How Many Miles? -or- Weird Conversions Part 1

I love conversions and comparisons. How many ball bearings would it take to fill up the Empire State Building? If Jupiter was made entirely out of lead, how much smaller would it be?

Well, finally, the strange people at Wolfram (who are responsible for the ridiculously expensive and popular math software Mathematica), have created something to titillate this extremely weird and unproductive part of my soul. They call it Wolfram Alpha, and it is honestly a frightening piece of technology. You can, for example, ask it questions like “(mass of jupiter / density of lead),” and it will, in a flash, give you the answer. Which, as it turns out, is 167,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic meters. And, like an obedient child or an extremely well-trained German Shepherd, it also serves up the tidbit that this volume of lead would have a radius of 21,244 miles, which, the link Wolfram Alpha provides will gleefully tell you is about half the radius of Saturn.

Because I am a sad and lonely man, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time punching numbers into this thing and seeing what kind of funny stuff comes out. I can, through a simple multi-step process involving some shadowy calculations that I feel compelled to trust without question (Wolfram Alpha, as an extra feature, apparently comes with hypnotism), find out how large a cube of uranium weighing the same as me would be (distressingly large, is the answer). But sometimes, it comes up with slightly odd comparisons. Something might, for example, be said to have 0.25 times the mass of Earth’s atmosphere. Or, this little gem, which has spawned what may or may not turn into a post series of strange conversions and comparisons:

Don’t you go sticking your nose into why I wanted to know what 45,000,000 times 3 centimeters was, just take note of the bit at the bottom. Wolfram Alpha very helpfully pointed out that the result is 0.84 times the number of miles the Proclaimers would walk to fall down at your door. Which is a reference to this:

Every other weird comparison I’ve gotten has been, well, weird, but not quite as weird as this. And now, because, as I mentioned earlier, I am a sad and lonely man, I’m off to stick a lot of other weird numbers into it to see if it will tell me more odd facts about Scottish bands. And if it doesn’t serve up a reference to Harry Chapin’s 30,000 Pounds of Bananas, I shall write a scathing letter of complaint.

Remembering 9-11-2001

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the day a very bad thing happened, I’m sending out my traditional plea:

Today, forget about politics. Agendas. Conspiracies. Strategies. Arguments. Today, simply remember that, ten years ago, a lot of human beings went to work in two skyscrapers, and some other human beings got on planes, and some of the human beings on some of those planes hijacked the planes and flew them into the skyscrapers. And as a result of what those human beings did, a lot of human beings have died in the ten years since. Learn from the hijackers’ mistake: they learned to forget that the people on the planes they hijacked and the towers and buildings they attacked were people. Today, learn from that terrible error. Never forget that every other human body who walks or crawls around the world is inhabited by a person. We must learn never to de-humanize another person. We must never write another person off as insignificant.

And we should take this opportunity to remember that life is precarious. It might have been you or I on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings. Or it might be you or I who dies in a car crash today or tomorrow, or dies of a heart attack. In the memory of the people who died on September the 11th, cherish life, and remember that, no matter how bad or good it seems, the fact that you are alive is a gift, and it can be withdrawn at any moment.

Spawn More Overlords!

Bam! You just looked at a picture of two snails having sex! It’s like a Rickroll, except it makes you want to wash your eyeballs and move into a monastery! I would just like to congratulate the snail on the right. He (yes, he; not all snails are hermaphrodites, trolls…) has been..spreading the love at least once a day for the last two weeks. Which is more action than I’ve gotten in the last year. Which, considering I have an aquarium full of snails and take pictures of them boinking, isn’t really too surprising. Sooo lonelyyy… Anyway, that snail is awesome. In spite of the fact that, out of the four females in the tank, all but one (the other snail in the dirty, dirty picture above) are at least twice his size. Does he let that stop him? No! Is he dissuaded by the fact that the other snails are more or less uninterested in his runty ass? Of course not! Does he let go when they maneuver under low-hanging objects in an attempt to bash him off their backs? No way José! Like the emperor Caligula or a that one guy in high school, he will not rest until he’s fathered at least a thousand bastard children. (Which really, is unfair to the snail; lacking a concept of matrimony, they really have no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate offspring. You judgmental bastard.) Anyway, kudos to him! I’ll leave you with this:

