Archive for September, 2009

Is it just me…

September 30, 2009

…or do others share my urge to reply “It’s just you.” without waiting for the question to be finished if it starts with “is it just me”?

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Then they came for me

September 21, 2009

Then they came for me
Then there were none

Then the rain came down
Then there were three

Then there were giants
Then there was you

Then the fight started
Then there were none

Then there was me and you

(The idea to use Google search phrase suggestions as a source of dadaist poetry isn’t mine, credit has to go to them for it.)

I am terrified of Chinese people

September 21, 2009

It all started when someone discovered that if you typed “i am terrified” into Google and waited for the list of suggestions to appear, the first one on that list was going to be “i am terrified of chinese people”. There are loads of pages about the phenomenon, tackling it along the lines of “have a laugh mate and that’s that”.

Nobody seems to ask the obvious quesiton though: why is this such a popular search? If you actually run it, you get several copies of a solitary racist article written by extremely thick people in the finest traditions of racist pamphlets, including the mandatory anacrusis: “I am not racist, but”. Apart from that, there are…no prizes for guessing…yes, hundreds of websites pointing out how funny it is that this is Google’s first suggestion, thus perpetuating the joke. Nice. Hundreds plus one now. Oh, well.

But enough about Chinese people, reading search phrase suggestions offers much better entertainment than that, provided that you have a sufficiently sad life and your expectations are low enough. It’s a web 2.0 Klondike to people desperate for a laugh, starting off almost any question can lead to the discovery of something amusing! Or at the very least, the fact that there’s a barrage of questions on pregnancy, most of them alarmingly stupid. (On a sidenote: it would be interesting to see a proper study about these questions, which, I believe, represent the fears and beliefs of teenagers more precisely than any anonymous survey ever did.)

Out of all the silly and absurd phrases encountered “When do I harvest potatoes?” is the one that caught my imagination the most, however.

You planted your potatoes several months ago, right? You’ve been waiting and waiting. You’re growing a bit impatient, sitting in your muddy boots at the computer when suddenly it strikes you that you haven’t got the faintest idea as to when to harvest them.

Okay, I admit, it’s not that funny after all.

Ἰωάννης Mνημονικός

September 18, 2009

Isn’t it strange that most of the mnemonic techniques currently in use have been around relatively unchanged since their invention in Ancient Greece? Was there really no better way of memorising things? Maybe there was but it was forgotten.

Druids, for example, must have had their own method because they had to memorise thousands and thousands of verses during their training. If only they had written down how they did it!

Eigenspace

September 4, 2009

Of all the holiday activities the most pointless has to be collecting pebbles from a mountain stream. Sure, buying a set of devil sticks or a tribal bong is quite pointless, but at least you’re back at home and unpacking them when the inevitable “What the hell I did that for?” moment comes.

Pebbles, on the other hand, take just a couple of minutes to dry and the transformation from Nature’s shiny and vividly coloured piece of art into a dull grey lump of rock takes place right in front of your eyes. (Yes, there could be a subtext here about ageing and how time flies and the lessons we should all learn before it’s too late, but there isn’t. Go for the shape, that’s the lesson. Or reds, they stay red somehow. Even better, keep them in a water tank. Your mates won’t half think you’re daft when they see your water tank with only rocks in it. But nobody will dare ask you about it in case it’s a memorial for the fish you once had but have died since. Anyway, back to the point.)

But the more you think about it, the more you’re convinced that such a perfect lack of purpose or meaning is immensely fascinating. Not only that, it may be fundamental in defining what we are. After all, everybody does things that they gain or at least hope to gain advantage from, but only you can be such an idiot to spend hours and hours fishing out rocks that you know will turn grey or white in a matter of minutes.

Another fine example of creating without regard to result is The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences.

2-restricted Stirling numbers of the second kind, primes congruent to 1 mod 12, Ruth-Aaron numbers, numbers of asymmetric permutation rooted trees with n nodes, it’s like a library of Babel for all the integer sequence fans around the world.

Er…that’s it.