Friday, December 22, 2006

Rob a bank

I met a guy who robbed a bank. Uhm, before he robbed the bank. Uhm, i guess i should say attempted to rob a bank. He had a partner.

On the surface, the plan sucked. There was no real getaway plan. That is, the bank was in downtown Philadelphia, where driving is difficult. It was rush hour at that. This particular bank was nowhere near public transit. They didn't have bicycles. They weren't in good running condition. They didn't have a pre-written note, and scribbled one as they walked in. They stood in line to see a teller. When they handed the teller the note, the teller couldn't read it, and they had to explain what it said out loud - attracting attention of other tellers. A couple minutes into this exchange, a foot policeman walked in. This is even before the silent alarm was tripped. So, they were caught. At least they didn't have any real weapons.

Now, as i said, i'd met this man before. He'd done some dumb things, like get hooked on alcohol, and likely drugs. And, in fact, about this time, both he and his partner in crime had just been evicted from their respective apartments. Probably for non-payment. But, this guy did not seem totally stupid. He could perform logic, and such, and was less delusional than most of my historic managers.

And, it was not that he didn't understand the consequences. He'd been in jail before. His partner too. So, it would be easy to classify them as repeat offenders.

But it was winter in Philadelphia. And these guys had been in homeless shelters before too. Jail was just better. Warmer. Better food. Health care. Less access to drugs and alcohol.


Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Road to Salvation

More on having just read the Christian Bible.

So, what's my goal? Oddly enough, it isn't salvation. For me, chasing after personal salvation is too self centered. It's all, "I WANT", or mindless personal comfort, and seems to miss the point entirely. (Many of my close personal Jewish friends seem to understand this. And it's a good thing to get a glimpse at that understanding.) If i achieve salvation, it will be as a side effect of the life i lead. That's assuming salvation is achievable. And this is by no means certain.

So, what's next in my road to spiritual growth? Well, i may go back and read the other bits using the WEB version. Or, i may start again, but use biblical commentaries, compiled by biblical scholars. It's very likely that these people have historical context information to add that i don't. Why not leverage their hard work?

For example, i once heard an interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke. In the story, a priest walks by the hurt person, who was presumed dead. Without context, it sounds like this person is a hypocrite. But under Levitican law, such a priest is not allowed to touch the body of a dead person except that of a very close relative. So, this person acted properly in context. My reading of Leviticus didn't make this obvious to me. But someone who really studied it would know. Does this dramatically change the story? Maybe not. But it does make the story believable to the original audience. But another thing the Biblical scholars would tell me is who, exactly, are the Samaritans? Well, these people were Jews who set up a new city on another hill. Now, cities need serious support. So, these people called their city a holy city. But, to the Jews, Jerusalem was The Holy City. So, those who supported Jerusalem considered the Jews who supported this other city as the lowest kind of creature on Earth. They despised them even more than any non-Jew. This changes the story entirely. It means that the person who clearly acted selflessly and honorably was a member of the worst scum of the Earth. And, this clearly reflected poorly on those who considered themselves the most righteous. So, the story was carefully crafted to make people take ownership of these issues, in no uncertain terms. Yet, due to the ravages of time, there is much that is uncertain or missleading.

Perhaps it is time for modern parables. For example, on an airplane, the steward(ess) says, "In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down from the ceiling. Place your own mask on your face before assisting others.". This little statement is the same as "before you remove the speck in your brother's eye, remove the log that is in your own eye." Perhaps the modern version will resonate with people in modern culture better.

I'm not quite sure when i started this Bible reading project. And there was a year or two where i paused because my Palm Pilot was nearly unusable. I fixed it, and continued. Probably three years total time. But, i've read more than a hundred other books in the mean time. I've also watched movies, and was otherwise properly entertained. The years go by quickly. So, my advise, start reading. In this, the end goal of finishing is not the important part. Don't worry about it. It's what you get out of the process of going through it that matters.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why Read the Bible

More reflection after having just read the entire Christian Bible.

For most of my life i've gone to church on Sunday. So i've heard the entire lectionary series several times. I've also read certain whole Bible books before, like Luke, and the first five books - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. So, much of the reading was review. Certainly, i'd had exposure to most of the good bits. By "good", i mean meaningful and relevant. But reading the Bible from end to end provides context. This context was often startling. Even whole chapters used in the Lectionary seemed to have new direction in context. Certainly, just about any quoted verse you may have heard has new meaning in context. More than half of the time, when someone quotes a Bible verse at you, it doesn't mean anything like what it sounds. It's almost as if someone who took the time to read the whole Bible purposely found verses that, when taken out of context, seemed to mean whatever they wanted to say. That then gives an authority to whatever they wanted to say that simply isn't justified. It is dishonest. And, that's despite repeated admonitions in the Bible against hypocrisy.

Take, for example, John 3:16. This is the canonical Christian statement of faith. It is generally taken to mean what it says. But the book of John does not read anything like the other synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. And it is worth knowing what John's view is. Without that context, any interpretation of basic Christian faith may be wrong.

I doubt that more than a percent or two of Christians have read the Bible from end to end. Without this background, one is essentially biblically illiterate. And, while John 3:16 says that faith is all you need, consider that "faith without works is dead" (which also requires context to understand), and "the road to salvation is narrow, like the razor's edge", and "many are called, but few are chosen". These references lead one to the idea that salvation, if that's your goal, requires more work than going to church once a week. In particular, going to church once a week does not make you Christian. It isn't enough.

And how could it be? In a typical Christian sermon, the pastor must assume a fairly introductory level of knowledge. There might be new people in the church. Hopefully there are. After all, the primary goal of the church is outreach. But that means that real depth is essentially impossible. On top of that, the typical sermon has just three points. That's 150 points a year, and less if you look for duplicates. Even education programs outside of the Church service have to start somewhere. I've not seen a church anywhere that supports a ten year study, for example.

Now, i'm not going to say that you are Damned to Hell if you don't follow my lead here. Only God judges. I'm not even allowed to judge myself. Perhaps i'm being to hard on myself. Or not hard enough. Yet i don't worry, in fear that i don't measure up. I'm just attempting to do the best i can. No one can ask for more. And as near as i can tell, not even God asks more.

Oddly, if you're not Christian, but just want to understand Christians, reading the Bible won't do it for you. That's because most Christians haven't read it, or at least don't act as if they've read it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Reading the Entire Bible

I recently finished reading the Christian Bible. I'm not saying this to brag. Finishing it is very much not the point. I'll expand on this idea in a later post. I'd have read it sooner, but it is a rather large book, and it's inconvenient to carry around. Historically, one got the choice of a large physical book, or really small print. Really small print was an option when i was younger, i suppose. And also, Post-It notes hadn't been invented. (These make excellent book marks, showing not just the page, but the exact spot where one left off).

Another practical problem is that the language of the Bible is not modern American English. Even if the translation is modern, terms and idioms are used that either aren't common in every day use, or mean different things. Maybe it's something simple as "Adam knew Eve". The biblical writers also often meant more than one thing when they wrote anything. So, let's say the bible explained the "Adam knew Eve" bit by saying "Of course he did. They hung around together all the time!". That would be ambiguous too. And the Bible writer would probably mean both obvious things.

All this adds up to slow reading. It's easy to get information overflow, so you have to take your time. Read a little at a time, on a regular basis, like daily. One needs to go slow enough to give it time to sink in, but fast enough so one still remembers the context. That's why Christan educators always suggest study on a regular basis. And even so, the book of Revelation is just impossible.

I solved many of these practical problems by reading the Bible on my Palm Pilot. The entire Bible can be stored on one. In fact, the King James Bible will fit (compressed) on a single 3.5" floppy disk - less than 1.44 MB. If you get the right reader, the Palm can display text in a fairly large font with high contrast. The Palm itself is fairly small, and can do other things than allow you to read this one book. For example, it can keep your phone numbers, addresses, appointments, grocery lists, notes, and for me, a chart of the night sky and observation log. When you are done reading for a session, the Palm automatically remembers exactly where you were.

Reading the Bible on the Palm raises a new problem, however. Copyright. The King James Bible is in the public domain. I can do anything i want with it. It isn't modern American English. I started reading the King James version because it was the only version that i knew was public at the time. Part way through the Old Testament, i switched to the Douay-Rheims version, which had been posted to Project Gutenberg. This version uses slightly more modern English, and has some "extra" Catholic books. More recently, the WEB - the World English Bible was posted on Project Gutenberg. This is a much more modern English version, and has some minor commentary on some specific translation issues. It is my current favorite public domain version.

