Archive for February, 2008

Shamus Young goes off the deep end

Well, it’s finally happened. Shamus Young (of DM of the Rings and Wavatars notoriety) has started making the most absurd ranting claims and threats I’ve ever seen:

I am proud to announce that I have proven via a scientific study that reading Twenty-Sided encourages safe, effective weight loss after only a few visits. This is due to secret, proprietary methods of designing site layout that stimulates neuron… activators in the upper… lumbar that… enhances your Circadian Rhythm and optimizes your metabolism via your browser cache. It’s embedded in the CSS. It’s all very scientific and complicated but trust me, this site will allow you to safely lose 10-20 unwanted pounds after just a few readings, as well as helping you to regrow lost hair. And make you more attractive to the opposite sex. Or the same sex, if you prefer. Pretty much whatever you’re into, really.

As if that isn’t bad enough, he goes on:

Furthermore, I demand that all websites stop linking to this post, as you are infringing on my right to not be made fun of when making an ass of myself. It is forbidden to link to this post and if you do so I will be forced to take legal action within 48 hours of my lawyer sobering up after I bail him out of the drunk tank. Again.

Well I’m not afraid of you, Shamus. Your father smells of elderberries. Do your worst.

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Science jokes

Just found this from a link from SMBC: the Science Jokes Wiki.

Teaching science can be a very dry matter – but it shouldn’t be. It is well-known that understanding something is easier when you can connect it with something memorable – such as a joke.

For this reason, this wiki attempts to gather links to jokes and cartoons where an understanding of science is required to get the punchline. These jokes are listed by scientific field and topic. Furthermore, the punchline is explained to aid teachers and those who wish to study these subjects by themselves.

I’m going to start prodding David Morgan-Mar until he agrees to be their patron saint.

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Rubik

Over the last few months I’ve sunk quite a few neurons into learning to solve Rubik’s Cube. Don’t ask why; it just seemed like a useful skill to have. You know, in case I’m ever… trapped in a… stack of… interlocked shipping crates… with revolving doors. Or something.

Anyway, in the last couple of weeks I’ve gained a sort of ultra-narrow celebrity status because of it. I’ve drawn some attention on a few occasions – once when we had a guest speaker at work who’d co-written a book on the Cube; once at a friend’s place; and once in a cinema. (Yes, a cinema.) It turns out that this is one of those few instances where a mark of an uber-nerd coincides with a really cool party trick.

The technique I use to solve it is roughly the Heise method, which I settled on because it’s touted as not needing any memorisation – that is, instead of learning a bunch of algorithms of the form “if the cube looks like this, do these 14 moves”, you learn the general techniques and then apply them. That idea really appeals to me, although I did find that the shortest path to learning to actually solve the thing still involves memorising at least a couple of algorithms (in particular, a corner 3-cycle and a corner twist).

There’s a bit of a catch-22 when you’re learning a solution for the first time. The problem is that you want to be able to experiment and see what a sequence of moves does. But by far the easiest way to see what effect a sequence has is to do it on a solved cube. So you get to try exactly once, and then you have to somehow get to where you started. So you either have to (a) have a very large supply of solved cubes, (b) remember exactly what moves you’ve done and reverse them flawlessly, (c) get someone else to solve it every time you mess it up, (d) learn a different solution first, or (e) painstakingly follow the instructions for the method you’re trying to learn every time you mess it up. That last one is the most obvious, because you should be learning as you follow the method, but it’s also the most contrary to learning general principles instead of rote sequences. That’s why I ended up memorising a couple of sequences instead of fully embracing the purist path.

These days I can generally solve it in under 2 minutes if I’m paying attention and haven’t had a drink yet. There are a few places I can go from here. The Heise method has a bunch of advanced techniques that I haven’t really gotten into yet. The Petrus method is similar for the first few steps, so I’m trying to absorb some of the techniques from that, in particular some of the block-building patterns. And some of his speed tips are really cool – I’m going to practice doing a corner twist using Triggers.

Solving a cube in 16 seconds would be a really really cool party trick.

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Church crawl

Yesterday I went on a church crawl (”like a pub crawl, but with churches”) with a friend from my former Christian days. We got around to four different services before lunch. He’d planned more for the rest of the day but we both had things to do in the evening that came up at the last minute.

Videos were taken and reactions were recorded, but we won’t be making them available just yet. I might put some isolated thoughts down on (virtual) paper before then. There’s a good chance we’ll do it again, so it might have to wait until the whole lot gets edited together.

Quick spoiler: I haven’t changed my mind about anything. :)

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More ugly CAPTCHA hacks

I’ve just implemented the vision-impaired CAPTCHA workaround that I discussed before, wherein (what a great word) the image’s alternate text contains a second word, which, if you enter it, puts your comment in the moderation queue. It’d be nice if you got a message to that effect, but I couldn’t immediately see how to do that, so for now your comment will seem to disappear into the æther.

So I’m expecting one of three things to happen.

