Jun 192016

Came across this link in an internet conversation. I kind of wish that I had come across this logic puzzle before I’d come across the Wikipedia entry on it, because I would have been interested to know whether or not I would have successfully deduced the correct answer on my own. (Apparently, a large percentage of people fail this test.)

An example of the Wason Selection Task is:

You are shown a set of four cards placed on a table, each of which has a number on one side and a colored patch on the other side. The visible faces of the cards show 3, 8, red and brown. Which card(s) must you turn over in order to test the truth of the proposition that if a card shows an even number on one face, then its opposite face is red?

A response that identifies a card that need not be inverted, or that fails to identify a card that needs to be inverted, is incorrect. The original task dealt with numbers (even, odd) and letters (vowels, consonants).

Mar 192013

CNN — Just in time for Albert Einsteins birthday Thursday, scientists delivered exciting news about how the universe works.

Last summer, physicists announced that they had identified a particle with characteristics of the elusive Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle.” But, as often the case in science, they needed to do more research to be more certain.

On Thursday, scientists announced that the particle, detected at the Large Hadron Collider, the worlds most powerful particle-smasher, looks even more like the Higgs boson.

via Scientists more certain that particle is Higgs boson – CNN.com.

Mar 022013

I was watching something on the Discovery channel this last week (it’s all kind of a blur, I’ve been pretty sick) that stuck with me. The show focused on Comets and got around to Shoemaker-Levy-9, which was discovered in 1993 and did something frightenly spectacular in 1994, it broke into multiple pieces and impacted with Jupiter’s atmosphere.

via BBC Guide

via Dave Jerrard (creative visualization)

via NASA

This got me to thinking about the 99942 Apophis. But the rest of this story is a bit anticlimactic:

Thankfully, on 9 January 2013, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that the Herschel Space Observatory’s observations of 99942 Apophis have allowed them to update trajectory data ruling out an Earth impact in 2036. The most interesting bit of astronomy that came out of my research was the discovery that, in 2029, Apophis will transition from an Aten-class asteroid to an Apollo-class asteroid.

  • Aten-class asteroids are classified as asteroids which most of the orbit is within 1 AU. An interesting note is that most Aten-class asteroids have an aphelion outside of 1 AU (meaning that most of their orbit is inside the Earth’s orbit, but at their greatest distance from the Sun, they are outside of Earth’s orbit– meaning they cross Earth’s orbit often.)
  • Apollo-class asteroids are the inverse, which is to say their perihelion (the point at which they are closest to the sun) is within 1 AU, but they spend most of the rest of their time outside of Earth’s orbit. (Again, meaning they cross Earth’s orbit.)

During that 2029 pass, Apophis will pass so close to the Earth that it will pass under the man-made satellites that we have launched– far inside the Moon’s orbit of the planet. (A pass which is estimated to be around 14,000 miles.) The original concern was that it would difficult-to-impossible to predict Apophis’ trajectory on future passes (say 2036) with any certainty based on the available information (from 2005 through 2011). As noted above, using the Goldstone Radar facility astronomers were able to obtain better data about Apophis than ever before and, ahead of expectations, were able to obtain the data they believe necessary to more accurately predict the 2036 trajectory, thus ruling out an Earth impact on that pass.

Needless to say, further observation is warranted.

Feb 082013

First, this video is very cool.

via What Real Cities Would Look Like To God, If God Was Playing SimCity

So I decided to go play with City Forward to see what I could see.


After waiting for 10 minutes (and talking to a customer at work), I decided to take screenshots and wait a bit longer…

After completing one of the tasks I was working on, I checked the page again… still not loading.


Ah well, it’s a nice dream, but it still needs work.

