Really Awesome Fun Things That I Would Do If I Had Time On My Hands

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I should probably start by acknowledging that, when I say “really awesome fun things,” I mean what other people mean when they say, “weird, pointless, and nerdy things.” In fact, people often respond to my “really awesome” ideas by giving me a strange look and saying, “But… why?” And the only answer I have for that is, “Because… awesomeness.” So keep that answer in your mind as you read this list and think, “But…why?” about everything on it.

Number One: Codify the language used on my imaginary planet

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

On my imaginary planet, they use a language that, unlike English and other Indo-European languages, has a syllabary rather than an alphabet. That means that each syllable is represented by a symbol. This system is not unique to the people of my planet; it is used in some Earth cultures, most notably Japanese and Cherokee. But it is much less widespread than a phonetic alphabet because it tends to be inefficient and more complex. That is, that’s the way it works on Earth. On my imaginary planet, they use a syllabaric language just because I personally think it would be more fun to make up. It actually won’t be too complex because there are only 100 different syllables in their language, and when I say 100, I mean 49, because they count in base seven. The 49 one-syllable words are one-digit integers, pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. Two-syllable words are adjectives and adverbs.  Three-syllable words are verb roots, (with a fourth syllable suffix determining tense, mood, and aspect) and five-syllable words are nouns. That allows for a vocabulary of as many as 10,001,010,100 words counting in base 7, which is 282,595,348 in base 10. (I should perhaps acknowledge at this point that there is a significant possibility that my math is wrong, because that is a thing that does happen sometimes.) Considering that there are approximately a million words in the English language, (an exact count would be impossible due to the nature of linguistics) it is safe to say that my planet’s imaginary language would not exhaust its capacity for vocabulary. With the exception of verbs and nouns, this language would have a more limited number of words than most Earth languages, and it is my intention for the grammar to also be simpler and involve fewer exceptions to rules. That’s as far as I’ve gotten; I haven’t formed the syllabary or made up any vocabulary yet. Once I do that, the next step is to translate the entire Bible into my imaginary language. And of course, the translation has to be done from the original Hebrew and Greek, because it is vitally important that all of these imaginary people have a scripturally accurate Bible. (Note: This translation could take a while, because I currently do not know Biblical Hebrew at all and only sort of kind of know a little Biblical Greek.)

Number Two: Memorize lots of Pi

I am a little embarrassed to admit that all of Pi that I can remember is 3.1415. Actually, I thought I remembered a few more digits, but it turns out that I had the 9 and the 2 switched. I was right that the next digit after that was a 6, but that was as far as I could get. I used to know a lot more Pi; I think that at one point, I had about 40 digits memorized. Of course, that’s not extremely impressive because there are some extreme nerds out there who have Pi memorized to a bajillion places. But the point is that I want to be one of those extreme nerds because that seems like a fun skill to have.

Number Three: Be an Artificially Artificial Intelligence

I'm pretty sure that's more or less how Cleverbot works.

I’m pretty sure that’s more or less how Cleverbot works.

This game would make use of an anonymous and random internet chat program, of which there are several in existence. Before beginning, I would make a short list of random phrases. In the first chat, I would enter each of these phrases and make a note of how the other person responded. From that point on, anytime someone uses one of my original phrases, I would respond in the same way that person #1 responded. When chatting with person #2, I would use the phrases that had been typed by person #1 in chat #1. Once again, I would keep track of the responses for use in any later situation where someone types those phrases to me. Over the course of hundreds or thousands of chats, I would build up an extensive list telling me how to respond to things that people say. The longer I do this, the more my chat messages would begin to resemble an actual conversation with an actual person.

Number Four: Organize my wardrobe

This is what I need to do. I need to make a list of every non-underwear article of clothing that I own and determine which of them “go with” which others, so that I have a specific list of every outfit I have available. For each outfit, I shall then determine rules for when and where it can be worn depending upon factors such as degree of formality and suitability in cold or hot temperatures. Finally, I shall make a complicated and convoluted chart that tells me when to wear what. The point of this is not to simplify the process of getting dressed or to save time; the point is to have the fun of consulting a chart. Because that’s a very entertaining thing to do.

