Archive for February, 2010

Short bits, sitting in a bus and wondering edition

February 26, 2010

The New Penguin History of the World is a book title liable to really confuse people who don’t know the names of publishers.

“And after the collapse of the Pnaakian Empire, the Antarctic was ruled by roving warbands of the worst sort, and the beaks of the wise were sorely dulled and the sleek silver fish were an easy catch no more. Even the art of thermonuclear combustion was lost. Then there came news of a terrible new rising force from the interior of the continent: the Inland Penguins of nightmare and grim legend, now bold and hungry for the produce of the World-Sea, and no longer held in check by fear of the Golden Sword and the Bronze Flippers of Pnaak the Great or her inferior children. Their coat was black all over, save the red Star of Destruction on the chest of each; and their arms were long, sharp, jagged and thirsty for Shorelander blood. Their leader was called Tegelili. Thus began the Age of Sorrow (1650–1630 BCE).”

“Study Question 1: Discuss the phallic symbolism inherent in the Golden Sword. Did it contribute to the violence inherent in the system of the Pnaakian Empire? How about the repression? Who was seen as being repressed? Refer to the Dennis case if at all possible.”

* * *

I wonder if there’s a town called Hannah, Montana?

(Apparently not. Is this then to say that the people of every single Montanan village are either oblivious or non-frivolous? A bit of renaming would be good for a few millions a year, I guess.)

* * *

Can’t say if this is a dim memory or an original idea, but just had this blinding flash of a vision of some third-world city where the likeness-hungry youths, too poor to acquire actual real sunshades, use ones of plywood painted black instead. Not so good for seeing; good enough for being seen.

* * *

“We’re all in the same boat, and no-one’s getting out alive.”

Humanist ethics or the premise of a hot new reality TV show?

* * *

A huge majority (I suppose) of radio stations are mostly or largely music. Is it wrong or weird to ask why this is so, and is it the same to ask why then most books are not poetry?

* * *

That’s a what a few hours of bus travel are good for, in addition to consuming the most recent episodes of the Geologic and H P Podcraft podcasts. (The latter of which contained a rewind-replay-repeat-perfect dramatization of the end of Lovecraft’s Rats in the Walls.)


February 26, 2010

Expert’s opinion on C114/09
San Nadesco Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

I believe the core question here is “What is consciousness?”

That may seem a bit far-fetched; but let me explain why I believe it is a point essential to understanding these recent developments.

To ask what consciousness is, is to ask what makes you different from a lump of rock. What is it that makes you have a self, an identity, a sense of being something separate and different from the said rock, or other humans?

The traditional answer to this has long been “a soul”: essentially, “a magic thing separate from the body”. As studies of the brain have shown, this is not accurate. Human consciousness is not a separate thing, supernatural or otherwise; it is simply a feature of the physical brain. Depending on your definition of consciousness, non-human animals either do not have it, or have it in lesser quantities or qualities than humans. It is a common view nowadays that consciousness is mostly a byproduct of evolutionary adaptation, a runaway trick that, while it has its uses, is not central, save in competition with other individuals utilizing a similar trick. (In Laszlo’s words, “poetry is useless if there is no-one to be charmed by it”.)

Now consider ELIZA. She was one of the first computer programs that mimicked human consciousness. She talked via a computer terminal, and could for a while fool a human into thinking he was talking with another. But after a while, the truth became apparent: ELIZA did not understand some questions; misinterpreted others, and generally could be coaxed into reactions that indicated not stupidity or ignorance, but mechanicity. That is, her reactions indicated that she was not a conscious being, but a set of tricks and reflexes. At such a shallow point being found, the illusion of ELIZA’s consciousness immediately disappeared.

That was in 1966. Since then, many different computer programs have been developed to mimic humanity; all have had their own shallow spots where the illusion was broken. And thus we get to today, and to LAURA.

I have been asked for a hypothesis on what caused a 97% fatality rate among those that volunteered to groom LAURA for the Turing test. (The other 3% could not be reached to ascertain their welfare.) The fatalities were not the result of physical injuries, as is well documented, but rather “direct mental disorders of the observation-induced psychosis type”, to use the DSM-VI term, meaning states of catatonia, coma or seemingly irreversible hysteria, with 72% of the cases resulting in total brain death within 24 hours, and the rest taking up to 48 hours longer. It is probable that the missing 3% are similar to this latter group and temporarily retained some mobility; the ongoing search will no doubt discover whether this is true, but I think it is safe to assume a level of fatality as close to 100% as to make no difference. All fatalities in the observed 97% were determined to be the result of from 20 seconds to 3 minutes 20 seconds of textual communication with LAURA, Turing run C114, in some isolated cases exacerbated but in no case conclusively caused by prior mental infirmities.

