The Times, They are a Changin’

I know, we’re all sick of Trump and news about Trump. So let’s take a breather. Here’s a collection of news chum that shows some other interesting ways that the times are a changin’:

  • Social Media Addiction. The New York Times is reporting that Generation X is more addicted to social media than Millenials. Again, read that headline: the younger kids (Millenials) are LESS addicated than the generation before them (GEN X, Adults 39-49). That, perhaps, explains the greying of Facebook. A Neilsen study found that adults 35 to 49 spend an average of 6 hours 58 minutes a week on social media networks, compared with 6 hours 19 minutes for the younger group. More predictably, adults 50 and over spent significantly less time on the networks: an average of 4 hours 9 minutes a week (and I’m part of this latter group). The report is based on smartphone and tablet use, and it found that in the United States, 97 percent of people 18 to 34, and 94 percent of people 35 to 49, had access to smartphones. Seventy-seven percent of those 50 and older used smartphones, the report found. The 29-page report was based on data from 9,000 smartphone users and 1,300 tablet users across the country from July through September. It also found that Facebook still dominated on mobile, with about 178.2 million unique users in September. It was followed by Instagram, with 91.5 million unique users; Twitter, with 82.2 million unique users; and Pinterest, with 69.6 million users.Snapchat, a favorite of younger users, was sixth on the list, behind the professional networking site LinkedIn.  This raises the next question: if Millenials are using their smartphones so much, and they aren’t on social media, what precisely are they doing? They aren’t making phone calls.
  • Screens on Airplanes. Another New York Times article has an interesting finding regarding screens: we are using our personal screens so much that airlines are phasing out seat-back screens (which saves them a hella-lot of money). With built-in screens, airliners provide passengers with a set menu of content through boxes that power the in-flight entertainment system. The screens appeared in their most primitive form in the late 1980s with a few movies played on a loop. By the early 2000s, they had advanced to allow passengers to make choices on demand. By streaming content over wireless systems, passengers will have a wider array of content and the carriers will not have to maintain screens because passengers will bring their own portable devices on board. For carriers that discontinue the screens, the savings can be significant. By one estimate, in-flight entertainment systems are the biggest expense in outfitting a new plane and can make up 10 percent of the entire cost of an aircraft. The screens and their wiring add weight to the plane, and when fuel prices are high, every pound makes a difference. Another financial incentive: Without the screens, carriers can install slimmer seats, which means they can accommodate more passengers and earn more money. The article makes one other very important comment regarding personal screens: Experts said that if airliners are going to rely on consumer electronics for in-flight entertainment, the carriers should be prepared to offer another amenity: outlets for passengers to charge their devices. Mr. Hoppe said it was “imperative” to have them available in all rows and seats, and “essential” to ensure that each one works.
  • Fashion Rules for Plus Size. Let’s break up the New York Times articles with a change of fashion. A bunch of editors at Buzzfeed decided to break the “fashion rules” for Plus Size women. You know what? They looked great.  This goes to show yet another change that is happening in society: people deciding not to follow arbitrary rules from someone else, and wearing and being what is right for them. More power to them!
  • Intel Dropping Out of Science Fairs. One last New York Times article: it appears that Intel is dropping its sponsorship of Science Fairs. As someone who judges at the California State Science Fair, this is bad news. I see the remarkable things kids do, and it restores my faith in our youth. I originally thought the reason might have to do with Trump — after all, Intel had been meeting with Trump and Trump hates science.  But the reason is due to a more fundamental change: [The traditional science fair’s] regimented routines can seem stodgy at a time when young people are flocking to more freewheeling forums for scientific creativity, like software hackathons and hardware engineering Maker Faires. That is apparently the thinking at Intel, the giant computer chip maker, which is retreating from its longtime sponsorship of science fairs for high school students. It has dropped its support of the National Science Talent Search, and is dropping support of the International Science and Engineering Fair. The article noted that this leads to broader questions about how a top technology company should handle the corporate sponsorship of science, and what is the best way to promote the education of the tech work force of the future. Intel’s move also raises the issue of the role of science fairs in education in the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. All I know, as a judge, is that these fairs have encouraged some remarkable research by Middle and High School Students.
  • The Cost of Solar. As we keep debating the real costs of hydro-carbon based power, the costs of solar on an industrial scale continue to drop. Eventually, it may be that clean power is so much cheaper that we’ll be able to reserve hydro-carbons for the real thing we need them for: plastics. [And, believe me: if you think about a society without gas for your car is bad, just imagine a world with no plastics — not only no plastic bags and storage containers, but circuit boards, enclosures, insulation for wires, sterile medical devices — we need to save our oil for plastic]. Quoting from the article: Solar has seen remarkable cost declines and is competing in more circumstances with every passing year. But it is not the world’s cheapest source of electricity. Yhe main reason is that there is, at least currently, no such thing as “the world’s cheapest source of electricity,” if that’s taken to mean cheapest, all costs considered, in all places, at all times. No such fairy dust exists; different sources perform differently in different economies and different electricity systems. What can be said about solar is that it is rapidly increasing the range of circumstances under which it can compete on costs, without subsidies. This is a good thing. Together, wind and utility-scale solar are now the cheapest available energy sources in the places that are building the most of them. Utility-scale solar now has a lower total cost of power than natural gas.



