Monthly Archives: October 2014

More on Missing Instructions

Last week, I wrote Missing Instructions where I lamented missing instructions.

I have another example that hits close to home, ah, blog.

It turns out, that if I set a time in the future for the date and time of a blog entry, that the blog entry will be released at that date and time.

I did not know this. I thought that the time and date was simply a date and time, and a blog entry got published exactly I clicked on “Publish”. This is handy and lets me automate it. I wish I had known this months ago.

What else are we missing?

Odd Language #72: Confusing Modifier

In is this sentence: “People from Kansai are also prone to using keigo in situations where Kanto speakers would deem it unnecessary, especially speakers from Kyoto.”

The issue: Is the phrase “especially speakers from Kyoto” modifying “People from Kansai” or “Kanto speakers”? It is the former. (Kyoto is in the Kansai region of Japan. Kanto is the region that Tokyo is in.)

Puzzle #75: Hallowe’en Traps

You have just seen the grouchy, old man next door’s plans for Hallowe’en. (“I am keeping all of the candy. None for those kids”, he claimed.) He has his sidewalk and porch boobytrapped. (He also has a minefield under his lawn, but that is just part of his normal defences and is not part of this Hallowe’en puzzle. Another time, perhaps.)

He has a total of ten traps along the sidewalk and two on the porch. The traps are, in some order, two pit traps, four trip wires, three snares, and three leghold traps. (“The lawn is actually safer”, he chortled. “But those kids still better stay off my lawn.”)

1) How many different arrangements of traps are there?
2) How many if there must be exactly one pit trap on the porch?
3) How many if there must be at least one pit trap on the porch?
4) Do you have any neighbours like this?

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, November 12, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #73 Solution: Hallowe’en Candy Calling

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Missing Instructions

With so many things, it is so obvious how to use them that no instructions are required.

Who makes this determination?

Quite often, it is the person who designed it. Wouldn’t you expect that he would know how to use it and that would be obvious to him? Maybe, someone else should be asked.

In the software industry, many seem to have the idea that if a program requires documentation, then it is too difficult to use. This leads to needed documentation being left out. You might find out about a feature or how it works only by being told or by chance.

There is a game called Hack Slash Crawl. It is a simple dungeon crawl game. The instructions are on one screen. There is room for one more line, one that states what the numbers on the spells are for. I only found out by accident that one can use the number keys to start the spells; you do not have to click on the spell icon. In a hard battle, this can make a big difference. A pity it got left out.

Someone thought it was obvious. It was not obvious to me.

I have a small pocket flashlight. Press the button to turn it on momentarily. Fine. I figured that out. However, I was using it one day and pressed rather hard with the result that it broke in my hand. At least, I thought it had. It turns out that it is in two pieces. The flashlight part is attached to the other part with a retractible string. This makes it much more useful, but it never occurred to me before that it worked this way. I really thought that I had broken it, because of no instructions.

The next time you create something for others, how about thinking about how someone who has not seen it before is likely to view it? Some instructions could help.

Odd Language #71: Lead Astray

In Orson Scott Card’s story “The Monkeys Thought ‘Twas All in Fun” has a character who is forced to become a miner and “… he was not untalented or utterly unbright, so he was trained as a lead miner.”

The issue: “lead” as in the metal or as in “leading”? You might think the former, but it was actually the latter. He was a lead coal miner.

Puzzle #74: Haunted Yard Plans

You are planning a haunted yard for Hallowe’en. You have a lot of what you require already, but money is tight. You have $20 to spend. You have come up with a list of scary stuff with each item’s cost and scariness (per occurrence):

– haunted doorbell (one only): $3, 2 scary points
– tombstone: $2, 1 scary point but doubled if 5 or more tombstones
– scary tomb: $10, 5 scary points
– vampire figure: $15, 5 scary points
– vampire costume and makeup: $10, 10 scary points
– small, carved pumpkin: $3, 1 scary point
– large, carved pumpkin: $5, 2 scary points

You do not want an insipid haunted yard so it must have at least three items and at least 20 scary points.

How many different haunted yards can you come up with if you do not repeat any items? How about if you can repeat items as much as you can afford (except for the one marked “one only”)? (You do not have to spend all of the money.)

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, November 5, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #72 Solution: Marbles

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

The Scourge of Technical Support

Many people do not like working in technical support. I usually do not mind it, but there is a type of person that technical support people do not like having to deal with.

That is the person who thinks that he does not have to do anything or learn anything and that it is all technical support’s problem.

One woman that I spoke to about this was quite definite on the matter. She did not think that she had to learn anything.

This is not a good idea.

Technical support might be busy on something else, and it might be more important to boot. Do you want your work to grind to a halt because you do not know how to handle your work environment? You should be able to handle your work environment. If you can not, it smacks of incompetence.

Many of the things that technical support ends up handling can be handled by the user himself. Changing the toner cartridge on a laser printer is on the same order as putting gas in one’s car. It does not require a technical person doing it.

The same applies to many other things such as loading paper in a printer and changing printer ribbons.

If you do not know how, ask. Most technical support people would be pleased to help you learn about the system. There may be some things that you should leave alone, but many are very easy to learn and do.

A couple hidden advantages to knowing more about your system (and more importantly, having a sense of responsibility about it) are:

1) With a bit of education, you might end up being able to handle many problems yourself. This is likely quicker than waiting.

2) You are likely to be able to give a lot more useful detail when there is a problem that you can not handle.

Which do you think is more likely to be dealt with quickly:

1) “I got an error message and it won’t work now.”


2) “I wanted to print a statement for ABC, but I got an error message about there not being a default printer.”

The second, right? Even better would be the exact text of the message, but the second example is much better than many problem reports I have gotten.

Taking some responsibility for your office equipment frees up technical support for the technical stuff, the stuff that only they can do. Setting up someone’s laptop, repairing a damaged database, replacing damaged or outdated equipment: that is the stuff that gets interrupted by inane technical support calls. You do want that new laptop, don’t you?

Odd Language #70: Each and All

I was writing a logic puzzle and in my draft had the sentence: “Each of the courses has its midterm in the same week.”

The issue: Awkward! I first am stating about each course, but then I need to state about all of the courses. English seems to be a bit weak/awkward in this area of combining “each” and “all”. I ended up eliminating the “each” and writing “Unfortunately, all five courses’ midterms are in the same week (Monday to Friday).”