Prince Rupert's drop in slow motion

Boing Boing posted a video by SmarterEveryDay about Prince Rupert's drop, a weird, cool, exploding glass thing.

I've seen footage of the drop exploding before, but these guys show it at various levels of incredibly slowed down, where it stops looking like an (already really cool) explosion, and starts looking like a bead of glass turning into a tornado of snowflakes.

Seriously, watch the video.  It's amazing.

professional Starcraft

Every once in a while, I remember a blog post I read on Penny Arcade, which was apparently from 2007.  It's the post accompanying the comic "On The Keeping Of Secrets."  Here's the part that stuck in my mind:

I’ve seen world-class Starcraft played, and it looks nothing like the game I played with my friends.  They aren’t just doing the things that we do, only faster.  They are operating some kind of Zergling circus; they appear to have taught them tricks.  There is a zergling with a ball on its nose, walking on a wire with a long stick.  Gabriel and I watched Yellow play at Blizzcon and couldn’t really understand it.  It was as though he thought in an alien way.

When it bubbles up, I think about the idea of professional Starcraft players, about watching people play a video game better than I could imagine.  I regretted that I was unlikely to get the opportunity to see a Starcraft competition.

Then, it occurred to me that loads of people upload gameplay on YouTube.  So I searched for 'starcraft championship' and clicked on the first video.

After watching it, giving it a lot more attention than I thought I was going to, I found out that there are at least 3 more videos in that championship.  So I did some googling and found the format for tournaments.  Apparently, the finals are best of 7, which is how baseball works, right?  Or hockey.  Or football.  I don't know, at least one of the meatspace sports works like that.

Apparently the 2013 Starcraft competition thingy hasn't happened this year.  I might figure out how to follow it.

Charity Debt: Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy

When I was in middle school, I had a teacher who had muscular dystrophy.  He taught band.  I was a thoroughly disappointing band student, but that's not the point of this post.  (I started on flute, but had to switch to xylophone because I couldn't figure out flute.) The school did a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy.  I don't remember what charity it was.  I don't think it was the Parent Project one in the title, but they've got a four star rating on Charity Navigator so that's who I picked.

It was one of those fundraisers where they put cards up with your name on them in the halls if you donate.  They were clovers.  You got a green one for just donating, and a gold one for donating more than $10, I think.  Anyway, I had a reasonable amount of spending money at the time.  I think it was money I got from Easter.  You know, from family and stuff.  So I donated like $25, and had two gold clovers on the walls.

Then there was a parent night thing.  I had kind of hoped they wouldn't see, but my parents found one of my gold clovers.  I lied, and said I had donated less than I did, but they were still angry.

My parents have tried, many times throughout my life, to teach me that it's wrong to donate money to charity on purpose.  Like, it's not that bad to put coins in a bell-ringer's bucket (it totally is) but actually going out of your way to figure out who you think needs your help and getting money to them is just one of the most awful things you can do with money.

Fortunately, that didn't sink in.  Or, my sense of charity is part hateful rebellion against my parents.  Either way, I picked this one because (a.) I realized I hadn't picked any charities that had to do with disability in America, and (b.) when I saw this one in my googling it reminded me how much that pissed me off when I was 14.

Here's their website, and here's their donation form.

Fifty more words.  Here is a list of things I miss about the currently broken infrastructure: 1. Minecraft. I really intended to get some work done on my Zombie Villager FarmGrinder. 2. Blogs. I can't really read them on my phone. 3. My chromebook. It does basically nothing without wifi. 4. Lights. I'm scared of the dark, and the generator only lights up some of the house. 5. Driving. I am not driving in this weather, no matter how much I wish I had a bottle of wine.

Damn, still about 150 words shy.  Blogging is way less fun when I have to do it like I'm trying to have a text message conversation about politics. (My most difficult to write texts are usually political in nature.) To my regular readers, if anyone wants to come out of lurking and comment, does my blogging style differ substantially when I'm writing on days without power from when I'm doing my regular posts? Which do you like better?

I strongly suspect that this post won't end up being long enough. If it is, good night. If not, I will write again shortly.

Typing speed on phones

Man, I really thought that last post was over 700 words. It was only about 300. Writing takes so much longer on the phone. Every letter typed feels monumental compared to the effort of working with a keyboard.  I'm used to the words flickering by, almost as fast as I can think them.  But here, I sometimes get so far ahead of my fingers that I can't remember how the sentence I'm writing was supposed to go. This is the value of concrete skills, of learning how to do things and cultivating talents. I'm a fairly good thinker, but for a long time I wasn't able to write well enough -- literally, I couldn't choose good words at a high enough speed and put them down onto paper or a screen -- to be able to do anything productive with that skill set.

