Sunday, February 29, 2004


“ENLARG” is a neat set of letters. You can anagram it (that is, rearrange the letter order) to form two different hard-to-discover six-letter English words. You can also remove any single letter (except one of them) and anagram the remaining five to make at least word.
While you’re at it, if you’re in the mood, think of the shortest English (?) word containing all five vowels; it’s quite short.

By the way, the blogging format (reverse chronology) presents a problem here. If I give the answers in a few days, won’t most people read the answers before they read the questions?
True to the simple style of this blog, I plan to solve that problem without using any fancy hidden HTML. The answers will be posted in the first week of March.

Friday, February 27, 2004

You say you’ve got a painful sore throat?

If it hurts to talk; if you’re worried about getting laryngitis, try this: when you speak, pitch your voice just a little higher than usual. (Most people are very self conscious about doing this, but really, a little pitch change is not going to bother your friends. The cold makes you sound weird already.) You may find that at a higher pitch, you're not hurting your throat. And if that’s the case, you’ll know it pretty quickly.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Recursive Humor:

The last panel of today's Doonesbury Comic strip (dated 2-26 in the strip) has an image of today's Doonesbury Comic strip which, if you look carefully, contains an image of today's Doonesbury Comic strip which, well, with the resolution that newspapers allow Garry Trudeau, that is about as far as you can go.
I remember a Charles Addams cartoon (1940's I think) showing a scene in a old-fashioned barber shop with mirrors for walls. The cartoon has many re-reflections of the scene within the mirrors, all quite faithful, except that at about the seventh deep reflection, the man sitting in the barber chair is replaced, just once, by a monster.
You can find the Doonesbury strip here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I once found an Income Tax Loophole all by myself:

When I was a graduate student I was given a “Research Assistant” position that paid a little, and I was advised by the University that I had to pay taxes on this income, and furthermore my tuition (a vaguely similar amount) was not tax deductible. I decided that my tuition was deductible. I explained my innovation to a university lawyer, who announced that I was just being silly. However I took my own advice for two years. In our filings, I explained in detail what I was doing, and the IRS never complained. Perhaps they had bigger fish to fry.
One of the few ways you could deduct tuition then was: that you would lose your job if you did not take this schooling. (The exemption clearly addresses professions where you are required to take courses to stay competent or accredited.) My R.A. position was a type of job given ONLY to graduate students. Therefore, if I stopped going to school I would of course lose my job. Now it’s painfully obvious that I turned the exemption on its head, but still think it applied. Logic is a wonderfully fuzzy thing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Oops! Sorry, Sorry:

I Know nothing can be done about it now. Sorrrrry!
(Never interrupt someone in the middle of a cut and paste operation.)

Monday, February 23, 2004

Car Wheel Patterns:

Car wheels are one of the great triumphs of Computer-Assisted Engineering. Twenty or thirty years ago, they mostly looked the same. Now, every car seems to have a different pattern in the metal radiating from the center to the outside of the wheel. An artist can try out designs in a computer drawing program, then quickly do stress and cost analyses to decide whether a beautiful or striking wheel is safe and not too expensive.
Here’s a way to enjoy wheel patterns. (Not all eyes and brains are the same, so this may not work for you.) At night, when you’re stopped at a red light and cars are whizzing across your field of view, focus your eyes on your steering wheel and don’t try to track the traffic. As cars cross your field of view, their spinning wheels will paint brief, rotating patterns for your enjoyment.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Should I write a letter to the newspaper?

Two years ago, if I had an interesting thought about a newspaper story, I would write to the paper. The New York Times has published three of my letters, so I always feel I’ve a chance of getting published again. But now I can respond in this blog instead of writing a “letter to the editor”. I’m addressing a different audience (a smaller one but more classy of course), but I’m certain to be published. I wonder if newspapers get as many letters as they used to.

Friday, February 20, 2004

How do you handle Tailgaters when there’s no passing lane?

