Saturday, November 28, 2009
Thanksgiving Play Redux ;-)
Friday, November 27, 2009
Germany, by the numbers ;-)here was Juan (sic ;-) lone request in the comments on monday's lesson for more solid data about Germany.
So here are some more
Monday, November 23, 2009
Teaching children to think :-)s regular readers of this blog may know, I get asked occasionally to teach a school class a lesson outside their regular curriculum. And since much modern education seems to consist of rote learning of facts, I try to teach the children - on a meta-level - to become critical thinkers too. I have a list of 20 or so subjects from which they can choose, this particular class chose (ostensibly) geography. I also prefer to get the children to do their own experiments rather than me giving boring full-frontal lectures; I find they retain better what they learned. So this time I split the class into 6 groups of 6 children each and asked the ostensibly simple question :-
Where is the centre of our country (Germany) ?
For each of the groups I had prepared a sheet of paper showing an outline of the country, and on the teacher's desk I had further tools should they need them :- 6 finely divided rulers, 6 compasses, cardboard, glue, pins, a wall map, a globe, a watering can and a pocket calculator etc.
Access to the web, e.g. Google or Wikipedia was not allowed, just the materials provided. Oh, and each group was allowed to take just one approach upon which they had to agree. The whole class would discuss each approach. So let me tell you how the lesson went :-)
Group one argued that 'the middle' is defined as 'halfway between the edges'. So, using a ruler and scissors, they trimmed their sheet of paper to a right rectangle abutting the north,east,south and west limits of the country. Then they folded this sheet both vertically and horizontally so that the edges met. The point where the creases crossed was - they claimed - the middle of the country. I told that their method would put them in Niederdorla and there is in fact a marker stone there, claiming this to be the centre of the country. But had they marked the edges right?
So I told them about enclaves and exclaves. After WW1 Belgium redefined the border with Germany as running along the Venn railway line. But there are several (5?) German villages west of that line, exclaves of Germany, surrounded by Belgian territory. Should these exclaves be counted and would it change the result? Well yes, they agreed, the exclaves should be counted; happily it did not change their result :-) And on the fly, I had taught them about non-contiguous exclaves :-)
One of the brighter children then noted that - on the globe - the east and west edges are not parallel. The children learned then and there that all maps distort because you cannot map a sphere accurately onto a plane. We then looked at the classroom wall map of the world and compared the Mercator projection with the globe, seeing how much smaller Greenland is on the globe than on the Mercator projection. I threw up an overhead showing how the cylindrical projection is made, so they learned some projective geometry too. More importantly, never to be forgotten, they learned the meta-lesson that the map is not the territory :-)
Group two decided to get around the edge-parallelism problem by using another method. They found the north (List auf Sylt) and southernmost (Oberstdorf) points and creased their paper along the (non-vertical) line joining them. Ditto for the (non-horizontal) line joining the eastmost(Deschka) and westmost (Isenbruch) points. So they found the middle of the country to be at Bessa (near Kassel). And the meta-lesson learned was that the result which you get may very well depend upon the method used to solve the problem :-)
I then pointed out that if they applied this method to the USA, then the centre of the USA would be somewhere in the Pacific Ocean way off the coast of Canada ! Even using group one's method, the centre of the USA would still be way offshore, even if less so. We all agreed that most Americans would not like this :-)
So there was a controversy about which method is 'right' ;-) Whereupon I asked (innocently ;-) "If you tried to balance either of the maps at the intersection points, would they balance there?". So they pasted their maps onto cardboard I provided and cut around the outline, with the result that neither solution balanced :-(
Groups three and four then decided to do this accurately, but soon found that they had a problem with the offshore islands in the North Sea and the Baltic ;-) Group three decided (arbitrarily) only to consider the contiguous mainland, the part coloured as a flag in this map, claiming the islands (left white in the previous picture) would scarcely influence the result. This led to a discussion about the accuracy of the cutting of the outline. Interposing, I taught them on the fly that e.g. coastlines are fractal* anyway, the answer you get for their length depending on the size of your ruler :-)
I told them that there is an exclave of Germany called Büsingen am Hochrhein which is surrounded by Switzerland, what about that? They decided to treat it like an island, Group three ignoring it ;-)
As a Scotsman, I objected strongly to their leaving off the islands. I showed them Scotland on the wall map; they saw that the mainland is only a part of the territory. their approximation for Germany would not work for Scotland :-(
Meta-lesson? Choose your approximations carefully!
The 'centre of gravity' turned out to be about 3 miles SW of the Niederdorla intersection which group one had found as described above.The mainland C.o.G is at Landstreit near Eisenach.
