It’s been a few minutes since my last post. Lately, the effort of writing hasn’t seemed worth the almost non-existent return. I find I’ve lost faith in humanity, and the phrase that seems most resonant is: “Really, when you come right down to it, what’s the point of it all?” I think, at least in our case, the Fermi Paradox seems resolved.
Perhaps more crucially, this damned dark cloud over me seems all I can write about. Everything else seems ephemeral. If we can’t solve our most basic human problems (education, race, gender, poverty, pollution) then the rest of it really is fiddling while Rome burns.
It makes me angry. Humanity can do better than this. I think.
I’ve been angry about this since I was in high school (where one friend gave me the moniker The Angry Young Man). In the 50 years since I’ve seen those concerns and fears justified. My argument now has a literal trump card. (Never was there a debate I more wanted to lose. The unfunny thing is that all my life people have told me how smart I am, yet no one ever believes a word I say.)
One reason I haven’t posted lately is that I’m as tired of hearing me rant as anyone. It’s a lot easier to just ignore it. I’ve stopped following the news at all. Blame Apple, at least in part, for that. Speaking of which, the general awfulness of technology companies is yet another dark cloud I can’t seem to escape. It’s tempting to completely unplug it all.
That I no longer feel welcome, let alone embraced, by WordPress is another weight on the “Why Post?” side of the scale. The title “Happiness Engineer” has become insultingly ironic. That said, the era of long-form blogging seems passed (therefore past), so I’m sure they don’t see much reason to provide serious support.
It seems every tech company’s public-facing support invariably refuses to take ownership of an issue and invariably fobs me off to someone else. Two recent examples:
Reported an obvious server issue to Overdrive, the company behind the Libby library app I use (been a great app… until recently). The response was that I should be sure the app is up-to-date (duh) and to reboot my computer. Their servers began working again shortly thereafter with no action on my part.
- Reported to Amazon an issue about being unable to remove from my Library list, library books transmitted from Libby to Kindle app. Once the loan expires, they can no longer be read (or even opened), but there is no option to remove them from the list. The response was a huge email with zillions of links and a long-winded explanation about why they couldn’t make any effort to help me until I sent them a ton of information about the problem, the operating system, my devices, etc.
That’s the other sneaky trick support organizations use to not do any work. They bounce the ball back into your court and hope you’ll be as discouraged as I was and just drop it.
Is it any wonder I’m angry?
I’ve written plenty about our love of shit-covered raisins. Because we love the raisins so much. But if we were more willing to say “No!” to the shit, maybe we might eventually end up with just the raisins. Or at least a thinner coating of shit.
I’ve focused a lot about how we do it with movies and TV shows, but we excuse crap in too many aspects of life. We accept buggy technology and half-assed support for it because we’re so in love with the technological raisins. (And are we sure they aren’t actually mouse droppings?)
Somewhere recently I bumped into a meme featuring a gal saying to a guy something along the lines of, “you think it’s cool to hate things, but it isn’t, it’s boring.”
I think it highlights an important Yin-Yang difference in how people see the world. As in many (most? all?) such cases, I’m not sure the two groups are capable of fully understanding each other, of appreciating what the other side sees. As best as I (as someone sensitive to the smell of shit) can tell, some folks not only don’t mind the shit, they don’t see it as shit in the first place.
Which, I admit, I cannot fathom. To me, a lot of shit is objectively shit, not a matter of taste. I don’t understand the willingness to hand-wave away the especially shitty aspects of something in favor of exclaiming about the raisin. Nothing can be perfect, life is flawed, but I wish we had better values and standards.
An episode of House, M.D. really stayed with me. It featured a guy with a rare disease that removed his social filters. He speaks his every passing thought. With disastrous results. It nearly ends his marriage, it seriously alienates both wife and daughter, and pisses off friends, co-workers, and the doctors.
It’s a fascinating treatise on the necessity of social lies. Or a question about that necessity. Imagine a society based on total honesty (I’ve seen such imagined in science fiction stories). My big takeaway from the story was the expressed idea that some people wouldn’t say those things even with no social filters. Some people are as nice inside as outside and don’t need them.
Which I cannot fathom even more. Surely everyone has dark thoughts, at least sometimes. Surely everyone thinks things in passing they would never share because they don’t actually think that — not with their full mind.
As a trivial example, wouldn’t you like to just slap someone that you’re finding particularly annoying? Alternately, wouldn’t you like to fuck someone you find particularly sexy? But aren’t those just passing thoughts some small part of your mind introduces? Aren’t these things your full mind repudiates?
Or do some people really never feel irritation or inappropriate lust? Are some people really that nice?