Building Up STEAM

userpic=mad-scientistToday was that one day a year when I take off from work and go help the emerging generation by serving as a judge at the California State Science Fair. This year, yet again, I was the judge for the Junior (6-8 grade) Math and Software Panel. A few observations:

  • For the first year in a long time: not a single project calculating π, and not a single “Monty Hall Problem”. We still, though, got two projects related to sports.
  • Perhaps mirroring society, we’re getting more and more projects where the emphasis is on the software, not the math.
  • Perhaps mirroring society yet again, we’re getting more and more software projects where the students role is integrating pre-existing pieces, as opposed to developing code from scratch.
  • So what were the hot trends this year: use of Arduino boards, Lego Mindstorm, and programming in Python, Java, and Excel.
  • This year I was much more annoyed by the crowding and interruptions of the interviews, and how the special category judges always seem to be talking to the person I needed to talk to next. Boos to the ScienCenter person who interrupted an interview to tell me I couldn’t sit my closed, sealed iced-tea on the table; I had to balance it with everything else I was carrying.

A few comments on the projects themselves:

What else did we have this year? Someone building an elevator in Minecraft. Two projects trying to program video games for the blind. Two projects dealing with autonomous cars (one navigating the maze, the other merging). One attempting to do text compression and storing the frequency library in the cloud. A fellow who programmed a calculator and got it into the Google store.  Those were the ones that stuck in my mind.

In any case, quite an interesting day. Always fun.


And The Winner Is…

cssfuserpic=mad-scientistToday was the 62nd Annual California State Science Fair, and it was my 11th year of serving as a judge for the Mathematics and Software Panel (Junior Division)… and my (mumble-number) year as chair of that panel. As is my tradition, here’s a recap of our panel and my day. Here is the full list of major fair awards and the category awards.

In our panel, the unanimous winner was Saving Lives One Swimmer at a Time. This project was the development of a system in Python to detect when a swimmer is underwater. It did this by comparing images to a baseline, and included mechanisms to eliminate non-relevant items such as slightly moving lane-lines. The software was well-written and commented. The only problems this had was that it couldn’t handle multiple swimmers, or distinguish between those in distress and those not in distress.

The second place winner was Computer-based Automatic Music Creation through Analysis of Existing Music Pieces. This project took as input existing music pieces in the form of note sequences, note sequence repetition, and measures and developed a composition algorithm to develop similar new pieces. The software to do the generation and analysis was written in MATLAB. There was a fair amount of code developed, and all except the chunk that played the resulting music was developed by the student.

The third place winner (and one of my favorites) was Are Your Passwords Secure over Public Wi-Fi? This project looked at the security of unencrypted wi-fi, and also investigated the SSLstrip  and man in the middle attacks. It also looked at how some browsers have not implemented mechanisms to address the SSLStrip attack. There was less programming effort involved, but this guy knew his stuff. What hurt here was the lowered amount of effort compared to the other highly ranked projects.

