Category Archives: Uncategorized

Google Trends – NFL teams

I haven’t posted about recent Google search trends lately, so I decided to check out what’s hot there. It seems that all the most frequent searches these days are National Football League (NFL) teams, I picked five teams that usually have a good national following, including the most recent Super Bowl teams, to see who’s garnering the most interest. This chart represents how these five fare nationally compared to each other. Obviously there’s some regionality. This map represents searches over the past year. I’m sure it changes week by week depending on who won or lost or who got injured or otherwise made the news.

Guilt at the Garage by Simon Brett

Guilt at the Garage (A Fethering Mystery, 20)Guilt at the Garage by Simon Brett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This piece of fluff might easily have been imagined as an outline for a one-episode TV mystery. There’s not much to it. I’m learning more about what publishers do to make a book marketable, and it isn’t pretty. A couple of posts ago I mentioned a 500-page that was squeezed down to 350 pages by use of small font and narrow margins. This book, at a scant 185 pages, is stretched to feel larger by use of extra-thick paper and some pointless digressions in the story.

The heroines are two single ladies in a small English town who double as amateur sleuths. They look into the mysterious death of an elderly garage owner who dies from a gearbox falling on him in the service pit. It’s all quite implausible, but the book is populated with a collection of zany characters and village life in rural England is skewered good-naturedly. It’s a quick and inoffensive read.

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Just Get Home by Bridget Foley

Just Get HomeJust Get Home by Bridget Foley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I liked the premise of the book, so I took a chance. It sounded sort of post-apocalyptic without the apocalypse (just a big earthquake) or the pseudo-science. It’s your basic disaster movie/earthquake thriller. I only got a third of the way through before giving up. The entire storyline was nothing but nastiness- child abuse, rape, looters, bullying, sadism. I can only give it two stars because it was readable if you can stand the content.

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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author has presented us with a heartwarming, at times outrageous, and thoroughly entertaining story of a semi-functional family of Ukrainian refugees who settled in post-war England. When a 36-year-old gold digger from the Ukraine latches on to the widowed 84-year-old father of two feuding sisters, they form a united front to fight back. If this were a television show or movie, it would be called a dramedy. The father works on his seminal work about tractor history while lusting after the voluptuous bosom of his new love. The book sold a million copies and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize (British equivalent of a Pulitzer).

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Baby name trends – downward

My last post showed those baby names that gained the most in popularity from 2017 to 2020. Today I show those that plummeted the farthest.

Boys’ names that lost the most in popularity from 2017 to 2020

Name

2017
rank

2020
rank

Gavin

96

141

Brayden

72

111

Bryson

86

115

Chase

94

123

Jason

92

119

Ayden

99

122

Connor

56

78

Sawyer

95

116

Evan

85

105

Nicholas

68

87

Girls’ names that lost the most in that period

Alexa

65

230

Aubree

86

156

Samantha

54

90

Adeline

64

100

Arianna

87

123

Kaylee

84

117

Savannah

38

67

Isabelle

92

121

Aubrey

31

56

Sarah

62

87

I notice a few things of interest here. First, the boys’ names that dropped the most tended to be ones not in the most popular group to start with, at least compared to the girls’ names. In other words, boys’ names don’t follow trends quite as much. The popular ones stay popular longer. Another thing I noticed is that the biggest drops appear to be related to current events. I can’t help but feel the drop for Gavin is related to California Gavin Newsom (although there are some very popular YouTubers named Gavin). As for Alexa, I’m compelled to conclude that it’s related to the Amazon device of that name. It may be as simple as parents who have one not wanting the device to respond every time they call their daughter by name. One other oddity that caught my attention is how many of these girls’ names begin with A. If you look at the last post, not a single one of the big gainers started with A, yet four began with E. Curious.

 

Baby naming trends – upward

A couple of years ago I posted about what baby names were trending upward or downward. At that time the most recent Social Security data was from 2017. Now the 2020 baby name data is out, so I thought I’d update that post. After all, trends tend to be very … trendy. If you just want to know what baby names are the most popular, there are plenty of sites online for that, include the Social Security site here. What I’m more interested in are the names that are rapidly gaining or falling in favor. So here goes.

