Archive for March, 2005

ASCII Action

Clip from Beck's “Black Tambourine”
I may not understand all of it, but the French blog Aeiou is still always worth browsing. Recently they mentioned Beck’s “Black Tambourine” video, which is an ASCII extravaganza. (That link is to a high quality Quicktime video, there is a RealPlayer version, among others, that is somewhat lower bandwidth but clearly suffers in quality.)

This reminded me: did you know that some video players offer ASCII output? Yes, they can even render in color. People have been publishing ASCII movies via Telnet since I was a wee little tike, barely able to reach the spacebar. There are of course all ASCII web pages such as (check out the links for more); yet strangely, this all ASCII, Swiss web page took longer to load for me than any page I’ve opened in recent memory. Sadly, the page doesn’t render quite right in Lynx, the browser of champions. Nevertheless, it is worth visiting for the full-screen all ASCII clips from movies such as Spiderman 2 and The Matrix. In addition to all this ASCII fun, I’m fairly certain I even played the first DOOM in ASCII many years ago, though I can’t find a reference to the program. The source code to the original DOOM has been available for many years, and I am pretty sure the ASCII version came out quite quickly afterwards.

Finally, one of the comments regarding the Beck video on Stereogum reminded me of the White Stripes “Fell in Love with a Girl” LEGO® video. Which one, LEGO or ASCII art, wins in a geek-cred contest? Certainly the LEGO video took much more work and so is technically impressive, but for some reason I’m leaning toward the ASCII art. Plus, Beck’s ASCII video was more than simply shoving some video through a processor; it was clearly filmed to render well in ASCII and a variety of resolutions were cut together to nicely show off both the individual characters and the overall picture.

Update: the Quicktime version of the Beck video, which I watched last night, seems to be down. You can still use the RealPlayer version or Windows Media version mentioned on Stereogum. Update 2: the QT video is working again.


Precious Resources

Strindberg and Helium
Did you ever stop to think that kid’s parties and carnivals are squandering one of our worlds most nonrenueable resources? That’s right, helium is only produced by nuclear decay deep in the Earth and once it is released into the atmosphere it is essentially lost to space. Did you know that until 1960 only the federal goverment was allowed to produce helium in the U.S.? And to this day the U.S. government runs a Fedral helium storage program. If you are in the market for helium then 2005 might be your year.

Here at CERN we will be using helium intensely in coming years as the superconducting magnets in the LHC, ATLAS, CMS, and other experiments are cooled down to a couple degrees above absolute zero with liquid helium, some which is superfluid. But don’t worry, the vast majority of that helium will be used in closed-loop systems which cool and condense the gas back into a liquid with a minimum of loss. The truth is, though, that I’m probably personally responsible for the loss of more helium than the average person. There’s all those 1000 liter muon chambers we filled and refilled with helium to track down leaks. There’s the
helium balloons that I personally filled and bled for during CERN open day last year. Plus, I have good friends that regularly crack open a bottle of liquid helium and let thermodynamics take it’s course.

So inert and yet so precious. Appreciate helium for it’s wonders and uses and never squander it, for if we do future generations will never know comedic genius such as Strindberg and Helium

(Some links found via the UW Physics 110 FAQ and Boing Boing.)


Life, the Universe, and Pasta Salad

I like the following question and answer because it reminds me of one of human nature’s most pernicious observational failings:

My mother used to make this dish with dinner. It consisted of spiral noodles, artichoke hearts, olives, and peas, plus enough olive oil to coat everything. After everything was stirred up, every single olive would have one or two peas in the hole. The peas barely fit and were hard to get out, why do the peas end up inside the olives?!?

The answer and more.

That crazy things such as peas sticking in olives happen so regularly should not be so remarkable in light of the magnitude of unremarkable events in the world that go unnoticed (peas bumping into pasta). Given enough time even subtle selections processes (peas enter olives more easily than they leave) can yield dramatic results.

Shift all the parameters to their most extreme and consider the most dramatic of issues: human existance. Some may argue that human existance is a marvel and point to the emptiness of the heavens as evidence. Others will be dumfounded by those details that are as yet inexplicable. They might even argue that only intelligent design could produce such results. I say that does not give enough credit to time, space, magnitude, and the dumb little bumping around that things do everyday. Though peas finding their way into olives is orders of magnitude more likely than the creation of life, do peas and olives beget more peas and olives? If so, we would be overrun! Self-replication may be difficult to acheive, but once it has been, it is strongly favored. It is safe to say we all understand the relationships between peas and olives a whole lot better than the process by which inanimate becomes animate; but who among us would have expected the pea-olive result before the mixing began? So is this “miracle” a product of intelligent design? Of course not! So why does anything have to be?

It’s ok, though. Even if life is just blobs bumping into blobs, what does it really matter? Who needs higher powers and divine purpose when you’ve got a mom that loves you and makes you tasty pasta salad?


Summer is Here!

Today was an incredible day here in the Geneva area! Things looked good from the start, for once the first thing I thought about as I pulled the car out onto the road was not how long will it take before the heater starts working. In fact, the thoughts were more along the lines of “why do I need to be stuck at a computer all of this wonderful day?” and “why does everything look so shiny?” The vineyard view at cafeteria 2 was bursting with the leafy possibilities. For once I was persuaded to leave work relatively early, we cleaned out the trash and recycling that had been piling up, and I picked up a half-dozen apple berliners at E.Leclerc, because I deserve them! Plus, Reid and I finished the day off with an evening at Pascale’s watching _Catch-22_ with her lovely flatemates. Pascale wasn’t entirely present for the event as usual. We really should schedule things at an hour more conducive to conciousness, or I just need to give in and start sleeping myself.