The fourth place winner was Danger, Will Robinson! Life Critical Computer User Interfaces and the Science of Safety. Although the title was hokey, the subject was not: it explored what was the most effective user interface for a warning display.

Honorable mentions went to three projects: (1) Misspelled! Creating an Accurate Computerized Spell Correcting Algorithm, which was a reasonably good attempt at programming a spell-correction algorithm; (2) Wi-Fi Watchdog: Application to Observe the Indoor Mobility of Senior Citizens, a project that had seniors carrying android devices and looking at signal strength to determine their locations; and (3) Programmatic Signature Fraud Detection, a program that attempted to determine when signatures were fraudulent.

As for the other projects. We had two (#1, #2) related to the Monty Hall problem. Hint: If you are going to do this, make it original. Everyone knows one car and two goats. But what about more than three doors? multiple cars? multiple goats? the effect of different values of the prizes? the values of incentives to switch? Exploring how these change the odds would be an interesting project. The original question? It’s been done to death. However, I must admit that one of the students was a born salesman — he’ll end up hosting a game show one day, or end up being in sales!

And for those wanting to calculate π… again, figure out what would make this unique, because it’s been done to death. For example, one project related to Buffons Needle.  First, you need to understand why it works. Secondly, you need to understand the effects of random  number generator quality on your results… and perhaps you might explore how you can use such a calculation to test a RNG.

You should try not to do projects where the results appear obvious: we had a few where we couldn’t figure out why the project was even submitted. In such cases, you need to make clear what was unique about this. If you are going to be doing pure math, there needs to be something novel there … something that makes us see the hard work and the applicability (if possible) of the results. Most importantly, you need to understand what you are doing. If you are doing common subjects (especially things like probability in sports or gambling), try to find the unique angle — simple effort to duplicate what is likely known makes it hard for you to shine above the middle of the pack.

As for the other projects, we had some good ones related to cell counting and identifying dementia that just seemed to be in the wrong category — they were most likely in this category due to the fact they involved programming or modeling.  We had some others where the student just didn’t seem to think about the problem fully. For example, in a project related to developing a language for evaluating linear programming, the issue was less the program to solve the equation, and more (in my eyes) about the parser developed to address the language. This was not robust and provided no error feedback. This placed the project more in the middle of the pack.  We had another on security algorithms for attack/defend, but the student had difficulty explaining how the algorithms worked or understanding how the input and results mapped to the real world, other than they affected placement of resources. This was an example of a timely subject hurt by the understanding.

I should clarify here that, as usual, projects had some clear divisions. From the end of the first session, we knew the likely leaders because every judged liked them to some degree. We also knew the ones at the lower end of the spectrum. The great bulk of the projects were in the middle. This didn’t make them bad, but it didn’t make them outstanding. So if you are doing a project, you need to ask what you can do to make yours outstanding. From what I’ve seen, in this category, the answer is: (1) understanding what you did and all aspects of it; (2) being able to communicate that understanding; (3) being able to show that there was some significant effort put into the project; (4) if you developed code, developing the code using good techniques and making it robust.  If you want your project to be able to move beyond the category winner, I’d suggest making it have some utility that makes it stand head and shoulders above the typical engineering or scientific projects — which is something hard to do with math and software.

Originality ___
Comprehension ___
Organization/Completeness ___
Effort/Motivation ___
Oral and Visual Clarity ___

[ETA: When I generate the project pages, I’ve been adding a stamp of the form illustrated to the right. This illustrates the various dimensions of judging according to the Judges Handbook. I’ve done this for about 5 years now, and every year I get annoyed because it doesn’t work. By the time the next CSSF comes around, I’ve forgotten about the problems with this and use it again… and curse again. Perhaps this year, by making this note, I’ll remember. There are two problems with this form. First, using this at the state level with a scale of 1-5 does not work, because most of the projects (by virtue of the fact they made it to state) are already at a 3 level. Thus I end up with a number of projects clumped at the higher levels. I need to modify this to indicate the scale, along the lines of: “[Scale: -5 to 5, where 0 = minimal state level and 5 = exceptional]”. Secondly, the dimensions are unclear, and in some cases, difficult to judge through the interview. I need to rework the dimensions to clarify what we appear to be looking for. This would give the following table:]

