Saturday, January 24, 2009

On the Results of Boredom and Not-Very-Thoughtful Chin-Scratching

[A post that got mysteriously lost (i.e. accidentally deleted), and then recovered. You're lucky I make back ups... Original from 24 January 2009, Posted by Alphanumeric Sheep Pig at 12:15 PM. Reposted on 5 April 2009 at 6:53 PM.]

I have been on holiday for the last week, so I have had nothing to do, and have been extremely bored. The main result of boredom is to do nothing and be bored, which means I spent most of my days in bed sleeping, on the couch sleeping, and so on. Every morning, I have been reluctant to get up, and I am only eating breakfast at the time when I would normally be starting lunch. This has left me feeling tired and lazy. As a result, I have been too lazy to shave. The result is that my chin was starting to itch. An itch almost always leads to a scratch, and without noticing, my hand came up to scratch my chin. My mind was completely switched off and no thought was passing through my mind. Suddenly, some faraway noise brought me back to reality, and I noticed my elbow on the table and my fingers at my chin. I realised that I must have had a glazed expression, and if anyone had been there to see, I would have looked very deep in thought.

Things like that always make me laugh. The only time I ever look deep in thought is if I'm not in the mood for thinking. I think best when I'm doing something completely unrelated to what I'm trying to think about. The only time I ever look like I'm thinking is if I'm really tired and trying to disguise it, or if I can't concentrate, and want to hide that.

The whole event made me realise that I need to find something to do. Suffering from attacks of boredom in the past, I have done a number of really pointless things. I could list them here, but that would be pointless. However, I am bored, and in the mood to do pointless things. I'm not only going to list them... I'm going to explain them. One of the first things I did was to program a DOS version for minesweeper. The best part of this was that it was that, although it could be made to run on Windows 98 with some dificulty, it was completely incompatible with Windows XP. Why did I do it like that? Because I am happiest when there is no point to what I am doing. I then went on to analyse the logic needed in solving minesweeper, and attempted to program a minesweeper solver. The problem is that you do occasionally need to guess - which means it is impossible to write a perfectly reliable solver.

Another thing I have tried is to play God. I wrote a massive program (which I have since lost...) that generates a two dimensional universe which loops round on itself (in a non spherical way - an attempt to make the universe endless). In this universe, a number of little creatures have various combinations and levels of three skills and three related urges. The skills are hunting, strength and fertility, and the urges are eating, fighting and mating. How much any particular creature is affected by these is defined by its DNA, which is inherited as a combination of it's parents DNA. The creatures would die if they didn't eat regularly enough, or if they sustained to many injuries in a particular fight, or if they got too old. There was a limit on the population, because the computer would crash if all the memory was used. The whole aim was to see if I could get behaviour out of the creatures that was not deliberately programmed in, and if they would reach a steady state population that was not the maximum. The interesting thing was that they did. The creatures turned out to be social, (because two thirds of the population were either stalking a victim or a potential mate, and anyone who strayed alone would not have children and would die). They formed one big city, however, occasionally a crazed psycopath would scare enough people into one place that a new town would form, which would become completely isolated from the rest. The population did reach a steady state value, but that was highly dependant on the starting conditions. The initial population needed to be aggressive enough to keep itself in check. It explains why humans are so aggressive. We needed to be to prevent us from expanding to rapidly.

I've also tried to make a massive campaign for Starcraft... That didn't turn out to well. Recently I tried to design the fastest and highest manned jet ever - to beat the SR-71. Its not possible to do it with the conceptual design I had in mind, and after spending almost a week on it, I didn't have the patience to start again from scratch.

The thing I thought of now is something I decided a while ago. I'd design a full suit like in Ironman. That means I'd have to do an accurate 3D dynamic model of a human body. I don't think I have the patience to do that either.

Maybe I should just stick to sleeping... I'm too lazy for now. I shaved this morning, so hopefully the problem has been postponed for a few more days.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

On Flying Monkeys and Cheese Flavoured Goats

Well, not really. But it could have been. Its actually not really about anything, really. There's no such thing as cheese flavoured goats. Unless you cut a piece of cheese into a goat shape. Or a goat shaped cheese flavoured cracker. Either way, it's not a cheese flavoured goat, because it's not technically a goat - it's just a goat-shaped object. If you wanted a cheese flavoured goat, you'd have to kidnap a baby goat and inject it with cheese flavoured chemicals (like the ones on Nik Naks) for it's entire life. (Are those chemicals poisonous to goats? Maybe you need to run some tests first.) Even then, I can't guarantee that the goats would be cheese flavoured. I have no idea how often the chemical would need to be administered, or what dosage to use. Several tests and experiments would need to be performed first. You may need to enlist the help of an expert. I have no experience in this field. Why would you want a cheese flavoured goat anyway? (On a side note: Goat's milk does make nice cheese.)