Jan 132013


I saw an interesting program on the Science channel about Tarot and Psychology. Between the TV spot and the writing that I’ve been doing lately, it rekindled and old interest. Before I tell you the story of what this means today, let me back up a moent and talk about what it meant in the past and how this all ties together…

I have no recollection of when I was first introduced to the idea of Tarot cards. Certainly the idea came from before I turned 12; sometime around the time I learned what a Ouija board was. I was first introduced to the concept of Tarok by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman in the book Triumph of the Darksword. The character Simkin uses Tarok to divine the future or as a game of cards. In the Appendix is a section of Tarok Card rules.

Tarok, a card game

Tarok rules are essentially the same as Spades; it’s a trick taking game with a pre-round bid. Instead of the Spades being the trump suit, the Major Arcana are the trump. The part of the rules which are interesting are things like “You must always try to win a hand, playing a higher card of the same suit if possible.” (Meaning that you cannot intentionally lose a round by strategically jettisoning your lower cards.) And “If you have the Fool card, you may always choose to place the Fool in place of any other card you do not wish to play.”

Spades does away with the first rule, because keeping track of 18 tricks and whether you cheated and played a lower card than you should gets tricky. And, without that rule, the special rule about the Fool doesn’t mean as much. Still, the use of tarot cards for both entertainment (via a card game) and divination (which is the role I traditionally knew them in) was fascinating to me in the late 80s.

Later when internet became popular (that’s right, Triumph of the Darksword was out before the internet was used by the masses, back in prehistoric 1988), I looked up Tarok. I remember finding an explanation of the rules which was very similar to what I found in Weis’ & Hickman’s fictional book but my memory could be off and I don’t have a copy of that reference today.

Tarot, for Role Playing Games

It wasn’t until 1997 (as the internet was becoming more popular– and after White Wolf introduced the Mage the Ascension Tarot deck) that the topic came up for me again. Then I started playing around with Microsoft Excel scripts to randomly simulate a Tarot reading. The standard Celtic Cross for Tarot reading is fairly easily to program, but you immediately run into some issues of predictability and unintended repetition.

Why am I simulating a Tarot reading? Because I was playing a Role Playing Game and I wanted to be able to quickly generate Tarot readings, look them up and use them in forming stories and plots for my games. The problem was how to come up with a ten-card-draw with no repetition. This was my initial solution:


Function Tarok(column, row, cardnumber, sd)
    If (cardnumber < 1) Then
        Tarok = 0
    End If
    If (cardnumber > 10) Then
        Tarok = 0
    End If
    Randomize sd
        X = Int((78 * rnd) + 1)
        cnt = cardnumber
        Do While ((X > 0) And (cnt < 0))
            cnt = cnt - 1
            lkup = row - cnt
            If ((X > 0) And (cnt > 0) And (row > cnt)) Then
                checkvalue = ActiveSheet.Cells(lkup, column).Value
                If (checkvalue = X) Then
                    X = 0
                End If
            End If
    Loop Until (X > 0)
    Tarok = X
End Function

Then, you need a function that will lookup the cards, from 1-78.

Function CardName(number)
    number = number - 1
    If (number = 0) Then
        CardName = "0 - THE FOOL"
    End If
    If (number = 1) Then
        CardName = "I - THE MAGICIAN"
    End If
    If (number = 2) Then
        CardName = "II - THE HIGH PRIESTESS"
    End If
/* And so forth */
End Function


In Cell A1, +TAROK(X,Y,N,RAND()*78)

Where X is the current column number (1), Y is the row number (1), N is the card number (1). Repeat from A2 to A10, incrementing Y and N by one for each row.

