December 19, 2012

ThreeMyths About Copyright Law And Where To Start To Fix It (A Blatant Theft By Me)

What follows is the full text of the RSC policy brief "Three myths about copyright law and where to start to fix it". I would imagine that any official statement by a government organisation is automatically in the public domain, but it's possible that I'm wrong. I would look that up, but I know that I would post the document here anyway, so there's not much point in doing so. I am unable to post a PDF document to Blogger, so I copied the text from here, then I edited that text here to more closely resemble the original. Other than formatting, I have made no changes to the document.

Alternative sources for this policy brief:
Internet Archive
Maryland Pirates


September 06, 2012

Wherein I (Badly) Forecast The Election

Who here has heard the name Dan Brown before? Lots? Really? Ok who here has heard of someone named Dan Brown other than that crappy author? Well, I have! Thanks to his chanel, Pogobat, I now know of a great political website. It's called, and is unsurprisingly about the electoral college. It offers great maps that show past voting history and what the current outlook is. It also gives you the chance to play with an interactive map so you can try and forecast the elections yourself! Isn't political science fun?

Ok, so 'fun' is a relative term here. At any rate, I've spent the morning hanging out at 270towin. They have compiled all the polls taken this election season, which is great for figuring out which states are likely to vote which way. About half the states (24) states (including D.C.) had no polls done since 08/01/12), while 27 states did. Of those 27, only 10 had more than three polls done since August 1st.

I took the polling data from these states and averaged them. This should help to eliminate any margin of error errors, however, the smaller the sample size the greater the likelihood of error. I then took the averaged number and applied it to the 270towin interactive map to achieve my (bullshit) forecast of the 2012 presidential election! See? Told you political science is fun!

Ok, so, according to my analysis, Obama wins 305 - 221, with Iowa and Nevada still undecided (no data from one, even split from the other). Surprisingly, the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania swung towards Obama, with Florida going to Romney.

So there we have it, one person's moderately reasonable prediction for the 2012 Presidential election. For anyone interested, check out PogoBat, C.G.P. Grey, Fallacy Files, and 270towin.


September 01, 2012

Here Comes Chaos

Here's how I see climate science: That in any given complex system, the components of said system will, whenever possible, fall into equilibrium (dynamic or otherwise) with the other components. Without any major changes to the constituency of the components, that system will continue to maintain that equilibrium. Thus when conditions on Earth are maintained in a certain way (say, lots of carbon in a denser atmosphere) then the Earth's climate will continue to maintain those conditions. If there is a change in those conditions, by maybe an asteroid or an industrial revolution, then Earth's climate will respond by seeking out the closest point of equilibrium, given the new conditions.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and m...
Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and mean global temperature during the past 1000 years. Carbon dioxide levels (blue line, left-hand axis) are given in parts per million (volume), temperatures (red line, right-hand axis) in degrees centigrade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We can see that there are climate paradigms that last for long periods of time, sometimes for millions of years, and that those paradigms can change over time. While it is possible to have relatively rapid, and therefore catastrophic, changes between two climate paradigms, most often this climate change is gradual, and has much variation during that change. But on the rare times when there is a change big enough to threaten the survival of vast amounts of life, like when life produced an over-abundance of oxygen or when the dinosaurs bit it, the environment can change drastically rapidly.

The way I understand it, climate science figures that we've been in one of these climate paradigms for a while now, at least since the last ice age. Oh sure, we've had regional and even global variations, but we have been living in one climate paradigm since civilization began. There is a concern that the recent influx of carbon in various forms into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution is causing our climate paradigm to change. In our particular case, the extra chemicals, mostly CO2 and methane (with caveats), are worrisome because they can let certain forms of light pass through them and block other forms. Now, all chemicals have this ability, but in the case of these gases, they let in UV and visible light, and block IR light. The UV and visible light heat up an object, like Earth or you. This heat can then radiate into the air near the ground, and rise up, being replaced by cooler air from above. However, this only transfers the heat energy from one place to another. First it's in the sunlight streaming through the atmosphere. Second, it's the heat generated by that light interacting with the Earth and its atmosphere. Third, it's that heat in the atmosphere.

