Monday, March 22, 2010

Seven Things You Never Knew About Me - Part 2 of ??

In my first installment, I ended it by mentioning that I had gone off on a few tangents. I do that a lot. Perhaps I go off on so many tangents because I so love math. I also enjoy puns and wordplay, which is why I hope you'll forgive me if I say that going off on tangents is not normal. Badum-ching!


Anyway, that was my pathetic way of creating a segue into the realm of mathematics, as only math nerds will get the above joke. Now that I'm here, the next cool fact about me has everything to do with my love of math.

Finally, Something That Might Actually Be Interesting--AKA Fact #3

I've always loved math. Maybe because it's something for which I have a talent. You can tell from my sidebar that one of my degrees is in math. So what? That's not news. No, it's not. But what you don't know is that I completed all my math coursework in less than two calendar years. I also took all the computer science classes I needed for my minor in that time period. In retrospect, that was kind of masochistic and I wouldn't want to go through it ever again. Especially with the 35 hours of mostly upper-division courses taken during my last year. That was exhausting!

During my last semester, I got to do something that was really, really fun. After completing a class in mathematical modeling, my professor approached me and asked me if I would be interested in doing an independent study course. He had this Spirograph™ (yes, Spirograph™ is indeed a registered trademark of Hasbro) template that he wanted a student to model and create a program that would draw them. Would I be interested in doing that? Um...yeah!

This is what it looked like, except the template was orange instead of green:

So here's what I had to do. I first had to derive the mathematical equations that create both circular and elliptical spirographs on my own. As it turns out, the circular spirograph is not that complicated. The formulas were relatively simple to derive, and making a program to graph them was also fairly easy. The ellipse, however, is kind of a messy animal. Deriving the equations took some work. The formulas involve integrals of a non-closed form (that means you have to use ugly-looking calculus) and were not trivial to translate into a computer algorithm.

The end result is that I created a web page that let you click on the template to choose a shape, choose a gear, choose the hole, and then it would generate the image. Pretty cool, huh?

After digging around for a while on Google, I realized something.

My program was the only one in existence that generated elliptical Spirographs!

Furthermore, mine was (and still is) the only one that actually models a genuine, real live, spirograph toy.

Unfortunately, the University's server that hosted my little project was taken offline a few years ago. So you won't be able to see my beautiful little program in all its glory. Thankfully, I had a backup. Unfortunately, my backup was old, buggy, and contained an uninteresting, simplistic interface. A while back, I googled myself and elliptical spirographs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone else had created a program that will generate elliptical spirographs. I took a look at the guy's web page. He even gave me a shout out. By that I mean he expressed doubt that I had actually done what I claimed to have done.

So what did I do? I went to the internet archive and downloaded most of the images I used to create my masterful web page. I have debugged my program and am working to get it re-released. When that happens, I will post a link.

Am I going to stop there? Of course not! I am going to create another web page that allows you to enter your own dimensions and create all sorts of beautiful elliptical spirographs. Because that other guy used an inferior method to generate his elliptical spirographs (you can't change the dimensions on his ellipse because of the method he used to make his work), I will be sure to let him know about both of my pages so he can see for himself just how mistaken he was to doubt me :-D

So there you have it. That's probably something most of my many readers didn't know before--I created a world's first and only one of something. That's not something many people can hang their hat on.


Helmbunch said...

Math into art, I love that. Fractal art is some of my favorite art. I was amazed when I was told that it was totally based on math. If you were the first to create elliptical spirographs, does that make you the father of fractal art?

L.T. Elliot said...

James, you are a man of many talents. I'm looking forward to you giving that other programmer the what's what. ;)

James said...

@Cheryl - Fractal art is cool. I was first introduced to it in the 7th grade. So no, I'm not the father of it at all.

@L.T. - I have a feeling I am going to enjoy it far more than he will ;-)

Heidi Ashworth said...

I hate math. But I like you. And I would love to see your elliptical spirograph.

elizabeth said...

Oooh, math. *sigh* There's nothing better than finding out the answer to a very complicated problem. Now, my math extends to editing my stories. Weighing each sentence and finding out the best suited word for every sentence and if the cadence feels good in your mouth. That's my math (Besides cooking and baking!)

BTW, I love ellipticals and circles!

elizabeth said...

PS--thanks for following my blog! It was so nice meeting you at Storymakers! Thank you for letting me hold your cutie pie!! :D

Garnet said...


James Blevins said...

@Heidi - I shall post a link to it very soon. If you don't want to wait, you can go check out my last couple of Facebook status updates.

@Elizabeth - It was likewise awesome meeting you at Storymakers. That was the best conference ever! And no, thank you for holding our baby so Rebecca and I could enjoy the concert. Bean really likes you!

@Garnet - Spirograph wars? LOL I did the equivalent of dropping a nuke on the other guy. In leetspeak, he got pwn3d.

Kazzy said...

We have a spirograph here, but it hasn't been used for years. A secret fact about me: I also love math!

James Blevins said...

@Kazzy - Spirographs are cool. I think the fact that they can be represented mathematically is even cooler :-) Math rocks, doesn't it?