Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Keep out of reach of children, and adults

I am not one for sugary sweet drinks, especially not those of the alcoholic sort (more of a Scotch whisky type, really). For those of you of different tastes, consider this rainbow-colored hootch made by mixing vodka with Skittles. I doubt that the two days of steeping added much to the color depth, so perhaps one could accelerate the process and mix up a batch in an afternoon, I don't know. Make sure you're not too close to a flame, by the way.

Probably one could achieve similar results substituting Jolly Rancher hard candy. I think it might eliminate the need for filtration, perhaps. Until I did a search, I had not appreciated the fact that this would not make it the first Jolly Rancher alcoholic drink concoction, nor even the second.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Notes for a State of the Union Address

This little piece seems as if it would work pretty well next month.

We had a bad banking situation. Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people's funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government's job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible—and the job is being performed.

Delivered by the President of the United States, March 12, 1933.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Selling what's rational

I had this chat with my friend "D" a few weeks back. (The carets represent exponentiation, naturally.)
(9:33:21 AM) Me: Hi. Did you know that 10^9999 is one tremilliatrecendotrigintillion?
(9:35:17 AM) D: So who made up these names? It's not as if they came up in calculations frequently enough to need a name for them.
(9:35:38 AM) D: Avagadro's number is the biggest number that deserves a name.
(9:35:56 AM) Me: Well I've heard of the first few entries in the table.
(9:36:38 AM) Me: It's a cgi program, so it's all generated by algorithm. Look at 10^100
(9:38:16 AM) D: What does the column "prefix cardinal" mean?
(9:38:38 AM) Me: "determines letters before the illion" - hmm
(9:39:09 AM) D: Before the illion is a nice phrase.
(9:39:25 AM) Me: I guess when there's a 3, the name has tre or tri before the illion
(9:39:28 AM) D: Like Before the War, Before the Flood, Before the Fall.
(9:40:12 AM) Me: But 10^183 doesn't even have an illion, it ends in illiard
(9:40:30 AM) D: But 10^36 has 1 and 10 as the prefix cardinals. What does that mean?
(9:40:40 AM) Me: Oh, I'm looking at the European (or Eurpoean) system
(9:41:50 AM) Me: 1 => un, 10 => dec, thus undecillion
(9:42:43 AM) Me: I would have thought that 1 undecillion was smaller than one hundred decillion, but there you go.
The conversation then went on to other, unrelated topics, as is usually the case for us. But it set me to thinking: if they can have a star registry where you are invited to pay for a name for a star which nobody in the professional stargazing communities (whether astronomical or astrological) is ever going to use, why not have a number registry where you get to name your own positive integer with a name no mathematician would ever use. What a great idea, right?

Too late, someone already did it.

For example, imagine watching your favorite science fiction television show and hearing the starship's chief engineer shout, "Captain -- the heat from the supernova is too much for the shields! Twelve thousand degrees! Thirteen thousand! If it reaches Martin Allan Smythe, Jr. degrees, we’ll be destroyed!"
I had in mind a financial channel instead ("Unemployment is up last month to Carrie-Sue Delmonico, an increase of 14%"), but clearly my half-backed notion is far too close to this going concern and would have no chance against their first mover advantage.

But! Rational numbers (fractions, basically) are denumerable too, so one could with only a little extra effort come up with a registry for each of these as well, and they would have the advantage of having to do with something that virtually nobody understands anyway, even abroad. Exotic! And once you get past the so-called vulgar fractions ¼, ½, ¾ and a few of their relatives, you don't often encounter these in trade or commerce much any more, ever since the stock market went to decimals years ago, so some of the rules and restrictions that apply to the number registry would really not be missed. The lucky person forking over their cash for their own rational number would receive a booklet written by a professional mathematician, a wallet card, and a certificate suitable for framing.

I looked and did not see anyone else having come up with this scam concept and brought it to market. But my fallback position should such a case come to light would be to take advantage of the denumerability of algebraic numbers, so as to entice people to immortalize their loved ones forever by rechristening quantities like -3+3√43 and so forth.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Because America is so good at pimping her heritage

NASA is talking about taking bids for retired Space Shuttles once the program is over.

Beware: NASA estimates it will cost about $42 million to get each shuttle ready and get it where it needs to go, and the final tab could end up much more.

The estimate includes $6 million to ferry the spaceship atop a modified jumbo jet to the closest major airport. But the price could skyrocket depending on how far the display site is from the airport. Only indoor, climate-controlled displays will be considered.

"Indoor, climate-controlled displays" to me says "shopping malls," assuming that once we are over the current bad patch of financial woe there will still be any retail left in the developed world. I think a Planet Hollywood inside an old Shuttle might do nicely, with crème brulées served on the famous insulating tiles. The craft is already set up with restroom facilities, after all, though an investor would probably have to set up their own wine cellar onboard.

