Dark Alleys

I believe we’ve all heard that it’s dangerous to be alone in dark alleys. While this is true, I’d like to point out something far more dangerous: being almost alone in dark alleys.

The Road Not Taken~An Unconventional Analysis

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by.
–Robert Frost

Nobody ever mentioned that the path less traveled was a dead end.

Permit me to elaborate: I believe it’s fairly common knowledge that those proverbial paths less traveled by exist. Viz, we all know that you don’t have to be a total robotic conformist. (My apologies to any robots in the audience.) Most folks, though, do seem to turn down the less traveled by road. Popular paths offer some nice benefits (clean bathrooms usually among them) and most of society decides that these benefits are worth the toll to walk on the most popular of roads.

But of course, not everybody takes said popular roads. Some of us take metaphorical back roads and alleyways. Now (if you’ll follow me as I extend the metaphor perilously far) I think we all know that there’s no toll to use most small streets. And, conversely, we all know that nothing’s free. So what exactly does one pay to travel this fabled road less traveled by? Not something like money–something that most people recognize.

Well, if you walk this long enough, you have to pay a most peculiar price. You see, it develops that this less popular path is not a very long one. You have to forge your own path after a while.

Ah, such romance! Go wander an obscure path of life long enough, and thou shalt find that thou art doing things nobody’s done before! Glorious!

Unfortunately it’s not all good news–when is it? You see, forging your own path is less than entirely awesome. I assume I’m not the only one who has stupidly saunter off into scrub brush in flipflops instead of sticking to the streets. (If I am the only one, nobody better tell me so–I’ve got an ego to protect here!) I presume we’ve all made the discovery: There are bugs. There are thorns. There are nasty things you can’t see until they’re half an inch into your heal. Now let us imagine tromping through that long enough to forge an actual path, not just a slight dent in the grasses that vanishes as soon as you scurry away to lick your wounds.

In the proverbial conclusion, I encourage everyone to take that path less traveled by! But be ready for it to end, because if you follow it with all your heart, you’ll go far. And if you go far enough, it comes to an end.

Does the path more traveled by also come to an end? Well, I don’t believe I took it, so I won’t hazard a guess as to that. Anybody care to? Please comment. Grammar Nazis who have noticed the high rate of sentences ending with prepositions in this article, feel free to vent in the comments. Anybody who just wants to leave a comment because they happen to be brilliant? Well, all yours!

Does Anybody Else Have Trouble with WordPress?

Wow! My first blog maintenance post! I’m so excited! 😀 (See, I’ve validated my emotions with one of those little faces so you’ll know I’m really happy.)

Anyway, when I try to load WordPress, usually it doesn’t appear onscreen for quite some time. Indeed, my computer kindly informs me that an error has occurred after it’s loaded for a while. 😮 Such utter inconvenience! Ten to twenty whole seconds of my tragically transient life wasted! A travesty of justice and surely some sort of moral wrong!

But what’s truly remarkable (read: actually matters) is that I’ve never found out what sort of error it is that’s been plaguing me–before I can finish reading the error message, it disappears, to be replaced with whatever WordPress site I’m visiting.

Does this happen to anybody else? Please comment to let me know; I shall be greatly indebted to thee. Is this indicative of a larger problem? (Conspiracy theories welcome.) Or is this just my computer performing suboptimally?

Thanks in advance.

Addendum: Oh, yes, and there are those times where it fails to do anything but produce a rather visually appealing blank page adorned with a loading symbol in the upper left corner.

I Will Write a Better Post Tomorrow.

Indeed, I plan to write two.

…Everybody seems to post meta-posts–posts about posting. I’m pressed for time tonight. I thought, as long as I was writing something short, I might as well jump on the wagon of meta-posts. (I mean, wagons are cool, like bow ties, right?) And it simply wouldn’t do to be left out.

Anyway, tomorrow, I’ll write something more substantive. As of today, I’m just dropping tantalizing foreshadowing.

