Sunday, 8 November 2009

Get 55, or any other number, with three 4s.

SPOILER ALERT.   This post contains the solution to this week's  Car Talk puzzler.

The puzzle is construct the number 55 using three 4s and any mathematical symbols you like.  I remembered that somewhere I had come across a general solution to this, maybe from Halmos's book "Problems for Mathematicians Young and Old".

I half remembered it involved logs and square roots, and I managed to reconstruct it.    First of all I did it with 2's.   The first image shows you how to do it (constructed using a lovely tool called LaTeXiT.)   The number of square root symbols in a row is n, if you want to get the number n.   So for car talk it would be 55 square roots.

I was puzzling over how to do it with 4's, and my wife couldn't understand my problem.    Because she didn't realise I didn't realise that every 2 could be replaced with the square root of 4.   So the second image shows that, and so this time there are n+1 square roots, in the car talk puzzle there would be 56.

So my wife is just slightly more intelligent than me, which as we all know is the best kind of wife.     I love her.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

A bag in a bag in a bag. An empty bag.

I flew on British Airways to Lisbon and back this last week.     In a vestigial remnant of providing us with food service, they gave us sandwiches.    To make life easy for cleanup they provided a trash bag.

Or put it this way.

They provided a plastic bag in a plastic bag in a plastic bag.   And the (innermost) bag was empty.  

There was a bag with tissue and stuff in it.   The bag was of course plastic.   Inside this bag one of the items was a small plastic bag.  In that, very neatly folded up, was a plastic trash bag.

So yes, they gave me a plastic bag in a plastic bag in a plastic bag.   And the plastic bag was empty.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Subscriber Trunk Dialling

Rang up Sky to cancel the sports package, since the cricket season is over.    The voice asked me to enter my phone number "including STD code."  I can't remember the last time I heard this phrase.   Rather like Wireless was replaced by Radio over the years, STD has been replaced by Area Code or similar.  

The nice chap from Sky also asked if it was ok to call me Ian, which seemed very polite and nice.  I wish more people would do that kind of thing.    It is fine, but it isn't for all people, and some people want to be called by other names like their second name or a nickname.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

My parents' wedding in colour

Hubert Gent married Margaret Luke on July 5th, 1948, the very day the NHS was started.  Though I believe there were no calamities on the day that resulted in the new service being used.  The reception was held at the North British Hotel, much later criminally renamed the Balmoral.    Since my grandfather had bought champagne and didn't like the corkage charge at the hotel, a second reception was held at their house (if I've remembered this right.)

Astonishingly for the time, a friend took a colour film of the event.    A gallery of snapshots from the film is on flickr.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Another thing I hate about the Prius.

I suppose that makes three things now.   The third one is that the displayed MPG calculation is always an overestimate.   It seems to be something like 2-5% over.   I can understand it might be difficult to make an accurate estimate, so I am not complaining about the error rate.  I am complaining that it is always an overestimate.   It should be sometimes optimistic and sometimes pessimistic, and then over the lifetime it would be more accurate.

Also, the only option for mpg display is essentially a tank indicator.  All cars should, imho, have a lifetime indicator and a trip indicator of mpg, trip being since you switched the car on I suppose.    A tank measure would be neat but less important.  

Knave's Dial, but it will 40 minutes later!

Well how about that?   I got out a fresh game so this one will count.  

This game that comes out is number 0210843428856.

I'm going to give you more or less complete instructions for getting this one out.   Take every card you can with a few exceptions.   On the original deal, don't take the last Black Queen you can, or the Black 6, and don't take the first ones that come out on the redeal either.   Also, don't take the last Red 5 or Red King on the first deal.    

I did work this out with a lot of undoing, but it might be (I haven't checked) that you could work this all out analytically on the first run through.   After the first deal is complete the game is open, even though it is not played as such.   It may be that the moves I didn't make (after in fact making them and then unmaking them) could have been seen that way the first time round. 

I suspect this game might be get outable more often than I thought.  I had only three failed games after my last success, which was why it took so little time to get it out.    And I didn't play those through, just gave them up quickly.   If it does come out often, it will be by the kind of analysis (or undoing) that I did this time. 