Number Five: Finish the mancala algorithm

Mancala Board(I use the word “finish” because this is a project that I have started before. See this blog post from June 2012.) When a game of mancala begins, the first player has six choices, and only one of them makes any sense. It is fairly self-apparent that the number of possible moves increases exponentially for each additional move being considered in the calculation, and that the number of good moves also increases to such an extent that there is a very wide variety of possible outcomes. However, the game of mancala is a lot simpler than, for example, chess or scrabble, so it seems that it should be feasible, although ridiculously time-consuming, to create an algorithm determining what the best series of moves is. One goal of this algorithm is to develop a strategy that will always win; another goal is to determine how early in the game it is possible to predict beyond a doubt who will win. As far as I can tell, the best way to develop such an algorithm is to play lots and lots and lots of mancala and try out lots of possible combinations of moves.  It isn’t literally necessary to play out every possible game, but it will be necessary to try out a lot of them, to try out various ways of continuing the game after various sets of opening moves, and to take a mathematical approach to the outcomes.

Number Six: Learn how to talk in Iambic Pentameter

It seems to me that the ultimate test of quick thinking is the ability to maintain a poetic meter and rhyme scheme in conversational speech. One would have to count stressed and unstressed syllables and think of rhymes all while concentrating on communicating whatever it is that one wants to say in the context of the given conversation. I’m not sure if such a thing would be possible, but it would be so totally awesome if it was.

Number Seven: Continue my experiments on whether putting your hands on your face helps you think

Many people, myself included, will sometimes put their hands on their face while they are thinking, and I am curious about why. In the past, I have made up experiments to test the intellectual effects of this gesture. (See these two blog posts from Summer 2012) These tests have obviously been inadequate to answer this question for various reasons. For one thing, they were conducted in the same way, which measured intellectual activity by memorizing a string of random digits. But memorization isn’t the only kind of thought. It seems to me that a strategic game is a more thorough test of effective thought. Chess is the ideal game for this experiment because it has no element of luck and is more intellectually stimulating than certain other games like checkers. (In case anyone is interested, I dislike the game of checkers and am always glad for an opportunity to say so.) The next experiment would involve playing consecutive online chess games, all using the same time limit, for many hours on end. During some games, I would rest my face on my hands while I think, and during other games, I would make sure not to touch my face at all. This experiment would have to be repeated several times on different days in order to decrease the risk of confounding variables. I imagine that I would need to play a few hundred games before calculating the results. Even then, these results would be meaningless unless I came up with further experiments which would involve other people and other methods of measuring intellectual activity.

Number Eight: Memorize cool movies

Star WarsThis one is pretty self-explanatory. It also is quite obvious that the first couple movies that I would memorize would be Star Wars and The Princess Bride. Others that would be high on the list would be the other Star Wars movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Back to the Future trilogy, and The Matrix. You know, all those movies that cool people quote all the time.

Number Nine: Finish this list

This list is incomplete because there are a semi-infinite number of really awesome fun things that I would do if I had time on my hands. There are a bunch that I had intended to include in this partial list that have temporarily slipped my mind, and I’m going to go ahead and post this without them because what I have here is already sufficiently long. Then there are others that I thought of a long time ago and have completely forgotten, and many more that simply haven’t ever occurred to me yet. Just to finish the list would be an unachievable goal. But it would be entertaining to spend a lot of time working on it.

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Rules of Life

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My life is so adjectiveIt’s the first day of the week and this coming Tuesday is the first day of the semester, and that means it’s time for me to reorganize my schedule. Actually, this entails organizing and planning more than just my schedule. For example, as my blog post from yesterday shows, I have recently rearranged my dorm room. It is necessary that I do this at the beginning of each semester. In this particular case, it was especially needed because, over the last couple of months, my room had become messier and less ordered than I usually allow it to get. This state of affairs in my room has been fairly reflective of the state of affairs in my schedule and the way my brain works. The time has clearly come, not to make changes necessarily, but to clearly define the way things sort of are already and should be all the time.

Approximately three months ago, I spent a fair amount of time writing down lists of my life priorities, my opinions about various important things, and my life rules. I further summarized these lists into a few principles so concise that they had the appealing quality of a simple algorithm.  Thus, I concluded, I had clearly defined my personal rules of life, and everything would make sense, and I would be completely capable of solving any problem easily and neatly. It didn’t quite turn out that way. In fact, I would say that between then and now, my life has made very little sense and has been generally uncool in several ways, some of them very specific and others very abstract.

ListThe fault did not lie with my life rules, which were sufficiently logical and axiomatically accurate. The problems lay with my life, which is too complex and too unpredictable to be governed by such a simple set of rules, and my brain, which doesn’t always follow my own rules. You see, I’m so obsessive about organizing and planning things that I feel a need to even script out my thoughts before thinking them. When my brain goes off-script, it’s confusing and disorienting, but this is an inevitable occurrence, because life itself goes off-script all the time.

