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Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Jump Book

I recently read Jeremy Bernstein's bio of J Robert Oppenheimer (excellent) ... but this post is not about that. On the cover of that bio is a remarkable picture of Oppenheimer jumping into the air, pointing at the sky. It turns out this picture is from the 1959 Jump Book, by Phillipe Halsman. Halsman was a photographer who worked for Life, and took pictures of 178 celebrities of the time jumping, and published them in the book. He also developed a technique he called Jumpology, which seeks to analyze character from the nature of people's jumps. He at least seems serious about that. Fun book, including many still recognizable people from politics, science, film and industry. Although I got my copy at the library, its still in print.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Beyond Bullet Points

In a classic 2003 cartoon in The New Yorker, The Devil is sitting at a desk, apparently interviewing a new conscript for Hell:

Lucifer asks ... 'I Need someone well-versed in the arts of torture - do you know PowerPoint?'

With that impression in mind, I am just starting Cliff Atkinson's book: Beyond Bullet Points. For some of you who have read my writings in Future Now, you will recall I am a long suffering corporate victim of Powerpoint, so I am looking forward to this book.

I will post on this again as I progress.

See also, Atkinson's blog Beyond Bullets. Which always has some fascinating information on visual communications.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Cogwheels of the Mind


Its probably pretty telling to be reading a book on the history of Venn diagrams at the beach, but I took the chance and started A.W.F. Edwards' Cogwheels of the Mind: The Story of Venn Diagrams a few weeks ago. A delightful, short (about a hundred pages, with many diagrams) history of the graphical approach by John Venn. Which links well with the algebra of Bernoulli, whose algebra led to computing, and is being used very actively in the computer you are staring at. It also has survived as a much-taught methodology in schools from kindergarten upwards. Perhaps I am a bit optimistic, but I believe a large number of eighth graders could draw one. Its perhaps the most beautiful and simplest example of visualization of complex ideas. The book also carefully reviews the extension of Venn diagrams into greater numbers of classifications, and Edwards further work in the area. Although the book is short, it does require some willingness to think through his examples. A strong graphical intuition is desirable.

One of the reviewers at Amazon suggested that the book should have gone further, comparing Venn diagrams to other diagrammatic methods, but I disagree ... this is an example of a 'just enough' monograph, rich in both in the history and its implication regards the way we think about hard problems. It sufficed at the beach. It did inspire me to look at the other methods mentioned. In an appendix, Edwards suggests its extension into statistical domains.

Another reviewer questioned if there was an audience for such a book. Well, besides myself, there are others who like to see popular mathematics well written, and prefer the proofs to be left in the references for now. No, it won't make the NYT best-seller list, but it did enlighten me.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Predicting with Randomness

RedNova News - Can This Black Box See Into the Future?

This certainly seems odd ... I am always suspicious of predictors that are too good... why would they be publicizing it rather than playing the market? I have frequently seen such alternative science claims ... I maintain the skeptics response ... Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof ... this does not mean that I am not open to changes in what we know ...

Via Nova Spivacks' blog.

Agents of Change

A good overview article on Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) philosophy, techniques and applications, from the February ORMS Today, by Douglas Samuelson. He makes the case that this technique will transofrm social science because of the natural linkage between social and agent entities and their inclusion of behavioral changes. He also links ABMs to classical simulation techniques and Systems Dynamics. Some useful further links.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Virtual Reality in the Round

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Presseinformation 04.02.2005

An interesting idea, which attempts to improve on the illusion of a CAVE. I have see a number demonstrations in a number of CAVE environments, and was never very impressed with the result, low quality with flat projections, such immersive environments may be OK for the engineer who accepts the illusion, but do they work for the behavior of a consumer you are trying to understand?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Global Grid Computing: Johnson and Johnson

InformationWeek: Grid Computing

...Johnson & Johnson's $22.1 billion pharmaceuticals research-and-development unit has two grid projects under way, each geographically contained and centered on its own networks. David Neilson, director of drug-discovery information management, expects these projects will save the company "in the seven- to eight-figure bracket" over five years by recruiting low-cost computers to handle tasks once done mostly by expensive specialty machines.

Johnson & Johnson was an early sponsor of the Globus Toolkit project, an effort by researchers at Argonne National Lab, the University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California to develop open-source software that could link distant computers and users over the Net. "We're not [a sponsor] anymore," Neilson says. For its virtual drug-screening pilot in Belgium that recruits the spare power of 400 PCs and 64 Linux servers and for a stateside effort to model clinical drug trials using more than 100 PCs and workstations, Johnson & Johnson has been using commercial software from United Devices Inc., which can schedule jobs across PCs or servers under one roof, but whose capabilities fall far short of the promise of building global grids ...

