Welcome to Isla Nublar

When I was a lad, I used to spend hours writing programs on the family Commodore. Generally they consisted of some top-secret security clearance screens (with flashing lights and passwords and everything. Completely uncrackable, usually even for me, but trivial to bypass if you had some familiarity with the List command) followed by many screens of text. I used BASIC as the world’s least practical word processor. I never took the time (nor, possibly, had the aptitude, but I cleverly avoided having to look that question head-on by not taking the time) to dig deeper into BASIC’s capabilities.  I left that to my brother, and now he writes software for a living and I think it’s neat that my blog has its own URL, so things seem to have worked out as they were meant to.

Still, though, I spent many an hour typing out BASIC code numbered line by numbered line, so when I got caught up in a conversation at work about Sierpinksi triangles I thought it might be fun to write a program to make one myself.

Sierpinski triangles are formed by designating three points of a triangle, then picking a random point within those points.  From that random point, move halfway to a randomly chosen vertex, and then from that point move halfway to a randomly chosen vertex, and so on.  They’re used as chaos theory illustrations – order developing as iterations increase.  I learned about them in Jason, Mark, and Julie’s science capstone presentation at Wartburg, and you can check out the Wikipedia page if you’re interested.

Finding a BASIC compiler and learning its particular nomenclature ended up taking far more time than actually writing the program did; turns out that even a far-from-expert like me can write a Sierpinski Triangle maker in a dozen lines of code.  It’s crazy to watch unfold on the screen, though.  All those random points end up looking like this:


Cool, huh?  That’s a million points (which brings up an incidental point: modern computers are much faster than Commodore 128′s).  If you look about halfway up to the left of the triangle you can see the first few points.  I didn’t bother limiting the first random point to the triangle – it could pick any point within the full square.  So it picked a point a little outside, and then chose to go halfway to the upper left vertex for its next two dots.  Then the next 999,998 are correctly within the triangle boundaries.

Kind of fun to relive some childhood nerdish tendencies.  Go, BASIC!  (No criticism allowed from any professional programmers who read this (there used to be at least 2, but maybe they’ve cleared their RSS feeds and moved on).)

States of the Union

(Is this really my first post of 2010? Huh.)

A couple of months ago I found myself involved in a conversation about the heights of various states. The topic was triggered, if memory serves, by talking about scenic Northern Minnesota. Lovely country, we said, but man alive is it a long way across Minnesota going North. Stupid Minnesota – why is it such a tall state? From there we moved on to wondering whether it was, in fact, the tallest state. Alaska probably wins, we agreed, but after Alaska, Minnesota and California must be in a tight race for #2.

This, I thought, is the sort of conundrum that the Internet, and more specifically the good folks at Google (forever may they query), exists to help solve. But I came up empty. I couldn’t find any listing of state by latitude or longitude dimensions. I did, however, notice that the Wikipedia entries for states included their farthest North, South, East, and West dimensions. All that was needed was for some nerdlish soul to compile it into one document and calculate what those dimensions meant in terms of distance.

It turned into a fun project. I learned that a degree of latitude is 69.046767 miles and plugged that into a spreadsheet to start calculating state height. Width was a trickier proposition – a degree of longitude isn’t a consistent size. It’s (69.046767 miles)x(cosine of latitude), but which latitude to pick? Accurate width measurement would require determining where the wider part of the sate was and adjusting the formula state by state – northier latitude for Florida, southier latitude for Louisiana, etc. The main purpose of this project being to determine state height, that was more work than I was interested in doing, so I worked off the assumption that all states are shaped like Iowa or Texas (two of my native lands) and widest in the middle – I used (69.046767 miles)x(cosine(average of N and S latitudes)). I added another column of data that I call “IIWAS” (“If It Was A Square”), which is just the product of the height and width, because what the hey, Excel’s doing the work anyway. Hawaii becomes almost twice the size of Texas if you assume both are squares from their furthest cardinal direction points.

The data is from Wikipedia and you found this posted on some guy’s blog, so take it for what it’s worth. I doubt, for instance, that Nevada and Idaho are actually exactly the same height, down to the tenth of a mile. I find it interesting, though, and I enjoy having plugged a hole in the completeness of the random trivia available on the Internet. Turns out Minnesota is way down at #9, too. Well played, Florida. Well played.

Here’s a pdf version of the results, organized by height, and here’s the Excel spreadsheet if you’d like to play with the data or make fun of my formulas. Drop a comment and let me know if you find any use for this; I’d be curious to know.

The power of a single letter

It’s remarkable, really. Change one letter and you change an entire word. By taking an “s” and replacing it with a “d” – a fraction of an inch distance on my keyboard – I can get rid of the horrible sentence “My buddy Jason has cancer” and, now that his surgery is done and the pathology report is entirely clear and all that remains is a lifetime of periodic monitoring to make sure, replace it with “My buddy Jason had cancer.” Changes everything.

It was a really good July. Congratulations, little buddy. I could not be more happy for you.

Name that tune

Over the past year or so, this blog has been moved over from its old blogspot.com digs, inadvertently broken through my e-incompetence, replaced with a wedding webpage, moved back to its old blogspot.com digs, and yesterday brought back to its rightful home here at monkeysong.net. It’s been a turbulent year, and I’m curious to see whether anyone’s bothered to keep up.

