Archive for December, 2009

Frogs in my underpants – Redux

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Not too long ago, I added a live traffic feed to this blog.  I was quite surprised to learn that Frogs in My Underpants is one of the most frequently visited posts, often from Google.  Closer examination shows that it’s no accident — people are actually searching for “and never find frogs in your underpants“.  Now why would they do that?

I’m not the only one getting spam like this (no surprise).  I’m also not the only one to read through it (surprise).   Dave Gooch also ponders the meaning of this junk email.

However, that’s not the real reason people are searching.  It appears that this catchy little line is part of an Irish Blessing.  I found this version at www.crash-debris.com and in an article titled Underpants and Frogs on Riverwest Currents.

May the light always find you on a dreary day.
When you need to be home, may you find a way.
May you always have courage to take a chance.
And never find frogs in your underpants.

I also found a discussion on Snopes that included this version:

May you walk with the sunshine on your face;
May your moments be filled with gentle grace;
May you always give life a second chance;
May you never find frogs in your underpants.

Finally, there’s a children’s CD by “Livimack” called Frogs in your Underpants.

There.  Crash Debris edged me out for the #7 spot in the Google search order in the time it took me to write this (OK, to get around to writing it).  This information dense article should definitely push me up the list for all the folks out there wondering about “and never find frogs in your underpants.”.

It’s nice to be good for something.

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

I got this new interpretation this morning via The Good, Clean Funnies List and my wife and I enjoyed a good chuckle.

Merry Christmas, All!

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Said the mother to her little child, “Do you see what I see?
Yonder in the floor, little child. Do you see what I see?
A toy, a toy, lying on the floor.
Exactly where it was lying before.
Exactly where it was lying before.”

Said the little child to her brother near, “Do you hear what I hear?
Someone spoke. Was it Mother dear? Do you hear what I hear?
A voice, a voice, talking now to me.
About toys that I did not see.
About toys that I did not see.”

Said the tattle brother to the mighty dad, “Do you know what I know?
Little sister has been very bad. Do you know what I know?
The child, the child, has been very bold.
It is now your turn to go scold.
It is now your turn to go scold.”

Said the dad to all the children there, “Listen to what I say!
I pray for peace, children in my care. Listen to what I say!
God forgives. Accept Him; He’s the light.
And with prayer, you will turn out all right.
And with prayer, you will turn out all right.”

written by: Marty Hawks
December 23, 2007

The Best Christmas Ever (needs Muppets)

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

I just stumbled on some Muppet Christmas stuff I’ve never seen before. It’s simply amazing. I really thought I had seen all of it.
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas. (make sure you click through to see the videos)

Ringing of the bells

Ode to Joy

12 Days of Christmas (with John Denver)

A Muppet Family Christmas
This is the best Christmas special ever.
It looks like you can watch the whole thing on YouTube too.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Another excellent production. It’s Muppets, and a fine telling of the story as well.
Somehow, the pirates have made it available on YouTube, bit by bit.
Finally, a bonus video. It has nothing to do with Christmas, but it made me laugh out loud in front of people.
Bohemian Rhapsody

Comment Spam results

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I turned off all the anti-spam widgets on this site for about 2 days.  That’s quite long enough for a good sample.

In that time I got 106 comments with at least 5 links (and usually more).  I’m not allowed to view most of these at home and wouldn’t dare click them at the office.  Another dozen or so were realistic enough to get posted without requiring moderation.

All that for a tiny little blog with about 4 regular readers.

I think the point is not so much to be read as to affect search engine rankings.  The more links “out there” pointing back to your site, the more popular, and thus relevant, your content must be.

The filters are going back in…

Just Can’t Get Enough — Coffee!

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Someone just passed me this article at WebMD.  It starts like this:

Want a drug that could lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and colon cancer? That could lift your mood and treat headaches? That could lower your risk of cavities?

If it sounds too good to be true, think again.

Coffee, the much maligned but undoubtedly beloved beverage, just made headlines for possibly cutting the risk of the latest disease epidemic, type 2 diabetes. And the real news seems to be that the more you drink, the better.

Various studies show that coffee helps prevent Parkinson’s Disease, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, and colon cancer,  can help manage asthma, can stop a headache (Anacin and Excedrin contain the caffeine of a hefty mug ‘o Joe), can boost your mood and even prevent cavities.  Coffee is also known to enhance athletic endurance and performance and boost memory and mental acuity.  It can even slow the mental decline in old men.

The article goes on to say “Overall, the research shows that coffee is far more healthful than it is harmful,” “For most people, very little bad comes from drinking it, but a lot of good,” and “coffee may be something of a health food — especially in higher amounts.”  I like coffee, especially in higher amounts (and really dark and stinky).  But how much is too much?

