Arachne

Haven’t posted in a while, and still haven’t made good on the promise to embarass myself by sharing some not-necessarily-world-literature-level self-written horror stories, so I thought I’d take care of both here. The following is not necessarily for those who are very, very afraid of certain small animals feared by astonishingly many people. Or perhaps it’s precisely for them, as it is supposed to be a horror story:

With small, careful, almost mechanical steps, Tatjana returned to the graffiti-decorated apartment building she called home, looking over her shoulder in regular intervals. The sleazy tenement stood in marked contrast to the newly renovated buildings around it, hailing back from an era before the city had started renovating its public housing and cracking down on even the lightest of crimes. Yet the greasy-haired girl who was just fumbling in her pocket to find her key between all the used handkerchiefs had never truly gotten used to this “New City for a New Tomorrow”, with all the muggers, thugs and cutthroats gone to the outer districts. She still expected someone to pull a knife at her at any time. While usually, she only left her home when absolutely necessary, every year on the day before Christmas, she would venture out of the closed space for several hours, go down to the mall and stare at the raging, many-faced and many-legged mass of people buying their presents at the last possible moment, and their many eyes would stare back at her.

Tatjana herself was a living anachronism, a dropout from the local technical college with clothes she had worn for two straight weeks, and originally obtained from someone’s dumpster. In recent years, a new class of tenants, affluent, with families, had moved into even her building, and just as in the earlier days, she could feel the violent threats and malevolent intentions of her neighbours on her neck whenever she walked past them, so she now was haunted by their mistrust and disapproval. Security cameras had been installed on every floor of the tenement at some point, so she didn’t even have to encounter anyone for a contemptuous stare to chill her skin.Read More »

What’ll Happen in Game of Thrones, Season 6…

…is something I honestly don’t know. Humans are well-known to be bad at predictions, whether it’s serious things like stock markets, elections, personal life etc., more light-hearted stuff like movies and so on, or dead-or-alive matters like the plot of the next season of “Game of Thrones”. Nevertheless, I am going to present some speculations here, and act as if I am pretty confident in them. (I would actually be surprised if any of them came true.) Please consider that a) I haven’t read the books, so anything I say might be rendered irrelevant by information contained in them and b) I do not possess extensive knowledge of other people’s fan theories, so it’s possible I will say things many other people have said before me. Also, this is obviously going to contain spoilers for the previous five seasons of the show, which I will assume the reader has seen:

The North: The previous two seasons featured at least four ambiguous deaths that could play a role here – Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, Stannis Baratheon and Theon Greyjoy/Sansa Stark’s jump from the wall of Castle Winterfell. The Hound was left for dead by Arya Stark, yet we never saw his corpse. Moreover, when the Brotherhood without Banners set him free in Season 3, he was told that “the Lord of Light is not yet done with you”, indicating he should be set to play a much bigger role than he has so far. Perhaps the strongest indication that Sandor Clegane is still alive is that Rory McCann, the actor who played him, is suspiciously missing from the “The Fallen” panel for Season 4 of the show. Stannis Baratheon, in the Season 5 finale, was found by Brienne of Tarth after he had lost the battle for Winterfell, and she sentenced him to death for the murder of his brother Renly. We did see her swing her sword towards his head, and we did hear a dull sound, but we never saw her sword connect, and the sound could have been from someone who snuck up on her and struck her down before she could finish the job. If so, that person could be The Hound. The third one, also from the Season 5 finale, is Theon and Sansa’s jump from the battlements of Winterfell, after killing Ramsay Bolton’s lover Myranda before. I think these deaths are actually going to hold up, and they will not miraculously survive the fall. (The only plausible scenario I can imagine for that is Bran Stark taking over the brain of some kind of very large bird and saving them, but it’s questionable if he could yet do that, and this kind of thing is also pretty lame when no dragons are involved.) Taken together, that leads me to the following scenario:

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Regarding the Tim Hunt Controversy

I really wanted not to comment on this, but as I follow a number of scientists and science journalists on Twitter, I still constantly get this topic in my timeline, and I find some of what is written on it troubling to an extremely high degree. This is going to be long, and I might say something to deeply anger or offend any conceivable reader along the way, so read it at your own risk. Here it goes:

As my readership (if it yet existed) may have heard, Nobel Prize winning biochemist Tim Hunt recently came under fire for his remarks in a speech at a luncheon organized by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations. Citing his apparent reputation as a “chauvinist”, he told his audience about his “trouble with girls”, culminating in the remark that “three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry”, and a demand to separate scientific laboratories by sex.

