Saturday, June 28, 2014

Debt Unpaid

I owe my blog another June post, as previously promised. I finally went shopping for a new laptop yesterday and ended up getting a Chromebook (Acer C720). I like it so far ("so far" being the one hour I played with it last night). I'm going to try putting Chrubuntu on it this weekend, after which I'm sure I'll like it infinitely more.

I've been reading a number of things and also this list of numbers, which is now my favourite Wikipedia page. In particular I was reading this morning about Kaprekar's constant, a uselessly awesome result. You take any 4-digit number with at least 2 distinct digits (leading 0s allowed), sort the digits into ascending and descending order, subtract the smaller of these sorted numbers from the larger, and repeat, and eventually you will get stuck on the number 6174. There is basically no point to this, besides that it's pretty cool.

I've picked up another Doris Lessing--Briefing for a Descent into Hell. (The cover says, "Her most brilliant and imaginative novel".) I have no coherent thoughts on it yet. I read Particularly Cats last summer because Lessing's writing and cats are both things that I enjoy. Lessing's writing on cats is brilliant. This passage from the book is just one of my favourite pieces of writing:
[S]he would crouch and fascinate me with her eyes. I stared into them, almond-shaped in their fine outline of dark pencil, around which was a second pencilling of cream. Under each, a brush-stroke of dark. Green, green eyes; but in shadow, a dark smoky gold -- a dark-eyed cat. But in transparent globes of the eyeball, slices of veined gleaming butterfly wing. Wings like jewels -- the essence of wing.

A leaf insect is not to be distinguished from a leaf -- at a casual glance. But then, look close: the copy of a leaf is more than leaf -- furled, veined, delicate, as if a jeweller had worked it, but a jeweller with his tongue very slightly in his cheek, so that the insect is on the verge of mockery. Look, says the leaf insect, the fake: has any leaf ever been as exquisite as I am? Why, even where I have copied the imperfections of a leaf, I am perfect. Do you ever want to look at a mere leaf again, having seen me, the artifice?

In grey cat's eyes lay the green shade of a jade butterfly's wing, as if an artist had said: what could be as graceful, as delicate as a cat? What more naturally the creature of the air? What air-being has affinity with cat? Butterfly, butterfly of course! And there, deep in cat's eyes lies this thought, hinted at merely, with a half-laugh; and hidden behind the fringes of lashes, behind the fine brown inner lid, and the evasions of cat-coquetry. (Doris Lessing, Particularly Cats)
(The actual passage is a little longer, but to stay within "fair use" guidelines, I cut it down. Obviously, everyone should just read the entire book.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Some Thoughts on Knitting Charts

I've been reading through the Vogue Knitting issue from 1994 that I got at the Textile Museum's fabric sale last week. There's an article, "Knitting on the Information Highway", about online knitting communities, which contains the following gem:
Internet was originally set up as an information network by the Pentagon and is now used some what informally by people around the world. Whole books have been written about how to use Internet. If you find your way into it, look for knitters within a USENET news group called "rec.crafts.textile"...
But then again, in 1994, the most computering I was doing was Millie's Math House on the tiny Mac in our kindergarten classroom, so I won't judge.

In the letters to the editor section of the same issue, under the heading "The controversy continues", are published two separate letters expressing anger that patterns in previous issues have been printed in chart form rather than being written out. The difference is that written patterns list abbreviations of stitches in words, e.g.
*k2p2, repeat from * to end of row
to indicate a simple ribbing pattern, while knitting charts convey the same instructions pictorially, e.g.
I can see why people would find the written instructions easier to parse quickly, but knitting charts, from a computation perspective, are far more interesting. If you consider a knitting pattern to be a program (which I do), then a knitting chart, as a visual representation of the output it produces, is a quine.

...Okay, so it's a quine in the way that the Scheme program
is a quine. But still, kind of cool.

Some interesting links that I found while searching for "image quines":

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bright Tights and A Long Weekend

I went with Meraj on Saturday to a screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood (the 1938 one with Errol Flynn). I highly enjoyed it; it was the kind of thing I am easily charmed by. It felt like a movie meant for a younger audience, with all the weird fake laughter and bad dialogue and abrupt shifts within scenes that would suit less developed powers of concentration. Every time someone died (from arrows or swords), the actor would just kind of pause, close his eyes, and fall backwards peacefully. There was no anguished yelling except for one moment where someone in the background of a scene falls off a scaffold onto a spear--and I flinched for a second thinking there would be a gruesome image but the spear tip bends and the actor flops to the ground.

