Notes in the lunch box

My significant other is an astrophysicist (what a word), rather forgetful, a little nerdy in a charming way (or is that geeky? I can never remember which is what). He has his head in the clouds and his feet firmly planted in thin air, which can be quite... well, let's say it tends to make life less predictable.

Of course, something as relatively simple and cute as a note, left by one partner for the other to find (in a lunch box, or just by the computer) will never be simple with a man like this one. Cute, oh yes, but never simple.

Like this:

"21 . 219 | 5 | 181 . 5 . 1 . 53 |..."* and so on. A good thirty sets of numbers on a piece of paper, left by my SO on my keyboard some time ago. And no help, whatsoever. When I tried to ask him for a hint, he just smiled a big and triumphant smile. Blast. So I got to work.

I don't know a lot about codes and cyphers, but what little I knew I tried to apply to this note. That didn't help. The way the numbers were grouped made me think that they might represent one word each. Substituting the numbers for letters did absolutely nothing to help. Some groups appeared more than once, though, so there was definitely a pattern to it. What was so odd was that if the groups represented words, he had written a note with three letter words only**, since none of the numbers contained more than three digits. I slaved over this note for the rest of that day, and when I lay in bed, ready to drift off to sleep, it somehow came to me: binary numbers.

'Binary?' I said out loud, and the grumbling answer in the dark sounded pretty much like 'yes'.

So the next day I wrote all the numbers as binary numbers. And then I sat looking at them. For very a long time. A very, very long time.

"Doesn't it remind you of something?" my SO asked. "Well... morse code", said I. And he grinned some more. So it was morse code. But the problem was still how to translate from binary to morse. 1 could be 'dash', of course, and 0 could be 'dot'. But, after all, you don't get a binary number to begin with a '0' (that is: on the leftmost place), and a lot of the letters, when written in morse code, begins with a dot. And anyhow, some of the sequences were far too long to be morse code letters. Another day passed and I was still stuck. He was just grinning, the bastard.

Well, then we both forgot about the note, by and by. Until rootbeer277's wu on binary code reminded me. So I walked up to my SO and grabbed him by the collar (well, I would have grabbed him by the collar, but he's almost 6' 4'' (I'm 5' 3'') so I grabbed him sort of midriff), and demanded to know how the blast that note should have been translated. And finally he relented.

The '0's were separators and not really part of the morse code. 1 was a 'dot', and 11 would be 'dash'. So, eg., 'r' (.-.) would become 101101. 'F' (..-.) would become 10101101. 45 and 173 respectively.


Since I never found the note again, and he can't really remember what he wrote, I choose to believe it was something very sweet and cute. Would be rather out of character for him, though; more likely it was a quote from some deep book or another (he seems to recall it being something like that), but I think I'll just disregard and keep my own interpretation.

* These are just random numbers. They don't mean anything at all. I promise.
** That is to say: no word had more than three letters...

I, like most if not all web-savvy individuals revile SPAM and delete all of them as soon as I clap my eyeballs on them. Or, in the case of Gmail, mark them as SPAM and send them to Email Heaven. Or, actually, hopefully, Email Hell.

But last month I received a very unusual email. After a little head-scratching I came to the conclusion that it was most definitely SPAM, but the most unique bit of SPAM I'd ever seen.

At first glance it looked like somebody had sent me a poem. But I quickly realized that the sender, Craig Craig, was not a real person (or if he is he's some poor bastard who undoubtedly hates his parents) and therefore the email was potted meat. But I was impressed nonetheless. It was probably made up of randomly generated text as a lot of SPAM is (I've still never figured out the point of them, somebody who is even more of a 'Net geek than I am might know) but it looked poetic, like it had a deep meaning that I wasn't getting, like perhaps it held the secrets to the universe.

