Fractal Kitties: They Exist

Fun post at Scientific American explaining how fractal kitties can explain Julia sets:

Julia sets for polynomials of degree two are well-understood, although they’re often fractals rather than simple shapes such as circles. The story gets a lot more complicated as the degree increases because higher-degree polynomials are difficult to factor. (The much-maligned quadratic formula—the reason why we can easily discern the roots of degree two polynomials—is our friend!) A little bit is known about the possible shapes for Julia sets of degree 3 and 4 polynomials, but the shapes of the Julia sets of arbitrary polynomials are not yet understood.

Lindsey is a graduate student in mathematics at Cornell University. Her advisor is John Smillie, but Thurston was an unofficial second advisor, and it was his idea to start this research project. “I was sitting in his house, and he was staring off into space and asked, ‘I wonder if Julia sets can be made into shapes,’” she says. Thurston had been working on understanding the Mandelbrot set better, and looking at the shapes of Julia sets was a related pursuit. The Mandelbrot set, one of the most famous fractals, is closely related to Julia sets of degree two polynomials: imagine the polynomial z2+c, where c can be any complex number. The number c is in the Mandelbrot set if 0 is in the filled Julia set of z2+c.

Fractal Kitty!

The math may get hairy at times…but then again, so do the images. Ha!

Joe Biden, Server Extraordinaire

This is a hilarious parody in The New Yorker on Joe Biden becoming your dinner server:

Hey, chief. There’s the guy. How you doin’? Got your friends here, party of six. Lady in the hat. Great to see you. My name is Joe Biden and I’ll be your server tonight. Lemme tell you a story. (He pulls up a chair and sits.)

Folks, when I was six years old my dad came to me one night. My dad was a car guy. Hard worker, decent guy. Hadn’t had an easy life. He climbed the stairs to my room one night and he sat on the edge of my bed and he said to me, he said, “Champ, your mom worked hard on that dinner tonight. She worked hard on it. She literally worked on it for hours. And when you and your brothers told her you didn’t like it, you know what, Joey? That hurt her. It hurt.” And I felt (lowers voice to a husky whisper) ashamed. Because lemme tell you something. He was right. My dad was right. My mom worked hard on that dinner, and it was delicious. Almost as delicious as our Chicken Fontina Quesadilla with Garlicky Guacamole. That’s our special appetizer tonight. It’s the special. It’s the special. (His voice rising) And the chef worked hard on it, just like my mom, God love her, and if you believe in the chef’s values of hard work and creative spicing you should order it, although if you don’t like chicken we can substitute shrimp for a small upcharge.

Thank you. Thank you. Now, hold on. There’s something else you need to know.

Our fish special is halibut with a mango-avocado salsa and Yukon Gold potatoes, and it’s market-priced at sixteen-ninety-five. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Sounds like “Hey, Joe, that’s a piece of fish and a little topping there, and some potatoes.” “Bidaydas,” my great-grandmother from County Louth would have called ’em. You know what I’m talking about. Just simple, basic, sitting-around-the-kitchen-table-on-a-Tuesday-night food. Nothin’ fancy, right? But, folks, that’s not the whole story. If you believe that, you’re not . . . getting . . . the whole . . . story. Because lemme tell you about these Yukon Gold potatoes. These Yukon Gold potatoes are brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and hand-sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt, and then José, our prep guy. . . . Well. Lemme tell you about José. (He pauses, looks down, clears his throat.) 

You should finish the piece here. The ending cracked me up.

The Cats of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum

Sally McGrane writes a wonderfully quirky piece on the cats of the Hermitage Museum, certainly the most famous museum in St. Petersburg and perhaps all of Russia (I visited it in 2007).

First, the obligatory history:

There have been cats in the palace since Peter the Great’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth, issued a decree, in 1745, that the biggest cats, capable of catching mice, be sent immediately from Kazan to the court of her imperial majesty. Catherine the Great is thought to have favored Russian Blues as indoor palace cats; under the last Czar, the royal family’s pet cats, who were left behind in the palace, fared better than the dogs, who were taken along to Yekaterinburg with the family to their deaths. During the three-year siege of Leningrad, all of the animals in the city died—except for the rats, said to have been so numerous as to form a gray, moving mass in the streets. When the blockade was lifted, Haltunen said, as we continued our walk beneath the museum, Russians sent their cats to the city to help fight the vermin.

On the variation of the cat names:

Stepping into the little cat hospital, a cozy, cluttered space that the oldest and sickest cats call home, Haltunen greeted Irina Popovetz, one of the volunteers who looks after the cats. Then she greeted Kusya (“Oh, this one has no tail!”), Jacqueline (“Look how fat we are!”), Sofiko (“You are very old!), and Assol, a tabby named for an impoverished literary heroine who waited at the seaside for a man sailing a ship with scarlet sails to come for her.

