Sunday, March 29, 2009

On an Interesting Thought


Whenever someone is lost a shopping centre, they always ask someone who works there for directions. I have just realised how stupid this actually is. People who work in a shopping centre have to sit in one place all day, and don't have time to explore the rest of the centre. The best people to ask are other customers who seem to know where they are going.

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On Lost Sandwiches


The definition of being lost is to not know where you are going. And as far as I know, it is impossible for a sandwich to know something. This means that all sandwiches are lost, even if you know where they are. In order to know something about the future, especially to understand a concept as complex as a destination, requires being able to sense the environment, and adapt to it. This is the basic principle behind any control system. One of the requirements for being lost is to have a destination, but to not know where it is in relation to one's self. Is it possible for the sandwich to feel this way?

In order to be lost, the concept needs two things: the ability to store information in a stable manner and an ability to record its position. At first thought, this seems impossible, but it definitely requires further investigation. Bacteria live on almost everything you can put on a sandwich, which provides the sandwich with some form of (very simple) consciousness. Bacteria are able to pick up small bits of information and store some of it, but I doubt that a single bacterium is able to grasp a concept as advanced as a destination. However, large numbers of bacteria just might be able to. There have been studies into the ability of bacteria to interact and have an "emergent group consciousness".

This all means that a sandwich just might be able to have a concept of a destination, and know where it is relative to its destination. The fact remains that it still has no means to propel itself towards that destination, and has to rely on carriers. The sandwich has no means of controlling its carrier’s route (I hope). Unless the primitive minds of sandwiches are a lot smarter than I am (which is a very scary thought), they have no way of working out how to get to their destinations. This amounts to not knowing how to reach the destination, which essentially amounts to the same as being lost.

In conclusion: all sandwiches are always lost, no matter how you look at the situation.

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On Learning to Use Technology: Part II


I've written before about people who buy GPS systems for their cars. A decent GPS costs a few thousand rand, so it would seem sensible to learn to use it if you had one. Several times in the past week I have noticed people who seemed lost, or missed a turn, yet had a GPS attached to their wind screen. In particular, I almost crashed into someone on the way to work this morning. He was driving slowly, and seemed lost. Suddenly, he braked. He had apparently missed a turn, so he started reversing down the road. Attached to his windscreen was a GPS unit... switched off.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

On Google Searches


Some interesting Google (and other search engine) searches have directed users to this blog. It just goes to show that the internet is no longer a worthwhile source of information, because there is so much crap out there... like this, which provides absolutely no answers. I would like to send my apologies to the people who made the following Google searches and found this blog, which was probably not what they were looking for

"are wood ants destructive" x2
"how many ants are destructive"
"crossing a pig and a donkey"
"rabbit not eating salad"
"which bird tends to sheep"

I really hope you found the answers you are looking for. I don't know everything, but I do try. Anyway, here are the answers in case you couldn't find them.

What you call wood ants could be termites (if they are white with 2 body segments). In this case, they are most definitely destructive. They could also be carpenter ants (3 body segments) which usually don't target healthy structures. In both cases, if they have nested in the walls of your house, they will be small holes in the walls with sawdust lying around. Termites also leave a bit of mud around the holes. If there are winged insects crawling out of the holes, this is a sure sign of a mature infestation - it's time to look for a new house.

All ants are destructive to a certain degree. It depends on whether you are looking at it from a leaf or a mountain perspective. I assume you are worried about your home? I have no idea if ants have ever destroyed a brick house, but wooden houses have been destroyed by ants before. You should probably be more worried about a termite problem. Read what I discussed previously. If you really don't know, you should call in a pest control expert.

A cross between a pig and a donkey would be sterile, stupid and pointless. I also don't see the point in it. All the good characteristics of both will be lost. It would be too fat and have stubby legs, so it wouldn't be able to pull a cart, and its meat would go all stringy and tough. Can you imagine donkey flavoured bacon? Is this pig wearing a funny hat?

If your rabbit is not eating salad then there are three possibilities. Perhaps the rabbit is not satisfied with the way you prepare the salad, or the rabbit is bored of salad and wants something else. Or the rabbit is sick. Either way, this is your rabbit we are talking about, not a broken toy. It is a living creature, and you should take it to the vet, not just Google it.

I've never heard of a bird that tends to sheep, however, there is a South American bird called the Southern Screamer that is trained to guard farms (because it screams really loud). It is also known as a Crested Screamer or Shepherd Bird.
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On Germans and the Portuguese


You really can blame them for everything. The same goes for Nigerians in this country. Every time something goes wrong, someone involved either knows a German, or knows someone who knows a German, or has seen a German somewhere, or has heard of a German, or knows someone who has heard of a German. Next time things don't go your way, think about it, and you will see that it is always has something to do with Germans.

