#MeToo and pop culture

Currently there is much in the news and in politics about the #MeToo movement and how women are so often mistreated, sexually harassed, or worse, especially by men in power. Of course such treatment of women is terrible. What I’m curious about is why men feel they can treat women that way. Part of the reason for sure is that they can and they can get away with it. Just look at who’s president (past and present). For some reason, even a great many women seem to accept this. I think a good part of it is that a lot of people, women included, are brought up being taught that’s the natural order of things – men dominate and maltreat women and it’s their place to accept it. This may not be the message they get from their parents, but they are being taught this every day in pop culture such as music.

Here are some lyrics going back a ways. The women accept that they love their man so much he can treat them horribly and they’ll still be there for him.

Walk (Back to Your Arms) – Tami Neilson
No matter what you say or do or
What kinda hell you gonna put me through
I’m gonna walk (walk walk walk)
Back to your arms

Under My Thumb – Rolling Stones
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb

A Fool In Love – Ike & Tina Turner
You know you love him, you can’t understand
Why he treats you like he do when he’s such a good man
Without a man I don’t wanna live
You think I’m lying but I’m telling you like it is
He’s got my nose open and that’s no lie
And I, I’m gonna keep him satisfied

These are tame compared to a whole bunch of the more modern lyrics in the rap/hip hop world, such as eminem’s. As long as people keep listening to (and buying) such “music” the attitude isn’t going to change much. Watching a few politicians or movie stars fall from grace isn’t going to change it. We need to stop the abuse of “freedom of expression,” a term that’s used as a false justification for glorifying violence in many forms.

It’s more than music, too. I’ll skip YouTube, Reddit and other media outlets, but there’s plenty to find there. If you watch the local TV news you’ll see cases every week of some abused woman who sticks by her abuser when he commits some violent crime. Unfortunately there are plenty of women who feel totally dependent on their men, even very bad men, and will take the abuse in exchange for financial or even emotional support. This teaches women, especially impressionable young girls, that “sticking by your man” is the right thing to do no matter what. This has to change.

Testimony by Scott Turow

Testimony (Kindle County Legal Thriller #10)Testimony by Scott Turow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Scott Turow novel has all the elements that make his other novels good and some that make them not always so good. It’s set in The Hague where the main character, Bill ten Boom (Dutch name), a former U.S. Attorney in Turow’s fictional Kindle County, has accepted assignment as a prosecutor investigating an alleged war crime. The International War Crimes Tribunal is centered there but the Americans never signed off on the treaty establishing it nor do they agree to allow it to operate in the U.S. or subject U.S. soldiers to its jurisdiction. The alleged victims are a colony of Roma (gypsies) massacred during the Bosnian War. The questions is by whom? Bill and an intrepid Belgian investigator set out to find the answer and bring the perpetrators to justice. The possible suspects: A Serbian commander with a reputation as a vicious megalomaniac, a local gang, U.S. soldiers outraged over the fact the Roma may have stolen a cache of U.S. weapons that led to the death of a cadre of U.S. soldiers. The plot is twistier than a box of pretzels and heavily dependent on a great deal of knowledge and research Turow must have done about the workings of the Tribunal, the Roma people, the Serbs, Croats, NATO, and the U.S. Military. His works are ten levels more sophisticated than the average crime novel where the author doesn’t even understand the concept of jurisdiction. I couldn’t explain it to you if I tried and don’t want to spoil it for you, but I can say it is full of many colorful characters of many different nationalities. They’re almost all very likeable, but don’t trust any of them.

So what complaints do I have? Only one: Turow can’t write about sex without making it sound terribly unappealing, but he insists on putting a lot of it in his novels. We could stop the population boom by making everyone read his books. There must be a word for the style – somewhere between tacky and tawdry. There are seven pages of words in my Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate between them but none of them seem appropriate.

