Archive for September, 2012

Ten of Diamonds: Another Perspective


Here are some more arrow poems. Click the poems for pdf versions you can enlarge and copy the text from.

Free to take whatever's scattered along my path. To push past all the obstacles I can barely see, without a hearth to shackle me. Collectors come To recover debt as I slip away, homeless, lost to the bad guys. I have been left to enjoy life, however I wish. //  However I wish to enjoy life, I have been left to the bad guys, homeless, lost. As I slip away to recover, debt collectors come to shackle me. Without a hearth I can barely see to push past all the obstacles scattered along my path to take whatever's free.

Two of those  crowd-pleasing folks to counteract the depressing quiet. Now they'll go. Fairly soon: funny songs that they're pretending we all like (at first) on monkeys philosophising, performed by the main act. // The main act performed by philosophising on monkeys. At first, we all like pretending that they're funny songs. Fairly soon they'll go quiet, now depressing folks to counteract the crowd-pleasing of those two.

As promised, I got Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm to pick the cards this week. Jonathan chose Richard Stockton, and Paul chose first the European shorthair cat, and then the Golden Gate National Parks card on behalf of Storm, who had just gone to do something else at the time. I’m fairly sure Paul and Storm are entangled, so I accept this as a valid Storm choice.

I read that there’s a large homeless population in Golden Gate Park, and also that European shorthairs are not popular outside of Scandinavia because they resemble a lot of homeless cats. Richard Stockton died a pauper, maybe not homeless, but close enough. Given that it’s a natural state for a cat to roam, and the idea of owning a human family or two might seem strange and restrictive to one who hasn’t previously tasted cat food, I wondered what would happen if a sad, newly-homeless Stockton had encountered a happily ‘homeless’ cat in the then-nonexistent Golden Gate Park. Probably some hissing, a rift in space time, and either a nourishing kitty stew or a very scratched-up politician. I couldn’t think of a storyline that wouldn’t be trite and generally the worst fable of all time, so I fell back on the arrow poem form I invented previously. It’s easier than it looks.

If you like, you can think of the up arrow as being from the perspective of a cat and the down arrow from that of Richard Stockton. Perhaps Jonathan subconsciously chose this card for the same reason he writes so many sad songs.

And on the subject of Jonathan writing sad songs (some of which are funny because they’re about monkeys and cephalopods and vampires) he’s also the down arrow in the second poem. Opening band Paul and Storm are the up arrow, because they’ve only written one sad song that I know of. That’s not to say that Jonathan is a downer; plenty of his songs are funny without being sad, and I love funny sad songs (and non-funny sad songs) anyway.

In case you were wondering, following the tour was awesome as always. I met a lot of nice people, caught up with several I already knew, discovered a new sciency songwriter when she gave her CDs to Jonathan, and also visited Bath. I’m uploading videos of the Union Chapel show now, and will put up the rest over the next few weeks, and in the mean time you could watch the Susie Asado videos I’ve put up. Next stops: Wax Mannequin at my favourite venue on land, and Marian Call at CERN (which will probably become my new favourite venue on land once I have reason to call it a venue. But then again, it already has Hardronic.) Would you believe I’d never been to a concert of my own volition until December 2008?

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Nine of Diamonds: Willpower Zero (based on a true story)


Bladder: Go to the toilet.

Can’t. Sleepy.

Bladder: Go to the toilet.

Can’t. Sleepy.

Free will: Well sleep then.

Can’t. Bladder full.

Free will: Well you may as well check the internet on your iPad then.

Can’t. Sleepy.

Free will: Come on. It’s the internet. You like that.

Okay.

Bladder: Go to the toilet.

Can’t. Internet.

Free will: You should think about the thing you were going to write.

Can’t. Bladder full.

iPad: Shall we play a game?

Okay.

Bladder: Go to the toilet.

Can’t. Game.

Bladder: Go to the toilet. Seriously.

Okay.

iPad: Play again?

Okay.

Bladder: Go to the toilet!

Can’t. Game.

Free will: You really have to get cracking on that writing, and the laundry…

Can’t. Game.

Bladder: Are you listening to me? It’s been an hour already! Go to the toilet!

Okay.

iPad: Play again?

Okay.

Bladder: If you don’t go to the toilet soon I’m going to wet the bed and blame it on you.

Okay.

Free will: So about that writing…

Can’t. Toilet.

Free will: Just go to the computer when you’re done, alright?

Okay.

Free will: So how about a first line?

