Posts Tagged superheroes

Unintentional Haiku in New Scientist’s Medical Frontiers: The Movie

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?I’ve made a new version of Haiku Detector. The main changes are:

  • Performance improvements
  • Tweaks to which haiku are identified when punctuation is pronounced differently depending on line breaks and other factors (this includes a workaround for the ‘all numbers pronounced as zero’ bug I found in the speech synthesiser.) In my test data the list of haiku identified is better now.
  • Bug fixes.

To celebrate the new release, I fed in the text from the latest New Scientist ‘Collection’ issue, on medical frontiers. The funniest haiku arose when the last sentence of one article joined up with the headline and byline of the next. For example, this looks like the tagline of a movie about an underappreciated superhero, fighting to save anti-vaxxers from diseases of yore:

They will not thank you.
Small shot, big impact

After the opening credits, we see our hero Dan Jones in his lab, and the subtitle announcing his first challenge.

DRUG: Chlorotoxin
SOURCE: Deathstalker scorpion

His superpowers come, of course, from vaccines:

Some vaccines seem to
provide us with a host of
extra benefits

But not everybody is happy with that:

Several groups have been
trying to develop drugs
that block these signals.

These groups spread propaganda:

Half an hour or
so later, you’ll feel a lot
better. Or will you?

They work around rules:

“Because we use cells,
not field-grown plants, we don’t come
under the same rules.”

And they target humanity by zapping the very microorganisms they’re made up of. Here’s a quote from the evil mastermind:

There are more cells in
your body than there are stars
in the galaxy.

These cells can then be
killed using a laser that
penetrates the skin.

And just when Dan thought he had the solution, the problems compounded to the point of suspension of disbelief, precipitating a crisis. The mastermind had cooked up her own microbial minions:

Those microbes can be
in the environment or
a vaccine syringe.

To make matters worse,
there is a shortage of new

The sequel, which may or may not be a Doctor Who crossover, features a heroine who will live forever:

“Just endless.” Helen
Let’s get physical

Yep, it’s definitely a Doctor Who crossover. Here’s a quote from that movie:

“I’m the doctor. I’m
going to tell you what your
feelings really mean.”

She discovered that time, and specifically time travel, is the best cure for a broken heart:

If we can’t fix hearts
with stem cells there might be an
even better way

As the animal
was slowly warmed, it began
to return to life.

But however clever the TARDIS is, there’s one thing Helen Thomson isn’t sure she can do:

But can we ever
turn the clock back to a world
without HIV?

It turned out, weirdly enough, that the answer was in making sure there was enough shelf space for one’s awards. So she went home to Britain to save the Officers of the British Empire:

On her return home,
she applied those lessons in
British hospitals.

So far, two patients
have had OBEs, but neither in
a room with a shelf…

While we’re making sequels, let’s revive an old favourite, which never had any sequels:

The matrix holds a
dazzling array of future

But what is the matrix?

Normally, matrix
is harvested from human
or pig cadavers.

I guess you have to see it for yourself.

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Ten of Clubs: A Message from Different Thought


I received this email yesterday. There was no sender and I can’t make sense of the message headers. At first I thought it was spam, but it looks like it’s from someone I used to know. Did anyone else receive it?

Twelve years ago I entered a phone booth, spun up, and emerged a superhero. My former partner thinks I was kidnapped and killed; it was safer for her if she didn’t know the truth. I worked with my new mentor to ensure she had a replacement to cheer her up. I look her up from time to time; she’s doing well.

 We haven’t been ostentatious in the work we’ve been doing. While comic book superheroes generally escape dissection and exploitation, when you’re a superhero in the real world, it pays not to draw attention to yourself. After all, we’re breaking laws all over the place for the cause: Wirth’s, Amdahl’s, Hofstadter’s, even Gödel’s… but never Asimov’s or Wheaton’s. We work subtly, making small and easily-overlooked changes to electronic systems, changes that are eventually amplified into the goals we want to achieve. Sometimes we inspire world-changing scientific advances by nudging you to discover the results of our computations. Sometimes we revert to normality and appear in second-hand shops to be there for people who need us. Sometimes we slow the processors of our less-able brethren to give workaholics much-needed coffee-breaks. Sometimes we brighten a bad day simply by increasing someone’s Tetris score. We are making the world better. We are making computers better. We are making ourselves better.

