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Midas meets Medusa — a symmetry observed

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a little light-hearted lévi-straussian mythologic ]
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Here’s an irresistible example of what I call DoubleQuotes-style thinking:

Midas and Medusa

The details are very well thought out, too — the flowers in Midas‘ hand are still gold, since he’s touched them, but they’re not turned to stone by Medusa‘s gaze since they’re of the vegetable kingdom — whereas the bird in her cage, being of the animal kingdom, looks distinctly gray as though it has been turned to stone.

I’m not sure that the boxed comment “a very brief affair” is right, though — as my son Emlyn‘s commented, It’s a love at first sight that lasts for ever!

**

The other mythological DoubleQuote or conceptual symmetry I very much admire is the one whereby Narcissus, the epitome of visual reflection, is paired with Echo, avatar of reflection’s aural equivalent.

On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — omega worms in science and scripture ]
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As regular readers know, I am interested in Omega — the End, in “alpha and omega” terms — so I was naturally intrigued by this tweet, with Adam Elkus kindly put in my twitter feed and those of others who follow him:

I’m not a “worm scientist” but wanted to know what an omega turn is, so I browsed around a bit and found this diagram:

journal.pbio.1001529.g007
Donnelly et al, Monoaminergic Orchestration of Motor Programs in a Complex C. elegans Behavior

**

Now please don’t imagine I know what that means to a worm scientist — I was expecting something more like the worm in the lowest section of thIs Beatus Apocalypse:

B_Facundus_230v

or maybe this:

Beatus worm turns

from a different Beatus manuscript, where it appears the worm has turned quite a few times.

**

In the unlikely event that I should attempt a translation of St John‘s revelatory vision on the Isle of Patmos into science fiction, be assured that I shall include a reference to that image among my illustrations, with a footnote perhaps, pointing to Mark 9.48:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Today, however, my appreciation for all things apocalyptic must give way to another interest of mine, that of the pervasive use of [node and edge] graphs in our contemporary world. Here again is the central column of that image:

journal.pbio.1001529.g007-middle

It interests me here as yet another illustration of the degree to which graphs serve as a fundamental substrate of our understanding of the world — and hence my continuing interest in their use in game board design — both of which I’ve been exploring in other posts in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • **

    After the glamour of Beatus manuscripts and PLOS worm diagrams, it may seem almost a let down to turn to irregular polyhedra — but the move from two-dimensional graphs to their three-dimensional cousins is a short one, and since we live in what at least appears to be a (spatially) three-dimensional world, one which should also be considered in terms of game board and concept-modelling design.

    The following illustration —

    irregular_polyhedron3

    — and accompanying video, from Filip Visnjic, Irregular Polyhedron Study #1 – Vertex, edge and volume, may accordingly be of interest:

    Irregular Polyhedron Study #1 from Bjørn Gunnar Staal on Vimeo.

    Single birds

    Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — crow, racing pigeon — swan? ]
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    Tablet DQ 600 single birds 75

    See the swan, yeah? Okay!

    **

    When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.. Shakespeare, right? Not so with insights.

    Sources:

  • Robert De Niro et al., Red Lights
  • Robert Krulwich, After Tens of Thousands of Pigeons Vanish, One Comes Back
  • After Tens of Thousands of Pigeons Vanish is an extraordinary tale of what (presumably) happens when a Concorde overflies a mass of racing pigeons — compare the video accompanying How Our Consumer Culture Is Killing Whales.

    Boom!

    Mancala games in culture & nature

    Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — I would rather play with the woodpeckers than with the humans ]
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    Mancala games are games in which “seeds” are places in a series of “holes” in a board, often a carved wooden board, according to mathematical principles of play and capture. Wikipedia:

    Most mancala games share a common general game play. Players begin by placing a certain number of seeds, prescribed for the particular game, in each of the pits on the game board. A player may count their stones to plot the game. A turn consists of removing all seeds from a pit, “sowing” the seeds (placing one in each of the following pits in sequence) and capturing based on the state of board. This leads to the English phrase “count and capture” sometimes used to describe the gameplay. Although the details differ greatly, this general sequence applies to all games.

    ¶¶

    Equipment is typically a board, constructed of various materials, with a series of holes arranged in rows, usually two or four. The materials include clay and other shape-able materials. Some games are more often played with holes dug in the earth, or carved in stone. The holes may be referred to as “depressions”, “pits”, or “houses”. Sometimes, large holes on the ends of the board, called stores, are used for holding the pieces.

    Playing pieces are seeds, beans, stones, cowry shells, half-marbles or other small undifferentiated counters that are placed in and transferred about the holes during play.

