Mar 31, 2010

The mysterious visit of Donna Pérignon

Saturday night. The wind howls around the house, the timber creaks, the rain beats on the windows, the sea roars below.

The doorbell rings.

On the intercom, a female voice. "Excusez-moi de vous déranger," the voice says, "je ne peu pas expliquer trop, mais je suis Donna Pérignon," (Sorry to disturb you, I can't explain too much, but I am Donna Pérignon)."
"Donna?", I ask, and she replies: "Yes, Donna like in Ma-Donna, or Donna-stag, or Donna Versace, or Gianni Versace, or Giorgio Armani, or Emporio Armani, or Emperor Napoleon." I push the remote for the gate. Michelle Pfeiffer emanates from the dark.

-"You can't be Michelle Pfeiffer", I say.
-"How so?", she replies.
-"You are without your entourage."
-"Elémentaire, chèr Watson, she replies.
-"Enchanté", I say.
-"I am coming for ... ," Her voice trails off, her sentence ceases. Then, in French: "C'est urgent, mais d'abord, Pérignon."



A pause. She gazes at me through her shades---she wears shades at night, radioactive vision, cool. What can I say? "Pérignon, Pérignon" I say to Chang. Chang gives me the Marx Brothers look. "Any Pérignon left in our cellars?" I ask, kindly.

Chang has been a fan of Keeping up Appearances, the BBC tragedy, all his life. He disappears, and while I am helping Donna to undress (only the coat), a cork pops in the kitchen, and Donna takes notice, and Chang reappears with three champagne glasses, filled. "Dom Pérignon", Chang says, handing out glasses. She raises her glass. "Santé," she says. She drinks.

Chang refills her glass, artfully hiding the label on the bottle. This bottle does not look like a Pérignon bottle to me (they have a special shape), and it does not look like a Pérignon bottle to Donna. She drinks some more. "Truth to be told," she says, "a great champagne tastes differently every day. Show me your blog."

We proceed to my desk.


"La vague géant," she commands, more Brigitte Bardot than Michelle Pfeiffer now. She sits down in my Eames aluminum chair. I bring up the giant wave posts on the screen (pictured). She studies the pictures, carefully, intently. Then she gets up. I need a cigarette, she says, and proceeds to the terrace outside. There, her glass is refilled, her cigarette lit.



She returns after a cigarette length. "The blue tulips," she commands. I'll go and fetch a blue tulip. She sniffs at the blue tulip.
-"Elementaire, chèr Michael", she says, and then, "Je dois partir maintenant" (I have to leave now). She claims her coat. We refill her glass. She sniffs her tulip some more. "Il n'y a pas des secrets" she says. She posits her empty glass on the secretaire in the hall, blows kisses, makes her exit, makes more of her exit, exits, is gone.

Mar 29, 2010

The giant wave: the mysterious visit of Donna Pérignon

Saturday night. The wind howls around the house, the timber creaks, the rain beats on the windows, the sea roars below.


The doorbell rings.

On the intercom, a female voice. "Excusez-moi de vous déranger," the voice says, "je ne peu pas expliquer trop, mais je suis Donna Pérignon," (Sorry to disturb you, I can't explain too much, but I am Donna Pérignon)." "Donna?", I ask, and she replies: "Yes, Donna like in Ma-Donna, or Donna-stag, or Donna Versace, or Gianni Versace, or Giorgio Armani, or Emporio Armani, or Emperor Napoleon." I push the remote for the gate. Michelle Pfeiffer emanates from the dark.

-"You can't be Michelle Pfeiffer", I say.
-"How so?", she replies.
-"You are without your entourage."
-"Elémentaire, chèr Watson, she replies.
-"Enchanté", I say.
-"I am coming for ... ," Her voice trails off, her sentence ceases. Then, in French: "C'est urgent, mais d'abord, Pérignon."



A pause. She gazes at me through her shades---she wears shades at night, radioactive vision, cool. What can I say? "Pérignon, Pérignon" I say to Chang. Chang gives me the Marx Brothers look. "Any Pérignon left in our cellars?" I ask, kindly.

Chang has been a fan of Keeping up Appearances, the BBC tragedy, all his life. He disappears, and while I am helping Donna to undress (only the coat), a cork pops in the kitchen, and Donna takes notice, and Chang reappears with three champagne glasses, filled. "Dom Pérignon", Chang says, handing out glasses. She raises her glass. "Santé," she says. She drinks.

