Tuesday, August 23, 2016


The experience of getting a song stuck in your head is somehow universal. A casual association reminds you of the beat or the melody or the lyrics and before you can say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" the song had taken up residence and you will be living with it for the next two or three eternities. The squatter in your brain can range from benign to maddening. Occasionally they will leave their own, but usually they have to be forcibly evicted by (per the usual method) trying to invite a more tenacious guest supplant them. The most disconcerting for me is when someone around me starts singing along, in sync with the song my head. Then I know that the invading troops have suborned my vocal cords and are launching a sotto vocce invasion of the world around me.

But the point is that it isn't only songs that get stuck on mental flypaper. While earworms are the most common, I've discovered that many people experience the equivalent with their own unique mental constructs. For one of my sisters, it is typing sequences on a keyboard. One of my friends has numbers follow him around. In my case it is words.

Words that get stuck and repeat themselves in my mind for hours or days at a time are necessarily interesting. (Or at least, I only ever notice one that is uncommon.) The ones that stay the longest are those whose meaning or usage have somehow escaped me. The less I know about the word, the more insistently it presents itself, as though it is confident that this time, there must surely be a way to apply it to the situation. In these cases looking up the definition is often enough to start the eviction process.

Anyway, here are some examples of my recent thought-guests. I will post more as they come up, with far less of an introduction.
  • Hirsute
  • Inveigle
  • Anodyne
  • Philately
EDIT: It looks like I've mentioned this in passing before.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sick Odds

I like to play the Pandemic cooperative board game series (for which I just learned there is now a third expansion, along with the non-cooperative tie-in game where you play as diseases trying to wipe out mankind). Awhile ago received a present of the dice version, called Pandemic: The Cure, so on my birthday I got to choose a game to play, and that's what I picked. We'd only played it once before that, and I was surprised when we lost badly three times in a row. Only one of those times were we even close.

While our strategy was certainly suboptimal, the real culprit, I believe, was the number of players. Three seems to be perfect for most of the board game variants, with other numbers of players (both higher and lower) possible but tricky. For The Cure, though, I suspect more is always better. The game is listed as 2-5 players, but it seemed that three was too few. When we played the first time out of the box, we went ahead and used all seven characters since that was the number of people we had present, and the game was simple to beat. We will have to play some more and see if the number of players really makes that much of a difference, or if we just had a bad night of poor strategy. (The link above suggests that other people disagree and think 3-4 is probably best, and that the game can swing between simple and brutal on just a few dice rolls.)

The thing that stuck out to me, though, was the dice themselves. Each color (representing a different disease) has a different set of numbers on its faces. For example, black has three 3s, and one each of 0, 4, and 5. Compare that to blue, which has one each of 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus two 6s. Since you roll the disease cubes individually to see where they end up, this ensures that the different colors show up preferentially on different continents (numbered 1-6, plus 0 for no effect). But since you also roll multiple dice of a given color together to try to "find a cure," it also impacts the odds of rolling the required sum (usually 13).

I was going to do the math to figure out the probabilities, but a quick web search reveals that other geeks have already done this. The upshot is that with 4 or more dice the colors behave nearly the same: all have a 45% chance of success with 4 dice, 5 dice takes you up to between 67% (red & blue), and 77% (black), and 6+ gets you into 90% territory. But if you are trying with only 3 dice, you'd better be using the scientist (who only needs a sum of 11) because she has about a 1 in 3 chance with all colors. Everybody else needs to pay attention to the color, because they are very different from each other. With three dice, your chances of success are: 23% (blue), 20% (red), 12% (yellow), and 7% (black).

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

In His Father's Footsteps

Jace likes to take off his shoes. I wasn't at all surprised this morning to see him shoeless and sockless in the back of the car only a few brief instants after I had put him there fully shod. The surprise came when I went to put a sock back on him and found it covered in gunk. Worse, I recognized that gunk. Sure enough, his left shoe had half a banana shoved up into the toe.  (I'm still not sure how there was room for his foot.)

I'm glad we found this errant banana faster than the last one. Nobody needs a repeat of that backpack business.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Shakespeare's Robots

I tend to only skim the Emory newsletters I receive in my inbox. As with most University publications they contain a mix of news releases about recent research and coverage of local events. When a newsletter arrives in my inbox, the subject line is a concatenation of the top three headlines, so it is not uncommon for me to parse them incorrectly. Today's was a winner, though. This is what I saw:

Shakespeare's Dictionary: 'Robot Scientist'

In actuality, that is two stories separated by a semicolon, not a single story punctuated as shown, but I have to say that my version sounds pretty exciting. The Shakespeare story is fairly interesting on its own merits, but don't read it expecting 16th century automata.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Upside Down Rainbow

I wasn't able to snap a picture of it, but it looked almost exactly like this one:
Jace and I saw it while we were on the airplane to Boston last week, and I thought it was very cool. I've known, of course, that rainbows are full circles truncated by viewing angles and moisture conditions. Until last week, though, I'd never actually seen the bottom half of one before. The one we saw was almost a full semicircle. I'm sure it helped that we were up so high, with clouds below and above us.

Add this to the frequent double- and occasional triple-rainbows experienced growing up  in Albuquerque, and I'm starting to collect quite the spectrum ;-)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Dance-O-Tron!

Kelley happens to love dancing (we own 5 or 6 of the Just Dance series for the Wii). She is also a nurse. So it is entirely fitting the the anti-nausea medicine she was prescribed for a recent bout of upset tummy is in fact pronounced "On Dance-O-Tron." Medical spelling is odd, so of course it is a near-miss (Ondansetron). Close enough, in my book. Those extra syllables say so much more than the brand name "Zofran," although that does sound like it could be a good name for a dancing robot.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kalyani and Rahul

In January I went to the book signing for the release of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson. If you aren't aware, I really love a lot of Brandon's books. He makes the top 5 list of my favorite authors, and I have some of the most fun anticipating his new releases because there are a whole lot of other fans that like to theorize and discuss. (I've been moderately active over on the official fan site ever since the build up to the release of Words of Radiance.)

For the signing, I dressed up as a Rithmatics professor, my sister came as Megan (from the Reckoners series) and I dressed my son up as Pattern (from Stormlight Archive). I enjoyed recording the Q&A and the signing line, and meeting Brandon again (for the full report, see this thread on the 17th Shard fan site). But my favorite part of the evening was definitely meeting the people behind me in line.

There I was, nearly at the back of the line (my son was getting fussy so we had left for dinner and come back). The woman behind me asked if I had read Legion, which is told from the perspective of "a perfectly sane man" whose hallucinations all have psychoses, but are also geniuses. When I replied that I had, she said, "I'm Kalyani," which is the name of one of the hallucinations. At first I thought she meant she was dressed up as that character, but as it happens the inspiration goes the other direction. Kalyani in line was the basis for the fictional person.

Along with her husband Rahul (who also appears in Legion), Kalyani makes an impressive effort to extend hospitality to their friend Brandon. Whenever he has a signing within 8 hours of their home, they drive to the location and cook him an Indian meal for dinner. Both of them were also wearing T-shirts with their own fan art on them (a chasmfiend and the oathgate network.) I'm glad I got to meet them.

As a result of some questions asked by KalynaAnn, who has put a lot of thought into the geometry underlying the chalk magic from The Rithmatist, I got excited about possible variations and extensions of the defenses described in the book. Here are three hypothetical Rithmatic constructions that could be valid defenses, depending on how many of my assumptions are accurate. I discuss them in this post on 17S.