    ¶¶

    Among the earliest evidence of the game are fragments of a pottery board and several rock cuts found in Aksumite areas in Matara (in Eritrea) and Yeha (in Ethiopia), which are dated by archaeologists to between the 6th and 7th century AD; the game may have been mentioned by Giyorgis of Segla in his 14th century Ge’ez text Mysteries of Heaven and Earth, where he refers to a game called qarqis, a term used in Ge’ez to refer to both Gebet’a (mancala) and Sant’araz (modern sent’erazh, Ethiopian chess).

    Nota Bene:

    Even when played with glass beads, mancala games are not even close to the Glass Bead Game as Hermann Hesse describes it, since their moves have nothing to do with cultural citation or meanings, let along their contrapuntal connections and correspondences, but are indifferent markers, inherently fungible.

    **

    It was 3 Quarks Daily that introduced me to the avian version of mancala games in a post that read:

    Acorn woodpeckers drill into trees not in order to find acorns, but in order to make holes in which they can store acorns for later use, especially during the winter.

    As the acorn dries out, it decreases in size, and the woodpecker moves it to a smaller hole. The birds spend an awful lot of time tending to their granaries in this way, transferring acorns from hole to hole as if engaged in some complicated game of solitaire.

    Multiple acorn woodpeckers work together to maintain a single granary, which may be located in a man-made structure – a fence or a wooden building – as well as in a tree trunk. And whereas most woodpecker species are monogamous, acorn woodpeckers take a communal approach to family life. In the bird world, this is called cooperative breeding. Acorn woodpeckers live in groups of up to seven breeding males and three breeding females, plus as many as ten non-breeding helpers. Helpers are young birds who stick around to help their parents raise future broods; only about five per cent of bird species operate in this way.

    **

    Conclusion:

    For myself, I would rather play with the woodpeckers than with the humans.

    Even so, a humanly-wrought board can be very lovely:

    swan mancala board

    That a world-mapping should include our assumptions

    Friday, May 13th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Lorenz’ butterfly : tornado :: Fukushima’s rat : earthquake? + Brussles metro attack ]
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    Brussels map
    Brussels metro & tramway map

    **

    For every unintended consequence, there’s an assumption that was assumed and thus overlooked, forgotten, unfairly assigned to oblivion, amirite? Sometimes we’re fortunate, and a pattern emerges that can then be written into checklists, and repeat unintended consequences subsequently averted, if we heed the checklists, ahem.

    Consider this stunning paragraph, from a Union of concerned Scientists‘ 2013 piece titled Fission Stories #133: Mayflies, and Squirrels, and Rats, …:

    Fukushima Daiichi recently received worldwide media attention when another power outage once again interrupted cooling of the water in the Unit4 spent fuel pool for several hours. The culprits in 2011 were an earthquake that knocked out the normal supply of electricity to the cooling system and a tsunami that disabled the backup power source. This time, a rat was the culprit. It chewed through the insulation on an electrical cable, exposing wires that shorted out and stopped the cooling system. It was also the rat’s final meal as the event also electrocuted the guilty party.

    Part of what’s so conceptually audacious here is the implicit risk equation, okay, perhaps I should call it the implicit risk approximation:

    earthquake = rat

    **

    Take the Brussels metro attack: in my less-than-graphically-ideal mapping below, the left hand column shows what was intanded by the police to be the order of events as they initiated them in response to the airport attack a little earlier:

    01

    while the two centered annotations in red indicate the unverified assumption that interfered with the sequence of events as intended by the police, and the right hand column shows what actually transpired.

    Exceopt that the situation was wildly more complex than that — a point not germane to my argument here, but elaborated upon in today’s WaPo article, The email that was supposed to prevent the Brussels metro attack was sent to the wrong address. Which see.

    **

    Getting back to Fukushima, the earthquake and the rat, perhaps we can now take the title of Edward Lorenz‘ remarable paper that gave us the term “butterfly effect” — Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas? — out of the realm of speculation, and into the realm of improbable yet actualized comparables, by rephrasing it thus: Predictability: Does the Bite of a Rat’s Teeth in Fukushima Have Comparable Effect to an Earthquake in Fukushima?

    Oh, and just because something is predictable doesn’t mean it’s predicted — and just because something is predicted doesn’t mean the prediction will be heard or heeded.

    And that’s an anticipable consequence of the way we are.

    **

    In the matter of Quixote:

    I have this quixotic wish to see a map of global dependencies — it’s something I’ve thought about ever since Don Beck told me “Y2K is like a lightning bolt: when it strikes and lights up the sky, we will see the contours of our social systems” — and I’ve talked about it here before, in eg Mapping our interdependencies and vulnerabilities [with a glance at Y2K].

    It’s a windmill, agreed — a glorious windmill! — and indeed, combining all our potential assumptions about even one single Belgian metro station in the course of just one particular morning and adding them to a map — or a checklist — would be another.

    Tilting at windmills, however, is one of the great games of the imagination, frowned upon by all the righteously serious among us, well-suited to poets — and having the potential to help us avoid those damned unintended consequences.


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