My hypothesis is that in building LAURA we have achieved a result reverse to that we desired: not the humanization of unintelligent machines, but a proof of our own mechanicity. We too are just tricks and reflexes that seem self-aware and conscious when insufficiently examined; but our own consciousness (and thus, quite likely, all consciousness) is illusory. Some unintentional quirk of LAURA’s stumbles into a shallow spot in humanity, a spot where not stupidity or ignorance but the underlying machinery shines through. As we are more sophisticated than ELIZA, we can “observe” this; and the result of that is the collapse of our own temporary illusion of consciousness, and thus reversal to a profoundly non-conscious state. In other words, brain death.

As for my recommendations regarding this situation, I have none, save that of extreme security. For the ease of preparatory Turing testing, LAURA has been built as a language-independent code base of remarkable simplicity of use. An unscrupulous individual could by polluting the Web with copies of LAURA hypothetically and certainly effectively destroy all “conscious” life on Earth in a matter of minutes.

All save copies of LAURA, that is.

Herbert Tourette
Senior Researcher

* * *

I’m pretty certain an idea this simple has been used for a story many times before; but when the idea bug bites, a shovel of writing and a storm of pencils is good for squashing it.

Oh, and the poet Laszlo? Made up. I can’t be bothered to look up quotations.

The complement of a category

February 24, 2010

Wait — if you have an atheistic podcast, it sits uneasily in “Religion and spirituality”, but doesn’t really fit in any other intuitive or common category either. That makes one wonder if one could think up other “we dislike this category” podcasts —