Now some of you may be wondering, if light heats up the ground, which then heats up the air, and that air rises up being replaced by cooler air from above, how did the air above become cooler than the air on the ground? This raises a crucial point: Whatever energy Earth takes in from the sun must be used or discarded. Sunlight can be used to help a plant grow. This in turn feeds an animal. The energy in the plant is converted into energy for the animal, thus allowing it to move. Some of the energy we receive from the sun goes into making life happen. What about the rest?

Global mean surface temperature difference fro...
Global mean surface temperature difference from the average for 1880–2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As you ascend through the atmosphere, the air becomes less dense. Any liquid or gas that expands into a low pressure area will cool down. This explains why, in general, the atmosphere above is cooler than the air below. But as that air descends it condenses, which heats it back up, so there's not a net change in air temperature from that. (The process isn't completely adiabatic, due to friction between molecules and the afore mentioned thermal conduction)

But what does happen is thermal radiation. That is, as any given object heats up, it emits some form of light. The cooler an object is the lower the frequency and the lower the amplitude of light that is emitted from that object. For most things that exist at the surface of Earth, and at the temperatures one generally finds on the surface of the Earth, we glow in the infrared. Crafty observers will note that CO2 and methane lets in the type of light that will heat up an object, causing it to glow in the infrared, which is then blocked by those same gases. The end result of this is that, while the amount of energy we receive from the Sun stays relatively constant, the amount of that energy radiated back into space drops. This is the same trick used in greenhouses (in addition to being a sequestered environment) that allows them to stay warmer than their surroundings, and also explains why these gases are called greenhouse gases.

That is, I think, the essence of global warming: The Earth's climate will move from one climate to another, warmer paradigm, due to an excess of carbon dioxide. It is the time in between that is of most pertinent concern to us, and that time is called climate change.

The end result of this current predicted round of climate change is a warmer climate, and so the overall trend will be one of warmer temperatures. However, a radical change in any given system will create a bit of chaos until a new equilibrium is reached. For us this means a few things: The average global temperature will rise. Most regional temperatures will rise over a long enough time scale. There will be significant regional variation, in two separate ways. Some regions will be significantly hotter while others, maybe even adjacent, are significantly cooler. Some areas will be dry and other may be wet. There will also be regional variation through time. That is, one region may experience cold and dry weather for a few decades before shifting to hot and wet for another few decades.

Furthermore, the atmosphere will be both hotter and wetter, as warmer air holds water easier than cold air.
English: Animated global map of monthly long t...
English: Animated global map of monthly long term mean surface air temperature (Mollweide projection). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This will result in not necessarily more storms, but what storms do occur will likely be much more powerful as the temperature increases. As far as I can tell, the poles will, on average, heat up much more than the equatorial areas. This means that annual ice pack concentration will fall. This will release extra water into the world’s oceans, changing the chemistry of the oceans (something CO2 also does), raising overall ocean levels, and changing Earth's albedo (Albedo=Shininess!) such that the oceans absorb more sunlight and thus heat up faster. The warmer weather near the poles may possibly allow some areas of permafrost to thaw. Some areas of permafrost also contain high levels of methane. Methane is also a greenhouse gas, but one that is much more potent. So it's a good thing that we produce much less methane than CO2. But it's unfortunately possible that the heating caused by increased CO2 could end up releasing vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere. This would not be good.

Some may argue that CO2 is only 0.0387%, a change of 107 parts per million from pre-industrial levels of 0.028% of the atmosphere. How can such a piddly amount do anything significant to our planet? I say, change out 0.0107% of your body volume with arsenic. What happens? You die.* The effects of one element in a system is not always weighted according to the total amount of that element. It's what that element does that is important. In this case, it kills.

There has been a measured rise in atmospheric CO2 for the past hundred and fifty years or so. When all natural sources are accounted for there is a disparity between what is accounted for (that which naturally produces and absorbs CO2), and the measured rise in CO2. It is not until we factor in the CO2 released by human actions that we have a balanced accounting of CO2 production and consumption. Human beings are adding significant amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. Taking what we know of physics, chemistry, biology, math, statistical analysis, and a myriad of other disciplines, and combining it with our observations of the world, leads the vast majority of scientists, especially those who conduct climate science, to the conclusion that the Earth is warming up, that this time will be climactic and probably not a lot of fun, and that human emissions are responsible for this sudden shift in climate paradigms.

