Archive for April, 2009

Braille writer

Friday, April 10th, 2009

I wanted to learn to write Braille, and I figured the most useful thing to do was to implement a Braille writer java applet. That way other people could also use it to learn how to write Braille.

I actually started it the other day, but got distracted by other things. So today I finished it up, and I’ve put it on-line at

Seems like one of those things that should have already been out there somewhere as a free resource. Better late than never.


Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Yesterday I gave several gifts to people I like very much. One in particular was the “Foundation Trilogy” by Isaac Asimov. I gave this to an incandescently brilliant eleven year old boy, the son of a good friend of mine.

Not only hadn’t he ever read it – he’d never heard of it. I suspect a lot of eleven year olds today have never heard of “Foundation”. There is (apparently) no movie deal attached to this trilogy, and therefore no reason for large commercial forces to hype it. And yet, watching my young friend read the back jacket, seeing his gradual understanding of what he held in his hands, was very moving to me.

I had first read “Foundation” when I was the same age he is now – about eleven – and it had had a profound effect on me. Sure, I had been reading SciFi before then, but “Foundation” was different. It seemed to resonate on so many levels – psychological, political, sociological – that one could spend years poring over it, and never run out of things to discover. The openmindedness with which Asimov engaged concepts and ideas – the way he would trust his reader, casually crossing boundaries between ways of thinking – was indeed a foundation for much of what would become my own way of looking at the world.

It is good to know that this sort of storytelling magic might still work its wonders on someone who is now eleven. Hopefully one day, when he is older – like I am now – my young friend will return the favor by giving this delightful book, or another of his choice, to some curious young member of a generation yet to come.

Music in a dream

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

From time to time I hear beautiful strains of music in my dreams. Not familiar music, but rather music I’ve never heard before. There are times when my dreaming mind thinks “Ah, what a beautiful melody. If only I could write this down, to enjoy when I am awake.”

I remain skeptical that this music exists at all. Although it would be lovely to think that my sleeping mind is composing lovely lyrical airs on the fly, I suspect that it is more likely an illusion – that some part of my mind that responds to music is being triggered, without there really being such music.

Of course it would be delightful to find out that the music is real – that my mind is not merely conjuring up a feeling, but the music itself. My skepticism arises from other situations in which my dream-self has been shown to be highly self-deluding.

In particular, I have often woken up from a dream in a state of great excitement, having just invented some marvelous process or mechanism. This euphoria generally lasts around three seconds or so – the amount of time it takes my waking mind to process the great invention and to realize that there is nothing meaningful there – that my “discovery” was merely a row of rainbow colored paints, or an elevator that travels sideways.

It could be that music is different on some fundamental level, that the mind is indeed capable of generating the real deal – lovely lilting strains of inspired music – in some somnambulistic state of fevered creation.

Alas, my waking mind remains ruefully skeptical. Then again, perhaps it is my waking self that is missing something beautiful. As Chuang Tzu might have asked, am I a cynic who dreams he is a composer, or a composer who dreams he is a cynic?

Management Attention Units

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

I’ve been noticing, as my recent life has been getting busier and busier, that I’ve started shifting the way I think about things. Instead of just thinking “is this a good thing to do” or “is this a bad thing to do”, I’ve started thinking in terms of whether this one-more-thing-to-do is going to cause the entire apparatus I call a schedule to topple over ignominiously, like the effect of that one last proverbial straw on the back of an already overladen camel.

And I am reminded of what a wise older friend – alas no longer with us – told me many years ago. He said that the one real cost in any project, the thing that must be watched over at all costs, is the number of (in his words) MAU’s – Management Attention Units. You can cut corners on anything else, find alternate paths to the same goal, slash budgets, take short cuts, invent clever work-arounds, but you only have so many MAU’s in any project. If you use those up, the jig is up.

And so I realize, as paradoxical and against my nature as it seems, that doing less can in fact be doing more. Rather than racing all out to keep those plates spinning in the air, it might actually be more productive to spend a certain amount of time doing nothing – just to allow some space between the ears, rather than giving in to the next bout of action-packed planning and time juggling.

Just as muscles need time to rest, as even a top athlete needs to sleep at night, we all need a way, from time to time, to get away from our own ceaseless planning – from the management of our own busy lives. By all means dive in, make things happen, enjoy the happy madness of it all. Just be careful not to overspend your Management Attention Units.

Green cheese on the moon, continued

Monday, April 6th, 2009

On this lunar green cheese question, I’m tempted to agree with Brad. There doesn’t seem to be any upside to having a “debate” when the person wiith whom you are “debating” is simply affirming core beliefs that cannot be demonstrated to be either true or false. None of which particularly matters, until people start getting all emotionally worked up about those things, and start to insist that you must be a player in their drama..

There aught to be a way for those of us who don’t want to argue the pros and cons of such subjects to indicate that we are opting out of these debates. I propose some sort of logo, perhaps something we can wear on our lapel, and point to when such things come up. Here is my humble attempt at a design:

Feel free to copy, or mount on a hat, pin, or T-shirt. When asked what your beliefs are on [BLAH BLAH], simply point with pride to your lapel and explain: “No green cheese”.

Green cheese on the moon

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Suppose somebody comes up to you and wants to seriously engage you in the question of whether the moon is made of green cheese. The person is very serious, earnest, wants you to understand that this is an important matter.

