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Stu Savory
Eunoia, who is a grumpy, overeducated, facetious, multilingual ex-pat Scot, blatantly opinionated, old (1944-vintage), amateur cryptologist, computer consultant, atheist, flying instructor, bulldog-lover, Beetle-driver, textbook-writer, long-distance biker, geocacher and blogger 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 goddamn 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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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day Ruminations

Welcome to Leap Day 2012.

Most years of the Gregorian calendar have 365 days, but a complete revolution of the earth around the sun takes approximately 365¼ days. These ¼days are totted up and one extra day is added each leap year to keep the seasons from 'drifting' through the year. However 365¼ days is not quite right - it should be 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 16 seconds. And so the Gregorian calender has 'fine-tuning' rules for 100- and 400- year intervals, but - what few people know - will still drift 1 day per 8000 years.

'Everybody' knows that.

Lesser known is how other civilisations and religions and their calendars cope with seasonal drift.

The Jews do it differently (of course) : the Hebrew calendar (a lunisolar calendar), adds a 13th lunar month seven times every 19 years to the twelve lunar months in its common years to keep its calendar year from drifting through the seasons too rapidly. "Pesah is not a legend" is just one of their complex religious rules.

The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, so a leap year has an extra month, subject to the provision that month 11 is always the month that contains the northern winter solstice.

The Indian National Calendar is organised such that their variable leap day is always close to February 29 in the Gregorian calendar.

The Coptic calendar and Ethiopian calendar also add an extra day to the end of the year once every four years before a Julian 29-day February (the Julian calendar adds an extra day to February in years evenly divisible by four). The result is they drift a day earlier each 131 years.

The Iranian calendar also has a single extra day once in every four years, but every 33 years or so the leap years will be five years apart instead of four years apart. There are some additional rules too, but I don't understand them.

In the Hindu (lunisolar) calendar there is an extra month. It is the month in which the sun is in the same sign of the stellar zodiac on two consecutive dark moons. It occurs once every two or three years, compensating for the approximately eleven fewer days per year in twelve lunar months than the solar calendar.

And you thought the Gregorian rules were complex?

Beware today, you bachelors. Traditionally Leap Day is the day on which girls are allowed to pop the question to their boyfriends. If rejected, they are entitled to 'rich' compensation. If accepted, they are required to perform a 'leap dance'; in the USA the first 'E' is often dropped from this requirement.

Comments (6) :
Xtreme English liked this, commenting "Very interesting post! and hardly any math, although what there is, i can't figure out, either. sure know a LOT!!" Merely widely read, Mary. An amateur's interest in astronomy.
Schorsch (D) tells us "That 1 day per 8000 year Gregorian correction may not be needed. The rotation of the Earth is slowing down (core tidal friction?) making the days longer but the year stays the same absolute time, so the 365¼ d/y is slowing towards 365 d/y". Well thanks for that, Schorsch, I learn something new every day, regardless of duration :-)
Kay (US) LOLed "Blew coffee through my nose all over the keyboard at that 'leap dance' remark, sure wasn't expecting a joke right in all that serious stuff. You made my evening :-)" Glad you liked it, Kay; I still like leap dancing ;-)
Renke (D) points us to this article: "More leap day coverage, though this time with math (oh, hi Xtreme English :))" Bad Astronomy is always a great read :-)
Jenny (Ibiza) asks "OK, Knowitall, what is the rule for leap years on Mars?" As far as I remember, it is a leap day every odd (martian) year or year ending in zero except every 100th year, excepting the centennial rule every 500th year. BTW, all the dating on Mars is done in bars owned by an oriental called Soom, so that is why the pub signs all read Bar Soom (geddit?) ;-)
Cop Car groaned "You had to really work on that Bar Soom, didn't you? Too bad the originator is no longer around to chide you! ; )" John! Cart 'er off!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Trojan Ahoy

Most people - upon hearing the word Trojan - remember the story of the wooden horse before the gates of Troy. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a seed force of fighting men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.

For computer users, a Trojan is a standalone malicious program that hides its malicious seed from the Gates (sic!), attempting to infect other computers in a completely automatic manner without help from outside forces like other programs and human intervention. Trojans can make copies of themselves, steal information, or harm their host computer systems. The term is derived from the Trojan Horse story in Greek mythology because the first and many current Trojan horses attempt to appear as helpful programs.

Trojan is also a brand name of condoms which ostensibly keep the (malicious?) seed inside of the standalone wooden... erm, this metaphor is getting out of hand (sic!) ;-)

But it is about a fourth kind of Trojan which I will write today, the astronomical kind. Generally, it is difficult to solve the equations for stable solutions of the three-body problem. Those 3 bodies being the Sun, the Earth and a 3rd body of relatively small mass. Most solutions predicting the orbits of the 3 bodies about their centre of gravity are chaotic, but there are five positions in a planar system that have stable solutions to the Langrangian equations of orbital mechanics. These 5 stable positions for the 3rd body are shown in the diagram on the left. L1 is between the Earth and the Sun, and obviously it is difficult for terran telescopes to look for 3rd bodies in this position. The same applies to L3, a stable position on the far side of the sun. Telescopes have however looked at positions L2, L4 and L5.

And , lo and behold, at a point 60° ahead of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, an asteroid (2010 TK) has been found orbiting stably at the Langrangian point, a true Trojan. So Earth has another natural companion, besides the Moon :-) The discovery is due to Martin Connors and his team at Athabasca university in Canada using the WISE infra-red telescope, to whom all credit is due. The scientific report is available in Nature Volume 475, page 481.

The first Trojan asteroids were discovered by Max Wolf in 1906 orbiting Jupiter. Nowadays we know of over 4000 such Trojan asteroids orbiting Jupiter, but there also some orbiting Mars, Neptune and even some of Saturn's moons! And therefore it was deemed likely that Earth might have some Trojans too, and now Conners et al have found the first, 2010 TK, only 300 meters across and almost black. Like looking for a black needle in a black haystack with the lights off! Well done!

Comments (1) :
Renke (D) found it in Wikipedia :- "If your readers are as lazy as me: for the non-scientific article in Wikipedia."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Old Vinyl Meme, #4, 1970 :-)

Continuing on the weekly sundays' ´Old Vinyl Meme which I started some 3 weeks ago. You can read the meme rules here, feel free to join in, the more the merrier, as long as the vinyl LP is 30+ years old :-)

This sunday's Old Vinyl LP is Live Cream, needless to say, by The Cream. There is no date on the LP, but Wikipedia tells me it was published in 1970, and so even qualifies as 40+ year Old Vinyl :-)

Cream - in the unlikely event you have never heard of them - was Ginger Baker on Drums, Jack Bruce bass guitar and lead vocals and Eric Clapton blues guitar and occasional vocals. Side 1 contains the tracks : NSU, Sleepy Time Time, and Lawdy Mama. Side 2 contains the tracks : Sweet Wine, and Rollin' and Tumblin'.

