Monthly Archives: November 2014


The term “crapification” refers to the process of taking a product and making it worse slowly over time. A business going only for the short-term money might do this.

Here is how it works.

You are a loyal customer of SomeCorp’s NeatThingie. Your latest NeatThingie has just worn out after a long time of excellent service. You wish to replace it. With another NeatThingie, of course.

You may find that the new NeatThingie does not seem to be quite like the old one. As you use it, you may find that it does not work as well, and you will probably find that it wears out more quickly.

Your NeatThingie is now CheapCrap, or it would be if the price were lower. You are probably paying about the same for the new, unsatisfactory item as for the old, good item.

I have run into two cases of this.

One is Papermate stick pens. They used to be really good value. I bought a bunch when an office supply store in town was closing. They turned out to be crap. Quite often, they will not write at first, and I have to try repeatedly before they will dispense any ink. Papermate has lost a customer.

MacGregor Happyfoot socks are the second. I used to love them. Unfortunately, they do not fit very well anymore. They are much too tight around my foot and hard to put on and take off. They also wear much more quickly. Hoping it was not just one batch, I did try again and found the same.

In both cases, I have found products that do work for me. It is doubtful that I will ever buy another Papermate or MacGregor product. When I wanted a stick pen or some socks, the decision of what to get used to be easy. It still is, just in the opposite direction.

If you make good products, how about you keep making them that way?

Odd Language #76: One Language, One Confusion

“Hamburgers come in three sizes on white or wheat buns, with a variety of toppings.” — Fodor’s Japan, 18th edition, p. 89, par. 1

The issue: There is a saying that the U.K. and U.S.A. are two countries divided by a common language. They are not the only ones.

I am a Canadian. I lived in Bellingham, WA for nearly two years. Some of the language differences were confusing the first time I ran into them.

One was the question “White or wheat?” for bread type. They are both wheat, no? (The Canadian usage is “White or brown?”.)

Now, we see this usage in a book that could reasonably be expected to be bought and used by more than just people from the U.S.A.

Puzzle #79: More Puppies

Oh, look at the puppies! They are so cute. There are seven of them. Despite being young, they have already developed personalities. Five of them most definitely enjoy chewing on rawhide chewtoys. Three of them like chewing on slippers. Four of them are scrappers and like chewing on each other.

1) Is it possible for each puppy to have at least two preferences?
2) What is the maximum number of combinations of preferences that can be had by at least one puppy? And the minimum?
3) As in #2, but each puppy must have at least one preference?

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, December 10, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Problems with Computer Intelligence

Computers, while not intelligent, can often simulate it surprisingly well. But where does the answer come from? If you ask a person how he came up with an answer, he might not be able to tell you. A computer almost certainly can not, and the answer may come from an angle that a human would likely not come up with.

There is a story of a version of Word’s spelling checker replacing “ZZZZ” with “sex”. Looking at it in retrospect, one can see the reasoning: S and Z and X all have S or similar sounds, but would you have come up with this suggestion?

In Nate Silver’s ‘The Signal and the Noise’, the story is told of how Kasparov was psyched out by a move that Deep Blue (IBM’s chess program) made in one game.

‘”A bug occurred in the game and it may have made Kasparov misunderstand the capabilities of Deep Blue,” Campbell told me. “He didn’t come up with the theory that the move it played was a bug.”‘

Instead, Kasparov attributed more intelligence to Deep Blue than the program had. What would happen if this same error was made by someone using an supposedly intelligent program in a critical situation?

Odd Language #75: Odd Line Break (Japanese Edition)

itori can be ordered in most robatayaki
shops, though many inexpensive drinking
places specialize in the popular barbe-
cued chicken dish.”
_Fodor’s Japan, 18th edition, p. 690, par. 2

The issue: I show the sentence with its line breaks as it appears in the book. The problem is that it is incorrectly hyphenated.


“barbecued” is correctly hypenated, but Japanese has different syllable rules. “yakitori” has the syllables “ya ki to ri”. Hyphenating between the K and I is incorrect. This is what comes of using English language hypenation rules on Japanese.

Since I have been studying Japanese a bit and have been using this book to practice pronunciation, this error was very obvious as have been the many other examples.

Puzzle #78: More Kittens

Ooooh, kitties! They are so sweet. There are eight of them. Their fur comes in five colours. Five of them have black, four have white, two have orange, two have brown, and one has purple. (Paint or not, consider it a fur colour.) Each kitten has at least one fur colour.

Every kitten is special. That means that no two kittens have exactly the same fur colours.

How many of these mewing lovelies have exactly one fur colour?

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, December 3, 2014 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #76 Solution: Leaves

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Management by Fiat

A pattern that I have noticed with bad managers is management by fiat. They seem to think that if they demand something, that it must be possible, viable, affordable, etc. Would they also each like a pony?

If one is a technical person, having one’s expertise denigrated — “Just make it work!” et al — is not pleasant at all. And why bother requiring that a potential employee have all sorts of technical expertise if you are just going to ignore it?

Good managers that I have have allowed me to make comments about plans. With such managers, I have actually very rarely had to say that something would not work at all. They are receptive to feedback, and we end up with a better result.

What kind of manager are you?

Odd Language #74: Odd Line Breaks

One of L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s book has “fairyland” hyphenated as “fair-/yland”. (“/” indicates the line break.)

In his novel “Flash”, “maglev” is hyphenated (pp. 103 & 126) as “ma-/glev”.

The issue: Seeing one’s language from an unusual angle. Seeing a line starting with “yland” was a bit startling. It looks somewhat Celtic. “ma-glev” was less startling but notable.

And there is another (at least, on my system): “notable” being hyphenated as “no-table”. I pronounce the word like “note able”, not “no table”.

It reminds me of the joke of a foreign student not understanding why “man’s laughter” is a crime and then being informed that the word is “manslaughter”.