Solipsism Gradient

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Unworkable devices

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The Museum of Unworkable Devices showcases an enormous amount of perpetual-motion devices and similar unattainable ideals of the Newtonian age, as well as 3D-impossibilities and other neat stuff. Highly recommended.

E tem versão em português!

The Buddhabrot Set

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The Presurfer points at Melinda Green’s marvelous page about a new way of displaying the Mandelbrot Set.

Delenda Derrida!

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The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.

Thus two engineers deconstructed deconstruction at an international interdisciplinary conference in the early 1990s. Worth a read.

Thanks to 0xDECAFBAD for the link.


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This is too good to pass up even in my currently busy state.

Boing Boing points at a Scientific American article and an astounding webpage about the Curta, the world’s first mechanical pocket calculator.

I remember seeing this marvel advertised in Scientific American in the late 60’s and even holding one in my hands a little later – I don’t remember who owned it, but it was an extremely sexy piece of machinery. The 17″ PowerBook of its day. Just turning the crank and seeing/hearing/feeling all the little internal gears purring and the numbers clicking into place was geek heaven.

There’s also an extremely interesting interview with Curt Herzstark, the inventor of the device (it’s a 67-page PDF file).

Unfortunately I couldn’t afford the Curta at that time – it cost US$125, if I recall correctly, and there were serious shipping charges and import duties on top of that. I had to content myself with a Faber-Castell duplex slide rule (pictured at top left on the linked page), which was capable of 4 or 5 significant digits and saw me all the way through engineering school. And, from a practical standpoint, did more complex calculations too.

Soon after that, in the early 70s, electronic calculators came up and both the Curta and slide rules became obsolete. I still have my slide rule here nearby, but I regret not having bought a Curta somehow… a specimen in good condition is worth more than US$1000.

This post’s title comes from the Beatles’ famous song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”. What? Yes, for some reason the printed lyrics actually say “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes”, but some people hear it that other way.

This sort of thing seems to be called a “Mondegreen”, for reasons explained by Jon Carroll in his article “Mondegreens Ripped My Flesh”. Thanks go to Bernie DeKoven’s DeepFUN for the tip. Other examples abound, such as Bob Dylan’s “Dead ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Like a bridge over trouble, Walter, I will lay me down”.

There are mondegreens in many languages. In Portuguese the canonical example is Claudio Zoli apparently singing “trocando de biquíni sem parar” (“endlessly switching bikinis”) instead of “tocando B.B.King sem parar” (“endlessly hearing B.B.King”); there’s an entire blog devoted to examples from Brazilian sources.

I remember my mother quoting some German mondegreens… I’ll post a few after I get a chance to talk to her.

Several people (among them Chris Hanson pointed at The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, written by Carlo M. Cipolla:

The first basic law of human stupidity asserts without ambiguity that:

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

…I firmly believe that stupidity is an indiscriminate privilege of all human groups and is uniformly distributed according to a constant proportion. This fact is scientifically expressed by the Second Basic Law which states that

The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

…As the Third Basic Law explicitly clarifies:

A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

When confronted for the first time with the Third Basic Law, rational people instinctively react with feelings of skepticism and incredulity. The fact is that reasonable people have difficulty in conceiving and understanding unreasonable behaviour…

There’s much more to it, including lots of stuff on the main True Stupidity site. All, sadly, true.

A Hacker Emblem

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The AccordionGuy points at Eric S. Raymond‘s proposal of a Hacker Emblem (Thanks, Joey!). Here it is:

Eric’s also provided a FAQ and a link to his article How To Become a Hacker (recommended reading). Notice: “hacker” not “cracker”.

This is a great idea. Every older programmer probably recognizes this immediately as the “glider” from John Horton Conway‘s Game of Life. This was first published in Scientific American in 1970 and caused great interest in the formerly abstruse field of celullar automata. Hackers immediately became interested in the game, notably Bill Gosper at MIT, who soon published a small newsletter where he and other enthusiasts wrote about new patterns. The glider (and soon after, the “glider gun”) were built by Gosper.

I subscribed to the newsletter and tried to implement the game on the computers I had available; it would be 7 years before I had access to a computer with a graphic display (an Apple II) and printing out hundreds of meters of nearly completely blank paper occasionally peppered with asterisks was frowned upon the administrators of my university mainframe. Still, occasionally I return to the game… LifeLab seems to be a nice implementation for Mac OS X. It’s at version 4.2 at this writing.

Great news from Nick Taliesin Barrett: “The Condition” has been diagnosed. It seems to be a variant of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, considered “the world’s most common functional gastrointestinal disorder”.

Let’s hope that the treatment will be successful. One of the interesting things about many disorders with a strong psychosomatic component (some would argue that nearly all disorders have such a component) is that both positive and negative factors have positive feedback. In other words, while stress will make the disorder much worse, thereby triggering a runaway cycle of more stress/more problems, appropriate therapy can be equally self-reinforcing.

Here’s the link I sent to Nick a week or so ago. My attention was triggered by the sentence:

Serotonin (5-HT) is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter and signaling molecule. Ninety-five percent of all serotonin is localized in the GI tract where it plays a key role in the motor, sensory and secretory functions of the gut. For some time, scientists have suspected that alterations in serotonin may contribute to abnormal conditions in the GI tract.

So that’s why we say “gut feeling”… icon_wink.gif

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