Word Frequency Quiz: Moderns

Posted on September 27, 2007 by Steve

Our sole respondent to the Classics edition of the Word Frequency Quiz got a perfect score. Eric correctly identified these titles with their most frequently used common nouns.

Aesop's Fables: fox, lion, man, wolf, day, time, mouse, ass, way, dog
Candide by Voltaire: man, woman, world, country, master, day, baron, people, sheep, captain
Discourse on the Method by Descartes: order, being, things, time, reason, heart, others, nature, blood, truth
The Iliad by Homer: man, son, ships, spear, horses, hand, gods, armour, battle, city
The New Testament: god, man, things, lord, son, men, father, day, spirit, heaven
The Old Testament: lord, god, king, son, people, house, man, land, children, day
Plato's Republic: man, state, life, justice, soul, nature, knowledge, truth, things, world
Tales of the Brothers Grimm: king, man, time, day, home, father, door, wife, mother, head


Today's quiz requires that you pair up more recent titles with their oftenest-used nouns.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
The Encyclopedia Brittanica
The Golden Bowl by Henry James
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
Ulysses by James Joyce

(1)
lord
king
man
duke
time
heart
queen
lady
death
hand
(2)
man
father
time
love
money
face
life
heart
moment
god
(3)
man
time
eyes
hand
street
father
day
face
night
head
(4)
time
lady
sister
family
man
day
hope
father
letter
room
(45)
time
man
way
hand
head
boy
day
night
eyes
face
(6)
time
way
men
work
place
man
head
room
air
water
(7)
time
way
moment
question
fact
eyes
father
place
face
life
(8)
work
day
francs
man
hotel
money
men
people
tramps
food
(9)
year
time
bridge
town
century
building
number
city
government
life

Myxomatosis

Posted on September 26, 2007 by Steve

The biggest challenge in linking to these mp3 files found online is coming up with descriptions for the music. Chuck Klosterman inspired me this morning by describing Radiohead's music as "transcendent, fragile, pre-apocalyptic math rock" in an article for Spin magazine (found in his book).

Hours later, I was listening to "Myxomatosis," which Klosterman allowed is "perhaps the most interesting entry on Hail to the Thief." By chance it was in the wget queue at just the right time. The story from the interview is that a young Thom Yorke's parents showed him dead rabbits all over the English countryside, killed by the virus with a mellifluous name.

Meanwhile, Spin is covering the latest developments in the murder of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G. One of his tracks also found its way to my hard drive.

Project Euler

Posted on September 17, 2007 by Steve

It is positively cheering to see that tens of thousands of man-hours (and undoubtedly some number of woman-hours) are being invested in Project Euler. I have solved five of the easiest problems so far, and am pleased to report that all of my programs run in less than the minute said to be sufficient. Writing the programs is another matter; I didn't expect to find so much challenge and subtlety in writing a simple prime number validator.

I am using this as an exercise to learn some Python in addition to sharpening my number theory; other people take a more traditional approach.

Phone spam

Posted on September 17, 2007 by Steve

It was all planned out. I discovered who was pestering me with occasional no-message calls for months. I saved the number as "Spam" and resolved to let them have it next time: I would answer the phone with a ringing expletive, and simply repeat it in response to whatever they said.

Things never do go quite as planned, and I wasn't able to overcome my breeding when the moment came. This is how it played out.

"Please don't call me again."
"Hello?"
"Please don't call me again."
"Sorry?"
"Please don't call me again."
"Were you dissatisfied with sumfin?"
"Please don't call me again."
"All right, bye!"

Far more courtesy than a marketing drone deserves, but at least I was able to maintain a flinty resolve and stick to my line. If I had busted out all pottymouth and she had played the manners card, no doubt I would have broken down, excused myself, and then stewed in a funk of self-loathing all day. Breeding.

