Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Asparagus Porridge


Or something like that... I’m not sure, but who really knows. During an amazing meal of a pineapple and chicken dish my mom occasionally makes, I was chewing perhaps a little too enthusiastically (although it really wasn’t necessary – the chicken was soft and tender), and I bit my tongue. I do it often (maybe I should review my eating habits), so I’m used to it by now. The taste of blood in my mouth and the sharp pain are tolerable, and it’s easy enough to just get on with the meal, especially if it's a good one.

The problem was that, this time, it would not heal. Every time I ate, there was a sharp pain from the side of my tongue. It called for a rinsing of anti-something-or-other mouthwash, which is all very well. The stuff definitely works, but along with the something-or-other bacteria or whatever that it destroys, it also destroys any taste buds in your mouth.

That was 18 hours ago, and you’d think any numbness caused would have worn off by now, but it hasn’t. I just ate a sandwich, and I’m sure it had beef on it. At least, that’s what it looked like, but it really tasted exactly how I’d imagine asparagus flavoured porridge to taste. I really hope new taste buds grow, because I rather enjoy my food. It would be terrible if everything tasted like this forever...
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

On "Walkies"


There is a woman who lives down the road from me. She is about fortyish with long blond hair, and a pointy nose, and a dress sense that immediately places her in the stereotype that screams out that, twenty years ago, this woman was an activist for any cause there was. It also hints that the woman believes in “new age” something or other, and reads a lot about “spiritual” whatevers. (On a side note: stereotypes are usually right.) She also believes that animals should not be confined. This makes life interesting when she takes her dogs (of which she has five) for their daily walk.

Actually, the word “takes her dogs for” is a little inaccurate here. A far more accurate way of putting it would possibly be “lets her dogs have”. Or maybe, “frees some untrained animals for”. The gate to her property opens, at some point in the afternoon each day, and three of the dogs begin causing chaos in the neighbourhood (I have seen the other two leave the property only once). She walks around the block three times, before returning to her house, waiting for all of the animals to return, and then shuts the gate. In the time she spends walking, the only time a dog will come within two hundred metres of her is when one comes tearing past, chasing a car, butterfly or imaginary scent. In the mean time, the dogs dig up pavements, start fights through fences, and make futile attempts at mating with everything in sight, be it dog, cat, peacock or bicycle.

This is not the strangest dog walker in our neighbourhood though. There is another woman who is too lazy to go walking. Instead, she leans out the window of her BMW, holding the leashes for her two dogs as she drives around the block. I used to think this was rather special, until a couple of days ago. Driving past a park, I saw a red 4x4 driving off-road through the park, with a dog on a leash held by an arm out the window. I wonder where laziness will have taken us in a hundred years time...

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

On Fruit Arithmatic


Don’t worry, no advanced mathematics here. It always used to annoy me (actually, it still does) how teachers say “You can’t add apples and oranges” to children to make sure they have consistent units. I understand what they want to say (that you can’t add one minute to one hour and get two of anything), but I disagree with the way they say it.

The problem is, if I have two apples and three oranges, I wouldn’t hesitate to add them together, and say I had five pieces of fruit. This was drilled into me by my parents, who would often say to me when I was a child, “No more, you’ve already had five sweets.” Even though I’d actually only had one fizzer, two toffees and two sparkles, and of course, those can’t be added together.

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On Alphabet Confusion


Letter confusion, actually. Greek letters being used for artistic effect instead of the conventional Roman letters. Too look different, I guess. I’m guilty of it too, sometimes. I’ve used a ‘γ’ to replace a ‘y’ even though it’s pronounced like a ‘g’. I’ve also used an ‘η’ instead of an ‘n’, even though it should be pronounced ‘ee’. I do it, but it’s still funny when I see it done elsewhere.

In the title of a DVD recently, I saw a ‘Π’ used instead on ‘N’, and it lead me to wonder. Are the people who did that aware that ‘Π’ is pronounced the same as a roman ‘P’, and that the Greek ‘ρ’, which I’ve seen used in place of a Roman ‘p’ (which would have been fine if it was a capital) is actually pronounced as the Roman ‘r’. And then there’s ‘χ’ to replace ‘X’, as in ‘LaTeχ’, where ‘χ’ is pronounced as a good phlegmy ‘ch’.

If that wasn’t confusing enough, using ‘β’ instead of ‘b’ is all very well, since it is pronounced the same in the Greek and Roman systems, but if a German were to pick it up, he’d be seriously confused, since to him, ‘β’ is pronounced as a solid ‘ss’.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

On a Misconception in the Chronological Succession of Mathematics


I was watching Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel the other day, when an announcement came on, warning that the next scene had an unusually high science content. I understand that not everyone is mathematically or scientifically inclined, and that possibly, they actually don’t care about the maths. Of course, I’d rather no one had a panic attack when coming across some unexpected mathematics, so in future, I’ll be employing a sign.

WARNING: HIGH MATHEMATICAL CONTENT.
If you wish to remain socially functional, do not pay
to much attention to the technical details.

Of course, if you are already socially dysfunctional, there's not much more damage that can be done, so I guess there’s no harm in reading on. If you are not mathematically inclined, but ignored my warning, it’s probably OK. There's actually not too much maths here. If you think back to high school, you’ll probably remember calculus. You may not remember what it involved, but you remember the name. If I mention the term differentiation, you may vaguely remember it. You may have forgotten how to do it, but the term sticks in your head. You may not remember integration. I certainly don’t, at least not from the high school syllabus. If you have any tertiary training in maths, however, you will probably remember these all too well, probably to the point of being sick of them.

To sum it all up, the interaction between any two interdependent properties can be described by a mathematical function. Calculus involves using this function to extract information about this interaction from the function. Differentiation is an operation which extracts information about how the interaction changes at a specific point, while integration does the opposite, and extracts information about the whole range of possible interactions.

Differentiation is quite simple, and taught in schools. Integration is usually quite challenging, and is left until university. It’s amazing how people simply jump to conclusions and assume that differentiation was invented first. The truth is that integration came first. Several thousand years first, actually. It’s a bit of a surprise to most, but quite obvious if you think about it.

Thinking in the simplest terms, with the two properties that interact giving the length and breadth of the walls of a room, then integration will give you the area, whereas differentiation will tell you how skew the one wall is. Now if you imagine extending this to a field. Integration will tell you how many seeds to buy to plant in the field, whereas differentiation will tell you, well, pretty much nothing. And the integration for a rectangular field is really simple, because it all just turns out to be length times breadth – a calculation any eight year old can do. The derivative is also simple. The derivative is also really simple. It's zero, as long as the fence is straight.

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On Layered Meals...


… like lasagna or cottage pie, that are cooked in alternating layers. Particularly, the pre-prepared frozen versions you can buy, that take just 10 minutes to heat up in the microwave. The ones with only one serving, which come in a flimsy plastic packaging that the fork can pierce through. Eating these straight out of the tub is impractical – the tub is too hot to hold, and not the most efficient shape for eating. It is far more practical to dish it up onto a plate first. This is even truer for those that contain more than one serving.

This is all very well for a food that is mixed in, but it is extremely difficult to dish a layered meal from these containers while maintaining the layering. Surely the tubs could benefit from a redesign. A single gently sloped side that allows the meal to slide out while remaining upright and unmixed would be most welcome.

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On a Brief Pause...


.. to take a break. Mainly boredom induced, but is that a valid excuse? Perhaps not, because this blog was born out of boredom anyway (or at least, an excuse not to do any work). I apologise to those people who come back each week and were disappointed, but it goes to show how an unintentional pattern forms, and then everyone spots a pattern that was never meant to be there in the first place, and they start to follow it. It maybe my fault for adding a few posts almost every Sunday for almost ten months. Anyway, I am still here, still alive (although now part cyborg), and I may have a few posts left in me.

Three weeks? Is that all. Here I was thinking I'd been away for 70% of the month.

Anyway, I wish I could say I had a backlog of topics, but I don't, so you'll have to put up with slightly fewer posts than you were getting earlier in the year. But then again, you don't have a choice, do you? Hehe.
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

On Starting Conversations


Particularly phone conversations. To my knowledge, the generally accepted practice is that the phone call is initiated because the caller wishes to start a conversation with the callee. If the caller did not wish to have a conversation, then he would not call. It seemed straight forward and sensible. On a similar note, the callee has no way of knowing the caller's intended topic until the caller reveals it.

When I pick up the phone, and respond simply with "Hello?" I never give my name at the end, because who ever is on the other end ought to know who they are calling, otherwise chances are they don't need to know. If they have my number, but not my name, then I'm not sure I want them to know my name.

Earlier this week, the phone rang, and I answered with my usual "Hello?" The caller responded with "Hello." and waited for me to respond. I realised then that there was a rather obvious gap in my understanding of the accepted procedure. What happens if the caller does not initiate the conversation. It should occur to him that I was probably doing something else when the phone rang, and I would prefer to continue doing that. While I'd be perfectly happy to have a meaningful conversation with someone, I have (slightly) better things to do than start conversations with complete strangers. If I wanted to do that, I'd phone a complete stranger, wouldn't I?

