Monthly Archives: May 2014

Happy Birthday to Blog and Sticking to It

My blog is now a year old (less a day). I used to respect people who could keep producing articles, comics, and other creative work on a regular basis. Now that I am doing it to a small degree, I really respect them. It is sometimes very easy, but sometimes, it is very hard indeed.

I think that too many people focus on the immediate and do not think of the effect of something done regularly over and over. These things, while they are often not flashy, have a long term effect.

Examples: 1) Someone volunteers to read to children at a library and does so for many years. 2) Someone serves on a local government council for years. Such a person can have a wealth of knowledge of how to deal with different levels of government. 3) A recent example that I saw was someone announcing that he had just written his five thousandth paid review.

My favourite example is the late Dr. Jim Totten of Thompson Rivers University running a math puzzle contest for 28 years. I took over from him. It was my honing my math skills in this contest that led to me deciding to minor in mathematics on my computing science degree.

Who do you know who has done something for the long run? What positive effects has it had for you?

Puzzle #53: Celebration

At the time that I originally ran this puzzle, it was coming up on my fiftieth birthday. The student newspaper at my alma mater was promoting something for November 4 (Hugo’s Birthday). I do not know what that was about. My birthday is November 5. There was no official celebration, so I suggested we fake it:

Suppose you are in charge of the fireworks display. You have fifty charges of fireworks. You can create a tiny effect with one charge, a small effect with two, a medium with four, a large with six, and a real doozy with ten.

Your fireworks display must use exactly fifty charges. It must have at least one of each of the five sizes of effects, and for any two effects, there must be more of the smaller one. Given these constraints, answer:

1) How many possible selections of charges are there?
2) How many possible fireworks displays are there?
3) How many fireworks displays end with a real doozy?

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, June 11, 2014> at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #51 Solution: Critters

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

“A great improvement over its successors”

The ALGOL 60 programming language was described by the above quotation.

In this world of new this and new that, it is worth considering that new might not be better.

If you have something that meets your needs, why would you change? If change will get you new capabilities or save time or save money or give you some other advantage, then yes, consider it. Change for change’s sake is needless expense.

An example of this is Web forums vs. USENET (newsgroups). Some of the advantages of USENET are:

1) You do not have to learn a different way of handling posts for each newsgroup you follow.
2) You can keep the messages if you want. (If a Web forum closes down, you lose the messages.)
3) Messages are threaded, and your software will keep track of which ones you have read. With many Web forums, either new messages are at the end with no sense of subthreads, or you have to scroll through the thread again and again to see the new messages.
4) You can download messages from many newsgroups with the push of a button, walk away, and they will be there. With Web forums, you have to check each Website. This is time-consuming especially with forums that only occasionally have posts.

And the list goes on. This is not to say that Web forums do not have some advantages, but the above are rather useful for me.

You might prefer some older way of doing things yourself. What?

Odd Language #49: Humbled

Two quotations from The Ecologic Secession by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.:

“. . . use of EMP as a detonating mechanism during HUM-
BLEPIE (see Halston ‘accident’) . . .
–p. 77
“That’s odd. He was the one who handled the Halston HUM-
BLEPIE operation. I would have thought–“
–p. 247

I have deliberately preserved the line breaks.

The issue: For years, I read the capitalised word as “hum-bleh-pee”. I was recently rereading this book, and it occurred to me that the pronunciation should be “humble pie”. Because of the hyphenation, I got fooled.

Modesitt is one of my favourite authors. He writes both science fiction and fantasy. His world building is excellent.

Puzzle #52: Vampires

Vampires are very in. It has not always been this way though. Not so long ago, we greeted the bloodsuckers with crosses and wooden stakes. They had to be much more careful and ensure that they were not noticed.

Suppose they had to leave all but one in 200 people alone to avoid detection. Of those who were eligible to be midnight snacks, 90% of them could contribute once per year; 7% twice per year; 2% four times per year; and that last 1%, we do not know how many times yet.

Assume that a vampire has to feed twice per month, the vampire population stays constant, the carrying capacity of Kamloops is 28 vampires, and Kamloops has 90,000 breathers. The final 1% must be able to be snacked on at least how many times per year for the above conditions to work out? (The results of population figure percentage calculations should not be rounded.)

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, June 4, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #50 Solution: Puppies!

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

The Zone

Have you ever been in a state of concentration where the rest of the world seems to fade away and you are much more productive?

This state is called the Zone.

It is quite well-known in computer circles, but if you work with people who deal with a lot of detail working by themselves–thinking for their livings–you might well be dealing with people who get into the Zone.

Being in the Zone is rather delicate.

We do not like being interrupted while in the Zone. Interrupting someone in the Zone destroys productivity. Think of it as mentally tripping somone.

If you were running across a field and someone tripped you, you would not just lose the time running but also the time of slowing, falling, getting up, brushing off gravel, making sure you were uninjured, and getting back up to speed. It is similar when you interrupt someone in the Zone.

Mind you, you are quite within your rights to insist that people you deal with communicate from time to time. If you have an non-emergency matter, the best way to notify might be to leave a written message or send an E-mail. If you think it is an emergency, try the acid test of whether the person you are interrupting will agree that it is one. If not, do not. If so, interrupt.

Not interrupting also saves a lot of time of people who are not in the Zone and makes for a generally more productive environment. Try it.

Odd Language #48: Chinglish

When I was in China in 2002, I occasionally got the following message when calling someone’s mobile phone number: “The subscriber you dialed is power off.”

The issue: Obviously, this is not correct English, but note how clear and concise it is.