Sosumis

Posted on September 14, 2007 by Steve

The term came from Weingarten, it refers to something that everyone but you seems to like. Here's my list:

soup
professional sports
fruity desserts
Kurt Vonnegut
eggplant

I used to count tomatoes and Bob Dylan, but I found that I only hate soggy old tomatoes, and a couple of Dylan tracks came up in the wget rotation and converted me. I've also outgrown immature aversions to coffee and cola.

Vonnegut might get another chance one day but I've hated two of his books already, and remain completely nonplussed as to what people see in him.

Word frequency quiz: Classics

Posted on September 13, 2007 by Steve

Can you recognize these classics by the nouns that appear in them most? The lists below are the ten most frequently used common nouns, in descending order, from the following titles.

Aesop's Fables
Candide by Voltaire
Discourse on the Method by Descartes
The Iliad by Homer
The New Testament
The Old Testament
The Republic by Plato
Tales of the Brothers Grimm


(1)
fox
lion
man
wolf
day
time
mouse
ass
way
dog
(2)
man
son
ships
spear
horses
hand
gods
armour
battle
city
(3)
god
man
things
lord
son
men
father
day
spirit
heaven
(4)
king
man
time
day
home
father
door
wife
mother
head
(5)
lord
god
king
son
people
house
man
land
children
day
(6)
man
state
life
justice
soul
nature
knowledge
truth
things
world
(7)
man
woman
world
country
master
day
baron
people
sheep
captain
(8)
order
being
things
time
reason
heart
others
nature
blood
truth

Wget picks of the week

Posted on September 12, 2007 by Steve

Suggested servings:

Koop Island Blues by Koop.

If you didn't pick up the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack, here's Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield.

Some items from names you've possibly heard of:

An 18-minute vocal/guitar wallpaper with an occasional F-word, but I haven't paid attention to the lyrics. Willie Deadwilder by Cat Power.

I've heard a lot about Sigur Rós, but haven't figured out what to make of them. Here's a sample: Viğrar vel til loftárása ("good weather for airstrikes").

Thumbing My Way by Pearl Jam

Motion Picture Soundtrack by Radiohead

Bottled water: Part 1

Posted on September 11, 2007 by Steve

The owners of the San Pellegrino brand would have you believe that Leonardo da Vinci visited the Italian town of that name to taste its now-famous water. This sounded to me like the kind of gilt-by-association used by Molskine, claiming that Hemingway used their products -- an endorsement which turns out to be "not the absolute truth."

Hunting for evidence of the Leonardo - San Pellegrino connection involved the amusing process of registering at Italian-langugae e-Leo to peruse original manuscripts. I felt like a character in an Eco novel puzzling out the "Sfoglia i manoscritti." It was both fruitless and fascinating. But the internet had more to offer.

Searches for "bottled water" returned several blogs linking to an exposé in FastCompany magazine about the huge growth in the water market, mentioning Pellegrino but focusing on Fiji water. In fact, it's a well-researched and balanced article, but latter-day Malthusians can't be bothered to read the whole thing; the result is a lot of hand-wringing:

"What’s a conscientious gal to do? Confess on a blog? Will that wash away my carbon footprint?"

"I don't want to be the ranting environmental wacko ... how spoiled a nation we are ... I'm not saying we should completely ban bottled water...."

So what's the issue?

The key quote seems to be this:
"And in Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji."

This irony must not stand! But people, relax a bit. How does the purchase in Baltimore of some Fijian water really affect the Fijians and their ability to get safe water? There are some clues in the article:

"The plant employs 200 islanders--set to increase to 250 this year--most with just a sixth- or eighth-grade education. Even the entry-level jobs pay twice the informal minimum wage."

"This spring, typhoid from contaminated drinking water swept one of Fiji's islands, sickening dozens of villagers and killing at least one. Fiji Water often quietly supplies emergency drinking water in such cases."

