“meaningful adjacencies”
May 9, 2011 6:10 AM   Subscribe

“It was a computer-science problem, but it was also a big, crazy typography problem,” An algorithm for the names at the 9/11 memorial.
posted by troika (39 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was a surprisingly emotional article. Namely, this:

In other cases, the families knew, from last phone calls, whom their loved ones had been with in the end—in an elevator, on a ledge—and wanted those people listed together.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:22 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I got to this example of an adjacency:
"Another woman, Abigail Ross Goldman, lost her best friend, who’d been on the ninety-sixth floor of the North Tower, when Flight 11, with her father aboard, crashed into it [...]"
and had to step out for a minute.
posted by likeso at 6:24 AM on May 9, 2011


room317's line also got me. I still have nightmares about jumping from WTC.
posted by DU at 6:26 AM on May 9, 2011


Arad arranged the requests using index cards . . . At a certain point, the foundation recognized that this job could use the assistance of a computer.

Odd how some people think. I can't imagine looking at this problem and trying to start by using index cards.
posted by TypographicalError at 6:30 AM on May 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


I still have nightmares about jumping from WTC.

Yes. The ledge. The ledge images.
posted by likeso at 6:35 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


You never try to model a difficult/new algorithm physically to get a feel for it? Odd how some people think, indeed.
posted by DU at 6:35 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


A longer article about the algorithm/memorial, and an app to explore the memorial including the placement of names thereon.
posted by Perplexity at 6:36 AM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Whether this reflects some discrepancy in degree of difficulty depends on how you measure the relative impracticability of Central Asian manhunts and New York City building projects. Each requires the cooperation of quarrelsome agencies and constituents; the Port Authority alone, with its shadowy tribal customs, is a kind of bureaucratic Peshawar.

Oh darling, you're simply incorrigible! (eyeroll)
posted by hal9k at 6:42 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wasn't operating under typographical constraints, but I did write something vaguely similar to determine the seating chart for my wedding (which had some complicated "X and Y hate each other but both love Z" stuff going on).

I went with simulated annealing, optimizing for the sum of (for each person, their liking for the people sitting next to and across from them). It went really well.
posted by Jpfed at 6:47 AM on May 9, 2011 [18 favorites]


You never try to model a difficult/new algorithm physically to get a feel for it? Odd how some people think, indeed.

That's not how this is represented in the article: the implication is that Arad was trying to solve the problem using notecards, not start with that as a model to inspire a computational solution.
posted by TypographicalError at 7:18 AM on May 9, 2011


From Perplexity's link:
Victor Wald, 50, was working in his 84th floor office at the small brokerage firm, Avalon Partners. Like his colleagues, he raced for the exits, and scrambled down the stairs. But, having suffered from rheumatic fever as a child, he collapsed in exhaustion on the 53rd floor, as frantic workers from the building's upper floors hastily passed him by. Harry Ramos, 46, the head trader at the small investment bank, May Davis Group, who worked on the 87th floor, saw him on the stairs, and stopped.

They had never met, had no friends or relatives in common. But Ramos saw Wald and said, "I won't leave you." Ramos managed to coax Wald down to the 36th floor, where they sat together as the building collapsed.
And now they will continue to be next to each other as names on the monument.
posted by grouse at 7:19 AM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I went with simulated annealing, optimizing for the sum of (for each person, their liking for the people sitting next to and across from them). It went really well.

Aunt Mildred: "Simulated WHAT?! Harold, listen to this, they're getting a simulated annulment! Does your mother know about this?"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:21 AM on May 9, 2011


They had never met, had no friends or relatives in common. But Ramos saw Wald and said, "I won't leave you." Ramos managed to coax Wald down to the 36th floor, where they sat together as the building collapsed.

Jesus.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:26 AM on May 9, 2011


A same-sex couple and their three-year-old son all perished on Flight 175; their names, certainly, belonged together.

Fuck.

I would have liked for the memorial to include short stories about everyone, not just their names.
posted by odinsdream at 7:27 AM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


odinsdream, the first article that Perplexity linked to says:

Names.911memorial.org provides wayfinding for each of the victims. It also provides brief biographical information provided by next-of-kin. The same application will be available on mobile smartphones, tablet computers, and electronic kiosks when the plaza of the Memorial opens on Sept. 11, 2011.

I agree that the biographical information will make the memorial that much more poignant.

Thank you so much for the post, troika -- this is touching and fascinating.
posted by cider at 7:31 AM on May 9, 2011


They had never met, had no friends or relatives in common. But Ramos saw Wald and said, "I won't leave you." Ramos managed to coax Wald down to the 36th floor, where they sat together as the building collapsed.

Not to be a huge cynic or anything, but how do they know that? Are they just inventing a narrative to explain two unrelated bodies found near each other? Was Ramos liveblogging the escape on his blackberry?
posted by FatherDagon at 7:34 AM on May 9, 2011



I agree that the biographical information will make the memorial that much more poignant.


Crap.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:34 AM on May 9, 2011


Not to be a huge cynic or anything, but how do they know that? Are they just inventing a narrative to explain two unrelated bodies found near each other? Was Ramos liveblogging the escape on his blackberry?