In Cell B1, +CardName(C)

Where C is the cell reference (A1). Repeat from A2 to A10, changing the C as appropriate (A2 … A10)

Then you just need a column for whether or not the card is reversed;

In Cell C1, +IF((RAND()*100)<50,””,”Reversed”)

Reading the Tarot, a comparison

According to the Mage Tarot book, Designs of Destiny, the deck is interpreted accordingly (not standard Celtic Cross, it would seem, but similar):

  1. An initial card, called the Querant card, can be selected by the seeker. This card is not read as part of the Mage Tarot, but instead represents the seeker who is the subject of the question asked of the Tarot cards.
    The Initial card is placed atop the querant card and represents the immediate forces at work in relation to the question. (Different from the Celtic Cross in that the Initial and Querant Cards are the same; whereas Mage Tarot uses two cards, one which is selected by the Querant, the second which is drawn randomly from the top of the deck after shuffling.)
  2. Second card is laid across the first to form a cross and represents the conflict contained within the question.
  3. Third card is set below the cross and represents the short term past. (Different from the Celtic Cross; it says the Third card is placed above the cross and represents the future hope.)
  4. Fourth card is set above the cross and represents the immediate future. (Different from the Celtic Cross; it says the Fourth card is placed below the cross and represents previous experience.)
  5. Fifth card is set to the right of the cross and represents the past. (Different from the Celtic Cross only in placement; the Celtic Cross places this card to the left.)
  6. Sixth card is set to the left of the cross and represents the long term future. (Different from the Celtic Cross only in placement; the Celtic Cross places this card to the right.)
  7. Seventh card is set to the right of the cross forming a staff of four cards with the 7th card at the bottom. In Mage Tarot the seventh card represents inner concerns; whereas in Celtic Cross the seventh card represents attitude towards the query.
  8. Eighth card is set above the seventh. In Mage Tarot the eighth card represents outside influences; whereas in the Celtic Cross the card represents the influence of family or friends.
  9. Nineth card is set above the eighth and represents hopes and ideals (e.g., what the querant wants) in both Mage Tarot and the Celtic Cross.
  10. Tenth card is set above the nineth and represents the conclusion of the question (e.g., the culmination card, representing the outcome to the query) in both Mage Tarot and the Celtic Cross.

As you can see, with the Mage Tarot, one card is chosen by the seeker and removed from the deck. As a result, this card cannot be drawn during a reading. Much of rest of the process of reading is identical to the Celtic Cross formula found on Wikipedia, although some cards are located in different places. I imagine that so long as the 10 cards are played to represent the various card categories (as defined by their position; which might also be subject to change), you largely get the same effect. But more on that in the next section…

Reason for resurgence

I recently saw a Through the Wormhole Episode on SciHD (Science channel, high def) in which Tarot and Psychology are used in an interesting study. @2:56 in the Youtube clip, there is the following quote:

Our brains connect things. They just do it naturally. So, when you draw the cards, your brain will still– just jump right in and start saying “oh, I am having trouble with that”, “oh, that is is a challenge”, “oh, maybe I am overlooking this.” It’s like magic. Your brain will just start to make a story for you.

So, even though I don’t believe they are doing anything; even though I see them as just sort of a random collection of various symbols and meanings– it’s still really fun to watch my brain knit things together for me.

This quote, from a psychologist who formulated the psychology study, pretty much summerizes my entire opinion about Tarot cards. I have never, not once, believed that Tarot cards were ever responsible for “divinations.” I believed that, at best, they were prompts that helped the mind create the story. At worst, I thought it part of a scam. The half-dozen times I’d had my tarot read provided me with wildly varying results: Everything from “I can see the applicability if I strain” to “Crack house; here we come.” The one thing that was consistant in the readings that were even remotely accurate was my participation. The more I participated in the reading, the more the resulting story had meaning to me. This only furthered my opinion that Tarot was little more than a scam, and at most cooperative story telling.

And that’s what I used Tarot for in the late 90s. The Role Playing Game I was playing at the time lent itself to Tarot and I picked up a deck of the themed Tarot cards to add some flavor to my games. I ended up generating an Excel script that would help me mass produce tarot readings for the purposes of attaching them to NPC (non-player character) sheets to help flesh out NPC personalities. (There is actually a simpler method, but I liked creating complex characters.) Or as part of what was called “Rites of Passage” which was something each character must go through in order to develop.