I wasn't sure what to do, so I resorted to the age old human tactic of forgetting the whole thing. I started again, working on a little more of a questioning tone. "Hello?". And the response came: "Hello." and then nothing. I waited a while, and then started the process again. On the third try, I think he finally realised what was happening, and introduced himself, and told me what he was calling for. I wasn't paying enough attention to know what he wanted, so I told him to try calling my father, and hung up. If he didn't have the number, it was too bad. It couldn't have been important, because he would have caught my attention.

(On a side note: If he was a salesman, and he did happen to have my father's number, he would have been my luck. While most people get annoyed to receive a sales call during supper, my father will be genuinly interested. He'd ask a few questions, and then turn to my mother, cover the phone mouthpiece, and say, "They're redoing gutters in our area, do we need our's done?" My mother often has to take the phone from him to tell the salesperson that we are not interested. When she doesn't, we occasionally get a random room in our house shampooed and cleaned for free. We've also had far more valuations done on our home than I think is necessary.)
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On "the Rest is History"


It's a hilarious way to end a story, because it implies that what has been told up to that point is not history. As far as I am concerned, history is a record of events that have happened in the past. If the story that was just told is not history, that means it's not a record of events that have happened, and so it is not true.

Why would someone, after telling a perfectly convincing story, ruin all their credibility by finishing with a stupid line like "the rest is history".
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On "Coffee Served All Day..."


"... only between 6:30 and 10:30"

I don't think any more needs to be said.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Car "Guards"


Forget the usual complaints about them. The stuff like “they only come running when you leave”, “what are they going to do if someone steals my car anyway”, “they don’t know this is my car”, “how does he know where I want to park” and all of that. Even forget the annoying bits like they don’t know the rules of the road, and they stand right where I want to reverse my car. The thing that you should really take note of is that, if you are quick, and get out before he notices you (which is disturbingly easy) and begin to drive past the guard, he will direct you to an empty parking. It shows how well he was watching your car.

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On Spotlights in the Cinema


Movie tickets are getting expensive these days. Actually, not really. At most places they are pretty cheap. Where they are still expensive, they’re not much more than they were five years ago, so there’s not really much point in complaining. My complaint is actually not so much about the prices, but about some of the people who pay that price. I’m not sure why they do, because it’s cheaper (actually free) to sit outside. That’s much better than paying to be in the cinema when you’re just going to play on your cell phone. Or sit on MXit or Facebook, and not pay any attention to the screen.

The stupidest part about it all is that people think no one will notice, but then if they are looking for something in the dark, the first thing half of them do is pull out their cell phone to serve as a light. Why don’t they just take a torch to the cinema and shine that around.
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On Underestimating Good Art


Most importantly, really good sketches. There are some people in the world who are really good at sketching. Some can use shading and different lines to place emphasis so that the sketch can capture reality far better than a photograph ever could. What I’ve never understood is why, when cameras are not permitted in a court of law, a sketch artist is allowed to capture the scene. I was not blessed with talent in the drawing department, but I do have a camera. Surely not allowing me to capture images, but allowing the sketch artist is discriminating against all who were not blessed with artistic talent.

Why aren’t cameras allowed in court anyway?

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Monday, October 26, 2009

On a Pencil's Kinetic Energy: Part II


Yet another Google search. Sometimes I think I am bringing these all on myself. This time someone searched for “how much kinetic energy does it take to write with a pencil”. I’m not too sure why they want to know that, or where they expected an answer. The simple answer (which is not my answer) is that it is approximately half the combined mass of the pencil and your hand, multiplied by the square of the pencil’s speed at that instant.

My answer is that it’s a pointless question, because it varies constantly. A more relevant question is “How much energy does it take to use a pencil, in which case, my answer is “Less than asking Google, now stop being so lazy and do something constructive”.

Unless of course you are into robotics and need to size a motor to move the arm of a drawing robot, in which case, you should have been able to work it out yourself.
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On Taps and Positive Feedback


Automatic taps in bathrooms are an interesting idea. Presumably, it’s to prevent the transfer of germs. Each tap has a little motion sensor that detects when something is placed underneath them, and then turns on. When whatever it was is removed, then the tap switches off.

Designing these taps and getting them to work properly must have been a real pain in the neck. They suffer from a serious problem of positive feedback (actually, it reaches a limit where it becomes neutral feedback). Yesterday, I came across one tap that had obviously had its sensor confused. Every time the tap switched off, the sudden change triggered the sensor, which started the tap. But, there was nothing in front of the tap, so it would switch off. It meant the tap was stuck in an infinite loop.

Its a waste of water, but it was amusing to watch.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Looking and Listening in the Modern Age


Is it not funny how, when there is a technical problem with sound (like an echo or feedback), the sound engineer always looks at the microphone when listening for the noise? And when people are listening to a person speak, they do not look at the speakers mounted on the walls, but rather watch the person? Thousands of years of evolution have made the ears most efficient at detecting sounds to the front, yet speakers are often mounted above, to the sides and behind. Why, when we hear better if we face the speaker, do we always watch the microphone?

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On Procrastination


I’ve always wondered why car companies show off these amazing “concept” cars, which are impractical and too expensive to build, and probably wouldn’t sell anyway. In the end, most new cars are only modifications of previous models, so surely it’s far more efficient to focus their energy on fixing up the current model? The car manufacturers say that it’s to encourage creativity, and thinking out of the box, and that thousands of new ideas on the concept cars get incorporated into production cars. I disagree. I think it’s a natural and necessary form of procrastination.

My final design project was due this week, and, like every project I’ve done since I started primary school, things seemed to drag out until the last minute, regardless of how much work had been put in before the deadline. Perhaps it’s a bit late to realize this now, but I’ve finally worked out why. It’s exactly what drives engineers to develop fancy concept cars. There are aspects of any project that are really boring (like paperwork), and then there are aspects that are enjoyable (like creative design work). It’s only natural that any work that takes place a long time before the deadline will be the more enjoyable work, i.e. the creative design work. That’s why, when engineers are told to come up with the next new model of car, a fair portion of their time goes into stuff that they know will never be used. Rather than waste this time, car companies release the results as “concept” cars, and make it seem deliberate, even though it’s really an unwanted byproduct of the thought process.
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

On the Faces in the Clock


I’ve never had a problem sleeping. I can sleep anywhere, at any time, in any position. It does, however, take two or three minutes to kick in. Every night, I lie in bed on my left hand side, and my digital clock stares at me from across the room. It may be weird, but in those last few moments before I fall asleep, I see faces in the clock.

It’s the colon in the middle that does it, I think. Especially since, normally, when I go to bed, the clock reads 21 something. The two little lines of the one make straight eyebrows above the little beady eyes, and the two forms a wavy hairstyle. Most of the time, the face just stares at me both noseless and expressionless, or has an open mouth, gaping in shock, possibly at its oddly shaped chin which twists its shape every minute.

What amazes me most is after half past, the way a face with huge flaring nostrils, sticking it tongue out at me at 21:36 can suddenly transform into a face with a long thin nose and a curly mustache and a neat collar by 21:37.

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On Promotions


Of products, not people, although I’ve never really understood why the same word is used for both when they’re completely different.

Anyway, I saw a poster in a store reading something like “Buy any two Coca-cola products and get a watch or squeeze bottle free.” The promotion itself is not that funny. What’s funny is the person who chooses the watch that’s as valuable as a squeeze bottle. Surely, it’s quite obvious that you should choose the squeeze bottle with the value of a watch. They’re not exactly going to be handing out a Rolex for the price of two cans of coke.

Or maybe I’m just missing out on a deal of a lifetime.
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Monday, October 5, 2009

On Pig Comfort


Despite the name, this blog was never meant top be about pigs, unless they were pigs wearing funny hats. Unfortunately, it's not a topic that's easy to avoid. Somehow, I landed up reading this article. Don't ask how I came across it - it's a long story, but it made me laugh.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

On a Slightly Small Apple Wearing Tree-Shaped Shoes and an Apricot-Coloured Hat


With three little blue eyes painted on. It sounds quite weird, when you first hear it. Its almost as weird as a rabbit laying chocolate eggs. Why an apple would want to wear shoes is beyond me. Don’t even ask why the shoes are tree shaped – you just wouldn’t understand. You weren’t brought up in the right culture.

I’ve never understood why people talk about being brought up in a culture. I thought that sort of thing only happened in labs. Mainly to bacteria. Unless the person grew up in a yogurt tub, but that’s not something I’m familiar with.

I’m more used to people who claim to have a long history of traditions and customs, which they like to use as an excuse for weird behaviour. The funniest bit is when there is no history to back it up. When the stories are distorted and only half carried, and a quarter dragged, from one generation to the next, while the remaining quarter gets left behind.

Funnier still is when someone believes that they are an expert on their own culture. Undeniably the best is when someone else comes along, and admits that they don’t know everything, but the so called “expert” is actually, um… a little bit wrong…
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On Begging


I don’t often give money to beggars on the side of the road, for a number of reasons. The fact that I don’t earn very much money myself does play a bit of a role, but I think the biggest factor is that I don’t get much out of it. People say you should do it to feel good, to get the “warm fuzzy feeling”. Unfortunately, I don’t get those feelings. Maybe it makes me a horrible person, but I really don’t care. They say I should do it to make a difference in the world. I agree, it is possible to make a difference, bit by bit. But do I really want to encourage the idea that you can make money by doing nothing? A world where those who earn lose everything and those who don’t get given everything for free is not really a world I want to live in.