Chang refills her glass, artfully hiding the label on the bottle. This bottle does not look like a Pérignon bottle to me (they have a special shape), and it does not look like a Pérignon bottle to Donna. She drinks some more. "Truth to be told," she says, "a great champagne tastes differently every day. Show me your blog."

We proceed to my desk.


"La vague géant," she commands, more Brigitte Bardot than Michelle Pfeiffer now. She sits down in my Eames aluminum chair. I bring up the giant wave posts on the screen (pictured). She studies the pictures, carefully, intently. Then she gets up. I need a cigarette, she says, and proceeds to the terrace outside. There, her glass is refilled, her cigarette lit.



She returns after a cigarette length. "The blue tulips," she commands. I'll go and fetch a blue tulip. She sniffs at the blue tulip.
-"Elementaire, chèr Michael", she says, and then, "Je dois partir maintenant" (I have to leave now). She claims her coat. We refill her glass. She sniffs her tulip some more. "Il n'y a pas des secrets" she says. She posits her empty glass on the secretaire in the hall, blows kisses, makes her exit, makes more of her exit, exits, is gone.

Mar 28, 2010

A moment in time: la Croisette, Cannes, France


















Our entry in the New York Times feature A moment in time. The idea is "to create an international mosaic of images" shot at 15:00 UTC (17:00 our time).

Mar 26, 2010

-"So, his first name was Jerry."


-"Why do you post this letter?"
-"For one, it was not written by the washed-up scriptwriter."
-"How do you know?"
-"Turns of phrase like:'There's a notable absence of Catherine Barclay's,'... 'and went back to the U.S. in a shower of Bronze Stars'...'[he passed around pictures], it was a damned poignant moment for us,' etc. That's not the washed-up scriptwriter."
-"If you can read it; the letters are very small and blurry."
-"It's reproduced at the bottom of the page."
-"So, you were his neighbor."
-"Well, I had to say this to add some punch to the Sirrr letter to the Economist, but I lived nearby. Plus, a common friend of Perry and me actually was his neighbor, or, at least, owned a house in Cornish, NH."
-"Did you ever meet him?"
-"No. He was rumored to pay visits to the Dartmouth Bookstore once in a while. Don't know whether that was true."
-"And Poppa, the addressee?"
-"Well, that's obvious, an American writer who lives in Cuba and is rich."
-"Never knew he had a first name."

Darty, Samsung, and a happy ending



A Wiener Schnitzel? A Holsteiner Schnitzel---because of the egg on top.

-"Honey, have you seen the Cholesterol pills?"

Mar 25, 2010

Live Bloggin: Darty

The Darty man arrives. Yet another guy, two meters long, pouchy, funny haircut. He re-installs the induction hob, and then provides a lengthy explanation as to the causes of the second Samsung default. Not Samsung's fault. The alimentation. "Samsung est un produit excellent." We are impressed. We love Samsung. We are reunited with Samsung. A lover's spat. But she is back now. He is back now. Everything is forgiven. We can't remember why we struggled, and fought, and broke the china. We test. Test---retest. The bubbles appear at the touch of the booster switch. On all four burners. Chang has something to say about the sound of the alarm signal. He will call tomorrow to see whether everything is all-right.

Chang does not give him a tip. He leaves (pictured). We cross fingers and pray.

And tomorrow, we'll show the results. Today's Holsteiner Schnitzel. You wonder what that could be? Stay tuned.

Mar 24, 2010

Darty and the Samsung tragedy, part 4

The Samsung hob had been re-installed on Friday.

On Saturday morning, some desperate noises from the kitchen. "Michael." A pause. "Shit."
-"What is it."
-"The Samsung broke again."
I rush to the kitchen, but the little on-off fingerprint button on the hob is still alight.
-"It is still working," I say.
-"Yes," Chang says, "but you cannot switch it on."
I push the ON button, and the hob appears to react normally; it offers a choice of burners to be activated, even boosted.
I touch a burner button, burner no 1, and a burner boosts.
"See," I say.
Everything appears alright. We are happily married. I return to my desk.
"Michael." A pause. "Shit."
-"What is it."
-"The Samsung broke again."
I rush to the kitchen.
Chang explains some intermediate adventures with the hob in Korean (it's a Samsung, after all). The little on-off fingerprint button on the hob that indicates generic readiness is no longer alight.
-"It is dead," I say, trying to keep my voice neutral so that Chang won't feel my suspicion that it's all his fault.
Chang feels my suspicion that it's all his fault.
-"Have you checked the circuit breaker on the electricity panel," I suggest. The hob has its own circuit breaker on the electricity panel. Yes, he did. I proceed to the electricity panel to check the hob's circuit breaker. The circuit breaker does not break the circuit; electrons can reach the hob unimpeded. We are happily married.