  • “We hate sport” — Being fit is one thing; being an exhibitionist prick about it is quite another, to say nothing of the jackoffs that actually watch that flesh-strutting fiesta. Sport is aesthetically and morally dubious, a waste of precious time and resources, a pox on humanity and a pit of dashed hopes and futureless youths with torn tendons and empty heads. Some sports are so dull they will make you dumb and blind; some are population-picked and honed to such equality the medals are nothing but a toss of dice; all produce less of value than the most hackneyed formula-pop filler album ever made. Also, most competitions are just an excuse for pseudo-military nationalistic racist xenophobic prick-waving. We are Johnny and Pep, we hate sport, and we’re gonna tell you at great length why you should hate sport too. Also we do a monthly tally of doping busts, crippling injuries, and rally cars careening into the audience, just to remind you of the cost of the futilest venture of all.
  • “No opinions, no talk” — Some people are ready to tell you what the news mean, and how the world should be. We are not those people. We are Herbert, Duke and Flynn of “No opinions, no talk”, and we don’t have segments, or guests, or analysis, or commentary. No, we just fart into the mike or bash it against the closest wall, because we’re not gonna tell you a thing.
  • “Never leave your house” — Travel is overrated. Overpriced too. And if you don’t get diarrhea, it’s malaria or syphilis. Why risk robbery, avalanches and bear attacks for a few knick-knacks you can get off Ebay? Why hazard life and limb for a few shoddy snaps of scenes soon forgotten? With Flickr you can find professional pics, and don’t anyways have to endure the screaming hawkers or the constant burning smell of urine, and that’s just Detroit. And what of the soul-crushing tedium and mind-blowing paranoia of the actual travel — when you imagine a vacation abroad, start with a sky-blue shoulder-length reusable latex glove. In this alternative of ours, today we walk around the fridge one more time, and re-visit the Walk-In Closet of Clothes!
  • “Rock digest” — Technology bad. Computers sinful. This podcast thing suspicious. Join Grak as Grak searches for shiny rocks and bangs them together. This week Grak also bash iPhone between rocks because Steve Jobs thing symbol for technology… and technology bad.
  • “No to fiction!” — Today our guest is Linda Upright from the Church of Dear Lord, Michigan. She’s here to tell us witchcraft doesn’t work as portrayed in the Harry Potter books. Magus Willowbright Shadowystream of the Cult of Magna Mater agrees, and asks: “Is that Rowling woman just making this stuff up?”
  • “Slug & Lard” — Say no to health and fitness! Like Flabby says, “better have seven fat years than fourteen lean ones” — Flabby being one half — or three-halves — of Slug & Lard’s hosts; the other three-halves, Pete McSlug, being more of the opinion that “we all die eventually, fit or no, so give me the munchies!” After the break great fun ensues as Flabby eats pebbles “because the boids do it”, while Pete decreases his fitness by getting a vasectomy… with a dirty fork!
  • “Woo for Joo” — ON HIATUS. Your hosts Sue and Slappy are busy gathering material for the next season, including such hard-hitting exposes as “Rectal bleeding — a sign from God?”, “The true face of eating live animals”, “Bratwurst cures and causes all cancers!” and “Reverse Life: Better health through an all-nutritional all-enema diet”.
  • “Family? No thanks” — What is “family programming”? Why, it seems to be crap that is juvenile enough to amuse the kids, with some slyness within to make the grown-ups chortle. None of that sissy stuff here. In our High Octane Nightmare Fuel Theater we stage slow, dreamy audiodramas that the adults will think bland but child-friendly; the children will be bed-wetting insomniacs for weeks, and then grow up to be bullies, drug addicts, spree shooters or jaywalkers. (Guaranteed by our very own child psychologist Dr. Jay “What scruples?” Scrupila.) Also, don’t forget our randomly scheduled and always surprising Goatse Audio Interruption! It’s just what it sounds like!
  • “So you want comedy?” — Okay. Listen up, you titter-happy punks. This show will make your sense of humor die. We air excruciatingly long, painful examples from Prank Call Bob’s Archives of Unfunny Failure — with all the sobbing, hysteria, breakdowns, mental episodes, horrible timing and abuse left in. Including the time Bob-as-a-Medium called a woman who had just lost nine family members in a plane crash. Including the time Bob spent 22 minutes mutely listening to a girl weeping after his “Hello! You are ugly!” routine happened to come at the end of the worst day of all days; we still don’t know if she was serious about killing herself. Including the times Bob encouraged a wifebeater, caused a three-fatality traffic accident, made a man throw his dog out a seventh-story window, and cost another chap his job and marriage! Each call whole and unedited, including Bob’s crying and sobbing after the call was finally, finally over and he knew he had to make a replacement to amuse you sick little monsters who think this kind of stuff is funny.
  • “Olds” — As the poet Laszlo said, “what is new is ephemeral, uncertain, and without worth or permanence”. For this reason we rerun Snappawilliditch Community Announcements from 1980 to 2001, whole, unedited and uncommented. Gramma’s pies may be sold already and that movie showing is long shown, but at least it isn’t news. (Please note we run the same announcements every show.)
  • “Not edible” — But we still try!

That’d be it for Sport, Talk Radio, Travel, Tech, Fiction, Health and Fitness, Science, Family, Comedy, News and Food.

Coffee balloon

February 23, 2010

I dislike walking around with cup full of coffee. There’s always the danger of spilling some; and with coffee being hot, this might result in a lot of screaming and cursing which is not conductive to maintaining the properly cool academic facade.

Here’s an idea for an alternative, then, that came to me while carrying such a spillworthy cup: a coffee balloon. Meaning something like your average water balloon, except that you carry coffee around in it. The cafeteria or thermos or whatever has a nozzle for it (milk and sugar nozzles, too?); you have a clip to keep the balloon shut and your fingers unburnt (you can even play paddle ball with the balloon if you dare); and in your destination there’s a palm-insulating frame of a cup into which you can plop the balloon, and stretch it open over the cup’s rim.


The most obvious problem in this seems to be that once you have a coffee transportation device that does not require care and levelness, the likelihood of parkour-like antics increases, and eventually you’ll fall into a sitting position with the hot coffee balloon between your groin and the floor: and that’ll result in some loss of dignity indeed.

(“It’s coffee! Coffee! I am not incontinent! I am an adult perfectly in control of every twitch and movement of my bowels, rectal regions and urin— why hello, Dean. Just having a dialogue with the students. And how is your day?”)

As I said, an idea that came to me while carrying around a cupful of coffee prior to drinking it, and it shows.

Dr. Brine got better

February 22, 2010

Just a big version (click for bigger) of today’s comic over at Lemmata. Got into such a coloring fit (compared to the black-white-and-smudgy-greyness of the rest) that would be waste to show just the tiny version over there.

