Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Physics Part V

This is a slight expansion on the previous version. For each of these charts, to move down, you integrate over time, and to move to the right, you integrate over distance. Left and up are derivatives with respect to distance and time respectively. One might expand these charts further to the left, if various quantities of density are of particular interest.

s^-2change in magnetic fluxchange in current (slew rate)
s^-1magnetic fluxcurrentmagnetic pole strengthmagnetic dipole moment
linear charge densitychargeelectric dipole momentelectric quadrupole moment

s^-3pressure driftareal power losslinear power losspower
s^-2sound energy densitysurface tensionforceenergy
s^-1(dynamic) viscositymass transport ratemomentumaction
linear densitymassfirst mass momentmoment of inertia

s^-3jerkarea per second^3
s^-2angular acceleration / frequency driftaccelerationhelicity / specific energy / tenacitygeo- potential
s^-1hertz (units per second)velocitykinematic viscosity(hydraulic) current
sslowness (measures dynamite fuses)timespacetime hyper- volume


"Steampunk" refers to a certain subgenre of alternate history, which is itself a subgenre of science fiction. Alternate history usually works by making a change at a certain point in history, and watching how the future of that world differs from our own.
It occurred to me this week as I reread some William Gibson was that all science fiction (including stories of the near future, like Tom Clancy novels) eventually becomes alternate history. That is, the future imagined in 1984 (the year Neuromancer was published) is a future of 1984, if certain things had gone differently. In some ways it tells us more about the 1980s than it does about the 2050s. In this sense, the earliest steampunk stories were the writings of Jules Verne and the other Victorian science fiction authors. This may be the most authentic writing in the subgenre, and is often included among the conventions of the setting. (With the benefit of knowing how actual events came out, though, we can add in a kind of dramatic irony in the technology that isn't present in these works.)
I suspect one reason steampunk is popular is that it is far enough back to set this effect into sharp visibility, but early enough that science fiction had been invented. Earlier eras in a certain sense didn't have an alternate future to follow. The future that the Thomas More and other Utopian authors imagined, for example, only differed from their present politically, not technologically. Perhaps science fiction requires only the existence of science-- Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, for example, is a good candidate for the first work in the genre, written by one of the inventors of the scientific method.
Aaron Diaz turns all this on its head by imagining how future civilizations will view their past (our present.) His time travelers get some things wrong, mixing clothing in inappropriate ways, for example, and getting the slang wrong. The 80's themed cafe in Back to the Future II, which mixes Reagan and Qadafi with Max Headroom, is another example of this. Of course, both of these stories, written in our past, have yet one more joint in their zigzag path through time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ancient Japanese Poetic Forms in the Scriptures

Old Testament

And he said, I am
Joseph your brother, whom ye
sold into Egypt.

Turn from thy fierce wrath,
and repent of this evil
against thy people.

can I hear any
more the voice of singing men
and singing women?

or wilt thou flee three
months before thine enemies,
while they pursue thee?

now advise, and see
what answer I shall return
to him that sent me.

how is Babylon
become a desolation
among the nations!

New Testament

And he said, Legion:
because many devils were
entered into him.

Now if any man
have not the Spirit of Christ,
he is none of his.

either a vine, figs?
so can no fountain both yield
salt water and fresh.

The old commandment
is the word which ye have heard
from the beginning.

I write unto you,
little children, because ye
have known the Father.

Book of Mormon

Yea, they may forget,
yet will I not forget thee,
O house of Israel.

I say unto you,
if ye are not ye are not
prepared to meet God.

And now when the king
had said these words, he was struck
as if he were dead.

But behold, I did
cry unto him and I did
find peace to my soul.

I say unto you,
Nay; not one whit. If so, God
would cease to be God.

And now I close mine
epistle to my beloved
brother, Moroni.

And behold, the time
is at hand, and this night shall
the sign be given.

