Category Archives: Uncategorized

Odd Language #99: First Place or Last Place?

The Vancouver Sun, Mon. 2015-05-04, page A1, headline “Vancouver tops four Canadian cities for child allergies” and subhead “Exposure to other kids and pets lowered risk, UBC study finds”

The issue: Is Vancouver being at the top of the list good or bad? Considering that UBC is University of British Columbia which has its main campus in Vancouver, one might assume from the subhead that it is good. It was not.

Being at the top of a list which has being at the top being bad and being at the bottom being good, it gets ambiguous. Generally, top is good, and bottom is bad. When the pairings get switched to top being bad and bottom being good, how do you word it clearly?

Odd Language #63: M’s

I remember years ago seeing plenty of signs around the University of British Columbia for roomates.

The issue: The word is “roommate” with two M’s. To many, two M’s seem too wide when the ad is printed using a printer (instead of hand-lettered).

(I did have fun with this several years ago at my alma mater. I wrote one of the April Fool’s Day student newspaper issues. Mine was about a new program that was to be starting up: Kangaroo Breeding and Husbandry.)

Clear Communication

Is your communication good, close enough, or by guess and by golly?

In Odd Language #25: Appreciate or Not, I wrote of a bit of writing that said something that, while correct, was a bit more than I intended.

I have frequently run across writing that is unclear or that is ambiguous. Did the person really mean what got written, or was it close enough?

I wonder how many arguments have been started over this sort of carelessness. Or how many accidents have happened.

I hope you know what I mean. And I hope I know what you mean.

Puzzle #28: Mystery Number

Consider the natural numbers from 1 to 200.

Consider the following properties that any one such number (n) may have:

  • n is not even.
  • n is prime.
  • n is evenly divisible by 3.
  • n is evenly divisible by 4.
  • n is evenly divisible by 5.
  • n is evenly divisible by 7.
  • n is evenly divisible by 11.

Find the values for which the maximum number of the above properties is true. It need not be the same set of properties if there is more than one value.

(Hint: Do not use brute force. Consider how the properties interrelate. For example, if n is evenly divisible by 4, it can not be not even, and it can not be prime.)

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, December 18, 2013 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Big Data, Bad Data

There has been considerable attention lately to how much data is collected about people. Marketers have been very busy. The NSA and other intelligence agencies have been very busy.

But no matter how much data one collects, it is always incomplete. Thinking that one has it all can lead to mistakes. by Robert X. Cringely has a very interesting section entitled “Predictive search, unforeseen consequences” which starts:

Still, all of that pales to what happened yesterday — or at least, what we thought happened yesterday. Freelance journalist Michele Catalano published a piece in Medium about a visit her husband received from members of a joint terrorism task force at their home on Wednesday. Six plainclothes officers with badges and guns pulled up in black SUVs at their home in East Meadow, N.Y., and proceeded to search their house and ask detailed questions about their Google habits.

Michele Catalano wrote in, “I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack.” The Suffolk Police Department was concerned about pressure cooker bombs.

I wonder how many people have looked up pressure cooker bombs as a result of this story. I myself had a look.

If you are innocent, what have you got to hide? Maybe, peace of mind.

Odd Language #8: Good Hit or Bad Hit?

From, paragraph 26: ‘”I think [the Galaxy S III] is going to be a massive hit for Samsung, but it isn’t as disruptive as previous devices have been because the bar is set very high now,” said Wood.’

The issue? Is it going to be a good hit (a success) or a bad hit (as in badly affecting Samsung’s bottom line)? Apparently, a good hit.

Odd Language #7: What Is Wroung?

From, last paragraph: “Anita Borg Institute is also honoring three women selected for technical excellence, specifically Jennifer Chayes, distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research New England for her work uniting theoretical computer science with computational biology; Sarita V. Adve, a professor in the department of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for her contributions to hardware and software memory models; and S. Revi Sterling, director of ICTD graduate programs at the University of Colourado at Boulder, for having a social impact in the lives of women through development of a new participatory community radio technology that’s especially of use in less-developed parts of the world.”

The issue: OR vs. OUR spelling: “Colourado”? Was someone’s search-and-replace for “or” to “our” just a little too enthusiastic?