I went to their Final Concert in november of 1968 in the Albert Hall, London, UK and can be seen on the video, head-nodding in the Nth row, as an almost unrecognisably young post-grad ;-) Here is my favourite track Spoonful (which wasn't on that LP but which I remember they played at their Final Concert), on YouTube, in a contemporary version, 1968 on french TV :-)

This was the era when we sprayed "Clapton is God" graffiti on empty hoardings, but I remember Jimi Hendrix came to one club gig, got onto the stage because he wanted to jam with The Cream, and proceeded to play "Killing Floor", playing Clapton off the stage! Eric stood there with his jaw hanging open, arms just hanging down, outplayed and just pissed off, was my impression :-)

BTW, should you want to join this meme, the rules can be found here :-

... And thus do we learn of one another's eclectic music tastes :-)

Do this meme!

Comments (3) :
HaggisChorizo gives us the 1970 debut album Lucifer's Friend by the band of the same name, featuring John Lawton's vocals.
Badtux, the snarky penguin has just a YouTube video in black and white of a young (1964) Bob Dylan performing "A hard rain's a-gonna fall". Oldie but goodie :-)
Sean Carroll also has just a video, a 1974 piano solo by Keith Emerson (he of E,L&P).

Friday, February 24, 2012


W ay back in 1627 (sic!) Katharina Henot - one of Germany's first postmistresses in charge of the Duke of Turn and Taxis stagecoach/postoffice in Cologne - was charged with being a witch merely on the basis of being fingered(sic!) by a nun, herself under torture on a similar charge. She was the first member of the 'upper class' to be so charged and so - after being tortured three times without her confessing - was granted the 'amelioration' of being strangled before being burned :-(

About 25,000 were killed during the Inquisition - part of the perverse One True Church® - and in Cologne at the time 33 women, a girl, three men and a boy were all sacrificed.

Now a retired priest Hartmut Hegeler has got the Cologne town council to vote on and grant Katharina Henot a retrospective pardon.

Don't these people have anything better to do? A waste of ratepayers' money by all concerned. After all, the Cologne town council does not even have retrospective jurisdiction - as they even admit themselves :-(

Comments (5) :
Pergelator commented "Story I heard in Southern France, Limoux, time of the inquisition. People given a chance to recant or jump into the fire chose to jump into the fire. WTF?" Perhaps that is the same reason that Russians 'vote' for Putin in the forthcoming 'election'? Or the GOP choose Santorum ;-)
Renke (D) has a similar story from Düsseldorf, about two witches, dating from 1738.
Kees Kennis, pertinent as ever, asks me " Why does this bother your socialist atheistic soul so much. After all the council is wasting at least 69% of all revenues. A single vote to right a past wrong can't cost more than about .001 %. Just asking." Probably just a knee-jerk reaction on my part. After all, it should be The One True Church® doing the pardoning, paying for the statues, street and park renaming, museum exhibitions etc, since they were the ones doing the wrong at the time. But look how long it took them to admit Galileo was right (and grudgingly, to boot). So what - in their opinion - are a few more heretical 'witches'? (pace Granny Weatherwax...)
Mary (USA) points us to the current crop of US theocratic GOP crazies with this sarcastic remark "Yes, Virginians, there will be vaginal inquisitions" :-(
Brian (UK) answers Charles "@pergolater; A new survey of likely US voters indicates that in a match-up between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a majority would choose suicide over either candidate." I like it :-)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Orchid for Pharyngula

I just put this photo up for P.Z.Myers who has a nice orchid instead of his usual squid photo in his science blog today :-)

Comments (1) :
Jenny (Ibiza) opines "That's beautiful!"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Evolution : the next step :-)

Just last month there was an evening lecture by a local conservative/religious right group entitled Evolution : the next step?. So I rode there on one of my motorcycles, wore this T-shirt, and sat right up front before the lecturer, moderator and discussion panel ;-)

But my provocation was ignored. It was to no avail, because the panel could not imagine / could not agree what the next big step might be (presumably, none had read Van Vogt's Slan?). A geek asked if there would be a direct mental interface to the Web (USB 4 in your cranium?), but this was dismissed as unlikely - obviously the panel (heavy on RC priests, sparse on SF aficionados) had not seen The Matrix either. So I pointed out that the next step would be the sudden and globally simultaneous appearance of AI (artificial intelligence) on the web whereupon the human race would be superceded, thus explaining the Drake equation paradox in our lifetimes.

For some reason this Deus ex Machina was not a popular point of view ;-)

Comments (3) :
Jenny (E) asks "What are RC priests? Radio Controlled?" It stands for Roman Catholic and, I am told, is pronounced 'Our See'; I'd always thought they were pronounced 'arsey' ;-)
"Hal" sent me a self-portrait : , claiming he's still growing ;-)
Schorsch (Bavaria) says "Great T-shirt! Do they do one with a Harley on it?" If they did, the Harley would be at the other end ;-)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fellowship of the Blog

T hree blogs for the Elven kings under the sky...

As chance would have it last thursday, IT-geek Renke (31) from Augsburg, who was looking after his sister's cats while she was on vacation *, who blogs in German over here, visited my nearest city of Paderborn to spend a few hours in the world's largest computer museum. And since we are mutual blog-readers, we arranged to go for a meal/drink/chat. We arranged to be driven around by Torsten, a Paderborn taxi driver, who writes a mean blog (also in German) over here about his daily adventures. Three bloggers, three totally different blogs, so we spent some time exploring the blue intersection set (no, Torsten, that's not a crossroads for drunks ;-). And to a lesser extent, the pink, lime green and orange intersection sets which each bored one of us.

Renke intercepted me as I arrived at the HNF, having driven his mind to numbness after 4 hours in the museum (there is a point beyond which one can absorb no more info ;-), but we went back inside because I had a meeting with the curator, Norbert Ryska, a long time friend. Renke tagged along and we bored him with a deep immersion into the cryptanalysis of Cracking the Enigma, about which perhaps more in a later blogpost.

Then I drove Renke into town, whereupon we found that we had forgotten that thursday was Ladies Night of the Carnival season (Weiberfaßnacht). So we couldn't even get into the first three pubs (inter alia Deutsches Haus) I wanted to show him, and ended up in a more sedate winebar (Weinkrüger) with a slightly more tolerable noise level :-). Renke's hobbies include Theatre and reading SF (Science Fiction) and it turned out we had read a lot of books in common. He did however point me to one I had missed, Accelerando, by Charlie Stross, so that will go onto my pile of books waiting to be read :-) Renke is a systems' administrator with 200+ Linux systems under his control, so he was able to get my head straight on subjects such as remote backups, RAID fallibility and the potential breakability of the internet due to the low bandwidth of alternate path routings. I'll let him blog about those, as he's more likely to get it right than I am :-)

Renke told me that the blogger scene is very active in Augsburg Freiburg, they even have monthly meetings there. Paderborn has nothing similar AFAIK.

