Category Archives: Words!


noun: “playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor.” (OED)

To me, it speaks of playfulness, perhaps some randomness, a willingness to play along and see where things go. Perhaps somewhere between the Pkunk and Dirk Gently.

If you played the old M:tG ‘Shandalar’ computer game[1], you may remember this card.

But I’m speaking of whimsy today because I had recently noticed that I had been feeling much less of it my life, due to some stressful circumstances that (I think) have now dissipated. You may have been following my writing for a while, and this is a large part of why I have not written in months, with the few sporadic mostly-picture posts being the most that I could put together.

I’ve been working with my life coach for some time now, on a number of things. One of the largest ones was finding space to create. I had spent a lot of time focusing on making physical and temporal space for creation, but had forgotten about creating the mental space, to be able to deal with distractions.

I almost said ‘push away’ distractions, but similar to the discussion of Saidin and Saidar, pushing away distractions is okay as a crutch, but being able to relax into the flow is much more powerful.

Either way, I’m excited to be feeling creative again, and have some ideas[2] about how to keep this going, even through the next set of distractions that will inevitably crop up.

It’s going to be an interesting year, thanks for being here with me.

-Nayrb 😀

[1]Still one of my favourite games of all time, and I think, even with all its faults, the best M:tG computer game.

[2]Interestingly, a bunch of these are around meditation, which I feel I only discovered very recently.

Burning Man 2015 in Pictures LX: Graffiti at the Base of the Man, Part Three!

When we last saw our intrepid adventurers, they were investigating the ‘interesting’ keming present in the maze at the base of the Man. Today, we follow them as they enter a more disturbing part of the maze:

Important words to journey by.
Important words to journey by.
I'm not sure which is more disturbing: the writing or the words...
I’m not sure which is more disturbing: the writing or the words…
This was my favourite installation at the Ontario Science Centre 'A Question of Truth'.
This was my favourite installation at the Ontario Science Centre ‘A Question of Truth'[1].
Some directions.
Some directions.
First one to decode this message gets a prize!
First one to decode this message gets a prize!
The maze is at an end!  We have gazed up and beheld the Man!
The maze is at an end! We have gazed up and beheld the Man!
This was the most beautiful sound and visual installation, mixing paper with wood and organ music.  We wanted to stay here forever.
This was the most beautiful sound and visual installation, mixing paper with wood and organ music. We wanted to stay here forever.
The regional burns[2] were starting!  Time to get moving!
The regional burns[2] were starting! Time to get moving!

[1]Ontario Science Centre’s “A Question of Truth”, exploring subjectivity and other difficult topics far before it was customary to do so (IIRC, there was a large controversy over it, when it opened in the ’90s.)

[2]Saturday night was traditionally reserved for the Man burn, Sunday night for the Temple burn. Many people brought other installations to burn at the end of the festival, some of these were burned on Friday night. (In 2013, each or many of the regional Burns sent an installation to be burned on Friday night, hence it being known as the ‘regional burns’.)

Burning Man 2015 in Pictures LIX: Graffiti at the Base of the Man, Part Two!

When last we saw our heroes, they were exploring the maze-like structure under the Man, analyzing its graffiti and cataloguing its denizens.

Today, we catch up with them in media res, as they are analyzing some interesting keming[1][2]:

Excellent keming.  Or perhaps they are trying to say something else.
Excellent keming. Or perhaps they are trying to say something else.

As you shall see soon, our heroes took this advice to heart:

Let petit mots du chaton.
Let petit mots du chaton.
S is ecstatic to be communing with the flying elephant!
S is ecstatic to be communing with the flying elephant!

Here we see S taking the ‘make wolves[3]’ advice to heart:

Uh. Oh.  She sees her target!  <rawring noises and screams>
Uh. Oh. She sees her target!
Apt advice for certain experiences with fire art.
Apt advice for certain experiences with fire art.

Playa dust has so many uses!:

The respectful graffiti artist uses playa dust.
The respectful graffiti artist uses playa dust.

[1]Keming as expressed by reddit, and the appropriately named ‘flickyeahkeming’ picture blog. (Each of these is regularly nsfw for words.)

[2]Bad ‘Kerning’.

[3]I suspect this may be more of a coyote. Twice as dangerous, but not in any of the ways that you expect!

The Art and Words of Comics

What do you look for when you’re reading a comic? The words? The art? Both? Does one interfere with the other?

I was talking with S recently, and I was extolling the virtues of Casey and Andy[1], one of my favourite web comics. S mentioned that she had tried to read it multiple times (often at my behest), but had been unable to get into it because of the art[3].