This isn't about flying monkeys either. I don't know what made you think it was. Monkeys don't fly, unless they've been genetically mutated. I suppose you could train chimpanzees to fly aeroplanes (chimpanzees are more intelligent than humans), but I'd like to point out that chimpanzees are technically not monkeys (due to the absence of a tail). You could also just put a monkey on an aeroplane (which has happened many times in the past), but is this really a flying monkey, or is it just a monkey being flown? You have to understand that there is a major difference.

I was going to buy six thousand monkeys, and train them to throw pumpkins with their feet. Where could I get them? Where do circuses and mad scientists buy their monkeys from? Could I get them for free? I wouldn't be able to afford them. I'm always looking for a free way to find what I want. I hate having to pay for anything. Even if I got hold of these monkeys, would they be able to hold pumpkins in their feet. Monkey feet are quite small, and pumpkins are big and heavy. This makes them pretty effective weapons. I thought of using carrots instead, but carrots don't really have much weight behind them. Pumpkins are a far more powerful. In order to make full use of them, I'm going to have to breed special monkeys, with bigger feet and stronger legs. And maybe breed smaller pumpkins, but I really think this takes away from the whole point in using pumpkins in the first place.

Why would anyone want six thousand monkeys? My plan is to dress them in silk pajamas and woolen hats, and send them to Indonesia to start a religious war. What do I have against Indonesia? Nothing, actually. I'm just hoping the monkeys have something to fight for, because no one likes a pointless war, except the people involved. I'm sending six thousand, because I somehow doubt five thousand nine hundred and ninety nine would be enough. Better safe than sorry.

I could skip the whole thing and just balance a cheeseburger on my head, but that would look slightly retarded, don't you think?
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Modern Medicine and the Measurement of Sound

For my entire life, I have been partially deaf, and since the age of nine, I have been completely deaf on my right hand side. However, I have never really understood why. All I knew was that it was caused by a recurring Cholesteatoma, what ever that is. Last time I went to the doctor, he asked if I'd ever looked it up. He was surprised when I told him I hadn't. Today, I looked it up on Wikipedia, which tells me that "Cholesteatoma is a destructive and expanding keratinizing squamous epithelium in the middle ear and/or mastoid process."
Yeah sure... that really explains it.

What I did learn is that I suffer from tinnitus, which is a common condition caused by various inner and middle ear problems. Basically it means I have sound hallucinations. I hear people talking when there's no-one there, and songs when they aren't playing. And a constant beeping. This plays hell in hearing tests. "When you hear the beep, press the button." the tester tells me. I nod. I hear a beep, and so I press the button. "Only press it when you hear a beep." comes the testers voice again. The problem is that when there is a beep, which anyone should be able to hear, I can't hear it. Is a hearing test a valid medical test if it doesn't work for people like me? Last time I went through it, the audiologist told me that I had the minimum possible score. if I had any lower, they would have thrown the test results away. Bearing in mind that I might have been imagining beeps when the machine really was beeping below the limits of my hearing, one has to admit that the test results should have been thrown away anyway.

(On a side note, the beeping used to give me panic attacks when I was a child. In the test, the beep stops the moment you press the button. Lying in bed at night, the beeping would start, and I'd begin frantically pressing an imaginary button to get the noise to stop.)

(On another side note, a study suggested that 93% of tinnitus free people will experience a perception of beeping, whistling, buzzing or pulsing when placed in an anechoic chamber - which is exactly where they place you to perform a hearing test. Did they know that when they developed the test?)

Apart from that, the unit used to measure sound levels is the decibel, which is the logarithm of the ratio of power transmitted in a sound to the power carried by a sound that is at the limit of human hearing, divided by 10. In other words, it uses the limit of human hearing as a datum. Since everone's limit is different, how does this work. It is an arbitrary datum, so how can it be scientifically acceptable. Scientists are weird.

