Sunday, June 28, 2009

On Idiots Part II, I Think...


Windows are a magical and mysterious concept.

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On the Behaviour of Peacocks and People Part II: Plastic Bags


Back in March, I wrote a post comparing the similarity of behaviour of peacocks and people, especially when it comes to crossing the road. At the time, I put the behaviour down to intelligence, but I should have realised that it all has to do with aerodynamics.

The reason I bring this up is because I saw a plastic bag trying to cross the road. (That is, I hope it wasn’t actually trying. I hope that there was merely a slight crosswind carrying it. I’d prefer to believe that plastic bags have not developed intelligence.) There was an almost solid stream of traffic, and the plastic bag was unable to cross. However, it still made as if to cross in front of each car, but quickly moved back. When there was finally a small gap in the traffic (due to the fact that I happened to be driving a bit slowly), the bag made a mad dash into the road, but slowed as it saw me approaching. Since I am slightly less concerned about the damage a plastic bag would do to my car (compared to that of, say, a peacock or person), my evasive actions were not particularly drastic. I did not slow down, and moved over only slightly. The plastic bag immediately jumped back onto the pavement out of my way. It’s interesting to note that that’s exactly the way people behave.

(On a side note: Why do we call the paved bit the road, and the unpaved bit the pavement? I believe that some foreigners refer to them the other way round. Where did the language get confused like that?)

(On another side note: Do peacocks hibernate for the winter? I haven’t seen them in a while and I haven’t heard them squealing at night. It’s interesting to note that the peacock’s mating call sounds exactly like I’d imagine a three year old human would if he was dropped in a meat grinder.)
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On Winter


The colder side of winter is definitely here. Its freezing (according to my standards, at least). Being slightly bored, I decided to apply my mind to the problem. The simple solution is that everyone in North and South America simultaneously move into their northernmost neighbour’s residence, and at exactly the same time, everyone in the rest of the world moves into their southernmost neighbour’s residence. This would change the axis of rotation of the Earth very slightly, effectively countering the movements that everyone made. The Americas would slowly begin to drift south, and the rest of the world would drift north, meaning that South Africa would get closer to the equator, and grow a bit warmer.

Being bored, I did all the necessary calculations to see what would happen. The movement of the world’s population would impart a total of more than thirty seven thousand Gigajoules of rotational kinetic energy to the Earth. Of course, people move all the time, but people move in random directions and the energies all cancel out. An orchestrated move will result in kinetic energy that is not cancelled out. (I estimated that the human population of the world is 388 billion kilograms. That’s a lot of mass to move...)

This may sound like a lot of energy, but it’s not really. The Earth itself weighs 15 trillion times more than the entire human population, so you have to look at this sort of thing in context. The energy is still enough to cause an angular rotation about an equatorial axis of about a trillionth of a radian per second (which for the non-engineers of the world, translates to a net northward motion of my house of about 3.7 metres a week). This does not sound like much, but within 2600 years, my house will be in the tropics. I’m not selfish, you see. You have to think of the future generations.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Polar Bears


Polar bears are cool. Sorry... I mean interesting, or... cool. Someone really needs come up with a word that doesn’t make a lame pun when used with polar bears. It’s a serious flaw in the English language. (A side note: when a horse becomes lame, they shoot it.) But, the fact still remains that polar bears are normally cool animals. How cool they are is a function of the time elapsed since their last meal, and whether or not they are facing you. The same goes for tigers. If you see a tiger, it’s probably better if it is watching something else, and that it keeps doing that.

But back on the topic of polar bears, I’ve always wondered what convinced polar bears to abandon the forests where bears normally live and move up into a region that has no trees, no plants, and is permanently covered with a layer of solid ice. Polar bears are big, and it’s never a good idea to put something really big on ice. And surely it was much easier to find food in the forests. And surely it was a bit warmer. And then people still think of polar bears as being wise.

