Small Streams

Folding Paper
January 29, 2012, 8:45 pm
Filed under: art, math, research, technology, thinking | Tags:


Just finished watching Between the Folds, a gem of a documentary about origami. Lots of stuff about the art and science, the emotion and technique, and the history and trajectory of paper folding.

The documentary ends with a profile of MIT Professor Erik Demaine, who linkage computer maker Xiaoji Chen calls the “happiest genius in the world.”

I can see how one enthusiasm leads to another for Demaine: math, paper folding, genetics, and glass blowing — well, I’m not sure how the glass blowing fits in . . . but Demaine says it’s all about having fun. Maybe fun will lead to a cure for cancer as Demaine and others figure out how and why proteins fold, or maybe to nano computers in space.

I guess I should fold some paper while I’m inspired, but I’m more interested in approximating logarithms with musical scales.

My Other Vehicle Serves Data
January 1, 2012, 9:35 am
Filed under: education, eutechnics, research, technology, thinking | Tags:

The hula hoop is not a meme. . . [it’s] a meme vehicle. — James Gleick, The Information


If things make us think, the Digicomp is an infectious way to get us to think about numbers and computing.

Boingboing just posted a story on the Digicomp emulator. I hope to check it out soon.

Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire
October 2, 2011, 8:35 pm
Filed under: education, math, research, Uncategorized | Tags:

DIY Abacus

DIY Abacus

I’ve been invited to show off my counting and counting and calculating devices at Pittsburgh’s Mini Maker Faire. I’m planning on making prototypes and plans and showing ways of thinking about number and proportion. The Maker Faire takes place on Sunday, October 23rd at the Children’s Museum.

Hope to see you there!

Two Bit Counting
September 4, 2011, 9:16 am
Filed under: education, math, research | Tags:

A site called play hookey has some basics on digital adding.

Let’s say you have two binary numbers you want to add together. That’s two inputs. With two binary numbers, zero and one, you get two different sums: 0+0=0; 1+0=1; 0+1=1; and 1+1=0.


0 is the sum, but you have to create another output, carry. And you have to carry it somewhere. So now you have two more inputs, carry in and carry out.

Check this out:

Let’s start by adding two binary bits. Since each bit has only two possible values, 0 or 1, there are only four possible combinations of inputs. These four possibilities, and the resulting sums, are:

0 + 0 = 0
0 + 1 = 1
1 + 0 = 1
1 + 1 = 10

Whoops! That fourth line indicates that we have to account for two output bits when we add two input bits: the sum and a possible carry. Let’s set this up as a truth table with two inputs and two outputs, and see where we can go from there. . .

The Carry output is a simple AND function, and the Sum is an Exclusive-OR. Thus, we can use two gates to add these two bits together. The resulting circuit is shown below.

0 0 0 0
0 1 0 1
1 0 0 1
1 1 1 0

I like demonstrating this with pennies. Penny down=0; penny up=1. When carrying, the movements are complex, but not impossible for a hobby level robotic, perhaps not even for a vending machine. Ooh, how about a vending machine that registers your number!

Put two pennies in a slot–11–that’s three in binary. The pennies create a circuit and the sum is written on the screen. A lever pushes the pennies down and the operation is performed.

You then get a fortune cookie printout of the sum.

If anything, it might be a good way of getting rid of those extra pennies.

The Continuing Adventures of Agrobots
December 31, 2009, 8:09 am
Filed under: ecology, eutechnics, Pittsburgh, research, technology | Tags: ,

The Economist has a summary of what servo-control devices are doing on farms. It seems mostly they’re doing a lot of speculative, expensive work. Robots, though, will invade our countryside soon enough.

I’m hoping that robots won’t look sophisticated. I think that farms will be best served by small and cheap cultivators and sensors, hundreds of little spidery devices that will weed and prune and detect insects or blights. This machinery as opposed to the current six figure tractors that are air-conditioned, Internet-enabled enclosures 10 feet off the ground might provide a greater appreciation of the health of the soil.