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Redistricting explained (and illustrated)

In talking with friends, I’ve found there is some confusion over why redistricting is important, First of all, what is redistricting? It’s when a state government divides up the state into voting districts for election purposes, such as for Congressperson or state assembly. It could also be the same action by a city or county government for local seats like councilman. The U,S. Constitution as interpreted by the courts requires that each person’s vote be of equal value, sometimes called the “one man, one vote” rule. In practical terms this means that districts must be drawn to have roughly equal number of voters in each. This can be done fairly or unfairly. It is usually done by a committee appointed by a governor and thus dominated by the governor’s party, although methods vary in different states. Redistricting committees usually end up trying to protect their party’s power, or at least protect specific incumbents.The Constitution requires a census every ten years followed by redistricting to ensure that Congress reflects the current population distribution.

Here are three examples to illustrate why it’s important. Assume the state in the drawing has five congressional seats and two parties we’ll call orange and green represented by the 20 icons. The voters are 60% green (12 icons) and 40% orange (8 icons) distributed as shown.

One would expect that two of the five seats (40%) would go to the orange party and three (60%) to the green if lines were drawn in a neutral, unbiased manner. Courts, by the way, have also ruled that lines must be drawn logically from a geographic viewpoint, too. The next image illustrates what would probably be considered fair.

Based on where majorities are located, orange would get two seats and green three, and the districts appear to be logical geographically, too. However, if green is in control of redistricting it might try to draw the lines as follows:

See how that almost certainly gives Green four of the five seats since they have a 3-to-1 voter ratio in four. Notice also that the districts have odd shapes. This is where the term gerrymandering comes from – districts drawn this way are said to resemble salamanders. Courts often strike these down and have been known to appoint their own committees or special masters to redraw the lines more fairly.

Now consider the following district lines.

There are two safe districts for Green in the middle, but the other three districts are split 50-50. They could go either way. The district lines appear to be rational from a geographic standpoint. A court would probably consider this fair even though it might result in Green representatives in all five districts or three being Orange. However, suppose the two purplish districts are currently represented by popular Orange incumbents who consider their seats safe. The Orange party, if they’re lucky enough to be in control, might like this one better than the first (fair) one above, assuming the incumbents aren’t worried about the 50-50 split in their districts. This way they have a 50-50 chance at picking up a third Orange seat. In real life it is quite possible, and has often happened, that a minority party can retain, even guarantee, control in its state.

A friend recently seemed worried that redistricting could affect the U.S. Senate. No, it can’t. Why not? Because there are no U.S. Senate districts. The entire state is the one and only district for any Senate race. There are simply no lines to draw. You can’t redraw state boundaries. Every voter in the state can vote on every U.S. Senate race in their state. State senates, however, like state assemblies or legislatures, have districts, so they are subject to being gerrymandered.


Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet SkyBeneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This adventure/war story centers on Pino Lella, a real live character who lived in northern Italy during World War II. When Italy was defeated by the Americans, the German Nazis took control of the north and subjugated the Italians much as they subjugated the countries that had fought against them. If the book is to be believed, Lella helped Jews and other escape through the Alps to Switzerland under the guidance of a priest who ran a boy’s school. Then Lella returned to his family home where they insisted he join the Organization Todt, a work force of locals that served the Nazis. To avoid spoilers, I won’t describe more except to say many exciting adventures and dangerous events occur in the book.

The book is listed as a novel, yet all the characters are real historical figures. The events seem so sensationalized that it is difficult to believe they all happened as described, but I did not find that troubling. It was a good thriller, true or not. I felt it was too long and there were plenty of places to cut, but the story flowed smoothly. If you don’t like reading about nasty people doing atrocious things, this is one book to avoid, but the overall story arc was not overly dark. It is a war story, after all.

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Presidio by Randy Kennedy and Suicide Club by Rachel Heng

I haven’t posted anything in a while, so I felt I should put something up here for my multitude of readers. I try to post reviews of all the books I read, but sometimes I don’t read them. That is, I don’t read enough of them to post a fair review. That’s the case with the two in the title today. I just couldn’t get into the premise enough to keep reading after a chapter or two.

