Sunday, March 20, 2011

Progammers Anonymous notes, 100

From Register Guard, "Physics Slam gives public inside look at science":
The country’s first-ever Physics Slam will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Room 150 of Columbia Hall on the University of Oregon campus.

It is free and open to the public.

Six physicists from throughout the country will compete in the event. Each will get 12 minutes to describe a topic in particle physics in a way that the audience can understand.
The Physics Slam winner will be chosen by popular acclaim, as determined by applause.
And because these are scientists, they’re not taking anyone’s word for who gets the most.
The judge will be a scientific instrument, a decibel meter, that will determine whose presentation is the biggest hit.

The event is being held in conjunction with the 2011 Linear Collider Workshop of the Americas, which is being hosted by UO physics professor Jim Brau and the UO’s Center for High Energy Physics. It will bring more than 200 scientists to Eugene to discuss the design and experiments for a future linear particle collider.
[Post mortem: Huge crowd, overflow room was overflowing. More than the usual problems plugging in video. I found the talks much less than inspiring. Pie charts? Stock stereotypes of scientists? Sexist metaphors along side old and tired metaphors? Really? There's some great stuff in modern physics, but I didn't see anyone show it off.]

We talked a bit about Fermat's principle and quantum electrodynamics (QED) related to the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Sec Narf mentioned a story in which dreams changed reality, "The Lathe of Heaven" (1971), by Ursula Le Guin. Le Guin, one of the most influential science fiction and fantasy authors, has lived in Portland OR since 1958, and The Lathe of Heaven takes place in Portland:
George Orr, a draftsman, has long been abusing drugs to prevent himself from having "effective" dreams, which retroactively change reality. After having one of these dreams, the new reality is the only reality for everyone else, but George retains memory of the previous reality. Under threat of being placed in an asylum, Orr is forced to undergo "voluntary" psychiatric care for his drug abuse.
George begins attending therapy sessions with an ambitious psychiatrist and sleep researcher named William Haber. Orr claims that he has the power to dream "effectively" and Haber, gradually coming to believe it, seeks to use George's power to change the world. His experiments with a biofeedback/EEG machine, nicknamed the Augmentor, enhance Orr's abilities and produce a series of increasingly intolerable alternate worlds, based on an assortment of utopian (and dystopian) premises familiar from other science fiction works.

The notion of using EEG for biofeedback (neurofeedback), and even for direct control of physical objects (brain-computer interface), has recently seen a resurgence of interest.

Noam Chomsky will speak at the University of Oregon:
“Global Hegemony: The Facts, The Images.”, Wednesday, April 20, 7 p.m. in Columbia 150, free and open to the public.
Chomsky is an interesting speaker on a wide range of topics, from philosophy to the nitty-gritty of foreign policy. While recently his focus is usually on politics from a libertarian socialist viewpoint, his linguistic work has had a direct effect on psychology, computing, computer languages, and the notion of computability.
In the 1950s, Chomsky began developing his theory of generative grammar, which has undergone numerous revisions and has had a profound influence on linguistics. His approach to the study of language emphasizes "an innate set of linguistic principles shared by all humans" known as universal grammar, "the initial state of the language learner," and discovering an "account for linguistic variation via the most general possible mechanisms."[9]
For Chomsky, linguistics is a branch of cognitive psychology; and genuine insights in linguistics imply concomitant understandings of aspects of mental processing and human nature. His theory of a universal grammar was seen by many as a direct challenge to the established behaviorist theories of the time and had major consequences for understanding how children learn language and what, exactly, the ability to use language is.
Computer languages are now understood as parts of the Chomsky hierarchy, which partitions formal grammars into classes, or groups, with increasing expressive power, i.e., each successive class can generate a broader set of formal languages than the one before.
Computer scientist Donald Knuth admits to reading Syntactic Structures during his honeymoon and being greatly influenced by it. "…I must admit to taking a copy of Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures along with me on my honeymoon in 1961 … Here was a marvelous thing: a mathematical theory of language in which I could use a computer programmer's intuition!".

Jacob's no sdfjklsdiocjiojc "these was them days" (comic).

"If I were again beginning my studies, I would follow the advice of Plato and start with mathematics." Galileo Galilei

Abstruse Goose, "The Frontier" (comic). Every one of Abstruse Goose is worth a read.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Large earthquakes happen in the Pacific Northwest

They aren't frequent, only about once every 300-900 years, but it's been a while since the last megathrust earthquake. Smaller earthquakes near population centers also can cause devastation. It takes decades of attention, building, planning and practice to mitigate risks for large unusual events.

