Welcome to my website!

This is the personal website of Tri L. Astraatmadja. I'm a postdoctoral researcher at the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany. I am involved in the Gaia project, a space mission that will survey around 1 billion stars in our Galaxy.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

On who I am and how I came to be.

It's all about painting with light

On the art and techniques of photography.


Your (almost) regular dosage of astronomy-related, research-related, or life (or the complete lack thereof)-related blog posts.

I am mildly excited by the possible return of Star Trek to TV

November 3rd, 2015

Party on like it’s 1967?

Star Trek will return to TV on January 2017, that’s what the news said. Nothing more is known other than Alex Kurtzman is producing (and some release plan). Alex Kurtzman got his Trek cred when he teamed up with J.J. Abrams to write J.J’s 2009 Star Trek. He’s also producing both of J.J’s Star Trek.

Part of me want to see Star Trek on TV again, but I also want a good Star Trek TV series that is on the same level as TNG. I don’t want a Star Trek that turned into action movie, where every solution is a photon torpedo shot and kicking some Klingons (or any other villains of the week) ass.

I would love to see a Star Trek TV series that returns to what Star Trek is all about: an optimistic vision of humanity’s future. It is naive and heavy-handed at times, and the vision it offers are not perfect and got criticised a lot, but it is a vision that I can dance with.

“Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”
–Whoopi Goldberg

Star Trek is also a social commentary that answers contemporary questions with its vision. From our present point of view, Lieutenant Uhura’s role in TOS might just be a switchboard operator in space, but in the 1960s, when racial segregation was prevalent in the U.S, just her being there alongside an international (and interstellar) crew being competent and professional was important. Amid 1960s cold war tensions, a multicultural crew from many nations working together as a team really shows an optimistic vision that humanity can finally pull it off and solves the problems that split them apart. That we can live together in harmony, as naive as it is, was an important message to viewers at the brink of an all-out nuclear war.

“As a little girl growing up on the south side of Chicago in the ’60s I always knew I was going to be in space,” said Mae Jamison—the first African-American woman in space—in a conference, adding that the presence of Lieutenant Uhura on TV inspired her to reach for the stars. “Images show us possibilities. A lot of times, fantasy is what gets us through to reality,” said her in her alumni publication. Such is the legacy of TOS.

TNG is another gem in the Star Trek canon that pushed forward the vision of humanity’s future in space. The Enterprise-D under the leadership of Captain Picard is an instrument of peace, exploration, and diplomacy, not an instrument of war. Captain Picard never led his ship and crew into battle unless it is absolutely necessary. Dialogue is his primary solution, not phasers.

The change in Star Trek started when the TNG movies came out. The characters were turned into action stars when they were not originally meant to. Movie Captain Picard inexplicably turned into a bloodthirsty maniac who loved killing Borgs (when it was already established in the TV series that he didn’t seek revenge after the Borg turned him into Locutus) and easily led the ship into battle at the slightest provocation. The movies didn’t do well both critically and financially. Maybe the creators of the TNG movies thought that the audience wanted a good action movie, but what we really wanted was Star Trek movies with good and compelling story that was true to its spirit.

The new Star Trek movies seem to continue the trend, and I was weary of this. Star Trek must return to its roots, back to its original vision. Back to its exploration of humanity’s place and role in the universe.

I sincerely hope that the producers of the new series understand that this is the true power of Star Trek. At the moment, I am mildly excited, but I do hope that the new series will be good again despite Alex Kurtzman’s reputation to turn Star Trek into a mindless action series.

A solution to The Raiders Minimization problem

August 26th, 2015

Raid3In a seventh season episode the The Big Bang Theory titled The Raiders Minimization, Amy pointed out to Sheldon a “glaring story problem” in Raiders of the Lost Ark (the best action movie in the history of ever): Indiana Jones’ actions in the movie do not affect the outcome of the film. Suppose that he is not involved in the story, the Nazis would have dug out the ark anyway, they will open it and will still be dead from looking at the Ark.

Howard later argues that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place and without Indy they would not have found the Ark. However, Leonard quickly counters correctly that the Nazis are only digging in the wrong place because Indy have the medallion. If Indy is not in the story, the Nazis would have taken the medallion from Marion (and possibly kill her) and they will be digging in the right place and found the Ark. There is another argument at the end of the episode but it is irrelevant. For me, Indy’s failure to bring the Ark to the museum does not constitute a solution to the story problem. Furthermore, the film is not ruined simply because of that!

