Monthly Archives: February 2021

Pangrams – NYT style

The New York Times daily newsletter has a feature they call a Pangram. They provide a honeycomb arrangement of seven unique letters (six around a central one). The reader must find a pangram, that is, a standard English word that uses all the letters shown in the puzzle, and not containing any other letters. However, you may use letters in the puzzle as many times as you want. For example, if the letters were VELD you would solve it with DELVE, DELVED, LEVELED, and LEVELLED. Not acceptable are words with too few or extra letters such as LEVEL (no D) or DRIVEL (I not in puzzle letters). I’m not going to limit the length to seven letters. There may be more than one correct answer.

Here are a few examples for you to try your hand at. Scroll down for the answers, which will be written backwards so they are not immediate spoilers. Letters are shown in alphabetical order.

  1. DFILUY
  2. FLORSUWY
  3. CHOPST
  4. ABIORST
  5. CELMPSU
  6. AFILMORTY
  7. DEINQRTU
  8. CDGILMNOY
  9. ELNOTV
  10. ACILNOPRS

See answers below:

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| Answers are spelled backwards

    1. YLDIULF
    2. YLLUFWORROS
    3. HCTOCSPOH
    4. SROTARTIBRA, (S)TSAORBIR, (S)TSIROBRA
    5. (S)MULUCEPS
    6. YTILAMROF
    7. DETIUQERNU
    8. GNILDDOCYLLOM
    9. ETTELEVON
    10. (S)NOILLACSPAR

The Chinese Typewriter by Thomas S. Mullaney

The Chinese Typewriter: A HistoryThe Chinese Typewriter: A History by Thomas S. Mullaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this non-fiction account of the development and history of the Chinese typewriter to be fascinating and well-researched, but I cannot recommend it to most people (more on that later). The title itself is both a simple statement of the subject of the book, yet is also misleading. There is no such thing as the Chinese typewriter, just as there is no such thing as the American automobile.

There have been dozens of different devices made or at least proposed to serve as Chinese typewriters, at first by Americans and Europeans, but later by the Chinese and then Japanese. They have taken many forms: with and without keys; using slugs or discs or cylindrical rack trays; with ~10,000 characters of less than half that many; with or without Japanese or Roman alphabets, and so on. All of these are explored in depth and generously illustrated with photos, charts, and other graphics. I enjoyed the book greatly.

My hesitation to recommend lies primarily in the author’s inexcusably pedantic, pretentious, and comically convoluted writing style. He never uses a two-syllable word if he can find a four- or five-syllable one to take its place. Some of the words and phrases you should prepare yourself for include: orthopraxy, referential paratechnologies, technosomatic ensemble, machinic, and semiotic substrate. His sentences are often so long it is obvious the publisher made no effort to use an editor. Here’s an example:

To the contrary, once China and Chinese characters had been reconceptualized as a communicative problem — a puzzle in need of a solution rather than a medium of communicative possibility — this opened up a new, exciting, and lucrative possibility for Japanese and Korean inventors, one in which Japan and Korea could be transformed from the beneficiaries of Chinese cultural inheritance to sites where the puzzle of East Asian technolinguistic modernity might itself be solved.

Your assignment, class, is to diagram that sentence. When I read that to my wife, who used to be the Assistant Director for a Stanford PhD. program and who proofread doctoral theses, she asked if it was a parody because she couldn’t believe anyone could seriously write a general market book that way. When I told her the author was a Stanford professor, she snorted and said she could believe it after all. Despite this, the writing is content-rich and relatively concise compared to other academic works I’ve read lately.

Another warning: I may be the ideal reader for this book. I’ve spent a year each studying Japanese and Chinese (Mandarin). Although I can’t actually read either, I know a few hundred characters and I am already very familiar with the concepts of radicals, kana, and reduced character sets (e.g. toyo kanji). I’m also a long-time cipher and cryptology nerd with extensive experience with issues such as alternative methods of ordering letters and words, CTC encoding, and so forth. If these are all foreign concepts to you, the book is likely to be a tough slog for you. The author does a good job of explaining these things, but there’s a lot to take in. There is a great deal of Chinese political and social history mixed in with the central topic as well. It would be helpful if you had some knowledge along those lines.