Group four contained a lad whose parents were keen sailors. He got around the problem of the non-contiguous offshore islands by arguing that a country includes the 12-mile sea limit in its ownership and cut his cardboard map appropriately. Of course he got a different result (which put the centre in Dingelstädt-Silberhausen). I pointed out that Ernst Thalmann Island, an uninhabited island off the coast of Cuba had been given by Cuba to East Germany in the old communist days (GDR) and so it too may now be part of Germany (status unclear). So I asked him about the 12-mile limit there, and pointed out that Ernst Thalmann Island was so far away that although small, it would leverage the balance point quite considerably. They booed ;-)
Meta-lesson? How do you cope with unpopular but valid objections?
Group five objected that balancing the cardboard cut-outs was only a two-dimensional approximation. To do it 'properly' they would need to build a 3D model of Germany above sea-level and see where that balanced (it would be in Krebeck, about 11 miles east of Göttingen). And since that it would be hard to do, suggested that we define the 'middle' as the point minimising the distance from all the mainland borders. That would put them in Heiligenstadt-Flinsberg.
Group six claimed Germany was for the people and asked where was the centre of the population? I told them that would put them in Spangenberg, which is about 20 miles SE of Kassel, because the east was populated more sparsely than the west. And that their (statistical) definition was dynamic, changing every time someone moved :-(
So there we had it, six different groups, six different answers ;-)
As the final bell rang, one bright lass asked "What was the watering can for?" , and the answer was again a piece of meta-knowledge "Some tools are not always useful to solve your problem, even though readily available ;-)"
Meta-lessons? Define your terms (What is 'Germany'?); get agreement on tools and methodology; agree what approximations are valid, have a procedure for coping with objections, above all, learn to be critical thinkers , not just rote learners :-)
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Sarah Palin : Going Roguehat a godawful boring book, listing the miserable failures of an ignoramus.
But at least my top 20 anagrams provide us with some entertainment :-
Friday, November 20, 2009
Motorcycle Sculptures :-)ontinuing on the theme of motorcycles, I want to show you some motorcycle sculptures today. These are available directly from the artist himself at Lilleart. These three photos I took at Mrs.Brand's Sunday brunch earlier in the week, where the sculptures were on display. For orientation, the price was around €260 w/o P&P. They are made from recycled pieces of old tools, you can recognise the hammerhead used as the tank on the lower photos and the iron in the top one.
Susan (UK) said "Want one! Before Xmas please!!" Just follow the link I gave. If you cannot read German send me an email and I'll translate your request to him.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Best UK Bike Museumsmotorcycle club on the Belgian/German border has written to me saying they are planning a round trip through the UK next year and ask me 'international long distance biker' about the best British motorcycle museums. This may interest my blog readers too, so here is my personal six-pack and their ratings :-
Monday, November 16, 2009
Whence 'America' ?here did the name 'America' come from? Not just the USA, but the whole continent is named thus. Should it really be Columbusland? Waldseemuller and Ringmann's 1507 treatise 'Introduction to Cosmography' declared that a fourth part of the world had recently been discovered by the Italian merchant Amerigo Vespucci, and in his honour they had decided to give it a name: America.
Even though Columbus, Vespucci, and other early explorers all insisted that they had reached the far-eastern limits of Asia, Waldseemuller's famous (and long lost) 360° map of the whole world dated 1507 clearly shows both coasts of America, albeit a very thin America, and even the Pacific ocean! Thus America was a continent in its own right and thus deserved its own name. But where did the name come from?
Perhaps the name derives from Richard Ap Meryk (or Amerike), who was the main sponsor of John Cabot's voyages to Newfoundland (which pre-dated Vespucci)? I've seen a working 1:1 replica of Cabot's tiny ship when visiting Bristol (UK), back in 2006. Richard Ameryk (the spelling varies), who was HM the King's Customs Officer for Bristol in 1486, 1490 and 1497, later became chief sponsor for John Cabot's expedition to Newfoundland in 1497 and is now thought by many (in the UK) to be the person after whom America was named. Columbus actually discovered the West Indies.
Gavin Menzies in his book: "1421 : The Year China Discovered the World" suggests how these "Germanic scholars based in the mountains of eastern France" (he means Waldseemuller and Ringmann) could have come up with such a map. The Chinese had circumnavigated the world and provided this information to the courts of Europe, Menzies claims. In this he also considers the 1666 map by Nicholas Visscher, which shows the outline of Western Australia, drawn several years BEFORE Captain Cook "discovered" it.
Or is the name 'America' just an erudite pun? ;-) Toby Lester has written "The name America, for example, very probably represents not just a tip of the hat to Amerigo Vespucci but also a multilingual pun that can mean both "born new" and "no-place-land" - a playful coinage that seems to have inspired Sir Thomas More to invent his new world across the ocean, one meaning of which was also "no-place": Utopia."
