Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 3 Number 5, Jun. 2004
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:email@example.com
[There was no C3M for May 2004.]
Six Degrees of Buddy Hackett
Dear readers, last month I was unable to find time to write down some
very interesting ideas swirling around me. Some of them appear here;
others will have to wait.
Two projects have consumed my mindshare in the last two months: one was
a video editing project, creating a DVD that summarizes the history of
visualization with short excerpts. This project was for a team's
internal use, and so we didn't worry to much about copyright
restrictions, since we feel this non-published work constitutes "fair
use," but for this reason I am unable to share the results with you all.
I do think I can show you the document I used to organize and
communicate the sequence; just don't tell the Walt Disney Company I've
been posting pictures from "Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land."
( aero.mindtel.com/~mindtel/Alan1/HistViz/_index.html )
The second project has been a whirlwind journey through the nascent
field of Social Network Theory. This has involved my learning about
Network Theory in general, then the sub-field of Social Network Theory,
then doing my own original research on the visualization of social
networks, then writing a paper for a conference in this field, having
it accepted, and presenting it at the conference. (As I write these
words I am at the conference, sitting in a session that is suffering
a power outage. The presentations have been interrupted, and we are
having a round-table discussion to fill the time. My laptop is slowly
depleting its batteries.)
* * * * * * * *
But to rewind a bit, as a boy I was given the first book in the
Time-Life Science Series, "Mathematics."
( cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=2228&item=6908266055&rd=1&ssPageName=WDVW#ebayphotohosting )
(It is long out of print but you can often find it in used bookstores,
and it is still quite a gem.) It was there I learned of the birth of
topology, in Euler's analysis of the problem of the seven bridges of
Konigsberg, which has also been retroactively identified as the birth
of graph theory, AKA network theory.
( www.ga.k12.pa.us/academics/us/Math/Geometry/stwk00/slaughter/7bridges.html )
* * * * * * * *
A few years ago I heard about the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon."
I won't explain it here; if you are unfamiliar with it, look on the web.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Degrees_of_Kevin_Bacon )
My wife and I attempted to play it while on a car journey to visit
her family, and discovered that it is very hard to play without access
to research tools, such as the Internet Movie Database.
( imdb.com )
One connection we attempted to make was Buddy Ebsen to Buddy Hackett.
We got nowhere in the car. Later at my in-laws I talked at length with
my wife's brother about the game, since he was at the time a manager
of a movie theater, and quite a film buff. Still later I sent him
emails as I continued the attempt to connect the two Buddies. My first
attempt took six steps. (Unfortunately I can no longer locate it.)
In August of 1999 I came up with this three step connection:
- The Love Bug
- The Shaggy D.A.
- Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier
Much later, in Feb. of 2001, I finally made the connection in two:
Buddy Ebsen -
- Breakfast At Tiffany's
Mickey Rooney <
- It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
Buddy Hackett -
One of the things I discovered during this mostly-pointless activity
is that some movies act as "skeleton keys," connecting many actors at
once. For example, consider "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005LOL8/hip-20 )
This big-budget comedy extravaganza, the first comedy produced in the
new Cinerama format, starred a stunning array of comedy and character
actors spanning several generations, including:
Edward Everett Horton
The Three Stooges
and many others. One strategy in playing the "Six Degrees" game
involves finding connections to such "skeleton key" movies as a
stepping stone to making the desired connections.
* * * * * * * *
Readers of this column will know that I am continuously flogging the
"Bookwatch" web site, which automatically tracks book references in
blogs on the weblogs.com web site. Curiously, there have been news
reports that the weblogs site has gone down:
...thousands of bloggers were ... left staring at blank screens.
Dave Winer, the chap behind the free hosting service weblog.com,
had unilaterally decided that the service was costing him too
much time and money and had thrown three thousand blogs into the
void without warning.
( zdnet.com.com/2100-1107-5235798.html )
...but the bookwatch site is still up and logging new entries every
( www.onfocus.com/bookwatch )
As I have mentioned several times before, this site alerted me to
the existence of the remarkable book, "The Tipping Point: How Little
Things Can Make a Big Difference" (2003) by Malcolm Gladwel.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316346624/hip-20 )
That book alerted me to the existence of "Nexus: Small Worlds and the
Groundbreaking Theory of Networks" (2003) by Mark Buchanan.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393324427/hip-20 )
While reading "Nexus" I found out that some mathematicians had done a
rigorous analysis of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game, using the
Internet Movie Database, and found that the "most connected" actor is
Rod Steiger, probably because he's been in so many different genres of
movies: action, drama, horror, historical, musical, science fiction,
etc., allowing him to "mix it up" with a lot of different actors.
"Nexus" alerted me to the existence of the book "Six Degrees -- The
Science of a Connected Age" (2003) by Duncan Watts, which covers the
same ground as "Nexus," but in more detail.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393041425/hip-20 )
One of the thing he covers is the discovery in the 3rd millennium that
a number of human and machine networks, like the internet and cell
phone calling patterns, do not follow a normal (Gaussian) distribution
or a Poisson distribution like good old "random" data on a "bell curve."
