10 August 2013

MS MR - "Hurricane"

I quite enjoy this song—the verse in particular—and have been listening to it over and over. If you decide to check out more from the band just be ready for things to get kinda weird/creepy/dark in their official videos. :P

18 June 2013

Miscellaneous thoughts related to base-twelve

If you haven't already, read my previous posts, "The case for base-twelve" (Part 1 and Part 2)

FINALLY we can get this whole
counting thing sorted out...

So no, I don't think switching to base-twelve is a feasible idea. I do lament the fact that it's not what we're using right now, though. It strikes me as a more elegant system, and it's a shame that happenstance has pretty much dictated that it'll never be the system we use. Unless, maybe, all of civilization collapses and the society that rises from the rubble happens to use it... But wishful thinking will get me nowhere.

One way I console myself over the fact that a modern, real-world base-twelve system will never be is to imagine a fictional society that uses it. Helpfully, I already happen to have a fictional society on hand. I can't recall if I've alluded to it before, but basically my friend and I have an imaginary continent in the North Pacific, on which I have an imaginary country called Morsenia. The whole thing sounds silly—and it is—but it's basically a collaborative thought experiment that gives us a mental playground for all sorts of hypotheticals. It's constantly-evolving geopolitical fan-fiction, more-or-less. Most of the concepts explored are political and historical, but in developing our countries' stories there's plenty of room for mulling on all sorts of subjects, like language, religion, and biogeography. All-in-all it's a fun excuse to learn a bunch of new things in a variety of subjects as you go about the business of building a believable country and culture.

In the past Morsenia was much more of a Mary Sue; I'd basically take all the things I think are good or cool ideas, say my country did them, and things would inevitably work out pretty well (so they were a wealthy, high-tech nation with a huge standing army filled with tilt-rotor aircraft and digital camo; but also they were somehow isolationist and relatively peaceful). I've made a lot of progress griming it up and throwing wrenches into the works to make it a little more believable (now they're poor and use decades-old weapons and equipment), but I still definitely use it as an intellectual testing ground for ideas I think might work well in real life. Base-twelve is one of those.

The case for base-twelve, Part 2

(If you haven't already, read Part 1, where I explain why we're going through all this trouble.)

An important thing to understand before we move on: what we tend to call a "number" is actually comprised of several different aspects. It has a value, which is the count of things it represents; it has a symbol, which is made up of the numerals 0-9 which can be arranged in single- and multi-digit fashion; and it has a name. In day-to-day life, when we don't bother with anything other than the standard base-ten system, the three aspects seem essentially tied to each other. However, once we start considering other systems we find that the three aspects are actually separate. In base-ten the symbol "10" coincides with this many things: (o o o o o o o o o o), but in another system it wouldn't (and it may or may not be called "ten").

In light of those distinctions, I'm going to employ a certain formatting scheme in this post that will hopefully make it easier to compare base-ten with other systems. If I write out the name of a number with letters then I'm referring to the value. So by "ten" I mean a group of this many things: (o o o o o o o o o o). On the other hand, if I were to write "10" then I'm referring to the symbol formed by the digits themselves, and not a specific value or count of something. It gets a little less clear when we get to the name, since I'm already using the spelled-out word to indicate the value. But generally, if I put the word for the number in quotation marks I'm probably talking about it specifically as a name rather than as a representation of the value. A little confusing, but hopefully it'll make sense in context.

Now, if we were planning to switch to any system between base-one and base-nine we'd be all set for symbols: we'd have a few extra hanging around that we wouldn't need anymore. But since we're talking about switching to a system higher than base-ten, we're gonna need a couple more single-digit numerals to fill in the new gap before we reach "10" (which, remember, is twelve things in base-twelve). For now, we can just swipe a couple symbols from the Greek alphabet*. Doing so could give us a series of number symbols that looks like this:  

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, γ, ψ, 10

Two values that were formerly represented by double-digit symbols, ten and eleven, are now represented by single-digit symbols, and the symbol "10" has been reassigned to represent a dozen of something.

The case for base-twelve, Part 1

Image Source
This is going to be another of my pet rants (like this one)—the kind that people who know me in real life may have heard five or six times now. I'm going to go into waaaaay more detail than I ever have in person, though. So maybe getting it all out of my system on the internet will mean they won't have to hear it anymore? (HAH!)