Before the episode was aired, I have read about this story problem before somewhere else, although I can not point exactly where. It is a very sound argument and in fact it is correct. Indiana Jones plays no role in the outcome of the story.

I am not really sure whether George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, and Lawrence Kasdan were aware of this problem when they put the story down, but the problem can be explained—but not solved—by being aware that the Ark is a MacGuffin. A MacGuffin motivates the characters in the story to pursue it and it moves the story forward. What the nature of the MacGuffin actually is are seldom explained in the film. It is usually only described by the characters in the vaguest term possible, but enough to spark the imagination of the audience. The audience are to be made understand about the importance of the MacGuffin and what is at stake, and we understand the motivations of the characters.

Thus the point of the film with a MacGuffin as a narrative device is to see how the characters interact with each other in order to obtain it. From these interactions (hopefully) we can get emotionally involved and learn something about them. Hence Indy plays no role in the outcome of the film is not really a problem at all as long as the story unfold itself as it motivated by the chase for the MacGuffin.

Nevertheless, the story problem can only be resolved by considering other materials outside the film: A deleted scene and the novelization of the film by Campbell Black (haven’t read this in a very long time).

raiders-of-the-lost-arkIn one of the deleted scenes from the script of Raiders, there are additional dialogues at Imam‘s house (Imam is the Egyptian scholar who translate the markings on the medallion. He is not named in the film but his name is written in the credit. It is also worth mentioning that this is not necessarily his name and might be his job title, as “imam” means leader in Arabic. He could be a religious leader at a local mosque for all we know), in which Imam explains the danger of the Ark: If you touch the Ark, you will die. If you look at the Ark when it is opened, you will die. This scene explains why Indy knows not to look at the Ark when it is finally opened on the secret Nazi island, thus saving his and Marion’s face from melting. Notice as well that in the Well of the Souls, Indy stopped Sallah from touching the Ark. He remembers Imam’s warning and remind Sallah of it. The Ark is then moved by using poles slipped through rings on the sides of the Ark. Throughout the rest of the film nobody touches the Ark until the finale.

This dialogue was never filmed but it exists in the script. While not showing this dialogue in the film creates a plot hole (how does Indy knows not to look at the Ark?), it is understandable not to warn Indy and the audience about the dangers of the Ark: To keep the tensions and to keep the curiosity of the audience until the end. No one knew what is going to happen if we open it, and the film would certainly be ruined should the dangers are exposed early on.

This unfilmed additional dialogue is the solution of the story problem, assuming that the warnings about the danger of the Ark are also written in the medallion, on the same side as the order to take one Kadam to honor the Hebrew god (in short, the side not copied by the Nazis). The Nazis open the Ark and die as a result because they do not know about the warnings. They do not know it because Indy has the medallion. If Indy is not present in the story, they would then have the medallion and thus aware of the warning. Belloq might not want to open it, convinced Dietrich as well, and take the Ark to Berlin. Hitler might not want to open it as well and orders for the Ark to be stored in a secret warehouse for safekeeping. Well… this outcome of the story is a bit similar except that the warehouse is in Germany instead of in the US, but… small details there. Simply put: Indy’s presence do change the outcome of the story. By removing the medallion from the Nazis, Indy deprives them of the knowledge about the dangers of the Ark.

Of course this solution holds only if we want to accept materials outside the film as canon.

Gare du Nord

February 16th, 2015

Kisah kecil ini terjadi di Gare du Nord, Paris, awal bulan Januari 2007.

Saya tiba di Paris pagi itu hanya dengan mengantongi uang 75 sen. Entah bagaimana uang saya habis. Bukan karena dirampok, tapi karena memang uang saya sedikit sekali dan saya tidak pandai mengatur keuangan. Dari uang 200 euro yang dipinjamkan karib saya si Abi, sewaktu saya di Berlin, tiba-tiba sampai Paris sudah tinggal segitu saja.

Untungnya saat itu tanggal muda, jadi uang beasiswa saya setiap saat bisa tiba. Hari masih subuh saat saya keluar dari kereta tidur yang membawa saya dari Muenchen. Di Gare de l’Est saya sempat memeriksa uang di bank. Transaksi pengambilan uang ditolak karena memang tidak ada uang di rekening saya. Uang belum tiba.