Now, I agree that this was a terrible thing to say, particularly given the audience. You don’t have to be a feminist or sympathizer of feminism (I most definitely am not, and it will probably be apparent from this article) to see that there is something wrong with portraying grown-up women as overly sensitive girls who will perpetually cry about criticism. Hunt has defended himself by claiming his statements were intended to be humorous, and I personally believe him, but there is still a little problem with that excuse: They are virtually indistinguishable from what someone who actually believed these things would say. So at the very least, he didn’t think through remarks that he must have known concerned a sensitive topic. Unlike last year’s extremely abstruse “scandal” revolving around a space engineer’s somewhat unprofessional choice of attire, this is a case were I actually can sympathize with sharp reactions to a senior male scientist’s behaviour towards female colleagues.

Yet, the reaction has been taken to a point where at least two aspects of all this seem objectionable to me:

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Seven Conspiracy Theories, Presented Without a Shred of Evidence

(The following theories are mostly stuff I thought up in my more paranoid moments. Aside from evidence, they also often lack internal logic and consistency, so it should, by all experience, be possible to get a lot of people to passionately believe in them.)

1. The Mayan prophecy was actually correct and the world did end on December 21, 2012. What we are currently living in is purgatory.

2. You don’t know that many people. You may think that you are constantly meeting new folks, but actually, it’s all just a small band of incredibly versatile actors (kind of like the movie “The Truman Show” on steroids). The reason that both that girl you met on vacation and one of your university professors occasionally remind you of your mother is that they are, in fact, all the same person. “What if you got all of them to gather in the same room?”, you may foolishly ask. Well, ever heard of camera tricks?

3. You are never going to die. Instead, there is an infinity of parallel universes, and each of them, for every event that would kill you, splits up into one world where the event happened and some other world where the event is prevented by some crazy coincidence. Normally, when history branches in two like that, each of the new parallel universes would contain a version of you that thinks of herself as continuing your life, but if in one universe, you have ceased to exist, no version of you can have the feeling of living on in the new universe. Thus, your subjective experience is that you always continue your existence in some universe and, hence, never die, even as you eventually watch all people you ever knew die (who, of course, will also subjectively live eternal lives of their own).

(Like all theories on this list, I believe this one is a stupid idea, but if I ever celebrate my 1000st birthday, I will actually start to get suspicious.)

4. “Game of Thrones” is actually set in the prehistoric Marvel comics universe, and the Starks of Winterfell are ancestors of Iron Man. Because he is Tony Stark, remember? Also, Atlantis exists in the Marvel comics and is supposed to have been the size of modern Australia until it sank into the ocean 21,000 years ago, so maybe it’s identical to Westeros. (This of course assumes that there will be any surviving Starks left by whatever time GoT ends.)

5. Procrastinating on important tasks is not what it seems. Actually, you constantly get involved in secret missions to save the world from serious global threats (pandemics, zombies, aliens, or whatever). Afterwards, your memories of all that happened are wiped and replaced by recollections of you wasting time in front of a computer. So if you ever failed an exam, it’s because you put the greater good of humanity above your own selfish desires.

6. People constantly go back in time and repeat some period of their life again. They just don’t usually notice, as these “periods” are extremely short, typically only a few nanoseconds.

