Saturday, April 28, 2007

A slice of Americana: quenched thrist at the lemonade stand.

Driving around on our errands today we saw and patronized a lemonade stand run by some enterprising young ladies.

They seemed to have some trouble getting the price right was it $2 for a half cup? $4 for a full cup? Yet the sign said otherwise. We did not see the sign until the transaction was complete. Their sales skills were that good.

I liked the other advertising they did. Fresh squeezed becomes fresh squesed[sic]. Yum!

The leamonade[sic] was leamonlishous[sic]. The signs were blamed on an illiterate brother.

I am all for supporting local business. If you think you can do better than these girls then I invite you to play the lemonade game, it is harder than you think.

Life imitates Science Fiction: Hawking vs. Heinlein

Watching Stephen hawking enjoy his minutes of free fall this week has reminded me of the classic science fiction story "Waldo" by Robert Heinlein. In the story, a man with myasthenia gravis, a condition of extreme weakness in the muscles, lives on a space station in zero-G where his condition will not be such an obstacle. Contrast this to Stephen Hawking who has Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) which leaves him unable to control his muscles, but he looks excited floating in no gravity (the video at the first link is especially touching).

Stephen hawking floating in zero-G

Waldo floating in zero-G

The short story "Waldo" is most famous for lending its title as the name of remote manipulators at which the protagonist of the story, Waldo, was an expert. Waldo's weakness caused him to develop his mind and intellect much in the same way as the brilliant theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking. Dr. Hawking has apparently kept a much sunnier outlook in spite of his difficulties than the character Waldo did.

In the story, Waldo overcomes his difficulties through the use of magic while working on an important problem. Would that we really had that kind of magic for Stephen Hawking and all sufferers of such diseases.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Obscure T-shirt references for fun and profit.

As I get older I have given my eccentricities full flower. This t-shirt has an obscure enough reference to eliminate most of the public from understanding it.

Do you know what the kwisatz haderach is and why it might be cool to be one? What does the worm have to do with it? Please comment.

No using google and whirdly is prohibited from giving the answer in the comments though she may claim to know the answer.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Crapped up T-shirt for sale

I know that it is 2007 and we should all be past the shock from the 80's of people buying pre-worn or pre-damaged clothes as a fashion statement.


American Eagle Outfitters is selling a t-shirt that looks like the designer vomited screen printing ink and bits of fabric onto the shirt and sewed them into place. The look says - I am so wealthy that I can buy a shirt that looks like it should be thrown out or left out for the ragman the instant I leave the store with it.

I did not buy any shirts.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Which gaming die are you? - A quiz.

I must admit that I played Dungeons and Dragons when I was in high school. Didn't everybody? No? Oh, only the kids that got beat up a lot.

The whole role-playing gaming scene has gone through many transformations since then, but the one constant has been the dice. Take the quiz below to see which die you are.

I am a d4

You are a four-sided die, a d4. Otherwise known as a tetrahedron, a "Caltrop", or (to a lesser degree) "Ol' Pointy". This crap bores you, so I'll get to the point. Others tend to see you as petty, conniving, manipulative, argumentative, defensive, greedy, and needlessly antagonistic. You see yourself as focused, effective, efficient, influencing, shrewd, tactical, and direct. Both points of view are in fact correct. You always know the best way to get things done, a fact that never wins sympathy with others. Whenever you manage to gain control of a situation, your solutions are swift and brutal. Unfortunately everyone else is convinced that granting you such power is, "a bad thing" and often conspire to keep it out of your hands. Such short-sighted fools!

Take the quiz at

It was lots of fun.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Great Egret - White heron on the Shellpot Creek

The wildlife sightings continue on the Shellpot Creek. This morning I saw what I suspect is a Great Egret (or White Heron) feeding in the creek behind the house. I even saw it eating a fish, though I could not get a picture of that. These photos are courtesy of my crappy Treo camera, some with and some without the binoculars. (My good camera is broken!)

It had a yellow bill, and dark legs.

It also had a long neck.

It tucked its neck into an S shape when it flew away up the creek. All of these are characteristics of a White Heron.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Calling all bird experts - Was it a broad-winged hawk in my yard?

The area around my house feels like a wildlife refuge, especially due to the creek in the back. This afternoon a very large hawk was eating something in the front yard. I think it is a broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus) but I would love it if a bird expert would confirm my suspicion. It looks like a white morph version and is probably immature from the picture matching that I tried to do. Especially the white front.

I took a variety of pictures using my trusty Treo and shooting through the binoculars.

