Thursday, March 15, 2018

My laptop's musical tastes

The machine seems to be developing a mind of its own.

Yesterday I was working on the 4th Applied Topology book right up until half an hour before a friend was due to arrive, and I was playing a Youtube video of Kalman's Countess Marica for background music. Come quitting time, I closed the laptop and went out into the living room to be social.

All was quiet for about fifteen minutes; then suddenly I heard raised voices. I was rather alarmed, because the speakers didn't seem to be at all happy - though I couldn't make out what they were saying - and the sounds seemed to come from the east side of the house. Was somebody berating our elderly neighbor? Did I need to rush to the rescue? I took a look outside, couldn't see anybody.

Then the speakers quit arguing and started to sing, "Szep Varos Kolosvar," which is one of my favorite numbers from, you guessed it, Countess Marica. Mystery (sort of) solved! It was my laptop - which happened to be located halfway between our living room and Claire's house - making the noises.

At the end of "Szep Varos Kolosvar," the music stopped.

You know, usually whatever I'm watching or listening to on the laptop stops when I close the lid. If the operetta had continued without stopping at all, I would have shrugged and put it down to my ignorance and the possibility I'd inadvertently changed some setting.

But what could cause the thing to shut off the music, wait fifteen minutes, resume playing the operetta... and then stop again?

I am now imagining the laptop thinking something like, "Oh, darn it, she stopped right before my favorite number... Hmm, I don't think she's coming back any time soon... To hell with the settings, I'm going to resume the operetta just long enough to listen to "Szep Varos Kolosvar."

And here I am typing this blog post on the very same machine! I wonder what that will do to our relationship?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Real Life

That disorderly thing called Real Life has been happening with a vengeance around here, mostly around No. 1 Daughter's problems with her pregnancy. Nothing life-threatening, but she's been upset and I've been wearing my Mommy hat instead of my Writer hat. Apologies, and I'll try to think of something interesting tomorrow.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Axioms and Truth

Don’t worry: there will be no math.

Recently I’ve seen a number of posts and articles in which the writers try to talk about axioms and get it wrong. Therefore, this rant.

The writers will keep mis-defining axioms. To boil the definitions down to the simplest possible statement: “An axiom is a statement which is self-evidently true.”

Uh, no.

Axioms are more like rules of the game. For example, let’s look at some poker rules, because nobody confuses the rules for any type of poker to be self-evident truths, right? And poker is an easy example for me, because I learned it sitting under the kitchen table and sneaking beers while the nominal adults in the family bet and bluffed.
(Caveat: this is not intended as a complete set of instructions for any given type of poker; I’m trying to keep it down to the minimum necessary to prove my point.)

Five-Card Draw

Probably the simplest form of poker. Some of the rules are:

-Each player gets five cards
-Players may look at their cards
-There is a round of betting
-After the first betting round, each player may discard one to three cards face down and gets an equal number of cards, also face down, from the dealer.
-After all players have had a chance to draw, there is a second round of betting.

These are (some of) the axioms of Five-Card Draw. Note that none of them are self-evidently true; they’re just the rules of the game, and they can be changed to make variations on the game.

Deuces Wild

For instance, suppose you add a new axiom to those above:

-The four deuces (twos) are wild cards, which can be used as any card the holder needs to complete a hand (with one exception, which we don’t need to go into here).

This axiom isn’t “true” either, right? It’s just a new rule which makes for a slightly different game.

Everything’s Wild

You can always add to the number of wild cards by changing that first axiom of Deuces Wild. My relatives, after a sufficient number of beers have been consumed, have been known to play Deuces,Fives, and Jacks Wild, which makes, as you might say, a wild game.

But suppose you change that first rule to “All cards are wild cards.”

Presto, the game collapses. Now you are free to declare that all your cards are aces and show a hand of Five of a Kind, Aces, which would be a winning hand - except that everybody ese has the exact same hand.

Not surprisingly, this is an axiom which is never used.

Keeping it interesting

Mathematicians (okay, I lied just a tiny bit), just like poker players, like to work with sets of axioms that define an interesting set of possibilities. Sometimes these axioms appear to be obvious truths, like the rules of Euclidean geometry, which seem to be true statements about the world you can see. But pull back a bit, look at the whole world. It’s a sphere. And suddenly Euclid’s axioms don’t quite work. Your obvious truths… aren’t true any more.

And that’s why axioms are rules of the game, not self-evident truths.

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