From an engineering point of veiw, my hearing loss is very useful. It is about 85 dB in my right ear, which is exactly the maximum noise level allowable by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Above this, one is required to use earplugs, or permanent ear damage may result. By simply blocking my left ear, I have a perfectly reliable test to see whether or not earplugs are required by the Act. A useless super power, but it's better than nothing.

(Sorry, I like side notes. Here's another one. I went through most of school and university telling people that my deafness was due to a tumour. Apparently I was wrong: "The status of cholesteatomas as tumors is currently unresolved. There is some evidence to support the hypothesis that cholesteatomas are low-grade tumors however, recent studies have failed to show consistent DNA instability in cholesteatomas (as a tumour would)." Source: Desloge RB, et. al. DNA analysis of human cholesteatomas. Am J Otol 18 (2), 1997: pp 155–9)

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On Door-Walkers and Stupid Children

Working in a small shop, one notices how stupid some people can be. When I was a child, psychiatrists used to give you a box with different shapes cut in the lid. Along with that they would give you the wooden blocks that would fit into the holes. Each block only fits through one of the holes. The test was simple... if you could get each of the blocks in the box with just one try, you had developed intelligence. If any child needs more than one attempt, they are either blind, or stupid. In a one year old, stupidity is expected. In a three year old, it is slightly worrying. In a five year old, the psychiatrist will give the parents a list of "special" schools for "special" children. It is not good news for the parents when this happens. The child doesn't mind... He doesn't understand what it means.

Anyway, there is a box in the shop, which contains eight smaller boxes. A child, aged possibly between eight and ten (it may have been a slightly tall 7 year old) picked up one of the boxes, leaving a rectangular shaped gap. When he was finished looking at it, he put it back, but in the process he had turned it through an angle of ninety degrees. A child of reasonable intelligence would see the shape of the hole, see the shape of the box, and make the connection in their brains. This child, however, tried to force the box in sidewards. Upon seeing that it wouldn't fit, a slightly stupid child would then wonder why, and eventually work out that the box needs to be rotated through an angle of positive or negative ninety degrees. Unfortunately, this child was worse than just slightly stupid. He bent the cardboard so that the box would fit. He needs to eat more tuna. It helps the brain make those sorts of connections. I would have recommended this to his parents if they had been there.

A similar situation happens with another box next to it. This box contains twenty smaller boxes which are slightly off square. It is amazing how many people, even adults put them back in sideways. Special schools are definitely under utilised nowadays.

This leads on to the situation with the stairs. Upstairs contains just empty boxes. There is nothing to see there, so it is closed off from the customers by lining the stairs with stock and placing a large advertising poster at the top of the stairs, thereby completely blocking it off. Two girls, aged maybe three and five? enter the store. The younger one begins to climb the stairs, but the older one immediately shouts "No! You can't go up. It's closed off." At some different point in time, a boy (aged maybe seventeen) walks in (Admittedly, he was slouched over, dressed completely in black, with his hair dyed black and hanging over his eyes. Wanting to look different, but ending up looking like every other emo on the planet...) and goes straight up the stairs and pushes aside the poster - just to see the empty boxes. Yes, the stupid eight year old might need just a school, but the parents of the seventeen year old need to start thinking of special homes. Keep him out of public and save him from all the embarasment his stupidity might cause him. If a five year old can work it out, then why can't he?

A related problem I find is the inability to grasp basic concepts. At closing time, just before I cash up, I close and lock the door (for security reasons), which I used to believe would imply that the store was closed. It is amazing how many people knock on the door and ask "Are you closed?" However, these people must be given some credit, since the possibility that the store might just be closed has actually crossed their minds. Even more amazing is the number of people who don't ask, and just walk into the door. Upon finding that it is not open, they take the handle and shake it. Few of them look inside to see me shaking my head. Such behaviour is extremely worrying. Did their parents force them to live such sheltered lives that this is their first encounter with a locked door? Or are they so stupid that they did not make any connection with previos encounters with locked doors. One wonders how they manage with other everyday tasks.

Tuna, people... Tuna. Try it... It really works.
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On Idiots and Morons

[A post that got mysteriously lost (i.e. accidentally deleted), and then recovered. You're lucky I make back ups... Original from January 17, 2009, Posted by Alphanumeric Sheep Pig at 3:18 PM. Reposted on 5 April 2009 at 6:54 PM.]

Its amazing how people can continuously argue about absolutely nothing for hours, get really worked up about it, until they are simply passing insults at each other and their arguments. And then at the end of it all, even though they must see that their argument is pointless, they agree to start the argument over using the line (which I am quoting) "without all this negativity". Meanwhile, they're only reading each other's arguments to find something to attack.

