The things you find

I just updated my wordpress install (well, sort of; it turns out my host is running a way old version of mysql so I updated as far as I could) and am now sorting through old drafts of posts that I never finished. While doing so I found this:

Sometimes after a lot of scotch has been consumed things are said that can’t be taken back. For instance “I grok Fraggles.”

I’ll confess that I really really wish I remembered the context of that (besides the obvious, scotch-related part of it).

little things

Many many years ago I was enthralled with a woman who was important to a man with whom I was also enthralled (complicated enough for you?) This woman–call her J., because that was her first initial–was enthralled with another man, who happened to be at Harvard at the time. J. and the man with whom she was enthralled, and many other people, wrote for a website called medianstrip. I spent many hours in those days, many years ago, reading things written by J. and people important to J. The things I read moved me in their own right but also because they came from friends of J. who was important to A. who was important to me. I have long since lost touch with all parties but sometimes I am inspired by memories of my then self, watching the full moon move across the eastern sky above the Humanities building, and I look to see if medianstrip still exists. And really, it doesn’t. And this is a little thing that makes me sad.

Your teeth are as soft as liquid stones poured from an aquamarine vase of solidifying flesh.

A mention of government cheese in another context sent me flipping back through old livejournal entries looking for something I wrote years ago about memory and food.

I didn’t find the entry in question but I did find a link to The Surrealism Compliment Generator. The fact that this site still exists six or so years after I first encountered it totally delights me. It probably has something to do with the fact that my brain has turned to goo as a result of trying to figure out some statistical models that make no sense. Or maybe it’s just that finding silliness still alive right where you left it helps make up for the fact that medianstrip seems doomed to perhaps never have interesting content again.

Speechless

This morning, while driving through the Sepulveda Pass, I looked up to see what looked like a baby dragon flying overhead. Big wings, long thin tail. I suppose, given that this is LA afterall, it is possible that I was looking at some sort of movie prop. But given the lack of the normal annoyances that come with filming (namely blocked off roads and sidewalks; seriously don’t even get me started on how much I hate that aspect of hollywood) I’m going to guess that it’s more likely that I was looking at a large bird with a snake in its claws.

This immediately reminded me of the Laurie Anderson song from which this post takes its title. Of course about half a mile later (what? you don’t measure time in miles?) I realized that song was about an eagle and a weasel. But in a city this big I’ll let my wildlife song references have a little leeway.

Like in that Annie Dillard book
Where she sees that eagle
With the skull of a weasel
Hanging from its neck
And here`s how it happened, listen.
Eagle bites the weasel.
Weasel bites back They fly up to nowhere.
Weasel keeps hangin` on.
Together forever.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Someone in the office likes signs. Signs stating the obvious.

In the women’s bathroom there’s a sign saying “don’t forget to flush.” I suspect that in reality the problem is not that people forget to flush but that they forget to check that flushing accomplished its intended goal (sometimes it takes a second try).

Today there is a sign on one of the cabinets in the kitchen. The door to said cabinet is hanging at a funny angle and very clearly not attached in all the places it’s supposed to be. The sign says “Caution: this door is unhinged.”

It sort of makes me want to hang a sign somewhere in the hallway saying “You are here.”

You might be a gardener if….

Earlier this week I had what I, upon waking, immediately characterized as a nightmare. In the dream I woke up and looked out my bedroom window to see a backyard lightly covered in white flecks. Snow. Overnight temperatures below freezing. Somehow in the dream the front of the house and the back were different microclimates because while it had only snowed in back, in front there was snow and freezing rain. It was a day when I had to go to work so you might think that the nightmarish part of this dream would be driving across the city in freezing rain (which sounds practically suicidal to my wide-awake self since around here just regular rain makes for a stupidly treacherous commute). But it wasn’t the danger of death by SUV-driver who’s never seen an icy road that left me crying hysterically in this dream. No it was the fact that I hadn’t known it was going to snow and hadn’t covered the peppers I’m overwintering or brought in my potted tomatoes. My entire garden was ruined! I sobbed and sobbed over the death of all those plants.

Of course it is always possible that my garden might succumb to a sort of similar fate. A few years ago we actually did have nightime temperatures low enough to result in frost and Earl kitty’s water dish freezing (he was still an outdoor cat at the time). If it gets that cold, though, I can probably save the potted plants by moving them into the garage. I’d probably also try to save the peppers by way of protective blankets. But even if everything currently in the ground died it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

I definitely don’t miss cold winters. And you couldn’t pay me enough to drive across L.A. in freezing rain. But I think awake-me has a better grip on what constitutes real tragedy than dream-me does. Of course if those tomato plants were actually strong producers instead of borderline failures I might feel differently.

Drum roll (or not) please

A couple of days ago a web acquaintance pointed out this shirt on thinkgeek. It has a drumset decal on the front that’s hooked up to a battery pack and speaker so that it actually plays when you tap it. Cool idea, right? Well, yes, but…. My first thought on seeing it was “oooh, that’s neat” but that thought was quickly followed by “but clearly it was designed by a man for men.”

