Tuesday, June 30, 2015

World's Largest Islands

A fact I've often heard is that Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island. I was thinking about it today and realized I didn't know what the rest of the world's largest islands were. Greenland is first, I suppose, but what comes after that? Scan the world map in your mind.

It turns out that Indonesia and Canada are the countries to look at. New Guinea and Borneo are second and third in size and Sumatra is sixth. Canada has Baffin Island, Victoria Island, and Ellesmere Island at five, eight, and ten.

The last two islands in the top ten are Honshu and Great Britain at seven and nine. Honshu is the largest island of Japan and its name apparently means 'main island' in Japanese. The 'great' in 'Great Britain' is in comparison to Brittany (Lesser Britain), a region in northwest France. During the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, many of the native Celtic people were pushed into Wales, Cornwall, and across the channel to France. These refugees to France were called Bretons and their new home became known as Brittany.

Java has the highest population of any island at 143 million. It's the fifth largest island of Indonesia and thirteenth in the world.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Modding SimCity 4

SimCity 4 is a simulation game in which the player, as mayor, builds and runs a complex and dynamic city. SC4 was released in 2003, so it's old by computer game standards. There is, however, still an active base of users who still play and even create new content for the game (mods). I've written about my experience using mods in Skyrim, but modding SC4 has been a whole new playground.

One mod I found for SC4 adds new, high capacity buildings that allow cities to grow much larger than in the vanilla (unmodded) game. I downloaded this mod and installed it, but found out that I would need to find other files that contained the actual new buildings. For each building, there was a 'Lot' file that defined the area and placement of the building, a 'BAT' file that determined the structure, a 'Texture' file that determined what the building looked like, and several 'Prop' files to add detail. For some reason, these four file types were all in different places and had to be hunted down and compiled over the course of several hours.

I felt a nice sense of accomplishment when I finally got a modded building to appear in my city, but was it really worth it? I don't know how much these mods will really improve my SimCity 4 experience. It might be that the real value I got from this was practice with problem-solving and troubleshooting computers. It's something, I guess.

Origins of Tannin

'Tannins' are a class of chemicals that bind to proteins. Many plants produce tannins, including the oak species I'm studying this summer. The name 'tannin' comes through French from the Latin 'tannum,' which means 'oak bark.' The German word 'tannenbaum'  (Christmas tree) is apparently related; 'tanne' means 'fir' and 'baum' means 'tree.'

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kleenex Limerick

There once was a fellow from Bissues
Who had many runny nose issues
It is safe to say
That most every day
He used at least two dozen tissues

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fun With Crosswalks

I really like crossing crosswalks. After years of dashing across roads through breaks in traffic, it's nice to be in a place where a system of lights keeps intersections organized. As soon as I get the go-ahead from the pedestrian light, I start walking, looking around at all the cars and enjoying my few seconds of right-of-way. I always feel bad, though, when a light gives me 30 seconds to cross a street when I only need 10, leaving cars at a red light for an unnecessary 20 seconds.

I was out walking today when I came to an intersection that already had the go-ahead pedestrian light shining. I didn't need to cross the street, but I did anyways because it would be a shame to waste the opportunity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Screenshot of the Day: Borderlands 2

Compare the detail level of the gun with everything else.

Borderlands 2 is a first-person shooter set on an alien planet that's a bit like the wild west. Things are broken down and people generally fend for themselves. As far as I can tell, it's a game about finding increasingly better guns and using them to shoot at increasingly tougher enemies. The combat is very dynamic; players can hide behind cover and snipe or run in, punching enemies or anything in between.

The story, unfortunately, is very linear and based on the assumption that the player wants revenge on the game's antagonist. A cast of wacky characters exists to help the player, and so far I've ended up disliking all of them. Borderlands 2 is in many ways designed as a multiplayer cooperative game and I would probably enjoy it a lot more if I was playing it that way.

Monday, June 22, 2015

History of Flossing

I've heard dentists say that flossing might be even more important than brushing as far as dental health is concerned. Dental floss was apparently invented in 1819 and was made of silk. In the US, flossing became more popular around World War II when nylon floss was developed.