Can’t. Internet.

Legs: We’re cold. Can haz pants?

Can’t. Internet.

Free Will: So we were thinking about maybe writing about encoding and decoding of emotion in poetry…

Can’t. Cold legs.

Stomach: I don’t want to be rude or anything, but once you’ve got Legs sorted out, could we maybe eat breakfast?

Can’t. Internet.

Clock: Hey, it’s almost time to publish some writing.

Can’t. Not enough time.

Free will: But you could start…

Can’t. Cold legs.

Internet: Hey! You have a Kiva repayment. Let’s make a loan with it!

Okay.

Free will: Well, at least we got something good done. But seriously, you’d rather sit there cold, hungry and pantsless than write?

Can’t write. Cold and hungry.

Legs: If pants are not your thing, how about a nice warm shower?

Can’t. Internet.

Legs: Please?

Okay.

Internet: Hey, your friend says hi!

Tell her I have to take a shower.

Internet: She says she’s being lazy too! Oh, and she wanted to talk to you about that trip to the UK…

Okay.

Legs: Uh… you can’t feel us any more, but we’re still here.

Free will: When you’re done with that, could we get back to the computer and actually write something?

Okay.

Legs: Thanks for the shower! Now let’s get some pants on before we get cold again.

Can’t. Internet.

Stomach: Hey, I’m being patient and all, but have you finished with Legs yet? We could have lunch.

Can’t. Naked.

Legs: I think the pants are in the bedroom. We’ll take you there if you like.

Okay.

iPad: Play again?

Okay.

Free will: Uh… could you at least open the notepad on the iPad?

Can’t. Game.

Legs: We’re getting cold. How about those pants?

Can’t. Game.

Free will: You know, there’s a shiny new encyclopedia of poetics on the floor just there…

Can’t. Legs cold.

Free will: And while Legs are going on about pants, you know you need to do laundry before going to the UK, right?

Can’t. Game.

Legs: We’re getting really cold here! They don’t have to be clean pants. We won’t tell.

Okay.

iPad: Play again?

Okay.

Stomach: Hey, can you just do as Legs says so we can have afternoon tea? I don’t ask for much; just an apple will do.

Can’t. Game.

Stomach: Come on. An apple. You like apples. They’re like iPads but edible.

Okay.

Legs: Us first!

Okay.

Free will: Okay, now that you’ve eaten something, how about you gather up the dirty laundry and you can write something while it’s in the machine.

Can’t. Internet.

Stomach: Hey, thanks for the apple. Can I have another?

Can’t. Free will wants me for something.

Free will: Okay, so you’re going to gather up the laundry?

Okay.

Free will: Great! Now we just need to take the laundry downstairs and put it in the machine.

Okay.

Internet: Hey! Your other friend says hi.

Tell him I said hi.

Free will: You’re still going to take the laundry downstairs, right?

Can’t. Chatting.

Stomach: I was lying before. An apple isn’t really enough. Can I have another?

Okay.

Free will: This guy’s not saying anything important. How about we do the laundry?

Can’t. Eating.

Free will: How about now?

Okay.

Free will: Great! Now let’s start writing.

Can’t. Internet.

Internet: Hey, remember how you said you’d go vegan for a day for that guy’s wife’s birthday? This could be the day.

Okay.

Stomach: You know that means cooking something, not just stopping at two apples, right?

Okay.

Free will: You could find a nice vegan restaurant after the laundry’s finished, and write something while you’re eating. You know you like writing in restaurants.

Okay.

Stomach: But I’m hungry now! Cook something!

Can’t. Internet.

Stomach: Really? Look, just stick some stuff in a pot and you can look at the internet while you’re waiting.

Okay.

Clock: Hey, it’s time to get the laundry out of the machine.

Can’t. Cooking.

Clock: Hey, it’s time to get the laundry out of the machine.

Okay.

Free Will: Okay, so now hurry up and hang the laundry up so we can get on with this writing thing.

Can’t. Hungry. Cooking.

Stomach: Is it dinner time yet?
Clock: No
Stomach: How about now?
Clock: Yes
Stomach: Hey, dinner’s ready! Give me some dinner!

Can’t. Internet.

Stomach: But it’s ready! I’ve been talking with Legs and they’re okay with walking over to the stove to get it.

Okay. No need to growl at me.

Free will: Okay, so now can we write?

Can’t. Eating.

Free will: Well could we watch the videos of that concert so you can upload them?

