My Zunivers

30 March 2008

And So On

I've been busy lately with, among other things...

....looking around for articles related to some of my research. I'm looking for something that, one, is possibly a couple decades old, and, two, could be explained using several thousand combinations of words, all often found alone or in combination in articles completely unrelated to my research.

...complaining to the computer people at work that the computer cluster won't. I have an STL object that is identical to one in a program written by someone else I know. Both programs compile and link just fine by themselves, but, to run on the cluster, I need to link with other libraries. My program won't do it but the other person's will. Next week is Big Computer Fest on campus, and apparently planning for that is a better use of time for the People In Charge than doing real work like Supporting Research Computing. Grump.

...getting my papers in order to go visit a potential employer in Canada. My passport expires on Tuesday, but due to Fascism on Pause birth certificates and driver's licenses are still accepted.

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25 March 2008

Let's Count!

As of now*, this says

Of the 28,000 commercial airline flights that take to the skies on an average day in the United States, fewer than 1 percent are protected by on-board, armed federal air marshals, a nationwide CNN investigation has found.

That means that a terrorist or other criminal bent on taking over an aircraft would be confronted by a trained air marshal on as few as 280 daily flights, according to more than a dozen federal air marshals and pilots interviewed by CNN.

In other news, I am awake for fewer than 24 hours a day. That means I spend as few as 24 hours each day awake, never less. And yet some people think I'd have better things to do with all that time than rant about how people are not only impossibly bad at basic math, they get puffy and proud about it.

[Update: I forgot to mention this quote from the director of the air marshals

He added, "Today, many thousands of dedicated and highly trained Federal Air Marshal Service [sic] work diligently around the globe to make air travel safer than it's ever been."

Boy, am I glad we have people who can communicate clearly keeping me safe!]

[*I say "as of now" because internet news people are notoriously horrible about making changes to their articles multiple times without noting the changes.]

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22 March 2008

A Thought on Communion

We had Good Friday communion tonight. It was all nice, even though we got there late.

Good Friday is a rather somber time for a lot of Christians, at least for the part of the day when they're asked to think about the day's meaning. I don't spend too much time with that subject. As pessimistic as I am, I see no need to brood over how Jesus suffered and died. I don't need a long, drawn out explanation of the events. The theological importance of Good Friday is, for me, not what happened but that it happened. I'm not saying that Good Friday gatherings should celebrate the resurrection or anything. That's Easter's job. I'm happy at times like tonight, when my pastor quite sensibly and intentionally did not show scenes from the Passion of the Christ or spend half an hour giving us every bit of detail we know or can imagine about Jesus' day. To borrow a trite phrase, the important theology is not about do, it's about done.

For communion, even on days other than Good Friday, our minds, focused on the Last Supper and Jesus' words there, do tend to wander a few hours onward to what happens only a short time later in the story. In some ways, the story we find there each time is a bit sobering. But as the whole room goes quiet and still, as people become focused and annoyed by coughs or doors or baby babbles, the sense of seriousness seems to me to be inappropriately linked to a sense of melancholy.*

Why do I say that this sense seems inappropriate? Find a Bible. Find I Corinthians 11:23-26. Or read here

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

I find a curious tension in this passage. One one hand, the apostle Paul says that the observance of communion is a proclamation of Jesus' death. On the other hand, in this passage Jesus has said nothing about his death. Jesus remarks about his body (many translations follow manuscripts that include the word "broken") and his blood. Jesus consumed these symbols (or real presences or whatever), and he seems to be saying that we are to do this also in order to remember him.

The important thing I take away from this story is that what Jesus command was not as narrow as Paul's remark. Jesus does not command us to remember Jesus death. Jesus command is for us to remember Jesus. In that sense, the communion isn't about death. It's a holy toast given in honor of Jesus, both death and life. It's about how He died and how He lived. It is about whips and nails, but it's also about redemption, compassion, grace, mercy, love, and hope. The whole Gospel-- creation, life, death, resurrection, and eternity-- is bound to the bread and wine. Although Jesus called the bread and wine His body and blood, broken and spilled, He points us to their meaning so much more than suffering and death. He points us to Himself. He points us to God, as man, in the flesh.

If you are so inclined, Good Friday is more probably appropriate than any other time to give extra consideration to Jesus' suffering. On the other hand, if you're surrounded by people made temporarily morbid and tales of suffering do not connect for you, contemplate how the communion is about so much more. The story of communion is not only the Last Supper. The story of communion is not just Good Friday. The story of communion is not even the Resurrection Day. The story of communion is the story of Jesus. It is the story of the world.

