Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Disaster of Thinking One Knows…

…when one does not actually know.

Have a look at Odd Language #98: Unexpected Answer.

The fireman thought he knew. If the ambulance attendant author had made the same assumption, the girl in the incident probably would have died.

There is knowing, there is not knowing, and then there is the level of hallucination: thinking one knows when one actually does not.

You might consider to checking your assumptions a little more often. I know that I have been caught off-guard because of assumptions that turned out to be wrong.

Odd Language #98: Unexpected Answer

A very interesting story in on unexpected answers:

In an earlier life, I was an EMT paramedic. Every good emergency care provider learns to ask the patient what’s wrong or what hurts — even when the illness or injury appears obvious. For example, I once arrived on a scene where a 17-year-old teenager had driven her car into a stationary vehicle. She was sitting in the front seat with her legs dangling out of the open driver’s door. As I walked up, I could see a fractured femur bone sticking up through her jeans.

Still, I asked her the question, “Where does it hurt?”

A few of the firemen behind me laughed, and one said, “I can tell where it hurts!”

The issue: The article continues:

Actually, I too fully expected her to say that her leg hurt, but she didn’t. Instead, she said, “My stomach hurts.” With that, I got her into the ambulance as quickly as possible without spending a lot of time splinting the leg and started an IV. I told the ambulance driver to hurry.

She began to cough up copious amounts of blood. Her blood pressure dropped and she became unconscious, due to internal tears and bleeding. They were able to save her life, thanks to the early IV, a fast trip to the hospital, and emergency surgery.

Even though you think you know the answer, asking the obvious question is key to saving the patient. The same applies to cyber forensics and defense: I can’t do my job to the best of my abilities if I don’t know what hurts the patient the most.

Sometimes, the answer to a question is not the obvious one suggested by the question and the apparent situation.

Puzzle #101: Magic Word?

You have found a piece of paper with an odd word written on it: “ALAKAZARCA”. The paper is torn at the end so this might just be the beginning. What is it anyway? Something in Arabic? A magic word?

Actually, there is a quite mundane explanation for it. What?

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, May 13, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #99 Solution: Prime Sums

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Odd Language #97: An Odd Verdict

I am reading through the USENET newsgroup rec.puzzles and found an interesting post:

‘> Does “to verdict a case” simply mean “to bring a case to verdict”?

A reply was given to the effect that “to verdict a case” is not standard English usage.

The original poster wrote that he had googled for it and found many instances of lawyers using it, seemingly with the meaning indicated above.’

The issue: The poster continued: “I googled for the phrase myself and quickly realized the mistake that the original poster had made.

*Without* using any Internet resources… what *was* his mistake?”

His answer:

‘Here is one of the examples that I found when I replicated the original poster’s search:

Here is one of the examples that Google found:

Mr. Leech has also tried to verdict a case involving a bankers blanket bond in which he represented a commercial bank against its surety company.

The original poster saw “tried to” and assumed that “to” was an infinitive marker, and “try” was in the same sense as in “try to think of one”. But actually, “to verdict” was an adverbial phrase that could, if it wouldn’t make the sentence so ugly, have been moved to the end of it.’

“try” was as in trying a case.

Puzzle #100: HASTA LA VISTA!

Of the letters of the alphabet that occur in “HASTA LA VISTA!”, all but one have something in common. What is it, and which letter is the oddball? (Consider the capital forms of the letters only.)

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, May 6, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Two Systems, One Mess

Sometimes, two systems, each reasonable in and of themselves, interact to make a mess. This can happen in high-tech as the first two cases show. It can also happen in human systems.

Here is one such case. See if you can figure out the cause of the problem before the end of the story.

I had another such case with a fax machine myself. In one office where I worked, the fax machine did not have a direct line out. The fax machine would dial the number all at once so when faxing, it was necessary to dial 9 first, add a pause, and then enter the number to fax to.

Sometimes, faxes were not getting through. Stung by this a few times myself, I dug into it. What I found was that the one-second pause was occasionally not quite long enough for the phone system to get an external dial tone. When that happened, the fax would not get sent. Putting in two pauses solved the problem.

For a case of two human systems f[l]ailing, there was the system in Canada for government funding of education through the Employment Insurnace (EI) program and the rules of the off-campus housing complex that I live in. Apparently due to previous abuses, the government would not pay out any money sooner than six weeks before the first day of classes. The complex required the semester’s rent be paid at least 60 days before the start of the month the semester started in. Fortunately, a firm commitment that a student was going to be getting funding was accepted.

Rules are not carved in stone. When someone says that the rules are not working, it might be because two sets of rules are interacting badly. Consider adjusting rules in your area so that things work right.