Thursday, April 30, 2009

Auto-Identify Porn

Steve Hanov is a Computer Science major who put together a short piece on the automatic identification of pornographic images, for which there is considerable demand. Companies want to block their workers from it, both because they want their workers to focus on the job, and because such images run them afoul of sexual harassment laws. People with delicate sensibilities also wish to either be protected from it themselves, or prevent their children from seeing it, and get filtering software for exactly that purpose.
When I entered school, there was a method for this in existence already. All images had their tones compared with a chart of human skin tones. If more than, say 40% of the image was skin toned, the image was classified as pornographic. (And blocked, sent to an admin, or whatever.) Just one problem with that. Here's a picture of a famous man. See if you can see the problem:
William Gates the 3rd, up and close
Most of the picture depicts his (face) skin, but this picture is clearly not pornography. So that method is likely to backfire occasionally.
So another expert, David Forsythe, wrote a paper on this topic, that he called Finding Naked People. (Mr. Forsythe is known for exactly this kind of humor.) Mr. Forsythe noted that people have at most two arms and two legs, so if it can trace a continuous skin-tone from a face, to an arm, to a leg, then this is probably a picture of a naked person and therefore not allowed. His program understands how human bodies work, but would be fooled by, say, a person wearing a body-stocking. Still, it was much better than the previous example that got fooled by faces.
So James Ze Wang wrote another program, WIPE, that carefully checked shapes, on the grounds that this would cut down on the false positives. It also checked five criteria, giving a slight more granularity to the process. After all, a person wearing a bathing suit would prompt a less serious response than a naked person, which in turn would be less than a naked person having sex and so on.
Unfortunately for Mr. Wang, WIPE had far too many false negatives. It approved images that were clearly to a human, pornographic. WIPE does make a good secondary filter with human intervention (that is to say, where a human double checks WIPE's approvals.)
Mr. Hanov then goes on to describe Google's involvement in the problem. When Google developed an image-search program, it then had to ensure that pornographic images were not returned unless explicitly asked for. After all, families and other sensitive people use it. The Internet already has a filthy reputation, no need to make it worse. Just imagine.

Mom: Hey Mad Engineer, I'm doing a report on oral cancer, can you get me a picture to go with that?
Mad Engineer: Sure mom. Open google, image search, "Oral cancer..." ....Oh my.
Grandma: What are you kids up to OH SWEET JESUS BURN THE DEMON MACHINE!!!!!!

Since hundreds of thousands of people use Google image every minute or so, this has to be a fairly fast and effective algorithm. And you know that if it fails that people will complain. Google writes another paper on their results.
I predict more developments on this in the future.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Alternative Medicine

Okay, I've noticed that some of you don't like traditional medicine. Please be careful with the alternates. Medical scams go back hundreds of years, it's why we have regulatory boards like the FDA in the first place. Because some people bottle some cheap oil, sell it as all-curing "snake oil," and laugh as the bankroll rolls in and the graveyards fill. Hence the term "Snake oil" to mean "fake medicine."
So what can you do instead if you still hate traditional medicine?

* Herbalism
Before there were chemical pills, people ate plants to help them feel better. See, plants constantly engage in chemical warfare with each other, and some of the compounds they make kill bacteria, get us high, or relieve our pain. Aspirin, for instance, is concentrated salysitic acid, which was derived from willow bark. Why willow bark? Because hundreds of years ago, somebody noticed that if you had a headache and chewed some, the headache went away.
So most chemical pills that a doctor prescribes you, they often were derived from a long-ago herbal treatment. If you must bypass western medicine, herbalism is a reasonably sufficient substitute. Please be cautious that you're less certain of dosing this way, since plants can have wildly varying amounts of their active compound.
* Reflexology
Fancy foot rubs. Now while foot rubs are great for aching feet, they do not, as reflexologists would claim, cure problems outside the feet.
* Chiropracty
Fancy back rubs. Great for mysterious back pain. Useless for non-spinal problems. Practitioners claim that the spine influences the rest of the body, but this is dubious.
* Acupuncture
The ancient Chinese believed that a mysterious energy, "Qi," flowed through the body and that if it got blocked at any point, it would cause problems. So they developed a system of needle-stabbing to unblock this energy.
It works on mysterious pain, but nobody has any idea why, because Qi doesn't exist.
Also even more curiously, it even works if instead of needles, one pokes with fingers on the same spots. Albeit usually less effectively.
* Homeopathy
In the late 1790s, Malaria was a big problem for European explorers. Various remedies were tried, all of them utterly ineffective. A German doctor discovered the effectiveness of Quinine, and then despite being uninfected with malaria himself, took some anyway. To his surprise, he developed malaria-like symptoms, and so concluded that "Like-cures-like." That is, if one has a fever, one should take a treatment that causes fever in a healthy person.
Then the field went totally insane and decided that repeated dilution was the best way to deal with medical shortages. Homeopaths generally believe that solvents somehow have memory, and can remember what was dissolved in them even when diluted so extremely that not one particle of the dissolved substance could possibly remain.
So when you take a homeopathic treatment, you're drinking water that might have been near a poison at one time. Also, we should all be dead from drinking poop water, but for some reason that didn't happen. Maybe because water doesn't actually have a memory. It is a chemical compound, it does not have a brain.
Ultra-cheapskate homeopaths now even claim that "water memory" can be transmitted by sound. Now hold the glass up to the phone, so I can make it believe it's useful medicine. This way I can take your money without you even leaving your home.
* Vitamin theory
In the 1800s, sailors noticed that their typical diet of hardtack and rum tended to make them very very ill. It turns you that you need certain chemical compounds in your food, or you sicken and die. These were called the Vitamins, and were given letter names for easy remembering. Now you can buy tablets with all the vitamins you need, just in case you for some reason need to subsist on a hardtack diet.
Now a cranky theory is engulfing Africa, a continent currently riddled with AIDS and other horrible diseases. The theory states that megadoses of vitamins will cure all diseases. Even Ebola, AIDS, and other diseases that are strongly resistant to treatment.
If this was true, westernized medicine surely would have noticed by now. It's mostly wishful thinking, because a box of vitamins costs $1.83, and the same weight of anti-AIDS drugs costs $224. Africa is not famous for having lots of money.
* Reiki and Faith Healing
Reiki is an idea from Japan that one can move "Qi" from a healthy person to an ill one, therefore ending the ill person's illness. Remember several paragraphs ago when I said that Qi doesn't exist? Still doesn't.
Likewise, Faith Healing revolves around having religion take away a person's illness. It usually doesn't.
* Vibrational Medicine
Supposedly, human beings are made of energy, and changing the "balances" of this energy heals diseases. Pass the bong, man.
* Therapeutic/Magic/Quantum/Whatever Touch
Therapeutic touch claimed to cure illness at a distance through spooky action. An 11 year old proved it to be utterly wrong in 1998. So the practitioners renamed it Quantum touch and went right back to work. People might not understand quantum mechanics, but surely understand that vitalism is wrong, don't they?
* Naturopathy
If there's one thing I've noticed about people over the years, it's that anything they can label "natural," they love, and anything they can label "artificial," they hate. Combine this with outrage at being treated as a bunch of parts by western medicine, and copious bong-passings, and you get naturopathic medicine,
While the official principles are pretty impressive, advocating taking the most effective treatments, working with the self-healing nature of the body for best results, encouraging self-responsibility for health and so on, in practice this tends to be half-baked ideas fueled by what seems to be several doses of hallucinogens, long treatises on long-ago disproven cranky theories, and odd little obsessions like Dr. Kellogs whacked out love of enemas. (Naturopaths often proclaim that one's own intestines are sickening you by retaining some ten to forty pounds of stale poop, and offer to treat this with herbal enemas. Surely we would all be grotesquely ill then?)
* Iridology
Iridologists proclaim that all illness can be diagnosed by analysis of the iris. Most are also homeopaths, naturopaths, or one of the other less reputable branches listed above.
* Color therapy
Feeling bad? Here, look at this colorful poster! Don't you feel better already? See, it realigned your chakras, which are invisible undetectable wheels of light down the center of your body. (Chakras are a common belief in Indian religions, and are likely not real.) Let me shine this colored lamp on you to finish up the process. Man, don't you love these dank nugs?

