Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spooky

Today's office Halloween party was a huge success. Ironman and I ended up wearing the same costume. I lost the coin toss, so he's the gynecologist, and I'm the proctologist.


The winner for "Best Costume" was this guy. I don't know what he's supposed to be, but anyone who can wear a washing machine all day is not someone you want to mess with:


Though for my money, JimmyFallon could give him a run for his money, as "blue tooth", some sort of denim "deliverance" absurdity that offered something new and disturbing on each fresh viewing:


Best Departmental costume theme went to the Accounting department's gang of crime-fighting nuns:


Also, there was a cult of insect-worshipers, complete with photocopied tracts espousing their theology. Virgin sacrifices and satanic orgies? Sign me up!


Directrix represented, with a contribution in the baked goods department:


Everyone loved her muffins.

And of course, no work got done, so for once, the rest of the company was in line with my personal philosophy. But did I get a prize? No.

And hey. Honorable Mention for this guy:

Friday, October 26, 2007

(2 * G / c^2) * (mass of Uranus)

The Schwarzschild radius is a characteristic radius associated with any mass, at which the escape velocity for the mass is exactly equal to the speed of light. Basically, if an object of mass m is compressed to fit inside it's Schwarzschild radius, it'll become a black hole.

You may be further excited by the knowledge that the Schwarzschild radius of the Sun is about 3 centimeters, or a distance slightly smaller than the length of your pinkie finger.

This means that, if you happen to own a really zippy car, something that can travel at the speed of light, say, you're pretty much safe outside that 3cm distance. If you have something slightly more realistic, like a 1976 Ford Fiesta, you'll probably want to be at least 3 kilometers from the Sun when it finally collapses.

And make sure you use your high-beams, because it'll be pretty dark.

This absolutely useless piece of totally impractical trivia was brought to you by today's discovery of a bunch of holes. Way to justify that funding, NASA!

Lost In Translation

On our way back up to work from coffee today, Ironman and I were forced to circumnavigate an inconveniently parked Canada Post truck. Ironman was vocal in his condemnation of the mailman's parking skills. I suggested we should write an angry letter.

A ridiculous conversation followed: how, exactly, would one address a letter destined for the actual postal service? I proposed (probably incorrectly), that you could probably just leave the address off entirely, and assume that it would find its way. During the short elevator ride, we were unable to satisfactorily resolve this thorny dilemma. Ironman, to me: "You should blog about it".

And here we are.

There's something "meta" about addressing a correspondence to the very entity responsible for the delivery of said correspondence. From one point of view, it's as simple as tipping the paperboy, acknowledging the existence of the physical machinery responsible for the abstract concept of "delivery". From another, it's one example of a self-referential meta-psychosymbolism that informs all human language and thought. And guess which of these points of view we will be discussing?

It's pretty widely accepted that language plays a pivotal role in the healthy neurophysiological development of the human brain, particularly in childhood. Stories about children raised by dogs, or abandoned to their own devices from the age of three, never fail to include a chapter on the shocking underdevelopment of various essential brain functions. Language teaches us to think, and vice-versa. But only to a point.

We use language to describe things, and in so doing, create our own personal symbolic dictionaries for dealing with concepts. Semantically, the word "rock" is not a rock, nor does it describe or refer to a particular physical rock. It triggers instead a chain of recursive psycho-symbolic dereferentiation that eventually unravels into a semantic symbol of "rock"-ness. And that mental image somehow stands in for all the rocks in the universe, or at least those we can perceive.

It is almost ridiculously simple for the human mind to construct a psycho-semantic representation of concepts like "infinity", or "everything". I mean, you can't actually conceive of all the physical objects, or actions, or concepts that fall under the umbrella of "everything", at least not as easily as "rock". But language, and the semantic associations it invokes and informs, is crucial to our ability to describe the concept that describes the indescribable.

Everything is basically meta data, describing other meta data, along an inferential chain of semantic associations, that end in a sort of shorthand notation for the world around us. In computer languages, this chain is finite, ending with "machine-language" instructions that interact with the actual, physical hardware of the machine. This simplicity is sacrificed in the human brain, in favor of the capability for higher thought.

Rather than a "chain", think of an infinitely branching "tree" of associations. While your brain is busy translating the word "rock" into the mental symbol it's meant to represent, it will apply the semantic value of the word, the pragmatic value of the context in which the word is used, the syntax, or structure of the inter-relation of other symbols used in the context, and a bunch of other stuff I barely understand. And through the application of all of these contextual signifiers, will prune the tree for the possible meanings of "rock" into the one symbol that makes sense.

When this mechanism breaks, as in Aphasia or some other cognitive disorder, it basically breaks language. A stroke victim, unable to communicate, may or may not still be able to understand "rock". May or may not lose the capability for abstract thought, the very capability that was created using the scaffolding of language.