Boys’ names that gained the most in popularity from 2017 to 2020

Name

2017
rank

2020
rank

Theodore

61

23

Maverick

84

49

Asher

59

32

Leo

62

36

Ezra

69

44

Elias

78

53

Mateo

42

20

Hudson

64

42

Santiago

93

71

Jameson

100

79

Girls’ names that gained the most in that period

Gianna

91

12

Nova

94

38

Everly

82

43

Emilia

77

40

Eliana

88

53

Willow

81

48

Luna

37

14

Valentina

95

73

Naomi

69

52

Ellie

44

29

 In my next post, I’ll show you the biggest losers.

 

A bit of kindness

A nice thing happened this morning. It was a very small thing, but sometimes that means a lot even so. We had two toters out at the curb for the garbage trucks to collect. One toter was for garbage, the other for recycling. The garbage one was picked up first. The truck that does the job has extension claws that reach out, grab the toter, lift it to dump the contents into the truck and put it back down. All that happened normally, except the toter was put down wrong and it ended up a long way out from the curb into the street.

Later, as I was passing by the front window, I noticed this and went out to retrieve it and put it back by the side of the house. As I got there, I saw the next truck coming by for the other toter. It was only one house away. I realized that the first toter was in the way of the truck and the driver would have had to drive around it awkwardly, or get out and move that toter to reach the second. So I hurried over and hauled that toter back beside the house. As I turned around to go back out for the second toter, I noticed the truck backing up with the empty recycling toter in its claws. The driver deposited it at the foot of my driveway instead of where it had been. This saved me about 50 feet of walking (25 extra each way). He had appreciated that I moved the first toter out of his way and was reciprocating by saving me a few steps. I waved and he drove on.

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been HereWe Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was trying to find a good sci-fi book, but ended up instead with this poorly-written overlong fantasy story. The best that can be said about it is that could possibly be a script for the worst ever episode of Star Trek. The author clearly has no knowledge of science and made no attempt to provide even remotely plausible physical events. The story could have been told using zombies or fairies instead of androids. It takes place in a spaceship on a mysterious uncharted planet, but that’s about as close to science fiction as it gets. The rest is junior high school level squabbles among the crew and a sort of half-assed mind melding. To top it off, the font was too small, with too little white space (i.e. little dialogue and narrow margins) and at 351 pages was obviously a 500-page book crammed down to fit commercially viable size. At least 400 of those pages could easily have been done away with. After the first 100 pages or so I skimmed very liberally, but I did finish it. Why, I don’t know.

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What3Words is coming to America

I learned recently that the British location system, What3Words, has been adopted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to assist in dispatching. I have posted about W3W in this blog several times before. Check out here and here to learn more about it and have some fun.

This time I thought it would be fun to try to find the location of some ordinary products using W3W. I’ve discovered that:

Foster.Grant.glasses can be found just off Highway 50 near Dodge City Kansas.

To get a Chase.Bank.Visa you should visit the Nature Center at Crawley, England. For that you’d first need a United.Airlines.ticket and for that you’ll need to cross a few miles into Saskatchewan.

For a Home.Depot.hammer or General.Motors.vehicle, on the other hand, you’ll need to go all the way to Australia.

Quite a few Fortune 100 companies have valid W3W names. Check these out:

  • United Health Group
  • International Business Machines
  • Express Scripts Holding
  • United Parcel Service
  • Marathon Petroleum Corporation

 

What Unites Us by Dan Rather

What Unites Us: Reflections on PatriotismWhat Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this humblebrag Rather relates the lessons he has learned from his upbringing in rural Texas through his lengthy career as a network news reporter and anchor. Much, nearly all, in fact, is stuff on which virtually everyone can agree: we should work together as a nation and as fellow citizens (“Why can’t we all just get along”), war is hell, there are many people in this country and everywhere who are very poor, very sick, or otherwise have been dealt a bad hand in life, etc.

