Tag: Mathematics

Day 1000: How It Ends

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Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.

Genetics-1

Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…

Day 856: When Death Sports A Mischievous Grin

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There are souls who live lives of absolute anonymity, only to achieve the briefest flicker of fame through their final moments on the planet. For all the millions who have succumbed to heart disease, auto accidents and auto-erotic asphyxiation, somewhere there’s a story of a drunken teenager who died playing chicken in a Big Wheels trike against his buddy’s pickup truck. As readers of these tales we exert a tiny flex of our “Huh. Interesting” muscle – the same one that endures a passive workout as we blindly flip through a piece of Buzzfeed ‘journalism’. But we usually stop short of worrying about the same wonky demise happening to us.

In this sense, the modern case of the unusual death serves less as a cautionary tale and more as a temporal distraction akin to a cat video, or a six-second vine of a 13-year-old boy getting caught twerking against a cardboard stand-up Frankie Muniz in his bedroom. But while I wholly condone chuckling away at the ancient tales of strange offings, like how Draco the ancient Greek lawmaker was smothered to death by a showering of cloaks and hats as gifts by a grateful stadium of citizens (mostly because I don’t believe that really happened), I advise mustering up at least a smidgen of empathy for the more substantiated tales.

After all, it could be you next, you never know. One minute you might be walking home from the store, three packs of powdered mini-donuts and a week-old Hustler tucked under your arm, when suddenly your skull is cracked open by an airborne tortoise.

Aeschylus

Our first is about a guy whose skull was totally cracked open by an airborne tortoise. His name was Aeschylus, and along with Sophocles and Euripides he is one of the three great tragedy-writers of Ancient Greece whose works are still performed today. His trademark was the trilogy, but his most famous works had a huge impact on theatre. His influence resonated over millennia, affecting dramatic expression, literature, and even music. Read more…

Day 848: No One Is Very Far From Bacon

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Those who know me (or who have read enough of my articles to have observed when my jokes and references get tired and therefore repeated) know that I love to write about bacon. Today I’m offering a new take on the topic; in fact, I’m refocussing my literary lens on a wholly different variety of bacon.

Kevin Bacon.

By now I’m sure everyone has heard of the game/meme/phenomenon that is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. If you’ve somehow escaped this snippet of pop culture, or if you only ever visit the internet to read this site and play solitaire (hi mom!), this is a game in which you try to match any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon through their film and television appearances, using as few steps as possible. For example, Brian Dennehy was in Annie Oakley with Jamie Lee Curtis, who starred with Bacon in 8. Two degrees.

Even if you dip into the more obscure actors it’s hard to find a connection that requires more than three steps. I looked up Loni Nest, who had a small uncredited role as “child in window” in the 1925 silent German horror classic Nosferatu, and still it was only three paces away from Bacon (via Lil Dagover in Harakiri, who appeared with Max Schell in The Pedestrian, who appeared with Bacon in Telling Lies In America). It’s a little weird, really.

SixDegrees

The game is based on the small world theory, that everyone is at most six steps away from everyone else via acquaintances. Its origins lie in a January, 1994 interview Bacon gave to Premiere magazine whilst hyping his new flick, The River Wild. He jokingly commented that he had worked with everyone in Hollywood, or at least with someone who had worked with them. Three months later the newsgroup rec.arts.movies began a lengthy discussion about Kevin Bacon as the ‘Center of the Universe’. Read more…

Day 746: Punctuation – Not Just For Cartoon Speech-Bubble Swears

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Today I’m going to opt for a markedly insular approach and write about some of the tools I keep scattered about my proverbial writing desk. I’m not talking about my retread and tired metaphors, nor the antiquated pop culture references that pepper my daily prose (though those are just dyn-o-mite!). On a much simpler scale, these are the trinkets that keep my writing from running on like a babbling drunkard or looking like a poorly-phrased ee cummings poem.

Punctuation.

“Shit,” you are no doubt thinking. “He’s going to write about punctuation? What happened to writing about stolen brains or lousy movies?” I know, I get that. But had I known just how interesting the topic of punctuation might be, I might not have put off writing about it for 746 days. There’s a world of intrigue in those little blips and squiggles. Well maybe not intrigue in the spy-thriller-mystery-explosions sense of the word. But certainly enough to merit three and a half minutes of your attention.

Ampersand

As you can see, the symbol for the ampersand has evolved from a lower-case ‘h’ that has been slapped on the back to a half-finished bathroom-stall piece of dink graffiti to a prototype wheelchair access placard, and eventually into the little swoosh we know and love today. Its origins are a stylistic scrunching of the Latin ‘ET’, meaning (unsurprisingly) ‘and’. Though we have now relegated the mighty ampersand to a shorthand and/or stylish alternative (“Hall & Oates” is so much snazzier than “Hall and Oates”), the little guy used to have a place in our alphabet, right at the end. Read more…

Day 666: How Many Number-Fearing Superstitious Nutjobs Does It Take…

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All month long I have been receiving emails, letters, semaphore flags and be-noted thrown bricks, asking if I’ll be devoting Day 666 to Apollyon, the Father of Lies, the King of Babylon, the Ruler of Demons, the Roaring Lion, the Serpent of Old, the Wicked One… you know, that dude who hooked up with Robert Johnson at the crossroads and taught him how to invent the low-down dirty blues.

Well, no. What has Satan done for me lately? Do you think I sold my soul to be a government print shop drone? No, Satan can find some other schmuck to pen a missive to his madness. My curiosities lean more toward the more esoteric, the seldom-explored quirks and quarks of the world. Everyone knows the story of Satan.

But what about the story of 666 itself? It’s the Number of the Beast, sure. But it’s just a number. Today happens to mark 666 days since January 1 of last year. So what? Why should we burden ourselves with something as silly as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia?

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

An astute observer will notice the three hexes in that word and the ‘phobia’ at the end and rightly deduce that it means a fear of the number 666. This delves from the source of most of our humanly fears that don’t involve being eaten by something or stepping on a strewn piece of recently discarded gum: religion. Revelations 13:18 features this little number only once, and even then its actual meaning is open to a bit of interpretation. Read more…