Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vonnegut and Lenin

First of all, today, April 22, happens to be both the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, who, as we know, is "More Alive Than Anyone Alive(TM)", and Earth Day! Say whatever you like, but in my opinion this doesn't bode well for Lenin's unburied body.

Also, here's a thought I came up with in the shower this morning. Kurt Vonnegut's last name sounds German, obviously, but as far as I'm concerned, there's no good translation for 'vonnen' or 'vonne' when spelled this way. However, when you consider the fact that an English-speaking clerk might have simply misspelled the last name Wohnegut, which methinks could come from wohnen +  gut, the corresponding meaning would be "lives-well", which is an additional cherry of irony on top of cupcake of Vonnegut's prose. And in fact a quick Google search goes to show that people (esp. German-speakers) routinely mis-misspell his name as Wohnegut.

And now for something completely different, brought to you by the Quirky Shower Thoughts Series. It's a little mathematical word problem.
Problem. How many paws do two three-legged cats have provided they share one paw?
Schroedinger version. How many paws do two three-legged cats have provided they share one paw 30% of the time?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wikipedia Review Monthly

The moving sofa problem was formulated by the Austrian-Canadian mathematician Leo Moser in 1966. The problem is a two-dimensional idealisation of real-life furniture moving problems, and asks for the rigid two-dimensional shape of largest area A that can be maneuvered through an L-shaped planar region with legs of unit width. The area A thus obtained is referred to as the 'sofa constant'.

Greco-Buddhist Art

Greco-Buddhist art is the artistic manifestation of Greco-Buddhism, a cultural syncretism between the Classical Greek culture and Buddhism, which developed over a period of close to 1000 years inCentral Asia, between the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, and the Islamic conquests of the 7th century CE. Greco-Buddhist art is characterized by the strong idealistic realism of Hellenistic art and the first representations of the Buddha in human form, which have helped define the artistic (and particularly, sculptural) canon for Buddhist art throughout the Asian continent up to the present. It is also a strong example of cultural syncretism between eastern and western traditions.
The origins of Greco-Buddhist art are to be found in the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian kingdom (250 BCE- 130 BCE), located in today’s Afghanistan, from which Hellenistic culture radiated into the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of the Indo-Greek kingdom (180 BCE-10 BCE). Under the Indo-Greeks and then the Kushans, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture flourished in the area ofGandhara, in today’s northern Pakistan, before spreading further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta empire, which was to extend to the rest of South-East Asia. The influence of Greco-Buddhist art also spread northward towards Central Asia, strongly affecting the art of the Tarim Basin, and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan.

A retiarius (plural retiarii; literally, "net-man" or "net-fighter" in Latin) was a Roman gladiator who fought with equipment styled on that of a fisherman: a weighted net (rete, hence the name), a three-pointedtrident (fuscina or tridens), and a dagger (pugio). The retiarius was lightly armoured, wearing an arm guard (manica) and a shoulder guard (galerus or spongia). Typically, his clothing consisted only of a loincloth (subligaculum) held in place by a wide belt (balteus), or of a short tunic with light padding. He wore no head protection or footwear.
The retiarius was routinely pitted against a heavily armed secutor. The net-fighter made up for his lack of protective gear by using his speed and agility to avoid his opponent's attacks and waiting for the opportunity to strike. He first tried to throw his net over his rival. If this succeeded, he attacked with his trident while his adversary was entangled. Another tactic was to ensnare his enemy's weapon in the net and pull it out of his grasp, leaving the opponent defenseless. Should the net miss or the secutor grab hold of it, the retiarius usually discarded the weapon, although he might try to collect it back for a second cast. Usually, the retiarius had to rely on his trident and dagger to finish the fight. The trident, as tall as a human being, permitted the gladiator to jab quickly and keep his distance. It was a strong weapon, capable of inflicting piercing wounds on an unprotected skull or limb. The dagger was the retiarius's final backup should the trident be lost. It was reserved for when close combat or a straight wrestling match had to settle the bout. In some battles, a single retiarius faced two secutores simultaneously. For these situations, the lightly armoured gladiator was placed on a raised platform and given a supply of stones with which to repel his pursuers.
Retiarii first appeared in the arena during the 1st century CE and had become standard attractions by the 2nd or 3rd century. The gladiator's lack of armour and his reliance on evasive tactics made the retiariusthe lowliest (and most effeminate) of an already stigmatised class. Passages from the works of Juvenal, Seneca, and Suetonius suggest that those retiarii who fought in tunics may have constituted an even more demeaned subtype (retiarii tunicati) who were not viewed as legitimate retiarii fighters but as arena clowns. Nevertheless, Roman artwork, graffiti, and grave markers include examples of specific net-men who apparently had reputations as skilled combatants and lovers.

Note The above material (text and images) has been taken from Wikipedia, and is licensed under Creative Commons. You can access full article content by clicking on the heading links.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Guide To Writing Unmaintainable Code

You might have seen this one before, but I just stumbled on this brilliant article by Roedy Green et al which outlines great techniques and principles to write unmaintainable software: "A Guide To Writing Unmaintainable Code". What a brilliant, brilliant piece.

Employers: hug a developer today.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hello Kitty

An article from SF Chronicle that scratches the surface of the fascinating phenomenon of Hello Kitty and discusses a bit its relationship to the culture of Kawaii (cute) in Japan.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kurt's favorite joke

Kurt Vonnegut's favorite joke, as told by Mark Vonnegut in his preface to a posthumous collection of Kurt's essays, "Apocalypse in retrospect":
Every day for years and years a customs agent carefully searched through this guy's wheelbarrow. Finally, when he was about to retire, the customs agent asked the guy, "We've become friends. I've searched your wheelbarrow every day for many years. What is it you're smuggling?"
"My friend, I am smuggling wheelbarrows."
The whole introduction is available here at NPR, with an added bonus of a recording of Mark Vonnegut reading Kurt's letter home that he wrote in 1944 after being released from the german POW camp.

N.B.: I picked up Camus' "The Myth of Sysyphus" and the above collection of Vonnegut stories in a book store at SFO airport, and they were displayed much more prominently than all the trash fiction that usually takes up all the shelf space in airport bookstores. Take note, fellow cynics, there's still a hope out there for us.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

And now for something completely different

Afghani parliament has passed a controversial law granting the husband a right to sex with wife at least once in four days, and wife right to sex with husband at least once in four months. The parlamentarians hope that this might open new economic opportunities, making Afghanistan the prime destination for marital sex tourism*. Wednesday has also been marked by numerous protests from the country's outspoken gay community, demanding equal rights under the new law.

* You might have to convert to Shiite Islam first as this law doesn't apply to non-Shiites.