In my opinion, all versions of the Bible should be public. Sure, making a Bible translation is time consuming and expensive. Christian organizations should eat the cost. I mean, the Christian imperative is the Great Commission - teach all nations. The Great Commission does not say you must keep tight control over the Bible. Nor does it say you must make great steaming gobs of money with this best-seller. They can still make paper editions available, and charge for it. But getting the Bible out in electronic form can allow a wide audience to customize the experience. This can be a make-or-break difference, as it was for me. So, there's no excuse.

While i have a license to an electronic copy of the New Revised Standard Version, a very modern and readable translation, the license does not allow me to do whatever i want with it. So despite having paid more for it than all the paper Bibles i own combined, i was not able to put it on my Palm Pilot and just read it. It's stuck on the computer i bought it for, and that's that. That makes it good for certain reference uses, and only when i'm at home, and the computer (now 19 years old) is working. I also have a paper copy of this version. It's in very good condition, which just shows that i've hardly used it.

Reading the Bible on a computer may not be for you. Maybe paper is for you. I'm just relating what worked for me. Now that i've read it, i may put a new copy on my Palm, optimized for looking up references. Or maybe not. The main thing that seems to be good for is refuting Bible thumpers who hit you over the head with a verse out of context. While it may be fun to argue, these people are seldom convinced of anything, and more heat than light is generated.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Coping

Many people get aggravated at Christmas time. Here are some things i do to cope.

My Christmas tree doesn't go up until the weekend before Christmas. I leave the season of Advent for Advent. The tree stays up for two weeks. It stays up for the 12 Days of Christmas (though where this particular tradition comes from is beyond me). Two weeks lets me take it down on a weekend. I have no outside ornaments. It's a fake tree, and so it's the same one every year. The lights are only on from about sunset to about 9 pm. I'm not contributing to significant light pollution. I'm not consuming mass quantities of electricity.

Last year, i wasn't home much over this Christmas period. We spent the time at my mother-in-law's. So, no tree at home at all.

The hustle and bustle of buying presents has been diminished dramatically in my greater family. By mutual consent, we only give gifts to children. So, i'm not wondering what to get adults who already have everything they want, since, if they wanted something, they could certainly just buy it. And, they'd get the exact thing they wanted, rather than just more or less the thing they wanted.

All of this has taken the pressure off of the season, and has made it much more pleasant. My favorite Christmas music is now 'Jingle Bells' - which is about winter. This shouldn't be offensive to anyone. Unless, you've heard it way too much. My solution is to avoid listening to the radio, and do minimal shopping at stores. The Internet lets me shop in a quicker, more fuel efficient manner, and the stuff appears at my doorstep. My iPod only knows how to play things i want to hear. This year, i've learned to play Jingle Bells on the violin. There's a minimal sense of accomplishment, which is better than nothing.

When traffic is slow because of a little snow, i put a little more space between myself and others, and limit my speed against the conditions (can i stop in time?). If it takes a little longer, that just means i get to hear another podcast. This lets me enjoy the snow.

Your life is in your hands. You can do it with a hostile attitude, but there's no value-add.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Zeno's Diet

I run the bagel club at work. It wasn't my idea. No money changes hands. A sign up sheet gets people to enter the rotation to bring them in. Donuts and bagels once a week.

This club is entirely optional. With my sales skills, it is amazing that there are any members. I mean, i can't even give away great stuff.

So, some of the members are weight conscious. So, they come up and cut a donut in half, and eat just that. Then, a bit later, they come back and cut the half in half, taking a quarter. Then, sometimes, even the quarter is cut in half, leaving an eighth.

This is Zeno's Diet. The idea is that before you can eat the whole donut, you must first eat half of it. And before you can eat the remaining half of it, you must eat half of that half, which is a quarter of it. And so on. Since there are an infinite number of steps, it is impossible to finish eating a whole donut. That's because it is impossible to do an infinite number of things in finite time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Developing User Interfaces

My buddy Craig put a note up on his blog with two links talking about the same issue. One was a developer griping about how he couldn't make any progress at the big company he was working for. The other talked about how the resulting user interface was too complicated. Both are good reads.

I agree with the developer. No matter how important you might think the design is, this is no way to run a business. Eight people worked for over a year to produce a simple menu. Developers actually want to get things done. Managers don't seem to understand this. A good manager gets a good developer to achieve good performance by getting out of their way. Most managers seem to think that they have to coax, cajole, or even threaten their staff. Very strange. My own performance has now varied by a factor of about thirty, by any measure. It hasn't been a matter of motivation, or being a team player or the tools provided, or even clarity of purpose. It has been entirely how much red tape is required. The less the better. Managers seem to think of their job as important. But their job is overhead, which should be minimized.

I mostly agree with Joel on this one. For an end user application, simplicity is king. My own Ipod Shuffle has a power switch. It's a three position switch. The three positions are off, sequential, and shuffle. The off position should have been eliminated. For one thing, it's unreliable. If i pause the device, it will eventually turn itself off. When i turn it back on with the play button, it picks up where it left off. But, if i turn it off with the switch, every now and then, when i turn it back on, it starts at the beginning of the first track, or worse, it starts at the beginning of a random track (because it's pretty easy to switch it to shuffle mode). Since there's no display on the Shuffle, and since i may have 50 tracks on it, and since the fast forward isn't all that fast, it can take twenty minutes to get back to where i was. So, i don't use off anymore. The other things that should have been fixed are the fast forward and rewind features. Rewind should be able to dig into the end of the previous track. For some of the two hour podcasts i listen to, failure to start where i left off after about, oh, an hour and 50 minutes, is frustratingly painful. In fact, faced with this, i mostly either skip the rest of the program or use a real computer for the last bit. Both reverse and fast forward need to be able to speed up (by skipping more content) in some reasonable way. What did Apple do instead with the new Shuffle? They removed the built-in USB connection. Now you need an extra dohickey to put more stuff on it. Apple also seems to want to add even more DRM to their stuff. I don't use DRM content. I won't be upgrading.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Welcome to dump grief
My blog Predelusional
No one will read it.

Here, spam is allowed
On that one special entry
where it’s on-topic.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Heads! You're going to have an above average day!

Over the past few weeks, i've run an experiment. In the morning, shortly after waking up, i flip a coin. It either says heads or tails. In fact, the coin i use has no possibility of landing on the edge. I've told myself that if it says heads then i'll have a good day. If it says tails, then i'll have a below average day. There are no average days with this scheme. The idea is to track the coin toss, to see how good a predictor it really is.

During the first week, i was surprised at how good a predictor is was. During the second week, i made extra sure that i used the same coin, for fear that the magic was only present in the first, one and only magic coin. And, i took extra care not to toss the coin more than once in a day, lest the coin become tired, or something else might happen to prevent it's magic from working. More on the magic coin in a moment. During the third week, i was looking for a coin with heads on both sides. These days were clearly better.

Well, they were better except for today. This afternoon, i feel the weight of the flu on me again, and i had the runs a couple times - quite painful, and it left me drained. The coin said heads. Well, the coin was tossed in the morning, and the morning was really quite good. After all, i'd had a good night's sleep. Let's see what the coin says now about the afternoon: Heads again. Well, maybe i'm under the weather, but i can still be upbeat, right? Yes, and that's why i'm looking for a coin with heads on both sides.

Superstition is easy to generate. And, when looking for patterns, you are very likely to find them, even if they do not exist. When you look up at the stars, there are at least three dippers. The Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major), the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), and the Pleiades (M45) all have a dipper pattern. The stars are random, but here's a repeating pattern of not just two or three stars, but Seven Stars. How likely is that?

The coin i'm using is a program on my Palm Pilot. Now, i have two Palms. They're both quite old, and getting unreliable. I use one as a backup for the other. So they have identical programs and data. The better of the two is used as the primary. I recently switched primary and secondary. The other one hasn't gotten any better... The upshot is that i could probably get a program that always says Heads. I'm a web programmer, and could put up a trivial program that does this. In fact, any static web page will do. So when you want to know how your day will turn out, look up this web page. Your answer has been conveniently placed at the top, and in the title.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What to get me for Xmas

No, i'm not a topologist, but this is really cool, if expensive. It's a Drinking Mug Klein Bottle. Doubles as a barometer, for spooky weather prediction. One can even drink tea in it, though reading tea leaves won't predict the weather with as much reliability.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Monday, Monday

Yesterday was a day off at the biggest of the big three US Automotive companies. We got the day off to vote, which took all of a half hour. One supposes that if i had to vote in the morning or evening, then it would have taken much longer. If that's the price of democracy - having a day off from time to time, i suppose that's OK.

