# Christmas: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

It is Christmas Eve as I write this, and it will be released Christmas Day.

Frenetic Christmas behaviour has been around for quite a while. I remember it (and complaints about it) from my childhood, and I am 53.

When I was in elementary school, I sang in a choir. I used to like Christmas carols. I came to dislike them greatly when I kept getting bombarded with them in stores. (Note to retailers: I have walked out of stores when it got to be too much.)

For some reason, I have not run into much of that this year. I do not mind hearing them. These two statements are connected.

Eleven years ago, I was in China at Christmas. There were some Christmas displays and carols, but it was not so overdone. I rather liked it. One of my favourite moments in China was on Christmas Day when I was eating dinner in a university cafeteria. A student in a Santa hat was handing out candy. He looked to be having fun doing it and seemed to really enjoy handing me my piece. And yet it was such a simple action.

Christmas can be a great time to be with family, a great stress, or both. I hope your choice works for you. Happy Holidays!

# Odd Language #28: A Talented Wish?

From a USENET post: “OK then, instead of the ability to understand women, I’d like for my wish to be able to drive to Hawaii.”

The issue: “OK then, instead of the ability to understand women, I’d like for my wish to be able to drive to Hawaii.” can mean that the person’s wish is to be able to drive to Hawaii, but it can be read as the wish doing the driving.

# Puzzle #31: More Chocolate

In some classes, either the instructor or some students bring goodies. One fine day, someone brings a box of the Pot of Gold Cherry Cremes Collection. Each tray looks like:

Suppose that you are handed a tray with three chocolates left in it. Class is over, so you can have them all. Rather than just gobble them all at once, you are going to play with your food. You note that it is possible to jump one chocolate with another and then do it again.

A jump consists of moving a chocolate along a straight line over another chocolate and then onto the next place (which must be empty) and removing the jumped-over chocolate. The starting place, jumped place, and ending place must be three consecutive places in a straight line (e.g. top left, mid top left, and middle).

How many possible arrangements of chocolates are there (at the time you get the tray) where a sequence of two jumps is possible? Consider chocolates to be identical, and that reflections are distinct solutions.

Submit your answer to Gene Wirchenko <genew@telus.net>. Your answer should be in the form of a proof. That means to show how your answer must be correct. The deadline is Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

# Politeness and Strength

Some people are polite; some people are rude. Often, someone who is rude is viewed as being strong, but is he?

A strong person can afford to be polite. There is little need ever to be rude.

Imagine someone in a situation where he starts swearing. Was he handling the situation well before he started swearing? No. If he had been handling the situation well, he would not have started swearing, now would he have?

Be rude, and show you are losing. Stay cool, and that might help you win.

# Odd Language #27: Which Second?

Foundation’s Fear by Gregory Benford, Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear, and Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin make up The Second Foundation Trilogy.  This is a continuation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

The issue: A matter of context.  The story is that two foundations were established at opposite ends of the galaxy: the First Foundation and the Second Foundation.  This second trilogy is not about the Second Foundation, but one might think so if one had read the first trilogy.

# Puzzle #30: The Zillion Bracelet

The fabulous Zillion bracelet is worth a fortune.  It consists of eight exquisite diamonds each mounted on a bracelet segment.  The segments are numbered from 1 to 8 starting from one end when the bracelet is undone.

Given the following, how much is the Zillion bracelet worth and what is the arrangement of segments by value?

1) Each segment is worth either two or three zillion dollars.
2) The Zillion bracelet is worth the total value of the segments: n zillion dollars.
3) n is prime.
4) Whether the bracelet is undone or done up (1 next to 8), no three consecutive segments are all of the same value.
5) The greater-value segments are all at prime-number locations.

Submit your answer to Gene Wirchenko <genew@telus.net>. Your answer should be in the form of a proof. That means to show how your answer must be correct. The deadline is Wednesday, January 1, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

# The Encyclopedia Effect

How much do you understand the subject _____? (Fill in the blank for your own example.)

If you were looking up something about that subject, you would want something at your level. If you are already very knowledgeable in the subject, you would want something more detailed than if you are just learning about it. All too often though, reference materials go way too deep for the beginner.

A example of this problem is Wikipedia. It can be quite useful for looking some things up, but beware. It is often not very useful for a beginner in a technical subject. Why? Because the write-up then often is very technical. If you want a good introduction to it, you may well be out of luck.

For example, here is the first paragraph of the article phylum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylum): ‘In biology, a phylum (/ˈfaɪləm/; plural: phyla)[note 1] is a taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class. Traditionally, in botany the term division is used instead of “phylum”, although in 1993 the International Botanical Congress accepted the designation “phylum”.[1][2] The kingdom Animalia contains approximately 35 phyla; the kingdom Plantae contains 12 phyla. Current research in phylogenetics is uncovering the relationships between phyla, which are contained in larger clades, like Ecdysozoa and Embryophyta.’

If you are not particularly knowledgeable about biology, how many words would you have to look up in order to completely understand this paragraph?

Wikipedia would serve better if it had non-technical versions of pages or if technical pages started with a non-technical definition.