Saya berjalan ke Gare du Nord, dan di sana mulai putar otak. Apabila sampai jam buka bank, uang beasiswa saya tak kunjung tiba, barangkali saya bisa mencoba lagi menjual lensa kamera. Di Wina saya sudah berusaha menjual lensa kamera saya di sebuah toko kamera, namun mereka menolak. Mungkin di Paris ini ada toko kamera yang mau.

Saya gunakan sisa uang 75 sen saya itu untuk membayar WC umum. Selain untuk kencing, juga untuk mengisi botol air. Tinggal 25 sen uang saya. Di suatu bangku yang menghadap peron-peron, saya duduk termangu. Uang sudah benar-benar habis, bahkan untuk telepon pun tidak bisa. Sekarang tinggal menunggu jam buka bank untuk menentukan langkah selanjutnya.

Selagi saya sedang duduk berpikir itu, tahu-tahu ada seseorang menyorongkan karcisnya seraya bertanya, “Calais”? Saya lihat karcisnya, ia hendak pergi ke Calais—suatu kota di pinggir selat Calais tempat pelabuhan ferry ke Dover di Inggris—dengan kereta sekitar pukul 9.30. Masih agak lama. Ia tak bisa Bahasa Perancis, jadi saya terangkan padanya dalam Bahasa Inggris, seraya menunjuk ke papan pengumuman, bahwa kereta ke Calais belum diumumkan akan berangkat dari peron berapa. Tunggu saja. Ia mengangguk dan duduk di sebelah saya.

Mumpung ada kesempatan, barangkali ini orang bisa membantu saya meminjamkan duit. Saya ajak dia ngobrol, sembari menunggu. “Datang dari mana?” Tanya saya. Dia menjawab, dari Afghanistan. Wow, saya hanya bisa terkagum. Apakah dia melarikan diri dari negaranya yang tengah dilanda peperangan?

Dia lalu bercerita, dengan Bahasa Inggris yang terbatas, dan dengan usaha saya memahaminya, bahwa dia tidak punya paspor, dan kini sedang berusaha mencoba peruntungannya untuk memasuki Inggris. Dia bercerita mengenai usaha-usaha teman-temannya terdahulu memasuki Inggris dengan cara masuk di dalam truk dan berharap tidak ada yang memeriksa. Dia memperagakan tangan terikat, bercerita mengenai nasib yang terjadi apabila ketahuan: Diborgol bagaikan penjahat.

“How is Aghanistan now?” Saya bertanya.
“Good”, jawabnya.
“No Taliban, good.” Ia melanjutkan seraya mengacungkan jempol.
“Hamid Karzai?” Saya bertanya lagi.
“Hamid Karzai, good.” Ia menjawab, kembali mengacungkan jempol.

Saya akhirnya memutuskan untuk meminjam duit dari orang ini, walaupun ia sendiri tidak lebih baik situasinya dari saya. “Can you help me?” Saya bertanya. Saya jelaskan semampu saya bahwa saya sedang dalam perjalanan menuju Amiens (sebuah kota kecil di Perancis utara) untuk menemui teman, dan saya kehabisan uang dan membutuhkan bantuannya untuk membeli karcis. Saya jelaskan bahwa saya sebenarnya tengah menunggu uang dan saya berjanji akan segera mengembalikan uang tersebut ke rekening banknya segera setelah saya mendapatkan uang.

Dia terdiam sejenak dan kemudian membuka tas pinggangnya, lalu menyerahkan saya uang 20 euro. Saya lalu bertanya apakah dia punya rekening bank, sehingga saya mengembalikan uang tersebut.
“My address?” Tanyanya.
“No, your bank account.” Saya berkata sambil menunjukkan kartu ATM, berharap ia mengerti.
“Ah… Bank account… No passport, no bank account! Ia menjawab sambil tersenyum kecil.

Ah… lalu bagaimana saya mengembalikan uang ini? Saya bertanya… Ia menggelengkan kepala, “It’s okay,” ujarnya.

