August 08, 2016

Hamiltonia: Books For Fans

I, for one, have been swept up in Hamilton-mania. The natural impulse, then, is to seek out more stories about the man and his times. I have found a few books that I would recommend to my fellow fans of Hamilton:

The Chernow biography which inspired the musical is an obvious choice. However, I would recommend reading a pair of books before diving in to the biography itself. First, I recommend The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff, followed by Empire of Liberty by Gordon S. Wood. These two books are part of the Oxford History of the United States, a series that is still in progress. I actually recommend the first four books in the series: The Glorious Cause, Empire of Liberty, What Hath God Wrought, and Battle Cry of Freedom -- though only the first two deal with Hamilton's era.

After that, by all means read Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton. It's engaging and detailed, and puts a different spin on a lot of the stories from the Oxford histories. A fan will be able to see where the Hamilton musical took liberties with actual history for dramatic effect, and learn a number of stories that were left out of the musical altogether -- such as Hamilton's involvement in the unmasking of Benedict Arnold's treachery! If I have one complaint about this book, it's that it makes Hamilton into the Forrest Gump of the American Revolution -- apparently he was involved in everything and met everyone. However, I then remind myself that Hamilton was the Commander-in-Chief's right-hand man... and the colonies were, in those days, very small. Philadelphia was the home of 43,000 people -- less than half the population of my home town in Kansas.

Last, I would recommend Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell, not so much because it centers on Hamilton -- he's barely in it -- but because it reflects on Americans' relationship with that part of our history. It stops and says "yes but SLAVERY and yes but WOMEN" in places where other history books plow on to the next battle. It's also hilarious; Sarah Vowell is fully aware of the absurdities of history, such as a rich teenage aristocrat from France leading a bunch of half-naked American insurgents. Also, if you listen to the audiobook (like I did) you'll get to hear Nick Offerman play the part of George Washington.

If any of my readers has suggestions for more books that would edify Hamilton fans, leave a note in the comments! I know I need to read Chernow's biography of George Washington, and I'm definitely in the market for a solid biography of John Quincy Adams.

April 18, 2016

The Tree Remembers

They say the animals Fukushima are radioactive. They say the animals around Chernobyl are radioactive but healthy.


Fallen wood around Chernobyl doesn't rot. Something critical has gone out of the system. In the cooling ponds, monstrous catfish grow bigger every year with nothing to eat them. Carcasses of their descendants, twisted, dry, and whole, set of Geiger counters on the shore.

Animals come in to the forests around Chernobyl. It seems like a refuge: quiet, lush, with only the local poachers to worry about. As the marshlands that the Soviets drained are re-filled by the rain, the animals return. Red deer, forest bison, wolves, a few wild horses. It looks beautiful.

How many of them live? How many of their children live? Are we looking at a refuge or a trap? They didn't spring out of the ground; these animals are hiding from us in the shadow of our radioactive accidents. We don't know what the long-term effects will be on the population of red deer and forest bison and wolves will be (the horses are nearly always killed by poachers).

Rain washes through nuclear ash and dissolves its minerals, which are taken up by the roots of trees. Now the trees are radioactive.

And they will burn. A hot summer, a lightning strike. A forest fire where the wood is twisted, dry, and which will produce a new cloud of drifting radioactive ash.

April 11, 2016

Neko Atsume Meows Eternally

Neko Atsume is a game in which the player sets out toys and food for cats, who then may or may not show up to eat and play, as the mood takes them. In this it is an accurate cat simulator.

There are one hundred and forty-two toys in Neko Atsume as of the time of writing. Thirty of them are large toys and the rest are small toys.

The playing field has room for either ten small toys, eight small toys and one large toy, or six small toys and one large toy.

(For those not familiar with the notation, the bang (!) represents a factorial. 3!, pronounced “three factorial”, equals 1 * 2 * 3. Four factorial, or 4!, equals 1 * 2 * 3 * 4, and so on. Factorial makes numbers really! big!)

Figuring out how many combinations of toys are possible is a kind of problem called “n choose r” or nCr. That is to say, out of a number of objects, you can choose some of them. The equation for this is n!/(r!* [n-r]!). All those factorials make the numbers involved get really big, really fast.

Six small toys, two big toys: (30!/[2! * 28!]) * (112!/[6! * 106!])
Eight small toys, one big toy: 30 * (112!/[8! * 104!])
Ten small toys, no big toys: (112!/[10! * 102!])

According to Google, that’s (1.0406974e+12) + (1.4264732e+13) + (5.6594003e+13)

Which can also be stated as 71,899,432,400,000, or about seventy-one trillion combinations of toys... until the next update.