In any case, today feels like a Monday. Which means that this week has two Mondays. When i mentioned this to a random passer by at the soda vending machine, he said, "Well that's not right. We ought to have two Fridays." To which, i replied that this Monday we had this week on Monday was also a Friday. Figure that one out.

To have two Fridays in a week, you have to take off, not Tuesday, but Wednesday. This avoids having a day that is both the beginning of the week and the end of the week at the same time. Naturally, if you have a Wednesday off, you complain that you can't really do anything with it, like go up North and do some wilderness trip in a canoe or something, and it just breaks up the week for nothing. If you figure out some solution to this dilemma, let me know.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Failed Supidity Test

So, i took this test of stupidity, and failed it pretty badly. Most people did much better. In fact, only 8% scored less stupid than i did. I just don't get it.

The Stupid Quiz said I am "Totally Smart!" How stupid are you? Click here to find out!

I did a few experiments. Apparently, nine planets is the answer they're looking for. I thought was just being funny.

I studied hard for my blood test, and got an A+. Clearly, it pays to study.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006



You Are Batman

Billionaire playboy by day. Saving the world by night.
And you're not even a true superhero. Just someone with a lot of expensive toys!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No Prints for the Prince Needed

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain is available on Libravox as audio. It is read by John Greenman, who has an excellent voice and delivery.

The book itself is a classic, must read, or at least listen. I was able to mostly listen to just one 20 (or so) minute chunk per day. A the end, though, i pretty much had to find out how it turned out. Should i say it has a happy ending? No. I won't. Feel free to consider the ending a mystery.

The basic plot is that Prince Edward of England switches with a poor boy who happens to look like him. A complication is that the King is ill. The interesting thing is that the Prince gets to see how the other half lives, and acts on it. Another interesting thing is the footnotes. It gives the work the feel of non-fiction, making one wonder just exactly what was, and what wasn't made up. Maybe it's non-fiction, and it really happened 1547 as narrated. You decide.

Monday, September 18, 2006

To Be A Republican

What if you grow up, go to school, decide to plug into society, only to discover that you are both scientifically literate, and a Republican? I mean, you might be a Republican sort of by default. Your parents are Republican, and have told you that the party is conservative. That sounds nice. But as time goes on, you start hearing Republicans, right from the top, talking about how ID should be taught in schools as science. You hear nonsense like "there's no quick answer to the fuel crisis". And it just continues. What do you do?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Eye color

Your Eyes Should Be Brown

Your eyes reflect: Depth and wisdom

What's hidden behind your eyes: A tender heart

They are in fact, blue.

While we're at it:

You Are 50% Left Brained, 50% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

I'm of two minds on this one.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Invisible Man

I was going to write this review with the text set to white. You'd be able to read it only by highlighting it. For example: The Invisible Text. It's almost like a cypher. Only the enlightened can read it.

The Librivox recording of H. G. Wells's book, The Invisible Man was read by Alex Foster, of Nottingham. The narrator, Alex Foster, has a great voice for this book. It's a radio voice. There are few, if any, errors. And very importantly, it isn't an American accent. The story takes place, if i understand my geography correctly, near London, so having an accent from that area is a plus. And yet, the text is very clear, with no misunderstanding, even by an American such as myself.

Interestingly, the description for how invisibility works is strikingly believable. In high school chemistry class, they had you put a certain amount of water in a beaker, put in a Pyrex rod, add a certain amount of a clear liquid, mix it, and boom (well, it was a surprise, anyway), the Pyrex rod that's in the liquid vanishes. The index of refraction of the water was altered to match that of Pyrex. The Invisible man is invisible because he's not only transparent, but in index of refraction matches that of air. Yet, Wells doesn't go so far as to tell you the details on how the thing works, exactly. Just enough to get you going. Masterfully done.

Now, the story has been done again and again in literature. Typically, the rip offs change the man's character greatly. Sometimes they come up with solutions to his various problems. Problems? Sure, well, he's only really invisible when he's naked. That's a decided disadvantage when it's winter. And in summer, the bug bites must be terrible. The solution was actually presented in the book, though the author chooses not to have the character use it.

Wells clearly wanted to have the book stand on it's own. Not a serial like Tarzan. So, the Invisible Man is smart enough to be dangerous, but not smart enough to live forever. Many of the rip off's, including a TV series, have the Invisible Man with a support network, and enough smarts to do interesting things as a serial.

The original book stands the test of time. Speaking of time. The Librivox recording of The Invisible Man is only about five hours long. Keep in mind that reading the text yourself is typically about three times faster. So this is a fairly short piece of entertainment. It's broken up into fairly short readings. Sometimes three chapters in a single file, but always under about 35 minutes. The chapters must be very short. In any case, it means one can get through a whole scene, and have a convenient break point.

Now, i mostly listen to these things while doing something else. This summer, i've listened to several books while gardening. I bought a non-motorized lawn mower so that i can listen while doing that task. Most of my listening time, however, happens during my commute to work. In a break with tradition, i actually found myself speeding up a little during the most exciting parts. (This doesn't get me to speeding, exactly, as i drive slower than the limit as a fuel conservation measure - which saves me more than an estimated $100 per year). It's an hour each way, so it's roughly ten hours a week. Against ten hours a week, a five hour book is pretty easy. The Tarzan books were about eight hours each. And when I listened to those, it was about one per week. Imagine reading fifty books a year.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Gas prices lower

Notice gas prices (here in the States) have come down, just in time for Labor Day travel? This is in a complete break with tradition. I've not heard really anything in the news about it (not that i've looked). One might expect that whoever is responsible might trumpet their achievement.

It's almost as if it's an election year.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hyde and Seek

Just finished listening to the Librivox production of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. David Barnes, the narrator, has an excellent voice for this part for several reasons. For one, it isn't an American accent. It is believable that this voice is directly from a character out of the 1800's. Second, he has adopted a kind of bland style for this reading, which is totally in character with the story. It isn't sensational. Sure, it can mesmerize, and requires a bit more concentration and attention to get everything.

Apparently, i never read the story before. The dozens of Jekyll & Hyde references in comics, TV, etc., manage to mislead. Has no one read this book? For example, the Marvel Comics villain Mr Hyde is huge and strong like the Hulk, and Dr. Jekyll is small and spindly. This is in sharp contrast to Stevenson's vision. I also expected that Jekyll's motivation was going to be a sort of fountain of youth, rather than an exploration of consciousness. Seeking after youth might have been more believable, even if Dr. Jekyll's motives were supposed to be unselfish and pure.

Also, i'd thought of this classic as a bigger book. At just about three hours, it's really a short story. I find it easy enough to read about three times as fast as the spoken word. So it stands that i might have devoured the text in an hour. Had i known that, i'd likely have read it much sooner. It's also packaged in chunks just under an hour each. This made it easy enough for me to consume on my hour long commute, each way, every day.

Like Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, this science fiction work is also horror. I'm not really much into horror. Hyde is a monster. To look at him is to understand disfigurement, even though the eye does not find it. Ordinary onlookers are given a supernatural ability to sense evil.

So, i liked the book, the narrator, the audio quality, and the packaging. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic that should not be missed. And, as both the text and the audio are available for free, there's hardly any excuse not to enjoy it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Har Har

Talk like a Pirate Day is coming. Now is the time to prepare with practice.

For example, har har. And, of course, Arrggg.

Friday, August 11, 2006

An odd thing

Son: I'm hungry.

Me: I suppose you want bubble gum. Or popcorn.

Son: I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwitch.

Me: I never wanted a normal child anyway.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Another Meme Lemming

Don't participate with me on this. I did not send this to friends. If you do it, try to be clever.

The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known facts about your friends. It is fun and easy 48 questions to answer. If you're doing it, and are clever enough, then nothing will be learned by anyone. That's my goal.

