Archive for February, 2011

When I was recovering from a serious coding binge back in Iceland, long walks along the seashore and playing the piano were the two things that saved me. Since then, I’ve tried to lead a more balanced life: no coding after sundown, a mix of activities — reading, walking, seeing friends, hanging out at the neighborhood bar, cooking, playing music. The point is to do several things, not just one — one terrible thing that swallows up both the day and the night, demanding your full attention for five, ten, fifteen, twenty hours at a stretch until you finally lie exhausted, shipwrecked in the dawn, clinging to the foot of the bed as if it were a lifeboat, the mess of dishes and books piled high, crowding the sacred space before the altar of the computer.

I’ve tried to keep this healthy routine, part of which is to meet with friends every Thursday to play music. We are so-so amateur musicians, but we have a lot of fun, and also a new “activity:” each of us brings an original composition to play, either individually, or as a group. Well, at the beginning we were pretty bad, but we have learned a lot, and we have had a lot of good times. One of the house rules is that after a piece is played, we all have to improvise on it. This way we all share in the embarrassment, the good musical moments, as well as the beer! I promise to post something of my own soon, since the last person to do so has to buy food and drink for the whole group. I am, however, taking the liberty of linking to a piece by one of the other players:

short piece for solo cello

There is more … this is just the first line of the piece:-)


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I found the following link on a friend’s facebook page:

Where women of India rule the roost and men demand gender equality.

I highly recommend it: as field anthropology, as reportage from the domestic scene, and as food for thought. The thought for which this is food concerns the enduring Nature versus Nurture controversy. In particular, are the roles of men and women biologically determined, or are they socially conditioned? It is apparent to even the most politically correct that certain differences are biological. Women bear children, while men don’t. Men have, on average, much more muscle mass. But take another area. While men dominate professions such as violent crime and the design of video games, racing cars, and thermonuclear weapons, it has not been conclusively proved that this must forever be so. Do men do this because of the genetic codes they carry in their cells, or were they schooled to do so, however implicitly, at an early age? The further we move away from the obvious cases, the less clear the issue becomes. And confusion may set in at surprisingly close range, as shown by the article on the Khasi people referred to above. The unequal and subservient situation of Khasi men is so dire that one of them writes

Only mothers or mother-in-laws look after the children. Men are not even entitled to take part in family gatherings. The husband is up against a whole clan of people: his wife, his mother-in-law and his children. So all he can do is play the guitar, sing, take to drink and die young.

As Newton taught us, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While the “equal” part probably does not apply in the human sphere, the general idea seems correct. Indeed, men of the Khasi people have organized themselves into the aptly named “Syngkhong Rympei Thymai” (SRT), a liberation movement whose goal is full equality of the sexes. Nature or Nurture? I don’t know.


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As you, my dear readers well know, I began this blog-diary with some comments on the Eruption beneath Eyjafjallajokull glacier. We Icelanders are not nearly as self-expressive as my writing might suggest, but the move westward to a new frontier does strange things to the psyche. Anyway, I would just like to remark that one of the great side-benefits of this side-activity is the serendipitous discovery of all sorts of things, often through the comments of other bloggers. Today, for example, I learned about the Jazz scene in Umbria. Just imagine visiting there, eating and drinking at an outdoor restaurant, listening to music late into the night! Much earlier, on a totally different note, I learned about Camille’s sketchbook, a thoroughly wonderful art blog replete with amazing doodles, some in their original state, others treated to colorful digital processing. I just visited her blog again. It is delightful and highly recommended. How on earth did I find it? By accident! I had written a short piece Geometry and politics which contained an image of an amoeba. A comment from Camille, who also finds amoebas fascinating, for reasons quite different from mine, led me to her page. There is much more waiting to be discovered!


PS. If you think that the relation between politics and amoebas is a stretch, just take a look at those two pieces! [1] , [2]

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A small change in our algorithm, just a tweak to four similar and adjacent lines of code, has made what for us is a big esthetic improvement in the “pieces” produced by our app. The change was in fact an accident that was meant to apply to a small part of the art engine, but which affected everything that is drawn. Local versus global, as they say in politics, mathematics, and computer science!

