2016-09-01

Beautiful betrayals

When the Iron Curtain fell, there were great hopes and expectations on both sides and one of the buzz phrases of the day was “joint venture”, so at the computer graphics conference I attended in St Petersburg in 1993, there was a hall dedicated to various proposed joint ventures between Russian and Western companies, hopeful Western computer manufacturers showing off their latest hardware to Russian customers who couldn't afford to buy any of it. The hall was, as such things are wont to be, pretty noisy, but suddenly something like a sonic blowtorch cut through the noise and on one of the screens I saw things you people wouldn’t believe, but then it ended and I realised I had just caught the last few seconds of a computer animation with music, but of what, I did not know.

A couple of years later I attended a computer graphics seminar at a conference hotel in Linköping. The speaker was fast-forwarding through a VHS tape and I glimpsed this same animation, but it was not part of the presentation. However, I asked for, and received!, permission to return to the room and go through the tapes on my own after dinner.

So, there I sat, late at night in a dark conference room in Linköping, watching and listening to the L’Opéra imaginaire version of « Dôme épais le jasmin » from Lakmé, tears streaming down my face.

As soon as I could I bought the full opera recording with Sutherland, Vanzo, Bacquier, and Berbié, conducted by Bonynge. I immediately brought it to the lab to share all this beauty with my coworkers. They were mostly amused by my excitement, but one person, composer of electro-acoustic music, rushed out of his room, screaming: “Of all the noise you make here, this was the worst!” and slammed the lab door closed, so as to keep the rest of the institute secure from the noise pollution.

I myself was pleased to find that apart from the Flower Duet there were several other songs that lingered in my ears. I was however a bit put off by the orchestra crescendo at the death of Lakmé, I felt a solemn fadeout would have been more respectful.

I noted that the plot, with a Western officer seducing and then abandoning an Asian woman, was quite similar to that of Madama Butterfly. Only much later did I find out that both operas may have been based on stories by Pierre Loti—the English Wikipedia entry for Madama Butterfly asserts that it is based on his novel Madame Chrysanthème, whereas the French entry denies this. (The Italian does not mention Loti at all.)

2016-06-06

The Internet is for porn…

…and that’s why the biggest search engine is called Go ogle.

2015-05-25

Dreams

The couple embraced and threw themselves on the ground.
For the longest time it seemed they would miss.

2014-12-19

Veckans ord: höstack

Denna kalla och regniga årstid utbrister man lätt i ett och annat höstack.

2014-12-17

Hope and hops

It struck me that my relation to religion is much the same as to beer drinking: While I see that it clearly is important and enjoyed by many, not least as an excuse for meeting friends (but may get you into fights about which brand is best), possibly may have health benefits under certain circumstances, has been historically very influential, and arguably may even have enabled civilisation, I still don’t quite get why anybody would see it as enjoyable, and suspect it is probably not good for you in the long run, especially as your arguments become increasingly more unintelligible the more you have partaken of it.

2014-12-16

R

Prompted by a student project, I started looking into R today. Well, this is what the usual Hailstone program looks like in R:
hailstone <- function(n)
  while (print(n) > 1) 
    n <- if (n %% 2 == 0) n / 2 else 3 * n + 1; 
I started writing it in a very C-like way, but the functional nature of the language made itself increasingly more apparent as I played around with the code.

2014-12-01

Still going strong

During my first course in calculus, Ambjörn the TA was going through whatever it was and I innocently asked “Isn’t this, like, fractal?” He spun around: “Yes, exactly!”, spun back towards the blackboard and proceeded, chalk blazing, to explain how the current course segment was tied to fractals, their implications for geometry and how that in turn related to other branches of mathematics, ever faster and further into ever more exotic subjects while we students could just hold on to our desks for dear life in the storm blast of imparted knowledge. Forty-five minutes later he suddenly made a double-take, checked the time, and with an embarrassed cough noted: “I think we ran over the time a bit there, let’s take the break now.”

During the break Å accused me of setting Ambjörn into self-oscillation and suggested I shut up in the future, lest we never manage to cover what was actually coming on the exam.

Well, I did pass the calculus exams, eventually even the dreaded Theory exam, though that took me five attempts (in no way an exceptional number). Still, perhaps that was more due to diligently doing all exercises and repeatedly reading the books, rather than thanks to Ambjörn’s TA efforts, which, while always entertaining and mind-opening, tended to veer off from the official subject into Deep Maths.

Eventually I became a colleague of Ambjörn’s, whose wide-ranging interests could no longer be contained within either the Department of Mathematics or that of Physics and thus had moved into Computer Science (which at the limit contains all other sciences). Passing his room would often imply getting drawn into impromptu lectures on maths and their relation to everything else in (and occasionally outside) the universe. He even stored some of his parabolic rock-melting mirrors in our lab, though we irreverently ended up using them as towel racks.

Today, Ambjörn was officially retired, though, as is the custom in academia, that simply means the end of salary, but not necessarily the end of research. So, I returned to the Alma Mater for Ambjörn’s Last Lecture, which, true to form, ranged from how to explain what weekday it will be in a million days, over homotopies of snakes on a torus, to how human culture is an integral over time.

I regretted Honeybuns wasn’t there to get some kind of idea of where I come from, intellectually, but the OBCM was there and afterwards we had a nice chat about teaching and geometric modelling over a cuppa.