Monthly Archives: December 2016

Evaluating the Internet

I read an interesting article on reasoning about the Internet this last week: EVALUATING INFORMATION: THE CORNERSTONE OF CIVIC ONLINE REASONING.

From the article: ‘Our “digital natives” may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.’

Just this week, I read another example of someone accepting false data. This example comes from a Star Trek wiki article. In the section “Graphics and displays” is this:

“A painting of an 18th century British warship, the HMS Defiant, can be seen on one wall of the briefing room aboard the Federation Defiant. Mike Sussman referenced the older ship in the episode’s script, after having done a Google search. In real life, however, no such sailing vessel ever existed. A fictional Defiant was seen in the 1962 movie Damn The Defiant! (based on the Frank Tilsey novel Mutiny), which may have been the namesake for the Constitution-class ship. It was only after the art department had created the image that Sussman discovered the vessel had not really existed in history. (ENT Season 4 DVD audio commentary)”

One interesting thing about this example is that either this story is true so this is a good example, or the story is not true, I have fallen for something myself so this is a good example.

If you read it on the Internet, it might be true, and it might be nonsense. Learn to tell the difference.

Odd Language #185: Not That What?

I recently posted the following paragraph on USENET: “For me, a desktop system has much better price/performance than a laptop. As the old joke goes, when evaluating price/performance, be prepared for the occasional division by zero. A laptop is not that bad, but it is not that good.”

The issue: “not that bad” and “not that good” refer to different concepts. “not that bad” is referring to the joke, but “not that good” is referring to the general idea of something failing to be as good as it is thought it should be.

Puzzle #188: 2, 0, 1, 7

Come up with arithmetic expressions that evaluate to the integers from 0 to 10 using only the digits in 2017 exactly once each and as many and as often as you need of the following: brackets, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, unary negative (as in –2), factorial (0! = 1, 3! = 3 × 2 × 1 = 6), and simply grouping digits (as in 201 – 7).

It is possible to solve this with each expression having the digits in the order 2, 0, 1, and 7, but this is not a requirement.

Happy New Year.

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 11, 2017 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Odd Language #184: When Retired?

“The Army investigation was ordered by the head of U.S. Central Command, whose commander at the time was retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick to be defense secretary.” —

The issue: Was General Mattis retired at the time he ordered the investigation? Presumably not since the U.S. Central Command is military, but imagine if he had been head of something else. He might have already retired at the time he ordered the investigation or might have retired after that.

Puzzle #187: Exact Change

Squareland has coins in several denominations. We will concern ourselves with only the 4-, 9-, 16-, 25-, 36-, 49-bit coins. They used to have a 1-bit coin but no more. You want to give someone exactly 50 bits in coin. How many ways are there to do this?

Hint: You could just start iterating through the possibilities, but there is a shortcut that will make this much easier.

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 4, 2017 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Very Bad Rules Call, Very Good Writing

One of the on-line strips that I follow is Weregeek. The author-artist, Alina Pete, has a very good grasp of gaming (mainly roleplaying games) culture.

She has just recently concluded a story line where a gaming session went very very badly. There have been a lot of comments from people arguing and discussing what happened in the story. She definitely struck a chord (and nerve) with gamers. While I cringed at the situation, it was very powerful writing.

The strip deals with a circle of friends both in-game and out-of-game. It has plenty of pathos and humour (including some of the best/worst puns I have ever encountered).

If you are interested in gaming, check it out.

Odd Language #183: Repeat Repeat

I recently wrote the following sentence in a post to a programming forum: “Note that this has absolutely nothing to do with how the parameters that are passed are passed.”

The issue: The two “are passed” are not redundant. The first is an adjectival phrase, and the second is a verb. This is another case of repetition not being wrong; see also Odd Language #177: Two-Headed Monster?.