Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Palo Alto report

I'd like to tell you about three wonderful days that I spent in Palo Alto and environs. I was hosted by the lovely Dr. Ms. A., who provided excellent many-pillow accommodations. I slept like a (strange bumpy) log.

First of all, basically it is summer there. Not really, but the weather was niiiiiiice, the sun was shining, and there are palm trees everywhere! I even got to go swimming outside, which was funn with two 'n's. 
Here is a pigeon that tried to eat my mochi. No luck, bird. Because it was so warm out, I wasn't wearing my puffy coat, so this was the first time that strangers were reacting to my belly. The woman in the mochi place actually reached over the counter to give it a pat. Yep, it is hard to resist.

Speaking of eating, A. and I basically ate our way across SF. There was the Burmese food (with the wonderful Mako!), custom/flash frozen ice cream (spicy chocolate, if you must know), a ramen noodle lunch and a mochi in Japantown, and finally a burrito the size (and weight?) of my head in the Mission. I NOM SF.
 Maybe the bird was trying to tell me something....
Here I am in San Francisco. I really liked the light on the hills in the background, they are sunny and dusky and just nice. Plus you can't really see it but there is a bakery on the corner there which is really good, and I'd like to go there riiiiight now.

Now we come to Palo Alto. This apparently is what a university looks like, if the university is Stanford. It is pretty fancy.
I was probably too excited to see this Kenneth Snelson piece on the campus there. I have seen images of this guy's work so many times, but I'm not sure I've ever actually seen one of his pieces. This one is called Mozart I (1982). So here is the question: how does he make these things? Well, according to this awesome quote on wikipedia, it is achieved through "a win-win combination of push and pull." Yes. This is a tensegrity, which is a major topic of interest for rigidity theorists. The thing is, we don't have a general method for making these types of structures in 3 dimensions or higher. Trial and error works, which is what must be at play in Snelson's win-win sculptures. We know exactly how to make planar versions of tensegrity frameworks, but no general methods exist in higher dimensions. In fact, Snelson's sculptures really inspired this whole branch of mathematical inquiry, which is a nice little art inspiring science link.

Safety first for prego bikers. Happily Palo Alto has good bike routes, so we stayed off the road for the most part.

 Speeding off into the subset on Palm Drive, the quintessential California car, a Prius. The end. It was a great trip.


  1. "Speeding off into the subset..." Is that math pun or some kind of Freudian math slip? :)

  2. haha! Yes, definitely a Freudian math slip, but how appropriate for Palo Alto! It is a very special subset there!