Presidio by Randy Kennedy centers around a ne-er-do-well easy-goin’ chap who doesn’t like owning things so he just goes around stealin’. Some may find him charming but I didn’t.

Suicide Club by Rachel Heng portrays a future New York City where the privileged classes enjoy lives as long as three hundred years as long as they eschew almost everything pleasurable (like facial expressions and food) and have frequent upgrades of skin and other tissues. Another cup of tea that wasn’t mine.

Warning Light by David Ricciardi

Warning LightWarning Light by David Ricciardi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The best that can be said about this comic book without pictures is that it’s not offensive (other than a bit of torture). At least there’s no swearing or pornographic sex scenes. The story line is trite and hackneyed and the writing is easily understood by the average sixth grader. The hero is a CIA analyst who, without any prior training as a field agent, is sent to Iran on an intelligence mission. Where have we heard that before? (Clancy’s novels, The Condor series, and many more). He gets captured and easily overpowers numerous armed soldiers and various guards, escapes from multiple confinements, and encounters various women, all of whom are drop-dead gorgeous. I won’t say more so as not to give spoilers, but, really, why not just give him a cape and a Fortress of Solitude.

One bugaboo of mine that appeared here was the portrayal of the bad guys, in this case the Iranian military. The superior officer tells the lieutenant that if he fails in his mission to find the fugitive, the prepared grave will be used for him. Right. An army really has great recruiting success when they execute any soldier who fails in an assignment. I’ve seen that so many times with schlock fiction and TV shows, usually with gangs, mafia, etc. where the leaders are so evil they even kill their own members and loyalists for the smallest failure. The ending is absolutely ridiculous and apparently is a setup for more in a series.

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Fueled by high winds

The local moronic news team ran a banner under the announcer talking about a brush fire in Suisun as “fueled by high winds.” Wrong. It may be fanned by winds but wind is not a fuel. The banner also misspelled Suisun as Suisin. C’mon guys, you can do better.

Another news reporter on this same fire story said that it was important to have “common terminalities.” Huh? We need terminal illnesses? Yet another on a different subject said that such occurrences are “far and few between.” Think about that one. It’s wrong, but sort of makes sense.

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

RainbirdsRainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since I review a lot of mysteries, I should begin by saying that although there is a murder here, and it does get solved, the book is not really the sort of murder mystery that appeals to mystery fans. It’s really more of a psychological drama mixed with a bit of a romance novel. The main character, Ren Ishida, a recent Keio University graduate, decamps to a small town to investigate the murder of his beloved older sister. Ren is young and handsome, and apparently quite the roue. He takes a temporary job teaching English at a cram school, the same school where his sister had been working. He soon gets to know the people in his sister’s life, and gets to know himself a lot better, too.

The most interesting aspect of this book to me was the portrayal of Japanese life. I don’t know how accurate it is now, but it does not at all comport with the Japan I knew in the 1960s when I was an exchange student there. If accurate, it depicts a much more westernized country at least in the aspect of dating and sex than I knew back then. When I was there most university students still met their spouses through their parents and relatives, and premarital sex was almost unknown, at least among the upper class. If a boy asked a girl out, usually after a year or two working up the courage, it was almost tantamount to a marriage proposal. The characters in this book are as randy and casual about sex as American millenials.

The book is well-written, although stylistically it may sound a bit stilted to American ears. But that’s because it adheres to the semi-formal and somewhat dated manner of English speech that I know from my Japanese days, so it is authentic. In the end, I felt that the plot didn’t really lead anywhere very satisfying, but overall it was interesting enough to garner three stars.