Polar bears chose to go north, over land, but the penguins moved south, over several thousand kilometers of ocean to Antarctica. Possibly it was to get away from the polar bears, but there is one important thing to note about the continent of Antarctica before one can jump to any conclusions. There are only two creatures that live on the land in Antarctica (Seals are stupid, so they don’t count). These are penguins and people. The only reason people are there is to conduct scientific research. The conclusion one can draw from this is that the penguins also only moved there to conduct scientific research. I’ve always said that penguins cannot be trusted.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

On Plagiarism


As a university student, one gets warned about plagiarism so many times, it starts to get annoying. The concept is practically beaten into you. The reason you have to stay up to all hours of the night to find references for your report is that (apart from the fact that it would be stealing if you didn't) it gives some sort of credibility to yourself. Newspapers never reference their sources, and therefore have no credibility to stand on. And they are always careful use words like "allegedly", knowing full well that 99% of their readers will conveniently ignore that word, and take all they read as the truth.

Forgetting the fact that the sources should be suing the publishing companies for not referencing, it's weird how people tend to think of newspapers as a reliable source of information. It's almost as bad as Google...

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

On The Limits of Boredom


I do not ever want to be as bored as the person who worked this one out...
www.numberspiral.com

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On Squeezing Squirrel Eggs from a Stolen Skunk


To set the record straight, I wasn't the one who stole the skunk. It wasn’t even my idea to steal the skunk in the first place, and I had nothing to do with the whole business. I don’t even think stealing animals is right. In fact I’m against the whole idea, and I don’t even know if the skunk was stolen, or if so, where they found it. This is just not the sort of thing I do.

And please don’t ask me how the skunk was laying squirrel eggs. The truth is that I don’t know. In fact, I don’t think I want to know, and I’m not too sure why you would want to know anyway. And since I don’t think it matters, can we please leave that topic alone?

The point that I wanted to make, and I don’t think I got it across in the last two paragraphs, unless you are far more perceptive than anyone could possible have imagined, is that there are no cattle living in my garage. There are no rodents living in my garage either (too the best of my knowledge), not that skunks are rodents. Yes squirrels are, but how is that relevant to my argument?

My argument, which seems to be growing less and less coherent with each word I type; but as you can see, the premises are really starting to build, which is not what counts. What counts is the conclusions you draw from the premise, but why would anyone want it to count. It has no way of sensing it’s environment, so counting is a skill it would never be able to put into practise, and even if it could count, being a set of typed characters, it would have no way to adjust itself to, and express the result it obtained. Much like the universe if you think about it. It’s just expanding, and contains so much information, but none of it is coherent. It’s taken several billion years to get where it is, and doesn’t look anywhere near ready to make its point.

Of course you’d have to squeeze the skunk. Skunks don’t just lay squirrel eggs naturally. You need to force them. I know squirrels don’t lay eggs either, but what has that got to do with the skunk. It’s just a futile effort by the human mind to bring more information into the problem, without trying to solve anything. It’s certainly human nature to try and complicate the solution to things.

Now I’ve gone and complicated it all so much that I can’t even remember what the problem that I started out with. It’s quite obvious that squirrels and skunks must have skunks must have made an appearance somewhere along the line, but I can’t work out where,

I’m just going to have to leave it there, without any point. If you want a point, its probably easiest to just use a pencil sharpener, but some people use a knife. I’ve always preferred to use clutch pencils, because then I just click a button to make the point. Its unfortunate for you that there is no button for me to click to make a point here, but that gives you a taste of what I have to live with every day.

Even if I did manage to make a point, I’d have forgotten why it was necessary by the time I’d made it.

Damn Germans…

(On a side note: Squirrels are very high in cholesterol, and not exactly the healthiest food. However, some people in the UK apparently deliberately eat gray squirrels (an invasive species) in an attempt to save the red squirrels (the local squirrel). I found this so outrageous that I actually needed to give it a reference. I personally prefer the gray squirrel.)

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On Popular Myths


Particularly the one fed to us by cartoons when we were children – the myth that cats chase mice, and dogs chase cats. It’s not that it’s not true, but rather that there is a lot of detail that is left out. The truth is that most cats will try to play with absolutely anything that moves, including mice, birds, cars, feet and interestingly enough, dogs. They don’t actively chase anything (although they will stalk and attack anything that is mildly interesting, including furniture). However, it is the second part of this belief that annoys me most. So many people believe that dogs chase cats, which is true, but only for a dog that has never had an encounter with a cat, and it is merely a result of the dog’s insatiable curiosity for new smells. In at least half of the cat-dog encounters I have ever seen, the dog has not chased the cat, but has rather approached cautiously with a slightly wagging tail, and then been hissed and spat at, and eventually scratched on the nose. After that, the dog will pretend to ignore any cat it encounters. It is unfortunate that all of this information cannot be conveyed in a simple three word statement, such as "Cats chase mice."
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Sunday, June 7, 2009