Is this alarmism? Is this exaggeration or flat out lies, is climate science a bunch of snake oil, doomsayers selling lies for profit? Are scientists telling everyone that the ship is sinking, and oh by the way I sell life jackets? Or are they up in the crow’s nest, spotting icebergs? Will we force them to be the captain, giving the order to abandon ship?

All evidence points to climate change being real, that the consequences of that change will have drastic consequences for humanity, and that we are the main force creating this situation. All investigations into the people conducting climate science have proven them to be honorable in their dealings.  The science is sound. The scientists are sound. We have to deal with this situation. We can continue as we have, damn the torpedoes. Or we can choose to change.

*To look at it another way, if you were 3% water by volume, you'd also die.

I have used the New Scientist as a primary resource, with the addition of Wikipedia for ease of access and for its straightforward summation of topics. I have tried to avoid technical papers wherever possible.

Furthermore, I am absolutely certain that I have missed important points or oversimplified certain concepts. The most glaring omission is a discussion regarding the oceans. However, I feel that the links provided have plenty of information on that topic, and its omission does not change in any significant way my conclusions.

Additional Sources:
Jim Hansen's Climate Predictions

Timeline of Climate Change research

New Scientist Blog - Climate Myths


EPA - Climate Change

NASA - Climate Change

Skeptical Science, especially their Climate Change Myths page

Nature - Climate Change

PEW Center on Global Climate Change

If you have any additional resources that should be added, or have any other comments, please let me know.
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August 02, 2012

Curious Yet?

I like Stephen Colbert. I like space. I like that Stephen Colbert likes space. The other night he had NASA's former Chief Scientist and current Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld, on the show to talk about the upcoming landing of the Mars Science Laboratory. I must inform you that I am highly biased in this matter. Absolutely everything about this mission is friggin' awesome. First, it's the size of a small car. I've gone on road trips in a small car. Granted, life support for me involved the window and a seatbelt, but still. Curiosity* is massive, and doesn't require life support! In space this machine is little more than an inert lump of metal. It actually has to land (safely) on the surface before it can do anything useful. Curiosity will accomplish the transition from space to surface by experiencing seven minutes of sheer, unadulterated terror.

Mars, while smaller than the Earth, does have a significant gravitational field. It would take a lot of fuel to land a behemoth like Curiosity using rockets. Plus, rockets kick up a lot of dust. Just ask anyone who landed on the moon. One might imagine that because of the increased gravity, Mars would have a significant atmosphere. Unfortunately, no. Mars does have an atmosphere, but it is far more tenuous than our own. This means that, while you still have to deal with aerodynamic forces, those forces are not enough to slow the projectile down to anything resembling a rational speed. Any parachute used would have to be huge in order to grab enough air, and strong, because the inertia of a one ton supersonic projectile is massive. To counter these problems and land the craft on the surface, JPL has devised a three step process. First is heat shield aerobraking. This will slow the craft down from interplanetary speeds to the speed of a hypersonic jet. Then, still faster than sound, a parachute will be deployed. The parachute will slow the machine down from a thousand miles an hour to a few hundred miles an hour. Having done it's duty, the parachute is abandoned in favor of a rocket assembly known as the sky crane. This contraption will take Curiosity down to hover seven and a half meters above the surface of Mars. Finally, the rover will be lowered down from the rocket platform to the surface using a winch and cable system. As soon as landing is confirmed, explosive bolts will sever the connection to the skycrane rocket system, which will fly off.** Curiosity will finally be able to wake up and begin it's mission.

The big one is Curiosity. Duh.

