Saturday, April 26, 2014

Welcome to "Calisthenics From Wilhelmshaven"

I thought it wise this morning to take my brolly and attire myself in tweed to stave off the chill in the air, and the raindrops that dwelt therein.  Once more - indeed, as ever - my guess at the nature of the weather in Ohio was as off as a five-week-old dead badger on the hard shoulder of the M-25.  Cincinnati was warm and sunny, and I switched from heating my car with the bum-warmers ablaze to cranking the air conditioning down to 'flash-freeze' in a space of about three miles, somewhere near the I-71 outlet malls.

Fortunately, my GPS got me through the baroque curlicues and jinks that formed my route to the site of today's splendid Type-In, so I was able to feign confidence as I negotiated traffic and scan for parking opportunities.  I finally found a space and lugged the SG1 to the coffee shop.

I am fairly well aware that I am out of shape, but my arms, shoulders, and back had to spend the time and neural energy reminding me of this fact anyway.  Even though the trip to the venue was uphill on my way there, and downhill three and a half hours later it was the downward trek that had me suffering.  Lord knows how Brian and his sons hauled their trove of typewriters there with such apparent ease.

There was a pretty good turnout for the size of the shop, so we didn't look out of place with our numbers.  People milled about socialising and talking type, examining one another's machines and generally enjoying the event.  I was most impressed with the variety of styles and designs of typewriters present.  There were numerous portables, including a battery-operated portable electric that looked older than is typical for such things.  A USB-adapted SM3 with a laptop slaved to it:  a perfect arrangement if ever there was one!  Several gorgeous old Royals, a very cunning Blickensderfer that was way ahead of it's time, a really super little portable with a typebasket that reclined flat for transport (while also disengaging the keys and raising them to a neutral position as a result of the motion of the typebasket, but also having the side-effect of protecting the mechanism).  Wow!  I know I'm missing mentioning many beauties like the military one in olive drab, the sunset-red one with the impressive paint-job, and many other fun devices.

Oh - the sweet torment!  Now I have to shop for more typewriters including the USB kit, a Hermes (just because it's so swish and nifty in every respect), and even a simple 'lectro-wedge.  Brian!  Why did you infect me with this burgeoning addiction, man?  Misery loves company, I hear.  I just kicked the crack and the krokodil, not to mention the scopolamine.  This is going to be tougher!

The attendees were a hoot, too.  Brian brought his Adler, as promised, and we did a quick side-by-side comparison of the two machines.  Very, very interesting.  It's amazing how tiny details can make for such differences in the feel and personality of two very similar typewriters - although I'm sure that can be said of any class of machine, but it just happens to be so much more apparent in these kinds of constructs.

I greatly enjoyed talking with the Brumfield lads.  Gosh - they know their stuff!  I had a chuckle chatting with the poets who had taken a table in the back, as well.  The coffee and nosh were both very good at Sitwells, so over all I'd declare the day a resounding success.

Now, I think I must soothe my aching muscles and retire for the evening.

Bravo to the Brumfield clan.  I look forward to next time!   :-)


Friday, April 25, 2014

Here Be Spoilers (hints and solutions to the earlier puzzles)

Hints first.

The poisoned letters:  the only thing you have to go on is the possibility that the poisoner actually wants an audience, or you'd be dead already - so there must be a feasible solution.

If you construct a truth table then you will see that if one of the statements true at a time you get three different scenarios.  Now, testing them for validity you find that if the blue envelope truthful then it is safe, the red one is also safe because it is false.  The typed envelope is also false, which fits.  Unfortunately this doesn't work because only one is supposed to contain the cure.  :-/

If only the red one is true then it is poisoned, blue is lying when it claims to be safe, and therefore the typed one is telling the truth - which it shouldn't be doing.  This is a contradiction, so we throw out the red envelope as true.  :-(

If the typed one is truthful, then the others are false - meaning that the blue is dangerous and the red is safe... but that belies the notion that the verbose one is true.  Also contradictory!  We have to discard all three scenarios.  >:-(

You should be able to get it from there.

The weighty problem:  there are several key steps to solving this.  First is to divide the packages into three groups of four.  The second is to recognize that you can label the packages.  If the first weighing results in balance, then those eight are all 'reference' weights, and the other four are where your problem lies.  Weigh two against reference boxes.  Whether they balance or not, you are down to just two dodgy packages compare one versus a reference and you can ascertain the incorrectly packed item.  Easy!

