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Category: fun (page 2 of 7)

Kerning: It’s not a game. Until now!

If you’ve ever looked at a sign, and said, “Well, that’s the crappest kerning job I’ve ever seen,” then I have a game for you.

What’s kerning, you ask? Moving letters around to get the spacing right. And now there’s Kerntype. It’s a game that will test your visual layout skills. Pull the letters around until they look good, and see how your kerning compares to expert opinion.

Get kerning, people. Beat my 98.

How to fix moth holes in a wool sweater

We don’t usually get crafty around here, but this is a special case. It seems that moth larvae have been busy in my closet, and the little bastards ate a couple of holes in (among other things) my favourite Merino wool sweater. Here’s their handiwork on Ms Perfect’s sweater.

Oh, the infamy.

It took a while to hunt down and kill every last member of their family (except for one, who I commanded to go and tell the others). With that done, the problem was: How to repair the damage? A lot of web pages will get you started on sewing and darning, but I’ve found an easier method that still looks good.

You’re going to need some felting needles. They’re like regular needles, but as you can see in the photo, they have a serrated edge.

You’ll also need a block of foam.

A block of foam.

Sometimes craft stores have them, but I got this one from a store that sells foam rubber, like mattresses and such. They usually have a lot of off-cuts for cheap (or even free), and a small cube will do.

I’m going to demonstrate on this wool blanket. That’s a big hole there.

First, put the foam block under the woolen material.

Yes, it’s under there.

Now, you’ll need the felting needles. Pull the fabric together so that bits on either side of the hole are sort of close to each other. Then, use the needles to pull the individual threads closer to each other, and push the needle into the wool and the foam block. It makes a satisfying scrunching sound.

You don’t have to use two needles. One is fine.

What you are doing is using the needles to tangle the woolen threads together, and turn them into a lovely snarl that will cover the hole. Keep doing it over and over. Be sure to pull the wool off the foam block every once in a while so the wool doesn’t get stuck to it.

If you keep it up, eventually all that wool will weave together and cover the hole, like this.

With care, it can be done on fabrics of a finer weave. Your strategy here will be to use a finer needle, drag individual fibers together, and scrunch them together to form a mesh. Here’s the sweater from earlier.

Just try to avoid overdoing it — it might take on the appearance of a puff-ball. When you start, try experimenting on some inconspicuous part of the sweater, or on one you don’t care so much about.

Here’s a close-up of the moth-eaten bit from my favourite sweater. It’s very strong, and you can hardly see where the hole was.

Gamers for science

This was exciting to see: Learning the structure of an AIDS-like virus stumped scientists for 15 years. FoldIt gamers cracked it in ten days.

“This is one small piece of the puzzle in being able to help with AIDS,” Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington, told me. Khatib is the lead author of a research paper on the project, published today by Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.
The feat, which was accomplished using a collaborative online game called Foldit, is also one giant leap for citizen science — a burgeoning field that enlists Internet users to look for alien planets, decipher ancient texts and do other scientific tasks that sheer computer power can’t accomplish as easily.

“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at,” Seth Cooper, a UW computer scientist who is Foldit’s lead designer and developer, explained in a news release. “Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans.”

I’ve done work on crowdsourcing annotation in language tasks, so it’s good to see it working in this domain. I love the idea of people putting their heads together and solving problems. For all our computing might, nothing can match human brains on some tasks.

Atheist Bake Sale

The UWA Atheist & Skeptic Society is having a Bake Sale on the UWA Oak Lawn this Wednesday (21 Sep 2011) at 1 pm. There’s an unusual twist: Rather than accept money for the baked goods, the club simply requests… your soul.

It’s an interesting experiment in superstition metaphysics. I don’t know if people will gratefully accept a cookie, get angry, or shy away. I told a Christian guy about it, and he said, no, he wouldn’t be interested in a cookie. But why not? Does he really think he has a soul, and if so, what is it? Can it be traded in a Faustian bargain? Does it hit uncomfortably close to C.S. Lewis’s witch, who offers you Turkish Delight but instead only gives you pages and pages of turgid allegory? (Or something. I always was a little fuzzy on Lewis.)

Here’s a blurb I’m working on, to hand out at the event.

Do people have souls?

If by ‘soul’ you mean, a part of you that survives your death, then no, there’s no evidence to suggest that anyone has a soul. But that’s okay. You have a brain, and it does all the things that people commonly attribute to souls.

What happens after we die?

Religions of the world have made up a lot of contradicting stories to answer this question, and some people are happy to believe (and pay) whoever tells them the biggest story. But religions offer no evidence for their claims about any sort of afterlife.

The most likely scenario is that your brain (which is the organ responsible for perception) dies, and your perception stops.

Well, that’s depressing!

It doesn’t have to be. Mark Twain once said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Having a limited existence means you have to do all the good you can while you’re here. You need to make the most of this life, the only one we’re sure of having. You don’t get a second chance to learn, to love, to create, to make things better on this planet. So do it now.