This topic's a favorite of mine because it challenges some of our most basic assumptions, and because the solution I advocate for is at once sensible yet terribly impractical. Basically my point is that instead of ten, we should be counting to twelve.

I'm by no means the first person to say as much but, even so, I don't think it occurs to most people that there's even an option to count to anything besides ten. It's just not the sort of thing you'll encounter unless you're involved in computer science (nope), are really into mathematics/number theory (nope), or are just a huge dork with too much time on your hands (ding-ding-ding!). In fact, I don't want to alarm you, but the ideas in this series of posts may very well BLOW YOUR MIND. :O (They had that effect on me when I was first introduced to them, anyway.)

To start, we need to understand that the symbol "10," regardless of how many things it actually represents, is very important. As the first number with more than one digit it basically says, "Okay, at this point we've finished one 'set' of things, and now we're starting over with a new 'set.'" So a number like "27" basically means, "two complete 'sets,' plus seven."

The big question I'm asking here is, Why is this many things: (o o o o o o o o o o) considered a full set? In other words, Why is ten the first two-digit number?

The truth is that there's no real reason—perhaps other than the fact that we happen to have ten fingers to count on. But you may notice that that's not a very good reason. If human beings were like Homer Simpson, then eight might have been considered a full set and thus represented by "10;" all-in-all, it's troublingly arbitrary.

And so while the way we count seems incredibly natural to us, it's actually just one of many (infinite, really) possible systems. The one we use is called base-ten, or decimal. You could hypothetically have a system based on any value (base-ten, base-seven, base-five-hundred, whatever)—it just means you start two-digit numbers when you've reached the amount named after "base-". They wouldn't all be equally convenient, however. And as you'll see, that's one of my main points in discussing all this: some systems are more useful than others and in my opinion the one we use, base-ten, is not the best. Base-twelve (duodecimal, or dozenal) is far superior.

 "What's so bloody great about twelve?" you may be asking yourself. Well, I'm happy to explain...

13 May 2013

Here There Be Chickens: GeoGuessr

This post is going to have a lot of pictures. Click any of them to enlarge.

A couple of the PC gaming sites I visit pointed out this lovely browser-based game today: GeoGuessr. Basically it takes you to a random street somewhere in the world using Google Street View, and you have to figure out where you are. It's a simple idea but quite fun: it gives you a new way to experience the already-addicting Street View by testing your general geography knowledge and deduction skills. Wondering whether I'd get able to get around in a random place is the kind of thing I tend to daydream about, so I love the idea of the game.

Since it's based on Google Street View* you won't find yourself in the middle of an untraversable desert or stranded on an iceberg; you'll always be on a street. That still leaves a lot of places for you to find yourself, though. It could be in a city:

Or someplace a little more remote:

And then it's up to you to look around for clues. The most obvious one is often the vegetation. That and the color of the soil in the second image led me to believe I was in Australia. That was correct, but since I don't have much familiarity with that country and because I couldn't find anything else useful nearby, my guess was pretty imprecise (I basically clicked in the middle of the country, whereas I was actually in the north).

Cities offer a lot more information, though, and I'll take you through my process for that first image:

24 April 2013

A Game of High-Stakes Bureaucracy

I suppose you'd be justified if you think the idea of a game based on checking papers at a border-crossing sounds like it could be a little boring. But if you're like me, then the forthcoming game Papers, Please will quickly start to win you over. It begins when you realize that far from simply pestering commuters at a rather benign border-crossing in Northern Europe or some such place, you're actually working for the paranoid government of a fictional Soviet-era republic just reopening its borders after a bitter war. Then there are the visuals, the stark simplicity of which evoke both old school gaming and the bleak, repressive world in which the characters live. And while it does of course involve the repetitive, machine-like tasks that constitute the job, the game is primarily concerned with capturing the humanity of the situation—that of your character and of the countless souls who come before you with the hope of making it into the country.

I first heard about the game over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and was very much intrigued, but instead of trying the beta I decided to hold off until the full game was released. Then tonight Nerd³ posted a play-through of the first few levels and I was at the download page before the video was done. As the RPS article extolls (but which I couldn't really appreciate until I saw it in action) there's a certain appeal just in the "tangibility" of the game. Despite it being about checking forms it's actually quite engaging to play, both from the interactivity and the sense of power over people's lives. You manually take their documents and spread them on your desk as you compare names with names, numbers with numbers, and photos with faces. And then of course there's punching down that great big stamp, leaving an indelible mark of your judgment and sealing their fate one way or the other.

