Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Terry Pratchett Videos on DVD :-)

Two of you blogreaders from Germany, presumably to lazy to read (?), asked if there are any Terry Pratchett videos (on DVD), preferably with German sound tracks. Here are two that I have, I am not aware of any others, except for children's cartoons (which I can't seriously recommend to adults). Great fun! :-)

Monday, April 27, 2009

The 80:20 rule, Pareto analysis

Been teaching some middle-managers* the 80/20 rule recently and showing them how to do Pareto analysis. Here are my notes, should they interest you.

Initially, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by the richer 20% of the population. Business analyst Juran generalised it to read "80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients" and later Quality Managers adapted it as "about 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes". Ferriss (author of 'The 4 hour work week' has a corollary tip for companies : "Fire the 20% customers who take up most of your time and cause 80% of the trouble" ;-)

Let's do an exercise - problem-cause analysis - introducing the Pareto chart :-

Assume that a company is trying to find out why some of its employees sometimes show up late**. They won't think to admit it is because motivation is lousy and the working climate is poor, so they ask 168 latecomers for their excuses and are told a number of reasons. These reasons are sorted by how often they come up and converted to percentages, then a cumulative percentage column is added, thus :-

Next, these numbers are drawn on a so-called Pareto Chart. Causes are on the X-axis and percentages on the Y-axis (on the right here). A curved line is drawn through the cumulative percentages. the result looks like this and is the accepted method for displaying such problem-cause statistics.

Now we can use the 80/20 rule. Look at where the cumulative curve (red line) crosses the 80% level. To the left are just 3 causes which cause 80% of the lateness; so with a minimum of effort, the company's personnel department can tackle these 3 causes (probably 4, because Weather influences Traffic and Public Transport).

A memo sent to all employees saying that "Traffic will no longer be accepted as an excuse for lateness and that employees should start out 10 minutes earlier" will be unpopular but might help solve the problem. A cheap but nasty 'solution'. Consulting the bus timetable at the bus stop outside the business shows buses arrive hourly at 8 minutes past the hour. So changing the company's starting time from 9:00 to 9:15 should solve the Public Transport cause of the lateness problem. It would also ameliorate the Traffic cause without causing additional ill will :-) Similarly , if Child care really means driving them to school before coming in to work, then the later starting time might well solve this partial problem too and motivate employees better. Indeed, some of the minor cases of Overslept might be avoided too :-)

And so, a company memo stating that "Working hours will be changed to 9:15 through 17:15 to better synchronise with public transport, let drivers avoid the rush hour and let parents bring their children to school" will motivate staff better, improve the working climate AND solve 80% - 90% of the lateness problem :-)

And yes, a Pareto analysis by department may reveal where lousy managers are demotivating their staff. Some re-training for department bosses may be called for ;-)

FWIW, Microsoft has noted that by fixing the top 20% of the most reported bugs, 80% percent of the errors and crashes would be eliminated. Minimum effort for maximal return, the lazy man's way to 'happy' customers ;-)

Of course, the numbers don't have to be exactly 80/20. They could be 95:5 or 50:50. The Gini coefficient defines a measure of statistical dispersion, a measure of inequality of distribution. It is defined as a ratio with values between 0 and 1. So 50:50 has a Gini coefficient of 0 (zero inequality) and 95:5 has a Gini coefficient of 0.9 which is ((95-5)/100). It is good practice to state this number with your statistical distribution.

Now go practice with your own Pareto chart problem-cause analyses :-)

This blog entry is dedicated to the four horseman of the office apocalypse :-

  • Four Dinners, union rep, who knows a lot about demotivational managers ;-)
  • Mike (Sick days), for his hilarious insights into life in the office,
  • HaggisChorizo, whose previous blog gave us so much quality lowdown (sic!) on incompetent local gummint burocrappy, that he had to shut it down,
  • and Sterling, long-suffering purveyor of quality consulting ;-)

BTW, some 'Quality Management' lessons are not accepted as well I would hope; Managers sadly often think TQM is just for the Indians and not for the Chiefs :-(

**This Pareto Chart was taken from the Wikipedia article, for which thanks are due. I just wrote this text.

Comments (1)
Mike commented : "Sorry I didn't comment sooner. Got stuck in traffic getting here (cough). Also: It is an honor to be included as one of the four horseman of the office apocalypse. Thanks! "

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring is sprung ;-)

