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   Rather like Wireless was replaced by Radio over the years, STD has been replaced by Area Code or similar.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.