The harder task is when they first weighing results in no balance.  Observe the packages:  the side that descends, label those with an "H" indicating that IF the package is there, it's heavy.  Label the others "L" suggesting that they are the cohort of a possible light package.  The four that aren't weighed are now references.

The last sneaky trick is to mix H and L packages on each side... and that's where this hint stops.  Try it from there.

Solutions now follow, don't read further if you'd still like to solve the final step for each problem.

What's your poison?  AHA!  You realise that the only truthful label all along was the very first one - all others on the envelopes are false.  (Yes, it does say that the box was "labeled" - I snuck that in to befuddle you).

Trying it out, we find that the blue envelope is dangerous, the red one is safe, and the typewritten one is a dirty sniveling fibber (as it should be).  Open the RED envelope and breathe deep the cure!

Oh where, oh where has my little aberrant shipping container gone...?  OK, so we have four 'heavies', four 'lights', and four 'references'.  Mix them up, thuswise...

    [H1 H2 L1] versus [L2 H3 H4]
If the left side drops and the right side rises we're down to three boxes (H1 H2 and L2).  If the right drops it's also three (H3 H4 and L1).  weigh the two Hs against each other:  if they're the same, it's the L; if they're different, it's the H that dropped.  If those six are all equal, then just compare L3 and L4.  You can see how that works.

In all cases you can find the box that's the wrong weight, and in all but one (the one that is never weighed) you can tell if they are too heavy or too light.

Oh, and the name of the Secretary General of the United Nations 35 years ago?  Whatever it is now.   :-)

(Never-ending Deviousness)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When Machine Becomes Muse

I am looking forward to my first Type-In this week!  I hope that in the presence of numerous typewriters and enthusiasts I will find a few opportunities to write.  I have found that nothing is so absorbing than getting into the swing of a good rhythm on the computer or typewriter to help get bring on the creative mood.  Somehow, a Zen-like feeling of unity with the machine ensues as the fingers move the keys (or is it that the keys pull the fingers?) and the words, letter-by-letter creep onto the page.

It's almost like a Koan:  typewriter and hands make words - but what words are typed by the typewriter alone?  Although, in a sense, it's more like a Hacker Koan than a true Zen one.  Try this one for size:  a writer was typing on his machine in a park.  Hunter S. Thompson came by and stopped.  "What are you doing?" Thompson asked.  "I'm trying to write!" the irritated scrivener said.  "Here, I'll show you how to write.  Give me the typewriter."  The man handed it over to the Gonzo Master, who took it, considered it for a moment, then smashed it repeatedly against a tree.  Amid the shower of cogs, keys, levers, and typeslugs, the writer slowly smiled as he realised the truth of HST's actions and became enlightened.

Deep, huh?

Actually, it's neck-deep in bullshit, but that was just the way Thompson would have liked it.

On another note:  Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!  Today (April 23rd) is the supposed 450th anniversary of his birthday in 1564, which the Globe Theatre is commemorating with a two-year-long tour of its travelling company to every country in the world  (205 altogether at last count) to give a performance of Hamlet.  Ironically, this date is also the day of his death in 1616 - a date about which there is more certainty.  The players intend to return on the 400th anniversary of his death, although that is a bit morbid.  Given the bloodbath that suffuses Hamlet, it might not be that inappropriate.

Just imagine how Shakespeare's works might have been changed with a good typewriter to stave off writers' cramp?  What could a Zen-enlightened Romeo and Juliet have looked like through the lens of a two-are-one treatment of Montague and Capulet?

Probably rather dreadful, I fear.

Actually, I can't help but wonder what the Moai will make of Hamlet during the Easter Island performance - if there is one.  And if there is... what would be the sound of one Moai clapping?


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Wisdom of Tools

Happy Easter!  I don't know why, but it's quite relaxing to say that right now.  I do have the luxury of having Monday off, which doesn't often happen most years, so I'm not feeling under any time-pressure today.  I can simply sit back and type at a leisurely pace on the subject of tools - a topic close to my heart.

Like many people, I tend to define who I am in various ways:  in terms of beliefs, skills, capabilities, successes and failures, philosophical outlook, appreciation for the arts, how I interact with people, responsibility, irresponsibility, my sense of fun, or morality... in short, too many ways to conveniently measure quantitatively or qualitatively.  The mere act of attempting to enumerate such a list (for, that is all it is) implies the existence of a concluding term - which also suggests the presence of a hierarchy of priorities.  To assume the presence of either structure would be fallacious, so I find it convenient to extract elements according to the situations in which I find myself.

