Tuesday, October 31

After You

I saw this animated short film a while ago via metafilter, but it has stuck in my mind since then. That's why I link it here, for you.

After You.

Monday, October 30

Google Calculator is amazing.

Want to calculate the surface temperature of the sun?

Paste this string into google:

((4 pi (1.5 * 10^13 cm)^2 * 0.136 J / (s cm^2 ) / (2 pi^5 * k^4 * 15^-1 * c^-2 * h^-3) ) / (4 pi (7 * 10^10 cm)^2))^0.25

Here's a breakdown of the factors:
10^13 cm is about the distance from the earth to the sun. So, 4 pi r^2 is the surface area of the sphere with that radius.

0.136 J / (s cm^2 ) is the radiant flux of solar energy that we recieve here on Earth. So, multiplying that flux by the area of the earth-orbit-sphere will give you the total radiant power that the sun emits.

Then, we can apply the handy-dandy Stefan-Boltzmann law. The Stefan-Boltzmann "constant" isn't built into google, but Planck's Constant, the speed of light, and Boltzmann's constant are. So, we can put those right into the expression above with the right prefactors and powers.

The radius of the sun is about 7 * 10^10 cm. To scale all the radiant power back to that size, we divide by that surface area, and we're left with something proportional to the fourth power of the black body temperature. Raise the whole thing to the power of 0.25, and you're left with the surface temperature of the sun, approximately.

So cool.

Wednesday, October 25

Terry Eagleton on Dawkinsian evangelical atheism

Here's the link from the London Review of Books. Terry Eagleton is a literary critic and philosopher who holds ever-so-slightly more nuanced views on the topic of religion and faith than either Pat Robertson or Richard Dawkins.

I've pontificated before about evangelical atheism; I lean mostly to a Null Interpretation myself (title borrowed from Dirac's commentary on quantum physics). Subtlety and moderation in all things.

[Editor's note: the word "evangelical" in the title and the body of this work has replaced the previous choice, "militant", for reasons put forth extremely clearly by Oz in the comments.]

Sunday, October 22

Quizzing all over the Carpet: Pop Music Edition

The format of today's question is multiple choice.

What was the title of the first Australian song to acheive popularity in the United States, charting as high as #3 in 1963?

A) "Put Some Shrimp on the Barbie, Mate"
B) "A Dingo Ate my Baby (Help Help)"
C) "We All Live on a Penal Colony"
D) "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport"

Thursday, October 19

This is a blogpost title that references itself as well as its contents: A link to a Self-Referential Story.

This is the link that takes you a Self-Referential Story by David Moser. I believe he is the same David Moser who is the sometime collaborator of Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Sunday, October 15

Trip report: Niagara wine region

On Friday afternoon, my lovely wife and I rented a car and drove 150km to the Niagara wine region, just South around Lake Ontario from Toronto. Normally, the drive takes about 2 hours; it was more like 3 and a half today because of Friday-afternoon traffic leaving Toronto. Not quite stop-and-go, but it came close a couple times.

We stayed at Down Home B&B, our first non Harbour House Niagara visit (it was full up; odd, since there was nothing particularly special going on in town this weekend). Quite a pleasant room, with good breakfasts and a comfortable bed -- though the room got hotter than optimal sleeping temperature. We ate at the always-spectacular Charles Inn on Friday night; spinach salad and beef tenderloin for Her, parsnip & pear velouté and trio of duck (grilled breast, leg confit, and foie gras) with wild mushrooms accompanied by a glass of Lailey's Pinot Noir for me.

Saturday was spent lesiurely touring wineries, starting with Reif Estates (decent Cabernet Sauvignon from 2002 recently released; we bought 2 bottles) and heading from there to Frogpond Farm which has the distinction of being the area's only certified-organic winery. We bought 2 bottles of their 2002 Riesling, and 2 of their 2002 Cabernet Merlot. A short drive from Frogpond is Coyote's Run, who won best Pinot Noir of the year at 2006's Cuvée in February -- but they've since sold out of it entirely. Sigh. We had to make do with 2 bottles of their 2004 Meritage (which is an invented word, by the way, used by non-French wineries to describe Bordeaux-style blends). Right around the corner is Chateau des Charmes, a relatively old winery with a distinctly new facility and a decidedly anachronistic label. Tastes of their Aligoté and Sauvignon Blanc didn't impress -- very light wines, without much nose at all -- but their Gamay varietal, which they call 'Droit' for its unusually straight growth (Gamay's usually pretty gnarly), was quite nice and we left with 2 bottles of it and one of their 2004 late harvest Riesling we'd had in the past and liked. At that point, with both of us hungry and unwilling to wait much longer for food, we made our last winery stop at Lailey. We arrived at the same time as about 4 other cars. The tasting bar was packed, and they didn't have any of their Canadian Oak wines open, which was a disappointment since they're almost the only ones in the region who are using it and we'd been looking forward to trying some out. The 2003 Cabernet Franc and 2004 Cabernet blend were good, though, so we got a bottle of each.