[Scale: -5 to 5, where -5 = “ehhh”,
0 = CSSF minimal and 5 = exceptional]
Originality of Project ___
Understanding of Project Issues ___
Quality of Code/Work Performed ___
Level of Effort Performed ___
Degree of Difficulty for Age ___
Presentation Skills ___

As for other aspects related to the day:

First, instead of driving to USC I took Metro. It was lovely. Parked in North Hollywood, Red Line to Metro/7th Street, and then Expo line to USC/Expo Park. Easy-peezy, and something I’ll do again.

Second, I took a little time to visit the space shuttle Endeavour. Nice display; it should be even nicer when they have the new building built. The shuttle itself is both larger and smaller than I expected, and certainly looks more worn. They also have a display of the Rocketdyne command center, the tires, an engine, and various other shuttle ephemera and artifacts. Well worth visiting if you are down at the ScienceCenter. Note: The page talked about timed tickets being required, but that wasn’t the case when I was there. It may have been a special day due to the CSSF.


Science Fair: 2012

Today was the 2012 California State Science Fair, and as usual, I was the chair of the Jr. Math and Software Panel. This year we had 21 projects + one no-show, and a large panel of 11 judges. The focus of the projects varied widely: simulating and playing games, writing useful programs, navigation, exploring math theorites, security, and many other topics. Here’s a run down of the winners and some of the other projects.

Our first place project, “Computer vs. Human: Exploring AI in the Game Blokus” was by last year’s winner, continuing her exploration of the game Blokus. This little 7th grader from Orange County knew her stuff down pat: she knew the game, she programmed a wide variety of different strategies such that she determined the winning algorithmic approach to playing the game. As I indicated before, games were a common theme: an honorable mention project from two 7th graders addressed Tic-Tac-Toe (“Artificial Intelligence: Teaching a Computer to Play Tic-Tac-Toe“) with an innovative learning strategy; another project from a 7th grader in Marin County explored which player had the statistical advantage in the game of Risk (“Probability and Risk“). We also had projects exploring the game Sudoko and Basketball statistics.

Our second place project addressed a subject close to my heart: computer security. This project, Security through Obscurity (Steganography), explored the hiding of information in static images, determining that it was possible to encode information in 9 bits for each pixel (3 each for red, green, and blue) before the image was visually affected. This was another poised 8th grader from Orange County who really knew her stuff.

Our third place project was from a team that explored navigation out of their interest in sailing. These two brothers — one 6th grade, one 8th grade — from San Joaquin County looked at how to determine position: “Creating a Global Positioning System: Determining Latitude and Longitude Based Upon Solar Azimuth and Elevation“. This wasn’t our only navigation project: An honorable mention went to a 7th grader from Santa Cruz County for his project “The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Navigation Device“. This young fellow decompiled the Minecraft game, added in three navigation methods (a compass, a vector, and a quasi-map) and the determined which was the best approach to find a given goal.

Our fourth place project was from an 8th grader from Santa Clara County who explored modeling with a project titled “A Mathematical Analysis of Animal Food Chains in Serengeti National Park, Africa: A Computer Simulation Program“. This young student obtained data from paper, and then analyzed trends (by hand, if I recall) to look at the effects of the growth of different animal populations. This wasn’t our only modeling problem: we had one that looked at sampling methods, and one that looked at the birthday paradox.

A number of projects looked at more traditional geometric and mathematical issues. These included the common topics that address calculation of pi in some way (this year, Buffon’s Needle) or Fibonacci numbers. Geometric was also represented by a project that attempted to find the center of a triangle. Mathematics were representated by projects addressing queuing theory and solution of polynomials.