The MIT Museum


Before the holidays I paid a first visit to the MIT Museum. A rather interesting one-floor exhibit, up some modernistic steel stairs not far from the center of campus. I had heard that they had become the repository of a number of AI and robotics artifacts that I had read much about. So I wandered over there after some meetings and spent a few hours walking the exhibits.

You do understand quickly the quandry of the director of such a museum. Its easy to display artifacts that deal with robotics, which readily lend themselves to physical objects. Artificial Intelligence, being a work of symbols and process, is harder to do, what you can do is display pictures of visionaries and descriptions of their work. Interactive displays are also used, but somehow they didn't work quite as well. A good, but not comprehensive set of robotics artifacts is displayed, its understandably about work at MIT. The picture above is one I took of their Kismet social robot.

The Museum also takes its displays from before the immediately modern. I much enjoyed the large display of the work of Harold Edgerton, famously responsible for the use of the electronic stroboscope to provide slices of time we have not seen before. Also, a display that contained some sample exams from long ago that showed we have not necessarly progressed in understanding basic knowledge.

Another room covered the technical experiences of the MIT student ... which I imagine would be most interesting to alumni, but I also found element of it to be amusing.

Parts of the collection, such as the kinetic sculpture exhibit and the collection of ship images, while of technical and artistic interest, appear to be a bit out of place and likely mostly opportunistic.

Well worth a visit, for more detail, see the link above, which does a nice job of providing an overview of each exhibit, and an e-gallery which extends the exhibits. As I walked about I did muse about the future of museums. There were many times I would have liked to be able to click-through for more information. There were other times, where I was able to walk around each piece, encounter physically, even touch items in ways I could not online. Exhibits that were symbolic, without artifacts, probably could have been encountered better online. There is still a place for located artifacts and even places to encounter history directly. But for how long?

Origami and Mathematics

Origami and Mathematics

From the IAPR Newsletter, I had missed this connection, looks intriguing. Also pointers to other resources. From the International Association of Pattern Recognition Newsletter, now online.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Security Risks of Frequent-Shopper Cards

Security Risks of Frequent-Shopper Cards

Via Schneier on Security. An interesting case study ... if information is stored ... it also has to have some likelihood of of being correct. Pretty low in this case. I guess this kind of thing ultimately comes out in court, but shouldn't there be be some sort of earlier point at which the potential of it being correct could be demonstrated?

Emergence of Blogging as Legitimate Media

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan

I have followed blogging and participated for a couple of years now, and Peggy Noonan in the WSJ seems to be right on in her analysis of the way that blogging is starting to change the media landscape. I also read the March Wired article today on the Wikipedia: 'The Book Stops Here' (apparently not online as yet) which shows how the Wikipedia is changing the world of knowledge. These two ideas have interesting similarities ... they are both changing the world ... but both have some very interesting weaknesses, created by this idea of universal empowerment.

The Value of Social Networking

Dunbar Triage: Too Many Connections

A very thoughtful article on Social Networking, with LinkedIn, etc, by Christopher Allen in his Life With Alacrity Blog. I have also been part of Linkedin for some time, but have not seen it as overly useful. I sometimes get a note or two from it, but it seems to be easier to just manage your contacts yourself ... do many multiple contacts links really work? As is suggested, its the quality of a small number of links that is more useful than sheer quantity.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Wisdom Of Models?

I recently presented at the Informs Roundtable Meeting on Data Mining. I will post several short individual items on useful learnings.

Data mining is about finding useful patterns in data, frequently from data that was not gathered explicitly to solve a current problem at hand. Modeling methods for data mining include neural nets, regression, genetic algorithms and classification approaches. Dr John Elder of Elder Research promotes the idea of trying a number of models and then combining the results in an ensemble result, the simplest approach would be to average the results ... a kind of Wisdom of Models, see his paper on why an ensemble of models can do better.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Brain Scans for Sale

Brain Scans for Sale

This is an area I have followed for some time ... Interesting article ... scary and likely an inevitable area of progress. In part the issue will be how generalizable such analysis will be, or do we each have our own world?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Viewpoints Research Institute and Squeakers

About VPRI

stsqueakers.jpg
Last summer I tracked an article in Fortune about a hero of mine Alan Kay. Kay is involved in the non-profit Viewpoints Research Institute. In part their goal is to ... put on the Internet, a sample curriculum with supporting media for teaching "real math" and "real science" to K-12, with an initial emphasis on K-8 ... The platform they are doing this on is the Squeak personal authoring environment. I just received a copy of Squeakers, an Emmy award winning DVD movie that outlines their goals, a very fine effort. It would be interesting effort to compare such an authoring environment with blogs in general. But blogs which contain other intelligence modules to attract the interest of kids. Eli Lilly, among others is supporting the Squeak effort. Like Dean Kamen's FIRST program, the object is to give kids the impression that science and math are as fun and important as athletics and rock. Sounds like an important thing to support. Does anyone know more about the state of the effort?

