Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

Magnolia after heavy rain - May 27, 2014 - 005

We have had several really heavy rainfalls over the last day or so and they have hit the blossoms on our Magnolia tree hard. Only one of the flowers in full bloom survived as did one of the flowers just blooming. As for the remainder of the Magnolia blossoms, this picture sums up their fate.

I happened to be listening to a fascinating book that among other things has a discussion on how algorithms combined with powerful high-speed computing have affected our world. The consequences of unleashing powerful algorithms to make real world decisions affecting millions of people without any human intervention (because of the speed at which the decisions based on the algorithm take place) should give every thoughtful person pause. That is not, however, the reason for this post.

David Cope, a computer scientist, composer and otherwise very smart guy worked to create a computer program (actually several) that is more or less able to produce “new” and brilliant works in the style of long dead composers. He has created a storm of controversy with his works (no surprise there). I just listened to one of his “Vivaldi” works and truth be told, it is quite lovely. Judge it yourself at:

Puff - The Silkn Remnant

Inquiring minds want to know.

Luxury Housing - ND Oil Boom

A square is an interesting geometric object and as usual serves as an interesting subject for the word a week photo challenge. The photo above shows in rather stark relief what is one of the most common uses of the square (or extended square otherwise known as a rectangle) – construction. In this case we have what appears to be the rapid construction of apartments, which I shall call “Luxury” apartments because they are located in the oil boom area of North Dakota where 800 square foot apartments have been known to rent for $2500 – $3500 per month (when they can be found at all) and since these units appear to be new who knows what rent the landlord will be able to demand. Personally, if I was paying in the neighborhood of say $4000 a month for an apartment I would think it should be a luxury apartment but as the realtors all say, price is based on three things: location, location and location.

Thoughts about squares vis-à-vis circles.

You might ask what is so interesting about a square? At first glance, I suspect most people would say not much. For example, a square self-evidentially lacks the elegant turn of a circle as, in the same manner, a sphere is generally going to be viewed as more beautiful than a box.  Further, while a square seems so, well, utilitarian the truth is that when it come to its ability to put in a good day’s work the circle (let’s call is a wheel here) wins hands down. If we were all moving around on squares they would likely be pushed over skids in the manner of the Egyptians who built the pyramids.  This is fine if you are a Pharaoh. However, without the circle, where is the pulley and the water wheel (critical for the Industrial Revolution) and eventually the steam engine. It seems to me that the world of squares in all likelihood the world would have to have waited for the ripple of sentient intelligence to course through some other species before we got to the technological wonders we experience today.

So why do I say that squares are so interesting? First and most important, squares are easily constructed. If you want to construct an apartment building such as the high-end luxury housing shown above you  will make it a box-like shape and not a sphere or a cylinder. This is because not only are boxes more easily constructed than spheres or cylinders, but the cost to construct them is likely lower. Second, while an extended circular shape, let’s call it a pole may be quite useful in moving rapidly though a fire house and in certain types of entertainment establishments catering generally to men, such devices are rarely safe for use by the elderly, the very young and people with certain illnesses and injuries. The box-like elevator is quite safe and is usable by all age groups (although some require supervision). I have never seen a circular elevator although it is possible that one might exist (my point here being they are quite rare if the exist). Further, it would be more difficult to build vertically without using the square because of the challenge of making steps out of circles or cylinders (okay maybe a few lumber workers  and others can during log-rolling contests walk on cylinders floating in water but generally going up and down stairs that are shaped out of round cylinders would be pretty tough. (Rather remarkably, there is a governing body for the sport of log-rolling with standardized rules, log sizes and the like.) Second, try getting a good night’s rest on a mattress that is made out of sphere. Forget it. Third, although a circle/sphere is the most efficient way to contain a given area/volume, it is not the most efficient way of packing most things. Squares (boxes) offer huge advantages over circles (spheres) in and most shippers have realized this. For example, there is the effort to grow square fruit to make it easier to ship. The rectangle is of course the poster child for efficient transportation by sea or rail – most people have seen at least pictures of the giant container ships filled to the brim and seemingly far above it with rectangular containers. There is a reason those containers aren’t cylindrical — the owner of the ship would be wasting huge amounts of space between the containers – space that he would otherwise be selling to someone else to transport their goods hither and yon.