Quite happy about this one.   I feel like I understand the patience a lot better now, and it may not be completely unbearable to play again. 

Knave's Dial out, but it won't count (either)

I got Knave's Dial out, another ghastly patience and the tenth most rarely solved game in Solsuite.   Like I did with Class Day, I went back to my best unsuccessful game, to see if it came out.    Since it only had 4 cards unplaced, I was not amazed that it did in fact come out.   In fact I just needed to avoid taking one card, (which I did by undoing, in case you think I have some kind of sixth sense), and it came out.   

The game number that comes out is 3163897827515. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Can you really immolate yourself with vodka?

This post contains a spoiler for the 1980s TV series Tutti Frutti, the one about a Scottish rock band starring Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson as two Glaswegians. Yes, Emma Thompson as a Glaswegian.

In the final scene, Vince Diver decides to immolate himself. He pours a bottle of Polish vodka all over himself. Then he goes to play the guitar for a bit, while fumbling with a dodgy lighter. Finally, off screen, he gets himself lit and we see an orange glow reflected in the faces of Emma and Robbie.

So here's the thing. First of all, doesn't alcohol burn blue, not orange? It certainly does on our christmas pudding when we light brandy over it. And second, when we light brandy over pudding, we have to warm it first. Maybe the Polish vodka is higher proof, but still. Third, he pours it mainly over his leather jacket and trousers. Don't little bit of liquids tend to drip off leather? So wouldn't most of the alcohol end up on the floor? And fourth, how much flame would you get from a bottle of vodka? Enough to cause a glow a little way off? And fifth, it's not that the leather would immediately light either, what with it not being terribly flammable.

To put it another way. If I hadn't read the Wikipedia entry in advance, I wouldn't have known what had happened. It wouldn't have occurred to me he'd gone up in flames.

Class Day Out And it Will Count

Phew. I got Class Day out. This time on a random deal so it will count. I got a good score the first time round (about 26 cards not put up yet.) Then a bit of replaying to fiddle around with when cards from the tableau are put up, in order to get four cards dealt from the waste pile at the right time.
One more little hint that might have helped. Sometimes don't play cards from the waste when you can delay them and then play up a card to the tableau. If this gets you a space, then having some nice cards in the tableau will clear the next space sooner. This helps you get at good cards that you can't play immediately. I.e. if you get a space sooner, it might let you save a key card in the tableau instead of having it deeply buried in the waste.
This is a game I am happy not to play more of. But if I've counted right, at time of writing I've now got out 14 of the 20 most difficult games in Solsuite.
The deal that came out was number 2625269170176.

Monday, 7 September 2009

(c) Sophie

Maybe yes, Maybe no
Maybe I don't know.

Somehow I thought this was wondrous. Sophie came up with this today.

Class Day Out but it won't count

Class Day is one of the very hardest patiences, and I just got it out. But I did it by replaying my most successful game and Solsuite will not count it for online statistics. Grrr. I think their policy is right. But ... Grrrr.

Any tips? Obviously be very lucky. But beyond that, there were a couple of times I avoided taking a card from a tableau, if the same card was coming up soon in the stock. (Yes, I cheated by looking ahead.) And wait to clear a space until you are happy with what will go in this pile. For example, when a Q is top of the wastepile can be a good choice towards the end, so that it doesn't matter if it gets buried.

By the way, on the redeal, I discovered I had missed the JD the first time round. Which meant that a 10D had not been played early. But this didn't hurt it coming out, and may have even been important to its success.