The cats aren’t allowed in the galleries, but that hasn’t stopped them from proliferating around the Museum:

The cats themselves, who are no longer afraid of people, have a positive effect on staff morale, she said. “People here become kinder, because they have the possibility to show this kindness,” said Haltunen, as we made our way back outside, where an orange cat was asleep in the sun beneath a classical statue. “It is very good when you have the possibility to show your best qualities.”

Earlier this year, Hermitage Museum even dedicated an entire day to the cats dubbed “Day of the Hermitage Cat.” Since April 21 fell on a Saturday, this must have been the ultimate Caturday of the year.

Do you know of any other examples where a public place is inhabited by animals, but the people not only accept it, but love it?

Parul Sehgal on the Power of Books and Reading Rapaciously

In honor of the National Book Festival last weekend, The Big Reads blog asked literary critic Parul Sehgal to reflect on the power of books in her life. An editor at The New York Times Book Review, Ms. Sehgal previously worked as the books editor at, and as a senior editor at Publishers Weekly. It’s a short column, and these were two of my favorite quotes:

Some of us read rapaciously and with mysterious agendas of our own. And I’d hazard that the more we—or our communities—have been disenfranchised or humiliated, the harder we’ll read when we come to books. Because we’re not just reading, are we? We’re spying. We’re reading ourselves into societies and narratives that have excluded us. We’re trying to get inside your head.

Also, this:

We read first for distraction then consolation then for company. And finally to be worthy of the company we kept.


(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

World’s Biggest Ferris Wheel Coming to Staten Island

In three years, there will be a reason to visit Staten Island if you’re ever in New York City. By 2015, Staten Island will be home to the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world:

The New York Wheel will be a short walk from the Staten Island Ferry, which links the city’s least populous borough with Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office said today in a news release. It will stand 625 feet (190 meters) high, exceeding by 84 feet the Singapore Flyer, according to city officials. It will also beat by 75 feet a planned wheel in Las Vegas.

BFC Partners, a Brooklyn-based developer, will construct Harbor Commons, a 350,000-square-foot retail complex featuring 100 designer outlets and a 120,000-square-foot hotel south of the ballpark, where an affiliate of the New York Yankees plays.

Interestingly, the designer and manufacturer of the New York Wheel includes members of the team that built the 443-foot London Eye observation wheel.

One thing I suspect, however: someone in Dubai will pour money to out-build this wheel before anyone gets to experience a ride on it.

Moo on The Future of Business Cards

This just blew my mind: just announced an NFC enabled business card. This sounds like the future has arrived:

Starting today, any pack of Business Cards you buy from MOO will come with a little extra – a free NFC enabled Business Card.

“A what??” you say? In short, an NFC enabled Business Card is a regular Business Card, with a tiny microchip and antenna embedded inside the paper that can transmit data from itself to a mobile phone which is also NFC ready, when they are tapped together.

It probably all sounds a bit mysterious, so we’ve put together a page that will give you the lowdown on what NFC technology is, and how it works. We think it’s really exciting, and we hope you will too.

Too bad my iPhone isn’t NFC capable. I’ve ordered from before, and I like their customer service. These new cards are probably worth checking out.

The Atlanta Food Truck Scene

As part of their 2012 Fall Dining Guide, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution rounds up the dozen best food trucks in and around Atlanta. A lot of these names were new to me:


The owners of this relative newcomer to the truck scene got their start catering on movie sets, and then decided to bring their food to the rest of us with their truck, Grilldabeast. Dishes like the smoked-then-fried wings with mango Thai chili glaze or the panko-fried avocado with eel sauce are not to be missed. Regularly seen for dinner Thursdays and lunch Saturdays at the Atlanta Food Truck Park. 404-719-6563

Happy Belly Curbside Kitchen

With a strong focus on local ingredients, this “farm-to-street” truck is a great spot for distinctive sandwiches, salads, and pasta. Powering the kitchen is an on-board Big Green Egg, giving each of their dishes that fresh-from-the-backyard smokiness you can only get on a charcoal grill. Regularly seen at dinner Tuesdays at the Taylor Brawner Park in Smyrna (3180 Atlanta Road, 6-9 p.m.), lunch Thursdays at 12th and Peachtree streets in Midtown (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) and lunch Sundays at the Atlanta Food Truck Park. 404-719-3257

Honeysuckle Gelato

Combining his Southern roots with his training at the hands of legendary gelato maker Jon Snyder, Jackson Smith has crafted a dessert truck definitely worth checking out. With more than 100 flavors to date, like ginger molasses or mint julep, the prolific team at Honeysuckle constantly changes up the menu, but many of its staple flavors can also be found at restaurants like La Tavola, Atlanta Fish Market and STG Trattoria. Regularly seen for dinner Thursdays and Fridays at the Atlanta Food Truck Park. 404-228-7825