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Pandemic long-term effects

We can all agree that the Covid pandemic is devastating in many ways both in terms of loss of life and health and the economic hardship on so many. Even so, it will eventually be over. Even before that happens, various interest groups will analyze what about it is good or bad in the long term based on their own criteria and agendas.

Let’s start with economics. It will certainly have effects on the insurance and related segments like Social Security and pension systems. Pension systems including Social Security will benefit since the lifespan of a significant number will have been shortened and they will stop paying out sooner than projected. Similarly, contributors to those systems, both corporate and governmental, will be able to reduce their contributions to those systems for a while. Once the economy is back on track, this could help balance the national budget as fewer subsidies will be needed. Similarly, the life insurance industry will suffer somewhat in the near term because the death rate has increased significantly. The premiums have stopped coming in and they need to make payouts in greater number. However, the stock market, where so many assets of the pension systems and the life insurance industry are invested, has done great during the pandemic despite the faltering economy. The gains from these assets will probably offset the short-term losses for the insurance companies.

On a larger scale, there will be a sudden generational shift in wealth. The disease mostly kills old people. Their assets are rapidly being transferred to their children and others. In fact, it would not surprise me if this was a major motivating factor to a few of those who refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing. No one will admit it, but I think it is possible that some of those anti-maskers are actually trying to infect their parents or grandparents in order to inherit. Perhaps I’m too cynical. The same effect will apply in the workplace, with a number of older  executives or small business owners will have died or forced to retire due to bankruptcies or other business failures. This will open up many opportunities for younger workers and entrepreneurs. The new businesses will not be tied so much to old paradigms like large office buildings and personal meetings. They will be more adaptable to work-from-home, hybrid, gig, and other modes of working. From a national and world economic perspective this is good (if we can set aside the personal tragedy). The most efficient economic system is one in which each person works until he or she is no longer productive and then dies, no longer consuming food or other resources. I’m not suggesting any government should strive for this; quite the opposite. But I do think the economy will eventually emerge in a revitalized state.

We can’t pass over the political fallout. It is unclear how the pandemic and its handling will affect voters in the sense of assigning blame. Our American political landscape is split and so poisoned with false information that I won’t venture a guess on that score. On the demographic side it is also unclear. The death toll struck the elderly, a very conservative group, the hardest, suggesting the Democrats would benefit. Yet minorities, a mostly left-leaning group, were hit the hardest when examined on a racial, not age basis. However, minorities tend to be more concentrated than the elderly. In other words, even if the minority population, mostly in the cities, is reduced by, say, 5% more than whites, that is unlikely to change the Democratic dominance. The local Congressmen, mayors, city councils, etc. will probably remain heavily Democrat in most places with large minority populations. The elderly, though, being more scattered, could affect those districts where there is a closer balance such as suburbs. A 5% shift there could tip the scales to the left. I’m sure political analysts are already cranking the numbers.

For small brick-and-mortar businesses, I’m afraid things will be bleak or at least very different. Consumers have adjusted to staying at home. Movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, barbers, nail salons, etc. will all see reduced demand even after the pandemic is long gone. I bought hair clippers and will probably never go to a barber shop again. People are learning or re-learning the joys of cooking and DIY home repair and maintenance. The pandemic will usher in a new era in personal lifestyle, not just economics. The problem of uneven wealth distribution will be exacerbated. We will have to find a way to redistribute it or see skeletal citizens living and dying in the streets. We are living through history.

Most popular dog breeds (other than Labs and German Shepherds)

The map below shows you which dog breeds are popular in which states. But unlike other such maps it does NOT show the most popular breeds in each state. This is because in all but six states that would be Labrador Retrievers. Also, almost every state has German Shepherds as among the top three, usually in second position. So I have shown the most popular breed in each state other than Labs and German Shepherds. Beagles are especially popular in states with a lot of hunting. The data is taken from published  reports of the American Kennel Club (AKC) as of 2017, the most recent I found online. There are other sources with very different results based on other sources such as the American Veterinary Association, queries in dog breeder forums, and so on. Of course the vast majority of dogs are mixed breeds or “mutts.”