I'm still not as fast and as clever as I would like. Sometimes I get tripped up in a sort of arcane jargon, unable to find clear, common words that mean the things I'm trying to say. But continual practice makes me better every day than I was the day before. Roughly. More accurately, I am better or worse one day after another more or less unpredictably due to conditions of health, inspiration, or preoccupation, but with a general upward trend over longer timescales, like years.  Like with climate change.

Power outage and wind

The power is out today at my house. It's been out for about six hours now, but fortunately we have a generator, so our TV is working. My partner and I have been knitting and watching Boston Legal. (I've been learning to knit.) Since we have the generator, the power being mostly out is pretty fun. Like camping. This is how I imagine better nights would be in the zombie apocalypse, when we feel safe enough about having a generator running. I would hope there would be enough of an internet left for me to blog the zombie apocalypse -- that would be a fun fiction project, anyway.

Last time I was blogging off my phone, I remember it being very disjointed and choppy. I'm beginning to feel like that might be inherent in the medium, or the method. (Is input method a sufficiently large difference to constitute a different medium?)  Now, I keep remembering stories from my childhood, like the time I was the only person in my middle school shop class who didn't get a partner for the model house project.

We had to make a house out of balsa wood, tissue paper for the walls, construction paper for the roof, and it had to have a front door and a certain number of windows. We were instructed to build a house that could stand up to the specific conditions of its hypothetical environment.  Those conditions were intense winds; the house would be tested on its ability to stand up to a powerful fan.

My house had two window blow-outs, but if I remember it correctly it did better than any of the other houses.

I remember taking away from that a strong lesson about the problems with teamwork. I wonder now if it's possible to construct tasks for students designed for teamwork, which are genuinely beyond the powers of any individual to achieve?

Or maybe I was just cleverer than everyone else in my class.

Elections held on Tuesdays

One of the things that annoys me most about the American government is the number of parts of our system that are based on the amount of time it takes to travel on horseback to the capitol. Mental_floss just posted an article about this earlier today, and it's a point I've heard made several times before, but I don't think it can be publicized enough.  Besides, they use NPR as a source.

Between 1788 and 1845, states decided their own voting dates. Senate historian Don Ritchie told NPR that strategy resulted in chaos, a “crazy quilt of elections” held all across the country at different times to pick the electors—the white, male property owners who would cast their votes for president on the first Wednesday of December. In 1792, a law was passed mandating that state elections be held within a 34-day period before that day, so most elections took place in November. (Society was mostly agrarian; in November, the harvest was finished but winter hadn’t yet hit, making it the perfect time to vote.)

The glacial pace of presidential elections wasn’t a huge issue in the late 18th and early 19th centuries—communication was slow, so results took weeks to announce anyway—but with the advent of the railroad and telegraph, Congress decided it was time to standardize a date. Monday was out, because it would require people to travel to the polls by buggy on the Sunday Sabbath. Wednesday was also not an option, because it was market day, and farmers wouldn’t be able to make it to the polls. So it was decided that Tuesday would be the day that Americans would vote in elections, and in 1845, Congress passed a law that presidential elections would be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Some of my Doctor Who pet theories

I've been mulling over the potential logic of the universe of Doctor Who for a while now, and I think it makes a lot more sense than it seems to at first glance.  I mean, it's still wildly implausible.  But I think some of the major categories of complaints might not be totally valid. My theory relies on the overlapping of the history of the universe many, many times -- which I think is fair, because it's a show about time travel.  If we assume that the state of the universe as it exists is the most recent combination of all the different instances of time travel, the Doctor Who universe makes a lot of sense.

Part 1 of the theory: Time Lords are the many-universe-lengths descendants of humanity.

I think this one is pretty straight-forward.  Humans tinker with time travel enough that they manage it on a scale to save the species, within the timeframe of a single stretch from existence to oblivion.  Then, the Time Lords are the descendants of humans who most obsessively continued to tinker with time travel.

2.  Most of the species throughout the universe are descendants of:

(a.) other strains of the early human time travelers, or

(b.) other earth-native species who were transported during the terraforming of other planets.

This would explain why so many species have so much in common with humanity -- anthropomorphism, speaking language, similar vulnerabilities and dietary needs, sometimes even the ability to interbreed.  (The Daleks might be one of the only other real species in the universe.  Or, they might just be some of the most horrifically corrupted humans.)

3.  The Weeping Angels are the flew-too-close-to-the-sun poetically punished descendants of the most extremist Time Lord experimenters.

