Category Archives: Basics

Capable of Greatness

I’ve been slowly going through the NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. Most of the musicians and groups are unknown to me (it’s been decades since I even attempted to keep up with music). Truth is, most of the acts are interesting, but don’t really grab me. Maybe one in ten engages; none have made me a new fan.

Which is a whole other story. I mention it because many of these music makers are sweet, gentle, loving people who just want everyone else to be sweet, gentle, and loving. It’s a common sentiment. Banish the bad forever!

But balance is required. There is a Yin-Yang aspect to life.

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Craven

There is an oft-quoted line from the delightful movie, The Princess Bride. The line, by Inigo Montoya, is: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The first time I noticed it was Rachel Maddow, enough years ago that I was still watching her show (so three or four, at least). Maddow is a Rhodes Scholar, so it caught my attention — my first thought was that I must be wrong about the word. I looked it up, and… I’m maybe slightly more right than wrong? Or, honestly, maybe it’s just a wash.

The word I’m talking about is craven.

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The Playfair Cipher

Code master Wheatstone

Among my second tier interests are murder mysteries, detective stories, and cryptography. The first typically includes the second, but there are many detective stories that don’t involve murder. Two of my favorite detectives, Spenser (by Robert B. Parker) and V.I. Warshawski (by Sara Paretsky), often have cases not involving murder.

The third interest I listed, cryptography, doesn’t usually coincide with the first two, but it did play a role in a recent locked-room murder mystery involving the delightful amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey (by Dorothy L. Sayers). While I’ve always enjoyed secret codes, I’d never heard of the cipher Sayers used — the Playfair cipher.

It dates back to 1854, and is kind of cool, so I thought I’d share it.

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Magnitudes vs Numbers

One of my earliest posts was Analog vs Digital. A few years later, I wrote about it in more detail (twice). Since then I’ve touched on it here and there. In all cases, I wrote from the perspective that of course they’re a Yin-Yang pair.

Recently I’ve encountered arguments challenging that “night and day” distinction (usually in the context of computationalism), so here I’d like to approach the topic with the intent of justifying the difference.

I do agree the grooves on a record, and the pits on a CD, are both just physical representations of information, but the nature of that information is what is night and day different.

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Cubes and Beyond

I’ll end these posts about the configuration space metaphor where I began: in a big cube. I started the series in the Neapolitan room, a three-dimensional space where we could indicate our feelings about vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream with a single marker. From there we visited the Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors space (which is tasty but beyond our ability to visualize).

Then I focused on spaces with only two-dimensions (which are easy to visualize). These are probably the best use of the metaphor; they turn a tug-of-war into a sensible place to stand. They also strongly differentiate “don’t care” from “care about both.”

Now let’s see what we can do with three dimensions…

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Expanding the Middle

My blog has such low engagement that it’s hard to tell, but I get the sense the last three posts about configuration space were only slightly more interesting than my baseball posts (which, apparently, are one of the least interesting things I do here (tough; I love baseball; gotta talk about it sometimes)).

So I’m thinking: fair enough; rather than go on about it at length, wrap it up. It’ll be enough to use as a reference when I mention configuration space in the future. (There have been blog posts where I couldn’t use the metaphor due to not having a decent reference for it. Now the idea is out there for use.)

And, at the least, I should record where the whole idea started.

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SF or Fantasy, Pick One?

It’s Science Fiction Saturday, so today I want to consider a fairly common question a fan might encounter: “Science Fiction or Fantasy?” The implication is that one tends to exclude the other. In these polarized times, it can amount to a declaration of your tribe.

One problem is there’s a spectrum from hard SF to pure fantasy with everything in between. But let’s take them as two legitimate poles and consider the question in terms of configuration space. (See posts #1 and #2 if you need to catch up.)

I think you’ll see that using a space give us a new take on the question.

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31D Ice Cream

Last time we considered a cube-shaped room where we could indicate our opinion about Neapolitan ice cream with a single marker. That worked well because we were dealing with three flavors and the room has three dimensions: east-west, north-south, up-down.

Later I’ll explore other examples of a 3D “room” but while we’re talking ice cream, I want to give you an idea where this goes, I want to jump ahead for a moment and consider good old Baskin-Robbins, who famously featured “31 flavors!”

So now the question is, can we set a marker for all 31 flavors?

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3D Ice Cream

Have you ever had (or at least seen) Neapolitan ice cream? It’s the kind with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, usually as separate layers in one package. As a kid, I didn’t care for the strawberry. I loved the chocolate, and was fine with the vanilla (wouldn’t usually choose it, but don’t disdain it).

That’s just my take on it: one flavor liked, one not liked, and one that’s just okay. Someone else might have the same pattern with different flavors. Or love them all equally, or want just the strawberry. Some might not like ice cream at all — any combination is possible.

What if we wanted to describe our feeling about Neapolitan as a whole?

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Blog Year 2018

It’s that time for a reflective reviewing the previous year. On a personal level, it’s been an interesting year, a year of some changes with more ahead. I may (or may not) talk about that more down the road. I’ve already shared some of the more mundane ones. I’m still chewing on some of the more personal ones.

As a blog post, it makes sense to do a blog review, as self-indulgent as they are. This is more a milepost for me; a sort of year-end report to the board — see if it’s worth funding another year. (Technically, the Blog Year starts on July 4, with year zero being 2011. The blog is now seven-and-a-half; 741 posts tall. Plus it just grew one more.)

Stick around if you want, but it’s gonna be long, dry, and narcissistic…
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