We push (fingerprint) a few more buttons, but this is just to calm our nerves. Then I say, in the manner of Titanic captains who have seen the iceberg:"We have to call Darty."

I dread those calls; I am fairly shy and hate to bother other people with my problems. It's Saturday. But, come to think of it, that's actually a good day. The assistance téléphonique, which would normally protect the DARTY Repair Man from being bothered by desperate customers, is closed. The computer will put me right through if I pass muster with the voice recognition system that doubles as emergency service switchboard on Saturdays. I have to pronounce the number of our department, "clairement."
So I say "Quatre-vingt-trois." The computer appears to detect the touch of an accent. "Je ne peu pas vous comprendre. Prononcez clairement the numéro de votre département." "Quatre-vingt-trois."
We go through this loop for a little while---computers like loops---until the computer declares itself satisfied. Eightythree, he/she understands. Now the main question. What is my problem? The computer offers examples, like fridge ("frigidaire"), vacuum cleaner ("hoover"---no, I am making this up, it's "respirateur"). He/she does not provide an example for "hob." I'm nervous. "C'est votre choix," the computer commands. I bungle, interrupt myself. Computers like loops.

OK, you get the gist. There is a happy ending in the sense that my final attempt to enunciate "table de cuisson" is gracefully accepted. A human voice takes over and is receptive. They will send somebody, on Monday. Yes, they are sorry. The second time. Yes, they understand.

The Monday Repair Man arrives (he calls in advance to excuse a slight delay) and picks up the hob. This time, the hob will be put to the most serious tests in their atelier. We utter more principled complaints about Samsung, Darty, and the World. Yes, he understands. But it's not his responsibility, it's the responsibility of the chef du service. The chef du service will have to decide whether a second repair attempt should be made (we got the hob 2 month ago---no, the Monday Repair Man observes, you got it on January 11, that's more than 2 months), or whether a brand new hob will be rolled out. Chang wants his money back. "Ce n'est pas ma responsabilité," the Monday Repair Man says.

Stay tuned.

Overheard on WestJet flights (Dirk)

The captain announces 'Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants.'
------------------------
On landing, the stewardess said, 'Please be sure to take all of your belongings. If you're going to leave anything, please make sure it's something we'd like to have.'
------------------------
'There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane.'
-----------------------
'Thank you for flying West-Jet Express. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride.'
---------------------------
As the plane landed and was coming to a stop at the Vancouver Airport , a lone voice came over the loudspeaker: 'Whoa, big fella.. WHOA!'
-------------------------
From a WestJet Airlines employee: 'Welcome aboard West Jet Flight 245 to Calgary . To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seat belt; and, if you don't know how to operate one, you probably shouldn't be out in public unsupervised.'
---------------------
'In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with more than one small child, pick your favourite.'
-----------------------
'Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we'll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than West Jet Airlines.'
------------------------
'Your seat cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.'
-----------------------
'As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.'
---------------------------
And from the pilot during his welcome message: 'West Jet Airlines is pleased to announce that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry.. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!'
-----------------------------
Heard on West-Jet Airlines just after a very hard landing in Edmonton: The flight attendant came on the intercom and said, 'That was quite a bump, and I know what y'all are thinking. I'm here to tell you it wasn't the airline's fault, it wasn't the pilot's fault, it wasn't the flight attendant's fault, it was the asphalt..'
------------------------------
Overheard on a West Jet Airlines flight into Regina , on a particularly windy and bumpy day: During the final approach, the Captain was really having to fight it. After an extremely hard landing, the Flight Attendant said, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Regina . Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened while the Captain taxis what's left of our airplane to the gate!'
------------------------------
Another flight attendant's comment on a less than perfect landing: 'We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal.'
---------------------
An airline pilot wrote that on this particular flight he had hammered his ship into the runway really hard. The airline had a policy which required the first officer to stand at the door while the Passengers exited, smile, and give them a 'Thanks for flying our airline.' He said that, in light of his bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment. Finally everyone had gotten off except for a little old lady walking with a cane. She said, 'Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?'
'Why, no, Ma'am,' said the pilot. 'What is it?'
The little old lady said, 'Did we land, or were we shot down?'
-------------------
After a real crusher of a landing in Halifax , the attendant came on with, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And, once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we will open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal.'
-----------------------
Part of a flight attendant's arrival announcement: 'We'd like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you'll think of West Jet Airways.'
-----------------------
Heard on a West-Jet Airline flight, 'Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, the smoking section on this airplane is on the wing. If you can light 'em, you can smoke 'em.'
-----------------------
A plane was taking off from the Winnipeg Airport. After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, 'Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Flight Number 293, nonstop from Winnipeg to Montreal. The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax... OH, MY GOD!'
Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!'

