Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Disturbing Little Tour Of Rogue Taxidermy

Rogue Taxidermy is a folk-art form where you use dead animal parts to create some new, unique creature that never could have existed... but should have! So appropriate for Halloween.

The folk art form of rogue taxidermy seems to be rooted in the midwestern United States, and can be considered a hallmark of Midwest Gothic. The most famous group is the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists. One typical truckstop chimera is the jackalope:
Rogue taxidermists got so carried away with the jackalope thing that they managed to infuse the critter into the North American culture at large, and now no roadside truckstop is complete without a mounted jackalope head on the wall. There's jackalope tattoos and faux nature documentaries and hundreds of photo manipulations. Jackalopes are world famous, a triumph of rogue taxidermy! Future popularity to a similar degree may be won for the hodag:
Or the fur-bearing trout:
As you can imagine, there's a huge crossover between the rogue taxidermy and cryptozoology worlds. Whether through intentional attempts to hoax the public, or tongue-in-cheek attempts to hoax the hoaxers by going "Look, I found one!"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Several resources about Quantum Entanglement

Since we now have our first experiment demonstrating that time is an emergent quantum phenomenon, it's about time we rounded up some info on this quantum entanglement idea and see if we can corner it.

The Wiki.

A friendly introduction to the fundamental problem we're trying to solve:

Here's Neil DeGrasse Tyson explaining it some more:
So what's the big deal? Putting it into the most basic possible terms: We've observed small particles in the universe that act like they're "talking to each other" and determining how to be, even after they're separated and shouldn't be able to affect each other. It's like we can slice a red apple in half, put each half in a box and send the two boxes to opposite sides of the world, then have somebody open one box and paint their half of the apple green, and then when somebody on the other side of the world opens the box with their half-apple in it, it's turned green too.

And we don't know how this works. We've been trying to find out since the time of Einstein. Einstein himself called this "a spooky action at a distance."

Not only are we observing the effect that two particles can have on each other, and not only is it instantaneous (defying everything we know about the speed of information alone), but it appears to even be possible to have the same thing happen when the entangled elements are separated not only by space, but time as well. So Israeli scientists have made photons affect each other even when they didn't coexist at the same time.

So either we're dead wrong about this, or we have a way to both time travel and teleport either information or physical actions instantly. It could be a flaw in our reasoning based on some fundamental shortcoming of human perception and reasoning.

A LiveScience infographic:

And finally, quantum entanglement has been simulated within the world of, of all things, Minecraft.

Are we nuts? Maybe. Maybe the universe is nuts, too.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A second gallery of mathematical cranks, wanks, and wonks

Continued from part one, this will be a second look at the many purveyors of woo in the math world. Fascinating though they are...

Radiant Primes

OK, we'll start with a gentle example. This guy... might be right, it seems to check out. But his idea of taking prime numbers, converting them to another base, reversing the digits, converting that number back, and then checking if it's composite or prime and then (are you still following?) plotting the result in dots on a graph produces a picture that's pretty much the random static noise you'd expect to get with some radial lines raining down. He explains the process lucidly here. It makes a pretty cellular automata, but I don't see what he's so excited about. This isn't crank math so much as it's a fundamental failure to understand how math research works.

"God Almighty's Grand Unified Theorem" (GAGUT)

Oooooh, we have a live one! It's hard to tell if this is math though, or if the passion of this person's vision transcends the simple arts of calculus altogether. Anyway, any page written in ALLCAPS that yells "GOD!!!" this many times is a guaranteed winner. Diving deeper into the site, however, reveals a lot more ALLCAPS raving and not a hell of a lot of math. But I noticed an awful lot of focus on race (pro-black) including one link that insists God elected Obama. Then you find this:

...clicky to biggy, and you'll find the biggest equation to nutting ratio on the site, and that's just one unexplained line. Yes, I see, the capital G is God. Now what?

Truth Evolutionism

Now this guy sounds like the Time Cube guy on Prozac.
"So sciences about largest negative action pursuit, largest happiness pursuit, largest profit pursuit and largest knowledge pursuit are unified into one: Science of Pursuit"
 Right, but how does that help us get laid? I confess that this guy loses me every other sentence, so I can't so much trace reasoning flaws because I can't follow the reasoning. The guy just won't slow down and let the rest of us catch up to the monologue in his head.
"In Truth Evolutionism, every existence origins from perturbation in nihility. So its ultimate goal is to find the evolution process from perturbation to existence and the best methods for expansion."
 "Physicists have discovered least action principle, so basic natural laws are best methodology to pursue negative action. So for systems with the same mathematical expression as negative action, basic natural laws will be their best methodology."
"This is an objective truth standard. Larger system won more attention, respect and even worship from human beings. You can imagine, if there were a system larger than universe, its laws will be worshiped better than "natural laws", and treated as more important truth than natural laws. With the objective truth standard, the system with the largest possibility to be observed contains ultimate truth."
Dammit man, slow the hell DOWN! This sounds like you could cook up a philosophy here, if only you'd quit nouning verbs and dropping 'the's!