Oh astaga… di sini ada orang yang berusaha mengadu nasib, lari dari perang dan pertikaian di negaranya sendiri, berusaha menyambung hidupnya dengan menyelundupkan diri ke perbatasan Inggris–Perancis, memulai hidupnya di sana, dan kini… saya harus mengambil dari dia uang 20 euro? Saya sangat berterima kasih padanya, bersyukur bahwa di dunia ini masih ada orang seperti dia… tapi tiba-tiba saya merasa jadi sangat tidak enak dan malu dengan diri sendiri. Bagaimana tidak, saya adalah kelas menengah ngehek yang dapat duit beasiswa untuk bisa melanjutkan sekolah, tapi karena kebodohan sendiri akhirnya jalan-jalan tanpa menyadari bahwa uang sebenarnya tidak cukup.

Selang beberapa saat saya kembali ke mesin ATM dan mencoba peruntungan hari ini. Ada uang muncul! Uang beasiswa telah tiba! Saya segera lari dan mendekati kawan baru saya si orang Afghanistan, seraya mengembalikan uang 20 euro itu kembali kepadanya. Oh astaga, ia menolak uangnya dikembalikan… saya memaksa dan berkata bahwa “it’s okay…” saya sudah uang yang cukup sekarang. Ia akhirnya menerima kembali pinjamannya itu.

Kami kembali mengobrol melanjutkan percakapan, saya temani dia hingga ada pengumuman jelas, dari peron mana keretanya akan berangkat. Saya temani ia ke peron, dan sebelum berangkat saya ucapkan semoga selamat sampai di tujuan, saya peluk dia erat dan kami ber-cipika-cipiki bagaikan sahabat lama. Sejenak kemudian saya melanjutkan perjalanan ke Amiens.

Episode ini adalah bagian yang tak pernah saya lupakan dalam hidup saya. Sekali waktu, apabila melewati Gare du Nord, saya akan melihat kembali bangku tempat saya menghabiskan waktu sebentar bersama si pengungsi Afghanistan tersebut. Terkadang saya berpikir, apa yang terjadi dengannya. Mampukah ia memasuki Inggris?


Bertahun-tahun kemudian, saat saya sering mengunjungi London, Restoran Tayyab’s di Whitechapel adalah salah satu restoran favorit saya. Suatu malam, di tahun 2010, saat saya berdiri mengantri pesanan makanan, seorang pelayan menghampiri saya dan berdiri di samping saya. Setelah berramah-tamah, ia bertanya asal saya.
“I’m from Indonesia,” saya menjawab. “How about you?”
“From Aghanistan…”
Wow… kami lalu berdiskusi mengenai situasi di sana. Ia lalu mengambil sekeranjang coklat dan menawarkan pada saya. “Mau coklat? Sembari menunggu…”
Saya ambil sebatang coklat dan berterima kasih. Tiba-tiba saya merasakan ada sesuatu yang aneh… sesuatu yang saya pernah alami sebelumnya…

Saya sering mengkhayalkan bahwa pelayan itu adalah si Orang Afghanistan yang saya temui di Gare du Nord. Ia berhasil melewati perbatasan dan pada akhirnya bekerja sebagai pelayan Tayyab’s di Whitechapel. Kemungkinan besar ini tidak benar, dan itu hanyalah khayalan saya saja, tapi saya terkadang merasa itu adalah kenyataan.

Et tu, Masinton?

February 15th, 2015

[Sebuah surat terbuka bagi Saudara Masinton Pasaribu, anggota DPR-RI, dari salah seorang pemilihnya pada Pemilu Legislatif 2014 lalu]

Saudara Masinton Pasaribu!

Dengan sangat terkejut saya membaca perkembangan berita konflik KPK vs. Polri, di mana Bung serta-merta dan dengan suara yang amat lantang, tampak telah menjadi bagian dari pihak-pihak yang mendukung pengangkatan Budi Gunawan menjadi Kapolri.

Dalam suatu pemberitaan, Anda bahkan menuduh pihak-pihak dalam istana sebagai “Brutus”. Sebuah tuduhan serius bagi yang mafhum bahwa Markus Yunius Brutus adalah bagian dari persekongkolan untuk membunuh Yulius Caesar. Kita bersama tahu bahwa Yulius Caesar adalah guru politik serta bapak angkat Brutus sendiri.

Bung mungkin tidak kenal saya: saya adalah satu suara dari hampir 31 ribu pemilih yang telah memberikan amanat agar Bung menjadi anggota DPR-RI di Pemilihan Umum Legislatif bulan April 2014 lalu. Saya memilih Bung, pertama karena saya menginginkan PDI-P mampu mencapai ambang pemilihan untuk dapat mencalonkan presidennya sendiri yaitu Jokowi, dan tentu saja, saat itu saya mempercayai rekam jejak Bung terutama sebagai aktivis mahasiswa dan pergerakan rakyat.

