

Today we have shinier toys, more complicated toys, but they're merely means to ends in the satisfaction of human needs and desires that haven't changed over millenia. We talk--face-to-face, phone-to-phone, email-to-email, IM-to-IM--but whatever the technology it's just a means of facilitating the human experience.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Buffett, Inconvenient Truth, Prada

Over the weekend I saw An Inconvenient Truth and The Devil Wears Prada. Al Gore's sobering film on global warming is highly recommended. As far as Prada goes, good reviews and promised satire lured me. It's true Meryl Streep is incredible. At this point, I'm hard-pressed to think of a role in which she wouldn't be incredible. She certainly bumped the film up a star, but I don't find it starry enough for recommendation.

Recently billionaire geniuses Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced their intentions to give the bulk of their fortunes back to society in the form of charity. Said Buffett: "I believe in equality of opportunity...They should not inherit my position in society, based on the womb that they were born from." Meanwhile, other geniuses are still desperately trying to repeal estate taxes.

Lastly, a few song recommendations:
Zero 7 - You're My Flame
Kyle Riabko - What Did I Get Myself Into
Alexi Murdoch - Breathe

Saturday, July 01, 2006



Mencken on Nietzsche on Greece

My brother once had a Border Collie that loved doing tricks in exchange for praise or treats. She knew a couple dozen tricks; her repertoire even included whispering. If not for summer sausage this is the familiar that-smart-dog-knows-lots-of-tricks story. Summer sausage was her favorite treat. Even when it was cold she was nuts about it, but we found that when we microwaved to the point of warm-and-juicy, the smell of it alone sent her over the edge--into excited, apoplectic fits in which she attempted to simultaneously do every trick in her book--if you're happy and you know it, do all twenty-three. (I pause with hesitation at the thought of the Google searches that will be directed to that sentence.)

My intention was to say that all more succinctly. Anyhow, this week is a much needed breather for me, and I'm feeling a bit like the dog eager to do twenty-three things at once. I stumbled onto an online version of H.L. Mencken's, The Philosophy of Nietzsche. Because I'm fan of Mencken's with an interest in Nietzsche, it kept me busy this morning. Given that The Golden Mean is also a theme with me, I especially enjoyed this commentary on Nietzsche's view of Greek culture perpetually swaying between Apollonian and Dionysian and its quest for balance.

"Thus the Greeks swayed from one god to the other. During Apollo's periods of ascendancy they were contemplative and imaginative, and man, to them, seemed to reach his loftiest heights when he was most the historian. But when Dionysus was their best-beloved, they bubbled over with the joy of life, and man seemed, not an historian, but a maker of history - not an artist, but a work of art. In the end, they verged toward a safe middle ground and began to weigh, with cool and calm, the ideas represented by the two gods. When they had done so, they came to the conclusion that it was not well to give themselves unreservedly to either. To attain the highest happiness, they decided, humanity required a dash of both. There was need in the world for dionysians, to give vitality an outlet and life a purpose, and there was need, too, for apollonians, to build life's monuments and read its lessons. They found that true civilization meant a constant conflict between the two - between the dreamer and the man of action, between the artist who builds temples and the soldier who burns them down, between the priest and policeman who insist upon the permanence of laws and customs as they are and the criminal and reformer and conqueror who insist that they be changed."

Bela Julesz

Not too long ago, I began pondering images containing random noise and the perception of order (1, 2, 3, 4). Yesterday, while perusing a Markov Chain Monte Carlo tutorial from ICCV05, I discovered a fellow named Bela Julesz was a pioneer in researching perception, texture and random patterns. In fact, Julesz invented the random dot stereogram. Here's a clip from another interesting article on Julesz at PubMed Central:

"Bela was a fount of ideas, each building on the prior's advance. His later passions were explorations of texture and attention, notably with Jonathan Victor and Dov Sagi. Bela's appealing hypothesis that textons (putative elements of textures) are represented at a cellular level is now questionable (Julesz et al. 1978). Bela was groping for an overarching computational theory for the representation of random geometry, but none was to be had. Nonetheless, the texton elements served useful duty in the demonstration that there were two stages to early vision—an effortless phase preceding attention and a guided identification phase (Sagi and Julesz 1985). Many contemporary laboratories examining vision, studying either perception or the activity of neurons, now incorporate designed, complicated, yet highly controlled stimuli that have evolved (knowingly or not) from Bela's original forays in the 1960s and 1970s. His continuing impact was recognized by his election to the National Academy of Science in 1987."