If it's possible to address our mailman's callous disregard for parking etiquette by writing a letter to Canada Post, then it follows that we can fix a broken mind by communicating with it. This can be tricky, like arson at the Fire Department, when the part of your brain responsible for communication is the part that's broken. Imagine the effectiveness, in this scenario, of a language based on smell, or temperature, or light.

It does not follow that it's possible to break a healthy mind by withholding meaningful communication, though it would be fun to try.

And now I'm bored of this (I can only imagine how you must feel), so in conclusion,

Dear Canada Post,
Please don't park on my fucking sidewalk.
Sincerely,
A concerned citizen.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

He Sees the Fnords

The human brain is a fucking mystery, and nowhere is this more apparent than when observing children. How can Son take such fantastic shortcuts along a chain of deductive reasoning, such dizzying leaps of logic, yet still not remember to don't put things in your mouth goddamit I've told you a thousand times!

Last night, I surfed over to the excellent BoingBoing, where all my best plagiarism comes from. The first item on the site was something about Bob Shea, the second banana of the Illuminatus! meme. To compliment the article, there was a cover-shot of the actual trilogy, thus:


Not being all that interested in more Fnord-related Church-of-the-SubGenius, Malaclypse-The-Younger absurdity, I quickly scrolled down to see what other meaty nuggets might be available in today's BoingBoing stew, so this image was on-screen for maybe one second.

Son jumped off my lap and pointed excitedly at the bookshelf next to my desk. "Daddy! Daddy! It's right there!". I didn't immediately realize what he was talking about, so he grabbed the mouse and scrolled back up to the picture on the website.

Of course, he had instantly located my copy of the Illuminatus! trilogy, the spine of which is decorated with a similar dolphins-leaping-over-eye-of-providence image. So, in less than a second, he saw a picture on the screen, realized he'd seen that image somewhere before, and located the exact book, among a wall full of books, displaying that picture.

Now maybe it's just the proud parent talking, but holy shit, my kid's some kind of genius!

Later on, while getting ready for bed, I had to remind him for the zillionth time not to eat whatever it was he had just excavated from his nostril.

So instead, he wiped it on my shirt.

A fucking genius, I'm telling you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Shroud of Turing

Oh. My. God. Info-theorists and hacker-philosophers alike are creaming their jeans today at the news that a proof exists for the universality of the 2,3 Turing machine!!

A Turing machine, named for Alan Turing, the prehistoric proto-geek who came up with it, is basically an abstract symbol-manipulation device (This makes you horny. I can tell).

In concept, the Turing Machine theory states that a theoretical device can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer that could possibly be constructed. Turing machines are an abstract definition of an algorithm, or 'mechanical procedure'.

But wait! There's more! Further down the rabbit hole, a Universal Turing machine is a Turing machine than can simulate other Turing machines.

If your mind is still intact after that last shocking psychedelic blast, keep reading. A UTM, as the hip kids refer to it, can "run" any arbitrary, but well-formed, sequence of instructions, applying them to a set of data. Anyhoo, it's all very complicated and annoying to explain. Go read Wikipedia. I'll wait.

Stephen Wolfram is a crackpot idiot-savant mathematician with a brain the size of a planet. He is monomaniacally obsessed with Cellular Automata, "emergent behavior", and "randomness". To the point that he sequestered himself in Hermit-like seclusion for ten years to write a book that he claims revolutionizes ALL OF SCIENCE.

I have read this book, and while it's not complete bunk, it's far from the next Principia Mathematica. Which is not to say that Wolfram isn't a genius. He's just a misunderstood genius. Specifically, he is misunderstood by me.

The super-secret, no-girls-allowed elite class of Turing Machines referred to as "Universal", are usually described by referring to the number of possible states of the machine, and the number of symbols recognized by the machine (it's alphabet).

A Turing machine has a finite number of states and is in exactly one of these states at any given time. Depending on the current state, and an input value (the symbol), the machine will perform some action, possibly modifying it's state.

Anyhoo, since the mid-60s, and until recently, the simplest proven -- mathematically proven, that is, since scientists rarely lower themselves to the level of actually constructing a physical proof -- Universal Turing Machine was a 7,4 machine. This means that, theoretically, a machine could be constructed using only seven states and an alphabet of four possible symbols that, given sufficient time, could simulate the execution of any algorithm.

FYI: The "simplicity" of a given UTM model is given by multiplying the number of states of the machine by the number of symbols.

Wolfram, the hermit crackpot math weenie, posited the existence of a still-simpler model, a 2,5 UTM, the existence of which was proven by one of his research assistants. According to Wolfram other, smaller UTMs should exist, and he proposed a 2,3 machine as a candidate.

Today, that daring dream, that inspirational flight of fancy has become a breathtaking, flabbergasting reality! The universality of the 2,3 machine has been proven by Alex Smith, an undergrad Electrical Engineering doofus at U. of Birmingham in the UK.

