Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Elegant Math

This is one of the hardest concepts to explain to non-scientists. You see strange mathematical squiggles, I see five lines of thermodynamic equations that are a recipe for a neutron star. One flowing to the other with grace, economy, and completeness. Elegance.

This is the closest I can come to an example. Fractals are math, pure and simple. And yet they are beautiful in a way anyone can understand. I love 'em.

I am become death, the destroyer of worlds

On a very local level, anyway. Spider level. Now, I like spiders. I rescue them when caught in spider-unfriendly locations and release them in the wild. However -- removing siding that has been on my house for the last, oh, forty years or so has revealed a vast, ancient spider civilization. Dark, empty webs, egg cases, skeletal remains. For all I know, monuments covered in tiny spider hieroglyphics fortelling the coming of the Great Crowbar. They must have listened because I only found one live spider. I would have let him live out his days in peace, among the shattered remnants of former greatness, but he would try to hide in the one rotting board that had to be replaced. I'm not that friendly. Out he went. No doubt shrieking curses at me. Too bad. He's not helping to pay the mortgage.

Snarkatron wishes to assure all peaceniks, UN worshippers, and law enforcement officials that no nuclear devices were used in this process. Really.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


So much idiocy, so little time! Homo sapiens, my foot.
  • Religion in the news: I am happy to report that while a lifelong agnostic, I am in fact aware the Pope is Catholic. Moreover, it does not disturb me in the least that said Pope is chosen as the Church sees fit, even though this does not include input from polls, focus groups, and/or media analysis. Don't like Official Church Policy on women, gays, or protecting those who molest little boys? Can't blame you. So DON'T JOIN THE CHURCH. Wasn't that easy? In return, I would be pleased to see the Catholic Church follow the Golden Rule and stop flippin' telling the world what to do! You get to tell CATHOLICS what to do. See how it works? We don't get to pick your Pope, you don't get to run our lives.
  • Media stupidity: It would really help if the media weren't such enablers. Why this sudden fascination with the College of Cardinals? I'm fairly sure there were a few other important stories. Like mass murder in Sudan (not stopped by UN), revelations of Bad Behavior concerning the Oil for Food program (effectively concealed by UN), Lebanese demands for democracy and Syrian withdrawal (UN nowhere to be seen), and, oh yes, ANOTHER killing field found in Iraq. We think the total number of Iraquis slaughtered by Saddam may be up to 500,000, just from the mass graves found so far. But no, that isn't news. (The UN didn't stop Saddam killing either. Notice a pattern here?)
  • If, like me, you enjoy causing trouble for the America is Evil crowd, here's some ammo. Really nice essay pointing out things that most Americans take for granted. It's good to remind ourselves that in other countries, being poor means being skinny. And I vividly remember the shock on a visiting Frenchman's face when informed the waitress serving him was studying law ... and could be a judge some day. Not in his world, evidently.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Don't Leave Earth Without It

via VodkaPundit, a reminder on the anniversary of the Apollo 13 landing of the great utility of Duct Tape. This was not the only time it came in useful, either.

You stick it together with duct tape, you unstick it with WD-40. With those two fundamental building blocks of the universe you can do ANYTHING.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The God of Straight Lines loves me

The wonderful Sgt. B is learning to play the pipes, and that reminded me of an episode of my youth. Well, two episodes. One I was too young to remember, but my mother (a very truthful person) assures me that I managed to sleep through my father's bagpipe class. This should have worried her more than it did (no, I'm not deaf).

The second occurred later in the early Pleistocene, when I was in college. Imagine, if you will, an electronics lab. There is a power supply for the eager students' electronics projects, and it emits a nice polyphonic hum whilst outputting volts. To myself and my buddy, also very fond of Celtic music, it sounded very much like the drones on the pipes. Naturally, we took advantage of this to sing the chanter part of favorite tunes.

This drove the lab instructor stark raving nuts. More nuts than we students usually managed. One day she snapped and told us to stop, and since it was 10% of our grade we did. Grumpily.

Now comes the Divine Intervention. For it was a pleasant, warm spring day, and Lo! The windows of the lab were open. And through those open windows, faint but unmistakable ... came the sound of bagpipes. I thought she was going to pull her hair out and beat us over the head with a variable capacitor. Fortunately my buddy looked out of the window and noticed a real live piper standing in the doorway of a nearby building. It turns out there was a piping competition going on inside and he was warming up before performing. What. Perfect. Timing. (The lab instructor quit after our class. I have no idea why.)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Hidden Gems of the Blogosphere: Part 1

Some blogs have a very limited audience, and when you read them it is clear why. Maybe muddled prose, or an average posting time of one year, or the content is, shall we say, very, VERY specialized.

Then there are others that I can't figure out why they aren't linked to more often, and signal flares sent up whenever they post.

Exhibit A: Varifrank -- Funny, intelligent, and a wonderful talent for the always-in-control devastating rant. He does non-rant well too, but I think his post explaining the real world to a bunch of scornful Europeans ought to be printed out and framed (probably behind bullet-proof glass in liberal areas).

Exhibit B: The Mesopotamian -- I don't know how he does it, but his gentle courtesy even to the nastiest of his commenters (and he gets some bad ones, because he is an Iraqi that unequivocably supports the US invasion) is an example that never fails to make me feel humble. He's one of the most religiously tolerant individuals of any belief I have encountered. He can also be quietly funny, sarcastic, and writes with such poetry in English I can only imagine how beautiful his writing must be in Arabic. There are some who believe an observant Muslim cannot be tolerant. I invite them to read his blog, and reconsider.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Zen Signal Processing

I saw two very different kinds of birds yesterday. One, a male mallard duck, was pretty obvious because of the distinctive plumage, size, and the fact that it was dead as a doornail. Webbed feet to the sky. No obvious signs of violence, but the fact remained it was a former duck. Hard to miss.

The other was very easy to miss. Hummingbirds around here tend to go camo green, and since we have actual green trees pretty much all the time they blend in rather well. I saw it too, and that made me happy. It was just about the size of a leaf, and either doing an in-place hover or a high-speed zip which also makes it hard to follow. You have to be alert and aware to see hummingbirds.

The Zen of it is not noticing one kind of bird or the other, but both. Allow every signal to have equal weight and you have a firehose of data, impossible to process from sheer bulk. Only see what is large, colorful, and obvious --- your world has a lot of dead ducks in it, but no hummingbirds. Dancing on the edge of the sword; cultivating the dreaming alertness that will let you only see the hummingbirds that are there ... that is the Zen.

Snarkatron recommends drinking Oolong with this post