Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Missing Princess

Once upon a time, there was a princess. Of course, she didn't know she was a princess, but a princess she was.

Breathless, cheeks rosy from her run through the crisp spring morning, she bounded up to the open cabin door. "Mother! Father!" She had a basket from the market and knew breakfast was going to be mighty tasty. But first things first.."Mother? Father!" They would love the fruit, she knew. But why weren't they answering? "Mother! Father!!" She called out as she ran into the building.

Where she froze, dead in her tracks. The place had been torn apart, the belongings strewn recklessly across the place. A couple was laying in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood. The woman, dead, the man was dying. Dropping her basket, she knelt by them.

"Child.." the man said, feebly taking her hand. "You have been a blessing to us, we've never regretted taking you in." Noticing the surprise on her face, he continued, "yes, child. We found you on our front step one morning, oh so many years ago. We search far and wide for your true family, but found nothing--no child was missing, noone for many days' journey was looking for a missing baby. Wherever you're from, it must be far, far away."

He paused to cough weakly before pulling her hand to the woman's. As the three of them sat there, her sobs the only thing breaking the silence, she knew that nowhere would be better than living there. But she had nothing there to live for anymore. "You're lucky, you know, my dear," he said, breaking the silence. If these bandits hadn't come, you'd end up having lived here forever--you need to move on, though. You have great things ahead of you. After we're gone, go..go out to the wood shed. When you were found, there was only one thing with you. Not enough to say where you were from, but enough to say that you are very special, very important. Take it with you and find your true home."

With that, he breathed his last and joined his wife. And so, the girl looked in the woodshed and there, behind a pile of wood, she found a crown. Her crown. She gathered together everything the bandits left and began her journey.

On her journey, of course, she had many adventures. They're mostly unimportant here, and shall be reserved for another time. On one of her myriad of adventures, though, she gained a companion, a wolf that helped her out of a sticky situation, a wolf that grew fond of her and wouldn't leave her side, saving her life more times than she cared to count.

And it was the wolf that led her safely across the ocean, the wolf helping her sneak aboard the ship, as she was unable to afford payment. The wolf that showed her the way around bandits on the road, close enough that they could see the campfire, hear the laughter, but still safe. And finally the wolf that led her to a mountain upon which was a palace on which was a tower in which was a room wherein she had been born.

As they approached the palace, she knew she had been there before, as they grew near she knew that they were finally there. Her search would soon be over, she would soon be "home". She would never again be with her family, but she would be where she knew they wished her to. And so she began the long climb up the mountain to the palace.

There was no village along the mountainside, there were no inns or taverns, no farms or houses. It was simply a rock cliff, with narrow stairs cut into the side of the cliff. Ten stairs, twenty, fifty, a hundred, she quickly lost count and gave up on knowing the distance. Twice she stumbled, twice she almost fell, and twice she was again glad that the wolf continued to help her along. Twice he grabbed her with his teeth, twice he pulled her back from the edge, twice he kept her from tumbling the ten, twenty, fifty, however many stairs she'd climbed. And both times she caught her breath before continuing, proceeding on her long trek skyward.

Finally she made it up the stairs, finally she was at the entrance, the gates to the palace. And when at first she knocked, pounded on the gold-encrusted doors, she wasn't recognized and yet again the wolf prevented her from tumbling down the stairs. But when she revealed her crown, the king, the queen, the guards, and even the stableboys knew who she was, who she must be. Well, after lots of magical tests and a lengthy multiple-choice quiz, anyway.

And so the princess returned home and lived happily ever after. Until the author gets around to the first revision of the story, anyway.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

An Historian Named Alice?

I want to know something. It's something I'd really, really like to be able to do, but I don't have any clue how to go about it. I'm not sure where to start, what supplies I need, I don't know much of anything about the topic. Related topics, sure, but specifically for this one, not a clue.

I want to go fishing for doormice.

Or even just one doormouse. I've never really seen a real doormouse, though, so that might be a problem. I hear the Romans knew a good deal about them, but I'm not sure I care enough about the Romans to hunt one down and ask. And once I caught one, I'd probably have to use my iffy Latin skills to talk to it. But then again, I don't know many other people that've seen a doormouse.

So I've gotta go hunting for a Roman so I can go fishing for doormice.

Of course, there're still problems. That's obvious. Because it's only a special breed of Roman that I can hunt for. Them newer Romans aren't made like they used to be, so I've gotta find me an ancient Roman. But I've never seen a real ancient Roman (although I have seen a few of the newer models) and thus wouldn't know where to start finding them either. But maybe I know who would, although I don't know where to find an historian either.

I guess I've got to go asking for an historian so I can go hunting for a Roman so I can go fishing for doormice.

Anyone seen an historian recently? If you can get me in touch with Alice, I can even skip the middle step!

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King Arthur Goes to Disneyland!

There's the amusement park that has the ride that has the cars that go through the house that is filled with the ghosts that are shot by the guns that are on the cars that go through the haunted house. It's a great idea for an amusement park ride--a ride where you don't just sit back, but rather have to do something. And try to remember where things jump out at you so whomever you're on the ride with doesn't laugh at you too horribly. But it's a wonderful conglomeration of two enjoyable parts of an amusement park: the rides and the games.

Each rider is given a gun that is used to shoot the ghosts. Each ghost you shoot gives you points, and the car keeps track of who has how many points (my best was around 700 points, the best of the group I was in was closer to 2500). It adds an element of competition to the ride, either against others in your group or simply against yourself. Or you can ignore the shooting part and just ride through the haunted house. Which is really silly to do, as it's pretty lame for a haunted house.

Competition would make any amusement park ride better, though. Finding the proper way to compete on these is the difficult part. Obviously, taken to a more extreme variation, roller-coasters could be improved by the same method. But they'd require more skill as they move more quickly, and to make things even more interesting the targets could also be moving. Ghosts are apparently rather sedentary. Parrots eat nuts and fruit. Then, of course, it'd be even better if there were multiple roller-coaster cars going at the same time, and you had to shoot the passengers in the other car. You know, extra competition. Sure, there was a laser-tag course there too, but you don't get the roller-coaster with that!

But, really, any ride could be made better with competition. Since you don't /have/ to compete to ride the ride, it doesn't even detract from those that prefer not to compete. So you got a low score? So what, you got to /enjoy/ the view!

Sadly, laser-tag-type competition doesn't work well for every ride. Take the ski-lift ride, you know, those really slow-moving things? Guns wouldn't improve that much. But it seems a great way to practice your jousting.

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Monday, June 28, 2004


The sun shining, a gentle breeze floating in off the ocean. It's not too hot out, and either due to a quirk of nature or possibly because I actually remembered sunscreen, I don't have to worry about getting a sunburn. Or maybe because the sun is really close to setting and won't be around long enough for me to worry. Whichever, but probably the latter.

The waves are gently lapping up against the shore, wiping away any footprints that had been there. The water is a little cool, but still comfortable to wade in. At least the handful of seagulls around don't seem to mind it too horribly. There's a crab's shell that's washed ashore, but the crab apparently hasn't had much need of it for a while--the gulls find it somewhat amusing, however.

The soft sound of the water meeting the land is relaxing, and as the sun sets someone starts a bonfire. The moon is just a sliver, but the stars are sparkling, reflecting off the gently moving sea.

That is the perfect day in a nutshell. Or at least so I think when I have a ton of work on my plate. Of course, if I've no work at the moment, a hectic day at the office sometimes seems preferable.

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Friday, June 25, 2004

Give Me Fun, Not Physics!