I'm gonna go with the Herbs. Least ridiculous. Best tested. Natural enough for the chemistry-haters. Thousands of years of testing. Least crank riddled.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Zebra Mussels

In 1998, a ship that was previously in the Black Sea, near Russia, was in the Great Lakes of the US. It dumped its ballast and introduced a new animal into the lakes. This animal was the filter feeding Zebra Mussel, and both good and bad things happened because of this.
On the good side, the lakes were quite murky and polluted, and the mussels cleaned every drop of lake water. Within only a few years, lake visibility improved dramatically. Before 1998, one would be an idiot to drink the lake's water, now it is the best source of water in the United States for its area. Also, unlike many invasive species, there are native animals that love to eat the mussels. Perch, Roaches, and Crawfish love them. Crawfish eat over a thousand a day if given the opportunity.
The bad news is that they are encrusting every last surface of the lake, including boats, pumps, and devices, and they did not only eat the waste, but all filter-food available to them. This has starved out a number of native species. Also, they have bioaccumulated the lake's waste into themselves. This means that eating them, or anything that has eaten them, is unsafe.
While Zebra Mussels are, if clean, edible to humans, one should not eat any of the existing ones. They have all the PCBs and other pollution that all cities between Detroit and Chicago dumped lodged in their bodies.
There are two things I would suggest doing with this information. One is to harvest every Zebra Mussel currently in the lake, but discard the bodies into a toxic waste dump. I estimate there to be 6,432,215,961,600,000 mussels in the lake at most, so we go through a regular process of scraping mussels off available surfaces, counting and discarding until we have harvested this many. At that point, further mussels can be assumed to be safe. We can harvest them for cheap food, introduce crawfish that will eat them up and then promptly become Cajun food.
The other is to build a device that pumps water through mussel-filled chambers over and over. After about 10 or so cycles, the water will be drinkable. Periodically it will be necessary to remove the mussels and treat their remains for pollution, and because they will reproduce until they clog the chambers.
This device will use less power than traditional filters, and the filtration parts are 100% biodegradable. In addition, the filtration parts are 100% natural. In fact, the filtration will reproduce itself, making this machine partially self-assembling. Depending on how one circulates the water, it could even be off-the-grid, resulting in zero environmental impact. It scales easily up to a city water treatment, or down to a single-person use. Muhahahaha.
PETA will complain. Muhahahahahahahaha.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Ungoogable List of Mr. Monroe

Randall Monroe of XKCD proposes a list of words that had no hits on google when he wrote them. These words now have a number of hits, mostly people talking about his list like I am.
I think most of his phrases had no hits for quite good reasons. He picked some damn unusual thoughts.

"ate a violin"

No animal on earth is capable of eating all the parts of a violin, although if I allow multiple organisms, I can find a combination that can eat everything: Termites consume the wood, various specialized bacteria can eat the laquer, the nylon strings, and if I let the metal parts rust away, these can be made into an iron rich health supplement.

"driver-side bidet"

A bidet is a toiletry part that squirts water onto your toileting parts to clean them. To use it successfully, you probably shouldn't be wearing pants as you do it. They're uncommon in America.
"Driver's side" seems to imply that this is in a vehicle, and used by the person operating it. If you're driving without pants, (or a skirt, or something to cover your crotch) then I think I might be a tad disgusted by you.

"unlike normal furries,"

"Furries" are an internet sub-community that depict themselves graphically as anthropomorphic animals. They're new enough that no one is sure what is "normal" for them. In fact, every time the internet turns around, it seems to uncover an even stranger one than was ever seen before. Thus making "normal furries" a nonsensical concept in two ways.

"Sarah, plain and tall and a cyborg"

Sarah, Plain and Tall, was a book about a stepmother who moved from the east coast to the midwest, and was about loneliness and existentialism. The book was set long before cyborgs were technically possible.While at first thought being a "cyborg" would make one explicitly not "plain," I suppose a plain and tall Sarah could have a pacemaker surgically installed, therefore making her a combination of a person and machine and therefore a cyborg.

