Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Good Life

In Australia, both Christmas Day and Boxing Day are public holidays.  If either of them occurs on a normal working day, you most likely get a paid day off.  If both occur on normal work days, you get TWO paid days off!  Lucky!

I have no idea what Boxing Day is about or what you're supposed to do (Pack away your Christmas decorations?  Re-package gifts that you are going to return?  Punch people with over-sized novelty gloves?) but what was once good fortune is now considered an entitlement.  If either Christmas or Boxing Day occur on a weekend (like it did this year), you not only get the day off, but you also get another paid day off to make up for the fact that Sunday was going to be a day off anyhow.  If that same logic is followed indefinitely, people will want an additional paid day off if a public holiday doesn't fall on a weekend, to make up for the additional day they would have gotten if it had been on a weekend, et cetera. Employers will soon have to pay people to never work at all, just like in France.

In any event, that's why on a completely ordinary Tuesday two days after Christmas that wasn't any particular Holiday other than my brother's birthday (he never did have very good timing), I was up at The Shed relaxing and taking it easy.

There I was, lying in a hammock, sipping an ice-cold vanilla Coke, the bright sun warming me, the green Jarrah trees (Eucalyptus marginata) shading me, the cloudless deep-blue sky calming me, the breeze gently rocking me, the spiders in their enormous webs overhead alarming me, and I thought as I absently flicked away yet another kangaroo tick that was crawling up the leg of my jeans, "You know, John, life just doesn't get any better than this."

I honestly wished at that time that every guy in the world could be having such a peaceful, relaxing experience.  They'd most likely be consuming beer instead of cola, however.

Before coming to Australia, I never had to explain my abstinence to anyone.  In the USA, being abnormal is much more . . . well, "normal" isn't right, so I'll say "usual."  But here in Australia, not drinking alcohol is so unusual it can never pass unnoticed and I am constantly having to explain myself.

People assume I must be either Muslim, Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, an extremely committed Methodist, in the Baha'i faith, or possibly a High-Initiate Eckist.  Because nobody would ever choose to not have alcohol if it were entirely up to them, would they?

Not so.  I knew an athiest once who didn't drink either.  He said he'd spent too much of his life trying to learn things and get smarter, that he'd be buggered if he was going to go pouring stuff down his neck that might undo even a little of his hard work.  Especially something like beer that doesn't even taste good anyway.

He also said that too many men cower behind some religion to justify their actions for which they lack the moral courage to take responsibility themselves.  If you're going to do what you believe is right, he said, do it because you believe in it, not because some church says you have to.  "Never let religion prevent you from doing the right thing."  Funny, that I should learn more about religion from an atheist than I ever learned from anyone else.

That got me wondering. Can religion cause someone to lose his individual moral compass?  I once asked a staunch believer in a minority Christian faith what he would do if the leader of his church ordered him to blow up a bus full of children.  I became extremely alarmed simply by the delay in his answer, which I forestalled after a moment by saying, "Great Gilligan, man! You don't seriously have to THINK about that one, do you?"

Rather than a firm and definite "no," his answer was a cowardly, "it depends."   Mind you, his own church adamantly espouses a doctrine of free agency, a person's responsibility for his own actions, and the commandment not to kill people.  Could he really have been absent from Sunday School on all the days those items were covered?  The Superbowl is only once a year.

Or are beliefs in leaders' infallibility, absolute conformity, and moral relativism just that much more attractive to people, even to members of a church that explicitly denounces all three of these tenets?  Why even be in a religion if you're not going to believe anything they teach?  It couldn't possibly be that some people do not want the responsibility of making their own choices, could it?

-     -     -

I have a particular belief that I create my life, through my thoughts, actions, inaction, and choices. I can't prove that this is literally true for everyone all the time, and it seems like an awful lot of responsibility for a person to have.  But having this belief makes me more empowered, helps forestall feelings of helplessness and depression (see this scientifically tested book by Martin Seligman) and rouses me into activity like no other belief I have.  So I choose to believe it without further need of proof.

At times like today when life is as good as it gets (and when I focus more on the blue sky, green trees and sunshine than on the spiders and ticks in my life), I get the feeling that I might have made an OK choice.