Today it is Easter Sunday, so my mind wanders to concepts of belief and the nature of tools.  Now, to some this may appear to be an odd pairing, but such juxtapositions are enjoyable to me to attempt to connect.  I see tools and devices as a means to an end - and I imagine most people would tend to agree with that viewpoint.  I suppose that this is a fairly puerile observation, so allow me to continue before the thought is complete.

Tools enhance the capabilities of the worker:  the end to which they were designed was the facilitation of an otherwise-onerous or unachievable task.  Measurement, to point to a specific example, could not be achieved without a standard with which to quantify an ascertainment of dimension.  The tool's purpose is to precisely and accurately serve as a means of comparison.  Accuracy and precision are not necessarily the same things, however.  Imagine, if you will, throwing a handful of darts at a dartboard:  the tightness of the grouping with which they hit the board is the precision of the throws.  They might all hit triple five, but unless that is what was needed to win a game the precision of the shots is irrelevant.  The relative distance to the target point is what is important.

On the other hand, if all the darts strike wildly different sections of the board they may be imprecise, but if their average position relative to the target point is exact, even though none of them struck the bullseye, the net result is accuracy.  In the same way, therefore, accuracy alone is pointless.  This underlies the fallacy of the so-called "Wisdom of Crowds" (Surowiecki 2005).

The notion of the Wisdom of Crowds is captured by the idea that although individuals may be wrong in an objective sense about an estimated measurement, the overall collective result of a series of wrong answers will probably average out to a correct (and thus, 'accurate') value.  Luckily for us, good measurement tools are both accurate and precise.

Humans are, sad to say, not good measurement tools.  Take for instance the other application of the Wisdom of Crowds (The "Madness of Crowds" as Charles Mackay called it in 1841 - upon which Surowiecki's book was based):  we call it Mob Rule.

Contemplate for a moment the account in the Gospels of Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion (which some wags might term "crucifiction").  It is clear that the crowds who participated at various stages in the process were not what Surowiecki refers to as 'wise' crowds; in that they were influenced internally and externally, homogeneous, emotional, centralised, subdivided, and self-imitating.  That's about as flawed as a crowd can get, but I would infer that this the norm rather than an exception.

Of the many tools in my several tool-repositories, only a few are good for measuring with.  Take for instance the measurement of length.  I have chisels of fairly accurate widths, screwdrivers that are a fairly reliable length, tape measures, rulers, a micrometer, vernier calipers, and so forth.  If I were to need to measure a length down a stair-rail to gauge the lengths of pieces of trim I have to cut to complete the finish of the railing, it behoves me to use a precise tool, because accuracy is not important.  The problem of fitting the piece I cut to the space that it should occupy is encapsulated within the realm of only the railing and the trim pieces.  I couldn't care less what the measurements are in terms of the wavelength of light, or decimal fractions of the length of a platinum/iridium bar in Sevres:  I only care that the pieces fit.

So, humans are largely imprecise tools, but occasionally one can find the right tool amid a score of others.  Because of the existence of a few adequate tools, the Workman fashioned a result that was self-repairing and sustainable.  That so much could be achieved by so subtle a touch - even with flawed instruments chosen from a really dreadful toolkit - is supremely impressive.

My view is that tools show the quality of the artisan, which is why I always prefer to learn how to use the oldest, simplest devices I can find because they present a challenge that helps me to grow in the direction of that which I admire.

(Nifty Devices:  a Natural Distraction)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Type-Ins Are In

On any given day, I normally avoid things that are "in" like the plague.  This is not to say that my trite simile is suggesting that the Black Death was particularly fashionable, despite its popularity, but simply that I would avoid it in such a manner as most people attempted to do in the fifteenth century.  If you are the sort of person who immediately made that grisly misinterpretation of my first sentence (as I did when proofing it) then I admire your sense of charnel humour.

A co-worker of mine goads me frequently with the barb that I am a "hipster".  I challenge her every time to actually define what that nebulous term means, but she declines to do so.  I suspect that she leaves it vague just to pester me.  Well, Miss Hipster-Accuser, I accept your challenge and thereby call your bluff!

What's "in"?  Ray Ban glasses: check.  Tweed: check.  An interest in vintage items: check.  Beards - beards are back (not anatomically, although perhaps that could be a new trend): check.  Artisanal beers: check (I appreciate them even though I don't drink them).  Coffee: check, x2.  Type-Ins: che... What?

