An article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (yes, I do read my new hometown’s daily paper) features the above image of the XO laptop designed as low-cost hardware to be supplied to children around the world. What attracted me to the image is the manner in which it anthropomorphizes the technology: the screen swiveled at an angle as if the XO had just turned to face us, the ear-like antennae perked up as if it were listening, and of course, the images of children to bring home the point. It would be difficult to make technology appear any more friendly.

And indeed, the technology seems quite friendly! Not just in terms of its use, but also in terms of its creators’ goals. One Laptop per Child (OLPC) intends “to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves,” through an innovative combination of hardware, software, and economic strategy. I’ve had an opportunity to see several XO laptops, but I haven’t played with one much. Very clever, in more ways than one.

BTW, the OLPC website features an interactive showing how the wee laptops communicate: the ear metaphor for the antennae actually suggests how the hardware daisy-chains together connecting one another. Humanizing and illustrative!

More Abstraction

Okay, I give up.

No, not with the blog, in spite of my lousy track record posting lately. I give up trying to figure out the image above…

I mean, it’s pretty and all, but what does it mean? I’m so baffled that I won’t even complain about the pseudocolor (indeed, I’m quite fond of orange). I read through the press release and the accompanying caption (which seems to have been removed recently), but… Huh?

Here’s the caption, BTW: “Spectroscopic image showing the microwave-frequency magnetic resonances of an array of parallel, metallic thin film nanowires (‘stripes’). The peak in the center is due to resonances occurring at the stripe edges while the strong horizontal bar is due to resonances in the body of the stripes.”

Since I’m trained in astronomy, my tendency is to read frequency along the horizontal axis, which would imply a peak of some sort at a particular frequency, but that doesn’t feel right, somehow. Maybe it’s actually a spectrogram of some sort, with the horizontal axis representing the spatial extent of the nanowires?

Whatever the image tries to show, the real question is: why confuse people with it?

The NSF Nose Best

It’s that time of year again! The National Science Foundation has announced the winners of the 2007 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

What I find clever about the image above is exactly what is remarked upon in the caption from Science magazine’s Ben Lester. “Normally, CT renderings meld slices together into smooth surfaces, but, in what he terms the ‘Rainbow Technique,’ Fung instead broke them apart, creating a topographical map of the airspaces described by the contour lines of individual slices, and colored according to the density of the tissues that border them.”

I question whether that’s a completely accurate description of the technique: the contour-like color variation suggests that there’s more than tissue density informing the color selection. Regardless, the technique draws attention to the asymmetries in the image, which would be far less apparent if the same data were rendered in a photorealistic fashion. As always, I wonder how the uninitiated interpret images such as this, but overall, I rather like it. Even the Moiré patterns I manage to find both engaging and distracting at the same time.

(A much less appealing—in fact, presumably inadvertant—appearance of contours shows up in an image associated with an ESO press release that came out today. I would recommend a Gaussian blur, kiddos!)

Anyway, take a look at the other winners. Interesting stuff. You can check them out via the link above or by going to the corresponding page on the Science magazine site.

One short year ago, I blogged about a 2006 winner (while I was visiting Chicago and listening to Wolf Parade, evidently), which also happened to be a CT scan. And that reminds me! This blog is just a little over a year old. Sadly, I’ve been unable to pay as much attention to it of late, but so it goes. I won’t give up just yet (although I will cringe when people make reference to it at conferences or before I give a talk, since I’m embarrassed at how rarely I post nowadays).

Mathematica Mojo

Visiting Chicago for the annual meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, I attended a one-day session on astronomy visualization (the usual suspects). Lots of things caught my attention, but I thought I’d highlight the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, a collection of visual (non-Java) applets that utilize the free Mathematica Player.

The image above is a snapshot of the “day and night world clock” from the collection. Nothing too special about it, particularly as a snapshot, but within the player, you can fiddle with the time of year and time of day to see how the dividing line between day and night changes over the course of the year. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the Geochron clock at my local planetarium, so perhaps I’m just being nostalgic. Still, I enjoy watching the terminator’s projection on the flat surface, bending through the course of a year.

Among the other demonstrations, I like the Cepheid light curve, too, as well as the hydrogen orbitals and the inverse Hilbert matrices.