I’m not trying to discourage you from giving. If you do, then good for you. Please carry on. I’d hate to see people starve because of something I’ve said.

A week or two ago, I saw a beggar that I had to give money to. It was a teenager wearing tattered clothes, and barefoot on the hot tar. He was carrying a worn cardboard sign, reading “No food, no job. Seven children to feed, and all my girlfriends and both wives are pregnant. Please help.” As he passed my car, I watched him in the rear-view mirror. The back of his sign read “My dog ate my brother’s soccer boots and got arrested. I need money for the bail. Please help.” Whoever he is, even if he's a multi-millionaire, he deserves every cent he was given.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

On Not Very Much On Luck Part II


We have a garden service that comes every now and then to spray our lawn to kill the weeds. First they spray a liquid fertiliser, which makes the weeds grow like crazy, and then they come back a week later, and spray poison on the weeds. It used to be really effective, but not so much anymore. They came three weeks ago, and the weeds are already coming back. Especially the clovers.

I’m starting to wonder; maybe the clovers are growing immune to the poison. Maybe the poison is just making them mutate. I hust happened to glance at the ground, and I found my second four leaf clover in the space of six days. Once again it led to something big happening that I guess could be attributed to luck. I thought that maybe all the clovers had four leaves, but they did not. The one I found was the only one. Maybe I’m just extremely lucky.

I wonder when the neighbourhood will start getting three eyed cats wondering around.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Luck


I found a four leaf clover on Friday. Within three hours of that, I had a brand new TV, which came with a free DVD player. Considering that the two TV's my family owned prior to that were both teenagers, and represented the pinnacle of TV technology in the early 90’s, the new addition to the family is most welcome.

Just to show off, here is the clover, together with a normal three leaf clover form the same stem.



On a side note, why is finding a deformed reject considerred lucky? If I came across a five-legged cat, would I get a new car?
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On Eating in Order


I had a special request to explain my eating habits. It’s a complicated process developed over the last twenty years of my life, and I have no idea how it started. It’s probably OCD, but I can’t guarantee that. It might be related to whatever it is that makes me arrange my books in descending height order on my shelves, and use a ruler to make sure they line up with the spines the same distance from the front of the shelf. It might also have to do with the fact that I keep a spirit level in my room to make sure the pictures are straight on the wall. It’s not that I’m a neat freak – a single glance at anything I own will instantly disprove that – but it’s just some inexplicable urge inside that makes me want to do things a certain way.

These are not rules, you must understand. I am not bound by them. When it comes to eating, I actually break them all the time. I really just eat things in the order I prefer. It's actually a coincidence that the order is so technical. In fact, it’s actually a simple case of “save the best for last”, combined with the fact that I don’t like mixed flavours.

When I eat, I always start with the vegetables. If there are a variety of vegetables on the plate, it really depends on which vegetables I prefer. It’s purely coincidence that I normally eat vegetables in descending order of the wavelength of their reflected light. The order is slightly mixed up. I start on green, and then work my way down the wavelengths to purple. I then take a jump up in wavelength, and then work my way down through red and orange and finally finish off on yellow. I then work in ascending order of luminosity. Darker vegetables are eaten first, while lighter vegetables are eaten afterward. Inevitably, this leads me to eating the starch last. One exception to the above rule is if the vegetable are those that are contained within something else, such as a sauce, or vegetables on a roll, or in a pie. The loose vegetables are dealt with first, and then I move on to the rest. Another exception is made with vegetables that are essentially the same as another vegetable of a different colour. In these cases, both types are grouped into one of the vegetables. For example, red and yellow peppers are classified as dark green, because they are basically the same as green peppers. Likewise, broccoli is classified as almost white, since it’s not really that different to cauliflower (and I just happen to really like broccoli).

Once the vegetables are out of the way, I get to the real food. The principle here is simple. Vegetables go in the same order as described above, then meat, and cheese always comes last. For example, a typical burger will be eaten in the following order: lettuce; tomato; onion; bun; patty (although this may be shortened by eating the bun with one or more of the garnish ingredients in, to save time. The patty is only included in the case of takeaways, in which case taking a burger apart is awkward).

There are a few exceptions: pasta comes after meat, but before cheese; pickles come after meat but before pasta; and guacamole or avocado comes before meat and after starch.

As I eat each stage, I make sure that no food is wasted. I get as many crumbs off the plate as possible without putting in much effort.

If you think I’m crazy, I agree. I’ll accept any donations towards psychiatrist fees.

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On Not Very Much


Take a breath, because this is quite a sentence. I’ve made good use of the semicolon and comma, but they can only do so much.

In this modern age, when almost every aspect of society is dominated by science and technology; when living creatures can be grown from a single cell in a lab; when chemistry is at such an advanced stage that we can make any food, with any flavour, from its component elements; when all the nutrients needed for a living organism to grow strong and healthy can be contained in a concentrated liquid; when modern technology has made available to us dense liquid sprays and odourless pellets that will keep our grass thick and green for the whole of summer; why, then, do we insist on covering our lawns with, quite literally, shit, in the middle of summer, when we know that the heat is just going to make it stink, and that, together with everyone in our neighbourhood, we are going to have to live with an unbearable stench for the next week or two?

And then people accuse pigs of being filthy.
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On Libraries Part II


I wrote about the new library system before. The system requires users to log on each time they want to search the database. Some of the workstations have speakers, and in a library where everyone glares at you when you turn pages too loudly, the computer blasts forth the Windows log on sound (You know which one I’m talking about). It’s been like that for a couple of weeks, and no one’s changed it yet. Those darn penguins are trying to ruin the education system again.
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On Common Language Part III: The Alphantoesicrifersii


Actually, that’s ‘alphanumericsheeppig’. As in the address to this blog. It’s not that difficult to get. I understand when a person accidentally calls it ‘alphanumericsheepdog’, and that’s OK. Even I occasionally throw a goat in. (Not literally, mind you. Goats, like sheep, are rather difficult to throw. Rabbits are much easier to throw, but I don’t tend to throw them in that often.)

What I cannot understand is ‘alphantoesicrifersii’. It’s not even a word. Google currently returns zero results for it. It does not exist in the public space on the internet, and, as far as I’m concerned, that means it does not exist. I suspect that by tomorrow, Google will have found it, but that’s what Google is. Google is the collective mind of the human race, so if one man makes something up, then so does Google.

‘Alphantoesicrifersii’ is what my cellphone’s predictive text setting offers me when I type ‘alphanumericsheeppig’. I’ve always wondered what made the programmer put that in. Is it unique to my cellphone? And what does it mean? Does it even have a meaning? If not, then does that mean that I am allowed to give a meaning to it? Surely if my meaning gets generally accepted, then the word will be included in a dictionary, and I will have made a contribution to the English language. It’s unlikely, but it would be nice. All I need is for everyone I know to use the word regularly in casual conversation.

The new definition is:
Alphantoesicrifersii: /‘æl.f æn.tuː.zɪk . /hɜː. rɪf. ər. siː/ (v.) (1) the inclusion of an absolutely pointless entry in a list, just for the sake of having fun, or (2) the inclusion of said word for no particular reason, or (3) being in the state of boredom that could lead one to want to include said word in said list.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Google Part VIII: A Pencil's Kinetic Energy


A Google search that somehow lead to this blog (I have no idea how) was “kinetic energy of a pencil landed on the carpet”. I’m quite proud of this, since it’s a scientific topic (probably from a 10 year old, but still). The answer is quite simply zero. Once it has landed, it has no kinetic energy. If we change the question slightly, and consider a pencil an instant before it lands on the carpet, things become a bit more interesting. Neglecting air friction, and assuming an average sized wooden pencil dropped from an average table, you’re looking at about 30 mJ, or in imperial units, 0.007 cal. If you’re looking at the explosive energy (as in kiloton explosive), it’s about 7 millionths of a gram. Not very worthwhile, if you ask me. If you want to drop a decent amount of kinetic energy on your carpet, consider dropping a truck off a cliff.

Taking air resistance into account (since I have no excuses), you’ll have a Reynold’s number of about 2000 (at sea level on a slightly warm day), nowhere near enough to cause turbulence in the boundary layer, and lose about 0.7 mJ if the pencil falls sideward. If the pencil falls point down, then your Reynold’s number is a bit higher at 40000, which means you’ve got slightly less skin friction. Not to mention that the pressure drag is way down. If that happens, you only lose about 0.1 mJ of kinetic energy.

I bet your Google search didn’t tell you that… all you would have found, if you fixed up your search, was the good old Ek = ½.m.v^2 and Ep = m.g.h formulae.
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On Convenient Parking Spaces


I have seen this twice in the past couple of weeks – once at university and once at a shopping centre. Obviously, the best parking space is the one closest to the entrance. And if there is room for an extra parking space even closer (even if it is not really a parking space), then that is even better. I’m not talking about those that drive up onto the pavement (that’s what SUVs are for, didn’t you know?), but simply those who will park in the road, obstructing traffic, just so that they don’t have to walk.

This sort of thing is quite popular at both locations, and so those that look after such things at their respective workplaces organised for a no parking sign to be placed next to the last parking space, just to remind people that there is no closer parking.

In the past two weeks, I have seen two people stop, get out of their cars, move the no parking sign out of their way, and then park there.