I would hope that the Shuttles remain on US soil, however, rather than ending up in Dubai or Shanghai or something like that. No matter how friendly a country is to ours right now, a thing as big as this might well be set up for the long haul, and we do not need the sight of an angry foreign mob taking out their frustrations on yet another national symbol any time. No, if there is any desecration of American space history to be done, let it be done by Americans themselves, I say.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Unreal pennyloafer edition

Attention Flash game developers: Please create a first person hurler game in which one's goal is to toss footwear at various major world leaders, earning points if you score a solid hit. In easy mode, you just throw and try to hit stationary heads of state, in medium they will dodge and try to take cover behind furniture, and in hard there should be aides and allies attempting to shield their commanders.

As you go up in level, maybe you might progress from sandals to sneakers to espadrilles to pumps to stilettos. Not sure where steel-toed boots would fit into the sequence, but I would guess that clogs would require some sort of cheat code.

I am sure someone who's written these kinds of things in the past could hack something out in an afternoon's worth of work.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Just slightly more wasteful than a Hummer

Please can we get over our international malaise and concern over the composition of the atmosphere so everyone can fly to work in one of these? The parking lots at the 7-11 will have to be modified to accommodate the airfoils as people stop by to grab a cup of coffee, of course.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What did not happen over the last 36 hours

When I came home from work on Monday, hoping to have some supper before we went to church, it was not to a scene of happiness.
The acrid chemical smell in the air led us to suspect a fire in the microwave oven, so my wife had called the Fire Department, who told us we should not stay inside. It was cold and my wife went into our neighbor's place across the street, while I did not.
Besides the four or five fire trucks there was a freelance photographer there and eventually a person from the gas company, who I did not speak to at first.

Once they took a look around, they opened the windows and doors, then brought in large industrial fans on extremely long extension cords to take away most of the fumes, while we waited, wondering what was happening. Eventually one of them told us that the gas furnace had overheated and had to be turned off and sprayed down with water to cool things off, and that it was not any problem with the microwave at all. I went in to look at the old furnace, which did not seem to be in very good shape after all this.
We ended up not making it to church that night. Also, we did not have much heat in the house except for a couple of small space heaters we set up.
The next morning, I stayed home to make some phone calls, hoping to find out whether our homeowner's insurance would provide any payout (it would not). A gas company representative came by and quickly determined that the boiler was shot and could not be repaired. We measured the size of the rooms and he based on a few other quantities, he determined that the old 200000 BTU input boiler was too large for the residence. Their quote on a new, smaller, modern gas boiler was not something I wanted to accept immediately though. I called other heating contractors in the area and the first couple could not set up appointments with me right away. One of them did come to visit, discuss what they could do, and agreed to set us up with a newer, even better, system, though not appreciably lower in price than the first quote. Since they could start right away, however, and in consultation with my wife, I agreed, drawing down heavily on a line of credit I had wanted to spare. The heating company spent the following ten hours pulling out the old unit and putting in the new 150000 BTU unit, finishing just shortly before midnight, a couple hours later than expected.

The brand-new boiler does not take up as much room in the basement as the old one. Even the heating guy admitted it is not the kind of big purchase you would care to show off to people, all that much. On the other hand, it should not attempt to run while dry the way the old one apparently did.
All this for a price which, had I paid them solely in dollar bills equal weight to this twelve-pack of soda, I would not have reached. I wrote two unpleasant checks, since I did not even have such a heavy stack of cash on hand. Were it not for the pictures they still need to take for the local permit application, I would be at work this morning.
Still, we witnessed no explosions and no fires raging out of control, nor freezing pipes and no one crushed by hundreds of pounds of cast iron.
Clarification: Everything did in fact happen, that's not what the title's referring to. I have simply cast all the facts as negative statements, in the spirit of Raymond Queneau's book Exercises in Style (the chapter called "Negativities"), perhaps in order to be contrary, perhaps not.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

But then again

This is a depiction of Judas betraying Jesus. That's a bad thing, right?

It's a sixteenth century masterpiece by the Italian painter Caravaggio. So that's good, then?

It was stolen from the Ukranian Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa last summer. A very bad thing, no doubt.

But then the authorities recovered it. Great!

Some experts, however, believe it might simply be a reproduction wrongly attributed to the master. So what should one think?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Because the oldtork didn't work that well

More spelling gone badly: I noticed this on which has been bought out by a pay-per-post site. Notice anything odd about it? They have it up on the blog for blogmad, so they cannot be very uncomfortable with it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I'd make a bid and call it Team Holstein

From Reuters today:

I assume that Formula One is fortified whole, not 2%.