Recently in Random Musings Category

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?

(HT: io9.)

I'm never swimming without my spear again.

Will the 3,280 foot Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia ever get built? Who cares! I can tell you that even if it does, it won't still be standing in a millennium. I think the Egyptian Pharaohs had the right idea with their pyramids. Nothing is as stable as a huge pile of rocks.

If I had a few billion dollars to waste, I'd build a pyramid several times larger than the Great Pyramid and designed to last forever. I'd put it someplace geologically stable and high above sea level. Let's see who's laughing in 10,000 years! Me.



This climb up a radio antenna isn't quite as high, but it feels much more exposed.

I'd love to do something like this, but I'm not crazy enough.

(HT: LM.)

Min/maxing your life as if it were a strategy game. Sounds an awful lot like a remake of The Sims.


You might not realise, but real life is a game of strategy. There are some fun mini-games - like dancing, driving, running, and sex - but the key to winning is simply managing your resources.

Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things. Later in the game money comes into play, but your top priority should always be mastering where your time goes.

Consider a graph with two dimensions: clever/stupid, and diligent/lazy. Where do you fit? Where do you want to be? Do clever and lazy make the best leaders?

Consider an apt (if admittedly unsettling) example from history: Erich von Manstein, one of the top strategists in Hitler's German Military, described Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, the former commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr as "... probably one of the cleverest people I ever met."

Both men, according to Ben Breen, are widely credited with the following quote that gets to the heart of the matter.

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent -- their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy -- they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent -- he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.


Let's look at the diligent workers first, whether clever or stupid. Diligence is a virtue, right? We should all be diligent! Well, the diligent and stupid workers are obviously a drain.

I've worked at several places that see themselves as prestigious, high paying and where lots of people want to work. This is where I've seen the practise known as 'face time'. This is where people deliberately get in early, stay at their desks all through lunch and leave late. Just to be seen by the boss as 'being busy'. In fact most of them would be surfing the web or chatting with their pals as soon as the boss was out of sight.

What these people work hard at is keeping up the appearance of being busy. Often this means inventing pointless work for themselves or others, so called busywork. Many of these people may in fact be lazy as well as stupid - the effect is the same. It's all about creating the impression of working hard.

The point isn't that these folks are "stupid" in the classical sense, they just can't focus on the most important things. They invest energy into things that seem important or look important, and they make sure that they're always busy with something. Anything. Kind of like cancer.

What about the people who are diligent and clever? The most important thing is to avoid putting these folks into jobs they're stupid at. E.g., you're an awesome engineer, let's put you in charge of an engineering team! Oh, you're stupid at management, so you never get promoted again and you stay in a job you suck at.

The stupid and lazy? That's a no-brainer. Bye-bye.

How about the clever and lazy? Assuming they have integrity, the argument here is that these will be your best leaders? Why?

These people insist on taking the time and space required to create, and to find new ways forward.

They are natural delegators.

They are always looking for simpler, easier ways to do things.

They focus on the essentials, and they despise 'busywork'.

According to this argument, a clever, lazy person with integrity will be focused on achieving goals with the least amount of wasted effort. In this context, "lazy" isn't a pejorative.

A time-lapse video of Luca Iaconi-Stewart making an amazing 777-300 ER model out of manilla folders.

(HT: Time and CT.)

I'm finishing up my Christmas shopping for next year and I was just paging through Amazon's selection of 208 Christmas gift cards. Most of them feature Santa, gifts, reindeer, Frosty, and so forth. But there's got to be at least one that shows Jesus, right? Well, here's the most Jesusy gift card I could find. I think if you squint you can see the top of Jesus' forehead in the manger.

amazon jesus.jpg

To be fair, there are few things more consumeristic than gift cards, so maybe Jesus doesn't belong on them anyway?

Here are a few poems that illustrate the absurdity of our language. My favorite is "Our Strange Lingo" by Lord Cromer.

Our Strange Lingo

When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose,and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone -
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don't agree.

Wow, I didn't know that Amazon has a free tier for their web services! 750 hours free per month let's you run a single image 24/7 all month. That's pretty cool. Now I just have to figure out what I want to run.

Images that will drive OCD people crazy. (Crazier?) Since I work with so many engineers it may not be wise for me to print these up and post them around the office. The ones I hate the most:





At least a few of these 50 hacks will be new to you. Here are my favorites:





Got rejected by Google? Don't worry, you don't want to work at Google anyway. Here are two of my favorites, and you can read the rest here.

Everyone is awesome, so they can hire the very best people to do even the most mundane jobs.

"The worst part of working at Google, for many people, is that they're overqualified for their job. Google has a very high hiring bar due to the strength of the brand name, the pay & perks, and the very positive work culture. As a result, they have their pick of bright candidates, even for the most low-level roles."

"There are students from top 10 colleges who are providing tech support for Google's ads products, or manually taking down flagged content from YouTube, or writing basic code to A|B test the color of a button on a site."

Google staff are so outstanding that there's an internal joke about it.

"... I used to joke with my colleagues that Larry & Sergey go out on their yachts - tie them together, sit back on the same recliners you'll find on their jumbo jet, each on his own yacht/set of yachts, smoke cigars, and put up pictures of Googlers with little snippets like "was a GM at muti-national telecomm company, got a Harvard MBA and is now answering Orkut tickets." and then they would erupt in laughter and clink their cigars & Scotch together in celebration. This, of course, is highly unlikely given neither of them would ever smoke a cigar or drink Scotch. Remainder is plausible."

I think I'm an outlier on this matter, but sometimes when I say "please" I feel like I'm being manipulative and passive aggressive. I like to say "thank you", but saying "please" makes me feel rude. It's like "please" puts an extra emphasis on the request, as if I'm pleading with you to do something that you really don't want to do. "Please" means that if you don't do it you'll hurt my feelings. What an imposition! If you don't want to do it, that's fine, don't do it.

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