Some cats are fairly intelligent. They know how to open doors, that clean laundry is the most comfortable place to take a nap, and that a bed that someone else is sleeping in is warmest on that person's head. Other cats..aren't. But the less-intelligent energetic cats sure can be fun! Of course, the laser pointer is the bane of any stupid cat. Well, if they have enough energy to care to notice it anyway.

It sees a dot on the floor, it knows there's something there, something invading its space, something that needs to be..removed. So it begins stalking it. Prowls around, looking for the best angle to attack from, finally crouches, wiggles its butt a few times, and then pounces. Now in the best case, the laser pointer is pointing toward the cat, so it manages to get its paws "covering" the dot. In the more fun case, the pointer is coming from behind the cat, so its head gets in the way mid-pounce.

Of course, if its head gets in the way, it aborts its pounce, knowing that it missed its target, and starts prowling again. Which means it moves just far enough that the dot appears..right where it had been. The smarter cats will try this a few times before giving up, realizing they can't catch the dot.

The others can keep this up for hours.

Of course, they'll finally manage to get the dot "covered" by their paws. Where they'll either notice that the dot is /on/ their paws, not under it, and do this "paw-over-paw" thing where they attack the dot with their bottom paw. Otherwise, they'll realize they don't see it, but also can't feel it, so they slowly back up..only to see the dot's still there!

These are the same cats that are entertained by a speck of dust, or by birds on the other side of a window, or by wondering what that noise just was! These cats don't understand the basics of how the world works.

But they have a lot more fun!

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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

*blink*blink* Humina?

I think I want to be a fish when I grow up. I admit that what I want to be when I grow up changes at least daily, generally even hourly, occasionally it's changed a dozen times in a second. But right now, I think I'll try to be a fish.

When I was younger, I was always told I could be anything I wanted to be, I was told that if I try hard enough, I can succeed at whatever I set my mind to. So apparently my parents have faith that I can become a fish. And if other people believe that it can happen, I'm halfway there! The easy half, but halfway none-the-less.

However, to get the other half, it'll take some actual effort. I'll have to do some research into genetics and maybe cloning, certainly brain surgery. Or at least into how to tell what types of people can do this research for me. Choosing the latter course, though, I at least will have to figure out how to do management.

It seems, though, like management is going to be a wasted skill if I do manage to become a fish. As would brain surgery and any knowledge of genetics. Which means that all the years of work and study would suddenly become useless, I'd have to start all over again. But people that came after me, other people that want to be fish when they grow up, would have a much easier time. Nevermind, though, I just decided I want to be a flower. Or maybe a cloud. Or confusion. Yes.

I think I want to be confusion when I grow up. I think.

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Sunday, June 20, 2004

A Jewel-Encrusted, Gold-Plated Dining Room Chair

So I watched Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, which I recommend seeing at least once. Anyway, it brings up the question, "what would it be like to inherit a huge fortune?"

I think that I could come up with some good uses for an inherited fortune. But uses that wouldn't cause other people to think I'm insane? Hmm, I guess that removes the choice of swimming pools full of green jello. But there're still things left.

So, if I had a bazillion dollars (that is enough that I could buy whatever I want without having to worry about saving because I'd still have a bazillion left), there're a few things I'd have on my "to-buy" list.

First, a cat. I'd really like to have a cat, but I currently don't. Not that I couldn't, but rather I'm not at my place very often, so I figure it wouldn't be fair to a cat that would have the place to itself most of the day. But if I had a bazillion dollars, I could take it /with/ me places, and if they tried to remove me because of the cat, I could just buy the establishment.

Second, a rock. Or, well, several rocks. See, I have several board games, and most board games require pieces. But some of my board games are missing their pieces, which could be replaced by really well-cut diamonds or emeralds or even uncut hunks of limestone. So I could replace them now, but if I had a bazillion dollars, I might even manage to find people to play the games with me. Without other players, replacing the pieces would be silly.

And third, I think I'd get a chair for my dining room. Maybe even a table. Because when people come to watch movies, we run out of seating, and having more seats would be good. Although I suppose I might just buy an actual house if I had a bazillion dollars, but really all I need is another chair.

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Saturday, June 19, 2004

You Want Us To Do What?!

We were vacationing on a small island that summer. It couldn't have been much more than a few miles from one end to the other, and on the exact opposite end was something we just /had/ to see. I think it was where the piles and piles of salt were, or perhaps it was the shipwreck. Or maybe even an aquarium, but it seems as if the island were too small and unknown to support one, so that was probably on the next island over.

Anyway, about midway through the week it is decided that we're off to see the other end of the island, and my parents make this big deal of how the island's small enough that you can /walk/ the _whole_way_. How it's this little speck, and how we're never going to get a chance like this again, and why don't we kids walk it. My parents would walk it too, but the guides were their friends and had to take the car to work at the other end, but it's ok they'd be right behind us in the car if any of us couldn't make it.

Of course we could make it, we were all kids. And none of us could possibly be willing to admit to being unable to go the distance if the other two could. So walk it we did, the entire way, the length of an entire island. Except for the stretches where we ran, of course.

I now wonder if this had anything to do with us running around the house like maniacs earlier that day. It isn't often that our parents encouraged us to tire ourselves out by playing in the road.

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Thunder, the Sound of a Slumbering Giant

He was snoring again. Sure, it'd been a long day, we'd been working hard. But couldn't he at least go sleep in his bed? We were trying to watch a movie, do you know how hard it is to watch _Godzilla_ when your grandfather's louder than the monster?

Well, we thought we'd just ignore him, we thought we'd just increase the volume a bit. Turn it up so we can hear the screams of terror, but instead he just began to snore louder. More volume, more snoring, yet more volume and it was sounding like a sawmill in there. Or at least that's what the neighbors said when they came pounding on our door. We're terribly sorry, we'll see what we can do about it.

Great, not only can we not see the movie, but our neighbors are upset with us. Well then, on to plan B, time to wake the slumbering giant.. err.. grandfather. We tried everything we could. Gentle nudges that became increasingly rough, yelling in his ear. Ice cubes, shaving cream, an elf named Bob. Ok, maybe not the elf, but if we could have found one he couldn't have done much either. Through it all the snoring continued.

It became a game, we forgot the movie. It wasn't until I was older that I realized how much fun grandpa had playing with us. It wasn't until I was older that I realized grandpa was playing with us.

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Friday, June 18, 2004

*tag* You're It!

Tag and release. A decent way of keeping track of the migration patterns of a variety of things, one has to make sure of a couple of things--the tag itself doesn't cause undue changes in the environmental response to the test subject(s), and it's properly released back into its own native environment. I've only assisted in using the tag and release tracking method once, but that once was a lot of fun..and very informative.

After the subjects have been released into their native habitat, you have to come back later and recapture. This can be the most difficult part of the job sometimes. It depends on the test subjects. Something like ants or antelopes might not be as much of a problem, but other things are more difficult.

Of course, the tagging itself can be fairly difficult, even once you have the subject in custody. If you're wanting to track migration patterns of atoms, say, how are you going to attach a tag? The larger the thing, the easier to tag. I mean, if you're wanting to track the migration patterns of stars, just throw a specially designated planet into orbit, and your tag's all set. And as a bonus, you've got somewhere to live while you wait for the star to move.

Then again, the stars have the slight problem that it's hard to "release" them. Hard, because I don't know of any good way to capture one in the first place.

