Saturday, July 29, 2006

Primary Colors

gray, white and black
(photo by Kirby Urner)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Screen Credits

In mixing programming with telecasting, we're able to code up objects that display themselves on television, by scrolling names and job titles for example, such as at the end, or even beginning, of a segment.

We'd like to go further in this direction, as the game people already have, so that our library of reusable video objects (dynamic, not static screen widgets, and with many of them read only, in terms of final output) naturally grows within the context of various shows (like the reusable movie sets building up in Morocco).

I'm pondering the problem of internationalizing screen credits. A local credits object might pull from the Irish spelling of the names, while displaying unicode alternatives in parentheses (Arabic, Farsi, Japanese, Hebrew, Greek...).

Then, in each of those locales, the primary language spelling (usually phonetic, as in Arabic), followed by the Chinese ideographs or whatever. This would look better than trying to caption credits, which often move by rather quickly.

We could also leave it more up to the actor or grip: which spelling would you favor, in this Middle Eastern locale? Some have a high profile mark or glyph they'd like shown (like a company logo).

My name in Cyrillic? I'd rather see the whole of Synergetics in that alphabet, something fun for my bookshelf -- I could get an in-cyrillic credit for one of the on-line mirrors (job title).

These dynamic spelling conventions for job titles, crew members, would require a player to have a more finely ground idea of locale than most DVD players currently.

My model also included over-the-net lookup, of some of the info, but only because the video itself was coming by that vehicle.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Math Makeover Ad

So, does your school teach this?


So, maybe it's high time you
Question Authority?

(animated gif brought to you by the Fuller School)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Civilian Technology

Hexa-Pent (1974)
U.S. PATENT - 3,810,336

From Synchronofile by Trevor Blake:

The Geodesic Hexa-Pent is called a Geodesic Pentagon and Hexagon Structure in patent 3,810,336 (14 May 1974). The patent was granted to Shoji Sadao and assigned to Fuller & Sadao, Inc. Shoji Sadao was a former student of Fullers. Sadao was involved in the creation of the icosohedral Dymaxion Map (known as the Raleigh projection) and in the creation of the Expo ‘67 dome in Montreal. In Inventions, Fuller claims that the Hexa-Pent dome was developed by Sadao and jointly named by Sadao and Fuller. The Hexa-Pent dome is preceded by patent 3,114,176 of Alvin E. Miller (17 December 1963). The Hexa-Pent dome was featured in the May 1972 issue of Popular Science magazine. The plans for the dome advertised on page 139 of this issue represents the only time Fuller himself sold dome instructions to the general public.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

War Story

According to the nation-states model, undisciplined civilians hate each other's guts so much that, left to their own devices, there'd be all out, uncontrolled mayhem, spearheaded by vigilante gangs.

However, some civilians, being wise, knew themselves well enough to delegate populations of brave soldier, trained in the arts of war, to boldly venture into harm's way on their behalf, and in order to restore the peace -- and all because the civilians had failed in their most essential duty (to not lose it).

The job of these delegate populations was to contain the fighting, by keeping the civilians out of it. They would target each other, and fight military to military. The motto of the professional armed forces: let us do the fighting. Nice theory.

This model started breaking down big time in the 20th century. Many militaries began targeting civilians directly, including from submarines. The Age of Terror was upon us. Civilians got to work on their bomb shelters (or used the underground).

Nowadays, we have only the remnants of the old nation state system. Armed militias, flying various flags, go berserk and trample civilians under foot. The violence is uncontained. The idea of a "professional soldier" (a descendent of "chivalrous knight") is now more a fantasy than an on-the-ground reality.

Might we put humpty-dumpty back together again, even at this late date? The few remaining pros in the military still have hopes along these lines. Protecting civilians (from themselves if necessary) remains an honorable calling.

But will the civilians climb out of their intellectual squalor and start dealing with reality again? A lot of evidence suggests that they will.