Me? I think it is no coincidence that 500 years ago - anticipating today's Hollywood - a popular piece of fashion was called A Merkin which, by the way, is a pubic hair wig ;-)
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This, That and The Other ;-)ack in the puritanical 1960s when I lived in London (UK) the local church would hold charity events in their church hall. Often it was a shopping bazar with home-baked cakes and the like on sale. Delicious indeed :-)
But on one occasion there was an ecumenical event. The local catholic nuns came and challenged all and sundry in a Scrabble competition. Proceeds to go to the nunnery.
I played third and I got these initial letters, and was VERY tempted to go for the full lay-down bonus, but chickened out in view of the catholic nuns' likely prudishness ;-)
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
WASP :-(got a badly spelled email recently from the USA wherein an Obama-hater - inter alia - claimed he was proud to be a WASP = a White Anglow Saxon Protestint (sic!). Judging by the way he spells in English (badly), I doubt very much whether he could even READ Anglo-Saxon! Here you may try one of the classics sir :-
Heald þu nu, hruse, nu hæleð ne moston/, eorla æhte. Hwæt, hyt ær on ðe gode begeaton. Guðdeað fornam, feorhbealo/ frecne, fyra/ gehwylcne leoda minra, þara/ ðe þis lif/ ofgeaf, gesawon seledream. Ic/ nah hwa sweord wege oððe feormie/ fæted wæge, dryncfæt deore; duguð/ ellor sceoc/. Sceal se hearda helm hyrsted/ golde fætum befeallen; feormynd swefað, þa ðe beadogriman bywan sceoldon, ge swylce seo herepad, sio æt hilde gebad ofer borda gebræc bite irena, brosnað æfter beorne. Ne mæg byrnan hring æfter wigfruman/ wide feran, hæleðum be healfe. Næs hearpan wyn, gomen gleobeames, ne god hafoc geond sæl swingeð, ne se swifta mearh burhstede beateð. Bealocwealm hafað fela feorhcynna forð/ onsended. Swa giomormod giohðo mænde an æfter eallum, unbliðe hwearf/ dæges ond nihtes, oððæt deaðes wylm hran æt heortan.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Germany, here, is renowned for the quality of its beers due to the Reinheitsgebot purity laws for all breweries, dating back from 1516.
So it has taken me over a week to come up with a Strange Brew, this one is imported from China! We had dined in a chinese restaurant in Detmold and the fragile-looking little waitress gave us this bottle as a parting gift. I'm not sure whether it was to en-courage or dis-courage our return ;-)
Anyway, I gave it a try, and had selected a Jever for comparison. Jever is a bitter East-fresian pils, brewed on Germany's north sea coast, and one of the beers we drink regularly :-) OTOH, Tsingtao is made with rice :-(
The head on the Tsingtao disappeared within 2 seconds leaving a very flat beer. By comparison, it takes several minutes for the Jever's head to subside. The taste was rather nondescript; perhaps it is intended to be drunk american style, i.e. so cold that your tastebuds freeze! With american beers, this is generally an advantage, I find. All in all, chinese beer - if this is typical - is an experiment I will not be repeating.
Meanwhile pop-pickers, as Jimmy would say, here are Cream performing Strange Brew. Get a load of Clapton's obligatory Jimi-Hendrix-style hair in this 1960's B&W video :-)
Liz Ditz (USA) has her own Strange Brew recipe :-
"Tsingtao is widely available in the US -- well, in California, anyway.
I've had it a few times. I don't care for beer with Chinese food,
prefering a sweetish white wine.
This alcoholic ginger beer cocktail might amuse you.
Personally, I like it a lot, although I leave out the lime juice
History of Moscow Mule: In 1941, John G. Martin of Heublein, spirits and food distributor in east coast and Jack Morgan, Owner of the Cock'n Bull bar in Sunset Strip, Hollywood met in a bar in Los Angeles. Together they invented Moscow Mule by mixing Morgan's ginger beer with Smirnoff Vodka and lime in order to market the proprietor's struggling Cock'n Bull's ginger-beer franchise. They ordered specially engraved copper mugs and Martin set off to market it in the bars around the country. He bought one of the first Polaroid cameras and asked barmen to pose with a Moscow Mule copper mug and a bottle of Smirnoff vodka. Then he would leave one copy of the photo at the bar and take a second copy to the bar next door to show them that their competitors were selling their concoction. Between 1947 and 1950, thanks to their invention, Smirnoff vodka case columns more than tripled and nearly doubled in 1951. "
Monday, November 9, 2009
20 years ago today...