Or, (and with many apologies to Allie Brosh, whose blog is much better than mine):

The Amateur Mad Scientist: Episode 5

Having discovered that I can maintain a closed ecosystem in a jar indefinitely (by which I mean for three weeks; I have the time-sense of a hyperactive Chihuahua), I decided to try a slightly riskier endeavor. Using a high-grade sterile enclosure cleverly disguised to look like an old curry jar, I added sand, gravel, crushed seashells, conditioned tapwater, and one Malaysian trumpet snail (Melanoides tuberculata). I chose the trumpet snail because: 1) I had some on hand, which the petstore (somewhat forebodingly) gave me for free; 2) They’re a lot smaller than my big aquarium snails; and 3) They’re apparently tough as hell and don’t have much in the way of oxygen demands. For oxygenation, I added four or five fragments of a Marimo moss ball plant I bought about a week ago. Here are the results:

In case you couldn’t tell from my wonderful photography, the plants are in the middle and the snail is that little brown thing half-hidden by a reflection off to the left. Surprisingly, the water isn’t cloudy because of my incompetence, but because the crushed seashells haven’t had time to settle yet, and I’m apparently harboring some latent anger, because I crushed them really well. More updates as events warrant!

An Update (No, Really)

I’m still here. I’m still alive (mostly). I’m just busy. Like, really busy. Beavers? Beavers ain’t got nothin’ on me. I promise I’ll be updating again soon. (Hopefully) I’ll have some big(gish) news soon.

Haiti

I’m not going to pretend to know the miseries of the Haitian people after the earthquake, and I’m not going to use guilt or pathos to appeal to anyone. I just want to say that, if you’ve got any money at all to spare, spare a little for Haiti. It’s in pretty rough shape, and it could really use the help. I suggest giving to the American Red Cross, I think they’re fairly reputable, but give wherever and however much you can.

R.I.P. Kim Peek

R.I.P. Kim Peek (11/11/1951 – 12/19/2009). Goodbye, Rain Man.

You Know You’re a Nerd When…

…you think “I want to make a softboiled egg, but I don’t know how. I’d better hit the ‘net and look it up. But I want to get the time right, so I’d better consult at least two sources.” I’m actually a little ashamed…

Targeted Advertising

Lately, as my social skills have improved to the point that I’m no longer that kid who always ends up partnered up with the teacher for group activities, I’ve begun regular e-mail conversations. I use Gmail, because it’s free, because Yahoo annoys me, and because I’m clearly very trusting. Lately, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend of highly targeted ads appearing in the side-bars of my e-mails. Most of them are just unsettling: I write some witty quip about cucumbers, and as soon as I get my reply, there in the sidebar is something like “Cucumber Recipes 4 Free!!!” Sometimes, though, the ads are a bit more surreal. When discussing space travel with someone, I saw the following:

Well thanks, Google! I bet I can get a crapload of frequent flier miles!

But fret not, Gmail users, Google doesn’t want you to play eccentric millionaire and book passage on a Soyuz. Oh, no. They want to help you save money, too!

In unrelated news, if you’re single, Christian, and incredibly creepy, there’s a site looking to hook you up with possible jailbait in no time!

You know, all this taken together with its interest in insects crawling up the rectum makes me suspect that the Internet may not actually be entirely sane…

Something Wicked This Way Comes

You know something? I hate 3D movies. Not because they’re more expensive (which they are). And not because they have the feel of a fad (which they do). And also not because I worry that the gimmick will take precedence over good storytelling (which I do). No, I hate 3D movies because I can’t…fucking…watch…them.

As it so happens, I’m what you call “stereoblind.” When I was a little kid, I had an uncooperative eye muscle, and so my eyes never learned to focus together on one point. As a result, my brain never had consistent images with which to learn depth perception. And as a result, I can see perfectly well out of both eyes, just not at the same time.