The 1st Christian martyr. See Acts Ch 6. He preached the obvious to his congregation, and they stoned him. It still happens. I've been there.
A whole onion goes in my spaghetti. Best not to breath through your nose. So, don't talk.
No. It's painfully slow and barely legible. My typing is at least 8 times faster.
I eat alot of Bologna. I like pastrami.
Sure. I have lots of interesting things to say that i'd like to hear about.
Several. They document what I'm thinking about, not my life.
Yes. If i'd had one more strep throat growing up, they'd have pulled them.
I'd say no, but i did go up in a hot air balloon, by choice. It was fun.
Cheerios, but variety is critical.
Sometimes. Always for boots. Never for loafers.
For my 17 foot aluminum canoe, I'm strong. For my piano, i'm weak.
Cookie dough.
8 1/2.
Blue. No red! Ahhhhhgg...
I don't listen to myself, so alot of wisdom is missed.
Kim Dyer, the blind astronomer.
Blue. No red! Ahhhhhgg...
Red hot potato chips.
The computer fan. The other computer fan.
Blue. No red! Ahhhhhgg...
I don't get to smell nice things for more than a second. Only really foul things make an impression.
Something they said.
Blue. No red! Ahhhhhgg...
Blue. No red! Ahhhhhgg...
Sometimes. I have them set up for super vision. Great for bird watching.
My spaghetti. The recipe changes most times i make it.
While i don't like scary movies, it's the story that matters. Give me a plot.
Blue. No red! Ahhhhhgg...
Fall. Fall colors are Blue. No red! Ahhhhhgg...
Is that all i get? Hugs, i guess.
None. Really, i don't want dessert. I like deserts.
No one.
The Bible. Need to start another book. It's about 40 books a year. Maybe three at a time.
Son's artwork.
Star Trek TNG. Five minutes on tape.
Chickadee's calls.
M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, about 37 million light years. I'm thinking about visiting a quasar at over 3 billion light years.
The future. But it's very not helpful or comforting.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Ten

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Nine. This one is called Part Ten. It is the eleventh part in the series. It continues subtraction with two digit subtraction.

Some two digit subtraction is easy. Consider 34 - 12. Set 34. To subtract two, remove two fingers on the right hand. To subtract ten, remove one finger from the left hand. Read the answer: 22.

Sometimes, you need to borrow from the next digit up. For example, 34 - 16.
Set 34 on your hands. Now, six is the same as five plus one. That is, it is a thumb and a finger. You can subtract a finger from your right hand. You do not have a thumb to subtract. You can get where you want to go by considering that subtracting five is the same as adding five and subtracting 10: -5 = + 5 - 10. So, add a thumb to the right hand and subtract a finger from your left hand. Now you just need to subtract the ten of 16. Subtract another finger from your left hand. Read the answer. 18.

Next up is 31 - 8. This time, the ten's compliment is used. Set 31. Recognize that there is no way to subtract any part of 8 from it. Not 8, not 3. Consider than subtracting eight is the same as adding 2 and subtracting 10. -8 = +2 - 10. So, add two fingers to the right hand, and subtract one from the left hand. Read the answer: 23.

So, how do you do three digit arithmetic on two hands? You could try using your nose. If it's just a little over two digits (one hundred and something), then consider your nose to be zero or one hundred. Consider 157 - 59. Set 57 on your hands in the usual way. Consider that your nose is set. You don't have nine to subtract, so use the ten's compliment, one. Add one and subtract ten. Well, you can add one. To subtract ten, you must add four and subtract five. Now you need to subtract 50. You don't have 50, so you must add 50 and subtract 100. Add the left thumb. Remember that 100 is on your nose. Unset your nose. Read the result: 098.

Again, you are referred to the example generator, which can provide you with an infinite number of examples. Each time you click here, you get a new page. Use your back button to get back to the lesson. This link provides two digit subtraction examples.

You might just want to go to the web site, so you can ask the generator yourself. Addition, subtraction or mixed problems, how many digits, more than just two numbers per problem? Answers on the same page or another page? Maybe you want one hundred pages to get you through vacation.

Remember to read the answers out loud. Practice every day that you eat. If you like, limit yourself to practice to those days of the week ending with 'y'. Enjoy yourself. With a little practice, two and three digit addition and subtraction can be highly reliable, fast and seemingly effortless.

Monday, August 07, 2006

DVDs in the mail

Mostly, i only get spam and bad news (bills) by mail. I should write more letters. One letter i wrote (well, filled in the form, anyway) was to get a free DVD from my cereal box company. My son (9) picked out the movie from a short list. He picked Agent Cody Banks. We watched it. It's about an hour and a half. It has much of the James Bond gadgets and banter. The gadgets are toned down to familiar cell phones, video games, and cars. In a break with tradition, the cars aren't destroyed. Since Cody is supposed to be a 15 year old, the amount of sex is limited. Even in the banter. It's rated PG, but, for example, in the big fight scene, the 'villains', who were set up as bullies, and therefore deserved what they get, are thrown into a pool. It could nearly be rated G. For example, there is no swearing. Mom's hand covers the child's mouth when he says "Holy ...". What was he going to say? We'll never know.

So, it has action to rivet the attention of a nine year old. Yet no scary dreams. No foul language to be repeated ad nauseum.

Can't beat the price. We're practically addicted to Raisin Bran anyway.

I give it two thumbs up. If you've been following this blog, you'll note that one of the thumbs is worth five, and the other is worth fifty. That's better than Siskel and Ebert.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Finger Multiplication Trick

When the student gets to multiplication, there is a problem. When learning addition, the student is tempted to count on their fingers to get the answer. For speed, the addition table should be memorized. Otherwise, they'll take quite a bit of time when it comes to 7 + 8.

For multiplication, figuring out 7 * 8 with repeated addition just doesn't work. And the third grader quickly memorizes the table.

There is a simple system for multiplication involving digits six and higher. And, it involves your fingers. Point your palms towards yourself with the finger tips of the hands pointing at each other. With the little fingers at the bottom, consider that your fingers represent the numbers six through ten. The little finger is six, the ring finger is seven, up to the thumb, which is ten.

We'll try 7 * 8 first. Seven is the ring finger of the left hand. Eight is the middle finger of the right hand. Order does not matter. Count the fingers to the bottom. That's 2 on the left hand and 3 on the right hand. 2 + 3 is 5. That's the ten's digit of 7 * 8. Examine the leftover fingers above. There are 3 on the left hand, and 2 on the right. Multiply these together. 2 * 3 = 6. That's the units digit. 7 * 8 = 56.

Consider 10 * 10. Ten fingers total below (and including) the thumbs. That's the ten's digit: 10. Zero fingers above. 0 * 0 = 0. That's the one's digit. 10 * 10 = 100.

I find myself somewhat reluctant to teach this tool. I mean, it works, yes. But does it accelerate the student, or retard progress? You decide.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Nine - Subtraction

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Eight. This one is called Part Nine. It is the tenth part in the series. It introduces subtraction.

Subtraction is the opposite of addition. It's sort of addition backwards. You might be able to figure it out, using what you've learned from addition. Indeed, i was unable to teach my eight year old subtraction. I announced that i would teach him, and he just went ahead and did it. Now, if he'd done it wrong, i'd have corrected him. And when he makes mistakes, i walk him through the steps. But he really seemed to go through all nine lessons in reverse, taking about ten seconds. I don't hold him back. The correct direction is forward to the goal.

In lesson zero, we had counting. Count from nine to zero. It was then pointed out that counting was adding one. Counting down is the same as subtracting one. Remember to say the answers out loud. Try counting from twenty to zero.

Now we'll subtract small numbers. Consider 4 - 3. Set four fingers and subtract three fingers. Read the result: One. This covers 1 - 1, 2 - 1, 3 - 1, 4 - 1, 2 - 2, 3 - 2, 4 - 2, 3 - 3, 4 - 3, 4 - 4. Practice these.

Some big numbers with small numbers are easy. Consider 9 - 3. Set nine. Take away three fingers. Read the answer: six. This covers 9 - 1, 9 - 2, 9 - 3, 9 - 4, 8 - 1, 8 - 2, 8 - 3, 7 - 1, 7 - 2, 6 - 1.

Next is a half carry, using Five's Compliments. Recall that the Five's Compliment of 1 is 4, and 4 is 1, and 2 is 3 and 3 is 2. Consider 7 - 3. Set seven. Note that there aren't three fingers to subtract. We're going perform this by observing that 7 - 3 is the same as 7 + 2 - 5. Remember that the Five's Compliment of three is two, so you add two and subtract five. Add two fingers. Subtract the thumb. Read the answer: four.

Subtracting five is easy. Consider 7 - 5. Set seven. Take away the thumb. Read the answer: two. This covers 9 - 5, 8 - 5, 7 - 5, 6 - 5, and 5 - 5.

Subtracting bigger numbers. Consider 9 - 7. Set nine. Seven is five plus two - thumb and two fingers. You have two fingers to take away, so do it. You have a thumb to take away, so do it. Read the answer: two. This covers 9 - 9, 9 - 8, 9 - 7, 9 - 6, 8 - 8, 8 - 7, 8 - 6, 7 - 7, 7 - 6, 6 -6. Need you be reminded to practice?

Next lesson: two digit subtraction. Bring your thinking caps.

Again, you are referred to the example generator, which can provide you with an infinite number of examples. Each time you click here, you get a new page. Use your back button to get back to the lesson. This link provides two digit examples. As this lesson hasn't taught two digit subtraction, feel free to ignore any problems involving two digits anywhere.