23 April 2013

A little poem about murder

The image to the right turned up in my Facebook feed tonight. I almost looked right past it, but the last line happened to catch my eye and upon reading the rest I was disgusted.

Generally I don't start religious or political discussions on Facebook but I do make exceptions, so I thought for a while on whether this case should be one of them. In the end I decided it wasn't worth it. But I still find the whole thing quite infuriating, so I'm going to vent my frustration here.

As you can see, in addition to being a shitty poem it has the audacity to claim that the reason for the increase in school shootings is the fact that official moments of prayer have been done away with in many schools.

First of all: who the hell thought a blithe little poem such as this was an appropriate way to broach the subject of the violent deaths of children? It's so hideously disrespectful that I can hardly believe it's real.

Next, you may have noticed that I was somewhat particular in my description of the state of prayer in schools. The poem claims that it's "illegal ...  to bring the Lamb of God to school, or even speak His name," but that's an outright lie. Nowhere in the United States is it illegal for a student to mention God in school—the Abrahamic one or otherwise. Nor is it illegal to pray in schools. All that's happening is that "moments of prayer" are being replaced with secular "moments of silence;" if a student wants to pray during a moment silence, they're perfectly able to. The fact that this poem is lying through its teeth doesn't do much to secure the position on the moral high ground that it so obviously thinks it deserves.

My main problem with it, though, is how intellectually insulting it is. It takes a complex and tragic problem and has the arrogance to proclaim that all it comes down to is that people aren't praying enough to the author's particular deity. Basically, all you atheists and Buddhists and Jews have the blood of scores of children on your hands for not praying, or praying wrongly. Other than being incredibly offensive, it's a lazy approach to a serious problem. If we were to throw our hands up and decide this was our "solution" we'd be condemning many more children to death. Our kids deserve serious thought put toward real solutions, not cop outs and excuses.

And lastly I can't help but mention the horrible light in which this poem puts its own God through its claims. According to the poem, the allegedly omnipotent God sits by and watches as children are brutally slain because a prayer quota hasn't been met. Sorry, little Katie, He might say, if you'd only prayed a little harder I might have stopped that bullet...

I've got no use for any god that operates like that, and I've gotta wonder about anyone who thinks that sort of behavior is deserving of worship.

22 April 2013

Grimes - "Oblivion"

I think part of what originally drew me to this song was that the second half reminds me of the old GoldenEye and Perfect Dark soundtracks from the N64. :P

Even apart from that I like the song, though, and quite a few others from Grimes. Both she and her music are cute and goofy, with a nice hint of creepy.

(If you want a comparison for the old N64 games, I think the similarities are especially obvious in this one from GoldenEye and in this one from Perfect Dark. It's actually to the point where I really wonder if it can be a total coincidence, but even if it's not I'm totally okay with that; I think those games' soundtracks are an excellent place to draw influence from. Their music [by Grant Kirkhope] was one of the better parts of games that were already fantastic to begin with.)

New Zealand gives me hope

Last week New Zealand's House of Representatives passed approval for same-sex marriage in that country, to take effect on 19 August. That's encouraging in its own right, but there have also been a couple of awesome videos to come out of the process.

The first is of National Party MP Maurice Williamson giving an impassioned and funny speech on why the bill should pass:

28 March 2013

A thing I made, because reasons

(Click for larger)

I was playing the lovely game FTL and as my hopes and dreams were being sucked into the void through a horrifying number of hull breaches I remarked to a friend, "Space is full of jerks."

His fantastic reply was simply "- Carl Sagan." This led to us modifying a bunch of Sagan's quotes. Billions and billions of jerks, jerks making apple pies from scratch, and of course, "Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group... of jerks."

The above picture was a parting shot of sorts. I giggled all the way through making it, and while I'll admit it's not quite the same comedy gold now that I've had adequate sleep, I'm still quite fond of it. And now it's my gift to you, internet.

The humor (as it were) comes from the fact that Sagan was of course an immensely positive person. And so that I don't feel like I'm entirely besmirching the man's memory, I've included a positive alternative below the fold.

18 February 2013

Gods forgive us

A friend asked me to help her with the visuals for a school assignment that involved making a Facebook page for Socrates, and here's what we came up with:

See the rest of it after the jump.

