Sunday, October 30, 2011

Emoticons for Dummies

"How far should we expect a 65 cm trebuchet to shoot?" I asked the Science Olympiad internet forum. We had had a good trebuchet last year, but this year the size changed so we decided to cut ours down rather than totally rebuild. It was not shooting projectiles as far as last year, but it was smaller. I had no idea if our distances were competitive or not.
I received an answer: for the smallest counterweight, .5 kg., we could expect optimally a 20- 30 meter shot.
I blinked morosely at the computer. How could I ever tell my team? We were lucky to get 2 meters. How would we get ten times that amount? Should I tell them, I wondered.

At our trebuchet meeting, I decided it was early enough in the season that if we had to rebuild, we could. So I told them.
"And then," I said, "I told the forum I sure hoped they were joking."
"Did the message he sent you have a colon and a p at the end?" asked Asherel.
For those of you who need visuals, this looks like this:  (:p)

This is called an "emoticon" for those of you who don't have teenagers or are still living in the 19th century when people used words and vocal cords and facial expressions to convey human emotion.
"Well, yes!" I exclaimed, wondering how Asherel could have surmised what emoticon the message contained.
"That's the sign that he was joking. Oh good grief, Mom!"

Later as we were driving to her volunteer work at a nearby horsefarm, she started quizzing me.
"Do you know what a colon, slash symbol means?( :/)"
"Well yes, sort of...more like sadness. How about a semicolon parenthesis? ;)"
"That's easy, a wink."
"Mom, you really need to do a google search and study these."
"Most of them are commonsense."
"Yes, but good grief, you didn't know the forum messenger was joking."
"Don't you want to zone out with your headphone and iPod music like you usually do?"
"No, this is too important. You have to know this stuff."

Later my dad and I were discussing the origin of the universe. This is always good for raising my blood pressure a few points. My Dad ascribes to the theory that given an infinite amount of time, a monkey could write the entire work of Shakespeare randomly. I have heard this argument before- it is quite famous. However, mathematicians say that unless there is a sequence constraint at which a certain sequence of letters must first make sense, after which the monkeys can move on to the next sequence, such a task would require infinite monkeys with infinite time, and even then the probability is so low that it is certainly not possible if the universe had a beginning, or really, even if it didn't. It cannot be proven either- the so called research on this involved constrained sequences of information. That is cheating. The constraint requires intervention by Someone. Supposedly, the monkey believers are trying to write Someone out of the equation.

Then we moved on to stars. I had just heard a very interesting lecture that if the galaxy were infinitely old then due to the second law of thermodynamics, everything would tend to lose energy, to go to a steady state...and thus all those hots spots in the universe would have to have burned out. There would be no stars. This is partially why scientists believe the universe must have had a beginning.

And then of course, one has to ask, if the universe had a beginning, who began it? And who began the Beginner? Something or someone has to be infinite...but science seems to indicate it cannot be the universe.

I do expect a counter argument from my Dad, and I will let him have the last word. I can't take time to research monkeys or stars anymore. I have a whole list of emoticons my daughter wants me to memorize and the test is on Monday.

Genesis 1: 16-17
16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth,

Romans 1:20

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

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