log (2000/06/02 to 2000/06/08)

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Thursday, June 8, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

What do you call a tree-decoration bearing a picture of a neonate? It's a newbornament, of course!

What's the most musical farm vehicle? The orchestractor!!

What board game is played in houses of ill repute? Brothello!!!

(Why, yes, I have in fact just written a Perl script that goes through usr/dict/words and finds random pairs such that the end of one is the start of another. How could you tell?)

What do you shout when you find the perfect massage therapist? "Masseureka"!

Does that sound evil? Perhaps it's malevolentendre!

(Man, some people really need to get a life.)

Going nameless amid the lava floes: volcanonymity!!

What car is preferred by vector theorists? The Manifoldsmobile!

Well, this is getting tiring; let me tell you just one more trichloroethanecdote.


OK, OK, OK, so OK. Okay. I'll stop now. Here is an unadorned list of some others the program found; I'll let your imagination fill in the awful riddles by itself:


The script is utterly trivial; among other things it always uses the first/last three characters, rather than trying to guess at syllable boundaries, which would be more logical (logicalciferous!).

(The great thing about the eagles is that they'll take anything...)

Wednesday, June 7, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Big honking solar flare.

Scott McCloud gave a talk at the lab today; it was great! I even got my copy of "Understanding Comics" signed.

He's a good, interesting, informal speaker. I doubt he said much that isn't on his website or in his books, but it was good it hear it in person. He talked about the Web, bandwidth, micropayments (in which he's a great believer), comics, the role of animation and sound, and so on. He took lots and lots of audience questions, which was very nice, and he kept apologizing for how disorganized he was (which he needn't have).

One bit of interesting gossip: the DC Comics edition of "Reinventing Comics" (which comes out today in comic stores) differs from the bookstore edition (which comes out in August) in that it contains a disclaimer from DC Comics. Apparently he was acerbic enough about the history of the industry that DC felt it necessary to say, roughly, "we strongly support the author's right to express his opinions, although we disagree with many of them."

I want a copy of that edition!   *8)

"What did you put for number eight?"

"Which one was that?"

"'Who were the commanders of the Green and Davis arcologies during the Second Regency?'"

"Green, Fleming, Kuo, and Enya-Mohar."


"Didn't you study at all?"

"What's an 'arcology' anyway?"

"I doubt anybody knows."

"Do you think it's all true?"


"You know, the arcologies, the Regents, the Time of Accession and the Great Waiting and everything. Do you think there's really anything beyond the Dome at all?"

Her eyes widened. "You know you don't ask questions like that!"

Hello, world!

In the wake of (people are always writing "in the wake of") the LoveLetter thing, an internal company website ran a little article about it, and included this grinning picture of me. I dunno how old it is, but somehow I look amazingly young and innocent. I said (emailed) this to a cow-orker, who said very flatteringly that I still look that way. Nice thought; maybe I'll grow up to be the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay.   *8)

So some websites redesign constantly, and some guides to putting content on the web say that it's important not to bore your readers with the same design for too long. This site, and this log within this site, have been running the same design for almost a year (i.e. forever). Every time I've drafted a new design, I found I liked the old one better (I'm conservative?). But maybe I should just be trying harder!

Should I redesign? In particular, should I make major changes to the design of this here log?

Tuesday, June 6, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Everybody's sending around the Darwin Awards homepage. I think it's kinda mean, but on the other hand it's pretty funny.   *8)

Phil Agre's updated his enormous list of interesting links; so now you're set for life.

From gorjuss, the wonderful and completely false Web of Lies. I've signed up for Lie of the Day, and so far they've all been pretty false-looking!

The Zamboni was invented in Zambezi.

If you were to pierce someone's jugular vein, the jet of blood would be strong enough to knock a tortoise unconscious.

The common flea is manufactured by The Jet-Ram Company of Bristol, England.

believe it or don't!

Sort of like Ripley's Believe It or Not!, only in this case you'd better not. You can even send in your own lies! I sent in "Despite its resemblance to lower forms of life, the earthworm is actually a mammal".

I'm frequently tempted to look at say some of the questions that people ask Jeeves, make up convincing-sounding false answers to them, put up a bunch of polished-looking Web pages about them, and make sure that various search engines came across them.

But It Would Be Wrong...

Monday, June 5, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Little kids often assume that I'm a kid, for some reason. I was helping out in the little boy's kindergarten class this morning, working with a kid with a somewhat shorter than average Mean Time to Distraction, and he looked up and me and said "Are you in love with anyone?"

"Yep," I said, "now color in the pumpkin."

He snickered. "You gonna get married?" As a fellow five-year-old, I was obviously supposed to giggle wildly at this point.

"Already did," I said, "now the other half of the pumpkin." He was taken somewhat aback by that; I think he even finished coloring in the pumpkin.

What is this bizarre obsession that governments have with keeping people from talking about sex? Don't they have anything better to do? Sheesh!