For a long while I had no idea what was going on. As a kid, I had a book about dinosaurs, and it had a few pages of those red-blue 3d anaglyphs. I put on the 3d glasses, not entirely sure what I was going to see. What I saw was nothing. I looked through one eye , and saw only the red half of the drawing. I looked through the other eye, and saw only the blue half. I switched back and forth. Still no 3D. As I got older, I grew to hate those “Magic Eye” pictures. Finally, in high school, it struck me that the reason for all of this was the fact that I have no depth perception at all. My right eye does its thing, and my left eye does its thing, and they don’t communicate much. At one point, I remember thinking “Well, at least that whole 3D movie craze passed me by.”

Well, the universe couldn’t let a silly “famous last words” statement like that pass. Oh no. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been learning that James Cameron’s Avatar (by James Cameron) is being touted as a 3D movie. NPR tells me that Cameron is also converting Titanic into 3D, and more and more theaters are jumping on the three-dimensional bandwagon. Well, to stretch the analogy way farther than I should, I’m rolling along behind that bandwagon in a wheelchair with a bad wheel. If the 3D craze becomes the massive thing that movie studios seem to hope it becomes, then I’m going to have a lot more stuff to rant about.

Veteran’s Day

I’ve never been drafted to serve in a war.

I’ve never seen bombers flying overhead.

I don’t know what it looks like when someone gets shot in the head.

Idon’t hear about bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan and think “That could have been me.”

Political factions have never cut of my power, or my water, or my food.

If I sleep poorly at night, it’s never for fear of my safety.

I have the leisure to think about myself.

When the government does something I don’t like, I’m not afraid to say so.

For all this, I thank our veterans. All you brave souls: thank you.

Awesome Chart

I’ve been a fan of xkcd ever since I discovered it a few years. There’s something about the comic’s simultaneously intelligent and absurd humor that strikes a chord in me. But today’s comic is one of those rare ones that’s intelligent, absurd, and remarkable. The caption basically says it all, but I’d like to add that Mr. Munroe was spot-on about Primer: the world’s coolest time-travel movie with the world’s most incomprehensible plot.

Image courtesy of http://xkcd.com/

(With many thanks to Randall Munroe!)

NaNoWriMo 2009!

Oh, man. The magical season is upon us again. And good guess, but I don’t mean the Halloween season. I mean the glorious month of November, where thousands of people sweat out, bleed out, or otherwise excrete a 50,00o-word novel. National Novel-Writing Month returns again! I’m honestly a lot more excited than is reasonable, but I always have a really smashing time, and who knows, maybe this year I’ll actually make good on my promise to revise the aforementioned excretion.

Anyway, here’s a brief preview of this year’s novel:

TAC-Cover

Plenty of neurotic losers spend their high school years plotting the destruction of the human race. Jon Cordin may be the first to succeed…

To My Nasty Virus

Dear Virus,

Although I was thrilled to be chosen as your auspicious host, I believe that our relationship is over. Really, it’s over. Get your shit out of my closet, clean out my sinuses, and get packing. You are freakish and unnatural. You exhaust me. No 21-year-old should have the energy of an unhealthy 60-year-old man with a bad knee and a serious Nyquil habit. How the hell am I supposed to explain to my reader(s) why I haven’t been able to stick three coherent sentences together. It’s over. Move on. I have a wide variety of friends and relatives you can stay with. It’s time to broaden your horizons, spread your wings.

Sincerely,

The Guy Who’s Been Sick For Two Months

The Weekly Limerick #1

Because it seems so much more entertaining than “The Weekly Update.”

As usual, not much to say.

School tends to fill up my days.

Played some new games, it’s true

I could write a review

But I probably won’t anyways.

The Marathon Ends

As I’d sort of expected, it didn’t last nearly as long as I’d thought it would. In the end, I managed 4,924 words in four hours, which is nothing to sneeze at. I’ll probably be posting an excerpt from the first draft of “Street Food” soon.

In the end, it wasn’t my willpower or my stamina that failed me. What happened was, in the metaphorical twelfth mile, I started to get shin splints, and then the marathon was canceled on account of rain, and I realized that it was probably for the best. I feel only mildly disappointed: four hours of constant writing was more of a strain on my flimsy sanity than I really need.

Okay…I guess I’ll go of and do something “productive.” Damn it!

From Wikipedia

Child Crying

“Honey? Why are the kids crying?”

“Well, I needed some public-domain photos for Wikipedia…”

“You made our children cry for a Wikipedia article???”