A passenger in Coach yelled, 'That's nothing. You should see the back of mine!'

Mar 23, 2010

Please cancel my subscription to David Brooks

Sirrr: Please cancel my subscription to the International Herald Tribune, as David Brook's column on health care, published today in the NYT, will inevitably appear in your pages.

Brooks riffs about the dichotomy between Republicans ("individualism, vibrant markets, vigor") and Democrats ("inevitable fractiousness, the neuroticism, the petty logrolling, but also the basic concern for the vulnerable and the high idealism"), and then he writes:

"Today, America’s vigor is challenged on two fronts. First, the country is becoming geriatric. Other nations spend 10 percent or so of their G.D.P. on health care. We spend 17 percent and are predicted to soon spend 20 percent and then 25 percent."

Brooks is implying here that the 17% GDP are indicative of America's geriatricism. However, the US population, compared to those 10%-nations (France, Britain, etc), is much younger, so the American waste of resources should not be attributed to America's demographics, at least not when the conclusion depends on the comparison with other, older nations. Then Brooks continues:

"This [health care] legislation was supposed to end that asphyxiating growth [of spending], which will crowd out investments in innovation, education and everything else. It will not."

So, Sirrr, let's keep this in mind, Brooks just said "it will not." And why will it not?

"With the word security engraved on its heart, the Democratic Party is just not structured to cut spending that would enhance health and safety. The party nurtures; it does not say, 'No more.' "

So it is, or rather, will be, the Democrats fault (naturally). Now, when Brooks uses numbers like 20% - 25% GDP, he is talking about secular trends, future decades, not just the next two years of Obama's administration. His argument makes sense only if we can assume that the Democrats will stay in power for decades (and, as he will imply in the next paragraph, the Republicans are capable of budget cuts). Is this his assumption? Is this a plausible assumption? He does not say, but he continues:

"The second biggest threat to America’s vibrancy is the exploding federal debt. Again, Democrats can utter the words of fiscal restraint, but they don’t feel the passion. This bill is full of gimmicks designed to get a good score from the Congressional Budget Office but not to really balance the budget. Democrats did enough to solve their political problem (not looking fiscally reckless) but not enough to solve the genuine problem."---But Brooks feels the passion, right? The Republicans feel the passion, right? Like in Dick Cheney's "Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter", or in Bush's unfunded tax cuts that left a 1.6 trillion hole in the federal budget.

Back to Brooks predictive statement. "It will not." (health care legislation will not end spending growth). Remember? He said: "It will not." Because Brooks now continues:

"Nobody knows how this bill will work out."

Please send the balance of my subscription fee to the Foundation for the Logically Challenged.

Yours Truly,

Mar 21, 2010

"We have the best healthcare in the world"

Hauptstadt Berlin

You may recall the days of The Wall, when West Berlin was still officially the capital of Germany ("Hauptstadt Berlin"), but the government was ruling from Bonn (the birthplace of Beethoven), and Siemens had left Siemensstadt (Berlin suburb) and decamped to Munich, where its executives were taking classes in Bavarian ac-cent. In those dark days, Berlin (West---the East, on the other side of the wall, was, in fact, the capital of the communist GDR) needed all the help it could get to stay the capital of Germany. Count Dracula's grandson would visit, or a minor relative from the Indian branch of the Windsors, the (West) Berlin press would always manage to ask them about Berlin, and they, right on cue, would always reply "It's good to be back in the Hauptstadt."
Along those lines, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the has-been inverted Islamo-faschist, has pulled the same trick on us, by putting Le Trayas on the background of his election poster for today's regional elections. 