Colbert does really well at pacing his interviews. For some it's fast paced sarcastic barbs. For others he slows down and engages in banter and exploratory questions. He seems genuinely excited by science, and space in particular. Whenever he has a science or space guest on, his jocularity feels sincere. This time was no different, but there was a bit of awkwardness when the guest tried to make (I can only assume) a distinction. Dr. Grunsfeld said that he doesn't think that Curiosity will discover anything in the first two years it's on the surface. He said the thing will work fine, it will trundle around and grind up rocks and analayze soil just like it was designed to do. This seemed to be setting up his main point, which seemed to be that Curiosity was just a data collector. The discoveries will come from the people who drive the rover around. Discoveries will be made by the scientists involved with the project. It is people that choose what tasks Curiosity will carry out, and it is them that will analyze the data sent back. The rover is just a tool. It is the people who are working every day that are the true explorers. They are the ones who will make the discoveries, and it is they who deserve the praise for making those discoveries.

I may have used a really liberal definition of the term 'interpret' towards the end there, but I think that's what he was trying to say. He sort of stumbled a bit making the transition from talking about Curiosity to the people who built and run the rover. Happily, Colbert jumped in with a quick summary point that allowed Grunsfeld to make his point simply by agreeing. Regardless, I'm pretty psyched about this. Curiosity will create a huge leap forward in our understanding of the red planet. It will have a Mastcam for large, panoramic shots. It will have a microscope camera for analyzing samples. It will come equipped with multiple spectroscopes, including laser and x-ray induced spectroscopy. Curiosity also comes with a radiation detector, which will help determine viability for human missions. The rover will have an environmental testing station, measuring such things as temperature, wind speed, and air pressure, and a way to test for water ice at or near the surface, plus some other stuff that I didn't dive into. I guess instead of of life support, they loaded this thing down with pure science.

Furthermore, I think that there is a wider, more connected community of space enthusiasts this time around. Back in 1997 the internet wasn't much of a thing, and it certainly didn't offer quite the same social networking capabilities as it does now. Neither did we have the technology to do live webcasts or Youtube or much of anything with video. Now is different. Any one with a camera and some time can create an awesome video. By 2003 we had a lot more capability to connect and create content about our favorite topics, but it was still a far cry from what we have now. To be sure, each rover impacted our society in their own way. For sojourner it was tiny and cute, for Spirit and Opportunity it was a sense of loneliness and epic travel. For both missions it was thousands of amazing pictures. But none of them have had the opportunity to engage the public in the ways that this new mission will.

First off, NASA will be streaming coverage of the event through their website, and their UStream channel. Second, the always capable people over on Google+, including Pamela Gay, Phil Plait, and Fraser Cain will be holding a massive four hour long event. They will no doubt have their own commentary and content prepared, as well as being on hand to answer any questions any one may have. They might have a NASA feed, just because that seems like the sort of awesomeness they are capable of, but if they don't have the feed from NASA, well then I guess I'll just have to open two tabs for the full immersive experience of this Martian landing. And apparently, Maki of fame has created a stream of the NASA feed for the World Science Festival. There's also (I only learned through researching this post) a huge space sciences center in Victoria, Australia. They are called, appropriately enough, the Victorian Space Science Education Centre. They also have a Ustream channel, but what exactly they'll have on it I don't know for sure. But they will be the first to receive communications from Curiosity once it's on the surface, using NASA's Deep Space Tracking Network center in Tinbidbilla. So ok, maybe more than just two tads. Also, Tinbidbilla?If you can't wait until Sunday, you could always check out the video above. Or these two, done by Star Trek stars William Shatner and Wil Wheaton! But what if you want to watch this historic moment, live, outdoors, with thousands of random strangers in the middle of the night? Canada seems to be throwing a lot of parties during the landing, and the good folks over at Yuri's Night have a massive list of the various parties taking place across the globe. If you're in the New York, New York area you should head to Times Square, where they'll be broadcasting the event on their Big Screen TV!

For one brief moment, science will replace advertising
I am hereby making an official prediction*** Not only is the buildup to the landing remarkably large, the audience hungry for this event is larger and more diverse then before. There is going to be a lot of people tuning in that night, and it won't be just Americans. I predict that there will be an overwhelming response to the landing of the Curiosity rover, both nationally and internationally. I would hope that the servers at NASA will be able to handle the load. Hopefully they learned their lesson after that whole Dragon catching incident. But if the feed does go down, then that will go to show how many people are excited by this sort of event. And that will send a huge message to our elected officials - People Like Space. There already exists a massive undercurrent of space enthusiasm. There has been a growing interest in space since the Hubble went into service. First it was NASA nerds who kept up to date, with an occasional picture or feature in the science section of the newspaper. Then people fell in love with Sojourner. We mourned the loss of astronauts, and praised the accomplishments of two new rovers. And now, in less than a week, we will once again watch as we deploy a new tool of understanding into the universe. I predict that the huge, international response to Curiosity will provide a strong argument in favor of supporting our national space agency and the growing private space market.