Ibiza Bites

This truck serves “SoLa” cuisine, a blend of Latin American and Southern food that shines through best with dishes like Lola’s coconut fried chicken, served with a mango chili glaze atop a bed of fresh jicama, pineapple, mango and basil slaw. Regularly seen for dinner Tuesdays at Taylor Brawner Park in Smyrna and Fridays for lunch at Atlantic Station in Midtown (17 1/2 St., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.). 404-857-9308

Mix’D UP

The mobile truck of the Cuzine Chef catering company, Mix’D UP is a rock-‘n’-roll inspired truck that serves up some pretty serious burgers. Go for the Rockin’ Hero, a lamb burger topped with tzatziki sauce, spinach, tomatoes and feta served on a ciabatta bun, or the super-sloppy open-faced Texan, an Angus patty topped with bacon, cheddar, pulled pork and slaw. Regularly seen for dinner on Tuesdays at Taylor Brawner Park in Smyrna, dinner on Wednesdays in Virginia Highlands in Atlanta (841 N. Highland Ave., 6-9 p.m.) and lunch on Thursdays at 12th and Peachtree streets in Midtown. 404-822-6758

I wish more of these trucks stationed near Buckhead rather than Midtown/Downtown.

Bret Victor’s Learnable Programming

I spent some time last night perusing Bret Victor’s post titled “Learnable Programming.” It’s a through but easy-to-follow post on introductory programming. Writes Victor on the challenge of programming:

  • Programming is a way of thinking, not a rote skill. Learning about “for” loops is not learning to program, any more than learning about pencils is learning to draw.
  • People understand what they can see. If a programmer cannot see what a program is doing, she can’t understand it.

Thus, the goals of a programming system should be:

  • to support and encourage powerful ways of thinking
  • to enable programmers to see and understand the execution of their programs

A live-coding Processing environment addresses neither of these goals. JavaScript and Processing are poorly-designed languages that support weak ways of thinking, and ignore decades of learning about learning. And live coding, as a standalone feature, is worthless.

Alan Perlis wrote, “To understand a program, you must become both the machine and the program.” This view is a mistake, and it is this widespread and virulent mistake that keeps programming a difficult and obscure art. A person is not a machine, and should not be forced to think like one.

How do we get people to understand programming?

We change programming. We turn it into something that’s understandable by people.

If you haven’t ever got started with programming, set aside one to two hours and go through the post. It’s aesthetically pleasing, incredibly detailed, and best of all: fun! I guarantee you’ll learn a ton.

The Bug in Deep Blue and Its Effect on Garry Kasparov

Nate Silver’s anticipated book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’tcomes out today. The Washington Post has a great excerpt from Silver’s book about the bug in Deep Blue that made Kasparov consider the machine super intelligent:

Nevertheless, there were some bugs in Deep Blue’s inventory: not many, but a few. Toward the end of my interview with him, [Murray] Campbell somewhat mischievously referred to an incident that had occurred toward the end of the first game in their 1997 match with Kasparov.

“A bug occurred in the game and it may have made Kasparov misunderstand the capabilities of Deep Blue,” Campbell told me. “He didn’t come up with the theory that the move it played was a bug.”

The bug had arisen on the forty-fourth move of their first game against Kasparov; unable to select a move, the program had defaulted to a last-resort fail-safe in which it picked a play completely at random. The bug had been inconsequential, coming late in the game in a position that had already been lost; Campbell and team repaired it the next day. “We had seen it once before, in a test game played earlier in 1997, and thought that it was fixed,” he told me. “Unfortunately there was one case that we had missed.”

In fact, the bug was anything but unfortunate for Deep Blue: it was likely what allowed the computer to beat Kasparov. In the popular recounting of Kasparov’s match against Deep Blue, it was the second game in which his problems originated—when he had made the almost unprecedented error of forfeiting a position that he could probably have drawn. But what had inspired Kasparov to commit this mistake? His anxiety over Deep Blue’s forty-fourth move in the first game—the move in which the computer had moved its rook for no apparent purpose. Kasparov had concluded that the counterintuitive play must be a sign of superior intelligence. He had never considered that it was simply a bug.

I’ve ordered the book on Amazon.

Joel Gascoigne on Writing with Regularity

Joel Gascoigne has a great blog post titled “5 Realisations That Helped Me Write Regularly.” This was my favorite tip, as it’s come true for me so many times:

2. Delaying an article with the belief spending longer will make it better usually just means it won’t get written

I used to create a draft in Tumblr every time I had an idea for a blog post. Then I’d let it sit there for a while, because I believed the idea wasn’t fully formed yet, or I didn’t have enough points to share about the topic. I believed by delaying, the perfect post would eventually come to mind.

What I’ve realised is that there is no better time to write the article than when the thought first enters your mind. I should only write it at another time if I simply can’t open my laptop and write it all the way through right at that moment. The content is freshest when it first appears in my mind, and in that state I write the best posts.

I’ve gotten much better at this over time, but I have 10s of drafts lying in Tumblr from the early days when this caught me out time and time again. If you delay, the more likely outcome is that it just won’t get written.

Read Joel’s entire post here.