Links: 2015 — 4

There are several notable things to report on this month, though unusually, that doesn’t translate to a lot of links to share.

You’ve probably heard the news that Terry Pratchett died recently. I’ve been a fan my whole adult life, and this feels like the end of an era. There’s an official announcement here, plus various news reports, opinion pieces and tributes all over the Internet. Many are well worth your time, but I’m more inclined to encourage readers to look around than link to anything specific. There’s one last book to be published posthumously (confession: I’ve never read any of the Tiffany Aching books).

My sister’s second child, Elliot Roger Smith, was born around 11:15 on Wednesday March 11. I have yet to meet my new nephew, but I hear all is well, even if his big sister has some adjusting to do.

I now have over a thousand WordPress users subscribing to this blog. This means little, because the overwhelming majority are follow spam — people who follow other blogs indiscriminantly either in the hope that it will get them some attention or because they’re the blogging equivalent of hoarders — but there must be some who subscribed because they genuinely looked at my blog and liked what they saw. If that’s you, I encourage you to make yourself known in the comments. Tell me who you are and what you found here that you liked.

The Gede Ruins in Kenya are famous not only as a historical site but also for its wildlife (especially the monkeys), and a community organisation that helps to protect the site is now using a logo that I designed (though someone else drew the animal outlines). For a few months they were rather cheekily using a draft version that I only sent — along with some other designs — to show how things were progressing, but I don’t know the whole story behind that decision, and the completed version is in use now.

Now here are some links. Not many this month (for whatever reason I’ve not seen a lot recently that compels me to archive it) but I hope you enjoy them.

Links: 2015 — 3

Here is an assortment of links that I think are worth sharing.

  • Interesting article on the historical context of the watchmaker analogy.
  • What happens when you let a toddler dress you for a week. More people should try this.
  • Lego for entomologists.
  • Neil Gaiman’s reading of A Christmas Carol.
  • Debunking of viral archery video. I’m linking to this because a few years ago I linked to another video making some of the debunked claims.

I also spent some time playing with the soundscape generators at The site contains some mysticism I don’t endorse, but the generators are a lot of fun. Each soundscape has a number of components, the volume of which can be set independently. You can then share that customised soundscape by clicking the “Save in URL” link, or manually once you understand how the numbers in the URL work (it’s pretty straightforward). The animation mode adjusts the settings dynamically, and I’m not sure what the algorithm is but components that start low stay low.

The first generator I played with was Rain Noise. Where do you feel you are when you listen to that? Perhaps you’re caught in a storm whilst bushwalking, and sheltering in a cave, listening not only to the rain and the thunder but also the gurgling of a nearby river. I also played with Jungle Life and Beatae Memoriae (a spooky church/cathedral). The reason my “rain” settings are so much louder than the others is that for the latter two I used headphones. Anyway, see what you can discover, and feel free to share your favourite settings here.

My boycott of sites featuring autoplay advertising ends in just a few more days, and I have my eye on a couple of articles to share in my next collection. But they can wait.

Links: 2015 – 2

Some of the better links I’ve seen recently:

I’ll be attending a few performances at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in the second half of February, and I might report on some of them afterwards.

Incidentally, below is the colour you get if you mix one teaspoon of mulberry juice with two and a half tablespoons of icing sugar. It tastes far too sweet and I don’t intend to make it again, but you gotta experiment in life.


February website boycott

[Update 1/3/2015: This boycott is now over. During February I blocked nine domains altogether, averaging one every three days. Scroll down to see the list. I am now in theory unblocking all of those domains, although I reserve the right not to disclose the fact if I’ve decided to keep any of them permanently blocked.]

Autoplay audiovisual ads are a problem.

Online advertising per se isn’t going away, but the current environment — in which advertisers think they can get away with anything — is not acceptable. As a society we need to work out an informal contract between the advertisers and the consumers of the Internet. We need an arrangement that says: you may advertise, up to a point, but you may not cross this line.

One pillar of that arrangement must be our right to reasonable control over the number of stimuli that demand the attention of our senses. When I’m reading something online — or more rarely, listening to something — a random blast of noise (from either the same or a different browser tab) interferes with my ability to do so. I am forced to stop what I’m doing and take whatever measure is necessary to get rid of the offending advertisement. This is not an acceptable burden.