“It’s scientific!”

Veteran’s Day

All right, I want to take a break from snarkiness and sarcasm to give my earnest thanks to all the world’s veterans whose sacrifices kept me free, and to those brave souls on the front lines, wherever and whoever they may be.

Movie Review: “Crank 2: High Voltage”

A few years ago, I saw Crank, and think of it now (as I did then) as the cinematic equivalent of chugging three Red Bulls and staying up all night playing Grand Theft Auto: a hell of a lot of fun, but high-calorie, dangerous, and bad for you. At the risk of overextending an already-flimsy analogy, this is how I see the sequel Crank 2: High Voltage: like snorting an ounce of cocaine cut with meth and then sprinting across the highway. That is to say: insane, stupid, but ridiculously thrilling.

In this paragraph, I usually talk about the plot. Not this time, though, for one simple reason: I’m not exactly sure what happened. High Voltage has that same insanely fast-paced, no-holds-barred, in-your-face action that Crank had, only magnified by a factor of several million. Enough bloody gunfights, sex scenes, and wild characters flit past to fill two or three full-length movies, all crammed into your brain in an hour and a half. Here’s the “plot” in a nutshell: insane hitman Chev Chelios did not, as rational people might think, die after falling from a helicopter onto a Cadillac. Oh no, he lived on to have his heart removed by surgeons-turned-gangsters (or gangsters-turned-surgeons), and replaced by an artificial pump. Now, he must keep it charged while he runs around kicking ass and doing wild, bizarre things and killing a lot of folks. Here’s the kicker: he charges it by getting shocked. That’s not the only massive suspension of disbelief heaped on the viewer, but it sets a sort of weird tone for the rest of the movie. Crank, at least, could pretend to some kind of plausibility, but High Voltage has stumbled several yards over the line separating “well, it could happen” from “utter bullshit.”

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the sequel. What little of it I could integrate, that is. If you don’t want to spend the fifteen bucks to see it in theaters, you can replicate its effect rather easily: stare at a rapid strobe light for half an hour with death-metal (I suggest Rammstein) turned up to full blast in the background, and that’s pretty much what it’s like to watch High Voltage. In all seriousness, I would warn all epileptics not to even consider watching this film. The cuts are fast and jittery, and the whole thing is very in-your-face. It has taken me (no joke) almost an hour and a half to even begin to recover from the sensory overload High Voltage caused. Here is where the director lapsed into insanity. High Voltage is so frighteningly intense that, after about half an hour, I couldn’t even make sense of it anymore. My brain could no longer integrate the lightning-quick scenes and surreal segues, and I saw everything through a sort of dizzy tunnel vision. It is not an exaggeration when I say that High Voltage is not a movie meant to be watched by normal humans. If you watched it through twice in succession, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell. Your brain would probably also liquefy, so don’t try it.

All in all, though, High Voltage is a juiced-up high-calorie mind-blowing sexually-charged insanely-intense adrenaline-fueled amphetamine-shot of a movie, and if you’re looking for cheap thrills, you’d probably have to take actual drugs to top the angry spasticity of this movie.

Final Judgment: * * * * * * * * – – (8 / 10)

Idea: The Un-Game

Once again, an idea came to me while I was in the la-la land between waking and sleeping, and I thought I’d share it with you, dear reader(s): the Un-Game. Basically, the Un-Game is a piece of software that looks and behaves more or less like a video game (in most cases a first-person shooter), but isn’t. It has the same sort of graphics and controls, but no plot or real objectives. The idea came to me while I was being generally disappointed by both movie versions of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. The 1972 version was long and depressing and strange, and the 2002 version missed the spectacle of the planet entirely. I realized that it wasn’t likely that anybody would do a re-make any time soon. But the only other venue with special effects to do justice to Solaris is the video game industry. And thus, the idea of the Un-Game was born. Here are a few examples:

Solaris: The player wanders around Solaris Station, maybe interacting with the crew, but they also have the option to go out and just look at the scenery, watch the suns rise and set, and observe the ocean’s strange transformations. That would be the main focus of the game: trying to visually re-create the symmetriads and agiluses that Lem described so vividly in the book.

