Planck’s constant

It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while the Universe conspires to give me a great straight line. I like to think that this happens because I’ve been a good boy, have been polite to others, kept out of trouble, cleaned up my room.

But I don’t really kid myself – when it happens it’s just dumb good luck.

Today I had one of those moments of rare epigrammatic grace. It was during a technical talk. The invited speaker was showing the results of some very interesting research into algorithms that convert three dimensional computer graphics into line drawings. This is not such a simple problem. It turns out that it is very easy to make a bad line drawing out of a 3D computer graphic model, but not nearly so easy to make one that contains the nuance and great choices to be found in a drawing by a decent artist wielding an old fashioned pen or pencil.

To illustrate his results the speaker was showing a 3D computer graphic model of the head of the great physicist Max Planck. Next to this image he showed a very impressive algorithmically generated line drawing of the same model.

One of our colleagues in the audience didn’t seem satisfied with this successful result. He wanted to know whether the technique could also deal with a textured model of Max Planck. The speaker tried to explain that the goal of the research was to convey shape, not texture, but the questioner was having none of it. Undeterred by the speaker’s reasonable answer, he continued on in his expansive line of questioning: “Well, suppose Max Planck has red lips. Could you convey something about that?”

I thought this was unfair. It’s one thing to question the results of someone’s research, but something else entirely to suggest that the research itself should have been on a different topic altogether.

The invited speaker patiently tried to explain that the goal – the whole point of his research project – was to effectively convey shape through line drawings. The questioner started to object again, clearly taken with his own opinions about what the research should have been about.

Which is when I decided to come to the speaker’s rescue. Hoping to assist in getting the talk back on track, I jumped in helpfully and told the insistent questioner: “No, Planck’s constant.”

That did the trick.

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