Hola! Hola! Spring is sprung!
There on the trees where blossom hung
The chirpy birds full-throated sung.
I heard the village bells be rung
And church bells too are being tolled.
While hiking 'cross the fields of gold
I sadly trod in spring's cow dung,
Fresh steaming hot, not even cold,
I swore so hard, I bit my tongue!
And thus this doggerel was told ;-)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Good Books :-)

Whilst in hospital recently for a couple of days and being deprived of internet access (sob!), I took the opportunity of catching up with my reading. On average - since I was 15 - I have read 3 books each week. Books - or should that be OOKs - by Terry Pratchett are my favourite, the photo below shows my complete collection thereof. My second favourite fiction author is Neil Gaiman, whose most recent book is shown on the left above. And the intersection set, a book written in collaboration by BOTH great authors, is fantastic (sic!) also, Good Omens; it's about the return of the Antichrist ;-)

Mike Erskine-Kellie (blogging at Sick Days) wrote : "Hope you are feeling better. As an ex-pat Scot, I was curious if you've read 'How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It.' I've finally gotten around to it and am enjoying it thoroughly. (I'm a Scot too!)"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Geocaching 107 : Travel Bugs

I 've talked about Geocaching - basically a GPS based treasure-hunt game - in previous posts. You look up cache coordinates on the internet, go for a drive/hike with your GPS to discover the cache, then log your find. But sometimes the cache contains a GeoCoin or a Travel Bug. These are intended to travel from cache to cache; the travel bugs usually have a declared purpose, either attached or documented via their reference number in an internet database. The one shown below I found in the woods at Wüstung Boclow. It originated from one of our soldiers in Afghanistan who did a tour of duty with the ISAF in Kunduz. So I 'grabbed' it, logged it, and released it in one of my own caches (MMIX-B). It's declared purpose is to visit 50 caches within Germany in the hope of being found by another ISAF soldier who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Then it wants to return to its owner's (Bettelmönch) home cache.

Bon Voyage!

I found the cache in a wood full of wild garlic (Bärlauch), as you can see in this photo. We made the mistake of picking some fresh leaves even though we didn't have a sealable plastic bag with us. You can't imagine how intensely the car smells now :-(

Comments(3) joseph-a-nagy-jr (USA) writes : "Wild garlic? Lucky. The closest I get around me is wild onions."

Juventas has written a great comment, telling me about an xkcd adventure :-

"Hi there,
There's only two sites I check every day: the blog belonging to 
toomanytribbles, and XKCD and it's geohashing wiki.  I know you know of 
the first, what about the latter?  Upon reading your blog, I thought I 
would suggest it.

XKCD is self-described as "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and 
language".  Geohashing was invented in a single comic last year, and 
turned into an international sport by it's readers.  Germany also 
happens to be one of the most active nations.

Hope to see you there. :)"
Thanks, Juventas, I hadn't heard about that, must give it a try and blog the results :-)

Over on his geocaching blog, Holger Steinmeier has written (in German) about our attempts at combining motorcycling and geocaching hobbies. Funny tale, reflecting much of my experiences; just do drive-ins, avoid hiking and climbing in full leathers ;-)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pythagoras on a Sphere

Back in the old days of ancient Greece many people thought the Earth was flat (been reading too many Discworld® novels probably). And so we got Euclidean geometry on a plane. Indeed, Pythagoras proved that A2 + B2 = C2 for right-angled triangles only on planes; something we all learned in school. Here's my proof of Pythagoras' theorem :-)

Now imagine if Pythagoras had known that the Earth is a ball, not a plane. What would his theorem look like for a spherical right triangle? Certainly not A2 + B2 = C2 !

First off, we need to define what we mean by a spherical triangle. A great circle on a sphere is any circle whose centre coincides with the centre of the sphere. Arcs of great circles are the shortest distance between two points on the surface. Long distance aircraft thus fly along arcs of great circles (ignoring the effects of winds), and ships sail along them too. There are four great circles in the sketch shown below.

A spherical triangle is any 3-sided region enclosed by sides that are arcs of great circles. If one corner angle is a right angle, the triangle is a spherical right triangle.

In a spherical right triangle, let C be the length of the side opposite the right angle (the hypoteneuse). Let A and B be the lengths of the other two sides. Let R denote the radius of the sphere (or Earth on our case). Then Pythagoras' Theorem on a sphere tells us that cosine(C/R) = cosine(A/R) * cosine(B/R). Now I won't bore you non-maths-geeks with my proof thereof and the maths-geeks can surely derive it themselves. Please note that as R goes to infinity the world gets flat and this equation devolves back to A2 + B2 = C2, as expected.

