Thursday, October 31, 2013

Two Black Figures – Handsom Hank

Urban Crossfit - Wall ArtUrban Crossfit - Wall Art
I have no idea what these figures mean or what “Handsom Hank”, above the figures, means or even if I’m reading it right. Oh well, it’s a cool design. The wall is located on the north wall of Urban Crossfit, on Dexter Avenue in Seattle.
Urban Crossfit - Wall Art

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lake Wenatchee – Cabin Flora

Left: Mist Through the Trees; Right: Mist Over Lake Wenatchee
Mist Through the TreesMist Over Lake Wenatchee
Just over a year ago we were here (Lake Wenatchee Misty Fall Day- Plants We Noticed on a Sunday Morning) at the cabin and it was a misty fall day. Today: blue skies and perfect weather for a little investigation of the flora around the cabin. Most of the trees cabin lot are Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) and fir or hemlock (I got stuck on the identification key where it asks “twigs warty where old needles have fallen of”). The understory is composed of Oregon Grape (Mahonia), Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), Birchleaf Spiraea (Spiraea betulifolia), Oregon boxleaf (Paxistima myrsinites), Elderberry (Sambucus), Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), and Western Mountain-Ash (Sorbus scopulina) to name a few.

Left: Nightstand Insect Visitor (Dead); Right: Birchleaf Spiraea
Nightstand Insect Visitor (Dead)Birchleaf Spiraea

Left: Oceanspray; Right: Birchleaf Spiraea
OceansprayBirchleaf Spiraea

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Binomen Art – Larix (Larch)

Left: Larix Spelled in Needles in the Snow; Right: Larch Branch on Carne Mountain
Larix Spelled in Needles in the SnowLarch Branch on Carne Mountain
“It’s a matter of elevation” the young man informed us. When trying to decide what kind of larch you are looking at, think about your elevation. According to him, since we were near the top of Carne Mountain, and we were above 6,000 feet, we were looking at subalpine (or just alpine) larch, Larix lyallii. The other type of larch in the Northwest is the western larch, Larix occidentalis.

In this Binomen Art series post, we are spelling out Larix, the scientific name for the larch genus. We spell out the name with the golden needles of larch on snow. Larch are conifers and deciduous. They shed their needles, but before they do, there is site to behold.

The young man –we had about 20 years on him – was carrying a book. Really, he was clutching it, and it being Northwest Trees: Identifying and Understanding the Region’s Native Trees by Stephen Arno and illustrated by Ramona P. Hammerly. The first edition of this book appeared in 1977. When our copy arrived a few days later, we immediately took a liking to it. This beautifully illustrated guide book really captures the “character” of the trees in an engaging way that books full of detailed photographs often miss.

The chapters on western larch and alpine larch sounded strangely familiar as the book-clutcher has recited quite literally from the book as we’ll do:

In the Cascades, alpine larch can be found from central Washington’s Wenatchee Mountains northward about 120 miles (190 km) just into the southern edge of British Columbia. It is found mainly above 6000 feet (1800 m) … [Northwest Trees, p 49]

On the Carne Mountain hike, we hit the larches as we entered the Carne Basin (a cirque I believe) at about 6,100 feet. So by elevation, it was most likely L. lyalli. According to Northwest Trees [p 43], the western larch (L. occidentalis) grows up to about 6,000 feet. Beyond elevation you can also use other simple diagnostics to distinguish between the two species. According to Pacific Coast Tree Finder [pocket manual] and other sources, if the needles are four-sided, it’s an alpine larch. If the needles are three-sided, it’s a western larch. If only we thought to twirl the needles between our fingers. Another way to help distinguish between the two species of larches is to look at the current-year twigs: for alpine larch they are woolly and for western larch they are not.

According to Quattrocchi, the generic name origin is:

From the Latin classical name larix, icis “a larch, larch tree,” used by Plinius and Vitruvius; see P. Sella, Glossario latino italiano. Stato della Chiesa – Veneto – Abruzzi. Città del Vaticano 1944.

As an aside: there really is a Glossario latino italiano. And, if you search inside the book for “larice” (larch in Italian), you see there is an something written. Unfortunately, we can’t see much of it. We’ll trust Quattrocchi on this.

The specific epithet occidentalis means “western”, while lyalli honors the Scot David Lyall (1817–1895).