Did I mention the laser capable of frying rock from 7 meters? It's a good thing that the machine most likely to achieve sentience and go on a murderous rampage is on another planet.

While researching this post I came across a number of resources which I did not use directly, but which were of great help in gathering together all the various links I needed.

*How often do you hear the term Shuttle Transport System? Other than technical writing or stuffy bloggers (ahem) it's always, the shuttle.

**Into oblivion, apparently. All that's planned for, and all that is in any of the presentations, is the thing rocketing off to the side a few hundred meters. It's as though a thing disappears from NASA's universe once it is no longer a part of the mission.

***See the first footnote. Also, note to self: Figure out better system re:footnotes
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August 01, 2012

Of Two Minds

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal inadvertently lead me to a bit of depressing news. Well, technically it was SMBC Theater, not the comic. But any way.

This video mentions state constitutions that ban atheist congress members. This seemed moderately ludicrous. My own atheism is complicated, and it's rare to meet someone who doesn't instantly start making assumptions about why I'm an atheist, but I'm hardly one to say that atheists are under attack or facing the same kind of discrimination other minorities are treated to. There is a certain amount of resistance to atheists, sure. But it's mostly annoying assumptions about your (lack of) beliefs.

Which is why I found the idea of multiple states banning atheists in their government so weird. I decided to check it out. Good ol' Wikipedia giving me little more than a link to the relevant state constitutions. This meant I had to peruse the contents myself.

So here they are, a countdown of sorts of the states that outlaw atheism:

South Carolina: Article 27, Section 4 states: "No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this constitution."

Arkansas:  Article 2, Section 26 states: "No religious test shall ever be required of any person as a qualification to vote or hold office; nor shall any person be rendered incompetent to be a witness on account of his[sic] religious belief; but nothing herein shall be construed to dispense with oaths or affirmations."

While Article 19, Section 1 states: "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court."

Mississippi: Article 3, Section 18 states: "No religious test as a qualification for office shall be required; and no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect or mode of  worship; but the free enjoyment of all religious sentiments and the different modes of worship shall be held sacred. The rights hereby secured shall not be construed to justify acts of licentiousness injurious to morals or dangerous to the peace and safety of the state, or to exclude the Holy Bible from use in any public school of  this state. "

While Article 14, Section 265 states: "No person who denies the existence of a supreme being shall hold any office in this state."

Tennessee: Article 1, Section 4 states: "That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this state, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state."

While Article 9, Section 2 states: "No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state."

The following two are the strangest of the bunch. The first one up there, South Carolina, never made it unconstitutional to have a test of religious faith for their civil leadership. Technically they never contravened their own constitution. The bill of rights for  Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee all contained language that specifically outlawed having a test of religious faith. Each of these states also had, buried in the misc. section at the end of their constitution, a statute that said you had to have some form of belief in a supernatural power in order to be eligible for public office. They have each clearly made a portion of their own constitution unconstitutional. It's almost zen.

But these two really take the cake. First up,

Texas: Article 1, Section 4 - "RELIGIOUS TESTS.  No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall anyone be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."

In other words, you don’t have to pass a religious test to attain public office, so long as you have a religion.

Maryland: Article 36 - "That as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore, no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate, on account of his religious persuasion, or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent, or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain, any place of worship, or any ministry; nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come.

Nothing shall prohibit or require the making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God or a Supreme Being in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school, institution, or place.

Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion"

And Article 37 - "That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution."