I apologize as always for the crappy Treo pictures. The blue tinge probably comes from the low light shooting through the binoculars. Any fuzziness is from lack of focus and shaky hands. (My telephoto camera is broken.)

At one point when I was finally trying to leave the house the bird lighted in the juniper out front and I was less than ten feet from it. It was certainly different from seeing a little finch on a branch. The thing looked bigger than me!

It appeared to be eating something. The pile of feathers it left behind seems to indicate that it caught a bird or found its carcass. It was the crows fighting over the carrion that made me look out and see the hawk in the first place.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Klein Bottle Pasta

These Trottole pasta from Trader Joe's are evocative of tiny Klein bottles.

They seem to be ingeniously twisted around themselves. I wonder if you could even make an extruder to make a Klein bottle or Mobius strip or other "one-sided" or "no-inside" surface out of pasta.

Fallen Tree

This poor tree was probably 30 ft high at least. The one good thing is that it fell in probably the best direction possible - right back on the lawn, between two driveways and not onto cars and not the opposite direction into the street.

The fallen tree is in Shellburne development in the Brandywine Hundred north of Wilmington, Delaware.

Too much rain + too much wind make big tree go boom

Two days of hard rain and 50 mile an hour wind gusts finally did a neighbor's evergreen in. I guess there would be more of this if there were leaves on the trees already to catch the wind.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tax Day Synchonicity, The Nature of Consciousness and Science Fiction

Technically, Tuesday is tax day, since today is a Sunday and tomorrow is a holiday in D.C., so much of my weekend was spent finally putting the data into the computer program (TaxCut) and learning new tax arcana. To celebrate we watched the movie Stranger than Fiction in which the protagonist Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell, is an IRS agent who hears a narrator inside his head. He is the protagonist of a book someone is writing as well as the movie. It is quite clever post modern stuff. Ferrell is a good and sympathetic character in this movie without being his wacky over the top comedy self that is his cinematic hallmark. Deadpan can be funny too.

Harold needs to find the narrator of the story as quickly as possible because his life might depend on it. Harold's search for the narrator reminded me of a science fiction short story called "Third Person" by Tony Ballantyne (in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction) in which the characters can only think of the situations in which they are immersed in third person. A drug removes their knowledge of their identities, making everything third person and impersonal. This makes them excellent soldiers, the drug is a surreptitious recruiting tool. When someone else is signing the enlistment form and joining up, because there is no "you", the army isn't such a bad idea. Without a knowledge of self the main character must figure out who is the narrator of this story to find himself before it is too late. It seems that self-recognition, self-awareness and an "I" is necessary for consciousness but not action.

This story is appropriately compared to a better story, "Second Person, Present Tense" by Daryl Gregory (in The Year's Best Science Fiction 23rd Annual Collection) which has the main character taking a drug, Zen or Zombie or Z, which eliminates her self or consciousness and thus she refers to herself in the second person. An overdose of the drug destroys her earlier personality and the plot device allows for her and her doctor to have interesting conversations about the nature of consciousness itself - Consciousness is the Queen and the rest of the brain is Parliment. Parliment passes what laws it wants and the Queen rubber stamps them, but she doesn't have much say in what the vote is or what the laws are. Consciousness as figurehead. There is an excellent quote to start the story that sums it all up:

I used to think the brain was the most important organ in the body, until I realized who was telling me that.
All this suggests that consciousness may be an illusion tacked onto otherwise autonomic or mechanical processes by a part of the brain that lets us just think we are in charge so we don't get too upset about things. There are studies that suggest that we perform the action before our conscious mind (whatever that is) decides to do it. This is much the theme (besides other interesting gedanken experiments) in the novel BlindSight by Peter Watts (of Rifters fame). His characters face a powerful alien intelligence with magnetic fields that warp the insides of their brains enough to cause hallucinations, elimination of self, godlike presences and all manner of horrors. All of which seem to suggest that the brain as computer and seat of "self" isn't all it is cracked up to be.

From taxes to narrators to pronouns (1st to 2nd to 3rd) to the nature of consciousness itself. Are you conscious? Only you will know, though "I" doubt it.

I'm holding out for a hero ... quiz.

A hero test.

My Inner Hero - Wizard!

I'm a Wizard!

There are many types of magic, but all require a sharp mind and a cool head. There is no puzzle I can't solve, no problem I can't think my way out of. When you feel confused or uncertain, you can always rely on me to untangle the knots and put everything back in order for you.

Hello, Wizard.