Left: Trail Through Carne Basin to Carne Mountain and Area of Larch (Google Earth); Right: Larix spelled with Larch Needles in the Snow
Trail Through Carne Basin to Carne Mountain and Area of Larch (Google Earth)Larix spelled with Larch Needles

Left: Larch Trees in Carne Basin; Center: Trail from Carne Basin to the Carne Mountain Peak; Right: Larch Cones on Carne Mountain
Larch Trees in Carne BasinTrail from Carne Basin to the Carne Mountain PeakLarch Cones on Carne Mountain

Central Cascades – Carne Mountain Hike

Left: Elevation Profile of Carne Mountain Hike; Right: A Hiker Coming Up to the Peak of Carne Mountain
Elevation Profile of Carne Mountain HikeA Hiker Coming Up to the Peak of Carne Mountain
The pyramid profile we captured of our hike up and back from Carne Mountain explains this hike: steep. However, the view of the larches made it all worth while. The last time we saw larches was on a hike near Bolzano in 2007. Those were likely Larix decidua, native to central Europe. On this hike, you really get into the thick of larches when you enter the Carne Basin at around 6,100 feet. The larches that grow here are likely Alpine Larch (Larix lyalli). You will also see a lot of Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) mixed in as you climb the last ¼ mile to the peak.

On this fall day, the weather was warm and the white snow, blue skies, and yellow needles of the larches made for memorable scenery. For more about the larch, see Binomen Art – Larix (Larch).

Hike Stats

Length: 8.3 miles
< 6 hours; left trailhead at 9:45 am and returned at 3:20 pm.
gain 4,400 ft, started at 3,600 ft; Carne peak at 7,050 ft (we recorded), 7,085 ft (reported by WTA site).
Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - East, Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest.
10th hike of the season, total miles including this hike = 115.2 miles.

Larch Photos: Left – A Blur of Larches Approaching the Peak of Carne Mountain; Center: Larix Needles in the Snow; Right: A Larix Branch in Carne Basin
A Blur of Larches Approaching the Peak of Carne MountainLarix Needles in the SnowA Larix Branch

Left: Golden Larch Lights the Way Up To Carne Mountain; Right: The Peak of Carne Mountain
Golden Larch Lights the Way Up To Carne MountainThe Peak of Carne Mountain

Left: Entering Carne Basin at about 6,100 feet; Center: Snow and Larch in Carne Basin; Right: Stopping for Lunch Near the Peak of Carne Mountain We Hit a Patch of Ladybugs!
Entering Carne Basin at about 6,100 feetSnow and Larch in Carne BasinStopping for Lunch Near the Peak of Carne Mountain We Hit a Patch of Ladybugs!

Left: At the Peak of Carne Mountain Looking East; Center: View West from Carne Mountain; Left: View North from Carne Mountain
At the Peak of Carne Mountain Looking EastView West from Carne MountainView North from Carne Mountain

Friday, October 11, 2013

Museum of Computer History, Mountain View California

Left: Floor Plan of the Computer History Museum; Right: Difference Engine #2
Floor Plan of the Computer History MuseumDifference Engine #2
The Computer History Museum started life in 1979 as the Digital Computer Museum inside of Digital Equipment Corporation’s office in Massachusetts. Today, it is an independent non-profit, located in Mountain View, California. The museum has a large and interesting collection worthy of a few hours of time if you are in the area and you are even mildly interested in computers. Compared to the nearby Intel Museum, I would recommend the Computer History Museum as your first stop, if not only to see the fascinating Babbage Difference Engine #2 in action. Call or write to ask when live demonstrations of the Different Engine #2 occur.

Left: Napier’s Bones, England, ca. 1700; Right: Hollerith Tabulating Machine
Napier’s Bones, England, ca. 1700Hollerith Tabulating Machine

Some characters that caught my attention as I made my way through the main exhibition Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.