If you’re on campus, come on down and say hi. If nothing else, we have cookies. And there’s even a guarantee: If you’re not 100% satisfied, you can have your soul back.

Prisencolinensinainciusol: Oll raigth!

When I was in high school, I asked an exchange student what American English sounded like to someone who didn’t understand the words. She said, “Sort of like pigs.”

For some reason, I wasn’t completely satisfied with this answer. Fortunately, I found this video instead.

The song is total gibberish, but it’s intended to represent the sound patterns and intonation of US English. Trippy.

Two by two

Wow — I didn’t know you could get these.

What’s that Elder on the left doing? Ah, he’s expounding.

I think the other one is dusting off his feet. Watch out — that’s like a level 3 Harm spell when they do that. I think you can only recover from that if you’re a Mage.

The Modeerf Question

I’m on the docket for a ‘comedy debate‘ tomorrow. It’s about the fictional ‘Modeerf’ religion, and I’m the secular atheist of the group. Here’s the promo:

Where do we draw the line between religious freedom and the law of the land?

Between respecting diversity and double standards?

Between maintaining your culture and becoming Australian?

Come and meet migrants from the little known Modeerf religion.

They know that their practices of men going shirtless, having the holy month off work, annual cannabis burning and feeding children fermented mead are pretty unusual in an Australian context but they want similar legal exemptions and discrimination protection to other Aussie religions.

Here are my thoughts:

I’m against the Modeerf religion, just like I’m against every religion. Religions spread superstition, and we have enough of that already. I do not want to see them getting the okay to break the law for religious reasons. I don’t want to pay their taxes for them. I don’t want them meddling in civil rights issues like gay marriage. If they want to do their religious thing, they can. But the government has no business promoting them. Ideally, the government would be neutral towards religion.

But — and this is a big ‘but’ — we don’t have that kind of government. We live in a country where the government is helping to establish and promote religion, contrary to Section 116 of the Australian Constitution.

If we can’t have government neutrality toward religion, then I have a terrible, but still second-best solution: Treat all religions the same. As an atheist, I don’t see that any religion as intrinsically better or worse, more sensible or crazier than any other, so every religion should get the same advantage as every other. How about Modeerf chaplains in schools? Come to think of it, how about Muslim chaplains in schools? (Can you imagine the freak-outs on talk radio?) Should the Modeerf be allowed to fire left-handed people in their charity work, if it’s against their religion?

I think this second-best solution would still be terrible. You’d have more discrimination, and less reason. But it would at least have the advantage of being fair. (And if some religions are unwilling to accord others the privileges that they receive, it shows their paper-thin commitment to equality.) The Modeerf example doesn’t show why it’s important that every religion get the same perks. It shows why no religion should.

In doing research for this event, I ran across this statement on a web page from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

People are free to practise any religion as long as they obey the law.

Isn’t that a great ideal? I hope one day we get there.

Joust marathon

John McAllister is challenging a 25-year-old Joust world record. It’s going on now, as I write this. I’m following the live video feed sporadically.

I found out about John’s attempt yesterday morning, had a look, and I thought, “Wow, he’s really good.” At that point, he’d been going for 22 hours.

Then I worked all day, came back to check out the game in the evening, and he was still going. Now I’ve had a night’s sleep, and he’s still going. He’ll need to go for about 60 hours total to beat the 107 million points. When he takes a break, he just walks away from the controls and burns off a few of the hundreds of extra guys that he’s built up.

Joust is a fast game at the higher levels, and the gameplay is more or less constant. It requires an almost cyborgian level of endurance, but there he is, working with precision at a frenetic pace. He always knows exactly where to be, whether facing the ‘unbeatable?’ pterodactyls, or taking on the blue knights at the top of the screen, predicting their unpredictable fluttery arcs.

So all right, yes, it is the same thing over and over again. And yes, it goes for a long time. Even so, I find the marathon to be strangely compelling viewing. Kind of like when I was a kid in Cheney, probably hanging out at Zip’s, watching someone who was really good. Video games are time machines.

UPDATE: He’s done it. All hail Sir John. His record will live in the annals of history. Ages hence, bards will sing of his jousting exploits, and maidens will swoon.

Or it’ll be YouTubed, which is close to immortality.

AltMed Flowchart

Just had to link to the wonderful AltMed Flowchart.

This will help you to select your preferred healing modality, restoring balance and draining away unwanted funds.

Unable to have a word of your own? Adopt one.

The Oxford folks are urging, nay, imploring people to adopt a low-frequency word in their Save the Words campaign.

It’s a very attractive website, but it’s all a bit silly, really. Some words just don’t catch on, so there’s no point in trying to rescue them from obsolescence. But admit it — aren’t you glad that you could study ‘siagonology’, move about ‘roomthily’, or just act ‘vappous’ if you wanted to?

It’s bringing out the word nerd in me, I’m afraid to say.

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