Will and Allen were combined into one character which, I guess how useful is Allen anyway? We can do without him. Basil Rathbone was Guy of Gisborne and it was kind of exciting recognizing him, because in the Holmes films he's made up as an almost perfect mirror of the Sidney Paget illustrations. Watching him with different hair and costume I realized he himself doesn't look that much like Holmes. The Sheriff of Nottingham was basically a non-character (too scared to do things and always being yelled at by Prince John), and this version of Maid Marian was boring but with really pretty dresses.

Maybe I have high expectations of her because the best Robin Hood story I've ever read was Jennifer Roberson's Lady of the Forest, which is a Marian-centric (and well-researched, historically accurate) retelling. (I picked it up skeptically and only because it had Marion Zimmer Bradley's recommendation on the cover, but that recommendation is well-deserved.) I also learned a lot of interesting history from that book about the Crusades and medieval England, which I otherwise wouldn't have cared about. But as fascinating as that period was, I realized watching this film that it's not the historical context that draws me to these stories, or even the idea of a rebel nobly fighting his oppressors; it's just the fun of seeing Robin outwit foolish people. I'll happily watch the same story beats done over and over, because Robin's and his band's mischievousness is good company. That's probably why the more cartoon-like a Robin Hood adaptation is (or actual cartoon), the more I love it.*

*The very notable exception to this is, of course, Rocket Robin Hood, which used to air on Teletoon Retro and which Meraj vehemently denies having watched with me more than twice at most.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Mind Hated the Gloomy Places

It's properly summer when I feel like spending all day lounging in bed eating popcorn and reading. Last weekend I finished Jack Vance's The Last Castle, and yesterday got my first taste of Anne McCaffrey with her novella Weyr Search (the first part of the first novel in her Pern series, which I will be hunting down soon). After tossing up between Carol Shields' biography of Jane Austen and Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy this morning, I decided to keep the science fiction mood going and start Foundation.

I remember about three years ago I was out in Ottawa with the Waterloo quizbowl team and we were playing some kind of "guess the word" game. We got into an argument with one of our teammates because he chose the word "psychohistory" and when we finally pieced it together we all started yelling (friendly yelling--the kind of yelling you do at your friends after having spent the day playing a tournament with them) that it wasn't even a real word, as he yelled back trying to explain what it was. I don't remember if he succeeded in convincing us or how the argument concluded but I recalled this incident as I read the first Foundation story today and tried to remember where I had come across psychohistory before.

I feel old saying this, but I'm starting to get what the point of tumblr is. I made an account almost two years ago that fell out of use pretty quickly, but I've logged back in and am trying to see what I can do with it. So far, I've just followed blogs that post pretty knitting photos and John Green. But sometimes when I come across a link or photo or small piece of information I want to share that I don't want to write an entire blog post about and for a half-second I miss being able to make a quick FB status update about it, I think tumblr will be the right place to make those kinds of pointless and fun posts.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Said, Is This Contagious?

I promised last time to try "regular blogging" but how regular is "regular"? I'm going to assign myself the goal of two posts per month and see how that goes.

I was listening to Old Ideas at work today, which is probably an odd thing to listen to while coding, but some combination of the nice grayness outside and the noise from office renovations put me in the mood for it. I've been digesting it for a while but still can't say what my favourite song is. If I picked one at this moment, it would be "Lullaby". "Crazy to Love You" and "Amen" are close seconds, but all of them are good.

I've been folding a lot of origami cubes because my laptop is too near death for me to watch tv. I have a stack of coloured square paper that I bought last year (for the purpose of folding origami cubes) that I'm working through. Last year, I tried to fold a Soma cube set, but after I finished most of the pieces I found they didn't fit very well together, due most likely to my subpar folding. I have no idea what I'll do with these tiny cubes once I'm done.

A couple of weeks ago, I made pizza dinner for my family and decided to try an experiment for my sister. I normally leave the dough to rise for a few hours on the counter, but this time I made the dough the night before and rose it in the fridge overnight. At around noon, I punched it down and spread it on a baking sheet, then covered it with plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge. It was about four in the afternoon when I finally put in in the oven, so in total the rise was about 18 hours. I've never risen dough anywhere near that long and was momentarily worried it would turn out horribly and Meraj (whose breadmaking knowledge quite outranks mine) would be just unimpressed. Once I put out the fire in my oven though and got the pizza out, I could see that the bread was more crispy and bubbly than I've ever managed before--like the best restaurant pizza but without all the greasiness. So, I guess I've learned that the secret to great pizza dough is an incredibly long cold rise. (For reference, this is the recipe I use: