Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Gap Town clock and relativity.

Today I got to drive by the Gap town clock. This cool clock tower is in a town not far from Lancaster, Pennsylvania that I have passed many times in my travels. I wish I knew its story, but that will need to wait for a later installment. Regardless it looks very interesting and has shingles on the side in different patterns that add to its appeal and completely fit with the kitchy country designs prevalent in Lancaster.

The clock is at a height above the ground and will always run faster than a clock at ground level due to the theory of relativity. The difference would be unmeasureable but mentioning it allows me to point out that today is the 100th year anniversary of Einstein publishing his seminal paper on relativity. A paper that changed the world.

Go find the paper and read it or find someone's exposition of the theory. In short - time and space are relative, it is the speed of light that is constant for all observers in all reference frames. That insight makes the theory.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Wednesday's child is full of woe.

I happen to be a Wednesday's child, though not very full of woe. Happy exactly 1901st birthday to me (counting by weeks).

The other day I was discussing how sometimes it seems like you need more days of the week to get everything done. The person I was talking to said he could use an eight day week. After a rousing chorus of 8 Days a Week I grew concerned about the 7 day week. How long has it been around? Has it continued uninterrupted? What if it someone forgot to count during all of those ups and downs of civilizations? Have we lost our place?

My Monday malaise could be misplaced because the counting got thrown off thousands of years ago. What if all those Sundays at church were a off by a day, and I could have been out doing something different, and what about what about all the church I missed because I didn't know it was really Sunday? TGIF could really be TGIS (or TGIS or TGIT or TGIT).

The net of a thousand lies and plagiarisms had the answer for me. As I researched I noticed websites copying verbatim from each other without reference (scandalous) so I will make my best attempt to reference the correct one. Wikipedia references this article - Falk, Michael (1999). "Astronomical Names for the Days of the Week", Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 93, p.122. 1999.- which seems to be the one that the other websites have used though not all have attributed correctly (or at all).

This website claims the chain is unbroken from Moses time (1400 BC) while the Falk paper says there is no record of when the seven day cycle became continuous but he proposes that the arrival of the Jews in Babylon around 600 BC was an important contributing event. The Babylonians already had a seven day week with extra festival days every so often but the arrival of the Jews and their emphasis on the Sabbath cemented the cycle. The days of the week are either astronomically or numerically named in the different languages of the world. The Jews would have kept the weekly cycle continuous through their troubles until they pass it on to the Romans around 1AD.

There are others as concerned as I am about maintaining the chain. When the English finally switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian in 1752, Sept 14 followed Sept 2 but Thursday followed Wednesday to preserve the sequence. This is really not surprising because the rest of the (Catholic) world had switched to the Gregorian calendar already and the next day was going to be Thursday Sept 14th no matter what the English did.

This wasn't important when Julius Caesar reformed the calendar (hence the Julian calendar) since the Romans hadn't adopted the seven day week from their neighbors yet. By the time Christianity comes around, the continuous chain of seven day weeks is in place, and eventually, around 300AD, it is so familiar that Constantine declares Sunday a day of rest for the whole empire. The Christian monks would not let the count slip through the dark ages after the fall of Rome, lest we lose track of Sunday and feast days. The torch is passed during the Renaissance and we then reach modern times when almost the whole world has adopted the seven day week even cultures which did not initially use it.

Every modern attempt to reform the week has met with failure.

So all things considered the chain is unbroken and I think we can safely say that today has been today (Wednesday or humpday) for about 2600 years and maybe even for 3400 years.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ribbon Sticker Rescue

I assume this person runs some sort of ribbon sticker rescue foundation or supports one. Goodness knows, most of these poor stickers need rescuing.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Tiki gods can be so accomodating

My nephew's birthday was yesterday. Happy Birthday nephew! The cool part of the party was the impromptu tiki and polynesian theme inspired by these tiki god lights.

I decided his name was Molok and he seemed to be an angry tiki god. We had a great barbeque and we ate brithday cake on plates with Molok's face on them and wiped our faces with napkins with Molok's angry face on them.

I am concerned that we have angered the great Molok and that this will require throwing someone into his holy volcano as a sacrifice and appeasement.

More constructively you could get this really cool tiki usb drive. Remember that Brady Bunch episode where they went to Hawaii and found the tiki idol and had all the bad luck? Yeah, me neither.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Support Our Pants

I told you guys I would get one. It's a magnet so it won't damage the finish, don't worry.

I think we can all rally around supporting our pants. I can't wait for the public reaction.