On the flip side, it’s clear that coffee isn’t for everyone. Its legendary jolt in excess doses — that is, more than whatever your individual body can tolerate — can increase nervousness, hand trembling, and cause rapid heartbeat. Coffee may also raise cholesterol levels in some people and may contribute to artery clogging. But most recent large studies show no significant adverse effects on most healthy people, although pregnant women, heart patients, and those at risk for osteoporosis may still be advised to limit or avoid coffee.

So, to find the proper dosage, you should drink coffee until you start to get nervous about your shaking hands, then back off a bit.  I’ll let you know if I ever manage to hit that benchmark.

We all like it when “Science” says we should do what we want.  It’s been oft-reported that red wine may be good for you.  But beer may be even better (this is the BBC – I’m sure they are talking about real beer and not the stuff they advertise here during football games.) Dark brews are even better at preventing heart disease and cancer (more xanthohumol.)

If beer is “yucky” then try dark chocolate.

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UnWise

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I’m not happy today with one of the products we use to create install packages.  Mostly because I had to use it.

This “programming” environment was designed (I presume) to be easy for non-programmers to use.  You create your script by dragging statements from a box and dropping them on your script window.  Then you double-click the line in your script to add your fill-in-the-box details.  It’s seriously tedious at best.

The “code” display is opaque and misleading – you have to click open each line to find out what it really does.

I was fixing an issue with the sequence of dialogs leading up to an install.  After the user selects a port, we verify that the selected port is valid and available.  The problem is we were checking about six times, and the last time made something bad happen.

The code looks something like this (where I replaced a function call with a message):

Wizard Loop

 Custom Dialog “Welcome”

 Custom Dialog “Select Installation Directory”

 Custom Dialog “Select Installation Port”

 /* Call DLL “support.dll” Function “ValidatePort” */

 Display Message “test”

 Custom Dialog “Start Installation”

End

Strangely, the output was

“test”
“test”
“test”
“test”
“test”

Not quite what the code implies.

It turns out that the code above turns into psuedocode something like this:

DISPLAY = “Welcome”
Do {
	If( DISPLAY == “Welcome” ) {
		Show Dialog “Welcome”
		OnNext set DISPLAY = “Select Installation Directory”, DIRECTION = N
		OnBack set DISPLAY = “Welcome” , DIRECTION = B
 	}
	If( DISPLAY == “Select Installation Directory” ) {
		Show Dialog “Select Installation Directory”
		OnNext set DISPLAY = “Select Installation Port” , DIRECTION = N
		OnBack set DISPLAY = “Welcome” , DIRECTION = B
 	}

	If( DISPLAY == “Select Installation Port” ) {
		Show Dialog “Select Installation Port”
		OnNext set DISPLAY = “Start Installation” , DIRECTION = N
		OnBack set DISPLAY = “Select Installation Directory” , DIRECTION = B
 	}

	/* Call DLL “support.dll” Function “ValidatePort” */
 	Display Message “test”

	If( DISPLAY == “Start Installation” ) {
		Show Dialog “Start Installation”
		OnNext set DISPLAY = “done” , DIRECTION = N
		OnBack set DISPLAY = “Select Installation Port” , DIRECTION = B
       }
}

While( DISPLAY != “done”)

That’s right – the program flow goes through the loop over and over, in one direction, and depends on a couple of global variables to determine which little bit to execute.  The appearance of order is (mostly) illusory.  While this design might work fairly well for a sequence of dialogs, it does not extend well beyond that.  You can make this work, but it is not easy, and is much more complex than it needs to be.

This is yet another case of making simple things easy, but making hard things impossible (or at least much harder).

Ghost Comments

Monday, December 14th, 2009

If you pay as much attention to this site as I do, you may have noticed that a few of the posts have a comment listed, but the comment is AWOL.  I finally had enough of it and looked into the problem.  I’m using an anti-spam plugin that requires you, the reader, to solve a simple math problem – to prove you are a human.  It turns out that the version provided by my ISP is old and has a bug that causes ghost comments when a submitter fails the math test.  I ran through it myself a couple of times, and I found that omitting the answer or entering the wrong answer also loses your comment text!  That’s a bummer.

I’ve removed the filter  until I figure out how to get an updated version.

200% of Nothing

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

200% of Nothing, by A. K. Dewdney turns out to be a quick but interesting read.  The subject is “Innumeracy”; the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy.  He, and others, have a good point about innumeracy in America.  We accept, and even celebrate, mathematical ineptitude in a way that is horrifyingly inconsistent with the way we feel about illiteracy.  Contrast the comment “I’m just not a math person” with any similar statement about the inability or unwillingness to read.

Dewdney uses a collection of anecdotes to illustrate a number of the traps we fall into.  It is a decent introduction to ways you can be manipulated if you need it, and the anecdotes are entertaining if you are already well versed.  However, the book is a  bit superficial, and I suppose it is telling that I did end up with pages of notes on the interesting bits, as I have with most of the books I’ve read recently.