But in my one experience, the re-capturing was the most difficult. We didn't have problems capturing in the first place, the subjects were already contained before we decided to do the experiment. And the tags were cheap and stayed around for years without being noticed. (I found a tag some four or so years later, on an experiment that was meant to run its course in a couple of weeks!) But no, the re-capturing was hard. For we were tracking blue chairs, and once someone else is sitting in it, it's hard to flip it over and see if it's got a tag on the bottom of the seat.

I suppose you could just check for a tag while the chair's still in use, but then people think you're odd.

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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Old Jedi Never Die

It was a moral victory. Sure, by the numbers we were in a race for last place, but morally we were winning. We'd spent all weekend writing the AI for a programming contest, stayed up late, woke up early, and still hadn't managed to get the physics of the system working. See, it was a 2D torroidal universe with a really sweet physics system--our starships /kept/ /moving/ in the direction they were going. Wonderful theory, but it was harder than we expected to get the math. So we didn't really have much time to work on our AI.

Our goal was to design the AI for a fleet of four spaceships, to retrieve the most useful asteroids from an asteroid field. And to not die in the process. But when it got down to the last couple hours of the competition and we were still having problems refraining from appearing to have drunken starship pilots, I decided it was time to try something else. For the system of course also came with trash-talking capabilities.

So being set in space, we based our ships on the Star Wars universe. Palpatine, Vader, we had a fleet of four (very nimble) SSDs (Star Destroyers). Apparently all of the captains had been drinking the night before, but at least it was /synchronized/ drunken flying.

And then there was Thrawn. Generally a quiet guy, get him drunk and he's very talkative. Or at least he'd like to be talkative, if he could think of anything to say. Instead, the trash-talk part of the simulation just read:

Message from Thrawn:
Message from Thrawn:
Message from Thrawn:

Repeated about a bazillion times, anyway. But the audience loved us. One of our ships would accidentally pick up an asteroid and get bumped into the base, and we'd get a room full of cheers. And then, of course, there was Thrawn. His ship was down to the last of its health (drunkenly bumping into too many asteroids), and he saw his doom approaching.

Message from Thrawn: Old Jedi never die.. they just fade away.

And then his ship was no more. No more messages from Thrawn, but the crowd wouldn't have heard them anyway. It was a moral victory.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Pandora's Trash

It was between sessions of camp, and we decided it was time we got a chance to do some exploring. We'd shown up the night before the first session started, but had so much work to do to get things ready, and then the next day the kids showed up and we didn't have a chance to get away, so by the time they left we were ready to see what was out there, waiting in the woods. Dinner had been eaten, the sun had set, and we had all night free so we put on our bug spray, grabbed our flashlights, and headed out.

We hoped to find some inspiration for a ghost story. An old abandoned cabin or a small grave site. Or even an ancient evil would have been good, but we had no idea what we were going to find. We were walking along talking about..something or other, I don't recall. And that's when we found it. She got busy talking and didn't notice the box.

We hadn't been expecting to find a box--we were in the middle of the woods, and it was just a blank box. About two feet on a side, it was a pretty-good sized wooden box that had obviously been sitting out in the woods for a while. There were vines growing up the sides, the wood was worn from the rain, and there appeared to be some sort of next up against its side. But still, it was a box.

What was a box doing in the middle of the woods? How did it get there, what was inside? There were so many questions that ran through our minds. The top didn't appear to be attached, so we could hopefully find the answer to at least one of the questions. We couldn't get our fingers in under the lid though, so I went back to the cafeteria to grab a butter knife while she stayed out there, watching the box. Years of the elements had caked the lid on, but finally we managed to get it open, finally we got a peek inside.

We were out in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere, and we were staring at an empty box. Nothing inside, no explanation, no reason. Just an empty box. In the middle of the woods. So we shrugged, replaced the lid, and continued on our way.

Of course, the next session we did tell the campers that it held the body of a kid that refused to obey the rules. But we were camp counselors, it was expected.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I've Got to See it to Believe it!

Yay! I thought they only existed in movies! Who would have thought that window washers actually existed in real life? And that they actually _wash_windows_?! Amazing!

So I was at my desk this morning, staring out the window. You don't often see guys hanging from the sides of buildings, dangling several stories above the ground, suspended from some large metal posts. But there they were. I'd never seen an actual real window-washer before.

Sure, they're in movies and on TV shows all the time. But it's always a plot device to either rescue a person from a bad situation or to allow someone to fall from hundreds of stories above the ground only to be saved at the last instant by some magical forcefield or friendly dog or maybe even the hero of the show. But never do window washers actually wash windows.

Come to think of it, I haven't actually seen these guys washing windows either. They were either on the roof, moving the posts so they could wash a different area, or on the ground, having lowered the platform all the way down. Maybe the neighboring building is actually the on-site location for the newest FOX made-for-TV movie, "When Coders Attack"! Or maybe they're trying to pull off some daylight heist to retrieve some top-secret files from the evil overlord's hidden lair. Or maybe my window isn't a window at all, and is actually a TV, meaning I still haven't seen honest-to-goodness real-life window washers.

But then again, it appears that they're starting to actually wash windows. Maybe that explains the pile of stunned birds.

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Monday, June 14, 2004

*thunk* Is it Dead? Is it Dead?

Windows (of the glass, not computer, variety), sliding glass doors, stained-glass and glazed, there are degrees of goodness for these. There isn't much nicer than a nice breeze, and when that breeze is through a slightly-too-warm apartment, it's even better. Opening windows and doors on either end allowing the wind a way through is hard to beat.

These are very good windows.

Seeing out the front of a car, watching rain find its way down a window on a spring day, huge fishtanks in an aquarium (and smaller fishtanks in peoples' houses). There are all wonderful uses of glass, great places for windows to exist. But these aren't generally as good of windows as those above. Well, maybe the front window in a car, something to keep the bugs out of your teeth. But these windows are closed--you can't reach through and /feel/ the rain, you can't pet the fish. You're being held behind a pane of glass, unable to interact with things on the other side.

All day long, I sit in front of a closed window. All day long I can only imagine the feeling of wind in my face, the sound of the rain or the smell of freshly-cut grass. All day long the window mocks me as I am forced to stay inside on such a lovely day. While I do get sunlight, I still long to be able to open the windows.

And then, when a bird runs into our window, I realize I'm not the only one that wishes they weren't there.

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Sunday, June 13, 2004

It's Automagical!

One of the most important inventions of the modern age are the toilets. 3am, 6 feet of snow, outhouse start to look really bad. Or in the middle of July when it's a hundred and fourty out. And since their invention, there have been a variety of improvements. One of the most fun, of course, being the automatic flush.

It's like magic. Throw something in, wave your hands, chant words if you like, and a journey to the center of the world (or at least the sewer) begins. But with the automatic flush comes a slight problem. Some toilet designers simply weren't thinking and combined it and the toilet lid.

Now this obviously doesn't well work. The lid covers the sensor, so it never flushes itself. But then, someone got the bright idea of putting a sticker on the underside of the toilet lids.

"To activate automatic flush, close lid"

If you have to close the lid to flush the toilet, can it really be considered "automatic"?

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Full-Contact Chess

You got your tricks
Good for you
But there's no gambit I don't see through
Oh I'm the Arbiter I know the score

From square one he'll be watching all 64
Chess (The Musical)

Chess is great. (The game, I've not actually seen the musical. But the music is a lot of fun too--seldom does one hear songs from musicals on popular radio stations.) I've never been much good at it though. I've yet to figure out how to think about it such that it doesn't take tons of planning, looking many moves ahead. Doing that takes more memory than I seem to have. Instead, I try to figure out an overall plan, try to move into a better position. Alas, against people that actually play the game, it doesn't do very well.