Schizophrenia: Something like this already exists in Second Life, but I’d be interested to see a more thorough, first-person treatment that lets non-schizophrenics like me get an idea of what the symptoms are like. This could also be applied to other dieseases like epilepsy or autism: the player could have goals like go to the grocery store or drop the mail in the mailbox, and try to do them in spite of the symptoms.

Hallucinogens: Many moons ago, I played an interesting modified version of Tetris. The rules were exactly the same, but the player had to combat drug-induced hallucinations while slotting the blocks into place. Once again, I think a first-person-shooter-type perspective could be interesting here, giving people an idea what it’s like. This one has the most potential for development into a traditional FPS.

Training: I know that simulations like this already exist in huge numbers, but as I keep saying, I think the FPS perspective has a lot to offer here, allowing people to experience the dangers and intricacies of a new job or a new task.

What I’ve Been Doing Lately

  • Occasionally wallowing in blog-related guilt, mostly brought on the fact that I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been…
  • …working a lot, and spending most of my spare time…
  • …writing because I’ve finally recovered from another spell of writer’s block, and because I’m suddenly feeling a matehmatician-like “pressure to publish”. Fortunately, I’ve still had time to do things like…
  • …see movies. For example, Knowing (starring Nicholas Cage, directed by Alex Proyas), which I thought was pretty decent until around two thirds of the way through when it basically became religious propaganda. Still, it was nice to have a movie to watch since…
  • …bugger-all’s been coming out lately. Here is my ultimatum to the movie directors of the world: can the stupid remakes, the stupider sequels, and the even stupider (God, how did we sink so low?) romantic comedies and various other slush. Pretty much all the movies I’ve seen (in theaters and through Netflix) lately have been more or less unwatchable…
  • …like the 1972 Russian version of Solaris, which, although it was more faithful to the actual plot of the novel, was so drawn-out and depressing and awful that I just gave up watching it and sent it back. It switches from black-and-white to color at random, there are long boring segments that serve no purpose (after all, who wants to watch traffic for fifteen damned minutes?), and it’s three fucking hours long. Now, it wins big points in the carnality department, but only because the Rheya of the 1972 movie is so much hotter than in the 2002 version with George Clooney (don’t get me wrong, though, I have no problem with Natascha McElhone…ahem…right). Apart from the previous bullet points there…
  • …hasn’t been much to talk about, which explains the lack of updates. As for why I decided that this would be a good format for a post, well, I guess you can just…
  • …chalk it up to sleep deprivation, which always makes me think very highly of my stupider ideas.

Happy Pi Day!

That’s right, 3-14 has come around yet again! So, happy pi day! And happy birthday, Albert. In celebration, I present to you all of the digits of pi that I’ve memorized so far:

3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286…

And now I’m off to eat some pie.

The Weekly Update #13

What I’m Reading Now: I finished Invisible Monsters. Fairly great book, but the ending was a little weak.

What I’m Writing Now: I’m working on a bunch of different short stories, but most of my writing time is taken up doing research.

What I’m Playing Now: Still Fallout 3. I’m re-discovering the joys of having an unapologetically evil character.

What I’m Watching Now: Apart from a little Red Dwarf on DVD, nothing.

My Inspirational Thought of the Week: “There are 6.7 billion people on Earth. This greatly increases the odds that, someone else is facing the exact same problem as you and wondering what the hell they’re going to do about it.”

Coming Soon…

Once again, I apologize that I’ve been so quiet lately, but my new job is taking more energy than I expected, and now I caught a nasty cold from one of my coworkers. To make it up to you, I promise (at some point in the near future) a nice post about yet another NetLogo model I’ve been working on.

The Weekly Update #12

What I’m Reading Now: Chuck Palaniuhk’s Invisible Monsters. Palaniuhk’s sense of humor is dark and twisted, kind of like Kurt Vonnegut and Karl Hiaasen having a fistfight.

What I’m Writing Now: Various shot stories.

What I’m Playing Now: A little Fallout 3.

What I’m Watching Now: The somewhat bizarre YouTube series “Is It A Good Idea to Microwave This?” Also, Firefly.

My Inspirational Thought of the Week: “Existentialists are fond of saying that we’re born alone and we die alone. That’s not true if you talk to yourself.”