Archive for July, 2007

A Typical Conversation

Sister: You’re an idiot.
Me: I’ll kill ya..
Sister: I’ll kill you first.
Me: I’ll kill you second.
Me: Wait..


Infinity: Without the Woo, Part 1

Last time I talked briefly about pretend mathematicians. Y’know, people who’ve actually never studied the stuff they’re claiming to refute. Because “common sense” tells them it’s wrong. And “common sense” is, as we all know, the guiding principle of mathematics.

So this time I’ll actually get into cardinality and infinite sets a bit.

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Different Sizes of Infinity: Woo Masters, Unite

I misunderstood the lengths at which people who’ve never studied something in their lives would go to nonetheless spew and spatter about that something. I can almost imagine the spittle spraying from their mouths as they rave.

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Die Boldly, Diebold


An Interesting Idea

Someone somewhere should make a Web 2.0-ish collaboration site where people can do math together. Maybe like an IM service meshed with LaTeX capabilities, but without the coding hassle. Point-and-click type stuff. And an ability to save the notes and do projects together. Oh, and some basic graphing capabilities. And the ability to export the LaTeX code, and import and share MATLAB, Mathematica, (etc.) code.


The Science of Avatar: The Last Airbender

One of the best American, made-for-TV cartoons out there is Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s about a world in which certain people are born with the ability to control an element, either fire, water, earth or air, and a boy named Aang who is the reincarnation of the Avatar, master of all four elements.

The show’s really great. The animation, although choppy at times, is fantastic. The fight scenes are choreographed really well and seem very real. The story is awesome, the characters are funny and interesting. And on and on. Despite that, the show has some glaring quirks.

In the show, earthbenders can control pretty much any kind of rock or metal. Firebenders can shoot fire and lightning from their fingertips (and other appendages). Airbenders can control the air, and waterbenders control the water.

But how totally unfair is that? Metals make up about 75% of the periodic table. Which means that earthbenders get to control more elements than the rest of the benders combined. Waterbenders only get to control one element. Sucks for them. They can control the H2O molecule, but can’t control hydrogen or oxygen separately for some reason. Airbenders cheated the fuck out of the waterbenders there, sorry to say. And firebenders? They also control the air. Or at least oxygen. Because fire is just really quick oxidation. And lightning? Lightning is just electricity. Which means firebenders can control electrons.

New title for firebenders: Electron-benders.

Atheism, a Theism?

Atheism isn’t a religion, okay? Atheists don’t worship their lack of god. They don’t worship nullity, or the void. They don’t worship, period. Worship is undeserved devotion, and that’s just not us. If something deserves my devotion, it’s usually because it has qualities I find appealing already and which I can access without worship. Music? I play the piano and the trumpet. I don’t need to imagine that music is somehow tied into the fabric of the universe to enjoy it. It’s tied into the fabric of my thought, and that’s what matters. Poetry? I can read and write and enjoy poetry without thinking that its beauty is definitional. Poetry is an amalgam of human experience and emotion, and has nothing to do with deities or fairies or muses or any of it. Things have beauty because we build and imitate them, and then admire their craftsmanship through our imitations.

Why do cosmologists speak of the pale blue dot, our little planet? Because of how unlikely and how wondrous it is. Because it conveys that at least on one planet in one solar system in one arm of one galaxy lives a people who can fathom at least part of the universe. And they can fathom themselves. And in fathoming, they discover that all of the answers to the mysteries of the universe will never be uncovered, and they’re sad because of it. And they invent their mythologies and pseudo-explanations. Because they wished they knew all of it. But they don’t. And they never will. And once they realize that in not knowing they have a precious excitement, they won’t care to know everything anymore. They’ll only care to know what they can know.

And that’s when they become atheists. Knowing only what you can know, that is atheism.