MIT Economics Lectures Online

I am particularly impressed by an online Lecture at the MIT Economics Department. Lester Thurow is lecturing on Globalization and the Economic Downturn.¬†Thurow is a much more compelling speaker than your usual economics pundit, he’s lecturing to MIT Economics students with an attitude of “if you don’t know this stuff, people will eat your lunch, and there are people running things right now that don’t know this stuff and someone is eating our lunch.” Thurow makes some interesting analyses about previous “bubble” cycles, like Tulip Mania or the Gold Rush, and compares it to the dot-com bubble and the state of telecommunications business today. He condemns certain businesses that are marginally profitable during periods of high growth but are massively unprofitable in times of low growth. This is something I used to lecture my bosses about endlessly. They’d proclaim a 20% increase in sales, but when pressed, would admit it only netted a 5% increase in profit. Then sales would dip 5% one month and they’d go deep into the red.
Thurow also has a few harsh comments about the Japanese economic problem. He asserts that the Japanese economy is rotten to the core because it has one legal principle that the USA does not, 2nd-generation mortgages, parents can assume debts that their children must repay. Thurow denounces these loans as indentured servitude, and would be outlawed in the USA as slavery. He asserts Japanese families are burdened with huge debts on homes and real estate, loans taken out when real estate prices were at their peak, and now are devalued to half of the loan’s worth. Thurow suggests the only way to solve the economic problems is for the Japanese government to give tax credits to the banks if they’d write down the value of home mortgages and real estate loans by 40%.

Art of the Renaissance Meets Computer Graphics, 1978

I recently located a very old computer science paper (1MB PDF) from 1978, it was one of the most significant papers I ever read, it helped me understand the usefulness of computer applications in the arts, and it shaped my career path. With inspiration from this paper, I have always loved to apply modern computer technology to ancient technologies. So I decided to scan my old fading Thermofax copies and put them on the web.

This paper discusses an obscure area of Renaissance art, “anamorphosis.” Early experimenters in perspective drawing discovered unique optical and geometrical tricks to distort images. The classic example is the painting “The Ambassadors” by Holbein, it has a distorted image near the bottom, when viewed from a certain angle the image is clearly visible as a skull.

Some images were painted for viewing in cylindrical or conical mirrors. Other artists used the technique on a massive architectural scale. Here is a grand fresco by Fra. Pozzo, it is painted on an arched roof but the architectural features seem to ascend to the sky. It is no wonder that anamorphic techniques were considered “miracles of art.”

This little paper is one of the first attempts to convert these projective geometry techniques to computer graphics. I encountered this article when I was studying anamorphosis, back when I was a young Art student taking classes in mechanical drawing and perspective. I had some early computer programming and graphics experience with the primitive pen plotters and computer-output-microfilm of the day, but this paper opened up my eyes to new applications. But still, I could not envision the day, today, when I could do these tricks in Photoshop with a Free Distortion or Polar Coordinates filter.
In particular, I recommend you print out the last page, and cut out and assemble the little cone. Also notice the strange two-column word processing, which looks like it was done on an IBM Selectric terminal with multiple “golf ball” type elements for italic and regular. You don’t see documents like this anymore!

Why Blog?

So the interface issues are getting settled and now I’m starting to deal with the whole point of blogging. What got me interested was not an essay on blogging, but an essay on the iMac. Some editorialist said that the iMac should be a continuous record of your life. Your digital hub should be keeping track of the files you access through your days, storing your pictures, music, texts, etc.

My initial thoughts were that blogging would make it easier to keep track of disparate types of web links that I encounter. But now I’m thinking this is really headed towards “internal blogging.” I don’t want a public blab sheet of all my stupid random thoughts, I want to collect all my work, all the form letters I get about my student loan, my tax records, my bills, all scanned in so I don’t have to deal with paper files. I want my phone book and records of my calls and faxes. I don’t see anything like this happening without a software hub.

I see some possibilities for a personal blog hub in MacOS X, though. You can use MovableType with MySQL alongside other MySQL databases of personal records. If I could keep an local index database of archived records, scan and store them as they arrive, link Web-based record searches to .pdf files maybe, that would be a really useful thing.

Restoration of the TDC Mk3 and ECM Mk2 on the USS Pampanito

On a whim, I grabbed a marathon of military shows from the History Channel to my Tivo, and oh boy did I get a bonanza of computer folklore. In the show “Silent Service: Attack Plans of WWII,” the results of restoration and display of two historic military computer systems were on display. And oh yes the restoration is excellent.
One of the last remaining US WWII era submarines, the USS Pampanito, is moored in San Francisco at Fisherman’s wharf. A group of history buffs and computer geeks in the bay area have restored the Pampanito’s Torpedo Data Computer Mk 3 and ECM Mk2 cryptography machine.
I had heard in afc [alt.folklore.computers] in the past that a historic crypto system was on display near the Pampanito, I saw the sub back in about ’91, and went inside it on the regular tourist thing, but this was before the restoration. According to the show, the ECM was only declassified in 1995, the unit on display is the only machine in civillian hands, and on loan from the NSA. I wonder if the NSA has other units.. Here’s a link on techy details on the ECM Mark 2:
Now that is one beauty of a piece of machinery, I wish you could have seen it in operation on video.
But more amazing were the details of the restoration of the Torpedo Battle Computer. The original TDC Mk 1 is credited to the Arma Corporation, E. Don Gittens of MIT produced the design, and is interviewed extensively on the program. He described redesigning the Mk 1 prototype unit for compactness and battle hardening, producing the Mk 3 units at Arma Corp, and going to sea to train crews on the complex TDC operations. The TDC is essentially a massively complex slide-rule, with motors and cranks that dynamically change the inputs over time. The output is displayed on cocentric rings with radial markings for compass heading, speed, etc. Here is a little paper by Terry Lindell, the restorer of the TDC:
They had a demonstration with crew of people in military garb, calling observations from the periscope, inputting them into the TDC, you could see the little black dials with ship’s outline swinging as the Pampanito “turned” though it’s maneuvers, and then a little red light marked “A” lights up, the attack solution has arrived, we’re in position, Fire One!
As a bonus, it appears that some restoration has been done on the Pampanito radar system. They showed the radar antennae whirling around, little low-profile parabolic open-grid dishes about a foot or two across. But alas, it appears the radar display systems are as yet unrestored. The documentary provided much interesting coverage of how the TDC was used in night attacks. The TDC was originally designed for blind attacks with only sonar, but these were totally ineffective and the strategy was abandoned. With radar, accuracy was hugely improved. Subs could accurately attack from 4x the distance of previous sonar attacks, far beyond the range of enemy retaliation. Japanese maritime losses rose dramatically, the US subs could attack at night or in fog, attacking multiple targets in rapid succession.
Ah well, you really must make an effort to catch this show, I’m sure the History Channel will rerun it soon. “Silent Service” has many stirring submarine tales, but the last episode, “Attack Plans of WWII,” ties all the tales together, into a battleground of technology and computing. We had advanced computers (albeit an analog system of cogs and gears) and radar and crypto, they did not, and it turned the tide of battle. The US Navy only had 2% of its fleet resources in the submarine service, but subs are credited with 55% of the tonnage sunk in the Pacific.

[I posted this message on Usenet in alt.folklore.computers]