"people are too civil on the internet"

For one, people tend towards the rude and caustic on the Internet. The authors of Penny Arcade point out that if you give the average person both anonymity and an audience, their behavior decays considerably (warning, rude language).
The other thing about this is that "too civil" is really really hard to imagine. What discussion wouldn't be better without the normal half-baked retorts and copious insults and the raging fury of a thousand broken dreams that characterize most internet arguments?

"his penis shattered my world"

I'm still not sure if having one's world shattered is a good thing or a bad thing. In any case, most straight women only really care that a potential boyfriend has a penis and that it works, and even among gay men, "size queens" are kind of rare.

"more like LAME-arkian theory"

Lamarkian Evolution is so entirely and throughly discredited that this kind of insult is stupid and unnecessary.

"my little horse must think it gay"

Horses of any size probably don't give a web slap if something is homosexual or not. Unless you mean it in the "it's lame" sense, in which case horses don't think that way either.

"it turned out her bottom half was a robot"

Half body replacement is still not technologically feasible.

"Aww, a baby hooker!"

Most people (in America anyway) would reguard anything remotely similar to "a baby hooker" as immensely creepy. Even the offspring of a hooker would be more pitied than admired.

I'd like to thank Mr. Monroe for this little crazy journey.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life Support

I should built a machine that has an extracorporeal circulation device, a dialysis machine, and remote manipulators with scalpels and surgical thread sewers. I should make it portable, battery powered for up to 48 hours with solar recharging options, and treaded so that it can move on harsh terrain. It should also be able to connect to satellites by a radio-type connection. It would have a saline-and-glucose supply in case of excess fluid loss, and a small stash of useful medications, most notably analgesics and antibiotics. It should be able to insert these into the incoming side of the circulation.

The interior would be like the "improved bed" that I wrote about earlier, but with the remote manipulators, some kind of cameras, and needles for the vein connections. Air conditioning optional, and probably avoided due to excessive power use.

Then we can take this device to the wilderness, or a battlefield, and if we come across a wounded person, we can put them inside, connect their veins, and have it radio-connect to a hospital, where a surgeon could use the remote manipulators to save the wounded person's life.

When the patient is stable, we drain the used dialysate replace the needles and the mattress liner, and then the machine can save another life.

What else can insane technology do for medicine?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Boot Monitors

In some of the older, more expensive servers, it didn't load the operating system straightaway. It had a ROM chip with a much simpler OS built into it, and that simpler OS would boot the more complicated, production one. This may have added complexity, but there was a good reason for it.
The good reason was that sometimes administrators did really stupid things. Sometimes they erased large, seemingly useless file that were actually critical to the OS's operation. Sometimes the disk screwed up. Sometimes the main OS didn't work, and the big mainframe didn't exactly come with a rescue CD. The "Boot Monitor" ROM OS may have been simpler than the production one, but it was good enough to, say, rescue files from a failing disk, copy them to the other computer in the next town over via the network, and load the replacement OS into place.
Desktop computers don't typically have this features because of the expense and added complexity this would add. But frankly, I think we should have USB-based boot monitors. If you mess up the computer, you can pop in the USB-Key device and it'll help make things all better. It can't save files that you forgot to save during the power outage, but it can rescue files from a failing disk, or help you find that note with your lost password. You know, that one you've asked helpdesk to help you find 21 times now.
I could also use it when putting together a new OS. I'm often left with this chicken-and-egg problem of being unable to make the filesystem because I need the writing program, but I can't build the writing program with no filesystem. Here, the writing program would be on the USB-key, the filesystem would be made, and then the OS installed on it. Easy peasy. Way better than my current method of using the swap-partition that'll get erased later as a temporary fake filesystem.
To non-computer people who asked me what in the flying hell filesystems and partitions are, they have to do with storing information on a hard drive. First you have to cut the hard drive into partitions, which decides what section gets what. Windows people can make the whole drive one partition if they like, but the advantage to having several is that they tend to fail one at a time. So if you have an OS partition and a Data partition, and the OS partition fails, you might need to reinstall but you still have your data. If the data partition fails, I hope you had a backup. If you had one partition, you're reinstalling and restoring from backup, which is a bit of a pain.
A filesystem is like installing a cabinet in the partition. It says what files are where, and must be in a form that the OS can understand. Newer ones can store more files in less space, thanks to research into block-sizes and whatnot. The filesystem determines that your letter to your boss is at, say, D:\letters\howaboutaraise.doc . It allows organization, so that your business letters can be separate from your letters to your mother. With no file system, any information would be like a big pile of papers on the ground. That get stepped on and mangled. No one could make sense of that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The National Debt

This article is a tad America-Centric. I live there. It's my country, and I do love it. Non-American readers are encouraged to apply what they can of this to their own nation.

Like most nations, America is in fairly badly in debt. $7 trillion is owed to external sources, and another $4 trillion exists in inter-department loans. The debt continuously gets larger as interest continuously collects, and then on top people insist both on extensive spending programs and low taxes, not realizing that one or the other has to give. Possibly even both.

To remind you of how ludicrously large 7 trillion is, let me think up some things I could do with $7 trillion:
  • I could buy a car and a mansion for every person who ever lived.
  • I could fill all the planet's lakes with an expensive fluid, like Cristal
  • I could terraform Mars, Venus, Mercury, Io, Ganymede, and parts of the asteroid belt
  • I could buy everything on Earth. Everything physical that exists as of this writing.
  • I could feed a trillion people lunch at a mid-ranged American buffet
  • I could automate all labor on earth and mandate that every person go on vacation. For the rest of their lives.

This can't be good for our credit rating, collectively. So far, bonds have been traded, mostly to American citizens, but other nations are also heavily involved, mostly China and Japan. They're not interested in loaning us money just because, but expect to be paid back at some point. Also, it is unwise to abuse credit. Given a credit line of $10,000, it is better to use it to buy groceries and promptly pay it off as soon as possible than to buy a huge plasma screen television and all the video games you can carry.

