Monthly Archives: December 2014

Consistency or Excellence?

Consistency or excellence: which do you prefer?

I expect that most people would say excellence, but by their behaviour, it is usually actually consistency that they want.

If the author of your favourite comic strip only created a strip when he knew it was excellent, you could have an awfully long wait between strips. If you read that comic daily, you are probably looking forward to reading the latest.

I am the same way. Something that is consistently at least a B is better to me than something all over: A, then F, then D, then C.

This applies to people, too. Some people do fantastic things briefly. Others quietly work at something more mundane but keep at it for many years. We have a case of this in Kamloops where a woman is retiring from the John Howard Society after twenty years there.

Consistency is too often underrated and underappreciated.

Odd Language #81: Weird Job Title

Years ago, I saw an ad for a “Provincial Noxious Weed Coordinator”.

The issue: A program coordinator coordinates programs. So a Noxious Weed Coordinator …

I can see it now: “We need more crabgrass in Vancouver and to spread the dandelions more evenly in the Fraser Valley.”

Puzzle #84: Snowflakes

Your backyard is covered in snow. There are abcdef snowflakes.

1) abcd is prime.
2) Three of the digit values are odd, and three are even.
3) One digit value is the product of a prime value and a prime value.
4) ab, cd, and ef.
5) All four single-digit primes occur as digit values.
6) b < c < e.
7) All of the digit values are different except for one pair.
8) a < d < f.

So how many snowflakes are 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, January 14, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #82 Solution: Buttons

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Technical Translation

I tutor people in mathematics. I have noticed that many programs put a lot of emphasis on the math, but they fail to deal much with translation. You might know the translation as “word problems”.

As I see it, there are three steps in using mathematics.

The first is translation into mathematical language from the initial statement.

The second is doing the math.

The third is translating the mathematical answer back to the problem area.


1) “Bob has three cookies, and Tom has four cookies. Together they have how many cookies?” That would be 3 + 4.

2) 3 + 4 = 7.

3) Together, they have seven cookies.

The first step is the most important one. If you can not translate into mathematical language, you will not be able to do math.

The third step is next most important. Your results have to get back to the problem area to be of use.

Last is the math itself. Compared with the other areas, it is trivial. (We have calculators that can easily deal with the second step; they can not handle the first and third steps.)

I expect that this translation ability is important in most technical fields.

A boy I have tutored can handle many types of calculations. Where he runs into trouble is determining which calculations he should be doing. And there are a lot of ways to calculate wrong.

Some of them are given in this article Some might call this a trick question, but part of competence in a field is knowing what one needs to solve a problem and getting it.

Can you do technical translation, or do you mix sheep and dogs?

Odd Language #80: I, I, I

In Japanese, pronouns are not used much. If a sentence makes sense without a pronoun, it is usually omitted.

“Kare wa wakarimasu.” means “He understands.”, but if it were obvious who was being discussed, the sentence could be abbreviated to “Wakarimasu.”

The issue: Japanese has a lot of pronouns. For example, has a list of them. 21 of them mean “I”. I note that the list does not include “Atakushi”. 22!

Puzzle #83: The New Job

Congratulations on your new job as an engineer: sanitation engineer, that is, for the town of Notbigville.

Today’s run covers the light manufacturing part of town. There is one long deadend road that you have to do garbage pickup for. There is the usual assortment of bins, and you can expect to have at least two truckloads of garbage.

You would like to do an quick and efficient job so that you can enjoy the rest of day (or alternatively have time to track down and murder the guidance counsellor who conned you into taking this job). What is the best way to go about it? (Yes, the garbage collection.)

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, January 7, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #81 Solution: More Coloured Blocks

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Asking Questions

A manager is promoting an idea for a new computer system. Someone else is asking a lot of questions. What is the second person trying to do?

One possibility is that he is trying to nitpick the idea to death.

Another is that he works in IT.

IT projects can be quite complex. They have to fit in with existing systems and available resources, and it is the people in IT who will have to do the heavy lifting.

The manager is probably speaking in general terms. This might be enough for other people to decide to buy in or not. For a large project, it is not nearly enough for an IT person to decide to buy in. For IT, those details are important.

Note that an IT person could not try the first strategy, but usually, we do not.

But how do you tell the difference?

I suspect that this situation can occur in any area where technical and non-technical people are discussing a project. Do you have any examples?

Odd Language #79: Somebody Tripped

I saw a job recently on a job board for a “Tripping Counsellor”.

The issue: The full title was “Tripping Counsellor – Hiking or Canoeing” which makes it fairly plain that the title should have been “Trip Counsellor”.

I do not think that the YMCA is looking for someone to help out with tripping whether that is making someone stumble or stoned.