The Biology of Dragonfire

As I posted the original, I figured it was only right to post the follow-up as well.

Sublime Curiosity

In a recent post, I decided that plasma-temperature dragonfire might be feasible, from a physics standpoint. There’s one catch: my solution required antimatter (and quite a bit of it). Antimatter does occur naturally in the human body, though. An average human being contains about 140 milligrams of potassium, which we need to run important stuff like nerves and heart muscle. The most common isotope of potassium is the stable potassium-39, with a few percent potassium-41 (also stable), and a trace of potassium-40, which is radioactive. (It’s the reason you always hear people talking about radioactive bananas. It also means that oranges, potatoes, and soybeans are radioactive. And cream of tartar is the most radioactive thing in your kitchen, unless you’ve got a smoke detector in there.)

Potassium-40 almost always decays by emitting a beta particle (transforming itself into calcium-40) or by cannibalizing one of its own electrons (producing argon-40). But…

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Amusing Thought Experiment

I am going to provide you with some invaluable information now. To elaborate, it’s not valuable at all (because of that in- prefix; I definitely got that right) but it’s extremely entertaining. The purpose of life is to fill up on entertaining, useless information, right?

Notice: Before we go any farther, I’d like to apologize for not posting in so long. Okay, it’s off my conscience now! I can now proceed with the same bold and untarnished glory as ever! Let us away to the bizarre and beautiful land of thought experiments.

Suppose you have a light bulb that’s attached to a switch and a clock. When the amount of time until the next hour is cut in half, flip the switch on the light. It starts, at one o’clock, in the off position. At one thirty, turn the light on. Turn it back off at one forty-five. Continue to do this until two o’clock. At two o’clock sharp, is the light bulb on or off?

At this point, you should be making some of the amusing contortions of face that I saw reflected in my computer screen the first time I came across this glorious little puzzle. (If you’re not, this likely means that you’re a sane, ordinary person. How utterly horrible a fate!) Fear not! I shan’t leave thee in agony forever. If thou should like to dauntlessly attempt the great feat of solving this unaided, stop reading now and finish this post later. (Hooray! My Middle English skills are awesome.)

To those of you who made the lonely pilgrimage into the land of the unknown and perhaps unknowable answer, I hail thee at thy return. Everybody else, I’m not giving you a special greeting because you haven’t done any work since reading the last paragraph. I mean, I didn’t try to solve it myself either, but since I already know the answer, I can sit on as high a horse as I like.) Now, the great and glorious answer is…*trumpet trumpet*

…Undefined.

Allow me to explain:

The lamp must be either on or off at the end of the experiment. Let’s pretend that, at the two-hour mark, we see that it’s off. Is this possible? No, it’s not. If it’s off, then there must have been a time just a little before the two-hour cutoff when it was on. Okay, that might make sense…let’s name this time X o’clock.

Hey, wait a second! (Or a minute. Or an hour. I’m flexible.) X o’clock happens at some point between one and two. There is no point between one and two where there’s not some halfway mark between that point and two o’clock. It doesn’t matter how late X o’clock is. It can be 2:59. It can be 2:59:59. There is a point between it and 2:00. Therefore, if the light is on at X o’clock, it will be switched off at the half-way point. If it’s off at the halfway point, it won’t still be off at two o’clock. So it can’t be off; it must be on at two o’clock.

Now, of course, this argument works the other way too; sub in ‘off’ for ‘on’ and vice versa and you’ll have a nice explanation of why the light must be off. The truth is that this whole affair is logically impossible. In all fairness, the thought experiment isn’t even a particularly plausible one. You would have to travel faster than the speed of light in order to flip the switch fast enough. Light would have to travel faster than the speed of light in order for you to observe what was happening. And your brain would have to do the observing faster than the speed of light too.