The game that comes out is 3105127855914.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

I got Idle Aces Out

I got Idle Aces out in Solsuite. This is another one of the hardest games, or at least the least solved, or at least the least solved by people who publish their results on line. The game number I got out is 3021478448855.
This was only my 41st game, so it is indeed not as hard as others (like the awful Japanese Patience.) I used to hate this patience but I think I was being too clever. You can switch between piles you have built up. E.g. if you have got a rising pile up to 7 and a descending pile down to 8, you can switch cards between them to any number you want. But doing this more than a little seems to be counterproductive in the long run.
I did restart a few times until I had a good start. But the good start is more important for the second deal than the first. The deal started something like A A K, which is important because on the redeal it's vital that the first card is a terminal card. So even though I could have played the aces, don't! Then you can use a little bit of cleverness. On the redeal, say I got Q underneath the K, I don't need to play it. Then I perhaps get a J and that needn't be played either. Because eventually the J can be played, then the Q, then the K.
Anyway, I got it out. Don't need to play it again unless I want to.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Taking the credit

One of my students got me last night. We were watching The Spiral Staircase

This is a thriller in which a professor is a suspect. Somebody said that it must be the professor whodunnit. Lars said "No. The professor will take the credit but somebody else will have done all the work."

How to play Japanese Solitaire


But if you have to, here are some tips.

Japanese Solitaire is a patience game invented by and released by the Solsuite program. Hilariously, they give the odds as being 1 in 15, but I got it out on my 1400th try. As I write it's the sixth most difficult game of hundreds in the program. Only 12 people have solved it even once and published their result online. That number is now 13, as I got it out last night.

Most of those 1400 tries lasted a second or two. That's one of my tips. Bail out quickly if you need to. Here are my other tips.

  1. You need to be very lucky all the way through, so give up if you are not. If you are not meeting the conditions, feel free to bail out and get another game going.
  2. Look to get about 3 cards out in the first few rows. And ones which don't block you in the future. E.g. if you get two aces out but you have buried one of their twos, don't bother.
  3. At the end of the first deal (i.e. 0 out of 4 redeals) you should have a positive score.
  4. By the end of the third deal (2 of 4 redeals) my cards had crossed over, i.e. the cards going up had hit the same number as the card going down.
  5. I "cheated" on this ghastly game to avoid playing 1400 more. What I mean is, I did a few undos to randomise the next redeal. When I ran through the first time, it didn't come out. Undoing and then choosing NOT to put a card up which would in fact go seems to randomise the next redeal. So even though it's to your disadvantage, the gain can outweigh the pain. The second or third time I did that, it worked.
If you have Solsuite and you want to get this dratted patience out, here's the game number which I know works. 1550537509600. Glad to be of service. (I think Solsuite doesn't let you publish statistics on games you put in the number for, so playing that game won't get you on the leaderboard, sorry.)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

How many trips to the post office does it take to get a passport?

Trips to post office to get a passport for 1 (one) daughter.

1) Pick up form.

Oops, daughter spills sauce on form.

2) Pick up form.

Oops, form is not available from rural post office.

3) Pick up form from St Andrews. In stroke of genius, pick up two copies against repeat of spillage.

4) Wife picks up yet another form from another post office, though technically not really necessary I suppose.

Ok, now get respected colleague with right letters before his name to fill in form and sign photo.

5) Do check and send service at Post Office in St Andrews.

Oops, respected colleague signed outside the area covered by the photo. Yes indeed, the area covered by the photo on the other side of the paper which you can't see. However check and send is civilised. You only pay once and you can go back when you have fixed the problem. So get respected colleague to sign again on the other photo.

6) Do check and send in Cupar.

Oops, second check has to be at the same post office as the first. Why why why why? Ok I'll pay again.

Oops, unsigned photo has to be completely blank, not with remnants of colleague's signature on it.

Scream. Write post.

7) Mythical future trip where I get passport applied for.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


The chance that a random game of Freecell (one of the patience/solitaire games that comes with Windows) is solvable is about 99.999%.
It always gives me great pleasure, surely more than it merits, that this number arises for real. It's not made up or hyperbole. An extensive experimental investigation of a million deals had only 14 not solvable. To five significant digits, that's 99.999%.
99.999% of the time that you come across the number 99.999%, somebody has just said it for effect. But 0.001% of the time, it's the result of real study to find the number. And this is that one in a million time. Ok, one in a hundred thousand time.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Has the world changed?