After a raclette each and an excellent little wine, we walked (800m) through the springs area of Paderborn towards the cathedral and town hall, so I showed him the little of the old part of the town which survived WW2 bombings. He and I have both lived in Konstanz on the Swiss border, albeit over a decade apart, and he explained to me how Konstanz saved itself from the bombing in WW2 by ignoring the blackout (so that Allied bombers would think they were over neutral Switzerland : a clever idea by the town council back then :-).

We ended up in the Barcelona Tapas bar for a coffee, to satisfy his caffeine addiction ;-) Then we called Torsten's taxi so that Renke could catch his train home. Due to Weiberfaßnacht, Torsten was very busy, so we didn't get to talk much on the short trip to the station (and back to my car in Kisau for me).

Torsten is a blogging taxi driver, blogging (in German) funny stories about the passengers he gets to carry & other diverse stuff. Torsten's hobbies are Travels - about which I would love to hear more when time permits - and his surf-capable iPad on which he whiles away the time when waiting in a queue of taxis on less busy days. His is a very popular blog (3000 hits vs. my measly 3-400 per day) and so I think I need to explore his blogroll :-) Our time in the taxi was far too short, not a proper bloggers' meet at all, but I got to show him one of my home-made encryption devices I had with me to show Norbert. He probably thinks I'm some kind of agent now, but I'll let him blog his own impressions ;-)

Obviously, we didn't even get near to filling out the Venn diagram shown above, but there was a distinct feeling of The Fellowship of the Blog. That noise you hear is Oxford's J.R.R.Tolkien turning in his grave upon hearing that comparison ;-)

Comments (2) :
Renke (D) commented " great, I like it! one (minor) correction: the monthly blogger meeting (dubbed "Bloghock" :)) happen[s|ed] in Freiburg, Augsburg has no blog scene I'm aware of. In the Allemanic area (like Konstanz) Altweiberfasnacht is called schmotzige Dunschtig (+/-, I never learnt the dialect), i.e. dirty thursday, a suitable name - on all levels (weather, sexuality, the floor of Torsten's taxi) :). Regarding RAID and some real-life anecdotes: I started to make notes..." Correction duly made in the blog article above.
Brian (UK) requested "Tell us more about cracking the Enigma in WW2 pls." Next month, OK?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Old Vinyl Meme, #3, 1971 :-)

Continuing on the weekly sundays' ´Old Vinyl Meme which I started a fortnight ago. You can read the meme rules here, feel free to join in, the more the merrier, as long as the vinyl LP is 30+ years old :-)

This sunday's Old Vinyl LP is Tarkus by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. There is no date on the LP, but Wikipedia tells me it was published in 1971, and so even qualifies as 40+ year Old Vinyl :-)

Side 1 contains the tracks : Eruption, Stones of Years, Mass, Manticore, Battlefield and Aquatarkus. Side 2 contains the tracks : Jeremy Bender, Bitches Crystal, The Only Way, Infinite Space, A Time and a Place, and the sarcastic Are You Ready Eddy :-) The bridging music is Bach's Toccata in F & Prelude VI.

Keith Emerson plays Hammond Organ, St.Marks Church Organ, Piano, Celeste and a Moog Synthesiser. Greg Lake, who wrote the lyrics, does vocals, bass, electric & acoustic guitar. Carl Palmer on Drums and assorted percussion. Sleeve painting by William Neal.

Here is my favourite track Tarkus (Eruption), on YouTube, in a contemporary version, 1972 in Tokyo :-)

BTW, should you want to join this meme, the rules can be found here :-

... And thus do we learn of one another's eclectic music tastes :-)

Do this meme!

Comments (2) :
HaggisChorizo, Scotrocker, has put up some 32 year old Heavy Metal Angel Witch - Angel Of Death (BBC Friday Rock Show Session 3/14/1980 Version).
Wednesday : Elisson, aka Cheese Aisle has made a longer contribution featuring Jethro Tull's 1969 vintage Standup (and also Bach's Boure´e track) :-)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Suck-cess idea ;-)

Now that the man who cried (Wulff) has abdicated [in pre-emptive disgrace?], I offer an idea for his suck-cess-or. Germany could replace him with Prince Charles, who has been dying to be head of state for many years already. This would kill two birds with one stone,
1) free up the UK line of suck-cess-ion for William, who is more popular there anyway, plus his wife is hotter
2) the Saxe-Coburgs (aka Windsors) are German anyway, so it would be like a home-coming without the bloodshed

Just my 2c worth1 ;-)

Comments (3) :
Renke (D) proposes adding a turd third line(sic!), viz. " 3) People like Gloria von Thurn und Taxis [2] or Ernst August von Hannover [3] will play a more important role in Germany and rise to their levels of incompetence (see Peter Principle). Thanks, but no thanks :)" I thought they already had?
Xtreme English seconds this idea : " OPS: Oh, yes! Let Bonny Prince Charlie go back to his German roots! Remember how Fergie and Di used to call the princes and their parents "the Germans"?? Both of them had far better and deeper British ancestry than the Windsors did. I admit Charles does do a few good things, and it's a shame he's had to wait in the wings for so long. "
Jams O'Donnell has a good rant about the little-known Charles' veto power over UK Gov't laws proposals. So much for 'The UK is a democracy! ':-(

Update 19/2/12 21:33 CET : looks like it'll be Joachim Gauck for Prezzy :-)

Friday, February 17, 2012

What does 'Overeducated' mean? :-(

Recently a blogreader in the USA asked "Often you write stimulating and interesting stuff. But not always ;-) And over in your left sidebar you decribe yourself as 'overeducated'. What does that mean? Is it ever possible to be overeducated?"

Well first off, let me thank you for the initial compliment. I try to pitch most of my writing at the level of an interested european 15-yr old, so this covers american adults as well ;-) Sorry, that's me just ranting at the miserable failings of the more recent US educational system again ;-)

"Is it ever possible to be overeducated?" I point you to the admirable Stephen Fry, a person who has a classical education so wide that I am envious ;-)

But to answer your question What does that mean?, I can only give you the autobiographical answer below...

When I wrote the word 'overeducated' I was thinking of all the crap I learned formally which turned out not to be necessary for the stuff I (now retired) did during my working life (mostly industrial R&D & SW development). In terms of increasing specialisation, I have a B.Sc (Hons) in physics, an MS in mathematics and a Ph.D in computer science. Looking back, did I need them? Probably not the latter two, but the physics degree was a good all-round science education, even if in retrospect it was overly heavy on differential calculus :-(

When I was a schoolchild in the UK over 50 years ago I really didn't know what I wanted to do for my working life. Teachers - and to a lesser degree parents - seemed to make the decisions for me. The schools I attended streamed us into one of four directions - academic science, meaning GCE A-levels (aka university entrance exams) in physics, chemistry and maths (pure and applied); administration (= history, civics, economics etc); arts (= english lit, art, history of art and a foreign language); and trades (= O-level woodworking, metalworking, accounting). I was put in the science stream for the 6th form (university entrance qualifications) because that was where my talents seemed to lie. But my interests were wider, aka more unfocussed.