There were a few projects that defied categorization. One student attempted to develop a project that addressed assignment of homework and keeping track of assignments–it was a good idea and implementation, but didn’t scale well. Another project looked at the impact of cosmic dust; in particular, whether it caused aerodynamic drag. There was a project that used a 600dpi printer and a HeNe laser to produce holograms. There was also a project that attempted to compare web browser speed, but it needed better understanding of what web browsers do and the variables that affect browser speed.

Lastly, there was a project that had us scratching our heads a bit: “By Random Chance or By Design?” This attempted to explore the question of whether something created through intelligent design could be recreated by random chance.  His conclusion was that it was impossible to do so. Guess we’ll have to tell those monkeys to give up on those typewriters.

A few additional observations:

  • We have some really bright kids out there. I just talked about our panel, but go to the website and peruse all the panels. You’ll see some remarkable projects out there.
  • Whatever happened to real programming languages (also know as “And those programming languages kids uses these days, they’re just …”). I saw kids programming in Java, Javascript, Python, PHP, and other web-interpreted languages. What happened to C or other traditional programming languages and the more traditional programming model.
  • If you’re going to do a science project, investigate and do something novel. It is much harder to be successful if you are doing simple things (tic-tac-toe, pi, well-known number theory). Do something hard or novel, and know it down pat. Know how to present and be comfortable presenting it. If you look at our top placers, this is what was common: they did something novel, they knew it well, and they knew how to talk about it like they knew it, without going over the head of the judges.

I really enjoy doing things like this. Whether it was the recent ethics competition or the science fair: judging events like this is a way to give back to the community. I encourage all of you to do something like this: give back, and help our emerging science students. Lord knows the state isn’t helping.

Music: Memories (Barbra Streisand): New York State of Mind


Working with Youngsters

Item the First. Today was the California State Science Fair. I was the panel chair for Junior Math and Software, although I didn’t judge project of the year. The winner in our panel was a 6th grader from Orange County, with a project that looked in to the best strategy for playing Blokus. Games seemed to be the theme this year, with projects looking into the best way to generate D&D ability scores, to computer-playing tic-tac-toe, to chinese checkers, to Mastermind. Other common themes were origami and geometry, spiral geometry, regular polygons, and spidrons. We also had two on searching: one looking at algorithms, and non-lyrical music search.

Item the Second. Seen on Facebook: A link to a children’s book on Amazon: Go the F**k to Sleep. Sample dialogue:

The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the fuck to sleep.

Uncle Shelby would be proud.


Amazing Students Yet Again

Today was the 2010 California State Science Fair. As in past years, I was the panel chair for the Jr. Math and Software Panel, as well as being a Project of the Year judge.

Math and Software. This year, we ended up with 13 project in the panel. We ended up with six (6) judges, after some perturbations (we had six to start, lost two, gained one, he cancelled at the last minute, and the two we lost ended up on the panel). Every year seems to have a themes: some years it is programming, other years there are loads of projects on π (pi). If there was a theme this year on projects, it was games. We had projects on Conway’s Life, Connect Four, Yahtzee, Chess, and Risk. The winner ended up being the project on Conway’s Life. This 8th grader programmed Life in for both Flash and iPhone platforms, including parameterizing it so different rules could be tried… and came up with a better variation on the rules than Conway’s. He also understood the cellular automata basis behind the game. I’ve heard you can find his app in the iPhone store! Second place was a fellow who implemented a program that calculated the best starting position for Risk. His program was written in Java and well parameterized, making it easy to adapt to other Risk variants. Third place was a C program that played Connect Four, which included a seven-level look-ahead to choose moves. Fourth place wasn’t a game: it was a project on Kaprekar Numbers which explored patterns in the iterations to reach Kaprekar Constants. The honorable mention was a fellow who found some interesting issues related to random Fibonacci sequences.

