Thursday March 31, 2005
Sam Vilain at YAPC::Taipei
I expected him to be a swarthy man, but knowing
he was in New Zealand, guessed this fair-haired
guy with dreadlocks and a hobbit hat was Sam
Vilain. The name, mugwump apparently comes from
William S Burroughs.
At Ingy's birthday party, one of the Chinese
hackers noted that the next birthday Ingy would
have with a full moon would be 19 years from now,
perhaps something every Chinese person knows, I
This lead to a discussion by mugwump with me
about the lunar calendar. I said the idea of
planting crops according to it meant that it
could vary by a month, according to the solar
He started discussing the ideas of a New Zealand
mathematician on 19-year cycles in the weather,
as a result of the effect of the moon. He said
the mass of the moon was one tenth of that of the
earth and the gravitational pull on the earth
from the moon was greater than that of the sun.
I couldn't accept that at the time, but thinking
about variations over the short-term in the
stress placed on the earth, then the effect of
the moon would certainly be greater than that of
And if the moon moves the water round in the form
of tides, then it must be moving the air around
He noted that there had been an earthquake in the
same area as the recent tsunami, in the Indian
Ocean, in 1833. I started thinking how many years
that is. Is it really a multiple of 19?
He said that someone from the New Zealand Weather
Bureau had spoken against the theory, claiming
the Butterfly Effect meant that such cycles were
not possible. I agreed with him that the
Butterfly Effect was only an explanation of the
absence of cycles, rather than one of why it was
not possible to have cycles.
I realized that although he may be mad, there was
method to his madness.
He talked a little about subatomic particles,
before starting to talk about Chinese and Western
medicine. He said the difference was like that
between tuning a car, and taking the engine apart
and cleaning out the cylinders.
He asked me whether I went to an acupuncturist or
Western doctor. At this point I started backing
I asked him to say a little about Tangram. He
said, it is a relational database. But then he
said it isn't. I feared for his presentation the
He repeated that in the conference the next day,
but it was a great presentation. He reminded me
of a popular Scottish conference presenter in
Korea, and I wondered if it was a British
academic presentation style. I think it was
partly because he smiled a lot, knew the subject
well (apparently his dad worked on databases also
at Unisys), and was relaxed and confident.
Although the organizers weren't too happy about
him going overtime. I think they had taken note
of mjd's claim that most conference participants
attend for the food.
Certainly the food at the conference was very
good. In Korea, they say, Chinese food, a
Japanese wife, and an American home.
Afterwards he told me about junctions in perl6
allowing you to do logical programming eg, if any
of A, B, or C is true, do X. This allowed him to
write perl6 code to solve the SEND+MORE=MONEY
puzzle in just a few lines.
But he showed me SQL is even quicker at solving
the puzzle and that this is because it was
designed to do just that: model set-theoretic