IEEE Software | Year: 2013
In "Exploring Software Project Effort versus Duration Trade-offs" (IEEE Software, July/Aug. 2012, pp. 67-74), Charles Symons proposed a process for exploring the trade-off between project duration and effort. However, the author of this comment argues that the process he described incorrectly estimates the strength of the relationship, finding a problem with the derivation. A Monte Carlo simulation demonstrates that the proposed process yields an incorrect result. A Web extra describes the mathematical results that showed this. © 1984-2012 IEEE. Source
News Article | March 16, 2016
In the early episodes of season four of the FX drama The Americans, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), KGB spies who have been integrated into American life for decades, have to deal with a big problem: Their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), who just found out their secret, turned around and spilled the beans to the pastor at the church she was attending against her parents' wishes. If this were just about any other spy show, Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) would have died long ago. But that would have been too simple a solution for the show's creator, Joe Weisberg, and his co-showrunner, Joel Fields. "I think we’d rather be real and not exciting than exciting and ridiculous," says Fields. "The premise of this show and the tone of this show is such that we feel like if we veered into that story all of the real protein of the show, which is the human dynamic, would seep out because that has to feel real. So I think our solution is to tell stories that feel true, and what we never do is try to make them more exciting than they want to be." Because Paige would be devastated by Pastor Tim's death and connect it to her parents, the decision to kill him is not as cut-and-dried as it might seem. This realness is why critics have called The Americans one of television's very best dramas, and in season four, which premieres tonight, the pressure on the Jennings to keep their identities secret while not destroying themselves or their family is even more acute. Of course, there's still spy work to do, like protecting a deadly bioweapon agent stolen by a scientist associate, played by new cast member Dylan Baker (Selma, Spider-Man 3). "Philip’s character has struggled so much with his work-life—balance isn’t quite the word for it—it’s work-life tension. It is a constant problem for him, and I think he’s been reacting in an evolving way to it," says Weisberg. "It’s been maybe a little more consistent for Elizabeth, but I think there’s been a kind of a slower series of cracks appearing in her, as well. I think you’ll see more of it this season, so that’s been dynamic and evolving in her, as well. That is what the show is about—it's about showing how these two people suffer and evolve under those strains." Because Elizabeth and Philip have to contend with being spies along with all of the human drama in their lives, how do they go about their business without looking like super-spies? "Our measure is, is it something that would take place in our world?" says Weisberg. "So in just a look back toward prior seasons, Philip and Elizabeth have to dispose of a body in a hotel room, and we actually know of a real case in which a killer had disposed of a body by shoving it into a bag and wheeling it right out the front door of the hotel. It seems like a real thing, and it seemed interesting to explore what that tough human experience of that would be for Philip and Elizabeth. You see Elizabeth get her face cracked on the side of a car, and for a couple episodes she’s complaining about pain in her tooth, and you know that the FBI has put out alerts looking for anybody going in with an injury to their tooth, or jaw, or face, and Philip has to pull out his wife’s tooth. So you just hope that the situations that they’re in, even the ones that are extreme, feel real. The truth is real life deals in sometimes extreme situations." Because they're four seasons in, Weisberg and Fields think they have a good feel for keeping the balance between spy action and personal drama. "I think in a lot of ways in season one, we had to really focus on what we called the marriage story. In every episode we asked ourselves, 'What’s the marriage story?' It doesn’t matter if the spy story is working; we've got to have the marriage story working,'" says Fields. "And now really, by season four, we don't have that conversation very much anymore. We’re really talking about is the story working, and the story really is the characters’ story—the marriage story, the family story, and the spy story are just part of the fuel that helps propel it. But there’s no distinction anymore." There aren’t that many spies who are trying to get in touch with their inner selves via EST (Erhard Seminars Training), like Philip does, but that's what happens when your show is set in the early 1980s, when the Cold War was at its most intense. The fourth season takes place in 1983, two years before Mikhail Gorbachev took over the Soviet Union and brought both glasnost and the slow thawing of relations between the USSR and the United States. Weisberg and Fields are hoping to get to that time period before the show ends, but in the meantime, they have plenty of material to keep the show going. "There’s enough that we will not run out in five or six seasons," says Weisberg. "If we were going to be a 10-season show and we were having this interview in season nine, I think we might be saying, 'Oh, we thought it was endless, but boy, we’re starting to grasp.' But there is more than enough to sustain a five- or six-season espionage show, which by the way does not rely on episodic stories, so you don’t have to pull out a new one of these 13 times a season." The Jennings family aren't the only people going through personal dilemmas on the