sub-$100 PC

BBC NEWS: Digital guru floats sub-$100 PC

I posted a longer look at this with examples in Future Now. It makes sense to look at very simple devices, with memory, a browser, a network connection, screen and keyboard. It still seems that it would be tough to break the $100 cost.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Look at Informational Chaos

First Monday Article on Knowledge/Blogging and LiveJournal

A colleague pointed this out to me, I am reviewing now. In particular I like the examnination of blog-like systems to how knowedge is acquired and maintained. The way to get knowledge acquired has to be simple, so you can build a critical mass quickly so it has immediate value as an archive. As a very simple example, I used Blog This! to post this article. I am also thinking of this also in terms of HP's Steve Cayzer's Semantic Blogging idea, see his blog, which has other useful posts.

Blogging It

I am still thinking about how I should use this blog. I am using it now as a staging place, as I see things I want to remember I post the item from the convenient Google tool bar, add comments if I have them at the time, then post it as draft. Later I go back to edit it, add comments, or even delete it.

I have been blogging for nearly two years, mostly behind my corporate fire wall. I have also been posting to Future Now since last year. As such this blog overlaps with some of the things I do there. The public nature of this and Future Now are still new to me.

The other interesting idea is the level of formality you want to include in your Blog. Its a little like the early era of e-mail (pre font-choice) when it was presented as a medium where you could be informal, make errors. Corporate email has since become very formal, with all sorts of advanced capabilties. Blogs are also starting to go that way. In some ways I want the simplest, easiest capability of posting text, links and pictures. Otherwise I am just creating a web page.

Blogs do really provide a means to help organize your thoughts, pull together lots of snippets of information, and if you want, expose that information to others. My internal blog acts as an excellent archive of information, for me and for others.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Perspex in Perspective

Towards a truly clever Artificial Intelligence

Simplexes are multi-dimensional geometric forms that were first used as paradigms for solving tough linear-programming problems in the 40s, leading to the Simplex Algorithm of George Dantzig, first for solving the logistics problems like deciding what materials to ship where, then to a dizzying set of variants on the same idea, from blending to pricing, routing and scheduling. Every major corporation uses these techniques every day.

Now the University of Reading's Dr James Anderson has created the Perpective Simplex, or Perspex to solve tough recognition problems for robotic interaction with real spaces. The claims in the overview article are considerable. I admit I have not looked at this very closely as yet, but I am intriqued by the concept ... and I really like the term. Well worth a closer look.

Monday, February 07, 2005

IBM, Sony, Toshiba to reveal superbrain chip

IBM, Sony, Toshiba to reveal superbrain chip

Interesting development ... a plus for pervasive computing, the challenge is still up for the software developers to produce the algorithms ... This kind of hardware development always reminds me of my attendance at the ACM awards for the IBM Deep Blue - chess playing system in 1997. To their credit, IBM gave the cash award to the programmers involved. One of the IBM recipients (sorry, have forgotten his name) made a point of saying that the approach was not 'smart' but rather 'clever brute force' ... That very honest statement made me smile. I recall the ACM folks being a bit taken aback by this, a bit embarrassed that they had not sponsored the emergence of intelligence in software. If the chips keep getting smaller and faster, will everything ultimately be solved by brute force? Its a bit like the prevalence of of search on the web today, its the easy way out. Or like the prevalence of blogs over wikis ... they are also the easy way to develop content. Although I see why its being done, is it preventing some deep thought about algorithms? Don't get me wrong, there is lots of work progressing on smarts, but I wonder if more can be done.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

IlliGAL Blogging

IlliGAL Blogging

Nothing Illegal about it ... its from the Illinois Genetic Algorithms Laboratory ... David Goldberg and his colleagues and students produce a very informative blog on genetic algorithms.

Cycorp: The Cost of Common Sense

Cycorp: The Cost of Common Sense

An informal view of Doug Lenat's work at Cycorp, which we have followed for years, starting in the early days of our Artificial Intelligence Group.

Downtown : My Manhattan

Downtown: My Manhattan by Pete Hamill

I am in the midst of reading this ... a nostaligic, walkers tour of lower Manhattan. Although I spent some of my early life in Queens, I rarely saw Manhattan itself. Since then I have visited on business a number of times, each time more engaged by its form and history. ... A journalist provides a knowing and interesting architectural and historical tour of downtown. Nostalgic at its heart, he discusses the concept of nostalgia very early on. Very nicely done .... If you have any interest in NY, or of the evolution of large cities, this is a worthwhile read.