So when someone asks you about Pythagoras' theorem, just tell them cosine(C/R) = cosine(A/R) * cosine(B/R), after all, A2 + B2 = C2 is just a special case ;-)

Comments(3) Charles Pergiel (USA) comments "As R goes to infinity, A/R, or anything over R, goes to zero. Cosine of zero is 1, so 1 = 1 * 1. As you usually know what you are talking about, I am assuming that I am missing something ;-)"
Dennis Harris (USA) replied to Charles with 'There are too many missing steps for his argument to make sense. The cos functions have to be rewritten as a series expansion and manipulated to get R out of the denominator in the first term of the series. Then the residual terms of the series do approach O as R goes large.
Here’s an actual explanation. Scroll down to theorem 1.2 '

Thanks, Dennis, that's a succinct explanation there on Royster's website, albeit more algebra than I wanted to offload onto my regular (maths-disliking) readers ;-)
Klaus Steigler (Alaska) sent me 2 pages on spherical navigation taken from a 1990 German textbook on 'Astronomische Navigation' by W.F.Schmidt; thanks, Klaus.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I, Q ;-)

Back in 1934 Robert Ranke-Graves wrote a pseudo-autobiography of a Roman emperor entitled "I, Claudius". It is a good book and was a great TV series. I have also always thought that that would make a very impressive business card, "I, Claudius" ;-)

So now that the UK's MI 5 - the British Secret Service - is looking for someone to head up their technology and science department, I think I shall apply for the job !!! Just think of the (necessarily anonymous) business card :- "I, Q." ;-)

Mike Erskine-Kellie (blogging at Sick Days) wrote : "That would be a superb card. I always wanted to get one that said Mike Erskine-Kellie -- Comic Relief...
'I Claudius' is one of all time favourite TV series. Loved the book too. As well as 'Claudius The God'. Did you ever watch the TV series 'Rome'? If not, I highly recommend it."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Geocaching 106 : an Event Cache

I 've talked about Geocaching - basically a GPS based treasure-hunt game - in previous posts. Intrinsically, it is a lonely hobby : you look up cache coordinates on the internet, go for a drive/hike with your GPS to discover the cache, then log your find. Looking at the logs, you may notice the same nicknames of other Geocachers repeatedly but can't put faces to the nicknames. So a so-called Event Cache is a welcome change ; it's basically just a get-together (in a pub) enabling you to meet other cachers. Coordinates (latitude, longitude, date and time) are published in the internet just like a regular cache. Recently I attended one in Detmold, about 40 miles north. About 50 attendees, all in a good mood. Attendees vary from absolute beginners at their first meet to acknowledged experts (like Splitti and Opa Theo). Splitti has found over 1270 caches and Opa Theo has found 1360 in just 18 months! Opa Theo focuses on being FTF (First To Find), 32 so far just this year!

. . .

Whilst there, I also announced an innovative type of Geocache which I have deposited in the woods near home. It is a CD-swap cache. Geocachers are asked to take a CD with them into the woods and swap it for the unknown CD hidden in the cache, listen to the CD at home/in the car and then log a note saying what they think of the music. A way of widening our musical horizons :-) Five visitors on the very first day, all hoping to be FTF. FTF honours went to the Miss Marple02. Here's the CD hide, now search! :-)

I hid this cache in a creek, so beware of high water and flash floods after rain, it can get 6 feet deep. Wear waterproof shoes. As an added difficulty, GPSes lose accuracy under tree cover ; the circle of imprecision may go from 2 meters diameter to 20, so the area to search goes from 3 square meters to 314 or more (if not all flat) ! ;-)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bankers' Pile :-(

I find it very disturbing - to put it mildly - that the bankrupt Lehman's bank assets list includes 500,000 pounds of Yellow Cake. Man, that's enough to keep a civil reactor going for a year or to build a working nuclear bomb!

WTF is a (bankrupt) bank doing stockpiling uranium ore? Can U235 trust a banker???