Texas, and especially Maryland, have managed to hold two completely contradictory ideas at once - That no religious test be required to hold office, and that you must be religious to hold office. This seems totally nonsensical to me. At least South Carolina isn't contradictory, even if they're flat out bigoted. But I can't comprehend Texas and Maryland. Maybe because I haven't attained full buddha yet. Here we have these two states who managed, in one statement, to hold that religion is of no importance, and that it is of utmost importance. Maryland has achieved full zen.

Good job, assholes.


July 22, 2012

Eating Sucks

I don't like eating. Don't get me wrong, I love food. Tasty tasty food is the best, especially when you've spent the last two hours at work just imagining the awesome steak that you put out to marinate the night before. But mostly, being hungry is just annoying. There I'll be, minding my own, when BAM! tummy rumbles. 

'Shut up tummy,' I'll say, 'I don't have time for your crap right now.' 

You see, if I didn't need to eat, then I could eat whenever I wanted, and it would be purely indulgent. I wouldn't be halfway through a big project (completing a quest in an RPG is a project, right?) when I suddenly have to drop everything, and scramble around cooking things. It's frustrating. As soon as I get on a roll, there's my hunger, screwing things up for me. Like right now, I just heard a tummy rumble. 

This time isn't that bad though. I for some inexplicable reason woke up at 4 this morning. I don't know why. I had some beer last night, and I tend to wake early after drinking, but I didn't get trashed or nothing. I got a good buzz for a few hours while watching Mytbusters. They're the reason I drank last night. They were testing alcohol myths, how could I not join in on the fun? Sure, I chose which episode to watch, but that doesn't make me responsible for my own actions.* Regardless, I didn't drink near enough to wake me up before sunrise, and I was hungry when I woke up. 

I told my tummy to shove it, got up, checked my email. After that I puttered around for an hour or so, and took a shower. Then I went grocery shopping. Twice. Why twice you ask? Because I needed a frying pan. In truth, I have two already, but one's small and the other I use a lot. So I figured I'd get another frying pan because doing dishes every night kind of sucks.

It wasn't until I started checking out my groceries that I realized I had just enough money to pay for everything except the frying pan. Bummer. So I put it back, went home, and unloaded the groceries. I was about to clean my old frying pan when I decided screw that. I got online, transferred some cash into my checking account, and out the door I went.

Ah, home. Once I got back with the new non stick frying pan, I immediately began unsticking the stickers from the non stick frying pan. Wait, how do they do that? My guess is magic. Or gremlins. Whatever, I have a new pan, and it's sticker and glue free. So I fried me up some bacon and eggs and toast and it was freaking awesome!

And that's what I love about food - when you do eat, especially on a ridiculously empty stomach, the high you get from suddenly being satisfied is amazing. Heck, I was so elated that I actually cleaned up after myself, and did the dishes and everything! Granted, that doesn't happen every time I eat. Most of the time I just shove whatever is quick and easy to make down my throat and call it good. Not because I don't like tasty food, but because eating is annoying. You can't do much of anything else except watch something. Talking while eating is awkward (especially when you're alone in your apartment). Plus there's the prep time, and the mess, and ugh. Eating sucks. Food is awesome, eating sucks.

Except this morning. Living alone means I buy way more frozen foods then perishable. It's hard to buy a salad for one, or eat an entire loaf of bread before it goes bad. So the whole bacon and eggs thing was a bit of a treat for me. Breakfast today was a completely satisfying, totally awesome experience. And I've been waiting all day to experience it again. That's right, today, in contradiction to almost every other day, is a day I want to be hungry. Today is a day I want to eat. I'm looking forward to making eggs again, with nice thick slices of bacon, and maybe even an English muffin or two. I have salsa, and cheese, and all manner of fixins. I can't wait to be hungry again!

Oh wait, that's why I started writing this - tummy rumbles!

*The only actions of mine for which I am responsible are the ones that turn out well. All the others aren't my fault.**
**When I grow up I want to be a politician!

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July 06, 2012

A Substantial Image

What's in a name? Would a font by any other name be as hated, or would it convey the content of the words any differently? I'm talking about comic sans font, its detractors, and the scientist who use that font. You see, CERN decided that it was high time to admit that they have possibly found something that could be a Higgs Boson (this is how a scientist talks when they're only 99.9998% sure about something). They decided to use comic sans in their presentation slides. This has not been taken well by the internet.