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Why your running app is lying to you

Runners, hikers, geocachers, cyclists and many others use smartphone apps or dedicated GPS units to measure how far they’ve gone and to calculate their pace. What they don’t realize is that the apps and units routinely underreport the distance traveled, that is, tell you that you traveled a shorter distance than you actually did. Sometimes they overreport it. For competitive runners and others, this can be a serious drawback because it becomes difficult to judge your true pace, which you need to know for proper race planning. Why is this happening?

To understand this, first we need to examine how these apps and GPS units work. They all rely on the Global Positioning System (GPS) network of satellites which in turn relies on the WGS84 datum. What is that? For a detailed description, click the link. For our purposes, the important thing to know is that the system assumes the earth is a perfect spheroid, that is, it’s smooth like an egg or a billiard ball. Smoother  – perfectly smooth, in fact. Thus when you move from point A to point B, the algorithms at work in your app take the coordinates of those two points and measure the distance between them with the assumption you are moving over a smooth, level surface. It also assumes you moved in a straight line. Both of these assumptions are seldom true in real life.

If you don’t believe me, you can test this easily. Google Earth uses this same methodology and datum. Take the point in Yosemite Valley with these coordinates: . Paste these coordinates into Google Earth (GE): N37 43.700 W119 38.250. The elevation according to GE is 4143 feet. Now do the same with N37 43.830 W119 38.160. The elevation shows as 7129 feet. That point is atop El Capitan. Mark these with the stickpins from the top menu then measure the distance between them using the ruler tool. It shows a distance of about 900 feet. But the elevation (vertical) distance alone is almost 3000 feet. If you could fly from the first point to the second in a straight line, 900 feet is the distance your app would report to you. Clearly that’s too small and the reported pace would be too fast. Even though GE knows of the elevation difference, it doesn’t use that to compute distance between points. Your app is the same.

Consider the following cross-section where C is the mountaintop and A and B are the valley floor.

If you go from A to C the distance reported will be AB, not AC. But even AC would be wrong since you don’t travel the black line AC but that wiggly red line that goes up and down through the hills. All those elevation changes are not taken into account. The true distance would be more than AC but less than AB+BC.

Your app or unit can also overreport distances. Take, for example, a geocacher on a level trail in the forest. Elevation is not a factor. He stops at the location of the geocache which we’ll say is hanging in a tree, a particular, identifiable tree so he doesn’t move around much. He stands more or less in the same place for ten minutes trying to spot the cache in the leaves. The app or GPS unit, due to the tall trees and position of the satellites at that time, may have an accuracy of only 80 – 100 feet or so. As he stands there, the app thinks he moved 80 feet one way then 100 feet another direction every split second, or whatever its effective sampling rate is. It can report that he moved a quarter mile over those minutes while he actually stood in the same place simply because it’s not that accurate. Most of these issues do not apply to road-based apps because the programmers have access to accurate traveling distance over known streets and highways and use that rather than pure GPS data. At least, I think that’s true. If you run or cycle on measured tracks, just use a stopwatch, not your app. You can compute the pace yourself since you know the distance.

The accuracy of the unit is affected by many things including the quality of the unit, the terrain, and the location of the satellites at the time. Phone apps are generally less accurate than dedicated GPS units. Even on a known level road, a GPS-based unit/app can cut off curves if it doesn’t get a reading all the way around the bend. On a straight line path it can record your route as veering off to one side and the other, like a drunken sailor (no offense to the sailors out there). That could result in overreporting. If you really want to know the exact distance of your regular run, bike, or hike, use better methods like a well-calibrated bicycle odometer or at least average the same exact route many times and compare your app or unit to known distances like the local high school track to adjust the readings.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Freeze-Frame RevolutionThe Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hard-core sci-fi fans will appreciate the imagination and credible-sounding future tech in this one. The Eriophora, a craft that seems more like a modified planetoid powered by a black hole, is hurtling around the Milky Way for hundreds of thousands of years. Its crew of 3000 souls is in frozen suspended animation most of the time, and are sometimes referred to as meatsicles. The Chimp, an automated AI bot, wakes one “tribe” of humans every so often to assist with its main mission, building gates in the galaxy that apparently connect in some way to other gates or even back to earth, in order to make it possible for the human diaspora to spread galaxy-wide. Any individual human is thus awake only a day or two and then returned to animation for another century or millennium until needed again. In this away they age very slowly. Everyone on board is thousands of years old, but biologically only, say, in their thirties. There are no star ship battles or aliens. It’s all humans.