If you buy a new Sony ebook reader, you can get a million or more books free for it. Is this the ipod moment? I love the idea of having all classics (and other books) available to read in bed, and making space by getting rid of physical copies.

Two things I hate about the Prius

I lied, there's nothing I hate about the Prius. But there are two irritants that aren't good enough.

1) The rear windscreen wiper is on the wrong side. Because of the shape of the window a single wiper can't cover the whole screen. So it covers only one side. The passenger side. In the US, the wiper is on the same side which is (you guessed it) the driver side. In some conditions this does affect rear visibility and thus safety, and they should have switched it over.

2) You can't have the radio on without the key in. If I'm in the car that's ok, but I might want to leave the car for a couple of minutes and give the kids something to entertain them, without leaving the keys in the car for a friendly thief to take.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Finally, 60mpg

I have finally worked out how to drive the Prius. For 18 months I've been averaging about 50mpg (imperial), which is not a joke since that includes short trips, winter starts, etc. It's been a bit under 50 in winter and a bit over in summer.

Despite reading about pulse and glide and all sorts of tricks, I've finally cracked it. The secret is (gasp) slow acceleration. There is an occasional sweet spot that comes up, where you can be travelling at say 50mph, uphill, accelerating very slowly, and getting about 50mpg. Once you've got to cruising speed you can do much better than mpg. Finding the sweet spot isn't easy though.

So my latest mpg calculation for my most recent tank is 60.03 mpg (imperial) 49.99 mpg (US).

For my next trip, I will pay some attention to the road. The new Prius has a heads up display which would make life safer.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Surprising fact about LNCS proceedings

One thing I had no idea about until I investigated.

Within very wide limits, the number of pages in the proceedings has almost no effect on the cost per volume.

I don't remember the exact figures, but from memory, after discounts etc the cost per volume is going to be about €40. The kind of variation is about €5 over about 400 pages, e.g. maybe 700 pages is €38 per copy and 1100 is €43 or something. It's also nonmonotonic. The cost per volume can be cheaper by adding pages full of nonsense.

My line of the day.

Today a colleague announced a meeting by email, and I emailed to ask where it was. He replied to say "read the subject line" which indeed contained the location.

My reply?

"You can't expect me to read a whole subject line. I'm a professor!"

There's no higher praise

I'm in the middle of chairing the Programme Committee (PC) of CP 2009, the major conference for Constraint Programming. In fact I've just sent out all acceptances and rejections.

One author, who queried something about their rejection, said after my reply the nicest thing I can imagine:

"In future I will endeavour to be rejected by conferences that you are chairing"

I really can't imagine higher praise.

Meanwhile, I have had some thoughts on the process, which I wanted to jot down while I remember.

Each paper was (by default) reviewed by three reviewers.

1) I am happy to have genuinely made every decision for every paper on a case by case basis. Also, genuinely nobody was automatically outvoted. A number of papers had one vote for and two against but were accepted and vice versa. I would strongly recommend that for the future, (i.e. that two reviewers don't get to outvote one just by weight of numbers).

2) It's true I messed up the applications track process, but I am reasonably happy with the papers we have. I messed up because a senior colleague repeatedly advised me to have a special applications track committee, but I refused. Then I think the apps papers received less focus than they should have done.

3) I was pleasantly surprised that only 2 reviews (out of about 450) came in too late to be sent to the authors on the deadline, and none before it was too late for authors to reply to them. I strongly recommend having an author rebuttal phase.

4) To help not get any complaints from PC it helps (I suspect) to previews how you are going ot run things and policies etc, so people can complain about the general policy rather than its application.

5) I think the not accepting shorter versions worked well this year. What I mean is, no papers were submitted as long papers and accepted as short papers only. It concentrates the mind of PC members and chair. Again I would recommend this for future years. There are long papers which I think most years would have been accepted as short papers but which I think are much better to be presented at the length submitted. Some papers were borderline from review scores so were obvious ones to ask to shorten. But they should really be in the conference in toto or not at all.