The floss picks that I'm trying to use, plastic prongs that hold a short length of floss, have their origin in the late 19th century in a complicated sort of notched toothpick. As far as I can tell from my package of picks, the newest innovation is the "Patented Fold-Away Pick Protector" that "provides greater safety." I can only imagine what flossing will be like in the future.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

New Cafeteria

A new catering company has taken charge of the cafeteria here and they're making waves with new food, new layouts, and new silverware. As far as I can tell from the few times I've been to the new cafeteria, this company is very good at food presentation.

At first, I couldn't quite say what felt different about the cafeteria, but once I had gone through and grabbed a bit of everything that looked tasty, I realized that I had on my tray a well-balanced meal with several servings of fruit and vegetables. Had the decorative squashes around the salad bar encouraged me to pick up some lettuce? Maybe the rustic bread basket put me in the mood for some applesauce that was available on the next counter over. In any case, the future of dining here looks promising.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Color Names

The English names for colors come from a variety of sources. My source for all this information is Wiktionary, the Wikipedia dictionary.

'Green' is from the Proto-Germanic 'groana,' which refers to plants becoming green or growing.

'Blue' is also Germanic, and apparently always referred to the color.

'Purple' comes from the Ancient Greek 'porphura,' the name of the shellfish that purple dye was made from.

'Red,' like blue, is Germanic and referred to the color.

'Orange' comes from the Arabic 'naranj,' the name for the fruit.

'Yellow' is of Germanic origin and referred to the color.

Is it a coincidence that all the primary colors have the same sort of origin? 'Black' and 'white' are also Germanic, one coming from a word meaning 'burnt' and one coming from a word meaning 'white.'

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Return Policy

I ate a can of tinned pears today and noticed an interesting notice on the label: "If for any reason you aren't happy [with the product], we'll replace it or return your money ... all you need is the package and the receipt."

It just so happens that I wasn't quite happy with the product. The pears were good, but they would have tasted better in heavy syrup rather than the extra light syrup I got. I have the packaging (i.e. the can) and the receipt, and after checking the store policy online, I know that non-perishable foods such as tinned pears can be returned within 90 days of purchase.

Could I make a return in this situation? It seems too good to be true. My guess is that in addition to the packaging, the item itself needs to be returned, which is a bit of a downer because I ate the pears already. It's for the best, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Science Facts: Dry Ice

Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide and is made by putting carbon dioxide under high pressure and cooling it. At regular air pressure, dry ice turns into a gas at -78.5 C. Dry ice was discovered by a French scientist in 1835 who cooled carbonic acid to -194 F. I wonder how people produced temperatures that low in the 19th century.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Group Work and Inverse Ninja Strength

There's an unofficial law in movies and other media that the strength of an individual ninja is inversely proportional to the number of ninjas present. In other words, a single ninja poses the same threat as five ninjas since each of the five ninjas has 20% of the strength of a lone ninja.

I saw a similar principle at work today while I was decorating a room with a group of people. There were about twenty people working but we probably weren't twenty times quicker than a single person decorating would have been. I suppose the need for communication is what slows down group work compared to individual work.

That said, I think we did a much better and quicker job than any one person could. Unlike movie ninjas, each of us was unique and had different ideas and skills to contribute. I'm often inclined to do things by myself, but not working with others can only be damaging in the long run.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Loading Screens

I wonder how much time I've spent throughout the years looking at loading screens on my computer. Whether I'm waiting for a video to buffer or a game level to load, I often find what's happening on my screen to be much less interesting than it was the minute before or will be the minute after.

I use long loading screen waits to plan out my day and consider if the media I'm trying to load is really worth the effort. I'll read a book during really long loading waits. I might even write a blog post.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Thursday, June 11, 2015


I have a receipt from Publix that says I saved $4.35 on my last purchase. What does that mean? Do I possess $4.35 more than I would without those savings? Probably not; I wouldn't have bought five microwave meals if there wasn't a handy five-for-$10 sale going on.

