Monday, December 19, 2022

What even is Santa?

 When I was a kid, my dad read to me the classic Christmas poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas."  In this poem, there is a line which describes Santa as a "right jolly old elf."

As I kid I really pondered a lot on this line.  Santa is obviously in charge of the elves.  The elves are short, but Santa is human sized.  But according to the canonical poem, Santa also is an elf.

The way my child brain understood this was literally in analogy to the Great Goblin from the Hobbit.

The Great Goblin is the biggest goblin, and so is king of the goblins.  Likewise, Santa is the biggest elf, and so is king of the elves.

It makes perfect sense, really.  But also probably isn't how most people like to think of Santa.

But then again, how should we think of Santa?  In fact, what even is Santa?

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

In Defense of Jonah and the Whale

 The story of Jonah and the whale is often trotted out as a prime example of one of the most absurd stories in the entire Bible.  Atheists in particular, when looking to point out the absurdity of believing events in the Bible to have really happened, are likely to pull out this story.

We all know the story of Jonah and the whale.

A prophet named Jonah is sailing the seas when his entire ship is swallowed whole by an enormous whale.  Jonah lives inside the whale's stomach, floating on the remains of his ship in a little pool of acidic water, for three days and three nights.  Finally, sensing he is near land, Jonah sets all the wreckage of swallowed boats on fire, creating so much smoke that the giant whale vomits out Jonah who sails away to safety on a small wooden raft.   And in this way, God saved Jonah from the whale.

We all know that story, because that's Disney's Pinocchio.

That is not the story of Jonah and the whale.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Put the Flour in the Bag: or, Just Adapt the Book, not your Fanfic

 We're all familiar with the tags on mattresses, warning us it is a violation of federal law to remove the tag.  Those tags are a form of consumer protection.  The purpose of those tags is to state what materials were put inside the mattress, so that the factory can't stuff it with human hair then claim it's goose down.  Because wouldn't that be a crooked thing to do?  At one point, this was a major problem.  So they made a law.  You aren't allowed to sell a mattress claiming it's goose down when it's not made from goose down.  And so the tag is there as a means of prevention.

But you can kind of understand why someone would sell a mattress made of old human hair, and claim its goose down.  You can get the material for free, and sell it for a premium.

And you can understand a hundred other circumstances where a company would do this.

For instance a flour company, stuffing their bags with sawdust, but leaving the "flour" label on the bag.

Sawdust is cheap.  Flour is more expensive.  That's the point, that's why it happens.

But imagine a company that already had flour, and chose not to use it.  They choose instead to fill the bags with sawdust, and just leave the flour to go stale.

It's behavior that doesn't make any sense.

That is the situation we repeatedly find ourselves in with modern movie adaptations of classic stories.

Friday, October 14, 2022

The Rings of Power is Flawed, but Pretty Decent

 For some reason my youtube feed the past three months has been filled with about 80% people complaining about Rings of Power, even before it came out.  There are entire channels dedicated entirely to this, and youtube refuses to stop recommending them to me.  The sheer volume of apparently meritless whining informed me that I should probably give the series a chance, and have an open mind about it.  I recently got a chance to watch the first 7 episodes (as many as are out right now), and just wanted to comment on the series.

More people than I have gone in length about problems of the show, probably gratuitously so.  Yes, there are problems with the series, and really quite a few.

So instead I wanted to focus on things that are done right, or that worked really well.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

An Enlarged Yolk Sac

We meant to ask about prenatal vitamins.  Nelly has been taking these gummies that are overly sweet and she has to chew and she can't stand them anymore.   The next thing we said was going to be, "do you have any recommendations for prenatal vitamins?"

But I don't know what we did actually say next, because that's when the NP told us the yolk sac was 9mm.

That datum meant nothing to us, either.

Five weeks earlier, just three days after we learned about the pregnancy, sitting six hours in a covid-infested emergency room with a sharp pain in her left abdomen, was the first time I learned what a yolk sac was.  It was the thing we needed to see in the uterus where it was supposed to be to know that this pain wasn't what it wasn't supposed to be.  It was that thing that finally showed up in the ultrasound, a tiny round black and white bubble that the radiologist labeled without further comment "Yolk Sac", that meant the pregnancy was not ectopic, that we could stop worrying, that we could relax and wait the remaining six hours until a doctor finally saw us to tell us the baby was fine.

Five weeks later, that same yolk sac is too large.  It is 9mm.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Anti-THAC0 Attack Mattrices

Anti-THAC0 Attack Matrices

The Path of THAC0

Before it was D&D, it was called Braunstein, and was a miniature wargame (like Warhammer) but with special focus on individual hero units who gained special equipment and levels of experience as the war campaign progressed.