So I finished David Lindley's "Where does the weirdness go?", and now I have to find some more books (web pages?) about quantum decoherence. The big problem with quantum physics is of course the Measurement Problem: how does the wave function know when to collapse? I've always been intuitively sure that the wave function doesn't collapse, which draws me to the Many Worlds interpretation (the wave function is this big non-collapsed thing, and each consciousness is a particular cross-section of it), or to some interesting story (which I'd love to have the time to firm up) about how this (this thing that you're experiencing) simply is what it feels like to be in a superposition of states.

Now Lindley comes along and says that there's really no problem with measurement anymore, because it turns out that all the fuzzy strange superposed states simply cancel out if you do the averaging right, and all you're left with in breadbox-sized systems are the pure states. He never quite relates that to the collapse of the wave function, though, and he's so utterly afraid of scaring off math-allergic readers that he gives only a very vague description of how decoherence actually works. (In fact the large majority if the book is devoted to convincing the reader that quantum mechanics really is strange, and only the last little bit is spent in giving his explanation for why the universe doesn't look all that strange.)

Does anyone know of any good expositions of what the notion of decoherence does in modern interpretations of quantum physics? Lindley recommends Roland Omnés "The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics" (1994). That's from 1994; Omnes has more recently "Understanding Quantum Mechanics" (1999), which is a promising title but I don't know how technical it is or how well it covers decoherence. Amazon has a promising-sounding press review, but no reader reviews; has anyone read it, or can anyone recommend anything else? I'm (at least) as interested in a critique of the decoherence explanation from the outside as I am in expositions by "the Copenhagen theory is now complete" types.   *8)

Friday, June 2, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Some housepainters are coming soon to paint the house, and at dinner last night we began to worry that the cleaning and painting might interfere with the robins (introduced the other day). The young ones were getting real big, and when I stepped up on the arm of the couch to look at them through the window I saw there were only two (not three) in there.

very little time to rest

Thinking that maybe one had fallen out and was hopping piteously around on the ground, I went outside (I'm not sure what I was planning to do if one had and was, but I wanted to know; we've all gotten pretty fond of them). I didn't see anything piteous under the nest, and as I was turning to go back inside there were sharp chirps and the beating of wings, and the other two youngsters flapped over my head and landed in the grass next to the overgrown ex-garden behind the house.

Was that their first flight? I dunno. I hope I didn't scare them into taking off prematurely, but it seems unlikely; there'd been people and cats and noise in the yard before, so they were probably used to it. We haven't seen the young ones back in the nest, but the mother bird has been around, bringing food in her beak and standing on the side of the nest, then sort of shrugging (well, not really) and apparently eating it herself, and flying off again. For awhile she was sitting on the little blue unhatched egg that's still in the bottom of the nest, but she doesn't seem very serious about it.

So it looks like the nest and the painters may not significantly collide afer all. I know you're all relieved!

All sortsa things y'all have typed in lately:

How should *I* know?

It turns out that the question "Why is there air?" is not interesting. The interesting question turns out to be "Why is it *here*?"

"Preferred method of communication..." -- does that mean that if I want to tell you that I'm going to go get some coffee, I have to write a routine that prints it out on your monitor?

The Bokononism page you linked to reminded me that Cat's Cradle was the book in which I first encountered the wonderful word "Oubliette". I've always thought that Bokonon's couplet referring to the oubliette was reminiscent of Edward Gorey's style--I always imagine that that couplet must be Gorey's "O" entry in one of his alphabets. Gorey, as you probably know, passed away not too long ago.

ugh. smarmy is certainly the word. the reason is that it sounds like it's targeting customers who are trying to rationalize their life choices/feel they have something to prove. i don't think the target audience is someone who *is* smug but someone who is desperately *trying* to feel smug and satisfied...

"What's wrong with this picture ?" Hmm.... That's a viewpoint that's hotly contested, and one that I think is valid to my mind. Just because I'm in a bad mood today :-)

It is so odd to be human. I'm sitting here, playing with one of those toys that consists of bits of curved plastic tubing, each piece shaped like a piece of macaroni, and hinged together so the macaronis form a connected "circle" which can articulate at every joint. You twist it this way and that, forming different shapes. If you get it just right, it forms a little coil, with the last few macaroni bits vaulting from one end of the coil to the other. Or just twist it randomly and it forms a pleasing little knot. It's just endless fun. But why? Why is this so pleasant? A cat would find it completely dull. It does not, after all, move. A dog would chew it into its component macacroni segments, decide that none of them tasted good, and go find a cat to bark at. A finch would likely ignore it completely, as it resembles neither food nor nesting material. What is it about humans that takes such special delight in watching random things respond to our random manipulations?

Ah yes, 'flesh', I remember that color. I think they changed the name to 'white guy'.

Now that I think about, a Harry Browne/Audrey Hepburn ticket would be great. Of course Hepburn is dead, and Browne is dead politically. What a sad time we live in.

Only the British.

Neat poll! The only problem is I can't hear what anyone else is saying unless I say something myself. Also I'd really like to vote for Lopez and Turnips, and maybe Hepburn, too. Why must everything be a choice?

You can now see the poll results without (re-)voting here. But if you'd like to vote for two or three or eight different candidates, be my guest! This is Liberty Hall (how does it go?): you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard.


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