The same can be said about penguins, but penguins are secretive about where they are from. Ask a German where he/she is from, and you will be told that he/she is from Germany (or some place in Germany, or near Germany). Ask a penguin the same question, and you will get anything from blank looks to being ignored completely. The reason for this is that the penguins know that if they went round telling everyone that they are penguins, then people will start noticing them everywhere. When last did you see a penguin in the shops. You don't see them because you don't know they are penguins. If you do meet a penguin, and realise that it is a penguin, don't trust it. There is definitely some reason that it has revealed its identity to you.
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On Unfair Victimisation


Rioters the other day were complaining of unfair victimisation from the police. They got the feeling that the police were actually targeting the rioters and no one else. In particular, one taxi driver who had parked his taxi across an off-ramp on the N12 highway, blocking traffic, stated that when the police opened fire with rubber bullets, he was under the impression that they were "specifically aiming at him and his taxi".

In other news, Jacob Zuma has accused the National Prosecuting Authority and the Scorpions of carrying out a "deliberate orchestrated campaign against him". In fact, these orchestrated campaigns are quite common, and are usually referred to as investigations and prosecutions. In fact, these tasks are exactly what both the NPA and the Scorpions were set up to do, which is obviously unfair to anyone who has committed a crime.

People have the right to be treated fairly...
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Motorbikes


Earlier to day, I heard a Harley Davidson go past. (I also saw it, but thats not important). I like things that are fast and make lots of noise, but I have never seen the appeal of riding a Harley Davidson. They are slow and chew through fuel. The only argument I have heard for them that ever vaguely made sense is "you just can't beat that noise." I have to agree. I can't beat it, but I can certainly match it... about half an hour after a helping of bean and potato curry...
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

On the Theremin


You've probably never heard of it, but it was the worlds first electronic musical instrument invented in 1919. It has two antennae, and if the musicians moves hands (or any object) near the antennae, it causes interference and a humming noise. With practice, it can actually be made to play proper music. A well-made theremin sounds like a ghostly violin. You can play it with your feet or head, or even while playing a guitar, by moving the neck of the guitar within range of the instrument. Basically, it's an air piano... I really need one of these.
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On the Blue Monkey Stealing Potato


Or more correctly, the blue-monkey-stealing potato. Not an ape that is in need of extra starch and not prepared to pay for it, but rather a vegetable that has the compulsive urge to slip extremely rare primates under its coat as it walks past. You can normally tell these potatoes from other potatoes, because most potatoes do not wear coats... Or walk past blue monkeys. If you do see a potato walking past blue monkeys, you should definitely be suspicious. However, if one happens to land up fried on your plate, it is probably safe to eat it. There is no evidence of anyone having died from eating a blue-monkey-stealing potato. But people have died from eating normal potatoes.

(I apologise for the boring factual nature of the following paragraph, but it is necessary for me to make my point...) Because, in fact, all potato plants are poisonous. The dark green fruit is the most toxic part of the plant, but it only really contains seeds, so no one would want to eat it anyway. The leaves and stem are also quite poisonous. Even the root (which we eat) is slightly toxic. While not usually deadly, potato poisoning can cause headaches, diarrhoea, cramps, or comas. Luckily, the more toxic the potato, the greener it is, and cooking the potato partially breaks down the toxic chemicals. This is the reason that the potato gets whiter as it cooks.

(On a quite pointless side note: Apparently, Belarus is the highest per capita consumer of potato in the world, with each person eating almost 930 grams of potato a day. Someone should probably sell them some cows so they have something to eat with it. Of course, my source is the good old unverified Wikipedia, so who knows if it's true. Either way, its a lot of potato.)

Who was the one who decided "This fruit is poisonous, so I'll eat the root instead"? And even further along the line, someone thought, "Maybe this will be less poisonous if I chop it up and fry it." Did they try it themselves first, or did they get their friends to try it first? Is that really ethically correct? However it happened, I'm grateful for it. I really really like potato.

Of course it might all just be a scam by penguins to bring down the outstanding reputation of the potato. They are always doing things like that. Although the majority of penguins only have good intentions, there are always those that are out to ruin things for everyone else.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Fashion


The other day, a group of friends and I saw a guy walk past wearing really tight bright red pants. Being engineers, we all pointed and laughed. Much later, I realised that this behaviour was wrong. We had initially assumed that this was the way he had chosen to dress, but maybe the choice was not his. After a bit of thought I realised that he might be a really great person. It is possible that in the morning, he had seen a kitten being savaged by a giant mutated sea frog with evil intentions. The guy might have jumped immediately to the rescue, and ripped off the head of the monster. The resulting spray of blood might have stained his pants red, and caused them to shrink. Because of the delay, he might have had time only to change his shirt and wash his hands and face, but there was not enough to time to change his pants, and he was forced to wear the stained pants for the rest of the day.