I’ve heard many suggestions in my time, and I’m too embarrassed to say which ones I’ve tried:

  • Speed up: Not a good idea unless the tailgater (“TGTR”) just reminded you that you were driving WAY to slow.
  • Pull over asap and let them pass: If you’ve never tried this, you have no idea how much fun it can be to watch them switch to tailgating the car in front of you.
  • Slow down to the proper speed: If the TGTR is three car lengths behind you, slow to thirty; if one length behind you, slow to ten. Although this approach is logical, it tends to infuriate the TGTR, who hasn’t a clue what you’re doing.
  • Alternately blink your directional signal lights: right, left, right, left … I wish this were the UNIVERSAL “don’t Tailgate” signal. Instead, it’s simply an illegal action that (for all I know) can get you ticketed. But it does make the TGTR think you’re crazy; they’ll drop back or do anything to get away from you. (I invented this one myself.)
  • Pump your brake and speed up: The idea is that they’ll slow down when they see your brake lights and then you’ll be ahead of them for at least 0.3 seconds. Of all the crazy, stupid, risky…
  • Using your trusty wireless PDA, look them up on the Internet, call their cell phone number, and tell them you KNOW where they live. This might be practical in a few years, but you could easily have an accident before you complete the call, so never mind.
  • Using your trusty wireless PDA, hack into the computer that controls their car and … well, we can dream, can’t we?

In any case, try to let the tailgaters get to their destinations as quickly as possible. They’re not likely to live as long as you, so they need to rush every minute.

More seriously, the greatest danger a tailgater creates is that there will be an accident if you have to brake suddenly. Make sure this can’t happen, by arranging to have an immense field of open view in front of you, with no need to make quick decisions.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Just pointing to a URL today:

I rarely do the sort of blog entry that just points to another bit of the Internetosphere, but today’s an exception. This is so sweet:
Blinded Owl Gets New Sight With Operation. I hope it re-adjusts to the wild.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Do you like both Babaganoush and Salsa?

If you do, combine them in nearly equal quantities and eat the mix straight. Delicious, with no extraneous ingredients.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

And smaller plug-ins to bite ‘em:

In a previous blog entry (click on this link and scroll up a little:) And So Ad Infinitem, I suggested that people playing the online Sim City game could escape from the impinging real world by starting to play a Sim City game-within-the-game (and so on). My idea may be ridiculous, but apparently it’s not totally impractical. You can read about “… a fan-made plug-in that allows Sims characters to effectively play SimCity inside The Sims. …” Get your recursion jolt of the day right here.

Monday, February 16, 2004

I really shouldn’t post this suggestion:

First, let’s agree that if you’re using a shared computer (at work, say), then you should NOT let your browser remember your passwords and make it trivially easy to log in. Right? It’s tempting though, isn’t it? But don’t ever do it. Not at all. Period. But if you want to, uh, compromise, uh, … NO COMPROMISES!

But if you still want to compromise, you might do this. Type a password that’s approximately correct, with a mistake near at the end. Try to log in and let your browser remember that. Then the next time you log in, you’ll just have to enter the correction to the password, saving some typing. Anyone else trying to log in as you will be frustrated. But we’d never do this, right?

While we’re at it, I’ll point out again that if web pages presented you with a picture of a keyboard, letters in RANDOM positions, to type your password by clicking the right letters – then even a spyware program monitoring your every keystroke and mouse motion would not be able to detect your password. I think I have a good idea here, but I’ve never seen it used.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Ice, the Enemy:

Snow that fell weeks ago has congealed into sheets of ice edging our sidewalk and driveway. When the temperature rises to 50 F and the sun beats down, the ice hardly melts. Its secret is a good bond with the ground, enabling it to dissipate heat quickly below. But at the edges of the ice there is melting, and at the edges it no longer touches the ground. I stamp on these edges, breaking them off. Without their connection to the main ice sheets, they will quickly fall prey to the sun. Each day there is progress, and I stamp some more. Of course the ice will melt eventually on its own, but if another snowfall comes soon, I want to have as little ice under it as possible. I have no idea whether I’m hurrying the melting process or not, but it feels good to try.