In these days, the word "dice" meant normal, cubical six-sided d6 dice. So when Dave Arneson, the first DM, needed a mechanic to resolve hand-to-hand single solider combat, he needed a way to compactify all of the complicated reality of damage done by a man with a heavy piece of metal in his hand trying to strike another man bound in metal plates, and he had to use six-sided dice to do it.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Seiges & Sappers: the D&D from a parallel universe without Gygax

A little while ago, someone posted this blog post asking this question:
"A game designer from a parallel dimension with no D&D nor Gygax is tasked with designing a game supporting common OSR principles. What would such a game look like?"
The original intent of the question was to remove deadweight mechanics form the game. Ideas that started with Gygax and early versions of D&D, that no longer make sense, but that have stuck around because of their historical inertia.

As an example, clerics as PCs and wizards who can't heal. It would make sense for wizards to have healing magic, and the only reason they don't seems to be to stop them from intruding on the cleric's space. But why is there a cleric in the adventure to begin with? Because one of Arneson's friends wanted to play Van Helsing from the Hammer movies while they were fighting a vampire named Sir Fang (yes, that was really the vampire's name) . That's why there is a cleric class in D&D, and it continues to exist because of inertia.

Remove that history and re-make the game again, and you'd probably drop clerics and give wizards healing spells.

But I was actually more intrigued by the literal wording of the prompt. A parallel dimension with neither D&D nor Gary Gygax. What is this dimension, and what kind of game can come out of it? Let's imagine a universe where we are making the first roleplaying game, where D&D has never existed, and where Gygax also doesn't exist. What does the first roleplaying game out of this universe look like?

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Acrobat and the Flea -- The Unexplored Science in Stranger Things

I just finished watching what is available of Stranger Things Season 4, and planning to watch the rest tonight.  I've been meaning to comment on the show for a while.  There are a lot of really neat ideas present in the series, that sadly I don't think get fleshed out as much as they could have been.

I was inspired to finally start writing some commentary by a scene near the end of vol 1 of season 4.  That is your spoiler warning.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

God and the Law of Identity

 I remember my first few years as a grad student, a professor reassuring my friend and I that no physicist ever gained true expertise in the topics by taking the classes.  We'd learn the subject matter, but the real mastery would come when we had to teach it.  Since about January my wife and I have been teaching a Sunday school class on logic and critical thinking, and even though the subject matter is pretty basic, I'm finding more insights into the topic that I just hadn't noticed before.

One of these is with the Law of Identity, which is our next topic.  Stated, the Law of Identity sounds really dumb: "A thing is itself, and not anything else."  This apple is this apple, and not a banana.  This apple is this apple, and not that apple.  It applies to claims, as well.  The claim that the sky is blue, is the claim that the sky is blue, and not some other color.  It's the claim that the sky is blue, and not that my car is blue.  And if we disagree on what is meant by "the sky" (do we mean the night sky?) or "blue" (my wife says this color is "blue"), the language disagreement doesn't make the claim itself ambiguous or unknowable.  My claim still means what it means.

I was thinking recently how this applies to God.

What do we mean when we say the word, "God"?

Saturday, April 23, 2022

No One Should Care What Kate Turabian Thought About Style

I have recently had to write and turn in my dissertation.  To do this, I had to adhere, at least somewhat, to the stylistic whims of Kate Turabian.  Which has been a painful process.

Who is Kate Turabian?  She is a former bureaucratic pencil-pusher who leveraged her tiny bit of control over dissertation layout into a world-wide empire enforcing her anal-retentiveness about margin widths and heading formats through a book she wrote explaining how she liked things to be.  Because she had to approve dissertations at the University of Chicago, students had to do whatever she said to graduate.  She herself never even finished college, and never wrote a dissertation.  She certainly never wrote a college term paper using her made-up style.  She just made others follow it.  Margins on the left should be 1.25" while the right 1"?  Appendix titles are only 1" from the top margin, but chapters 2"?  It doesn't matter if it makes sense, you just have to do it, or you can't get your PhD.  

And that's all her wikipedia page should say about her.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Twelve Years a Grad Student

I drew this on a white board at my 
last school, in 2013.  Nine years later
and I slayed the dragon.
I recently finished my PhD in physics.  My particular field is astrophysics, and my thesis topic was on Newtonian and relativistic white dwarf asteroseismology.  All I have left to do is get past the whims of Kate Turabian, whose opinion on formatting people for whatever reason care about.  

The first post on this blog was almost ten years ago, while I was a grad student.  Inspired by some of my classes and books I was reading, I had some crazy ideas mixing science and fiction and wanted to post them somewhere.  The most famous of those crazy ideas was about the Berenst#in Bears, which is now a meme far beyond my mere tiny blog.

Ten years ago I was a graduate student.  One week ago, I was a graduate student.  In fact, I started graduate school in 2010, meaning I have been pursuing a PhD for for twelve years (eleven not counting my year teaching high school).  

I have been twelve years a grad student.

I figured, given the momentousness of the situation, I would reflect on this overlong time.