16 February 2013

Meteor over Russia

Obviously this story has been covered pretty much all over the place today, and given that I'm no astronomy expert I don't really have anything new to contribute, but there's also pretty much no way I could let this pass without mentioning it.

I first heard about it this morning, when my friend Tim—an enthusiast of both astronomy and Russia, so this thing was basically made for him—awoke me with a text about it. When I was finally able to drag myself out of bed the first thing I did was check Bad Astronomy to see what Phil Plait had to say on the subject. He was of course right on top of things and his initial post included several amazing videos, including this one showing the contrail of the meteor forming:

And this one in which the shockwave from the sonic boom and/or explosion of the meteor reaches the ground and shatters nearby windows (the wave hits at around 12 seconds and it's loud, so for the sake of your eardrums make sure your volume isn't up too high):

And here's a hole in a lake that may be where one of the fragments made landfall:

The whole thing is stunning, and thanks to the insanity of Russia's roads we have plenty of dashcam footage of it happening. For an expert's analysis of the meteor head over to Bad Astronomy: here's his original post, and here's his follow-up.

14 February 2013

"Masculism": The joke that writes itself

If you're not aware, there's a group of men out there who refer to themselves as Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) who appear to be genuinely under the impression that men are the oppressed sex in our society. If your immediate reaction is to laugh and shake your head in disbelief, that's because it's warranted. Their evidence for their oppression seems to come down to a bitterness over the fact that the tradition of men paying for dates still lingers in our society, resentment over their alimony payments, and a delusional paranoia that all women are really succubi that are after men's semen for some nefarious purpose. Of course what it really comes down to is a bunch of man-children who miss the "good old days" when sex was mandatory, beatings were expected, and women "respected" their man... it's just a bunch of assholes who think of women as objects and are upset that their objects are done taking their shit. And I assume it also involves a large dose of being convinced that that bitch told all her friends and now the whole world is laughing behind your back about your tiny penis. You're the only one obsessing over your penis, tiny or not, so get the hell over it; it's your tiny, bitter brain and dearth of personality that people find repulsive.

Now, it wasn't my intention to make this a Valentine's Day post but I'm fine that it turned out that way, since I imagine that today is a sort of anti-holy day for those in the MRA mindset. (I think Valentine's Day is a bit moronic myself because of the way it equates spending money with showing affection, which I see as a result of our petty and superficial society, and not indicative of an evil matriarchy.) Anyway, a couple days ago I came across this article on Jezebel. It's about the effort of MRAs to get a Twitter topic trending around the concept of "masculism," and how it immediately blew up in their faces. The MRA position is so hopeless that it's pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel, but I got a kick out of the responses from reasonable human beings anyway. Here are two of my favorites, and you can see some more great ones over at Jezebel, or you can browse the topic yourself on Twitter.

31 January 2013


Here's a beautiful video of the moon rising with people silhouetted against it:

It's a little hard to believe at first, but the video is realtime and the moon really does move that quickly across the sky. It's a little deceiving, though, since the video was shot through a telephoto lens from 2 km out, so you're seeing a smaller portion of the sky than you might at first assume. That's also why the people seem so small against it: the moon is distant and large enough that it's going to appear about the same size no matter where you are on the surface of the Earth, but 2 km is very relevant to objects the size of human beings, so they seem quite small against the moon. Phil Plait explains that and more over at Bad Astronomy.

The music is lovely (I'm a total sucker for a pairing of strings and piano) and of course the view is amazing. There's something enchanting about watching the people mill about on the hill in silhouette; knowing nothing about who they are, but still feeling a bit of a connection because they're so readily recognizable as human. There's a young couple sitting closely side-by-side, children clambering on top of things. And while the people went up to that observation area to enjoy nature just as we are, they have no idea about the stunning image they've become a part of. All in all, it just really makes me smile.

30 January 2013

Swim like an eagle

Human preconceptions of you are irrelevant when there's a tasty hunk of meat to be had.