[* I have a really bad habit of cracking a joke with a neighbor around this time. Tonight, the communion "bread" was a fluffy meringue cookie type thing that got all over my fingers. As I licked my fingers I remarked to my friend next to me "Jesus is sticky!" Really, I should cut through the melancholy rather than cut through the seriousness. I just can't help myself sometimes. Or any times.]


21 March 2008

Mythical Quests

While my kid continues the Mythical Quest for Daddy's Milk (yes, when she's hungry she tries), I'm on my own Mythical Quest for Proper Mat Boards. To explain, I think I need to start with a combined math and art lesson.

Most of the photographs we have around our homes are rectangles. Many people have never thought about those rectangles in any detail, except maybe when they see a square picture and mistakingly say "Hey, that picture isn't a rectangle." Squares are rectangles with equal sides, so they're sort of thinking about the rectangular shape when they notice a square. Otherwise, people don't think about it. Pictures come in various standard sizes. Pictures come in 3.5"x5", 4"x6", the often overlooked 5"x7", the common 8"x10", and the slightly larger this-is-getting-big territory 11"x14". You might also have one or two bigger pictures around your house, but 11"x14" is the biggest I find in most people's homes. If you have old pictures, you might be lucky enough to have square 6cmx6cm contact prints of dead people.

All of these standard picture sizes are rectangles, but they all have different "shapes." What I mean by that is that the proportions are different. You can see this by taking the big number and asking your favorite high school math teacher to give you the ratio of the two sizes, either as a reduced fraction or as a decimal. My favorite high school math teacher will tell me to do it for myself. Sisters.... Anyway, if you take the standard sizes, you get these ratios (called "aspect ratios," technically, but I prefer to just call them shapes)

3.5"x5" --> 7/10 = 0.7
4"x6" --> 2/3 = 0.666...
5"x7" --> 5/7 = 0.714285...
8"x10" --> 4/5 = 0.8
11"x14" --> 11/14 = 0.785714285714285...

I hate 11"x14" just for its silliness. It's the mathematical black sheep of the common photo sizes.

You can see that all of the standard picture size "shapes" are different. That does actually mean something for you-- if you have a picture in one standard size and you want to make it bigger or smaller, to completely fill the new picture you must either crop part of the old picture or have a blank section on the new picture. (I won't get into borders, since I'm keeping this basic. Borders make things complicated because they change the shape numbers a bit.) This isn't always a problem. If you blow up an 8"x10" so that the 8" side is 11", the 10" side goes up to only 13.75". If you blow up the 8"x10" so that the 10" becomes 14" then the 8" side goes to 11.2". These are pretty close. You get either get a 0.25" of border on the short sides of the 11"x14" or lose what would be about 0.15" from the long side of the 8"x10". The first time I did this calculation I knew these would come out close because when we look at their "shape" in the numbers above, the numbers are close.

But who really goes around making 8"x10" into 11"x14"? Most people have pictures made in those sizes, but they start with sizes like 3.5"x5" or 4"x6". Looking at the shapes, you can see that these small sizes' shapes are much further apart than the 8"x10" and 11"x14" shapes. To complicate things, you're probably not getting the enlargements made from pictures. You're probably having them made from negatives or a digital file. If you have 35mm film negatives and 3.5"x5" prints, you're already in trouble. The shape of a 35mm negative is

24mm/36mm --> 2/3 = 0.666...

That's not the same shape as 3.5"x5". Your 3.5"x5" picture probably isn't even showing the whole negative! A 4"x6" print has the same 2/3 shape as the 35mm negative and basically shows the whole 35mm negative.

But notice something else-- the 2/3 shape is the one most different from the standard big print shapes! If you blow up a 35mm negative or a 4"x6" picture so the short side is 8", the long side is 12" instead of 10"! So you need to choose between cutting of one-sixth of the picture or making a 35mm negative into an 8"x12" picture. And many digital cameras have other shapes. My wife's digital camera pictures are 3/4 = 0.75 shaped. Sure, you can crop the files quickly in a computer. My point is that you still need to crop them in some way to fit any of the standard picture sizes. Good printing places will give you options to print in sizes like 9"x12"-- a perfect match for my wife's camera-- but that is not a "standard size" that you find people owning by the wallfull.