The legend font is a bit small so here is what it says:

[Green]  Beagle
[Gray]   Bulldog
[Orange] French Bulldog
[Blue]   Golden Retriever

Tie Die by Max Tomlinson

Tie Die (Colleen Hayes, #2)Tie Die by Max Tomlinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Colleen Hayes is an unlicensed private eye in San Francisco in 1978. She’s also on parole after serving nine years for killing her husband, who was molesting their daughter. She’s contacted by Steve Cook, a former rock star who fell on bad times and now works construction, a man she happened to be gaga over back in the day. Cook’s daughter has been kidnapped and he doesn’t want police on the case. Hence the call to Colleen.

The plot is solid and the action just about right – not too little, not too much. Much of what Colleen does is very much believable and what a real P.I. would do based on my experience in law enforcement. I say much, not all, because that statement rings less true as the case develops. I’m giving it a solid four stars because the book did its job in keeping me entertained. Having lived through the 60s and much of the 70s in the Bay Area, the retro nostalgic touch was fun for a while, too.

Having said that, there are problems. The author overdoes the retro stuff by a long way. The first time he mentions Colleen’s Princess phone and flared pants, it’s a bit of fun. Buts it wears thin with constant repetition. Wide belts, wide lapels, tie dye T-shirts, ad nauseam. Okay, we get it. It’s 1978. It’s your shtick. You don’t have to call the answering machine a “one of those fancy new answering machines” or mention putting a dime in the pay phone a dozen times or explain how Colleen calls the operator and asks to be connected to the police instead of dialing 9-1-1 or every time she crosses legs mention the flared jeans. It’s clunky and distracting. More important than that, though, is that all the characters, Colleen and the kidnap victim included, are not very likeable. They mostly seem to be heavy boozers who smoke constantly and dump their butts all over the ground among other unpleasant traits. I’d have been happy if they all died in a plane crash at the end. There’s also a plethora of plot problems, like how does Colleen, a convicted homicide felon on parole, on one day’s notice hop on a plane to England on what is said to be her first international flight? How is it she has a valid passport and visa coming out of prison and never having traveled abroad, and isn’t she violating parole? How is she even listed as a private eye without a license? I could pick at it some more, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it did keep me reading and keep me guessing. I can recommend it mildly.

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FBI Director Wray’s message to former FBI agents

Dear FBI Family,

It’s with a very heavy heart that I’m writing to tell you that this morning, Special Agent Daniel Alfin and Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger of the Miami Division were shot and killed in the line of duty. They were executing a federal court-ordered search warrant in a violent crimes against children investigation in Sunrise, Florida. Three other agents were shot and wounded, two of whom suffered injuries requiring hospital care, but both are now in stable condition. The third injured agent did not require hospitalization. The shooter is deceased.

Days like this are among the darkest days we face in the FBI. We’ve lost two of our very own. We’re all heartbroken – particularly our colleagues in Miami who are reeling from this unthinkable loss. All of us across the FBI, in offices and divisions who worked with the special agents, and colleagues who have never had the chance to meet them, are all trying to also come to terms with this tragic loss. And yet, our grief cannot compare to that of the families of these two special agents. Today, they’ve lost the people who meant the very most to them.

As many of you have heard me say, it takes an incredibly special person to answer the call and do the heroic work of an FBI special agent.To sacrifice self for service. This morning, Special Agent Alfin and Special Agent Schwartzenberger left home to carry out the mission they signed up for – to keep the American people safe. It will take us a long time to process the grief that we all feel for the loss of our own. But we’ll be forever grateful for their commitment and their dedication – for their last full measure of devotion to the people they served and defended. We will always honor their ultimate sacrifice. And we’ll continue to stand by our FBI Family, and the families of these special agents, in the days to come, bringing every resource we can to get through this together.

We’ll continue to share more as we’re able to.