Mmmm, That Fresh Cedar Revolution Smell

Lebanese Flag
I’m sure it was our own Pascale who really got the ball rolling: 800,000 come out to protest Syrian presence. That’s one-fifth of the country’s population!

By the way, while chatting with my friend James, I realized that Lebanon might have my favorite flag of any country. I’m a big sucker for a nice green tree. And given that fact, it will come as little surprise that my second favorite flag is Canada’s.


Gin and Tonic

Gin and Tonic
Thanks to my flatmate, John, I have discovered the joy that is a great gin and tonic. Alcohol is just too damn cheap around here not to be consumed on a regular basis, and last week John picked up one of those lovely blue bottles of Bombay Sapphire dirt cheap. You know how I love Schwepps bitter lemon (at least now you do); well, gin and tonic has all the bitter, scurvy-battling powers (when including the lemon/lime wedge) plus even more good times.

Speaking of tasty cocktails, last week Giulia came over and made Mojitos, a favorite drink of Ernest Hemingway. I could drink those forever. Her recipe involved tonic water, rum, lime, crushed mint leaves, and brown sugar.

Granted, both of these are clearly summer drinks (on account of the tonic, mainly) and yet the season is such that a new layer of snow could easily appear tomorrow. But, more so than many years in the past, I hold out great hope for the coming summer. The summer is just so crazy beautiful around here, you can forgive me for being a little premature in embracing it, can’t you?

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Naps, Coconuts, and Vampires

Sheryl Lee in John Carpenter's Vampires
Last night Reid and I entertained ourselves by joining Pascale and Guilia at Pascale’s apartment. We just hung-out and watched some TV. First up was a French analogue to American Idol. For a show where people are supposed to show off their singing, there is a surprising amount of talk. Boring! In addition, it started to annoy me that it was clear the producers had selected the widest possible variety of contestants (except the heavily underrepresented majority, ugly people). Let’s face it, in reality we are not all beautiful or unique snowflakes (or so I hear). And what’s with 4 of the 5 people booted off being women? I guess if TV has taught us anything it is that females are the inferior sex. (…and that there is more to
people and
coconuts than the world gives credit.)

By the way, this Gilligan’s Island trivia is fascinating

The ship’s name, S. S. Minnow, was not named for the fish but rather for Newton Minow, head of the FCC in 1961. Minow was the one who called television “America’s vast wasteland”. Sherwood Schwartz did not care for Minow so he named the soon-to-be shipwrecked ship after him.

Second up on the TV was
Vampires, staring James Woods. This is about the time Pascale and Reid checked out (see below), a good thing because Pascale likely would have suffered some deep emotional trauma from the sight of a Vampire impaling a man with his bare hand, strangling a woman on the other side of the man with that hand, and then splitting the man vertically in two. We didn’t stay until the end, but I assume Woods eventually takes care of things with the necessary combination of heart-stakes, decapitations, and incinerations. It’s nice to see that Woods is doing good things with that
scholarship to MIT.

As alluded to above, Pascale put in a command performance of her brilliant
sleeping trick. Reid, taking a lesson from this greatness, caught a few winks himself in what was a stellar first showing on the kitchen couch (yes, Pascale has a kitchen couch!) in the novice sleeping-during-social-functions category. Meanwhile, Giulia and I stood guard in case of vampire attack. Finally, what’s with Giulia buying a cake instead of baking it herself? I expect better!

My chocolate covered banana candy went unappreciated.


Acedemic Freedom Lecture

Noam Chomsky
Today I’m listening to the Noam Chomsky lecture “Illegal but Legitimate: A Dubious Doctrine for the Times” which is part of the Acedemic Freedom Lecture Series at the University of Michigan. Among other things, Chomsky discusses some interesting stuff about Kosovo that I didn’t know much about. I’ll have to listen to it again when I’m not distracted by work. Also, did you know Chomsky has a blog?

Some Alan trivia for you: one of only two Academic Freedom lectures that I have physically attended was on September 11, 2001, it probably was the only academic thing I did on that day.

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Special Numbers

Mersenne prime on US postage

a relatively special number sighted in the wild

What’s special about the number 226? It’s the first number in this list for which they couldn’t come up with something that makes it special. That sounds pretty special to me, haha!

For those of you out of the mathimatical loop, this alludes to the famous “proof” that all natural numbers are interesting. Clearly the numbers 0, 1, and 2 are interesting for many reasons, and as you continue on looking at larger numbers if you ever found one that wasn’t interesting, the fact that it was the first uniteresting number would make it interesting!

(This link comes via the Make: Newsletter. Another interesting link from the newsletter: building your own TV as a political statement.)

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Crazy Races

Cooper's Hill cheese race
On this lazy Sunday thanks to Reid we got on the topic of crazy races. One plummets down a hill for cheese, and another hauls a woman cross-country for beer:

  • In Gloucestershire, England people chase a seven pound wheel of cheese down a 50 degree slope for fame and dairy. As you might expect from such a steep hill, at times it has taken a dangerous turn (includes intense video of people literally bouncing head over heals down the hill) and was soon fouled by
    EU safety rules. But, as of last year the event continues and has been reported on by,
    the BBC, and the public radio program
    Living on Earth.
  • In Sonkajärvi, Finland’s Wife Carrying World Championships the winner goes home with his “wife’s” weight in beer (the marriage requirement is quite liberal and even that is losely enforced, in one video an American man is interviewed who met his “wife” just an hour before). Last year’s champion was an Estonian with an insanely tiny, 17 year old wife, just barely within minimum specs. Be sure to check out the
    videos. You can even bet on the competition.


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