Also in the article is the continued fetish of increasing production and reducing labor. I’m reminded of Wendell Berry’s constant harping on the need to increase farm labor. Although few of us really want to work on the farm.

The best line in the article comes from a Pittsburgh robotics engineer:

“It is actually not hard to pick an orange, but it is very hard to pick an orange cost effectively,” says Tony Stentz of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

World’s Deepest Rubbish Bin
October 30, 2009, 7:31 am
Filed under: awareness, ecology, education, eutechnics, mind, research, technology | Tags: , ,

Volkswagen started as the people’s car company. During the ’60s they embodied an ethos of do-it-yourself auto-maintenance and tongue-in- cheek subversiveness. A generation later I believe they’re at it again. Their fun theory initiative is part Candid Camera, part Big. Yes, it’s about branding, but it’s about the joy of using things and making things and not accepting the status quo.

Here’s a fun way to throw away the trash.

Tricorders for Everybody
January 3, 2009, 9:28 am
Filed under: eutechnics, research, technology | Tags: ,

In the future, everything will look a lot like Star Trek not because of the prescience of the show’s creators, but because of the desire of engineers to make things look like Star Trek.

The adjacent Bizarro cartoon reminded me of this maxim and I quickly thought, “What a great app, to have a tricorder on your iPhone!” A quick search of the app store found that there are at least four makers ahead of me.

Of course, they’re only novelty apps for now and (since I’m not such a diligent trekkie) what I was thinking of was not the tricorder but that wand “Bones” McCoy used. But the apps all look like great fun and if you do a YouTube search for tricorders you’ll find iPhone apps and other simulations of tricorders and you’ll find this concept video of a pen that holds terabytes of data and can project on walls. Apparently we will have wonderful tools in the future, but, as you’ll see halfway through the video, we’ll still have to downgrade the software to Windows XP.

Law of Diminishing Returns
December 7, 2008, 1:13 pm
Filed under: awareness, eutechnics, research, technology, video | Tags: , , ,

A wonderful web page wherein Johnny Lee addresses suggestions for his $14 steadycam. Although JL seems slightly defensive, in point after point he shows how you could put lots of time, money, and effort into building a better steadycam, but if you want to make a cheap steadycam that’s sufficient to meet the needs, follow his plans.

I Saw This One Coming
February 10, 2007, 11:36 am
Filed under: education, research

Princeton’s ESP Lab is closing after 28 years of research. Or as the NY Times story poignantly puts it . . .

. . . the staff worked amid boxes, piles of paper, and a roll of bubble wrap as big as an oil drum. The random-event machines are headed for storage.

The lab has been described as an embarrassment. I, myself, have a strong belief in classical mechanics. Telekinesis, mental telepathy, and clairvoyance don’t work for me. I do, however, think that there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (I’m not saying you’re backwards. Just a little bit fusty. Perhaps one of Madama Blavatsky‘s fuzzy balls of light might perk you up.)

In one of PEAR’s standard experiments, the study participant would sit in front of an electronic box the size of a toaster oven, which flashed a random series of numbers just above and just below 100. Staff members instructed the person to simply “think high” or “think low” and watch the display. After thousands of repetitions — the equivalent of coin flips — the researchers looked for differences between the machine’s output and random chance.

Analyzing data from such trials, the PEAR team concluded that people could alter the behavior of these machines very slightly, changing about 2 or 3 flips out of 10,000. If the human mind could alter the behavior of such a machine, Dr. Jahn argued, then thought could bring about changes in many other areas of life — helping to heal disease, for instance, in oneself and others.

Two or three flips out of 10,000 is hardly enough to make me want to change the machine’s numbers. Say the electronic box was a roulette wheel, there’d hardly be any incentive for thinking high or low. If I have to work that hard, let the ball pick its own number. The house’s take is two orders of magnitude higher than most people’s telekinetic abilities. I think there might be a system out there that will beat the house, but until you find it, keep betting with the house,

One final quote from Benedict Carey’s ably and wonderfully written story.

The culture of science, at its purest, is one of freedom in which any idea can be tested regardless of how far-fetched it might seem.