So there you have it. Just a few moments of reflection allows us to see at least a bit of what makes squares interesting. There is of course much more, but I’ll leave that for another day.

The Manor

As always you have presented us with an interesting photo challenge with the word decadent and one that, while at first glance seems straight-forward, actually raises a whole host of not easily answered questions (of course that is just me being me).

“Decadent” essentially means immorally self-indulgent. Caligula (Roman emperor, megalomaniac and overall very bad guy) would be considered the prototypical example of someone who plumbed the depths of decadence. By that standard, the owners of the Manor are Mother Theresa many times over.

This photo of a tiny bit of the Manor presents us with an example of what might be considered decadent by many. But is it? The owners, who I know, certainly made interesting decorating choices in a very large home, but they like to fill their available space. I wouldn’t consider them immoral, or at least no more so than any of us who somehow manage to live our lives keeping most of what we have while many millions of people around the world are in dire need (I am in the former group and have no moral justification for it).

So where do we draw the line of what is decadent or not (i.e., immoral self-indulgence)? Is it at the extravagance of the Manor or something less, like having indoor plumbing with hot running water? (An unheard of luxury for most of the world’s population.) How about reliable electricity or a safe, reliable and relatively inexpensive automobile for the family? Having any of the foregoing would put you at or near the top of the food chain in most of the world. Are we decadent because these things are so commonplace for many of us that we don’t even think about them. If the truth be told, perhaps the most decadent thing we do might be eating meat (which I do) especially meat produced by animals fed by grains which are grown in fields that might otherwise be put into production for food for people (guilty again).

I am not an activist on these issues and never have been, but as I said above, when you really think about it, what is decadent is not all that simple of a question to answer especially in a world where many people do not even have food security for themselves and their family.

Home as Castle2

First, this has nothing at all to do with the Castle Doctrine or anything at all political. Just enjoy the photo.

I think this is one of the more attractive homes on Lake Mendota. It is located in the Village of Maple Bluff, where I reside (not inside of this home or anything near its size, however). If a person’s home can be seen to be the person’s castle then a castle must this be. It is rather large, but nowhere near as large as the gargantuan facilities (I don’t know how anything over 20,000 square feet can really be called a home – but call me if you want to give me a tour, I am willing to learn:) now not uncommon in certain parts of the U.S. and elsewhere. In my humble opinion, such large facilities may be castles whether or not they are homes. I’m sure they have extravagant security features – not to mention indoor plumbing and hot water (which would seal the deal for me) – that would put many a monarch of years’ past and their actual castles to shame. This is not the most imposing “castle” you will see in this week’s challenge and but for the U.S.’s strong “home is your castle” sentiments, it probably wouldn’t really be a castle. I have plenty of photos of “castles” (in the U.S. sense) that are far more humble and most likely more “homey.” They too are every bit as “U.S.-sense castley” as this home, I find this home and castle enjoyable.

Reflections on a drop of water

In the world of little things, interactions are more complicated than they might first appear. For example, take a drop of water falling from a bit of moss that is growing on a tree. Most of us would give it no thought, and why would we? The drop will drop and become … well whatever drops become once they have completed their journey and the bit of moss is unremarkable in every way. Still in one’s mind’s eye the water may be clinging to the moss or vice versa in some desperate struggle to save itself from the final splat. And the physics of the moment – for those of a scientific bent – are undoubtedly vastly more complicated than one would guess as gravity slowly overcomes the surface tension of the water and pulls it away from the bits of moss. And it does make for a pretty picture with the water held so delicately in the gentle embrace of the moss as if the moss is attempting to hold the little worlds the drops contain from the shattering moment that is just seconds away.

Or, of course, it is nothing worth even a moment’s notice at all. It is up to the viewer’s imagination to decide.