Category Archives: madison

Large-scale Pareto-optimal topologies, or: how to describe a hexahedron

I got to meet Karen Caswelch, the CEO of Madison startup SciArtSoft last week. The company is based on tech developed by my colleague Krishnan Suresh. When I looked at one of his papers about this stuff I was happy to find there was a lovely piece of classical solid geometry hidden in it!

Here’s the deal. You want to build some component out of metal, which metal is to be contained in a solid block. So you can think of the problem as: you start with a region V in R^3, and your component is going to be some subregion W in R^3. For each choice of W there’s some measure of “compliance” which you want to minimize; maybe it’s fragility, maybe it’s flexibility, I dunno, depends on the problem. (Sidenote: I think lay English speakers would want “compliance” to refer to something you’d like to maximize, but I’m told this usage is standard in engineering.) (Subsidenote: I looked into this and now I get it — compliance literally refers to flexibility; it is the inverse of stiffness, just like in the lay sense. If you’re a doctor you want your patient to comply to their medication schedule, thus bending to outside pressure, but bending to outside pressure is precisely what you do not want your metal widget to do.)

So you want to minimize compliance, but you also want to minimize the weight of your component, which means you want vol(W) to be as small as possible. These goals are in conflict. Little lacy structures are highly compliant.

It turns out you can estimate compliance by breaking W up into a bunch of little hexahedral regions, computing compliance on each one, and summing. For reasons beyond my knowledge you definitely don’t want to restrict to chopping uniformly into cubes. So a priori you have millions and millions of differently shaped hexahedra. And part of the source of Suresh’s speedup is to gather these into approximate congruence classes so you can do a compliance computation for a whole bunch of nearly congruent hexahedra at once. And here’s where the solid geometry comes in; an old theorem of Cauchy tells you that if you know what a convex polyhedron’s 1-skeleton looks like as a graph, and you know the congruence classes of all the faces, you know the polyhedron up to rigid motion. In partiuclar, you can just triangulate each face of the hexahedron with a diagonal, and record the congruence class by 18 numbers, which you can then record in a hash table. You sort the hashes and then you can instantly see your equivalence classes of hexahedra.

(Related: the edge lengths of a tetrahedron determine its volume but the areas of the faces don’t.)

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-22F

I mentioned last week that -3 Fahrenheit doesn’t seem that cold to me anymore. Well, this week it got colder. The coldest it’s been in Wisconsin in more than two decades, the coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced. When I walked home from the gym on Wednesday it was -22F. That, reader, is cold. You don’t notice it for the first few minutes because you still have residual heat in your body from being inside. But at -22F your fingers start to get cold and numb inside your gloves and your toes inside your boots. My walk was about ten minutes. I could have handled twenty. But probably not thirty.

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Acclimatization

Walking to the gym today I was thinking, 10 degrees Fahrenheit — sure, it’s cold out, but when I lived back east I would have considered this brutally, unfairly cold. Now it’s an unexceptional level of cold, easily managed by putting on gloves and a hat.

Then I got to the gym and looked at my phone and it was actually -3.

25 dishes that define Madison, and my takes on same

Wisconsin State Journal listicle:  25 Dishes That Define Madison

Pretty good list!  I have some comments.

Graze Burger:  It’s a very good burger, but if you go to Graze and either the patty melt or the green chili burger is on the menu, definitely order those, which are truly special.  Madison is not a patty melt town — I get mine at Mickie’s Dairy Bar, and they’re good, but you have to like grease, lots and lots of grease.  Grazes gets the bread shatteringly crispy without making it greasy, a neat trick.

Ian’s mac and cheese pizza:  As a former Ian’s Customer Of the Month (January 2010) it pains me to admit this, but Glass Nickel’s plagiaristic “mac daddy” pizza is better than Ian’s.

Lao Laan-Xang squash curry:  The very dish that 2-year-old CJ dumped on the ground, where it was mistaken for vomit!

Mickie’s dairy bar scrambler:  I never order this, it’s too big, but this is the dish that CJ always admired the football players for eating when he was 3.

