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Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Interesting Stuff Is in the Middle

(Usually a title like this would immediately make me think of an Oreo or a jelly donut, but not this time.)


"'Beauty,' i.e., that which makes something interesting, is related to a mixture of regularity and irregularity. When things are too regular, we usually find them to be uninteresting because they yield no surprises for us. Complementary to this, highly irregular things are often uninteresting because they make no sense. In the middle, between regularity and irregularity, lies a place where things can be understood, but not completely." ~ Title and excerpt from The Computational Beauty of Nature by Gary William Flake.


I can't say that I'll even begin to understand half of what this guy talks about in his book, but I liked the quote above and found it interesting and true in an Alice in Wonderland kind of way, when you sit down and give it a bit of a think.

I love it when a concept, however fleeting in my little noggin, sparks a flash of insight and then I say, Oh yeah! I get it.

Even if the concept swiftly disappears again. At least for a moment, I understand. It's like a pop quiz to see if my brain can rise to the occasion.


I was looking for some text to accompany a few photos I took the other day on one of my lunchtime walks, photos that turned out all fractal-ly cool and unintentionally cosmic. I was trying to apply the author's concept to these photos to see if it could help me determine which one was the most beautiful. Which one do you like best?

I love having the ability to see an altered universe sometimes, without anything else except for my trusty camera.


Illusion is the first of all pleasures. ~ Voltaire

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. ~ Albert Einstein

Did you ever wonder if the person in the puddle is real, and you're just a reflection of him? ~ Calvin and Hobbes

The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself. ~ Bertrand Russell


One of my favorite and visually entertaining ways of getting a mind-bending view of the universe is here.

The Elegant Universe is a fascinating fall through the Rabbit Hole, and you can see the entire program here. For free. No strings attached. (Ha ha, my little string theory joke for today.)

Not that I'm trying to be a physics pusher or anything.


Vanessa June 12, 2008 at 3:12 AM  

I love that you quote from Calvin & Hobbes. They made my childhood and teenage years bearable. :-)

Phivos Nicolaides June 12, 2008 at 5:45 AM  

I like the selection of quotes you made. Thanks.

Tina June 12, 2008 at 9:07 AM  

"The Interesting Stuff Is in the Middle."

That's what I say about alfajores all the time.


the default attorney June 12, 2008 at 10:20 AM  

I just learned about Mandelbrot. Weird. I love your shots of the De Young.

FogBay June 12, 2008 at 10:45 AM  

Nice post, bonus points for the Bertrand Russell quote.

Can I make a suggestion? I really like that your photos can be clicked on to view a larger version, however many of those photos are too large to view in a browser window (I'm even using a 24 inch monitor).

Perhaps the larger images could be limited to something like 1000 pixels max, either horizontally of vertically. That way readers could view the entire image rather than having to scrolling around.

I'll shut up now.

tangobaby June 12, 2008 at 11:47 AM  

Hi Vanessa,

Not only can I quote from C&H (with assistance) but we have the giant hardcover complete compendium of every C&H cartoon. You really need to get this for yourself.

I happen to live with the human incarnation of Hobbes (The Boy) so actually the cartoons are more enjoyable to me now because they are more applicable to my daily life.

Hi Phivos,

I'm glad you liked the quotes. I wish I could say I made them all up myself! ;-)

Hi Tina,

LOL! You'll have to watch out and not enjoy too many of those middles or you'll be wondering what happened to yours! Eat one (or two) for me, though.

Hi the default attorney,

I was just reading about Mandelbrot, too. What's with that? I'm glad you were able to uncover some of my secret cosmic locations, too. Keep me up to date about the Muni posters, because some of the law stuff is over my head. ;-)

And thanks for visiting.

Hi FogBay,

When I put that quote and photo together, I thought *sweet!*

I have to admit my ignorance at the whole size of photo/clicky thing because I never click on my own photos and didn't think about others doing it either.

I'll put on my thinking cap and see if I can figure out what I have to do so that you aren't getting gigantic exploding photos.


Anonymous June 12, 2008 at 12:21 PM  

Just breathtaking, TB. You have found your photographic niche.

The words we already know are brilliant, whether yours, or your knack for finding the right ones in others.

tangobaby June 12, 2008 at 1:08 PM  

Thanks, Johanna!

Except now with photography (just like in tango) I have the equivalent days of self-doubt:

No one dances with me = couldn't take at least one decent photo today

Her shoes are better than mine = lens envy

(I'm such a mental handful with myself sometimes.)