You might just want to go to the web site, so you can ask the generator yourself. Addition, subtraction or mixed problems, how many digits, more than just two numbers per problem? Answers on the same page or another page? Maybe you want one hundred pages to get you through vacation.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

All Wet

When Oxygen Tech played Hydrogen U.
    The Game had just begun,
when Hydrogen scored two fast points
    And Oxygen still had none.
Then Oxygen scored a single goal
    And thus it did remain,
At Hydrogen 2 and Oxygen 1
    Called because of rain.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Eight

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Seven. This one is called Part Eight. It is the ninth part in the series.

Back in Part Seven, we finished up addition of single digit numbers. We took care of carries with Ten's Compliments and Five's Compliments. In this lesson, we continue forward with two digit addition.

For example, how does one add 13 + 21? Set thirteen by making two fists, set three fingers on the right hand and one finger on the left hand. The twenty-one can be added in either order. Add twenty, then add one, or add one, then add twenty. These lessons always proceed from right to left. To add one to the three on the right hand, just add one more finger. To add twenty, just add two fingers to the left hand. Read the answer: 34.

The last example was easy. There were no carries. Consider adding 34 + 35. Set thirty four by making two fists, setting three fingers on the left hand and four fingers on the right hand. Add five (of 35) to the right hand by adding the thumb. Still no carry. Then consider adding thirty. You would add three fingers to the left hand, but there aren't three fingers to add. So, subtract the Five's Compliment of three, which is two fingers, and add five, which is the thumb. Read the answer: 69. This example added five, and also added using a Five's Compliment.

Consider 26 + 48. Set twenty six by starting with two fists. Set two fingers on the left and a finger and thumb on the right. We need to add eight. Eight is five plus three. You can add the three by adding three fingers. You can't add the five, so you must subtract five by subtracting the right thumb, and adding ten, which is adding one finger on the left hand. To add forty, you'd want to add four fingers to the left hand. However, there aren't enough fingers to add. So, you subtract the Five's Compliment of four, which is one, and add five, which is the thumb, to the left hand. Read the answer: 74. This example has a carry from the unit's digit (hand) to the ten's digit (hand), and also has a Five's Compliment add.

Consider 19 + 27. Set nineteen by making two fists, setting one finger on the left hand and all fingers and thumb on the right hand. To add seven, note that seven is five plus two. There aren't two fingers to add, so you use Ten's Compliment. Subtract the Ten's Compliment of seven, which is three, and add ten, which is one finger on the left hand. To add twenty, add two more fingers on the left hand. Read the answer: 46. Use Ten's Compliments for numbers over five, and Five's Compliments for numbers less than five.

Consider 46 + 14. You might still have 46 on your hands, or set 46. To add four, recognize that there aren't four fingers to add. Subtract the Five's Compliment of four, which is one, and add five. You already have the thumb up, so you subtract five (the thumb) and add ten. You don't have a finger to add to the left hand, so you subtract the Five's Compliment of one, which is four, and add five, which is the thumb. That was just to add the four of the fourteen. To add the ten of the fourteen, add one finger to the left hand. Read the answer: sixty. You would think that this is as complicated as carries get for finger addition. However, there is one more case.

Consider 37 + 63. Set thirty seven on your hands. You want to add three, but can't, as there are only two available fingers. So, you subtract two and add five. You can subtract two, but can't add five, as there is already a thumb set. You add five by subtracting five and adding ten, which is one finger on the left hand. Now you need to add sixty. Considering that sixty is 1 + 5, you note that you can't add one finger. So, you subtract the Ten's Compliment of six, which is four, and add ten - which is one hundred. Well, most people don't have another hand, so you'll have to remember it. Perhaps your nose. Read the answer. Remembering the one hundred, you find that the answer is: 100.

In the previous example, we used the Five's Compliment of three to add it to the existing seven. There were a number of confusing steps to get through adding just the one digit. While this method works, you could instead use the Ten's Compliment of three, which is seven. Here's how that works. Set thirty seven on your hands. To add three, subtract the Ten's Compliment of three, which is seven, and add ten. You can add the ten, so you just do it. I find it conceptually easier to use Five's Compliments for digits less than five, and Ten's Compliments for digits more than five. This always works, though it leads to extra steps now and then. As your proficiency improves, feel free to experiment with Ten's Compliments where they make sense.

You might spend a few weeks on this before moving on to subtraction.

Again, you are referred to the example generator, which can provide you with an infinite number of examples. Each time you click here, you get a new page. Use your back button to get back to the lesson. This isn't the same link as in the Part Six. This link provides two digit examples.

The example generator is the same, with different parameters. This is the form that lets you select the parameters you might want. For example, if you have a Japanese Abacus, called a Soroban, you'll have more than two hands, as each hand is basically one rod of this device. Let's say that you have a child in elementary school. If they're reading for enjoyment, then handing them some books to read over the summer will allow them to advance, or at least not backslide too much. What about arithmetic? It is estimated that children backslide an average of about two and a half months over the summer. This problem generator can help. I try to work in five minutes with my son every day. There is also a problem generator for multiplication on my site. Feel free to use it for division problems as well.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Seven

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Six. This one is called Part Seven. It is the eighth part in the series.

Ten's Compliments. Back in Part Six, we added 7 + 8. We set 7, and added 8 by adding 3 then 5. Adding 3 involved a carry, generating an addition of 5 while remembering that we still have to add 5. Very complicated. This Ten's Compliments idea reduces the steps, and having to remember upcoming steps. It is similar to Five's Complements, introduced in Part Three.

The Ten's Compliment of a number is the number you add to get ten. For now, we'll only use the Ten's Compliment of numbers greater than five. So, the Ten's Compliment of six is four. The Ten's Compliment of seven is three. The Ten's Compliment of eight is two. And the Ten's Compliment of nine is one.

So how does this help? Let's return to the dreaded seven plus eight example. Start with two fists, then set two right hand fingers and the thumb. You'd like to add eight, which is five plus three, but you don't have three to add. Eight is ten minus two (the Ten's Compliment of eight is two). Subtract the Ten's Complement, which is done by subtracting both right fingers. Then add ten by adding a finger to the left hand. Read the result: fifteen. That's ten (the left finger), plus five (the right thumb) and zero (the right fingers). Again, we added 7 + 8, which is 7 - 2 + 10.

How about six plus seven from the last lesson? You do this the same way it was done in the previous lesson. When you have six set, you don't have three fingers to subtract, and you do have two fingers to add. The way it works is that you always have exactly one of these options.

The relevant examples are 6 + 9, 7 + 9, 8 + 9, 9 + 9, 7 + 8, 8 + 8, 9 + 8, 8 + 7, 9 + 7, 9 + 6.

Again, you are referred to the example generator, which can provide you with an infinite number of examples. Each time you click here, you get a new page. Use your back button to get back to the lesson. This is the same link as in the previous lesson.

Technically, we really introduced the Ten's Compliment of five, which is five in Part Five. It wasn't called that, and it just seems simpler to treat it as a special case.

Stay tuned for the introduction of two digit addition.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Six

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Five. This one is called Part Six. It is the seventh part in the series.

Single Digit Addition. No new concepts. That's not really true. We're going to combine previous concepts to handle more complicated carries. You'll need to be able to do this eventually, but these examples will be simplified in the next lesson.

We'll start with an easy example: six plus seven. Start with two fists. Set six by adding a finger and the thumb to the right hand. Seven is two plus five. Add the two of the seven by adding two fingers. You want to add the thumb, but the thumb is already set. So subtract five (the thumb) and add ten (a finger on the left hand). Read the answer: thirteen.

Let's add eight plus nine. Two fists, then set three fingers and the thumb on the right hand. Nine is five plus four. You want to add the four, but you don't have four fingers to add. So, you subtract the Five's Complement of four, which is one. You want to add the five (from the Five's Complement), but you already have that set. So, you must subtract five (the thumb) and add ten (a finger on the left hand). Then, you must go back and add the five from the nine. So add the right thumb. Read the result: seventeen.

Now, let's do the really hard one. That's right, the dreaded seven plus eight. Start with two fists, then set the two right hand fingers and the thumb. Eight is three plus one. You want to add three, but can't, so you subtract the Five's Complement of three, which is two - which is done by subtracting both right fingers. You want to add five, but already have a thumb set. So, you subtract five (the thumb) and add ten (a finger on the left hand). Now you need to go back and add the five from eight (the right thumb). Read the result: fifteen. That's ten (the left finger), plus five (the right thumb) and zero (the right fingers).

