Monthly Archives: July 2016

Why Technical Language is Confusing

You are reading something, and a technical term is used. It is just one more word so why should it be confusing?

Sometimes, that is all it is.

Other times, however, it can be unclear whether it is a technical term. This week’s Odd Language (Not on the Level?) is an example of this. Due to the ambiguity of “tier” – level or something that ties? – I was confused.

Another way to get confused is acronyms. I recall reading a USENET post that had an unfamiliar acronym. There are a number of Websites that have lists of acronyms and what they mean. I looked up the acronym and found just over 100 expansions. Which one applied? Who knows? If one knows which area the acronym comes from, one has a reasonable chance to figure it out. If not though, it is much more difficult.

Common sense is very useful, but only if one has it. Common sense depends on a lot of knowledge about how things work. If you know an area, you have common sense in that area, and things are “obvious”.

The kicker is that if you do not know an area, you do not have much common sense in that area. This is one reason why it can be so difficult to get started learning in an area. You lack basic knowledge in the area. Searching for information is very difficult when one does not know what things are called.

This issue has little to do with intelligence. It is a knowledge issue.

If you see someone having trouble understanding an area, it might be that the person lacks a roadmap. If you know that area, please remember that what is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to someone who does not know that area.

Odd Language #163: Not on the Level?

Recently, I saw a product labelled “FISHING HOOK TIER” on a peg at a store. I got to see the device, but I did not get to see it in operation.

The issue: It looked something like the device in this YouTube video.

I was confused. It looked as if it could be for arranging hooks. I was thinking of “tier” as in level. Finally, it occurred to me that it was “tier” as in something that ties.

This is a case of something being obvious once one knows. Confusions like this can happen due to technical language having a non-obvious meaning (to an outsider of that area). Sometimes, it may appear that there is technical language but actually is not (as was the case for me here), but this can still cause confusion.

Puzzle #166: Date Puzzle 2

Consider a date in YYYY-MM-DD format. What is the closest, previous date where all eight digits were different?

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, August 10, 2016 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #164 Solution: Entertaining the Cat

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Another B.C. Day Rant

Hello, and welcome to my yearly B.C. Day rant.

British Columbia joined Canada on July 20, 1871. When is B.C. Day? The first Monday in August. Say what?

I grant that the colony of British Columbia was created August 2, 1858, but it was only about one-half the size of the modern province.

I do not recall any big hoopla in 2008 for the 150th anniversary of the colony. There was big fuss in 1971 for the centennial of the province.

While Canada Day is a statutory holiday that is always on July 1st, B.C. Day is not always on August 2nd.

But Happy B.C. Day however misdated it is.

Odd Language #162: Leasing Ideas?

Recently, I saw a truck labelled “IDEALEASE”.

The issue: Presumably, the name is a modified version of “ideal lease”, but it can be read as “idea lease”. (No, this not where I get my blog ideas from.)

Per their Website, Idealease, among other related things, leases trucks. But not ideas.

Puzzle #165: Date Puzzle

Consider a date in YYYY-MM-DD format. What is the next date where all eight digits will be different?

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, August 3, 2016 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #163 Solution: The Robber

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Hidden Assumptions

“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” – attributed to many including Samuel Clemens, Will Rogers, Satchel Paige, and Artemus Ward

It is possible to make some nasty mistakes because of hidden assumptions.

Google Maps definitely simplifies the problem of getting from point A to point B, but I have to wonder what details it leaves out.

Occasionally, I make a trip from Kamloops to Nelson (both in British Columbia). Google Maps gives me three routes. They are:

Distance Travel Time Notes
456 km 5:42 northern, has a ferry
455 km 5:52 middle
500 km 5:44 southern

It appears that the second route is best, because it is the shortest, and one avoids the possibility of missing a ferry.

However, there is data missing.

1) The second route also has a ferry on it.

2) The first two routes have long stretches of twisty highway where one frequently has to brake. The third has long straight stretches.

Are the travel times based on actual travel time or supposed from speed limits? Google Maps also gives travel times without traffic, but what exactly does “without traffic” mean?

If you know the routes, then the third route is definitely best time-wise.

Watch for hidden assumptions!

Odd Language #161: Birthday

Birthday wishes to a regular on a USENET newsgroup that I follow:
“Marking the 81st anniversary of your birth on July 9, 2016,
I wish you all the best. Live long and strong.”

The issue: Is the first line grouped “[Marking the 81st anniversary of your birth] on July 9, 2016,” or “Marking the 81st anniversary of [your birth on July 9, 2016],”? It is the former, but this line did trip me up briefly.