So, as used to be my somewhat regular wont, let’s have a quiz. Quizzes are fun. This one will be song lyrics! Name the tune and the composer (and/or performer) and fabulous* prizes can be yours! Post your answers in the comments (with the new WordPress system the old word verification is gone, replaced by limited moderation. The first time you comment I have to approve you as non-spam, and from then on (in theory) the blog will remember your name/e-mail combination as approved) and I’ll add them to the main quiz as they come in. Gosh, but this’ll be dandy! And away we go…

1. Even if you’re never seen on the silver screen, I’ll still be dreaming about every single time you told me that you were mine. Identified! Central Standard Time, performed by supergroup Purrs of Rage and recorded by The Kendalls.

2. Half of what I say is meaningless. Identified! Julia, by the Beatles (composed by Lennon). This line was the inspiration for my old blog title.

3. I see you sitting quietly, staring into space. Identified! Last Song For You, as recorded but almost never performed by a very nascent indeed Central Standard Time once upon a May Term.

4. I don’t know just where I’m going, but I know this ain’t where it’s at. Identified!. Tremblin’ Tracks, by Storyhill. I could play this song, once upon a time, but after a few months of practicing it my right arm hurt all the time, not just while I was playing. So I let that skill drift away.

5. “I adore you,” wrote the lady cat, who was fluffy, white, and nice and fat. Identified! The Ballad of Don Gato, by I’ve no idea who. Classics from elementary music, Texas-style.

6. Sergeant Devine, stationed on the front line, took a bullet while drawing his gun. Identified! (She gave the title in the lyric she quoted; blog management rules it Close Enough) Blessed Disease, by Peter Mayer.

7. I don’t know where we get the dough, it just seems to appear. Identified! The Country of Beeg Muscles (The Germanappawappawegianese National Anthem), lyrics by John Ham.

8. Ne’er thy name shall cease to be a most happy memory. Identified! The Wartburg College Loyalty Song, identified by loyal Macalestrian Joel. Hmm.

9. Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices? Identified! The Rainbow Connection by Paul (and not, as I thought for quite some time, John) Williams)

10. I have here some newspaper thirteen months old. Identified! I Love Trash, by… I guess I’m not sure, either. I, too, would have guessed Raposo. Performed by Oscar the Grouch, at any rate.

* Fabulousness of prizes may vary. Prizes not guaranteed to be monetarily valuable or to actually exist.

Nth try’s the charm

The sunfish can’t be kept in captivity.  It can’t comprehend not being out in the open ocean - presented with a wall it will swim into it over and over again until it kills itself.  Sometimes I feel like the sunfish is a reasonable metaphor for my desire to blog.  And yet, here we are again.  Still tweaking the look and whatnot, by by golly monkeysong.net’s back in business.  Thanks, as ever, for stopping by.

Cubicle man, Cubicle man

And finally it came to pass, after two years of resumes and interviews and watching employment websites and wondering what was wrong with me that I was so obviously unemployable, that I resumed a full-time work schedule. I’m two whole days in now and still don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing once I’m up-to-speed, but I have a cubicle and a computer and a phone. (And health insurance!) My co-workers seem cool and I’m being pretty much left alone to figure things out on my own, which is sort of nice but also somewhat boring. And I’m once again within scootering distance of John, at least during the days (do you still have that old scooter, John?).

Within the month the start-up church I play guitar for will probably go to Saturday and Sunday services, which will mean I’ll have work commitments seven days a week. A weird shift from the almost-completely-open schedule of recent months, but I like it. If I ever get a clearer sense of what I’m actually doing at work (and if I haven’t faded back into blolivion) I’ll post more about it. But now I’ve got to get some sleep. Work tomorrow and all.

Kangaroozies, roozies

I feel like I should say something about the flood – that’s certainly been the thing to post about of late (and those are just a few of the links from my fairly short blogroll (incidentally, why “blogroll”? What does that mean? Is it a reference to an old-style Rolodex, implying that you keep a list of blogs you frequent in some sort of spinny whatsit? Is it some combination of “blog” and the popular phrase “that’s how I roll?” Does it somehow refer to delicious pastries, implying that one has assembled a tasty list of blogs to read? This is a term that merits updating, I think)). Not that I think I have anything to add, but as the ancient Mesopotamians said, “When the river floods, use your laptop to write a post about it.”*

I live almost as far from the flooding in Iowa City as one can live and still be within the Iowa City/Coralville megalopolis. My house is in the northwest corner of Coralville, miles from the river and on some of the highest ground in town. Which means that it’s disturbingly easy for me to forget the flood happened at all. Outside my house and for many blocks in any direction this week it’s been a gorgeous late spring week – sunshiny and green. And yet just north of us in Cedar Rapids people are starting to be allowed back into their homes and seeing the complete devastation, and here in Iowa City many people are still forced to wonder.