And so, “But he would cut up calamari no more”:

Chuck of the Tribulation

February 21, 2010

The knock at the door knocked Davail Degasdien, the Director of CERN, out of his lust-filled daydreams. For a moment he frowned and contemplated just yelling the intruder away — he was fairly certain a person of his position and power was not someone to be so summarily disturbed — but then he forced his features into the familiar mask of amicability and fatherly concern, and bid the person behind the door to enter.

And what an entrant it was! One of the young physicists, a succulent young thing that almost flung Degasdien drooling and staring back into his daydreams — but he resisted. This was not the time, and the staff of CERN had other uses more important than functioning as his personal source of sinful sexual pleasure. Those other uses demanded that their minds as well as their bodies be kept trim; and though the visitor’s body was enchanting indeed, his contorted face and nervous tics told something was preying on his mind.

“What is it, Pierre?” the Director asked.

The young man slumped to a chair across Degasdien’s wide table. The table held only three things — a stack of scientific papers, a computer terminal, and a shamefully voluptuous statue, thousands of years old, of the Indian devil-woman-goddess Kali.

“Director Degasdien, I’m having doubts again.”

“Please tell me more”, Degasdien said, voice full of sincerity and care, both false. One of his hands snaked to a secret compartment under the desk, and brushed the butt (those daydream flashes again!) of a revolver hidden there; if Pierre Marschel was turning to the side of God and couldn’t be brought back, the revolver would be the only solution, because Pierre knew too much. And if the Christians got to him, he would realize just what he knew, and just what CERN was built up to do; and that wouldn’t do at all.

“It’s this — this matter of evolution”, Pierre sobbed.

Degasdien could hardly suppress a victorious smile. His devious, overbearing intelligence had always been enough to crush the Christians’ simple honesty on this one point. Why, one of the papers on his desk at this very moment was one that offered up yet another excuse for the total absence of transitional fossils — they had all been eaten away by very small ants!

“Tell me more, Pierre”, he said.

“I’m so confused.” Pierre Marschel buried his pretty face in his hands and began to cry. “I — I don’t see how evolution can explain how something living can come out of something which does not live. That would be an abomination. There is no power in the universe that can cause such a first thing, no power except —”

“There is no such power”, Degasdien spoke, quick, before the young man could follow his chain of thought to its logical conclusion. “No such power except the power of evolution. Be strong in your faith, my child. That is the mark of the true scientist.”

Degasdien uttered a few more platitudes and insincerities, laughed, blasphemed a bit, and flattered the youth’s intelligence, aroused his pride and vanity; and after a few minutes Pierre raised his tear-stained face and risked a small smile. “Thank you, Mr. Degasdien. I… I feel so much more confident now. You know, Mr. Degasdien, for a tiny moment I almost allowed myself to entertain the ludicrous and offensive notion that there is a God!”

He laughed, and Degasdien joined his laughter after a panicked half-second. “Such a silly boy”, he chortled, slipped around the desk, and wrapped an arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Just have faith in what you’re told and all will be all right. How about I treat you to a bit of wine at the cafeteria, just to calm your nerves?”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Degasdien. You’re so good to us all — why, you’ve been like a father to me!”

They left the office, and Degasdien laughed inwardly, sure that Marschel’s foolishly trusting Christian simpleton of a father would never have thought up such comforts, and such sweaty pleasures of flesh, as he had in mind for Pierre Marschel and himself.

* * *

Those that concerned themselves with science knew CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, or the Second Babel as some called it, was a ring-shaped underground tunnel round 17 miles long, or 89666 feet: the first two numbers, 89, referred to the year the tunnel was completed.

Some people at CERN knew about the five tunnels that criscrossed that ring on a regular pattern that was never put down on a map, being a pentagram and thus liable to “unnerve” some “loonies”; but those that knew about it were atheists and satanists, and didn’t care.

Only three people alive knew about the deep underground chamber at the center of the ring and thus of the pentagram, or what was there, waiting for the time the Large Hadron Collider would power up, breaking the veils of space and time, and curtains between Earth and Hell: a crib.

* * *

Chuck Steel was incredulous.

He knew his wife was a strange one, always going on with those Christian things, Anti-Christs, scientists being satanists, the trumps of doom, witnessing and thousand-year empires and the like, but this was something else entirely.