  • John Napier (1550 – 1617) invented (along with Henry Briggs) of logarithms. He also invented Napier’s Bones, rods for calculating products and quotients of numbers. The rods or “bones” are based on the concept of lattice multiplication, a way to break down multiplication into smaller steps. I can imagine nerds and geeks of the time having Napier’s Bones in their metaphorical shirt pockets…I would.
  • Herman Hollerith (1860 – 1929) invented the Hollerith tabulating machine, first used in the 1890 U.S. census. His tabulator, based on punched cards, produced results twice as fast as other methods used in that census. The holes in a punch card encoded information about one person. Each card was fed into a tabulator that advanced clock-like dials based on where the holes were on the card. Hollerith’s company Tabulating Machine Company, merged with four other companies in 1911 to become one company that eventually was named International Business Machine Corporation (IBM) in 1924. Here is the museum’s description of the census effort: Making Sense of the Census: Hollerith’s Punched Card Solution.
  • Seymour Cray (1925 – 1996), the “father of supercomputing” is featured prominently in the exhibition. Yes, the Cray-1 the museum has on display and the other one you can touch and walk into are really cool. (The Cray-1 was referred to some as the “world’s most expensive loveseat” due to its innovative design. The loveseat hid the power supply.) However, it was the video of Cray’s life and the detail about his “supposed” favorite pastime, digging tunnels under his house that really caught my attention. The video uses images from a 1932 Modern Mechanix and Inventions magazine article titled Tunnel Digging as a Hobby which was about one Dr. H. G. Dyar referred to as “the mole man of Washington” in a Washington Post article. I’m not sure how tunnels and computer history are related, but it stuck out in my mind. Here’s the video. The tunnel part is at 2:58.
  • Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871), the inventor of the incredible Difference Engine #2, a Victorian-era, hand-cranked, computing machine. All 8,000 parts of the engine work together to calculate values of a 7th order polynomial. Here’s a video on the museum’s site that shows the engine in action.
    Babbage designed the machine in the late 1840s, but never built it. The fully functioning machine in the Computer History Museum is the second of two built based on Babbage’s original plans. The first was completed in 1991 and the second in 2008.
    By all accounts (e.g., see The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World by Laura J. Synder), Babbage was an prickly genius. He spanned the transformation of science (in the 19th century) when it moved from the hands of the gentlemen scientist / natural philosopher to the professional scientist we know it today.

I’ll mention two themes that recently I’ve been thinking and reading about in the history of computing. The first theme is the idea of simplifying a problem to a form that can be more easily solved. The second theme is how the role of humans has changed in time in the history of computing.

Napier’s Bones exhibit the simplification theme in that they reduce complex multiplication to simpler steps that can be easily understood. The Difference Engine #2 demonstrates the simplification theme a little more abstractly. The engine uses the concept of finite differences to turn the problem of finding values of a polynomial into a one of constructing simple tables based only on addition and subtraction. The prosthaphaeresis algorithm is another, classic example of simplification where multiplication and division are approximated using formulas from trigonometry and look-up tables.

Left: The Philosophical Breakfast Club. Cover shows portraits of Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones.
Right: When Computers Were Human. Cover shows an operator of a Pantograph Card Punch for creating cards that could be read in the Hollerith Tabulating Machine
The Philosophical Breakfast Club. Cover shows portraits of Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones.When Computers Were Human. Cover shows an operator of a Pantograph Card Punch for creating cards that could be read in the Hollerith Tabulating Machine

The second theme of the changing role of humans in the history of computing is covered in the interesting book When Computers Were Human by David Alan Grier. The book “attempts to invert the history of scientific computing by narrating the stories of those who actually did the calculations.” True to the title, many of the stories are of people who were really “human computers”. For example, in the case of the Hollerith tabulating machine, humans collected the information, punched the cards, and then fed the cards to the tabulator. Humans were an integral if not manual part of the computing process.

For the Difference Engine #2, Babbage was inspired to “calculate with steam” as a way to reduce the number of errors in the mathematical tables so critically used in different fields of science. In Babbage’s time, those tables were constructed by “human computers”. The humans crunch numbers that were collected and rolled up into what might be a table of logarithms.

A humorous example of human computers, mentioned in When Computers Were Human and also detailed in the article "Work for the Hairdressers: The Production of de Prony's Logarithmic and Trigonometric Tables" by I. Grattan-Guiness, is how a large set of logarithmic and trigonometric tables were produced at the end of the 18th century under the direction of the French mathematician and engineer, Gaspard Riche de Prony (1755 – 1839). The production of the tables was based on three groups or sections working together. The first group chose the mathematical formulas. The second group set up the calculations based on the formulas and sent them to the third group which performed the bulk of the calculations (simple addition and subtraction):

These calculations were done by the third section [group], a large team of between 60 and 80 assistants. Many of these workers were unemployed hairdressers: one of the most hated symbols of the ancien regime was the hairstyles of the aristocracy, and the obligatory reduction of coiffure “as the geometers say, to its most simplest expression” left the hairdressing trade in a severe state of recession. Thus these artists were converted into elementary arithmeticians, executing only additions and subtractions.”