show, though. FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and KGB agent Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin) struggle with their loyalties and form an uneasy alliance to release their mutual love, Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru), from a Soviet prison after she's been convicted of treason. Then there's Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), whose is especially sticky because she's the secretary for Beeman's boss, Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas), and deeply involved with Philip under the guise of a government flunkie named Clark, who very memorably revealed himself (at least by taking off his blonde wig) late last season. Ask Weisberg and Fields when Philip is going to finally find it necessary to kill the trusting Martha, their response is pretty coy. "We think that they’re a very happy couple," says Weisberg. "We’ve been not answering that question since season one, and we don't want to break that tradition." That's not to say that there won't be major movement among the show's main characters in the early going of season four, but Weisberg and Fields are keeping discussion about that close to the vest. They will discuss, however, how they dealt with Russell's pregnancy; she and Rhys announced in January that they're having a child together. They managed to get through it "with some CGI, a lot of coats, grocery bags, laundry baskets, and one really big salad bowl," jokes Fields, while Weisberg had more effusive praise. "The best stunt in the show this year, we had a stunt person on set for her, but she insisted on doing herself. Amazing. She’s amazing." Since Weisberg and Fields already know that The Americans is closer to the end of its run than the beginning—they say they'll figure out whether they end at five or six seasons as they work through breaking the season five stories this spring—they're in a comfortable spot where they just have to worry about creating the best show they can do instead of being concerned about the show's not-that-high ratings. "We’re in a hard spot to frustrate," says Weisberg. "That’s just the truth. Personally, the show is thriving. It’s doing very well. It’s got whatever in the numbers of millions of fans it’s got. That’s a lot of people. We understand, of course, that the ratings are not strong, but they’re not super low. They’re enough to keep it on the air, and the fan base it has is pretty rabid, and it’s got such great critical acclaim. And although it doesn’t get Emmy awards, it gets a lot of other awards. So in its niche that it’s in, it’s thriving and we’re working very happily with a very happy cast and crew. People who love working on the show. We’re with a network that loves the show and is supportive and happy with it, so it’s hard for us to get into a down and frustrated place."
We have built a world of largely straight lines — the houses we live in, the skyscrapers we work in and the streets we drive on our daily commutes. Yet outside our boxes, nature teams with frilly, crenellated forms, from the fluted surfaces of lettuces and fungi to the frilled skirts of sea slugs and the gorgeous undulations of corals. These organisms are biological manifestations of what we call hyperbolic geometry, an alternative to the Euclidean geometry we learn about in school that involves lines, shapes and angles on a flat surface or plane. In hyperbolic geometry, the plane is not necessarily so flat. Yet, while nature has been playing with hyperbolic forms for hundreds of millions of years, mathematicians spent hundreds of years trying to prove that such structures were impossible. But these efforts led to a realization that hyperbolic geometry is logically legitimate. And that, in turn, led to the revolution that produced the kind of math now underlying general relativity, and thus the structure of the universe. Hyperbolic geometry is radical because it violates one of the axioms of Euclidean geometry, which long stood as a model for reason itself. The fifth and final axiom of Euclid’s system — the so-called parallel postulate — turns out not to be correct. Or at least not necessarily so. If we accept it, we get Euclidean geometry, but if we abandon it, other geometries become possible, most famously the hyperbolic variety. Here’s how the parallel postulate works. Consider a simple question: if I have a straight line, and a point outside the line, how many straight lines can I draw through the point that never meet the original line? Euclid said the answer is one and there couldn’t be any more, which feels intuitively right. Euclid could only see one possible straight line through a point that does not meet the original line. Margaret Wertheim, Author provided Mathematicians, being sticklers, wanted to prove this was true, but in the end such efforts led them to see that there is a logically consistent geometric system in which the answer is infinity. We can represent the situation as follows. What if the straight lines look curved? Margaret Wertheim, Author provided This seems impossible, and a first reaction is to say it’s cheating because the lines look curved. But they only look curved because we’re trying to project an image of a curved surface onto a flat plane. It’s the same as when we’re trying to project an image of the surface of the Earth onto a flat map; the relationships get distorted. To really see countries relative to one another, we have to look at a globe. How to turn our home planet into a flat Earth. So also with hyperbolic geometry. To really see what’s going on, we have to look at the curved surface itself, and here the lines are straight. This image shows straight lines drawn on a paper model of a hyperbolic plane. All the pencil lines that appear to be curved were drawn with a ruler so they are actually straight. Margaret Cagyle, Institute For Figuring, Author provided One way of understanding different