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Haiku ;-)

Marilyn Chambers died?
She gave us all a hard time,
But it's still too soon :-(

Haikus are simple
Just sometimes they don't scan right

Easter Monday, April 13, 2009

An Easter story ; The Pastor's Ass ;-)

The pastor entered his donkey in a race and it won. The pastor was so pleased with the donkey that he entered it in the race the following week again, and it won again.
The local paper read: PASTOR'S ASS OUT FRONT ;-)

The Bishop was so upset with this kind of publicity that he ordered the pastor not to enter the donkey in another race.
The next day, the local paper headline read: BISHOP SCRATCHES PASTOR'S ASS ;-)

This was too much for the bishop, so he ordered the pastor to get rid of the donkey. The pastor decided to give it to a nun in a nearby convent. The local paper posted the following headline the next day: NUN HAS BEST ASS IN TOWN ;-)

The bishop fainted. He informed the nun that she would have to get rid of the donkey, so she sold it to a farmer. The next day the paper read: NUN SELLS ASS FOR $10 ;-)

This was too much for the bishop, so he ordered the nun to buy back the donkey and lead it to the plains where it could run wild.
The next day the headlines read: NUN ANNOUNCES HER ASS IS WILD AND FREE.

The bishop was buried the next day.

The moral of the story is : being concerned about public opinion can bring you much grief and misery or even shorten your life. So be yourself and enjoy life. Stop worrying about everyone else's ass and you'll be a lot happier and live longer!

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009


This too is an anthropomorphic fictional figure, but one I can believe in.

Good Friday, April 10, 2009

Religion 101

This illusion (sic!) summarises most religions; details may differ ;-) Zen is when you can see both words at once, zealots can only see one at a time. And fanaticism is when you insist that this is a negative image, that I've inverted the 'colours' ;-)

I do not need a god to be good, they are a superfluous fiction. If you want to do good, remember that two hands working achieve more than a thousand praying.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Track days

At our M/C club night I was asked about (German) race tracks which have track days open to the public, so you can try putting your motorcycle or car through its paces without endangering public roads. I promised to put together a list, so let me share it with you blogreaders too. Sorted by distance from us, they are :-
  • Oschersleben ; 280 € for 3 hours.
  • Harz Ring ; Just a tight little go-cart track; 235 € for 2 days basic training.
  • Contidrom; 495 € for 2 days; Doc Scholl Training.
  • Nuerburgring; Open North Circuit (offene Nordschleife); 75€ (4 laps), 145€ (8 laps), 250€ (15 laps), 390€ (25 laps), a lap takes 9(me) to 15 minutes(beginner).
  • Schleizer Dreieck; 499 € for 1 day.
  • Spa (in Belgium); 269 € for 1 day of 4 sessions and 4 theory sessions.
  • Assen (in Holland); 180 € for 1 day, but booked out already, AFAIK.
  • Sachsenring; 160 € for 1 day ; good and grippy GP circuit.
  • Zolder; 130 € for 1 day. Not my favourite track, I prefer the Nuerburgring.

All the others are more than 3 hours riding time away, so not feasible for a day out.

This list implies NOTHING about the quality of any training provided! I am not making any recommendations here, merely providing links for you to follow up yourselves.

Here's my instruction page for the Nuerburgring. And here's a YouTube Ring video.

Mixed sessions are awful; goddamn cars, even Porsches, are just rolling hindrances :-(

Special Offer : Nathalie (Clichy, France) wrote :- "A l'occasion du 7èm BOL D'OR CLASSIC, qui se déroulera les 11 et 12 avril 2009 sur le Circuit de Nevers Magny Cours, nous avons décidé de proposer des séances de roulages aux clubs qui nous sont fidèles depuis la création de notre évènement le vendredi 10 avril. Vous pourrez si vous le souhaitez privatiser 1 ou 2 séances (maximum 53 pilotes par séance) pour les membres de votre club.....Le tarif par participant est de 75 euros TTC pour 2 séances de 30 minutes chacune. Seule condition de participation : être détenteur d'une licence FFM (NCA NCB NET) à présenter lors du retrait des tickets de roulage."

So, if you ever wanted to race on the Magny Cours circuit, just give Nathalie a call (Ligne directe 01 41 40 31 28), add your local prefix for calling France as necessary.

Monday, April 6, 2009

For you Lurkers :-)

Lots of readers here (~1400 per day), but very few of you comment or write to me :-(

So this photo is for you good folks :-)

Delurkers (3) :
Oliver Nadler (Sydney, Oz) wrote "i came across your website last week when i was googling about bringing dogs to england for a holiday. i ended up on your site ( it was actually the first result in google ) and since it was written in an entertaining way i started having a look at the rest of your website. since that i have been visiting your site daily - much to my wife’s amusement. there is just soooo much to read. thank you for the effort you are putting into your website. it is truly entertaining AND educational. have you already been recommended for the bundesverdienstkreuz? if not that would need to be done.

also i think it is a great idea using different colours to differentiate between the english and german sections. i am an expat myself and have a (monthly or so) blog in both german and english just to keep my friends and family up to date with what i am doing. originally i come from gera in thueringen but now am living in sydney, for the same and best reason to live abroad, my wife. i just wanted to let you know that i really do appreciate the effort you put into your site - i will keep coming back and learning new things."