As 15-yr olds in a UK grammar school, we did GCE O-levels in a wider variety of subjects before really specialising. I did the usual (at the time) general subjects, viz. English Language, English Literature, French, Geography, History, Latin and Maths. My father - who had fought against Germany in the second world war - would not let me learn German, so I had no second modern language :-( I also did 3 sciences, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Ten subjects in all at O-level. I barely scraped through Latin and so repeated it during my A-level years. During those two A-level years, encouraged by an excellent maths teacher (Jeb), I did 2 more O-levels, Logic and Statistics.

I got a university place reading Physics at City University in London (UK) by virtue of exam results, but still wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with myself, so in parallel to the university course I book-taught myself subjects I had not been allowed to do at school because they were in a different stream and did my O-levels in Civics, Commerce, Economics, Accounting, History of Science and even Religious Studies (to set my Atheist non-belief on a solid basis ;-). I also did O-level Latin for a third time, again failing to increase my miserable scores of the first two tries :-(

I went through a phase of serious depression at university, my results were getting worse due to my lack of focus and general disinterest, but my old school-friend Carl (who was reading Chemistry at Sheffield and went on to do a Ph.D there) pulled me out of my doldrums (Have I ever thanked you for that Carl ? If not, I do so now, it was life-saving in retrospect).

I graduated in the middle of a bunch of over-achievers; here are 10 of us some 45 years later (4 with Ph.Ds) at a reunion in Oxford in 2011 :-

Later, I did a couple of terms of Philosophy but then dropped out because it was useless. It would have been better to spend the time doing Psychology - particularly Machiavelli - which would have prepared me better for a life in business ;-) Other, more useful formal courses I did were Welding, learning to fly, an ISO 9000ff auditor course(TQM) , and crypto.

None of this formal education enabled me to become better than second rate at anything, so WTF? And thus, as far as I'm concerned, 'formally overeducated' means 18 O-levels most of which were never used, and a couple of post-grad degrees which turned out were not really of great use. I'd like to have done woodwork instead maybe. Would I do it again? Well, I'd certainly focus a lot more. I've enjoyed the crypto work, learning more languages, writing several books and loved being a part-time flying instructor. So if I could do a rerun, maybe teaching would be the way to go. Although : I know several teachers - from primary and secondary schools as well as professors, and they are no less frustrated ;-)

Of course, all the really useful stuff in life is learned INformally, you pick it up in the school of hard knocks :-)

Question to my faithful readership : What formal education did you have ? And did it turn out to be useful in your working life? Where are you over- or under-educated? What would you prefer to have done, in retrospect ?

Comments (7) :
Kees Kennis takes me down a peg or two with " Hi Stu, How about stating that you are smarter than shit, I mean the modesty, so British. Despite the school of hard knocks you are "under educated" in Caligraphy for one, by your own admission. Shooting guns and big guns in particular is also lacking from your education CV. Flying and biking most probs got your motor skills going tho. In design by less I pick up that you have had some education along the way. Were you ever short of money while you were "growing up"? I don't think so. You talk like you have had it easy that way. My Formal education was very short and brutal. "He does not play well with other children" was my daily life I am self/life taught in maths and chemistry, flying (but I did qualify as a PPL), hydrology and the study of man and mankind. Da Ingleesh leaves me in despair. I did take some formal courses in Maths and Chemistry later in life but jacked out before exams as I have learned what I wanted to. I have never been short of money in my whole life, so I lack that education like I think does STU. I could do with a few short lessons in how socialists view life as I see only blanks and stupidity there." 'Smarter than shit' is just the chance of my genes, used to advantage. Any money I have, I earned myself. So I believe in a meritocracy, tempered by helping those less fortunate (socialism). I certainly think greedy big capitalists obscene (socialism again?). My shooting has been mostly small bore (.22 target shooting, rifle and pistol at 50 meters) and archery. I've done some NATO calibre out to 1000 yards and had a .38 pistol for a while, but that's the largest bore I've owned. But I remain a big bore ;-)
Jake (USA) reacted with "WTF? What a conceited asshole you are!" Sorry it came across that way. I was trying to make an honest assessment of what was useful and what not, so that others might be more focussed than I was. Any perceived bragging not intended. I apologise if I offended :-)
Kees Kennis came to my defence ;-) "Hi Jake, you POS. Come and pick a fight with someone that will take you on, you utter piece of crap. Our host is nothing like that." ..... except sometimes ;-)
Cop Car (USA) provides some deep insight in her point of view, viz:-
" What formal education did you have ? Bachelor's degree in Physics + post-graduate courses toward MS in Physics Included required courses in: physics (of course!) chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, mathematics, economics, philosophy, sociology, public speaking, American history, and American literature Master's degree in Engineering Mechanics + post-graduate courses toward a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering Non-degree-bound, formal course work in management, engineering, computer languages/applications, composite materials construction.
And did it turn out to be useful in your working life? If not exactly useful in my working life, nearly all of the formal education (plus the informal education picked up) was useful in living life. It was surprising to me how widely my 30-year career drew upon technical knowledge that I had been exposed to. Because, even as a physics major, I had been required to complete at least two or three courses in all of the fields of engineering offered by my first undergraduate school, I was comfortable working on a wide variety of projects. Some projects required me to act as: structural dynamicist, aeronautic & structural loads analyst, stress analyst, computer coder (for analog, digital, and analog/digital hybrid computers), electrical engineer (on radio systems), system engineer (flight controls, radar systems, hydraulic systems), flight test engineer, test pilot, air base planner, computer architecture evaluator, flight simulator designer, materials engineer, program/project manager, engineering manager, and technical liaison. One company for whom I worked had an interesting philosophy: "You are an engineer. You can do anything!" They prided themselves in only hiring "triple threats" - people competent technically, managerially, and in sales. (Nearly 30% of the 4000 employees held earned doctorates.) A large factor in my accepting employment at that company was that it was so darned flattering that they wanted me! I may be educated beyond my intelligence; but, to me, there is no such thing as over-educated. I do wish I had completed the PhD; but, I also wish I had a bunch more IQ points."
Not sure that a lot more IQ points help, beyond 120 say. I ran around scoring 138 for 4 decades, but now as I get older it has deteriorated to 125. The 'triple threat' sounds like a good idea, as does their philosophy. But tell me, whence the pseudonym 'Cop Car' ? It doesn't seem to fit your CV???
Cop Car (USA) replied "I began blogging at the behest of our younger daughter, a blogger, herself. She suggested using a screen name. As Daughter used "Bogie", the name of one (canine) of her beloved co-habiting animals, I used the name "Cop Car", the name of one of our (now, late) beloved co-habiting feline. (CC, the feline, was black and white, of course!)" OK. I knew US cop cars are black and white. Here, that is not so. Some are blue and white, some green and cream, some (e.g. specialised radar traps) undercover any colour.
Renke (D) wrote for CopCar "the whole beauty of German police on one picture; left to right: blue and silver cop car, green cop car, black and white cop :)"
Carl (UK and Trinidad & Tobago) popped up with "...Thanks for the comment of your 17th Feb blog. I wasn't aware I had managed to influence your education, and certainly feel humbled that you should hold it in such a way. I am impressed with all the various study outlets you had, and still pursue. I studied girls instead, and like your Latin, failed to improve until Debra came along!!" Nice to hear from you again; keep ticking along nicely :-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Joined-up writing :-(

Moves are afoot here to no longer teach joined-up handwriting to primary school children :-( Instead, they are to be taught what is basically a print typeface, each letter standing individually, with both upper- and lower-case letters (which differ in appearance). This is to increase the legibility of what the children write. But what will happen when they encounter regular (or irregular) handwriting? It may be illegible to them.