Time in the garden

Lettuce should not be this tall. We had some very hot weather in the spring. It was above 90 for a week or two. That weather made all of my lettuce bolt, when it sprouts tall and sets seed. Then the lettuce isn't good to eat anymore and lettuce season is done until fall.

My tomatoes should be this tall and even get taller. I have roma plum, grape, and a yellow pear varieties growing this year. There is some fruit but they are not ready yet. Soon. I can't wait.

I also have some herbs, cucumbers, peppers, aubergines (OK you can call them eggplants), and best of all, brussels sprouts. I am going to try growing cantelope as well. We shall see how that goes.

What do you readers have growing in your gardens this year that you are looking forward to?

Friday, June 24, 2005

War or peaceful coexistence of printed books and e-books?

I have quite a lot of print books at home. This is only a small fraction. I love my books, and converted a whole bedroom to be the library, it has so many bookshelves that I have a row jutting out into the room just like in a real community or college library. The space they take up is one negative of actual printed books. The positives completely outweigh the negatives.

Currently I am reading Accelerando by Charles Stross, in electronic format on my Treo. Very cool. Another e-book waiting on the Treo is Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow. Both use a reader called Plucker. I got my copy through a link on the Accelerando site. Both sites have a variety of formats

Another place to get free e-books to whet your appetite for science fiction and fantasy is the Baen books free library. I recently downloaded and read 1632 and 1633 by Eric Flint using the Mobipocket reader though Baen also have their books in a variety of formats.

Reading e-books usually prompts me to purchase and reread the hard copy, so my proclamation is for peaceful coexistence. The only issue I have is the proliferation of reader programs on my Treo. I need to figure out how to interconvert the texts to reduce the clutter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

It's been one week...

I started "The Honest Hypocrite" one week ago today. Though I didn't start with a mobile blog from my Treo, the mobile posts followed soon after.

In the first week I have collected a few readers and at least two commenters, one from out in the wilds of the internet. Welcome and thanks for reading.

The next few posts were sent in reverse order so I could tell the story of horseback riding lessons today in the correct order. Enjoy!

In which the author learns equitation

About three years ago my girlfriend and now fiance gave me horseback riding lesson for my birthday. Lynn and I have been taking lessons since to keep in practice.

I started so that we could go on riding vacations and I found the lessons were a lot of fun. You get to see so much more and you go to different places than the usual ones if you go on horseback. I highly recommend it.

This picture has me looking much more comfortable today than I did the first time I rode a horse.

Roving Richard

This set of lessons we are learning proper jumping technique. I think I have come a long way. That's me jumping with somewhat correct form. Multiple jumps in a row are great fun.

Leapin' Lynn

Lynn jumping during today's lesson. She has a better form than me.

A horse of a different color.

As I advanced in today's lesson the instructor thought I should try a different horse for a more complicated jump.

Just before I get back on the horse.

That last school figure with the new horse was a little too much for me. Here I was thrown from the horse. Hey kids, wear your helmet when riding and stay in school.

Bioskateboard protest.

A weird confluence of events has struck Philadelphia this week. Bio2005 is a biotechnology conference taking place at the Pennsylvania Convention center this week. Protestors have gathered to demonstrate against the medical and biological sciences that benefit their lives everyday.

The news on the local NPR station in Philadelphia has not actually covered any events of the conference which would be interesting, educational and informative and might allow us consumers out here to generate our own informed opinions about the value and safety of the various types of biotechnology discussed at the conference.

The coverage has been almost exclusively about the protests surrounding the conference, but also without a coherent message about what the protesters issues are. It is mostly a hodge podge of the regular disagreements. People afraid of that scary "genetical" engineering. In an exciting coincidence, on the same day, a bunch of skateboarders decided to protest their eviction from LOVE park and lack of progress on a skateboard park in Philadelphia to replace the previous illegal skateboarding location. The news reporting smoothly transitioned from bio-protester to skateboard protester with no clear distinction between the two. What is the protest about? Bio-skateboards?

Where is the bio-protesters marketing arm? Their protest has now been inextricably linked to skateboarders rights to skate. I am sure that the bio-protesters would protest the equivalence of their issues with the right to skateboard (When did everything become a right?). This lack of focus and professionalism can be a big problem: no clear message, no clear campaign, and a public relations disaster as bio-protesters and skateboarders converged on the same park on the same day. This would be dismissed as farcical in fiction, it achieves surrealism in real life.

Finally my sympathies go out to the fellow officers and families of the officer who was only trying to do his job and died of a heart attack between the protesting groups while trying to keep order. His death, though not caused by any of the events, Bio2005, bio-protesters or skateboarders, cast a pall on all of the activities. Yesterday was truly a strange day on the streets of Philadelphia, and true to form the local news couldn't quite get a coherent word out to describe it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Maybe the web is a consensual hallucination.