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Celebrating Claude ShannonThe local HNF - the world's largest computer museum - is holding a special exhibition on Claude Shannon, the man who came up with Information Theory. The opening ceremony was on thursday evening and I managed to wangle an invitation :-)
I had a special reason for wanting to attend. I happen to own a rare copy of the second edition of his famous 1948 book (shown on the left below). And since two of the US guest speakers were Dr.Peggy Shannon - Claude Shannon's daughter - and the curator of the MIT museum, I got them both to autograph my copy :-) In exchange, I gave them an autographed copy of one of my papers (in English).
Another plus was that Axel Roch was in attendance, who has just had his Ph.D. thesis published in a commercial version. It is an expanded version, examining all the aspects of Claude Shannon's life, from communication theorist, via hobby juggler and machine constructor to designer of tracking HW for anti-aircraft guns. The book is shown on the right, above. The sketches therein were drawn by Shannon personally :-)
I also got to meet several old friends, e.g. Rudolf Staritz, who was Admiral Canaris's crypto-adjutant in WW2. He's 88 now, but still looks healthy for his age :-) At one time he had a collection of (italian) motorcycles bigger than mine (or even Paul's) :-)
The opening ceremony began with two magnificent Brit jugglers, Feeding the Fish :-) Should you ever get a chance to go see one of their performances, please do so. Coincidentally, Shannon was not the only top academic into juggling, Ron Graham being a case in point. Ron juggled under the nom de plume of Tom Odda, mischieviously chosen by him because it is an extremely vulgar expression in chinese ;-)
Saturday, November 7, 2009
So run, friend ;-)Blogfriend Four Dinners and his mate Cappy are doing an internet radio show tonight. But sadly, I'll miss the first half of it :-( So I'll try again next saturday 9-11 pm UK time to catch it, with sketches about fonder ruins, finer rounds, Sir No-Refund, funnier rods, no rinsed fur, rider of nuns(!), no furred sin, nuder for sin, snored in fur, order fun sin(!), and any other anagrams of my mate 'Four Dinners' that you can think of ;-)
Friday, November 6, 2009
Pocket Enigma, revisitedack in January of 2004, I wrote a paper for Cryptologia (the West Point code-breakers' journal) reviewing Brian Hargrave's Pocket Enigma and showing how to cryptanalyse it using pencil and paper only. It is effectively a single rotor Hebern machine of 1920's vintage. See my paper in Cryptologia Volume XXVIII Nr 1.
Now, almost six years later, I got an email from Bertie Smith at Sungard.com who wrote "... I have knocked up a (very simple) c++ application which encapsulates the Pocket Enigma. Lower case letters only are handled. I did it to avoid having to decode long strings from my 5 year old son :-)...". So, if anyone is interested in getting a copy, Bertie has source code and a Windows executable available. His email address is email@example.com :-)
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Indian Summer, Germany, November, 2009
ook this using a shoulder-cam. Camera mounted on an octopus-footclip attached to my left shoulder so that I could have both hands on the steering wheel. I just wanted to give you all an impression of the beautiful Indian Summer we are having this year. Shame about the big-block pixelly artefacts which the YouTube compression algorithm has put into the video :-( The original .avi has much better resolution, but takes 1 MB per second :-(
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Monday, November 2, 2009
A Black Death Graveyard for Neuenbekenhen hiking through the woods a couple of miles south of the village of Neuenbeken last week I came across a 17th century Black Death graveyard. There were a dozen hastily erected (and unengraved) headstones gathering moss and a modern central memorial stone as both shown here in the photos below. Thinking 3 to 400 years is enough to make it safe, I entered and took these photos.
Between 1347 and 1353 Europe suffered a pandemic which wiped out a third of the population; the bubonic plague. This recurred every hundred years or so; in the village of Neuenbeken again in the 17th century. They carted the plague dead several miles outside the village and buried them in the woods, wanting any source of infection to be well away from the village (and downwind of themselves too).
The plague (Yersinia pestis bacteria) was alledgedly carried by rats and fleas although the Jews were assigned an unfair(?) portion of the blame. The infection went from village to village accompanying the travelling merchants (often Jews). This correlation led to anti-semitism, the Jews being blamed for 'poisoning the well-water'. Nowadays, we know that Yersinia pestis bacteria can survive up to 3 weeks in clothing (as can fleas), so this may be how they travelled on a healthy traveller from village to village.
Of course it didn't help that the Catholic church whipped up a religious frenzy, flagellants exposed their open wounds to the bacteria making them more likely to get the plague, and people travelling around as pilgrims looking for help (from St.Rochus).
Venice came up with a good idea, quarantining all ships for 40 days (twice the incubation period) upon arrival in port. That kept the seamen on board, but didn't stop the ships' rats running down the tie-ropes :-(
It's amazing how much of our cultural history I encounter when on these geocaching hikes through the countryside! It's becoming a very educational hobby indeed :-)
PS: I wrote this for Halloween, but forgot to blog it at the time :-(
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