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Power User
Posts: 42522

« on: December 16, 2008, 07:36:28 AM »


Rachel will use this one to tease GM  cheesy


Specializing in Problems That Only Seem Impossible to Solve
Published: December 15, 2008

“It’s a little plastic toy,” said Jessica Fridrich, tossing a Rubik’s Cube between her long-fingered hands on a stormy afternoon in her office at Binghamton University, her fingernails painted with a pastel pink gloss.

MATH AS METHOD Jessica Fridrich’s strategy for quickly solving the Rubik’s Cube requires using at least 53 algorithms.

But the little toy, an icon of the era of Pac-Man and high-top sneakers, has made a big comeback. For a thriving subculture of people who try to solve the cube as fast as possible, Dr. Fridrich is a pioneer and a patron saint. She forged what remains arguably the world’s most common strategy for speed-solving the puzzle, and appeared in a documentary about the Rubik’s Cube released this fall.
Dr. Fridrich first cracked the colorful walls of the Rubik’s Cube in 1981 as a teenager living in a Czech coal mining city. Few people will spend decades decoding a plastic block, no matter how mathematically intricate. But few people are as tenacious as the architect of “The Fridrich Method,” a roadmap that requires a speedcuber to memorize and unleash at least 53 algorithms, each of which is a series of turns of the cube’s rows and columns in a given sequence.

For Dr. Fridrich, tackling an impossible puzzle is not a hobby, and the Rubik’s Cube is not simply a game. They are obsessions.

Trapped in Czechoslovakia until the Velvet Revolution made migration to the United States for doctoral study possible, Dr. Fridrich, self-taught in differential and integral calculus, sketched out a solution to the Rubik’s Cube in a tattered notebook even before owning one.

Dr. Fridrich, 44, an electrical engineering professor, is frequently confronted at academic conferences and asked to solve the cube on the spot. She fields e-mail messages from 13-year-olds in Japan and has inspired scores of YouTube videos from cube enthusiasts riffing on her method, which was propagated on the Internet in the late 1990s as the puzzle saw a resurgence.

“She chose the basic route, the direction we would take up the mountain,” said Dan Knights, winner of the 2003 World Rubik’s Cube Championship (Dr. Fridrich placed second). “And other people are finding different ways from one ledge to another.”

Mr. Knights, 29, used the Fridrich Method to win the 2003 competition after seeking her out as a mentor four years earlier. At first confounded by her techniques, he took a year off from college to learn them while traveling by train through Europe and Asia.

The Fridrich Method requires first solving the top two layers of the three-tiered Rubik’s Cube, selecting the face with the central white square as the roof. (Each face has a middle square of a distinct color attached to the cube’s central joint that dictates the color the face will be when solved.) Most speedcubers learn to do this by intuition, improvising until the white face remains intact and other squares fall into place on their correctly colored sides. The crux of the Fridrich Method lies in solving the third and last layer of the cube without compromising the color scheme put into place in the initial steps.

To solve the third layer, the speedcuber must assemble all of the yellow squares on the bottom face by applying one of 40 algorithms in a phase called “orientation.” The cuber must instantly recognize which algorithm to apply in order to have any hope of solving it with haste. In the final step, permutation, one of 13 algorithms restores the cube’s chromatic harmony, one color per face.

The world’s fastest speedcubers, including Dr. Fridrich, know more than 100 algorithms to whisk the cube to its solution. They recognize when the puzzle is jumbled or positioned in their palms in a way that one set of moves is quicker than 99 others.

As a teenager, Dr. Fridrich saw a man demonstrating the Rubik’s Cube at a mathematics seminar, and scrambled defiantly through a crowd to touch it. She says it was immediately clear that she was “cube possessed,” her shorthand for people who spend most of their waking hours learning to speed-solve the cube. Even though no cubes were for sale in her country then — the few people who had them bought them in Hungary — she would not be stopped. She picked up Kvant, a Russian math journal that outlined one method of solving the cube, and worked it out on paper.

When she finally got her first cube, left behind by family friends visiting from France, she began to improvise, cubing faster and faster to beat record times from Prague, Hungary and the United States printed in newspapers. By the time the Czech national championship took place in 1982, Dr. Fridrich was one of the fastest speedcubers in the country. She won the championship, solving the cube in less than 23 and a half seconds — a time that would now be laughably long in international competition — going onto place 10th in the first world championship in Budapest.