What should you do? Should you laugh in their face? Excuse yourself politely?

Let us further say that you have agreed to hold this debate, and you somehow let it slip that you think the entire idea of the moon being made of green cheese is absurd.

The person is now mad at you, as any believer in lunar green cheese would be. But you can probably shrug this off.

What happens when a lot of people want to engage you in this topic? What happens when it seems very important to these people, this question of the green cheesiness of the moon? There are debates, seminars, experts flown in from all over the world to participate in the anxious arguments on this topic.

If, in such a climate, you say “I don’t believe in green cheese on the moon,” then it will be seen that you have chosen sides – you are in the “no green cheese camp.” This is the way many will see you. In a sense you will be defined by this question, and your negative answer to it. You will become, in people’s eyes, the green cheese disbeliever.

In such a scenario, it doesn’t matter how many successes and compliments you recieve in life. You are the “green cheese disbeliever”, and so you shall remain.

Am I the only one who finds something wrong with this picture?

Trains and cats

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

It was good to see K. again, but three days in his company was quite enough. The man is completely mad. To distract myself I have taken the train to Boston. I am now happily ensconced in the lovely house of a friend in Cambridge. As I type this, I am surrounded by several curious cats. They don’t seem to mind that a stranger has invaded “their” room, but it is clear that they each expect a certain degree of attention and loving tribute.

Sometimes I suspect that cats view us as pets. When they have time for their domesticated humans – between more important affairs – they try to train us. They probably think we are rather slow, since we so often slip up on even such simple tricks as when to feed them, when to scratch behind their ears, and when they would prefer simply to be left alone. But it is clear that they have great confidence in our desire to please our feline masters.

Antigravity 103

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

At last! My endless hours of experimentation have borne fruit, and the theory of the q-principle is vindicated. Those who have doubted, who have perhaps even thought me mad, cannot deny the evidence of their own senses.

Picture a humble ball of aerated material, sitting atop a simple jar of glass. I daresay that such a sight does not immediately conjure up thoughts of wonder, of excitement, of events to transform a civilization. And yet the moment has arrived when just such a humble vision as this may indeed inspire images of majesty, dreams of flight, pathways to freedom. For what dark prison could long contain those who are capable of defying Gravity itself?

After so many false starts, I am chastined to admit that success hinged upon nothing more than a small adjustment to the pulsation sequencing matrix. Rather simple really – first a hyperbolic integral correctly inverted, and then two transfinite ratios restored to their proper order. I am sure my readers are quite familiar with such mundane matters, and would only be bored by any recitation of the pedestrian particulars.

Let us prevaricate no further, for here is my first experimental success:

{ Kindly press here }


For the nonce, having achieved my first modest success, I am content to dim the candle that lights these journal entries, and to make way for other voices that may grace this page. But mark my words, I shall at length return, and on that day we shall have other adventures, you and I, other wind-swept journeys to the outermost shores of human knowledge. Until then I bid you adieu, and remain your most humble servant.


Antigravity 102

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

The unfortunate timing of yesterday’s journal entry – arriving as it did upon a date not generally known for serious endeavor – may have misled my gentle readers into a certain wariness as to the seriousness of my claims.

Mark my words, my aim is serious indeed. As God is my witness, I shall unravel the enigma that He has placed before us, and I shall defy the undeniable limitations of possessing a merely human mind. For why were we placed within this Universe by that divine Being, if not to delve into the mysteries within His creation? And is not Gravity and its exceptions to be counted among the very first and foremost of those mysteries?

For years I have labored in secret upon this puzzle: How to free ourselves from the gravitational bounds that weigh us down and tie us to this corporeal globe. For surely the essential part of the Human is not the mere earthly Clay, but the Soul for which it is but the vessel. And should not the Soul, as a thing of divine light, rightfully soar unto the heavens, unencumbered by mere physical law?

Now my years of secret toil and experimentation at last begin to bear fruit. Will this be the sweet fruit of vindication for my theories, or the bitter fruit of disappointment and despair? I can only run my experiments in good faith. As I throw the switch to activate my ungainly apparatus, and observe with no small degree of trepidation the field beginning to curl its violet tendrils around the testing chamber, I can only hope that I have not, through arrogance or unwonted pride, betrayed His greater wisdom and purpose.


Antigravity 101

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Today I have at last perfected the principles required to move the antigravity device from dream to reality. There may well be side-effects, assuming that my understanding of the flux equations is correct, and so I deem it advisable to proceed with caution.

The diagram does not adequately convey the core principle at work. I include it here for historical reasons, as the first sketch – drawn in a fever of creative inspiration – for what in my mind has come to be known as the “q principle”:

As you can see, a fairly large value of q is required to produce an appreciable lifting energy – the power laws work against us here. The breakthrough occurred during a long night of experimentation, when I realized I could reduce the time factor (T) simply by pulsing the coils in the proper sequence – so that the field induced by each coil would remain isolated from its brethren, thereby amplifying the effective flux. As the instantaneous value of T diminishes to zero, the lifting factor rises quite dramatically. As does any object caught within the field.

Science can indeed be a cruel mistress, but in this case my hopes for success are high. Experimental results will be forthcoming in the days and weeks to follow.