Scientists Say Erie Mirage Could Be Real

I've had a very nice and relaxing holiday for the past couple of weeks. That's why there's been so little blogging. But since I started work today I thought I should do some blogging. So I'll start with a link to a story found via Reddit about an mysterious whether fenomenon acting as a lens. abc News has the story:

Scientists Say Erie Mirage Could Be Real



I hang out at Lambda The Ultimate, a site for discussing programming language design and implementation. Contrary to most such discussions this site usually has very well informed arguments and is almost free of flame wars.

One of the best posters at Lambda The Ultimate is Frank Atanassow. He is very knowledgeable, very brainy, is very good on theory and above all, very funny. I'd say he wins the humor contest hands down. And today I read a post by him which cements his position as the no. 1 humorist on Lambda The Ultimate. You can find the original post here, although I quote it in its entirety below. Enjoy:

"Dynamic" is technical jargon used by programmers, meaning "good". It derives from the Latin dyno mite, meaning "I am extremely pleased", and is first recorded in the historical work Bona Aetas of noted Roman sage and pundit J.J. Walker. Its meaning evolved in the 4th century after monks copying an obscure manuscript on programming linguistics in their ignorance tried to deduce its meaning from context.

In this (occidental) manuscript, the Lingua Lambda, the author described how he had stumbled across Miranda, an early ancestor of Haskell, a typed language that had found its way to the West from the Orient, and which, though crude in some ways, supported many fine features and was, in fact, lauded as the language for discriminating hackers. The author wrote an essay about this language, describing its features, and noted (Miranda dyno mite!) how pleased he was with it.

These monks had lived in monasteries for most of their lives, programming only in C; most of them had never heard of languages like ML or Miranda, and, if they had, would have dismissed them as Oriental nonsense. But this century was, for these monks, also a time of change; the last barbarian invasion had been repelled, but the fleeing barbarians had left behind their legacy, the untyped programming languages. Many of these were adopted by such monks — and thus we now call them "scripting languages" — who were dazzled by features such as "blocks" and "duck typing". (One can still detect in these phrases the vulgarity of their barbarian progenitors. Naturally, the West promptly plunged into a dark age...)

In the Orient, though, typed languages had long supported features such as higher-order functions, structural typing, automatic garbage collection, REPL-style interactive interpretation and user-definable syntax. But for the monks laboring in darkness, these were thoroughly new ideas, and they reasoned that they must be uniquely characteristic of untyped languages.

So it was that they translated Miranda dyno mite as Miranda is untyped, and now we must live with that confusion. Given the meaning of the words in our everyday language, it is, when you pause to think about it, strange that when a programmer asks you how you are, the proper response is "Dynamic, thanks!" if you are feeling well and "Kinda static today..." if you are ill, but the history of language is full of twists and turns, and, after all, far from rational...


The Shallow Roots of the Human Family Tree

Yahoo News has a very interesting article called Roots of human family tree are shallow. It's essence is this: Not too long ago, say 2000 to 5000 years, there lived a person which is an ancestor to all now living people. And a little longer while back, between 5000 and 7000 years ago, every person living then either an ancestor to all people living today or their line died out.

It's pretty amazing and sounds ridiculous until you read the article. The math needed to get an intuition for this is dead simple. I won't spoil the fun here, I recommend instead that you read the article. It's a lot of fun!


Time out of mind

In today's very science oriented society we learn that time is something very exact. To illustrate time we draw a straight line and place the time units on equal distance between each others. Each second arrive at a constant rate and disappears just as quickly.

Yet our subjective notion of time is quite different. When we sleep we have little notion of time, for instance. Just as when we're having a lot of fun. Then time seems to go very fast. On the other hand when we are in a car accident time seems to slow down. We seem to be able to perceive things and react much more quickly.

One interesting question is how the physical and our mental notion of time relates. The other day I read about a truly clever experiment which tries to test whether our brain actually works faster when we are in a stressful situation. The setup goes like this: a man is set to do a backwards free-fall of 33 meters. With him he will have a small wristwatch-like device which will switch blindingly fast between two different images. One of the pictures will be a number. Under normal circumstances a person cannot make out the number since the device flickers so fast. But if time actually slowed down for him he might be able to see the number on the screen. It's a pretty clever setup.

How did it go? When the test person landed he said he had seen the number "98". The actual number shown was "96". Close enough for me. Further experiments yielded similar results. So it seems that our brains actually works faster in some situations! Very intriguing.

You can read about the experiment in the bbc article Time out of mind. It has some further goodies on time as well.


More Mammatus

More mammatus clouds! This time it's a link to WEATHER WARS, via reddit. Make sure to scroll down a bit to get to the nice pictures. The clouds shown there look very odd, they don't have the usual bubble shape. More like waves, like an upside down ocean. Anyway, totally sweet.