Page 2 of 2)

After earning her master’s degree, she was building mathematical models of rock deformation at a mining institute when she was recruited by a professor from Binghamton who heard about her mastery of the cube and her grades at the Czech Technical University in Prague. After a brief meeting in which she described her cube algorithms, he asked her to apply for the doctoral program in systems sciences. She had no résumé, so she dashed one off on a typewriter just before the professor’s train left the station. A year later, she arrived in Binghamton, where she has lived ever since.

In her research in digital forensics, Dr. Fridrich uses computers to tackle another seemingly intractable puzzle: matching a photograph with the individual camera that took it. Law enforcement agencies plan to use the techniques to track down child pornographers and movie pirates.

“She looks at a problem that seems insolvable,” said George J. Klir, the retired professor who recruited her 18 years ago. “And she finds a way to solve it, again and again.”

Dr. Fridrich was drawn to “camera ballistics” because of its inscrutable mysteries, similar to those the Rubik’s Cube held in the early ’80s. “It was very visual,” she said. “Usually when you develop an algorithm or a formula you cannot really see it.”

When Dr. Fridrich forged her Rubik’s Cube algorithms, she did so by trial and error, using only pencil, paper and a cube. Today, the cube is no longer an uncharted territory like digital forensics, but a terrain well-plowed by personal computers and the sweaty palms of speedcubers.

Software programs can compute the quickest solution to any given mix-up of the cube’s faces. Hundreds, possibly thousands of speedcubers have tweaked the Fridrich Method to work with a technique called “finger pushing,” best used on cubes with joints eased loose by repetitive stress so you can flick their walls instead of grabbing rows to rotate them. Now, Dr. Fridrich said, the cube has been “optimized to death,” and holds little allure — even though she still keeps nearly 20 of the plastic puzzles scattered around her office and home.

Dexterity once defined Dr. Fridrich, who now uses just six fingers to hunt and peck on her keyboard. She has been far surpassed by speedcubers with records of 14, 13 and 10 seconds, some of whom can solve the cube blindfolded after studying it for less than a minute. “Today I would probably be in 20th or 30th place,” she said. “I am letting it go because I think it’s time for others to succeed.”

For someone who wins for the sake of winning, who never roots for the underdog, in sports or in life, this retreat from speedcubing seems something like a reluctant acceptance that some things are indeed, impossible.

At the very least, she admitted, “it’s not yet possible to do everything at once.”
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2008, 08:37:17 PM »

Dr. Fridrich  has a very inspiring story. Great Idea to start a thread about  women in the math and sciences! grin

 Six young women mastered the power of the ENIAC an 80 foot long, 8 foot tall, black metal machine and harnessed its power through an archaic programming interface using dozens of wires and 3000 switches. They programmed ENIAC to perform a ballistics trajectory, a differential calculus equation important to the WWII effort, and they succeeded brilliantly. When the ENIAC was unveiled to the public on February 14, 1946, their program captured the imagination of the press and made headlines across the country. Afterwards, the ENIAC became a legendary machine and its engineers (all men) became famous. Never introduced or credited at the ENIAC events of the 1940s, the Programmers story disappeared from history. They became invisible.

Kathy Kleiman, then a young programmer herself, discovered the ENIAC Programmers in the mid-1980s. "Their story inspired me and helped me to stay involved in computing at a time when few women were in my computer science classes,"notes Kleiman. After 20 years of research and interviews, Kleiman has learned and seeks to share the story of the ENIAC Programmers, their contributions in the 1940s and their later careers in computing.
Kathy and Programmers

Top, from left to right:  Kathy Kleiman, Jean Bartik, Marlyn Meltzer, Kay Antonelli; Bottom:  Betty Holberton

Now dedicated to producing the first feature-length documentary to tell the ENIAC Programmers' story, Kleiman has teamed up with Academy Award ® winning documentarian Susan Hadary on this milestone project. "The names of Betty Snyder Holberton, Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum and Frances Bilas Spence belong in our history books and computer courses," shares Kleiman. "Not only did they program the first modern computer, some devoted decades to making programming easier and more accessible for all who followed." "Certainly the time is long past due to tell the secret of these pioneer women on the ENIAC project," adds Hadary.

Come celebrate our history! Join us in making the documentary Refrigerator Ladies: The Untold Story of the ENIAC Programmers a reality. Help us preserve this story for our daughters, and our sons, who follow.