For me, I had briefly noticed the bad art very early on in the run, but the ideas he played with, especially with non-standard comic framing were more than worth it. (And it didn’t really bother me much at all.)

Thinking about it, I realized that the webcomics I like are generally very simple art-wise. I’m not sure if I actively prefer webcomics with worse art, but I may prefer those with simpler art. Some of the ones I read most often:

Questionable Content (mature themes, sometimes nsfw)
Order of the Stick

have very simple art, perhaps well done (I think), but very simple lines and drawing.

Some of my other favourites are still simple, but (I think) most would say that they are reasonable artists:

Prequel Adventure
SSDD (sometimes nsfw)

I’ve stopped reading:
Dr. McNinja
Goblins (often disturbing cartoon violence)

perhaps because of the more complex/busy art. I know I stopped reading Goblins because I find the art a little too gory/uncanny valley/disquieting.

I also enjoy:

Cyanide & Happiness (Trigger warnings)
asdfmovie (NSFW/warning/etc.)

But they are both incredibly simple art. Cyanide & Happiness is probably the worst art of any on this list, but I enjoy it because of the humour.

Among the graphic novels I’ve enjoyed are:

Transmetropolitan (nsfw, probably triggers in there too)
Watchmen (natch) (movie was rated R)
Ex Machina (some adult themes)

I feel that all of these, their art enhances the story. In Transmet, it really brings the world alive, and it works that you have a really busy future city, where everything is happening all the time. You also get important information about Spider’s personality and how he treats people. Watchmen is just a work of beauty woven on so many levels, and I like the vibrant colours of Ex Machina. I feel that something more realistic would almost detract, bring things closer to the uncanny valley, perhaps.

Interestingly, I have a perhaps similar reaction to music, that when I’m listening to a piece of music, I can really only listen to the music part of it, the words I can almost never hear, except when they are very clearly in the foreground, and/or I’ve heard them many times before. This may be related to being an instrumentalist in my previous life.

tl;dr: I like the words of web comics. I like it when the art is simple, or when the art if more complex and is cast in a supporting role to the story. Art more than that can detract (for me, at least) from the words, which (in comics) are my favourite part.

[1]This comic is perhaps one of his more bizarre comics, but I think a fair example of his artistic style/talent. He mentioned in his AMA[2] that “I realized I hated doing the artwork. I just liked telling jokes to people and the art was a necessity for it. That was the main reason I stopped making the comic.”

[2]Also, you probably know him as Andy Weir, the guy who wrote ‘The Martian‘.

[3]You can see a takedown of his drawing of a different comic called ‘Cheshire Crossing’ here.

No Basis for a System of Government!

ARTHUR: Old woman!
ARTHUR: Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?
DENNIS: I’m thirty seven.
DENNIS: I’m thirty seven — I’m not old!
ARTHUR: Well, I can’t just call you `Man’.
DENNIS: Well, you could say `Dennis’.

As you’re reading this, I will no longer be able to pretend to be Dennis in quite the same way.

I think I’m at peace with this (although it is really fun to be able to say those lines and have them ring truer than usual).

Speaking of being at peace with things, I wonder if meditation and relaxation can help you deal with nightmares.

Anyways, off to my day off. Enjoy the video!

[script link]

The Name’s the Thing

Last week, I was talking with D, and he mentioned that the name of this blog ‘Sometimes Egregious, Always Gregarious’, because the words are more complex than necessary, because many people don’t know what ‘egregious’ means[1], might turn people away[2], and thus be unduly limiting. In a way, it might act as a filter on those who might read it.

I responded that I don’t see it that way at all. I chose those words because they seemed to fit, and when I looked back, I could find many reasons why that was so[3].

Some might say that my entire blog is itself a filter, and I’m the only one that would enjoy it in its entirety. I am at peace with this notion. At the moment, I’m writing the things that I want to write that I think people might be interested in. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes it’s a completely different audience than the previous post.

At the same time, I use the words that flow naturally when I’m talking about a particular topic. As when I’m teaching, I try to notice when I’m talking about something when not everyone would have the appropriate background, and I’m sure jargon will creep in, as it’s useful for being precise and concise. (Also, I love big words, I love the sound and taste of them, and I could never fully give them up.)

[1]Interesting that ‘gregarious’ is considered much more common. They seem pretty similar to me, but what do I know?

[2]Also, ‘‘ feels easy to me, but I realize many people read on mobile.