Then I saw him again this morning. He was wearing orange pants this time. I really feel sorry for him. He probably spent half the night fighting off an enraged flock of orange-blooded flying squids to protect a wounded puppy. He must lead such a difficult life.
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Tossing Sheep


They don't usually go very far. It's not because I can't throw (or more correctly, only partly), but more because sheep are badly designed. The first major issue is that they are difficult to hold. The sheep's body has nowhere that allows a good grip to be maintained while still allowing room for a decent swing. The sheep has four legs, which allows for two people to swing it between them and cover a reasonable distance. However, there is not always an assistant available, and when trying to swing a sheep by the legs alone, one finds that the two free legs tend to get in the way, making the throw awkward.

Then there is the issue of weight. Sheep can be quite heavy, which means that you need a lot of force to get a decent launch speed. There is also the problems of aerodynamics and stability. In flight, sheep tend to roll around, and it is difficult to get the sheep to land in the any specific position. The woolly coat is uneven and a symmetrical, leading to a significant drag increase, as well as a steady sidewards force. Together with the constant turning in flight, this can really mess up the planned trajectory.

There are two possible solutions to this problem. The first is to make some modifications to the sheep. Choose a smallish sheep, and strap two legs to it's body (for best results, do this to one front leg and one back leg). To save time, you may wish to choose a three (or even two) legged sheep, if you can find it. Then wrap the sheep in insulation tape, being careful to ensure that the sheep is symmetrical. You may wish to brace the neck, as the sheep tends to try look around, and this can lead to a very unstable flight. To the tail, attack some stabilising fins. Hold the sheep by the two free legs, give it a few good swings, and release it when near the top of it's arc. With practice, you may be able to get the sheep 50% further than a conventional sheep.

The second option is to review the projictile selection process. Sheep may have been a bad choice of animal to toss in the first place. Chickens, which are significantly lighter than sheep and have two legs, make remarkably good projectiles, provided you tie their wings back (flapping wings tends to lead to an inaccurate toss). Rabbits fly especially far, possibly due to the additional stability provided by their ears. (This point may be disputed, since the ears seem to add nothing to a donkey's flight)
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the Behaviour of Peacocks and People


One of my neighbours decided, for some unknown reason, that it would be a good idea to have some peacocks. Peacocks are strange creatures. In their natural (domestic) environment, they have only one natural predator - the cat. But the peacock is a big bird, with a sharp beak and a long neck, and a cat will think twice before taking it on. They have two threats, that I would not classify as predators. A dog will not really actively hunt a peacock, but if a dog were to encounter one, it may try chase it, either for the fun of the chase, or to chew on it. However, dogs generally don't climb walls like cats and cannot reach the peacocks. The second threat is the road.

When a peacock comes to a road and needs to cross, it just walks. It does not check to see if a car is coming (or even listen). It walks, and it takes its time about it. The interesting thing is if a car arrives, the peacock stops walking and stares. As I was leaving home one morning I encountered the peacocks. There used to be three, but they have apparently had chicks (if that's what you call baby peacocks) because there seem to be hundreds of them now. Three were waiting at the side of the road, and as I approached (at about 40 km/h, because they often do this) one decided to cross in front of me. I stopped, and so did it. It stood there staring. Eventually, it decided to continue again. As soon as it started walking, one of the others started to drift across. After both had finished crossing, I checked where the third one was. It was facing away from the road and showed absolutely no intention of crossing the road. As soon as I began to pull of, it turned and dashed in front of the car. I stopped and waited as it crossed.

The reason I explained the whole event in detail is because, about fifteen minutes later, exactly the same thing happened, only this time they weren't peacocks - they were people. And their behaviour and reaction to the car was identical to the peacocks. I've always considered peacocks to be very stupid, even as far as birds go, and even stupid people to be far smarter than the smartest of peacocks. Obviously, I was wrong...
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Monday, March 9, 2009

On Similar Objects...


...that are difficult to tell apart. Like a set of car keys and a wallet. Or the house keys and sunglasses. They look different when you look properly, but if you don't think about it carefully, you can't tell the difference. You may not believe me, but it's true. Yesterday, when I got home from work, I put my car keys and house keys on the table, and then went to put my sunglasses and wallet away. Later in the evening, I went to put away the car keys. On the table I found my wallet and sunglasses, which I distinctly remembered having just put away, and no car keys. The house keys were missing as well. Being as lazy as I am, I decided to postpone the whole issue. I went to put my wallet and sunglasses away (for the second time), but when I opened the cupboard and put it down, my car keys were there, but my house keys were not. I looked towards where my sunglasses should have been, and found the house keys.

