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WEEK 5 2010

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Saturday 6 February 2010
Saturday - relaxed, read, and watched the rain fall. About 3/4" of rain in 24 hours, a lot for the desert.

I did go out to the movies and watched Sherlock Holmes. Not too bad, actually. Lots of action, and the movie moved right along. Not much deduction, until the end when Holme's lets us know what he's been thinking (which is true to the way that ACD wrote the stories), but the scenes of waterfront London in the late 1800's, and the images of the building of the great bridge made it all more than worth while.

The movie has been out long enough that the theater was almost empty...such a blessing.

Friday 5 February 2010
Friday - did some work in the morning and then headed back to Lancaster. It was raining, and continued to rain, the whole way up, and into the evening.

I ran across the image below and forwarded it to my brother Bob for analysis. He is a huge Apollo fan, and instantly identified it as Charlie Duke on the edge of Plum crater...and friend.
Friday Cat Photo
Charlie Duke, Apollo 16, rim of Plum Crater
Charlie Duke of Apollo 16, on the rim of Plum Crater...with friend.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Thursday - Book #5 is Patricia McKillip's Od Magic. Eh. It has many of the same stylistic elements as the Riddlemaster trilogy, but it just didn't 'gel' for me as well. I was at the library looking for the third in the Riddlemaster series, but picked up this instead. Not bad, but not exactly gripping either, and the fantasy world wasn't well enough delineated to "suck one in".

It would fall into the "wizards masquerading as illusionists" category of fantasy. Someday I should write those categories down, but I suppose somebody already has.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Wednesday - There have been a couple of lousy illustrations lately, in blogs I read frequently, that I wanted to point out.

(I.) Over at Megan McArdles blog she reproduced an illustration comparing 2008 and 2009 unemployment, using dueling pie charts:

unemployment graphics

Ugh. From Tufte's classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, page 178:

Tables are preferable to graphics for small data sets. A table is nearly always better than a dumb pie chart; the only worse design than a pie chart is several of them, for then the viewer is asked to compare quantities located in spatial disarray both within and without the pies, as in this heavily encoded example from an atlas. Given their low data density and failure to order numbers along a visual dimension, pie charts should never be used.

Emphasis mine. Interestingly, the actual table Tufte uses to make his point also relates to employment (I think, the pie chart legends are in Hebrew).

I'd say Tufte is partially right, here the easy take away visually is that the "27 weeks and over" category has increased dramatically, but the other three categories are not easy to compare, once has to scan back and forth several times to make sense of the two pies.

And, to put my fingers where my mouth is:

An at-a-glance comparison of unemployment duration changes.

We can see on a simple bar chart (via an Open Office Spreadsheet) instantly what went up, what went down, and the relative amounts. A much better graphic.

Over at Geekpress they linked to a Cool Infographics post that links in turn to the british Sunday Mail, that includes a pseudo-transit-map of the Milky Way galaxy:

milky way transit map

The problem is, it doesn't really help you visualize anything useful. Distances, time, visibility from earth, bearing from earth; not even a "You are Here".

Harry Beck's 1931 London Underground Tube graphic that Arbesman, creator of this, used as a starting point is famous for it's usefulness - there are entire web sites devoted to it and it's decendants; but I just don't care for this particular plot.

Heh. The map design type, I just noticed,  is referred to as 'topological'.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Tuesday - more rain predicted. I may not go north this weekend after all. I offered to take some furnishings from Martinez up to Reno, but I'm not going to drag a trailer through Sierra Nevada snowdrifts.

I am still working away at Derbyshire's Unknown Quantity. It's not quite as interesting to me as his earlier book (last years Book #49, Prime Obsession), but still kind of neat. Mathematicians are very strange people.

But I did learn something ("learn" is probably too strong a word, "get a hint" might be better). I've always wondered, idly, how they classify things in topology. That is, I can intuitively see that a torus (donut shaped object) is different from a sphere, and a two holed torus is distinct from a standard torus, but how did they mathematically differentiate between them? The simple explanation, and probably not quite correct, is that one generates closed paths on the surface of an object, and counts the number of distinct closed paths that cannot, by any stretching or twisting, be turned into the other. For a torus there are two, and for a double torus...uh..four or five? For a sphere they can all be collapsed to a dot.

Monday 1 February 2010

Monday - Well, as expected, Obama canceled Ares. Less expected (to me), he canceled all of Constellation. Sheesh. I was no big fan, but what now? Can private space fill the big shoes?

It occurs to me that I haven't posted on 'Climategate'. Well, it's good to see the AGW and the associated poseur's and con-artists go down. It looks like the flood gates are beginning to open and that people who stayed quiet out of fear of retaliation from the 'consensus' are coming forward. And the media is finally, at least in non-USA countries, beginning to pick up on the story.

Sunday 31 January_2010

Sunday - again under the weather. I'd sure appreciate a nice healthy weekend to get things done, but...

I did go out to lunch with friends. It was about all I could do - then slept the rest of the afternoon.

After napping I read a couple of short books #3 , The Riddlemaster of Hed and and #4, Heir of Sea and Fire, by Patricia A. McKillip. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy, Tolkien references to the contrary, but these are delightfully well written. I'd loaned them to someone years ago, but apparently they didn't like them enough to even finish the first. Odd, but tastes differ. Sadly the third in the trilogy, Harpist in the Wind, didn't come back. Well, it can be picked up for a dollar or so on Ebay or Amazon.

It's hard to explain these books, and the quirky world they evoke. For example, the "wise men" of the fantasy world are "Riddlemasters", and much of the worlds wisdom and morality is bound up into riddles and their answers, 'strictures' as they are called. For example, there is the riddle of Kern of Hed (Hed being a small rural island, known for wheat and rutabaga production...)

Paraphrasing, the riddle goes:

    Kern of Hed, besides being the only Prince of Hed to own a crown, had the dubious distinction of one day being pursued by a Thing Without a Name. Running into his house of seven rooms and seven doors he locked each behind him. He heard the Thing call his name and tear down the first door. Then it called his name and tore down the second. This continued for six of the doors. When it reached the seventh door it called out his name. He waited in terror for it to tear the door down, but it didn't. Terror turned to impatience as he awaited his fate. Nothing happened. Finally boredom and curiousity over-ruled terror and he opened the door himself - and nothing was there. He was left the rest of his days to wonder what the Thing was, and what it wanted with him.

Stricture: Answer the unanswered riddle.

So, not your ordinary fantasy, despite using many of the standard elements.

Picture of the Week

Deck gear on the schooner Alma
Photo NotesDeck gear on the schooner Alma, pic by Dad.

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