Pacific Northwest Faces Nearly Identical Risks to Japanese Quake

"This is an earthquake of the same type, with about the same magnitude and proximity that we face here in the Pacific Northwest from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. What you are seeing in Japan today is what you will also see in our future. Except they are better prepared than we are." Robert Yeats, Oregon State University

Programmers Anonymous notes, 11

The future, for a little while anyway is a list of state of the art computer graphics animations from 1988 through the present. Every one pushed the boundaries of what could be done at the time. Game developer Crashproof posted a thoughtful comment on Boing Boing speculating about the future of  computer graphics (emphasis mine):

1. Mobile devices will catch up to a large extent with consoles and gaming PCs -- though speed is limited by wattage, heat, and the need to keep parts tiny and cheap.
2. Technology revolutions in graphics will focus more on content creation than on pure rendering power. It's the art rather than the tech that really makes a game look good now, and that will become increasingly more true -- but authoring is expensive, slow, and a giant pain in the ass. Some clever folks will solve these problems and make boatloads of money.
3. Hardware companies are going to keep trying to push the envelope but the hardware will become more commodity-like anyway. If a $800 video card that requires its own power supply performs 8% better than a $50 video card and has a couple of features that no games will ever actually use... yeah.
4. The current 3D/stereoscopy fad will mostly fizzle out again. Occasional movies and games will use it to good effect, and others will use it as a stupid gimmick, pretty much like always. The Nintendo 3DS isn't going to change the world any more than the Virtual Boy did.
X. Minecraft and the Bit.Trip games and many others show that graphics fidelity/quality/complexity/etc. are not synonymous with game quality or even how *good* the game can look. (Arguably, WoW has always been the same, with an intentionally chosen lo-fi cartoony art style that eases the burden on their graphics engine.) Technology takes the back seat.

Fantastic Dover Computability Book Cover, "Computability and Unsolvability" by Martin Davis. From the big box computing days "when two columns of data could crush a programmer’s head."

The most widely-studied models of computability are the Turing-computable and μ-recursive functions, and the lambda calculus, all which have computationally equivalent power. Other forms of computability are studied as well: computability notions weaker than Turing machines are studied in automata theory, while computability notions stronger than Turing machines are studied in the field of hypercomputation.

WebGL is a Web-based Graphics Library that uses the same ideas as OpenGL, and is maintained by the same company (the non-profit Khronos Group). It extends the capability of the JavaScript programming language to allow it to generate interactive 3D graphics within any compatible web browser.
WebGL is a context of the canvas HTML element that provides a 3D computer graphics API without the use of plug-ins. Google Body is a good example of using WebGL, a website which allows user to navigate through 3D anatomical model of human body.

We talked a while back about the surprising complexity of rock-paper-scissor strategy. Here's a web interface to an intelligent machine player. Don't be discouraged if you don't do well, as the machine has more experience (and uses accurate statistics).

For those with a geometric bent, magnetic ball porn.

Sec Narf sent me several pages of interest:

A link on this Interactive Mathematics page points to a small set of Math in computer games descriptions. Most are examples we've used or touched on, and not difficult. They use standard geometric diagrams, so there are not good hints on what the math looks like translated into code.

The mathematics of rotation is something we've used, but only implemented as code in 2-D. Generally rotation functions are already available, and are called as functions. But the math techniques are worth knowing, and most everyone gets a taste for the 2-D versions in trigonometry. The 3-D versions are very important, used in every physical science. Rotations / translations are represented by matrices, and matrix operations are used to implement rotations / translations  (special cases of linear transforms). This is a large part of the field of linear algebra. We've already done a lot of linear algebra, just not in the formal way it is taught and not using the formal notation and syntax of written math.

The Pac-Man Dossier, by Jamey Pittman, is a small on-line book with more than I thought was known about the history, complex behavior, quirks, and general knowledge of Pac-Man. More here than I thought was known about the game, including more mysteries.

What design and AI lessons can we learn from Namco's seminal Pac-Man? From history through behavior, Gamasutra presents a comprehensive Jamey Pittman-authored guide to the classic game.

Someone made a Minecraft server largely dedicated to classic game characters -- monolithic memorials to 8-bit animatrons. The link minecraft-pixel-art-sculptures is currently broken, but maybe it will get fixed.