At this point, you can add any two single digit numbers. There are a few examples to try below. But none of the books have enough examples. Since you can't have too many examples, you are referred to an example generator, which can provide you with an infinite number of examples. Each time you click here, you get a new page. Use your back button to get back to the lesson. Bookmark the link.

+ 4

+ 3

+ 6

+ 5

+ 8

+ 8

+ 2

+ 8

+ 3

+ 8

+ 5

+ 9

+ 6

+ 1

+ 6


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Charter School

I went to public schools through high school. I was offered the chance to go to a private high school, but turned it down. I could only see disadvantages. I wasn't interested enough to investigate the alternative.

I did OK at public school, though i can't say i was very enthusiastic. One day at home, my Dad asked me for my report card. I remembered using it as a bookmark, and went to fetch it. My Dad looked at it, then said that he'd have rather seen it than read about it in the newspaper - the honor roll. Why was that news? I was always on the honor roll. I said i'd try to show him the report card, but knew that i had so little interest in it that it would likely slip my mind.

The pace at school was slow, but i didn't mind - i was patient. Teachers saw i was bored, and gave me extra stuff to do. It did not bother me that i didn't get any credit for it. It wasn't enough. I bought a computer (in 1975, about as powerful as your watch) and taught myself machine language programming. I picked up a Japanese abacus (Soroban) and taught myself mental arithmetic. After three months, I computed a 10 digit sin(x) in my head using Taylor series. I was the only junior in the new high school calculus course.

But i would have done OK anywhere. I probably wasn't an average child after all. But where could i have excelled?

My son is in a charter school, and just finished 3rd grade. You get to go to a charter school if a parent fills out the forms and the school isn't already full.

He doesn't just get it like i did. And he won't stick with it forever like i would. So his mom and i help him out every day, and all weekend, and all summer. When the teacher calls one of us, we take it very seriously. I've gotten him through addition and subtraction. It took four years, but i've gotten him to read for enjoyment (meaning all the time). I've helped him with fractions and concepts of perimeter and area. We quiz him relentlessly on spelling, social studies and Spanish. His Mom has been, uhm, instrumental in getting him to be without peer on violin and piano.

The charter school has parents who care about their kids. After dropping their kids to the school in the morning, they'll often have discussions about school for an hour or so. I can't imagine that there is a single parent there who doesn't return a teacher's phone call right away.

I was very excited about this school after a 'parents day'. I got an appointment to sit in on a class for an hour, while my son was still in preschool. The teacher read a story to the kids, who all sat quietly in rapt attention. Even my son. Then, the kids each got out a rug, and some materials, and sat for at least twenty minutes working with them. Even my son. One child came over to the table i was sitting at. Soon a teacher came over and also sat down. The child began reading a book, out loud, fluently. It had to be 2nd grade level or better. But this was preschool.

OK, so when i was in 1st grade, i could read that well, probably better. But i was not encouraged to do so. No one else was doing it. We could pick any book out of the school's library to read, but they kept shepherding me to the See Jack Run section. So i read my older brother's books at home. Things happened in those books. You know, like real stories. At my son's charter school, it's OK to excel. This is Very exciting.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Five

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Four. This one is called Part Five. It is the sixth part in the series.

In Part Three, we introduced the idea that sometimes you want to add something, but you have no fingers left to add. This part does that for the thumb. Here, we add five when the thumb is already set.

The first example is adding seven plus five. First, set seven. Do that by starting with a fist on both hands, adding two fingers to the right hand, then adding the right thumb. Now we want to add five. You want to add a right thumb, but your right thumb is already set. To do this, remember that 5 + 5 is the same as 5 + (10 - 5), which is rearranged as 5 - 5 + 10. Still have zero / seven on your hands? Good. Subtract five by tucking the right thumb down. Add ten by adding a finger to the left hand. Look at your hands. Read twelve.

The next example is adding six and five. First start with both fists. Set six on the right hand by adding a finger and thumb. Add five by subtracting the right thumb, and adding a finger on the left hand. Read the result: eleven.

The final example is adding nine and five. Start with both fists. Add all fingers and thumb on the right hand for nine. Subtract the right thumb and add a finger on the left hand. Read fourteen.

All examples: 5 + 5, 6 + 5, 7 + 5, 8 + 5, 9 + 5.

During the week, go over the previous lesson's examples. Stick to short practices every day. You don't have to do all the examples from all the lessons in one go. But you should sneak in all the examples for all the lessons over the course of the week. And every day should have this newest lesson.

The next lesson will get you started on single digit addition. It won't be the last word there, however. It seems that there is always something more to say.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Four

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Three. This one is called Part Four. It is the fifth part in the series.

Bigger numbers are added to small numbers. It's an easy lesson that introduces thinking of bigger numbers as the sum of two smaller numbers. One of the smaller numbers is always five. In fact, when you set one of these numbers on a hand, the thumb is the five, and the fingers represent the other small number.

Let's say you have one, and want to add seven. For the moment, set seven on one hand. Make a fist. Add two fingers. Add the thumb. Seven is five plus two. So we can add these parts one at a time. Here are the steps. We're adding one plus seven. Set one by making a fist on the right hand, then add one finger. Add the 'two' of the seven by adding two fingers. Then add the five of the seven by adding the thumb. Read the answer. Uhm, let's see. There's a thumb. There are three fingers. That's eight.

Now we'll add three plus six. Set three by making a fist and adding three fingers. Six is five plus one. Add one by adding a finger. Add five by adding a thumb. Read the answer. Nine.

Try two plus seven. Set two. Add the two. Add the five. Read the result (nine). You did say it out loud, right?

Three plus five. Make a fist. Add three fingers. Add the thumb.

All of the examples: 0 + 5, 0 + 6, 0 + 7, 0 + 8, 0 + 9, 1 + 5, 1 + 6, 1 + 7, 1 + 8, 2 + 5, 2 + 6, 2 + 7, 3 + 5, 3 + 6, 4 + 5. Try them all.

Keep practicing Part Three during the week. It takes a bit for the Five's Complements to stick in your head. We'll need to expand on this idea soon. We're trying to keep it down to one new idea a week. However, you need to remember all the old lessons to get it all together.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Make Mine a Double

Yesterday, i had a headache. It's a rare thing for me. I asked around at the office, and someone had some Motrin. It did the trick. In retrospect, it is possible i just needed a drink of water. Next time, i'm going to try the new double strength placebo.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Phone Cord

I've run a research project to determine the answer to a question burning in the hearts of many: What is the minimum number of strings or ropes or cords that it takes to create a tangled spaghetti mess?

The answer appears to be one.

And you may have evidence of this within a small number of inches from where you sit. Look at the nearest phone cord. If it is anything like mine, it is a tangled mess. Every few days, i take the phone off the hook, dangle it by the cord, and let it unwind. Despite low use, and always putting it down without twisting it once, the cord is basically always a twisted mess.

But not at home. It's a cordless phone there.

I had to look up the spelling in a dictionary. Apparently, a phone chord is some sort of musical idea. It's an idea that rings a Bell.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


A few years ago, i developed arthritis in my shoulders. Call it bursitis. I could not raise my right arm higher than level. Cured, but now years later, i still reach for high shelf items with my left arm.

I was cured by stopping my intake of caffeine. I used to drink nearly a half gallon of Mt. Dew a day, though not on weekends. As my symptoms got worse, i noticed that it wasn't as bad on Sunday night as the rest of the week. As an experiment, i switched to Sprite and things improved. A month later, i had a cup of coffee, and it hurt for four days. No doubt about it. Caffeine. After ten months of abstinence, my symptoms rapidly vanished. Caffeine is a very stable chemical.

I asked around, and even doctors told me that there was no connection. Feh. Eventually i learned that caffeine can interfere with the body's intake of calcium. Now, the joints are affected first. Then the bones. So, i wondered if caffeine was big in osteoporosis.

It International Osteoporosis Foundation recently held a big congress (convention). Lots of risk factors for osteoporosis were enumerated. Their web site has a page on prevention. Caffeine is mentioned once, along with salt. You could easily miss it. At least it's mentioned.

The thing is, when i've talked to people at risk for osteoporosis, like older women, they can't imagine giving up caffeine. They say that they drink decaf, but they have no idea how much caffeine is in it. And, it can vary by a factor of ten. And, products with caffeine don't have to say how much is in it. And, i'm pretty smart, but i have no idea how to perform a test to find out. I got through high school chemistry (with an A), but haven't had much since.

Caffeine is addictive. It's subtle. It won't let go of you, even after years of abstinence. The effects appear to be cumulative.