There are two ways to respond to this conundrum. I could just accept the fact that life is unpredictable, illogical, and full of surprises. The only way to deal with it is to learn how to improvise a little, to be capable of changing my mind or altering my plans, to tolerate change and to accept the fact that sometimes I don’t know what to do or what to think and I need to just take a guess. Alternatively, I could stick with my conviction that everything is quantifiable and that I could make sense out of life if I just had more data.

I've got life down to a scienceTherefore, here are the new rules of my life. My values and priorities will follow the system laid out a few months ago, which is no different from the less specific system I already followed. My schedule will be consistent from week to week and will follow the plan that I wrote a few days ago. This schedule, of course, revolves around my classes. In the meantime, I will be obsessively collecting data on everything. I have developed methods of quantifying cognitive efficiency and emotion, which I will be tracking on a multi-daily basis. I will keep records of time spent sleeping, eating, dancing, studying, and sitting in class. I will be noting the music I hear, the food I eat, the degree of my health, and the weather patterns. Furthermore, each day will be evaluated on a scale measuring it against normality according to a specific standard set forth by my daily schedule. All of these factors will be noted and evaluated for the purpose of discovering any correlations. For example, does less sleep lead to decreased cognitive functioning? Do certain kinds of music motivate me to study more? To what extent does weather affect my emotional state? Am I correct in my presupposition that normality in my schedule leads to a maximum mental ability, good health, and positive emotions? These are all things that I feel a need to know in order to develop successful life algorithms in the future.

Pictured: an actual nutcase

Pictured: an actual nutcase

Anyone who is sufficiently versed in psychological theory, either real or as-seen-on-TV, will probably have come to the conclusion by now that I feel a need to document and record everything in my life in order to compensate for insecurities that stem from a fear of lack of control. Very observant, psychological people. But you haven’t really noticed anything that I don’t already know and wouldn’t have been capable of explaining. I am, in fact, a complete nutcase who is just trying to find a way to make statistical sense out of the confusing, stressful, and frequently unpleasant situation known as life.

Whatever works, right?

My Favorite Songs

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One of my projects over this last month has been to make a list of my favorite 250 songs. (This list is now available on youtube and can be yours for the low, low price of 48 minutes and 13 seconds of your precious time.) As you may be able to guess, this was a pretty time-consuming project. Why, you may ask, would I choose to commit my time and effort to such an utterly pointless endeavor? Well, I happen to have quite an affinity for utterly pointless endeavors if they involve carefully organizing things into lists that will continue to exist in a tangible form after the project is finished. Some people knit or sew or do woodwork because they like their hobbies to produce tangible results; I make lists.

Part One: #250- #201

For the record, only pop songs are eligible for this list. That means that oldies, songs from musicals, and folk songs are all valid possibilities, but hymns and classical music are not. Current hits are eligible if I happen to like them, but very few songs from my own lifetime make the list. There are some, but not many. (A significant portion of the list consists of songs from the 1960s, and I noticed that the year 1967 in particular showed up quite a lot.) In order to be an available option for the list, a song must also have words; instrumentals aren’t allowed. These rules exist because certain types of music can only be judged according to different criteria. (This is especially true for hymns. It wouldn’t be possible to compare a hymn to a pop song according to a standard that takes into account the different things that make them “good”.) Christmas music, songs in languages I don’t know, or especially goofy songs are eligible, but tend not to do particularly well.  That may be less true of my current list than in previous years; I can think of five songs offhand that are in different languages and there might be more I’m forgetting. At least a couple are actually pretty high. Also, a Christmas song was #1 in January 2012, (and #14 this year) but I didn’t really think of that specifically as a Christmas song because it happened to be from the Doctor Who soundtrack, which placed it into yet another genre, and these genres kind of cancelled each other out and led me to treat it as a run-of-the-mill pop song.

Part Two: #200- #151

It is worth noting that my methodology for favorite-song-lists is very specific. It is necessary that I follow the exact same procedure every time I make such a list. The first step is to look through all of the music I own and write down the title of every song that I like enough that I believe it deserves a place on the list. Normally, the final list has one hundred songs rather than two hundred fifty, but the preliminary list always has a large surplus. Usually, it has somewhere between six hundred and seven hundred songs. This implies what the next step is: I must cut songs off the list until I’m down to the predetermined number. In theory, this step could be done fairly quickly, but I spread it out over the course of several days in order to ensure that a temporary mood doesn’t play too large of a role in this selection. Once I have my 100 or 250 songs chosen, the next step is to record a clip from each song and to save it onto my computer. These clips can be anywhere from five to twenty seconds, although I aim to get them as close to ten seconds as possible. Generally, the average length ends up being a bit higher than ten seconds. These clips can come from my favorite part of the song, from the very beginning of the song, from the title line, or from a place that just happens to be convenient to edit. That detail isn’t particularly important. Collecting these clips is the most time-consuming and least fun step, but the next step is the funnest.