Friday, February 13, 2004

How not to write quasi-spam:

Most of us are used to going through our email and quickly deleting, unexamined, anything that looks like spam. (You’ll find life easier if you use a Bayesian Filter to separate most of the spam for you.) When you email to others, be careful that your mail doesn’t LOOK like spam. If you’re lucky, the recipient will glance at both the address and the subject line before hitting the delete key. If your email address is something like Lucky6047@aol, and you’re sending to a mere acquaintance, then the subject line is ALL you’ve got. Aside from the truly no-brainer advice I might give you, please think about this:

Don’t use “Hi.” Don’t include the recipient’s name in the subject line, but do consider including our own. Try to write a subject line that really explains what the email is about. After you’ve written your subject line, read it; if it reminds you of any spam you’ve gotten lately, try again.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I Can’t come today, I have to buy a rope for my car:

When you’re asked to do something and you decide to say no, do you give an excuse? It’s usually better just to say a polite no. The other person will usually think of a plausible excuse for you that’s much nicer than the truth, and definitely better than the fib you were about to make up. Now there are people who will infer the worst possible motives when you say no, but most of them will not believe your good reasons anyway; these are truly lost causes. You’ll generally seem like a much nicer and more helpful person if you just smile warmly and say: “I’m sorry I can’t come today.” Trust me on this one. Everybody has some deep insight into human nature, and this one is mine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

“Carb” is in!

Boing Boing says: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Carbohydrate-Free Lunch.
It’s amazing how many foods now have the word Carb (it’s a word?) on their packaging. I think the food industry was missing something. They can spend their ad dollars to hype any simple concept, then put that concept on their food. Stay tuned for “Off-shore food”, “Federal deficit food”, ‘Super bowl halftime food”, “There’s life on Mars food”. Meanwhile, it’s all “carb”:

  • Low Carb Flour !
  • Low Carb Olive Oil !! (Thanks, EGR.)
  • Low Carb Cream Pies !!!
  • Low Carb Cola !!!! (Watch that Carb Dioxide.)

Illegitimi non carb (Don’t let the bastards feed you fad food).

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Webster Lake:

[b]UPDATE:[/b] 4/23/09: CORRECTED according to recent research on the correct spelling of this lake. (I was using the lesser justified 29-character variant.)
The Webster Police department has this to say about Lake Webster in Massachusetts. It’s “well known for its other name: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. It is the fifth longest word in the world according to Guiness Book of Records and the longest lake name anywhere. The lake is actually 3 ponds joined by two narrow channels.
History: Indian word meaning ‘the boundary lake’ … In 1642, Woodward and Saffery, the first surveyors of the Mass. Bay Colony, called it ‘The Great Pond.’ In 1645, Conn. Gov. John Winthrop called it ‘The Lakes of Quabage.’ After a 1707 survey, John Chandler recorded the name as ‘Chaubunnagungamoug.’ According to Wise Owl, chief of the Chaubunagungamaug band of Nipmucks, Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg was an Indian word for a neutral fishing place near a boundary - a meeting and fishing spot shared by several Indian tribes. A more popular, and some say, fanciful, interpretation is that it meant ‘You fish on your side, I fish on my side, nobody fishes in the middle’".
Latitude: 420330N
Longitude: 0715130W
Elevation: 479
Here’s a short photo essay on the lake.
If you have trouble remembering the name, just sing it to the tune of America the Beautiful (start with the word “lake”).

Monday, February 09, 2004

Virtual Cash Breeds Real Greed:

The “Gaming Open Market” is a currency exchange where traders can buy and sell Simoleans, Lindenbucks, and the virtual money of other online game worlds. There’s a partial list of these games near the beginning of this 2-page Wired News Story that discusses the exchange. I’m quite fascinated by the way virtual online worlds are navigating towards the real one, and we now have people (some of whom do not even play any of these games) speculating with game money. The article includes a warning by Dan Hunter (of the Wharton Business school) that these currencies are inherently subject to inflation. The article also asks whether some of the game sites will hold such activities illegal. There are fascinating questions about whether people injured in bad transactions would have legal recourse. “…I am buying nothing, and then selling nothing, for a profit," said one speculator they interviewed.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

When writing good poetry, avoid references that will become horribly dated:

I really enjoy Schubert’s song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin, but for me the poetry is diminished by a reference to a dance that went in and out of fashion very quickly in the 1970’s. Here’s the poet, in the fourth song, talking about going to the dance after work:
Nach Arbeit ich frug, Nun hab ich genug Für die Hände, fürs Herze Vollauf genug!
So the poet is saying, “After work I do the Frug?” I believe nobody does the Frug anymore. (Well, that was inexcusable, wasn’t it…)

Friday, February 06, 2004

Making Change:

As a teenager in summer camp, I was plagued by friends cadging small amounts of money. A typical ploy went like this:
“Do you have change for a quarter?”
“Good, then you can lend me a dime.” (Enough for a phone call then.)
When tired of this I tried a counter attack:
“Do you have change for a quarter?”
“Well actually, I have the largest amount of ordinary change you could possibly carry, and not be able to give change of anything.”
(After some thought) “Umm, ninety-four cents?”
“No, over a dollar.” And I would walk away unscathed, leaving them to find the answer. I worked this quite successfully several times, but I assure you I never really had $1.19 in my pocket.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

No callback for Clarity:

Brittle Lemon posted a lengthy complaint on Jan 15, 2004 about ambiguity in the meaning of a song. I feel that popular songs have no requirement to be easy to understand. It’s okay if the words are hard to hear or ambiguous. Look at it this way:

If you like a song, you may have heard it dozens of times, and some people have heard it hundreds of times. The music is probably repetitive, too. How can any song be good enough to stand such repetition? Part of the answer is that ambiguousness is much less wearing, in repetition, than clarity. If it were totally obvious what the words meant, it would likely be boring to hear it more than five times.

At one time in my career I was testing digital video software. We used a number of video clips for this purpose, and everyone got heartily sick of them, except one. In the short clip we watched over 1,000 times, a spokesman for an insurance company explained why someone deserved an award. He got lost in mid-sentence and managed to say words that sounded good but could not be made to mean anything. I was always ready to hear it again.

Try listening to an old favorite from the 1950's: "Who wrote the book of Love"; or try "Louie, Louie". These songs’ low fidelity makes them hard to understand and thus eternally fresh to the ear. Where there is no art, we always need clarity.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Practicing Merges into Traffic:

So you come to an intersection where you have to turn onto a busy street. There’s a gap in the traffic when you arrive, but you’re not sure it’s big enough; you stop and study the traffic … after a little while, you pick a gap that seems okay and turn successfully onto this busy street. As you make the turn, you may regret that the gap you originally rejected (when you arrived at the intersection) was a lot larger than the gap you actually grabbed to make your turn. Were you a wimp for rejecting that first gap?

I would say no. While you sit at the intersection studying the traffic, you’re mentally practicing the turn into traffic. You visualize making the turn between each pair of cars. This isn’t an exact science of course, but your brain really figures out what size gap you need from that mental exercise. After a while you really can make the turn into a smaller gap because you’ve been practicing the turn.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Ringgg, Ringgg, Ringgg:

Many years ago we lived in a small one story building with two rental apartments. Our neighbors were away for the holidays, and their phone started to ring at all times of the day and night. This was unusual ringing. It would go on for at least five minutes, then occur again a few hours later. One night, listening to the ringing at 4 a.m., I got fed up. Knowing that our neighbors had left a window open for their cats, I went outside, climbed in and answered the phone. It was an AT&T operator: “Would you accept the charges for a call by Mr. Neighbor?”
Now in those days you could make an “other number” call; you dialed the operator from a pay phone, asked to charge the call to another (usually your home) number, and then made the call. An operator subsequently called that other number and usually got the charge accepted. In this case our vacationing neighbors had obviously made an other number call charged to their home number, but being away, they had condemned me and my wife to all this phone ringing.
“I’ll accept the charge,” I told the operator, and went on to complain “But you’ve been very inconsiderate. I’ve been listening to this phone ringing for days, and it’s been keeping us awake!”
“Then why didn’t you answer the phone?” she asked.
Well I wasn’t about to explain that I had stolen into our neighbor’s house and had no authority to accept the charge. I hadn’t foreseen her obvious question. I was totally floored.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Pistachio – the Better Carrot (no stick required):

If you ever have to manage software developers, you’ve got to know how to use pistachio nuts. Here’s an example: Manager makes an announcement to programmers at 4:55 p.m: “We’ve got an emergency deadline to meet; I want you all to stay here till ten p.m. Oh and by the way, here’s a big bag of pistachios.” Developers, looking at nuts: “Uh, okay…”

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Every day I get it worser and worser:

I heard an interview in which a person explained what keeps him going. Only I know he didn’t mean what he said. Here’s the actual quote: “I think each day’s going to be better than the next one.”