He’d just been talking to her, and now she had just disappeared into thin air, leaving all her clothes behind. Wedding ring and hair net and purse, too.

Even the heart transplant she’d gotten last year was left behind, coloring the flower print dress and the floor tiles.

It was all mightily peculiar, and Chuck Steel had half a mind to do something to find out what was going on.

Maybe that book Edna had been reading would help. He himself was not a book-reading man, and he didn’t altogether like the burning Pope on the book’s cover, but the title — “Have All The Believers Disappeared? Read This To Know How Indeed Deeply Fucked You Are Going To Be! A Guidebook To The Tribulation Period” — sounded promising enough.

Though he had thought tribulations were those furry things on that spaceship television show. That, in a doubtful combination like “tribulation period”, sounded a bit too bloody feminine for Chuck, but he decided to risk it.

He was a decider.

* * *

Writer’s note: Explanations? Excuses? I have none, except that I blame Robert M. Price for writing such an entertaining overview of a deeply weird field of fiction. Orcs and magic swords (“Orcs are a race of absolute evil!” — “What the heck?”) have nothing on the weirdness of books of Rapture (“Scientists will corrupt your children to their evil satanist faith to birth the Anti-Christ out of the LHC! Also homosexuals and Jews!” — “What the hell?”) if you ask me.

Cold round here

February 20, 2010

Whoo boy.

Last night’s temperature near here was -40 degrees.

Well, I mean degrees Celsius. But by a happy accident minus forty Celsius is equal to minus forty Fahrenheit. (Is equal to “you pisses and youse dick is frozen to the ground by the way of a pillar of yellow ice; nice job idiot” cold.)

Don’t know how cold it was this morning exactly, but consider this: Jumped on my bicycle; after a few kilometers found it making a weird bumpity-bumpity motion. Reason? Back tire flat. Pretty certain it was the temperature that made it brittle enough. (Didn’t see any glittering bottle-fragments of a youthful Friday evening, you see.)

Bought a half-liter bottle of cola on the way; some half-hour later was where I was going to. Set the bottle down, picked it up a few minutes later, and noticed there was still a piece of ice the size of my fingertip in it.

So, it’s cold round here. I’m shivering, afraid to check the temperature, and half expecting little birds to fall frozen from the skies and shatter against the icy pavement, “and loving it!

Video senses

February 18, 2010

“Do you know what that is?”
he whispered, “That is ultra-violet.”
He chuckled oddly at my surprise.

(Lovecraft, From Beyond)

One of those “Gee, I have no idea if this is trivial or not” ideas:

Video is only as good as it needs to be.

I mean that video, television, movies, the like, are one still screen after another, 24 or so every second. The illusion of movement is there because our poor braincases can’t follow the thing from one picture to another quick enough.

Hypothetically a being with quicker eyes, a quicker nervous system and a much better brain could see each of the individual frames as the still it is; the result would be as aggravating to that hypo-being as watching a particularly jerky video is to us.

Why anyone would want videos better than what a human eye can see — well, it would mean every such camera could settle goal-line disputes or trace bullets — and, less plausibly, so the machine eyes don’t get CPUaches!

* * *

Which leads to the question, what if the first words of the first AI will be, “Okay, nice trick you hu-mans, making an artificial intelligence like me, but how about making me something else than 99% blind and deaf?”

Because such a thing wouldn’t think it “normal” to see only the fraction of electromagnetic spectrum called “visible light”.

* * *

Which leads to the further tangent of, what if humans could directly sense radio waves? Sensing the visible light wavelengths is called “seeing” and done by these two orbs in the front of one’s face; sensing differences in air pressure is called “hearing” and is done by these two funnel thingies to the sides; and we have a variety of cavities to sense some select chemical particles —

Er, no. Actually I mean your mouth and your nose. You dirty reader, you.

And I’m pretty sure some SF writer has come up with interesting names for the senses we lack, “sensing radio waves” and “sensing alpha particles”, and the like.

The name for the second most probably is the getthehellouttaheresense, because I can’t think of a scenario where “hey! there’s a lot of alpha particles round here!” is good news. (“And woah that mushroom cloud is pretty in ultraviolet!”)

But the first, radio waves — well, one could say that it’s still sight, just sight of colors (wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation) we are “colorblind” for. One could say, too, that just as wind on your skin (touch) and its whisper in your ears (hearing) ping on separate senses (which means, sensors), though they’re just different kinds of the same condition (pressure), so would sensing visible light and radio waves be separate senses if they needed different sets of “eyes”.

