Monthly Archives: March 2015

Re: As We Age, Smartphones Don’t Make Us Stupid — They’re Our Saviors

Lauren Weinstein is a frequent contributor to the RISKS List which is for discussing computer-related risks. RISKS is accessible as the USENET newsgroup comp.risks or through Mr. Weinstein’s article “As We Age, Smartphones Don’t Make Us Stupid — They’re Our Saviors” appeared in RISKS 28.56 and on his Website at

He starts: “Throughout human history, pretty much every development or invention that increased our information storage and management capabilities has had its loud and voracious naysayers.” and gives historical examples.

Another paragraph is, ‘The crux of most arguments against having quick access to information seem to largely parallel the attempts not that many years ago (and in some venues, still continuing) to routinely ban calculators from physics and other similar subject tests, on the grounds that not doing the math by hand was somehow — perhaps in a moral judgment “You’ll go to hell!” kind of sense — horribly cheating.’

I can see his point, but I also see the other side. The benefits of a new method of dealing with things can be loudly touted while the disadvantages are ignored.

I had an example of this in university. For one of my courses, the instructor stated, near the beginning of the course, that he was considering allowing us to use laptops on the midterm and the final exams. No Net connection would be allowed, but each student could put whatever data he wanted on his systems. We already would be allowed to bring whatever hard copy we wanted.

The idea of this was very popular with the students in the back row in class: the ones who sat there because then they could plug in their systems.

The midterm came and went. I noticed a couple weeks after that we had not had the option of using computers. Since it was of no interest to me, I shrugged. The topic came up again near the end of the course. There was a lot of racket from the students who wanted to use computers. I finally managed to get a word in edgewise that I was concerned that an exam could favour computer use and that I did not think that I should have to spend several hundred dollars (more) to write a final. The instructor said that that would be considered. Since he was straightshooter, I left it at that.

On Thursday of the first week of exams, it was time to write the final for this course. I brought my course notes and assignments as well as three textbooks that I had and thought might be of use. The exam looked reasonable, and I got to it. I only had to refer to my materials a few times. I left figuring that I had done quite well.

Wait, wait, wait.

A week later, I still had not seen my grade up. I was on campus and ran across the instructor and asked how it was going. He must have just finished the marking. He told me (words are a close paraphrase), “I’ve got two things to tell you. In general, the students who did not use computers did better than those who did, and two, you got the only A+.”

Naturally, I was pleased with the A+, but why the difference between the two groups? I puzzled over it for a few months and finally came up with what I think is the reason.

I minored in Math, and on a course on linear programming, I was studying for the midterm with another student. We were trying a question, and it just was not working out. We decided to check the text. The other student was looking at it for a few minutes and did not figure it out, so I asked to have a look. There was a section that I thought was wrong or ambiguous. I suggested reading it a bit differently than we had. That turned out to be it.

If we had not done this, but had instead referred to the text during the exam, we would have lost time. It is no surprise to me now why students in the other course who used computers did not do so well. It is one thing to look something up like the capital of California, but it is quite another when one has to understand the material that one finds more than trivially.

I think that people who rely overly on computers can all too easily shortchange themselves.

Odd Language #93: Inverted Usage is a short article of two pargraphs:

“A recently released survey conducted by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International reveals that female Internet users care less about protecting themselves online than men.

While awareness may be a factor, the survey also revealed that the types of concerns that men and women have online differ, with men less concerned with, and therefore more a victim of, fraud-related attacks resulting in financial consequences.”

The issue: The first paragraph states that women do not care so much about pretecting themselves on the Internet. The second states that men are less concerned with fraud-related attacks. Since fraud-related attacks are some of the worst, the pragraphs appear contradictory. I think that one of them states the opposite of what was intended, but which?

Puzzle #96: Marbles That You Have Not Lost

TRU students (and students at other universities) will be writing final exams soon. Best wishes!

You have some marbles. Each is one of six colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Given the clues following, how many are there of each colour?

1) There are more orange marbles than blue ones; there are fewer violet marbles than red ones.
2) The number of orange marbles and green marbles combined is equal to the number of yellow marbles and violet marbles combined.
3) Each colour has a different number of marbles, and these numbers are all in the range of two to nine.
4) There are three times as many violet marbles as yellow marbles.
5) There are 28 marbles.

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 8, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #94 Solution: Number Grid

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Missing Language Pieces

You may have been quite happily dealing in an area for years when you discover that there is a piece missing.

I hit on one years ago which I covered in this week’s Odd Language #92: Was-and-Is.

There are other language pieces missing. I so wish that English also had a widely-used and agreed-upon third person pronoun that does not consider the sex of the person referred to and also a title that is the same way. The Japanese honorific “san” is like this. Tanaka-san may be any of Mr. Tanaka, Mrs. Tanaka, Ms. Tanaka, Miss Tanaka, etc.

In high school, I developed a private shorthand. I have experimented in it with various concepts over the years. I have a third-person pronoun “e”. It is derived from “he”, but it does not have any connotation as to the sex of the referent. I can add a flag which specifies the sex, but I rarely see the need to.

In English (and many other languages), one often has to know the sex of a person to refer to the person properly. To do it right, you have to know whether the person is male or female and then use the appropriate title. Often, one can guess correctly, but how Chris?

And so often, the sex of the referent does not matter. But because getting the title wrong would be rude, one has to find out the sex of the person.

What missing pieces would you add to English (or any other language that you use)?

Odd Language #92: Was-and-Is

Consider this sentence from “Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion, in Kyoto, was (and is) a Zen Buddhist temple. (1482).”

The issue: For years, I have thought that it would be nice if English had a verb form that means was-and-is. An example of its use would be if someone were being asked about his history.

Wrong (to me): “What were you doing at the time?” “I was the executive director of the ABC Foundation.” “Why did you leave that position?” “I did not leave it; I still hold it.”

Better (to me): “What were you doing at the time?” “I was-and-am the executive director of the ABC Foundation.”

What else do you think is missing from English?

Puzzle #95: Another Number Grid

Each of the spaces in a three-by-three grid has one of the integers from one to nine. Each value is used once.

1) The three values in the top row sum to 15, and none are prime.
2) The three values in the middle row are all odd.
3) The three values in the bottom row sum to 15.
4) The three values in the middle column are 7, 8, and 9, in some order.
5) The three values in the right column sum to 6.

How are the integers arranged in the grid?

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 1, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #93 Solution: The Bowling Team

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Being Held to an Estimate

This is something that happens in IT. I expect that it happens in a lot of places.

You are asked for an estimate. You give an estimate. You are then held to the estimate as a deadline. It may even be claimed that you promised to meet the “deadline”.

Sometimes, what was asked for is elaborated on — more is asked for — but the estimate/deadline stays the same.

It should not happen that way, but it does.

My intuition on the matter is that people enforce these estimates to the degree that they do not know about the area or are not willing to take responsibility in the area that will have to produce the results. This gives them a sense of certainty, a feeling of control. It is a false certainty, but it is certainty nonetheless.

I would like to read of examples in areas outside of IT. Do you have any?

Odd Language #91: Adjectives and Verbs

I recently was posting on USENET about debugging of programs. I wrote “Debugging code that changes state …” then backed up and changed it to “Debugging(adjective) code that changes state …”

The issue: I did not mean that I was debugging. (Of course, I would be, but that was not the focus.) I was referring to code that I wrote to help me debug. Without the adjective indication, a reader could have misread my intention as me debugging a program that changes state instead of it being the debugging code that might change state. (“state” refers to values that determine what state a program is in.)