Project of the year. This is always interesting: we get to see the best projects in each category. Some of my favorites were:

  • Junior Biochemistry/ Molecular Biology: “Effects of 3-Membered Heterocycle-Derived dTTP Analogs on the Inhibition of Nucleic Acid Polymerases Using Docking”. This was a project by an 8th grader, whose knowledge of chemistry amazed the PhDs on the panel. To give you an idea, here’s her objective: “The objective was to determine the inhibitory effects of novel three-membered heterocyclic compound-derived analogs on several nucleic acid polymerases in silico using molecular docking.”. Her findings? “Several potential inhibitors have been identified through this experiment: for DNA polymerase kappa, Ligand 102 with a binding energy of -6.09 kcal/mol; for HCV NS5B polymerase, Ligand 35 with a binding energy of -5.67 kcal/mol; and for HIV reverse transcriptase, Ligands 15 and 96 with a binding energy of -6.03 kcal/mol. The majority of ligands had a greater binding affinity than the control ligand, dTTP. Analysis of data found that three-membered rings increased binding affinity through both hydrophobic interactions and through an extensive network of hydrogen bonds. The decreased steric repulsion of three-membered rings relative to the five-membered rings of dTTP also contributed to increased binding affinity.” Yeah, I have no idea what this means either, other than it deals with developing medicines for HIV.
  • Junior Microbiology: “A Conductometric Biosensor for the Detection of Food-Borne Pathogens”. Another 8th grader. Her project was developing a rapid (30 minute) test for salmonella that could be used in the field. How did she do it? “First, I built a conductometric biosensor by preparing the individual membranes of the biosensor and placing them over a copper wafer fabricated on a microscope slide. I serially diluted a liquid culture of Salmonella enterica from 10^6 to 10^1 CFU/ml. I applied the sample to the application pad of the biosensor and recorded the resistance at 15 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, 2 min, and 3 min intervals. I also tested the biosensor with a mixed culture of Staphylococcus epidermidis and Salmonella. For the FDA method, I plated each concentration of Salmonella onto McConkey plates and incubated overnight. The conductometric biosensor showed significant resistance reductions from about 10 K-ohms (negative control of broth) to 2-3 K-ohms from the concentrations 10^3 to 10^6 CFU/ml, confirming the presence of Salmonella. At concentration of 10^2 CFU/ml, only one sample showed a decrease in resistance; the other sample showed resistance above that of the negative control sample. During the mixed culture experiment, the biosensor could detect Salmonella even in the presence of non-target antigens.”
  • Junior Electronics & Electromagnetics: “The Levitating Train”. This 7th grader devised an experiment to achieve the process of YBCO superconductors steadily levitating above a track of neodymium magnets when cooled using liquid nitrogen, as well as testing how much the amount of the liquid nitrogen effects the levitation height of two YBCO superconductors mounted on a small balsa wood box (the train).
  • Junior Product Science (Physical):The Effect of Reusable Bag Type on Tensile Strength, Liquid Retention, Stability, Washability, Compactness, and Capacity”. After this 8th grader’s mom plastic bag broke, spilling milk, she investigates what was the strongest type of reusable bag, including building her own tensile strength rig. Her method? “Seventeen reusable grocery bags were collected, which varied in fabric, make, and design. These bags were tested to determine if they would withstand the maximum 30 lb. weight given in tensile strength (machine used), retain liquid without leaking, be stable in a moving automobile, wash without wear to the bag, compact into a small form, and have a great capacity. These aspects were individually investigated through six in-depth tests. Tensile Strength: 100 lifts each, with varying weight loads, 5 trials. Liquid Retention: 57 grams of liquid in each bag, 15 minute duration, 5 total trials. Stability: 10 defined maneuvers in a moving vehicle, avg. 1:12 min each. Washability: wash and dry per instructions, 5 trials. Compactness: 8 different size drink cups, bags compacted to fit with lid secured. Capacity: 6 distinct trials, different grocery item groupings.” Her findings: “The three leading reusable grocery bags were the iTySE Ripstop Bag, the OBOE Pongee Poly Bag, and the ACME Bag Earthtote.”

Mind you: this was Junior division work. Impressive kids—think about this when you hear about the poor quality of California’s schools and kids. Our kids can do great… if we just give them the opportunity!