We cannot just pay this off by printing more money. The Confederacy tried that, the Weinmar Republic tried that, and both immediately died of hyperinflation. That is to say, their currencies became worthless, even simple goods like bread cost wheelbarrows full of currency, and the stability of the government collapsed because trade was impossible. This is happening yet again in Zimbabwe, which failed to learn from history and is once again repeating it.

Some people specifically don't want to pay off the national debt. I must remind them that there is an interest cost to all this debt. Debt is never free. Taxes could be something along the lines of 6 - 20 % lower if the government didn't owe such absurd sums. Let me give reasons that I think should appeal to everybody:

  1. Borrowing money that you never intend to pay back is stealing.
  2. Living beyond your means is not only irresponsible, it is stupid
  3. Debt for no reason is unbiblical, "Neither a borrower nor lender be."
  4. It's literally costing you money as the interest charges pile up.
  5. Sooner or later, payment must happen. Not paying it is punishing your children. You love your children, right? If you don't have children, do you give a hoot about the future at all?
  6. A large debt is a shame upon the nation. Don't you care about your nation's prestige?
  7. In severe emergencies, like world wars, multistate natural disasters, and so on, the government must spend ridiculous sums of money. A bankrupt nation would have to turn over and die instead. Care to surrender to, oh, say, North Korea, or roll over and die just because a hurricane came by?
  8. If the government were a person, it would be a slacker with a minimum wage job and several maxed out credit cards. Would you lend that person money? I wouldn't.
  9. If the government did go bankrupt, it's not just the things that you hate that would go away. Republicans would lose the entire military, all five branches, corporate assistance, and farming subsidies. Democrats would lose the EPA, most of the country's educational system, the NEA, the NSF, and both sides would lose social order.
  10. "Loss of social order" means people shoot you for your stuff and the police are too bankrupt to give a wet slap. Hope you own a good machine gun, an infinite supply of bullets, and don't need to sleep at all!

To make matters crazier, Estonia, a country with a much lower GDP, has insisted that it will pay off its entire debt by 2010, next year. I find it embarrassing on a National level that they have that big a head start. I wager that if I held a pop-geography quiz, a quarter of the people would have no idea where Estonia even is. Sigh.

I can't count on the government to have the stones to follow my plan. Republicans may whine that it's the Democrats fault for spending money on things, and Democrats complain that the Republicans obsess endlessly on tax cuts, but when Alan Greenspan saw a plan to slash the debt due to budget surplus in 1992, no Congressperson would have anything to do with it. God forbid their favorite thing be skipped in favor of some abstract that their pea-brains couldn't seem to grasp. (As a liberal guy, I might personally blame the Republicans more, since they seem to entertain so many Norquistian fantasies about how taxes are some kind of bizarre crime against them that liberals thought up for no reason, and that if the government went bankrupt we'd all move on to some kind of gold-coin-using government-free utopia, but they'd call me a tax-and-spend nutjob. And I do admit that spending greatly when you're heavily in debt is a poor idea.)

I thought that I thought of this first, but apparently this obnoxious Republican beat me to it. If every one of us Americans paid $10 per year, it would take 23,000 years to pay off the debt. If we made it $10 per day, the debt would be paid in 63 years, and probably less from the ever-decreasing interest payments. I can't count on you to do this, so I will take the first move and make a small contribution. Of course, we will also have to show some political backbone and try to stop making the problem worse. No more tax cuts. No more wars unless someone literally puts troops on our turf. No more entitlement programs. We must elect government that assume that money is just not available. Furthermore, the government should not print money during this time, except as debt payment, and then only extremely minimally. Absolutely not more than $100,000 per year. Probably we should only use the mint to create collector's coins until the debt is paid.

If I were controlling the government personally, my first action would be to sell all the gold the government owns and pay this to the debt first. We can buy it back later when gold is more correctly priced, but there's no need for the government to own shinies, really. I'm letting the tax-cuts expire, and anyone who complains will be given a passport, a Bulgarian-to-English dictionary, and informed that they have much much lower taxes in Bulgaria. (Bulgarian taxes are 10%, and all of the former Iron-Curtain nations are below 20%.) I'm looking at you, Norquist.

Now, this plan is worthless without knowing how to do it, and you can't just hand over cash at the DMV. The government has strict instructions on what they may accept as a debt payment, just to make sure no one is confused about the matter. I quote the government directly:

How do you make a contribution to reduce the debt?

Make your check payable to the Bureau of the Public Debt, and in the memo section, notate that it is a Gift to reduce the Debt Held by the Public. Mail your check to:

Attn Dept G
Bureau of the Public Debt
P. O. Box 2188
Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188

On further tax policies, I'd like to see if Republican theories on tax have any merit at all by implementing both cap-and-trade and a number of sin taxes. Their theory is that taxing something reduces its presence in the market. Cap-and-trade is basically a pollution tax. If taxing something makes it too expensive to continue, we would see measurably cleaner air as a result. Sin taxes on behaviors that we find obnoxious, like drinking, smoking, car horns that blare music out of tune, should also measurably reduce their presence. I predict that people will grudgingly pay and continue these behaviors anyway, whining and bitching the whole way through. Any additional revenue produced by this would be cream-on-the-cake, frankly.

As a last note, this would have a net effect of a significant deflation. If this needs to be countered, printing money would counter that nicely. Especially if it made more debt payments.

Monday, April 20, 2009

In Your Language, and in Mine

The "Mad" of mad engineering is a callback to the stock "Mad Scientist," who operated by cranky, deranged theories, and disregarded things like common sense, and if the villain of the piece, morality. However, the term "Mad" has drifted since that time. Then it meant "Insane," now it means "Angry." Many a joke about "I'm not a mad scientist, I'm an angry scientist" has been bandied about.

In any case, people have been reading my blog whose browsers report that English is not their native language. As much as I would like to see this blog translated into other languages, I speak only one language other than English, and not quite well enough to have confidence in my own translation work.

But with some help from Yahoo's Babelfish, and the ever handy ZhongWen, I was at least able to determine a way to translate the blog's name. I will show it in the top registering languages to provide a little sample of each language and how it works.