Well, that wandered away from anything I meant to talk about when I sat down, but it’s a mode I may try to go with more often. Just start rambling and see what comes out. The original mode of web logging.
I do have some Friday Notes, though…
In a way, pi, the ratio between a circle’s radius and circumference, is a bridge from the countable to the uncountable. The usual form, a unit circle centered on the origin, intersects the real number line at -1 and +1, the absolute values of which are, by construction, the circle’s radius.
If we multiply that -1 to +1 interval by pi, we get the circumference of the circle.
It’s a trivial observation, really, but I wondered if it might account for why pi shows up in so many seemingly unrelated places in physics math (and even math in general).
Pi connects the linear to the nonlinear, lines to circles.
The thought occurred while thinking about Euler’s famous bit of mathematical beauty:
It’s been called a “sonnet” and it really is pretty awesome. [See Beautiful Math for details.] Part of what makes it so cool is the contrast between the transcendental numbers e and pi versus the integers one and zero (not to mention the imaginary unit, i). Seeing the way pi connects these just adds another jewel to the crown.
Math Pop Quiz: You know that:
But can you figure out:
If you know, or can figure out, the answer, you have a decent grasp of complex numbers. (In particular, the complex number plane. Hint, hint.)
Speaking of countable infinity, once I met a math teacher who didn’t realize the rational numbers (which have the form P/Q) are countable. It’s understandable. Given any two rational numbers, no matter how close, it’s always possible to construct a rational number between them:
Which could certainly give one the idea they have the same uncountable infinity as the real numbers.
The key here is a successor function. Given some number, N, is there a function that gives the next number in order? With integers, the successor function is obviously +1; we just add one to N to get the next number in order.
But with real numbers, there is no successor function. For example, given the real number pi, there is no “next” number in order. The concept is invalid in the real numbers. Which is why they’re uncountable. If you can’t list them, you can’t count them.
Not sure why I got to pondering this recently. Something passing triggered it. I realized I’d never tried to write down the successor function for the rational numbers. Given an arbitrary rational number P/Q, what’s the “next” number in some order?
It does depend on an ordering. If we can always find new numbers between existing numbers, the normal sort order won’t do. But we can order the rational numbers in a grid by numerator and denominator:
This obviously extends infinitely to the left and infinitely down as numerators and denominators get bigger and bigger. (That there are two infinite series can also suggest an uncountable infinity despite that both these series are countable. That both are countable makes their union countable.)
We read (enumerate) the P/Q pairs as a linear list along the diagonals that slant to the upper right. The first handful, then, are: 1/1, 1/2, 2/1, 1/3, 2/2, 3/2, 1/4, 2/3…
The series is infinite the same way 1, 2, 3,… is infinite. The successor function is simply:
Which gives either the rational number to the upper-right on the chart or the one that starts the next diagonal if we’re at the top of the chart. It was interesting to see what the successor function (or at least a successor function) for the rationals looks like. (But I’m easily amused mathematically speaking.)
I had the idea of creating a maze based on a tree of Collatz sequences (see Math Games #1). As it turns out, that’s a much harder proposition than I expected.
Due to the nature of a tree of Collatz sequences, there doesn’t seem to be an easy algorithm that packs the tree into the maze. After a lot of messing around, here’s the closest I came to success:
The red cell indicates a place where the algorithm needed to branch to a new path but found it physically impossible. The structure of the data requires the ability to re-arrange the maze around a new path, and that’s not a capability I included in the foundation code. (Given how the maze is represented as a data structure, it would be a complex proposition, and I never saw the need. Until now.)
I’ve shelved the project for now, but that result is intriguing enough that I’d like to come back to it someday. It did result in a long-scheduled cleaning, revising, and thorough documenting, of the original maze generation code, so it was quite productive.
It also allowed me to try an idea I’ve had in the back of my mind: An animation of the maze generation code creating a maze as well as the maze solver code finding the correct path through that maze. The cleanup and revision made that easy to accomplish:
But the result isn’t as interesting as I’d hoped. Mostly, it’s just long. I added some information balloons, but I don’t know how much they helped. (And I really need to add music or sound to these.)
After considerable thought I’ve decided to provide the world with a definitive definition of two important terms:
Life: Something that wants. (Mostly to not die.)
Consciousness: Something with an opinion. (Probably a wrong one.)
Now we can all stop debating what these things are. You’re welcome.
I’ll post more about this soon, but Minnesota artist Todd Ronning finished my lake carving:
And I love it! It’s Thompson Lake in Canada where I camped and fished nearly every summer for over 20 years. [See Canadian Camping 1996]
Stay a-mazed, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.