7. Earth is a sphere, but we live on the inside. This so-called “hollow earth theory” actually isn’t original to me.

“The Big Bang Theory” References Explained – Part 1

The CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” is, among other things, particularly remarkable for its many references to physics, science, the “geek culture” it portrays, and even subjects like history or philosophy, the first scientific allusion of course already being its very title. So I thought it might be fun to research some of them and explain them here. I tried not to assume too much prior scientific knowledge beyond basic arithmetic, not even simple algebra. Perhaps that also means I will have to ask better-informed readers for their patience. This is intended to be the first of several parts (probably three or four). Here it goes:

1. Free fall and basic classical mechanics

Let’s begin with a scene from “The Gorilla Experiment” (Season 3, Episode 10): Penny, the only non-scientist main character of the show, wants to surprise her physicist boyfriend Leonard by trying to understand what he’s working on. She therefore asks his string theorist roommate Sheldon to tutor her in physics, but is quickly lost:

Sheldon: Now, remember, Newton realized Aristotle was wrong, and that force was not necessary to maintain motion, so let’s plug in our 9.8 meters per second squared as a, and we get force – earth gravity – equals mass times 9.8 meters per second per second. So, we can see that m x a equals m x g, and what do we know from this?

Penny: We know that… Newton was a really smart cookie… Oh! Is that where Fig Newtons come from?

Sheldon: No. Fig Newtons are named after a small town in Massachusetts… No don’t write that down! Now, if m x a equals m x g, what does that imply?

Penny: I don’t know.

Sheldon: How can you not know, I just told you! […]

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Amateurish Attempts at Philosophy: The Hans Landa Fallacy

At the beginning of the film “Inglorious Basterds”, Col. Hans Landa, the Nazi “Jew Hunter” and main antagonist of the story, pays a visit to a French farmer who is hiding a Jewish family in his home. In the course of their conversation, Landa mentions how most people are disgusted by rats for no apparent reason except an instinctive repulsion, while squirrels – close relatives of rats that, like their less popular cousins, can bite and transmit diseases – wouldn’t get the same hostile reaction, in fact, people like the farmer might find them adorable and put out a bowl of milk for them. He compares this to the racial hatred of National Socialism: The whole “persecution of Jews” thing isn’t about some discernible difference between them and other races or ethnicities, it’s just a matter of course for some groups of people to be naturally repelled by some other groups of people, just as with animals.

Now I get that, in the context of the film, this isn’t meant to be a sophisticated ethical discussion on the merits and discontents of… well, genocide, but a piece of intimidating dialogue meant to strike fear into the farmer’s heart, but I still think of this scene whenever I hear a certain type of argument that I find quite annoying, yet keeps appearing in discussions of topics ranging from politics to technology, and is put forward even by extremely smart people in some contexts. It goes along the lines of, “Well, in case A you demand some reason to believe or do X, but in case B, which is at least superficially similar, you believe or do X without having any good reason whatsoever.” This seems to appeal shamelessly to the laziness of one’s audience, to their unwillingness to either give up an unjustified distinction between cases A and B, or find some reason why these cases are and should be distinguished.There is, of course, an inconsistency to be resolved, but not necessarily the way the HLF proponent wants us to. Now, I realize that others may have written on this topic before me, and also given this kind of fallacy a less offensive name, but I got a blog to run. Let me still emphasize that any fallacious argument may be used to justify anything from mass murder to the wrong choice of furniture for your living room, and my nomenclature is meant as a dumbass pop culture reference, not as an attempt to equate everyone making these kind of points to a Nazi.

So let’s look at two of the most prominent examples:Read More »

First one

Welcome to “Panda quaerens intellectum”, my new outlet for posting stuff only a limited number of people will want to read.

I’m still not absolutely clear on where I am going with this. In the unlikely event you DO read this site, I might entertain and delight you with an endless stream of panda videos, make you hate me by sharing my opinions on various subjects (politics and religion won’t be off limits), bore you by writing about what I’m currently reading or watching (higher mathematics won’t be off limits) or embarass myself by trying to be funny or sharing self-written horror stories. Or write nothing for long periods of time

On second thought, periods of writer’s block or lack of time can always be bridged by the always classy and appropriate panda video, so let’s start with that: