Saturday, October 10, 2009

Penny Lane (FPOTW)

Copyright © 1955 - 2009 Roger J. Wendell. All Rights Reserved. 

Here in the peoples republic of Boulder, Colorado, there used to be a coffee house called Penny Lane. All the flakes and nuts hung out there to write bad poetry, sing lousy music, play chess and perhaps buy some coffee.
It was a great place!

Note: If you want to practice critical thinking skills, spend some time in a college town coffee shop. ;)

Ahh... Penny Lane the Beatles song, released in 1967. Great song. A nice history of it can be found here:

And, for all the Rolling Stones people who will complain about what band is better... FOAD.

In any event, while driving home the other night I listened to the radio and heard, you guessed it, Penny Lane! Well, I had a flash back to that morning on the way to school when I was listening to the radio, and guess what... Penny Lane was playing then as well!

Humm... I wonder how many times the Beatles version of Penny Lane has been played. Not just over the radio, but on personal CD, tapes, records, 8-tracks, reel to reel, and MP3's. How about on TV and other visual media? How many times was Penny Lane in our ears and in our eyes?

---- Start Fermi Problem ----

Estimate the total number of times Penny Lane has been played since it came out in Feb 1967.

How many minutes of time does this represent?

(Time for some physics)

How much energy was expended as sound to play Penny Lane?

If you were to raise the temperature of a body of water by 1 C using this "Total Penny Lane energy", what volume would this body of water be?

Post your solution in the comments if you wish. =)

---- End Fermi Problem ----

"Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.
A four of fish and finger pies
In summer, meanwhile back..."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

AutoTuning Carl Sagan

I remember as a child watching Cosmos on PBS. The show, written and hosted by Carl Sagan, was one of the very few television shows my parents would let me watch. Cosmos also had the honor of being one of only three TV shows I could always watch if I asked to, a distinction shared with the Muppet Show and 60 min. (Well, on occasion there was MASH)

But Cosmos did not affect me very deeply at the time.

Ultimately however, Carl Sagan was to have a huge impact on the direction my life was to take.

I remember quite clearly the day I was rummaging through the garbage at a swap meet in Tuscon Arizona, and I came across a book. This day was back in 1986, and I was a young teenager living in a converted school bus with my family.
Long past were the days of my aborted formal education, replaced by lessons of life in making a living selling items at swap meets, scrounging for food in dumpsters, and in some cases learning how to swindle people of their cash for some crappy trinket we were selling.

Any education I received that was not directly related to survival I obtained via the books and magazines discarded by others. This day, my prize was a hardbound copy of Carl Sagan's Contact.
The book was missing its dust cover, but was otherwise in great shape... what a find! Carl Sagan, the guy from TV! Knowing that as soon as my parents saw the book, they would force me to give it up to be sold, I hid the book as best as I could under my grubby shirt and smuggled it past their watchful eyes.

Over the next week I stole off every chance I could to read the book. 15 minutes here, 20 there I would wander off to read, and was pulled deeper into the story of Ellie Arroway's discovery and decoding of an alien signal. Her work as a scientist grabbed my imagination. In one scene I was charmed that she made her own jewelry from synthetic ruby she grew for her detectors, something I resolved to do someday. (Mine turned out to be synthetic opal!)  Her explorations of Pi sparked in me a great interest in mathematics, which later I pursued via more discarded books.

Some have said the writing was pedantic, turgid etc. But for me it set the course of my life. I resolved to become a scientist.

One day my parents found the book while I was out getting water for our dishes. They put the book for sale and immediately a customer bought it for $2.00.  I was walking back to the bus carrying two 5 gallon water jugs full of water, and from a distance of over 100 feet I recognized the book as it exchanged hands! The water jugs went crashing to the earth as I dashed towards my parents and the customer.

I went straight up to the customer and forthrightly pleaded for him to return the book. When he hesitated I offered to give back the money plus the $2.50 I had saved and stashed.
My parents were, in their embarrassment, pulling me by the arm to leave the guy alone, but I would not budge. The kind gentleman relinquished the book, saying that one who wanted a book that badly should keep it, and I gave him the refund from my own money.
My battle was only started as I had to beg and plead that my parents let me keep the book, to at least be able to finish it.

The outcome? Well... I still own that very same book, which has a prominent place in my large science fiction collection!

I never had the chance to meet Carl Sagan. He was younger than my Grandmother, whom to me was a picture of health! I thought there would be time. Alas time ran out for Carl, who passed away in 1996.

I cried.

Yesterday I came across this YouTube video where Carl was Auto-Tuned to original music.
Chills went up my spine, and I remembered.

For your enjoyment:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Google-Fu: Winnowing the Chaff! (Tools of the Trade # 2)

Today I teach you your first Kata in Google-Fu. Winnowing the chaff.

The first Kata, known as winnowing the chaff, makes use of linear forms which denotes power and directness, and circular forms which represent the inward spiral to focus and truth.

The linear form basics are denoted by the symbols " ", and are the "Oyo" which is loosely translated as the "how"
The circular form represents the flow and has no symbol, but is a way and why of doing your kata. This is known as Bunkai, or the reason or loosely translated as "why".

The basic Google search is done by typing in a few search terms into the Google search field, and hitting enter. Depending on the choice of search terms, the number of results can be overwhelming!
Sometimes adding more search terms helps, and sometimes it hinders.

In comes the linear basic denoted by " ". Note the double short vertical lines? This denotes power, and directness in your search term.
This, quite simply, is the technique of enclosing a group of search terms in double quotation marks, and is known as a phrase search.

In Google Fu, this forces the search to look for the exact set of search terms, in order.
You see, when you do a basic Google search, Google looks at your choice of search terms, and in an order known only to itself (not really, but no sense in going into a green belt level discussion here) narrows its search results based on which term it searches first.

Using the double quotation marks, you can greatly narrow the search!

Let's move to an example:

Suppose you had read my blog last Monday, but for some reason forgot to bookmark the URL. You recall a few things about the blog, like the introduction to using Google to search the web, but not the specific blog name. (Although it is on the tip of your tongue and you would recognize it when you see it.)
What to do?

You may recall that the blog had 'tools of the trade' in the title, so you use that as your first search term:

Yikes! Over 128 million hits!
You go through a few pages and do not see anything familiar. You may stumble across some interesting links, which is half the fun of the web, but you are looking for this particular blog.

Time to winnow the chaff by enclosing tools of the trade in double quotes:

Humm, well, that did knock it down to a bit under a million hits.

You think about it a bit and you remember that there was something in the blog about doing something to chaff... so you add the word 'chaff' to the search field. This is the "Bunkai" and is a circle of focus.

Well that knocks the number of results down to 1350, which although is not that manageable, is still better than 128 million!
Actually, if you scroll down the page, you will come accross the link to my blog, what you were looking for!
But lets narrow it down a bit. You may remember the blog was talking about Google searches. Entering this final term and you get your result:

There is the blog, at number one in the search results!

This is a rather trivial example, and there are other paths that will lead to this results, including not using the double quotes at all. But the point is that 90% of what you are looking for can be quickly found just by using the Oyo of the double quotes. The phrase search is one of the most powerful moves in your Google-Fu.

Play around with it a bit and you will see. For instance if you only remember a few words to a song, but that is all, use the search term: "insert the lyrics here" lyrics

Next time we will learn a powerful block in Google-Fu, and how to "move inside" your opponent.