I recently finished rereading the Sprawl series by William Gibson (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive). It is the series that is credited with single handedly creating the cyberpunk genre in science fiction. I enjoyed them as much this time as the first time. Reading these makes me nostalgic for an internet and future that never was. As prescient as William Gibson was, writing about the future is a risky thing.

In spite of how good these books are I want to use them to point out some things predicted in the novels that didn't or haven't happened yet. Gibson describes, and perhaps defines the term, cyberspace, but it is not the cyberspace that we have now. His is described as a consensual hallucination that all of humanity shares. The key feature being that data and files are all represented as three-dimensional structures in what we would now call virtual reality. The current day truth is both more mundane and more exciting. A lot of the web is just hyperlinked text, lots of it. In recent years we have added all of the pictures, sound files and digital video, but we certainly aren't all flying through it in 3-d.

Hacking computer systems like the cowboys in Gibson's novels sounds almost fun although extremely dangerous. Hacking in our real world sounds boring to me. I would guess that hackers sit at their desks waiting for the cracking programs they downloaded to do their stuff on the sites they are attacking or waiting for the worms they've written to e-mail back the passwords of the computers they infected. No VR goggles and waving hands in the air to get through security ice to grab files.

I also noted almost subliminally that every character in the novels that wants to get into cyberspace needs to jack in with an actual wire plugged into something, no wi-fi and no prediction of it here. This is similar to every old science fiction movie looking a little strange because nobody has a cell phone, when today everyone has one and uses it all the time.

One feature of his novels is that there was a World War III with the US against the Soviet Union, how quaint. I think the unexpected fall of the Soviet Union has obsoleted more science fiction of the twentieth century than any other event. My favorite obsolete novel is Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. List your favorite novel obsoleted by the fall of the Soviet Union in the comments if you have one.

In one of the novels there is the attempted extraction of a top researcher from one zaibatsu, or mega-corporation, to another. In Gibson's future the corporations take care of their top people and their families to the extent that they build whole towns and arcologies for them. I guess I am not a top researcher because no one is treating me that way. And one glance at companies like Enron, United Airlines, and GM will show you that cradle to grave employment (or a pension, or the continued existence of your company) is now the exception rather than the norm in the corporate world today. I guess I am glad that this last prediction hasn't come true. Gibson's distopia sounds very claustrophobic.

By the way, the Japanese and Asian financial crisis of recent years took the wind out of the sails of everyone that assumed that zaibatsus would take over the world and obsoleted another whole section of the science fiction library.

The Sprawl series by Gibson are great books, both for the groundbreaking ideas in them as for the comparison to present times.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cultural Effluvium

I know I promised I wouldn't post links except for reference, but rules are made to be broken, and please remember the title of the whole blog. Besides, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

I do support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the many other places they are stationed. I wouldn't want their job for the whole world. I am not going to reflect this support in an empty gesture of sticking some ribbon sticker on my car or van or SUV. One - because I am not going to put a bumper sticker on my car, are you crazy, it will mar the finish. Two - because I won't be able to fit the two or three or ten stickers on there to really show the support that the other soccer moms and NASCAR dads have been able to muster. What? You only have one sticker, don't you support our troops? Are you some sort of monster with only one, or even, gasp, no stickers on your car. Pile those puppies on there, and then cut me off as I try to make a simple lane change.

I do feel really strongly that we should Support Our Pants.

Along the same lines, goodness knows that Scientology is as good as any other cult, and that we shouldn't begrudge a man going through a midlife crisis and general freakout his chance to date a pretty young thing, but we must Free Katie! Tom Cruise is freaking out. My favorite place to watch the freakout is on The Soup, which is about all of the reality TV that I can take, but the host (Joe McHale) is hilariously funny. Tom featured prominently at the end of last season due to his antics on Oprah and various other talk shows.

My mom didn't want me to read Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard because she was afraid I would be sucked into the cult. It's actually a good book, I would call it a science fiction classic. She should have stopped me from seeing the movie, which stinks so bad I am gagging as I write this. What was John Travolta thinking? If scientology makes people do what John Travolta and Tom Cruise do, that's the best evidence to stay far away.

