Apr 16, 2007

Emotion

As you probably all know by now, Virginia Tech today was the site of probably the highest headcount school shooting in the United States, and Virginia Tech is my alma mater, I graduated there a year and a half ago. As far as I can tell, I know nobody who involved - I know a friend of a friend of a friend who was killed, but thats all so far. Still, it is pretty upsetting - in a sad, calm, way.

I didn't know anyone in the World Trade Center (or hardly New York) or Columbine and I haven't stepped into New Orleans since I was six. It is a different experience. I still understand that more people die in car accidents hourly, crime is random and can't be attributed to (insert your favorite political rant here: gun control, video games, lack of religion/family values), and that life goes on. But even thinking about those things seems irrelevant. Its not about anything, it is sad. People died tragically today. It feels good to be alive.

Apr 10, 2007

Metric vs. Imperial

In many math/science classes across the US, teachers teach how wonderful the metric system is, and get students to agree that it is unfortunate that we are still using the imperial system in the US. The argument is something along the lines that it is trivial to convert between meters and kilometers - just move the decimal place. This "knowledge" that the metric system is superior to the imperial system seems pervasive(beyond school age), even in the US where we use the imperial system for distances, weights, and often volumes.

What is often assumed from the statement that "metric is better than imperial" is that metric is the ideal system. Indeed, at first glance, it seems very clean - what could be better? This is unfortunately far from the truth.

Metric (otherwise known as Base 10)
The basic premise that makes the metric system generally better than imperial is that you have a single "base" multiplier between different units:
1cm x 10 = 1dm
1dm x 10 = 1m
1m x 10 = 1dam
1dam x 10 = 1hm
1hm x 10 = 1km

I've bolded the units most people are familiar with (centimeter, meter, kilometer). Anyway, the problem with metric is the number 10. It makes the math "easy" because our number system also uses 10, but that is also broken, I claim. Most computer-related people would guess that I'm about to suggestion using a base that is a power of 2, like 8 or 16. Instead, 12.

Duodecimal

If both our number system and metric system were base 12, life would be even simpler. The problem with 10 (or powers of 2) is that it can't be cut in thirds. 1/3 of a mile is 5,280 ft / 3 = 1,760 feet - an integer. 1/3 of a kilometer is 333.3333333.... meters, neither an integer nor a trivially representable decimal. 1/3 of a unit in base 12 is 4 of the next smaller units. 4 is cleaner than 1,760 or 3.3.... Base 12 units are the smallest units cleanly divisible by 2,3, and 4. We could go up to 2,3,4 and 5, but that would require base 60 which for a 1st grader is a little unwieldy when learning all of the digits. 12 is the sweet spot. I'd rather be able to divide things by 3 (more often needed) than 5 if I had to pick. You could even go down to base 6 to simplify further, but that prevents you from dividing cleanly by 4, which seems useful.

What already uses a power of base 12 as it's base?
  1. Geometry: 360 degrees in a circle: 12*30 = 360
  2. Time: 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in a hour, 24 hours in a day: 12*2 = 24, 12*5 = 60
  3. Imperial: 5,280 ft in a mile (12 * 440 ft), 12 inches in a foot
  4. Eggs: 12 eggs in a dozen: dozen = 12 * 1 egg

Apparently there is already a term for a system like this: Duodecimal
We should all switch immediately.

Interested in other things misunderstood in school? Check out:

Apr 9, 2007

WeeWar


Evan Martin recently got me and Ryan temporarily (I hope) hooked on an online game called WeeWar. It is a particularly interesting game because the entire thing is done in "Ajax". It really is the path of least resistance these days to build everything in the browser: no plugins, no downloads, not even clicking "I accept" on some activex control.

The game is pretty simple - 7 units on a hexagonal map with different properties (attack, defense, range, speed) and a set of capturable bases from which units can be produced and revenue is generated. Still, I apparently suck at it, having lost 3 of 3 games at this point.

Update(9-24-07): This is a particularl addicting office game, slightly dangerous, but it got old after awhile. They've probably added stuff to it to make it more addicting, so I'm staying away. Besides, Halo 3 launches today.

Pearls Before Breakfast

Pearls Before Breakfast is one of the most interesting articles I've seen from a newspaper recently. It talks about a violin "genius", Joshua Bell, who plays with a Stradivarius violin in the DC subway to see if anyone will notice. The Washington Post interviews many of the passerby pedestrians after the experiment and the results are mixed to say the least. It even includes a couple "hidden cam" videos as part of the article so you can see the reactions for yourself.

It is an interesting experiment, I decided I probably would not have stopped, tipped, or hardly noticed. Cristin is convinced she would have. What do you think you would have done?