I know I would get really fed up if I got a parking ticket (because I never intentionally park illegally), but I always wonder, would these people pay the fine without complaining?
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On Advertising


Advertising can be hilarious. It’s amazing what lengths people go through to make their product seem appealing. A recent campaign on billboards throughout the city made me laugh, but here’s another advert that made me laugh a bit. How it is relevant, I don’t know.



That was just a diversion. The thing I really wanted to talk about is the recent advertising campaign around the city by Multichoice, advertising DSTV. They use three mini-billboards attached to three consecutive street light poles. They show a single scoop ice-cream for R5 a day and advertise a basic package. Then a double scoop ice-cream for R8 a day, and advertise a medium level package. Then they show a triple scoop ice-cream for R15 a day, and advertise a full package. The intention is to say that DSTV is cheap and affordable if you look at it on a daily cost basis.

The truth is, if I had the choice between DSTV and a triple scoop ice-cream, then ignoring the health risks, I’d take a triple scoop ice-cream every day. I understand that they are just trying to say that sacrificing just one ice-cream a day is all you need to do to afford DSTV. The problem is that I do not know a single person who has ice-cream every day. I probably never will, since they’re probably too huge to make it through the door.

The whole thing reminds me of a life insurance advert that used to be on TV when I was in high school. It was a ridiculously long advert. I think it was during the infomercials (which I used to watch during school holidays, having not much else to do). I remember the line “For no more than the price of a sandwich a day, you and your family can have the cover they deserve.” It’s a good point, but the choice of airing time was a bit poor. They used to show shortly before noon – roughly the time my stomach was starting to point out (rather loudly, the way someone would point something out after a night (and probably afternoon and morning) of non-stop drinking) that a sandwich would be a much more welcome right then.

If you expect people to sacrifice a meal for your product, then it had better be an incredible product.
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On Door Handle Sparks


It’s quite annoying that door handles enjoy shocking people that use them. I understand that they might want to be left alone, but some of us need to go places, and it’s really inconsiderate to play practical jokes like that. Why can’t all door handles be made of plastic (like on car doors), so that they don’t shoot of sparks.

The computer labs at university are particularly guilty of this. I can avoid getting the unexpected shock by expecting it. This makes it much more bearable. I brush the back of my hand against the handle to discharge it first. I still get shocked, but at least it’s not unexpected. This habit has probably made it much worse for me when I actually do get shocked unexpectedly. When leaving the computer lab, the door is unlocked by moving your student card across a sensor. My student card is connected to a chain of key rings, with a key on the end. Occasionally, the key swings and bumps the metal door frame. Occasionally, part of a key ring is touching the palm of my hand. People always stare when you suddenly jump and pull your hand back, causing the keys to jingle. It would probably be quite funny to watch, if it were someone else doing it.

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On Pointing Things Out


My mind is quite simple. It can only focus on a very limited number of things at a time. I also think very deeply, and slowly, and when I do, I am essentially disconnected from the outside world. Because of this, I usually don’t notice something until its pointed out.

When winter gets going, I don’t notice the weather changing. I wake up each morning, and get dressed for summer. Yes, it might be cold then, and it probably is, but how am I supposed to know. I don’t religiously watch weather reports or read thermometers. (I actually do have a thermometer next to my bed, but apart from a midsummer evening (when it is accurate to within 2°C) it says nothing more than too hot or too cold. The problem is that it’s been there for the last ten years, so I don’t notice it anymore.) Several hours later someone asks me, “Aren’t you cold?” It takes a few seconds for it to sink in, and then I’m shivering for the rest of the day.

People that point things out are very inconsiderate.

They are doing road works late at night not that far from my house. If the wind is just right (which it has been for the last couple of weeks), then the beeping of reversing trucks travels through the air and reaches my house. It’s actually quite loud, but I didn’t notice until my mother mentioned that she hadn’t been able to sleep for two nights because of it. Of course, that night, I kept hearing the beeping. (Luckily, it didn’t affect my sleep. I could sleep through the end of the world.)

People shouldn’t point out annoying things. Wait… I do that all the time, don’t I?

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On Going Forward in Simple English


Have you been listening to business reports on the radio recently? Ten years ago, people would have said “taking a long-term view”, but over the last few months, people have started saying “looking at things going forward”. It’s strange watching language evolve right in front of your eyes. I understand that it is the popular way to put it at the moment, and that it’s trying to sound modern, but it really does sound like they’re adapting their speech for a Wikipedia Simple English article.

I’ve always wondered how these things started out. I can see one person in an office who wants to sound modern and different. (Probably the guy who’s away every second week on a “effective management” course, and not embarrassed to wear a bright yellow shirt to a meeting. He doesn’t wear ties, but if he did, it would probably be neon purple. In other words, the attention seeker.) He’s sick of hearing everyone using the same words, so he comes up with a new way of saying something, just to sound different. Because its so funny, everyone starts mimicking it, and before they know it, they start using his words unintentionally. At first it is “Bob in the corner office” who has the weird way of talking. Then suddenly it’s “those guys in marketing”, then “those guys on the seventh floor”. For a brief time, it becomes “those guys at head office”, and then suddenly, no one notices any more since it’s the accepted way. Suddenly, the previous term sounds old fashioned.

(On a side note: This whole idea of a large group picking up a mannerism from some one else happens all the time. In third year, we had a lecturer who ended every sentence with a ‘with’ or ‘of’. He had very good technical English, and would give a clear and well structured sentence and end off with an ‘of’. “The controller sends a 24V signal which triggers the contactor, and this switches off the motor of.” I can’t say that it wasn’t funny, and in time, some of my classmates (me included) found ourselves doing it occasionally. It took a couple of months to lose the habit.)
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Some Vaguely Related Ideas


It’s been winter for so long now, but it’s finally over. Spring is here, and the insect eggs that have been lying dormant for the last six months are starting to hatch. Those creatures that eat insects are coming out of hiding. The birds are returning from the warmer north, and overnight, a pair of doves managed to permanently fix the pool brush to the wall with their nest. Along with the insects, the spiders have also come out of hiding.

In order to get away from the birds, spiders are attracted indoors, but they prefer the dark and damp places away from human activity. The perfect place is behind bookshelves, but the drains appear to offer a seemingly suitable alternative. Unfortunately, they are suitable for a single day, at most, because each evening, at more or less the same time, I run the bath.

A week ago, a spider had decided to make its home in the plughole of the bath. It was not a smart choice, although it was not a fatal mistake. Without noticing the spider, I ran the bath and got in. Relaxing in the bath, I felt a tickling feeling on my left ear. I brushed it, and thought nothing of it. But the feeling persisted, and seemed to be moving across my ear. I submerged that side of my head to try get rid of it, and when I came up, I noticed a spider floating in the water. I was raised to never hurt spiders, so I picked it up and placed it on the floor, and blew it to dry it a bit. It lay motionless for a while, but eventually got up and moved away. Thinking nothing of it, I continued with my normal routine.

That night, while lying in bed, my ear was starting to itch slightly. By the next morning, it felt like it was on fire. By afternoon, the base of my ear was swollen and red, and the skin felt bruised. That night, the pain in my ear forced me to sleep on my right hand side, which is something I don’t often do.

I am deaf in my right ear, and if I block out my left ear, I shut out the world. That makes it really easy to sleep. Lying with my deaf ear against the pillow, my left ear was open to the world, and I was reminded of the loud night-time world that I was so used to being able to just switch off.

I used to wear a hearing aid. I still would, if my ear didn’t reject it. I will be getting an unconventional type of hearing aid soon. It’s just a matter of waiting for the equipment to arrive in the country, and scheduling an operation. A few weeks ago, I was trying out a test version of this hearing aid, and I noticed that the volume control had numbers marked on it to indicate the level. To turn the hearing aid off, you turn the volume right down to zero. There is a slight click to indicate that the device is switched off. When you put the device on, it should be switched off; otherwise it sends really loud feedback pulsing through your skull. Once it is connected properly, then you can set the volume to the desired level, which you do by ear. You turn the wheel until it sounds right. Why do little numbers have to show the level, when the device is attached to the side of your head where you can’t see it, and you have to turn the volume off to remove the device anyway? It’s just another case of someone not thinking.

Like all volume control switches, it is impossible to set it exactly where you want it. It’s always just to loud, or just to quiet. It’s like most controls, actually. Especially air conditioners. The setting you want is always in between something. The room will either be too hot or too cold. One lecture theatre at the university is particularly bad. What made things worse, was that when the unit had been installed, someone had had the idea of sealing up all the windows. The air in the room was always dry and stale, no matter what the weather outside was, and although the air conditioner has a range of temperatures which the control pad implies that it is able to maintain, the unit only ever seemed to have two settings – namely “off” and “arctic blizzard”. Having it on made the air too dry and leaving it off made the room to stuffy. Last year, our class decided that the best solution would just be to open to windows. One day, with the aid of an electric drill with a screwdriver attachment, the class managed to unseal some of the windows. It worked. The room is still never the right temperature, but at least the air is breathable.

Having the electric drill, a couple of us decided to play a prank on a class mate. This involved drilling a couple of holes in his pencil case, and bolting it closed. A touch of super glue made sure that it would stay bolted shut permanently. This year, we played a prank on the same student. While a couple of people distracted him, someone managed to remove his calculator from his bag. During a break, a friend and I went to a nearby room and dismantled his calculator. We put it back together carefully, making sure that the ‘plus’, ‘multiply’, ‘subtract’ and ‘divide’ buttons were switched around.