6) The acceptance rate is a smidge higher than I was aiming at, I expected just under 40%, not just over. But no complaints as of yet, but I was scared enough not to announce the rate until I had sent out decisions! However, papers were not accepted or rejected against a rate. And, I found that a lot of the papers that were really borderline will (I hope) punch above their weight in terms of value to the conference. Some of these papers were trying to do something completely different with or about constraints, which is great. Nobody can suggest they are just another CP paper.

7) I made no attempt to read every paper or even skim them. I did however try to read every review of about 400. I failed but I must have read easily 300+ and got a couple of people to read the others against any outrageous comments. I also tried to read all the discussions though not the technical stuff people might be arguing about. This was very helpful in having a feeling of knowing what was going on and catching big issues quickly. Again I would recommend doing this but all of this was on the edge of feasibility in the time available. If the number of submissions goes up significantly, which would be great, co-chairs or a small senior PC members might be a good idea.

8) I've found out my favourite kind of PC members. Those who either say in discussion: "ok accept this even though I said reject" or vice versa; or those who say "no this is crazy, do not accept it because ...." and then give solid reasons which we can think about.

9) Touch wood, I've been lucky with complaints from authors. Not counting random queries etc, I think I only had one author email me to say "these reviews are a disgrace" and another case of multiple submission where the paper got withdrawn. Of course something else might come up later.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Simple and Trivial

This will mean nothing if you are not a mathematician or that way inclined. If you are it's probably wrong.

Somebody today brought up the topic of the difference between an idea that is simple and one that is trivial.

I said: "A simple idea is one where the first thing you try works. A trivial one is where there is nothing even to try."

I was pretty happy with that.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Somebody else's great line

Just heard Michael Crick on Newsnight quoting a left wing labour party member with a wonderful line attacking Blairites:

"We want people who are driven by principles, not by chauffeurs."

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

How do you know you're interrupting?

Came up with a new one liner today, suitable for many situations. Tried it out on a couple of people. Say I'm talking to Bill.

"You know Bill how you know you're interrupting me? You can hear my voice."

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Emptying the trash

I recently bought a new mac (Ok the University bought me one.) Anyway, since it has a larger disk, I now have about 30 Gig free on it. It is so hard NOT to empty the trash. I am tidying up various things and the other day I emptied the trash and then realised that I might have deleted something I need. Since I have multiple gigs free and much less than that in the trash, there was no need.

Just now I have, amongst other stuff, a 15 Gig file from a virtual machine in the trash. Since I still have 30 Gigs free after that there's no mileage in emptying the trash just now.

But it's an itch that wants to be scratched ...

Terrible gossip

Have you ever noticed, if somebody says you are a "terrible gossip", what they mean is that you are good at gossiping?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

789,000 miles

I just thought about how much space paper tape would use up in modern storage requirements. 

I gather from Google that paper tape did 10 characters per inch.   To store everything on  a 500 GB hard disk (which is not a large store by today's standards), the paper tape would have to be 789,000 miles long.   Well, a little bit more than that, because I've rounded it down. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Hot news in Fife

What can you do? You have to take a picture when you see this as the banner headline outside a newsagent in St Andrews.

And can you blame them? I mean, the Courier only really covers North Fife, and it's a daily. They have to get a major news story every day to put on their posters.

Apparently the story had a purrfect ending (and I'm not making that up.)

p.s. By amazing synchronicity, the same day I snapped this, the BBC asked for newspaper billboard photos. This photo is now part of their Flickr pool.

Double headed fritillary

This is of personal interest rather than anything else. In our garden we had a double headed fritillary. I gather from Googling that it's rare but not unknown, so I don't think we can breed it and make a fortune. Here it is.

The end of cinema?

I went to see Aliens vs Monsters 3D. The 3D was indeed impressive and it worked well, and the film was fun.

But here's the thing. I think the movie industry is hoping that 3D will save cinemas, because (like smellovision and indeed 3D in the 50s, you can only do it in the cinema.) But I think it might kill cinema. Because the cinema has a fixed size screen, and the film-makers have to work around it. If they're smart they get it right, but at best the real estate available for 3D is limited. If I had lcd display goggles, or retinal projection, then I would get a genuinely immersive experience. Then everything would be better at home, and nobody will go to the cinema ever again.