  1. The thousands of vision-impaired readers I’ve picked up over the last two weeks since I introduced CAPTCHAs will break their silence and start leaving insightful (no pun intended) comments in droves.
  2. Every spambot in existence will try submitting the alt text, and my inbox will be pummeled into oblivion with moderation emails offering various anatomical enlargements.
  3. Deathly silence.

My money’s on 3. Stay tuned.

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Shakespeare’s Who’s On First

This is six kinds of awesome. The video quality drops at the end, but the audio is what you’re interested in.

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Archbishop gets sound-bitten

From the SMH again, UK Archbishop facing calls to resign:

Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, faced calls to resign for suggesting the introduction in Britain of some aspects of Islamic law was unavoidable.

The Archbishop of Canterbury tried to quell the storm by denying he had called for Islamic law, known as sharia, to be introduced alongside British law.

In a BBC interview on Thursday, he referred to the use of sharia in some personal or domestic issues, much like orthodox Jews already have their own courts for some matters. Asked if sharia needed to be applied in some cases for community cohesion, Williams said: “It seems unavoidable.”

Hmm.

Archbish Williams has made an appearance on this blog before, when he cast doubt on the factual accuracy of the Christmas story. And, once again, I have mixed feelings.

First things first. I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel recently, and the negative effect of the practice of Islamic law in refugee communities in the Netherlands is fresh in my mind. Plus, I think that religions in general have a pretty bad track record of defining laws that promote rights and equality, so I don’t see why any religion should have claim to any privileged position to influence law.

However, while I disagree with Williams, there’s a big fat gulf between what he’s saying and people calling for him to resign. Here are a couple of excerpts from the full transcript of the interview (I recommend reading the whole thing):

What a lot of Muslim scholars would say, I think, and I’m no expert on this, is that Sharia is a method rather than a code of law and that where it’s codified in some of the ways that you’ve mentioned in very brutal and inhuman and unjust ways, that’s one particular expression of it which is historically conditioned, not at all what people would want to see as part of the method of trying to make actual the will of God in certain circumstances. So there’s a lot of internal debate within the Islamic community generally about the nature of Sharia and its extent; nobody in their right mind I think would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.

It’s very important [t]hat you mention there the word ‘choice’; I think it would be quite wrong to say that we could ever licence so to speak a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general…

…as I said earlier, it’s not something that’s absolutely peculiar to Islam. We have orthodox Jewish courts operating in this country legally and in a regulated way because there are modes of dispute resolution and customary provisions which apply there in the light of Talmud. It’s not a new problem, not to mention the issues as I mentioned earlier the questions about how the consciences of Catholics Anglicans and others who have difficulty over issues like abortion are accommodated within the Law; so the whole idea that there are perfectly proper ways in which the law of the land pays respect to custom and community; that’s already there.

…now that principle that there’s one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that, so an approach to law which simply said, ‘There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts’. I think that’s a bit of a danger.

It seems pretty clear that he’s not proposing that the UK set up Islamic ghettos where western law doesn’t apply, which is how it seems to come across in the sound-bite news reports. It’s more like he’s saying that there could be a way, in communities that already internally follow a set of de facto religious laws, to allow that to influence civil law, without overriding anyone’s basic legal rights. Apparently this is already the case with Jewish communities. And he falls short of saying that this should happen; he mostly just says that it should be up for discussion.

I hardly see how people can be calling for his head on a plate over this.

The thing that stands out to me is that the head of the Anglican Church is taking a very big step back and talking about acceptance of standards outside his own religion. It’s almost as if he’s suggesting – shock, horror – that someone else might have a different point of view. He’s very non-partisan about the whole thing – he only talks about the Christian position in passing, by way of comparison; and he ducks the interviewer’s final question:

In the end, do you think that some people might be surprised to hear that a Christian Archbishop is calling for greater consideration of the role of Islamic law?

People may be surprised but I hope that that surprise will be modified when they think about the general question of how the law and religious community, religious principle are best and fruitfully accommodated…

Well, I am surprised. Pleasantly.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe people want the head of their church to push for the church’s beliefs and only the church’s beliefs. Maybe people are uncomfortable with the idea that their church’s leader is willing to consider that other people believe differently, and have just as much right to do so.

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Conversation I just had

Me: “I’ve never seen that before.”

Him: “Really? It’s one of the basic demonstrations of… that.”

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Hell yes.

Red belt

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I’ve been Schmapped


In breaking news, one of my photos has been included in the Schmap Sydney Guide, in the entry for the Good Living Growers’ Market.

The deal with Schmap is that they get Creative Commons licensed photos of guide-worthy places from Flickr, shortlist a few for each place, and give the owners a chance to opt in; then they pick one and use it (at thumbnail-ish size, but they use it nonetheless). They get a guide full of free photos; I get my name and a link in the guide, and bragging rights. Fun for all.

Ironically, the Growers’ Market is on today and I didn’t go.

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