(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘perspective

“There’s no idea in economics more beautiful than Arrow’s impossibility theorem”*…

Tim Harford unpack’s Kenneth Arrow‘s Impossibility Theorem (which feels a bit like a socio-economic “Monty Hall Problem“) and considers it’s implications…

… if any group of voters gets to decide one thing, that group gets to decide everything, and we prove that any group of decisive voters can be pared down until there’s only one person in it. That person is the dictator. Our perfect constitution is in tatters.

That’s Arrow’s impossibility theorem. But what does it really tell us? One lesson is to abandon the search for a perfect voting system. Another is to question his requirements for a good constitution, and to look for alternatives. For example, we could have a system that allows people to register the strength of their feeling. What about the person who has a mild preference for profiteroles over ice cream but who loathes cheese? In Arrow’s constitution there’s no room for strong or weak desires, only for a ranking of outcomes. Maybe that’s the problem.

Arrow’s impossibility theorem is usually described as being about the flaws in voting systems. But there’s a deeper lesson under its surface. Voting systems are supposed to reveal what societies really want. But can a society really want anything coherent at all? Arrow’s theorem drives a stake through the heart of the very idea. People might have coherent preferences, but societies cannot…

On choice, law, and the paradox at the heart of voting: “Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem,” from @TimHarford in @WhyInteresting. Eminently worth reading in full.

* Tim Harford

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As we contemplate collective choice, we might send grateful birthday greetings to the man who “wrote the book” on perspective, Leon Battista Alberti; he was born on this date in 1404.  The archetypical Renaissance humanist polymath, Alberti was an author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, cartographer, and cryptographer.  He collaborated with Toscanelli on the maps used by Columbus on his first voyage, and he published the the first book on cryptography that contained a frequency table.

But he is surely best remembered as the author of the first general treatise– Della Pictura (1434)– on the the laws of perspective, which built on and extended Brunelleschi’s work to describe the approach and technique that established the science of projective geometry… and fueled the progress of painting, sculpture, and architecture from the Greek- and Arabic-influenced formalism of the High Middle Ages to the more naturalistic (and Latinate) styles of Renaissance.

from Della Pictura

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“If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it”*…

 

uchicagoscie

 

If we can harness it, quantum technology promises fantastic new possibilities. But first, scientists need to coax quantum systems to stay yoked for longer than a few millionths of a second.

A team of scientists at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering announced the discovery of a simple modification that allows quantum systems to stay operational—or “coherent”—10,000 times longer than before. Though the scientists tested their technique on a particular class of quantum systems called solid-state qubits, they think it should be applicable to many other kinds of quantum systems and could thus revolutionize quantum communication, computing and sensing…

Down at the level of atoms, the world operates according to the rules of quantum mechanics—very different from what we see around us in our daily lives. These different rules could translate into technology like virtually unhackable networks or extremely powerful computers; the U.S. Department of Energy released a blueprint for the future quantum internet in an event at UChicago on July 23. But fundamental engineering challenges remain: Quantum states need an extremely quiet, stable space to operate, as they are easily disturbed by background noise coming from vibrations, temperature changes or stray electromagnetic fields.

Thus, scientists try to find ways to keep the system coherent as long as possible…

“This breakthrough lays the groundwork for exciting new avenues of research in quantum science,” said study lead author David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering, senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. “The broad applicability of this discovery, coupled with a remarkably simple implementation, allows this robust coherence to impact many aspects of quantum engineering. It enables new research opportunities previously thought impractical.”…

Very big news at a very small scale: “Scientists discover way to make quantum states last 10,000 times longer.”

*John Wheeler

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As we strive for stability, we might send calculated birthday greetings to Brook Taylor; he was born on this date in 1685.  A mathematician, he is best known for his work in describing and understanding oscillation.  In 1708, Taylor produced a solution to the problem of the center of oscillation.  His Methodus incrementorum directa et inversa (“Direct and Indirect Methods of Incrementation,” 1715) introduced what is now called the calculus of finite differences.  Using this, he was the first to express mathematically the movement of a vibrating string on the basis of mechanical principles.  Methodus also contained Taylor’s theorem, later recognized by Joseph Lagrange as the basis of differential calculus.

A gifted artist, Taylor also wrote on the basic principles of perspective, including the first general treatment of the principle of vanishing points.

220px-BTaylor source

 

 

“Time is a game played beautifully by children”*…

 

Readers will recall our earlier adventures in space and scale (e.g., here).  Now, from Wait But Why, a trip through time.  Starting with the near-in (above), Tim Urban has created a series timelines, each of which nests into the next…

Until one has “traveled” all the way to the entirety of time.

