Grey Matter

Animal Behaviour

There are many different behaviours exhibited by species in captivity. Let me give you an example of the interactions between members of the order physicistae, particularly physicistus easternblockus, physicistus britannicus and physicistus australis.

Easternblockus did some research to solve a problem. He found an empirical solution that gave all appearances of solving the problem. Britannicus, hearing about that solution, claimed that according to theory it should not work. Britannicus started building a case for rejection of the solution in his product development. A very old Australis, when told of the problem, recalled work that he had done in the late 1960's on that same problem in a completely different product. He pointed to a patent that he had been granted for his solution.
The solution found by Easternblockus turns out to be almost identical to the patented solution (no infringement problems since the earlier patent had expired). Britannicus withdrew his objections to the solution after having seen the patent by the older, respected Australis.
On analysis, both Easternblockus and Britannicus agreed to adopt the solution because it worked, but both agreed that Australis' analysis of why it worked was completely wrong.


I found some wonderful quotes at Mathematical Quotations Server. Here is a selection:

The different branches of Arithmetic -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.
- Lewis Carroll

A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator the smaller the fraction.
- Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy

I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam.
- Charles Babbage

In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.
- Paul Dirac

We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about 'and'.
Eddington, Sir Arthur (1882-1944)

A Mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.
- Paul Erdös


The "fairytale me" picture is about to get an armoury background. I've made (modelled) a sword rack and placed some blades on it. I've done some dark, rough brick-work. Now I need to render it at high resolution with anti-aliasing and layer it behind Granthug. I'll experiment with a slight blur on the background to give the scene a little depth.

Silent Potter

I think the family reading of HP has come to an end. Impatience has already caused one family member to do a late-nighter and finish the book. Two others couldn't resist reading ahead by a chapter or two. I gave up last night and read forward a couple of chapters. I had to. Everyone else was ahead of me.
Reading aloud has its positives, but having to wait for a time each night when the family can all sit together and then only getting one or two tantalising chapters is too much to ask.


The last thing I did as I left home this morning was to grab a windcheater and drag it on over my head. Outside was grey and brisk. I didn't want to shiver.
Halfway to dropping off SonOfVirge at school I looked down. My black, brushed-cotton windcheater was not all black. Parts of it were a wispy grey. My top was a mess. I knew why. I had been furred by the fluff-master last night. Gandalf, His Fearsome Fluffiness, had sat on me while I pronounced the lesson from the Fifth Book of Potter.
My appearance at work has never been what you would have described as strictly professional. I don't wear business suits or ties (except when visiting other companies or customers). I try to keep neat and comfortable. I knew I would take my windcheater off later in the day, but for the first hour of work I wanted to wear it for a little extra warmth. The fur had to go.
As I walked from the carpark to the back door, I brushed at the fur to try to roll it into a removable clump - limited success. The cat fur stuck to the fabric far better than to my dry, smooth fingers. I licked my fingers and tried again - success! I keep brushing, but my fingers dried out quickly. Another lick, and the fur's occupation force was being beaten back, leaving clean blackness.
Then I stopped to think - to observe my behaviour. What a cheeky cat! I had worked out his ulterior motive. By leaving my garments covered in fur, he was turning me into a cat! I had fallen under his devious influence. My paw-licking method of cleaning myself was so cat-like that I could no longer think of Gandalf as "just a pet". He is clearly a manipulative megalomaniac, intent on converting all humanity to a cat-like existence where he can rule us as a pampered dictator.
Forewarned is forearmed. I shall resist his influence. Nobody's going to turn me into a cat (unless of course they feed me, cuddle me, groom me, and expect that I will do nothing but lie around all day).

Stop Press: I may have to soften my stance on the culpability of the feline. It seems that there may be less direct mechanisms by which I may have been influenced. e.g. the behaviour modifying effects of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.


Dogs come when you call. Cats have answering machines.

"The moving finger writes, and having writ, backspaces a bit, deletes the last word and replaces it with "unctuous", reformats the paragraph, adjusts the font size, and adds a gigantic sig of a sleeping pussy cat and a quote from a poem."
- Omar Khayyam, on his second day on USENET.

Sinking feelings

As I sit at my computer I just can't sit completely still. I fidget. I change posture. I don't like it, but I gradually sink lower and lower, little by little descending into an uncomfortable slump. The cause is clear. The gas-lift mechanism on this office chair is leaky. It's been that way for a while (many months, actually). If I pull the release trigger to raise it before I sit, then do my best imitation of a corpse at the keyboard, it holds its gas nicely... if only I could sit still.
Today was the day to remedy the droop. No more would I feel deflated as I typed. The shop where we bought the chairs three years ago stock replacements.
Step 1: Disassemble the chair. It sounded easy, but the lift mechanism was jammed into the chair base and extremely reluctant to come out. The encouragement it needed was provided by my hammer.
Step 2: Buy replacement mechanism. This was easy, but the electronic gadgets section of the shop did its level best to distract me from my quest.
Step 3: Reassemble the chair. Simplicity itself.
Step 4: Test the new, firm, good-as-new chair. What? It droops! Eeeeeek! I'm sinking!
The new one was considerably worse than its slightly flacid predecessor. Guess what I shall be doing tomorrow.


I logged onto my local library's site today to check when my borrowed books were due. I noted with some interest that they're conducting a short story competition. What could I write for something like this? I don't think I've written anything sufficiently long to be regarded as a short story.
Browsing further I was very surprised to note that they have placed a 2000 word limit on adult entries. Surely not. Only 2000 words? I read last year's winners. It seems it is a very-short story competition, and that opens up possibilities for slack dogs like me. I think I shall do a little polishing on "The Power" and submit it. This is a no-risk investment.

New Books

We bought two books today. J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (just released today) and Stephen Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. By popular demand the HP book is being read aloud as a family activity. We read all of Lord of the Rings aloud when the kids were young and the first four HP books in similar fashion. You are never too old to have books read to you.
It will probably be another week or two before I read Gardens of the Moon. I still have incomplete library books.

Oh Industry

May you live in interesting times. Whether or not this is an ancient Chinese curse or an invention by a 1950's science fiction writer doesn't really matter. What matters is that interesting times do occur. It does happen that a powerful union can be hell-bent on forcing a whole region's employers to put money into an inadequately-controlled employee security scheme which happens to be the brain-child of one of the union's leaders. It does happen that workers in one company are forced to take industrial action because of the dictates of a powerful union, even though they already have wages and conditions far in excess of their colleagues in other companies. It does happen that non-unionised employees have to try to achieve their company-set goals and keep the company profitable even during periods of industrial unrest.
I just wish these tensions (however interesting) wouldn't get in the way of the technical challenges of a science/engineering position.

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