Time Travel With Flowers

I was at the garden center and saw these flowers:

My Mum used to plant them in our garden in Rowan Crescent. So I bought a few.

The sight (only) reminded me of our garden 40 years ago, but closing my eyes and smelling them seemed to take me back in time physically. The smell is not even very lovely to most people, but it is full of crackling energy to me. 

The amazing power of scents.

How to use your opponent's ignorance to win at dice.


I found this true story in Against The Gods (The Remarkable Story of Risk) by Peter L. Bernstein.

Chevalier de Mere (real name Antoine Gombaud) was a Frenchman who, in the 1600s, made money with this bet:

"I bet I can get a 6 within 4 throws of the dice."

The book does not explain the calculation, but does give the answer to his chance of winning (roughly 51.8% of the time). I'd like to be good at probability calculations, but I'm not. Anyway I thought I'd try to find out how the probability was calculated. I preceded like this:

...which yields...

I was very proud of myself until I found out that there is a much easier way of calculating it. Just count out all the ways of losing, and take that number away from all the possible outcomes (winning + losing) and you've got the answer.

To lose you must throw a non six four times. The probability of throwing a non-six is 5/6. To do it four times you've got (5/6)*(5/6)*(5/6)*(5/6). And so the simpler way of calculating the answer becomes:

I wondered how many games and with how much money I'd have to play (betting on the ignorance of my opponents) so I could give up doing a real job. This would presumably be illegal, so the income would be tax free. Let's pretend I'd be happy with 30,000 tax free Euro a year.

1.774% x Investment = 30,000
Investment = 30,000/0.01774 = 1,691,093 Euros. Per year.

I'd somehow have to pursuade people to play the game with me with a stake of roughly 4500 Euros a day. I think I'll keep the day job.

As I say I'm no probability genius and will be happy to be corrected.


I don't care what you ate last night.

I don't care what you ate last night. I don't care what it was called or how it was presented or how much it cost. I want gossip. I want to hear about scandal, illegitimacy, failure, success, real lives.

I don't care what wine you drank last night. I don't care about its colour or taste, I was not there, I did not taste that wine, and nothing you say can describe it. I want to drink it, not hear descriptions of it.

I don't give a flying expletive-deleted what the colour of the sand was on your holidays. Or the quality of the hotel. Or the route you took to get there. I want to know how you make your money, what your work you do, if you enjoy it, if you have any plans or ambitions.

And sure as hell I don't want to hear your opinions on football teams, or hear what you dreamt last night. When someone says "I had a really strange dream last night..." I feel like a caged animal. 

I'll smile politely, and maybe, to my shame, join in. But we'll all be dust soon, let's at least talk about interesting things.

I know exactly how conceptual art works.

I know exactly how conceptual art works. If you are a lucky and well connected "artist" you get some more skillful craftsmen to make your "concepts" and present them as your own work. The dealers and you, the famous artist, make money out of rich idiots who are unable to think for themselves. Eventually, after many years, some poor fool will be left with worthless objects, wondering what happened to their investments.

Where are the concepts in conceptual art? What can compete (in terms of amazing realities) with relativity, evolution, or quantum electrodynamics?

One test. Imagine that civilization seems to be collapsing. You are in a very cold place. You have two sets of artworks which you could burn to keep warm. They will give the same amount of heat for the same time. You have a ton of sketches by Tracy Emin, and two paintings by Giorgione. Which do you burn first?

Search Tracy Emin's sketches and Giorgione's paintings in Google image search to help you decide.


An explanation of the Monty Hall problem which convinces me.

Look up The Monty Hall Problem if you've never heard of it. Basically there is a game show hosted by a bloke called Monty Hall, behind one of three closed doors is a prize, like a new luxury car. Behind the other two doors there is nothing. The game is to choose which door to open. You're given no clues. So all doors have an equal chance of giving you the luxury car, roughly 33%. Lets suppose you choose door A.