To confuse objects like this, it is only reasonable to assume that they are similar. Maybe not in appearance, but definitely in terms of weight. If you work out the percentage by which my wallet (which is really light at the moment) needed to increase in weight in order to be within 5% of the weight of my car keys, you can easily calculate what velocity I needed to be travelling in order for relativistic effects to increase the weight. Turns out (based on really, really rough head calculations and vague estimates), I must have been moving at 20 to 40% of the speed of light. And they all said I would never make it at athletics.

Either that or the penguins are messing with my head again. I haven't seen any evidence of them yet, but they could easily have perfected some advanced stealth technique. I don't know if anyone has a secret training project to develop penguin assassins. Well, maybe not training assassins (because I am apparently still alive), but possibly training penguins to switch objects in peoples homes. I don't see the point in this, but I don't see the point in politics either, and that most definitely does exist.

(On a side note: You may not think this practice of rough calculations and vague estimates is a very reliable method, but that's actually what engineering is all about. Have you ever wondered why your doorway is as wide as it is, or why your ceiling is as wide as it is, or why your car windscreen is at the angle it is. It's all because someone sucked on their thumb and pulled out a "reasonable" number.)
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

On Simple Concepts


I was in a restaurant with my parents the other day. As usual, my mom ordered a glass of wine and some ice. The wine came, and she had to remind the waiter about the ice. Eventually the ice arrived, in a bowl, served on a heated plate... I don't think this needs any more comment.

On the topic of restaurants, if you ever want to really confuse the waiter, order two drinks. At least half the waiters I've tried it on forgot one of the drinks. The probability of remembering the second drink seems to decrease with increasing table size, and increase with the increasing price of a fillet steak. Not that that information has any use...
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On Farmers Part II: Devious Bovine


I have written before about the strange phenomenon of the equally spaced trees that lie on the horizon in the Free State. Since the ony thing around are farms, I assumed that it was the farmers. However, I have recently seen a picture of one of these lines of trees, and immediately in front of the trees was a herd of cattle. Of course, the cattle were not actually planting the trees, they were standing around aimlessly, doing absolutely nothing. I have come to the conclusion, that upon noticeing the camera man, one of them sent some sort of signal to the others, and they all stopped what they were doing, and acted all innocent.

Cows are the most suspicious creatures, because whenever you encounter them, they are either on their way somewhere, or standing pretending to do nothing. If you return to your car in a parking lot, and there are no other cars in the immediate vicinity of yours, but there is a crowd of people standing next to your car, looking at you expectantly, your mind will instantly ask "What have they done?" It is the same with the cows, however they have such an innocent look about them that it takes a long time to realise how suspicious they actually look.

Thinking back to when I was travelling through the Free State, I remember that several of the lines of trees were next to fields of cows... or sheep, now that I think of it. In future, I will think twice before trusting livestock with anything... They thing I need to work out now is why they do it, and why they are so secretive about it.
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On the Production of Chicken


When I started this blog, I decided I was not going to put in any pictures, mainly because I'm too lazy to be bothered. But this time, I couldn't care less about enforcing my own rule. It's a stupid rule anyway, so I put a picture in anyway.

I also promised myself that I would never target any specific person or group of people, or place or people from a place, but that's a bit of a stupid rule too. I've already targeted stupid children, and they're a group of people too (albeit a big group).

Because, we all know that KFC does torture their chickens. That's what makes KFC so much juicier and tender than anyone else's... But it's OK, because the chickens aren't really alive. KFC has genetically engineered their chickens to such an extent that they now grow strings of featherless chicken pieces, already crumbed and ready to be fried. Who cares if they beat a couple of lifeless wings and thighs...

Just joking... On the more serious side of things, KFC don't actually farm chickens. They sell fast food, which is a completely different business to farming. Another one people often mix up is Woolworths. Woolworths does not make everything they sell themselves, nor is it made specially for Woolworths. If you read the label, it even says "packed specially for Woolworths". Note the wording. It clearly says "packed", and not "grown" or "made". In fact, KFC and Woolworths buy their chickens from exactly the same place, and so does Pick 'n Pay, and Spar, for that matter. So does half of South Africa.

The point I'm trying to make is that there are so many people that will go out and pay more to buy what they believe to be a superior product, but it is exactly the same as what they could have gotten anywhere else for cheaper. No that wasn't the point, I wasn't actually trying to make a point, but I made one anyway.

