Monthly Archives: August 2017

Public Transit Planning

Do you ride public transit? Do you know any public transit planners who do?

Some of the routes and timings that I have seen over the years are truly boggling. I have sometimes said that a public transit planner should be required to give up his driver’s licence as a condition of holding the position. That way, he might have to actually ride the system he designs. However, he would probably find another way around it.

A common route model for a city is the star. Routes run from the edge/suburbs to and from the center. If you wish to get to an adjacent suburb, you have to go all the way in and back out.

Routes that start late and end early can be frustrating. The earliest that I can get to work by public transit is about 8 AM. My shift supposedly starts at 7:30.

Transfer timings can be bad. I once hopped on a bus in a hurry. While I was riding downtown, I checked the schedule to see when my connecting bus would leave the loop. Unfortunately, three minutes before the bus I was on was scheduled to arrive or twenty minutes after.

It is not all bad, but as bus trips tend to be rather longer than car, any additional issues tend to make it quite a bit longer. Next week, I will cover some of the points of the other side.

Odd Language #220: Odd Insults

When one does not know the rules of politeness, one is walking in a minefield.

In Japanese, the word “kisama” can be a nasty insult.

What does it mean? A rough translation is “honourable you”.

From a Western perspective, it is odd that this is an insult. Why is it an insult?

As I understand it, pronouns are not used much in Japanese to refer to a person in second person. One should use the person’s name and the appropriate honorific. The insult is that one did not bother to use the person’s name. Not knowing the person’s name is not a defence; one should find out.

Clear now? Well, no. According to the sci.lang.japan FAQ, “However, naval officers in the Imperial navy referred to each other as kisama.”

Does this mean that Japanese does not have many pronouns? No. It has scads of them. Some of them are on the above link’s page.

Puzzle #223: A Walk in the Park

You decide to go for a walk in Puzzle Park. The park is perfectly square and its sides run north-south and east-west. A path runs from the southeast corner to the northwest corner, and another path runs from the southwest corner to the northeast corner. The paths meet at the center of the park.

You start walking from the southeast corner along the path to the center. You walk one-half of the distance to the center. The joy of stomping on grass appeals to you, and you walk due north for the same distance. You then turn left and walk the same distance again and are back on the southeast-northwest path. You walk the same distance yet again toward the northwest corner. The grass-stomping urge overcomes you again, and you walk due south the same distance again, turn left, and walk the same distance for the last time.

At this point, you are somewhere in the middle of the park. If the park is 350 meters on a side, how far are you from the exact center of the park?

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, September 13, 2017 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #221 Solution: Word Points

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

The Tyranny of Hierarchy

With so many systems, items are grouped into hierarchies. This is used especially with computer systems. It is argued that this is the way the things are organised, but this is mistaken.

Consider your Web browsing. You might want to save a link as a bookmark (also called a favourite). Many browsers allow you to put the bookmark in a category. The hierarchy is all bookmarks – category – bookmarks in that category.

Similarly, how do you categorise your E-mail?

This is less than totally useful. It works for many cases, but it fails when you have items that fit in more than one category.

Sets make much more sense.

I like humour, and I have a category for humour. I like business articles, too. Why can I not specify that the bookmark is in both humour and business?

I also like good articles about programming. These might be connected with business; why can I not specify that the bookmark is in both business and programming? The article might be humorous, too, and why can I not have it in all three categories?

For the three categories, there are seven combinations. Do I have to create all seven? If I then wanted to find all business articles, I would have to look at four bookmark categories (business, business-programming, business-humour, business-programming-humour).

This might not be the end of it. If I want a category of courses one can take, there would be fifteen possible combinations, and all could happen.

The next number is 31.

I would like to be able to specify that my bookmark is to go into more than one category. It would be easy enough to put it in just one category for those who do not care about this issue.

How about it browser and E-mail programmers?

Odd Language #219: Shoot [insert direction here]

Consider the sentence: “The gunner managed to shoot up the plane, and this led to it being shot down.”

The issue: Shoot up to shoot down? It is not even that the gunner shot up; he might have been in another plane and shot down to shoot up the first plane.

English verb-preposition combinations can be downright weird. There are other cases. Do you log on or log in to a computer system? And when you are done, do you log off or log out?

Puzzle #222: Statistics Abuse

Is it significant if 52.4% of cases meet a criterion?

Obviously, 524 cases out of 1000 would be 52.4%, but the numbers could be lower. They could be 262 out of 500 or even 131 out of 250. If you allow for rounding, it might be that a far lower number of cases meeting the criterion can be reported as 52.4%.

If you round to the nearest 0.1%, what is the lowest number of cases out of total cases that can be reported as 52.4%?

(52.4% seems so precise and “scientific”, but it is actually an abuse of statistics to report three digits of precision when one has fewer than 1000 cases total. This puzzle will show you how bad it can get; the numbers come from an article I read.)

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, September 6, 2017 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #220 Solution: Borders

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation II

Having done some more reading about cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation after last week’s Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation, I see a wonderful minefield.

Some people have a very good point about cultural misappropriation, but others have a very good point about how participating in other culture’s activities can be educational and enlightening and lots of fun.

My favourite part of the minefield is at Wikipedia’s Cultural Appropriation article, this paragraph: ‘While nearly all Native Americans and their tribes object to depictions as sports mascots, only one tribe explicitly approves of such representations. The Florida State Seminoles, which uses the iconography of the Seminole tribe and whose mascots are Osceola and Renegade, a depiction of the Seminole chief Osceola and his Appaloosa horse. After the NCAA attempted to ban the use of Native American names and iconography in college sports in 2005, the Seminole Tribe of Florida passed a resolution offering explicit support for FSU’s use of Seminole culture and Osceola as a mascot; the university was granted a waiver, citing the close relationship with and consultation between the team and the tribe. In 2013, the tribe’s chairman objected to outsiders meddling in tribal approval, stating that the FSU mascot and use of Seminole iconography “represents the courage of the people who were here and are still here, known as the Unconquered Seminoles.” Conversely, in 2013, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma expressed disapproval of “the use of all American Indian sports-team mascots in the public school system, by college and university level and by professional sports teams”, and not all members of the tribe’s Florida branch are supportive of its stance.’

You just can not win if you always want everyone to approve of what you do, can you?

I have decided that I am not going to worry about it. If I see an activity that interests me, I may get involved regardless of the culture. I do try to be sensitive to others, but I might miss. Apologies are easy if one did not intend to offend in the first place. I will correct and carry on and understand somewhat better.

Odd Language #218: Restriction Blinders

I was recently going to write “Blinders restrict vision to the side.”

The issue: It occurred to me that, depending on context, “restrict” means to not allow or to allow only. The example sentence is using the second meaning. “Security systems restrict access to bank vaults.” is with the second meaning. So which meaning is “Distims restrict access to gorlaks.” using?