Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

A line from an article about US election irregularities:

In Kentucky, a poll worker was arrested for trying to throttle a voter.

What?!? Throttling a voter?? Sounds like there might very well be a very, very interesting story behind this one. Any suggestions on the last thing this particular voter might have said, just before being throttled?

Here’s one to start things off: “So I just pushed this thing here, and now I’ve got this blue screen saying something about an illegal operation…”

Seen in a Caltech corridor

Appearing in a Caltech corridor today: a transcript of Pluto’s concession speech. My favourite line: Dick Cheney was quoted as saying, “Today is a victory for the terra-ists”.

Beats the UFO News, a newsletter which occasionally mysteriously appears in random theoretical physicists’ mailboxes on campus. It’s a circa 1960’s, 30-odd page collection of articles including scientific explanations [sic] of devices such as power sources for UFOs that run off the fifth fundamental force.

An unexpected thing on Del Mar Blvd

I was driving along Del Mar a day or two ago, just past Lake Ave near Caltech. It was dusk, and car headlights were just coming on. As I pulled up to the light, a huge bakkie (pickup truck) with raised suspension and huge tires pulled up right behind me, with its headlights on. I don’t think the brights were on, but the height of the truck put its headlights at exactly the right height to shine directly into my eyes, via every rear-view mirror I had.

Naturally, this was annoying. For a while I leant forward, till my neck got tired. Then I sat back, but with my hand raised between me and the rear-view mirror on the windscreen, thinking idle nasty thoughts about people who feel the need to turn perfectly normal cars into monstrosities.

But after a few seconds the strangest thing happened: the truck turned off its headlights. Since it was dusk, the only possible explanation was that the driver had seen my hand, worked out the problem, and turned off his/her lights. And in that instant my idle annoyance became a lot more complicated.

By being so obvious about the thing, I had turned a minor annoyance of mine into something so significant that the other driver decided to turn off the headlights. Was I really justified in doing so? Sure, it was the design of the truck that had created the problem in the first place, but what if the driver was only borrowing it? Or had realised only after buying it the implications for everyone else on the road? Since the driver was clearly aware of the effect it had on others, was he/she driving it out of necessity only? Ironically enough, getting what I most wanted had suddenly left me unsure that it was fair to be wanting it in the first place.

And what will the other driver do now? Since I was in a normal car, she/he will now be aware of the discomfit caused every time his/her truck is behind a car. Driving without headlights is clearly not possible, so will the driver be cringing each time a light turns red with some cars in front of him/her?

Such a simple act, so many questions!

Movie short – Alive in Joburg

This is quite possibly the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. I’m still deciding whether it’s great or just really, really weird.

Anyway, it’s a movie short set in Johannesburg in 1990, in the midst of Apartheid repression. Only thing is … the repression is against aliens, as in UFO aliens.

It captures the grittiness of the Apartheid struggle pretty well, and looks very authentic (though there are a few giveaways that it was filmed in the last three or so years). But I can’t decide whether throwing in UFO aliens is interesting artistic license, or disrespectful to those that suffered.

Anyway, the movie is here, linked to from MilkandCookies

American Airlines figures me out

A quote from the first paragraph of an American Airlines promotional email I just received:

Dear Paul Cook,

At American Airlines, we know why you fly® – to experience the sweet life of Belgium. Sample the chocolates, stroll the cobbled square and learn the charming customs of Brussels. We’ve even introduced an exclusive fare sale for AAirmailSM and Net SAAver® subscribers in your area so you can get there for less than you think.

Amazing! How do they know that?!? It is indeed true that the sole reason I fly is so that I can experience the sweet life of Belgium. Without the sweet life of Belgium, airplanes would be dead to me. Dead, I tell you.

Methinks someone has been trying a little too hard to work their registered trademark phrases into their emails…

In the belly of the beast

Over the last two days, I’ve discovered the Caltech steam tunnel system. Caltech has a reputation for having a large and interesting tunnel system (see Real Genius), and now that I’ve seen about two thirds of it, I can say it’s fully justified.

The steam tunnels contain pipes running from the physical plant all over campus for use in heating and cooling, as well as various other piping and cabling. This means that they go to virtually every building. Unfortunately, not all buildings have doors that can be opened or unlocked, but it’s still great for getting into all sorts of interesting places.

Yesterday I happened to find a 1996 map of the tunnels online, and an entrance that my South Master key opens. The map is pretty good, but I’ve found a fair number of tunnels not on it — mostly near newer buildings, or behind doors that I found open, but which were clearly locked when the map was made. There is still the northeast part of campus that I’ve not been to yet, but the rest I’ve explored fairly well.
Continue reading “In the belly of the beast”

Soduku solver

Soduku (Sudoku) is a Japanese number puzzle game that seems to be taking the world by storm. It’s played on a 9×9 grid. Each square can contain one of the numbers from 1 to 9 (inclusive). A given “problem” has some of the squares filled in, and you are required to fill in the remaining squares, satisfying the constraints:

  • Each row has to contain each of the numbers 1 through 9 exactly once.
  • Likewise for each column.
  • The board can be broken down into 9 3×3 squares (top-left, top-middle, top-right, etc.). Each of these has to contain each of the numbers 1 through 9 exactly once.

Anyway, these puzzles can get pretty tricky. Especially if you don’t know the third rule above — which until recently, I didn’t. Anyway, they’ve sufficient annoyed me now that I had to do something about it; so I wrote

The Langabi.name Soduku Solver

It’s not fancy, but is (in my opinion) very efficient. Enjoy!

Edit: Now available: an explanation of the method my solver uses, and the source code.

Only YOU have the power to Save Toby!

Only in the Internet age can someone make over $24 000, just by promising NOT to eat his pet. Have a look at Savetoby.com | Only YOU have the power to Save Toby!

This money-making ploy is right up there with some of the classics of our time, like selling your soul on eBay. The moral of the story: one part bored people surfing the net, one part instant virtual payment courtesy of PayPal, makes hitting the jackpot possible without even going to Vegas. Now I just need my big idea…

Thanks to my brother Martin for sending me this link. He occasionally does something useful, in between hijacking my friends’ computers to send me insults from their ICQ (instant messenger) accounts, in order to create much strife. I’m not sure why he wants this, but luckily I’ve seen through his shallow plan! 1-0 to me!

You do what with peanut butter?

I sometimes get asked what I find most unusual or suprising about America. Now, between having been here before, getting lots of US TV, and growing up in a society not too unlike the US, I seldom find things very strange.

With one exception. Americans abuse peanut butter. Badly.

I have nothing against peanut butter. It’s great on toast. Not too bad on a sandwich. Great for nutritional value. And that should be where it ends.

It would seem, however, that I keep finding new things that people here put peanut butter on. It started with ice cream, cake, brownies, biscuits (cookies here), and all sorts of other desserts. This last weekend, though, it really went too far, with people suggesting peanut butter on apples, with all sorts of breakfast foods, and even on bananas.