Smith did it for the money, of course (as if there's any better reason). Wolfram's offering a $25,000 prize (my schadenfreude makes me want to make a joke about the exchange rate and failing US currency, but I shall resist).

Being an engineering student, you know he'll spend it all on beer. And to what nobler cause could the funds be put, than to destroy those very brain cells responsible for this amazing contribution to the eternal information-theorist "My UTM is smaller than yours" contest?

Really, what are they compensating for?

Wow, that was possibly my most boring (for people who are not me) post ever. If you managed to make it all the way through, congratulations. Have some boobs:

Premium Dregs

No thoughts, no news, no feelings. Just awesomeness:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Secrets I Keep From Myself

Sometimes, when I'm bored, I pick my nose. But I don't eat it. That's just gross.

When I smoke in the rain, I get the hiccups.

The other day, Indira (a lovely woman, who ends all her emails with "have a wonderful day") signed an office-wide email with her job title as "Human Ressources Coordinator". For some reason, I still don't really know why, I thought this misspelling was funny, and somehow ironic. I should instead have taken it as a sign of her humanity, and therefore her suitability for the post.

Boxer is right. I'm a total misanthrope.

Victoria's "Secret" is that her brassieres and panties don't look like that on all women. Or me.

More and more, the things I hate the most about other people are usually the things I dislike about myself. Okay, maybe this isn't some mind-altering revelation to you, but still.

No one in the office knows that I have pierced nipples, including me.

I don't get modern art. Or most poetry. Or Wi-Fi. Or how my car works. I don't get a lot of things, actually.

Son has total power over me, and I don't mind. Does that make me a bad father?

All the thoughts I have, that I thought were original, aren't really. Including this one.

I used to say "This too shall pass", but after a while I stopped saying it.

Molly Haskell said: "For a woman, there's nothing more erotic than being understood." ... I wonder what the hell she was talking about.

The short answer to "What the hell is wrong with me?" is: "I can't afford therapy".

Now Cluck Like a Chicken

When you've figured it out, when the little light goes on in your head, you will experience a revelation so profound that you will void your bowels -- literally shit yourself -- in ecstasy. You can thank me later. Preferably from some distance downwind.

Get your tin-foil hats, chillun', it's time for Krazy Konspiracy Korner! This week: Is your government developing a Top-Secret mind control device? Docile, cow-like civilians? Credulous voters? Infotainment standing in for Journalism?

Okay, but time out. If you're seriously not scared or angry at the thought of a human brain being controlled remotely, then it could be this prototype of mine is finally starting to work. Now take off your top.

This year, for Halloween, I will attire myself as the abstract concept of Evil. What do you think that looks like? Devil horns, perhaps? Maybe some kind of Snake-man? Whatever it is, it'll probably involve a briefcase. Ayn Rand wrote: "To discuss evil, in a manner implying neutrality, is to sanction evil."

Although I notice that she never actually comes right out and says that this is wrong.

I plan on losing to "The Human Condom" at the office costume contest. What man could look back on his life and call it complete without at least one humiliation at the hands of a giant prophylactic? Reminds me of my bachelor party. Ah, Good times.

So every morning now, I throw open my window and make love to the world. Not literally of course -- not since the court order -- but my humors are, for the moment, in equilibrium, thanks to a generous course of caffeinated beverages and age-inappropriate candy. Happy Halloween, victims! And always remember: Half the time, manic-depressives feel better than you or I could possibly imagine.

Also, if you wake up in the middle of the night, and I'm standing over your bed, go back to sleep. I'm just playing "Dracula".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blue Skies and Brittle Smiles

So here we are, in the throes of Indian Native-American Summer. Neither lazy autumn, nor fully a return to the halcyon summer, and about as far from the bitter, frozen, whistling wasteland of a Montreal winter as it's possible to get. It's warm enough for shorts and sandals, but I've decided to spare you the sight of my winter-pallid legs, and hobbit-hairy toes. You can thank me later.

Much discussion of late, with IronMan (among others) on the art of small-h-happiness, the merits of trees over forests, and What, O What, Does It All Mean, Really? Heady stuff indeed, but the final syrupy essence is that: a) you can't just wait for happiness to happen. b) Big-H-Happiness, the meaning of life, the one thing that will just complete your existence here on Earth? That doesn't exist. So c) You have to cobble it together out of smaller pieces.

Big-H-Happiness is Enlightenment is Nirvana is Truth is Beauty is Meaning is God is The Soul. This is the thing those little monks in the orange robes spend their not-inconsiderable lifespans pondering. Once in a thousand years, a "living Buddha" achieves perfect enlightenment, and let's face it, you're not him.