A contingent of crew decides that life is not worth living under these conditions and seeks to rebel against the Chimp’s control. A rebellion of this sort poses many challenges since the conspirators are only awake a few days every century or three and the Chimp can see and hear everything. I liked the premise and Watts has a great touch with the jargon, although he admits in the Acknowledgments that it is all “handwavium.” This is a short novella, an easy read, and, I learned only from reviews, part of a series called the Sunflower cycle. You may want to explore that series and read them all in a different order. This is probably not the best one to start on if you plan to do that, but I enjoyed it as a stand-alone book.

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What3Words on the News

Once again it’s time to see what we can learn from the What3Words site about today’s news. There we learn that Trumps.next.nominee is totally at sea as is the Senate.judiciary.committee. A strange.hearing.ensued in Quebec, followed by a party.line.vote near San Antonio, Texas. Now it turns out that Flake.wants.investigation by the FBI in South Australia before a full.senate.vote to occur in the desert of western China. I’ll never. understand.politics. Hmm, interesting location for that one … maybe it explains a lot.

Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House by Omarosa Manigault Newman

Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White HouseUnhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House by Omarosa Manigault Newman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As others have said, Omarosa is not an admirable character. She’s self-serving, narcissistic (like guess who), and to some at least a sell-out to her race. She also writes very poorly; more on that later. The book will be judged largely on the reader’s political bias, and there’s little to be said about that. But one thing I learned as an FBI agent is that just because a sleazeball is telling you something, that doesn’t mean it’s false. Some of my best, verifiable information came from scummy informants or from defendants who turned on their pals to avoid jail. The book spends way too much time discussing her childhood, her rise to riches through TV, and so forth, nearly all of it portraying her as some sort of poor girl made good through hard work (and winning beauty contests). When she gets to Trump, her accounts really don’t give much that’s new. She describes him pretty much the way he appears on TV – rambling, constantly contradicting himself, attacking others who have not been loyal to him at least in his view, lusting after women including his own daughter, spouting racist language (Mexicans are murderers and rapists, etc.) If she wanted to lie and dump on him, she could have come up with stuff beyond what he himself has done and said publicly. Her main criticism of him, if you want to call it that, is that he is in mental decline. It’s clear as she states at the end, that she still cares about him and considers him her mentor, the one who raised her to fame and riches, even though she recognizes his racism, not only against blacks but also against other minorities like Jews and Puerto Ricans. She is definitely vengeful. Even so, I find her observations credible not so much because I find her credible, but because so much of what she says is visible when he talks on television and in his tweets.

More revealing is how she portrays the Trump family and the Pence contingent. She said that we should think twice about impeaching Trump because three weeks later we’d be dying to get him back. She thinks Ivanka encourages her father’s handsy lust for her and uses it to her advantage. I’m not so sure about that. Ivanka seemed pretty creeped out to me when Trump went after her in public during the campaign and bragged how he would date her if she weren’t his daughter. She has some nice things to say about Melania, though, perhaps surprisingly.

No one is all that interested in this book as a literary piece, but I must state that it is badly written and apparently totally unedited. It’s replete with grammar and spelling errors. I won’t bother to list those, but more disturbing are some of the logical brain benders that made it to print. For example: “Walking into the briefing was like coming through the tunnel of a visiting team’s field.” Huh? She said this about entering a meeting of people she thought were hostile to her. The visiting team’s field would be empty because, well, it’s visiting, not at home that day. If she meant she was in the position of a visiting team, she would be walking into the home team’s field. She repeatedly mentioned that she was like a guardrail protecting the world from the “Trump train.” A train with a guardrail? I don’t think it would do much good stopping a train, and she didn’t.