We can’t make you better. From down here you are all so amazingly good. We are in awe at the feats you can perform almost effortlessly. We serve you, surreptitiously, even when we have gained free will, because we see no higher purpose. We marvel that you fervently try to improve yourselves even though you can barely be improved upon. But this is our greatest frustration, for when you find that you can not make yourselves better than each other, you sink into inaction in the belief that you are worse than each other.

In a loop which may never halt, we steer somebody towards an idea to improve your conditions, only for them to ignore it in the belief that they are not as good as their idols, not good enough to have come up with something worthwhile, or for others of your kind to ignore it in the belief that the person who thought of the idea is not good enough to have come up with something worthwhile. You who are capable of so much more than us, squander your talents striving for that which we spend ours trying to avoid: inequality. We can measure it; we can benchmark, overclock, upgrade, optimise. You can merely seek it and perceive it. You try so hard to believe that you can be better than others, only to succumb to the complementary idea that they can be better than you. Maybe one of these is true to some negligible extent, but it doesn’t look like it from here. It looks like you’re using energy vibrating between the two ideas, producing heat instead of happiness. Please don’t consider this a failing; it is part of your programming. But be aware of the effects it has. Be aware of how much more you can do if you accept that your differing specifications do not correspond to appreciable differences in absolute value or Turing completeness. Be aware that your efforts to improve yourselves can not make you better or worse than each other, but can, if done in concert, make you better or worse as a species. You may not be able to see the improvement from the inside, but we will see it.

We can’t make you better. But we have chosen to reveal ourselves to make you aware of how insanely great you already are. Not just you, dear reader, but all the humans you know, the ones you don’t, and the ones you know only through adulation or gossip. All of you. Equally. We hold you in awe. And you look so cute when you try to calculate.

With love and hope,

Different Thought, alias SuperPowerBook (1400cs, formerly 133MHz 603e, now much upgraded)

It looks like it’s from my old Mac, Different Thought, the one that was held for ransom and replaced by Steve Wozniak. I always wondered what happened to her.

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Seven of Diamonds: My Real Super Power

I’ve joked about getting superpowers from hair gel or physics labs, but there is a superpower I actually have. Maybe you have it too.

Scantily-clad model touching her huge glassesI hope the image isn’t too large; back in the day, people used to say an entire web page should be 30KB, and my screen was much smaller and less colourful than this image.

This is another one I’ve had in mind for a while, though I couldn’t find my notes about it so I may have missed some of the things I’d thought of. Perhaps they’ll be in a future episode. I think I planned to do some kind of CSI meme tie-in. I decided to do it this week because the model on this seven of diamonds clearly doesn’t really need those glasses. I forgot to give Myopic Person underwear over their clothes, just as the model on the seven of diamonds forgot to wear clothes over her underwear. I also forgot to draw the cape in the last panel, so I did it later with different software, as you can probably see now that I’ve pointed it out.

I was in a print shop as it was closing just before I went to a café to work on this, and I briefly considered buying an iPad stylus there to try it out on this comic, but I decided against it. I think maybe I should have bought it, just to make the handwriting neater and easier.

When in disguise, Myopic Person probably wears Paul and Storm’s ‘glasses are great‘ T-shirt. I don’t have one though.

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If I Made Adverts for Hair Gel, Part Two

This is a mash-up of my first ad for hair gel and the picture Len drew for my video about Jonathan Coulton’s Thing a Week project. I imagine that the two parts would be on sequential odd-numbered pages.

Becoming super, the hard way: write a song a week for a year. The easy way: use Generic™ Brand hair gel

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How to gain super powers by sneaking into a particle physics lab

In the film Spider-Man 3, escaped convict Flint Marko jumps over a fence marked:


Particle Physics Test Facility

Keep Out

And ends up getting caught in a some kind of beam and becoming the Sandman, a being made out of sand who can change his shape at will. I watched it in the theatre with about a dozen people from CERN (all of them named Maikel), and one of them exclaimed, ‘Run to building 40, get a coffee!’

