Monthly Archives: March 2014

Scream and Leap

In his Known Space setting, author Larry Niven had the kzinti, a race of ferocious rat-cats. They had a strategy(?) of scream and leap. That did not work so well in war against the furless monkeys (us).

But it is a good idea in a lot of areas.

The weekend before last, in one of the gaming groups I play in, the GM burnt out. We might have played board games instead.

I had been thinking of getting into GMing again, but I do not know the current systems used very well at all.

I did scream and leap and volunteered my services.

It went quite well, and now, my campaign will be going every other Sunday.

Sometimes, a bit of boldness really works.

Odd Language #41: Another Different URL Interpretation

I used to live in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, Canada. (Please spare me the joke about salmon not having arms. I have heard it.)

“Salmon Arm” being a bit long, it was often abbreviated “SA”. The Salmon Arm Downtown Improvement Association came up with a URL. I do not remember what the TLD was. (.com or .ca?)

I do remember the other part: “sadowntown”.

The issue: I am sure that they meant “Salmon Arm downtown”, but it is too bad that it also parses as “sad own town”. I noticed this about 1 1/2 seconds after first reading it and pointed it out.

They are currently using

Puzzle #44: Cookies!

Mom has been not been getting many treats lately. Having had enough of this, one fine day, she showed her hubby and three sons the door. “And take that fleabag cat with you!” She quickly locked and latched all doors and windows.

It’s cookie time!

Mom baked some cookies for herself. Oatmeal, yum!

1) There was at least one cookie in each of the seven combinations.
2) Sixteen cookies contained chocolate, fourteen contained raisins, and ten contained cinnamon.
3) Each of the seven combinations had a different number of cookies.
4) Seven cookies had chocolate but no raisins or cinnamon.
5) Each cookie had at least one of chocolate, raisins, and cinnamon.

How many did cookies did Mom enjoy, and how many were there of each combination?

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, April 9, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Kari Maaren Rules!

I recently discovered a wonderful comic strip: “West of Bathurst”. (The title is explained in one of the early strips.) It is set in Toronto at an imaginary university (Davies) which just happens to be located where a real uni is. WoB has slice-of-life elements. It also has weird bits. They combine rather well. I read through the seven years of archive and had a great time.

Well, I should say “was”, because WoB concluded last month.

But all is not lost.

Kari Maaren wrote/drew WoB. She has started a new strip called “It Never Rains”. In the Monday strip comment, Kari wrote that INR is in its second fortnight. (“second fortnight” beats “third week”.) Kari, having a Ph.D. in English, is an English geek. Yum!

But that is not all. Her Website warns “Kari Maaren writes geeky songs and draws geeky comics. She has sworn to use her ukulele only for good.” The first is true; whether she hews to the second is debatable.

My favourite is “Everybody Hates Elves”. For being a bunch of slackers, elves get awfully good press. Kari adjusts this. She expresses the snooty tones excellently. Beware of the kazoo/ukulele bridge.

“Kids These Days” is about an older vampire who just does not get the sparkly vampire bit.

“That’s Fear” is a nice tone piece. I like the twist at the end.

For a different kind of Christmas song, try “I Remember the Entrails”. (This one is not on her Website, but is in the Youtube collection she has posted.)

And there are way more.

Kari’s Website is

Odd Language #40: Homonym Trouble

On a forum that I follow, a few weeks ago, there was a post about how many people do not really need upgrades. The poster ended with: “I gave up fighting it. They want to contribute to MSoft’s retirement cache, so be it.”

The issue: Oddly, both “cache” and “cash” are correct here.

Puzzle #43: Candy

Billy bought some candy. Each piece was one of red, yellow, or blue in colour, and each piece was either hard or soft.

1) The numbers of the combinations did not have two sequences of three consecutive numbers (such as {1, 2, 3} and {5, 6, 7}).
2) There were more yellow candies than red candies.
3) Each of the combinations had a different number of candies.
4) The numbers of the combinations did not have a sequence of four or more consecutive numbers (such as {3, 4, 5, 6}).
5) Twice as much candy was soft as was hard.
6) The total number of pieces was in the twenties.
7) There were three blue candies.
8) There was at least one candy of each of the six combinations of colour and hardness.

How many of each candy combination were there?

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, April 2, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #41 Solution: Sausage!

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Computers, Practice, and Thinking

Computers are very useful tools. We should use them in as many places as possible. Right?

While some people may feel that way, I definitely do not.

Overuse of computers seems to dull thinking.

In one course on my computing science degree, the instructor said, near the beginning of the course, that he was considering allowing the use of laptop computers (but no Internet access) on the midterm or final exams. The midterm came and went, but about three weeks before the end of the course, he brought up the subject again.

(On the midterm, we were allowed to bring any written reference material we wanted. The issue was whether laptops would also be allowed on the final.)

There were some who were very loud about being able to use computers. I waited for an opportunity to state my view. Finally, one person said to me not to speak against laptop use just because I did not have one. That gave me my opening and I said that I was concerned that a test could be written to favour laptop use and that I did not think that I should have to spend several hundred dollars more to write an exam. The instructor said that the test would not be biased. Since he was a straightshooter, I took him at his word.

For the final, I brought three textbooks, my notes, and my assignments. No laptop.

The final was handed out. The cover had a question on whether a computer was used. As I usually do, I checked the exam over before starting, and it appeared to be good. I got to it. I found that the exam was a very good one. I only occasionally had to refer to my material. I left feeling confident that I had done well.

At my alma mater, supposedly, final exams are supposed to be marked within 72 hours. That does not seem to happen too often, at least in my courses. About a week later, I encountered the instructor in a hallway and asked. He must have just finished. He said that he had two things to tell me. One was that, in general, the students who did not use a computer did better than those who did. The other was that I got the only A+.

I was pleased with my grade, but I puzzled over why the difference between computer use and non-use.

After some thinking, I came up with what I think is the answer. It is too easy to get lazy when using a computer. You can use the computer to solve a problem and never really understand how to do it yourself. Then, in an exam, your lack of deep knowledge or comfort with the subject bites you.

I have a crosscheck on this.

I also minored in math, and I studied for exams with others. We worked out problems to get comfortable with the techniques. In one case, I worked with another to solve a problem in linear programming. It was not working out, yet we thought we knew how. I finally figured out that the text was a bit ambiguous, and when we tried the other way, it worked. Had we not worked on problems in advance, when the exam came, we would have blown up with the problem we had during study.

Do not let a computer stop you from learning your material.

Odd Language #39: Different URL Interpretations

You may have seen various cases of URLs that can read in a way that was not intended. Any others that I have seen have the oddity in the domain name, but I have a case where it is in the parameters.


The issue: “itbother” occurs twice. It is probably meant to be read as “ITB [IT Business] other”, but it can be read as “IT bother”. I subscribe to notifications from so I see many of these.