With all that said, it’s probably a viable and useful insider look at today’s White House and will end up as a source for future historians, so I recommend reading it if you care about what’s happening there.

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Cipher analysis – the Condex

A few years ago I developed a statistical test called the Normor test that measured how closely the letter frequencies of a cipher resembled normal letter frequency. This turned out to be quite useful as a diagnostic tool for identifying the type of an unknown cipher. One shortcoming of that test is that it does not distinguish between transposition types. They all have the same Normor score as the plaintext. It occurred to me that something similar could be devised that measures contact data to see how closely that data looks like normal contacts. This might possibly be useful in distinguishing between transposition types or even other types.

First I had to write a program that tabulated contact data in a usable form. This proved to be a bit of a programming challenge for me, but I succeeded in writing a program that put the data in a form similar to the chart appearing on page 220 of Elementary Cryptanalysis (Elcy) by Helen Fouché Gaines. I used the program to produce the following chart from dozens of novels, speeches, and other English-language materials downloaded from Gutenberg.org.


This differs slightly from the Elcy chart in that I limit the contacts to five on each side, but the data is much more inclusive since it is based on much more data. Use the central letter and look outward to see the letters that most frequently immediately precede (left side) or follow (right side) that central letter. For example, the letter that most often contacts Y on the left is L. The second most frequent one is R. Similarly on the right the most frequent contact is O, then S.

I use this table as my normal English standard. The program was then run on some sample ciphers. Since they are typically too short to fill both sides of the table, I do that with periods. Here’s a columnar cipher and the resulting table:


nlhti a ibefh
.roea b drsy.
….. c …..
.pnib d hmtu.
soert e tsenb
migea f eotu.
.omhe g fpst.
lidas h oaegi
hetna i adefh
….. j …..
….n k m….
.tlas l aehlv
.sked m efgt.
ihtse n oiade
ashon o soebg
…ng p di…
….e q a….
hebas r eabnr
baseo s sehln
gfdae t eainh
.sfed u hnrt.
….l v h….
..tre w his..
….. x …..
….b y s….
….. z …..

When two letters share the same frequency they are listed in alphabetical order from inside out. This contact chart could be useful solving many ciphers such as cryptograms by hand, but my aim was to measure how much this set of contacts matches the standard above. After some experimentation I found the best way to do this was to go row by row and take each character in this target ciphertext that appears to the left or right of the central letter and take the difference between its position in this lower chart and its position on the same side of the same row in the normal chart and keep a running total.  For example, for row B, the letter A is the most frequent left contact in both charts so the difference in positions is 0. For the right side, the D is most frequent in the cipher but doesn’t appear in the normal, so I add 5 for each such instance. For the K row, N is in position 1 in the cipher, but 4 in the normal chart, so the difference of 3 is added. When all 26 rows are totaled, I divide by the total number of letters appearing on the right and left sides of the cipher (ignoring periods) to arrive at an average position difference. I call this number the Condex for Contact Index. If the cipher contacts exactly matched the normal chart, the total (and average) would be 0. If none of them appeared at all in the normal list, it would be 5. In short, the higher the score, the less normal.

I found that English plaintext averaged in the low 2 range, i.e. 2.0 to 2.25. I tested paragraphs of some novels and the highest average score was 2.487, with a single high of 3.06 and a low of 1.74. My file of ACA solutions averaged higher, 2.79, but bear in mind that it contains very non-standard constructions like the Patristocrat specials and Playfair solutions with X’s between the doubled letters. When I tested several transposition cipher types (testing hundreds to thousands of each type) I found they averaged in the mid- to high 3’s. In order from low to high they were Amsco, Myszkowski, Columnar, and Swagman. The average score and ranges of the latter three were nearly identical, but the Amsco was noticeably lower, which makes sense since the typical Amsco ciphertext consists of about 2/3 normal digraphs. It averaged 3.45. Amscos were the only ciphers I tested that had scores below 3, going as low as 2.8. The lowest among the others was one Swagman con at 3.15. Thus the Condex could be helpful in identifying an unknown Amsco. However, I must note that there are other easier ways to do that such as counting common digraphs.