Kita semua tahu bahwa pemberantasan korupsi adalah agenda besar yang harus kita laksanakan segera. Pemilihan Budi Gunawan sebagai calon tunggal Kapolri adalah satu kesalahan Jokowi—apapun latar belakang yang memotivasinya—di saat kita mengetahui bahwa yang bersangkutan diduga kuat memiliki rekening dengan angka yang tidak wajar. Memaksa mendukung pencalonan orang ini, di saat Presiden justru sudah memperbaiki kesalahannya dengan membatalkan pencalonan Budi Gunawan, adalah kesalahan fatal yang semakin menjauhkan PDI-P dari aspirasi rakyat.

Ingatkah Bung saat Pemilu 1999, ketika masyarakat memberikan kepercayaan dan harapan yang demikian besar pada PDI-P? Dengan mudah hampir 34% suara diperoleh, namun PDI-P gagal mengelola kekuasaan tersebut dan justru menjadi bagian dari oligarki sisa-sisa Orde Baru. Kini, kepercayaan dan harapan tersebut diberikan kembali, namun lagi-lagi PDI-P mengkhianati aspirasi rakyat yang menginginkan pemerintahan yang berwibawa dan bersih: Bebas dari korupsi.

Sudah geram saya dengan drama politik busuk yang terjadi di panggung negeri ini belakangan. Kapan pemerintahan Jokowi akan bisa membuktikan dan mencapai target kerja jika ia selalu dibebani urusan-urusan untuk pemenuhan kepentingan dalam tubuh partai yang secara hati nurani Jokowi sebagai presiden pilihan rakyat, justru tampaknya enggan untuk menyetujui? Bukankah ini sangat memalukan: PDI-P memaksa Jokowi untuk mengikuti dukungan kalian terhadap calon Kapolri Korup? Kejadian seperti inikah yang akan dicatat sejarah dan diingat oleh generasi mendatang?

Menjadi anggota DPR-RI seperti posisi di mana sekarang Bung berada, harusnya menjadi suatu kendaraan politik untuk dapat melancarkan agenda-agenda reformasi dan pembangunan negara yang berkeadilan dan berkemanusiaan, bukan justru menyerahkan diri menjadi bagian dari oligarki politik yang membusukkan bangsa dan memperparah borok warisan rezim Orde Baru. Tapi melihat sikap PDI-P yang justru terlihat semakin kuat mendukung pencalonan Kapolri yang diduga korup, adalah wajar sekiranya langkah yang diambil Jokowi justru menjauhkan diri dari PDI-P. Ia sepertinya masih punya telinga untuk bisa lamat-lamat mendengar suara rakyatnya yang jauh berada di balik tembok istana. Sikap kalian di partai penyokong Jokowi sendirilah, saya kira, yang menyebabkan sang presiden ingin jauh-jauh dari kalian, bukan karena ada “Brutus” yang berniat mengkhianati Jokowi yang seperti Bung koarkan.

Brutus mungkin telah mengkhianati guru politik dan bapak angkatnya, Yulius Caesar, namun ingatlah bahwa Brutus bersekongkol membunuh Caesar bukan karena ia haus kekuasaan! Brutus membunuh Caesar karena prinsip hati nuraninya sendiri: Ia tidak mau Republik Romawi jatuh ke tangan tiran dan autokrat seperti Caesar, yang baru saja mengangkat dirinya sendiri menjadi penguasa seumur hidup. Brutus mencintai dan menghormati Caesar, tapi ia lebih mencintai Republik Romawi. Markus Antonius berkata, “[Brutus adalah] orang Romawi yang paling mulia di antara semuanya.”

Apa lacur, suara yang sudah saya berikan pada Pemilu lalu untuk Anda, tidak dapat saya tarik kembali. Namun ingatlah selalu, sepak terjang Anda dalam konflik antara KPK vs. Polri kali ini, dengan jelas akan semakin menegaskan bahwa Bung bukanlah orang yang tepat untuk saya pilih lagi. Bahwa Bung bukanlah orang yang memiliki prinsip, apalagi ada keinginan untuk berpihak pada rakyat yang menginginkan negara ini bersih dari koruptor dan korupsi! Sepak terjang Bung ternyata tak ada beda dengan politisi busuk lainnya dan hanya bermuara serta ikut semata pada instruksi partai. Sangat jauh dari semangat reformasi. Sikap Bung seperti kerbau dicocok hidung, dengan perspektif kacamata kuda menurut saja pada sabda partai. Di mana keberpihakan pada rakyat yang dulu Bung janjikan untuk para calon pemilih yang telah membawa Bung ke kursi DPR-RI?