I’ll admit that I’m a bit weird when it comes to physical contact, but I’m pretty sure my desire not to turn my breasts into a drumset does not result from the unfortunate experiences I had in high school (which still, after all these years, leave me hyper-sensitive to the dynamics of casual touch in social situations). I mean, in theory, even if you do have a working drumset decal plastered across your chest random you’d still have ultimate control over who actually tapped on said drum set. But I’m not one to trust theory when it comes to control over my own personal space (and bodily contact). So someone let me know when I can get a shirt with the musical instruments on the sleeves. I mean come on, the ad copy even writes itself then.

The frosting on the math puzzle

So one of the side effects of living with a math/computer geek is that often reading material I would never encounter on my own appears around the house. For instance, Communications of the ACM, which I found open to the last page, title “Puzzled: Circular Food.” Skimming this my attention was drawn to the second puzzle. Now I’m not really a math type by any stretch of the imagination* but even I can tell you that the following puzzle is unsolvable as written:

A cylindrical ice-cream cake with the most scrumptious chocolate frosting on top is sitting on a table. As an expert cake cutter, you choose an arbitrary angle x and proceed to cut one wedge after another, counterclockwise, around the cake, each of angle exactly x. However, each time you cut a wedge, you turn that piece upside-down and slide it back into the cake. This puts the frosting on the bottom at first, but as you work your way around and around the cake, the frosting comes back up to the top, then returns to the bottom, and so forth. Your mission is to prove that after some finite number of slices all the frosting will be back on top of the cake.

So what’s the problem? There is an assumption embedded in this problem that is patently not true. If you really were to flip a single piece of frosted cake upside down and then right side up again you could do that an infinite number of times and still not end up with all the frosting back on top. The one exception, perhaps, is if it had something like a rolled fondant frosting. However, I argue that the specification of a “most scrumptious chocolate frosting” rules out fondant. Besides, fondant doesn’t freeze well so it would be an odd choice for an ice-cream cake. I think the author here is assuming that frosting on an ice-cream cake is solid enough to resist squishing and sticking to the plate when flipped upside down. I think, though, that this demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of cake physics.

I would revise this problem as follows:

An unfrosted cylindrical two-layer cake with a bottom layer of white cake and a top layer of chocolate cake is sitting on the table….

Then substitute chocolate layer for frosting in the rest of the problem. The cake won’t be as tasty but at least the question works. Besides if you’re eating hypothetical math cakes you have bigger problems than the relative tastiness.

And yes, I know that the fact that I obsessed enough about this to figure out how to make the problem work makes me my own type of geek. I’m ok with that. And no, I still have no idea how to go about solving the actual problem.

*Note that I don’t mean I’m not a math type in comparison to the general population since I imagine a lot of people would conclude that, given that my work all involves statistics, I’m a math whiz. I mean I’m not a math type in comparison to B. and the many friends I have who might have some idea how to start thinking about these puzzles (in a way that doesn’t nitpick the puzzle itself).

Language amuses me

This morning in some web forum I happened upon I saw someone use the expression “reap what you sew.” I tend to visualize a lot of the language I encounter (yes, this can be problematic; no, you may not take advantage of this knowledge to try to gross me out). So what popped into my head when I read this expression was a big piece of farm equipment (a combine, I guess) chopping up large swathes of fabric. The expression, of course, is actually “reap what you sow” as in harvest what you planted, as in actions have predictable consequences. Still, as someone who claims both gardening and sewing among my hobbies, I’m a bit entranced by the notion of being able to harvest fabric projects. Maybe I could start blaming my not-so-straight seams on bad soil?

I can has lolnews?

What you see here is a screen shot from the online version of the economist. It’s a replication of a story from the print edition about the effects of the recent hurricanes on Cuba. Note the caption on the picture. Is there some Briticism I’m missing here in which woz translates to were? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Gustav and Ike wuz here

Don’t get me wrong, I throw around lolspeak* among my friends as much as the next 30-something geeky girl. But there’s a time and place for everything. Somehow this doesn’t strike me as quite the right tone to take when discussing Cuba’s ability to recover from a natural disaster without the help of outside aid. For the moment let’s leave aside whether this kind of light-hearted non-grammatical play with the English language is ever really appropriate in a serious news publication (that isn’t covering something related to the language phenomenon itself). This caption seems inappropriately light and cheerful for a story about destruction. It’s like approaching someone you’re about to take off life-support and saying “Oh hai, I is pulling the plug.” Well, maybe that’s a bad example. But think of a morbid situation and caption it appropriately. Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m just irked because I was holding out for a story on the current U.S. economic situation with the caption “I can has government bailout.”

*If you have no idea what I’m going on about here, get thee to the lolcats page and don’t forget to check out the cat that started it all (well, presumably).