[3]I’m also really enjoying having some of these thoughts I’ve had kicking around in my head now in blog posts, so that I can refer to them as a link rather than having to write them out each time.

Deadlines are a Clarity Crutch

I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. At one point I said that the amount of work I do is proportional only to the number of deadlines I have, not proportional to anything else. (I think this is one of the reasons I favour daily 5-minute standups. They allow a daily reset of expectations, along with a deadline to work towards each day.)

So, deadlines proportional to accomplishment. Daily blogging something to show for your year something something etcetera[1]. But today I wanted to talk about the mental clarity that arrives as you’re approaching a deadline.

You have a task/deed to accomplish, you have a fixed time when it is due. As the time gets closer, the light cone[2] of possible ways to solve the problem shrinks. You push aside a large number of extraneous things[3], choose how solved you can get the problem in the time alloted, and get it done.

There’s the standard ‘good, fast, and cheap…pick two’. It feels like a lot of this clarity comes from having chosen the speed. As the time grows shorter, the number of ways you can now spend your mental focus budget on the task becomes manageable.

So, knowing this, how do we compensate? More frequent deadlines do actually seem to help, but that’s more of a forcing a solution, rather than relaxing into a solution.

What is it about the problem that is making you pause? Is your brain working on it in the background? (Does this mean the fallow time is necessary?) Are there parts you can hive off? Can you draw a large diagram? Can you put it in a spreadsheet or table?

Or perhaps the elephant in the room: If it is so difficult to find mental focus, what do you need to change about your environment?

[1]Until writing this I didn’t know that the ampersand ‘&’ was a ligature of ‘et’, and ‘etcetera’ was often written ‘&c.’

[2]Light Cones are also fascinating. I use them often in my mental model.

[3]In undergrad, we used to say that we enjoyed exam time, because we could push everything else away and focus, and not face opprobrium.

Which ‘Magic Numbers’ do You Use?

I was talking with S earlier this week, and the idea came up for a post about the numbers that I remember and use for estimation. I enjoy the sobriquet ‘Magic Numbers’.

‘Magic Numbers’. They’re considered bad practice[1] in programming, but are such a useful and helpful part of human ‘back of the envelope‘ problem solving[2].


The ‘Magic Number’ which precipitated this post was the fact that one tonne[3] of water is one cubic meter in volume. Interestingly, this is actually a number of interlocking ‘Magic Numbers’, including: One tonne is one thousand kilograms, water has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimetre (‘density of 1’), one thousand is 10x10x10, one tonne is one thousand liters of water, one liter is one kilogram, etc, etc…

I mostly enjoy using this to respond to ‘I could eat a tonne of this’, or to estimate whether you could fit a tankerfull of oil in an office.

It is commonly known that ice will float on water, because the hydrogen bonds give the water molecules a structure which is more spaced out and less dense than close packed[4]. Also, water has its greatest density of about one at about 4 degrees C.


Incidentally, hydrocarbons have a density of about 0.7, so the tankerful of oil mentioned above would rather difficult to swim in. This 0.7 is close enough to 1.0 so as to make no difference for most back of the envelope questions. Strong acids are known to have densities greater than one[5], but that’s not really that useful most of the time.

The Earth has a density of on the order of five. Interestingly, while reading this, I learned that granite and quartz have a density of about three, much less than I had been assuming. No wonder pumice can float.

Gold has a density of about 20 (19 and change, when that matters). Osmium and Iridium are the densest, at around 22 and change.

On the list of interesting curiosities, Saturn is the only planet in the solar system known to have a density less than one, about 0.7! This was only useful in winning a scientific trivia contest with TJFN when I was young.

Scientific Constants:

Avogadro’s number is 6e23, Coulomb’s constant is 9e9, the ideal gas constant is 8.314 (I remember that one because it includes pi), G is 6.67e-11, the Planck constant is 6.63e-34. Most of these are useless without things like the mass or charge of an electron or proton. The only one I use is Avogadro’s number, and that’s largely to calculate how much of your body is made up of atoms which were once part of a particular famous person[7].

For atoms, what I’ve found useful is the fact that a proton is about 2000 times heavier than an electron, and that chemical bond distances are measured in Angstroms (1e-10m).

c is 3e8m/s, which is useful for Star Trek and Star Wars-type arguments. One atmosphere is 101.325kPa, or about 30 feet of water (which is important for divers).