Thankfully (or perhaps not), most of my chess-playing experience is against the inexperienced. Kids at the camps that I've worked decide that I look like a good opponent, but I manage to hold my own. I never won them all, but I did fairly well. Of course, it could be my playstyle that won out. Generally I'd make fast semi-random moves, and they'd think that I knew more than I really did. I psyched them out, and they made bad moves, allowing me to gain the upper hand.

Of course, playing the game isn't my favorite thing to do with chess. Rather, it makes an amusing answer. When playing the "meeting-people" games at camp, one of the standard questions is "What's your favorite sport?"

Noone managed to forget that my favorite sport is chess.

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Saturday, June 12, 2004

You Can't Live With 'em...

Dude, I'm a physicist. Nothing can surprise me.
Dr. Guess, _The Computer Connection_ by Alfred Bester

Reading this, I wondered how many physicists would believe that nothing could surprise them. I also wonder why a physicist might think that nothing could surprise them.

Now, first off, I know that even though he may claim that nothing can surprise him, at this point in the book he's had a couple of major surprises, throwing him into massive shock requiring specific treatment to get better. Including killing him to force him out of his shock. And I'm fairly sure that there are many things that /would/ surprise the general physicist.

But knowing How Things Work has got to remove a lot of the mystery in the world. Of the people that would bother to think (if you don't think about something, it can't well surprise you), I'd guess that those that understand at some level the workings of the universe would live with much less surprise. A magician's assitant isn't amazed by his ability to levitate an angry tiger once they know it's really just a rabbit hanging onto some fishing line.

But without the people that understand at least the basics of How Things Work, very little progress can be made. So I'm willing to accept their little foibles, I will let them continue to believe that they cannot be surprised, as payment for them improving my way of life.

I'm still debating introducing them to Zifnab, but I fear the possible resulting explosion of anti-probability or such.

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Don't Touch It! You Don't Know Where it's Been!

So there's this guy that one day went shopping. Ok, there's lots of guys that go shopping, but that doesn't mean we have to like it. And I'm only talking about one in specific. See, this guy finished up his shopping and went to put his purchases in his car, but on his journey through the parking lot, he found a bag of groceries.

There really weren't any cars around the groceries, and noone seemed to miss them, so rather than let them go to waste, he added them to his and continued on his way. Upon reaching home, he called up a friend and told of his adventure.

"So are you going to eat them, or try to find their owner?"

"Dude, what do you want me to do? Put up flyers? `Found: 1 bag of groceries (full)`. I'll get a billion replies in the first day. No, I'm just going to go ahead and use what I can."

"So what all was there?"

"Well, there's some cookies and some chips, a thing of bread, a couple cans of soup, and a package of ground beef." (Apparently it was the bagger's first day.)

"And you're going to eat all that?"

"No man. No way!"

"Why not?"

"If there's one thing my momma told me, man, it's `don't eat found meat`."


Friday, June 11, 2004

How Many Atoms are there in a Dog?

I recently ran across the number 2^24036583 - 1. (No, that's not the answer to the above question.)

Looking at that number, I know that it's huge. There are about 3 decimal places for every 2^10 (2^10 = 1024), so I figure there are slightly more than 24036583/10 * 3 ~= 7.2 million digits in that number. 7.2 _million_. That's one huge number, many times larger than a googol!

Why anyone would want to use such a number is beyond me. Counting things, it's more than anything I could possibly comprehend, I'm sure. Supposedly there are about 10^50 (give or take a couple orders of magnitude) atoms in the earth. So this is much less than a googol, much much much (etc) less than 2^24036583 - 1 (which we'll call p from now on).

~10^60 atoms in the sun (and ~10^60 atoms in our solar system), there's still a lot of fudge room to have a googol atoms in our galaxy, much less p. According to people that know better than I, there are probably less than a googol atoms in the universe, much less than that in just our galaxy.

So what use are the other 7 million-ish digits in p? How can anyone possibly comprehend the /size/ of this number? How can anyone really /care/ about this number (even if everything should be loved, surely there are exceptions!) How can anyone hold enough of it in their mind to start thinking about it.

Why would anyone care to prove that p is prime?

Of course I then realize that while it's larger than tower(5), it's still less than tower(6), so life is again good.


The Anti-Sock

So I got my MP3 player a while ago, and of course with it came a (really cheap) set of headphones. The bud-style, with some bud-coverings to, err, protect your ears? Or to protect the headphones? Or to just make 'em look cool? I've not figured that one out yet. Anyway, it's a set of headphones complete with bud-coverings. Magical bud-coverings. Mystical bud-coverings. I wish I had a pair of socks like these bud-coverings.

The problem with the earphones (other than them being cheap, so their sound quality isn't the greatest, and being small so you get like anti-bass or something, the problem is the coverings fall off fairly easily. Not on putting them on, that would suck. Then you'd end up getting ear-bud-coverings in your ears. But if you've got the player in a pocket or backpack or something, it's entirely possible that the coverings will fall off when extracting the player from such an enclosed space.

This has happened to me twice now, loosing the covering. So it'd be nice that they shipped with a couple of extras. But since I've had it for such a short time, I'd be a bit worried. If the coverings weren't magical.

Both times, I ended up searching everywhere it could have gone. Pockets, backpack, floor, hovering somewhere in midair. Removing everything, opening everything, cleaning everything, and nada. And then about an hour or three after giving it up as a lost cause, not looking anymore, not expecting to find it, it turns up in a completely unexpected place. Unexpected, as it's somewhere that I had looked a half-dozen times, and it certainly was /not/ there.

Now if I could figure out how it does this, I could finally stop worrying about sock-eating dryers.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Angela and I were going to meet, back in the other cabin. Camp was ending, that cabin wasn't used, we'd been together since camp started, it's expected, right? The counselors told us that they didn't use the cabin because the mattresses were older. Or at least that was what they told us during the day. Around the campfire, they'd tell us it wasn't used since it was so close to the woods, and there was a mad axe killer out there. Or that an evil ghost lived in it. I just thought that it wasn't used since they could fit the guys into five cabins, they didn't need six. Whyever it wasn't used, we'd decided to meet there, as soon as we could sneak out.

As soon as the campfire was done, everyone went back to their cabins, us guys to our side, the girls to theirs. We sat around for a while, telling ghost stories, trying to freak the younger campers out until the counselors finally made us go to bed and turned out the lights. I doubted she was there yet, so I gave people some time to drift off to sleep before I made my way out. I dunno how long I was there waiting, I guess it was probably around an hour, although it seemed like days. I finally got up and did my best to not wake anyone as I snuck out. Sure, I bumped into a couple beds and practically shined my flashlight into my counselor's eyes, but I guess everyone else had a hard day. I stepped out under the porch light, wincing when the door squeaked closed. But no one woke. So I trotted over to the other cabin. She wasn't waiting outside like we'd planned, so I sat down by the door, on a little log, and waited.

The sky was so clear. I could have sat there and counted stars until the sun came up, and still wouldn't have had time to count them all. But I was too excited. Angela was going to be there any time. So I waited. I thought maybe they had been up talking about guys, or whatever girls do at camp before they go to bed. I knew she couldn't be much longer. I mean, how long _can_ girls stay up at night talking? So I sat there for a while before I wondered if maybe she'd gone _inside_ the other cabin. I stood up and turned toward the window, so I could whisper in, 'cause maybe she hadn't heard me. I guess those ghost stories spooked me a bit more than I thought, 'cause when that door opened, I took off 'a runnin'. It didn't just creek open, either. It _flew_ open. I just ran, tearing through the trees, before I thought that maybe one of the counselors had found out our plans, and hid out in there. Or maybe Angela was just playing another one of her jokes. It didn't matter which. Either way, if anyone found out, I'd never live it down. I had to go back and see.