They have, as a fact of their existence, unlocked some of the most basic problems of the universe -- applying quantum indeterminacy to a human-scale survival technique, a biological ability to transport people in time, and they're said to be older than time itself -- which could easily be because they were created when some already too-far-gone Time Lords tried to travel outside of the existence of time.

###

I'm not sure if any of these theories have been articulated before, or who I should credit or nod to if they have.  And they still don't explain the problems of some of the essentially impossible things that go on in Doctor Who -- though that can basically all be chalked up to "Time Lords are way more advanced than we can even begin to imagine."

I also like the vision of the timeline of the universe that this theory provides, because it seems to reflect the way it plays out in the show -- that there's a sort of horizontal flow of time, iterations of the universe, then there's a vertical flow of time that becomes increasingly chaotic and tenuous.

This theory also arguably self-explains why it's not explained in the show -- time is constantly being rewritten.  Many of the processes of point A to point C could continue to exist long after point B has been overwritten a hundred times.  Certain things remain constant, the strongest pillars of truth through time, and certain things become fixed.

As for "Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey," I imagine this all being far more complicated than I've just explained, well beyond my own understanding.  Also: if I ever get to write an episode of Doctor Who, there will be a scene when he spends some time examining a holographic representation of time, trying to figure it out. It will be made clear that "Wibbly-wobly, timey-wimey" is the Doctor's way of saying "I failed that class, stop asking me questions about it."

On hyperbole and learning language

One of the most popular literary devices in everyday speech is hyperbole.  Everyone uses it.  And almost everyone learned about it in high school.  Unfortunately, most people don't use it very well, and aren't very aware of what they're doing when they use it. This occurs to me because I was recently scrolling through the #fml tag on Tumblr and there were a lot of posts by teenagers that said things like "OMG MY LIFE IS OVER".

These people get made fun of a lot, which I don't think is really fair.  They're learning how to use the language they speak in creative and expressive ways, which often entails use of metaphor, hyperbole and loads of other cool devices that require the speaker to say technically untrue things to make their point.

Coupled with that, they're generally trying to express emotional pain they're not yet skilled enough to articulate, and for that lack of skill they're often dismissed.

Basically what I think I'm saying is, try for a good faith interpretation when teenagers say dumb things.

Cincinnati's Plan

I don't think much about Cincinnati when I think about cities.  Just now, because I was going to write about it, I had to look up what state it's in.  (Ohio.)  But they've done something pretty cool, that I think deserves attention.  They've written a comprehensive city plan to guide urban planners in pushing towards city-wide goals.

Plan Cincinnati is a 222-page vision of the city over the next 20 years, and it sees a city that’s more walkable, more vibrant, more healthy, more business-friendly.

It shifts attention from downtown and Over-the-Rhine, which have undergone transformations in the past decade, focusing instead on how to strengthen the city’s other 50 neighborhoods.

They're pushing for more public transportation and better access to food -- "Eliminate food deserts and reduce air pollution and sewer discharges 40 percent by 2040" is one of the 400 recommendations.

As a species that is probably going to need to retreat to cities when we finish screwing up the green parts of the planet, this is exactly the kind of planning we need.  Making our cities better places, more livable, more inviting, and more life-affirming ought to be one of humanity's central projects.

The weirdest thing in my newsfeed today

The Los Angeles Times has a "Ministry of Gossip."  That's not the thing.  That's just a side-note, and I'm not sure how I feel about that -- it's awful that a major news organization dedicates page space to something with the word gossip in the name, but it's nice that they've got it segregated into its own section. The weird thing is the specific article that showed up in my Google Newsfeed.

Shia LaBeouf makes a promise of 'unsimulated' sex

At first, I assumed this was some sort of hologram/alternate reality thing that he was agreeing to.  But then I realized that would explicitly be simulated sex, so I was quickly back into the territory of "I have no idea what that means."  Great headline, though.  Got them my pageview.

It turns out, LaBeouf has agreed to actually have sex with the actors his character is having sex with in "Nymphomaniac," a Lars Von Trier film that has not yet gone into production.  It is apparently about sex addiction, so it's weird that they're titling it after a different psychological disorder.

"I sent him videotapes of me and my girlfriend having sex and that's how I got the job," Shia plainly told Chelsea Handler on her chat show.

"I don't know what it's gonna be until I get out there. I know he's a very dangerous director, I know we're trying to do something different. [...]"

