"So there are Oliphaunts. But no one at home will ever believe me."
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Fairy complicated

I was doing a bit of background research on The Sorcerer’s House, the latest novel by my favorite author, an extremely dangerous and subtle man. Several of his more recent works have mined the mythologies of northern Europe—Gaelic/Celtic lore and the Norse cycle. When I was younger I regarded those mythologies are ridiculous (leprechauns) or brutal and predictable (Viking drinking songs). I was wrong, of course. The cute little fairies of Ireland and Wales are beings capable of reason, very powerful, and utterly soulless–hence, quite psychotic; and the tales of the Norse Edda are some of the most disturbing things imaginable, and seem to suggest that LSD was discovered a thousand years earlier than generally acknowledged.

I had the following links open while trying to wrap my head around the story.

All worth perusing.

Bonus cool derivation (not just the word, note the name at the end):

The word fairy derives from Middle English faierie (also fayerye, feirie, fairie), a direct borrowing from Old French faerie (Modern French féerie) meaning the land, realm, or characteristic activity (i.e. enchantment) of the legendary people of folklore and romance called (in Old French) faie or fee (Modern French fée), derived ultimately from Late Latin fata (one of the personified Fates, hence a guardian or tutelary spirit, hence a spirit in general)…

To the word faie was added the suffix -erie (Modern English -(e)ry), used to express either a place where something is found (fishery, heronry, nunnery) or a trade or typical activity engaged in by a person (cookery, midwifery, thievery), and in later usage generally applied to any kind of quality or activity associated with a particular sort of person (as in English knavery, roguery, witchery, wizardry)…

The word fey, originally meaning “fated to die” or “having forebodings of death” (hence “visionary”, “mad”, and various other derived meanings) is completely unrelated, being from Old English fæge, Proto-Germanic *faigja- and Proto-Indo-European *poikyo-, whereas Latin fata comes from the Indo-European root *bhã- “speak”.

Morgan le Fay, whose connection to the realm of Faerie is implied in her name…

(From “Fairy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.”)

May 1, 2010   Comments Off

Three corners, three sides, infinite possibilities

Kids, even grown up ones, ask the darnedest things. During class yesterday we talked a little bit about geometry, and one asked, “How many kinds of triangles are there?” We had been discussing the concept of congruency, and I drew some examples of right triangles, equilateral triangles, and isosceles triangles.

I was actually stumped by this question. I vaguely remembered that triangles were sometimes called obtuse and acute, but I wasn’t sure if that was a common use, or if it was more typical to describe them as having “an obtuse angle” or “all acute angles.” Somebody said, “I think one is type is scalene.” Right, there is that. I was able to do a simple proof in class that a triangle could only have one obtuse angle. That is, since the inside angles of a triangle come to 180º, and since an obtuse angle is one that is greater than 90º, it follows that the other two angles must be acute (less than 90º). I still wasn’t sure if I could enumerate all types of triangles, or if it was even possible to do so. I promised them I would give them an answer. Here it is—or at least, close enough.

Triangles can be classified according to the size of their interior angles. Based on the fact that the interior angles must add up to 180º, it follows that there are three kinds:

  • All of the angles are less than 90º (acute). For example, 80º—60º—40º. This is known as an acute triangle.
  • One of the angles is obtuse, that is, greater than 90º. The other two angles must be acute. This kind of triangle is an obtuse triangle.
  • One of the angles is exactly 90º. As expected, the other two must add up to 90º (for example, 1º and 89º), so they are acute. This is a right triangle.

It turns out you can also classify triangles according to the relative lengths of their sides.

  • Suppose your triangle’s three sides are the same length. This is an equilateral triangle. It turns out that there is only one way to make such a triangle to work out, and that is by having all of the interior angles the same. Since they must sum to 180º, each angle is 60º.
  • Perhaps only two sides are the same length. It works out here that the angles of the “odd” side are identical to each other. This shape is an isosceles triangle.
  • Finally (since there are only three sides to consider!), there is the possibility of having a triangle where all three sides are different. This rogue is the scalene triangle.

So, pop quiz. How many types of triangles are there?

April 27, 2010   Comments Off

Process Different

Yeah. I don’t know anybody at all like this.

People who are shy or introverted may actually process their world differently than others, leading to differences in how they respond to stimuli, according to Stony Brook researchers and collaborators in China.

About twenty percent of people are born with this “highly sensitive” trait, which may also manifest itself as inhibitedness, or even neuroticism. The trait can be seen in some children who are “slow to warm up” in a situation but eventually join in, need little punishment, cry easily, ask unusual questions or have especially deep thoughts.

(From “FuturePundit: Shy And Introverted Process The World Differently“, via Instapundit.)

April 7, 2010   Comments Off