Translation: Ingenierí­a Insana
Back-Translation: Insane Engineering

Spanish is a Latin-based language that uses a different word-order than English. Adjectives go after the noun that they modify. Also, nouns and verbs must agree in a "gender" property, set arbitrarily by the noun. "Ingenierí­a" ends in an a and is therefore feminine.

1st Alternative: Ingenierí­a Loca
Back-Translation: Crazy Engineering

2nd Alternative: Ingenierí­a Rara
Back-Translation: Strange Engineering

Translation: VerrückterTechnik
Back-Translation: InsaneEngineering

German is agglutinative, that is that it combines related words into very very large ones.

Alternative: WütendeTechnik
Back-Translation: AngryEngineering

Translation: Engenharia Insana
Back-Translation: Insane Engineering

Portuguese is very similar to Spanish, based on Latin, and with Adjectives after the nouns that they modify.

Note: If you don't have a Chinese-language font installed, the characters below will probably appear as garbled gibberish. But if you don't have a Chinese-language font, it's probably because you don't know Chinese in the first place, and can safely ignore it. Pinyin is the official latinization transcription system, so go with that.
Simplified Chinese: 疯狂的工程学
Traditional Chinese: 瘋狂的工程學
Mandarin Pinyin: Kuang2 De5 Gong1 Cheng2
Back Translation: Crazy Engineering

Chinese is tricky, in that it consists of many hundreds of "dialects" that are more different than Spanish and Portuguese above, some as far away as German vs. Spanish are. Almost all the dialects are tonal, and require the word be pronounced at the right pitch to convey the correct meaning. The wrong tone results in a different word altogether.

In the "Mandarin" dialect spoken most commonly in China, these characters would be read as I described, with the "Kuang" and "Cheng" starting at a mid-level pitch and rising, the "De" spoken at a mid-level pitch and holding steady, and the "Gong" spoken at a high pitch that remains steady. There's also a tone that starts high and falls ("4") and a tune that goes down and then up halfway through ("3"). Other dialects have even more tones.

Written Chinese is semi-ideographic. Each symbol represents a certain concept, although they can and do modify each other extensively. Also, the mainland region made an attempt to simplify the writing of the characters to improve literacy, as each would now be easier to write, whereas the island of Taiwan insisted on maintaining the traditional style.

The "Kuang" character depicts a dog uncontrolled by leashes, and also hypothetically rabid. It is used in many terms to describe insanity. The "De" depicts sunlight and a ladle, and connects the two ends that would normally be read as completely separate concepts.The "Gong" and "Cheng" are the standard way to say "Engineering." The "Gong" depicts a carpenter's square, and by extension all precision work. The "Cheng" shows rice grains distributed out in measured portions. Somehow, precisely measuring rice as to fairly divide it must have been a really common use for engineering in ancient China.

1st Alternative Simple: 话的工程学
1st Alternative Traditional: 亂的工程學
1st Alternative Pinyin: Luan2 De5 Gong1 Chen2
1st Back-Translation: Chaotic Engineering

2nd Alternative Simple: 怪的工程学
2nd Alternative Traditional: 怪的工程學
2nd Alternative Pinyin: Guai2 De5 Gong1 Chen2
Back-Translation: Weird Engineering

Translation: 非常識工学
Back-Translation: Insane Engineering

Japanese was first written with Chinese characters, because the ancient Japanese found Chinese civilization to be amazing and wonderful. Unfortunately for them, the script meshed poorly with Japanese as a spoken language, and "Hiragana" and "Katakana" were made to fit in the necessary grammatical glue. Today, "Hiragana" is used for grammatical glue, and "Katakana" is used for loan-words, to indicate their non-Japanese origin.
Japanese and Chinese share enough characters that a Japanese person could probably read a simple Chinese newspaper. The reverse is less true, as any loan-words would rapidly trip-up a Chinese reader.

Translation: Puutaiao Poorangi
Back-Translation: Crazy Science
Maori is a Polynesian language, distantly related to Hawaiian. It is undergoing a resurgence in popularity in New Zealand, where it was widely spoken in the past and is now widely spoken again.

Translation: Technologie Fou
Back-Translation: Crazy Technoloogy

French is a Latin-based language, but made some different choices over the ones made by Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. It is rather rigidly defined by the Acadamie Francais, or "French Academy."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Stupid Filter -- For Trolling Reduction

Many sites on the Internet currently suffer from an immense supply of incredibly stupid comments. Some of them are lame and without coherent point, some are whiny jocky-ing for attention, and some are deliberate trolls planted out of some deranged comedic sociopathy (read: they're deliberately pissing people off because they find it funny). Most websites deploy moderators to try and clean up the comments so that they're at least mostly readable, or have some sort of ranking system so that the crap falls to the bottom.
Enter the Stupid Filter. The stupid filter takes a string of text, ranks it from 1 to 5 on "stupid-ness," and passes this on for further processing. Websites can use this "stupid" rating to, say, auto-delete all postings above 4, and write a snide letter to their authors. A stupid ranking of 3 would merit a warning, perhaps.
The stupid filter could be used in many ways, since it merely categorizes based on comparisons to writings that other people found to be stupid. Stupid posts may be automatically disemvoweled, rendering it technically readable but easily skipped, or perhaps on forums, stupid ranking text could be proceeded by a big red "warning, written by a moron" text, such as this:
I especially like the forum idea, because having the concept of idiocy directed at your personal avatar might just encourage people to try to avoid spewing this crap. Moreso if it comes with a big fat warning before posting. One would click the post button, only to be shown a warning screen explaing: "Caution, your post registers over the threshold of stupidity! Are you sure you want to make a complete fool of yourself?"
Although knowing how people are, yes, they will make fools of themselves and then complain about how the filters are biased against them. Or they will claim that it is "ironic," since the filter is a computer program and can't tell the difference.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Simulation Systems, Tests, and Your Employment (Part 4)

These series have been reasonably successful. How about one more? Read the explanation on part 1, or read parts 2 or 3 for more jobs and their requirements.