So i had this problem with my right foot. I thought my shoes were causing discomfort. I thought it was the way i was walking. But now i know that it is just taking longer to heal than other parts of my body. It's arthritis.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Three

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part Two. This one is called Part Three. It is the forth part in the series. Five's Complements are introduced. Clear as mud? Let's get started!

The Five's Complement of a number is the number you add to get five. So, the Five's Complement of one is four. That's because one plus four is five. Likewise, the Five's Complement of four is one. The other pair is two and three. The Five's Complement of two is three. Two plus three is five. And the Five's Complement of three is two.

Armed with this new knowledge, we tackle adding slightly bigger numbers. The very first example is 3 + 3. Start with a fist on the right hand. Put up three fingers. You want to add three fingers, but you don't have three fingers that can be added. The idea is to add five, and subtract the Five's Complement of three - which is two. So 3 + 3 = 3 + 5 - 2. However, do it in this order: 3 - 2 + 5. You have three fingers up on your right hand. Subtract two fingers, and add the thumb (five). That leaves you with your thumb (five) and one finger (one), for a total of six. Say six out loud.

The reason that the subtraction should be done first will become apparent in a later lesson. That lesson involves carries from one hand to the other. By performing the steps in this order, you can avoid ever having more than one pending operation. It is less confusing, and more reliable. Handling carries is the single biggest reason for error in traditional pencil and paper arithmetic.

Another example: 4 + 2. Start with a fist and set four fingers. The Five's Complement of two is three. So subtract three fingers. Then add the thumb for five. Read the answer out loud. Six.

Another example: 2 + 3. Start with a fist and set two fingers. The Five's Complement of three is two. Subtract two fingers and add the thumb (five). Read the answer: five. Note that you have no fingers up - just the thumb. You have five (the thumb) plus zero (no fingers). Zero is very important. Zero may mean nothing, but it isn't meaningless.

All of the examples: 1 + 4, 2 + 3, 2 + 4, 3 + 2, 3 + 3, 3 + 4, 4 + 1, 4 + 2, 4 + 3 and 4 + 4. Try them all. Don't forget to read the answer out loud.

When you are done with this lesson, practice some of the examples from previous lessons. Add small numbers. Do some counting. Remember to read the answers out loud. Practice five minutes a day. Five minutes each day for a week is worth more than twenty minutes each day for two days. And, five minutes can be squeezed into just about any schedule.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part Two

Continuing finger arithmetic from Part One. This third part is called Part Two. We start addition. It may seem as if the lesson moves slowly. Take your time. The harder stuff builds on this easy stuff.

First, we'll add one and one. Start with a fist on your right hand. Put out a finger to represent one. Add another finger. Read the answer out loud: two.

You might think we've already covered this. And you'd be right. We have added one repeatedly in order to count. In some sense, this is nothing new.

Next example. Add one plus two. Start with a fist on your right hand. Put out a finger to set one. Add two fingers to it. Read the answer out loud: three.

Next example. Add two plus two. Start with a fist on your right had. Put two fingers out to set two. Add two fingers to it. Read the answer out loud: four.

The whole set of possible examples here are: 0 + 1, 0 + 2, 0 + 3, 0 + 4, 1 + 1, 1 + 2, 1 + 3, 2 + 2, 3 + 1. Practice these all week.

Extra credit. Add ten plus twenty. Start with a fist on your left hand. Put out a finger to set ten. Add two fingers to it. Read the answer out loud: thirty.

That's small number addition. Remember to practice the drills every day. Don't forget to bring your fingers with you, everywhere. Do you have five minutes? What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Finger Arithmetic Part One of Many

Continuing finger arithmetic from part zero. The second part is called part one. Just as the century with the years numbered mostly in the 1900's is called the twentieth century. What a nuisance. But thinking about these issues can prepare one to be capable of dealing with all sorts of off by one errors, such as fence post errors. And, zero is the most important number. Nothing is more important than all of mathematics. Nothing.

Each hand is one digit of a two digit number.

Your right hand is the one's digit. It can count from zero to nine. Your left hand is the ten's digit. It can count from zero to ninety, by tens. This isn't a left handed or right handed thing. It's just that when you look at Arabic numbers, the least significant digit is on the right.

Make a fist with both hands. That's zero (00). Say it.

Put up a finger on your left hand. Say 'ten'. Say it out loud.

Add another finger on your left hand. Say 'twenty'. Don't by shy.

Add another finger on your left hand. Say 'thirty'. I can't hear you.

Add another finger on your left hand. Say 'forty'. Shout if you must.

Make a fist with your left hand and stick out the thumb. Say 'fifty'. That's right. Your left thumb, all by itself, is the most valuable.

Add a finger to your left hand. Say 'sixty'. It is just as important to learn to read your hands as it is to get the movements right.

Add a finger to your left hand. Say 'seventy'. If you can't read your fingers, why move them?

Add a finger to your left hand. Say 'eighty'.

Add a finger to your left hand. Say 'ninety'. That's that.

Now we'll represent some two digit numbers.

Set twenty nine. Start with zero - two fists. Stick out two fingers on the left hand. Stick out your right thumb and all four fingers. Say 'twenty nine'.

Add one. Since you have twenty nine you have to make a fist with the right hand and add a finger to the left hand. Say 'thirty'.

Set forty nine. Start with zero - two fists. Stick out four fingers on the left hand. Stick out your right thumb and all four fingers. Say 'forty nine'.

Add one. Since you have forty nine, you have to make a fist with the right hand, and add one to the left. Since you don't have one to add, make a fist and stick out your thumb. Say 'fifty'.

Now count from zero to nineteen. That's right, you start by counting from zero to nine on your right hand. Then you make a fist with the right hand and add one finger on your left hand, to get ten (10). With the left hand showing one finger, count to nine with your right hand. That's ten to nineteen. You were counting out loud, right?

More exercises. Count from zero to twenty. Count from forty to sixty. Count backwards from sixty to forty. You were counting out loud, right?

Extra credit: count by tens backwards from ninety to zero.

That's two digit counting. Remember to practice the drills every day. Don't forget to bring your fingers with you, everywhere. Do you have five minutes? What are you waiting for?

Another hint. If you have something to put your fingers on, like a table, or your knee, you can have a finger or thumb be active when it is touching. That way you don't have to look. Tactile feedback is a good thing. But remember not to get lazy and rest your hand - it messes up the current number.

An aside. I can count from zero to one thousand twenty three on my ten fingers. I don't find it handy. There are ten kinds of people in the world. Those that understand binary, and those that don't.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Counting On Your Fingers - arithmetic part zero of several

An Anonymous reader asked about teaching children how to add on their fingers. Adding and subtracting on one's fingers undisciplined can lead to off by one errors - in either direction. This leads to a reliability (getting the right answer) of less than 33%. In the world of math, off by one is as good as off by a million - it is just as wrong. The student is discouraged, then afraid of failure. No wonder we're so bad at math. One of my high school peers walked out of the SAT exams unfinished. It was so sad. Not a damned thing to do about it then. Maybe this will help now.

Correcting simple counting isn't anything magic, it's just being careful. I won't attempt a description. What follows is a description of a technique with the power of rocket science, brought down to the simplicity of a kindergartener. It isn't dumbed down. Instead, it is broken up into consumable chunks for the student. The goal is seven second lessons. Each post is a lesson. I won't go further than partial differential equations with boundary value problems (the math that is rocket science).

Q: How high can you count on the fingers of one hand? Five?

A: You can count from zero to nine on the fingers of one hand.

Each of the four fingers are worth one. Make a fist. That is zero. For now, use your right hand. Count to four with one finger each. Some people find it easier to put the pinky up first. I use the index finger first. It doesn't matter.

Make the fist again, and stick out your thumb. The thumb is worth five. Five is just with the thumb out. You can think of this as five and zero. Add a finger with the thumb - that's six. Count from there until you have the thumb and all the fingers out. That's nine. You've just counted from zero to nine on one hand.

Now, every day for a week, perform this exercise. Don't hurry. Don't skip ahead. Stay with this exercise longer if you need to.

Start with a fist, say 'zero'. Say it out loud.

Add a finger. Say 'one'. I can't hear you.

Add a finger. Say 'two'. Shout if you must.

Add a finger. Say 'three'.

Add a finger. Say 'four'.

Make the fist again, and stick out the thumb. Say 'five'.

Add a finger. Say 'six'.

Add a finger. Say 'seven'.

Add a finger. Say 'eight'.

Add a finger. Say 'nine'.

Extra credit. Count down from nine to zero.

