Monthly Archives: February 2014

Big Argument, Small Subject

Working in IT, I have run across various arguments over the best way to do things. One thing that I have noticed is that the bigger the argument, often, the smaller the subject.

How one indents one’s programming instructions is one such argument area. Some people argue to do it one way, some another. There is no argument that you need to have a good indenting scheme; the argument is exactly what that scheme should be. I have a preference myself.

Various schemes have their advantages and disadvantages. Since there is no universal standard, the arguments continue. Some people lose perspective, and these arguments can get rather vicious at times.

The important thing is to pick a standard and run with it. This is a case of agreement being more important than exactly what is agreed to. You do have to work with these people, right?

Do you argue over little things and lose your perspective? Does the point really matter that much? Consider the possibility that it does not.

I am being considered for a programming position, and they do not indent their code the way that I do. I think that getting and keeping the position is more important than what indenting scheme they use. What do you think?

Odd Language #37: Weird Plural

Most plurals are formed by adding “s” or a variant on this. “cats” and “dogs” are two such words, as is “words”.

Some terms are composed of more than one word and hyphenated, and it is not the last word that is pluralised. The plural of “governor-general” is “governors-general”. (Yes, “governor-generals” can also be used.)

The issue: I was reading a novel recently and ran across the word “passersby”. That is the plural of “passerby”. Look at how the plural is formed.

Puzzle #40: Socks

Your sock drawer is quite a mess. You have eight black socks, seven white socks, two blue socks, and one weird striped sock. They are all indistinguishable in the dark. It is dark, and you want to select the least number of socks in each scenario.

1) The socks have been put into pairs though not necessarily matching pairs. How many pairs (no rematching allowed) do you need to select to be sure of getting at least two matching socks (which could be from different pairs)?
2) The socks are all loose. How many socks do you need to select to be sure of getting at least one matching pair?
3) Like #2, but now, you want two matching pairs.

Submit your answer to Gene Wirchenko <>. Your answer should be in the form of a proof. That means to show how your answer must be correct. The deadline is Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #38 Solution: Bacon!

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Chez Gene: Fine^WNot Too Bad Food

As a programmer, my attention can sometimes be rather firmly on my work. Still, I like to eat from time to time, and cold food all the time is not good enough for me.

What sort of food do I cook? Food that does not require much attention to detail. (I save that for my programming!)

Hey, I could be busy working on a routine. That thing cooking will just have to wait a bit. It had better not be something time-sensitive. (I have not boiled a pot of water dry for years now though I confess I have done so a few times, and I have boiled pasta nearly dry a few times.)

I like pasta for this reason. The Italians have a term al dente which is the point to which pasta should be cooked. The wusses! I admit that really overcooking pasta makes it mushy (proven empircially, not just a notion!), but it can take a fair amount of abuse before it gets to that point. Either that, or I am a natural pasta whiz, but which do you really think?

Another thing I like is soup. I make a mean hamburger noodle soup. Again, a bit of overcooking is not a disaster.

I am eating fine though I am not expecting any Michelin stars any time soon. Just as well, the inspector would interrupt my work.

Odd Language #36: Losing To

“I never met him, but I do not like losing good regulars to a newsgroup.”

The issue: I posted this in a RIP thread on alt.usenet.offline-reader.forte-agent. I did not realise my ambiguous wording at the time. Is it losing regulars of a newsgroup or losing regulars and they go to a newsgroup? I meant the former.

Puzzle #39: Get Out of Town!

I graduated with my baccalaureate in June 2010. This was my last puzzle of the 2009-2010 academic year:

According to [convocation link deleted], graduation for my program is on June 4, 2010 starting at 2 P.M. The earlier graduation ceremony that day starts at 10 A.M. The two graduation ceremonies presumably do not overlap and will be of similar lengths, so let us assume that my graduation ceremony will be no longer than four hours. Assume that I leave town right after graduation, taking fifteen minutes to reach the municipal boundary. Is it possible that I will still be in town at a time when the date and time expressed as YYMMDD hh:mm can have all ten digits different? There is a quick answer to this problem, but any valid reasoning will be accepted.


Conflation is taking two things as being one.

From “the process or result of fusing items into one entity”.

Sometimes, the two things do not necessarily belong together, and yet, they are put together.

A company executive does not necessarily play golf. A grandmother does not necessarily bake cookies. Small children do not necessarily whine.

When you conflate two things, be sure that they necessarily go together. I have confused people in the past because they assumed that because I believed A that I must believe B. Some were quite put out that I did not.

It is a big world out there, and there are many more possibilities than you and I think.

Odd Language #35: Which Own Rules?

From “Kamloops Daily News”, Friday, 2013-12-13, p. C1, “We Say” (editorial):

headline: “Province plays by its own rules”

The issue: Does this mean that the provincial government follows the rules that it has made or that it does not? Unfortunately, it meant the latter.