Of course, I'm no fool. I was already in the forest, so I could sneak back up without being seen. No one would notice me, as long as I didn't step on too many branches. As long as I didn't start thinking about mad axe murderers, I was fine. Of course, you know how it is when there's something you _know_ you shouldn't think about. So of course, two steps later, I was expecting an axe behind every shadow. It's really hard to be quite when you're that frightened. But I had to go on. If the axe murderer's didn't get me, my reputation would the next day.

By the time I actually made it to the edge of the forest in front of the cabin, I think I had somehow managed to step on every noisy branch in the area. It's a miracle no one actually woke up, but I couldn't hear anyone, and had seen no one go out the front door of our cabin, which is plainly visible from the forest, so no one was outside anyway. So I was at the edge of the forest, looking at the other cabin, trying to figure out what I should do next, when I saw this freaky light inside the cabin. It was an eerie green, you know? It just barely lit up at one end of the cabin. At first, I thought it might be a firefly, since it was so dim. But it didn't blink. And it started getting brighter. And larger. I guess it was only a couple minutes later, but it was bright enough that I could've read a book by it, and it seemed to be about 4 or 5 feet tall. I couldn't really tell, and was still afraid of all those axe murderers.

Well, I guess I thought that the counselors must have somehow found out, and were playing a joke on me, so I'd have to get them back. I still had no idea where Angela was, but by this time, I wasn't really thinking about it. Since the forest extends all the way around that cabin, I decided to go around to the door in the back, hoping whoever was inside there wasn't expecting that. So I walked as quietly as I could around the cabin. Somehow, I managed to miss the sticks, but I did find a hole, that I don't think anyone's known about for years. One second, I was tip-toeing along, the next, there I was. One leg stuck about a foot deep in mud. Have you ever been stuck out in the middle of the woods, at probably one or two in the morning, with a freaky cabin beside you and axe murderers all around? No, I suppose not. But I was. And wasn't very happy about it. But there wasn't much I could do about it, other than get out and keep going. So I reached out to grab a tree to help pull myself out, and I touched this. See? It's Angela's necklace. I know it is. I'd seen her wearing it at the dance. She said she didn't go anywhere without it. But she wasn't anywhere I could see. So I started whispering to her, hoping she was around. I was hoping for a good evening, but now I was just ready for this nightmare to end.

So there I was, one leg stuck in a mudhole, a necklace in one hand, whispering as loudly as I could, when the front door of the cabin flew open again. I was so preoccupied, I hadn't noticed the light inside the cabin again until now. It had moved, and was still moving. It was now outside, and coming toward me. And it really was a light. There was nothing _there_. I could see right through it. There's no way the guys could've pulled this one off. I didn't know what it was, so I screamed. Sure, I wasn't going to have my rep after that night, but I didn't care anymore. I wanted to be safe in my own bed. And I wanted to know where Angela was. And I really wanted to know what this giant eerie green floating light was, and why it was coming toward me.

There I am, this light floating ever closer toward me, and I notice how quiet the entire area is. A pretty dumb time to do so, but it just struck me. Generally, there're some crickets around at odd hours of the night, but not then. There was _nothing_ making any noises. Nothing but my own heart pounding, anyway. That was probably the most frightening thing about it. But somehow I managed to get my foot out without hurting myself and I took off running. It's pretty hard to run through the trees, especially with branches slapping you in the face every three steps, but I managed. It's quite a bit easier when there's something following you. Well, by the time I got the twenty or thirty feet through the woods to the waterfront, I had cuts all over my face, which stung pretty bad as I jumped in. But thankfully that thing must've been afraid of the water, since it didn't follow me past the waterline. Now I was cold, wet, tired, afraid, and ready for the night to be over. All I had to do was get back to my cabin, and claim it was all a bad dream or something.

Well, there was a big glowing green thing and several axe murders in the woods, so I had to swim over to the dock area to get out. It was either that or the girls cabins, and I didn't think that they'd appreciate a large, wet, cold, muddy, frightened, upset person around at that time of night, which must have been around three, although I didn't have a watch on, so I couldn't tell. So I swam as quickly as I could, seeing how I was still clothed, holding onto Angela's necklace for dear life. Thankfully I was to frightened to even _think_ about the sea monsters and other stories the counselors told us. So I finally made it to the dock, and actually got out before I noticed the necklace I was holding had begun glowing the same eerie green color. It was freaky, so I dropped it, right there on the beach, and started running again. The necklace was behind me, the green light to one side, so I had to go the only place left... the girls cabins.

There I was: tired, wet, freezing cold, muddy, and out of breath, when I began banging on the door to the girls cabin. I suppose that wasn't the best time to find out where Angela was, but I had to say something, and I didn't really think they'd believe that I was being chased by a glowing green light. So I asked. And of course she was there, she'd been there all night. Or so the counselor said, until they actually checked. Now everyone knew that Angela and I were friends, and that I wouldn't get her in trouble if I could help it, so that's when the female counselors started to worry a bit. I mean, when one of the prettiest, sweetest girls, who never does anything wrong is suddenly missing in the middle of the night, of course they're going to worry. But why'd they have to drag me back to my cabin? I mean, couldn't we have found her on our own, and it have been our little secret?

One of the female counselors stayed with her girls, and the other dragged me along over to the guy's side of camp. Of course, along the way she tried to make me tell her what had happened, but all I could tell her was that Angela and I were going to meet, but she never showed up. That didn't really explain why I was soaking wet, or why I was terrified, but she wouldn't have believed me anyway, and would have probably thought it was all some sort of sick joke. So I didn't tell her. I guess now that I should have, but we all do things that we look back on and think we should have done differently. But it was the best I could do at the time.

Anyway, we're just getting into view of the cabins, and I just couldn't force myself to look at the other cabin. Not the way it had been spooking me. So I'm walking along behind the counselor.. I don't even remember which one she was. There we were, when she suddenly just fell down on the ground in front of me. Having someone faint on you is not what you want to happen on a night like that. Really. But she did, and I couldn't do anything about it but get help. I didn't want to just leave her there but I couldn't carry her. And I didn't want to be walking around out there alone. So I started running. Quickly. But then I made a mistake. I knew that I shouldn't look at the other cabin. I just knew that something bad would happen. But I had to look. Curiosity killed the cat, you know? Well, the same thing nearly happened to me. But once I looked over and saw the other cabin in flames, I didn't know what to do. They weren't normal fire flames, though. They were green. I was kinda' drawn to them, and stopped dead in my tracks as soon as I looked. I tried to scream for help, but I couldn't. I was stuck. Until I started walking toward the cabin. Yeah, it's generally a bad idea to walk toward a green fire of unknown origin, but I couldn't help myself.

I guess that the cabin wasn't really in flames, really. But there were green flames coming out of the windows and door. It wasn't a constant thing, either. It'd start at one end of the cabin, and a flame would shoot out the far window. It'd stop, move down, and shoot out the next window. And so on, until it got to the end, where it'd repeat the process back. It almost looked like the flames were pacing the cabin, which may be what drew me to them. I dunno. I hadn't ever seen anything like it before, and I don't really want to see anything like it again. But I couldn't help myself, so I walked closer and closer.