Each of us has developed an individual handwriting style and I for one am grateful that the internet is not (illegibly?) handwritten like this :-

Here in Germany we followed the Romanik architectural style (rounded bows etc) until the 13th century. Then as Gothik came into style architecturally, we adopted Frakturschrift :-

This was followed by the German variation of the Kurrentschrift (here an example in Immanuel Kant's handwriting) :-

From 1915 to 1941 Germans wrote in the Sutterlin font. The Nazis scrapped this in 1941 as they found that no-one in the lands they had conquered could actually read it :-)

As a result the latin font was taught from 1953 onwards and after a slight simplification in 1973 became the simplified style taught here today
Now so-called experts want to reduce even this to a typeface of individual letters written separately :-

Personally, I deplore this and regret never having learned calligraphy myself.

Comments (6) :
Xtreme English (USA) wrote "Sorry to alarm you further, Stuart, but this is how we teach our little primary school darlings here in the U.S. of A. For decades if not a century or two, teachers have deemed cursive too difficult for our tender minds to handle until after we've learned how to print. I could say we have survived, and so will your youth and your language. But you know what a wreckage we have made of our government in recent years. Be afraid....." I remember that Sarah Palin gave a whole new meaning to "handwriting" ;-)
Dave (NY,NY) points us to this analysis of Newt Gingrich's handwriting. Interesting graphological website about others too :-)
Piet (NL) wrote "Surprisingly (to me anyway) Einstein's handwriting is actually easily understandable :-)" More than you can say of some of his content :-)
Cop Car (USA) wrote "WIWAK (when I was a kid), we started to learn to "print" - unconnected lettering - in 1st grade (1944). Early in 3rd grade my family moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, to Kansas City, Missouri, USA - where I promptly failed the subject matter, "writing". I was expected to already know cursive - which was not then taught until 5th grade in Oklahoma schools. My "print" lettering skills were honed in a 9th grade art class, in which we were taught to properly form individual letters (I guess they thought we would all go into graphic design!) and in later high school and college drafting classes, in which we were taught the same thing (only differently). Block lettering became necessary, early in my career (1959), for writing lines of computer coding or lines of data input that would be key-punched by someone else. Use of block lettering became habitual. This has been a good thing. At times, my cursive is all but illegible. Now, "everything" is done via PC keyboard/monitor. I'm not sure what value (other than ornamental) cursive has in the world of today/tomorrow. P.S. We didn't learn much any cursive writing in scientific German classes!" In later years (I was 18) I'd piss off the amateur radio instructor by writing my text-to-morse exercises joined up ;-)
Cop Car (USA) commented on this last reply with " Good grief, why? The fastest way to take code is to not bother taking it down at all; next fastest way, by typewriter (computer keyboard, now); next, by writing cursive without bothering to cross or dot letters; etc. I've never ever tried to "print" when taking code. (Of course, I think the fastest I ever got was about 25 words/minutes; but, I knew a guy who could sit with headphones on listening/sending at 30 wpm while carrying on a conversation with those in the same room with him. Of course he was fabulous at everything - much like yourself, I think. P.S. I learned Morse code by using a paper tape that had dashes and dots punched into. The tape was run across an "electric eye" (photo-multiplier tube) and the current fed through an electronic oscillator to produce the sound." - No, I struggle with Morse.
Xtreme English (USA) added " One more observation: all of my brothers, except the doctor, were engineers, and they wrote in the most beautiful PRINTING ever. the doctor's handwriting was practically illegible--as mine is now :)" Guess I'm just pro-calligraphy :-)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Columns in a local paper* ;-)

L ast week the newspaper delivery boy left us the 'wrong' local paper (there are two), so I was interested to see the stylistic and content differences between our green one and this red one.

Scanning through the classified ads section, I found a column of 'contacts' to ladies(?) of ill repute. Pseudonyms and mobile phones.

It's interesting to see what attributes they think worth mentioning in their cheap one-liners.

Six of them mention their nationality, presumably looking for immigrant clients who want to talk their mother tongue? Ten mention their age, although only two are young (21/22). I was surprised by the older sisters (50 and 60) still plying the trade as a threesome? Some mention an abbreviation which is presumably the town where they 'work'? PB would be Paderborn, GT would be Gutersloh, unless there is a coded meaning for GT=Gran Turismo ? There are several in the town of Halle, known for its mountebanks ;-) I'm not sure about BI, which could mean the town of Bielefeld OR possibly BIsexuality??

Then there is that leading T. which I take to mean Transvestite??? Again, I'm unsure about the abbreviation PIM and what the code Asian Mint means? Some kind of oriental 'virgin'? Surely that must be a one-time offer? ;-) Two of them write Poles, not sure whether they are claiming a nationality or looking for mega-priapism ;-)

Ah well, now we're back to our regular local paper, the excitement over.
I wonder how Craigslist copes with this stuff[sic!] ?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Old Vinyl Meme, #2, 1976 :-)

Continuing on the weekly Old Vinyl Meme which I started last sunday. You can read the meme rules here, feel free to join in, the more the merrier, as long as the vinyl LP is 30+ years old :-)

Today I have a 1976 release, Tomita's Firebird Suite, from my phase when I was into Moog synthesizers & electronic music in general.

Quoting John Pfeiffer from the sleeve of the LP:-

"Stravinsky, as most composers, programmed sound as dots and directions on paper. The computer interpreting these dots and directions was - arms pulling horsehair over strings, lungs forcing air through and over metal and wooden tubes, fingers shortening and lengthening strings, columns of metal and wood, hands with mallets hitting stretched skins, wooden bars, metal plates - an orchestra of trained gymnasts... how elegant, how sophisticated, how uniquely contemporary to organise streams of electrons to follow Stravinsky's score...."

Side A is Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Side B holds Debussy's Prelude to the afternoon of a faun, and Moussorgsky's A night on a bare mountain. It is this latter track which I prefer. Here it is on YouTube, computerless, seventies' analog Moog synthesizers direct to multitrack tape :-)

... And thus do we learn of one another's eclectic music tastes :-)

Do this meme!

