Monday, July 16, 2018

An enigmatic reference explained

In a recent post I happened to mention Archimedes (c.287 BCE - c.212 BCE), after which Yorkshire Pudding commented, 'I was puzzled by your enigmatic reference to a "water screw". Please explain.'

Here is what I was referring to:

(Illustration from Chambers's Encyclopedia (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1875)

Its purpose is to lift water from a lower level to a higher level, usually for irrigation of land, and it operates on the following principle:


(Animated diagram created by Silberwolf, published 6 May 2007, and used in accordance with CC-BY-SA-2.5)

Why Silberwolf would use a red sphere to represent water, now that's what I find enigmatic. Nearly eight decades ago the motion picture How Green Was My Valley won many awards.

Perhaps Mr. or Ms. Silberwolf's motion picture should be called How Red Was My Canal.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

C'est juillet quatorze! or maybe C'est quatorze juillet!


Bastille Day - July 14, 1789 - Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité - the French Revolution

I have mentioned it five times before.

Anything I say five or six times is worth investigating.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Yes, Virginia, there is life outside of blogging

I don't tell you much about my life, which sets me apart from a lot of bloggers. Today, however, I have decided to give you a look at a few recent things and events in my real life, by which I mean what happens when I am not sitting in front of this computer.

It will not be One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich because I am not Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn. Here he is in 1974:

(Photo by Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo, February 1974, in Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989, Nummer toegang 2.24.01.05 Bestanddeelnummer 927-0019)

He died in 2008 and I didn't, so I couldn't possibly be him he Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Maybe I will just show you some pictures, although I do realize that I run the risk of producing in your minds the effect one reviewer felt after watching the film Last Year At Marienbad: "The film is famous for its enigmatic narrative structure, in which time and space are fluid, with no certainty over what is happening to the characters, what they are remembering, and what they are imagining. Its dreamlike nature has both fascinated and baffled viewers; many have hailed the work as a masterpiece, although others have found it incomprehensible."

I will just have to run that risk. No, I will be helpful and include explanations to alleviate any confusion amongst my readership. I say "amongst" instead of "betweenst" because I am confident there are more than two of you out there.

Let us begin. This will not be a chronological presentation. Here, in no particular order, is my recent life:

-- We went to a place called Ollie's (motto: Good Stuff Cheap) and bought new seat cushions and a new umbrella for our patio.

View 1:

View 2:

View 3:


-- Here are our identical triplets out on a lark. Actually, they are my daughter and two of her teacher colleagues at the Birmingham airport this week on their way to Orlando for the SREB (Southern Regional Education Board) Conference. My daughter will be making one of the many presentations.


-- I got into an altercation with a trash receptacle at our local Burger King and wound up with a boo-boo. Please notice the vintage Benrus watch on my wrist. It belonged to my father-in-law, who died in 1983. It passed into the custody of my brother-in-law, who kept it in a box for 32 years and never wore it. When he died in 2015, his widow gave it to me. I wear it every day.

-- Mrs. RWP and I compare boo-boos. Her thumb is partially out of its socket and she also has some arthritis, so the doctor gave her a shot of cortisone and put her in a wrist brace. My boo-boo was minor, just a little cut, but it bled a lot because I am on a blood thinner and it hurt like the dickens.

-- As a belated Father's Day gift, my two sons took me to the Ferst (not First) Center for the Arts on the campus of Georgia Tech to see a play, Martin Luther On Trial. Satan was the prosecutor, Luther's wife (an ex-nun) defended, and Saint Peter presided over the trial. Witnesses included Adolf Hitler, Saint Paul, Martin Luther King Jr., Sigmund Freud, and Pope Francis. It was excellent. Even Snowbrush would have enjoyed it.

-- On the way to the Ferst Center, we stopped for lunch at It's Greek To Me, a restaurant in Marietta.

-- The 20-year-old son of my son on the right in the photo above is currently in Mumbai, India, for 15 days. I did not feel the need to show you a picture of Mumbai, India, but if you want to see one you can Google it for yourself.

-- A group of us Senior Adults from church made a two-van caravan trip to the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, Georgia, for lunch.

-- the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, Georgia

-- Lunch (table #1):

-- Lunch (table #2):

-- After lunch at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, Georgia:

Are you bored yet?

Just a few more, and we will be done.

-- Sometimes Mrs. RWP and Abby The Dog watch horse racing on TV:


...and sometimes they watch the National Dog Show:

...even though there are so many other things they could be doing.


-- Three days a week I go to cardiac rehab:

-- I had to get a new pair of glasses.

The lenses get thicker every year.
-- One of my teeth broke in half, so the dentist had to modify my partial to include a second tooth.


Perhaps that is too much information.

Perhaps I have gone a bridge too far (groan).

In spite of the many other activities, sometimes my life seems to consist of this:

Etaoin shrdlu to one and all.

I have to go now. The men in white coats have arrived.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

From deep within the archives: A programming aptitude test

[Editor's note: This post first appeared on this blog back in November 2007, nearly 11 years ago, proving that dinosaurs such as your correspondent can indeed survive. Whether they have relevance is, of course, another matter entirely. --RWP]

Here's a passage from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass that may help you decide, if you were wondering, whether to pursue a career as a computer programmer:

`You are sad,' the Knight said in an anxious tone: `let me sing you a song to comfort you.'