By the time I was able to stop myself from walking any closer, I could feel the heat of the fire on my face. It felt pretty good, since I was still pretty wet from my late night swim, and I just stood there for a couple minutes, before the fire just stopped. I tried to run, I really did. I just couldn't. Anyway, the fire just stopped. Usually, you know how a fire will go down a bit? Well, this one was there one instant, and gone the next. I didn't have time to wonder about this before the windows and doors started banging. Just all at once, pretty much, they opened all the way and slammed closed. They kept on doing this, some more often than others, but pretty much all of them slamming at one time or another. This happened for a little while. I guess it woke the other people up, since a couple of them stepped out of their cabin. But by then, the slamming had stopped, though. I don't know if anyone else saw it or not. I'm sure I saw something glowing inside the cabin at that time, but the counselors ran up to me and seemed upset with me, so I'm not sure.

They dragged me back to my bunk, and one of them stayed awake the rest of the night, watching me. They told me I'd have to talk to someone in the morning, as soon as everyone was awake, and that I'd probably be sent home. I tried to tell them what had happened, but they just looked at me with a look of disbelief. I really didn't care that much, and just wanted to go as far away as I could. I think they thought that I was making all the noise, and getting into trouble. I quickly gave up trying, and went ahead and got in bed, where I found Angela's necklace. I don't know how it got there, and was pretty frightened of it by then, so I threw it across the cabin and hid under my pillow. Somehow, I guess I dozed off for a little bit, but it couldn't have been for very long. I woke up, and the necklace was on my neck. I've tried getting rid of it a couple more times, but it keeps popping up, so I'm afraid to try anymore.

Really, sir. That's all I know about last night. I don't know where Angela is. Now, I'd really like to go home, so if you'll call my mother, I'll wait for her right here.

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The French Fry Chief

"*gasp* It's the spirit of chief Takhomasak!"

Many a year at camp, the spirit of an ancient Indian (read Native American..err, staff member in costume) chief would come visit our campers, offering them words of inspiration and warn them that only they could prevent forest fires. But the time he was given a name, the camp staff struggled to contain their laughter at such a solemn occasion. Fits of giggling threatened to erupt from the otherwise (apparently) stoic group. One or two giggles managed to work their way free.

And the campers never knew why.

They never knew why such honest upright people (we sure had them fooled) would scoff at a symbol of honor, of tradition, would laugh at such a serious time. They didn't understand the humor, the amusement we felt. Mayhaps they just thought we liked forest fires.

But that's not the reason at all, it has nothing to do with honor or tradition or forest fires. It has nothing to do with Indians or Native Americans or staff members in costume. Rather, it's because camp apparently isn't the land of milk and honey. Apparently, camp was the land of burgers and fries.

The weekend between sessions, the staff had gone to Steak and Shake. Yummy milk shakes there, but they've also got their take-out line. And above their take-out line, they've got a sign. Most restaurants (with take-out lines) do, to let you know where to go to order. Most, however, say "To Go" or something. But not Steak and Shake. Nope, it says "takhomasak".

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Monday, June 07, 2004

The (Real) Legend of the Sleeping Cat

Once upon a time there was a child, a kid by the name of Jack. Jack had many adventures, but the most famous of his adventures began the day he found his ring. He'd left home early that morning, sent to the market so he could trade a bag of "magic" beans for a cow and spent the whole day at market, trying to find someone willing to buy his beans. But noone was interested.

Sad and hungry, he started home. Just outside town, something glinting by the side of the road caught his attention. He paused, and was amazed to discover a ring, set with a ruby that in the fading light of the sun sparkled with the color of a burning fire. He rushed home to share his discovery with his elderly mother. They might not have much to eat for a night, but on the morrow, surely all their worries were over.

"Look, mother," Jack shouted as he rushed through the front door. He thrust his hand into his pocket to pull out the ring, but his mother was quicker.

Before Jack could retrieve the ring, she asked, "Jack, dear, did you get the cow?"

"I'm sorry mother, but noone would trade with me. But look what I found on my way home!"

"Another grasshopper? Or maybe a butterfly? Or perhaps a mantis.. Jack, darling, it's lovely I'm sure, but what are we going to eat? With a cow we could have milk and cheese, we could get by."

"But mother, look, I found a ring! And it looks expensive!"

Finally, he managed to show his mother the ring, finally she began to share in his joy. As with most fairy tales, it wasn't worth trying to find the person that lost it, the ring was theirs, and Jack was going to bring it to the market the next day, hoping to trade it for a cow and maybe a chicken. So Jack, still hungry since they didn't really have much in the way of food yet, went to sleep.

But for one night, Jack's mother (notice how she's always "Jack's mother" in all fairy tales, she never gets a name), for one night she wanted to feel like a queen. So she put on the ring.

As the sun rose, Jack woke and was surprised to find his mother missing. In her bed, there instead was a cat, and on its collar it wore the ring. So Jack, having lived in the land of fairy tales all his life and knowing how magic works, Jack knew that his mother must have put on the ring. Jack knew that the ring must have been enchanted, that it transformed his mother into a cat.

"Mother! Mother, what happened to you?" he exclaimed, picking up the cat. But the cat didn't respond, just lay in his arms sleeping. Not knowing what to do, he tried to turn to his mother for advice, but no matter how much he tried to wake the cat, it continued to sleep.

Unsure of what to do, afraid for his mother, Jack began to panic. Just then someone began knocking at the door. Carrying the cat, he ran to the door and opened it to find an old woman there.

"Can you help an old woman, sonny," she asked. "My cow has run away from home, my chickens have died. My flour has bugs in it and my money was stolen. I am hungry, could you give an old woman some breakfast?"

Again, Jack knew the land of fairy tales, knew that any time an old woman comes begging at your door, she's capable of either helping or cursing. Or he was just wanting her to go on her way so he could get back to his problems. Either way, even though he was hungry himself, he handed the woman his bag of beans and wished her well.

She didn't seem to notice his hurry to get her out the door. But that doesn't mean she was oblivious, she just noticed the cat instead. "That's a pretty cat you've got there, sonny. Does it have a name?"

"Of course it has a name," an increasingly-hysterical Jack cried. "It's my mother!"

"Your mother's a cat? Where's your tail at then?"

Almost incoherently, Jack manages to tell his story, tell of the beans and the lack of a cow and the ruby ring and most of all tells of his mother, holding out the still-sleeping cat. The old lady smiles mysteriously and tells Jack of a tower on an island across the sea. She tells him about how the evil wizard, the owner of this tower fell in love with the princess of a nearby land and created an enchanted ring, a ring that would turn its wearer into a sleeping cat. How the wizard plotted to use this evil ring to capture the king and blackmail the princess into being his bride. And she told Jack how the wizard used a ship to sail to the nearby land, but while at sea a storm hit and carried the ring away.

"And so the only one that can break this curse and turn your mother back is this wizard." With that, the old woman handed Jack a pouch containing some herbs that would "take care" of the wizard. With her job done, she walked out the door and was never seen again.

So Jack journeyed to the distant isle in search of the evil wizard. But Jack knew that the wizard wouldn't just remove the curse, for the wizard was evil. And the ring was his, Jack hadn't bothered to try returning it. So instead of asking at the front door, Jack entered through the servant's entrance. Past the stables, through the pantry, into the kitchen, and that's where he saw her.

Even though the evil wizard's plot to blackmail the princess had failed, he had not given up. He entered her castle on the darkest of nights, stole her from her room, and dragged her back to his tower. His magic prevented her from leaving the island, no matter how she hated living there.