Saya menyesal telah memilih dan memberikan suara untuk mempercayai Bung duduk di kursi Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat! Untuk selanjutnya, tentu saja saya tidak akan sudi lagi mempercayai omongan Bung. Baik dalam sepak terjang politik yang akan datang, dan dalam pemilihan-pemilihan umum yang masih akan terus berlanjut di negeri ini.

Oh ya satu lagi: Ngentot loe!

Tri L. Astraatmadja


December 13th, 2013

Kodachrome, the miraculous film. Source: Wikipedia.

The death of Kodachrome was slowly felt when Kodak announced in June 2009 that they will no longer manufacture the slides. Then they decided to shut-off their processing plant in Lausanne, Switzerland, and outsourced any processing to Dwayne’s Photo, a photo laboratory in Parsons, Kansas. Dwayne’s became the only lab on this planet that can process Kodachrome, but this won’t last very long. Sometime in 2010, Dwayne’s announced that they will stop accepting any Kodachrome on December 30th 2010. Finally the last place on Earth that can process Kodachrome shut down its machine, when the last Kodachrome roll has been processed.

I do not remember where was I when I read this news that Dwayne’s shut off its Kodachrome processing. What I did remember was bitterness because I still have several rolls of undeveloped Kodachrome. I remember I frantically searched for other alternatives, just like somebody who are in the stage of denial when facing their own death. Acceptance came soon: either process them as a black and white reversal like Agfa Scala, or just wait until somebody wants to restart Kodachrome manufacture and processing. The second option would be akin to what The Impossible Project is doing for Polaroid films.

What can I say about Kodachrome? Obituaries has been written about it, a last picture show has been made, a state park has been named after it, and a song about it was once even written by Paul Simon. It’s a cultural icon, although it was totally forgotten during it’s last days. All I can say is that I had a brief run with Kodachrome between 2007 and 2010, I shot 38 rolls of them, and I cherish every frame of it. The days when I received my processed slides from Lausanne were the exciting days, I would immediately inspect it with my lightbox and loup, and I would mark the truly best shot. Some of the frames have been scanned and put into a set somewhere else.

Skara Brae, Orkney Island, 2010. My last Kodachrome shot.

The last Kodachrome shot I took was when I traveled to the UK in 2010. I managed to send the rolls to Lausanne and they sent me back the results. There are still two rolls (if I remember correctly) that I haven’t manage to send to the lab. It remains in my freezer up until today, waiting for my decision. Who knows what memory lies inside? I have totally forgot.

What make these slides so awesome? Simply because the colors are so alive and will be so well-preserved that they will stay that way until the next century. Unfortunately, their processing, called the K-14 process, is so delicate and elaborate that no amateur photographers can do that. This is because Kodachrome, unlike other color reversal films such as Ektachrome, has no dye integrated within the emulsion, and thus must be introduced during the processing. The emulsion must then be lighted with two lamps: red and blue. Such process can only be done with a professional machine.

I don’t know what’s going to happen now with Kodachrome. Rumors have spread that some private parties have been thinking about restarting production of Kodachrome films and accepting processing. This rumor is yet to be confirmed, and I myself is hoping that someone is willing to do another impossible project for Kodachrome. A good friend of mine, on the other hand, once told me that I should be one who should initialize the resurrection of Kodachrome. Well… we’ll see about that!

Simpler solution

December 4th, 2013

There is an old, well-known, anecdote about Soviet space pen. In the 1960s during the space race, NASA engineers spent years of research and millions of dollars to develop a pen that can work in space. What came out in the end was a pen with a pressurized ink cartridge, enabling one to write in zero-gravity, underwater, as well as at any angle of writing. Soviet engineers, facing the same problem, came out with a simpler, more elegant, solution: a pencil.

It’s a charming and well-known anecdote, but it is already established as an urban legend. The moral of the story, however, can be taken to heart: Sometimes we spend a lot of efforts to create an elaborate solution to a problem, while missing out on a simpler (and possibly more elegant) solution.