`Is it very long?' Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.

`It's long,' said the Knight, `but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it -- either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else --'

`Or else what?' said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

`Or else it doesn't, you know. The name of the song is called "Haddocks' Eyes".'

`Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?' Alice said, trying to feel interested.

`No, you don't understand,' the Knight said, looking a little vexed. `That's what the name is called. The name really is "The Aged Aged Man".'

`Then I ought to have said "That's what the song is called"?' Alice corrected herself.

`No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called "Ways and Means": but that's only what it's called, you know!'

`Well, what is the song, then?' said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

`I was coming to that,' the Knight said. `The song really is "A-sitting On a Gate": and the tune's my own invention.'


If reading that had your head spinning like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist, perhaps you should not consider computer programming for your life's work. But if you understood the passage perfectly, if you were drawn to the "else" discussion as a moth to the flame, if you had no trouble separating the song, the name of the song, what the song is called, and what the name of the song is called, not to mention the tune, from one another, and if the last few minutes brought a twinkle to your eyes and a chuckle to your throat, then you obviously have a grasp of symbolic representation that just may be your key to fame, fortune, and success in the programming world! Or, as COBOL and FORTRAN programmers used to say, else.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Or maybe Ralphie could just use his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring

The other day on its main page, Google published this image:


...and I thought "How unusual! How clever! What a fascinating concept!” An old object (a quill pen) was being used to produce a thoroughly modern object (binary code used by computers).

But can you read it?

I can.

Finding out what it says is a two-step process. First, we express the binary (base 2) data in hexadecimal (base 16) notation, a kind of shorthand that is simpler to read:

Row 1: 47 67
Row 2: 6F 6C
Row 3: 6F 65

Next, we look up the meanings of these values in an ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) conversion chart, and we get the following:

47 67 = G g
6F 6C = o l
6F 65 = o e

Eureka! (or I have found it!), as Archimedes (c.287 BCE - c.212 BCE) may or may not have said while sitting in his bathtub one day or after inventing the water screw (two completely unrelated events, and the latter is not what you may be thinking).

What I have found, friends, is that the quill was not writing rows at all, but columns, for when read as rows the message is “Ggoloe” (gibberish) but when read as columns it turns out to say “Google”!

Really, people, the torture I put myself through lengths to which I go to keep you informed know no bounds.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A rose by any other name

Having just observed this week the 242nd anniversary of the signing of America's Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, it becomes clearer with every passing day that in just eight more years, before we know it, the United States of America will be reaching its 250th birthday. I was always good at math.

Did you know that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing?

Well, they did.

Everybody does, eventually. The mortality rate is 100%.

Be that as it may, there are words that apply to certain anniversaries. Centennial applies to the 100th, sesquicentennial applies to the 150th, bicentennial applies to the 200th, and so forth, and so on.

Do you know, without looking it up, what word applies to the 250th anniversary, which, as mentioned above, will be occurring in just eight short years? We do want to be ready, don't we?

Of course we do.

Actually, there are several possible answers, all of which have been put forth in recent years:

1. Semiquincentennial (literally ½ × 500)
2. Sestercentennial (literally 2½ × 100)
3. Bicenquinquagenary (literally 2 × 100 × 50, or 10,000 (which is wrong). Princeton University coined this word for its 250th anniversary in 1996. If it could somehow indicate 2 × 100 plus 50 it would be correct.)
4. Quarter-millennial (literally ¼ × 1000)

Please vote in the comments for the word you will be using in the privacy of your own home.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The days of our lives are numbered

In the Gregorian calendar, today (or yesterday, if you are in certain parts of the world) is (or was) the first day of July in the Year Of Our Lord 2018, also called AD 2018 (Anno Domini, Latin for Year Of Our Lord) or 2018 CE (Common Era or Christian Era, take your pick) as opposed to BCE (Before the Common or Christian Era, ditto).

Note to self: Try to stop using so many parentheses.

There are other calendars, almost too many to mention, which has never stopped me before, but like Edith Bunker of old, I will stifle myself, except to mention in passing that AD 2018 is also the year AH 1439 (Anno Hijri) in the Islamic calendar and AM 5778 (Anno Mundi) in the Hebrew calendar. AH 1 coincided with AD 622, but do note, won't you, that although only 1396 years (2018 minus 622) have passed in the Christian calendar, 1439 years have passed in the Islamic calendar, because the Islamic year, being lunar, is consistently shorter by about 11 days than the solar year used by the Gregorian calendar. The Islamic years are slowly gaining on the Gregorian years, but it will be many years before the two coincide. According to what I read, the first day of the 5th month of CE 20874 in the Gregorian calendar will also be (approximately) the first day of the 5th month of AH 20874 of the Islamic calendar. I kid you not.

But I don't want to talk about calendars today. I want to talk about numeral systems.

There are many of those, too. Here are some of the most common ones:


A couple of those look familiar, but only a couple. From top to bottom, they are Arabic numerals, Eastern Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, Bengali-Assamese numerals, Malayalam numerals, Thai numerals, and Chinese numerals.

Here are the Babylonian numerals (written, of course, in cuneiform):


On this day in AD 1646, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born.

(Portrait of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, c.1695 by Bernhard Christoph Francke. Hangs in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig)

I'm sure your head, if it is anything like my head, is spinning. We'll stop now and talk more later.