Sunday, April 28, 2013

the Hardly Potter dream

Thank you brain.  It just dished up one of those dreams so perfect and strange and funny I woke up laughing.  Couldn't have come up with this stuff through any rational means ...

When Harry Potter first arrived at Hogwarts, he was given an entrance exam (which nobody else had to take).  Based on the results, he was sent to the not-so-famous school on the other side of the tracks, called Dumbledown's School.  Sign at the gate: "No owls allowed."  Among the administrators it was known as Dumbledown's School for Really Inconvenient People.  It was a series of really gothic  group homes with way too many towers.  Parts of the school were just unfinished graphics, and if the kids wandered in there, they would have to go home and wash the pixel dust from their hair.

During the limited school hours, the kids learned how to make Pop-Tarts and Spaghetti-O's, how to unfreeze ice cubes by smashing them with a hammer, and how to remove a dozen types of arcane stains from piles of laundry.

For most of the day they worked out in a peat pog, cutting up little slices of fuel for the big furnace downstairs.  If they found any bog people buried in the muck, there was a brief ceremony, and the body was sent to the school medical examiner, who was (of course), Quincy M.E. in a deep purple robe with sparkly bits on the cuffs.  Sadly, every case turned out to be a ritual strangulation, so Quincy was writing a treatise on decipher the ancient tattoos.

Instead of quidditch, each group home had a team of sorts, and they get together to toss cow pies.  Harry could catch a 40-yard whoozie like the best of them.  But being the best of "them" was never good enough for Harry.

One day, while Harry was out in the peat bog, complaining, Hagred came riding along doing whatever the heck Hagred does out in the woods.  He fell off the wagon and crushed Harry flat.    Harry was such a pancake, literally two-dimensional, they had to take him to Hogwarts to pump some 3d juice into him.  And that's how they found out about the "clerical error".

So that's how Harry really got into the famous school for wizards.  Snape claimed to know nothing about this, but was unusually prone to fits of dark laughter.

I don't know which faulty neurons fed me this one, but it made my day.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Meteor mayhem

Here's an unlikely scenario ... a small asteroid (about 45 meters across) passes a mere 17,000 miles (28,000 km) from Earth.  That's close in galactic terms, but it's still, you know, 17,000 miles away.  What makes last Friday special was that a few hours before that closest approach, this happened: one of the brightest meteor strikes on Earth in the past century.

What's fun about this is that there's no reason to think the two events are related.  All accounts have the meteor coming in from the opposite direction.  Of course, folks online spent days trying to twist things around to force a connection.

Maybe that meteor was orbiting the asteroid?  No.  That tiny roid probably couldn't hold a tennis ball in orbit at a few hundred miles.

Maybe that meteor broke off from the asteroid a gazillion years ago and is part of the same stream of debris?  No.  Moving the other way?

Maybe observers got the directions wrong?  Sure, start doubting the obvious.  Each object had a very clear direction, no error about it.

Yeah, but maybe there's a conspiracy to keep us from feeling threatened?  To get here, we have to doubt the obvious, make stuff up, and fall off a diving board.  Stop it.

Two things CAN happen without there being any connection.  Heck, the other day I had two big ebay orders, one from a guy name Xiang and one named Zhang, thousands of miles apart.  Aside from finding it odd, there's no sensible point to make about it.  In this case, think about it ... it's not like space rocks check their calendars: "Is there anyone else crashing into Earth today? No?  Okay, here I come!"

We can keep making wider and wider generalizations -- but both objects came from the Solar System! -- until we end up not saying anything at all.  Just record the events, learn what we can and move on.  Tons of debris enter the Earth's atmosphere every day.  Poof, fizzle, pop.  No big deal.  Some days are just a lot more strange.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Me & My Obscurity

"I guess I've been letting things get obscure around here.  Time to go on a fact-checking expedition."

One funny thing about journaling -- aside from its inherent pretentiousness -- is trying to explain any long gaps in time.  The above quote was one of my favorite wordings of this recurring excuse, covering a 6-month span where nothing was written, back in '99.  It went on to do a survey of jobs, people I knew at the time.  I'm not sure why any of that matters.

But sometimes, those old journal entries just crack me up.  Here's one from 9 Oct 1999, in the middle of a long boring bit about my current programming hell:

"about two weeks ago, there was a guy at the street fair selling freeze-dried lizards.  we bought a bunch, thinking the cats would find them amusing.  as soon as i ripped open the baggies, the things swelled up and came back to life, bigger than ferrets and much more stinky.  the things in this paragraph did not actually happen.  it's just that line of reality again, ever devious.  i've toyed with the idea of marking the dream blocks, maybe with a "d:", but i'm not a friggin hard drive.  and i know what was real.  why spoil the fun?"

Odds are, those journals (over 2,000 pages) were written to entertain my future self, but more and more they're also good for sorting out faulty memories.  Lately I've been harvesting them for writing prompts.  I may have to write the Day of the Freeze-Dried Lizards now!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Chessboard of Life

The Chessboard of Life
by s.c.virtes
Alternations: back forth oblique,
day night right wrong
jumping one to the next --

Pawns to kings in
stacked series cover the space,
no variation to the schemes:
32 days and 32 nights
hide on the 8x8 square.

Then there may be a winner
or at least a paycheck
and the game begins anew.

p#49, written 08/05/1986, published in Sidewalk's End (May 01)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Computer unspeak

In most cases, the phrase "computer speak" (sometimes as a single word) means technical jargon related to computers.  But as more websites use databases to generate their content, we're getting to the point where computers are trying to speak to us, and we see just how dumb they can be.

Here's a classic piece of computer-interpreted data:
"Burclover is not viable as a Christmas Tree."
or ...
"In the wintertime, Burclover has a Porous foliage porosity."

These came from TheGrowSpot, which is actually a good site.  But they could do without the huge clumsy paragraphs trying to describe their otherwise well-organized data in sentences.

Meanwhile, scammers have nearly invented their own worthless language to try and fool us into responding to their crap.  I just got a spam email titled: "Dynamite instead of wiener."  How's that supposed to work?  You have sex and the whole house explodes.  Unnatural deselection ... shades of porous porosity ... hell in a handbasket?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Plow of Progress

"Life, it seemed to him, was a great search for -- he knew not what; and in the process of the ages one by one the true marks upon the ways had been shattered, or buried, or the meaning of the words had been slowly forgotten; one by one the signs had been turned awry, the true entrances had been thickly overgrown, the very way itself had been diverted from the heights to the depths, till at last the race of pilgrims had become hereditary stone-breakers and ditch-scourers on a track that led to destruction ... if it led anywhere at all."

- from Arthur Machen, "The House of Souls" (1922)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Mere Sight of Land

"The effect which the sight of the smallest spot of land, or even a bare uninhabited rock, has in breaking the tedious monotony of a long sea voyage, is easier felt than described. After passing a long succession of weary hours, with no other objects of contemplation than a world of waters, bounded only by the extent of vision, where it unites with the world of clouds, the sight of land acts like a talisman, and instantaneously transports us into the fairy regions of imagination. We compare the spot we are viewing with one rendered inestimably dear to us, by the remembrance of its beloved objects, and the tender recollection of past happiness. We pass over, as points in time or space, the years or seas that separate us; and by a cherished delusion, find ourselves arrived at the moment of re-union, cheered by the embrace of friendship, or locked in the arms of love and beauty."

- from An account of a voyage [...] in His Majesty's Ship Calcutta, in the years 1802-3-4, by James Hingston Tuckey - Chapter 4