Now, the sci-ence comic isn't that big a deal - They're a comic; they're allowed to make snarky comics about such things. But really, Verge, 256 comments, many of them vitriolic? Yes, comic sans is slightly whimsical. But it is also easy to read, is widely available, and starts with 'c', so it's near the top of the list of fonts you need to scroll through to find a font.  I haven't heard of CERN science teams submitting research to journals using comic sans. Nor has there been a ruckus raised over their use of comic sans for their press releases. No, the only time they used comic sans was in their presentation to an auditorium of people who worked on the project. They were jubilant, and can be forgiven for feeling slightly whimsical.

Or maybe they just wanted something that was easy to read. This was being presented to a fairly large crowd, with a video feed to the internet. Legibility may have been an important factor. Or maybe the creator of the slides wasn't concerned too much with the font, and went with the first one they liked.

This whole thing seems rather shallow. "Oh my!" cries the internet, "the particular shape of these perfectly readable letters is not to my aesthetic satisfaction! Quick, we must write about this absurdity, for that is far more important than what those scientists were actually talking about!" Apparently form is everything and content is nothing. Image far outweighs substance.

And isn't that what really matters? The discovery of a new fundamental particle is truly historic. Thousands of people have spent uncountable hours of their lives in pursuit of this discovery. It has taken decades, and there were many setbacks. But they kept at it, steadily plugging along until finally, at the end of all that hard work, they had a graph with a bump right where they expected a bump to be. This is far more awesome than I just described. Ultimately, I don't care what font is used to present amazing new discoveries; I care that the discovery was made. So long as the slides are legible, I am happy.


June 30, 2012

It's A Sorta Greeny-Purplish Color

In our years upon the world, we as a species have learned much about the world around us. From the primal teachings of the Gods (especially learning how NOT to behave like idiots), to the wonder and beauty of the natural world. We have come to understand that pure light is composed of all the colors in existence, and that blackness and darkness is simply an absence of light.

We have long known that what we see is not all that there is. We have known of this since time immemorial. With this knowledge we have conjured, and for our power we have abjured.  We have calmed our primal selves, and have created a (relatively) peaceful existence within the city. We no longer shamelessly hunger for power, and our massive tower at the very center of the city is a testament to beauty and grace.

Gentleman, we have achieved mighty things. We are standing upon the shoulders of giants, both those of our ancestors, and upon the shoulders of the giants that our ancestors ruthlessly destroyed, back when we wizards got up to such shenanigans, which no one should do of course, I myself would never dream of doing such horrid things as amassing huge armies to do my bidding, or learning the ways of magic such to match the Gods themselves, no of course I wouldn't.

But we have yet to answer one simple question: Why is it purpley green? We know that only a few select individuals such as we can even see this, the eighth type of light. But what sets us apart, what allows this extra ability? Why do we perceive things as we do, and why is it the color that it is?

Gentlemen, I present to you today my answer to this ancient question. As you know, the visible spectrum is but a line, and what we see as color is but a fraction thereof. In truth, the spectrum extends far above and far below what we can see. And yet there is a paradox. I present the color wheel.

The important word here is wheel, as in circle. I have never, not once, have I ever seen the color spectrum presented as anything but a circle. Have you? I doubt that you have. To perceive the visible spectrum as a circle of colors is ingrained in the very mechanisms by which we perceive the world. In truth, the wheel is just a straight line segment cut from a larger one, and stitched into a circle. We even know where this incision takes place, between red and blue.

But hold on, you may say. There is no distinct line between those two colors, there's even a whole nother color in between them; Purple! And therein lay half the answer to our question. In order to perceive a small segment of the spectrum as a circle you need something to stitch the ends of that segment together. What we perceive as purple is nothing less than that which binds the world together. The eighth color of light is what holds the color wheel together, just as that which produces that light holds the disc together.

Gentlemen! I now know a great secret of the world. We all know that this special light has itself an eightfold spectrum. This is because there are in truth, Two Spectrums! What is generally seen as purple to others is the intersection of the magical spectrum and the regular. Our octagonal cells, in addition to the standard rods and cones, can perceive both.