Character Stats:

Rogue (4)
Warrior (9)
Wizard (24)
Paladin (11)

Your Profile:

You're intelligent, educated, and just a bit superior to everyone you know. If you're still in school, you probably make A's, if you're not too bored to waste the effort. If you work, your annoying boss relies on you to solve the problems no one else can figure out. You've never met a puzzle you can't solve. When it comes to leisure, you'd rather read, play a strategy game, or surf the 'Net than run around getting sweaty. You're a brainiac, and you're not ashamed to admit it.

Above all, you're a mastermind and a great thinker. You see the unknown as territory to be conquered, and the mysterious as something to be systematically unraveled. You don't have time for fools; you only spend your time with people who can comprehend your obfuscatory convolutions. You enjoy amassing knowledge, both useful and trivial.

Your Mission:

You were put on this earth to enlighten people. They will listen to you, because they are impressed by your vocabulary, your erudition, and your ability to grasp concepts that invariably elude them. You are the one who has to figure things out, because let's face it - you're the only one smart enough.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to Discover Something. Something small, or something big. Find an unknown insect in your own backyard. Discover a cure for sunburn. Develop a faster way to get the dishes done. Calculate the number of molecules in the Andromeda galaxy. Discover a comet. Discover SOMETHING.

And do make it a priority. The Famous Adventurer of Silmaria has a crystal ball trained on you, and will be noting your progress.

A Warning:

Try to remember: you're not infallible. If people around you are all nodding and smiling, it may just be because they don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about. Check your facts and admit the possibility that even you can make mistakes. Loosen up. Make friends with a Rogue and have him or her try to poke holes in your theories. Who knows; you might actually have fun.

On another note - making plans and formulating theories can be quite stimulating, but at some point, you are going to have to actually DO something. Employ a Warrior, if necessary, to put your brilliant schemes into action. Just be sure your instruction manual is written in very small words.
How about you? Click here to find your own inner hero.

Warning, you don't get your information at the end unless you provide an e-mail. I just use mailinator and not a real one.

(via Exploding Aardvark)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

SEXY license plate in Delaware

I know that false humility can be as bad as false pride, though not as common. It seems to me though, that if one must insist that one is sexy by proclaiming it loudly on a license plate, then it is quite possible that one isn't.

The driver of this car was not sexy. Maybe they were borrowing someone else's car.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Don't get to attached to this cherry tree

The cherry tree is blooming out in front. It looks nice. Everything is new and interesting since this is the first year in the house.

It has to go, though. The previous owners had the chance to arrest the leaning of the tree, yet they failed to do so. The 45 degree leaning angle bodes ill for its future survival and lastly it isn't a pretty pink one. Since we still just got here we can make these critical decisions dispassionately.

At least we (and you) got to see it bloom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My first baseball game this year

Even though it may be a violation of copyright because I don't have the express written consent of Major League Baseball, I still wanted to tell you that tonight I am watching Detroit play Baltimore in Baltimore. They claim it is 55 degrees but the wind begs to differ.

Go Tigers!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sugar Free Jelly Beans are an abomination!

I imagine that if you are unfortunate enough to have diabetes (as runs in my family) these jelly beans might be your only Easter candy alternative and be necessary to being careful about your health. Still taking sugar out of something for which it is the main ingredient must require knowledge of the dark arts.

Don't think this means they are low calorie however, somehow they managed to cram 110 calories per serving. I was unable to figure out what the sweetener was, I was just too shocked to decode the ingredients completely.

I did not buy them. I promise your Easter basket contains some good old-fashioned sugar.

Friday, April 06, 2007

This is why you wait for the last frost!

When I was wondering how the National Weather Service comes up with those "last frost" dates a while back I realized with some careful manipulation of the data that it was the 90th percentile of the frost date compiled from data from the past. I even put together some charts to demonstrate it.

It turns out the last frost day (90% confident) is April 25th using the Wilmington data and April 22nd using the Porter reservoir data (a location just north of the City of Wilmington). The 50th percentile data are around April 10th.

Why is this important? Well, historically speaking, we are in still in the 50/50 range of the frost data and any one of these nights could still have a frost because only half the time in the past hundred years has the last frost occurred already. One case in point is last night, note the dip below 30 measured by the helpful KDEWILMI4 weather station website. Any plants out there would have felt freezing temperatures!

Have patience Wilmington gardeners, planting time is coming.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Whimsical license plate WIMZCAL

Driving around I saw this whimsical license plate (spelled WIMZCAL) in Northern Delaware.

Delaware allows a capitol i that is more like a Roman Numeral 1 and is different from the regular i on the license plates. Clever motorists use this to their advantage in to create whimsical personalized license plates.