Some people are idiots.
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On the As Yet Unrealised Evolution of Natural Ultra High Speed Flight.

A sort of short story that I wrote one day while I was bored at work.

SARIETH lifted up one of her silver heads to the howling gale. The snow had stopped, the mist was being pushed out, and the landscape beneath her metal cave on this concrete and steel mountain was slowly being revealed. Stretching all four of her massive metallic membrane wings as best she could in the limited space, she began to claw her way toward the opening. She let out a rusty cry as a ray of moonlight pierced through the mist and hit lit up her three heads. The screech echoed of the landscape, but no cry responded. She launched herself off the platform, and spread her wings wide. The fall seemed to take forever, but eventually there was enough air to fill her wings, and she began to glide. With one powerful downward sweep, she transformed the nose dive into forward flight. Drawing her wings back against her body, she began to clap them together, sending a powerful burst of air downwards and backwards, thrusting her body forward through the air. Steadily, she increased the rhythm of the clap, and pushed her three heads together. The force of the air flowing past her accelerating mass pushed her claws against her body, and pulled her tail out straight behind her.

She pulled up into a steady climb, rising above the clouds into the cool dark air of the midwinter night, still accelerating. She tensed up as she sensed shockwaves beginning to form on the tips of her wings. Her ears automatically sealed to protect them from the deafening bang of the shockwave that formed on the tip of her foremost beak as she broke through the sound barrier.

The air in front of her became like a steel wall, but she forced her wings together, now in a motion far more complicated than a simple clap, and her speed continued to increase steadily. The icy shards that had begun to form along her smooth body began to melt in the incredible heat generated by the air friction. A secondary heart began to pump, gently at first but getting stronger rapidly. It propelled not blood, but a liquid metal alloy, which did not transport oxygen, or any material substance, but rather energy. More specifically, heat. She separated her three heads. The thrusting of her wings was no longer enough to keep her body accelerating, but she had climbed high enough. She stopped her wings, and held them slightly apart; spread only just enough to stop her from spinning out of control. Her trajectory followed the classic parabola followed by all free projectiles, and this brought her into a dive. Trading altitude for speed, she began to drop.

The tips of her three beaks began to glow red with the heat, and the metallic blood which flowed just below the surface began to boil. The second heart pumped harder, and the gas was forced through the swollen veins to the membrane of the front pair of wings. There, the heat gradient between the two pairs of wings caused an electric current. Blue yellow sparks arced from one wing to the other. She crashed her wings together, releasing a massive bolt of lightning, which ripped through the air around her. She slowly brought her wings apart again, and the arcing returned. Again, her wings crashed together, this time sending a bolt of electricity towards her tail. She continued this, each bolt of lightning providing thrust. In between thrusts, the incredible drag, now several times here own weight, was sapping away at a large portion of the extra speed. A slight twitch of her tail brought her path parallel to the ground.

She began clapping her wings faster and faster, the rapid acceleration and deceleration sending a terrible vibration through her body. Any movement other than the flapping of her wings was now impossible. The slightest turn of one of her heads would snap her neck and send her spinning out of control toward the ground.

The shock of each thrust burned through her skeleton. The thick atmosphere, which had provided the energy to reach this speed, was quickly becoming a curse, preventing her from accelerating further. Another imperceptible flick of her tail sent ripples through her entire body which resonated with the thrust of her wings. Further flicks maintained and magnified these waves which bounced between her heads and tail. The vibration forced the air at her sides to move out of the way, and a complex pattern of shockwaves surrounded her. Far to slow to keep up with her body, the air left vacuum pockets, which quickly spread over her entire body. The only air touching her now was a single molecule at the tip of each beak, which provided almost no opposition. Now free from the drag which had limited her before, there was no longer anything to hold her back. However, the source of her energy had also been eliminated.

