Hurricane Irene

OK, I’m about to leave Arlington. I will stay overnight with my sister and her family in Round Hill, VA, to wait out the storm. If all goes well, I will return to Arlington tomorrow afternoon, and maybe Monday will be regular workday.

An earthquake and a hurricane less than a week apart!

Hurricane and Cyclone (green MTG cards)

Published in: on 27 August 2011 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Today’s Earthquake

It was a few minutes after 1:50 PM; some sources say it was 1:51 or 1:53 PM. Maybe the exact time depends on the location.

I was setting up some R code to assemble data for a fancy analysis when I felt a mild shaking. At first, I thought it was somebody in the hallway or perhaps in the floor immediately below us moving heavy equipment. But I couldn’t imagine what could be so big. Our building doesn’t have any wet labs — it’s all computers and office workers — so it couldn’t be, say, somebody moving in a new industrial-sized freezer or a centrifuge or an MRI scanner. I briefly entertained the thought that maybe it was a road crew on Executive Boulevard doing something rather destructive.

Then the shaking became too pronounced to be anything mundane, and I realized it was an earthquake. A co-worker wandered out of his cubicle with a puzzled look on his face and I said “Earthquake!” to him. We skedaddled down the staircase and out the building, along with everyone else. After about 20 minutes, we started filtering back into the building. Nobody was hurt, and there was no apparent damage to the building.

The rest of the afternoon was fairly quiet, partly because many people had left for the day. Federal employees had “liberal leave” and were allowed to go home. But we contractors didn’t have liberal leave, so we put in a full work day. At least, I did.

At home, I found only a few items out of place. Some DVDs had fallen off the top of my old TV, and a wooden statuette/mannequin had toppled off of its high perch.

Magnitude 5.8 – VIRGINIA

(the link I gave originally stopped working!)

Earthquake — red MTG card

Installing Magic The Gathering Under Windows 7

M.F. notified me that it’s possible to install MTG on a Windows 7 system by simply copying over the installation folder. But you still need to set the Compatibility as follows. Here are his notes.

  1. Find the Magic.exe file and right click on it and select properties.
  2. Select the Compatibility tab
  3. In the setting box check
    • Disable visual themes
    • Disable desktop composition
    • Disable display scaling on high DPI settings

It will still run if you don’t do the above but it will look ‘pixelated’

This is important stuff.

Published in: on 14 January 2011 at 8:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Ornithopter Built — And It Works

Human-powered aircraft with flapping wings a success!

I once bought a flying model of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Ornithopter, I believe at a museum. Unfortunately, the product appears to have been discontinued, and is no longer available for purchase. “Although this Model Kit was originally produced as a Toy, its Rarity makes it Better Suited for Collectors!”

Make Your Own Ornithopter, from make magazine. The video mentions a PDF file; here’s a link to that file.

Ornithopter in MTG

Regeneration of Fingertip

Woman’s persistence pays off in regenerated fingertip

Some of the comments after the article are skeptical, even mocking: the wound wasn’t impressive enough for them.

In ScienceDaily, one month ago: Newts’ Ability to Regenerate Tissue Replicated in Mouse Cells


Green Magic

Published in: on 10 September 2010 at 6:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Wisdom of the Elders

For S.F. and I.K.

I can understand the idea behind wanting younger people, but to be honest I think older people are often more careful and responsible.

… suggests a hubris among younger workers

Totally agree.

The younger workers might know the latest cool whiz-bang stuff, but the older people will understand the big picture, and will be able to efficiently direct talent and energies. The former will know many different trees; the latter will understand the overall lay of the forest and how it all fits together.

It’s like the difference between “intelligence” and “wisdom” in Dungeons and Dragons, which I’ve mentioned in a previous post (yeah, I know that “intelligence” and “wisdom” can be hard to define, hence the scare quotes). Wisdom is not as easy as intelligence to measure. For example, it’s easy to see that somebody has the smarts to program a fancy application in the latest cool whiz-bang computing language, and not so easy to tell whether somebody is careful, responsible, and non-hubristic. So, it’s easy to give wisdom short shrift.

High intelligence and low wisdom is a dangerous combination, because it leads to hubris (I.K.’s word), which in turn leads to human-made disasters like the ones we’ve been hearing about in the news the past year or so. Someone with the opposite problem — low intelligence and high wisdom — would at least be aware of their own limitations.

I am reminded of a paper I read for my statistical consulting course, Barabba, Vincent P. (1991), Through a glass less darkly, Journal of the American Statistical Association, 86, 1-8, but only because that paper in turn referenced another work, Haeckel S.H. (1987), Presentation to the Information Steering Group, Cambridge, MA: Marketing Science Institute.

In Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy (according to Barabba — I don’t have access to Haeckel’s presentation, so I’ll have to trust Barabba on this), raw data is converted (transmuted?) into information. It takes a lot of data to produce one piece of information, in the same way that you need multiple data points to estimate a mean with a low standard error. Information in turn is converted into intelligence, which is converted into knowledge, which is finally converted into wisdom. There is attrition at each stage; e.g., in the same way that it took a lot of raw data to produce one “bit” of information, it takes a lot of information to produce one piece of intelligence, etc.

Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy (adapted from Barabba, 1991)

This is not to say that raw data is unimportant; quite the opposite, in fact, since you need raw data to even begin to ascend Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy. But what seems to be happening these days is an overreliance on the bottom rungs of the Information Hierarchy at the expense of the top.

To measure is to know.

Lord Kelvin

Measuring gives you the raw data at the bottom of Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy, which can lead to knowledge, and ultimately (one hopes) wisdom. But if wisdom itself is difficult to measure, then it will be difficult to obtain knowledge about wisdom.

Here’s a Magic The Gathering card with a delicious flavor text, one of my favorites: Counsel of the Soratami. The flavor text reads:

Wisdom is not the counting of all the drops in a waterfall.
Wisdom is learning why the water seeks the earth.

Counting all the drops of water in a waterfall would count as raw data in Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy.

Colors of Magic, Especially Yellow Magic

For K.C.

According to Chinese medicine, when the five elements (water, wood, fire, metal, wind?) are out of balance, as manifested thru organ dysfunctions, disease results.

Hmm, I’ve heard of something called “five agents theory,” I believe with respect to ancient Chinese folklore. I wonder whether it’s related to the five elements. Maybe it’s the same thing.

In the card game Magic The Gathering (MTG), there are five colors. Maybe there’s a mapping between the five colors and the five elements: blue:water, green:wood, red:fire, black:metal, white:wind? (Speaking of which, if you see the movie Sorcerer’s Apprentice, watch the background for Drake Stone’s Magic The Gathering posters. Apparently, Mr. Stone has his own MTG cards. Also, drake = “dragon”.)

Here is a 1978 paper by H. Nickel (And Behold, A White Horse… Observations on the Colors of the Horses of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Metropolitan Museum Journal 12:179-183) which mentions the five-color system of ancient China. It would’ve been interesting if Magic The Gathering had used the same five colors as the ancient Chinese system, but alas no: instead of white, blue, black, red, and green, the Chinese had white, blue, black, red, and yellow. The following table shows the mapping from cardinal direction to color in the ancient Chinese color system.

Cardinal Direction Associated Color
South Red
North Black
East Blue
West White
Center Yellow

As you know, in MTG each color is associated with a general theme. White is associated with righteousness, law, and protection; blue with the mind (especially wisdom and intellect), time, and deception; black with death, decay, and greed; red with chaos, impulsivity, fire, and lightning; and green with nature and life. It’s fun to wonder what the theme of yellow magic would have been, if there had ever been such a thing in MTG! (Maybe yellow magic would map onto colorless mana, which is associated with artifacts in MTG?)

(As an aside, in the MTG color pentagram, each color is positioned opposite its two natural antagonistic colors. Thus, e.g., white’s natural antagonists are red and black.)

The ancient Chinese (at least, the emperor Wang Mang in the year 9 A.D.) favored certain colors. H. Nickel writes:

Thus, the emperor seated on his throne faced the south, where the sun was brightest and highest in the heaven. Consequently, the South was considered to be the foremost of the cardinal directions, and therefore the vanguard of the “Generals in Charge of the Enforcement of Imperial Power” was clad in the red of the South direction and mounted on red sorrels.

H. Nickel goes on to write:

In 201 B.C., the Han emperor, Kao, personally led a great campaign against the Hung-no… The finishing touch in this cosmological color scheme was that the center was occupied by the hapless Chinese army with their emperor, whose sacred color was yellow.

It’s fun to wonder what the theme of yellow magic would have been, if there had ever been such a thing in MTG!

Yellow Magic, Inc.

Yellow Magic Orchestra

Yellow Magic Cleaner

The King In Yellow (Victorian gothic horror by Robert W. Chambers, which influenced H.P. Lovecraft)

Yellow Lobster (yummy!)

Yellow Submarine

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Addendum (08-01-10): Native Americans also had mappings from the four cardinal directions to colors. I think that the Cherokee color system is particularly interesting (here’s another source):

Cardinal Direction Associated Color
South White
North Blue
East Red
West Black

The reason this is interesting is because it’s very similar to the Chinese color system — only, the colors have been rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise. I.e., the two systems are π/4 out of phase, like sine and cosine, and therefore their cross-correlation is zero. (Wow, that was geeky.)

Addendum (08/02/10):

It’s interesting to compare the MTG color pentagram with this color pentagram of the five elements. Here’s another diagram of the Chinese five-element system, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Five Element System

This time, there doesn’t seem to be a pure phase shift, like we saw when we compared the Cherokee vs. the Chinese color system.

Another interesting thing about the five-element pentagram above is the dual cyclicity: there’s a creative cycle as well as a destructive cycle. This dual cyclicity reminds me of the Outer God Ubbo-Sathla, a creation of Clark Ashton Smith. In his creative cycle, Ubbo-Sathla acts as the source of all life on Earth. And he is destined, in his destructive cycle, to someday resorb all life. (I will write more on this intriguing Outer God later.)

The destructive cycle is also reminiscent of a certain game.