I don't have the strength or will to talk about Michael Jackson. The next post will be less pop and more cultured, I promise

The only constant is change, dx/dt=c

The paradoxical title of this post was inspired by some conversations I had recently about adapting to the changes that technology hath wrought around us. Another impetus for the post is that book I have been waiting forever for, Accelerando by Charles Stross, is finally available as a free download, but you should also go buy it. His topic is three generations of a family living through a technological singularity (the article that started it all is here). Rather than bogging down in that discussion, let's just say that the singularity for the purposes of our discussion refers to the accelerating technological change around us making it harder and harder to make meaningful predictions about what business, culture, and technology itself will be like in the future. It also means it is harder to adapt to.

My parent's have adapted somewhat to the internet, they use e-mail, but they don't buy things online. I know members of that generation that were pretty savvy with such things but most are not. I know members of my own generation that don't know what a blog is (or more accurately don't care because it hasn't impacted there lives), but they do use the internet for all of the great things you can use it for. Obviously since I have a blog, I am trying to adapt. I certainly love my Treo 600, which is as good a symbol of the new technology as any I can think of.

My generation has been trained to expect change. I would like to think that means I have learned how to learn, so that I am ready for the new technology no matter what form it may take, but I am not so sure that if the pace of innovation increases, even my generation will be left behind. Case in point, I do not own a game system (I can hear the gasps). I do know that there is a whole generation growing up with the game culture paradigm inborn and that to understand them we need to speak that language. Do I get a game system for the ostensible reason of maintaining my technological edge (or is this a cop out because I need a high brow excuse to get one?).

Please don't take this as a rant about our disptopian future. I love all this new stuff. I especially love that last year's futuristic gadgets are always half price! I suppose that someday I will be left out of the accelerating pace of change. I wonder what the innovation will be that leaves me behind, and I wonder if it has been invented yet.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

For all you Scrabble fans

I thought this was cute, since I am a big Scrabble fan.

Pholph's Scrabble Generator

My Scrabble© Score is: 13.
What is your score? Get it here.

That's not a bad score but I always try to use the bonus squares to make those C's and H's worthwhile. For more info about Scrabble than you can probably stand, go to the National Scrabble Association (the other NSA).

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Good suggestion, can you get back to me with an implementation plan...

There is a story about how the mice lived in a house and they had the run of the place. Not just running anywhere they wanted and scraps of cheese, but cheese fondue parties, they so had the run of the place. So the mistress of the house gets a cat and the party is over. Mouse are getting caught right and left so all the mice have a meeting, of course.

In the meeting two of the mice suggest belling the cat so that they will always know when he is around by the sound of the bell. Everyone hails this as a great idea but curiously, no one, especially the two that came up with the idea, are all that excited about implementing the plan. Many people and organizations are like that, an issue arises, a solution is proposed but the proposer expects someone else to carry on the dangerous task.

I think we all do this sometimes. Let's all remember that when we see a problem, if we can fix it go ahead. From picking up the trash you see, all the way up to starting an organization or running for office if that is your bailiwick.

One of the topics that falls into the "I hope someone else fixes it" category is politics and the seemingly incredible ability of the voters to put back in office the same people that they were complaining about just before the election. In my area this is very true in local politics. One key to fixing this issue is very obvious, get out and vote! The other is harder but I am hoping is it just as effective. Write your representatives.

Don't think of yourself as just one voice. I imagine that I am just one representative of a cohort of people with similar demographics or econometric parameters and that if something finally moves me enough to contact my representatives then a whole bunch of folks just like me were similarly moved and that we now have a chance to effect some change. It is the same for you and your cohort.

There are several sites that make it easy to contact your representatives in congress. The Electronic Freedom Foundation has an easy form for each issue in their action center with a nicely prewritten letter that you can edit, and it automatically looks up your senators or congressman. The form went a long way toward getting me over the hump of inaction and sending those letters about the issues I care about, on EFF the letters will be about freedom in the digital world. Thank you EFF.

Another site you may use to find out who your representatives are, how they vote and where they stand on the issues is Project Vote Smart. Read up on the issues you care about and act.

Why did I tell you all this? Because I am fired up about the prison camp we are running in Guantanamo Bay and why are we not treating the detainees as prisoners or war, or as criminals who deserve due process, but we shouldn't be doing what we are doing (and please don't use the "not as bad as" defense). Because our freedoms are being abridged or altered by our representatives in favor of special interests. Because the current government feels very oppressive these days and I care about my freedoms, although the opposition doesn't thrill me either. Maybe we need a third position or to understand that left and right, up and down are not the only directions one can turn, and black and white, or blue and red are not the only colors.

I guarantee you that we will disagree on politics. That's OK. We should both agree that if we feel strongly about something that we should do something about it. Please act and make democracy happen.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The loot

This is a successful day at the carnival. After this we went off to get gelati and dance the tango and the swing. The gelati was for me and we put the animals down to dance. You didn't think I meant with them, did you?