I don’t take issue with these self-evident truths, but I find Rather’s delivery of them to be grating and unnecessary. If he had the cult following of Donald Trump or some fundamentalist preacher, say, perhaps it would do some good for him to put out a book with these sentiments. He might actually persuade some people. Instead, he just comes across as preachy and self-promoting. This is particularly futile because he also comes across as not that bright. He talks with pride about having attended an obscure Texas teachers’ college and being bad at science. He may find these traits endearing to the public but it serves only to undermine one’s confidence in what he has to say. I listened to the audiobook, which he narrates, and he often mispronounces words, just as he used to do as the CBS anchor. At least we are spared the cutsie Texas homilies he used to scatter in those broadcasts. In the end, though, it’s a quick read or listen and the content is probably worth being reminded of from time to time even if there’s nothing profound in it.

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Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the FutureUnder a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has penned a book that is at the same time disturbing, engaging, and hopeful. It is not just a book about climate change, although that plays a big part. It is, rather, about scientists’ various attempts to undo man’s damage to our environment by making other changes, perhaps more radical and damaging. It begins, for example, with current efforts to introduce non-native species to control other, previously introduced non-native species. One thing I learned on the hopeful side is that Asian carp, considered an invasive species in the U.S., make good eating. Let’s all dig in.

The style of writing is surprisingly entertaining and almost in the form of a travelogue. She describes where she went, how she got there, whom she talked to, and what the surroundings were like. She has a knack for description. She isn’t preachy. She doesn’t seem to promote a view of her own; rather she presents what scientists, scholars, and technologists have told her and does so in a balanced manner. She gives equal voice to those who contradict and oppose others whose work she has just described. It’s clear she has no idea whether or not some of the more radical ideas proposed should be carried out. What is clear is that radical change on a massive scale is ahead. If we do nothing to change our human behavior, or otherwise intervene, climate change and all the “natural” disasters it entails will continue. If we take some of the steps recommended by some in the book, we could start a cascade of unfortunate and unforeseen events on a global scale. Or, nature could send us a surprise – a pandemic that would make Covid look like the sniffles, a series of world-blanketing volcanic eruptions, another ice age, the magnetic poles switching, Greenland’s ice sheet, or the Ross Ice Shelf breaking free and raising the worldwide sea level overnight by hundreds of feet. The book presents no moral, no plan for how to proceed, but makes for fascinating reading.

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Our Watershed Moment

The period 2020 – 2021 is a watershed moment in the history of mankind. That’s my opinion. You may object that a two-year period isn’t a “moment,”  but in geological and evolutionary terms, it most certainly is a mere instant.

I say it is such a moment because so many things have drastically changed in a very short period of time, locally, nationally, globally, and ecologically. I see so many signs of this change. The IPCC report on global warming issued three days ago is truly frightening and disheartening. It outlines in stark black and white the irreversible effects of climate change, including worsening droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, cold snaps and floods. The Trump presidency, and in particular, his insurgency and attempted coup, have threatened democracy itself. The very nature of human governance is teetering on the brink. The 2020 U.S. Census has just revealed significant demographic changes here in America and the same appears to be happening in Europe.

Perhaps most obvious is the Covid pandemic. This has upset so many people’s lives that businesses and households have made major changes. I have never known so many people to decide to move in such a short time. Friends who have lived in the same place for decades are now relocating. This includes retirees who, I thought, had long ago settled in the area where they want to spend their final days. Not so, it seems. It includes my own son, who loves his job and is very well paid here in Silicon Valley, but has decided to move for a better work-life balance at lower pay elsewhere. It includes my next door neighbor, the one who moved out and the family who is now moving in. It includes the migrants and refugees on the southern border. I believe people all over the world are rethinking their priorities in light of a dangerous and uncertain time ahead.

I have no panacea and no advice other than to point out it may be time for you to re-evaluate your own personal situation and make a change now rather than wait.

