Archive for: December, 2006

Quote of the Day - 31 December 2006

Dec 31 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Here's a good New Year's quote, from the first season of The West Wing:

Toby: It's not the new millennium, but I'll just let it drop.

Sam: It is.

Toby: It is not the new millennium. The year 2000 is the last year of the millennium, it's not the first year of the next one.

Sam: But the common sensibility, to quote Stephen Jay Gould--

Toby: Stephen Jay Gould needs to look at a calendar.

Sam: Gould says this is a largely un-resolveable issue.

Toby: Yeah, it's tough to resolve. You have to look at a calendar.

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Quote of the Day - 29 December 2006

Dec 29 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

On the First Day of Christmas, I did the "Yes, Virginia" quote. On the Third Day of Christmas, I did Terry Pratchett's take on the same question. Today is the Fifth Day of Christmas, and it's always been my favorite (mostly because of childhood memories of Miss Piggy adding the "BA DOMP BOMP BOMP's" to the song). Hopefully, the quote for the Fifth Day will tie the last two quotes together. This bit's from Hogfather, too.

"Thank you. Now . . . tell me . . ."

WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN"T SAVED HIM?

"Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?"

NO.

"Oh, come on. You can't expect me to believe that. It's an astronomical fact."

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

She turned on him.

"It's been a long night, Grandfather! I'm tired and I need a bath! I don't need silliness!"

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

Really? Then what would have happened, pray?"

A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.

They walked in silence for a moment.

"Ah," said Susan dully. "Trickery with words. I would have thought you'd have been more literal-minded than that."

I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.

"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need . . . fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little -"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So that we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET - Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME . . . SOME

RIGHTNESS

IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point-"

MY POINT EXACTLY.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

THERE IS A PLACE WHERE TWO GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, said Death, apropos of nothing. DON'T TRY TO TELL ME THAT'S RIGHT.

Yes, but people don't think about that," said Susan. "Somewhere there was a bed. . ."

CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE'S HARDLY ANYWHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A . . . A BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.

"Talent?"

OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IN INSIDE YOUR HEADS.

"You make us sound mad," said Susan. A nice warm bed...

NO. YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN'T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? said Death.

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Quote of the Day - 27 December 2006

Dec 27 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

This is a follow-up to the Christmas day quote - the Terry Pratchett take on the same question:

"Susan," said Twyla, from somewhere under the blankets.

"Yes?"

"You know last week we wrote letters to the Hogfather?"

"Yes?"

"Only . . . in the park Rachel says he doesn't exist and it's your father really. And everyone else said she was right."

There was a rustle from the other bed. Twyla's brother had turned over and was listening surreptitiously.

Oh dear, thought Susan. She had hoped she could avoid this. It was going to be like that business with the Soul Cake Duck all over again.

"Does it matter if you get the presents anyway?" she said, making a direct appeal to greed.

"'es."

Oh dear, oh dear. Susan sat down on the bed, wondering how the hell to get through this. She patted the one visible hand.

"Look at it this way, then," she said, and took a deep mental breath. "Wherever people are obtuse and absurd . . . and wherever they have, by even the most generous standards, the attention span of a small chicken in a hurricane and the investigative ability of a one-legged cockroach . . . and wherever people are inanely credulous, pathetically attached to the certainties of the nursery and, in general, have as much grasp of the realities of the physical universe as an oyster has of mountaineering . . . yes, Twyla: there is a Hogfather."

There was silence from under the bedclothes, but she sensed that the tone of voice had worked. The words had meant nothing. That, as her grandfather might have said, was humanity all over.

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Quote of the Day - 25 December 2006

Dec 25 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Merry Christmas.

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.

"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.

"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'

"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

"VIRGINIA O'HANLON.

"115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET."

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest man that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

--Francis Pharcellus Church

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'Tis the season for peace, love, and swearing at bloody stupid airline people

Dec 23 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

When the time came to schedule this European odyssey that we're currently on, I discovered two things. First, that it was going to be a hell of a lot cheaper to fly on the 18th of December than on the 22nd, and second that it really is cheaper to book a regular round trip ticket than a multi-city ticket. That was all good, though, since it let me schedule a couple of days in London at the start of the trip.
Or so I thought.
When I'm on the road, I've got this habit of ignoring the news. There are just so many better things to do while traveling than waste time learning about the various messes our species has managed to get into lately. So I was a little surprised, but not too alarmed, when we went to dinner on the 20th and found a bunch of passengers waiting on line in front of us in the hotel restaurant with British Airways food vouchers in their hands. The weather in London had been a little on the grey side, but it didn't look all that bad, and the number of people was small enough that I just assumed that there had been mechanical difficulties or something. It wasn't until the next morning, when I saw the somewhat hostile crowd surrounding the British Airways employees, that it started to dawn on me that there might be a bigger problem.
After spending a good chunk of the day in transit and another good chunk recovering, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about the whole thing. I'm torn between total disgust at the way that British Airways dealt with the situation and total amazement that they managed to deal with it at all. We were lucky, in that the chaos we were subjected to was (if only in retrospect) more humorous than anything else - in other words, we managed to get on a plane that departed from the right place, went to the right place, and did so with both us and our bags on board.

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Quote of the Day - 23 December 2006

Dec 23 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

"The scientific spirit is of more value than its products, and irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.

--Thomas Henry Huxley

"The Coming of Age of the 'Origin of Species'"

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Quote of the Day - 21 December 2006

Dec 21 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

A little passage from Hogfather for the Winter Solstice:

Ridcully, after a few more trial runs, settled on a song which evolves somewhere on every planet where there are winters. It's often dragooned into the service of some local religion and a few words are changed, but it;s really about things that have to do with gods only in the same way that roots have to do with leaves.

"-the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer-"

Happy Holidays to all, regardless of which holiday you might be celebrating during this time of year, as the days finally stop getting shorter and the sun begins to return.

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Quote of the Day - The Santa Version.

Dec 20 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

The kids and I get to London last night just in time to catch an early dinner and fall asleep. The kids, being used to Hawaiian Time (GMT -10) were up at 3 this morning. We went to see Father Christmas at a well-known London department store, and by the time we got to him at 10:30, I was already set to call it a day. The result was the following exchange:

Santa: And who's that there? (pointing to me)
Joshua: That's my dad.
Santa: And what does he want for Christmas?
Me: Oh, just a little peace and quiet.
Santa (Laughing): Well, I can't fucking guarantee that one, mate!

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Quote of the Day - 19 December 2006

Dec 19 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

My statistics class took up a great deal of time this semester, so this quote seems particularly appropriate:

No study is less alluring or more dry and tedious than statistics, unless the mind and imagination are se to work, or that the person studying is particularly interested in the subject; which last can seldom be the case with young men in any rank of life.

--William Playfair

(found in The Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations)

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Catching up

Dec 18 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

As you can tell by looking at the main page, I haven't been blogging much (again) lately. It's been a long semester, and I've had a lot of catching up to do at school. Between grading papers and trying to catch up on my own work, I haven't had very much time to spend here. And, of course, now that the semester is over, I'm going out of town - to Europe - and I don't know how much internet access I'll have. Access permitting, I'm going to try to post at least a few things from the road, and I'm going to put a few things into the hopper right now to make sure that I'll have at least a few posts going up while I'm gone.
For the moment, I'm going to work on doing that. If you want something newish to read, go take a look at the big ScienceBlogs centerfold. I'm the guy in the back holding the pissed-off albatross.

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