Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Vaguely Related Items

I collected these and really thought I could develop a common theme between them, but it didn't happen in time, and I'm anxious to get these off my plate so I can start on the next post. It was always going to be a semi-stream-of-consciousness post, so it's not really a big step to just throw in the towel and say it's just pure stream-of-consciousness. I guess. Anyway, here's what I've got for you today:

  • SpaceflightNow now has the mini-moonlet story. As usual, their account is better than most.
  • It can't model anything so complex as rings full of countless particles of all sizes, but JPL has a neato 3d orbit simulator applet. It's fun for the whole family, if they're all space geeks.
  • If you're already worried about asteroids or comets hitting the Earth, don't go here.
  • OTOH, if the orbit applet just whetted your appetite, you might enjoy NASA's Journal of Space Mission Architecture. All the gory details you could ever want, and more.
  • Here's an article about the software of space exploration, with many, many links.
  • If you mistype "asteroid", you might get "astroid", a reasonably nice mathematical curve. Coincidentally, back in 7th grade I used to doodle in class a lot, especially math class, and I seem to recall I had an alien spaceship that looked a lot like an astroid curve.
  • Yes, believe it or not, I hated math at one time, and I didn't change my mind until a couple of years into college. Except for geometry. I always really liked geometry. So maybe you can imagine how much I liked this interactive version of Euclid's Elements. This Java applet's been around forever (in Internet terms), like the JPL orbit simulator I mentioned earlier, and I just don't tire of them. They're classics.
  • Another classic from the really early days of the net is the Find-the-Spam page. And by "early", I mean really early, maybe 1994 or so. I remember visiting it with Netscape 1.x. Ahh, the memories. I remember accidentally breaking Find-the-Spam shortly after Netscape 2.0 came out. Netscape 2 featured exciting new things like HTML tables, background colors other than white, Java (rudimentary), Javascript, the center and blink tags, and much, much more. In those naive, carefree days of yore, Find-the-Spam would let you submit any old text you wanted, and any HTML tags just became part of the page. Any HTML tags. Including the script tag, it turns out. So I thought I'd have a little fun, and I wrote a tiny bit of Javascript that cycled the background color: red, green, blue, red, green, blue, etc., a few times, which would've been kind of cute except that I'd mangled the termination condition, so that the browser would get wedged in an infinite loop inside its Javascript parser. Win3.1 clients had it especially bad; the loop wedged Netscape so hard that even Ctrl-Alt-Del didn't help, and your only option was to just turn the box off manually. Yow. But I always like to look on the bright side, and even though I think of this as the worst bug I ever wrote, it's great that I haven't managed to top it after all these years. And anyway, anybody who used Win3.1 at all would've been used to rebooting all the time anyway, right?
  • A couple more vaguely-related geometry items. First, I'd like to recommend Underwood Dudley's hilarious book The Trisectors.
  • If you like that book, you'll love another of his books, titled Mathematical Cranks.
  • While I'm recommending books, I'd also like to recommend one of my most favorite natural history / biology books, A Desert Calling: Life in a Forbidding Landscape, by Michael A. Mares.
  • And another great book you ought to read, William Broad's The Universe Below : Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea
  • Just one more book for your reading list: Venus Revealed, by David Grinspoon.
  • Another math item, this time about the famous Four Color Theorem, as it applies to the wondrous world of marketing. Well, ok, it's just a metaphor. But how many marketing people have ever heard of the thing, much less use Wikipedia to explain it? Should I be happy that people have heard of the four color problem? Should I be annoyed that the solution's being misapplied? I honestly have no idea.
  • I was originally going to title this post "A Garden of Forking Paths", after the Borges story. I decided that was a bit too, well, twee, but by that time I'd already gathered a couple fo interesting links, so I figured I may as well include them.
  • Therefore, here are two sites that I guess you could describe as "inspired by" the story.
  • Another Borges story, titled The Aleph.
  • And the WIkipedia article for the word "aleph", a word with quite a few meanings. One relates to transfinite cardinals, while another is the name of an obscure programming language, which was once intended to be to the Plan9 OS what C is to Unix.
  • This item isn't even vaguely related to the others, but here it is anyway. You don't have to be a fan of bad movies to enjoy extremely funny reviews slamming bad movies. Today's choice example is Roger Ebert's review of the new movie Basic Instinct 2. Enjoy!
  • Today's tidbit to make the fundies livid: Those commie liberal scientists have done another of their "scientific studies", and concluded that praying for sick people doesn't help at all. Golly. Big surprise there.

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