Recently in Random Musings Category

My youngest daughter has been obsessed with Moana for the past few months. She insists that I sing the entire soundtrack to her every night before bed, so I've become pretty familiar with the lyrics. In my opinion, the best line in the movie is in the song "We Know the Way".

We read the wind and the sky

When the sun is high

We sail the length of sea

On the ocean breeze

At night we name every star

We know where we are

We know who we are, who we are

The dominant theme of the movie is discovering who you really are, and it's powerful to me that Moana's ancestors knew -- both her grandmother, and the chieftain in the musical vision that her grandmother led her to. He knows who he is because he knows where he is: his ability to navigate the open ocean is what gives him the power to fulfill his purpose and comprehend his identity.

Later the demi-god Maui gives this power to Moana in a sequence that is critical to Moana's destiny without being overtly supernatural. At the end of the movie she returns to her island and her people, but it's impossible to think of Moana as a mere human anymore after having touched the gods.

California isn't going to secede. Even if the federal government were inclined to let California go without a fight (which it won't), here are two reasons it won't leave:

  • California imports 25% of its electricity.
  • Southern California imports 85% of its water from the Colorado River.

Rocking the boat would devastate California's economy. It would make a lot more sense for California to split.

The Parliament of Clocks is a fantastic parable about the value of consensus. So many applications. I look forward to using this parable to sound smart many times in the future.

In the parable, a king wants to buy some clocks and travels to the Bavarian village were the ten best clockmakers in the world keep their shops all along one street.

As he enters the street all the clocks in all the shops strike 1 o'clock in one massive group chime. The king marvels at the great accuracy of the clockmakers of the village, but a few moments later he hears another group chime. After investigating he finds that all the clocks in 9 of the 10 shops show the same time but that all the clocks in the 10th shop show a different time by several minutes. Puzzled, the king calls all the clockmakers together and ask why the clocks in the 10th shop do not chime at the same time as all the clocks in all the other shops.

The owner of the odd shop out immediately steps forward and says that due to his unusual skill and innovation his clocks keep more accurate time than the clocks of the other shops. The other shop owners protest loudly. The king is at a loss. The town lacks a master town clock or sundial, so he has no means of determining which clocks keep the best time. Confused, he decides not to buy any clocks and leaves town. Angered, the owners of the 9 agreeing shops burn down the shop of the odd man out to prevent such confusion from arising again. Now when someone comes to town, all the clocks will chime at the same instant. Customers will not become confused and everyone will sell more clocks.

The clockmakers destroy the nonconforming clockmaker among them because they know that as a practical matter we judge the accuracy of clocks by consensus. Absolute time does not exist. Essentially, a parliament of clocks votes on the correct time. (Even scientifically, this is true.) By fiat, we say that the clocks that deviate from the consensus time are inaccurate, but logically that need not be so. Different technologies or different levels of care in setting, winding or servicing the clocks could lead to the minority clocks being more accurate. However, if all the clocks agree, then no lay person will have grounds for suspecting that the majority clocks don't keep accurate time.

Or maybe, "as unicornal as a chimera"?

"Chimerical" usually hits me as "an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation", because that's the essential property of a mythical chimera: "a fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail".

But, of course, mythicalness is also an essential property of the chimera, but it's a property that isn't specific to the chimera.

(Yes, I am channeling Althouse this morning.)

These World War 2 posters designed to warn service members against unprotected sex with strange women are amazing for so many reasons!



Many more at the link.

Everyone knows about leap years, but why is February so short? Despite the awesomeness of the theory, it appears that Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus didn't steal days from February to pad his own month.

The truth about February is even stranger. The ancient Romans didn't even assign months to the winter season!

King Numa Pompilius thought that was stupid. Why have a calendar if you're going to neglect one-sixth of the year? So in 713 BCE, he lined the calendar up with the year's 12 lunar cycles--a span of about 355 days--and introduced January and February. The months were added to the end of the calendar, making February the last month of the year.

But no Roman calendar would be complete without some good old-fashioned superstition mixed in! The Romans believed even numbers were unlucky, so Numa tried to make each month odd. But to reach the quota of 355, one month had to be even. February ended up pulling the short stick, probably because it was simply the last month on the list.

Read the rest for more weirdness. Good job, history.

Lots of sci-fi spaceships and a few real ones.

A fantastic video that demonstrates some techniques for fighting in plate armor. The mobility of the combatants will surprise you.

You could waste invest a whole day studying this interactive map of Tolkein's Middle Earth.

Everyone loves the idea of the longsword, but did you know that poleaxes are much more effective weapons? Swords are a lot easier to carry around, which is probably why action heroes favor them.