Small-h-happiness is Autumn colors (or in Boxer's case, shoveling your sidewalk. Freak), is hugging your child, is finishing a Sudoku, is watching cartoons, is riding bikes, is dinner with friends, is making love. These small joys are pretty much within reach for all of us, and they add up to... Something. Probably something pretty good.

Our consumerist society teaches us from a young age that rarity equals value. Gold is worth much more than salt, by reason of its rarity. We are taught that "common" things, commodities, have little or no unit value. And so it's perhaps made a little easier to commoditize the small-h, and to always be looking for the magic bullet of enlightenment. And of course I, prey to all the foibles of the human condition, fall for this trap every time.

We are so busy looking for the forest, that we fail to see the trees. So obsessed with the Big Picture, that we ignore the magic of those tiny pixels of which it is composed. Eyes always on the horizon, we trip on the the artifacts of our missed opportunities. Searching for le mot juste, we write a bunch of crap and overstate our case.

Any conversation on this topic with IronMan usually ends with a half-joking resolution to Lower Expectations. "If you're not satisfied, lower your expectations until you are". Then we laugh. But there's many a true word spoken in jest. Narrow the scope. Lower Expectations. Don't look over there, look right here. Stop waiting.

Today we talked a bit about Boxer (yes, Leila, we talk about you when you're not around. Aren't you appalled?). How the hell does she do it? She's always so damn happy (or at least she fakes it convincingly). Boxer smiles, even when she's crying, which is tough to pull off.

Not that I cry.

You know, being a guy and all.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

StumbleUpon

Bertrand Russel once said that the point of philosophy is to start from something so simple as to not be worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it. In Plato's Meno, the title character asks Socrates "How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?" In other words, how can you know that you've arrived at the truth, when you don't know what the truth is?

Socrates runs circles around Meno, suggesting that by this logic, man cannot search for that which he knows, because he already knows it, nor for what he doesn't know, because he wouldn't know what he was looking for. Of course, this is the dumbest thing EVER, and so Meno, duly chastened, shuts his uninformed trap.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that the most rewarding way to arrive at an unknown truth is to trip over it in the dark, while on the way to the fridge for a midnight snack. Usually there is a sufficiently loud noise, as of a small plastic McDonald's toy being crushed by a grown man's bare foot, possibly a chair falling over. Some quiet but earnest swearing may also erupt.

More often, though, I resort to the "There is no absolute truth, and therefore to explore the nature of the Known or Unknown is ultimately without reward, so let's just watch Survivor."

This morning as I was leaving the house, Son gave me a big hug and said "I very love you, Daddy".

So cute.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Philly, Lick a Lolly

Wow. Just.... Wow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Behold This, Biatch

Keats says "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know". Keats, in many ways, was a genius. In many other ways his stuff is utter, utter shite. The same can be said of most of us. Literary deconstructionists and philosopher pedants like myself will try to put one over on you by suggesting that The Truth Can Sometimes Be Harsh And Disturbing, So How Is That Beautiful, eh Smart Guy?

By way of riposte, allow me to arm you, not with any real ammunition, but something that makes a loud noise and bright light, enough to distract these assailants while you escape via carefully pre-planted neologism. Just as there is no Objective Beauty, there is no Absolute Truth. While it's quite the leap to suggest that this mere coincidence implies equality, at least in this, they are equal abstracts, convenient placeholders for whatever the hell it is we were just talking about.

Ooh Look! Something shiny!

I spent a thoroughly delightful evening in the company of the League of Overachievers last night, "swilling wine with willing swine", as it were, and came away with that warm, fuzzy, light-hearted feeling that has been all too rare lately. Boxer, IronMan and Directrix were all there, along with Boxer's Big Kid (probationary League intern). Of course I dazzled with my usual charm, wit, charisma and bonhomie (or at least drank enough wine to convince myself of my own charm, wit and charisma. The bonhomie, I still maintain, was genuine).

Of such an intensity was the awesomeness, that at times I cried tears of joy, and where my tears fell, tiny white flowers blossomed. Until around 2:00 AM, when I cried tears of intense peptic discomfort as all the wine I had downed wreaked it's tanniny revenge.

So, for lack of a feast, my brain has baked us a couple of Welsh rarebits:

  1. Clich├ęs should be avoided like the plague.
  2. Speed Dating vs. Carbon Dating: Discuss.
  3. The trick with Midget Porn is to watch it on a really big TV. Then it's just like regular porn.
  4. Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary? ("Oh no", you will say, astute reader, "I'm not falling for that one. Everyone knows there's no such thing as a dictionary!")
  5. Yes, I sometimes have stubble. Does it make you want to kiss me any less? No? Then what's the problem?
  6. I wonder if they have Methadone clinics, but for boobs? I'm totally addicted to boobs.
Next time: Stay tuned, victim! Is that...doggerel?

Probably not, actually.