Anybody making the aforementioned faces now? Please feel free to comment with a nice vivid description of them. (Feel even more free to comment with any other thoughts on the matter. 🙂 )

The Physics of Dragonfire

Sublime Curiosity

Last year, I wrote a post about the physics of the plasma-temperature dragonfire from Dwarf Fortress. Today, because my frontal lobes are screwed on backwards, I wanna work out whether or not biology could produce a plume of 20,000-Kelvin plasma without stretching credibility too far. I have a hunch that the answer will be disappointing, but my hunches are usually wrong. Must be those faulty frontal lobes.

The first thing we need to work out is how much power we’re going to need to heat all that air. Let’s say dragonfire comes out of the dragon’s mouth at 50 meters per second (111 mph, about as fast as a sneeze or a weak tornado). As a rough approximation, let’s assume that a dragon’s mouth has a cross-sectional area of about 0.0600 square meters (about the area of a piece of ordinary printer paper). This is one of those nice…

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Theory of the Purpose of Sadness~Inside Out

As most residents of the English-speaking world are likely aware, Inside Out hit theaters recently and has made a bit of a splash. (I mean this literally, and I’m not just using literally as an intensifier–I think I got splashed with tears from the person who sat next to me.) It was a children’s show, endearing and relatively simple, and so certainly necessitating over-analysis. I shall share with thee now the product of that over-analysis.

So, in the movie, everybody is controlled by five emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. These are personified as characters who run madly about the inside of one’s head while accomplishing, with varying degrees of competence, said controlling. To me this seemed to simply beg those age-old questions about free will, but that was not much discussed in the movie. Apparently, the producers didn’t care to beat the dead horse. (I suppose bloodied pony corpses would have been a bit less than G-rated.)

Each emotion typically responded with his or her namesake feeling to the circumstances. Whichever one managed to control their home/person first would dictate said home/person’s action. I found their representations to be generally credible: Fear prevented one from falling prey to danger. Anger took action against perceived injustice. Disgust made sure that avoided the socially unacceptable. Joy kept the others under control when none such stuff was necessary.

The more astute of you will have noticed that I left one emotion out: sadness. If you guessed that I’m rather dubious of their representation of sadness…you win! (I’m afraid I can bestow upon thee no fabulous prizes.) Sadness’ role seemed to be twofold: firstly to empathize with those who feel sad, and also to signal to those around one that one is in need of help. (Hmm…I wonder if people with Split Personality Disorder say ‘several’ instead of ‘one’.) While sadness does do all these things, I found that role somehow incomplete.

Then what, I asked my (really pretty brilliant and frankly awesome) self, does sadness actually do for us? Well, I thought to the aforementioned self, sadness is often called pain. What does physical pain do for us?

It tells us when something is wrong; it’s an alarm system. Although as children we often wish to be rid of it, it’s actually quite useful. Indeed, there are disorders that deprive one of the ability to feel pain, to disastrous ends. To spare thee from less than G-rated details, I shall simply say that without pain, it’s hard to notice that you’re being injured until lethal damage has been done. As Vernor Vinge has noted,  “Interesting problem, pain. So helpful, so obnoxious.”

I suspect emotional pain serves an analogous purpose. That is to say, it too is an alarm system–it tells us when a problem needs attention and gives us the motivation to actually pay said attention. Happiness tends to paper over problems. (I can’t be the only one who refuses to pay attention to things I know need attention unless not doing so makes me sad. Citation–paperwork!) To illustrate the necessity of sadness:

“A puppy just died before my eyes?” asks happiness. “Oh well–no problem! Just think about how much less dog food the world will have to waste its resources producing!”

“No, no,” replies sadness. “This isn’t right. This is a problem.”

Indeed, sadness is somewhere very near the top of my Things-I’m-Most-Grateful-For list. Though sometimes less than pleasant (and at other times, in my opinion, positively enjoyable) it’s most certainly vital to functioning as a human being.

So, am I making sense? Please let me know if you have any questions. I also grant thee permission to comment if thou art but a random Inside Out fangirl wishing to give us a display of full fangirl chattering abilities. (Oh, I’m a generous soul!) Feel free to reply. 🙂