We’ve taken the caption for the frame below from the name of jazz standard. There is a wonderful recording by the Bill Evans Trio. Now if we could just permission to have this recording play along with little show produced by our app! That would be ever so cool. Alas, it will never happen.


Blue in Gree

Blue in Green

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Yesterday I stopped by Bob Slate’s to pick up a new brush and some acrylic paint. The nice thick kind that comes in tubes, not that thin watery stuff. Also looking at the painting supplies was an elegant and beautiful woman, perhaps sixty years old. She wore a long dull green coat and a fur hat. A friend greeted her, her voice ranging over an octave and half in the course of eleven words: “Mary, how ARE you? It is so good to see you!” Mary, at a lower and more compressed pitch range, but with the melody rising at the end of the phrase: “Wonderful, except that I just MUST find a good chiropractor for my dog. Can you recommend one?”

Strange customs in my new country! I will have to tell my friends back in Reykjavik.

By the way, it is 27 degrees Fahrenheit in Reykjavik and 21 here in Cambridge. My emigration to southern latitudes is full of surprises!


PS. The weather has been horrid (see photo below). So I decided to check some numbers: Reykjavik is at 64 degrees North latitude, Cambridge, Massachusetts is at 42. Rome is at 41 degrees North! So what have I done wrong!! I doubt that my Italian friends are suffering like this. In fact, I know they are not: it is 59 degrees there, 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and they are all at the local bar talking, drinking coffee, and ogling the passersby. From time to time they whistle, or break into song – or so I imagine. Time to review my emigration documents!


Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 2011

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I found the following on a friend’s facebook post:


Sample art from xkcd.com

It is proof that comedy can be found anywhere, even in Inner Geekdom. Click on the image above and see for yourself!

PS. The drawing you find by clicking deserves careful study. The more you look at it, the funnier it gets. Especially if you know about electrical circuits and other mysteries of this mortal world. Note, for instance, the function of the rectifier circuit and its close proximity to a capacitor operating on a decidedly innovative substance. Further up, near the right margin is a timer circuit provided by the Beast himself. Fortunately one lead has not been connected, so perhaps the timer will not fire. Also reassuring is the exceptional quality of the circuit ground. See lower right-hand corner. Further textual analysis is left to the interested reader.

PPS. More humor


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A very dreary day here in Boston, and rather quiet. The local universities are closed because of the potential, largely unrealized, for heavy snow. But it makes for a welcome and unexpected holiday feeling.


Screen shot #2

To pass the time, I have been working with my friend on our as yet unnamed and undisclosed app. And he, I must say, is working from an undisclosed location. Better for concentration, he says. Anyway, we are supposed to meet with friends tonight at the local bar. It will be good to get out of the house after a day inside with the cat and the computer. And I must stay true to my vow: no coding after sundown!

Our aim with this app is (a) to have some fun, (b) to make beautiful images, (c) make a little money, in roughly that order. With (a) we have succeeded, and we think (b) is realistic. About (c) … well, um, if it pays for a few good books, that will be some satisfaction. A trip to warm place would be even better!

We will reveal the not so secret sauce that makes the app work at our forthcoming launch event. Suffice to say that an essential ingredient is a bit of mathematics. Rather simple mathematics, in fact. My friend and I argue about where the beauty in all this really lies. Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that this image, or some other image produced by the app, is a thing of beauty. Now the image depends on the code, and the code on the mathematics. So if beauty is in the image, is it not also in the code, and therefore also in the mathematics? This is clearly a deep philosophical question. Perhaps we can resolve it tonight at the bar in our weekly “symposium.” (Inside joke: my more learned friends tell me that a symposium is derived from Greek sym = together and pinein = to drink. Plato and his friends knew a good thing when they saw it!)

As for our product launch, I do hope that we manage to do it in the too far distant future. For me the perfect has always been the enemy of the good, or at least of the satisfactory. I am always driven to make the code as clean, elegant, even beautiful as I can, even though it will likely never be seen by more than two sets of eyes. Alas, I did spend a large part of today refactoring the code so as to achieve just these lofty aims. It makes no difference to the user, but somehow it makes me feel happier. I guess that is justification enough.

Well, I have produced more text than needed to frame the image, which was really the whole point. Time to do something different for a while!


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