See them all (and larger) at “Putting Time in Perspective.” (G-rated version here)

* Heraclitus, Fragments

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As we check our watches, we might send culturally-relevant birthday greetings to James Mooney; he was born on this date in 1861.  A pioneering ethnographer, he started working in 1885 with the Bureau of American Ethnology in Washington, D.C.  He compiled a list of tribes and their members which contained 3,000 names, but quit after the US Army’s 1890 massacre of Lakota people at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Mooney did extensive work with the Cherokee and Kiowa tribes.  His most notable works were his ethnographic studies of the Ghost Dance after Sitting Bull’s death in 1890, a widespread 19th-century religious movement among various Native American culture groups, and his deciphering of the Kiowa calendar.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be”*…

 

Concave drawing of the Getty gardens

 

David Hockney has famously pondered perspective in his work; when criticized for a lack of “reality,” he’s observed,

Cubism was an attack on the perspective that had been known and used for 500 years. It was the first big, big change. It confused people: they said, ‘Things don’t look like that!’

The twin brothers Ryan and Trevor Oakes share his adventurousness in seeing in the artwork that they create together.

As children in the back seat, Trevor and Ryan Oakes noticed that when they focused on the horizon, bugs on the windshield seemed to split in two. Twenty-odd years later these identical twins are still investigating the intricacies of visual perception. This show pulls back the curtain on a decade of their optical obsession. To avoid the distortions that occur when the world is traced onto a flat canvas, the twins have built a concave metal easel that allows them to sketch directly onto the inside of a sphere. Rather than using lenses or mirrors to project an image onto canvas, as the Renaissance masters did, the twins have devised an ultra-low-tech method for sketching from life: they cross their eyes until an object floats onto their paper’s edge — and then they trace it. Visitors can marvel at the plaster helmet (dubbed an “optical cockpit” by Lawrence Weschler) where the twins have spent hours with their eyes out of stereo alignment [cross-eyed], reproducing skylines and courtyards into curved paper with a supernatural sense of depth and perspective. During the exhibition, the twins will haul their curved easel outside the museum to trace the Flatiron building with their cross-eyed technique. “Our subject matter is as much an eye looking as the thing being looked at,” said Trevor. Ryan added, “We’re dissecting what it feels like to have two eyes.”

See more, learn more at OakesOakes.

[TotH to @MartyKrasney]

* George Carlin

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As we focus on the tips of our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that the City of Memphis, Tennessee began construction of the first independent municipal sewage system in the U.S.  Independent sewer systems had been introduced in 25 years earlier in England; but American engineers at the time, still favored “combined” systems, in which storm water and sewage were handled in the same large pipes.  Memphis was the first U.S. municipal system to forgo the benefits of the natural “flushing” provided by rain water, opting for smaller, dedicated pipes.

Memphis suffered through several severe plagues of cholera (1873) and yellow fever (1878 and 1879) — over 10,000 lives were lost. The city recognized the need to get their sanitary sewage away from their water sources (then, primarily small private wells), even though the final decision was erroneously based on the belief that yellow fever was being caused by inadequate sanitation practices. The city and the state legislature tried to raise monies; the efforts gained some of the money they thought would be needed for a new sewer system — but not a lot.

The situation in Memphis aroused the sympathy of the nation and was largely responsible for the creation of the National Board of Health. The Board retained and sent Col. George E. Waring, Jr., [who had gained notoriety draining Central Park] to Memphis. He designed what he thought was a system Memphis could afford, but also one he felt would work: a separate system using 6″ diameter laterals, with sewers with 112-gallon flush-tank mechanisms placed at the upstream terminal end of each of the lateral (collector) sewer runs — to be flushed once every 24 hours. The house connection sewers were 4″ diameter. Both vertical and horizontal changes of alignment were routinely done along the long runs of manhole-less gravity sewer mains. No more than 300 homes were to be connected to each 6″ main. No rain water was to be made tributary to these sewers and the sewer system was to be vented through the soil pipe plumbing system in each house..

SewerHistory.org

Col. George E. Waring, Jr.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

A matter of perspective…

 

Visit Here Is Today and, in a few brief clicks, put everything (and I do mean everything) into perspective…

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As we realize that we’re late for the Mad Hatter’s tea party, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961, before a joint session of Congress, that President John F. Kennedy introduced the NASA Apollo Program, vowing to land an American astronaut safely on the moon before the end of the decade.  The mission was accomplished on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong left the Lunar Module and set foot on the surface of the Moon.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 25, 2013 at 1:01 am

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