Friday, January 12, 2007

Multi-tap mindwarp

I'm a latecomer to multifeatured cellphones and thus to text messaging on a keypad, but I wanted to pose a puzzle regarding the basic multiple-keypress text entry system. I'm referring to the system under which when you want to type the word "beer", you press '2' twice to get a 'b', then press '3' twice to get an 'e', then you have to pause or press the right arrow because next you need to press '3' twice again to get another 'e', and so on. In all, "beer" is keyed in via 2233~pause~33777.

Under this system, blessed are the words with lots of one-press letters such as "data", which you can bang out 3282. Four letters, four keypresses. But when the same one-press letter repeats consecutively, it's not as convenient because you either have to pause or press the right arrow. For example, "add", 23~pause~3. So my puzzle is: what is the longest english word which is entirely one-press letters and no pauses? The longest one I've been able to find is "pajama," a paltry six letters. Even so, I would be surprised to learn of a longer one.

I'd love to be able to coin a clever term for the class of words that "data" and "pajama" belong to, but the best I've come up with is unitap. Five-letter unitaps I've found include adapt, madam, and magma.

These puzzles occurred to me last night when I was visiting a hospital. There was a poster on the wall for the convenience of non-English speakers who require a translator. Point to your language and the staff will summon the proper translator for you; that was the gist of the poster. Anyway, the Tagalog entry read (in part) "Magpapatawag kami ng interpreter." I took out my phone and keyed that in gleefully. Magpapatawag! A twelve letter unitap!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Biden Code

By now, most people are hip to the affinity the global terrorists have for numerology. Nine-eleven is universal shorthand for the September 2001 attacks. The Madrid train bombings were three-eleven. London's attacks were seven-seven.

Democratic Senator Joe Biden, shown on a C-SPAN tape last week:
"I've had a great relationship. In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."
Hello? Bombay train attacks yesterday, July 11th? "7-Eleven," Senator Biden?

I can see the bumper stickers already: "Biden knew, Bombay blew." On the same bumpers as the "Coulter '08" stickers, methinks.

Coordinated attacks

Wow. Check out these headlines:
Train bombs in Mumbai kill 147
Explosions hit Bombay commuter trains
Pretty much simultaneous attacks in both Mumbai and Bombay! I haven't been this stunned at the daily news since Beijing won the 2008 Olympics (Peking seemed like a shoo-in at the time).

Why is it that during our generation the Anglicization of place names has to change decade by decade? And notice that we usually get beat over the head with the new forms by pseudo-intellectual elite wannabes, like the news correspondents that went to Qatar before Gulf War II and told us it wasn't Kay-tahr anymore, it was "Gutter". However metaphorically true that may have been, if you telephoned the Qatar embassy in Washington D.C. they still pronounced it "Kay-tahr". Who do you trust, the multilingual native Qatari or the cue-card reader with the authoritative hair?

I strongly suspect that the acceleration of English transliteration changes is a direct result of some forty years of worshipful obeisance to multicultural pieties and the corresponding reduction of confidence in Western conventions. By way of example, about as quickly as Saigon fell and Jimmy Carter was elected cringer-in-chief, my world atlas changed Cambodia to Kampuchea. Of course, the name change was driven partly by the fact that the Khmer Rouge had wiped out the military regime that had exiled the monarchy, but the diplomats and intelligentsia of a truly self-confident world power would've kept calling the place Cambodia anyway. If, on the other hand, you have no confidence in the importance of your own culture and find revolutionary, genocidal whack-jobs enchanting, you'll roll over and enthusiastically adopt the new appellation.

Unintentionally hilarious postscript: The USA Today headline above which was originally "Bombay" on the website was later changed to "Mumbai". Heaven forbid that USA Today's media peers would have noticed the "Bombay" gaffe and thought them unsophisticated!

You've got (stupid) mail

I've done it before and I'll do it again. A rainy day is a good day to rummage through the spam folder and marvel at the bottommost percentile of internet creativity, the van-in-the-alley of online commerce. The tragedy of course, is that when only a fraction of that bottom percentile of mouse-clicking meat sacks responds to each pitch, the efforts to continue the spam are assured.

Lest you think me too harsh, keep in mind that the following are actual spam "senders" who (apparently) are getting responses:
melting solid
sport. gulag
Could haveDate:
youneed become
You Mngr. justine
Page. sprites
diskFrom to:
Migrant plunges
Peseta E. Habituates
Monosyllables H. Camelot
Who other than someone near the extreme left-tail of the IQ bell curve would think (even momentarily) that he was expecting an email from "diskFrom to:", or that an unsolicited message from "Migrant plunges" would concern him at all?

And imagine my disappointment when "xumo" turned out not to be from the court of the galactic emperor, but instead was pumping traffic to an online gambling site. Heck, I would've at least smirked if xumo were doing the Nigerian banking scam:
We are top official of the former galactic government of Andromeda who are interested in export of goods to your planet using funds which are presently trapped in the Small Magellanic Cloud...
Come to think of it, has anybody ever tried spamming the Scientology domain with money-transfer pitches from Xenu's former ministers? Yes, it's probably a lawsuit minefield with the litigious Sea Org, but it's also comedy gold.