Could be wrong, but then again, years ago I thought they were nuts not putting XP virtualised into Windows Vista, and now a major blogger goes on all about this as if it was a new idea. Of course I didn't write down my ideas last time. Hence putting Cinema death predictions online now.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

One hit wonders

My last post had a new word in it. A word describe the killing of a pulmonaria. When I wrote the blog post this word had zero hits. Now it has two! But I like to think of it as one really, because they are two different routes to the same blog.

I think there's a word for a google search returning only one hit, but I can't remember what it is. (Googlewhacking is I think finding pairs of words to return one hit.)

Tom Kelsey and I once tried (not very hard) to find the smallest number (I mean positive integer) which has no hits in Google. Of course if we posted it here it would get a hit. But the interesting thing is that the number (whatever it is) is surprisingly large. Try it yourself. Of course your expectation may be more accurate so you won't be surprised.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Drifting thoughts

Tulips look best in lines.

Daffodils look best in clumps.

Snowdrops look best in drifts.

Cyclamens look best in carpets.

I don't know what this means, I just like thinking about these different words.

Meanwhile I've lost three pulmonaria, which is rather sad. I suspect whatever conifer they were next to of pulmonariacide.

Monday, 16 March 2009

This is an ex wall.

This wall has ceased to be.

This is what we saw on Wednesday morning. We kind of like having the ability to step out onto the riverbank. But it's hard work getting all the bricks out of the way. Luckily we have a tip about 200 yards away and a neighbour with a wheelbarrow.

The blocks with holes are serving a new role as stepping stones in the garden. I dig them in so their ugly concreteness is not visible, then they are great for stepping on. Either you can get from a to b, or you can do a bit of weeding or planting without stepping on plants. Things can grow through them too because of the holes and they won't affect drainage. Of course weeds might come through them, but they are not concreted in so in the worst case, pull it up, weed, repeat.


This year's weed is bluebells. A lot of them were dug out in Autumn, but there's still a bunch there. I've discovered that I can tell the difference between snowdrop leaves and bluebells by touch. Bluebells have a rubbery feel whereas snowdrops are more whispery.

Why weeds? They are bullies, they are invasive, and the ratio of prettiness to leaves and groundcover is low. And they are Spanish Bluebells, not the native kind. Anyway, even native bluebells should be in a drift across a hillside under woods.

There's a shaded area which has a lot of bluebells and crocosmia. Crocosmia is this year's Enemy Number 2. In this area there is also a lot of snowdrops. Now the bluebells are getting out, I'm using this as a kind of nursery for snowdrops. I'm transplanting out some to other parts of the garden and leaving enough to grow some more for next year.

Friday, 6 March 2009

25 Random Facts about me.

I got this idea from Deborah Underwood.

1. I nap almost every afternoon, usually for about 20 mins to half an hour. If I can't take a nap for some reason, I'm often a little out of sorts. I can also nap in the morning or evening if possible.

2. I had over 15000 emails in my inbox, which is fine because search in mail is good nowadays. [Update: this is not true any more, sadly].

3. I have a hard time getting to sleep unless I'm listening to an audiobook, usually Agatha Christie, but sometimes Dorothy L Sayers.

4. I was a big fan of the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf until it started getting too unfunny, and Christine Kochanski was not played by whatsername.

5. I think if everyone listened to Flanders & Swann, the world would be a more civilized place.

6. Facts 1 to 5 are adapted from Deborah Underwood, my sister in law.

7. I can't believe I have a brother in law!

8. Just now I don't really want to go back to work full time.

9. The best part of my job is talking to clever people I like about interesting things.

10. I am Prof Smith from PhD comics.

11. I like playing Patience (Solitaire in US.) Especially on a computer to avoid laying the cards out. I love games where you have to do counterintuitive things to win.

12. I used to think I was a bad collaborator. Then I realised I was better than almost everyone I worked with. Then I realised I could easily be both a bad collaborator and better than most people I work with.