Now Monty opens door C to show you that behind it there is no prize. The question is: Should you change your choice from door A to door B?

The answer is yes, you increase your chances of getting the prize from 33% to 66%.

If you haven't heard of the Monty Hall problem before you're probably surprised by this answer, but it is true, not only in theory but also in practice. (Try it!)

I thunk and thunk about this and I've come up with an explanation which I have not heard before, though maybe it is wrapped up in maths I could not understand.

This first bit is not my explanation, and it sounded like magical homeopathy to me at first:

Roughly speaking the 33% probability of door C transfers itself to door B. The 33% of the door which has been opened by Monty moves over to the door you did not choose. So there is a 33% possibility of the door you did choose of having the car behind it, and a 66% possibility of the other unopened door having the car behind it.

Many people will say: "No! It is 50% door A and 50% door B! It does not matter if I change to B or stay with A. The probability divided half and half."

Now here's my "explanation". I was able to understand how the real probablilties were 33.3% and 66.7% with these drawings:

Consider A and B as a pair, initially you know no more about A than you do about B. So for that pair you have a 50%/50% possibility of getting the correct door.

Now consider B and C before Monty does anything. Again, just looking at that pair you have a 50%/50% possibility of getting the correct door.

But now, consider B and C after Monty shows you that behind door C there's nothing. Monty has told you something extra about the pair B and C, he's told you that definitely it is not behind C.

So now you know more about B and C than you do about A and B. And what you know is that if the prize was behind the B and C pair it is behind the B door. That is how the 33.3% gets transferred from door C to door B.

Voila! QED! Argh!


"Honey bee, honey bee, come to me, come to me"

Walking back from the shops I saw a dead bee on the pavement. I managed not to squash it with my great big feet. I thought immediately of my 40 Euro USB microscope and what it would show me of the bee. I'd not have killed a bee just to look at it, but there it was on the pavement, unsquashed. So I picked it up...

When I got home the first thing I saw and could get into focus was the leg shown above. Scary eh? But not as scary as the head:

It does not look dead to me, the eyes seem to be staring at me. In the photo below you can clearly see the segmented eyes (more on that later) and the yellow "fur" behind the head...

The mouth is pretty scary too...

The greatest revelation to me was the wings though. As far as the microscope was concerned it was good that bee wings are flat, so you can get it all into focus, and isn't it beautiful...?

Back to those multifaceted insect eyes. Sometimes you see images like this, pixellated flowers...

...and we are told that "bees see like this". As if anyone can tell how bees create images in their brains. Our own vision system is really unconcious interpretation of the signals that arrive. For example we see in "3d", but the 3d is reconstructed from two flat 2d images.

In the article  "What is it like to be a bat" by Thomas Nagel he maintains that it is impossible for us to know that. We just do not have the equipment. Who knows how a bee's brain reconstructs the signals from its multifacented eyes? I bet there's no humunculus bee sitting inside the brain of the bee watching a pixellated computer screen.

The title of this post is from a song by Kerry Andrew, "Honey Bee".


Technical Penitence

I have a rule about not going to see any films which have won (or may win) at Venice or Cannes, I violated that rule and, to my regret, saw Le Meraviglie.

So I should have remembered that violating my own rules usually ends in tears.

STL is the format most accepted by 3d printers. I wanted to create a medal or coin shaped object in STL. The problem with STL is that, apart from the huge file size, the mesh of triangles must be connected together in a proscribed way. Basically a triangle corner must not finish on a triangle edge:

The triangles C B and E are illegal in STL as they are shown above because the corners of C and B touch the edge (not the corner) of E. 3D printers would spit any object like that out. That is just one of the problems of making STL files.

Another problem, from my point of view, is that I have to modulate the triangle heights to follow the dark and light of the user's photo for my program PhotoToMesh. So how to I make a regular array of triangles in the shape of a disk which can be modulated like that?