"What's a Type-In?" I hear the hipster masses whimper.  Is this something they are missing out on?  Obviously they must be, because I am an alleged hipster and I have been missing out on these things, too.  I must hie forth and grasp my wake-board to surf the onrushing tide of hipster masses pressing to gain access to the next and nearest (or most distant) Type-In they can ascertain the location of.  Fear me not, O hip ones, for here you can quaff deep of the cup of satisfaction (and coffee) to be found at your next Type-In.

Why are Type-Ins 'in'?  Precisely because they're not at the minute.  It's complicated, but that's just the sort of thing hipsters appreciate.

Very well - enough of the counterculture jibes.

Yes, I shall be attending the Type-In that is organized for April 26th 2014 in Cincinnati.  I'm in Columbus, so I really have no excuse not to.  If my SM4 is ready in time then I'll bring her, otherwise my presence may be flanked by one or both of the SG1 brothers:  v1.0 for sure, but v2.0 has a bit of a cold right now (all stuffed up).  I may open him up this weekend, give his sinuses a good scrubbing, and take a few promised pics for the good folks who have expressed an interest in seeing the extent of the repairs I conducted on him.  I just wish I could find my decent camera!  I also need to put together a typewriter / Type-In toolkit in case something craps out unexpectedly.

It pains me to see that I will not be able to attend the London Type-In/Out in May, although in all truthfulness I would be reluctant to board a plane with my SM4 anyway - it is still a bit heavy as a carry-on bag, and there is no way that I would entrust her handling to baggage-throwers I'd be a nervous wreck every minute of the trip between CMH, YYZ, and LHR.  I could probably get a prescription for Valium, but the bottle would be empty by the time I reached London.  I'd just fall onto the tube by the end of the flight and the next week would pass in a somnambulistic episode of bizarre proportions.

Some Hunter S. Thompson moments are best not imitated.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

'Supervisor' Post-Script

If, for some heretofore inexplicable reason, you would like to attempt the problems in my previous post then I offer you my condolences.  I also welcome your interest, however.  Feel free to do so by whatever method seems most expeditious.  I won't tease or belittle you if you don't get the solutions, or if you have questions.  I will, likewise, not praise or extol you (unless you'd like me to) because I prefer to simply acknowledge that you were always and obviously going to get the problem from the moment I posed it - which is most likely true of anyone actually wanting to read these posts.

Furthermore; if you have any splendid brain-training exercises of your own that you'd like to share with me, then I should be most honoured to have the opportunity to peruse them and participate in the mental calisthenics they offer.

Now, I shall hop off and ponder my next post.  Perchance something typewriter-related will alight once more upon my muse.

(Nicely Distracted)

Problematic Supervisor

Some people allege that I have a job.  I prefer to think of what I do as a hobby that I just happen to get paid for.  I had a particularly entertaining day today, which was most gratifying.

Some days I get to play with slide rules with people, some days we mess about with drawing tools or (joy of joys) turn data into shapes we can then render in steel or lexan sheets.  This week has been focused on algorithmic logic.

Here are some abbreviated versions of the challenges I posed my team this week.

Decision Model:
A large box comes in the mail labeled on the inside with a statement saying, "Inside this package are three envelopes, each containing a white powder with timed caps set to go off in ten minutes, OR when its envelope is opened - whichever occurs first.  Each one comes with a label describing its contents.  Only one label is telling the truth.  Two envelopes have a deadly weaponized toxin in them that will contaminate your facility for years to come.  You have already been exposed to a weaker version of this toxin by opening this box.  Your only hope of surviving is to correctly identify the cure to the weaker variety of the poison and open that envelope, which will wirelessly disable the other dispersal caps.  Yours sincerely, the Mad Poisoner."  You look at the envelopes.  The red one has a biohazard label on it.  The blue one has a medical Caduceus label on it.  The grey one has only a typed label saying, "The other two are BOTH poisonous".

Which one do you open to survive?

Mail Sort:
You have twelve boxes that all claim to contain items of the exact same weight.  Before shipping them, you are interrupted by a supervisor who tells you that one package contains the wrong item:  it is either just a bit lighter or just a bit heavier (you don't know which).  Using a comparative balance* exactly three times, identify the incorrectly packaged item.

* = the balance only reliably indicates equality or inequality - no actual numerical values.

Bonus (or Bogus) Problem:
What was the Secretary General of the United Nations' name 35 years ago?  No Internet-peeking, OK?

("No Duh!")