The Google bog  also has a post on the ENIAC Programers  with a video interview with one of the women Jean Bartick

"For many years in the computing industry, the hardware was it, the software was considered an auxiliary thing."
– Jean Bartik
Power User
Posts: 15533

« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2008, 09:38:43 PM »

So many tasteless jokes that could be made here. I'll just be nice for once....   grin
Power User
Posts: 15533

« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2008, 09:43:27 PM »

Can We Make Boys and Girls Alike?
Stanley Kurtz   

When Lawrence Summers suggested that biology might be partially responsible for the relative rarity of female mathematics professors, he was provoking an academic giant. Powerful as the president of Harvard may be, his influence is as nothing compared with that of the behemoth that is the women’s studies movement. The field of women’s studies originated in the heady sixties and grew exponentially through the seventies and eighties. By the mid-nineties, when Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge published Professing Feminism, their searing critique of the field, more than 600 undergraduate and several dozen graduate women’s studies programs were up and running at colleges and universities across the country.

The intellectual cornerstone of women’s studies is “gender,” the notion that differences between men and women are not rooted in biology, as Summers had hypothesized some might be, but are cultural artifacts, inculcated by an oppressive patriarchal society. Precisely because the gender idea builds a specific (radical) political orientation into the field, Patai and Koertge point out, women’s studies proved intellectually suspect from the start. You can read that radical politics right in the National Women’s Studies Association constitution: “Women’s Studies . . . is equipping women to transform the world to one that will be free of all oppression . . . [and is] a force which furthers the realization of feminist aims.” True justice for these radical feminists means overcoming gender and establishing an androgynous society. So when Summers asserted that something besides artificial cultural roles—something besides “gender”—might account for the distinct positions of men and women in society, he was undermining the intellectual and political foundation of the entire women’s studies establishment.

The alternatives to feminist orthodoxy don’t end with Summers-style invocations of biology as destiny. Take psychiatrist Leonard Sax’s new book, Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, for example. Sax begins by arguing that variations in how boys and girls learn result from brain biology. But, unlike many believers in hardwired sex differences, he goes on to argue that we can triumph over biology through single-sex education. If we teach boys and girls separately and in sync with their biologically based learning styles, he claims, they will perform equally well in all academics, including math.

There’s also a fourth possible view on the relations between sex and success—one that no one has systematically articulated to date. If those who assert biological differences between the sexes disagree about whether we can overcome them, the same might apply to those who assert the power of cultural differences. Even if we do provisionally hold that virtually all differences between men and women are cultural, might it not also be true that those differences are impossible to overcome? If so, it wouldn’t be “gender” but the feminist effort to eliminate it that is truly oppressive. This fourth view suggests that the very same cultural forces that make feminists desire androgyny may actually prevent us from achieving it. The cultural sources of “gender” difference, properly understood, would then inform us not that our gender identities are infinitely malleable but that they’re effectively impossible to change.

Sociologists have thought long and hard about the cultural “reproduction of society”—the transmission of deeply held cultural attitudes across the generations. Some social thinkers focus on the conscious transmission of cultural messages through religion and custom, while others highlight the influence of deeper social structures, such as economic organization or family forms. The most sophisticated feminist theories of gender—those that offer the most plausible alternatives to biological explanations—take the latter view. To explain the reproduction of gender differences, they zero in on family structure, especially during the first months and years of life, to a time when the way we care for children is far more important than the words we speak.

A case in point is the work of psychoanalytic sociologist Nancy Chodorow, a women’s studies pioneer who gives flesh to a radically “cultural constructivist” idea of gender. Nearly every feminist plan for engineering a new, androgynous society—from the “egalitarian feminism” of political theorist Susan Okin to the “difference feminism” of developmental psychologist Carol Gilligan—offers a variation on Chodorow’s themes, so it’s worth considering them closely.

Chodorow hypothesizes that the differences between the sexes simply derive from the contingent circumstance that women happen to be the primary caretakers of children. The special, “feminine” empathy required for rearing children, she suggests, becomes indelibly associated in our minds with people who just physically happen to be female. Identifying with their daughters, moreover, mothers tend to stay tightly connected with them for years, drawing them into a circle of mutual dependence and empathy that is the essence of femininity. So it’s not television ads or Barbie dolls that turn little girls into caring women, who themselves want to be mothers. It’s the emotional closeness of mothers and daughters that perpetuates the conventional female sexual role for generation after generation.

Boys learn their gender lessons early, too, Chodorow maintains. Since traditional mothers assume that boys are different from girls, early on they tend to encourage their sons to be independent. As mothers begin to push their sons out of the warm circle of empathy, boys get the message that people with Daddy’s kind of body should act differently from the way Mommy acts. If they want to be men, boys learn, they’ve got to overcome the qualities of emotional empathy of people like Mom. Masculinity thus finds its ground in a rejection of “feminine” qualities.

