Mirkka and I went to Paris over the long weekend. It was her birthday, my first time in Paris, and, basically, just a great opportunity to be tourists.
'But why drives on that ship so fast,
Without or wave or wind?'
'The air is cut away before,
And closes from behind.'
This is version 2 of "Diary of a Snow-Watcher", after quite a lot of editing. (Thanks, Mirkka!) The editing really helped, I think, but the original is here.
Friday, January 25, 2013. 11:54 am. One flake / m2 / sec. NE direction. 3C ambient. Wind 2mph.
Snow, as expected. It started suddenly, with a few flakes near the start of the minute, perhaps 1 flake per square metre per second; but in the latter seconds of the minute this rate has advanced to perhaps 10 flakes / m2 / sec.
It's impossible to give a truly accurate account of a snowstorm without video. Unfortunately, my video camera wasn't in its usual spot this morning. Jeanine had presumably tidied it into a drawer, and had then created an air of urgency with regards to leaving the house. In my perturbed state I decided to leave without the camera. These measurements, therefore, remain approximate.
11:55am. 10-15 flakes / m2 / sec. NE direction. 3C ambient. Wind 2mph.
The rate of increase is, if anything, picking up. If this continues we may even reach 20 or 25 flakes / m2 / sec.
I don't think Jeanine was being vindictive when she hid my camera. She was probably worried about burglars.
11:56am. 15 flakes / m2 / sec. NE direction. 3C ambient. Wind 2mph.
Our train is delayed by five minutes, perhaps because of the adverse conditions.
11:57am. 15 - 20 flakes / m2 / sec. NE direction. 3C ambient. Wind 2mph.
Jeanine has gone for a short walk, so I am by myself on the station with my snow-watching binoculars (polarised lenses), which I had fortuitously hidden in the pocket of my coat. (I also worry about burglars.)
11:58am. 20 flakes / m2 / sec. 2-3C ambient. NNE direction. Wind 2mph.
Directionality is difficult to determine accurately without specialised equipment, as it varies not only with the overall wind conditions, but also with the vicissitudes of turbulent and calm air which arise around large structures (such as the station).
My normal method in these conditions is to perform a rolling average key-flake estimation over ten seconds within a defined area; this technique has produced an approximate direction of northeast.
I hope Jeanine comes back soon. It would be terrible if we missed our train for the sake of a short walk.
11:59am. 20 flakes / m2 / sec. 2C ambient (approx). NNE direction. Wind 2mph.
We are easily at the 20f/m2/s rate now, with little change in the apparent directionality (though with perhaps a slight western tendency). Ambient temperature feels lower, but my thermometer is still showing 3 degrees, so perhaps there is a wind-chill factor at work. I hope the fall rate keeps accellerating!
Jeanine has returned with coffee for both of us; cappuccinos I think. I feel like I ought to forgive her for the video camera incident. She asked me what I had been doing, but I didn't tell her much. It's hard to engage her enthusiam.
12:00pm. 20 flakes / m2 / sec. 2C ambient. NNE direction. Wind 5mph.
I'm sorry to report that the 20f/m2/s rate seems to have stabilised. I was hoping we would have a repeat of last Wednesday (ibid.), but that seems unlikely now.
The wind has picked up a little. I don't have my pocket anemometer with me, but I would estimate it to be approximately 5mph.
The coffee turned out to be a latte. That's not my favourite, but Jeanine said that the shop was out of cappuccinos. She may have been joking. It's hard to tell with Jeanine.
It's not too bad, anyway. For a cappuccino.
12:02pm. 20 flakes / m2 / sec (probably). No particular direction. 0-1C ambient.
Ambient temperature has certainly dropped a little, but I can't be certain of what it is. The reason is a little embarrassing: as I was moving forward to do a more accurate rate-of-fall count in a quiet area outside the main concourse, I fell into an open maintenance shaft adjacent to the tracks. What feels like a large rock has actually fallen on top of me, pinning me down. (The shaft is quite obviously rather poorly maintained.)
I don't think I'm in any danger, although my leg (which I can't see from the angle at which I am pinned) hurts quite a bit.
Unfortunately my thermometer shattered when I hit the ground.
12:03pm. 20 flakes / m2 / sec.