Happy New Year to all my readers!  Make your 2012 the best one ever.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas In Australia

It's Christmas Down Under, and just as you've probably come to expect, it's weird.

For one thing, it's summer in Australia for some reason.  Oh, sure, I've heard all about the tilt of the earth's axis and the astoundingly boring scientific explanation for why Australia is six months out of synch with the rest of the world (New Zealand and South Africa excepted).  But I have the distinct feeling that the real reason is Australians simply want it that way out of sheer obstinacy.  What the locals refer to as "bloody-mindedness."

That's when, if you have absolutely nothing to lose by doing something that would be of tremendous benefit to others, but because you have nothing to gain from it, you don't do it.  Bloody-mindedness.  Politicians get accused of that a lot here.  It's what Ebeneezer Scrooge had, before he found his Spirit of Christmas Presents.

If the rest of the world has Christmas in winter, Australians just HAVE to be different and hold it in the middle of summer. "That'll show the bastards," is probably what they are all thinking.

I haven't felt the spirit of the Christmas season once in the ten years I've been here.  It's usually just too darn hot!  Too hot to bake Pfeffernüsse, Lebkuchen, cookies, fudge, divinity, roast turkey, Stollen, or any of the traditional winter holiday foods that I associate with Christmas.  Too hot to go out shopping for gifts, and too hot to sit by a glowing fire in a woolen sweater reading anything whatsoever by Charles Dickens.

While people in the northern hemisphere are enjoying a day out in the snow, getting windburn and the occasional touch of frostbite, Australians head for the beach for a sunburn and an occasional shark bite. While kids north of the equator are trying out their new snowboards, toboggans and skis, Aussie kids are trying out their new surfboards, boogie boards, and air conditioners.

My Christmas Dinner
Up north, you'll be having roast turkey, goose, ham, more turkey, mashed potatoes, hot chocolate, and still more turkey. In Australia, you get a barbeque.  And not like an awesome Southern barbeque - I mean just frying some steaks on a grill with maybe some prawns on there to classy it up a bit.

Down here, your uncle Albert would still get drunk and make a nuisance of himself at the family get-together, but the difference is that in Australia he'll likely be wearing a speedo as well.

With all that that entails.

Up north, Santa delivers gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.  In Australia, Santa does his rounds in a clapped-out Holden Ute.  But don't hold your breath.  It's a big country.  And Santa doesn't always remember to check the coolant level before heading out.

Santa calls out some other reindeer names that can't be printed here.

I've touched on some of the uniquely Australian characteristics of Christmas previously.  We have Christmas spiders (Austracantha minax), Christmas trees that you must not cut down (Nuytsia floribunda),  Christmas island (a refugee detention center), and Christmas Crackers.

The first time I was offered a Christmas Cracker, I declined.  "I can have crackers any old time," thought I.  "Hey, it's Christmas - let's eat some crackers!"  Could Australia really be that lame?

It turns out that Christmas Crackers aren't Saltines or even Ritz.  They're something even more lame.  Looking like someone's attempt to gift-wrap an empty toilet paper tube, they are supposed to explode when pulled open from the ends.  Someone's idea of humor, I guess.  But in reality, they make an almost detectable "tch" sound when detonated.  Once opened, they reveal a plastic choking hazard and a hat made of tissue paper.  And boy when you're wearing a hat made of tissue while trying to dislodge a miniature plastic desk lamp from a toddlers mouth, the fun just never stops.

My recommendation for your holiday travel is to visit Australia at some time of the year other than Christmas.  Unless you really like spiders, overweight men in speedos who have had too much to drink, and tissue paper hats.

Merry Christmas, one and all!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Story of Newtonmas

As you are probably aware, Sir Isaac Newton's birthday, December 25, is celebrated each year the world over.  We sing songs about Santa's gravity-defying reindeer, eat heroic quantities of the finest foods available, and decorate our houses, our trees, and increasingly, ourselves with highly technologically advanced paraphernalia, all in celebration of our civilization's utterly miraculous scientific and economic accomplishments.