If we could just break the association between gender and child care, thinks Chodorow—if men as well as women could “mother” children—then we might vanquish gender. Men and women would still have a few distinct body parts, of course, but “masculine” and “feminine” personality differences would no longer have anything to do with bodily equipment. No one would assume that only people with a certain kind of body should be caring and empathic. The speed with which a child became independent would no longer depend on whether it was male or female. A new era would dawn.

Yet even if this understanding of gender as learned behavior is right, androgyny proponents quickly run into a problem. As Chodorow herself underscores, mothering by women produces women who themselves want to be mothers. The mechanism at work may be social and psychological, rather than biological, but it’s no less real for that. How, then, do you get women to mother less and men to mother more, especially when, according to Chodorow, everything in a typical male’s early rearing makes him wrong for the job?

Plato faced this dilemma when he drew up history’s first great plan for a perfectly just society in the Republic—a society that required, among other things, androgyny. His solution: send the members of the old, imperfect city into exile, so that the new, just city could be built from scratch. Otherwise, their recalcitrant mental habits would sabotage the creation of the new order. The fact is, attempts to force a society out of its most deeply held cultural values can be every bit as tyrannical as schemes to override our biological nature.

But what if a society actually existed—not just a theoretical utopia—whose inhabitants yearned for androgyny? What if a society existed whose citizens, motivated by a burning passion for perfect justice, committed themselves to a total reorganization of the traditional family system, with the express purpose of eliminating gender? Such a society has existed, of course: the early Israeli kibbutz movement. The movement wasn’t just a precursor to modern feminism, it’s important to add. The kibbutzniks were utopian socialists who wanted to construct a society where the ideal of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” would govern the production and distribution of goods. It was as part of this larger socialist vision that the kibbutzniks set out to wipe away gender.

Kibbutz parents agreed to see their own children only two hours a day, and for the remaining 22 hours to surrender them to the collective, which would raise them androgynously (trying more to “masculinize” women than “feminize” men). Boys and girls would henceforth do the same kind of work and wear the same kind of clothes. Girls would learn to be soldiers, just like boys. Signs of “bourgeois” femininity—makeup, say—would now be taboo. As if they had stepped out of Plato’s Republic, the children would dress and undress together and even use the same showers.

The experiment collapsed within a generation, and a traditional family and gender system reasserted itself. Why? Those who believe in hardwired natural differences obviously would say that cultural conditioning couldn’t remove the sexes’ genetic programming. Indeed, in his now-infamous conference remarks, Lawrence Summers invoked the history of the kibbutz movement to help make his case that biology might partially explain sex roles.

Feminists, though, say that the kibbutz experiment didn’t get a fair chance. However committed to gender justice the kibbutzniks might have been, they were all traditional Europeans by upbringing. Somehow they must have transmitted the old cultural messages about gender to the children. Perhaps, too, those messages came from the larger Israeli society, from which it was impossible to shelter the boys and girls entirely. What’s more—and Chodorow would doubtless emphasize this fact—the kibbutz child-care nurses were all women. A 50/50 male-female mix might have done the trick.

Yet American androgyny proponents rarely refer to the kibbutz experiment—for understandable reasons. Its failure—even if you accept their own cultural explanation for it—puts a serious damper on the idea of androgynizing America. In the U.S., after all, there’s nothing remotely approaching the level of commitment to surmounting gender found among the early kibbutzniks. If androgyny proved unattainable in a small socialist society whose citizens self-selected for radical feminist convictions, how could one bring it about in contemporary America, where most people don’t want it? It would take a massive amount of coercion—unacceptable in any democracy—to get us even to the point where the kibbutzniks were when they failed to build a post-gender society.

The best account of the experiment’s breakdown, offered by anthropologist Melford Spiro in his books Gender and Culture and Children of the Kibbutz, points out an even bigger obstacle to androgyny. Ultimately, Spiro argues, the kibbutzniks didn’t succeed because the mothers wanted their kids back. They wanted to take care of their young children in the old-fashioned way, themselves. Two hours a day with their kids wasn’t enough. Even among the kibbutz founders, Spiro notes, women often agonized over the sacrifice of maternal pleasure that their egalitarian ideology demanded. He quotes from one mother’s autobiography: “Is it right to make the child return for the night to the children’s home, to say goodnight to it and send it back to sleep among the fifteen or twenty others? This parting from the child before sleep is so unjust!” Such feelings persisted and intensified, until collective pressure forced the kibbutz to let parents spend extra time with their kids.