But why green? The answer to that is a bit trickier. We have thus far been concentrating on our conception of color as being circular. But now we must exam the two spectrums as they really are, straight lines. Now, purple exists in this conception at either end of the spectrum. For the eight colors of magic, we see the same thing except that this time the color in question is seen between green and yellow.  The division point in the magical color wheel lies at a sort of yellow-green color. You see gentlemen, that the two spectrums intersect at blue/red (visible light) and yellow/green (magical light), and can be conceived of as two color wheels intersecting each other at right angles. That intersection happens to be at purple & green, and that, gentlemen, is why octarine is a sort of greeny-purplish.

This draft letter submitted to the Arcane University Peer Review on this date by:

[Editor: Illegible, looks like an R, or maybe a P followed by squiggle. Does anyone know a P or possibly an R Squiggle?]


June 18, 2012

My New Favorite Delivery Driver

Some of you may remember me writing to complain about my UPS delivery driver. Now, it generally takes me a while to get upset about things. Continuous aggravation gets to me more than single events do. In general, at least. However, single events can sometimes make me really happy.

I was expecting a package on Saturday. It didn't arrive. Amazon emailed me to let me know that the delivery company had the wrong address, and I should call there customer service to straighten things out. Ok, fine, I won't get upset, mistakes happen. But dammit, I have to deal with ten minutes of crappy automated customer service in order to fix this! Ugh. OH well, whatever. I give the number a jingle, and you know what? I had to deal with about thirty seconds of automated customer service before talking to a real human being.

Here's how the conversation went:

Auto-serve:"Hello, welcome to [redacted]. Please state the nature of your call" (It went on to list various possible reasons one may call"

Me:"Uh, package not delivered due to incorrect address"

As:"I understand there was an incorrect address. Please enter or speak your tracking number"


As:"One moment please"

Two seconds later, this happens:

Actual, real, live, human being!: "Hello, I hear that your package had the wrong address. I can fix that for you. Please verify the last four digits of the tracking number for me."

Me: "Oh wow! Really? Just like that? Ok! Yeah... I mean, this is so awesome, ok here you go... [redacted]"

A,r,l,hb:"Excellent. What is your address?"


A,r,l,hb: "Well, that's the one we have here, but we show your zip code as Aurora..."

Me:"Oh yes, I'm right on the border. Technically in one city, serviced by the post for another. A bit silly, really."

A,r,l,hb: "Oh, no problem. I'll just add a note that it's the correct address and we'll have it out to you on Monday"


That's it. Less than ten minutes total spent on the phone, to fix a completely understandable problem. It was so quick! It was so easy! Awesome sauce!

Well, it's Monday. Do I have a package yet? No. Damn. But I did get a phone call from an 800 number this morning. Now, this happens from time to time, and most of the time it's people looking for some dude named 'John Johnson'* so I just ignore them. If someone wants to find me bad enough, they'll serve me papers just like everyone else.

Then I got a call from the same number not more than fifteen minutes ago. Guess who? The delivery company! The guy confirmed that it was me, and then asked if I got his message from earlier. Wait a minute, I thought to myself, this company not only calls you to let you know they have your package, but they'll actually call you twice just to be sure? Fantastic! Yeah, it's me, I said. He explained that the delivery guy was there, but he wasn't sure if he had the right apartment, since all the buildings had letters on them and my address didn't. After a quick and friendly conversation the guy informed me that the package was delivered to the office, which is standard procedure in these situations.

Wow, it's almost like they read my previous post. Not only do they conduct their deliveries in a consistent manner, but they go out of their way to help you fix any problems that might arise. That is so frickin' awesome I can't even begin to describe it!

So, for all of you out there who want to ship something, choose FedEx. They friggin' rock!

FedEx: Kicking Ass and Taking Names

KIDS! Today's word is 'redact'. Can anyone tell me what it means? No? You say that I'm dumb? Oh wait, of course you can't tell me anything; I can't hear you. This is a blog post, not a phone call or something. I'm a silly.** 

Redact: to obscure or remove (text) from a document prior to publication or release

*This is a false name. If you thought otherwise, you are dumb.

**Wait, so then how did I hear you call me dumb?