In primary school, when I still had a cheap simple calculator, I used to take it apart and randomly arrange the buttons so that no one would steal my calculator. There was also a polarised film over the display, and turning it over would invert the colours on the screen. I used to love the fact that my calculator looked completely different to anyone else’s. Unfortunately, my calculators are far more complicated now, and rather than using a cheap plastic film, the glass in the display is polarised. That makes the calculator slightly less customisable, and it annoys me that my calculator looks so much like everyone else’s.

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On Disabled Parking


Not parking that is incapacitated, but parking that is reserved for disabled people.

I understand the need for it. When I was in high school, I injured my knee quite badly in a hockey game, and I landed up on crutches for a while. Looking back at that time, I sympathise with disabled people and the elderly who have difficulty walking, and I understand why the best parking spaces are reserved for them. What I don’t understand is why people who can’t walk altogether and need wheelchairs are allowed to park there. Especially those people who use electric wheelchairs.

It takes far more effort for me to walk from the furthest parking space to the entrance than it does for someone to simply hold a lever forward until he gets there.

I think that the furthest parking space in each parking lot should be made 50% wider, and reserved for wheelchair users. It’s time they stopped being so lazy and let the real crippled people use the parking spaces that were intended for them.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

On Google - Part VII: On Google - Part VII


I already knew that the programmers at Google had a sense of humour, but I have just discovered another nice touch. Try Google 'recursion'. There is another interesting post about this here.

(On a side note for those who don't know what recursion is, do the following:
  1.   Proceed to step 2.
  2.   Proceed to step 3.
  3.   Repeat steps 1 to 2.)
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

On Unfinished Work


I’ve realized that I’ve managed to finish all of my blog posts so far (I hope). You should realize that that’s unusual for me. I hardly ever finish stuff. Admittedly, most posts do sit as half finished drafts for weeks, but you’d still expect that s

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On Common Language Part II


A word that’s always fascinated me is ‘terrific’. The true meaning of this word, if one looks at the origins, and follows the rules of language, the meaning is “invokes terror”. So next time you say “That was terrific”, bear in mind that you are actually saying is “That invoked terror.”

I have heard that some parts of Europe use the word ‘terrible’ instead of ‘terrific’. This led to some mild confusion when someone told me “That band’s terrible. I love them.” Terrible would actually mean that it had the potential to invoke terror.

Its really weird how people twist the meanings of words over time.

(On a side note: No this idea wasn’t planted in my head by Terry Pratchett’s description of elves. The idea was there long before that, but when I did read it, it made me think, “Exactly!”)

(On a completely unrelated side note, it’s almost a year since Collin’s English Dictionary wanted to remove the word ‘skirr’ from the English language, saying it’s archaic and no longer in common use. I think its an awesome word (i.e, invokes awe). For those who don’t know, it’s the term used for the sound a birds wing makes as it moves through the air. The only nice formal definition I’ve been able to find is: skirr (skʉr): (v) to move, run, fly, etc. swiftly and, occasionally, with a whirring sound; (n) a whirring sound.)
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On Pokemon


It’s a perfect example of good intentions without a thought for the consequences. I admit that I was really into Pokémon years ago. More the Gameboy games and the trading card games than the TV show. For those of you unfamiliar with the games, the idea is more mature than you think.

The basic story line of the TV show involves a boy in a magical world with a huge variety of cute and loving creatures. For some reason, there are no schools in this world, and kids are free to wonder around and explore the world on their own. The children are encouraged to capture the creatures and care for them, and respect them. It’s a good message to send out to children. Interesting concept, but no one over the age of four would want to watch it, and no one under that age would understand the message.

The problem is that the TV show was based on a series of video games, aimed at a different audience. The basic idea is that the player collects and trains an army of monsters to take part in one-on-one battles with creatures trained by others. These battles involved attacking your opponent until it "faints” (i.e. is knocked unconscious). They required an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your monsters and their attacks, and those of your enemies. (If it weren’t for the fact that you could just level up and then be unstoppable, they would have been quite technical games.)

It’s an interesting idea for a TV show to teach young children to respect animals, but were the Pokémon games really the best source for the story?

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On Settling Houses


It’s weird how old buildings have creaks and groans. You actually expect that sort of thing to happen in horror movies, and those houses rarely disappoint. But when your own house starts doing it, it is completely unexpected. Especially when it’s late at night, and you’re home alone.

The piping system in my house has always enjoyed groaning. The pipes would groan whenever a tap was turned on or off in the house, and occasionally, several minutes after a bath had been run, or someone had had a shower, there would be a series of taps and creaks from the roof as the pipes cooled down. When you hear these noises, they are not surprising, since they were caused by something you or someone else in the house did.

Recently, our house has started making the creaking, especially with the end of winter winds that always come in August. I was always led to believe that these noises were just the house “settling”. The noises don’t bother me (I actually like living in a house that likes making noises), and the problem is that I think they should.

Anyone who knows anything about engineering knows instinctively that an unexpected noise is the first warning that something is not right. If your car makes a clunking sound, something’s wrong. Even children know this. If you are climbing a tree, and the branch you are sitting on starts creaking and groaning, you move to a thicker branch. There is a scientific reason for this.

A noise happens when a large amount of energy is released in a relatively short period of time. For example, if you drop something, and it hits the ground, it makes a noise because it has to get rid of its kinetic energy to stop. Or if you snap a branch, it makes a noise because it no longer needs the energy to bond the two sections together. In the case of a structure (like a house), the only energy present is the gravitational potential energy (which is caused by the tendency of the house to fall down. The further the house has to fall, the more gravitational potential energy it has). The only way this energy can be released is in the form of kinetic energy, which means the house is moving. If this kinetic energy were to be lost (which must happen, unless the house is in a free fall), it needs to be dissipated in one of three means. Making a noise is by far the easiest. The second is breaking something, which would in turn lead to a noise. The third is heat caused through friction, which is normally accompanied by some form of noise.

The reason I should be worried, I think, is that each time the house creaks, it is falling slightly. Logic dictates that the house only has a finite number of these noises before it all comes crashing down. I hope it’s just an old penguin with a creaky chair that’s found its way into my roof, because I’d prefer my house to stay up.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Stupid Parents


A child walked past earlier wearing shoes which let off a high pitched squeak with each step. From what I could see, the shoes had been designed to do that. I was only exposed to the noise for thirty seconds, and it normally takes a lot to annoy me, but it was driving me crazy.

Presumably, the parents bought these shoes, thinking “Wow! These are cute!” with out thinking of the consequences. They would have given the shoes one or two experimental squeaks before buying them, and smiled at their daughter’s squeals of delight at the noise.

Embarrassingly enough, while I was typing about it, the parents walked in, this time carrying the child. They passed the child between each other, but despite the child’s obvious demands to be put down, they wouldn’t let it go.

I hope they’ve learnt that there’s more to life than making the child “cute”. Hopefully they’ll remember next time that they actually have to live with it.
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On Hydro-Processed Nanocheese


Which seems like a mouthful at first, and it is. A mouthful of hydro-processed nanocheese, as long as that’s what’s in your mouth, and your mouth is full of it. If not, then it’s not a mouthful, is it? If I haven’t lost you (although I think I just might have), then I’ll try moving faster, taking sharper corners, and being slightly less predictable. The problem with driving like that, however, is an accident is more likely to happen. And no one likes an accident, especially if it’s a puppy that’s had an accident on the carpet. Especially if it’s your carpet. Even more especially so if you were the one who accidentally trod it in.

If I have lost you, then I recommend that you learn to read a map. Or buy a GPS, and you’ll be able to make your own way there without having to follow me. I’m not the easiest person to follow at times. I move fast and take the long route; the obscure route.

(On a side note: Or more just an example than a side note, but I like side notes, so I’m going to call it one. Two weeks ago, I was driving somewhere, and I was stopped at a robot*. A flashing green arrow came on telling me to turn left, so I did, even though my destination was straight ahead of me. The road brought me along side a golf course. I then saw a bridge off to the side, and decided to cross it. Ten minutes later, I was driving along a ridge with one of the best views of the city I’d ever seen. I wasn’t lost, because I could see where I needed to be. I just took twenty minutes longer to get there.)

(* On another side note for any non-South African that might read this: robot refers to a traffic light. This reminds me of my second year applied mechanics lecturer (a mostly deaf Indian, who had studied engineering in Canada), who, in our first lecture, recalled hearing a traffic report after his first arrival in South Africa. The report had said “Robots are out at several intersections, causing chaos in the traffic.” My lecturer had then said, in an accent not too dissimilar from Apu (from The Simpsons), “This is a very technologically advanced country.” The confusion lies in the technical definition of a robot. Foreigners, think of a robot as an automated machine which replaces a human function, and not a traffic light. But a traffic light is a robot. The human function is a traffic cop directing the traffic at the intersection.)

See? I like taking the long way. Have I lost you yet? Learn to read a map.

The problem with a map or GPS is that you have to know your destination, and maybe you don’t, which is why it’s important that you follow me. There is no reason for you not to know where we are going, since I think I made that quite clear from the start. The moment I typed “On Hydro-Processed Nanocheese”, in fact. The fact that I still haven’t gotten there is just more proof that I like taking the scenic route.

Enough of that nonsense. It’s time that this thing got somewhere.