Another thing I don't understand is those vegetarians who give up meat because they don't believe in killing animals. Giving up meat for religious or medical reasons is something I respect. (I don't understand it, but I do respect it.) But if you don't believe in killing animals, why don't you protest against game reserves. Like the Kruger National Park. Did you know, that lions are actually allowed to go round killing animals indiscriminately. And they actually chase their food down and rip its throat out with their teeth. I've yet to meet a vegetarian who is against this practice.

Before you boycott meat, you should realise that plants have feelings too. If you think killing living creatures for food is horrible, I think ripping bits off and leaving the creature alive is even worse. Even those only eat fruit that has naturally fallen off the tree are quite disgusting. I really like steak, but if a cow was walking along, and a section of its backside fell off, I'd stay well away. It's just not right...
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On the Differences Between Robot Bunnies and Bunny Robots


They may seem like the same thing, but they most certainly are not. But don't worry. It is a common misconception. If you think about it, the difference is quite clear. Robot bunnies are quite obviously artificial rabbits controlled by electromechanical systems that are programmed to demonstrate automatic rabbit behaviour (which is to eat and breed). The defining criteria is that it is a robot that resembles a bunny. Bunny robots are robots built by the rabbits as part of their efforts to destroy the human race and take over the world. They do not have to resemble rabbits at all. There is nothing wrong with robot bunnies - they're actually quite cute, but if you ever see a bunny robot, then run...

Just thought I'd clear that up...
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Sunday, March 1, 2009

On the Pointlessness of Bookmarks


Not the internet or computer kind, but physical bookmarks, for marking your place in a book. Those little strips of laminated paper... If you don't know what I mean yet, you probably never will. If you do, then I probably don't need to continue explaining.

I've never actually worked out why someone would want to use a bookmark. Of course, I know the function a bookmark is supposed to fulfil, but if you think about it, it should be unnecessary. Honestly, if you can't remember how much you have read, you would be better off starting from the beginning again anyway. Since I stopped using bookmarks many years ago, I found reading far easier, and I could follow the story better (since I have to reread half of it to find my place each time). It makes a big difference, and everyone should try it.

I no longer support the use of bookmarks in anyway. If you use them, you have no idea how much of the book you're missing out on... I just land up chewing them to pieces anyway.

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On Giant Rabbits Eating Salad


Which, when you think about it, is not that unusual. Giant rabbits aren't exactly something you'd see every day (unless you are the owner of an abnormally large rabbit), but they certainly do exist. And if you saw a rabbit busy eating, you would not really be too surprised to find that it is in fact eating a salad. But, if you found that it was eating a chicken salad, you'd be mildly surprised. However, the logically conclusion you'd have to come to is that someone else had prepared the salad, and that the rabbit (being a rodent, and therefore prepared to eat anything) would eat it without giving it a thought.

(On a side note: Rabbits have been known on occasion to eat through the type of steel fences that are commonly used to create their cages. Chickens don't, which is why fences of that sort of design are called "chicken wire" fences - not because they are used to enclose chickens, but because they keep chickens enclosed. They are often used to enclose rabbits, but, of course, rabbits eat chicken wire, so calling it rabbit wire would be a bit misleading. Contrary to popular belief, chicken wire is not made from chickens.)

However, If you were to see an abnormally large penguin eating a chicken salad, you would be very surprised. Especially if it was in your own kitchen. You have to rule out the fact that someone else would prepare a chicken salad for a penguin, as this would make no sense. A tuna salad would make sense, or a smoked salmon salad. A loving penguin owner may feel that a bucket full of raw fish is not enough, but preparing a chicken salad would be taking this a bit far. The only logical conclusion you can draw is that the penguin prepared its own salad, which is very likely to have involved a sharp knife.

If the fact that the penguin could wield a knife isn't scary enough, you'd have to bear in mind that it was wielding a knife in you own home. And also bear in mind that this is a giant penguin, which is probably considerably stronger than your conventionally sized penguin. Penguins are not usually aggressive, but you don't know how this penguin was raised, or who it associates itself with. It could easily have been abandoned by its parents, bullied excessively by its peers, found and raised by the Mafia and trained to be a vicious killer. It may seem unlikely, but apart from what you've seen on TV, how much do you really know about the childhood of penguins.

The truth is, it is probably not going to share. You're best option is to go get your own chicken salad. Or sandwich, or something... You could probably go steal from the rabbits if you really want.

Don't get me wrong. I really like penguins, but you have to draw the line somewhere. If I was attacked by a knife-wielding penguin, I'd be willing to change my stance.
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