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Something to chew on for the weekend…

Okay, this is kind of neat. Project Euler is a website that hosts series of individual, discrete math problems (currently 344 of them) that each require a short computer program to solve. Individual problems builds on concepts in previous ones, so the idea is that you quietly learn both math and programming as you go along.

To be honest, if I had run across this on my own, I’d’ve been all “yuck, math! Ew gross, programming!” but I read this article in the Atlantic that made it sound like a lot of fun and…it kind of is. I’ve done five and I enjoy it — when I have a CLUE where to start.

I cheated on Problem 3. I was looking for methods and accidentally found the actual answer, but I was floundering anyhow. I still don’t understand why my answer wasn’t right. But, hey, turns out I independently invented the Sieve of Eratosthenes trying to figure it out, so I worked out something a chiton-wearing olive-slurping boo-boo knew two thousand years ago. Yay me, I guess.

Hard to believe my grandma was an algebra teacher.

Good weekend, everyone!

July 29, 2011 — 10:05 pm
Comments: 42

I’d hate to have to dust

I drawed you a picture and everything, but then I decided it wasn’t very good and I threw it away.

So instead, I thought perhaps you’d enjoy seeing a picture of my grandfather in his den. The tow-haired moppet on the chair looks just like me, but isn’t — I was an infant when he died. One of my cousins, I guess.

He had many a weird and wonderful thing in his collection — fossilized dinosaur tracks, a six-shooter that belonged to Jesse James (the grips were all burned away), a shattered and re-melted glass bottle from Hiroshima — it was a proper Victorian cabinet of curiosities. Though gramps was an uneducated country boy, so I won’t swear he didn’t get ripped off for a curiosity or two.

I should like to draw your attention to an object in the upper right corner of the picture. That is a stuffed possum playing a bass fiddle.

Taste and refinement, my people.

July 28, 2011 — 10:29 pm
Comments: 22


Wow. This guy just gets smaller all the time, doesn’t he?

So, he gives this press conference and asks us to call our Congressman? WTF? Can’t he just walk across the street and talk to them himself?

If you haven’t seen the compilation video of various people riffing on him, it’s worth your time (though why it ends with Colbert taunting West, I do not know).

Keep it up, Mr President. Little man graphics are easy.

July 27, 2011 — 10:10 pm
Comments: 20

She has a point


There’s a display of royal wedding memorabilia gone up at Buckingham Palace this week, including the Duchess of Cornwall’s Cambridge’s [thanks for the correction, Mrs C!] wedding dress. You know, Kate Middleton.

Kate and Her Maj got a sneak preview, and Herself apparently called the effect “horrid” and “creepy.”

She has a point (video here). The room is dark, the dress is lit up with twelve spotlights and the tiara hovers over a mannequin with a stump neck. It looks like a nazgul.

The Royals are a little sensitive about headless queens



July 26, 2011 — 9:53 pm
Comments: 18

Happy Flying Ant Day!

Ahhhhhhhhh….the driveway is full of flying ants!!!!

Also, the front garden, the back garden, the bit on the side by, and pretty much the whole of Britain. Today, one day only!

This is the day allllll the Lasius Niger on this big ol’ island get laid. Then the males lose their wings, wander about aimlessly, waste away and die. While the females lose their wings, wander around looking for a place to hole up lay eggs for the rest of their lives, mostly fail and die.

G’night, kids!

It’s not the same day every year (not like those showoffy swallows in Capistrano), but it tends to be on a warm, muggy day toward the end of July. Which this is.

I don’t usually freak out about insects, but the last time I saw a cloud of flying ants, it was the advance guard of termites that ate the back half of Mother’s house. Happily, these dudes don’t do anything worse than get in your hair and die all over everything.

Yeah, yeah…it’s a nature blog now. I can’t bear to post about Anders Breivik today. The BBC are rolling around in this one like a hog in shit, in the most sick-making display of political opportunism. Cannot. Deal.

July 25, 2011 — 5:26 pm
Comments: 23

Holy god those are some big buns

We lunched with these two ladies today. One of them is a new mother of seven. Not sure which one.

The other one apparently never heard a rabbit joke in her life; she utterly spurned the attention of the hired stud buck. Which is probably just as well. What on earth are they going to do with nine of these monsters?

They are British Giants. And how.

Have a good weekend, everyone. And remember …

July 22, 2011 — 8:55 pm
Comments: 38

Be glad this blog’s in black and white

Wow. I know Hillary’s touring Bali at the moment, but I think when you’ve reached the muumuu level of fashion degradation, you need to stop digging.

Huma isn’t taking very good care of her lately. She’s off her game.

Yeah, it’s the same shot Drudge is going with. I’ve got absolutely jack shit today. Never left the house.

I know I shouldn’t complain, what with most of the US at or over 100 degrees at the moment, but it’s been miserable here lately. Cold, gray and wet. Day after day of it.

This is my third Summer in the UK and the first two were lovely. Sunny. Cool breeze. This is my first taste of what England can do to a vacation.

How miserable? It’s wet and mid-fifties and we’ve lit the fire.

I think I’ll go upstairs, throw the blankets over my head and strike until the sun comes back.

July 21, 2011 — 10:54 pm
Comments: 23

Well, looky what I got today

And I’m pretty sure Uncle B gave it to me, too.