The nation-state theory still has some workable elements, even if the global context makes the whole notion of nations seem more quaint and antique. Just because it's old doesn't mean it can't still operate on some level.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Back to Work

OK, so now that we're done having a good laugh at the remarks of Senator Ted Stevens, who likened the Internet to "tubes", "not a truck", we should admit that he's right. Tubes are a good metaphor, as are hydraulics more generally.

The money system, the freeway system... all good public works, and likewise compared with tubes in their day (the London underground system is quite literally tubular).

Bascially what Congress needs, and what the American people need, is the same thing: expediently expeditious updates through new (and old) adult education circuits.

The earlier idea, of competent lawmakers conceptually equipped to tackle the big issues of our day, has been replaced, by one of people in future shock, wondering how it got to be 2006 already (and wouldn't it be easier to go back to 19??, and refight some stupid war we all lost already? -- not!).

But we're ready and willing to learn. We've got flatscreen TV, microwave popcorn, couches. We're The Simpsons (or sims) ready to slurp it up and get a clue. Just your "how things work" basic briefings would be fine, and useful in the context of all the reality TV that's going on. Don't let Hollywood phonies control it (they'll just slap on some superficial veneer).

Lots of clever animations. Lots of metaphors. Tubes, trucks, whatever. Bring 'em on.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Garbage Collection

In part, that's to answer the question "what does Python bring us?".

A little history is in order here: runtime memory has been expensive and scarce, and one of the worst crimes was to write resource hog programs that took more memory than necessary.

Now, some applications unavoidably require gobs of memory, but the least you can do, as a programmer, is explicitly deallocate what you've allocated. Free up the resources you're not using when you're done with them. Don't make other processes do all the work to clean up and reclaim.

Put simply: clean up your own messes.

What garbage collection supplies, is an automated bookkeeping service for determining what bits of memory are ready for recycling. The coder doesn't have to worry so much about being a memory hog, as the virtual machine on which the coder's code executes, is already quite resource aware. When it allocates from the heap, it does so with strings.

In Python, when a list, tuple or dictionary is no longer referenced, it simply goes away. The garbage collector comes along (exactly when usually isn't your concern) and cleans house.

Clever programmers will now insist that garbage collection is for sissies. If you want lean and mean code, do your own allocating and deallocating.

But the truth is, we don't always want our code lean and mean. Sometimes we like comfortably fat Python, well fed. Maybe it just ate a goat.

Anyway, it's easier for us to be lazy a lot of the time. Hackers, meet Slackers. Slackers, Hackers. Shaking hands all around.

Python fills a niche, is not all things to all people. Use it when it's smart to use it, but always be open to using something else if/when the situation demands it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Brought to You By...

Python Nation

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Robots @ OMSI

I reupped our family membership with OMSI on Monday, between visits to our Portland Knowledge Lab -- informally so-called -- and the Lucky Lab.

Tara went looking for Aibos, and found a case with them, none moving. The most animated robot, an arm, was assembling 2D puzzles from triangular tiles, in a race against half-heartedly playing-along humans.

The other main source of animation was an exhibit full of ants, asking us to think about how rules so simple an ant could follow them, might lead to emergently interesting properties, a so-called "hive mind".

I thought it was kind of cheating to use ants, since a hallmark of robots is that humans make 'em, at least indirectly. Yes, "by human design" may mean trading away some quality and sophistication, but in exchange we earn the right to have some pride in our work (unless, of course, we're simply slapping trademarks on naturally-occuring designs, adding little from our own humanity).

Bernie-the-geochemist has me persuaded that private industry long ago left most universities in the dust vis-a-vis critical path R&D. However in being more secretive and proprietary (vs. open source like academe) private companies ensure that realistic futurism stays locked away from prying eyes.

That's not necessarily a good thing, if those were positive toys. We could've inspired more hope in our young -- with working prototypes, not just artists' conceptions.

I bet Sony could have staged a dynamite exhibit about robots, or at least gotten more focus for its pioneering research. So many good toys stand waiting in the wings, while bus-loads of school children see only obsolete futures based on decades-old research.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Smart Cars 2

So Tara was asking if "smart car" means they talk to you, like some of these GPS units. I explained it was more in reference to the buyer being smart for choosing it, over some fuel-inefficient gas hog.