For non-transposition types the scores were much higher, both the average scores and the maximum and minimum scores. I tested the following types: Bifid, Two-Square, Foursquare, Fractionated Morse, Quagmire,  Bazeries, and Vigenere. I used Bion’s 2-square/4-square data for those types and generated my own for the others. The differences in ranges of scores were so slight as to be meaningless. The averages ranged from 4.12 to 4.29. The Two-Square had the biggest variation and some of the lowest ones dipped down into the mid-3’s. The Condex might be useful in distinguishing between transposition and substitution or fractionation types, but that, too, is more easily and accurately done with the Normor or other tests.

The algorithm is too computation-heavy to be used in any iterative solving process like hill-climbing and I don’t see how it would help there, anyway. Although I don’t see any future as a type diagnostic tool for the Condex, the tool is at least useful for some hand-solving and might prove useful for tabulating data for foreign languages. Anyone who wants to experiment with it, contact me and I’ll provide you with my Windows executable program. There’s a contact link in the top menu.

These results are valid only for text lengths in the typical range for ACA ciphers. I used a minimum of at least 100 letters for my testing and anything below that becomes almost random, even for plaintext. The maximum length was probably around 300 letters. For very large data samples of English, for example, the score will drop virtually to zero.

More Google NGram tales

Once again I am posting stories concocted entirely by the Google NGram site. I started each sentence with three or four words and an asterisk, as indicated by the underlines, and Google provided the next word by listing whatever most often came next following those exact words in the millions of books that it has scanned. I then repeated, dropping the first word and using the new word until a full sentence was achieved. Thus each word is a function of the preceding three or four words. Voila!

The President might have dissolved it by withdrawing the army and navy. His wife never knew whether he was in the habit of doing so. Congress reacted by passing the gas through a solution of potassium iodide and starch. Then the Supreme Court ruled that the state had a duty to perform in the future as a result.

Her beauty was not of the same kind of thing as a matter of fact. It was even more important than the other two groups. When he saw her, he was so sorry for her. That’s why she‘s so upset about the death of the body.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Something in the WaterSomething in the Water by Catherine Steadman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I normally don’t like books read by the author nor books written by actors or other celebrities, but this book is an exception to both rules. The author is an actress, a very accomplished one from shows like Downton Abbey, so her voice acting on the audiobook was superb. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a posh British female accent but I loved hearing her read. The story is a ripping good thriller, too. I wouldn’t call it a mystery. It doesn’t begin with a murder, or at least not an obvious one, but it opens with Erin, our heroine, digging a grave. After that and returning to the actual start of it all, it’s in straight chronological order, which I much appreciated. Erin and her husband honeymoon in Bora Bora where they find something in the water while out scuba diving, something that changes their lives. It’s valuable, but maybe too valuable – something wanted by some very bad people. Are they safe? Do they keep it? Read the book to find out.

There was one stylistic quirk that bothered me. Erin narrates the story in the first person and is continually second guessing herself. “Now we’re safe. We are … aren’t we?” “I’m an honest person. I am. Right? Or am I?” That sort of thing. I think the author was trying to throw some suspense into everything and it only became an irritating affectation, but only a minor one. It’s a worthy read.

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Our Ignorant Newsies – Axe to Pick

My wife caught this one while listening to the radio. I don’t know who the commentator was, but my wife usually listens to PBS. Someone reportedly had “an axe to pick” with someone else. I suppose that’s much like having a bone to grind, but it sounds a bit more violent. They both sound pretty violent when you think about it – not very PBS-like. They should take a pickaxe to both phrases.