Imagine a world in which, whenever you turn the page in a newspaper, the radio automatically switches on. Or, the moment you’ve been listening to the radio for five minutes, the television automatically wakes up. But we don’t have to imagine that world — we are living it, and we want out.

So I’ve decided that I need to take some kind of action. Therefore, for the month of February 2015, I will boycott all websites on which an autoplay audiovisual advertisement appears, subject to certain qualifications, and I will name the offending sites in a list at the end of this post (to be updated as needed). Details follow.

  • First, I’m obviously well aware that online advertising is outsourced, and that individual websites are not responsible for the advertisements that appear. But … this is about not doing deals with the Devil. If the entity you outsourced your advertising space to did not offer you a choice as to whether autoplay audiovisual ads are acceptable, then we need to put pressure on them somehow.
  • Because I want to focus on the most egregious cases, some autoplay ads will be exempt. Advertisements will generally be exempt if they play within a feature video space on that web page (e.g. videos watched on Youtube or news reports consisting of a video followed by an article). But an exemption to the exemption is that even advertisements that play within a feature video space will trigger the boycott if the Pause button is unavailable or doesn’t function correctly while the advertisement plays.
  • At the end of February I will unblock all sites — unless I decide I’m better off without yours, which is my call. However, the list of offending sites at the end of this post will remain, unless I think of a reason to remove any.
  • The tool I’ll be using is the Minimal Site Block extension for Firefox. This could use a friendlier interface (you have to use wildcards, you have to include the “http”, and it’s unintuitive that you don’t need to press a button to update the blocked list), but it works, and is a good option if you want to manage your own boycott.

Obviously this is experimental. Hence the one month limit. Other people may have insights into better ways of taking action (whether a refinement of this boycott or a completely different approach), and one of my goals is to help start that conversation.

List of offenders so far:

  • [absent Pause button: see bullet point 2]
  • [will certainly unblock this one at the end of February]
  • [not actually a 3rd party advertisement, but a video unrelated to the main article]

Vampire Women, a short story

I avoid sexual topics on this blog, for reasons best encapsulated in the phrase “more trouble than it’s worth“. I’d love to live in a world where a conversation about the diversity of human experience need not be approached with trepidation, but sadly, in the real world it does tend to bring out the irrational in people.

Today I’d like to lift the veil ever so slightly and share a short story I wrote in 2009. It includes the only sex scene I’ve ever written, and I’m actually quite proud of it. If you know me at all, you’ll expect a twist.

I published the story on, which I’ve written about before. Ficly was a site where people wrote stories in 1000 characters or less, but it has recently closed its doors — the archive is still there but you can no longer publish anything new. A new site, Ficlatté, has succeeded it, but it’s not much to look at so far.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fractal poetry, and other links

This post contains what purports to be a fractal poem. It’s not a bad poem in its own right, but the link to fractal geometry was too subjective for my taste. However, it got me thinking about what else a “fractal poem” might mean, and I was up till two that morning bringing my idea into fruition. I shared the poem I came up with in the comments, but a fuller explanation appears below.

I based my poem on a simple L-system. An L-system contains a set of rules, applied iteratively, for replacing one symbol with a sequence of symbols. For example, suppose we agree to replace “A” with “ABBA” and “B”, with “BA”. Then, starting with “A”, the first iteration gives “ABBA”, the second iteration gives “ABBABABAABBA”, the third “ABBABABAABBABAABBABAABBAABBABABAABBA” and so on. The connection to fractal geometry is that if we interpret the symbols graphically (e.g. “A” for “go forward” and “B” for “turn left”), we get a squiggly line whose squiggliness depends upon the number of iterations.

I used an L-system where “A” becomes “ABBA”, “B” becomes “BCCB”, and so on. (Using numbers rather than letters, this is: “n → n, n+1, n+1, n”.) After two iterations, we have “ABBABCCBBCCBABBA”, which is the structure I used for my poem, interpreting each letter as representing a line and requiring all lines assigned the same letter to rhyme. In other words, it had to be a 16-line poem in which lines 1, 4, 13 & 16 rhyme, lines 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 12, 14 & 15 rhyme, and lines 6, 7, 10 & 11 rhyme.