Did I, then, acquire $24.35 worth of goods and only have to pay $20.00 for them? This, I think is closer to the mark. Publix, however, got more than money from me. By buying items on clearance, I probably cooperated with the manager's inventory plans. I assume that discounts are used to guide what people buy and I'm generally happy to follow these guidelines in exchange for lower prices.

In any case, the world of digital sales has probably spoiled me a bit when it comes to 'savings.' When I'm buying a discounted computer game, I only consider it a good deal if it's 75% off or more.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Peanut Butter and Diminishing Returns

Washing dishes, in my opinion, is a system of diminishing returns. As the time and effort put into washing increases, the benefit per resource spent decreases. The first minute washing a plate makes it a lot cleaner and another half hour of scrubbing probably wouldn't do much additional good.

On a related note, I've been snacking from a jar of peanut butter on my desk for the past week or so and have been wondering if eating peanut butter from a jar is a system of diminishing returns. At first, getting a scoop of peanut butter is easy, but as the jar empties, you have to spend more time hunting around for scoop-able areas. Now that the jar is almost empty, it takes almost a minute to get any respectable amount of peanut butter on my spoon. I'm not sure if that meets the technical requirements of diminishing returns or not.

What I do know for sure is that eating peanut butter from jar is a system of diminishing peanut butter.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Washing Machine Convenience

One new thing to learn living in the US has been how to properly use a washing machine. I had some vague ideas before starting college, but I still spent too long looking at dials before being able to do anything with most washing machines I've used in the past two years.

The machine in my apartment this summer is different-- it's large and sleek and there are instructions written on the inside of the door. There are even diagrams showing what a large load is compared to a small load, something I've been wondering about for a while now. The dials and buttons are all labeled. My laundry experience is looking promising.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

New Perspectives

Walking without shoes on makes me pay more attention to where I'm going. With shoes, there's not too much difference between paved and gravel paths, but when you feel where you're walking, the type of ground becomes a lot more relevant.

I'm sure this concept could apply to a lot of other things. Not using a calculator to do math could help me appreciate numbers. Cooking things from scratch instead of eating prepared meals changes how I eat. Shoes and calculators and prepared meals are very useful and I'm glad they're around, but occasionally doing things in different ways allows for new perspectives.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fun With Anagrams

An anagram is a word or phrase made from the letters of another word or phrase. I imagine that coming up with anagrams used to be hard work, but now computers can do the grunt work. I found this website today that creates anagrams of any word or phrase you enter.

An anagram for my full name is 'Jailed Inchworm Teeth'
An anagram for 'fair enough,' a phrase I probably overuse, is 'ear info, ugh.'

It's a surprisingly fun program to play around with.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Vegetable Trays

I don't have as many vegetables in my diet as I should, but events with vegetable trays have me eating through piles of carrots, bell peppers, and broccoli. I've seen many others who linger over the tray as I do, but not everyone is so interested.

Maybe I clear up vegetable trays because I like to see emptied serving dishes. I once ate four or five cups of broccoli from a large vegetable tray just to see if I could do it and because there wasn't much else going on at the time. Maybe nibbling on vegetables is a handy thing to do while listening to conversation. After all, I generally don't talk much in an event large enough to have a vegetable tray.

I've wondered for a while now if there are people who prefer celery to other options on a vegetable tray. It seems like celery sticks are included in most trays for decoration or as a last resort for when the carrots and bell peppers run out. The flavor is too bold and the fiber too hearty. Eating celery takes dedication.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Research and Raisin Bran

In my small experience, undergraduate research is like eating Raisin Bran cereal. There's a lot of stuff going on that's not that interesting. Cleaning and other routine tasks in the lab are like the flakes of bran that make up the substance of the experience. They can be tedious and flavorless.

Exciting moments of action and discovery are the raisins. A raisin brings flavor to a spoonful of bran flakes. Some spoonfuls have more raisins than others. Together, the flakes and raisins make for a hearty and wholesome bowl of cereal.

I haven't had much research experience yet, but I do know that I like eating Raisin Bran.