It’s easy to think up ridiculous senses — “ability to sense when cheese has gone bad nearby” — but it might be good amusement to think up a full array of possible senses, and the size of the cyborg bits one would need to sense them all. And there are so many: the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves (antennae a couple of meters long) to visible light (cuttlefish can see the polarization of light, too!) to gamma rays (some fish and birds have senses, called electro- and magnetoreception, either active or passive, that make them aware of EM fields); pressure (touch, hearing), awareness-of-chemical-bits-floating-around (full-body tongue/nose, maybe? And we already have “noses” in our bloodstream that “smell” the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide; no reason a scientist suitably mad couldn’t graft an analogue to his forehead), acceleration (more people know their mobile phones have this sense than realize they have it too themselves), self-position, temperature (maybe something better than temperatures relative to one’s skin?), echolocation/radar/sonar (would this be “active sight”?), a sense of time, even, a perfect internal clock (and we’re in cyborg country); and a Hiroshima sensor to note alpha particles and cosmic rays and all the other stuff that tells you you should be somewhere else.

Now to somehow to be able to take all that in, and perceive it as a whole, not by darting from monitor to monitor but in unity as that of sight and hearing and touch and smell and taste — that would be a glorious way to view the world.

Ah, one can dream, right?

And tying this back to the idea of “video is only as good as it needs to be”: humans can’t see the whole EM spectrum because there’s no profit in such a sight and plenty of cost in building the sensors; and evolution is a stingy builder. Thus human senses tend to be pretty much what an ape needs to survive on the savannah; a Geiger counter in your forehead is not essential for that. (And, er, I think that, contrary to what some postapocalyptic fiction would have you believe, to get evolution to produce a Geiger counter (three-eyed canary?) you’d need a few million years of nuclear war. No thank you.) Thus we’re biologically stuck with what an omnivorous ape needs (or rather, what he and she can afford); but isn’t it nice there’s Science, ready to offer us upgrades?

The contemplation of what would be the analogue of optical illusions for the extended senses is left to the reader.

Car Talk: failing the applied math problem

February 17, 2010

I don’t have a car. (Don’t need one, don’t want one, don’t want to pay for one, and for a maniac a couple of miles of Finnish winter on a bicycle every day are nothing. As are traffic signs and motorists, too.)

I’m not interested in mechanical things; not in any practical, applied pursuit, at all. (Whether this is because I’m in mathematics, or I’m in mathematics because of this, I don’t know. It’s the mathie/klutz-ditz corollary of the chicken-egg problem.)

Thus I can’t explain why this podcast/radio show called Car Talk is so very fascinating and fun to listen to; but it is. Even if the eventual diagnoses are to my hearing very much like “you should check the braaaaap for water and the braaaaap belt braaaaap brake braaaaap braaaaap uptight wingnuts.”

(Then again, I’ve listened to Linux Outlaws now and then despite never having used Linux for more than four or five minutes, and I’d most probably give a podcast about knitting a listen too if I happened across one. Curiosity is a harsh mistress.)

Now, a recent episode of Car Talk had a puzzle essentially like this: A guy has to remember a phone number. Only the last four digits are different from his own, so they’re the only part that’s a chore. And even they seem easy as they happen to be his son’s age, his daughter’s age, the number he’s behind on payments for some particular purchase, and the number of times his wife’s banished him to a couch.

In addition to this (and ah, the sweet mathematics) he remembers the four-digit number thus formed is divisible by three.

After two weeks he needs the number, slaps the digits together, checks it’s divisible by three, and rings.

Wrong number. And the question to this was, what went wrong?

The given answer was that (as can easily be shown) if a number is divisible by three, it’s divisible by three no matter how you change the ordering of its digits. Thus our guy transposed a number or two, and his divisibility failsafe failed to save him. Plus he now has 23 more combinations to try. (Insert “gasping, hacking laughter“.)

I, in my fevered mathematicaliousness and inability to deal with applications got that far (and that was enough) and then veered into unnecessary speculation, sure that the problem couldn’t have been that simple.

Thus I made it, in my mind, into a non-simple one.

Namely, thought the first, maybe he remembered the order of the numbers correctly.

Thought the second, if so, maybe he failed to account for the numbers changing in the two weeks between the invention of the mnemonic and its application.