geometries is in terms of their curvature. A flat, or Euclidean plane has zero curvature. The surface of a sphere (like a beach ball) has positive curvature, and a hyperbolic plane has negative curvature. It’s a geometric analogue of a negative number. When mathematicians discovered this aberrant geometry in the early 19th century, they were nearly driven mad. “For God’s sake please give it up,” said the Hungarian mathematician Wolfgang Bolyai to his son János Bolyai, urging him abandon to work on hyperbolic geometry. Yet critters who’d never studied non-Euclidean geometry had meanwhile just been doing it. Along with corals, many other species of reef organisms have hyperbolic forms, including sponges and kelps. Wherever there is an advantage to maximizing surface area — such as for filter feeding animals — hyperbolic shapes are an excellent solution. There are hyperbolic structures in cells, hyperbolic cacti and hyperbolic flowers, such as calla lilies. In the film Avatar, there is a fabulous CGI grove of giant hyperbolic blooms that curl up when touched. Hyperbolic surfaces can also be built at the molecular scale from carbon atoms. These carbon nano-foams were discovered in 1997 by physicist Andrei Rode and his colleagues at the Australian National University. That year Cornell mathematician Daina Taimina also worked out how to model such surfaces using crochet, which was a big deal because it’s actually hard for humans to construct these forms. For the past 10 years, I’ve been spearheading a project where we use hyperbolic crochet to make woolly simulations of coral reefs. Our Crochet Coral Reefs are an artistic response to the devastation of living reefs due to global warming and have been exhibited at art galleries and science museums around the world, including the Smithsonian. Here, a ball of wool and a crochet hook become pedagogical tools bringing mathematics out of textbooks, and taking it to people as a living tactile experience. More than 8,000 women in a dozen countries (including Australia, the United States of America, and the United Arab Emirates) have participated in making these installations, which reside at the intersection of mathematics, marine biology, community art practice and environmentalism. The shape of the universe Once mathematicians realized that different geometrical spaces are possible, a question arose as to which one is realized in physical space. What is the shape of our universe? Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton founded modern physics on the assumption that space is Euclidean, but Albert Einstein’s equations of general relativity describe a universe that can have complex curved forms. One of the major questions astronomers are trying to resolve, with instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope, is what shape our universe has. While most of the large-scale evidence points to a Euclidean structure, there is some tantalizing evidence that we might just live in a hyperbolic world. Margaret Wertheim, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in Science Communication, University of Melbourne. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
News Article | January 13, 2016
While most people are eagerly anticipating the reveal of which stars will be competing for Oscar gold, competition between that other onscreen darling—visual effects—got underway this past weekend with the annual VFX Bake-Off. The three-hour event—thrown by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Visual Effects Branch at the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters—enables 10 Oscar semi-finalist visual effects teams to explain to industry members and enthusiasts the engineering challenges in achieving complicated CGI shots and integrating them with live action. "When the famous red light goes on, you’ll need to wrap up," said VFX Branch founder Richard Edlund, motioning to a large red beacon on a stand. "For those who remember when Jim Cameron walked over and unscrewed it…well, it’s epoxied in place now." Each VFX teams had five minutes to introduce their 10-minute clips and explain the challenges of their projects, and answer three minutes of questions from VFX Branch’s 40-member steering committee. That night, they cast secret ballots for the five Oscar nominees, to be announced on Thursday, with the winner named during the 88th Annual Academy Awards broadcast February 28. The 10 films in contention were: Walt Disney’s Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens; 20th Century Fox’s The Martian and The Revenant; Universal’s Jurassic World; Sony’s The Walk; A24’s Ex Machina; and Warner Bros.’ Mad Max: Fury Road. "This year, the main thread is the integration and disappearance of visual effects into live action. There are more visual effects than ever, but they are increasingly in the service of the film," David Morin Autodesk’s director of industry relations and business development for its media and entertainment division, told Fast Company post-event. Autodesk is the maker of Maya, the industry standard program for 3-D animation and VFX, and used by all 10 contenders. Morin noted two other trends. VFX, in the past a purview of post-production, is becoming increasingly integrated into the creative process at earlier points in the filmmaking, beginning with pre-visualization. And using the Cloud in place of expensive rendering farms has brought VFX costs down to the point where small studios can do the effects work once relegated to large ones. Following are some tidbits about each film from the teams’ designated speakers: Ant-Man’s shrinkage shots were accomplished by 25-member macro unit team, including an ant wrangler, shooting for 40 days on a to-scale miniature set, and integrating some half million photographs and 1000 frame-per-sec macro special effects. Tomorrowland, which was shot in 4K, partnered with Dolby Vision’s Extended Dynamic Range