Debbi June 12, 2008 at 1:38 PM  

Great photos and great thoughts!
Interesting Stuff in the Middle immediately brought my Mother's famous surprise cookies to mind and gave me a craving... They are a yummy walnut based shortbread cookie with a Hershey Kiss in the center. Which is the surprise..... I think I need to make a phone call and get a recipe.... ;-)

tangobaby June 12, 2008 at 3:26 PM  

Um, Debbi, yes you do need to get that recipe...and post it! Or make them and send me a batch.

Yes, that's a good idea. ;-)

GWF June 12, 2008 at 5:51 PM  

"Hello" from the author of CBofN.

I am delighted to see that after ten years, my book still gets a blog post every now and then. Like everyone else that replied, I enjoyed the collection of quotes and photos.

-- GWF

Anonymous June 13, 2008 at 12:11 AM  

See TB, you can have all the lens envy you want, and then something really, really cool, like Mr. GWF stopping by, will remind you how totally awesome you are :-)

Relyn June 13, 2008 at 7:36 AM  

Did you take all these amazing photos? Incredible! They belong in a coffe table book. You keep getting better and better. Maybe you can keep going with the idea of this post & self-publish with Blurb. I know at least a few of us who will race to be first in line to buy it.

Since you asked, my favorite picture is the second one. The wavy buildings. My favorite quote was, of course, Calvin and Hobbes.

tangobaby June 13, 2008 at 8:58 AM  

Hey! GWF!

Okay, first off, you totally made my day by coming over here. Secondly, I just went to your blog and found that not only are you a lot younger than I thought you would be, but you're pretty cute. (Am I allowed to say that? It's my blog so, yeah.)

I'll try to think of a Thirdly, but for now I'll just say I have to learn more about the Darth Vader of the Internets and visit you some more, preferably during work hours.

Hi Johanna,

I know! Isn't that so cool? Not about me being awesome (thank you) but to have such a great surprise guest visitor. I feel like Dinah Shore.

Hi Relyn,

I did take all of the photos all by myself. I know you are a very strong proponent of my future coffee table book, but shouldn't I have to become famous first? Maybe I'll make you a coffee table book and send it to you for your birthday instead.

I like the wavy picture, too! (That's my favorite, too!) When I took it, I was like, Woah, cool.

GWF June 13, 2008 at 11:31 AM  


First, I assure you that I am hideous looking in person -- but for some reason my wife agrees with you.

Secondly, my own website is also horribly boring, so please don't break your mouse by hitting refresh. For some reason I seem incapable of maintaining any freshness to my own personal site.

Thirdly (I'll share my thirdly with you), despite the previous disclaimer, you may find an essay I wrote entitled Aesthetics and Mathematics mildly interesting. I wrote it for a pretentious journal but then yanked it before it was published.

I'll now fade back to my normal invisible self.

-- GWF

tangobaby June 13, 2008 at 1:11 PM  


I am not going to get all gender-biased here (but I am), and say that generally wives are smarter than their husbands, even those guys who have PhDs. No offense. If she likes your looks, enjoy. I am sure she is right.

Secondly, I did happen to check out your website. I was trying to find things we might chat about at a cocktail party (not that someone's blog is a perfect representation of one's character) but your blog is actually more serious with important thing in it (besides the photos).

I did get the impression that you're an extremely bright and talented guy who probably has a lot of other cool things to do than update your blog.

Or, maybe you could post a recipe or a cartoon once in a while. Just a thought. ;-)

Thirdly, I will be sure to read your Aesthetics and Mathematics piece (and thank you for the link). Anything that might help me overcome my deeply ingrained feelings of utter hopelessness regarding math would be fantastic. I am sure that the pretentious journal doesn't have a clue what it was missing.

Okay, Darth, fade away and enjoy the weekend.

paris parfait June 16, 2008 at 2:37 PM  

Stunning photos and wise words. xoxox

tangobaby June 17, 2008 at 9:39 AM  

Hi Paris Parfait,

Thank you. I'm waiting for another day of really interesting photos like these to happen. There was something in the air when I took most of these.

Debbi June 18, 2008 at 5:03 PM  

recipe sent. sitting pretty in your mailbox. ;-)

Anonymous July 3, 2008 at 10:47 PM  

these are so incredible! i can't believe it's taken me this long to catch up... now I want more, more, more!
xoxo, cm