Part Three: #150- #101

That’s when I put them in order. First, I sort them into three folders: A is for the songs that I really love and wish I could put at #1, B is for the songs that I really like, but not quite that much, and C is for the songs that I also like, but it wouldn’t make me extremely sad if they didn’t make it very high. Each of the three folders is then subdivided into three more folders, so I end up with A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3, C1, C2, and C3. At that point, any folders with ten or fewer songs can remain as they are, but any folders with more than ten songs must be further split. If I recall correctly, this time I ended up with some folders that had names that were seven characters long. Once all of the folders are manageably small, I can start editing the clips together into a longer audio file. I don’t put them all into one file, because that would be too long to work with easily. This time, I used ten files, each of which were about 25 songs long. Finally, I use these audio files as the music for a video which gives the number, title, artist’s name, and release date of each song. (I don’t include the artist and date if the song has many different versions and the version is not significant to the placement on the list. Generally, this is true of the folk songs. I also occasionally am unable to find this information and have to leave it out. In some cases, this could conceivably be because I was wrong about the title of the song.)The video editing process is my second least favorite step. It gets slightly tedious and it takes longer than you’d think. This time, it’s taken me probably about six or seven hours spread out over five days. To answer the questions you might have, yes, I do have more important things to do, and no, I don’t sleep. Not very much, anyway.

Part Four: #100- #51

If I knew more about music, it would be fascinating to analyze the patterns and similarities between my favorite songs. Since I don’t really know what I’m talking about, I probably shouldn’t say much about those observations. However, there is one simple pattern that’s very obvious. I apparently really, really like The Seekers, since they came in at #1, #2, #3, #4, #6, and ten other places farther down on the list,  plus two more songs that fall under the category of folk songs that I like regardless of the artist performing them. Lately, I have indeed become somewhat obsessed with The Seekers, as anyone who has seen my facebook profile or my tumblr page will tell you. (And this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned them on my blog, either.) The Moody Blues made quite a few appearances in my top 50 as well, which is somewhat surprising since I don’t listen to The Moody Blues a whole lot. The Beatles didn’t do as well as usual if you judge based upon the top of the list, but in the entire list of 250, they certainly still had more songs than any other group. There also were a number of Monkees songs, which included #5, and this is noteworthy because The Monkees haven’t played a prominent role in my previous lists. To make a more general summary of the kinds of songs I like, I notice that the 1960s are disproportionately represented, and in particular, I saw the year 1967 quite a lot.

Part Five: #50- #1

Making Lists

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I have a thing about lists. That is to say, I like making them and I do it a lot. To-do lists are my favorites; I’m so obsessed with them that I have a fairly lengthy and detailed list of different types of to-do lists. The best one for an evening of homework is B2, otherwise known as Multi-layered Time Block. For a Saturday or any other time when I have several hours or most of the day to get stuff done, I prefer C2, also called Alternating Double Dimensional, although C3, Alternating Triple Dimensional, is sometimes more convenient if I really have a lot to do. Basically, complicated to-do lists work better than simple ones.

A really good list (whether it’s a to-do list or some other type of list) is like a work of art. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to throw together a bad list, but a good one has to be carefully constructed and requires a good deal of contemplation and consideration. Like art, it is something that other people may not understand or appreciate, but the artist/listmaker can take satisfaction and personal pride in a job well done.

Because of my need to make my lists just right, I have a tendency to redo them, even long after I thought they were done. If I get off-schedule from my to-do list, I generally have to rewrite the whole thing. My shopping lists, even if they’re short, often take a couple drafts to perfect. Lists of things that I want to read or write expand so quickly that I have to scrap them and start over in order to keep them relatively manageable. My list of top 100 favorite songs has to be recompiled once or twice a year to keep it up-to-date.

I think that my obsession with making lists comes from a frustration that the world isn’t completely logical and an unrealistically optimistic idea that writing everything down and putting it in the right order will make the world, or at least the parts of it that affect me, more logical. The reason I have to remake lists is that they don’t accomplish that goal adequately. Then I get frustrated and feel like nothing makes any sense, and I have to make a new list in order to make sense of things. In other words, my list-making compulsion is a psychological response to the frustration of uncertainty and unpredictability.

So basically, I’m a weirdo. Now I must go rewrite my to-do list because this took a full ninety seconds longer to write than I had expected.