"The reality is, if Fiji Water weren't tapping its aquifer, the underground water would slide into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere just off the coast. But the corresponding reality is, someone else--the Fijian government, an NGO--could be tapping that supply and sending it through a pipe to villagers who need it. Fiji Water has, in fact, done just that, to some degree--20 water projects in the five nearby villages."

Seems crystal clear to me.

McKay's Used Books

Posted on September 10, 2007 by Steve

William Gibson seems a bit unnerved at the way "every class of human artifact is being sorted and rationalized by this economically driven machine," referring to eBay.

I suppose if I wanted to blow a few hundred dollars I could locate and accumulate fondly-remembered childhood toys and scratch all the book titles off my To Buy list. But there's still something to be said for the serendipitous find.

McKay's has long been a favorite haunt and source for reading material, and I was disappointed when their nearby location shut down. This weekend we tried a local alternative and found that any ratty paperback was $7 or more, so we trekked on down to Manassas. Within minutes of walking in to McKay's, I found a pair of books that had been on my list for years. Both in dust jackets, in very good shape, ten dollars total. Oh, both were signed by the author as well.

There were many other books for one to three dollars that I might have picked up in the days of shelf space and leisure time, but for now I just grabbed one, and later realized that I had already read it.

So it appears it is still possible to be a "picker."

Software request

Posted on September 09, 2007 by Steve

It may be out there, but I can't find it.

Needed: a tool that lets you search the contents of RAM on your computer for phrases. Call it "RAMobjet" if you like (no charge for that).

Most of us take precautions now after having been burned in the past, but once in a while I still lose a large chunk of carefully composed text when an application crashes or a website locks me out. Knowing that my delicate text is almost surely still hovering in RAM somewhere but hopelessly out of reach makes the loss all the more poignant.

Oh wait. Here it is.

Optical illusion

Posted on September 08, 2007 by Steve

Have a look at this pair of photos.

The two images look different, right? The breathless, hyper-linked description makes no effort to explain the effect, and the commenters either fail to see it or misperceive the image as a stereogram (an error I've made myself).

Like many illusions, this one is caused by a difference between the way we perceive real objects and they way they look in flat images. Two plumb buildings standing side by side would not appear to have parallel vertical lines in the real world. At eye level they would, but looking up the lines would appear to incline toward one another, pointing toward a single vanishing point. The vertical lines in the twin images remain parallel all the way to the top, causing a perception that they are leaning away from one another.

Escher rendered straight lines as curves in "Up and Down," creating a scene that looks normal in every detail, but bizarre overall.

Book: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel

Posted on September 07, 2007 by Steve

I read the first of this series in the bookstore; it was too good to go to the trouble of purchasing. There are more pleasingly implausible lessons in the Travel edition: how to crash land a plane into water, how to stop a runaway train, how to survive a riot. Some of the items are disappointingly practical, like passing a bribe or purifying water (boil for ten minutes, and "be sure to let the water cool before drinking it").

The long list of expert consultants notwithstanding, some of the advice seems pretty poor. You'll spend days trying to catch a fish with a shirt stretched over a branch loop, and even that survivor guy on the Discovery Channel has a hard time making animal traps work.

To escape a smoky room in a burning hotel, they suggest breaking through a random wall, neglecting to mention the map usually posted on the back of the door, which may reveal a stairwell a short dash away.

And they're right that jumping before a falling elevator hits the bottom is unlikely to help, but not because it's too hard to time it right or because the crashing ceiling will crush you in mid-jump. The biggest reason is that you can only reduce your speed of impact by the speed of your jump. A well-timed three-foot-high jump at the end of a 50-foot fall will be the same as a 47-foot fall without the jump. More importantly, you want be on the floor to take advantage of whatever brief deceleration there is as the car crashes and elevator gear below crumples. Physics geeks please chime in if I'm wrong here.

