Call from the tip line

It seems that the FBI has an 800 number — a toll-free tip line — where you can call in to give them a tip about federal crimes. I only know this because today I got a call from that number.

At first I didn’t know it was the FBI toll-free tip line. But I didn’t recognize the number, so while they were calling me I Googled it rather than pick up.

And that’s when I learned what the number is for. And who was supposedly calling me.

Which leads to the next obvious question: Why would the FBI be calling me from their toll-free tip line, the phone line that we citizens are supposed to use to give tips to them?

The answer is, they wouldn’t. Needless to say, I didn’t pick up.

Whoever it was didn’t leave a message. Which is probably a good thing. But part of me is disappointed, because it might have been interesting to know what they would have said.

Mary Shelley

When I was a little kid, I loved science fiction. My brother and I would devour the many scifi books that our uncle brought us, and still be hungry for more.

Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, these were my heroes. My little mind was filled with robots, martians, explorations of time and space, and wondrous things invented by intrepid heroes ahead of their time.

So today I would like to celebrate the birthday of Mary Shelley, the OG of science fiction, born 225 years ago today. Everything after her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus owes a debt to that towering achievement.

It’s amazing to ponder the fact that science fiction didn’t always exist as a cultural phenomenon. This wondrous thing needed to be invented by an intrepid hero ahead of her time.

Conversations with self

There is one unusual superpower that I would love for to have. It’s not x-ray vision, or super strength, or flight, but I want it.

I would like to be able to have conversations with myself at different ages. Maybe a nice chat with ten year old me, or with eighty year old me.

It would probably be necessary to build rules around the use of such a super power. For example, older me shouldn’t be able to talk to younger me about future world events. That could lead to complications.

But other than that, it would be great to check in, and to learn about the ever shifting relationship between identity and time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned something surprising.

A powerful day

Today is August 27. Which can also be expressed as 8/27 — or 27/8, depending on where you live.

It’s one of the rare days of the year when the month and the day can be written as two different numbers raised to the same power. In contrast, there are quite a few dates in the year that can be written as two different numbers raised to the second power.

But only one day in the year can be written as two different numbers raised to the fourth power. But which one? I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Judith Durham

Judith Durham passed away a few weeks ago. Until I heard the news, I had not stopped to think how much her voice has been an integral part of my life.

Some things you just take for granted. Like Joni said, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

But now I’m noticing that I’ve begun to listen to her every day. Sometimes I play songs from her early days with The Seekers, other times more of her more recent music.

In my way, I guess I am trying to keep her around. I hope that’s not too selfish of me.

Title phrase

I’ve noticed that certain literary sources contain phrases that lend themselves to becoming titles of other works. For example, countless books and plays and movies have titles borrowed from either the Bible or Shakespeare.

I’ve gotten into the habit, when I read something that really resonates with me, of examining its component phrases for potential titles. Take, for example, this famous example from the first book of LoTR:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

Where in here is the best potential book title? My first vote would be for “A Light from the Shadows”. Sure enough, two different books have that title.

But I suspect there are other potential titles here. “From the Ashes a Fire” sounds promising. “Shadows Shall Spring” is no good, because it completely loses the intent.

I wonder whether we could give any given literary passage a numerical score, based on how many great possible book titles are hidden therein. And if we did, what passage would score highest?

My bet is on the soliloquy in Act III, Scene I of Hamlet.

Widget Wednesdays #33

Last week I showed how to make agitated graph paper. The trick was to add time-varying noise to the intersection points of the grid.

But it wasn’t as much fun as it could be, because it wasn’t interactive. So this week I thought it would be nice to make a responsive agitated grid.

I made it so if you rub the grid with your mouse, it reacts by moving around. The result turns out to be not so much agitated as ticklish.

Basically, you get to tickle graph paper. Which I’m guessing not something you’ve ever experienced.

I implemented it in a very simple, so if you look at the code, you can compare with last week’s widget see what has changed. Fortunately, it only took a few lines of code to make the grid ticklish.

You can see the widget here. As usual, if you scroll down to the bottom and click on the word that you see there to see and edit the source code, if live coding tickles your fancy.

Virtual art gallery

I’ve been working on the creation of a virtual art gallery. In this project, I am far more interested in the aesthetic questions than the technical ones.

I’ve been focusing on the size of the room, the placement of windows, and the location and size of the works of art hanging on the walls. I’ve chosen an appropriate view outside the window, and I picked just the right floor color and texture to set the right mood.

I’ve been working on this for a few days on my computer. Then just today, for the first time, I looked at it in my VR headset.

One odd thing is that after spending so much time creating it, I find that in VR the room feels like a real place. Intellectually I know it doesn’t really exist, but in my gut I feel like it’s a familiar place where I hang out.

I wonder whether this is because I built it myself. Maybe when you create a room in VR with love and care, and you really sweat the details, it starts to feel like a real place.

Now I’m wondering what it would feel like if I were to actually build this as a physical room, with the same details and the same art on the walls. Would it feel different, or would it just feel like the same experience that I am now having while wearing my VR headset?

Vodka ice pops

Before boarding a flight, I heard the announcement “bringing or consuming alcoholic beverages on board is prohibited.” That seems pretty absolute, but is it? I wonder because it turns out that the prohibition agains liquids has a big loophole.

Recently, following advice that I read on-line (so it has to be true), I tried putting a plastic water bottle in the freezer and then bringing it onto a flight. And TSA had no problem with it.

It seems that “frozen water” does not count as a liquid, so it doesn’t get flagged. Which makes sense, because it actually isn’t a liquid.

So I’m now thinking about the possibilities. If I were to freeze an alcoholic beverage, then it wouldn’t be a beverage, right?

Which means it should be ok to bring on board something alcoholic but completely frozen. I could also consume it on the plane, as long as it wasn’t a beverage while I was consuming it.

So I’m wondering whether it would be ok to make yummy vodka ice pops. I could prepare them at home, and then bring them on board for a refreshing in-flight snack.

I guess the question comes down to the letter versus the spirit of the law. Which will it turn out to be: absolute or Absolut?