Gerold Grund (Germany) wrote "I looked up your profile - Eunoia - as I hadn´t seen your log name before and that led me to your homepage. Well, I like it and enjoyed "scanning". I do under stand the English, only some maths is missing on my side from time to time, but nevertheless: Some nice ideas and some brain teasers here. So, happy hunting and enjoy your new hobby geocaching"

Mike Erskine-Kellie (blogging at Sick Days) wrote "That is the best photo of me that I have seen in ages. No camera red eye! We're lurking... But loving your blog." ; Compliments get you everywhere! I presume you mean the Easter Sunday photo? ;-)

Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009

Troublemaker ;-)

Mark 11:7 ( New Humanorist translation) :
"And Jesus rode Ass for a week in Jerusalem" ;-)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Geocaching 105 : Vandalism :-(

Scarcely a month ago I placed a Geocache, MMIX-B, in a hedgerow along a hillpath visible from my house (and other parts of the village). Big mistake? A dozen geocachers found it, but now it seems that local children/teenies found it too (after turning over all stones along the path) and have stolen the cache :-(

This , despite the label on the box clearly saying "Official Geocache, please leave it where you found it!" in both German and English :- ( Why can't they just leave us to our innocent pleasure? No respect for other people's property either. Most annoying. So I shall not replace it, the location now being known to them. Instead I will place a different cache in a less visible forest location, requiring a 2 mile hike into the woods and hiding it in difficult terrain. That should surely A) discourage the vandals somewhat, and B) give the dogs more exercise:-)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Is your Organ hard ...

... to play? Let me tell you, a Theremin is even more difficult!

The theremin is an electronic musical instrument derived from a pre WW2 proximity fuse. Really! Theremins were used to generate that 'alien' space music in such early movies as "The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 version)". A theremin has two antennae. You can vary the monophonic pitch by changing the distance of your hand from the vertical antenna on the right and vary the volume by changing the distance of your hand from the loop antenna on the left. This implies that you need to keep the rest of your body stiff and still to avoid changing the acoustics of the theremin and generating spurious notes. That having been said, there is even an expert woman who plays theremin by juggling her naked breasts around!

It takes about 4 to 6 months to learn to play a melodic tune, but there are some real experts around. Here's Gnarls Barkley on YouTube, here's Carolina Eyck, and Clara Rockmore (1911-1998). Thomas Grillo also gives lessons on how to play the theremin :-)

Wanna try to play a theremin? Theremin kits cost about $330 (plus shipping). If this is too expensive just to try out what is after all a very difficult instrument to play well, I point you to Cam Theremin in Hungary. CamTheremin is a freeware program simulating the Theremin with a PC and a web camera. Touch the sensor lines (drawn into your webcam’s picture) to control pitch and volume of the generated sound. Go download his software and give it a try; you can't produce any worse howling than I do ;-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

c/o the Astronauts@ISS ;-)

H aving noticed a lack of wall decoration (posters, photos, etc) in the videos relayed from the ISS (International Space Station) and a seeming lack of sense of humour amongst those on board, I've sent NASA this photo of a metal sign which I took at non-smoker Frank's house sometime back in february ;-)

The folks at NASA will probably think it's just an April Fools' Day gag, but wouldn't it be neat if the ISS astronauts DID print this out and stick it on an ISS wall today ;-)

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Eunoia, who is a grumpy, overeducated, facetious, multilingual ex-pat Scot, blatently opinionated, old (1944-vintage), amateur cryptologist, computer consultant, atheist, flying instructor, bulldog-lover, Beetle-driver, textbook-writer, long-distance biker, blogger and webmaster living in the foothills south of the northern German plains. Not too shy to reveal his true name or even whereabouts, he blogs his opinions, and humour and rants irregularly. Stubbornly he clings to his beliefs, e.g. that Faith does not give answers, it only prevents you doing any questioning. You are as atheist as he is. When you understand why you don't believe in all the other gods, you will know why he does not believe in yours :-) Oh, and he also has a neat English Bulldog bitch 'Frieda'.

And her big son 'Kosmo'.

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