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Glorified ASCII Art

Permalink 08/20/07 at 11:01:33 am, by Ed, 1436 words   English (US)
Categories: General

Almost anything can be described as a glorified level of something else, down to the root of everything (elementary particles and, just to be inconsistent, fundamental forces).

We begin with, for example, the image on your desktop. It is an image in either BMP, GIF, or JPG format. (Quite possibly, it could be something else, if you are using a mac, or are smart (two mutually exclusive properties) but the format is not particularly necessary.) If it is anything but a standard 256-color GIF or BMP, then all it is is a glorified bitmap with fancy compression technology. You can simply open it in MS Paint (or your image editor of choice), save it as a 256-color BMP, then simply view the image in notepad (or your text editor of choice) and, with the right wordwrap settings, you could easily view the image as simple ASCII art, which any image really can be brought down to. Because all any image on your computer is is just glorified ASCII art, where each ASCII character has simply been replaced with a 1-pixel by 1-pixel block of color by some glorified "text" editor.

But even that ASCII art is just a glorified stream of bytes. You think you're looking at a document, but all it really is is a stream of bytes when the OS looks at it. Just numbers from 0 to 255 strung in a row. It doesn't even know where the line-breaks are. They're just represented by a 13 ('\r') followed by a 10 ('\n') (or, if you're on a Mac, just a 13, or if you're on Linux, just a 10). So the image on your desktop is just a series of numbers, as I'm sure you could have guessed. More specifically, numbers from 0 to 255, all on one line, with a few bytes of information detailing how big the image is, so the "text" viewer knows where to put in the "line breaks" (because those don't exist in image formats).

But that stream of bytes, however long it is, isn't really a series of numbers from 0 to 255, because that would be much harder to store on a disc, and I'm sure you can see where this step is leading. It's only ones and zeros on the disc. There's an index on the disc, telling the operating system where to start reading the file, and a file length, to tell the operating system where to stop reading the file. Among other things. The operating system parses eight of these binary digits (bits) (2 possible values) at a time, making up one byte (8^2 == 256 possible values).

But these aren't just written down on some piece of paper inside your computer, of course. No, they are just glorified electromagnetic charges. They are stored on a sensitive magnetic platter inside your computer (now we know why we shouldn't allow magnets close to computers). It's just a round, metallic disc, with a read/write "head" which searches the harddrive for the bit you're looking for and alternatively applies a charge to set or unset the bit, or just finds out what the magnetic charge is at that point on the disc, and sends it through IDE cables, using digital electricity it gleans from the power converter to the motherboard, which busses it to the register where the operating system requested it to be placed so that the application can read it. So these bits take the form of both magnetic polarities (+ and -, like a magnet) and electrical signals (also + and -, like a battery). On the disc, it's a magnetic polarity, and while traveling, it's electrical. Because it's much easier to make electricity travel through wires than it is to make a magnetic pulse. I don't even know what that means.

And we've derived, from the image on your desktop, electromagnetism, one of the four fundamental forces in the universe. Incidentally, this fundamental force is carried by an elementary particle, specifically, a gauge boson. You'll understand more about this later. Or perhaps not.

And so you can do with anything. I took an easy example in that case, of course. Going from any information stored on a computer in such a route is rather simple, but what about the human body?

Well, we are just a glorified mammal, first of all. That's all we are. Most of us is made up of fat, muscle, bone, and a whole lot of neurons (axons). Like IDE cables, these axons carry information from input devices (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin) to our CPU (brain) via electro-chemical signals. Boom, right there, we have taken care of that part of it. Already we have one of the four fundamental forces. Our brain processes this information by way of a very complicated neural network. That is to say, our brain is just a whole lot of neurons put together. It's a glorified bunch of neurons. Then the brain sends output information to the output devices (organs == muscles).

But these I/O devices are just glorified tissue, which is a grouping of, that is to say, glorified eukaryotic cells. Cells == organelles + nucleus. Organelle == mini-organ, and so the definition is recursive there. Nucleus == glorified collection of chromosomes.

Chromosomes are a glorified collection of DNA, that is to say, a collection of proteins all in a bunch, which in turn we can call a whole bunch of four (or six, if you prefer to count the mutations) different types of nucleobases. This, of course, is not entirely accurate. There's more than just those four (or six, if you're using a Mac), for there is also RNA, which contains uracil, but that's just more nucleobases. And since everything here derives down to a nucleobase, we can continue from there to say that a nucleobase is just a molecule made up of take your pick from of oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms. Of course, these are not the only type of atoms that make up the human body, but DNA being the most complex collection of atoms (with the possible exception of some part of the brain), we can derive any part of the body you like down to oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, phosphorus, selenium, calcium, iron, sodium, potassium and a whole host of other elements (just look at a nutrition facts label some time).

So we've got your entire body down to its atoms. But wait! We missed a step. All of the molecules... how are they held together? By warm taffy, apparently, another of the five fundamental forces. The important question is, what flavor is this taffy? Well, unfortunately, due to quantum physics, we can't know the current flavor of the taffy without changing it through its observation, since through the weak atomic force, the flavor of all elementary particles (quarks, leptons, and the one we're looking at, gauge bosons) changes through decay.

So we have your entire body in its atom and taffy form. These atoms are made up of electrons (one "down" quark), protons (two "up" quarks and one "down"), and neutrons (two "down" quarks and one "up"). The "up" and "down" of these quarks are two of the six flavors of elementary particles. The flavor of any elementary particle is likely to decay towards a state of "up" (positronic, like Data's Brain) through a process helped along by the weak atomic force. Thus, as I said, we cannot detect the flavor of the taffy unless it has fully decayed, in which case, you wouldn't want to eat it anyway.

Let's try this a third time. We have your entire body in its quark and gauge boson form. That is, the atoms are made up of quarks--which, incidentally, are held together by gauge bosons, emitting yet another fundamental force, the strong atomic force--and the molecules are held together by taffy, through gauge bosons. We have now derived your body down to elementary particles (quarks, gauge bosons) and fundamental forces (weak atomic force, strong atomic force, and electromagnetic force).

The only fundamental force we haven't touched on is gravity, and that's because it is the bastard-child of the big bang and the universe. It's so pathetically weak comparatively that if it didn't exist, we would hardly notice. We would be floating around. Whoopdeedoo. Comparatively, if the strong atomic force suddenly ceased to exist, every single proton in your body would immediately begin flying away from each other at extremely high velocities, catching electrons on the way, eventually all becoming slightly negative, thus creating particles that could never overcome the repellent forces to stick together. I think we'd notice that if we didn't instantly cease to be.

Well, back to work for me.

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