Math constants:

Pi is 3.14159, or 22/7[6] to its friends. Pi comes up a lot.

e is about 2.718. e doesn’t come up very often.

log10(1) = 0
log10(2) ~= 0.301
log10(3) ~= 0.477
log10(7) ~= 0.845
log10(10) = 1

With these three, you can calculate all of the logarithms from one to ten, and much of everything else. In high school, we memorized all of the perfect squares up to 100^2, but most of those have fled from memory.

The (x+y)(x-y) = x^2 – y^2 trick still comes in handy, though.

Large Things:

The CN Tower is 553m tall, really only useful in Toronto.

The Earth has a radius of about 6380m, has an orbit of 93e6 miles (150e6km), useful for things like Dyson Sphere and Red Giant arguments.

The Earth is about 6e24kg, has a diameter of about 40,000km (at the equator), axial tilt of about 23.5 degrees (Uranus is the only planet with an axial tilt significantly greater, almost sideways!).

The sun is about 400x larger than the moon, and is about 400x further away, and this is why solar eclipses work.


1.609 km/mi (0.621 mi/km), 2.54 cm/in (by law!), 9/5+32 degrees C-> degrees F.

SGD, AUD, CAD, USD, EUR, GBP are pretty close in value, and are in that approximate order with only a factor of about 2 separating them. HKD has maybe 6-8 times per unit, CNY is in that general ballpark, and JPY has about 100 times per unit.


My handspan is about 10″, which is very useful for measuring things.

Stories are about 2m tall.

3600s/hour, 86400 seconds per day, the Unix epoch started 1970-01-01, useful if you spend any time coding, or want to know how long something will take at ‘x per second’. (100k seconds per day is a useful gross approximation for many applications.)

And I would be remiss if I left out my favourite physics approximation (from the same class where I learned about Stirling’s approximation):

sqrt(10) ~= pi.

Thank you and good night.

[1]Although, compare some cases where they are considered not quite so bad practice.

[2]They are also almost essential for proper answering of ‘Fermi Questions‘.

[3]’Tonne’ means metric tonne, or 1000 kg. You can tell because it’s spelled in the French way, and SI (Systeme Internationale) was brought in while France was a preeminent country.

[4]I didn’t know what the actual structure of ice was before looking it up. Apparently, it’s tessellating hexagonal rings.

[5]’Add acid to water, like you oughta’, else you may melt the top of your beaker off.

[6]Really, it isn’t, but it’s a useful approximation sometimes.

[7]With some reasonable approximations, I remember it being billions of atoms with each breath.

Brain Structure vs. Brain Thoughts vs. Hash Functions

So, I was doing a knowledge transfer session[1] last week, and I was struck by the way that my brain seemed to be answering the questions. It felt almost like there was a structure inside that was taking the input from the questions, and outputting the answers in a different part of the brain.

It felt different from the hash functions that I mentioned before. Those felt like they were hash functions[2] implemented in software, the structure above felt more like inflexible hardware, like you put a problem in, it or something upstream abstracts the problem to a useable form, it spits the answer out automatically and gives you that answer before you know it.

Hardware can be fun sometimes.

But this was the first time that I really felt that thoughts and reactions I was having were completely the result of brain hardware rather than software. It was a most interesting feeling.

It felt more like channels or a Pachinko/Peggle game.

It’s interesting the contrast here. When you’re trying to get something creative out of your brain, it’s like fish jumping out of water, and you’re trying to relax to allow yourself to see them and express them. When you’re answering a question, you’re taking the words in, and passing them through a filter and hash function. When you’re solving a problem, sometimes it’s all processed through some kind of a hardware structure.

Some might use the analogy of sound waves traveling through a Crystalline Entity, but I like the analogy of a collagen structure with the cells removed that concepts can travel through to and from specific places, so you could have a graph in many directions or dimensions, perhaps simultaneously[3]

Your brain structure can be dictating your answers to questions, perhaps not always your thoughts. Fascinating.

[1]PM me if you want to know more!

[2]They felt like hash functions both because they were in software, but more importantly because they each worked in one direction only, or with a specific ‘twig’ not the same as others'[4].

[3]Do these thoughts ever collide?

[4](Other people or other twigs)

Visually ‘Misheard’ Words

‘Foot Locker.’ ‘Foot Looker.’


This was originally going to be a post about visually ‘misheard’ words, where I talk about how visually ‘mishearing’ words may be similar to how I ‘mishear’ words and conversations like a record player slightly too far from the record.

But then I realized that’s just ‘keming‘[2].

So I’m just going to take this time and glory in the beauty of keming.[3]

Have a good night. 😀

[1]Maybe NSFW.

[2]Still maybe NSFW.