They instead follow a power law, where a log-log graph -- of number of
links vs. number of nodes with that many links -- is a straight line.
In other words, they are related by an exponential function. This is
also called "scale free," and I realized nobody was coming out and
saying it, but this was another way to say the structure is FRACTAL!
* * * * * * * *
Coincidence being the powerful mover that it is in my life, it was
shortly before I started the "Six Degrees" book that Dave Warner at Mindtel
Corp. made me the following offer: Write a paper for the upcoming
conference of the North American Association for Computational Social
and Organizational Science (NAACSOS) and get it accepted, and Mindtel
would pay my travel expenses to Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh,
PA to deliver it. So I did, it was, and I'm there now. You can find an
expanded version of my paper online.
( aero.mindtel.com/~mindtel/Alan1/2004_NetworkViz/Experiments.html )
(One of the things I've noticed about Pittsburgh is how its bridges
and rivers remind me of the maps I've seen of Konigsberg.)
( www.pa-educator.net/images/pittsburgh.gif )
Something I don't mention in the paper is that our funding, indirectly,
is coming for people in the Department of Defense who want to use
Social Network Theory to understand and disrupt terror cells.
(The conference has relocated to one of the few buildings on the
Carnegie Mellon University campus that still has power and wireless
internet access. Some of us were joking: If terrorists had Social Network
Theory and were looking for the place to disrupt our ability to understand
their networks, perhaps the most effective thing to do would be to cut the
power to this conference.)
Here I have learned some interesting terminology, such as "centrality"
as a measure of connectedness, "clustering" describing the choice of
how to arrange nodes before drawing them, and "heteroskedastic" meaning
not mappable by any single model, and some interesting ideas as well,
According to simulations, removing the leader of a technical
project team is more disruptive than removing two key
A leader is a role in a group, but leadership is an
emergent property of the whole group.
Where do you put armor on airplanes? Where the
returning airplanes have no bullet holes.
(Think about it.)
Also, we were introduced to a young physicist who insists there is no
such thing as an instant in time. (Fascinating, but I never figured
out why it was at this particular conference, or who two hours in full
session were spent on this.) One of his papers, on our perception of
time, seemed to be groping in the direction of Dave Warner's Neurocosmology.
( www.peterlynds.net.nz )
FYI, there is free Social Network Visualization software available
from Innovative Collaborative Knowledge Networks (iCKN).
( www.ickn.org/ickndemo )
( www.quasar.org/memes/phd-meme-mill/1st-in-00/phd4me/fu-nc1acv1-24-00.html )
* * * * * * * *
There have been a few interesting coincidences on this adventure.
Readers of this column will remember the robotic vehicle "Sandstorm"
built by the "Red Team" lead by Red Whitacre at CMU. Today I attended
a meeting in the same building as the lab where it was built. Later,
I had to wait to cross a street as a truck carrying "Sandstorm" passed
by, too quickly for me to pull out my digital camera.
* * * * * * * *
While working on the paper, I remembered that I had first learned about
the field of math called "graph theory" in 1977 from a professor at the
University of California at Santa Cruz, Dr. David Huffman. He taught
the course "Graphs, Games and Structures" without a textbook, saying
there wasn't a good one yet. To refresh my knowledge I hunted up a
text: "Excursions in Graph Theory" (1980) by Gary Haggard, which served
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0891010408/hip-20 )
I also remembered -- and made passing reference in my paper -- that
Huffman pointed out that there is a correspondence between graph theory
and the error-correcting codes of Hamming.
( www.cs.mcgill.ca/~smroso/hamming.html )
After in searching in vain with Google for information on this,
correspondence, I finally dug up my old mimeographed handouts from
Huffman, in his own handwriting, which I offer here to the zealous.
At one point, I got frustrated with the material and thought of calling
up Dr. Huffman and asking for help. A web search revealed that he
passed away in October of 1999.
( www.acm.org/crossroads/xrds6-3/huffman.html )
One of Dr. Huffman's greatest accomplishments was the invention of
"Huffman Coding," a data-compression technique. The memorial website
The Huffman code appears in many applications such as fax machines,
video compression, and computer security. Huffman never tried to
patent an invention from his work. Instead, he concentrated his
efforts on education. In Huffman's own words, "My products are my
I was touched. I remember how I flashed my knowledge of Hamming
error-correcting codes, taught to me by Huffman, in my first comuter
industry job interview at Data General. I mentioned how I'd read their
16-bit minicomputer memory chips uses a 21-bit Hamming code that
detected and corrected one bits errors in 16-bit words.
* * * * * * * *
These days I am reminded of Dr. Huffman almost every day.
While working on this project I had occasion to use a tool I
created for invoking the Safari web browser from the command line
in Mac OS X. I defined an alias thusly:
Which allows me to type:
to quickly inspect a JPEG file without having to double-click it
in a graphical window. A side-effect of this is that I get to see
some error messages from the browser that I didn't used to see. The
most common one is:
Corrupt JPEG data: bad Huffman code
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Copyright 2004 by Alan B. Scrivener