I tried this just out of curiosity, but it could be considered a control experiment for Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. I like how arranging the verses as Haiku brings out some parallelisms in the text that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. "If ye are not ye are not" sounds very Zen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

living things

Someone pointed out that scientists estimate there are only 100 million species on the earth, not six billion, like I claimed. However, they are neglecting some categories:
Colonies of bacteria that live in the clouds, move in swarms, and behave like slime-molds the size of islands.

Anemone-like creatures that exist within the earth's core. They have a chemistry based on exotic states of hot, compressed metals and reproduce by fission.

Memetic parasites which are more developed than mental viruses. Some have evolved a dormant state where they can live for hundreds of years in reading material. For example, Zoroastrianism or "Crimson and Clover."


Certain forms of currents in water are similar to smoke rings, but more stable and much more complex, and have evolved the ability to reproduce. They are completely invisible to humans, but well-known by dolphin and whale scientists.

Various uncatalogued fairy species that live a tribal lifestyle and hunt the mighty Tardigrade.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There is one species for every person on Earth.

Yours is a breed of mantis that disguises itself as a flower the color of deep saffron. It lives on the top of a single mesa in the Amazon that has been isolated from the rest of the world for at least six hundred thousand years. To catch its prey, it sways with the wind in a hypnotic dance that lures the unwary. You will never see it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Evil dogs

Actually, it's a bear that's lost its fur due to a skin condition.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

an observation

People say I'm always changing the subject, but have you ever noticed that when you get a new box of crayons, you always use up the black crayon first?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Country of Abundance

At length I found my way to a land of great abundance. In this country, every person was of such wealth that they found their homes entirely filled with diverse and sundry items, such that it was often difficult for them to move about freely. In this land, the most precious item was holes, which were mined from caves in the mountains nearby. Each day the miners would bring buckets to the mine filled with goods, and return with their buckets empty. The precious empty space within these buckets was then sold at a profit. Some miners offered a weekly service, in which they would come and pick up a full bucket from a home, and return a bucket filled with empty space, for a subscription fee.
Because the cost of holes was so high, in that country the poorest often had the most things, and the rich, in contrast, were those with the most space.
The holes thus mined were used in the manufacture of vessels of all kinds. Potters, for instance, would take holes and carefully wrap clay around them. These clay-wrapped holes were then distributed to those who would use them. They were also used in laying the foundation of buildings.
Furthermore, certain food items required the holes for their preparation, such as bagels, effervescent water, bread, or certain types of cheeses. The rich would pay more for those food items which contained the most holes and the least food (and thus were often thin themselves) while the poor resorted to eating rich and heavy foods, and became fat.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Country Wherein a Game is Played with Small Sticks

The people of that country all participate in a game; which is so curious and ingenious in its rules that I have not been able to discern more than the smallest part of it, though even their young children play it with surprising ease. I shall here endeavor to explain that part of it which I have learned.
Each player carries with himself a bag, and in this bag are flexible sticks, which may be trimmed from a tree, fashioned from straw, or purchased in bundles from the market for a very low price. These sticks may be joined to one another by means of joints which have a variety of arrangements of holes. In such a fashion structures may be formed, as small as two or three sticks, which may be held in the palm of the hand, or as large as a house, and with more complexity and subtilty.
When one player (as I will call the inhabitants of that country, for every inhabitant is a player of the game, excepting only those afflicted with palsy or complete infirmity) passes another who is known to him on the street, it is the custom to exchange a small arrangement of two or three sticks. This is done without much thought. Occasionally, however, two will sit and play a longer game, if they are familiar with one another and have no pressing engagement. In this case, one player will make a small structure and offer it to his neighbor. The neighbor will take that structure and elaborate on it, building onto it as he sees fit, according to his own habit. In a way this resembles chess, in that the two alternate turns, and there are established patterns of moves and countermoves. The difference is that this game is rarely competitive; when it turns competitive, pieces are hurled back and forth, and passers-by avert their eyes or try to intervene, for it is a shameful thing among them.
Instead, the two try to cooperate to build a structure. Sometimes one player's style will dominate, but in the best games, the two will combine to form what may only be called a work of art (though of a primitive and barbarous kind, as it contains no figures or meaning.) The game may be played among more than two players, for example when many sit down to a meal together. It may not, however, be played by only one person alone, though one occasionally sees such behavior among the mentally infirm.
There are strict rules for how pieces may be arranged, according to their sizes and shapes, and these rules are usually followed, although a more casual game may allow the relaxing of a few of them.
The most formal games last for decades, and are engaged in professionally by men paid to do so. These men are experts in the most minute rules, and build larger and larger structures that seem as if they must collapse, being built only of small sticks; but are in fact incredibly sturdy. Players will pay money to study such structures, in order to develop their own skill, and by such payment these men are supported.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