Okay.

Internet: Hey, look at me!

Okay.

Free will: What about those videos, just while you’re eating?

Can’t. Finished eating.

Free will: Okay, so you’re going to write now? Or hang up the laundry?

Can’t. Internet.

Free will: Can you at least do some research on the internet so you’ll know more about the topics you’re going to write about?

Can’t. Stupid topics.

Free will: If we don’t get this done soon you’ll end up having to write about writing or something, and there’s no worse topic than that. You know, you could listen to things from the internet while you hang up the laundry. You could even jot down writing ideas on your iPad as you go.

Okay.

iPad: Play again?

Okay.

Free will: Hey, uh… laundry?

Okay.

Stomach: I’m still hungry. Can I have another spoonful, and you can finish this later?

Okay.

Internet: Hey, look at me!

Okay.

Free will: Oh, the computer, eh? You’re going to write something?

Can’t. Not enough time.

Free will: Giving up already? Then you may as well go to bed.

Can’t. Internet.

Free Will: But you said there wasn’t enough time! If you’re going to waste time, you may as well go to bed.

Okay.

Internet: Hey, another friend wants to talk to you about that trip to the UK!

Okay.

Clock: Hey, it’s time to go to bed.

Can’t. Chatting.

Free will: Seriously, you should go to bed. Just end the conversation.

Okay.

Free will: Now go to bed.

Can’t. Laundry.

Free will: Fine. Finish hanging the laundry.

Okay.

Free will: Now go to bed?

Okay.

Clock: Hey, it’s way past bedtime.

Can’t sleep. Computer clock too loud.

Free will: Go turn the sound off then.

Can’t. Sleepy.

Free will: Come on, you know you won’t be able to sleep if you leave it on anyway.

Okay.

Internet: Hey, look at me!

Okay.

Free will: No! Don’t look at that! Didn’t you hear the clock? Go back to bed.

Can’t. Internet.

Free will: Just stop looking at it.

Can’t. Sleepy.

Free will: Go to bed then!

Can’t. Internet.

Free will: That’s it. Go to bed or I’m leaving you.

Bye.

The deadline elves were out in force this Sunday. It’s not usually quite this bad, and I did get a lot of things (other than writing) done on Saturday. In case you’re wondering why I’d planned to write about the encoding of emotion, ‘encoding’ and ’emotion’ were the entries closest to ‘Emmental’ in my Princeton Companion to Mathematics and newly-acquired Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics. Neither had an entry for Emmental itself.

I got this pack of cards in Bern last week, where I filmed the videos I mentioned uploading. They are of a Susie Asado concert. I did upload a few of them (that’s why I left my computer awake and able to tell me the time late at night, instead of putting it to sleep) but haven’t written my usual overly-verbose video descriptions yet, so the videos are still private. I’ll put a link here soon. In the mean time, here is a video of the Bern bears.

The trip to the UK I mention is to follow Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm around on tour again. I probably won’t publish anything next Sunday, since I’ll be busy getting from one show to the next, but I will get the three of them to each pick a card, so I can write about all three of them when I get back, like I did last time.

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Eight of Diamonds: ISS vs. LHC (a comparison)


Here is a handy, sometimes whimsical (but always as accurate as I could manage) comparison between two of my favourite scientific endeavours (now version 1.1, with changes detailed in a new post, along with a HTML table version with all the notes visible.) It is too cluttered with information to be a good infographic, so I’m calling it a TMIGraphic. Click on the image for a higher-resolution pdf with links and copious notes. It’s best if you save it and open it in a pdf reader rather than viewing it in your web browser, as the notes didn’t show up in the browser I tried. Click on each information box for the primary or most readable reference, and click the note icons for more explanations, references and interesting links. If you can’t see the note icons in the pdf, or if clicking on them doesn’t do anything, let me know and I’ll try to figure something out; the notes are important.

I’ve wanted to do this for at least three yearsLed by the U.S, the International Space Station will be the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program ever attempted.; I think it started with wondering which was cooler, and immediately answering myself with the relevant temperatures. When I started this round of Writing Cards (and not so much Letters) I thought I’d work on it slowly throughout the year, then finish it when the appropriate cards came up in one of the NASA decks and the CERN deck in the same week. This didn’t work for two reasons: every time I started to work on it slowly (and also, when I first came up with the idea of doing it as an infographic a year or so ago) I got stuck on the vacuum pressure outside the ISS. And even though the week’s CERN card is about LINAC-1, the NASA card seemed like a challenge that I couldn’t resist. Is the International Space Station really the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program ever attempted? Well, I don’t want to choose a favourite. Let’s just say the Large Hadron Collider is the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program on Earth, and the ISS is the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program in space.