Here is the result. It has, I think, an interesting aesthetic quality when read aloud.

This doggerel does not intend
To satisfy the reader’s would
For art that is remotely good;
It will not serve to meet that end,
So don’t imagine that it could.
But in its rhyming structure you
Might find, if you are able to,
A pattern to be understood
That’s relevant to trees of wood
And clouds of water vapour, too –
The applications are not few –
For it possesses fractalhood.
Look closely, and you’ll comprehend
The secret pattern, bad or good,
Which, if this text were longer, could
By iterative means extend.

After a third iteration, the structure would be a challenging ABBA BCCB BCCB ABBA BCCB CDDC CDDC BCCB BCCB CDDC CDDC BCCB ABBA BCCB BCCB ABBA. Four iterations would give you an epic poem of 256 lines. You’re welcome to give that a go, or maybe you’d prefer to write your own variation on a shorter poem like mine.

Here are some more links that I found over the Christmas holidays:

  • The development of a foetus, animated.
  • Strong Language is a new linguistics blog about swearing. Mostly. Along the way it covers a variety of topics and is worth a look.
  • A well-presented and informative video on placenames ending in -stan.
  • A curious difference between the Andromeda Galaxy and our own.
  • All of the best arguments against vaccination together on one page. (No, it’s not blank, but you’ve got the right idea.)

As for the holidays themselves, I don’t feel like writing a report, but rest assured I had an excellent time. Here are two photographs that capture some special moments.


The photo on the left shows my niece and her parents (my sister on the left, pregnant with her second child) at the Christmas table as it is being prepared. Of note are the origami mangers, complete with jelly baby and paper straw, alternating with paper trees. The brown paper bags are what we used instead of crackers.

On the right is a framed photo set showing miscellaneous moments in Elke’s life so far. This was Rebecca’s Christmas present to me, and it is now hanging above the light switch in my bedroom.

Links: early December 2014

Here are some links that I think are worth sharing. It’s a short list, but you’re all busy getting ready for Christmas so that’s appropriate.

Links: November 2014

I decided to skip the Late October installment, and this Early November installment is late, but here it is now.

  • A curious coincidence concerning the planets.
  • Everything you wanted to know about goldfish.
  • Chimpanzees plan ahead when it comes to breakfast. (This gave me an idea for a card game, but it needs a lot of work.)
  • How humans, birds and grasshoppers breathe.
  • Einstein and the nature of reality: a brief history.
  • A very nice 3D video from Mars.

In personal news, I recently bought my calendar for 2015. The theme I’ve chosen is a collection of Rob Gonsalves paintings — illusionist paintings in the tradition of M. C. Escher. [Update: larger collection here].

I’ll be going to see James Randi on December 1st. (I decided against the “Meet and Greet” ticket, though; it’s about a hundred dollars extra which is more than I can justify.) In preparation, I’ve rewatched this video from 2010.

Photos from family weekend

I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday with my extended family, for reasons involving two birthday parties and a musical. I won’t go into details here, but we can talk about it in the comments if you like.

Here is a photo of my mother and my niece, Elke, who is now a confident walker, developing her vocabulary, and will be 18 months old later this month.


From later in the weekend: three generations of women on the marimba.


Left: My young relatives at play. Right: A community room in the town to which Dad has contributed dinosaurs.


I got some lovely photos of Elke with Leah, the middle child in my cousin Robert’s family. Here they are on the swing.



And here they are on the golf course.




And that’s all. It really was lovely to catch up with everyone.

Links: Early October 2014




  • I occasionally wonder if certain idiotic laws have been changed since I last heard about them. And then I find out they haven’t.


  • Last month I bought some origami-related material (instructional video & paper) as a gift for a younger relative. Noteworthy items I found in my research include these paper reviews and this video tutorial of a model that proved easy enough for me to make myself (compare with this even simpler one). I see potential for decorating this year’s Christmas dinner table.