No, no…penicillin won’t be required — it’s a counterfeit £1 coin. The one on the left; there’s no writing along the edge. I was about to pass it to a shopkeeper when I noticed.

The pound coin has been counterfeited pretty much from the get-go. A pound is worth a buck sixty or so at the moment, so I guess the economics work out for somebody.

Upwards of one in thirty-six pound coins is a fake, despite banks and post offices pouring incoming coins through automated systems that detect fakes by weight. So somebody’s seriously pumping bad coin into the system.

Tips for detecting fakes are hilariously impractical: make sure the date on the front matches up with the design on the back, the two are properly aligned and the motto around the edge is correct for that year. Like I’m going to glance at my handful of change and exclaim, “my god, it’s got a Scottish Lion on the back, but the motto around the edge is ‘DECUS ET TUTAMEN +’ instead of ‘NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT +’! Plus, the date is 1998! And the Queen’s head is rotated 20° relative to the design on the back! BAH! Obvious forgery!”

Well, actually, these are Brits we’re talking. Maybe not so impractical. The geek gene runs powerfully through these people.

Mine is a weird one. The design on the back is correct for the date on the front and the two sides are in correct alignment, but the forger hasn’t attempted the edge motto at all. Also, the casting is a little soft and the color is a little brown. But, honestly, if they’d made ANY attempt at the motto, I would never have noticed.

It’s a crime to pass a counterfeit along once you’ve noticed; I’m supposed to get it to the Royal Mint somehow. So I’m out a buck sixty.

July 20, 2011 — 9:25 pm
Comments: 19

Fortress of Banjitude

Welcome to the Inner Sanctum.

What? Lots of people play in the bog. The acoustics are excellent, and we have this a little loo at the back of the house where I can bang away unheard. Bonus: built in seat!

Left to right, that’s a little practice banjo Uncle B bought me for my birthday one year, when I was stuck over here banjoless and my banjo finger began to itch. It’s made of particle-board or something similar, but it’s great fun. Short neck, low action, soft sound, light and tote-able, will take a bit of rough trade.

Next over is a Hayne’s Bay State banjo, circa 1890. Sweet little instrument from the era of parlor banjo (from Boston, would you believe!). It would have been played in the classical finger style, or possibly minstrel style. I replaced the calfskin head and put new strings on it yesterday. Nylgut is a new material that is supposed to mimic the sound of gut strings better than plain old nylon. This banjo would have been strung with gut initially. How does it sound? Like thumping a bag of wet mice with a tiny rubber hammer.

Next over is a British zither banjo, also circa 1890. Well, of course I bought one. Took me forever to take it apart, clean it and put it back together again. All those fiddly bits. I splashed out and bought a set of historically accurate strings for this one: steel, steel, real gut, wound on polymer, steel.

This one would definitely have been played classical style. It has a lovely mellow sound and is a treat to play. The head could use tightening, but I don’t fancy messing around with the brackets again any time soon. I’ve had to replace a few bits already, and some of these wouldn’t be easily replaceable.

And finally, my proper bluegrass banjo. A 1980s Epiphone. It’s a decent banjo pretending to be a fantastic one — solidly built, highly playable, but all gussied up with fake abalone inlay and shit. It was my first banjo and I knew it was a tart when I bought it, but I was desperate for a decent instrument to learn on. I’d driven all over Nashville looking for something suitable and, last stop out of town, I found this ugly pig at 70% off.

How does it sound? Uncle B describes it as two dustbin lids banging together. Yeah, it’s loud. And tinny. And it’s developing a bit of fret buzz. And the sound in a tiled bathroom is indescribable. I love this nasty boy.

Sooo….am I any good? No. No, I’m not. When I reached my teens and a serious musical plateau (on guitar), I realized I was never going to be Joni Mitchell. At that point, I stopped taking any of this shit seriously. Eh. I’m a happy noodler.

But you don’t have to be a serious musician to get the instrument bug.

July 19, 2011 — 10:27 pm
Comments: 28

Anybody want to buy some rat meat?

You reckon Patrick Stewart is ever sorry he took that Star Trek gig? He’s done the voiceover for about half the games I’ve bought in the last ten years, including Emperor Apple Doll here.

Not knocking Oblivion, which is five or six years old. Even the latest and greatest games, they still haven’t got people quite down yet, especially faces. Dead Space 2 that I’ve been raving and drooling about is good in some scenes (the back of Isaac’s head looks spectacularly real) and creepy in others. I mean, unintentionally creepy (the intentionally creepy faces are excellent).

For the just-released L.A. Noire, they famously strapped real actors into chairs and made them act for some computerized facial scanning doohicky that reproduced the expressions later on game characters. Being able to perceive a liar is apparently important to the gameplay. Yet in all the trailers I’ve seen, the faces look ultra creepy.

I’m a great believer in the Uncanny Valley. Things that look alllllmost but not quite human are guaranteed to give people the jim-jamms. We’re wired to read changes in facial expression that can be measured in millimeters. It’s going to be a while before modeling programs get that good.

Though it would help if 3D modelers would stop making teeth and eyeballs self-illuminate.

July 18, 2011 — 11:35 pm
Comments: 18