On Paper Folding


This person is almost as bad as I am... Folding Paper in Half 12 Times
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On Google and the Blue Monkey


Regular followers of my blog will know that I have a fascination with appearing in Google’s searches. As a person who spends a lot of time searching Google for scientific content, with in depth explanations. More technical than what a high school or first year student would be looking for. And I am almost always disappointed. (My fellow students will understand how useless Google actually is if you aren’t just an average bored person, or twelve year old with a project for school.

When I eventually worked out that there are far better ways to get quality information that is accurate and reliable, I decided that I’d feed those poor unfortunate Google users with the information they want. Please don’t misunderstand this. I am a nice person. I am not aiming to get onto Google searches just to be a pain in the neck. Where ever possible, I’d like to bring those ignorant people the information that they want.

Google includes an extremely useful feature for web site owners, called “Google Webmaster Tools”. It allows users to see what Google searches return my blog in the results, and which of these actually led people to click a link to my blog. It is remarkably interesting how little information is on Google if you see the sorts of searches that will put me near the top of the results.

In particular is a search “blue monkey wikipedia” which returned my blog on the first page. Naturally, I was curious and did some research. The blue monkey (or diademed monkey) is in fact a silver and gray monkey that can be found in Eastern and Central Africa. It’s interesting that the vervet monkey which is very common in South Africa is called a blouapie in Afrikaans (translated literally as “blue monkey”). This is a completely different type of monkey. The truth is that neither monkey is actually blue, which just goes to reaffirm that biologists have no clue about the real world.

Another one that I am particularly proud of is that a search for “flapping flight” returns my blog as number 176 on the list. (I have not verified this.) The reason that I’m proud of it is that it’s a field I’m really interested in. If anyone really is interested in this from a scientific or engineering point of view, I refer you to the work of Ansari et.al. who seems to have the best mathematical model. They approximate the wing by a thin cambered Joukowsky airfoil, and use potential flow theory to model the unsteady flow over the wings. The analysis is extended into three dimensions by considering the vortex and wake interactions as the wings flap. He then uses a momentum based method to extract the forces and moments on the wings, and presents them in two neat little vector integral equations. (Refer to Ansari, SA; Zbikowski, R; Knowles, K: Aerodynamic modelling of insect-like flapping flight for micro air vehicles, Progress in Aerospace Sciences, Volume 42, Issue 2, February 2006.)

The one that concerns me is the number of people looking for a cross between a pig and a sheep. If they are possible, then they are almost certainly sterile and pointless. A half pig half sheep would be stupid idea. I think you should be far more worried about a half sheep half jaguar. They would look like fluffy white (very much) overgrown domestic cats, until you get too close, and they pounce on you.

The other thing that concerns me is that there really is such a thing as a blue potato.
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On the Traditional Doctor...


"Good news to you...
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The doctor is obviously also quite good at his job. He has an office in the business centre of the city, a telephone line, and an advertising campaign. I have blanked out the address, because I beleive he is sucessful enough to fund his own advertising and doesn't need to rely on me to do it for him for free.
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On Fancy Functions


Function, as in event. Not the mathematical or computer programming type. Functions, such as presentations, award ceremonies, and conferences and the like. The big sort of function that aims to impress the guests, and calls for little plates of snacks to be left in the foyer for afterwards, so that the guests have something to nibble on while they mingle and chat. It is interesting to note how these plates of snacks go unguarded through most of the ceremony. With so much effort being put into the presentation of these plates, one can’t help but wonder if they were deliberately trying to attract people to them. Its difficult to resist the urge to walk up and help myself.

Honestly, if the snacks were for the functions guests, they would have been put inside the actual venue, not left outside in the foyer. And if they didn’t want to attract passers by, they would not have made the snacks look so appealing.
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On Knowing Things


I find it amazing how many people “know” things (which are wrong), but they like to ask you about it anyway. Then when you tell them the correct answer, the respond with “I thought so”, followed by some comment that shows that they didn’t hear a word you just said. It's a good thing that ignorance is bliss. It makes living a life like that so much easier.

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