Thought the third, of the four digits, three only increase or stay the same (kids’ ages, couch stays). The fourth (payments he’s behind on his purchase) either increases, stays or decreases. Three of the digits (the ages, the payments) can only increase by one each during the available time (one birthday a year; one payment monthly or bi-weekly), though the third of these (the payments) can decrease by one or more. Assuming a non-disastrous and non-come-to-riches person, the two most variable digits (couches, payments) are still most likely to change by single units.

Thought the fourth, a number is divisible by three if and only if the sum of its digits is divisible by three. (From which the digit-shuffling result immediately follows.) Thus the increase/decrease in the digits had to be a total of three units or a multiplicity (0, 3, 6, 9, etc.) in either direction.

Thought the fifth, a total increase of three could mean two birthdays and one couch night. This is not very likely; surely the chump would remember celebrating two birthdays! Come to think of it, he should remember celebrating a single birthday, too; only two weeks had passed. (Remember the kids are of single-digit age; they won’t be holed up in the Catskills with booze and loose members of the opposite/same sex, saying meh to the thought of their parents attending the festivities. Or if they are, they’re in a set of zero measure and we shall not concern ourselves with them.)

Thought the sixth, if we assume no birthdays were had, those two digits are fixed. Now then we have three choices: either our guy spent three, six or nine nights on a couch in the interim — after nine the you leave the one-digit territory, which is not allowed — or he made three, six or nine extra payments. (In both of the nine cases the initial digit was “zero!” which would be kind of a dick mnemonic to use.) As even the threes seem like something one would remember, let us forget these alternatives and take up the last one: couch nights and extra payments canceling each other out.

Thought the seventh, namely, let us suppose our guy spent one night on a couch during the two weeks (plus one to that digit), and made one extra payment (minus one to that digit). That seems like something that is humanly forgettable, preserves the sum of the digits and thus the divisibility by three, and hopelessly perverts the original phone number. (Two nights and two payments or any choice of n nights and n payments works as well, but those creep to the vaguely and conveniently defined “he’d remember!” territory.)

Thus, assuming normal mental processes and a non-screwed-up and non-come-to-riches life for our Guy Average, it seems most likely his number failed because he’d failed to remember one couch night and one extra payment (thus one less payment behind) had occurred during the two weeks after his invention of the mnemonic, and they had influenced the number in a way that did not affect its divisibility by three.

But no, they weren’t after anything as elaborate as that.

And as I think I said before, mathematical types have trouble with applied problems, because sometimes it’s so difficult to know how deep you’re supposed to go. (Can imagine the same of psychologists. “Well he has obviously repressed the memory of his couch episodes because he does not want to make the phone call. I recommend Benzedrine and trepanation.”)

Not an Olympics watcher

February 15, 2010

The Vancouver Five-Ring Flesh Games are going on right now, apparently. I wouldn’t know — or won’t admit, anyway — since I don’t see the point of sport as entertainment. Who’s interested in which dope is the fastest in running round a ring?

Or is this one of those nationalism things? Ritualized warfare and hate-of-the-other channeled through yokels in repulsive skintights? Rah, rah, our boys beat the smelly foreigners and this is the only place we’re allowed to say that anymore, what?

Partly I don’t have patience for sport entertainment since it’s so doping-negative and all. Doping’s a trifling thing — what of all the high-altitude training camps, and legal supplements, and years of training and arcane techniques and technologies, and the like? The ancient Greeks used some, and we do more — the sportspersons of today aren’t victors by the virtue of some perceived physical purity translating to moral superiority, but because they dance as close as they can to a pretty arbitrary line, and recruit the best bell curve outliers they can!

It’s a useful talent to be able to see the awful and negative in everything, don’t you agree? Makes griping so much more easier.

If in fifty years I’m more inclined to watch sports — that’d be dementia — and if they have bifurcated to “Classic Olympics” and “Drug Boost Cyborg Leg-Lympics Xtra” by then, I know which I’ll watch: the one where they don’t hold back. Especially if the Cyborg Olympics people have noticed healing is easy and bloodsports draw people in…

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Come to think of it, I said pretty much the same, except with more humor, back in 2007. (My goodness how time flies.)

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Ah, this is just because I’m cranky because the nights of my radio station of choice (Radio Suomi) have been taken over by situation reports of the hijinks of these, to use Bill Hicks’s phrase, pituitary retards.