The Great White Clouds Today, and Cauliflowers.

It’s awfully bright today. The sun is too bright to look at, and when it falls on your eyes it hurts, but in an amazing happy way. The sunlight is glistening off bright white cumulus clouds, sparkling pure diamond white wherever it falls. You look up, there’s cumulus clouds everywhere like this great migrating herd through the clear cobalt sky, far, far till the horizon, and it seems like we are in this awesome photoshopped True HD movie.

Our maid observed from the balcony, looking at the clouds, that they look like cauliflower. Which is quite true of those billowy cumulus clouds.


But this similarity deserves more than a passing remark. It has got a story. Some of you know this, and I think the others will like to hear it.

Cloud surfaces are fractal shapes. A short way of explaining that is to say that as you zoom in closer to the surface of a cloud, you will see that there are curves and bulges and irregularities at smaller and smaller levels, all the way down, emerging only as you go closer in, and always looking roughly similar to the large scale curves and billows that you can see from far. So you cannot really tell how much you are zoomed in at any point. So this general irregular, non-smooth, fractured nature, together with being similar at all zoom levels, is what qualifies a shape to be a fractal.

You guessed it, cauliflower are also fractals. So is broccoli, or a bunch of other natural produce.

To try and have a grasp on the degree of irregularity or fractured-ness of a fractal, there’s this number called the fractal dimension or the Hausdorff dimension that you can calculate easily for a fractal shape. That’s not a completely accurate definition I gave, but if you’re interested, look it up. Anyway, although you cannot tell exactly what a fractal shape looks like from this number, it is still a useful way to categorize them into sufficiently narrow classes. So you can expect fractal structures with close fractal dimensions to also be visually similar.

Clouds have a fractal dimension of around 2.35. Cauliflower, around 2.28. Very close. The first fact, that their shapes have this fractal nature, is why they look similar at all. The second fact, that their fractal dimensions are close, is why they are even more similar.

This is not an isolated factoid. There’s boundless more of these if you start looking. The world is like this. As Feynman said, “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” These amazing little wonders are all around us. They surround us and enclose us. This is a magical world. Ask, read, know, and feel awesome.

That’s today’s sky I photographed. It was much more awesome in real life.

Engineer Jokes

First off, if you’ve arrived here searching for engineer jokes, you might be disappointed. There is no engineer joke in this post.

So anyway, I don’t get this deal with the newfound arrogance of engineering I see around these days. Facebook’s full of it. There’s a horde of half-geeky slash semi-witty slash pure roundabout humour stuff with uncountable spelling and grammar mistakes being shared around, with a footnote to the effect of ‘Engineers made this. Engineers understand this. If you are not an engineer, you’re too dumb to get this. How superiorly cool is that?’ I’ll give you an example. The following is being circulated with the title ‘Engineers Rockz!!!’:

Engineers Rockz

Do you realize the problems with this kind of talent? Someone told you to establish that your parents were the same person, and you go through this brilliant but painful twisted logic to prove it. Then you take pride in it and share it around. At the same time you ridicule those who failed to accept this oblique suggestion that they owe their birth to what could only be imagined as some really twisted act of  masturbation (which I think explains why engineers must be a different species). Do you see the problem with being able to prove anything you’re asked to? Do you realize that’s a problem? Do you realize that’s giving away ultimate power to whoever asks you to do this? Do you think being able to dish out a solution, any solution, to any question, is awesome? Not. I’d much rather be the commerce or medical student.

And then this, the awesome ‘Engineer’s clock. Only engineers will understand this.’


(It actually says ‘Sheldon Cooper’s clock’. And he was a… what? Hint: not engineer. Remember the engineer in that show?) I mean, it’s finally a bunch of frivolity, dudes. Settle down, grow up. And relax, science students get it. At least there’s no reason to doubt that a significantly different (and necessarily lower) fraction of science students get it as compared to engineering students.

So who makes this stuff, anyway? To hell with whoever makes them. The creator is inconsequential. Why, my engineer friends (some, not all of them), do you suppose that they consist an argument for your intellectual superiority, and gladly hand it around under that label? Why do you circulate a photo of the German water bridge with a ‘this is what engineers do’ tag? You are not in Germany. You are in India. This is not what you do. You know very well what engineers do in India and what we have achieved till now. Not much, frankly. I’m not condemning having achieved next to nothing. Indian science lately hasn’t achieved much either. My point is, I don’t see ‘superior scientist’ labels slapped on half-baked nerd jokes and circulated on social networks. Why do you think is that?