Things 70: Spiral, Parking, Rats

When looking at animal intelligence (or indeed artificial intelligence) we tend to set arbitrary high bars for what we consider to qualify as ‘true’ intelligence (recall Roger Puffin’s rebuttal of Artificial Flight). That said, I’m not actually convinced that this experiment, in which rats play the Prisoner’s Dilemma, can be interpreted as demonstrating anything other than understanding a basic set of rules and causal connections. It’s still interesting though.

Phil: Doing stupid things can have certain positive beneficial effects.

In December 2009, a fascinating phenomenon was observed in Norway. If you’ve not already seen it, see if you can guess what caused it before reading more.

Actually just an animated GIF:

Last Week’s Puzzle

Last week I asked why my mobile might need to recharge more frequently after I’ve moved house.

Tarim pointed out that phones monitor available signal strength and adjust power output accordingly, so if my new house has worse reception the phone will boost its power and so run out of charge more quickly. Miranda pointed out that changing who you live with might have an effect on who you phone regularly, so changing how much you use the phone from day to day. Xuan, Alam and Yasmin all independently suggested that the new house might not have a landline and so I would use my mobile more often. Xuan also suggests the phone’s battery may happened to fall “terminally ill” at the same time as the move and there was nothing causal about it. An impressive range of plausible answers!

However, signal strength is about the same in my new place, I have a landline, the battery is as good as ever, and although my use of the phone did increase due to the new flatmate situation, there was a bigger effect (which Tarim later guessed): commuting via the tube instead of walking. This results in an extremely acute version of the low-signal-causes-power-boost feature Tarim had described. If I switch my phone off before going underground and on when I re-emerge, one charge lasts about as long as it ever did.

(This might seem a pretty obscure answer to the problem, but I suspect it’s quite relevant to people living in London, particularly those with power-hungry smartphones).


Things 4: Dog Run, Wire Hang, Cat Herd

(Originally sent December 2007)

This week’s film – one line review
Hitman came close to the so-bad-it’s-good mark, but seemed mainly aimed at those familiar with the game, and so didn’t really work for me.

Next week’s film
I’m going to see  Enchanted some time next week.
Imdb rating:  8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 94%

Watch Enchanted Trailer in Entertainment |  View More Free Videos Online at

Prognosis: The trailer made it look somewhat meta-trite and obvious, but the animated parts look beautiful and the reviews are insanely positive, so I guess it must be good.

How far can a dog run into the woods?

Answer to last week’s puzzle
Because once you’ve found it, you stop looking.

In the vein of the brilliant quotes presented at the Riverside [A recent work-related meeting during which some mixed metaphor quotes had been presented – metatim 25/04/2010]:
Ross [my university flat-mate]: “I wouldn’t trust him with a barge-pole.”

Wire Hang is a beautifully simple and original concept for a 2-minute-distraction kind of game. I’ve never seen what happens beyond the one-block point – does the game end?

Another great viral video – if you’ve not seen it before, or in fact even if you have, have fun trying to guess what it’s actually advertising before the end:



Below is a photo I took of my best free-running buddy, running into a spot of trouble.


Things 69: One Minute, Crows, Build It

’28 Days Later’ in one minute, in one take (and will make little sense if you haven’t seen the film but might be entertaining anyway):

Tumblr is like Twitter for pictures. As a strange side effect, incredibly well-curated collections of images of niche interest are being created, such as crows, or Selleck Waterfall Sandwiches.

I had just described my systems for organising everything in my life (including writing up the lastest Things) to Bex:

Bex: But what about allowing for spontaneity?
Tim: Allowing spontaneity to be a possibility leads to apathy. And death.

My (very old) mobile phone would last for about 6 days before needing to recharge. I moved house and this fell to 2 days. Why might that be?

Answer to Last Week’s Puzzle
Under what circumstances does the slightly misquoted “build it and they will come” apply?

Xuan says “Depends if what you’re building has tapped into some underlying desire/interest. Las Vegas was quite an idea.” Simon makes some disparaging remarks about marketing agencies and asks “Is an idea a good idea if nobody is there to hear it fall?”

I think a more instructive quote might be Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” (also misquoted).

The assertion seems to be that society operates according to some kind of omniscient meritoracy. This is a pretty tough assertion to defend, even if we can agree on what we mean by ‘better’ (the ‘humane’ problem seems to be difficult in the field of mouse-traps; there have been interesting developments in aesthetic considerations). In practice, as individuals (and therefore collectively) we can only judge the things we are aware of. To solve that problem, we need an omniscient third party of some kind that understands how we will judge things and show us those we are most likely to favour accordingly.

Of course, the internet gives us some very powerful tools to do exactly this. Pandora and go a long way to achieving this for music: Pandora recommends an obscure musician purely because the music is the kind that it has learned that you like, and can then direct you to buy from them directly. But doing the same for other media types is more challenging.

We can expect more of this in the future, eventually rolling out through location-aware mobile devices so that if you happen to be interested in baseball and can get to Iowa, you could indeed discover an unmarketed Field of Dreams. But until then, I just don’t buy that ending.


Between asking the question and writing this answer, I happened upon this article which describes what I’m talking about pretty well.


Things 3: Overheard, Glasses, Illusion

(Originally sent in December 2007)

This week’s film – one line review
The Golden Compass takes very naturally to film and clearly has a lot of talent poured into it; unfortunately the script itself contains the worst screen writing I’ve heard since Eragon.

Next week’s film
I’m going to see Hitman because for some reason I can’t get enough of films about human weapons that end up fighting their creators.
Imdb rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 14%!

Hitman Trailer

Prognosis: Judging by the Rotten Tomatoes rating, this may well breach the so-bad-it’s-good barrier.

A Puzzle
Why do you always find things in the last place you look?

Answers to previous puzzles
Answer to puzzle from Things 1: A number less than 103. I won’t tell you what it is because it’s too good a puzzle to spoil.
Answer to puzzle from Things 2: 1.

A Quote
Digby, circa 1992: “I had one, right, and then I had another one – funny how they come in ones…”

A Link
Actually, it’s just more quotes.

A video
My favourite viral. I think I’ve worked out how most of it was done.

A picture
An example of the most powerful optical illusion I know.