Mar 19, 2010

The precipitous decline of RSVP---discuss

Rand Richards Cooper has a piece in the NYT in which he laments the decline of RSVP. He sends an e-mail invitation to 45 friends with the customary RSVP request, for an evening of food, drink, and literature, with readings by himself and two other writers, one month out, and he provides a follow-up email message, two weeks later. His initial message brings in a dozen responses, and the follow-up a few more, but days before the event, he has a paltry 23 replies in total. Not 23 who plan to come, but 23 who had bothered to respond. He is upset.

We are reporting this because we had a similar experience last year. We issued an RSVP request by email and, yes, not everybody replied (our response record was better than Cooper's, of course, but then we promised a poolside orgy to celebrate my birthday in the company of sexual slaves). We blamed the non-response on the bad French of our English neighbors, as Cooper blames it on the bad French of his friends, but our new affiliation with the University of Metaphysical Sciences necessitates a more in-depth historical study.

Sexual slave #1

The first know source to lament the decline of civilization in general was Socrates, in whose days RSVP had an unspeakable Greek meaning (what with those pederasts). In Roman times, Romanum Saeculum Veritatis Protestas meant roughly (we improvise here) in vino veritas, but with more emphasis on the wine and less emphasis on the veritas.

Sexual slave #2

The Gauls, in turn, who inherited the torch of civilization from the Romans, spoke Gaulois in those days, not French, and their meaning of RSVP translates into F@@K, or, more politely, F---. That changed when Charlemagne took over and united France and Germany under his leadership. No sexual undertones with prudish Charly, who proclaimed, famously: "Vorsicht ist die Mutter der Porzellankiste," which is a nicer way of saying "breakable." He used only the P, but he had a tight disposition, and did not want to squander any alphabet soup. (Saddam Hussein later did a riff on Charlemagne with his "Mother Of All Wars," but MOAW is a different story all-together.)

Sexual slave #3

Then, civilization moved eastward with the Vikings, who founded the Kingdom of Rus, and established a dynasty for Ivan the Terrible. Ivan used it a lot, RSVP, because in Russian it means "When it flies, floats, or f@@ks, rent it." Yes, I know, we repeat ourselves, but that's Ivan's fault.

etc.

One day, Ivan got a visit from the Roi Soleil, Louis XiV, and Ivan explained his concept to Louis. Louis immediately thought to himself: "Come to think of it." But Louis was a good husband (he always spent the nights with his official wife while his mistresses had a chance to recover from his daytime routines, so this was really a win-win-win triangle situation---I am not making this up, folks), and he sought a way to make RSVP palatable to his squeamish court. Whence the modern meaning of RSVP.

What did we learn? Well, RSVP had its ups and downs, but it is perhaps too early to blame it for the general decline of civilization, or to blame the general decline of civilization for RSVP's recent troubles.

Cooper suggests to replace RSVP by RVOM ("répondez vite, ou mourir") but the French are increasingly moving away from the formal "vous" toward the informal "tu", which brings us to RTOM, or ATOM, for simplicity, which was discovered by Democrit, a predecessor of Socrates. Plus ça change....

Mar 15, 2010

Mar 9, 2010

Darty, live bloggin

Repairman has arrived (see previous post). Postwoman (Muriel) has arrived, delayed, with the International Herald Tribune. Maureen Dowd, the fervent columnist, has interviewed Prince Saud, the foreign minister of Saudi-Arabia. "Asked about the possibility that Israel could attack Iran with its new drones, the Prince says dryly 'Talk about changing lifestyle. I think this would change lifestyles at once, forcibly.'"

Electricity is now cut, but we are still online, thanks to our Belkin surge protector. Live bloggin.


Some electronics inside the new hob went pouff. A piece needs to be ordered, then somebody will come to repair the thing. 7 days. We still had the old hob, which we kept in the garage. Old hob has taken the place of the new hob. Nice repairman. Handshake.

Off for a walk in the Esterel now. Live bloggin. Over. Out.

Mar 8, 2010

The meaning of π (3)


Recall the last episode. π is an irrational number? Irrational number are infinitely long? How do you know? How do we get to the end of the rainbow?