Reflections on the Ranch

Reflection the First. I’ve written in the past about the pending demolition of our former headquarters building, now that our new headquarters has completed construction. Well, starting January 1st, the active demolition started: the fences have gone up, and they are prepping the building to come down.

I’m finding it quite interesting to watch the demolition process (and it is oddly relaxing to walk outside to stretch my legs and watch for a minute or two). The first phases were pretty dull: you could see the plastic go up as they did the asbestos removal, see shadowy figures inside the building, presumably removing all the interior partitions and such. This last week or two, however, it has gotten much more interesting. First, they are putting up a sound wall to protect the main campus. This consists of a two-story high scaffolding from which they are hanging heavy plastic coated quilt-like objects from each side (thus creating a blanket-air-blanket sandwich). This isn’t fully assembled, so I can still see the other demolition (it should be up before the main building comes down).

The most interesting part, however, is the further prep for demolition. This week, they started reducing each floor to the bare concrete. This involved breaking the office windows (yes, they broke them, presumably because they wouldn’t remove easy) and removing all the exterior window supports. They did about a floor each day, starting with the windows (lots of glass breaking), and then with the walls (lots of banging to break out the metal side supports). By the time they were done, the only “rooms” that were left were the elevator lobbies and the restrooms (which appear to have concrete support walls). Surprisingly, the restrooms still work — or at least the sinks do, because I’ve seen workers washing their hands! But one could see straight through the floors, and see the honeycomb pattern on the bottom of each flooring slab. They’ve also removed most of the exterior shade panels (except for the ones from the roof): these were lifted up and out whole. At this point, the only floor with the glass still in is the 1st floor, but that might be gone by Tuesday.

As I look at the building reduced to its concrete members, I wonder how much work it would take at this point to retrofit, and why (perhaps) it was not earthquake safe. Our two story buildings are, and they appear to have the same construction. My guess is that it is the height (6 floors) that is a major factor, creating much more swaying, supported only by relatively narrow concrete pillars and the endcaps. If those weren’t steel-reinforced adequately (this is 1963 construction standards), they could be problematic for a 6-floor building, but might be acceptable for a 2-floor building. There is also the possibility that the floors might not be as strongly tied to the pillars, or they would have had to reinforce each floor. I still wonder if, with the building stripped like this, they could retrofit it. I guess not, even if they were to jacket the support pillars and attempt to tie things better.

I’m not sure how they are going to bring the structure down. I don’t think an implosion is likely, due to the risk of ancillary damage. It will either be cutting it apart and removing each piece with a crane, or using a wrecking ball. Are there 6-story wrecking ball cranes?

Watching this has left an impression on me. I now look at our modern buildings, and try to imagine the time when they will be torn down. How will our large steel skyscrapers come down. They can’t easily remove the glass skins safely. In 200 or 300 years, will our downtowns look the same? Our housing tracks? Will they be full of forlorn buildings, seemingly sad as they become devoid of their occupants? Will they look as tired as the stacks of dead streetcars did 50 years ago? It’s odd to look at a building, and think about it devoid of its skin, reduced to floors and support members.

Reflection the Second. Turning to something much happier. Last night, I was reading the Magnet Newsletter for my daughter’s high school. In it, I read that students from the school will be participating in two national Engineering Contests: the Test of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) Contest and the Herndon Science Seminar. The latter item caught my eye because it is sponsored by the ranch. Now, I’ve seen the projects set up in the campus mall before, but I’ve never gone down and looked. This year I think I will, because I might run into someone from Van Nuys. It looks like Van Nuys is the only Valley high school participating in the contest.


Picturing Scientific Achievement

As you recall, back in May I wrote of my being panel chair for the Jr. Math and Software Panel at the California State Science Fair. I’ve just received mail that the pictures from the fair are now on the web if you want to see what the process looks like. If you want to look at our specific panel, scroll down to Jr. Mathematics and Software. I’m in three of the pictures (J1611 #1, J1611 #2, and J1613) (I really need to lose weight or stand up straight 🙁 ), and I believe the pictures for J1604 and J1605 show Dr. Bruce Rothschild of UCLA.