Statistics:
The media frequently leaves out information critical to the meaning of a statistic.
A public service advertisement in Sweden illustrates:

LAST YEAR 35 PEOPLE DROWNED IN BOATING ACCIDENTS.  ONLY FIVE WERE WEARING LIFE JACKETS. THE REST WERE NOT.  ALWAYS WEAR LIFE JACKETS WHEN BOATING.

The rate of life-jacket-wearing and the number of boaters are important, but omitted.  If only 1% of boaters wear life jackets, and 14% (5/35) of the dead were wearing them, then life jackets might actually be deadly!  To be even more extreme, what if only 5 Swedes wore life jackets in total, and they are all dead now?

Chance, Gambling, and Lucky Streaks
Dewdney spends a lot of pages on Gamblers fallacies.  Apparently, lots of people believe that past events will dictate future events.  If you flip a coin and get 5 heads in a row, then some mystical force of chance will require tails to come up soon.  This is mathematical and statistical nonsense.  However, if you get too many heads without reverting to the mean, you should start to doubt whether the coin being tossed is really “fair”.

In a lottery, all numbers are equally probable, but not all are equally memorable.  Nobody will choose 1,2,3,4,5 because that “will never happen,” even though it has the same likelihood as 13,27,29,40,51. It seems less likely only because it is less memorable.

If you can’t handle 1,2,3,4,5, then don’t play the lottery.

Street Math
Even without being a math whiz, you should be able to spot claims that just don’t make sense.
Dewdney relates the following problem to illustrate the way we divorce math from reality, and how schools fail to teach kids to make the move from abstract math concepts to applied math.

An army bus holds 36 soldiers.  If 1,128 soldiers are being bused to their training site, how many  buses are needed?

The critical step is to divide the number of soldiers by the capacity of the bus – 1128/36 = 33 1/3.
Only 70 percent of the high school students tested thought to use division.  Of these students, about two thirds seemed to be content with an answer including one third of a bus! (the answer is 34).  I think I would have done that.

Next Reads
Several of the online reviews I saw say that Dewdney borrows heavily from John Allen Paulos’ book, “Innumeracy”, and that Paulos does a much better job.  I don’t know if it’s true, but I found that Paulos has some other interesting books at our library that I will check out soon.

  • A Mathemeatician Reads the Newspaper
  • Once upon a number : the hidden mathematical logic of stories

The World’s Smartest Human Screws Up

In 1990, somebody sent a question to Marilyn vos Savant, author of the “Ask Marilyn” column in Parade magazine and holder of the Guiness Book record for highest IQ, that began a debate that still rages.

“Suppose you’re on a game show and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats.  You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what is behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat.  He then says to you, ‘Do you want to pick door No. 2?’  Is it to your advantage to swich your choice?”

I remember this issue of Parade, and the many “Ask Marilyn” columns that followed with angry and disbelieving comments and rebuttals.

So, what do you think?  Switch or Stay?
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Free Money!

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

 I have Great News!

Our furnace went out last week.  As always with these things, the timing is incovenient.  We’re in a cold snap right now in the Colorado Mountains, we expect some guests over Christmas.
We can’t afford to pay the $3410 bill right now, so we decided to borrow the money and go another $3410 into debt.  Our repair guy is wonderful, and he found a reconditioned unit he can use — and that will save us about $2000.
That’s great news, because we can really use the money.  I’m writing a family proposal now about how we can spend the extra $2000 we now have at our disposal – and just before Christmas!  I’m thinking about buying bicycles for my kids (to ride this spring) and maybe promising to pay them for sealing the asphalt (in the spring), so they will be able to spend more on Christmas presents. I think I will hire three neighborhood kids to feed our lizard, to preserve neighborhood jobs.

My friend has even better news!

His son is unemployed and can’t pay his bills, and he can’t get any more credit.  My friend racked up $34,100 on his credit cards in order to keep his son from losing his house, his car, his ski-doo, and his vacation condo.  Well, his son’s employment situation recovered more quickly than expected, and he was able to pay back some of the money. The whole credit thing is going to cost my friend $20,000 less than he originally projected.  What an opportunity!  There is so much he could do with the $20,000.  He might have his driveway repaved with European cobblestones, or maybe hire a cook and a maid.

In an unrelated story,

the U.S. Government recently added 341 billion ($341,000,000,000) to its deficit to bail out our troubled financial sector.  It appears that the losses will be about $200 billion less than they projected.  President Obama and his staff are preparing proposals for spending the windfall.  In order to stimulate the job market right away, some of the money will probably be spent on transportation and infrastructure projects (to be started next spring, at the earliest).  To stimulate the economy (production of useful goods and services), some money will be given to States to preserve public sector jobs.
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Courage Fail

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

This is another quick post just to keep momentum.

I always laugh out loud when I share this video with someone.

It helps that we have a  harmless little Crested Gecko of our own at home.