QUIZ:  Which of these men was actually born on December 25th:
Sir Isaac of Lincolnshire, or Iosua of Galilee?
This is the True (but slightly anachronistic) Story of Newtonmas - the most Scientifically and Economically Wonderful Time of the Year.  And by "true," I of course mean "completely made up."

Once upon a time in the long-forgotten past, about eleven years ago, Nikolaos of Myra (who is known in the Blogosphere by his username Santa Claus) was meeting with his Chief Scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, to discuss his plans for a brand-new global holiday.

Santa:  "... and then I'll drop down the chimney and leave the presents under an indoor tree or shrub (haven't made a final decision on that yet).  What do you think?  I reckon this will be the best holiday of the year!"

Isaac:  "Well, Nick, I can't really comment on your marketing projections, but there might be a few technical issues with the plan.  Assuming we can provide the reindeer with sufficient thrust, there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to fly just fine.  It's the landings that have me a bit concerned."

Santa:  "We can work out those details later.  My number one concern (besides keeping bloody PETA off my back) is the timing.  I'm really hoping 24 hours is going to be enough.  I'll start in Australia, since they've got the earliest time zones..."

Isaac:  "Ah, yes.  I've done a few calculations, and there might be an issue or two.  To meet your timeframe, Santa, you'll have to average about 650 miles per second while making about 800 stops per second.  Assuming you can even react that fast without getting the presents mixed up, the g-forces would turn your flesh into jelly.  A big, bowl full of jelly, to be precise."

Santa:  "Even with my special red carbon fiber suit?"

Isaac:  "Especially with the suit.  The air resistance will not just melt your sleigh, but vaporize the remains as well."

Santa:  "Bugger.  Well, what do you suggest we do, smart guy?

Isaac:  "Um, there's something I've been working on for a while, and this might be the perfect opportunity to roll it out. I've succeeded in developing a consistent theory of Physics, which incorporates all known phenomena such as motion, forces, acceleration, light, mass, and energy.  The relationships between these things are nicely described by a method of computation I've developed ... which that scoundrel Leibniz keeps trying to take credit for.  Make sure you put him on your Naughty list, Nick."

Santa:  "(Sigh!) Physics and Calculus is all really interesting, I'm sure, but how is it going to help me?"

Isaac:  "Keep your beard on, grandpa, I'm getting to that.  When people can work out accurate predictions of how inventions are going to function, then developing technology is going to be a lot cheaper and faster to do.  And with a correct understanding of natural principles, it will be a lot less risky, since unfeasible inventions will be easy to spot, and more likely candidates easier to design.  The effect of all this will be an explosion of technology giving Humanity incredible levels of wealth, power, freedom and comfort that the world has never before seen or even imagined.  What I suggest we do, Santa, is publish my Physics and wait for it to get a foothold.  When it does, people will have all they need and more."

Santa:  "Wait ... but won't that mean they no longer need me to bring presents to the children?  They'll already have all they require."

Isaac:  "No, that's the beauty of it.  See, parents can then afford to go out and purchase the presents in a thriving, vibrant economy, wrap them up and leave them under the Santa Bush themselves.  The kids won't know the difference - they'll think you paid them a personalized visit, leaving you free to focus on the special needs cases."

Santa:  "Holy Commercialization . . . Isaac, you're a genius!  That is the best idea I've ever heard.  Sheer brilliance.  You know, I was going to hold this holiday on my birthday - December 7th - (a bit of personal vanity, I suppose), but because you saved Santa-mas, we're going to hold it on your birthday instead!  When is that, anyway?"

Isaac:  "December 25th."

Santa:  "No good.  It's too close to the pagan Solstice celebrations."

Isaac:  "Not necessarily.  If you were to merge the two, you'll get much greater market penetration.  Plus, I know this Jewish guy who's a genius at Public Relations.  I've become a huge fan of his work myself - he's already got about a bazillion likes on Facebook.  If you get him to handle the publicity, this holiday will go viral in no time at all."

Santa:  "Good thinking.  I'll give him a jingle.  Get it?  Jingle?  Ho ho ho.  What's his name?"

Isaac:  "Joshua of Galilee, but his friends just call him Jesus."

Santa:  "When's his birthday?"