Spiro holds that a pre-cultural form of maternal instinct subverted the kibbutz’s child-rearing approach. But a plausible cultural explanation is even more devastating to feminist hopes for a gender-free America. What really defeated androgyny on the kibbutz, this interpretation posits, was the profound tension built in to the very culture of modern democratic individualism that the kibbutzniks embraced—the tension between liberty and equality. As part of their insistence on their unique individuality, the kibbutzniks recognized the unabridgeable unique individuality of everyone else. Hence, their insistence on radical equality. Full equality meant that everyone had to treat everyone else the same way. Even the differences between my children and the neighbors’ kids would have to go. They pretended that their children belonged to the collective—“child of the kibbutz,” they would say, not “my child.”

But the other side of democratic individualism is the idea that each of us is uniquely individual. And inseparable from this individualism are certain aspirations—to express yourself personally, and to treat yourself, your possessions, and your family differently from how you treat everyone else. Child rearing doesn’t escape these aspirations. In fact, in modern societies people pay far greater attention to the unique characters of their children than people do in traditional, group-oriented societies. Lavishing intense, personal attention on their kids is a favorite way for modern individuals to exercise personal liberty.

Kibbutz mothers who hoped to treat everyone the same thus also wanted to express their individual characters by molding their own kids. The two goals—reflecting the two sides of modern democratic individualism—were finally incommensurable. Eventually, the desire for personal expression trumped the quest for radical equality. The parents decided to raise their own kids in their own way. No one ever got the chance to find out if further tinkering might have eliminated their children’s gender differences.

The culture of democratic individualism characterizes contemporary America, too, of course, and it still cuts two ways. Feminists insist on radical equality, and androgyny is the logical outcome of that drive for equality. Yet at the same time, especially since the baby boomers came on the scene, many American women have treated the experience of motherhood as an exercise in self-expression—indeed, they do so more fervently than the kibbutzniks.

A modern, self-expressive, committed-to-full-equality American mother might know that her child is getting quality care from a relative, a nanny, or a nursery, but she’ll often feel dissatisfied, since the care isn’t hers. Part of the point of being a parent, she’ll feel, is to express one’s unique personality through how one cares for and shapes one’s children. In practical terms, she’ll be reluctant to give up her kids long enough to break the cycle of “gender reproduction.”

True, the last 40 years have seen tremendous changes in the social roles of men and women—changes that could never have happened were there not significant flexibility in gender roles. From the standpoint of feminism’s ideal of androgyny, though, the shift is still very partial. Until the link between women and child rearing completely breaks down, neither corporate boardrooms nor Harvard professorships of mathematics will see numerical parity between men and women. In the meantime, in disproportionate numbers, at critical points in their careers, women will continue to choose mothering over professional work.

From either a biological or cultural point of view, then, the feminist project of androgyny is ultimately doomed. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t do harm in the meantime. In America, many boys are slipping behind in school; their sisters are significantly more likely to go on to college. Yet thanks largely to the influence of academic feminists, legal and educational resources still flow disproportionately to supposedly victimized girls. In the end, gender won’t disappear, whatever the mavens of women’s studies hope, but the careers of some bright young men probably will.
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2008, 09:52:36 AM »

GM -- I owe you a response but it  will need to wait until after Hanukkah. I'm sorry about the delay but it is just not where I want to be focusing right now
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2009, 04:36:09 PM »

Feminism-- Belief in the social, political, and economical equality of the sexes.

I am missing the part where it says identical.   If there are those who make those arguments I don't agree with them.

I have never argued that  their aren't biological difference between men and women.  I just  don't always think is that important - If you divided  locker rooms by height or by who could beat who in arm wrestling not everyone would end up in the right place.

 It bothers me when all  human beings  are not given the tools to live up to their potential and if guys are not being given the tools to go college that is a problem. I don't see the world as a zero sum game between men and women. I don't belive if women are succeeding then  men must be failing.

I do wonder if part of the reason that less men than woman are going to college is that  there are currently  more well paying jobs for men than woman without a degree.--- plumber, carpenter, electrician, tool and dye maker etc.   You  usually wouldn't   make the same kind of money as  a hairstylist  than you do as a plumber.   However if my kid wanted to be a plumber instead of going to school. I would want him/her to also get a business degree so they would have the tools they need to run their own business.
I know a family that has 4 kids and neither parent went to college.
All three of the daughters  are either in college or graduated from  college  and the son didn't want to go he wanted to be a carpenter like his father. 

I want a society where it is equally okay for men and woman to be both doctors and nurses English  teachers and engineers. 
 The women mentioned in the previous posts did not get ahead by taking opportunities  away from men.   Role models and heroes play an important part in shaping who people are.
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