Sit back and don’t relax. Rational numbers can be expressed by a fraction m/n, where m and n are integers, with n non-zero. For example, 4 is a rational number (4/1 = 4), 0.25 is rational (1/4 = 0.25), and so on. Irrational numbers, then, by definition, cannot be expressed by such a fraction.
The first famous example for an irrational number was the square root of 2, and when Hippasus, a member of the Pythagorean school of mathematicians (Pythagoras, him, the author of the notorious theorem)…when Hippasus came up with the first proof, he was apparently not lauded for his efforts: according to legend, he made his discovery while out at sea, and was subsequently thrown overboard by his fellow Pythagoreans “…for having produced an element in the universe which denied the…doctrine that all phenomena in the universe can be reduced to whole numbers and their ratios.”
How do “we” know π is irrational? Well, “we” did not, for quite some time, although “we” had our suspicions, because all efforts to represent π by a rational number failed. So we had to wait until the 18th century, as the proof requires some serious (infinitesimal) calculus, which had to be invented first (by Newton and Leibniz).
How do we know that irrational numbers have an infinite decimal expansion? Well, because the long division of a rational number either terminates (1/4), or yields a repeating sequence (1/3, for example, or 1/81).

OK, so, π is irrational, and hence enjoys an infinite, non-repetitive decimal expansion. There we go. Equipped with the Infinite Monkey Theorem (last episode) we will be able to find any arbitrary message in the decimal expansion of π. Ellie’s efforts futile, Jodie Foster mislead, Carl Sagan misleading…(first episode)? No conspiracy?

No conspiracy? You mean that's a happy ending?

Stay tuned.

Mar 4, 2010

The meaning of π (2)

-"Donald Duck is the nephew of Dagobert Duck,” you may ask? Yes, we were pondering whether this sentence, when found in the decimal expansion of π (appropriately coded in decimals), would prove something---say a message from the creator built into the fabric of mathematics.

But would it? Consider another setting, this time filled with diligent monkies and typewriters (a  typewriter was a machine to create ("type") text mechanically by hand, typically on a sheet of paper, kids, pictured). The monkeys are bored and type away on their machines. The first monkey starts typing: "ane uzv awu but seiw." But, wait, there is "but"...there is already one meaningful word in this sequence.

In fact, by sheer coincidence, some meaning is apt to crop into meaningless strings. Somewhere along the line some monkey will type "srv zgftj To be or sxew vdkt." (Much) later, some monkey will create the string "ljoh To be or not to dsr cvf.." And so on. How long will it take for a given group of monkey's to churn out the complete works of Shakespeare? By sheer happenstance? Very long. But it's not impossible. The first "To be" may crop up in a year. The first "To be or" might require a decade (we could employ lot's of monkeys that work in parallel). The first "To be or not to be" may require 100,000 or 1,000,000 years...but...you get the idea. The longer the monkies churn along, the longer the take on Hamlet's soliloquy will get, and with infinite time we should eventually arrive at the bard's complete works. 

But we don't have infinite time. Wait, don't we? π is infinitely long! Computers are infinitely fast, almost.

Stay tuned, and read up on the Infinite Monkey Theorem in the meantime.

Mar 3, 2010

The meaning of π

In Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie---Jodie Foster played Ellie in the movie adaptation (1997)---is looking for messages from God in the decimal expansion of π. As the π-page demonstrates, π is a very long number---infinitely long, in fact (we show only the first 100,000 digits). 

To find this message, Jodie writes a program that computes the digits of π to record lengths. In the novel (I don’t think it's in the movie) she does find a special pattern 1020 digits down the line. The sequence stops varying randomly and unfolds well-ordered 1s and 0s in a very long string. GOTCHA! 
Ellie’s discovery is just fiction, but Professor Sagan covered his rear by putting her finding at a place where no mathematician has treaded (yet). Calculating the decimal expansion of π is a mathematical cottage industry, and in January this year, 2.7 trillion digits had been calculated. To reach Ellie’s soft spot, we need to go 100 million times further, roughly.
Now, what if Ellie succeeds, and some meaningful sequence of numbers eventually pops up? Wouldn’t that be something? Some coded message, which would tell us, when deciphered, that “Donald Duck is the nephew of Dagobert Duck?” That would prove the existence of God, right? 
 Stay tuned.

Mar 2, 2010

Senator's remarks cause outrage and destruction

Republican Senator Alexander's remarks on American television, namely that reconciliation (as voting procedure in the Senate) was in the past used only for small things and to reduced the deficit, have caused an immediate reaction by the elements of nature, especially in France (slideshow)



Professor Krugman explains: "In fact, reconciliation was used to pass the two major Bush tax cuts, which increased the deficit — by $1.8 trillion."

The Democrats are now planning to use reconciliation to pass health care reform in the face of stubborn Republican opposition.