“Washed” is a word that should be used with caution. It’s a simple, but powerful word that implies hard work resulting in a general cleanliness. Some people use it too casually, when they really mean “rinsed”. Then you hear those that talk about being washed in a river. In most rivers nowadays, the cleanliness implied by the word “washed” is a lie. In this case, “rinsed” is not a suitable word either, since it doesn’t convey the scrubbing and soap that went into the whole business. That is why I prefer the term “hydro-processed”. It implies nothing except that it involves some process (which may involve as little as one action), and that, somewhere along the line, it makes use of water. In other words, it means the same as “washed”, just without the implicit cleanliness. It’s definitely a better word, especially when used in conjunction with cheese, which contains several types of bacteria. (A lot of people take the word “clean” to mean the absence of bacteria, although a better term for this would be “very, very dead for a very, very long time”).

On the topic of cheese, micro cheese refers to grated cheese (in the vast world inside my head, which may vary slightly from the outside world you may be familiar with). Nanocheese is simply really finely grated cheese, or powdered cheese. The way parmesan cheese is grated. It’s quite simple really.

So, hydro-processed nanocheese is simply really finely grated cheese that has been rinsed in water. It probably tastes all watery, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Anyway, it all sounds like far too much effort to me. If you want cheese, its probably easier to have it straight.
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On Libraries


The university recently changed the library system. Not really – it’s still the same system, but they have made changes to how it is accessed. Previously, there were several computers, logged on to the university’s intranet, with a search page open for so that anyone could simply type in a couple of keywords, click search, and would be given a list of books, showing whether these books were available or not, and if they were, then where they could be found. If you knew what you were looking for, it took less than thirty seconds to find the book.

The new system uses the same computers and the same intranet site. The catch is that the computers are not logged on. Each student has a username and password, and must log on to the computer. They then need to wait while the operating system loads up, and then open the internet browser. They then need to type in the address of the search site, and wait for that to load. Only then can they search for the book. The whole process only takes a couple of minutes, but it’s still four times longer than the old system.

I’m glad I don’t have to go through third year with that system. I remember running to the library during a tea break, since lectures ran from eight to five – the only time the library was open. I typed in a couple of keywords to find a general range of shelf numbers, and grabbed four or five random books with relevant titles, so that I could page through them at home that evening. I feel sorry for all future generations of third years…

The idea must have been put in their heads by the penguins.
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On Penguins: Part II


Actually, not on penguins at all. A couple of my friends just got back from a holiday in Ireland. They bought me a t-shirt. I'm posting this, not only because it's an awesome t-shirt, but because they're awesome friends. Thanks.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Dreams


I had a dream last night. As usual, I remember hardly any of it. In the dream, I was sitting at a wooden table late one afternoon, eating KFC. What I do remember is a turtle swooping out of the sky, grabbing my breakfast in its talons, and then gliding onto a brick path. That was mid morning. It then went into some sort of spasm, and I realized it was trying to climb out of its shell. It got out, and then began a dance on the grass in the dark, waving the steak it had stolen from me as if to say in the singsong way a five year old would, “I’ve got ice-cream, and you don’t”. There was no moon in the sky - only stars, and I could only see it dancing because of the headlights of the car I was sitting in. I know it was a turtle and not a tortoise because it had flippers.

They say that dreams are a reflection of your concerns in real life. Another theory is that they merely reveal your concerns. Others say it reveals the future. Yet more people say it is merely your mind trying to make sense of your experiences in life.

All I say is that I hope that dream has nothing to do with real life, and was just my messed up imagination leaking into my sleep. I really hope that isn’t what the future holds. My mind is too inconsistent to hold that sort of responsibility, not to mention that I don’t like having my food stolen by flying turtles.

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On Chairs


Not the rabid laminated plastic kind. Not even the four legged kind (or one, three, five or six legged kinds). This is on the two legged kind that oversees a meeting, or a debate, or presentations, or that sort of thing. (Admittedly, the number of legs may be any non-negative integer less than or equal to two, depending on the number and nature of industrial/recreational/motor vehicle accidents the bearer of these legs has been involved in. It may even be more than two, if one considers birth defects. However, they are generally two legged.)

Calling a person a chair is a bit insulting. A chair is a pretty simple thing. It has no thoughts of its own and no personality. I would not like to be called a chair. Why, then, is it customary to call people Mr. or Madame Chair? Why can we not just use their real names like sensible people?

Or can we at least show some respect and call them Mr. Luxury Sofa.

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On Graduate Recruitment


Sometimes, everything you have to say can be expressed in a single graph.


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Sunday, August 16, 2009

On DotA


Pronounced “dot ay”. Before I get the scrawny pale fanboys bashing down my door, wanting to kill me, I’d like to point out the spelling is 'DotA'. Note the capitalisation of the ‘A’ and not the ‘o’ and the ‘t’. If it was supposed to be pronounced ‘doter’, as so many think it should, then it would been spelt with a small ‘a’. If you like to use the argument that it is an abbreviation, and so the 'A' should be a capital letter, then I applaud you. That is correct, and so the correct spelling is ‘DOTA’ which would be pronounce “dee, oh, tea, ay”. Of course, the ‘o’ and ‘t’ stand for ‘of’ and ‘the’, which are customarily not capitalised in a title, so why should they be capitalised in the abbreviation? I should point out that these words are customarily left out of abbreviations. So, DotA should be correctly abbreviated ‘DA’. If you wish to pronounce that as a single word, then it would be pronounced ‘duh’.

However, those that came up with the name decided to spell it ‘DotA’, and so the correct pronunciation is “dot ay”. I understand that that may not be what was intended, but I’m sorry. You can’t just change the rules of a language to suit yourself.

(On a side note: Yes, the song does pronounce it 'doter', but they're not singing in English, are they?)
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On the Danger of Eating Utensils


My mom used to tell me all the time. Still does, occasionally. “Don’t put your knife in your mouth. You’ll cut your tongue off.” It’s a stupid thing to say. The knife’s barely sharp enough to cut the food, and I’m not stupid enough to run the blade along my tongue. In all my years of eating, I have never injured myself with a knife (at least, not in my mouth).

The fork is a different matter. No one ever warns you about the fork. The knife has a single slightly sharp edge. The fork has four sharp points. It’s far easier to hurt yourself with a fork than with a knife.

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On Itchy Feet


Is it impolite to take off a shoe and sock in public and scratch? What is the accepted way of dealing with this problem? If it is acceptable to just take off your shoe, then why don’t you see people everywhere taking off their shoes in the middle of shopping centres? Why has no one written a formal guide on what to do in annoying situations? Why is every single sentence in this a question? Aren’t there any answers?

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On Dealing with a Giant Turtle Biting Your Arm


Like any engineering problem, the first thing you need to consider is the relationships between everything involved. The first relationship is that between the turtle and the arm. These two are connected through the act of biting. The second relationship is that between yourself and the arm. This is in the form of ownership. A second relationship may or may not exist between you and the arm, depend on whether it is still attached to you or not.

If your arm has become detached, there is no need to deal with the turtle. Your problem is solved, and the best course of action is to leave before the turtle gets bored and decides it needs something else to chew. It’s best not to scream either, or do anything to attract attention to yourself. Just leave quietly, and then seek medical attention from someone with the appropriate qualifications (i.e. not me), and start learning to tie your shoe laces with one hand.

If your arm is still attached, but you are in enough pain/shock/panic to consider allowing it to become detached, then you may remove your arm by your preferred means (or allow the turtle to do it for you). The problem is now reverts to the first case.

If your arm is still attached, and you would prefer it to stay that way, then the problem is somewhat less trivial. The solution mostly depends on how big the turtle is. I am talking about a giant turtle here, so if you are dealing with an ordinary turtle, my recommendation is to try Google (or Yahoo, or Bing, if you so prefer) for some other solution, because the solutions given here have not been tested with conventionally sized turtles, and cannot be guaranteed. (They actually haven’t been tested with any turtles, but that’s not the point.)

If the turtle is massive (i.e. with a significant gravitational pull when compared to, say, a typical planet), it’s your own fault. You should have seen it coming and moved your arm out of the way. Your arm is gone, and there’s not much you can do. It’s not too serious though, because it’s unlikely that the turtle can see you, so you should just get out of the way of its next bite. Dodge its head, and its own gravitational pull should send you into orbit. It’ll be a few hours at least before you come round to its head again. If you are smart, you will set your trajectory to land on its tail. Don’t attempt to land anywhere else, unless you have a parachute, or some other means to control your decent. (The turtle must have its own atmosphere in order to protect itself from cosmic radiation, so a parachute should more or less work.)

If the turtle is simply big (i.e. in the order of tens to hundreds of kilometers in diameter), there is no need to deal with the turtle. It will be killed by cosmic radiation in a matter of minutes. (Even if its on a planet, it will stick out too much to benefit from the atmosphere, and it’s just too small to hold an atmosphere of its own.) You just need to worry about the fall back to the ground. There is not much you can do if the turtle does not let go of your arm as it dies.

If the turtle is big enough that the width of its head exceeds the length of your arm, there is still not much you can do about your arm. Punching the turtle may not have much effect, depending on the size of the turtle. It is still worth a try. You may have to remove your arm as in the second case above, and then maintain the maximum possible distance between the turtle and yourself.