Comments (2) :
Haggis Chorizo has put up Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells :-)
Doug Alder gives us Stan Rogers' LP Northwest Passage :-)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

33rd anniversary :-)

My wife Cornelia and I have been together now for 33 years and it's not been a day too long :-)

For SWMBO, this means that as from today she has now spent more than half her life with me. Well done, lass, and thanks for your love and your tolerance.

Often, we are asked "Why the 11th of February and not 14th February, Valentine's Day? As we happily remember, we just couldn't wait ;-)

No children, but a series of bulldogs have accompanied us all these years. The current two (Frieda and Kosmo) are shown in the left sidebar.

This evening we shall be going out to celebrate, snowfall permitting.

Comments (8) :
Xtreme English wrote "You are an adorable couple!! Congratulations and many more years of love and happiness. Also, [previous post] 0.23 seconds is a very impressive reaction time. I'm sure Cornelia is relieved, seeing as you're a biker! Have a lovely dinner out. Snowing? hmph. None here so far. All the best...." Thankyou. BTW, Cornelia is a biker too, not just a pillion rider :-)
Schorsch (D) grantled "Put up with you for 33 years? What a heroine, most of us would have a problem after 0.33 hours ;-)" Story of my life ;-)
Cop Car (USA) sent us this congratulatory eCard, for which many thanks.
Jenny (Ibiza) asks "Got a better photo, with the dogs? LOVED the 'tolerance' link, BTW :-)" Sure, lass, here's a current photo of us with the dogs.
Zsuzsa (HU) sent congratulations (from Hungary) too :-)
Kees Kennis wrote "Congrats to you and Cornelia, you lucky man." Thanks, lad!
Xtreme English wrote "Stuart and Cornelia, love the photo of you two with the dogs!" Thankyou, the bright sunlight on the snow has us squinting though.
Carsten (D) congratulated too, no quote, he did so in German.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reaction Time Game :-)

Thanks go to Xtreme English for the head-up on this online Reaction Time Game. She wrote "An average driver's reaction time is about 0.75 seconds or 1 car length for every 10 mph. Click on this BBC site link to measure your reaction time. Note: This can become addictive."

I tried it, averaging 0.2982 secs on my first try. After several games I got it down to ca. 0.23 sec. Not so bad for an old fogey, but then I'm a biker ;-)

So how did you do?

Comments (5) :
Cop Car (USA) wrote : "As uncoordinated as I've been all my life (left-eyed, but taught to be right-handed), I'm surprised that I didn't average about 3 seconds. I did the exercise twice: Once using my left-handed mouse, then switching my mouse to right-handed. I don't know whether the better average time the second time through was due to better coordination with my right hand or whether it was from having "learned" during the first go-through. I thought that you would credit your time to your crop-dusting experience! *smirking* Cop Car

Rating:	Bobbing Bobcat
	Left	Right
Sheep 1	0.17	0.29
Sheep 2	0.28	0.26
Sheep 3	0.24	0.22
Sheep 4	0.28	0.17
Sheep 5	0.27	0.21
Average	0.248	0.23
That's pretty good :-)
Brian (UK) sighs "I was slower than you, guess it was the beers" That'd slow you down.
Kees Kennis sent his numbers : "Drunk : 0.288 (Best) seconds 'bobbing bobcat' 3 out of 6 times, but the TV distracted me "A380 airbus cracks in wings that is not serious" and I had some 'snails in there'. Tell you the sober results after 12 hrs (The Old 12 between bottle to throttle)"
Jenny (Ibiza) said "I was around 0.4, but our 17-yr old was twice as fast (0.2 sec)." We all slow down with age :-(
Bikermom Gabi (D) points me to a bullfrog reaction time video ;-)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Liar, liar, pants on fire...

E ver been pissed off by liars? From 39-year old women with 40-year old sons via insignificant little fat losers with an inferiority complex to the big fat cats of industry, banking or politics (the 1%). Wouldn't it be nice if you could catch them at it? Well sure, there are lie detectors - polygraphs - such as those the FBI /CIA etc use, with or without sodium pentathol (the truth drug). But the liars are careful to avoid being hooked up to the polygraphs. So today I'm listing some give-away body language symptoms if you can see the liars , live or on TV.

  1. Liars often tug on one ear whilst lying.
  2. Liars sometimes gesticulate to cover their mouths (or even the whole face) whilst lying.
  3. Liars often cast their gaze upwards when answering a question with a lie a) to avoid looking you in the eye, and b) looking into space for an idea.
  4. If their cheeks don't rise and they don't have little crows-feet around the eyes, then their smile is insincere.
  5. Liars lick their lips and teeth more frequently than truth-tellers.
  6. Occasional liars speak rapidly, have a taut facial expression and sweat more easily.
  7. A smooth forehead indicates a lack of interest in the subject (e.g. by newsreaders). Little horizontal creases in the forehead show the liar is worried.
  8. Lips pressed together indicate suppressed anger, frustration.
But what about online liars, or those who lie in print. You can't see them as they make up their lies. However, the poet Robbie Burns wrote "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive". Liars such as these are sooner or later caught out by the inconsistencies in their own lies. And plagiarists are trapped by the unrelenting memory of Google, eh,KT?

"meQtaHbogh qachDaq Suv qoH neH" --- Worf

Comments (2):
Theseus (GR) quipped "All Cretans are... paying their taxes ;-)" Nice one.
Renke (D) replied :- " lol! just today I patched the database persistance framework Hibernate to silently drop all transactions; in a way the database is lying to the application. and I'm rather proud of my brainchild: Hibernate 3 (lying bastard edition) never looks towards the ceiling when some function asks for a valid transaction ID, nope, without any hesitation or gesticulation it hands over a completely phoney integer. I thought lying software is a huge step toward usable and beneficial AI, no idea why you describe this inherently human trait as something bad :)" We already have lying SW, e.g. when the status popup says "Windows running" ;-)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Our last real car?

T his is our new car. A VW 21st century Beetle, following in the footsteps tireprints of our yellow New Beetle, now 12 years and 300,000+ kms weary.

It may be our last petrol-powered car. Electrical cars with a reasonable range and (locally) non-polluting are not quite here yet.

It may be our last car, if it is even more reliable than the yellow one.

It may be our last non-autonomous car! Big brother is planning car-trains :-(

We shall enjoy it as long as we can :-)

Comments (2) :
Jenny (Ibiza) asked "A new car, in these economically hard times?" Sure, for 3 reasons : 1) Inflation whittles away the value of savings, saved money loses value. 2) Contributing to a more positive economy here by purchasing stuff from German companies. 3) The yellow car is starting to show its age (12).
HaggisChorizo wrote "Hope you had a good week. I love your new 'BEETLE' (hecho en Puebla)!! Nice. I've got an eye on one for next year when it is time to change my motor again...we'll see". They delivered mine on summer tires, so I refused to accept it, and now have winter tyres on alu rims at no extra price :-)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Old Vinyl Meme, #1, 1977 :-)

Old fogie rocker that I am, naturally I have a collection of old vinyl LPs. A new year's resolution was to listen to at least one of them every sunday. So now I'm thinking : why not do a blog meme of the 30 to 50 year old vinyl in your collection?