Our trunk full and our stomachs empty, we headed back into town. There being few other options, we ate at the Churchill Lounge of the Prince of Wales Hotel -- fish & chips for Her, a burger for me. Uneventful and unremarkable, aside from some truly dreadful muzak and subpar tea. A quick walk through the slightly tourist-trappy ("it's not tourist-trappy! it's Quaint!" She says, from over my shoulder) main street of Niagara-on-the-lake took us to Greaves Jams, where we bought at least a 3 month supply of various wonderful sweet fruit preserves. It's a necessary part of every Niagara trip. A 3 month supply weighs about 15 pounds, and we were 10 minutes from the car at that point, so we left our box of jam behind the counter and told the nice lady we'd be back in 10 minutes or so.

We forgot about our jam.

Now, we did have good reason to. It was 3:30pm by this point, and we only had until 5:00 to finish up at Hillebrand's Buyers' Weekend event, 15 minutes out of town. We're members in their wine club -- they send us 2 bottles a month, one red one white, and we get discounts on tours and tastings at the winery -- and one of the perks of that membership isthat we get first crack at their new vintages and a few rare back-list wines at a Buyers' Weekend once a year. You wander around a big tent with a wine glass and a notebook, and when you find one you like you mark yourself down for a half a case. Or more, if you're feeling particularly enthused. We found some we liked -- a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, well-integrated tannins underneath a nose of ripe red fruit, with a wonderfully soft mouthfeel and just enough acidity. A half-case of that, and 2 bottles of a really nice 2004 Vidal icewine, rounded out our purchases for the day.

We finished at Hillebrand around 4:45, and we had to hurry back into town to get to our 5:00 dinner reservation at the Stone Road Grille, aka REST. When we were partway there She remembered our jam, and so we had to drop in at the restaurant, tell them we were going to be late, go get our jam, and scoot back to the restaurant... luckily, they didn't mind and we enjoyed a wonderful meal: butternut squash soup and a mushroom risotto for Her, lightly-battered calamari and the biggest pork chop I've ever eaten for me. The nicest thing about the evening was that REST's wine list had a very pleasant surprise -- a half bottle of Lailey's Canadian Oak Cabernet Sauvignon! A great bottle, and the perfect size for the evening. After our late lunch and early supper we were both pretty full, so we just went back to our room and read books for the evening. A quiet end to a busy day.

This space will be replaced tomorrow by an account of our trip to Fielding Estates for their Crush event -- picking, processing, and tasting wine for 4 hours on a beautiful early fall Sunday.

Friday, October 13

If you do not program for a living, please read this

Joel Spolsky pointed at No Silver Bullet today and it expresses clearly a truth which I had thought I'd realized independently and could never really express. It's an essay on why writing software is hard, and it's very very good. Skip over the jargon; there's a lot to be gleaned from the essay without even reading the technical sections.

Thursday, October 12


I am cursed with a peculiar ailment of the mind: I read books very, very quickly. I get most of the detail from them, at least as long as I have the book in my hands; some things I miss, but I trap some of those on the next read through, which has the advantage then of being at least partially new.

For whatever reason, I've been reading a lot of books from the library in the past few weeks: here are some capsule reviews of my first time through them. Maybe I'll reread them in a year, see what's changed.

Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson — Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, stars go out, Earth is encased in a pseudomembrane that causes time on the inside to pass at 1 second for every 3.17 exterior years, boy gets girl back. Good science, better characterization, weak plotting at the final reveal.

Newton's Wake, by Ken Macleod — Earth goes through a singularity event that leaves the people left behind warring over weird and wonderful posthuman artifacts, not the least of which is a wormhole network and a gentle but firm refusal for causality to be violated even though faster-than-light travel is possible. A good space-opera romp, pleasantly absent of Mr. Macleod's eye-rollingly leftist politics.

The Thousandfold Thought, by R. Scott Bakker — Third in a Tolkien-scale fantasy epic, the conclusion to a tale that, while suffering a few of the standard high-fantasy delusions, manages some pretty interesting gyrations. Tedious in places; gripping in others. the latter outweight the former by a considerable margin.

Glasshouse, by Charlie Stross — Stross's books tend to be answers to hypothetical questions. "How would an interstellar metacivilization uninterested in faster-than-light travel but happy to use faster-than-light communication survive past the collapse of its member civilizations?" (Singularity Sky.) "What would conflict between weakly godlike posthuman Grand Intelligences look like to humans caught in the middle of it?" (Iron Sunrise.) "How would the world's governments react to the discovery that demons are real, and they can be summoned by doing a specific kind of mathematics?" (The Atrocity Archives.) "How does a society that allows perfect copying of humans, transporters-that-replicate, feel like to its members?" (Glasshouse.)

More to be added.

Tuesday, October 10

Colour me sociopathic, then

In his article "Disney exec: Piracy is just a business model", Doctorow points out at the bottom that conversation -- rather than content -- is king. Well, yes, to a point; I probably would choose friends over movies for my desert island sojourn, but 'conversation' in that sense of the word cannot be delivered to me by Disney. They can try to talk about their content, and they can make it easier (or more difficult) to have a conversation about their content, but to the extent that they have to have product to sell in order to make quarterly P/L targets they have to produce content.

Conversation might be king, but corporations aren't kingmakers.