What I am about to show you is the mose eloquent - and dare I say beautiful - piece of SPAM I've ever seen. It is the first SPAM I've ever kept and not deleted immediately. And here it is.

thirty or forty yards away.
a little longer, looking around anxiously, then he also sat down.
the shower in his stocking feet, leaving sticky footprints. He would stay in

Or maybe this is a snippet from an actual poem or book or something...
Apollyon's Adventures in India

Back to August 13 2006

In Bombay, English is the first language, even the films and TV shows have sentences in Hindi and then the same sentence in English: 'Ashsmanah kishimar! Sanjeet, Not now, Sanjeet! We kill him later.'
However Sanket’s mother is more confident writing things down so we both carry paper to avoid misunderstandings.
When I asked the Hindi word for 'thank you' Sanket said 'well it’s difficult to pronounce but it goes: 'Thank-You'.'
English is used by almost everyone. How else could a county with 1600 languages communicate? Everyone who wants to travel outside their village has to learn it.
Everyone is very surprised when I say that I don’t know any other European languages. The average here is three or four.

Today I went out for a scooter ride, the roads are quiet in the country, but they are in terrible condition after the rain. The countryside is beautiful in the monsoon season. The fields are green and the lakes are full. In the summer season the same lakes are used as cricket pitches.
Everyone I passed stared at me. This isn’t rude in Indian culture at all. In the children I can understand it, I might be the first white guy they have ever seen however in the adults it is just unnerving. My guide for the day, Deepti, Sanket's younger sister, shouted over the noise of the engine that everyone looks as though they had seen a ghost.
On the return journey I had an idea. I started pulling funny faces as we whizzed past. When Deepti realised what I was doing she started laughing so hard that we ran off the road and crashed.
If you are white in Jalgaon everyone wants to meet you. Sanket says that this is typical of the misdirected curiosity of Indians. The implication being that if they were this interested in mathematics, science or disease prevention then there wouldn't be so many problems in India.
What usually happens is that six or so people arrive from one family or an English class come in and say 'Hello, how are you?' I say, 'I am fine, how are you?' and then they sit there and watch me try to start a conversation.

An exception to this is one of Mr Chowkidar's friend's who talked to me about politics on the eve of Indian Independence Day. (Good pub quiz question: When do most people celebrate Independence Day? Answer: 15th of August)
We talked about many subjects and I was comfortable with all of them, he cleverly prevented himself from revealing any of his own opinions, but when the subject switched to Lebanon and Israel I found that he and others in the room covertly supported Israel. It has been said that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' (Sun Tzu or Machiavelli? (As it turns out it's an arabian proverb.)) It occurred to me that India and Israel both consider themselves stuck on the edge of an Islamic empire.
I explained my viewpoint which is that the Zionists were rude as they arrived in Palestine, in the manner akin to breaking in to someone's house, trampling mud over the floor, eating the food and water and going to sleep on the bed. Not the big one, or the little one, but the one that was 'juuuuust right'.
Yes, in my minds eye goldilocks is a Zionist Jew.
(This is a particularly interesting allegory because which version you were read reveals which side you support. The modern version gets you to empathise with the girl and treat her as hungry, childish and innocent. The old fashioned version supports the sanctity of the home and teaches good manners, it shows her as an impostor and she gets eaten by the bears at the end.)

A few days later I was out with some of Sanket's friends and one of them engaged me in an argument about the virtues of marriage. I asked him if he was married and he said no. I went on to outline the reasons why I thought that a man has no need for marriage. I was just about to complete the tort when I found out that he was getting married in two weeks time! I apologised and said that on a point of principle that I do not argue against another’s happiness.
Thus began the meta-argument
He said that the purpose of an argument was to win. I said that if any argument causes harm it is immoral and the purpose of an argument is at least to inform, at the most to persuade, and at its best to find compromise.
Inevitably this lead to a discussion about war.
He asked why India had the largest navy in the world (they don't)if it wasn’t to win? I explained that after the invention of the Mach 3 Cruise Missile, ships were no longer weapons, but merely targets.
Looks like I lost the meta-argument!
Don't argue against Indian patriotism, even if it is to inform.

forward to August 17, 2006

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