2009 September minutiae

  • I was running low on detergent so I went to the store to buy some more. One container I saw said:

    concentrated power
    use less

    Did the marketing department not consider that it may not be the best idea to put "useless" on your product in big letters?

  • Early in the month a video went around the blogs showing Al Franken drawing a map of the U.S. from memory. Everyone seemed to be really impressed. And, I mean, yes, I am kind of a geography geek, but... y'all can't do that? Really? I mean, the people who were wowed by Franken's feat tended to be the same ones who (like me) spent most of 2008 obsessively checking fivethirtyeight.com. You didn't absorb those maps just by osmosis?

  • So September 11th rolled around again and, in a sign that 2001 is fading into history, a lot of the discussion I saw centered around the U.S.-vs.-elsewhere dispute of whether it should properly be called 9/11 or 11/9. The argument against the U.S. system went like this: "It's not 'September the 11th day,' it's 'the 11th day of September'! Besides, when you add the year, month/day becomes illogical! Going day/month/year makes a lot more sense: you're steadily increasing the scale!" This "ascending order" also matches what I've seen outside the U.S. where addresses are concerned: while in the U.S. one of my old apartments was written "1835 Delaware Street #12," in Canada or Australia that would more usually be written "12/1835 Delaware" or "12-1835 Delaware."

    Here's my problem with this argument. You can say that 11/9/2001 is more "logical," but that's only true if you ignore the fact that it's not a steady increase of scale because the scale decreases within each element. Look at the year 2001. That means "millennium 2, century 0, decade 0, year 1." If you're going to take little-endianism to its logical conclusion, that number should be rendered 1002. Since it's not, big-endian is the way to go. There's a reason that computers tend to order dates YYYY-MM-DD: they automatically sort. So the truly logical way to write the date, if you're going to use slashes, is 2001/9/11. Which abbreviates to 9/11 the same way that 2001 abbreviates to '01.

  • I hard-boiled a couple of eggs, but one of them suffered a hairline fracture of its shell and a little bit of egg white seeped out, which then hardened into a tumor shaped like an elephant's head.

  • I was interested to read that Ringo Starr doesn't want a knighthood because he's opposed to the monarchy.

  • Beatles→color synesthesia: John = somewhat desaturated dark blue; Paul = bright red; George = army green; Ringo = mustard yellow.

  • I was thinking about temperature scales. Any scale that doesn't use absolute zero as its zero is dumb. You wind up with weather reporters on the local news chirping that the temperature is rising from 10° to 20° so it'll be twice as warm out. Why not just use Kelvin, then? Well, in most cases when people are talking about temperature they're talking about the air temperature outside. This is where Fahrenheit really shines. The 0°F to 100°F range represents, necessarily very roughly, the range of temperatures one generally encounters in a temperate zone. The Kelvin equivalents are roughly 255 K to 311 K. I guess if that's what you were raised on you'd find it intuitive, but it's not a great fit for a base-10 culture. The same goes for Celsius, which has the advantage of clearly demarcating freezing weather vs. non-freezing weather, but otherwise has an awkward scale of something like -20°C to 40°C for representing typical temperatures.

    How to combine the advantages of all three systems? It occurred to me that if you created a scale that designated absolute zero as zero degrees and the freezing point of water as 1000°, then 1100° is equivalent to around 81°F. Which is right around the point that the weather turns uncomfortably warm! That seems like a pretty good way to bracket things to me. Under 1000°, snow; over 1100°, sweat. A typical summer afternoon in Phoenix checks in at a scorching 1152°; a winter night in Winnipeg, a frigid 966°. Outside my door as I type this it's a warmish 1087° — no need for A/C, since we haven't hit the 1100° mark, but close enough to make short sleeves advisable. In Victoria it's a pleasantly cool but not yet autumnal 1069°.

  • Apparently there is a pro football player named Pierre Garçon. Doesn't that translate to "Rock Boy"?

  • One of Matthew Amster-Burton's crusades has been to get Americans to cook East Asian food at home. "Why don't more people try their hand at Asian cuisine?" he asks in a recent article. In my case, the answer is simple: I don't like it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that one of the worst parts of living on the west coast is that, as my California history professor liked to point out, it is situated "on an Asian ocean," meaning that when I look at one of the many restaurant recommendation threads for the Bay Area — or for Vancouver or Seattle or Los Angeles, for that matter — the reply posts are loaded with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese options that do me little good.

  • There are certain songs, by which I mean almost every song in my collection, that I associate so strongly with particular times and places that when I hear them I basically have flashbacks. I've discovered that there are at least two songs that I now associate with Saanich, BC, where I spent most of my summer break: "Heaven and Hell" by the Who, which transports me to the western end of the UVic campus, and "Yellow Submarine," which now summons to mind the corner of Rogers and Douglas, specifically as approached heading downhill on Rogers and about to turn left.

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