I hope we don't miss the train because of my weather-watching! Jeanine would be very cross. And she's been really nice this trip, overall.
I think I might be quite some distance underground, so I am not going to attempt an ambient temperature estimate -- it would only be inaccurate. Nor will I attempt to re-create the missing 12:01pm entry from memory, as I'm sure to get something wrong. If it's any comfort, I think that 12:01pm may not have been a vital minute, as the weather (certainly the rate of snow-fall) has essentially reached a local steady state.
12:04pm. 20 flakes / m2 / sec.
The micro-environment of this hole is, annoyingly, rather different to that of the real conditions above ground. Puffs of wind blow the snow around randomly, so there is no hope of doing any accurate readings. Looking up at the sky, though, I would guess that the rate of fall has stayed roughly the same.
My leg is just throbbing, now, so the situation is improving. The people staring down at me have obviously sent somebody to get a ladder, or, at least, that's what I would do. So there's no reason for me to worry.
Ah, Jeanine has arrived! She's shouting questions down at me, but there's no way she could hear my answers.
12:05pm. 20 flakes / m2 / sec.
Do I spy a touch of blue? The snow is still falling as hard as it has been for the last four minutes (I think), but in the distance the clouds seem to be thinning.
I feel a bit light-headed, actually, so I will keep the entries short in order to conserve my energy.
Jeanine seems upset.
12:06pm. 10-15 flakes / m2 / sec.
Just as I thought! The rate of fall is slowing a little. It was only a short flurry.
Jeanine is still shouting at me, but I can't really hear her.
You feel wise! You must have been very observant. --More-- You feel tough! You must be leading a healthy life-style.
I bought some almond milk. The package it comes in says, in a banner: "NEW! Made from almonds!" I wonder what was in the old one?
Teach him mathematics as thoroughly as his capacity permits. I know that Bertrand Russell must, seeing that he is such a featherhead, be wrong about everything, but as I have no mathematics I cannot prove it.
Yeats, 1930, via Language Log
Language Log alerted me to the SMBC cartoon on Nurbling, which proposes that all political speeches could be improved --and remain comprehensible -- if everything but the nouns were changed to the word "nurble".
The Language Log post goes into detail about some of the nouns the SMBC guy had missed, but I think a simpler hypothesis is worth testing: that all political speeches could remain perfectly comprehensible if any subset of words were changed to "nurble", even if that subset was randomly chosen.
Here's some Python:
import random def random_nurble(text): text = text.split(' ') nurble_count = len(text) / 3 for i in range(nurble_count): text[random.randint(0, len(text) - 1)] = 'nurble' return ' '.join(text)
There are several bugs (it can re-nurble what has already been nurbled, it doesn't do punctuation, etc), but I think the results are pretty good:
>>> random_nurble("These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness, and teamwork of America's Armed Forces.")
These nurble are a nurble to the nurble selflessness, and teamwork of nurble nurble Forces.
These nurble are nurble nurble to the courage, selflessness, and teamwork of America's Armed nurble
These achievements are a nurble to the courage, selflessness, nurble nurble nurble America's Armed nurble
These nurble are a testament nurble nurble courage, selflessness, and teamwork of America's nurble nurble
In the UK, citizens of Commonwealth countries can exchange their dirty, backwater driver licenses for good old solid British driver licenses. I just did this.
> DVLA offices are located conveniently in Wimbledon, Sidcup, and Borehamwood
> Post Office can do the whole thing, but not for me (because I have a "foreign passport". I told the lady I wasn't that foreign, and that I was Australian, and she apologised for calling my passport foreign)
> DVLA doesn't take online payment
> DVLA doesn't take over the phone payment
> DVLA does take cheques (!) and postal orders (£6 surcharge)
> Signature must be in black ink and inside the box. Mine was touching the box and the P.O. woman (who helped me anyway despite my being a foreigner) made me do it again.
> Mailed off my goddamn passport to the monkeys at the DVLA for whom online payment is a passing novelty fad
> Photo makes me look like a crim
A short story by Alexander Blechman
Another interesting application that would have large social ramifications, perhaps: if you could actually choose to preserve your romantic attachments to one person, undiminished, through time. So that love would never have to fade, if you didn't want it to. That's probably not all that difficult. It might just be a simple hormone or something.