So we come to my problem. My digital camera takes pictures in the 2/3 shape like a 4"x6" camera. When I want a bigger picture, I can either make prints that are 8"x10" and cut off on sixth of the long direction, or I can make 8"x12" prints and keep the whole picture. Sometimes I have enlargement in mind when I feel a good picture coming on, like this one I just did of my kid (in part because it breaks every rule of portrait photography but still looks good). I set up that picture intending to lose 1/6 of it. Other times, what I'm photographing fills the frame and I can't plan to lose 1/6 of it (due to the subject's shape, or its surroundings, or my surroundings). So I do end up with 2/3 shaped pictures, and I want some of them enlarged. The only options are to have a weird size of my own choosing or to have the 8"x12" that many printing places offer.

And now we get to my dilemma. Even though 35mm film is 2/3 shaped, and even though a good number of digital cameras are 2/3 shaped, the common enlargement is 8"x10". The 4/5 shape of the 8"x10" paper is a historical leftover that has survived decade after decade where no consumer has used that shape of negative (and few use that shape of digital camera sensor). You would think that with all the 35mm cameras for the past 40 years, the 8"x12" where you don't lose any of the picture would be standard, not the 8"x10" where you lose a sixth of the picture! But no. That makes too much sense.

It gets worse. Remember what I said about large print sizes like 9"x12" being available but not standard? Those sizes actually have some frames and mat boards easily available. The selections are smaller than 8"x10", but they are available even at places like my neighborhood craft store. 8"x12" stuff not available there at all. Walk into a that place and ask for it. You'll likely be told there is no such thing as an 8"x12" picture! At the least they'll look at you like you have two heads, never realizing that they have piles of 4"x6" stuff and that 8"x12", which is the same shape, just comes from doubling both of those numbers.

If you don't want to mail order frames for an 8"x12" object, you might as well have some strange shape because you'll need to have a custom frame made. And even though you can mail order some 8"x12" frames, there are fewer sources for pre-cut mats with openings for 8"x12" pictures. They are around for some frame sizes, but you can pretty much forget colors other than white. Especially hard is the mat with an 8"x12" opening that fits in a standard 16"x20" frame. That makes a nice wide border that apparently nobody wants.

So, I need a black mat with a white core, a bevel cut opening 7.5"x11.5" (to hold an 8"x12"), that fits a 16"x20" frame. These only exist if you have money or the right friends. I will continue on this Mythical Quest for Proper Mat Boards, and probably have to sign all of my spending money over to someone get one, all the while having the rack of $2.99 mats for 8"x10" pictures laughing at me.

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17 March 2008

Applauding Wingnuts

My kid started clapping her hands this weekend. We've been working on that one for a while, and all last week she was about to do it but didn't quite get there. Friday night there was a New Toy (actually a Christmas toy that we left at her grandparents' house, the thingy with the four Sesame Street characters that pop out when you do whatever needs to be done to the respective button on the base). This New Toy filled The Kid with Glee, and she was giggling and clapping her hands furiously at it. She actually seems to realize that there is cause and effect going on, both in the toy and the clapping. That frightens me. I saw I, Robot. Newfound consciousness makes me wary.

Hand clapping is the first step toward the ability to be suckered into doing housework under the guise of a "game," and I'm excited about that. I'm less excited that I will now be surrounded by people clapping their hands and saying things like "Yaaaaaay!" in squealy voices just because they want to make The Kid clap. As much as people claim to try to be grown ups or that people are inherently good, universals like clapping sessions near infants who can clap are an almost sure sign of a collective screw loose somewhere. That and the nearly universal love of that wretched foodstuff we call spaghetti.

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15 March 2008

Odds and Ends

Sunning myself on a rock in Maryland, I've had little time to post, but just a few things need mentioning....

Atlanta got tornadoed, or winded, or something. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I pretty much hate that town. On the other hand, when I lived there the area right around the Georgia Dome, Centennial Park, and CNN Center was the place I went to get away from everything I didn't like. Why didn't some other part of town get clobbered? My fondest memory of that part of town? Skipping quantum mechanics class to go to the olympic torch ceremony in late 2001.

I'm registering as a Democrat for the Pennsylvania primaries. Any of my fellow Republicans want to join me?

I voluntarily put the title "Dr." on a couple of papers recently. I can't figure out whether I'm being pretentious or real. At this rate, though, it will become a habit no mater what.

For my birthday, I got one of Ansel Adams' three books on making pictures. It's cool. I recommend that anyone interested in photography read it. I hope to get the other two soon. My sister got me a book and a totally cool deck of John McCain playing cards. The jokers are priceless.