Which leads me to present day: I’ve been writing in a fictional world of my own making and occasionally I struggle with fleshing out a character in my story (especially if the character is a minor, supporting and/or incidental character.) It occurred to me that I could reuse some of the ideas in my Tarot Excel program to formulate an “NPC Generator.”

Admittedly, the one thing about Tarot is that to build a complex character, you need a lot of information:

  • Name,
  • Ambition (abstract goal of character during the story); Story goal (concrete goal of the character during the story); Conflict (what prevents them from reaching their story goal); Epiphany (how does the character change during the story while in pursuit of their goal);
  • Personality (what motivates them? what is their instinctive response to adversity? what is their approach to adversity when given time to think? what constriction makes them vulnerable? what gives them confidence or when are they most confident? what do they value most?)
  • Physical description; Habits; Mannersisms; Occupation; Family; Age

There are lots of ways of creating an archetype from which to base a character:

The intersting thing about the Keirsey Temperament chart is that each “role” is a positive interpretation of an archetype. Along these lines, Linda Edelstein wrote a book “Writer’s Guide to Character Traits” which provides a number of positive and negative interpretations of Keirsey Temperament type traits (Way more than just the 16 positive archetype interpretations).

The one thing I like about the Myers-Briggs typing is that there have been studies done on the distribution of personality types within the US– which allows me to estimate if I’m inserting too many INFJs (1-3% of the US population, in 2010) into the story.

Favorite Resource

Which leads me to a little plug for a favorite writing resource. (I have this thing printed and tacked to my wall for when I’m writing.)


Peter Halasz’s excellent two page PDF for writer’s is absolutely brilliant!

Jan 122013

… because of the polymer’s pattern of negative/positive polarization, the sperm are torn apart through the polyelectrolytic effect. On a molecular level, it’s what supervillains envision will happen when they stick the good guy between two huge magnets and flip the switch.


The trouble is, most people don’t even know this exists. And if men only need one super-cheap shot every 10 years or more, that’s not something that gets big pharmaceutical companies all fired up, because they’ll make zero money on it (even if it might have the side benefit of, you know, destroying HIV).

via The Best Birth Control In The World Is For Men.

Jan 072013

NASA considers plan to capture an asteroid and turn it into a space station.

This 2.6$ billion plan just might bring a NEA (near earth asteroid) into lunar orbit (by 2025 if we start in 2013), allowing for us to perform the first mining-in-space mission, resulting in a “breakthrough event” similar to the Apollo mission in historical importance (with regards to space exploration.)

I, for one, am in favor of (the government) funding this endeavor.

Oct 032012

via: http://www.planetaryresources.com/2012/09/jupiters-big-impact/

Something struck Jupiter’s atmosphere in September of 2012 and the images were caught by astronomers. It’s amazing what we can see today without advanced telescopes (or rather, just how advanced earth-bound telescope have become.)

More information can be found at: http://phys.org/news/2012-09-explosion-jupiter.html

Oct 032012

We’re looking for passionate college students for paid coop positions to help us mine asteroids this spring and summer…

If you love space and want to contribute directly to the development of the next generation of space exploration technologies, we want to hear from you (or from anyone you know that you think would be

==> Click here to apply today!

This is not a hoax. Planetary Resources is a real company, based in Seattle, Washington.

Their Mission

Planetary Resources’ mission is clear: apply commercial, innovative techniques to explore space. We will develop low-cost robotic spacecraft to explore the thousands of resource-rich asteroids within our reach. We will learn everything we can about them, then develop the most efficient capabilities to deliver these resources directly to both space-based and terrestrial customers. Asteroid mining may sound like fiction, but it’s just science.

Their investors and advisors come from places such as Google, Yahoo, Goldman Sachs, as well as several professors and even a retired US Airforce General. If I were a college studant, and single, I would happily move to Seattle for this opportunity.