An aside. Zero is a number. It is perhaps the most meaningful of the numbers. After all, nothing is more important than math. We will return to zero again and again for infinity, and beyond.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I've mentioned my hour long commute, in each direction, minimum. I fill the time listening to podcasts, music and books. There are reviews of some of these books here. My previous car has an MP3 CD player, but now an IPod Shuffle is mostly used.

This is a review of my new favorite podcast. It is a cross between books and the radio show style podcasts you might be used to. About once a week, the show presents a story with an introduction. While billed as Science Fiction, which brings to mind Captain Kirk or Asimov's three robotics laws, it also includes fantasy and even a little horror. I'd like it to be pure Science Fiction, just as i was horrified to see that other stuff on the SciFi channel. In general, i'm not a big horror fan. However, the host, Stephen Eley (whose name barely appears on his site - at least he gives himself credit when he reads), exercises some discretion. He says that the stories have to be entertaining. Yes, he more or less admits that he doesn't know what that means, but he does seem to have the same idea i have on that topic.

Episodes aren't exactly some preset length, but tend to be under 40 minutes. OK, the most recent is the longest, at 53 minutes. This fits my commute really well. Long shows are harder to consume, which was the reason i stopped listening to the Pod Father. There are also FLASH episodes, often under five minutes, and reviews of other SciFi - movies and books mostly. I really like the FLASH episodes. The format is so short that there isn't time to be bored. They tend to be very, very dense. The ideas are packed together. Why water the garden with a squirt gun if you can get a fire hose?

Maybe it's the sound quality. But I'm not reminded of the 50's radio shows, like The Green Hornet. This is better. And, unlike radio, one can listen to a show when one has the time, pause it if needed, back up and re-listen to a bit one missed, due to traffic or something.

I haven't listened to all the back issues yet. I'm still catching up. Sometimes i'll start a show, get on the treadmill and do a run until the show is over. Don't bother checking the time or distance. It'll be enough, whatever it turns out to be.

Feeling trapped? There's no escape? Try Escape Pod.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Lawn Mower Man

A couple years ago, there was a set of tips for saving gas. It started with giving your lawn mower a tune up. I don't know about you, but last year my lawn mower used a gallon of gas - for the entire season. So, even if a tune up resulted in increasing fuel efficiency by 100%, at most, a gallon of gas per year could be saved. This is totally negligible, even if every lawn mower in the nation received such a tune up. Now, there's nothing wrong with maintenance. I'm all about that.

Or am i? This season, my six year old lawn mower has given up the ghost. It's some sort of carburetor problem. I can squirt gas directly into the carburetor, and it will start, and run for may fifteen seconds. And, it will mow grass that whole time. Who knows what the problem is. It could be a fuel pump, or fuel filter, or any of a dozen other things. While, i could have looked at the problem over the winter (there were signs of this coming last fall), the fact is, the lawn needed mowing today, and there just isn't time to do anything about it.

I went to the store. For $100, one can get a 3.5 hp mower like the one that died. For $100, one can get a non-motorized push reel mower. So, what are the pros and cons of each?

Well, the gas powered mower is easier to use. Pull the chord, push it around, and it will do most of the work actually cutting the grass. For the most part, it cuts everything. And who cares if there are branches or rocks or whatever - the mower will chop it up and continue on.

The push reel mower provides more exercise. When the grass is very high (as it was this morning), it takes multiple passes to get the job done. Further, aren't very good when there is more than one species of grass, and in particular, it isn't very good with dandelions. I'm cool with that - i'd rather have dandelions than grass anyway. The push reel mower is also quieter. One can wear an iPod and listen to music or podcasts while mowing the lawn. One can mow early in the morning without irritating the neighbors. Maybe even late a night. Though it should be cleaned and oiled, it doesn't have to be fueled - ever. So, that once a summer trip to the gas station with the gas can is a thing of the past. Oh, yes, it saves that one gallon a year. The entire gallon. The push reel mower is also slightly smaller. It takes up a little less room in the garage for storage. There are more corners it will fit into than a gas mower. It is a simpler device. So there is a better chance
that if it breaks, it will be obvious what is wrong with it, and it will be more likely to be fixable.

And this last bit is the main reason i bought it. Six years isn't enough. It isn't the money. $17 a year rent on a mower is cheap. But if we're going to do this throw away economy concept, we've got to have some sort of reasonable recycling system. Where are the lawn mower refurbishment organizations? Can the thing just be melted down and made into cars? Or does the whole thing get tossed into the land fill, gas, oil, caked on grass and everything? No one told me what to do with the old beast.

So, maybe i'll find the original instructions. Maybe i'll call them up and order a few parts. Maybe i'll get her operational again. Maybe the new push reel mower will be the backup - patiently waiting until some kid offers to cut my lawn for $10. Or maybe, due to laziness (some call it prioritization), the gas mower will collect dust for a bit until the garage space is needed for something else.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Life on one end of the Belle curve

According to the BBC news, aspartame (Nutrasweet) does not cause cancer. This is is according to a report by the EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority).

For me, that's like saying that Twinkies are fat free, or that lard has no sugar. It misses the point. I'm real down on aspartame for two reasons. One is that it appears everywhere, and is often difficult to avoid. It seems that someone thinks that everyone on Earth needs it. The other is that i get what amounts to an allergic reaction to it. If my tongue becomes just wet with a diet Coke, i get a six hour migraine headache. That's a day ruining event.

That's if i'm lucky. So far, i've been lucky. I've heard that this stuff can cause strokes for some people. This is easy enough to believe, from my perspective.

So, when i'm not at home, my diet drink of choice is water. But i have to make sure it doesn't go through one of those multi button spigots. Any residual diet drink in the spigot would get into my drink, ruining my day.

This issue is bigger than me, and bigger than aspartame. The real problem is that mass production markets like to push narrow sets of products on the entire population. It seems OK to ignore the ten or fifteen percent of the population for which the product is useless. And entire industries think this way. So, something like 15% of the population is left handed. Yet 95% of camcorders are very much right handed only. The other 5% are sort of awkward ambidextrous designs. There aren't any left handed camcorders available. At the store, there may be 30 camcorder models to choose from. Presumably, each model gets about 3% of the market. While a left handed model could sweep up 15% of the market, there aren't any. People are built from a code that produces variation. The belle curves are wide. So there are adults who are too short or tall or fat for any production car. They're stuck.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What A Gas

In February, i was paying about $2.10 per gallon of gas, and now it's over $2.75, and that makes me pissed (it's a 30% hike in two months). Yet, i just entered the recent entries into my gas program, and discovered that my most recent three tanks of gas delivered over 43 miles per gallon (18 km/liter). What's my secret?

Start with an efficient car. My 2000 Saturn SL is a smallish 4 door sedan with a smallish 1.9 liter engine and a 5 speed manual transmission. I got it cheap because it had some damage, and over 140,000 miles (225,000 km), and my friend wanted to get rid of it. I fixed up the bumpers myself, and though they are now mostly attached with bailing wire, this job has survived two accidents already (neither was my fault - in fact, i parked the car out of the way so this sort of thing wouldn't happen). The bumpers held, and the plastic quarter panels bounced back with hardly a scratch.

Then, drive a little slower. Though the speed limit is 70 MPH (112 km/hr) in much of Michigan, it is perfectly legal to drive at 60 mph (100 km/hr). So this car, which has an EPA rating of 32 MPG (13.6 km/liter) highway, normally achieves over 40 MPG (17 km/liter). Going a little slower might be thought to cost me as much as 7 minutes in my daily commute, but with traffic jams, accidents and construction, it turns out to be hard to measure. It just doesn't matter.

Since i drive about 35,000 miles (56,000 km) a year, that would be 1,094 gallons (4,141 liters) of gas per year at 32 MPG (13.6 km/liter). But at 43 MPG (18km/liter) it's only 814 gallons (3,081 liters) - a savings of 281 gallons of gas. At yesterday's $2.799 per gallon, that would be a savings of $786.50. What would you do with an extra tax free $786.50? I'd buy a telescope.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Comment Spam

Well, this blog has gotten its first comment spam. One, of all things, promotes software to remove adware, of all things. At the moment, the policy is to just delete such nonsense. You might see such spam if you have some program scan the forum via an automated RSS feed checker, or if you just happen to read such comments soon after they're posted. It isn't a perfect world. There's always some jerk out there to mess things up. On the other hand, if you simply disagree with me, but manage to stay on topic, even remotely, it stays. In Monty Python's movie Life of Brian, Brian tells the crowd whose following him You don't have to follow anybody. You're all individuals!, to which the reply was from one guy who says I'm not. Or something like that. For a favorite scene, it is always a little different when i see it compared to how i remember it. Anyway, there are a few out there who will agree with me on some topics, but at those times, this blog isn't for you.