Requirements: High constitution, moderate dexterity, high charisma

Yes, people still hire butlers. As a butler, you will do a rich persons menial labor, freeing them up to make even more money. Expect to work 18 hour days doing mindless crap, while wearing a tuxedo and looking good doing it.
In the English-speaking world, it also helps to have an upper-class British accent. In the UK, this helps your boss feel that you are classy like he or she is, and in the former colonies of the UK, this helps them to feel like they are the aristocratic type that they were born in the wrong place and 100 years too late to be.

Police Officer
Requirements: High Strength, high body dexterity, high finger dexterity, lawful alignment, moderate charisma

As a police officer, you will patrol the streets and enforce the law. Society needs as many of these kinds of people as possible, right? Unfortunately, you will be quite unpopular.

Why? For one, as a police officer, you will be telling people no. No, they cannot have a noisy party at 3am. No, they cannot exceed the speed limit "just this once." No, they cannot read their porn magazine in public where easily offended people and children can see it. No, they cannot smoke that joint, or even have it. No, you cannot spray-paint rude things on the boss's house, even if he is a total twit.

For another, there are two kinds of people that really want to be police officers. One is inherently concerned with social justice, but the other one really likes to boss people around and is a twit. People assume that most police officers are going to be the second kind, especially if they have met this type of person before, and rest assured that they probably have.

The last issue about it is that police work will often confront you with the worst kinds of people that humankind has to offer, and your usual attitude will soon run along the lines of "Okay, what is that asswipe up to this time?" Police work may change you into a ranging misanthrope.

Requirements: High constitution, Very high charisma, ability to express emotions different than those you're actually feeling, artistic nature

Many people want to be actors. There's fame, and the top tiers of acting pays a fortune. In addition, actors are crucial to the production of plays and movies, which most aspiring actors love.

The bad news of this is that since so many people want to be actors, very few of them actually achieve it. Directors can be very picky about the people who play their parts, specifying them very very precisely, and ensuring that they are very skilled at what they do. Have a day job before you even try. You can always quit it if you get that big part.

Help Desk
Requirements: High Intelligence, High Charisma, Extensive computer knowledge

This entry-level computer industry job involves you answering people's questions about computers. Questions such as "How do I insert graphics into my spreadsheet?" and "It says 'Illegal Operation,' what does that mean?" Typically, you will be doing this by phone, and people will call upon you incessantly.
You must answer their every question, even if it is explicitly spelled out in the manual that they refused to read, even if it is immensely stupid, and even if they scream insults at you in the process. Expect more invective if they cannot recover from their problem, like if they lost 20 pages of typing due to a crash. Maybe you can't solve the problem, but the company pays you to endure the frustrated ventings.

Offshore Oil Worker
Requirements: High Strength, High Constitution, willingness to be away from home for the entire working week

As an offshore oil worker, you fly to a godforsaken oil platform somewhere in the ocean (probably near the shore, but don't count on it), first thing Monday morning. You haul around heavy machinery, fix problems, and keep the oil flowing, day in, and day out. You sleep in quarters in the platform, which are probably cramped, shared, or both. You work until Friday night, at which time you are flown back to the mainland to go home.

Lonely, difficult. Pays well. Perfect for the person who hates their home life.

Medical Test Subject
Requirements: Complete lack of self respect, or superhuman love of the medical sciences

Got some condition doctors really want to explore? Don't mind enduring weird chemicals for the sake of science? Have no ability scores whatsoever and still need to make a living? Consider the fun field of medical testing! See if substance X82-A really is toxic! See if the new remedy for the common cold involves certain...side effects...that the rats didn't have! Determine if our latest surgery is survivable! I'm kidding about one of these!

Sewer Maintenance
Requirements: High Constitution, Ability to walk through water which certainly contains poop, Slight mechanical aptitude, Acceptable dexterity

I hear they have a union and make considerable money.

Advertising Copywriter
Requirements: Very high charisma, High writing ability, Probably high intelligence

You write ads. Some of these ads are scripts for television or radio commercials. Others are direct text for newspaper or magazine ads. In any case, your boss wants to sell something, and you have to make it interesting for people. They have to see your ad and want it.
Unfortunately for you, you will usually be operating in a hostile environment. Be it television, radio, internet, or magazines, most people find the ad a jarring annoyance to get past as quickly as possible. People only really like advertising in the phone book.

Requirements: Computer knowledge, Chaotic Evil alignment, soul blacker than a coal mine, complete internet sociopathy

As a spammer, you put out all those stupid emails hawking viagra, penis pills, and things of a dubious nature. You must know how to send millions of emails a second, as 99.9999999% of the emails you send will be thrown out with, at best, a press of the delete key and a wish for your imminent demise. Some people will never see it at all, as spam filters intercept it and wisk it away to a folder of unwanted crap, to be auto-deleted after 90 days.
Of course, one idiot in a million will either be a total gullible moron, or a lonely old person who'll buy the stuff just to have someone to talk to. So for spamming a quadrillion computers, you make about 10 sales, for a profit of, I'm guessing $40. Also, I hate you.

Social Worker
Requirements: High Charisma, High Wisdom, Eternal Optimism, non evil alignment
As a social worker, you must investigate families who are suspected of doing it wrong. And by doing it wrong, I mean child abuse and neglect. Sometimes this is thankfully baseless. And sometimes it's completely warranted. You must maintain an upbeat attitude, even when removing the children from their home.
Social work may make you despair.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Laundry Folding, now even better!

There was a video I saw recently, in which a shirt is placed on a carefully cut and reattached piece of cardboard. The cardboard folds in the means of the correct way of folding the shirt. With a few deft moves of the cardboard, the shirt is perfectly, professionally folded. This is endlessly repeatable if you have a large pile of shirts.

This could be further automated. Remote manipulators could retrieve a shirt from a pile of clothing, and using a camera, orient it onto the cardboard. Remote manipulators can easily manipulate the cardboard, especially because it is the exact same procedure every time, something robots are inherently good at.

If I replace the cardboard with, say, jointed steel plates, perhaps coated with chrome for that lovely shiny look that people like, I can also throw in an ironing step between the placement and folding steps. The shirts would come out crisp, fresh, and folded. The iron would, upon completion of the placement step, lower into place, and move around the shirt until the camera determines that there are no wrinkles in the shirt, and then withdraw. While not in use, the water lever in the iron would be examined, and if deficient, refilled.