The article linked to the side of this one is titled "Shia LaBeouf goes full-frontal nude for Sugar Rós video," so I guess this isn't completely unexplored territory for him.  Still, I've discovered things today about Shia LaBeouf and the present state of the film industry that I find genuinely surprising.

Internet tax

(Via SlashDot) The FCC is pursuing the possibility of taxing internet broadband access.  The reason for doing this would be to put resources in the hands of the Connect America Fund, whose goal is to give as much of America access to broadband internet as possible.

Prominent tech companies, including Google, support the move, and I can't entirely say that I'm opposed to it.  In principle.

I definitely think that American tax dollars should go towards ensuring that as much of America as possible is connected to the best internet access we can give them.  As far as I'm concerned, internet access should be considered a human right.

On the other hand, taxing broadband access is a regressive tax -- it would cut deeper into the budgets of poor people than rich people, if the ISPs pass the cost on to the consumer.  Which they would.  Obviously.

Much like there ought to be for health insurance, I think there should be a national option for internet access.  It should provide good internet, and it should not presume to extract full cost value for every customer.  It might turn a profit in a major city, but it would still have to run a line out to the middle of the American Wilderness if someone out there has a cabin they want wired.

Right now, the FCC is just talking about this tax, they haven't actually put in a formal proposal.  If they do, they still have to deal with the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which was passed in 1998 and requires that the government not tax the internet.  According to the FCC, this wouldn't be a tax -- it would be a fee, that the ISPs could use to justify price increases.  Which they would.  Obviously.

I'm not totally certain how I feel about all this.  The FCC isn't the first group I want to get in the corner for, and I don't want to support a new regressive tax.  But Americans need better internet access.

Romney might not have paid taxes in the last decade

(via Boing Boing) It came from an anonymous tip from someone claiming to have invested with Romney, so Senator (D-Nevada) Harry Reid said yesterday that he has a source claiming Mitt Romney hasn't payed any taxes, at all, in the last decade.

That's a pretty rough allegation, and it could do a lot of damage to Romney's campaign -- the American People are paying our taxes to support the government that pays to keep this country stable, and Romney reaps all that benefit without kicking in even a fraction of his share?

Via the Washington Post:

Reid suggested that Romney’s decision to withhold tax information would bar him from ever earning Senate confirmation to a Cabinet post. Then, Reid recalled a phone call his office received about a month ago from “a person who had invested with Bain Capital,” according to The Huffington Post.

Reid said the person told him: “Harry, he didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years.”

“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” Reid told HuffPo. “But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?”

Neither Reid nor his aides would identify the alleged investor, HuffPo reported.

I wonder if that's Romney's fiscal strategy.  Maybe he thinks that sufficiently fancy number work can get America out of paying our debts.  I'm not happy about this guy in the first place, but that's a scary possibility.

Of course, maybe it's all just a rumor -- Romney could prove it wrong by releasing his tax records, like he said he would.

Pakistani civil rights group wins case over internet censorship

(via Slashdot) I'm going to quote the same chunk of the Reporters Without Borders article that everyone else is quoting:

The high court’s ruling, if respected, would make it impossible for the government to introduce any nationwide website filtering system.

While welcoming the ruling, which penalizes the lack of transparency in the PTA’s past website blocking, Reporters Without Borders calls for vigilance because the PTA could try to circumvent it by devising a constitutional procedure based on the anti-blasphemy law and national security provisions.

The concern that Reporters Without Borders seems to have is that the Pakistani government will ignore the ruling on internet censorhship for religious reasons.  I have no reason to doubt the validity of that concern.  But I wonder if it's not more likely that the ruling won't be upheld due to international pressures from countries like the US and UK who are pushing for censorship-heavy bills like CISPA.

Still, if it's upheld, this is a very cool international event.

Brain crack and the Manifesto Club

There's a concept, popularized by the internet famous Ze Frank, called Brain crack.  Video explanation below.  (I heard about it from the vlogbrothers.)

I get a lot of brain crack, and I'm not very good at getting them out of my head.  For me, the biggest problem with brain crack is, whenever I try something I think might be cool -- even if I've got low expectations -- I'm afraid, not that it will fail, but that people will hold the failure against me when I try new things.

It's easy to feel like a failure, when a lot of the things you try fail.  But I don't think that's really the right way to look at it.  Trying things is all about risking failure, and whenever a project doesn't come together, if you made an earnest effort, you come away having learned more about what makes a project work, and what makes it fail.

I'm bringing this up now because I had an idea earlier, that's got a lot of brain crack potential, but, if successfully executed, would also be a great way to resolve some of that brain crack.

The idea is a Manifesto Club, and the idea would be to write manifestos, about pretty much whatever you like, and publish them so your ideas get up in public.  I've got a few manifestos kicking around that could go up, and I certainly have the sort of ideas that make good manifestos.

The point wouldn't be to spark revolutionary change, although it would be a nice perk.  The point would be to take the ideas that you really want to stand up for, and make a declaration about standing up for them, in a context where it's okay to be wrong.  That way, the ideas can get discussed, but without treating the success or failure of the ideas as though they represent the success or failure of the person putting them forward.

I'm attempting to figure out how to set up a page off of this domain to start the club, just to get it out of my head.  And if it doesn't end up working out, that's fine.  I'll live.  I'll have another idea soon.

Talk to you tomorrow.

EDIT:  It exists!  The manifesto club is now accessible at www.txwatson.com/manifesto-club/ where you can sign up and write your own manifesto.

An assortment of things

AUGH it's eleven thirty and I DON"T HAVE ANYTHING TO WRITE ABOUT. The horror.

So, here's a quick round up of things that reflect realities I have encountered in the last few days.

I played Omaha for the first time.  Omaha is a form of poker, that's quite a lot like Texas Hold'em, but with more rules.  I enjoyed it -- for the first time in a while, there was more going on on the table than I could totally keep up with, which made me feel slightly better about losing all my money.  (I actually did pretty well, though, for that part of the game.  It wasn't until later that I lost all my money.)

I was in Walmart recently, browsing the food section, when I discovered "Refresco's Country Club® Merengue soda," which is, apparently, merengue soda.  I don't know what merengue is, (and haven't yet bothered to look it up,) but it's delicious.

I still agree with Rebecca Watson, and, by the way, PZ Myers posted a round-up of a bunch of the articles about it.  (Quick recap, if you don't like clicking links:  A 15 year old girl posted a picture of herself with a copy of a Carl Sagan book on the /r/atheism subreddit on reddit.  What followed was a massive outpouring of sexualizing comments, dominated by rape themes.  Rebecca Watson pointed out that this was not cool, and that, as it turns out, is controversial.)

Questionable Content and Gunnerkrigg Court remain excellent webcomics.

I like jellybeans.

That is all.

Ugh, I'm so f***ing sick of this argument

Let me explain what censorship is. Censorship is the systematic prevention of an idea from being expressed.

I believe that censorship is idiotic, and pointless.  I believe that any benefit that could be achieved by enacting censorship could be more easily and more cleanly be enacted by creating regular laws that (like all laws) don't have special exemptions when applied to art.  For example:  There's no need to censor art made of the skin of the artists' murder victims, because it's already illegal to kill people to get their skin.

There's something else, though, that isn't censorship.

Deleting comments on your blog, or on Facebook.

There's a different term for that.  It's called editorial discretion.  And it isn't wrong, it's the responsibility of anyone providing a platform.

There do exist venues where free expression is near-universally unfettered.  4Chan is a good example.  And anyone can make their own blog, or Facebook page.  It's even easier now than it was historically, when anyone could theoretically make their own newspaper, but most people didn't have the means.

But even then, in the age of the printing press, it was understood that the editors had a right to decide what was and wasn't printed in their newspaper.  This wasn't just to save cost on ink.  It was because it's understood that a publisher publishes to serve their own message, and to create their own forum and space, and it is not therefore their obligation to provide that forum to any idea that anyone writes in with.

On blogs, or on Facebook comment threads, it's the right of the owner (whoever's Facebook page it is, for example) to decide what's printed.  Because of the format of Facebook, and of some blogs, this may involve deleting posts or comments after they've been published.

This.  Is.  Not.  Censorship.

I am not okay with providing a forum for a number of types of views.  For example, racists or rape apologists will find their comments deleted here, if they start cropping up.  The same phenomenon occurs on my Facebook page.  (btw, I use my legal name on my Facebook, ███████████[1. Since writing this post I've left Facebook, and would prefer to keep my real name off the internet.  I bet it's not incredibly hard to find, but still.], not my pen name, in case you were looking for it.)

Another type of view I will absolutely not support is the view that winning an argument means brow-beating your opponent into a frustrated refusal to continue on.

I think people who do that are scum, and I will not provide them a platform.

To be clear: Anyone who does that is entitled to start their own blog, or post whatever they like about me or anyone else in their own Facebook feed.  (They're likely to find themselves unfriended in that case, but that's just for the same reason I don't watch FOX News or the Jersey Shore -- I've got better things to do with my intellectual energy than pay attention to illogical, emotionally motivated drivel from semi-logical pedants.)  But they do not have a right to my venue.