Return to Socrates

Right at the top, we start out with "Ideas, Philosophy, Science, Software, God, Universe, Randomness" - Which leads me to my own first theory of math cranks: If you're trying to tackle more than two big ideas in one paper, you're probably a crank. This guy has also been in business a long time, and makes reference to readers and even a message board for open discussion at one time. But, weird for an admirer of Socrates, his primary mathematical fixation seems to be on gambling. We're in luck, probability math happens to be one of my favorite fields. Anyway, he starts out attacking the lottery for not paying true odds. Correct so far; I think all lotteries should be burned to the ground. As soon as he starts rattling about betting systems, I set my Ctrl-F for "Martingale" and bingo!

Yep, crank. For those of you wondering, a Martingale system is one where you try to recover previous losses by doubling your bet or using some other complex betting pattern. The problem where all Martingales fail is that they fall against the casino concept of a "table limit":

That limit stops you from doubling your bet infinitely; eventually you'll lose big, and then you'll never get it back. And then right after Martingale you get the famous gambler's fallacy, stated so well by our "expert" here:
"What you need is a notebook and a pencil. Write down the last roulette spins, from the oldest one available to the most recent spin. Do not start playing until you have at least 42 spins on your piece of paper. I prefer a small notebook with 20 rule lines. Multiples of 10 or 20 make it easy to count quickly the number of roulette spins. Use the roulette report that follows as the template (rows and columns). "
...the gambler's fallacy, explained in Wikipedia, is the fallacy of believing that past trials dictate future trials; in other words, if the wheel comes up red six spins in a row, then the gambler's fallacy would have it that black is a good bet right now because "the law of averages" say that red has less of a chance coming up now. The problem here is that the roulette wheel has no memory! Neither does any other random device - the dice don't know which number's "turn" it is to come up, your coin does not know that it's "supposed to" come up heads next toss because it just tossed five tails in a row.

Still, this guy's a real card. He's got books he's sold, casinos he's gotten into fights with... He's got his racket, he's happy.

Well, that runs my bookmark list dry. Til next time, True Believers!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Trivia Gibs #5

Napoleon was not French, but Corsican. Hitler was not German, but Austrian. Stalin was not Russian, but Georgian.

The country with the lowest average IQ is Sudan, with an average of 72. The country with the highest is Hong Kong, with an average of 107. The United States isn't even in the top 10. This, according to the book "IQ and the Wealth of Nations", grain of salt prescribed.

North Dakota has the lowest divorce rate (8.1%) in the United States, where the average for the country is 3.4 per 1000. Of divorced women, more than one-fourth of them are under the age of twenty.

The sun loses an average equivalent of one Earth every 100,000,000 years because of radiation. Solar wind wipes out another one-fourth of that mass in the same time period.

A nanocentury is exactly Pi seconds long.

If you stored the Library of Congress on computers, you would only need less than 30 terabytes.

Being able to quit smoking easily and not have it bother you can be a positive thing - or an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.

The composer of the battle hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers," Sabine Baring-Gould, also kept a pet bat - which was so tame that he'd greet guests with it perched on his shoulder.

Which movie script is the most foul-mouthed? "Pulp Fiction"? "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut"? Not even close! In terms of dropping the F-bomb, the winning film so far is "Tigerland" (2000), with an F-word count of 527 for a 100-minute film - working out to five f***s per minute!

We bless sneezes with "God bless you" because it was ordained so by Pope Gregory the Great in the year 600 AD, by official papal decree. So there.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How one hack for playing a TRON lightcycle game went on an Apple IIgs

Folks, I was there in those ancient days of computing yore, and reading pixels off the screen for collision detection was exactly how I did games, too. I even still have code that does that lying around somewhere for some silly screensaver modules I wrote. Anyway:
"The algorithm to determine which pixel to check next used some fast assembler math to calculate a memory address – either one pixel above, below, to the left, or to the right of the current pixel.  But since any given pixel on the screen was really just a memory address, the algorithm simply calculated a new memory location to read.  So when the light cycle left the screen, the game happily calculated the next location in system memory to check for a wall crash.  This meant that the cycle was now cruising through system RAM, wantonly turning on bits and “crashing” into memory.