13. I was taking a free Myers-Briggs test. It said I had to choose between logical and emotional. I am extremely logical and extremely emotional. I guess the test was written by an illogical person.

14. I love "In Our Time" with Melvyn Bragg.

15. I love a capella music. I don't know why.

16. I once found a self help book which helped me!

17. My Dad had 9 papers in Nature. I only found this out after he died. I said "If I'd known this when he was alive I'd have had to kill him."

18. I once asked my dad why he didn't take up radio astronomy as a lecturer. He said "I wasn't good enough." Yeah, right.

19. I often say that the most beautiful thing I own is my Curta Calculator. (Google it.) To be clear, I don't own my wife or children.

20. I like the feeling of "flow" when you are concentrating on something. That's not the same thing as being good at getting into it, or indeed doing the thing that will get you into the flow when you are doing something stupid.

21. I dislike living in an untidy house and office, but only rarely get round to tidying. Which is a pity.

22. Throwing out old stuff you really don't need can feel GREAT. Like recently I threw out my old notebooks from when I was a PhD student. It felt great.

23. You are allowed one self refential fact in every list of facts about yourself. Especially near the end when you are out of ideas.

24. I would like to be better at keeping in touch with old friends.

25. My wife is smarter than me.

An emptier mailbox

I was pretty happy to have 18,000 mails in my inbox. Because I use search to find what I need instead of folders.

Unfortunately I just realised it's slowing down operations, e.g. when I start mail it tries to sync my work and offline copies of the mailbox, which takes a long time.

So I've deleted all mails from 2006 to 2008, leaving me only 3,000 there.

I'm sad about this, because the bad design of the software means I have to have the mailboxes organised a different way to what I want.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

How Not To Become President

What is this list?

  1. Charles G Dawes
  2. Joseph Taylor Robinson
  3. Charles Curtis
  4. Frank Knox
  5. Charles L McNary
  6. John W Bricker
  7. Earl Warren
  8. John Sparkman
  9. Estes Kefauver
  10. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr
  11. William E Miller
  12. Edmund Muskie
  13. Sargent Shriver
  14. Bob Dole
  15. Walter Mondale
  16. Geraldine Ferraro
  17. Lloyd Bentsen
  18. Dan Quayle
  19. Jack Kemp
  20. Joe Lieberman
  21. John Edwards
  22. Sarah Palin
You may have got it by the end. They are the 22 losing candidates for Vice President since 1924 (inclusive). None of them have (yet) gone on to be President, though some have been their party's nominee (Dole and Mondale).

And the one before this list started in 1920? The losing candidate for Vice President was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

How Not To Become Prime Minister

How Not To Become Prime Minister?

Hold a great office of state other than PM in a Government that loses an election.

Remember from my last post, that the following leaders of the opposition have become Prime Minister since the war:

Attlee, Churchill, Wilson, Heath, Wilson again, Thatcher, Blair.

Churchill and Wilson the second time had obviously been Prime Minister before. But none of Attlee, Heath, Wilson the first time, Thatcher or Blair had served as Home Secretary, Chancellor, or Foreign Secretary previously.

Bad news for Miliband and Jacquy Smith and Alistair Darling if Labour lose the next election.

How To Become Prime Minister?

Here's a thing that occurred to me while watching "Margaret", the BBC drama about the downfall of Margaret Thacher. Since the war, if you want to be Prime Minister, you are better off hanging around as a senior person in the Government, than by being leader of the opposition.

To see what I mean. Since the war, the following leaders of the opposition have become Prime Minister:

Attlee, Churchill, Wilson, Heath, Wilson again, Thatcher, Blair.

Of course second Wilson, but also Churchill, had been Prime Minister before being leader of the opposition. Leaving:

Attlee, Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair.

The following have succeeded a sitting Prime Minister who has left for some reason.

Eden, Macmillan, Home, Callaghan, Brown.

Indeed Churchill's wartime premiership started by taking over from a sitting Prime Minister of his own party.

So both lists are length 5, so maybe I'm overdoing it.