Of course, Jack thought she was the most beautiful person in the world, and would do anything to save her. So while the kitchen servants weren't watching, into the wizards food he emptied the contents of his pouch of herbs, and when the wizard ate it he fell over dead.

With the wizard dead, his spells began to fail. The princess again was able to leave the island, and asked Jack to come with her back to her kingdom. Jack would, of course, have been stupid to refuse. So he and the princess returned to her land, married, and lived happily ever after.

The cat, sadly, did not turn into Jack's mother. Either the wizards magic remained in the ring, or his mother hadn't turned into a cat in the first place. Either way, the cat did wake from its (exceptionally long) cat nap, and was well fed for the rest of its days. The princess thought Jack a bit daft for talking to a cat as if it were his mother, but figured noone's perfect.

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The Legend of the Sleeping Cat

The imagination is a wonderful thing, a great way to use up a rainy day, or to make a ten-hour drive fly by. Or is a great way to put off a twenty-page paper. Coming up with reasons why a paper might not be due in four hours can occupy more than the four hours remaining. And if there are more people to help come up with ideas, the game could be played for /years/ before the paper gets started.

Given a group of intelligent people and the bare bones of a plot line, some pretty fun things can happen. A pretty amazing story or theory or plan to take over the world can result, just by hours of brainstorming. Many fascinating ideas have come from such sessions and hours to spare.

Of course, for things to work well, everyone has to be interested in the same goal. The produce something worth producing. Sadly, it doesn't always work this way, sadly people often aren't willing to sacrifice their wild ideas for some sense of coherence. Or everyone at least has to understand the point.

There's a card game, "Once Upon a Time," in which each player gets 7 cards. Each has an word or phrase on it (Spell, Night, Time Passes, etc.), which are used to produce a story. The "goal" of the game is to play all your cards, bringing the story to an end. But the "point" of the game is to tell an interesting story. Alas, as a camp counselor, when my kids wanted to play my card game, they understood the goal, but not the point. Somehow, I never won.

But neither did they.

Once upon a time, a ring found on an island that was at sea went and transformed someone's parent into a sleeping cat. It died. The end.

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Sunday, June 06, 2004

Schrodinger's Paperweight

Watching You Can't Take It With You, I found a new use for kittens. While they're a lot of fun to play with and are apparently good for stealing energy, I'd never before thought of using them this way.

Apparently, kittens make good paperweights.

Now, I never thought that something that is as rambunctious as a small kitten, something that's so mobile and playful, would ever be able to sit still long enough to make a decent paperweight. Paperweights are required to just sit there, holding down the papers any time the hint of a breeze comes through, or any time the table is shaken due to fireworks being set off in the basement.

Kittens seldom seem to just sit there. They may nap for a couple of minutes, but then a butterfly flutters around three blocks away, and they're off to see what that small flash of color is. Or thunder will start booming, and they'll run and hide. Or they'll start playing with a friendly speck of dust. I assume it's a speck of dust, anyway.. it might be a ghost, either way, I never really see anything.

But then again, kittens will occasionally just sit there. When you're getting ready to sit down and eat, it's already there in your chair before you. Or when you want to go to bed, it's taking your pillow. Or laundry comes out of the dryer, and you can't do a thing to keep the kitten away. So, yes, there are times that a kitten would be a good paperweight.

The problem is those times are when you want it to move.

Once you want it to be a paperweight, you have to not want it to sit on the papers. Which makes the whole exercise fairly pointless. I say it's easier to just use a box. Then you may not know if there's a kitten inside the box or not, but at least it's holding your papers down.

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Saturday, June 05, 2004

Do I Believe in Me?

You've lost faith in yourself! Isn't that rich? A god who has become a self-atheist!
Baba Yaga, _Enchantment_ by Orson Scott Card

The ancient world had oodles of gods. Between the Romans and Greeks, there were gods to cover anything imaginable. Apparently there was even a god for mildew. But in most of the stories about large pantheons, the power of a god comes from belief in the god; once people cease believing, the god ceases to exist.

So that causes one to wonder, is a god's belief in itself enough to keep them going? (It also begs the question of which came first, the gods or the people that believe in them? I think it was the chicken.) Or does another god's belief in it keep it going? Could the gods form a coalition of powerful beings, a group of mutual belief, keeping them going for centuries after mortals cease in believing?

Would the gods then be powerful enough to create new gods, just by believing in something that didn't exist yet? Would they actually care about people believing in them? Would this be a source of infinite power? Could they then make unlimited rice pudding?

One would assume not. Otherwise they wouldn't have sold out to so many writers, allowing themselves to be used in horrible novels, just to be remembered. They should have at least held out for made-for-TV movies!

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Friday, June 04, 2004

That's Me! Over There!

I think it's time for me to reconsider my chosen field. Yes, I've already done years in school, but I wasn't thinking straight or something. Especially as my superpower makes my job harder instead of easier. I really think I need to start to look for a school that trains ninjas. My superpower would be much more useful then--it's so much easier to travel in the shadows when every light you pass blinks out.

There are so many reasons to be a ninja. The perks are great! Not only do you get to carry around fun swords, but you can wear really comfortable clothing. Black goes with pretty much anything. Except a necktie. When's the last ninja that you saw wearing a tie? And you get to work outside, get tons of exercise.

I think I would make a wonderful ninja, as one of the most important skills they have is the ability to go unnoticed. I've mastered the art of going around unnoticed. Being one of a handful of people that witnessed a robbery, I was the only person the police didn't question, I wasn't even included in the newspaper story, although everyone else in my group was mentioned.

So I think it's time for me to look into a career change. Don't worry that you won't see me again, it'll probably mean that I'm doing my job very well.

Then again, I may have done my job rather poorly.

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Let Them Eat Cake!

A few years ago, I heard about this reporter that interviewed random people on the street, asking their opinions of the Alpha Centauri food riots. Sadly I seem to be unable to find any references for the results, and could well just be imagining the whole idea, but it seems like a useful question to ask.

Which side is correct? Should they be rioting? Is their lack of food their own fault?

I tend to think that the overlords are being too heavy-handed, that the rioters are correct, that there isn't enough food for even one more person. And the upper-class population is expected to _double_ within the next year! Why should the farmers be expected to increase their production rates by 50% or so just to keep up, even if the land would support it? And what has the government actually done for the working class? Not once have they even bothered to settle a dispute, not once have they done an iota of work.

And why has the working class not increased over the last century? In fact, they have lost a full third of the population they had just ten years ago. There could be many reasons for this, their food rations being cut in half, requiring to spend twice as much time in jobs that are many times more difficult and dangerous. No, the working class is right to be upset, they are fully justified in thinking that they should be able to live better than the rest of the populace, the workers should get more than the bums that haven't ever done a thing for anyone else.

The upper class should be proud of their working class, should realize that without them, there would be nothing but a huge rock floating in space. Without the workers, there wouldn't be life. So they should celebrate their workers, should hold them in high regard.

End these riots! Let them eat cake!


Thursday, June 03, 2004

The Name Game

After meeting someone, introducing yourself, exchanging names, a common statement is something like, "Oh? Huh, you don't look like a Fred" (or George, or Anne, or Henry, or Jessica, or Erin, etc). I've never really understood that, though. How can someone not look like whatever their name is. Are parents supposed to know what their child is going to look like when they grow up before choosing a name? Or is it just expected that certain types of people will name their children certain ways? But then why don't I look like my brother?