Writing to random locations in system memory isn't generally a wise design practice. Unsurprisingly, the game would generate spectacular crashes as a result.  A human player would be driving blind and usually crash right away, limiting the scope of system casualties.  The AI opponents had no such weakness.  The computer would scan immediately in front, to the left, and to the right of its position to determine if it was about to hit a wall and change directions accordingly.  So as far as the computer was concerned, system memory looked no different than screen memory."
Real Life Tron on an Apple IIgs

You young'uns might recognize this game better as 'Snake' as played on your phone.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Paul the Psychic Octopus

From 2008 to 2010, a pet octopus named "Paul" was given the rather burdensome chore of predicting the outcome of World Cup soccer matches. His handlers would put food into two boxes at a time, each box decorated with the flag of their respective country's teams, then whichever one Paul decided to chow down on first would be the predicted winner. Over his two-year career, Paul got it right 11 out of 13 times.

Of course, nobody's really suggesting that Paul was following soccer games. Rather, plain old luck doesn't put the odds too far away - one might get the same sort of record flipping a coin. Some have speculated that Paul was attracted to flags with horizontal stripes, which just raises the question of why countries with horizontally-striped flags should win soccer matches more often.

Paul was the subject of international fame - for an octopus, anyway - and was widely missed after his passing at old age of octopus years. And just when this story couldn't get any sillier, there's conspiracy theories around his passing.

Here's Paul in action during one of his televised picks:

Paul and his handler also got death threats and recipe suggestions after Paul's predictions proved accurate:
OK, now that's silly enough!

Monday, July 29, 2013

The curious case of James R. Todino, the stranded time traveler

Time travel hoaxes are popular surreal pranks. I've mentioned John Titor before as being one of the greatest Internet pranksters of the time-traveller genre. But what can you do about a guy who's really convinced that he's a time traveller?

Such was the conundrum facing the maintainers over at the Museum of Hoaxes, who was one of many at the beginning of the century to receive spam emails asking for someone to sell the subject a "dimensional warp generator." The email went into great detail about specs for this device, which would include 512GB of RAM and a menu-driven GUI.

It turned out that the emails were being sent out by a known professional spammer who also happened to be delusionally insane. Wired breaks the straight story. Far from being a time traveller, Todino was a perfectly ordinary 22-year-old with a father in this present day who was worried about his son's mental illnesses being exploited by scammers online.

Make no mistake about it, this is actually a common problem with spammers. If you've ever received spam and wondered "who would ever fall for this?", the answer is, "nobody, actually, but authors of spam software and systems prey on gullible people who think they can make millions sending out spam. Big fleas got little fleas on their backs to bite 'em!

Todino (like the mythical John Titor, whom, remember, has never been positively identified) gained widespread Internet fame and cultural tribute, making this list of time travel claims, and being famous enough that there's dozens of accounts claiming to be him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth.

Sadly, no verifiable interviews with Todino exist on YouTube. So for second prize, here's a different kook who raves about time travel conspiracy theories:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Japanese sewer system makes an excellent place to stage a Quake match

That's a normal-sized person on the floor of the place. The storm sewer system underground in Saitama, Japan, is one of the largest in the world and a steady tourist attraction.
Saitama has a population of about 1.2 million, making it the most populous cities in the prefecture. And situated where it is on the coast and Japan being prone to the sea-related disasters as it is, the storm control system is no joke.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Norwegian town engineers mirrors reflecting sunlight to shine into town during dark winter months

I know this isn't the first time this has been done, but the town of Rjukan, Norway, is installing mirrors on top of local mountains to reflect light into the town square during the sunless winter months of the far north.

I always love stories like this, because they show off the clever audacity of the crafty ape we call man.

A related concept is that of daylighting, where architectural measures are taken to treat buildings with natural sunlight where possible.

And I mentioned this has been done before; specifically, in Viganella, Italy, mirrors were constructed on local mountaintops to reflect sunlight into the city's valley, which, due to the depth of the valley, was resigned to shadows for so long in the year. Here's the trailer for the documentary about Viganella's mirror:

Oh, and the town of Rattenberg, Austria, also did the same thing, for the same reason as Rjukan.

Monday, July 22, 2013

If it walks like a duck, eats like a duck, and shits like a duck... might only be a mechanical "digesting" duck.

Such was one of the iconic inventions of the dawn of the mechanical age, "The Duck." The steampunk creature of clockwork limbs could not only move, but simulate eating food and - sparing no effort in attention to detail - pass droppings as well, although the actual product was pre-stored and didn't involve actual biological digestion.
Such was the invention of Jacques de Vaucanson, widely considered to be one of the fathers of robotics or at least automata. He created this duck in 1738, for demos to the elite, using it to finance further creations.