I'll kick off today with a 1977 release, Fleetwood Mac's album "Rumours". The LP bears the number WB 56 344.

Here are the rules. Please join in.
1) Dig out one of your favourite old vinyl LPs, AT LEAST 30 YEARS OLD, and listen to it.
2) Blog a scan/photo of the cover.
3) Write a short review of your favourite track on the LP.
4) Link (if possible) to a YouTube version of the artist(s) performing, preferably of the same vintage.
5) Link to this blog entry. Copy these rules to your blog.
6) Mail me () a permalink to your blog entry that I may link back to you in the comments.
7) Repeat every sunday for the forseeable future :-)

My favourite track in this LP is "Go your own way", which I like for its driving beat. Here's a YouTube link to a contemporary (1977) performance. Do this meme!

... And thus do we learn of one another's eclectic music tastes :-)

Comments (5) :
Renke (D) points us to an interesting video What are LPs? ... "Most likely faked/staged, but fun to watch: The 13-year-old daughter of author John Scalzi meets her first LP :-)" Reminds me of Fred Pohl's "Heechee saga" trilogy.
Doug Alder (Canada) partakes in The Vinyl Meme, here.
Demeur wrote "That is a very difficult task indeed. Thinking back reminds me that there were so many great songs but it also reminds me that it was a different era. Wonder if hormones had a say in my appreciation of said tastes? Inagodaveda - Iron Butterfly ; House of the rising sun - Animals ; Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club - Beatles ; Dark side of the Moon - Pink Floyd. I tend to go for more complex orchestrated music. Must say though much of todays' sounds are over engineered and are lacking musical talent. With voice altering techno boxes a singer who can't carry a tune gets top billing these days. Of late I like old blues and jazz." More complex orchestrated music? I have a complete collection of Tomita's Moog classics.
HaggisChorizo has joined this meme here with a Motörhead LP.
Carl (UK) corrects my spelling of 'Fogey' "...btw, being an old fogey myself thanks to Piggy Williams, you spelt it wrongly..." So I did, oops! :-(

Friday, February 3, 2012

Whence Spelling dunces?

I n an analogy to my previous posting, I have been asked - by some non-teachers - why some people (aka their children) are bad spellers and what can one do about it? As I have pointed out in a previous post, Elizabethan spelling was very erratic by twenty-first century standards. Modern expectations on a consistent spelling are high (except in Tweets, emails etc {why is the standard lower there? because plebs tweet too?}).

Now I would be the first to admit that there are words I cannot spell.

But they are few and far between. Most of my puns are intentional.

"You can always use a dictionary" I ear (sic!) you say. But can you? English spelling is notoriously difficult. Featherstonehaugh is pronounced Fanshaw. Cholmondeley is pronounced Chumley. So what does an online dictionary suggest if you look up the perceived (phonetic) spelling?

And so, to a certain extent, you need to know how a word is spelled in order to learn how to spell it :-(

On a more serious note, Cuesta college has a list online of The 100 Most Commonly Misspelled Words. So, parents, start by ensuring that your child can spell these. ESL (English as a Second Language) have a longer list. You might think that learning has to done by rote. But the Cuesta college link I gave above has many useful rules available via their sidebar.

Often, misspellings are a result of grammatical confusion, mistaking one word for another (usually a homonym). And then there are the greengrocer's :-(
I quote an email from ex english teacher and erstwhile editor Xtreme English... "Recently, our natural imprecision has led to the decay of basic knowledge. It breaks my heart to see apparently educated people make plurals by adding apostrophe s: "I had a set of tire's" or "the dog's had a good run" or "the bird was singing it's heart out" or "the paint has lost it's luster." Thus language grows and sheds its skin. Old English becomes Middle English becomes 21st century English."

This remark of hers happened when I consulted her on the difference between Glad and Happy, terms that I use as synonyms. She explained the etymological difference. And indeed, some of the peculiarities of English spelling are wholly etymological, viz. "Old English becomes Middle English becomes 21st century English." Apropos etymology : there is a place in England called Torpenhow Hill, where Tor and Pen and How all meant Hill, albeit in different millenia :-) Esperanto is much more consistent, obviously.

And if you still think English spelling & pronounciation is not TOO hard, just go read this poem OUT LOUD as quickly as possible. No looking ahead, just read it right off the page as if you were a newsreader given a sheet of "breaking news". See how far you get before your first mistake ;-) [LINK].

Comments (4) :
Andrew (UK) asks "But what about all those very long words you have in German?" In German we can make up words on the spot (which are thus not in any dictionary) just by stringing shorter words together (maybe in the genitive). But the meaning is clear and mostly so is the spelling. In this classic example I had to split it over several lines because the browser would otherwise widen my blog automatically:
Donaudampfschiffsfahrtgesellschaftskapitänswitwespensionsfundkassenprüf berichtfehlerautomatisiertemängelmonierungssystemberichterstattungsfehler Browsers do not cope well with words which are longer than a line :-(
Thin Chick (USA) informs me "Here in the States we have Spelling Bee competitions, even on TV. You would not believe how hard some of them are, like your Loggorhea :-(" Floccinaucinihilipilification ;-)
Kees Kennis quips slyly "You mean the words glad, happy and gay does not have the same meaning? ;-) " Quoting . . . GAY (1275-1325; 1950-55 the association 'homosexual') . In addition to its original and continuing senses of 'merry, lively and bright or showy', gay has had various senses dealing with sexual conduct since the 17th century. A gay woman was a prostitute, a gay man a womanizer, a gay house a brothel. This sexual world included homosexuals too, and gay as an adjective meaning homosexual goes back at least to the early 1900s. After World War II, as social attitudes toward sexuality began to change, gay was applied openly by homosexuals to themselves, first as an adjective and later as a noun. Today, the noun often designates only a male homosexual: gays and lesbians. The word has ceased to be slang and is not used disparagingly(???). Homosexual as a noun is sometimes used only in reference to a male.
Xtreme English flips out - as I do - at the greengrocer's apostrophe : " Every stupid a** with a keyboard is now forming plurals of English words by adding <'s>. (That's "apostrophe s.") So a sentence like "Have you walked the dogs?" has become "Have you walked the dog's?" Or "The cat got its tail caught in the door" has transmogrified into "The cat got it's tail caught in the door." I have no patience or tolerance for this idiocy. I can deal with things like WTF, but not with "Please put both bag's on the counter." WTF?????" I love your pun, viz. "The cat...trans-MOG-rified". Intentional? But I must admit that I sometimes make a typical bilinguist's mistake, when the spellings in German and English differ slightly. Example: English 'Tip' versus German 'Tipp' or English 'Man' versus German 'Mann'. Now that I am aware of this predilection, I usually check my written work for it. I also try to avoid using Americanisms, after all, whose language is it anyway ? ;-)
"bISuv 'e' yIwIv; bISutlh 'e' yIwIvQo'" -- Worf, stardate 41153.7 ;-)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Whence Math dunces?