To further diminish your opinion of your fellow man, a sampling of the similarly un-compelling email subject lines:
Your cash, non-natty
Success, weld metal
Hi, nitro-cotton

Burn baby, burn

When the going gets old, the old talk about their health and money. The second quarter, April-through-June, was my worst money quarter since I started trying to track such things. Everything my wife and I were trying to squirrel away was escaping through one of a dozen holes the market was punching in the fiscal edifice.

In summary, every dollar contributed to the retirement plans was eroded by market declines. Every dollar adding to the balance sheet in savings or paying the mortgage was offset by reductions in the value of my employer's stock. Our net worth at the end of the three months was the same as it was at the start.

There just weren't many good places to hide during that market pullback either, particularly for the 401(k) dollars, which have to stay in one fund or another. Most equities (particularly overseas) were tanking, and bonds were doing the same in the rising interest rate environment. Our 401(k) management should have jokingly opened a mattress fund:
The John Hancock Mattress Fund operates exclusively by concealing shareholders' federal reserve notes in the mattress of fund manager (and retired rum-runner) Buford Davis "Butch" Tucker. The fund's objective is to achieve long-term capital protection and asset concealment by stuffing cash in a Stearns & Foster queen and brandishing a .50-cal smoothbore black-powder rifle against solicitors, trespassers, and government "revenuers". Mr. Tucker is in his eighth year of fund management.

Management fees for the John Hancock Mattress Fund are in the lowest decile for the mutual fund industry. Trailing returns for one, two, and five years are 0%, 0% and 0%, respectively, in every period meeting or exceeding the performance of the Buried Mason Jar investment class as a whole. Past results are indicative of future returns.
Fighting the good fight for planning and saving, and occasionally losing in this manner, does make me understand the appeal of just spending it all. It doesn't make me agree with it or actually do it, but I understand it. It doesn't help that there's such an enormous gulf between just spending your wages and saving to generate even a little new income. It can take a lot of forbearance to do the latter. For instance, to generate fifty dollars a month in new interest income at today's money market rates requires saving around $12,500 in the first place. That's 250 fifty-dollar increments that have to be saved instead of spent, just to secure a new fifty a month. Nevermind the added insult that the interest income on all those post-tax dollars will itself be taxed! Isn't it just easier to spend it, especially when your computer is nearly four years old, the car is making odd humming noises, and you haven't bought a DVD since you used your gift cards from last Christmas?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

See what happens?

Are you wondering about the price of your gasoline? You may have noticed that the price of crude oil is off its highs, but unleaded gasoline hovers stubbornly in the vicinity of $2.90 / gallon. What's up?

I'll listen to competing theories from commenters, but my read is this: our Congress has managed to further boost gasoline prices, even as they have sought to blame the oil companies for "price gouging". How have they managed to do this? Some credit goes to their passage of last year's massive energy bill and its new seven-year ethanol mandate. Specifically, this year four billion gallons of ethanol are required to be incorporated into our automobile fuels. This amount gradually rises year by year to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.

The problem with mandates of this kind, of course, is that they're legal requirements that brook no excuse. Domestic production not yet capable of producing that much ethanol? Tough. Internal transport of ethanol from the midwest to the coasts difficult or expensive? Too bad. Money is no longer an object, since the legal mandate trumps expense. So while July unleaded gasoline closed at $2.07 / gallon Wednesday, the July ethanol contract was closing at $4.08 / gallon. And no, that's not a typo.

We can thank our lucky stars, I suppose, that this mandated gunk is still usually just a tenth of our fuel (E10 blend, i.e. ten percent ethanol and the rest unleaded gasoline), else prices could be even worse. Doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation here, nine-tenths gallon of unleaded plus one-tenth gallon of ethanol at the July contract prices is a $2.27 gallon of fuel. Add Wisconsin's minimum markup (9.2 percent, I believe), federal tax of $0.184, Wisconsin state tax of $0.327, and we're looking at a pump price of $2.99 a gallon, which appears to be in the ballpark of what we're actually seeing. Whereas if the ethanol were not required as part of the mix, the price would be reduced to $2.77.

Take a moment now to bask in the asininity radiated by our sainted lawmakers. Confronted with the problem that gasoline was getting expensive, they designated a partial substitute, created a law to make it artificially scarce, and now obligate us by law to use the more expensive concoction.

Part of the reason this is so frustrating is that one starts to wonder whether, given the nature of our government today, to complain is to open the door to even worse outcomes. Don't complain about gas prices, since then Congress will have to do something, and the people making the loudest suggestions might turn out to be ethanol lobbyists. Don't complain about illegal immigration, since that encourages the Senate to trot out a massive amnesty bill guaranteed to tempt millions more border crossings. Don't complain about drug prices, otherwise we'll wind up with a new budget-busting Medicare entitlement. It's a disheartening notion.