The Old Fashioned’s cheese curds:  They are pretty good.  But nowhere near the top fried curds in Madison.  I have opinions.  The best curds in Madison are from the Curd Girl cart.  They are little miracles.  Light, in a way you do not think a deep-fried and battered sphere of cheese could be.  But they are.  Second best curds are at Graze.  Third best are at Steenbock’s on Orchard, where they’re served with grainy mustard and fried sage.  Purists will be annoyed by this, but look, I love mac and cheese pizza, I’m not going to have a problem with sage in my curds.

Parthenon’s gyro sandwich:  No.  Disgusting.  There isn’t a great gyro in Madison.  Plaka Taverna is fine.  Med Cafe is fine but it’s schwarma.

Plaza’s plazaburger:  Just OK.  Like Paisan’s, Plaza is strictly for people who went to college here and want nostalgia food.

Stella’s hot and spicy cheese bread:  It’s not that spicy and every time you get a bite with no cheese you realize the bread is just not that good.  I’d love to see Madison Sourdough or Batch rip off the idea and make a good version.

Wisconsin municipal vexillology update

Madison is changing its flag!  The old one

has a Zuni sun symbol in the middle of it, which people correctly feel is a sort of random and annoying and unrelated-to-Madison vic of somebody else’s religious symbol.  On the other hand, on pure design grounds it’s kind of a great flag!  Simple, but you see the lakes, the isthmus, the Capitol.  The new flag elegantly keeps all that while skimming off the cultural appropriation:

 

Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, pressure is mounting to adopt the People’s Flag. Milwaukee’s existing flag is an ungepotchkit mess, routinely ranked among the nation’s worst city banners.  I mean:

I think my favorite part of this mess is that there are two miniflags inside this flag, and the one that’s not the U.S. flag nobody even remembers what it is!

Anyway, this is the proposed new flag, currently the subject of hot civic dissent:

I think this is great.  Daring color choices, you get your lake, you get your big flat lake, you get your optimistic sense of sunrise.  Make the right choice, Cream City!

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Dane County Fair

Dane County fair.  Food consumed:  some Chocolate Shoppe ice cream, lemonade, a banh mi, Thai iced tea, chicken yassa from Keur Fatou.  We saw two young cows auctioned for $400 and $425.  We rode the Blizzard and the Ferris wheel.  (The trip is now just two revolutions long — sorry, but that’s a ripoff, for five bucks I should get at least four top-offs.)  This year’s circus acts were frisbee-catching dogs and two motorcyclists in the Globe of Death.  (Good, but not as good as the year the Flying Wallendas themselves came to town.)  We didn’t stay for the Christian rock act but heard them soundcheck a very faithful “Can’t Stop The Feeling!”

First place hay:

 

First place oats:

The T-shirt concession failed to stake out a clear ideological location.

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Show report: Camp Friends and Omni at the Terrace

Beautiful weather last night so I decided, why not, go to the Terrace for the free show WUD put on:  Camp Friends (Madison) and Omni (Atlanta).

Missed most of Camp Friends, who were billed as experimental but in fact played genial, not-real-tight college indie.  Singer took his shirt off.

Omni, though — this is the real thing.  Everyone says it sounds like 1981 (specifically:  1981), and they’re right, but it rather wonderfully doesn’t sound like any particular thing in 1981.  There’s the herky-jerky-shoutiness and clipped chords (but on some songs that sounds like Devo and on others like Joe Jackson) and the jazz chords high on the neck (the Fall?  The Police?) and weird little technical guitar runs that sound like Genesis learning to play new wave guitar on Abacab and arpeggios that sound like Peter Buck learning to play guitar in the first place (these guys are from Georgia, after all.)  What I kind of love about young people is this.  To me, all these sounds are separate styles; to a kid picking up these records now, they’re just 1981, they’re all material to work from, you can put them together and something kind of great comes out of it.