Addendum (08/07/10):

The Five Elements… Which One Are You?
(Myself, I’m primarily Water, with Metal a strong second. Definitely NOT Wood.)

The Five Colors of Magic: Which One Are You?
(I’m most definitely blue.)

Addendum (08/08/10): How about… purple magic?!

Addendum (08/08/10):

Wikipedia’s article on the cardinal directions includes a table showing how various cultures mapped colors to the cardinal directions. Apparently, the Turkic system has the same five colors as in Magic The Gathering: black, blue, red, white, and green. (Note that the Wikipedia article’s reference for the Turkic system does not seem to confirm this!)

Hmm, according to this web page, the Cherokee system also included green for the center. So the Cherokee system also maps to the five colors in MTG.

Addendum (08/08/10): See also the “five-factor model” of personality, sometimes called “Big Five.” My understanding is that the “big five” were determined using a multivariate method called factor analysis (not principal components analysis, or independent components analysis?).

According to this, the Big Five have been labeled as: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. How would you map the five personality types to the five colors of MTG?

Take the Big Five test.

Addendum (08/08/10): Above, I had given a link to the old Rock-Paper-Scissors game. I just discovered that this game has been extended to include two new “weapons”: lizard and Spock. Now with five “weapons,” it forms a nice pentagram.

Here’s a diagram showing a 7-weapon version of RPS (although it’s captioned “Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock”).

Here’s a 15-weapon version.

And a 101-weapon version!

Addendum (01-15-11): I saw this news story about the world’s foremost expert at vomiting. I wondered what his name would be if he were to be a super-hero. Then I remembered that black dragons in Dungeons and Dragons spit acid. So, his name could be Black Dragon, or perhaps Ancalagon.

Then I remembered that the evil “chromatic” dragons in Dungeons and Dragons came in the following five colors: black, white, red, green, and blue. Just like the colors of magic in Magic The Gathering. Here’s a list of the five chromatic dragons and their breath weapons, along with some other characteristics.

Color Breath Armor Class Hit Dice Damage / Attack Size Alignment
Black Acid 3 6-8 1-4 / 1-4 / 3-18 30′ Long Chaotic Evil
Blue Lightning 2 8-10 1-6 / 1-6 / 3-24 42′ Long Lawful Evil
Green Chlorine Gas 2 7-9 1-6 / 1-6 / 2-20 36′ Long Lawful Evil
Red Fire -1 9-11 1-8 / 1-8 / 3-30 48′ Long Chaotic Evil
White Cold / Frost 3 5-7 1-4 / 1-4 / 2-16 24′ Long Chaotic Evil

Eight Orphan Ducklings

This past April 29, my mother telephoned from Fort Myers. Earlier that day, she had heard a racket coming from the small retention lake that borders property where she and my father live. She went out to the lake shore and saw feathers, but no dead body. And she saw eight little ducklings. She figured that some carnivore had caught the mother duck, and now the eight ducklings were orphaned. She tried to feed them (I think with crackers or bread crumbs), but the ducklings didn’t let her come very close.

The next day, after a few calls, she obtained a consult from the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW). A volunteer couple from Maine arrived with binoculars and a camera, and they documented the orphaned baby ducklings, still very young and fluffy. An adult Muscovy duck appeared for a few minutes, but then left; later, another duck appeared, as well as two immature tricolored blue herons.

The CROW volunteers said that a mature duck might adopt the orphan ducklings, but otherwise their advice was to leave the ducklings alone; the ducklings would fend for themselves, finding food among the wild grasses. The CROW volunteers warned that only 40% of these orphans will survive. The water in the retention lake is receding, and soon the water will be too shallow for the ducklings; and then predator birds will come for them. This is what happens in nature.

Later that evening, my mother met some neighbors who said they had seen a 200-lb (“small”) black/brown bear only a few feet from their car. My mother has seen unfamiliar animal droppings in the back outside the lanai, and now thinks that it was a bear that attacked and killed the mother duck.

The ducklings are dark brown with a yellow breast; it remains to be determined what species of duck they are. They “peep” loudly, are beginning to separate into smaller groups, and sometimes walk onto the embankment. They look like they’re doing well, so my mother will let them look for food themselves.

Her camera is currently malfunctioning, so she has no pictures yet.

Ball Lightning

Scientist Looks to Weaponize Ball Lightning (Wired)

Will-O’-The-Wisp (Marvel supervillain)

Ball Lightning (MTG card)

Published in: on 21 February 2009 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Time Eater

Ravenous Clock Runs Backward, Scares Children (stumbled upon while reading Clive Thompson, in turn via Give Me Something To Read 02/09/09 entry).

The Corpus Clock, designed by horologist John Taylor, and unveiled by physicist Stephen Hawking, accurate only once every five minutes. (There’s an old saying, even a broken clock is right twice every day.)

The fanged insect atop the clock is a Chronophage, or time-eater. Sounds like a MTG card or deck. Blue, obviously. Hmm, there’s no card called “time eater”, but there’s a Timebug, a Thought Eater, and an Eater of Days.

Published in: on 12 February 2009 at 9:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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