Sure, I could understand this for certain people. I'd think it'd be a fairly common occurrence for some guy to hear, "Oh? You don't look like a Sue to me". An even more common occurrence would be for Sue to get into a fistfight, probably, but I can understand people being unable to quickly accept that that face and that name could go together. But for generally common names in America, about half of the people anyone will meet could easily have that name.

Really, what is a name? It's not a descriptor, it's not based on you as a person. It's chosen for you when you're born so your parents don't have to stand on the back porch at dinner time shouting "My third son, dinner!" Without names, lots of kids would end up getting incredibly overfed. So they are very useful. But I still don't see how a person could belong to an otherwise distinguishable group, based solely on their name.

Of course, it's entirely possible that my problems come from my inability to connect /anyone's/ face with their name. Except maybe mom's cat. I don't know.. I haven't run into him in a crowd yet.

I must agree, though, that names are useful. Without them, phones would be much more difficult to use, teaching (and giving grades) would be a pain, life would be so much more difficult. But please, don't tell me that I don't match my name. I've had it for quite a while now, I think it fits fairly well. I even manage to answer to it half the time it's used. And who are you to say I don't look like a Rumplestiltskin? What does one look like, anyway?


I do Believe in Wizards

Say that we're moving at the speed of light... Impossible, of course, if you believe physicists. Which I don't by the way. Physicists don't believe in wizards--a fact that I, being a wizard, find highly insulting. I have taken my revenge, therefore, by refusing to believe in physicists.
Zifnab, _Elven_Star_ by Weis and Hickman

I always wondered, if there are so many wizards in so many stories, why have I yet to meet one in real life? There were only two possibilities that I could see. Either wizards are still living, having learned to hide themselves to keep their abilities from being used by others, similar to superheros keeping their powers secret to protect the people they love. Or they've all died out.

Now, I always hoped that it was the former, that wizards continued to exist. But I never really believed it was true, for in any large-enough group of people, no matter how select or secretive, there will always be a bad apple. There will always be someone that uses their position for personal gain, someone that decides to let the cat out of the bag. And I've not heard of many strange occurrences, seen any fireballs flying through the air. With all that power, someone would want the world to know. So I'm sure that wizards truly don't exist any longer.

While I hoped they were around, I've also always tried to find out what happened to them, why they're gone now, and why I can't find a school to join where I can become a wizard too. (Like no muggles would ever think something really, really odd was going on.) No, I'd always wondered why there were wizards no longer. Until I read the books by Weis and Hickman. Until I realized, wizards are like fairies. Whenever someone doesn't believe, a wizard dies. And none of them physicists believe.

And now, it looks like it may be too late, it appears that wizards are beyond hope. But maybe they're not, maybe there are a few left, but they're dying out quickly. So, please, before they can become extinct, help me. Clap your hands, and say you do believe in wizards! Or join in the battle and refuse to believe in physicists, too.

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Unicorn of the Sea

The aquarium (yes, I love fish) has a sign in their new shark exhibit. Something to the effect of "Sharks are the unicorns of the modern era". But how can that possibly be true? Sharks are real and unicorns weren't, right? Or at least that's what I always believed. But the people running the aquarium know more than I do about many things, and sharks are (hopefully) one of them, so maybe it could be true.

Were unicorns real creatures at some point? Did the roam the land the way the sharks roam the sea, being drawn to blood, ferocious animals that everyone feared? Were unicorns seen as the most vicious of animals, hunted to extinction to protect families from the constantly looming threat of being gored when they least expected it? Did unicorns stalk their prey, the tip of their horn the only thing visible, warning them of the doom at hand? Did merchants sell unicorn teeth to tourists visiting the forest for the first time?

Mayhaps sharks are really just a myth. Maybe there's some benign creature out there, something that afar appears to be this deadly evil. Perhaps noone has ever died because of a shark, all of the stories have been made up, imagined, designed to keep children from running out and playing in the ocean while their parents are safely sleeping. It's possible that all of the pictures were faked, all of the stories fictitious, all of the fear created and not due to something that's real. Plausibly sharks will be the creatures of myths years after they're discovered to just be a variety of tuna, their shape and size appearing changed by the refraction of water.

Truly, though, the quote is supposed to be taken more literally. There used to be no sharks and many unicorns, and over time the unicorns changed. Being hunted out of the forests and off the plains, the only place left, the only place safe was in the water. Through the years, the unicorn lost its horse-like appearance. Being a magical, mystical creature, of course, it can do that. As time passed, the unicorns became sharks.

How many stories about sharks /were/ there when unicorns roamed the earth?

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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Exception to the Rule

Ok, so generally when you tell someone, "yeah, I'm from <Insert Place Here>", and they respond with "Oh? Do you know <Insert Person Here>" the proper response is to roll your eyes and make some horribly sarcastic remark. Or something to that effect. Well, generally, anyway. There are a few exceptions.

I recently managed to hit on one of the exceptions.

There are really two exceptions to the incredible sarcasm rule. The first exception: if you don't want to make this person mad, if you'd like to continue to converse in the future, it might not be the best choice. (There are, again, exceptions to this, but we'll ignore them.) If it's someone worth talking to, it might be best to try to change the topic. Otherwise, they may keep asking, "well, what about Bob, then?"

The second exception: if you do actually know the person. These two exceptions of course can be overruled, if you know the person and still want to make the person mad, or if you don't know the person but want to continue to converse. Or if you're momentarily possessed and can't be held accountable for your own actions. That'd overrule pretty much anything you wanted to do, I'm sure.

Now, if it's someone that you don't know, and if it's someone that you only had like a one-in-a-bazillion chance of knowing in the first place, the second exception obviously hasn't been met. The former likely wouldn't either, people that have some concept of probabilities are generally much more worth talking to. Otherwise, it's going to take a year as you go through all the people ever known, trying to find someone that the two of you know in common. It'd be so much easier in that case to just use Orkut.

But as I said, I found one of the first exceptions. I actually knew the guy. But as that'd only happened once before, I had no clue what to do. I figure it's probably best to just mumble something seemingly coherent and back off slowly, don't give your conversational partner the chance to know who to talk to to dig up dirt on you.

Of course, I'm sure there're exceptions to this rule.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Dark Side

I have turned an odd shade of red. Not everywhere, a bit on my arms and neck, but most annoyingly, the tops of my feet have these big red splotches. Now normally, when I've had a sunburn, I haven't minded. In fact, while being a camp counselor, it was actually rather fun. Kids love climbing on peoples' backs, but for some reason they decided they shouldn't climb on my back /because/ I had a sunburn. Even though most sunburns tend to be ignorable.

It's hard to ignore a sunburn on your feet though. If I walked around barefooted, I could probably manage, but I'm not sure that my coworkers would much appreciate it. So I'll just suffer through.

But really, you can't even wear loose socks or shoes to prevent too much contact with the sunburn. Every step you take, the top of your foot lifts up your shoe, pressing your sock more strongly against the burnt portion of your foot. Causing it to tingle rather uncomfortably.

Sure, sunburns are still livable. It might be a pain without a purpose, but at least I know it's pain due to my own stupidity. Even though I did use sunblock, I still should know better than to go outside. Every step I take I'll just be reminded why it's preferable to hide in front of a computer screen than it is to brave the big blue room. And so, inside I will stay, laughing at all the people I see walking by in the sunlight, amused, knowing that they're going to get home and be bright red, mad at themselves for forgetting to also refrain from going into the sun.

And then I see the plants, the trees, and realize that if we could manage to evolve past this, we'd have to spend all day in the sun. And I wonder. Will we be immune to sunburns before or after we begin to photosynthesize?

Or maybe life would be better if I just moved to the dark side of the moon.

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