I would like to include a pants-folding machine too, but I worry that machine vision is not yet good enough to distinguish between shirts and pants, and that applying the procedures of one to the other may damage that article of clothing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fly Unconcious

Our resident historian proposes a new, more comfortable way to deal with interstate and international travel. You would arrange, at your hotel, where you wanted to go, pack your bags, place them in an area (such as the hotel-room's closet), and go to sleep, perhaps with a sleeping pill to help you sleep.
While you are asleep, you are put into a well-ventilated mailing-tube, taken to the airport, and put onto a plane. The plane flies you to your destination city, where you are quickly hauled to the hotel you specified the previous day. You, still asleep, are unloaded into the bed of the hotel, and your bags loaded into the room's closet. A letter explaining which room you have and welcoming you to the destination city is placed on the room's desk, and your room key is placed next to it.
You wake up, refreshed, in your room in the destination city's hotel. The letter helps orient you, as from your perspective, you have essentially just been teleported. You are ready to conduct the day's business, or go about your day. The pre-made arrangements handled all the payment issues, and the receiving hotel likely has anything you need for the morning, such as breakfast, or a shave and shower.
This would be less expensive than traditional air-travel, as more people could be packed onto a plane, and less of the traditional amenities, like cold drinks, peanuts, and such, would be asked for. In addition, security will be much easier to deal with, both because you are asleep and unable to do anything troublesome, and because you are unlikely to threaten the security of the flight while sealed in a tube. Scanning for trouble-causing items, such as bombs, contraband, and so on, will happen while you are asleep as not to annoy you. Presumably people who attempt to smuggle a bomb into their tube will wake up not at their destination, but in a police station.
The most challenging part of this, as far as I know, will be keeping a plane full of people in mailing tubes ventilated, but probably existing systems, made to pressurize a cabin, can be applied to a hole in each tube, keeping all tubes well oxygenated.
Imagine the convenience, the savings, and the lack of the usual annoyances of travel!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why aren't animals logical?

I had, a few years ago, a conversation online with a person who wanted to know why logical thinking is, at the time being, solely the domain of humans. Wouldn't animals benefit from logical thinking? Wouldn't it keep them alive in the tooth-and-claw world in which they live? Isn't their emotional-responses clearly counter-productive?
No, I argued. In the wild environment, animals do not have a lot of spare time for abstract thinking, nor the deep neurology that us humans possess to do it with. Confronted with a dangerous situation, the emotional response of "BAD THING RUN AWAY!!!" protects an animal far more than the thought of "Hm, that thing may be hazardous to my health, perhaps I should avoid it" proposed by logic.
Logical thinking involves a lot of meta-thought, of slow and considered abstractions, and this is a luxury that a wild animal does not have. That occasionally the "bad thing" turns out to be something completely harmless is no biggie if it protects you from the "bad things" that really are harmful. The cost of running away for no reason far outweighs the risk of becoming lunch because you weren't suspicious enough.
These arguments of course did not satisfy the other person. Surely our hypothetical animal would benefit from logical thought, he proclaimed. Logic would mean fewer false-alarms.
Perhaps, but unlike the "civilized" world we live in, our hypothetical animal is under time pressure. Predators can usually slightly outrun prey. The risk of failure is literally death. Logic would only benefit the animal if it could perform it as fast as emotions, in split seconds. Not even us humans, with our incredibly large and expensive brains, can come to a logical decision in less than a second. My friend has unfortunately anthropomorphized all animal-kind, imposing a framework of human psychology where it does not fit.
The other person unfortunately persisted in proclaiming that logic would benefit animals, so the conversation kind of stopped there. Yes, logic and deep thinking may be our advantage as humans, combined with tool use, but it relies on certain other features of us humans to make it worthwhile. A philosophical rabbit would be falcon-food.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Perpetual Motion & Other Kookiness

The idea of Perpetual Motion has intrigued ancient engineers and the somewhat insane for centuries. There are many plans, with one thing in common: They don't work. Physics, Thermodynamics, even outright Math is against such a thing.

And yet, so many people even to this day continue to try. A perpetual motion machine would be producing energy from nowhere, a clear advantage in this modern world. Fascinated by the prospect of endless money and fame, people continue to ignore physics and try anyway. And so, physics teacher Donald Simanek has given me hours of entertainment showing off classic and modern perpetual motion machines, along with information as to what part of the machine won't work and why.

If professor Simanek's little museum amuses you, you may also enjoy, a large showcase of internet counter-factual belief, sorted by degree of madness, from the slightly bizarre and cranky to the outright illucid. I certainly hope I'm merely bizarre. Entries are also classified by topic: Science, Technology, Math, UFOs, Religion, the various Paranormal studies, Prophecies, and Conspiracy. The "about" section describes the classification system.

Happy reading.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hack A Day

At Hack a Day, people prepare extremely interesting technology projects. Such as a garbage can that obeys your every whim. (Provided that you speak the same language as the creator, which happens to be Hebrew.) They then go on to create laptops out of Commodore 64s and an n8vem card, which is especially impressive because the card was only built as an embedded computer only.

Or, if you'd rather it all be about you, you can set up a Narci-System to monitor every last thing you do, and report it in a pleasing package.

Check them out, and there will be more insane engineering later.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Virus Battery

When making a battery, the tradition so far has been to use two kinds of metal and an acid to make a current. But at MIT, they're trying a new building material.


Even better: It's cheap, less noxious than traditional batteries, and works great at room temperatures. So a big 'Muhahahaha' for MIT, then.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Great Masters Were All Insane

Let us think for a moment about the great masters of science. Each of these people worked hard, made the world a better place, and changed our understanding of it forever. They are well respected, totally genius, and were completely out of their minds.

Pythagoras was a Greek scholar who produced the famous equation, a^2 + b^2 = c^2. His other mathematical works considered the math side of tuning,

Oh, and he started a weird little cult that forbade many mundane things, including eating beans. Seriously. Some of the recordings about his statements on beans are somewhat odd.