Before you scoff too loudly at such frivolity, keep in mind that Vaucanson's major accomplishments included automated, programmable looms, which could be programmed with punch cards - in 1745. Later this same media storage format would be used to input data into the world's first computers.

You can still generate a punched-card design at emulators like this. I would recommend the 'bcd' command from the bsdgames package on Unix systems, but that's such lost technology that it's barely worth mentioning.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Get hit by lightning seven times; kill yourself at age 71 by gunshot

Roy Sullivan got into the Guinness Book of World Records as having been struck by lightning seven times - and survived them all! This was seven separate incidents, mind you, over a period of years from 1942 to 1977. He also claimed an eighth strike which happened to him as a child, but never bothered to record it.

Perhaps bothered too much by the way God seemed to have it in for him, he committed suicide by gunshot at age 71. His experience, however, form an important contribution to the specialized medical field of Keraunopathy - the study of the effects of lightning strikes on the human body.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Who built the ruins on Malden Island?

Malden Island is a tiny uninhabited dot of land sticking up smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, part of what is today the Republic of Kiribati. It was discovered by a British sea captain in 1825. And upon discovery of this tiny ~15 square-mile island, a mystery was born.

Specifically, the uninhabited island was the site of many stone structures, including the ruins of "temples" or at least monolithic, temple-like structures. Nobody knows who could have put them there. To this day, your theory is as good as anybody else's.

Very little else is known about or written about this site; however, I did find one crackling good conspiracy theorist who classifies it as 'forbidden archeology.'

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What was up with the green children of Woolpit?

Of all the feral children stories, the green children of Woolpit seem the most curious. They were two Flemish children who walked up to farmers in Suffolk, England, in the 12th century. The children, a boy and a girl, both had green skin. After dumping a fanciful story of a distant twilight land called "Saint Martin", which may or may not have been true, the children were adopted into the community and eventually went on to live normal lives and regain normal skin color.

It turns out that the skin pigment could have been a symptom of a nutritional deficiency, called 'hypochromic anemia.' Similar to how leaves turn color in the fall, the lack of red blood cell pigmentation simply leaves other elements of the body to lend a skin color instead.

Whatever you do, do not search Google images for 'hypochromic anemia'. They're not nearly as pretty as you're picturing it.

But perhaps encounters with people afflicted with this condition accounts for widespread folklore tales of little green elves, gnomes, leprechauns, and other mythical humanoids - maybe they were just malnourished, and so short, and anemic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Well, I guess I have to post "Malice in Wonderland" (NSFW or the timid)

You can't tell me this wasn't Cyriac's first classroom project.

Edmund Trebus, notorious hoarder

In Crouch End, North London, Trebus was constantly at odds with police over his hoarding behavior. He would come home with wheelbarrows of trash and lovingly sort it into piles in his home and yard. Amongst his many acquisitions were almost every record recorded by Elvis Presley.

Despite these problems, he lived to the age of 83.

Today he stands as one of history's most famous hoarders.

One wonders why more researchers don't tie hoarding disease to rampant capitalism. When you build an entire society based on owning more and more crap, what can you expect but that some people take it to an extreme?

Now go clean your house.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wacky medieval laws

During the height of witch-hunting in the 15th century, there was a book published in Germany that was a sort of "Witch-Hunting for Dummies" guide, name of Malleus Maleficarum.

Full page scans available at Cornell's online repository, and while you're there, they have a few other witch-related tomes to check out for all your witchery needs. There's also a full site devoted to this and other witch-related beliefs, even into the present day.

But even practices for catching plain old criminals wasn't much better. For instance, there was the process of cruentation, in which an accused murderer was brought together with the corpse of the presumed victim and ordered to lay their hands upon the carcass. If the dead body should then spontaneously begin bleeding from its wounds, that would be a sign from on high that the defendant was guilty. One can only imagine how many murderers got off scott-free.

Many such practices are covered in the blanket category of "Trial by Ordeal," where you get all the variations on tying you up and throwing you into the river to see if you sink or swim, or plunging your hand into boiling water to see if God healed you, or simply swallowing poison, or other such life-jeopardizing trials. In some cases, surviving the ordeal unscathed meant that God had declared you innocent, while in other areas it was considered just the opposite proof, that you had escaped by the Devil's aide.

Then there was the practice of compurgation, a law which meant that you could be found innocent if you could find twelve people who said they believed your side of the story. Well, who couldn't scare up twelve friends?

One more curiosity is the German principle of "stadtluft macht frei," a kind of statue-of-limitations where if a serf had managed to escape capture for a year-and-a-day, they was no longer open to being re-chained.

And for a final medieval law oddity, animals could be tried in a court of law exactly as if they were human.