In hard competition with bog rolls

I've just been placed on my first blog roll! Check out the sidebar (and the rest) of Trauma Queen.


Fluffy Rubber

Fluffy Rubber is very good with a camera:


Things children say

The only-begotten children have grown up in an atmosphere of concentrated geek so they have had a…non-standard vocabulary from early on. One of my favourite stories is from when the only-begotten son was perhaps three years old and I was taking him home from daycare in his stroller. Leaning back he spotted an airliner passing overhead and asked:
“How many neutrons are there in that plane?” [Well, it was more like “newtyons” as he couldn't pronounce “r”.]

I realised that for a change this actually was an answerable question, even if I had to look up a few things first. An Airbus 320 has an empty weight of about 42 000 kg, say that as it was on the finale towards Arlanda it would have weighed something like 60 000 kg with passengers, cargo and fuel. It is mostly made of composites and aluminium, i e mainly elements with as many neutrons as protons in the nucleus, so we can take half of the mass to consist of neutrons (that have a mass of 1.67×10-27 kg). In other words the number of neutrons would be 6×104/1.67×10-27/2 ≈ 2×1031.


My TI-53

MarkCC has posted about innumeracy, to be specific, the misuse of terms in a mathematical context. This is of course something that is interesting in its own right—just the other day I heard a sales manager claim that sales of a product category had increased by 250%, rather than to 250% (of the index) and insisted it was correct even when I pointed out the error—but more importantly the discussion reminded me of my old Texas Instruments TI-53. I got it for my birthday, it must have been when I was in 9th grade. Pocket calculators were quite unusual at the time, but my father had a thing for gadgets and for once he had hit on something useful. This was a great toy. I read through the relatively thick but small (so it'd fit in the same box as the calculator) manual and soon had figured out how to program the calculator.

This was magic. I could easily compute functions and plot them on squared paper and got some kind of intuition for how they worked. I used my TI-53 almost all through high school, where it was invaluable, and with the constant use it eventually wore out, the keyboard sensors failing. It got an appropriate funeral: I opened it up to see what it looked like inside and then soldered off the surface-mounted processor. Eventually I sewed it to the breast of my student overall, where it still sits today.


This is for Kal

The Daughter's friend Nina laments:
What do my Dad and an ambulance have in common?
They both go “Niiinaaa, Niiinaaa!”


Amazing card trick

This is a card trick that will make you drop your jaw. Can you spot the trick?

Thanks to Mixing Memory!


More geeky comics

If you like xkcd, you'll probably also enjoy indexed, which is similar but different.


Hear the mighty engines roar

It should really be experienced in Sensurround, Dolby, quadriphonic stereo and whatnot, but one has to make do with the palest shadow of the engine sound of the Tupolev Tu-95 audible on this video. (It's been claimed that the intercepting F-16s won't fly closer than as shown because the noise is so overwhelming.)

And when you've seen that, watch this, particularly the bit from 1:58 to 2:05. Fantastic!


Imaginary conversation

“Hey! Stop throwing down disgusting stuff on me!”
“I'm not throwing down, I'm throwing up!”

quoth the Daughter suddenly from the depths of an armchair.


Knowledge nets

Sometimes it seems to me that knowledge is like a trawl you extend—the more you catch the denser you can make the mesh and catch even more. You find something out, evaluate it against what you already know, try to fit it in. Sometimes you have to throw away bits of the old. Sometimes the new bits can't be tied to anything else, but can be kept around until the rest of the net has grown so much you can fit the loose bits in.

For me, binding this mesh denser and denser is a deep-down necessity, forged by training and nature, with the effect that it seems I constantly overestimate the quality of other people's knowledge nets. Recently I was visiting an elderly relative and we watched the tv news. One item was about a Holocaust survivor, illustrated with his own photographs from Auschwitz. My relative stirred:
“When did this happen?”
Er, what? That was bloody Auschwitz! I thought but calmly said: “During the Second World War, '39 to '45.”
“In the 1900s?”
In your lifetime, yes! “Yes.”
And then the momentary glimpse of interest waned, as there were apparently no other hooks to tie the information to.

So this knowledge net, completely preposterously to my mind, lacked the loops to catch information about important parts of contemporary history. Admittedly, my own knowledge net has large empty areas when it comes to participants of reality shows, radio top 10 songs and such, but I'm not quite postmodern enough to consider all facts equally important.

I suspect that with such an incomplete net the daily news would be mostly gibberish that cannot be tied together to form a coherent world (which may contain contradictory claims, to be sure) since there is nothing to tie the individual facts together. (Often when I've seen science items in the news I've thought to myself: Those pictures were probably only meaningful to those who already knew what they was about.) And of course, if information does not make sense, what point in trying to get more of it? Tabloid headlines are to be rejected because they are too scaring, rather than rejected because they go against science and proven experience.

An ignorant population is possibly damaging to the democratic process and whatnot but I'm more worried people missing out on the beauty, terror, excitement and weirdness of the universe and I often wonder: “What went wrong?” Is it that some people just aren't interested in finding out more about the world? Did they have their curiosity stifled by bad teachers? Can they be recovered? Am I too impressed by my own magnificient general knowledge that I think everybody must understand a smattering of everything?


Boycotting the blocked

Spam is very annoying. Therefore I want to make sure that I do not encourage spammers by ever buying anything from them. To make sure spammers don't waste my time, I have a very effective spam filter. This means I almost never see spam sent to me. This means I don't know if a company has spammed me so I don't know if I should boycott them. To find out I'd have to carefully go through the bit bucket to see who has sent me spam, thus wasting my time. It seems they've got me coming and going…


The killer at Virginia Tech had “obliterated” the serial numbers on his weapons. This has returned to my thoughts over the past two weeks. Why would he do that? He certainly wasn't attempting to hide his identity and why should he care if the weapons were traced after he was dead, which apparently was the intended result.

I'm sure one can construct amazing conspiracy theories based on this loose-flapping factlet, but somehow I suspect it was simply because all the cool killers file off the serial numbers on their guns. sigh

Blinding flashes of the obvious

From a research proposal:
“Identify the remaining probable set of threats, including those that are illegal &hellip, because those that want to cause problems might not respect the law.”

I'm happy someone caught on to that in time.