This week on Wednesday, The Kid and I played the same game for the first time, or at least the first time for a good long while. We were waiting for Mama to come for bedtime. In our sights we had a plastic container, a lid, and a large kitchen spoon. I was using the spoon to drum the container, while The Kid watched intently. At oen point, she picked up the lid and started drumming too. I changed my speed, and she changed her speed to match. We went on like this for a whole minute or two before she got distracted and wanted to put the spoon in her mouth. She had a silly grin on her face the whole time. "Look, I did something Daddy did!" Yeah, kid, you started that on day two, you just don't get to come to the bathroom when I take a dump. But it made her happy, and it made me happy.

I've got to go read and go to bed. If all goes well tomorrow, Jordana and the Kidlets are coming over. It would be nice to wake up before they need to leave.


13 March 2008


I'll post this because it's just one of those things that you post even when you know everyone already read it.

How does one live on a toilet for two years? Let's just say that it could only happen in Wichita, Kan.

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11 March 2008

On Science Journalism

Tiny Brain-Like Computer Created

Let's hope it's a good replacement for journalists' tiny brian-like hyperbole generators. I say this because right now the link to the article from the front page of Yahoo reads "Scientists create tiny computer that mimics the human brain." It's a little word change, a big meaning difference, and all those poor journalism majors probably don't realize it.

On second thought, such a thing is too cool to waste that way.


Happy Birthday to Me!

The comment section is where you can throw your praises. This is a multiple of seven birthday, that stalwart factor of our ages that keeps us happy at an even pace as the prime numbers become less frequent. Well, it keeps me happy.

Did you forget to buy me a gift? Do you know about the inner workings of computers and compilers? You can make my day if you have a good answer to a question for me. Will a program run slower if you are creating and deleting variables? I've been curious about this for a while. I face a lot of programming situations where trial steps are needed. Any worthwhile input counts as a birthday gift.

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08 March 2008

Worth Noting

Daylight Saving Time is a waste. There, I said it.

That article doesn't even delve deeply into the psycho-physiological problems associated with changing the time around twice a year (an arbitrary change, biologically, and which are much worse for those of us with abnormal circadian rhythms). I'll spare you the details and let you go on being happy with your supposedly normal lives. And I'll remember to set my clock so I can go to church and have everyone make fun of me instead of just the people who regularly do so. It's become such a custom that it should be marked on the church calendar.

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07 March 2008


I like Philip Ball. I know I've said it before. That's why I want to offer this.

Things I Said Recently

On playing the Little Tikes baby piano-- "Just give me a chord. Any fingering. Any inversion."

About programming-- "That error means that you're passing an array of the wrong size. Or you're passing the wrong type. Or your program won't run."

To my wife, because the watermelon line that one time was oh so charming-- "None of your parts are necessarily the best, but in combination they are. Your finger might not be the prettiest finger in the world. Your nose might not be the prettiest nose in the world. But when you pick your nose...."

Just random-- "I put the 'bus' in 'dyslexia.'"

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02 March 2008

Two Bits

If you don't have cable and you have an old TV without a digital tuner*, go here and get yourself a coupon for $40 off a converter box... or sell your soul to consumerism and go buy a TV with a digital tuner (which will likely be a nice thin model). Next February the analog signals are going off the air, and I figured I'd get to you before the doomsayers (meaning cable companies) get to you first.

My kid sprouted a tooth on Saturday, lower left incisor. I hope it's a lower left incisor, anyway, because it's on her lower jaw just left of the center of her mouth. She is enjoying it immensely, poking at it with her fingers and feeling over it with her tongue.

[*In the days since I posted this, the definition of "digital tuner" has come up. This term has to do with the kinds of signal the TV can process, not the kinds of switches it has or whether it is "cable ready." Basically any TV more than a couple of years old, and even many more than a year or so old, does not have a digital tuner. Most people who I know who use an antenna do not have a TV with a digital tuner. See here for how to tell for sure.]


01 March 2008

Just Stuff

I got a few hugs on "Hug a Bearded Man Day." Thanks to Brett, Mom, my kid, and maybe my sister and wife. Honestly, it's easier to get hugs on a particular day if you actually leave home.

Welcome to March, the month of my Birthday, as well as the birthday of this blog. (Just over 800 posted posts in three years! Eek!)

I do have things to post about now, but I'm resolved to stop bickering so much about my church in particular. It's not because they're suddenly perfect-- in fact the opposite is true. But such things are best aired in private. Ditto for one or two other things on my mind. So, I have more fodder than ever and I'm not posting it. Sorry to all of you who get a kick out of me.