Is "constructive complaining" a remedy? In other words, don't just say "gas prices are too high." Rather, make sure to say "would ya open up the arctic wildlife refuge for some drilling already, jeez?" Or, "could you stop raiding the transportation budget so we could have a state tax amnesty for the rest of the year?" Or, "would you drop these stupid boutique fuel, oxygenation, and biomass mandates, for crying out loud?" I suppose that would be great if most people actually agreed on which remedy they want, but of course they don't. The resulting cacaphony of complaints and suggested remedies gets polled, push-polled, and focus-grouped for a few weeks and pretty soon the headlines read: "Gas prices too high, survey says." Oy!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Make-a-wish car

3XHAR and I found ourselves stopped behind a heavily bumper-stickered automobile last weekend. I will highlight three stickers as representative of the vehicle: (1) "Free Tibet Free Palestine", (2) [yellow '=' on blue background], and (3):
"We are making enemies faster than we can kill them"
Now, that last one prompts two immediate questions from me. First, who has the figures on how many enemies we are making? Second, can we use that as an endorsement to speed up the killing and rectify the situation? Because when push comes to shove comes to punch comes to shoot comes to inventing an entirely new class of destructive capability, the United States takes a back seat to no one. Check the data if you don't believe me: the United States led the world in exports of rubble in the biennium 1944-45; greater rubble exports than the rest of the world combined, in fact. Interestingly, once the world's appetite for importing rubble was sated, the enemies disappeared -- which ought to be a cautionary tale on the utility of half-measures.

But aside from my knee-jerk reaction, do you see a consistent, unifying concept behind the stickers? I do not. They're a complete mess. Take "Free Tibet," for example, which the ChiComs literally did. In the U.S., the sticker's sentiment has practically universal support. Yes, we would very much like Tibet to be free. But the creator of the sticker mosaic, who is Deeply Concerned about a few hundred thousand Islamofascist wackos that are in a frenzy over the U.S. pouring its national wealth into Iraq, apparently doesn't even bat an eye at the hundreds of millions of Chinese who -- I dunno -- might be your enemy if you try to take Tibet from them.

Even putting that aside, let's focus on these enemies we are supposedly "making" now, presumably by having the temerity to actually fight them. I seem to recall that we weren't fighting them in 1993, and they bombed the World Trade Center. Did we call the military? Nope. We let the FBI handle it. Criminal matter, you see. So we weren't fighting them in 1996 when they attacked the Khobar Towers. The FBI was sent to investigate that as well. We weren't doing much fighting in 1998 when the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, nor in 2000 when the USS Cole was attacked. After 9/11, how much more of this "not making enemies" could we reasonably stand? And do spare me the drivel about our "agressive American imperialism" making enemies, since that "imperialism" at the time was guaranteeing that muslims could continue to live in the Balkans, that Kuwaitis could have their own country, that the wealth of the OPEC nations could be safely transported on the world's oceans, etc. Lame complaints about how mean and awful America is also fail to explain why London, Madrid, Bali, Casablanca, Egypt and Russia had to be attacked as well.

So given the rather obvious fact that our enemy, the militant Islamic radical, is motivated to kill by one's insufficient Islamic-ness, how will bumper-sticker guy make nice with the radical and still pursue gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered equality (the yellow "equal sign" sticker)? How, exactly, will he square that circle? He cannot, because the back of his car is completely divorced from realpolitik. Rather, it is cant. It is, metaphorically, religion. Recall Ned Flanders' frustrated appeal to God: "I've done everything the Bible says - even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!" Bumper sticker guy wants all his stickers to be made true, even the stickers that contradict the other stickers.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Critter report

I was out of town last weekend sampling the wildlife of the northern half of Wisconsin, dominated at this time of year by the wood tick. Happily, arachnids weren't the only animals crawling or hopping. Of mammals we didn't see a whole lot: deer, a badger, and chipmunks. Black bear have been scarce of late owing to an upswing in homo sapiens sightings adding bustle to the neighborhood. Of birds there were crows as usual, but also ravens, turkeys, vultures, red-winged blackbirds, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, goldfinches, hummingbirds, two kinds of nuthatch, a loon and an oriole. Orioles are notorious latecomers in the spring, such that once you see one you can be assured that the bird migrations into Wisconsin are complete. And though we never actually saw the whip-poor-will, we could set our watches by its nightly 9 pm chirpfest. Sources allege that the bird is only the size of a robin, which I find amazing considering how very loud they are.

I think the most interesting animal of the weekend though was a large moth, probably of the family Saturniidae, that was attracted to the screen door by the inside lights. Its total wingspan was about five inches, but also remarkable was the fact that its eyes reflected back a very noticable orange light. While this is rather common thing with mammals, I never thought to expect eye-glow among bugs.