You see a lot of bands with a frontman but not that many which, like Omni, have a frontman and a backman.  Philip Frobos sings and plays bass and mugs and talks to the audience.  Frankie Broyles, the guitar player, is a slight guy who looks like a librarian and stands still and almost expressionless while he plays his tight little runs.  Then, every once in a while, he unleashes an absolute storm of noise.  But still doesn’t grimace, still doesn’t move!  Amazing.  Penn and Teller is the only analogue I can think of.

Omni plays “Jungle Jenny,” live in Atlanta:

And here’s “Wire,” to give a sense of their more-dance-less-rock side:

 

Both songs are on Omni’s debut album, Deluxe, listenable at Bandcamp.

Best show I’ve seen at the Terrace in a long time.  Good job, WUD.

 

 

 

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Driftless Father’s Day

This Father’s Day I found that, by some kind of unanticipated-gap-in-the-Red-Sea-level miracle, neither of my children had any events scheduled, so I gave myself a present and did something I’d been meaning to do for a year; take them to Dubuque.

It’s not far from Madison.  You drive southwest through the Driftless Zone, where the glaciers somehow looped around and missed a spot while they were grinding the rest of the Midwest flat.

At the exit to Platteville there was a sign for a “Mining Museum.”  We had about six seconds to decide whether we all wanted to go to a mining museum but that was plenty of time because obviously we all totally wanted to go to a mining museum.  And it was great!  Almost the platonic ideal of a small-town museum.  Our guide took us down into the old lead mine from the 1850s, now with electric lights and a lot of mannequins caught in the act of blasting holes in the rock.  (One of the mannequins was black; our guide told us that there were African-American miners in southwestern Wisconsin, but not that some of them were enslaved.)

This museum did a great job of conveying the working conditions of those miners; ankle-deep in water, darkness broken only by the candle wired to the front of their hat, the hammers on the rock so loud you couldn’t talk, and had to communicate by hand signals.  Riding up and down to the surface with one leg in the bucket and one leg out so more men could fit in one load, just hoping the bucket didn’t swing wrong and crush your leg against the rock wall.  There’s nothing like an industrial museum to remind you that everything you buy in a store has hours of difficult, dangerous labor built into it.  But it was also labor people traveled miles to get the chance to do!

Only twenty miles further to the Mississippi, my daughter’s first time seeing the river, and across it Dubuque.  Which has a pretty great Op-Art flag:

 

 

Our main goal was the National Mississippi River Museum; slick where the Platteville museum was homespun, up-to-date where the Plateville Museum was old-fashioned.  The kids really liked both.  I wanted fewer interactive screens, more actual weird river creatures.

The museum is on the Riverwalk; Dubuque, like just about every city on a body of water, is reinventing its shoreline as a tourist hub.  Every harbor a Harborplace.  OK, I snark, but it was a lovely walk; lots of handsome bridges in view, all different, an old-timey band playing in the gazebo, Illinois and Wisconsin and Iowa invisibly meeting across the water….

Only disappointment of the afternoon; the famous funicular railway was closed.  Maybe they could have posted that on their website or something.  But in a way it’s good they didn’t; if I’d known it was closed, I probably would have decided to put off the trip, and who knows if we’d ever have gone?

On the way back we stopped in Dickeyville to get gas but missed the Dickeyville Grotto; would have stopped there for sure if I’d known about it.  Dinner in Dodgeville at Culver’s, the Midwest’s superior version of In-N-Out, where I got my free Father’s Day turtle.   I like cheese curds and brats as much as the next guy, but I gotta say, I think the turtle is my favorite of the many foods I’d never heard of before I moved to Wisconsin.

 

 

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I guess Caffe 608 was in trouble

Eight years after I wondered whether the arthouse cinema / cafe in Hilldale could really make a go of it, Sundance 608 is getting bought out by AMC.  I have really come to like this weird little sort-of-arthouse and hope it doesn’t change too much under new management.  It’s a sign of my age, I guess, that I still think of “movie at the mall” as an entertainment option I want to exist.  It’s my Lindy Hop, my vaudeville, my Show of Shows.

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Fitchburg facts

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