The poleaxe is generally accepted to have been the knightly weapon of choice for dismounted combat. Many surviving examples are of high quality and decoration, which supports the idea that polaxes were used mostly by well-to-do soldiers. This is not exclusive, as The Wallace Collection's A925 is an example of an unadorned poleaxe. It is commonly acknowledged that poleaxes were favorite dueling weapons as well. There is even a slightly modified type, called a hache in French, which was used primarily for duels. This weapon had a 6-7 foot long haft and a rondel guard on each side of the grip.


Don't bring a longsword to a poleaxe fight.

Which of the two figures is Kiki, and which one is Bouba?

These experiments were first conducted by the German gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler and were repeated with the names "Kiki" and "Bouba" given to these shapes by VS Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard (the paper you linked to). In their experiments, they found a very strong inclination in their subjects to name the jagged shape Kiki and the rounded one Bouba. This happened with about 95-98 percent of the subjects. The experiments were repeated in Tamil speakers and then in babies of about 3 years of age. (who could not write) The results were similar.

Humans are more synesthetic than we imagine.

I use Excel all the time -- how did I never know about array formulas, a.k.a. CSE formulas or "super formulas"???

I need to check that both data in Columns B and C match the criteria of specific Code and Score, and for those that match both criteria, I need to SUM the lenths in Column A.

To do this you need to use an Array Formula, also known as a CSE Formula or even a Super Formula. This is a formula that requires you to press Ctrl+Shift+Enter after typing it, instead of just Enter.

If you wanted to sum together all Lengths where the Code is 4a and the Score is 2, here is the formula you can to use:

This will find that rows 4 and 11 contain both criteria at the same time, and will thus return the sum of lengths in those columns, i.e. A4 and A11, which is 141.09m + 731.38m = 872.47m.

The formula looks a little strange and probably not what you'd expect; however, it works very well, as long as you remember to use Ctrl+Shift+Enter instead of Enter when inputting the formula.

Awe. Some.

Under "what useful trick/hack will save my life one day?" is this excellent tip for getting emergency help from strangers:

Learn how to ask for help against the Bystander effect:

Identify one person to directly intervene and help you: you are unlikely to know people's names in some situations involving bystander effect; next best thing is to describe such that there is no mistaking who you are pointing to ("You sir with the blond hair wearing that red sweatshirt! Please help me off the ground!")

If you can, Identify another person to call the authorities. Don't assume someone is already dialing 911. Point out the person and describe person as you see him or her such that person knows you are pointing at him/her.

The idea is to reduce the effect of diffusion of responsibility in the bystander effect, by you placing direct responsibility on specific individuals.

The way you practice this skill such that it becomes second nature and automatically engage when you are in trouble, is by practicing delegation the same way. Instead of asking a group of people to "set up a room" for example, be specific: "John, can you please set up the tables? Barbara, can you take out the decorations and start hanging up those up on the wall over there?" etc.

XKCD has a fantastic illustration of all the surface area available in our solar system. Let's fill it up with people!


Awesome. Why the heck am I buying nylon rope???


On Quora someone asks why camouflage wasn't used before WW1 and the top-rated answer taught me something new: early camouflage was inspired by cubism!

Painting potential targets in ways designed to break down their form makes it difficult for adversaries to line those images up properly, particularly at longer distances, where atmospheric effects, battlefield smoke, surrounding terrain and other factors can make even an undisguised target difficult enough to fixate accurately. In other words, the very first types of camouflage were intended so that when you view them through an optical range-finder, you can never be quite sure just what you're looking at. These principles were used at sea (a warship painted with "dazzle" camouflage)

An ultra-dominant alpha-male brown bear is facing castration because he's too sexually prolific. Poor guy.

An elderly brown bear in the Pyrenees is facing castration or segregation amid fears that his sexual dominance is threatening the species' survival in the region by limiting genetic diversity.

Pyros, one of the oldest of the 30 or so bears who roam the mountains between France and Spain, is the father, grandfather or great-grandfather of nearly all of the cubs born in the Pyrenees over the past two decades. There are four other males in the colony - only one of them is not related to Pyros - and none of them have fathered any offspring.

Spanish officials said they were being forced to decide between castration or segregation for Pyros after the recent birth of a cub who was both his daughter and grand-daughter.

"If he keeps up this sexual vigour and dominant attitude for a few more years, the other males in the mountains have no chance of mating with any of the females," José Enrique Arró, the councillor who oversees environmental issues in the Val d'Aran, told La Vanguardia.

Eerily silent.

Why do these animal fight videos always include alligators or a crocodiles? Because they're slow, so there's plenty of time to prepare the camera? Because reptiles are alien and scary to our mammalian brains? Because gators and crocs get into lots of fights?

Lions vs. Crocodiles vs. Buffalos and Crocodile vs. Elephant.

And yes, it looks like I posted this video four years ago! What does it say about the title-generating hash-function inside my brain that I came up with the exact same post title last time?

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