Dear blogreaders, I need your help. I need your help understanding why people find even elementary maths hard.

This is not just my usual rant about maths dunces or the poor level of instruction in our schools. I genuinely do not understand this.

Why is it (still) socially acceptable to say "I am a math dunce" or - more usually, even proudly - "I was never good at math, even in school" ? This from the same people who would be embarrassed to make a spelling mistake. Help me understand this.

Let us take a concrete example. Schoolchildren often search this site looking for answers to their homework. Googling seems to be a preferred alternative to thinking :-( One recent search was for "How many 5-digit numbers are divisible by 11?". Now this is so obvious, that you don't even need to think and could write down 8181 within ½ second! Or so I had thought. But a small, albeit not representative, survey (i.e. everyone I asked on tuesday) showed that nigh on ¾ of the population needed to be led through this, step by step.

How many numbers are there with less than 5 digits? Er... 9999 ? Yes :-)

How many numbers are there with less than 6 digits? 99,999 (confidently).

So how many 5 digit numbers are there? Err... Lessee, 99,999-9,999 = say 100,000-10,000 = 90,000? Yes! (aside: I loved that intermediate step :-).

And how many of those are divisible by 11? Errr... one eleventh? Yes!

So that is how many? Errrr... 90,000/11=8181.818181818182 ? (using a pocket calculator instead of doing mental arithmetic)

A slight overestimate, because any remainder left over implies - by definition - that the number is not divisible by 11. 8181 then?

Yes!!! :-) (Tremendous sigh of relief from both parties ;-)

Given that the average human brain does seven inference steps per second and this was only six steps, it should have taken less than a second. Are people not prepared to invest a second before googling? Why is this exercise regarded as "too hard"? The most frequent answer I got was "I wouldn't even have known where to start". And to my next question ('Why not'?) there was only general dumbfoundedness (sic!).

Help me understand why people find even elementary maths hard. Please.

Comments (8)
Jenny reminds us that "George Carlin used to say : 'Think about how stupid the average person is. Then realise that ½ of them are stupider than that' ;-) " Ha, ha, ha, ... what? Average IQ is 100, standard deviation is 13. But I think it is not just a matter of intelligence, 'cos I know quite bright people who are 'weak' at maths. The root cause must be elsewhere.
Gudrun (D) , renowned feminist, quips "I too have a problem with numbers. Specifically Numbers 31:17 !!!" Oh, good one, Gudrun ;-)
Charlie (USA) makes a serious point "Lack of practice? My ONLY encounter with math is balancing the checkbook and I use a calculator for that." Probably true of many people, so true. And we no longer have cheque-books in Yurp.
Ted (USA) attacks me statistically "We're the mouthbreathers. Your [sic!] a math-breather. But we're the 99% ;-)" Sadly so.
Susan (UK) said she is consoled by Einstein who wrote "Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater." That's relative ;-) We all have levels at which we dumb out. Mine is string theory.
Ted USA, (again) wrote "Watch the M.J.McDermott video, to answer your question." Thanks, Ted, that's a constructive help :-)
Pergelator takes a stringent view " People have been beating the education drum for I dunno how long. Forever, maybe? The drop-out rate in U.S. high schools is about one third and has been that for the last 50 or 60 years. Some people think this is just awful and therefore SOMETHING MUST BE DONE, which leads to all kinds of proposals and programs and new teaching methods. People keep trying to find ways to educate people who don't want to be educated, or possibly can't be educated. Education suffers when people succeed on nothing more than charm and chutzpah. Education suffers when people see highly educated people on the dole. Education suffers when people see union workers making good money doing jobs that any idiot could do. There are many different kinds of smart. Book learning only covers a few of them. I personally am in favor of discouraging education. Only let the people into schools who really want to be there. Policy in the Computer Science department when I was there was to flunk half (of was it three quarters?) of the incoming freshman. OK, I don't know whether it was policy or not, but that's what happened." Wow!
Demeur wrote "Re. Maths and Spelling : I believe we are by our very nature lazy. Some may look upon that as a bad trait. I see it differently. In being lazy we become more efficient. We look for easy answers and usually find them. The other issue is necessity. I can't remember when the last time I've had a need to divide any number by 11. As you know I deal in hazardous waste. I therefore must build containments made of plastic sheeting. When I first started it was a matter of tape measure and pen and paper to calculate correct sizes. After a few years those tools were unnecessary. And in the beginning I would have large amounts of waste plastic. Now you couldn't wrap a sandwich with the leftovers when I've finished building. As for spelling I'll admit it's always baffled me. I must be lizdexic. (sic) :-) I have noticed that even the best spell checks get it wrong. How does it know if I intend to use a contraction a plural or a possessive?" Liz Dexic? Do I know her? ;-) Just today I got annoyed again when someone wrote "the data is", don't they know data are plural ;-)

23 Recent Writings
FWIW : 23 is the number of the Illuminati, folks ;-)
Leap Day Ruminations
Trojan Ahoy
Old Vinyl Meme, #4, 1970
Orchid for Pharyngula
Evolution : next step
Fellowship of the Blog
Old Vinyl Meme, #3, 1971
Suck-cess idea ? ;-)
'Overeducated' ???
Joined-up writing :-(
Columns in a newspaper
Old Vinyl Meme, #2
33rd Anniversary :-)
Reaction Time Game :-)
Liar,liar, pants on fire
Our last Real Car?
Old Vinyl Meme, #1
Whence Spelling Dunces?
Whence Maths Dunces?
Schrödinger's Sudoku
Fire Extinguishers
Burns Nicht 2012
Dextrous update :-)
Multi-culti Shakespeare
Why can't Johnny...

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ENGLISH : I am not responsible for the contents or form of any external page to which this website links. I specifically do not adopt their content, nor do I make it mine.
DEUTSCH : Für alle Seiten, die auf dieser Website verlinkt sind, möchte ich betonen, daß ich keinerlei Einfluß auf deren Gestaltung und Inhalte habe. Deshalb distanziere ich mich ausdrücklich von allen Inhalten aller gelinkten Seiten und mache mich ihrem Inhalt nicht zu eigen.

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Blog Dewey Decimal Classification : 153
FWIW, 153 is a triangular number, meaning that you can arrange 153 items into an equilateral triangle (with 17 items on a side). It is also one of the six known truncated triangular numbers, because 1 and 15 are triangular numbers as well. It is a hexagonal number, meaning that you can distribute 153 points evenly at the corners and along the sides of a hexagon. It is the smallest 3-narcissistic number. This means it’s the sum of the cubes of its digits. It is the sum of the first five positive factorials. Yup, this is a 153-type blog. QED ;-)
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