Last week I was struggling with the simulation code I’ve been working on for quite some time. I’m supposed to do a numerical integration of a function, however the function has be interpolated from a grid of two-dimensional data points. It’s okay. I can use the usual Simpson’s 3/8 integration and Bicubic spline interpolation. The problem is that bicubic spline interpolation is notoriously much slower compared to bilinear interpolation, although they are better.

At the end of the implementation, it took around 8 seconds to finish integrating, and I have to do it 480 times! The total running time is then $480\times 8 \sim 1\;{\rm hour}$ to finish the whole code. Jeebus that’s too fucking slow, so Coryn (my boss) suggested me to use a look-up table and other methods of integration.

After several days, look-up table turns out to be difficult to implement for the sort of function I want to integrate, so investigating adaptive quadrature looks like an interesting bet. I tried fidgeting around first with Legendre-Gauss Quadrature, and it manages to quicken the code by a factor of three. It’s okay but it’s not enough.

I was just about to write my code for an adaptive quadrature when I notice that in my part of the code where it is doing the interpolation, a bicubic spline constructor is always declared inside the method for the interpolation. The first thing that came to my mind was, what the fuck is the constructor doing over there? I then move the constructor out of the method and declare it as a field of the class. I don’t need my code to declare a constructor and fill it with the grid values every time I request an interpolation. I need it to just to interpolate and all of that bloody initialization can be performed beforehand.

After I made that correction, I run the code again and… lo and behold… everything is finished within 2 seconds! Not one hour, not 30 minutes, but two fucking seconds! Yep… I spent one whole week looking for a solution that might not significantly increase the speed of the code without sacrificing accuracy, and here I am with an elegant and simple solution.

Of course it is a good idea also to look at adaptive quadrature again, as it will potentially increase the speed of the code even more.

After-hours WTF moment

October 11th, 2013

Never in my life somebody has treated me so rude like what has transpired last Thursday… and in the past 7 years I’ve lived both in The Netherlands (where it is said that customer service is nonexistent) and France (Gabriel Garcia Márquez once wrote that French people is the rudest people in the world)! It was around 21.50, October 10, I was still in my office at the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy (MPIA), ready to go home. I called a ruftaxi (a taxi whose schedule follows that of a bus schedule, but must be called at least 30 minutes in advance. You pay the same amount as a bus fare. The rest will be paid by the city) and gave the usual request with my best German:
“Hello, good evening, can you send a ruftaxi to the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie at Königstuhl?”
“Okay. When do you want it?”
“The next one, please.”
“I don’t know when’s the next one. You have to give me the time.” *hangs up*
What the fuck, this is rude enough and very unusual. What the hell is this? An exam? This has never happened before, the operator would normally just tell me the time (which I know for sure that it’s 22.26) and I would meet the driver at the agreed-upon time. I call the taxi company again.
“Hello, it’s me again. The next ruftaxi is at 22.26. Can you send me that one?”
“No that’s not right. You have to check the internet.” *hangs up*
Oh my fucking god, this has gone outrageously rude. There’s not even a good-bye. What the fuck is going on with him? Did he just broke up with his partner or is his partner simply didn’t give him any sex in the past… I don’t know… eight months? Probably he just simply enjoys abusing his power, but then again it’s equally probable that he just had a big fight with his significant other and dumped all his anger to me. Probably he’s just in need of a hug and a proper blowjob.

But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt despite his rudeness. What with the construction works around Königstuhl there might be a change of schedule that I wasn’t aware of. Probably he’s just pissed at customers who aren’t aware of such things. I open the website of the public transport service and it clearly says that the next ruftaxi will come to the MPIA at 22.26 and that I should call at least 30 minutes in advance. Business as usual, nothing changes. I called the taxi central again.

“Hi it’s me again. The website says here that the ruftaxi to the Max Planck Institute will arrive at 22.26.”
“No that’s not right… wait, which Max Planck Institute are you?”
“Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.” *duh*
“…oh yes you’re right! Sorry.. sorry… I’ll send you one. For one person, right? I’m sorry.”

Oh what the fuck. At least he apologized and the ruftaxi later came at 22.26. No explanation though.

You might not be reading this, my dear taxi central operator, but if you do I just want to say: I really don’t need any explanation from you, but next time please do remember that whoever at the other end of the line is also a fellow human being just like you. Even though you only hear their voice.