sketch action

A while ago I wrote a new sketch action for Photoshop. An action is a list of commands performed in succession, a branchless program that takes a photo as input and outputs a fake sketch. Here's some results. (Click to enlarge.) What do you think?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bedtime Story

This is a true story I came across doing research for my book. I told it to Daniel the other night as a bedtime story.
Johann Winkel was an inventor and a clockmaker. He was very shy, and lived by himself (except for his cat) over his little shop in a townhouse in Amsterdam. He made all kinds of wonderful inventions. He made grandfather clocks with figures who would come out and dance, or bang on bells with hammers. He made wonderful huge organs and tiny music boxes.
Dietrich Maelzel was an inventor and an organmaker, too. He travelled all over the world showing off his inventions. Sometimes he took other people's inventions and told everyone that he had invented them. One of his most famous inventions that he got from someone else was a robot chessplayer. Everyone was amazed that the robot could really play chess. What he didn't tell them was that a real chessplayer was hidden under the chess table. The "robot" was really a puppet!
The invention he was most proud of was the Panharmonicum. This invention could play songs on an organ, drums, and bells. One time he got Beethoven, the famous composer, to write a piece of music for the Panharmonicum. It was a rousing tune, and Maelzel told everyone it was his own music. This made Beethoven mad, but Maelzel didn't care.
One time Maelzel visited Mr. Winkel's town, and stopped by Mr. Winkel's house to talk. Mr. Winkel didn't usually have visitors, but he was very polite, so he invited Maelzel in. He gave him dinner and showed him all his inventions. The one he had just finished was called a metronome. It was a little lever that tapped back and forth that you could sit on your piano, and it would show you how fast to play. Maelzel told him he was very impressed with all the inventions, and offered to buy the metronome, but Winkel didn't want to sell it. But that night Maelzel made a copy of the metronome. He sold lots of copies of it everywhere he went, because it was a very useful invention. If Mr. Winkel ever showed anyone his invention, they would just say, "Oh, that's just a copy of Maelzel's Marvelous Metronome."
This made Mr. Winkel very sad. He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep. (He even forgot to pet his cat.) And then one day, he had an idea. It was the best idea he ever had. He worked on his new invention every day. He got up early in the morning to work on it and he stayed up late at night. People heard him banging away and they wondered what he could possibly be building. After a year, he was finally finished.
He rolled out his invention, and everyone in town came into the street to see it. It had bells. It had pipes. It had drums.
"That's not new!" everyone said. "You just copied Maelzel's Panharmonicum!" But Mr. Winkel didn't say anything. He just started the device playing. It was a lovely tune, but people started to leave. They had already seen a machine that could play music. But the people who stayed noticed something amazing. The song didn't stop. It just kept coming up with new music. Mr. Winkel didn't need to get Beethoven to write music for him-- the invention could compose its own music! Every time you listened to it, you would hear a different song. It was even better than a radio, and that wouldn't be invented for another hundred years!
Some people thought he must be cheating. "He has a composer sitting inside the machine," they said. (If they had said this about Maelzel's chess player, they would have been right.) But Mr. Winkel let them look inside the machine. He showed them how it worked. It had a kind of pulley inside that could spin around freely. Depending on where it landed, that decided what the next bit of music would sound like.Everyone agreed that Mr. Winkel's invention was the best invention ever. That made Mr. Winkel happy again. (It made his cat happy, too.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Don't even ask about punctuated equilibrium...

