Before we plunge into the fray with boundless gusto and wild abandon, if you are confused about the “Stardate” nomenclature in the title to this article, then you might want to revisit my original Norwegian Odyssey (Stardate 19984) commentary, followed by the 19985 and 19986 installments.
The point is that this column pertains to Stardate 19987 (which would equate to Thursday 16 February if we were to be using your quaint Earthling Calendar). As I pen these words, however, I am back in the Pleasure Dome (my office) in Huntsville Alabama and it’s actually Stardate 19993. There simply hasn’t been enough time to keep everything up to date. All I can suggest is that you close your eyes and visualize me in the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek the Next Generation, sitting in my command chair thoughtfully stroking my chin, while the scene dissolves into a flashback annotated by sub-text saying “Six days earlier…”
OK, you can open your eyes again (this simply isn’t going to work otherwise), and we will continue…
Originally, I had been provided with instructions on how to catch the Oslo Metro (Oslo T-bane or Oslo Tunnelbane in Norwegian) to the campus for the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo (www.ifi.uio.no). After I had actually met some of the guys from the department at the FPGA Forum earlier in the week, however, they had quickly realized that leaving me to explore the metro system on my own was a recipe for disaster, so they said that one of them would come to our hotel to pick us up.
Thus it was that on Thursday morning we [my son Joseph and I] were met at our hotel by Doctor Dirk Koch. In fact, my understanding is that I should more properly refer to Dirk as “Postdoc Dirk Koch”. If Dirk was working in the commercial world, the “Doctor” honorific would be appropriate; the “Postdoc” moniker indicates that he is continuing to perform original research.
I tell you, things are somewhat different to when I was a student. I really enjoyed my time at University, but it has to be said that our facility was very “institutionalized” in form and function – “utilitarian” would be a good way to describe it. By comparison, the Department of Informatics building was like a luxury hotel – bright and airy and festooned with little seating areas and fresh-ground coffee machines.
And the artwork has to be seen to be believed. I understand that every public (government-funded) building in Norway has to devote about 5% of its construction budget to art. Consider the following image, for example, where the different colored dots represent the digits forming Pi
In reality this is huge. Below is a photo of Joseph (on the left) and Postdoc Dirk Koch (on the right). We are on the second floor, so we’re only seeing the upper portion of the Pi plaque, which continues all the way down to the ground floor.
There is art everywhere you look – both inside and outside the building. On the north-west outside wall, for example, we discovered some massive “Equations in Stainless Steel
” panels. Each of these started off as a concept that was then modeled in MATLAB and subsequently converted into three-dimensional casts as shown below.
A fractal function
The Doppler effect
A representation of Orion’s belt and sword
Poor old Joseph… wherever we went I kept on saying to him “Can you stand in front of this to provide a sense of scale.”
Towards the end of our trip, whenever I got my camera out and said “Joseph…”
He would reply “I know, I know, stand in front of it so you can get a sense of scale”
In the case of the Doppler panel, imagine the sound a train’s horn makes as it approaches you and then passes you and recedes into the distance. As the train approaches, the sound waves are compressed (as shown to the right of the sculpture); as the train recedes, the sound waves are stretched out (as shown to the left of this image).
With regard to the Orion’s belt panel, this is a visualization of the 42 strongest stars in a 6x7 degree section of the constellation of Orion, showing Orion’s belt and sword as imaged through a hole the size of a pencil-tip (0.1 mm), where the central 99% of the hole is blocked. The ring patterns from the 42 different stars will then interfere with each other producing a very complex result. This panel was produced by convolving a point spread function with the 42 point sources from a star catalog.
When we returned inside the building and started to walk around, I was surprised to see pictures of yours truly plastered everywhere announcing my talk.
My presentation was scheduled to start at 12:15pm. So, at around 11:55am we strolled up to the lecture theater to make sure that I could use their equipment. The theater itself was huge (much bigger than it appears in the photo below). We entered at the top to see tier-after-tier of chairs arranged like a movie theater.
You can only imagine my surprise to find that the lecture theater was jam-packed full. “Oh wow,”
I thought to myself, “they must really want to hear what I have to say.”
And then the bell rang and everyone got up and left (grin). The image above shows the state of play about 20 seconds after the lecture had just ended.
Happily, my audience soon began to arrive, and we ended up with quite a crowd. The image below shows the scene after I had just finished my presentation and folks were coming down to chat with me. I’m the guy facing the crowd and furthest away from the camera (Joseph took this picture, which may explain the blurred effect :-)
And how did my talk go? Well, it would be immodest of me to “blow my own horn” as they say, but I did receive quite a number of complements at the time and also via email afterwards. For example, I received one email that read as follows:
Dear Max. I found your talk today both exciting, inspiring, and entertaining.
Three of my favorites. ;-)
The writer then goes on to say that when he was young he hung out with some friends who built a computer. He didn’t have any money to buy electronic components so he instead went into the software side of things. He finished as follows:
Now that you have some of my background, I will get to the real point of what I wanted to say… Thank you for your talk and conversation today. You brought some of that old glow, optimism and happiness of the early years back to me. Don’t misunderstand, I have not been unhappy. It is just that you brought to the top of my stack of thoughts that there is so much more cool stuff to enjoy.
Well, what can I say? This is high praise indeed. I have to tell you that receiving feedback like this is what makes all of the time it takes to pull one of these presentations together so worthwhile.
Last but not least (for this column), the following image shows me after my talk. We were walking past the library portion of the building when we spotted yet another poster advertising my presentation.
The white box in my hands is a present from the university. It contains a miniature model in cast aluminum of one of the “Equations in Stainless Steel” panels that adorn the outside of the building. The one I have represents the interference patterns caused by someone singing a pure high C (C6 = 1046.5 Hz) while walking toward one wall – and away from another – at a brisk stroll of 10 meters per second. (Just in case you were wondering, an ambient temperature of 15C is assumed [grin]). If you are ever passing by my office, please feel free to drop in and I would be delighted to show it to you.
Following my talk we had a wonderful lunch with the attendees, and then we toured the department to see all of the research they are doing. This includes some incredible work with FPGA reconfiguration, self-learning robots, interactive music systems, and… but I’m afraid this will all have to wait until the next installment of my Norwegian Odyssey…
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