There was still some heat to be distributed, and the charge in her wings would last another couple of seconds at least. Thunder crashed as her wings crashed together, far faster than ever before, now that there was no air between them to hold them back. The lightning released was far more powerful, stripping the surrounding air into its atomic constituents. Further flaps did the same, and ignited the air. Engulfed in flames, Sarieth continued to accelerate forwards. Light and infrared radiation from the flames now did what the air friction had done before – provided the heat to power her thrust. The whole procedure had set her on a climbing trajectory. The tail no longer provided the necessary disturbance to maintain the vibration, but in the time it took the vibration to damp out, such a distance would have been covered, that it did not matter. The air grew thinner as her altitude increased, until it eventually disappeared. Now gravity was the only force holding her back, but it was in a much diminished form. Even more so now, as her momentum carried her high up, where the sun was merely a big ball of glowing fire, providing only direct light. There was no scattered ambient light as within the atmosphere, and likewise, there was no ambient heat.

Gills located at the base of her neck opened and flexed. Exhaling briefly but rapidly through the right gill caused her to turn gradually left. An identical burst through left gill halted the turn. This completely altered her trajectory one orbiting the sun. Her wings, although no longer flapping, now lay outstretched. The larger front pair cast a shadow which completely obscured the rear wings from the light. Although the front wings had carried the bulk of the heat (and still did), the propulsive exercise had warmed the rear wings considerably. They now glowed slightly in the dark as they radiated excess energy. Their surface temperature began to plummet. The front wings, however, were in direct sunlight, and were barely cooling at all.

As before, the temperature difference induced a voltage between the two pairs of wings, but this time, Sarieth did not clap her wings together, but held them steady, maintaining an electric field between them. It is popular belief that space is empty, but this is in fact far from the truth. Far out it interstellar space, there may be millions of miles between atoms, but here, in the relative proximity of planets, asteroids and comets, dust particles and rogue molecules were scattered so frequently that there was rarely more than a metre between particles. A large number of the dust particles carry some small static charge, and the majority of stray molecules were ionised, having been catapulted from their source with extremely high energy, either in some form of collision, or a nuclear explosion.

Caught in Sarieth’s electric field, the particles began to gather on the front and back wings (depending on the nature of their charge), forming a barely visible film. Slowly, they began to be absorbed into her bloodstream, which transported them to an unusual organ located at the tip of her tail, where they were collected.

At a speed far in excess of the planets, Sarieth could orbit the star in a hundredth of the time of even the fastest planet; however this still took several hours. After several such orbits, the swelling that had formed at the tip of her tail was impossible to detect without extremely sophisticated instruments. Releasing an incredible amount of energy that had been built up for decades, Sarieth detonated a burst of energy at the edge of the sphere that had formed. The blast was directed rearward, forming a nuclear fusion chain reaction amongst the absorbed molecules, forming a single massive atom containing several millions of billions of subatomic particles, which by the theoretical laws of classical atomic physics, should never have been allowed to exist; should have ripped itself apart almost instantaneously. However, due to an anomaly in the quantum nature of time, the time period in which this needed to occur did not exist. In order to conserve the mass-energy balance, a ripple of uncertainty ran through the fabric of the space-time continuum around her body. Local space began to distort around her, expanding to allow the atomic decomposition. When space was finally distorted enough to allow the atomic decomposition to occur, it did, and a fission reaction occurred, only to produce products which were almost as unstable as the original atom. A second fission reaction occurred, and then a third, continuing on in an endless explosion, which ripped apart the last third of Sarieth’s tail. The thrust produced in the distorted reality was inconceivably tremendous, accelerating her to a fair fraction of the speed of light. The only thing that limited her was the fact that her mass was steadily increasing and time around her was slowing. At almost a tenth of the speed of light, the reaction had run out. As it did so, space collapsed back to normality, and her speed, which had been a tenth of the speed of light in distorted space, now exceeded it by several billion times.

Reality had essentially been tricked, which sounds really unusual, but don't worry - It happens all the time...

At this incredible speed, her mass was beyond infinite, collapsing the entire universe instantaneously into a singularity, however, outside her own body, nothing happened. Time no longer flowed in a linear fashion, but rather oscillated and looped back within itself that one could no longer describe in a simple one dimensional coordinate. Even a ten dimensional coordinate would barely be adequate. Space, on the other hand, had been compressed into one dimension.

Outside this anomaly, in normal three dimensional space, with one dimensional time, Sarieth ceased to exist.

Many billions of years earlier, at the far edge of the universe, a small tear appeared in the gravitational fabric that formed the border between existence, and nothingness. Existence began to fade, flowing out into the endless nothingness.

If it could, the nothingness would have had a gently satisfied smile. Sarieth reformed into reality right at the beginning of time, the universe erased from existence. She glided gracefully through the emptiness. No more stupid laws of physics to hold her back from it.

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