My first simple idea was simply radial lines and concentric polygons:

And here I made my mistake. I should have followed my usual rule of programming: "If there is a simple solution, use that. Only if the simple solution gives you problems go for a complex one".

I looked at the above image and thought. "Oooooh! I don't like those tightly packed triangles in the center of the disk. Bound to cause me problems! What can I do to make the tesselation (division into triangles) more even?"

After much thought I came up with a solution of having a central square grid surrounded by four chords.

This would mean that in the most important part of the medal or coin the bas relief of the users' photo would have a pleasant, even, regular grid.

I did a few experiments by hand to see how the chord mesh triangles would be distributed, and they looked pretty even, compared with the central mess in the first image:

The indexing of the points was a bit of a nightmare, especially the external circumference ones, which I needed to know if I was to build a cylinder from the face.

But when I saw how beautiful the final whole face was...

...I sort of fell in love with it. And I followed my love into the dark jungle...

To get this buggar to work in 3D and collaborate with other meshes it needed to talk too was a nightmare. I sort of managed it, but when I tested it with a large amount of points what did I see?

Not only was the programming difficult but I was getting just as much a mess of triangles at the top of the chord as I'd been trying to avoid in the center by rejecting my original idea! And what is worse the mess with my new improved solution was repeated four times! Look: North South East and West:

Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted Expletive Deleted!

Had I followed my own rule about keeping things simple I'd have finished in a quarter of the time and had a much easier program to debug.


You don't need to go very far to see wonders...

I love clouds, my friends mock me or look at me as if I'm mad, but a goodly shaped cloud just gives me a warm infinity feeling.

These photos were all from the balcony of my flat over the last two years or so. It's tempting to stay inside and watch Law & Order I know, but with a bit of effort there's a whole strange universe out there before my very eyes.

In this photo you can see that the Earth's horizon is cutting off the sun's rays halfway down the cloud...

...behind my head the sun is going down.

I tried to imagine what strange winds could have created this...

...I suppose there was an invisible undulation of air.

And for real drama...

I don't need to waste money going to exotic places, it is all here before me, if only I'd remember to open my eyes more often.


Hallucinogenic Paraphenalia

I read, in Incognito I think it was...

...that even when the eyes are closed the brain continues to produce images. And somewhere in the Instructables site there was an article about how to produce "safe hallucinations." 

Both these things came to my mind recently because I've started having a midday nap. I've found that it better prepares me for the afternoon's work than, for example, reading a book,  watching TV, or browsing the Internet. Books, TVs and Internet do not leave my mind free to wander or sleep. They distract me from work, which I suppose is good, but keep the brain tethered.

So as an experiment a few months ago, I decided to have a 30 minute nap. I use a timer, a blindfold (which you used to get on long haul flights) and some ear plugs. My hallucinogenic paraphenalia:

I need the timer (which beeps for a minute after the set time) for two reasons
  1. If I fall asleep it will wake me.
  2. If I am restless I know there is a limit, and I can get up when the timer beeps.

I lie on the sofa and let the blindfold and earplugs detach me from the world.

If I fall asleep I must have been tired and will work the better for it afterwards. If I don't fall asleep I wander on the edge of sleep and have hallucinations.

One of the most boring things to read or hear about is the dreams of others, so I won't say what I saw during these "pauses", but they are always interesting and sometimes fun (to me).

I recommend it, a safe trip into a strange world...


My Veho 200X microscope has come up trumps again, here is the center (stigma? carpel?) of an oleander flower:

Isn't it amazing? 

(Since where I live there is a ton of light pollution I've turned my attention to the microsopic.)


If you are bored out of your mind with current popular music (some very skillful, but old ideas and techniques repeated ad-nauseum) have a listen to this: Hawk To The Hunting Gone by You Are Wolf (aka Kerry Andrew). Something original, new, lovely...

My favourite tracks are Cuckoo (strangely happy) and Three Ravens (odd and dark). You can buy the album at from her site, look for the album Hawk To The Hunting Gone.