(via 22 Words)

27 January 2013

The Life of Brian and Closed Systems of Thought

In a recent post on Pharyngula, PZ Myers reminded me of this frustrating but intriguing interview and debate from 1979 that members of Monty Python did about their film Life of Brian, which came out that same year. Two of the Pythons, John Cleese and Michael Palin, discussed the film with journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark. The segment in its entirety includes an interview of the Pythons by the host and opening statements from Mr. Muggeridge and the Bishop and can be watched starting with this video (first of four parts, the rest of which you should be able to access through the sidebar on YouTube), and I do recommend it. The videos I'm going to embed below are an alternate copy (the same that PZ used) which skip to meat of the debate.

While Mr. Muggeridge and the Bishop's harangues can be quite tedious to get through at times, the whole thing is interesting because of how well they obliviously make Cleese and Palin's point for them. As Cleese futilely tries to tell them, the point of the movie isn't to ridicule the figure of Christ, it's to ridicule "closed systems of thought." The film is meant to encourage people to think for themselves, to approach matters—including religion—with an open mind and critical thinking. Mr. Muggeridge and the Bishop do an excellent job of showing the pitfalls of such closed systems by clearly having had their opinions of the movie set in stone before they ever saw it and by stubbornly brushing off all of the Pythons' attempts to explain to them how they'd misinterpreted the film.

You can find the second part of the video and the rest of my thoughts below the fold. (By the way, ignore the titles of the embedded videos. :P They were clearly uploaded by another person who isn't keen on listening to what the Pythons were actually saying.)

26 January 2013

Geek vs. Dork vs. Nerd

(Image Source)
I'm the sort of person who happily self-identifies as both a "geek" and a "dork," but as soon as someone tries to call me a "nerd" I'll vehemently deny it. Why?

Because I'm also a pedant, though I've come to realize that my pedantry in this particular area may be a lot more subjective than I used to think. To me, the terms "geek," "dork," and "nerd" have always had distinct meanings and I had assumed that was generally understood. But after years of issuing my prescriptivist rant on the subject to the rolling eyes but blessedly patient ears of my friends and acquaintances, I've noticed that most people seem content to use the terms interchangeably.

Now, if I were a reasonable human being I might admit defeat and drop the subject. But I'm stubborn, so I've stuck to my guns and will continue sticking to them. I think it's much more useful for the terms to have their own distinct definitions than for all of them to be vaguely synonymous—plus the differences among them just seem too self-evident to ignore (even if it turns out that's only a result of my subjective experiences). So I'll keep on making my case to any kind soul patient enough to listen—and now it's your turn, fine folks of the internet.

17 January 2013

The Temper Trap - "Fader"

It took me a while to realize how much I enjoy this song. It doesn't really have anything that reaches out and grabs me and so for a time I'd only half-listen when it played on the radio. But soon I realized that I always found myself feeling like it had ended too soon, that I wanted to listen to it some more. And upon closer listening I found that even though it is perhaps a bit subdued, it's quite enjoyable. Hope you enjoy it, too. :)

16 January 2013

An Ode to Oddness

When I came across this video, it was presented in a way that made it seem like just another video of somebody showing off some dumb thing they'd invented. Because of that I almost passed it by, since the invention itself (a spring-loaded wrist mount for an iPhone) isn't terribly impressive. But I'm thankful to whatever tiny demon of whimsy prodded me to watch it, because while it starts off predictably enough—a diagram of the gadget, a demonstration of its use—it quickly veers off course to become something else entirely. The anticipated explanation of the invention and its creation never comes, and instead the video somehow shifts into a series of awkward and absurd vignettes that are only vaguely centered around the device. I've already yammered on about it too much, so just watch it for yourself:

It's a bit pathetic and borderline creepy at times, but I love pretty much everything about it: the pacing, the shots, the non sequitur acts of weirdness. The uploader on YouTube, morishowta, only has a handful of other videos, and after watching them I get the impression that he's self-aware and that he's being weird and pathetic on purpose. If I were to find out that wasn't the case then that would probably change my opinion of his videos drastically, but as it stands I think they're a queerly beautiful little ode to being an outcast.

Like I said, he only has a few videos so far, and it's well worth it to watch them all. After seeing this one I went to the beginning and watched from there, and in doing so you can see how they start off somewhat normal and then get progressively weirder, which I also think is great. I wish I understood Japanese so I could get the full picture, but I think there's also something to be said for the added sense of foreignness that the language barrier adds to his already-confounding antics. In addition to several iterations of his iPhone-deploying gadget, there are also a couple where he builds grotesque "girlfriends" out of junk, which manage not to come off as creepily as you might assume. :P