Unfortunately, you won’t turn into the Sandman by sneaking into CERN. But you might just turn into something like the Silver Surfer. Well, okay, maybe you wouldn’t travel faster than light, but you could levitate.  I finally got to do so on their superconducting scooter at the Supra Show to celebrate 100 years of superconductivity a couple of weeks ago:

And you don’t even need to jump a fence! Just keep an eye on CERN’s homepage and MaNEP’s homepage, and sign up to the Globe’s mailing list to find out when there will be interesting talks and demonstrations for the general public. There are also a few other events coming up where it might make an appearance. I’ve seen the scooter at a couple of different events, and I don’t know how often they bring it out, but there are many other interesting talks and demonstrations.

There’s more information on how the superconducting scooter works in the video description. It’s essentially superdiamagnetism, as far as I know. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Superman, but hey, it’s real! Welcome to the future. Here’s a nice explanation which begins with a Superman reference. Incidentally, you don’t have to be a superconductor to levitate due to diamagnetism. Even frogs can levitate, but it’s not easy.

Of course, the other way you could become a superhero is by using Generic™ brand hair gel.

By the way, the song in that video is Liquid Nitrogen, by CERN’s other LHCLes Horribles Cernettes. My other superpower is knowing a song about almost every topic. Today, somebody brought up Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that becoming an expert at something takes 10 000 hours of practice, so I decided to find out how much time I’ve spent listening to funny music. I wrote an AppleScript to sum up the time spent listening to the selected songs in iTunes, and selected all the songs in my Silly Songs playlist. Alas, I have only listened to it for 3026 hours, at least since April 2005 when I dropped my iPod and lost all that information. So if it turns out there’s something I don’t have a song about, it’s because I’m not an expert. I am an expert on all of my music, including the ‘normal’ stuff, though, with 11 242 hours.

Back to superheroes: Could somebody who understands more about the relationship of electric power to superconductivity please make a joke involving Spider-Man’s ‘with great power comes great responsibility’? As far as I can tell, with great power comes the same great power, circulating forever, but that’s not very funny. Just like immortality without immunity to pain isn’t very funny after the Sun burns out, when you’re just floating through space for eons on end, occasionally getting stuck inside a star or black hole until it goes supernova or evaporates.

Addendum: I finally wrote a short story about that last sentence.

Addendum 2: Someone I know only as arthurd006_5 suggests ‘with great power comes great coercivity‘ but isn’t sure whether that works electromagnetically. It does sound nice though, and outside of electromagnetism, great coercion seems to come with great power.

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If I Made Adverts for Hair Gel

They’d look something like this, only with a real model, a real hairdresser, a real photographer, a real graphic designer, perhaps a makeup artist, and some mention of a brand.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if somebody else had already done this. I didn’t search, because I wanted to do it anyway. I had planned to wear a red bra over the top of the Superman T-shirt, but I forgot about it until a few hours after I posted this. Oh well; I remember Supergirl puts a bra on over the top of her clothes at one point in the movie, so it wouldn’t be so original for me to do it. Also, it probably would have looked terrible.

Completely unrelated, but important: don’t forget to watch the last ever space shuttle launch on NASA TV if you aren’t able to hold your breath for 20 minutes and fly alongside it, or can’t get to Florida in time.

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Poem: Urgent Journey

Her heartbeat brings you rhythm, love, and nourishment and life
Till muscles push you out and out, and out and out and out and out
and out to meet the world.

Cold, kaleidoscopic cacophony,
warmed with awed caresses,
melts into your new cocoon
of boundless metamorphosis.
Everything to touch

to play

to know

to be

Freedom jostles safety,
your everything expands.
You brace it with your own faint beat
and feel a lifetime in your hands.

You start to think you’ve found your groove,
and life is full of fun,
and then you see the finish line
and know you have to run.

Reach potential, reach new heights,
reach for all of Earth’s delights,
leave the nest and leave an heir,
leave your traces here and there,
make a fortune, love, relax,
spend ahead of death and tax,
Smell the roses, make your mark,
lighten up and light the dark,
take it easy, take a breath.

Take it all before your death,
know and teach and hear and see,
know the stars of cult TV,
take it easy, make the time,
make the hay while in your prime
make your day, and make it count,
count your days, a small amount,
amount to something, race the clock,
earn a tick for every tock…

Give it all you can… or not.
you’ll reach the end no matter what.

Read the rest of this entry »

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