I believe that several people who knew the men heard him say that, and they subsequently got out of the building before it collapsed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:44 AM on May 9, 2011


Each requires the coöperation of quarrelsome agencies and constituents; the Port Authority alone, with its shadowy tribal customs, is a kind of bureaucratic Peshawar.

You mean like the New Yoörker?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:19 AM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why in God's name did the New Yorker feel the need to publish the completely unrelated cartoon along with that article?
posted by maryr at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2011


(I mean re-produce it in the online version.)
posted by maryr at 9:05 AM on May 9, 2011


FatherDagon, Ramos was with several others from his office when he came upon Wald, and one of those colleagues accompanied them several floors, but left to save himself when the other tower collapsed.

maryr, none of the cartoons are related. They come randomly from the Cartoon Bank when you read online.
posted by dhartung at 9:07 AM on May 9, 2011


What a beautiful memorial. I love the fountains continuously falling down into their own squares. Thanks so much for posting this.
posted by jillithd at 9:14 AM on May 9, 2011


A same-sex couple and their three-year-old son all perished on Flight 175; their names, certainly, belonged together

I... no words. Still can't parse that stuff.
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 9:42 AM on May 9, 2011


Why in God's name did the New Yorker feel the need to publish the completely unrelated cartoon along with that article?

They're actually random. You get a different cartoon every time you load the page.
posted by delmoi at 10:01 AM on May 9, 2011


That seems like a very dangerous idea.

Or it says something about the meaninglessness of New Yorker cartoons.
posted by smackfu at 10:48 AM on May 9, 2011


"Requested Adjacencies" becomes a very poetic phrase; beautifully obscure, a failed effort to wrest the emotion out of the notion through some bureaucratese (failed only because we now know what it means).
posted by chavenet at 11:05 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It really does. I find the concept itself absolutely haunting, the idea that layers of meaning permeate even the arrangement of the names on the stone. The human interest stories are touching, but it's the last line that got me:

"...the sight of the names themselves, inscribed in bronze, linked together by happenstance and blood, calculus and font size, is a little like the faint silhouette of a cosmic plan, or else of the total absence of one."
posted by Freyja at 11:26 AM on May 9, 2011


Crap.

A total of eight children were aboard the two planes. Littlest Victims Largely Overlooked (sorry for the World Net Daily link, but its a good article.

The same sex couple are the Gamboa-Brandhorst Family
posted by anastasiav at 12:38 PM on May 9, 2011


I'm amazed that this was possible. It sounds like the sort of thing where you pile constraint upon constraint (actual adjacencies plus requested adjacencies minus typographical inelegancies) and end up with a problem that can't be solved before the heat death of the universe. What a wonderful use of geekish brilliance.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:23 PM on May 9, 2011


110 Stories by John M Ford - well worth reading.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:28 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The names.911memorial.org is neat but I wish it told you what the adjacency was for.
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on May 9, 2011


The names.911memorial.org is neat but I wish it told you what the adjacency was for.

It's also kind of wrenching to see names without any requested adjacencies. Not that everyone had to have one of course, or would want it, or could know, or whatever. It's just ... just another one of those facts that adds emotional power to this whole memorial.

We're all more or less adjacent in some way to someone somewhere, somehow. I guess the question is: if I went today, would someone request adjacency? Even if just silently, to themselves?
posted by chavenet at 3:54 PM on May 9, 2011


I am reminded of the computer generated list of simulated names produced and etched into giant copper tablets for Chris Burden's "The Other Vietnam Memorial."
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:26 PM on May 9, 2011


I... looked up a friend from high school on the site, and saw her adjacency. I didn't recognize the name. I dug, and found out it was her uncle. I didn't know. Her mom lost a daughter and brother on the same day. Her first job out of school, she had been there one month. He was waiting for a bus and was hit by debris.

I switched off about all this 10 years ago. I guess now is a good time to start getting ready for September.
posted by danny the boy at 6:00 PM on May 9, 2011


This is a moving story and a beautiful way to render the names. I wonder if the algorithm will need to be run again as more adjacencies are reported? Or is the door closed on that?

It's nice in the example of the Hanson family how the names are not placed linearly but in a triangular group.

I haven't kept up on the architectural finagling, but is the memorial museum itself really supposed to look like a paper airplane from above? I've always loved the idea of the waterfalls, but this seems kind of odd.

Thanks for this post.
posted by torticat at 1:09 AM on May 10, 2011


Here are some photos of the memorial from a few days ago. I don't think it really looks like a plane from most views.
posted by smackfu at 6:16 AM on May 10, 2011


From most views, no. But from an aerial view? You don't think in the first photo from your link the museum looks like a paper airplane?

(Thanks for the photos. We drive by the site every week or so and have been watching the progress on 1 WTC, but I haven't walked around the site in years.)
posted by torticat at 9:33 AM on May 10, 2011


An interesting example of typography and algorithms may be seen in Donald Knuth and Michael Plass's work on TeX hyphenation and justification.
posted by beshtya at 10:09 AM on May 10, 2011


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