Another example of human computers that caught my attention is described by Grier in Chapter Two, The Children of Adam Smith. In 1765, the Royal Astronomer Nevil Maskelyne (1732 – 1811) was tasked with producing an almanac. The striking fact about the undertaking (at least to me) is that Maskelyne organized a cottage industry of human computers that received and sent their work through the mail. Grier describes it as follows:

For the Nautical Almanac computers, Maskelyne provided paper, ink, and instructions that were called “computing plans.” Maskelyne wrote these plans on one side of a heavy sheet of folded stationery. The instructions, scrawled in a slightly disheveled hand, summarized each step of the calculation. Occasionally, he would illustrate the computations with a hasty sketch of an astronomical triangle. On the other side of the paper he drew a blank table, ready for the computer to complete. [Grier, David Alan (2013-11-01). When Computers Were Human (p. 30). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.]

Maybe all this is a bit of nostalgia on my part. Today’s computing scene is too complex to grasp – at least at time – and it’s easier to take comfort in the past. Maybe I could be one of those human computers working on a logarithm table? Accordingly, it didn’t escape my notice that the bulk of my time at the Computer History Museum was spent with the pre-19th century devices.

Left: Images of a small portion of Difference Image #1 from Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864) by Charles Babbage.
Right: Difference Engine #2 in the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California
Images of a small portion of Difference Image #1 from Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864) by Charles Babbage.Difference Engine #2 in the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California

Left: IBM Watson versus Travelmarx (losing) on a Jeopardy! Stage Set at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California.
Right: EAI 580 Patch Panel - Electronic Associates, Inc. US, ca. 1968.
IBM Watson versus Travelmarx (losing) on a Jeopardy! Stage Set at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California.EAI 580 Patch Panel - Electronic Associates, Inc. US, ca. 1968.

Life in the Snail Lane

Another couple days in Mountain View and a few more images that I took back to Seattle.

A milk snail (Otala lactea) crossing the trail that runs a few feet north Amphitheatre Pkwy. On this particular morning, I’m heading east toward Crittenden Lane around 8:15 am on a trusty GBike. I stop to take a picture of a snail, thinking about how I could have run it over. The snail crossing the trail is perhaps a good analogy to what I’m feeling about my job at the moment. I’ve photographed O. lactea on a few previous occasions in and around Vista Slope, the 65-acre park bordered by Permanente Creek on the west, Amphitheatre Pkwy on the south, and Shoreline Amphitheatre on the east.

Left: Otala lactea crossing a trail near Vista Slope; Right: Otala lactea on a Deborah Butterfield Horse
A milk snail (Otala lactea) A milk snail (Otala lactea)

Left: Climbing up to Vista Slope; Center: View of Moffett Field from Vista Slope; Right: View of South Bay from Vista Slope
Climbing up to Vista SlopeView of Moffett Field from Vista SlopeView of South Bay from Vista Slope

The bronze Deborah Butterfield Horse is technically in an open space called the Crittenden Site. I always feel compelled to stop and take a photo. A few months ago, when I stopped and explored the horse closely, I found a capsule in it’s jawbone. I wonder who is this Crittenden that lends his or her name to a lane, a park area, and other places and institutions around Mountain View? John J. Crittenden?

Left: Deborah Butterfield Horse in Crittenden Site; Right: Geocaching capsule in the horse
Deborah Butterfield Horse in Crittenden SiteGeocaching capsule in the horse

William King’s Vision Sculpture [1987] is a prominent landmark on Charleston Road. The three-story sculpture features a boy leaning out of a window. Or is that a cage that surrounds him? The boy is looking toward Vista Slope. Perhaps looking for a big O. lactea to eat…they are edible.

William King’s Vision Sculpture – Google Campus
William King’s Vision Sculpture – Google CampusWilliam King’s Vision Sculpture – Google CampusWilliam King’s Vision Sculpture – Google Campus

Left: A glimmer of the Google logo; Right: Nighttime at Crittenden waiting for a bus with a GBike
A glimmer of the Google logoNighttime at Crittenden waiting for a bus with a GBike

Schinus molle
– known by many common names like Peruvian peppertree (my favorite) – is a tree I’ve started to notice on on the streets and the wild places along trails and creeks. S. molle is part of the cashew or sumac family (Anacardiaceae). Quattrocchi says of the generic name: “From schinos, the Greek name for the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus L., Latin schino or schinus, i, as some species yield mastic-like juices or resin; see Carl Linnaeus, Species Plantarum. 388. 1753 and Genera Plantarum. Ed. 5. 184. 1754.”

Left: Schinus molle flowers; Right: Schinus molle tree on North Shoreline BlvdSchinus molle flowersSchinus molle tree on North Shoreline Blvd