Isaac:  "The 30th of Nissin.  Why?"

Santa:  "Never mind.  That's, like, March or April isn't it?  It doesn't matter I suppose.  Yes, with your help, Isaac, and Joshua's marketing skills, this holiday is going to be an absolute smash!  A real corker."

... And that's the story (more or less) of how we came to live in a wonderful world of untold wealth, possibility, freedom, abundance, long life and joy.  Of course not everyone shares in this Utopian dream.  There are people today still living in darkness, in lack, in despair and in shackles both real and imagined.  But as more and more people embrace the spirit of Newtonmas, the can-do belief that our intellect, hard work, rationality and best intentions can make life better for everyone,  the blessings of human progress will gradually but inexorably become universal.  Each December 25 will find the world a better place than the previous one did.

Merry Newtonmas, Everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is The Mechanical Age Finished?

Is it the end of the Mechanical Age?

The what?  Well, you'd better watch the video.  Then decide.

(26 minutes)


Sunday, December 11, 2011

One Little Word That Can Change Your Life

I've written previously about untestable beliefs that you can test personally but which are not subject to scientific validation or falsification.  Unlike science, which is a collaborative, cumulative enterprise of progress, personal growth depends on you alone and is a journey everyone makes from start to finish.  No shortcuts.  Or are there?

You alone can make the discoveries of personal enlightenment.  No teacher, guru, minister, psychologist, "self help" coach, parent or mentor can do it for you.  A teacher can at best give hints and encouragement.  I can only promise you based on my experience that there are discoveries waiting to be made which are immensely worthwhile.  Possibly the only thing really worth doing with life's short moment.

If you have ever wanted to change your life or if you ever desired to be happy, then perhaps you have tried taking a vacation, re-decorating the house, buying some completely different (yet somehow identical) shoes and clothes, getting up at an entirely different time, quitting one job and getting another, moving to a foreign country, reading completely different books, having a new relationship or a new child or a new divorce, or buying a totally different car to the one you have.  One with, say, four wheels instead of . . . oh, never mind.

You might be unusually lucky and have everything suddenly go your way.  All morons and idiots vanish from your life, bullies all get their come-uppance, your preferred political party wins the election, your chosen athletics corporation makes the playoffs, and all the TV shows you most despise get cancelled.

If you are fortunate enough to experience all that, then it might also be your good fortune to learn an extremely valuable truth:  You're still unhappy!

Then if you have the time, health and resources, you could keep trying to change your internal emotional state by continuing to re-arrange the world around you.  If you do this and if you live long enough, you might even discover something truly extraordinary:  You had what you were looking for inside you all along.

A person who can make that journey is lucky indeed.  How much luckier is the person who gets to the finish line in an instant without all that effort?  Such a person could live his whole life happy right from the get-go.  Wouldn't that be interesting.

So what is this one little word that can change your life?  It's just an untestable belief I have that says the way I ask a question determines the quality of the answers I receive.

Lots of people ask themselves, "Why is this happening to me?"  And the human brain is an answer-generating machine.  It is not a logical truth machine, however.  Answers only.  If you ask your brain a question, it WILL produce an answer even if it has to make shit up.

If you ask why awful things always happen to you, your brain will produce plentiful evidence that this assumption is not only correct, but has countless logical, inescapable reasons.  So be extremely careful what you ask your brain.

But if we change one little word in that question, it becomes a vehicle of power rather than self-pity.  It becomes the trigger for your brain to plan for your success rather than undermine all your efforts.

Change the "2" to a "4" and get:

Why is this happening FOR me?

Test it in your life and share the results.

I recommend:

Just An Ordinary, Boring Weekend in Oz

Some people think Perth is a boring place.  At first, I didn't understand what they were talking about.  But after getting to know Perth and learning some of the many incredibly, amazingly boring things about it, I'm beginning to understand.