Isaac Newton
Everyone knows how Isaac Newton first formulated physics into something universally applicable, co-inventing calculus in order to do it. (Newton invented calculus at the same time as another mathematician, Mr. Leibniz, both independently of each other and for basically the same reasons.) Everyone knows the famous story about how a falling apple gave him the idea to understand gravity not as a "things fall down" force as understood in the past, but to apply it to planetary orbital mechanics as well. And he was a heretical fundamentalist. Wait, what?
Yes, Mr. Newton strongly believed in Arianism, which holds God and Jesus to be separate entities. This in contrast to mainstream Christianity that believes that God and Jesus are part of the same entity, along with a third being. (Trinitarianism.) He also didn't believe in many other features of mainstream Christianity, like immortal souls, the existence of demons including a personal head demon, and Cartesian dualism. Newton had the good sense to realize that most English people at the time, including the king, were Trinitarians, and that he therefore probably shouldn't talk about religion if he didn't want his ass killed. And they would have, too, because Christianity was totally like that back then. We only know this today because he kept multiple diaries of religious philosophy, gematrias, and other kinds of whack-jobbery.
Outside of religion, Newton loved Alchemy, which was already being replaced with modern chemistry as he practiced it. (This was because almost all alchemical assumptions were wrong. Comedicly wrong.) Like most modern nerds, he had a thing for arguments, and would get into arguments over all kinds of crazy things. He's recorded as having stabbed himself in the eye once, although there seems to be disagreement as to if he was doing it to discover how the lens works, or to prove a point about control (internal using his eye muscles, or external using the needle he jabbed into his eye wtf), but in either case, not the kind of thing a normal person does.
Lastly, he is said to have claimed on his deathbead that the thing in his life that he was most proud of was that he was still a virgin after 85 years of life. Modern life would call this loserish, but it was somewhat more respected in the more religious 1700s.
A great documentary of his life was filmed in 2003, "Newton, the Dark Heretic." I especially enjoyed the acting, since they did have actors play the parts of Newton and his various associates. You can see it on youtube in six parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Georg Cantor
Cantor was a brilliant German mathematician, who proved that there is more than one kind of infinite number. For instance, all rational numbers vs. all real numbers. Both are infinite, but there are more real numbers. He also produced "Cantor's Table," the most useless possible half of a table. Also, he was terrified that someone was going to poison him and wouldn't touch food unless his wife ate some first. Wait, what?
Apparently Cantor often fell into depression, and would come out of these depressive moods feeling extra-extra-paranoid. He was quite convinced, as many paranoid people are, that his omnipresent enemies had somehow snuck poison into the food while Mrs. Cantor wasn't looking. To show how ridiculous he was being, Mrs. Cantor would take a bite of everything. When she did not die 15 minutes later, that would be proof enough and he would eat.
Unfortunately, during world war I, Mrs. Cantor died. (The Cantors were not wealthy, because being a teacher pays very very little. She probably couldn't afford the medical bills.) Mr. Cantor was at this point old (71), poor, and still totally crazy. He starved to death in an insane asylum, still refusing to eat on the grounds that the food was poisoned again.

Albert Einstein
Einstein was significantly saner than the people listed above. He reformulated physics as much as Newton, proved E=MC^2 (which was the precursor equation behind the atom bomb and all subsequent nuclear engineering), proved relativity, and has written papers suggesting that zero point energy may be possible.
Einstein was more eccentric than insane. He was said to have a closet full of the exact same copy of his suit just so that he wouldn't have to make the decision each morning. He despised quantum physics with a passion. And though I think his love of mathematical beauty is demented as a loon, the theory is beloved of almost all research scientists out there.

Nikola Tesla
Tesla came from Serbia, and electricity obeyed his every whim, or so it seemed. If you ever use motors, computers, robots, logic gates, vertical takeoff planes, or polyphase anything, you owe him, big time.
When you think of mad scientists, half of what you imagine came from Tesla. He was obsessed with electricity, odd, definitely and obviously had Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. Mr. Tesla insisted on things being in 3s (numerical obsession), was terrified of things being 'dirty' (Mysophobia), and tried really hard not to touch round things directly (which is hard to do as an engineer, also wtf?).
Like Newton, Tesla was a celibate type. Unlike Newton, he claimed the celibacy was what gave him his intellectual powers. Cartoonist Kate Beaton has a hilarious take on this. (Her cartoons are often about the absurder side of historical figures. Also you should read them.)
Tesla's move to America worked out rather poorly for him. Edison ripped him off, people made fun of him, and his pet died. Many of his inventions were impossible to monetize, like radio-transmission of energy. When he died, J. Edgar Hoover promptly stole everything he ever made in the name of national security, which is only being reversed just now. (As of 2007.)

Sigmund Freud
Dr. Freud is an especially interesting case. A medical doctor in his own right, he went on to develop the field of Psychology. Apparently, no one before him thought to study the human mind an how it worked. Although many of his theories were later proven wrong, his work was detailed enough of a starting point. And he was so utterly psychotic that he made the previous four people I discussed look like the very avatars of sanity, as he was the only person I can name with an Oedipus Complex, and he thought it would be a great idea to rape his cousin (although there is no evidence that he actually tried to do this outside his own skull). Wait, what?
Dr. Freud was apparently a whiny, insufferable child. His father hated him and Siggy hated his father right back. Freud got along very well with his female relatives, who were sympathetic to him. This may have messed with his unconscious, significantly. He also lived in Victorian times, which came with some really really strange ideas about women. This may have worsened his already severe psychological problems.
Like many people of his time, Dr. Freud really loved cocaine. We now know that stimulant abuse can lead to the most incredibly weird thinking on the face of the planet, but at the time people only knew that taking cocaine made them feel totally awesome.
One thing he has been proven correct about is his principle of the unconscious, that people are not genuinely aware of many of the operations that go on in their head. Many-an-argument revolves around unconscious assumptions, which can never end because the assumptions are different and unspoken.
In his honor, the phenomenon of parapraxis, in which a person makes a hilarious substitution of words, is colloquially known as the Freudian slip.
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