I don't know what I will do with the stuffed animal prizes. Probably I should give away the panda. I like the elephant and the King Kong with Faye Ray. That last toy theme is clever.

That's me holding the toys. The one in the middle with the sunglasses, not the monkey.

This game is wack!

My other favorite game at the summer festivals and carnivals is the ever popular Wack a' Mole. I don't know how they train those moles to pop up and take such a beating but they do bring a lot of enjoyment.

When the carnies can rustle up enough players, the prizes get bigger and it's time for 30 seconds of laser focus. It's not about the moles, it's not about the wacking. The master player sees no competitor but his own churning mind and roiling thoughts. Calm these, let the moles be wacked, as you are merely an instrument, and victory can be yours (if you care about those things).

I won the second time I played, but I really do it for that moment of oneness with the moles in the machine.

Zen and the Art of Bowler Roller

Summertime is festival time in Wilmington. The king of the festivals is St. Anthony's Italian festival. It raises the most money, covers the most blocks, and has the most people. Most importantly its got Bowler Roller.

The object of Bowler Roller is to roll a bowling ball with just enough force for it to go over one hump but when it encounters the next rise and rolls back it must lack the energy to roll back over. The ball needs to stay in the valley for you to win. I could write the equations for you. Let me work on it and I promise to get back to you.

With enough quarters or tokens you can really get in the zone. The game becomes quite meditative. Rolling ball after ball allows you to achieve an almost Zen-like state. However, you do win a prize when you get it right, but Buddha says that desire is the cause of all suffering, and I wanted to win the prize, so the game can't be all that Zen.

Go find a Bowler Roller for yourself, it is a ton of fun. The picture is my first win.

Not as portable as a Treo

This is not a picture of a Treo, but it was taken with one. You could write a mobile blog with this ancient adding machine. It would only be numbers, but the slip of paper could easily be rolled up as a message in a bottle. That's mobile blogging, isn't it?

One of the coolest things about this cold distopian future we live in, despite the lack of flying cars, are these great do-it-all devices we have as our mobile phones. I am writing this with my Treo 600, which I know is so last year, but I cannot help that it was 6 months obsolete 2 seconds after I got it. I use this thing for everything. Lately I have two favorite features. With its web access I can use a program called p-tunes to listen to shoutcast streams. Internet radio anywhere, no computer needed. How cool is that? I have also ripped DVD's down to .avi format to fit the little Treo screen and I have movies on the go. I love it. For those sticklers out there - yes I can make phone calls with the Treo, but I think you are missing the point.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Contributing to the maelstrom.

I am a compulsive reader. I also love trivia and new information. I imagine myself to be a sink of information because I love to learn things. I try to be a source as I pass on what I learn because the great thing about knowledge is that you lose nothing in the giving. My know-it-all status is painfully apparent yet lovingly excused by my associates. It is less an "I know and you don't" as a "did you know this obscure and not really useful"; so please don't let it put you off. I have been using the old fashioned communicating face to face method of passing on these tidbits but now I will add a weblog to my list of tools. Move over as I jump on the bandwagon.

There is probably nothing new to be said about the weblog phenomena, so that is all I will say, except to say that I love to read them. Everyday someone provides new reading material for me, what a great system. I thought that I would finally try to contribute something back into the dialogue.

My blog title is chosen to keep me humble. I submit this paradox: If you admit that you are a hypocrite, are you one? I will offer my opinions and you can take them apart. Don't believe what people say, even me, without asking for the references and understanding both the intended message and the messenger. I'll try to do that proactively but I admit I am full of it most of the time; so is everyone else.

That caveat being given, let's all try to be entertained. There is no theme here but what interests me. The Web is large enough that someone will find it amusing (I know of at least one person, you know who you are). I read a lot of science fiction, historical novels, non-fiction books of a historical, mathematical, econometrical, and scientific bent. I watch too much or not enough TV depending on the study you choose. I go on some interesting trips and meet some interesting people. I garden and dance and ride horses and play tennis. I live and love. You may assume that the subjects here will be derived from those experiences.

Don't look here for links to someone else's blog composed of links to someone else's blog composed of links to someone else's blog - ad infinitum. That has been done to death. When even I started catching up to the supposedly cutting edge blogs and saw items before they appeared in one or another, and on the Today show for goodness sake, I knew I had to write a blog that didn't do that. I do however reserve the right to throw in a link or two as references because that is only fair to the reader. There will probably be no rules here or lots of seriously stated and then broken ones here. You may hold me to them as appropriate.

Welcome. Keep me honest. Let me entertain you.