Nick Bostrom at TED (14:30 start)
It's hard to get honest answers to questions about sensitive or illegal things. Even if the responses are completely anonymous, respondents may still worry about incriminating or embarrassing themselves.
When many people are being surveyed, it is possible to use a simple statistical method to get around this problem. Imagine that the sensitive answer is "yes". Instruct respondents to flip a coin before answering the question, without showing anybody else the result. If the result is tails, they should answer honestly. If the result is heads, they should always answer "yes".
This way, answering "yes" is not incriminating -- if discovered, the respondent could simply reply that the coin flip was heads. The true "yes" rate can be estimated by discarding half the "yes" answers (because half of the "yes"es were due to the coin), and then doubling the remaining "yes" answers.
I learnt about this from this Hacker News comment. It is a type of questioning known as randomised response (some good examples there). The only published form I could find is in Introductory Statistics, by Sheldon M. Ross: Estimating the Probability of a Sensitive Event.
I recently bought a USB microscope for work and it was so much fun and so cheap that I bought another one to play around with.
Ballpoint on a post-it note:
Post-it notes are restickable because microspheres in the glue prevent the entire surface from sticking all at once. Here is post-it note glue, with microspheres:
LCD of a 2011 Macbook Pro (I guess the microscope is focused on the antiglare coating):
LCD of an HTC Desire smartphone. You can see that there are more green pixels than red and blue ones. This saves money but makes the display look a little fuzzy:
If I were using this microscope for any serious purpose, which I'm not, I'd probably want it to have a little more contrast, and be a bit easier to focus. As a toy it's great.
The British are obsessed with a brand of vacuum cleaner called Henry. I was skeptical, until I actually used one. It's impossible to talk about vacuum cleaners without making a suck joke, so here we go: the thing really sucks. It is orders of magnitude better than Australian vacuum cleaners. Where Australians would get a dustpan, I bet Brits would get a Henry, and would enjoy their lives more because of it.
Henrys are cutely designed to have a face on them. They are symmetrical, with two eyes, a smiling mouth, and a nose to which one can attach the vacuum hose. Ours looks the very model of a 1950s-inspired helpful automaton, which makes it all the more traumatising when you rip off his nose, as I did this morning.
It wasn't a clean break, either. The base of the hose was twisted and rough-cut, and it had clearly separated from the base, which is a detachable section containing a gasket which connects nose to face. I fumbled around with sticky tape for a while, uselessly, until I actually examined the base. What I had thought was fragments of poor Henry's nose hose was actually a screw thread for the nose. Henry's entire hose was a large screw, and you could connect it right back up to the gasket.
This clever engineering feature almost brought a tear to my eye. I hadn't ripped anything! But, if I had, I could have trimmed the nose and re-attached it. Genius.
A ferocious spider lives in the brain. His name is Willis! Note (Fig. 10) that he has a nose, angry eyebrows, two suckers, eyes that look outward, a crew cut, antennae, a fuzzy beard, 8 legs, a belly that, according to your point of view, is either thin (basilar artery) or fat (the pons, which lies from one end of the basilar artery to the other), two feelers on his rear legs, and male genitalia.
From Clinical Neuroanatomy made ridiculously simple, by Stephen Goldberg, M.D.
Tesco's slogan is "Every little helps".
Does this make sense? Every little what helps? "Gnome", perhaps? I hope it's "gnome". I hope Tesco has an army of little helpful gnomes.
I went to a piano recital last night. I loved it, but classical music recitals on Friday night are not as popular with today's youth as you might expect, so I would guess the average age of the audience in Wigmore Hall to be about 60. Most of the men were going bald, and this gave great prominence to their ears. I found myself thinking about ears as I looked around me -- big, fleshy ears; ears pinned back (by well-meaning 1950s GPs); misshapen, asymmetrical ears; ears on one unfortunate man which looked like they were attached the wrong way around. Because, after all, the recital was in honour of ears. I found it amazing that this whole assembly, the seats, the room, the piano, the world-class pianist, were all set up just so that vibrations could strike those elderly ears, push the air around inside tiny tubes in a hundred heads.