to capture the expanded color range and contrast. Jurassic World assigned motion-capture actors for each raptor, to facilitate improvised and unique signatures of movement. As a nostalgic nod, the Tyrannosaurus Rex contained scars in places where the raptors from the first film would have scratched it. Over 700 of the films 998 shots involved dinosaurs. The Martian developed a new color algorithm, based on NASA shots of the Martian landscape, to transform the look of Earth to Mars without involving rotoscoping. It took much of the blue out of the sky, but left more in the landscape. The Walk Eighty-two percent of the movie involved VFX shots used to alter weather, turn Montreal streets in Paris and New York, and extend the World Trade Center tightrope set between them. They were able to achieve this on a $35 million budget using the Cloud instead of a rendering farm, cutting their rendering costs in half. Avengers: Age of Ultron Industrial Light and Magic redesigned the Hulk’s musculoskeletal structure, skin, and hair to control nuance and infuse more of a soul. ILM was one of 20 VFX companies working on this film. The Revenant Despite intense location shots, 122 minutes of the film incorporated VFX shots from 12 vendors in four countries, most notably for the bear mauling, but also to effect nuances like wind and lighting. In a nod to director Alejandro Iñárritu’s exacting nature, VFX production supervisor Rich McBride joked, "This presentation is almost as terrifying as showing Alejandro our shots." Star Wars: The Force Awakens used real locations and sets as much as possible, while integrating 2100 VFX and some half dozen film shots. "We wanted to evoke the feelings of one of the trilogy films, but create a film with its own forward motion," said ILM VFX supervisor Roger Guyett. Ex Machina’s VFX team was included early in the design process. "Body tracking was particularly difficult. It’s harder to track someone who’s not moving much," said VFX supervisor Andrew Whitehurst. "It was really helpful to have a director who could draw—we could sketch a lot of ideas out." Mad Max: Fury Road "Almost every shot that felt live action is real," said VFX supervisor Andrew Jackson, with most of the 2000 VFX shots in the film pertaining to the Citadel, crowd extensions, and landscapes. [UPDATE: The nominees are: Ex Machina, Mad Max:Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Ex Machina took home the gold.]
In the 1967 animated Disney film The Jungle Book, the feral boy Mowgli encounters a jazz-singing orangutan named King Louie, who implores Mowgli to teach him the secret of fire. King Louie presented a challenge for the producers of Disney’s live-action, CGI-enhanced remake of the film, opening April 15. “We had this notion that we would be as authentic as we could be to the region,” says producer Brigham Taylor. The problem: Orangutans are not native to India. In fact, King Louie himself is not native to Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. But instead of scrapping the character, the filmmakers got creative. While researching India’s wildlife, the film’s art department learned that a colossal ape named Gigantopithecus once roamed the region. Various species of Gigantopithecus lived in India, China and Southeast Asia from about 6.5 million years ago until as recently as a few hundred thousand years ago. The ape was truly gigantic — by some estimates, twice as big as a gorilla. So King Louie morphed from orangutan to Gigantopithecus. The switch was a “fun justification,” Taylor says, to keep the character and play up his size while still staying true to India’s fauna. (Yes, the ape is extinct, but this is a movie about talking animals. And fossil evidence does suggest that the ape at least mingled with the human ancestor Homo erectus.) Using the scientific information they could find on the Internet, visual effects artists imagined how the animal would look and move, Taylor says. The result: an ape that resembles an overgrown orangutan, Gigantopithecus’ closest living relative. The movie ape has shaggy hair, flaring cheeks and a saggy pouch that hangs from the throat like a double chin — and towers about 12 feet tall. It’s difficult to judge how accurate Disney’s rendering is. Despite possibly having been the largest primate ever to have lived, Gigantopithecus left behind few fossils. Scientists have just four lower jaws and over a thousand teeth, says biological anthropologist Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa. That’s not much to go on, but Ciochon and colleagues made their own reconstruction a couple decades ago. The researchers took a jaw from China and made an outline of a skull that could fit such a jaw. Because most primate skulls scale to body size, Ciochon says, his group could estimate Gigantopithecus’ weight, 800 to 900 pounds, and height, about 9 feet from head to toe. (The species that lived in India was actually probably smaller.) Adding other details like hair to the animal is a matter of conjecture, Ciochon says. But the teeth do offer some solid details about the ape’s lifestyle. Wear patterns and microscopic debris stuck to the teeth indicate Gigantopithecus dined on fruits, leaves, shoots, roots and perhaps even bamboo. Last year, researchers confirmed those details after analyzing the ratios of carbon isotopes in teeth found in Southeast Asia. The analysis also determined that Gigantopithecus was a strict forest dweller, even though it also lived near grasslands in some areas. In fact, the researchers contend, Gigantopithecus’ reliance on forests and its big size — and therefore big appetite — may have been the animal’s undoing. As Southeast Asia’s jungles gave way to expanding grasslands during the last glacial period, Gigantopithecus may have been unable to cope. Perhaps if our ancestors had shared the secret of fire with Gigantopithecus, the giant ape would still be around today.