An uninvited swan.
Take this weekend, for instance.  Saturday afternoon Yvonne and I were at Point Walter (what a BORING name!) sitting on the grass enjoying a meal of beef Teriyaki and Thai green curry (ho-hum - such ordinary, everyday boring food) when to our utter boredom an absolutely boring Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) casually strolled right through the middle of the picnic area.  Two hundred years ago that would have caused tremendous excitement, since at the time the mythical Black Swan was believed to be, well,  mythical.  But today if you live in boring old Perth tripping over Black Swans everywhere you go, they just contribute to the overall boredom.

Cygnus atratus,  NOT mythical.  Quite boring, actually.
Not even venomous or anything.
Later that evening, we were down at Fremantle Harbour watching the boring container ships being unloaded, which they do here 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  Yawn!  Over 26 million tons of remarkably dull goods pass through this port every year.  Then the dullest thing imaginable happened:  a transport ship from Kobe opened its hull and a bunch of ordinary Toyota cars started driving right out onto the dock.  About twenty wharfies then spent hour after boring hour parking hundreds of cars in a massively boring lot and then stuffing themselves into an ordinary minivan, driving back onto the transport ship and starting all over again.  This went on for hours.

On the bridge of HMAS Choules, facing aft, port side.
We know, because we watched the whole thing happening from the bridge of the soon-to-be-commissioned Navy transport HMAS Choules, a Bay-class landing ship dock purchased (in typical Australian fashion) second-hand on Ebay.  Ha ha!  No - they actually bought it from the Brits.  Second hand.

Well, at least they didn't pick it up on the side of the road somewhere or make off with it in the middle of the night while its owners were sleeping, which is even more typically the Australian way of procuring things.

This ship is so immensely boring that the sheer size of it stunned me into submissive silence.  It weighs 16,000 tons and is 580 feet long.  It has an enormously boring cavity right down the middle of it with enough space for 150 trucks.  That's a lot of trucks.

HMAS Choules in Falmouth drydock,
earlier this year.
To get an idea of what this experience was like, you should go out and find a parking lot big enough for 150 trucks and imagine putting the entire parking lot INSIDE the middle of a ship.  How does that make you feel?  Pretty darn bored, right?

Our fully authorized incursion onto the ship was courtesy of a friend who is an electronics technician in the Australian Navy.  He had just arrived on this ship all the way from Falmouth, England (Britain's deepest and most boring natural port) where the ship had been undergoing re-fit since August.  By the time they finally got to Perth, the entire crew was absurdly, ridiculously bored.  Perth has that effect on people.

The HMAS Choules was re-named for Australia's oldest living WWI and WWII veteran Claude Choules, who ironically died earlier this year in Perth (undoubtedly from boredom) at age 110.  He was Australia's oldest living man at the time of his death.  And he holds the World's Record for being the oldest first-time published author when he released his memoirs at age 108. This is probably how he got a ship named after him.  Well, that and his service in two world wars and 41 years as an enlisted man and NCO in the Australian Navy, of course.
December 10, 2011 Total Lunar Eclipse at about
40 minutes before full occlusion.  Photo by
 Cpl. Marek Bubna-Litic, R.A.N.,
taken from onboard the HMAS Choules.

From our towering vantage point some 100 feet above Fremantle harbor, we could see every boring thing that was going on. In particular, the TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE that was happening that very night right before our eyes.  This is a scientific event that is so boring it happens only every couple of years (but twice this year, being a particularly boring year).

The overall effect it had on me was to make me so sleepy after watching it until well past 11 PM that I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.  But I finally understand why people say Perth is so boring.

It is because they are devoid of any imagination and lack even a passing curiosity about the fascinating place we live.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, it's finally December, and you know what that means, right?

Tinsel?  Lights?  Santa?  Presents?

Wrong!  At the Shed, December always means . . .


Lots and lots of spiders.  Colorful, festive spiders adorning everything.

The entire block (where the Shed is) is presently criss-crossed between every tree, shrub, bush and plant with spiderwebs.  Peter Jackson could film most of The Hobbit right here and save a fortune on fake webs and giant spider animatronics.  Plus my recently-acquired ear hair qualifies me to be an extra in the film, maybe even a supporting extra.