If the turtle weighs more than, say, 40 kg, it will be unwise to anger it. It is best not to try hitting it, since it is likely to bite harder. The best way to deal with it is to coax it off with something else. It’s more likely to be attracted by something strong smelling. The choice in substance is largely determined by what is readily available, but it may be a good idea to choose something that will wash off easily. The turtle may seem like a serious problem at the time, but a hand that smells of rotten fish for the rest off your life may be slightly less desirable in the long term.

If the turtle is light enough that you can lift it, the temptation is to smash its head against a rock (there, I’ve now used that word). It is important to fight this urge, and not do it. The turtle will let go just before the impact, and you will look like an idiot when you smash your arm against the rock. It may also hurt. The best course of action is the strong smelling substance as above.

And if the turtle has been trained in ninjutsu by a similarly giant sewer-dwelling rat, can you please get me an autograph while its there.
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On a More Serious Note


Who ever it is who's responsible for that damned DDOS attack on twitter, Facebook and Blogger needs to come here to get my shoe up their backside. But of course, you're not going to take the time to read my blog, are you? May rodent insects gnaw your eyes and fish infested rabbits chew out your stomach. You wasted a full two minutes of my valuable being bored time this morning. I hope you're going to pay me back for that...
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On Automated Responses


“Your debit orders for the last two months have been denied due to ‘ACCOUNT HOLDER DECEASED’. You are hereby warned that if this occurs again next month, you account with us will be closed, and your name will be blacklisted permanently.”

No further comment required…

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Penguins


Someone else shares my views on the bastards. They're just another organised cult, but one that we should be really worried about.
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

On Selling Stuff


Especially selling stuff that no one would ever need. The salesman will always be vague about what he is selling, and tell a long story first. The reason for this is simple. He's got a job to do, and that is to try selling his merchandise. He doesn't have to actually sell anything, but just try. He is vague in the hopes that you will agree to buy something without knowing what it is, or because you think it may be for a good cause, and if not, then at least he has spent a lot of time working to earn his pay. It's better to be long-winded and vague with ten people a day, and have two people buying products that they thought did something else, than to be brief and clear to a hundred people, and have all of them tell you they won't buy it because they don't need it.

Selling yourself is exactly the same thing (for those who have minds that jump to those sort of thoughts, I'm too lazy to think of a way to say that in such a way that it can't be made to sound like I'm talking about prostitutes. Really, if you like doing that sort of thing (twisting words, I mean – not doing prostitutes), you really will be able to twist anything I say.)

(On a serious side note: What is the correct standing on nested parentheses. The last paragraph was a perfect example. Do the rules of the English language allow them? If not, then why not? Why do I care? Everyone knows I’ll use them if I want (because that’s the sort of person I am).)

Earlier, a man, whom I think was a painter, came in to the shop. I'm quite sure he wasn't a prostitute, since he had overalls, a paintbrush and a roller in a plastic bag. He could have been, but I'm not sure what would have made him think that I'd be into that sort of thing. So I'm going to assume that he wasn't. I think he might have been looking for work, but he wasn't clear. He gave a story about how he'd done jobs here and there. I’m assuming it was painting jobs. He then told me how he had done another job yesterday and was only getting paid tomorrow. I think he was trying to say he’d do a job for me now, and I’d only have to pay later. He carried on, but he was very quiet and secretive about it, so I couldn’t hear what he was talking about. He then opened his plastic bag and showed me his overalls and painting tools.

I don’t need a painter, but even if I did, I would have told him I’m not interested in what he had to offer, just to be safe.
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On Giving Notice


Not leaving a job or anything like that, but about the two weeks notice that Windows XP likes to give you before your password expires. It’s really just a nuisance, but I do understand why this sort of thing would be desirable.

In case you haven’t worked it out yet, it is to give you enough time to think of a new unbreakable password. The fact that most people don’t, and just use a password as predictable as the last is irrelevant and Microsoft cannot change that. All that they can do is give plenty of opportunities to change it.

The reason for including the option to change the password immediately, instead of waiting two weeks for it to expire, is just in case the user thinks of a brilliant unbreakable password. It is quite possible that the user won’t be able to remember this password after 14 days, and so Windows allows the user to change it early. That way, at least if they forget the password, their security won’t be compromised by them using a simpler password. They won’t be able to log in, but that’s not a problem, is it?

On the topic of logging in (actually, more along the lines of logging off), have you noticed how, after installing a new program, as soon as you click on the Start button to log off, an excited message pops up saying “New programs installed! Click here to see them!” It’s a brilliant marketing scam.

(On a side note: Why do you log in, and then log off? Why did they not think when they coined these terms. At least they seem to be changing these days.)
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On Closed Doors Part III


Actually, not on closed doors. I suppose it is, in a way, but the focus is more on doors that open. Particularly doors which open inwards, and have warning signs that read “WARNING: This door opens inwards.”

I’ve always found that particular sign amusing. The reason it is put up is, presumably, to prevent people from opening the door too quickly and injuring themselves. If you think about it, if you are in so much of a hurry that you can’t think for two seconds, and open the door carefully, then when are you going to find the time to read the sign.

My opinion is that the sign was created for the amusement of people like me.
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On Perfect Sound


Sound engineering is quite simple, really. It’s all about getting the volume levels right, and once that’s sorted, you get paid to sit back and relax – which makes it the perfect job for me. A backing vocalist once told me “Someone from the audience said the backing vocals sounded perfect last week, so whatever you did then, do it again this week.” I told her it was no problem. What I didn’t tell her was that her microphone had been going through to the monitors, so she could hear it clearly on the stage, but it was muted from the main speakers, so the audience could only hear the other two backing vocalists. I’ve finally realized why the monitors are so important.
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Monday, August 3, 2009

On Closed Doors Part II


To clear things up, the correct wording for door closed on account of weather is "Door closed on account of the weather" or "Door closed due to the weather". It is important to note that "due to" and "on account of" mean the exactly the same thing, and the statement becomes ambiguous if both terms are included (The ambiguity is explained in more detail here).

It's probably also a good idea to include the phrase "Please come in", or something similar, just to remind people that they may, in fact, enter. It may seem obvious to you, but you must bear in mind that not all people think the same. I personally don't like it when people say something like "Come in, we are open" when quite clearly, the door is closed.

Anyway, I think I'm probably the wrong person to be asking. I only put this here because no one else seems to have answered this question. And if I just wait a couple of days for the Googlebots to find this, and add it to the search engine indices, I'll be the number one authority on this topic in the world.

The internet makes it so easy to become an expert in anything. The world is becoming so pathetic.
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Sunday, August 2, 2009

On the Interception of E-mails


Everyone who uses Gmail notices the advertisements on the side. They are supposedly selected specially for you, based on keywords in your incoming e-mails. The system is obviously not that good, since these adverts hardly ever appeal to me.

There is an easy way to get rid of these adverts. It won’t help you, but it will prevent these adverts from showing up when your friend gets the message. The trick is to make words such as “murder”, “9/11”, “death” etc. the dominant keywords. It seems that Google is worried that some ads may offend certain people...

I don't like plagiarism. Original source is here.

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On Being Smart and and Having Intelligence


The difference is really obvious once you see it, but a lot of people never do. I’m lucky enough to have a bit of both (trying not to sound arrogant). I think you have to be smart to spot the difference. Intelligence plays no part at all.

As a final year student, certain “duties” get dumped on us. One such “duty” is the marking of a test written by the second years. Marking the test, I came across one student who had obviously studied quite hard, and had plenty of intelligence. Unfortunately, he was not very smart. In one part of the paper, he had made one small mistake which cascaded through and lost him most of the marks for that question. For the rest of the paper, he managed to get 90% of the marks.

In the question he got wrong, the paper had asked him to calculate the gravitational force exerted by the Earth on a 100 kilogram body - a rather simple question which he got correct. (The correct answer, for those who have forgotten their high school physic, is 981 N). The trick was that they had to do it from first principles, using Newton’s law of gravitation. The trick was that the Earth’s radius was given in kilometers. It’s amazing how many people accept that you can get a force of several hundred thousand tons on a 100 g body. That’s not smart.

But this particular student was not one of those. He made it to the second part of the question intact. The second part asked for the uncertainty in the answer of the first part, and was worth four times as many marks. This is a simple calculation, but unfortunately one that most don’t understand until they reach third year. The student in question applied the formula correctly, but made one small logic error which led to an answer of about seven billion newtons. He was intelligent, since he could obviously apply the formula, but not smart. If he was smart, he would have realised that this meant the he had no idea what the answer was, even though the number he calculated was no where near to what he should have known was the correct answer.

You can train a chimpanzee to do maths, but it doesn’t help. Numbers are meaningless. It is only the human thought, the human understanding that lies behind it all, that counts.

Look at me. I’m such a hypocrite. When I was in second year, I failed that test.

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On Perseverance


I’ve reached the first landmark I set myself. This is my 100th blog post and it’s taken me 197 days (just over 17 million seconds). I wasn't sure how long I’d be able to keep it up, but it seems that I managed. I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m pretty sure it was only out of pure boredom.



Anyway, thanks to those of you who read what I have to write. My readership is erratic, but I think it’s a miracle any of you remember to come back. You seem to average over 20 a week. Since I like graphs, I’m going to give you one.



