Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bohemian Rhapsody in Spare Parts

Got a bunch of old computer equipments laying around doing nothing? Why not cluge it together and make it play some of Queen's greatest hits?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tiny Wandering Tweenbots

Tiny, helpless, unintelligent. Turn these things loose in a complex environment, like maybe Central Park in New York City, and they are toast. Right?
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.
Wrong! According to reports, they reach their intended destination every time.

What a simple and beautiful experiment. Read more about it at Tweenbots.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

New Math

Freakonomics already linked to this site, so they can probably handle the extra bump on traffic that my posting the link will add: New Math by Craig Damrauer.

new math damrauer
new math damrauer
new math damrauer
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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Viva Flatland

Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbot, was my first math book. I probably had math textbooks in school before this, but Flatland is the book I remember. Flatland mattered, because it caught my imagination.
Flatland Edwin A. AbbotMy Dad showed me this book, and walked me through the concepts of understanding dimensions. I learned to that a creature in a two-dimensional Flatland would find it difficult to grasp the concept of a third "up and down" dimension completely outside of their experience. This gave me a new insight on how our own 3-D world might seem similarly "flat" to a creature that lives and perceives in 4 or more dimensions. The concept of higher dimensions, which was and is beyond my experience, suddenly made sense, and these were fascinating thoughts for my pre-teen mind.

My Dad taught me a lot of cool stuff. He was a Physicist by training, and a Computer Scientist from the time when the field was just inventing itself. There were always science books around the house, not to mention science fiction. Also magazines; The latest issues of Science, Scientific American, and Analog could usually be found on his desk. These provided a constant supply of real and fanciful ideas for a young mind. My dad always thought of himself as a scientist. He always tried to keep up with the latest innovations and discoveries in science and technology. He never stopped trying to learn, and perhaps the greatest thing he ever taught me was that I should never stop trying to learn either.

When I started writing this post a few days ago, it was just supposed to be about Flatland, and my rediscovery of an old book that had a big influence on me. Thing change though, and so have the direction of my thoughts over the past few days. My father, my teacher, my mentor, passed away peacefully last night, his body finally giving in to illness and deterioration brought on by progressive dementia. I thought I was prepared for this, but knowledge that death is coming doesn't quite prepare you for its arrival. Though his slow decline has been painful to see, I am grateful he could be with us for so long, and that the disease took him as quickly as it did; Amazingly quickly compared to what I understand to be the normal course of dementia, which is a testament to how well he was able to adapt and compensate for as long as he did.

Things change, and the student becomes the teacher. One of my reasons for this blog is to pass on some of that fascination with science that my Dad instilled in me. Also, to pass along (some might say "inflict") some of his sense of humor as well, which I also seem to have inherited.

Things change. People pass on. I miss you Dad. God bless.

In Loving Memory: Douglas Earl Eastwood (1924-2009).
Flatland Edwin A. AbbotUPDATE: A memorial blog for stories and comments can be found at

[Hat tip to God Plays Dice for leading me to E-Books Directory and 4DLab, where is found this PDF edition of Flatland. Hence the source of the illustrations.]
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Thursday, April 16, 2009


Thagomizer Gary Larsen WikipediaFound on Wikipedia: Thagomizer
The term "thagomizer" was coined by Gary Larson in a 1982 Far Side comic strip, in which a group of cavemen in a faux-modern lecture hall are taught by their caveman professor that the spikes were named "after the late Thag Simmons". The term was picked up initially by Ken Carpenter, a palaeontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who used the term when describing a fossil at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in 1993.

Thagomizer Denver Museum Wikipedia

I have long held this as one of my very favorite cartoons ever, but I was surprised to learn it has been picked up as as an scientific informal term. This is not Gary Larson's only contribution to science; he has an owl louse named after him too (perhaps two other insects).

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea Time?

Via Pharyngula

Can you watch this with a straight face? (Warning: impolite humor, but it was on MSNBC)

If you don't get the joke, search on "Teabagging Urban Dictuonary". Or not, if you are easily offended.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Computing with LEGOS

[Found on Shtetl-Optimized]

But first a bit of explanation. A Turing Machine is a sort of computer first proposed in 1936 by Alan Turning. This computer is a bit different from the modern computers we have today. All the instructions are "built-in" to the computer. It reads data from a "tape", processes it according to its built-in program, and writes a result. I should emphasize that the Turing Machine is (to my limited understanding) generally thought of as a conceptual model of a computer, not as a practical device. I doubt Alan Turing ever thought that someone might go and build such a device, much less that they might build it out of out of LEGOS! (Sigh ... anyone else remember when LEGOS were plastic bricks, instead of pre-packages toys with some assembly required?) For example, if the machine encounters two "1" bits (or maybe two consecutive LEGO blocks in the "up" position), its program might cause it to change the second bit to "0" (or moves the LEGO block to "down").

But enough talking typing, time for the video.

More information and some cool pictures can be found on the project blog: Lego of Doom.
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Job Insecurity

Uh oh ... I just read this at Not Exactly Rocket Science:

Say the word 'statistician' and most people might think of an intelligent but reclusive person, probably working in a darkened room and almost certainly wearing glasses. But a new study shows that a monkey in front of a monitor can make a reasonably good statistician too. [emphasis added]

Dang, now I have to be on the lookout for monkeys after my job. Didn't see that one coming.

[photos by snelvis]

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Donut Holes and Atlas Shrugged

Scott Aaronson writes an interesting critique of everything that Ann Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged is not.

The Compliment of Atlas Shrugged
[at Shtetl-Optimized]

And if you see John Galt, remind him that he still owes me $10.
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