I was up there a few days ago checking on the rainwater tank (finally full, which I determined with just a glance at a most ingenious tank gauge)  and making sure the drip irrigation system was in good order for the start of summer.  This simple task was rendered almost impossible because I literally could not move an inch or turn around on the spot without going straight through some spider's ludicrously ambitious web, some of them eight feet across.  I had to carry several sticks with me at all times (second most useful thing ever) and constantly wave them around, high and low.  If I passed through one way, there'd be a new web in the spot by the time I returned.  At one point there were three bewildered spiders clinging to my stick at the same time probably asking themselves in their creepy spider language, "Why, God?  Why is this happening to me?"

The main culprit in all this Holiday Madness is called the Christmas Spider.  Now tell me this: what the hell kind of country has something called a Christmas Spider? But there we are.  Deal with it.

Christmas Spider photographed at The Shed

Austracantha minax is a type of Orb Weaver found only in Australia, and is also known as the Christmas Spider, The Australian Jewel Spider, the Spiny Spider, and for some reason, "Bowser Henderson."  Are you finally convinced that Australia is the strangest place on Earth?  As though Mel Gibson and Steve Irwin wasn't proof enough.  Then tell me, what other country in the world would name an entire species of spider "Bowser Henderson?"*  (SEE BELOW - NOT TRUE)

They show up in late November, and by Christmas there is a spider sitting in a web filling every possible web-making space in certain parts of the outback.  A month later, they are nowhere to be found.  They celebrate Christmas by feasting on the explosion of moths, mosquitoes and other flying nuisances that erupts this time of the year, and then vanish until next holiday season.

We're just crazy about Christmas here.  Australia also has something called Christmas Island, but you wouldn't want to go there.  It has no snow, no elves, and nothing even remotely resembling Holiday Cheer. It is most famous as the location of a concentration camp for refugees who are permanently detained by the Australian Government while politicians decide how best to use them to their electoral advantage.  Unfortunately, most politicians can only see their existence as a political disadvantage and are simply hoping the problem will go away if they ignore it long enough.

Christmas in Western Australia also means Christmas Trees, of course.  But it wouldn't be Australia if that, too, were not also weird and a little bit sinister.  A Christmas Tree is a parasite (technically, a hemiparasitic plant) somewhat related to Mistletoe (so there's that, anyway), which bursts out in the most violent day-glow orange display each December.

This large, free-standing plant known scientifically as Nuytsia floribunda and found only in Western Australia uses its roots to tap into and hijack the roots of almost any other tree or plant to obtain the nutrients it needs.  When the colorful Christmas Trees are in full bloom, that is a signal for everyone to get ready, hang up their stockings and watch out for . . . Santa?  No!  Spiders.  Hang up your stockings and anything else that you don't want spiders getting into.

Nyoongar aboriginals consider it to be extremely poor manners to cut down one of these trees.  Oh, it might bring bad luck, who knows.  Anything's possible, I suppose.  But these trees are an excellent source of shields fashioned from bark, and produce an edible resin gum.  And they make a pretty cool natural calendar, too.

Have a Holly Jolly Creepy Crawly Christmas!  And don't forget to BUY STUFF.  The economy needs you.

* This "Bowser Henderson" factoid sounds a lot like bullshit, doesn't it?  Interestingly, wikipedia is the only reference to this usage (other than sites that just copy whatever wikipedia says), and it is looking more and more like bullshit as I continue my attempts to verify it.  I suspect it is someone's private joke on the world, because the name doesn't appear to have any cultural or popular meaning.  I am attempting to raise the question with Australia's leading spider and lingual experts.  I will keep you informed.

UPDATE 17 DEC 2011:  I have been in communication with a spider expert at the South Australian Museum who agrees that this "Bowser Henderson" thing is probably bullshit.  He has never heard of it.  I have also been in contact with an expert in Australian Linguistics who knows more about Australian slang, regional terminology and dialects than probably anyone alive, and he says he's never heard of it.  He surmises it may be a term used only within the contributor's own limited circle, own family, or possibly even within his own mind.   Therefore we will declare that this factoid is BUSTED and  "Bowser Henderson" IS NOT a "commonly used" alternative name for the Christmas Spider at all.    -j.j.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Clever Are You?

There are a lot of really clever inventions out there, mainly due to (and sometimes in spite of) the efforts of a lot of really clever people.  Are you one of them?

Are you clever enough to figure out a way to indicate the level of water in a rainwater tank using nothing other than String and Rocks, two of the four fundamental Blokian Elements?

I'll even give you a hint:  It looks exactly like this:

As the water level inside the tank increases or decreases, the external red pointer (seen on the white pole near the center of the photo) rises or falls to indicate the actual water level to within a couple of millimeters.  How does it work?

I have seen fluid level sensors that use mechanical floats, electromagnetic transducers, ultrasonic sensors, capacitive sensors, induction sensors, thermal sensors, Vessel Resonance Depth Gauges and differential pressure depth gauges.  But this is the first one I've encountered that uses only string and rocks.  Talk about Low Tech, you don't get much lower than that.  Unless it were using just Rocks and nothing more.

The depth of a hole, canyon or gorge can be determined using only a rock.  Drop the rock over the edge and count "One-hippopotamus, Two-hippopotamus, ..." until the rock hits something.  Then square the number of hippopotami.  That is the depth of the canyon in rods.  To get feet, multiply by 16.  To get meters, multiply by 4.905 instead.  What could be simpler than that?

If you can describe to me how this tank level indicator operates using only String and Rocks, I will add your name to the Blokian Honor Roll in a future post that reveals the answer.  A diagram is useful.  Click on the "About Me" link in the left sidebar to send me your entry.

And don't forget to do your Christmas Shopping!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Secret Men's Business

Walt Whitman wrote:

A batter'd, wreck'd old man,
  Thrown on this savage shore, far, far from home,
  Pent by the sea and dark rebellious brows, twelve dreary months,
  Sore, stiff with many toils, sicken'd and nigh to death,
  I take my way along the island's edge,
  Venting a heavy heart.

  I am too full of woe!
  Haply I may not live another day;
  I cannot rest O God, I cannot eat or drink or sleep,
  Till I put forth myself, my prayer, once more to Thee,
  Breathe, bathe myself once more in Thee, commune with Thee,
  Report myself once more to Thee.

My hands, my limbs grow nerveless,
  My brain feels rack'd, bewilder'd,
  Let the old timbers part, I will not part,
  I will cling fast to Thee, O God, though the waves buffet me,
  Thee, Thee at least I know.

  Is it the prophet's thought I speak, or am I raving?
  What do I know of life? what of myself?
  I know not even my own work past or present,
  Dim ever-shifting guesses of it spread before me,
  Of newer better worlds, their mighty parturition,
  Mocking, perplexing me.

  And these things I see suddenly, what mean they?
  As if some miracle, some hand divine unseal'd my eyes,
  Shadowy vast shapes smile through the air and sky,
  And on the distant waves sail countless ships,
  And anthems in new tongues I hear saluting me.

Our old friend Walter raises several very good points with this.  One concerns the Mathematician, aka the Magician.  The doer of magic, so-called, because so few understand it.  So few also comprehend the effort it takes, the years of preparation and study, enduring confusion, suffering privation with a single purpose in mind:  to Know.  Nor do they see the power that must be summoned to create such original works. 

At some point the Magician must bid goodbye to his powers and see his works blossom or not, float or sink as they will, without him to steer them.

Another is the Grieving Man, so full of woe and venting a heavy heart.  Where does he come from?  Where does he go when at last he disappears?  To quote the great Leroy Carr, "The blues, they come, the blues they come, nobody knows where the blues come from; the blues they go, the blues they go, and everybody's happy when the old blues go."*  It must serve some divine purpose, as everything in existence (which existence is the divine itself) must do.  The clever part is in finding it out.

One final word, and if this isn't making sense, then check the title again.  Things can be hidden in plain sight, like the Parables. What I'm really interested in knowing is this:

Why is there new hair growing on my ears that  was never there before?  What possible benefit could that bestow upon me?

Am I turning into some sort of Hobbit?

* Leroy Carr (1905-1935) was a blues pianist who lived only to age 30 but within that short time influenced generations of artists including Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Count Basie, and T-Bone Walker.  The lyrics come from the song "Papa's on the housetop."

And would you LOOK at the size of those hands?