This took longer than my usual deadline of a week, but not through procrastination. Also not so that it would be released four years and two days after the first beam went through the LHC, though I’ll use that as an excuse if it helps. Almost every one of those numbers took quite a bit of effort to get right, and you’ll see in the notes in the pdf (that’s the old pdf, corresponding to the TMIGraphic pictured; here‘s the most recent one) that most of them come with various caveats and explanations, because nothing is simple. I’ll have to update some pages in wikipedia after this. I’m certain I still have some things wrong; maybe some obvious things. Please point them out, and I’ll fix them in the next version. Also, feel free to tell me how bad my layout is, iff you have a better suggestion. I know this is not perfect yet and I intend to keep working on it. If you have ideas of information to add, I’d like to hear that too; especially if you have leads on where to get that information. I can provide the original OmniGraffle document if you want to make your own changes, but I’d have to clean it up a bit first; there are a few things that I just made invisible rather than deleting.

The vacuum pressure outside the station gave me the most trouble; I’d hoped it would be a simple equation, or a statistic NASA would publish on their general ISS fact pages, but mainly I just found statements that the pressure inside the LHC beam pipe was the same as at 1000km altitude. For ISS orbit I found values or equations around the place suggesting values that differed by a factor of a billion, and nothing that seemed convincingly more authoritative than the others. Finally, via the Wikipedia page on orders of magnitude of pressure, I found a NASA document with the numbers for 500km, so I used those. It actually varies by a factor of 20. This is still at least 70km higher than the station, so outside the station it’s more likely to be toward the higher end of that range; that is, a less perfect vacuum than inside the LHC beam pipe.

I also had some technical difficulties with the presentation (apart from the clutter and my lack of graphical talent or training.) Firstly, I’m sorry if colour-blind people have trouble distinguishing anything. I wanted to use a colour-blind safe palette, but the paler colours wouldn’t have had enough contrast with white to work with the style I’d chosen. The colours of the information boxes are not essential anyway; they just group them into broad categories and might make it a bit easier for people to find the corresponding information about the ISS or the LHC.

As for finding the corresponding information boxes about the ISS and LHC, it’s really not optimal. There’s a tangled mess of dashed lines connecting them which is really no more functional than background decoration. I thought of making each info box link to the corresponding one on the other diagram, but although that worked in OmniGraffle, in a pdf viewer it did not zoom in enough on the linked box to make it sufficiently obvious which one you’d just jumped to. I also would have liked to make the links in the notes clickable, and add images to some of them. Again, this was possible in OmniGraffle but not in pdf. I’m not sure if there’s a common format that allows all these things.

So, after all that, the important question: Which one would win in a fight?

Of course it depends what the fight is, and here’s where you can get creative. In a weight-loss competition such as The Biggest Loser, I think the ISS would win, having lost about an eighth of its weight by going up to 426km altitude. Though the LHC did lose a fair bit of helium at one point. Meanwhile, the ISS literally runs rings around the LHC, and would certainly win the high jump. If you have an idea, feel free to comment here or, as the TMIgraphic says, tweet it with the #ISSvsLHC hashtag. Maybe it’ll catch on.

As for the ultimate winner, I’ll let Wil Wheaton have the last word. Science. SCIENCE!

Update: I heard back from my friend who had information on the LHC tunnel temperature (actually the temperature of the LHCb cavern, but it should be about the same), and updated that. I also added information in the notes about the exhibition on the AMS detector which you can come see at CERN Microcosm at the moment, and nudged a few things inwards so the preview is a little narrower. If you’ve gone through all the notes in the old pdf you might already have seen this talk given at CERN by the astronauts who installed the AMS on the International Space Station. I was there, and I wanted to ask (for the purposes of this comparison) which they thought was the most awesome out of the LHC and the ISS, but I was in one of the few spots without a microphone.

One thing I’d been meaning to mention is that the path to ‘orbit’ of both things starts with a proton and continues with a booster. The first module of the ISS was put into orbit using a Proton rocket, and many of the rest were taken to orbit on the space shuttle, with its solid rocket boosters. In the LHC, it’s the particle called a proton and the Proton Synchrotron Booster which accelerates it as part of the journey to the LHC.

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