However, this did lead to speculations about what "autopiloting" cars might be like.

I suggested "robot freeways" and add-on dashboard controls, that'd let a car go into "zombie mode" such that freeway computers would steer.

You could dial in "Chicago" and doze off, confidant that your vehicle would be routed safely and smoothly through the robotic freeway system, all the way from LA.

However, most of the time, you'd pilot your vehicle yourself, just like old times (even use a stick shift if you prefer -- Razz has a stick).

The old I-net might be the backbone of our smart car system, but only in some lanes and on some routes.

Fun science fiction anyway, worth projecting on the big screen. Actually, a lot of prototyping has already occured. People have been fantasizing about "smart cars" for a long time by now.

Some of the first smart cars might actually be more like smart trucks, used mostly for inert and inanimate freight -- and the occasional test pilot, thrill seeker, or quality assurance engineer.

Like when testing roller coasters, we use crash dummies, other proxies, until we're satisfied with the safety of the equipment.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Four freedoms of the global grid: to vary frequency, orientation, altitude, to fold/unfold. The viewer has yet additional freedoms.

The latitude/longitude grid gives the illusion of regular quadrilaterals (squares) nearest the equator, and furthest from the two poles where longitudinal gore tips meet.

The global matrix, backward-compatible with lat/long, gives the illusion of regular hexagons in regions furthest from the 12 pentagons. Irregularities are more evenly distributed.

Both grids fold/unfold, using various algorithms e.g. Fuller's and Snyder's.

Related links:
Fuller's Geoscope Project (global data displays)
Glenn Stockton's Global Matrix Project (Math Forum citation)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Ghost Trains

One of the ways USAers like to advertise their dysfunctionality on the world stage is by making their passenger trains run late. Of course serious business commuters couldn't afford that, so the Northeast Corridor tries to keep up some semblance of a schedule.

But when the distances get long, and the ridership less skyscrapey (less penguin-suited), Amtrak takes a back seat, has no right of way on privately owned tracks. Some get elected to Congress purely on their promise to keep the passenger trains 2nd class, always begging just to stay on the tracks, let alone on time.

Canadians find this frustrating at times. The northbound Amtrak, from Portland to the border, was disgorging passengers without proper ticketing the other day, the computer system having died again. Clerks were hand-writing postits or something, expecting Canadian authorities to just swallow the costs of not dealing with a trully functional railway system.

Plus that Amtrak train is just skeletal anyway. One conductor has to run the whole show, including serving snacks behind the counter, with a line out the door and down to the next car. There's just no budget for staff anymore, even though talented young people would like nothing better than to punch tickets and tell stories, on some dream train through the North American outback.

The Coast Starlight is still good. Wine and cheese, parlor car. A tourist magnet. Always late though.

I don't blame Amtrak. It's more a national schizophrenia at work. Letting civilians have a decent rail system would be like "socialism" whereas the old agreement with Congress is to let wealthy industrialists set the living standards where they need 'em, low enough to keep workers scrambling, even for the most miserable jobs (use "citizenship" as leverage, by turning the legal against the illegal).

"A really healthy civilian vista would mean a disasterous drain on the Pentagon, in terms of manpower," or so the dying computer model seemed to imply, "so use Katrina as leverage, to drive more wage slaves into bondage."

In actual fact, the Pentagon would have no problem filling vacancies in a bona fide, lean and mean, "Be All You Can Be" army -- if the mission were something other than naked aggression on behalf of a few privileged private industrialists.

It's the dying computer model we don't need. Arlington's Pentagon still anchors a global matrix (as one of twelve, per hexapent shop talk). I think its original architects were probably forward thinking enough to have ensured our USA's survival, even if the erstwhile piggy-backing LAWCAP went down with all hands.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Global Matrix Poster

rendered using POV-Ray + Dome