It’s been awesome to see the community turnout. I agree with Matt’s and Jess’s (the first two links up above) appreciation and admiration of the community spirit that gripped the area when we knew the waters were coming. I spent some time sandbagging and it was weird how much fun it was; how much people were enjoying the community the rising waters created. But now we’re coming to the part that we often don’t do so well with as people. Now comes the real work – cleaning up debris, repairing damage, and for many people rebuilding lives. It won’t offer any cool areal pics that we can rally around and the work will be more complicated than just filling sandbags.

Not that I don’t think we can do it. But as the waters recede the worst is yet to come.

*translation may be inexact.

It’s been a while

Tonight I was talking to my brother on the phone and we got on the topic of our long-neglected blogs. There was much agreement about the value of the others’ blog and much bewailing the difficulty of thinking of anything interesting or worthwhile to write about. Probably not interesting stuff, but the conversation led me to surf over to my Blogger home page and I figure since I’m this far I should throw a post up. At least one post for 2008 seems in order.

Whew. That wasn’t so bad.

Don’t go down to the quarry

I’ve been thinking I should post again for a while now (although I do occasionally update the CST blog, if you’re for some inexplicable reason feeling that a lack of my rambling is adversely affecting the Internet), and as I sit here trying not to pay attention to the weird horror movie my roommate and his sort-of-but-sort-of-not-it’s-complicated-and-baffling girlfriend are watching it seems apropos to get my cliche on and do this Halloween quiz I was sent today (here’s Jaq’s take on the same one).

Memes R Us!

1. What is your favorite work of horror fiction?

Hard to say. I’ve read quite a bit of Stephen King and enjoyed ‘Salem’s Lot quite a bit, but I’d have to give the nod to Poe’s “The Raven” as performed by the Simpsons:

2. Who is your favorite monster?

Smaug. I’m a sucker for dragons.

3. What horror movie gives you the most chills?

I haven’t seen many at all – I don’t particularly care for the being-frightened experience and I have a runaway imagination – so this answer comes from a small pool. That said, I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theater and barely slept the next two nights.

4. Freddy versus Jason?

Never seen a movie with either of them (see above), so I’ll say Jason because I have a buddy named Jason but no buddies named Fred.

5. Ghosts or goblins?

Ghosts. Goblins are wussy little one hit-die monsters while ghosts can only be harmed by magical weapons and age you 1d4x10 years just by you looking at them. Obvious answer, this one.

6. What is your scariest encounter with the paranormal?

One of my years at Wartburg I lived in the “haunted” dorm. There was a student at Wartburg in the… 70′s, I think… who was brutally murdered and she’d lived in the dorm (indeed, in the room) I lived in. There were lots of stories that year about weird things happening in the dorm. They even brought in the campus weirdo to do a seance. My roommates and I laughed it off, though. Until one evening I was sitting in our room with Matt and Mark and our door suddenly swung open. “Hey now, Lisa,” said Matt (Lisa was the ghost’s name), “that’s not cool. You can’t just listen to our conversations.”

And the door slammed shut again. We laughed about it, but we also found a reason to leave the room pretty quickly after that.

7. Do you believe in ghosts?

Dunno, I guess. Mostly no, but I do believe in the afterlife and ghosts seem like a pretty easy jump to make from there.

8. Favorite Halloween costume?

When I was a tot in Texas my dad directed The Pirates of Penzance at the local college as the fall play. That Halloween I got to be a pirate and walked around singing Gilbert and Sullivan songs and being given candy by strangers. The American dream.

9. If you had an unlimited budget, what would your fantasy costume be for this Halloween?

Interesting. A giant chinchilla, I think. And I’d stuff the suit with millions of dollars in cash.

10. When was the last time you went trick or treating?

Halloween 1996. I used to have a picture on this blog, but I think it was lost in the Great Server Transfer of ’07.

11. What’s your favorite Halloween candy?

I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. Anything that’s neither mint nor coconut.

12. Tell us about a scary nightmare you had.

Scary spooky? I had a recurring dream when I was a little kid of being chased by a bear. Got to the point where I didn’t want to go to sleep; I think I spent almost a year fairly regularly having the dream. Ironically, every time I’ve been in actual bear country on backpacking trips I’ve slept just fine.

Scary really disturbing and horrifying? A couple of times in college I had super real-seeming dreams where I was lying in a hospital bed, dying, and my parents came into the room to cheer me up by singing songs.

13. What is your supernatural fear?

I don’t have any, really, but sometimes when I’ve been hiking by myself on the trails at EWALU at night my mind has wandered a bit.

14. What is your creepy-crawlie fear?

Claustrophobic situations. Just the thought of not being able to move my arms and legs gives me the willies.

15. Would you ever stay in a real haunted house overnight?

Maybe… there’d have to be some pretty significant remuneration involved.

16. Are you a traditionalist (just a face) Jack O’Lantern carver, or do you get really creative with your pumpkins?

Neither. I am a man completely without artistic skill, so I try to avoid subjecting pumpkins of the world to my non-talent.

17. How much do you decorate your home for Halloween?

Well, my roommate has a black cat who likes to sit in the window…

18. Do you think Halloween is too commercial these days?

No. I think Christmas is too commercial. I’m not nearly as attached to the meaning Halloween’s supposed to have.