And since I’m an engineer, I like discussing graphs, but I’m going to try my best to refrain from discussing this one… I promise I won’t… I’m really fighting the urge… I’m sorry, I really am doing my best…Due to technical issues, the counter was down for most of week 23… I’m sorry. You must understand that this is difficult for me. I'm just disappointed that it's not climbing steadily. (Tell you friends about this blog, and make it famous...)

Admittedly, 30% of those readers are people who know me from university, and another 20% are friends who know me from elsewhere. What impresses me are the 8% who are Americans who find my blog in Google, desperately wanting to know how to get a pig to mate with a sheep, wanting to find out if rabbits can eat chicken, or paranoid that ants are busy eating their houses out from under them. Some of them have even come back. Then you get the ones who want to know if squirrels lay eggs.

Its also interesting to note that 25% of my visitors read more than just the front page. The most popular pages seem to be the ones the ignorant masses seem to enjoy Googling. In other words, those involving the ants, the giant rabbits and the squirrels eggs. I’m not sure why people would want to read these so much, but it’s up to them, I guess.

Anyway, I will hopefully have more nonsense to feed you people about slightly stupid spiders in slippers sliding into stuff while spinning in the snow on slippery slopes. If that’s the sort of thing you like.

Next milestone is 200.

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On ADHD and a Sprained Ankle


I sprained my ankle the Wednesday before last. Often, a sprained ankle can be too painful to walk on for the first 12 hours. Luckily, the incident that caused the injury took place in the evening, so most of those 12 hours were spent asleep. The next morning, I could move around with a limp, and the only thing that I couldn’t manage was making my way down stairs more than one step at a time. On the Friday, my ankle seemed to be fine. A little tender still, but I seemed to be able to move around it completely without any unbearable pain. In my world, that means that it had fully healed.

I should probably point out how I got the injury before I continue. I was sparring at Taekwondo class against someone considerably faster than me, and a bit more experienced. He left an opening just below his ribs on his right, and I went for it side (a deliberate opening, but it was too late when I realized). I threw a turning kick with my left leg as fast as I could, but he was quicker. He mirrored my kick, but much faster, and tried to dodge at the same time. Knowing his balance was not ideal, he threw out his right arm hard to help stay upright. My leg connected with his elbow right below the ankle, and I suddenly realized why Muay Thai fighters consider the elbow to be the most powerful weapon on the body.

It didn’t hurt at all. That was what confused me the most. I felt the impact, but no pain. It was only when I put my foot down that I realized I couldn’t stand. I was carried off the mats, and spent the last 20 minutes of the class massaging my ankle and trying to work out what was wrong with it. It was only a couple hours later that the pain started.

By Friday, I considered it to be healed. Also on Friday, the university had an open sports day, so that all the sports clubs could demonstrate what they had and attract members. (A bit of a pathetic event, since we were one of three clubs who showed up, ready to show off to a crowd of not even ten people). I had promised to demonstrate, and I thought my ankle was fine, so I did. By the time it was over, I had started the whole healing process again. I could barely walk on Friday evening, and was limping for most of Saturday. On Sunday it seemed OK, and on Monday, it fulfilled my criteria for being healed. On Monday, I went to my Taekwondo class again. I stilled considered myself healed, but by the end of the session, I couldn’t walk again. I hope I haven’t caused any permanent damage, because this time, after six days, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

The worst part about the whole thing is not that I brought myself pain. It’s my own fault. If I’d just taken it easy for a couple of days, it would have been long since healed. The problem is that I’ve also got attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Not formally, mind you, but I’m pretty sure that I was misdiagnosed. I’ve only ever been diagnosed with ADD, without the hyperactive bit, but whenever I’m trying to pay attention to something, I get twitchy. I tap patterns on surfaces, or if none is available, on my legs. If my hands are busy (like they are now), my feet take over. It’s automatic, and I have no way of controlling it. This is a real pain. At work, the chair I sit in is quite high. High enough that my legs don’t touch the ground. My hands are busy typing, and so my leg begins to shake, with my foot hanging loose. This immediately sends a burst of unbearable pain through my ankle. I can’t stop it, and it’s driving me crazy.

I’ve tried hooking my leg around the leg of the chair, but that’s really uncomfortable. I need to move. It needs to be free. I don’t know what to do.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Ostrich Cattle


Last night, I ate in a restaurant. Reading through the menu, I came across a section with the title “Pure Beef Burgers (Except for the chicken, of course!).” The reason I found this funny was that the options listed below were: Beef Burger, Chicken Burger, and Ostrich Burger.
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On Fluffy Toys


I sometimes find it hilarious how children carry toys. I saw a child today who had apparently won two plush monkeys at the arcade. Obviously not wanting to lose them, the child had wrapped the one around the other in a rather suggestive manner. It will be an awkward moment for the parents when they realise why people are pointing and laughing at the child. I love it when people find themselves in awkward moments.
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On Philosophers Part II


I wrote about philosophers two weeks ago, (On Philosophers and their Heavy Boots), and someone made a comment about trees falling in the forest. (I really appreciate the comments. I really wish more people would leave them, even if it doesn’t say anything.)

It is a long standing question (since the ancient Greeks, as far as I know), whether or not a tree that falls in the forest makes a noise if there is no one there to hear it. It’s like the Buddhist koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping.” The answer to that is simple. The sound is a solid “whack”, just like when two hands clap. If you want proof, then simply ask a man who has only one arm to clap. He substitutes his missing arm with the side of your face.

The issue of the tree can be solved so simply. The answer is no, the tree does not make a sound. If you want proof, the easiest way is to put a deaf person there to listen. (Since, technically, he is not there to hear it.) Leave him alone with the tree, and then return once the tree has fallen. If he’s a nice guy, he will tell you he didn’t hear the tree make a sound. If he’s not, be prepared to dodge a fist to the face, and repeat the experiment using a different deaf person.

The reason I brought this up again is because I have managed to make observations on a similar situation involving a completely different object. My kettle, like most modern electric kettles, has an automatic switch that triggers as soon as the water starts boiling. However, the kettle is not as perfect as it once was, and the switch doesn’t always work. The problem is that I am used to switching on the kettle, and then getting on with other things, knowing that when I return, there will be a kettle full of boiled water waiting, and that no water or electricity would have been wasted by the kettle staying on for to long.

The problem is that the switch doesn’t always work, and this has been happening for a while. From experience, I have noticed that the kettle only switches itself when I’m nearby, and waiting to switch it off. When I’m not there, it carries on boiling merrily. One could simply put this down as an example of Murphy’s Law, but I think one needs a more scientific approach.

Applying quantum mechanics to the situation, one realises that the kettle is both on and off until someone is watching it. As soon as I’m in the room, the two probability waves for the kettle collapse, and the kettle settles into its final state. In at least one universe, the kettle had been boiling the whole time, and that energy can’t just be forgotten. This means that if there is no observer, the water has to boil in at least one universe. If there is an observer, then there is no chance for multiple probability waves to form, so the water never boils in any universe (at least, not in any of my universes).

Of course, I’m not a quantum physicist. I’m an engineer, so naturally, I think it’s got more to do with the collapsing reliability function of the kettle.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Humans and Monkeys


You hear people saying that humans are just hairless monkeys. Well, maybe you don't hear it, but I do. Sometimes. Occasionally. Once or twice. But that doesn't matter. The truth is that it is wrong. The important bit that has been forgotten is the tail. We are apes, not monkeys, falling into the hominid family. On that note, we are the scrawniest hominids around. As if that wasn't bad enough, we are also have lowest strength per body mass. And then, we had to be the stupidest.

I'm not saying that all chimpanzees and orangutans are smart, and I'm not saying that all humans are stupid, but I think on average, the evolutionary tree has led humans to be pretty retarded. Few have any real problem solving capabilities, yet most chimpanzees do. It's really sad, but that's the way things turned out, and there's not much that can be done about it.

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On Airtime


Or where to buy it. Most people seem to think it's sold everywhere. As far as I understood it, airtime is sold at supermarkets and places that sell cellphones. Why would a tiny sweet shop sell airtime? Or a DVD store?

Its almost as bad as batteries. Why would a DVD and comic store sell batteries.

But by far the worst are those people who go into every store wanting to buy a camera. Damn foreigners.
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On Pedestrian Traffic


Why are there such well defined rules of the road, but absolutely none for pedestrians? Not just pedestrians on the road, but in any public space, including shopping centres. I understand that cars cause a lot more damage if they collide, and its far more dangerous if someone recklessly cuts in front of you while driving a car than while walking, but its still a pain in the neck waiting as someone walks in front of you when you are in a hurry. Or stops in the middle of a passageway (which is exactly the same as illegal parking). Someone should really look into organizing a formal walking license, and start enforcing it.

I just hope that no one goes putting speed limits, because I do walk fast.
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Philosophers and their Heavy Boots


When I did a philosophy course at university, my lecturer was no scientist, but he wasn’t completely ignorant either – which was a good thing considering he was teaching a class of engineers. Unfortunately, not all philosophers fall into that same category. I came across a story about someone who was less fortunate: Link: Heavy Boots

The scariest part of the story is not that the philosopher knew nothing (which is partly expected), but rather that 57% of the first year physics students also knew nothing. So many people should not be allowed through high school.

I had a similar experience. I was remarkably surprised to discover in that 95% of my philosophy class, made up of mostly second year chemical engineers, did not believe in evolution. We live in a scary world indeed.

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