You know how you sometimes put three dots to represent that part of a sentence has been cut out? Well, I always thought they were circular dots. But if you look very closely with a magnifying glass, you can see that they are actually slightly longer along one axis. They are, in fact, ellipses.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Accidental art

An illustration from a paper I was reading. It's called heirarchical k-means clustering, and it's a way of quickly finding points from a data set that are nearby one another.

Monday, August 3, 2009

conscious control

One of the big differences between humans and chimpanzees is how much conscious control we have over our bodies. This isn't some mysterious property of consciousness that we don't understand; it's a simple fact about what parts of the brain are activated when a motion is initiated. Chimps can't control their fingers independently, they aren't dextrous. They can't control their breathing, which is the main reason they can't talk. Most of their actions are what we would call, in humans, reflex actions. This is the same for almost all the actions of other animals. It's almost as though the body is a kind of marionette that we take control of the strings of.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Color Blindness

With red/green color blindness, this image:

would look like this:
or this:

or this:

and the interesting thing is that we can't really say which of those it would look like: how would you design a test to tell whether someone saw red as green or whether they saw green as red?
Actually, most people who are color blind are only partially color blind, so they see it more like this:

and if you are partially color blind, this is what the top image looks like to us full trichromats:

Monday, April 27, 2009

A little programming trick

Have you ever wanted to have a C++ program that uses an MFC GUI and a console? Here's a link to how to do it.
For those who don't program in C++, you probably don't care, but here's an explanation, anyway: in the old days, before Windows, C++ programs used to have "print" statements to print to the screen you saw in DOS (They're called "printf" or "cout".) They're a convenient way to show what's going on in your program behind the scenes, or just to show a lot of information as the program is running. I still use it for most of my programs, becuase it's simpler than using all the Windows overhead.
Once you start programming for Windows, you get dialog boxes and menus and all that Graphical User Interface stuff, but you lose the ability to just print stuff out when you need to. This little hack lets you have the best of both worlds.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Some tracks I've enjoyed recently. I haven't watched these video links, I just found them by a search for the title and artist.

25 Years

Blackmore's Night


32 Flavors

Ani DiFranco


Almost Lover

A Fine Frenzy


Any Day Now

Missy Higgins


As I Lay Me Down

Sophie B. Hawkins


Blue Light of the Flame

Dar Williams


Breathe No More



Broken Wings

Dougie MacLean


Diana's Song

Antje Duvekot


End Of May

Keren Ann



Sarah McLachlan



Dar Williams


Fields Of Gold (Live)

Eva Cassidy


Ghost Of A Rose

Blackmore's Night


Givin' Up On You

Lara Fabian


God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Loreena McKennitt


Hide And Seek

Imogen Heap


Holding Out For A Hero

Frou Frou



Vanessa Carlton


I Love You Always Forever

Donna Lewis


I Wish

Kate Rusby


Kathy's Song

Eva Cassidy


Katrinah Josephina

Universal Hall Pass





Lullabye For A Stormy Night

Vienna Teng


Marrakesh Night Market

Loreena McKennitt


May It Be

Taliesin Orchestra



Within Temptation


Monsters And Angels

Voice Of The Beehive


My Immortal



Laman and Lemuel are Dead

(from flickr)

I just wanted there to be a link here to the short play I wrote a while back.
Laman and Lemuel are Dead
It's funny-- years after I wrote this, I found out that the idea of evolving clocks shows up in Erewhon, only a few years after Darwin published The Origin of Species.