Crossword: Two Against One

Posted on September 06, 2007 by Steve

I gave the 8/31/2007 puzzle a shot and do concur that it is a challenge. After several days of work and no cheating, I've still got 20 empty squares. I accidentally saw the answer to 15D here and tried to forget it. Later I misremembered the answer as "FLOOR" which happened to agree with a crossing clue and threw me off for a while.

It seems Gordon is far from banning "obscure clues requiring rote memorization" however -- I've no idea what Frankie Avalon's hit was, or who costarred with Knight on '70s TV, or who sang the 1997 album "Drag." And I must be missing something obvious where "D O _ _ A T _ O G" gives "Ruthless."

Latest of wget

Posted on September 05, 2007 by Steve

Best of the latest lot:

Ride
by Cary Brothers

Diamond Rings 2007
by Deer Tick
("Deer Tick plays like super sweet blues, country, and grunge influenced music.")

also mentions:
Mardy Bum
by Arctic Monkeys

The Distance
by Dntel

and a little anthropology lesson:
Eight nights of Holi

Türkçe

Posted on September 04, 2007 by Steve

"Türkçe yazabilirmisin?" Ray sordu. "Evet, ama çok basit, çocuk gibi" cevap verdim. On sene Türkçe dinleyorum ve şuanda soyle boyle konuşabiliyorum.

Kolay bir kitap okulmaya çalistim, ama o bile zor geldi. Belki bir kaç yuz sozcuk orendim'dan sonra bir daha bakacaĝim.

We're made out of meat

Posted on September 03, 2007 by Steve

That simple truth, so well expressed in Terry Bisson's story, is plainly visible at the Bodies exhibit. There's a peculiar combination of horror and morbid fascination at seeing preserved dead people, but the anatomical specimens are too interesting to allow one to dwell on the macabre for long. I had a vague idea that the epiglottis is a flap of flesh that covers the trachea when you swallow, but until now didn't know quite where it is or how it works. I also found out that there's one bone which doesn't touch any other bone.

There are some oddities on display: a large teratoma in which visitors are encouraged to look for the hair, teeth, and developing eye tissue, and a variety of pathological organs showing the effects of cancer, cirrhosis, and stroke. A side path (made easily bypassable) had embryos and fetuses at various stages of development preserved in jars, about as creepy and unforgettable a sight as I have ever seen.

At the end there's an information desk where visitors are encouraged to handle a preserved brain and heart. They feel like rubber anatomy class models, and you have to remind yourself as you heft the cerebrum that it once had a name.

What kind of critter are you?

Posted on September 02, 2007 by Steve

Taxonomy has come a long way since Mr. Linnaeus first divided things up into Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral. I remember learning about the protista in high school and being a little disappointed that such a primitive life form could get equal billing with the entire animal kingdom.

Wikispecies is an attempt to provide a directory of the tree of life, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to start at the Animal Kingdom and try to navigate my way directly down through the classifications until I arrived at human beings. At each level, I picked the subcategory that sounded most promising, using the photos of example creatures as guides. I ran into trouble right away, and my path was far more meandering than I would have expected.

If you want a tough challenge of your knowledge of Latin and zoology, give it a try before looking at my wandering path below.

Lost history

Posted on September 01, 2007 by Steve

How many of the world's five greatest naval battles can you name? Answer: none*. I had never even heard of any of the battles, or even the locations in which they occurred.

History has always been my weakest subject, or at least the one that makes me regret my ignorance the most. I love a good story, but I've been conditioned to get my lessons in small, easily-digestible doses. History always seems to, well, drone.

When I heard about Ryszard Kapuściński's last book, I was inspired to locate and dust off an old paperback that had been resting undisturbed on my bookshelf for years. The 30-page introduction was wearying, so I skipped ahead to the start of the book. Within a few paragraphs, there was kidnapping, implied rape, and the makings of war! Even Dan Brown takes longer than that to get to the action. I don't know if Herodotus will be able to maintain the pace, but if it keeps up I might just make it through.

*Erudite readers are invited to show off their skills by posting any guesses before peeking.