For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite DrinkFor All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World’s Favourite Drink by Sarah Rose
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rose has penned a journeyman work about an interesting historical character that I knew nothing about previously. I suspect the same is true for you. Robert Fortune was an English botanist who was dispatched to China to acquire tea plants and seeds to be transplanted in the Indian Himalayas, which England then controlled. This was to strip China of its monopoly on high quality tea. It was more than a mere botanical research excursion. Fortune would have been killed had his identity and purpose been made known. He traveled incognito, disguised as a Manchurian mandarin, and met with some exciting adventures and misadventures. The author relates these quite well, with a dash of flair.

I’m a bit lukewarm about the book largely because I am lukewarm about tea. It’s okay as a beverage, although I can’t tell Darjeeling from Earl Grey from Orange Pekoe. To me it’s pretty much just bitter hot water, just as beer is just bitter cold water. I don’t like the taste or effects of tea any more than those of alcohol. It mystifies me why either is so popular, so a story about stealing the secret to tea is akin to, say, stealing the secret to producing licorice. Still, the adventures in the books were a pleasant and unexpected bonus.

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Computer cipher solving – Lesson 5¾ : cribs revisited again

I’ve written two previous posts (here and here) about how cribs can be used in solving ciphers, especially by those who program computers. However, I omitted a rather obvious use that doesn’t require computer coding knowledge. That method is to determine the cipher type of an unknown cipher.

Some ciphers are presented as puzzles but the cipher type is not given. Many geocaching puzzle caches are prime examples. If a crib is given, or can be guessed, it can be used to confirm or eliminate the cipher type. If you are a computer programmer, you can write code that will “drag” a crib across the ciphertext to determine if it could possibly fit there, although that’s not easy for some types. If you don’t program there is still an easy way to do this. There are free websites by programmers who will perform this function for you. Here are two that I use sometimes, although I have my own crib draggers for many cipher types.

The Scytale This one even shows you a worksheet with all letter placements.

BION’s gadgets This one checks many periods at once for some types and shows the exact placement. For some types it also shows the ciphertext and plaintext matched up.

Even if you can’t positively determine a cipher type by crib dragging, you may be able to eliminate one or several types, thus reducing the types you have to consider. For some ciphers this can be done by eye, without a computer or website. For example, suppose the ciphertext shows word divisions and the crib is TOMORROW. There are two 8-letter words in the ciphertext, but neither of them has the doubled letters in positions 5 and 6 or the repeats where the O’s should be. You can eliminate simple substitution (Aristocrat),  Key Phrase and Tridigital (if it’s numerical). Could it be a Ragbaby? If the key digit is 0 somewhere in either of those two ciphertext words, you may be able to confirm or eliminate one or both of them as possible placements. For Condi and Sequence you probably can’t confirm the type, but if the ciphertext doesn’t have a W, say, you can eliminate Sequence, which is a transposition type. There are often easier ways to determine a cipher type, but cribs can be useful in this way.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting PartyThe Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this because I liked The Guest List so much. This one is not quite as good, in my opinion. It’s still a fun read and I recommend it to any mystery fan who hasn’t already read The Guest List. A group of thirty-something Oxford alums gather for an annual New Year’s Eve party, this time in a remote Scottish hunting lodge. The characters are mostly vain, entitled, hard-drinking, immature louts behaving badly. The characters aren’t likeable and aren’t supposed to be. From the subtitle we intuit that a murder will take place, which indeed we do learn early on. However, the author has cleverly concealed who it is until late in the book, referring at first to the victim only as “the guest.” With this bunch, we’d be quite happy if they all got bumped off.

Most of the narration jumps back a few days to give us the backstory on all the characters leading up to the present. It is told from multiple viewpoints, mostly in the first person. It would seem original if I hadn’t already read The Guest List. Personally, I like narration from multiple viewpoints, but not everyone does. The same goes for jumping back and forth in time, although I’m lukewarm on that. Stylistically the two books are so similar that I recommend reading only one as the second one you read will seem derivative. In particular, they both provide us with two main mysteries to ponder for most of the book: who’s the victim and who’s the murderer. That’s clever once; twice is lazy and irritating. The characters are all very similar in the two books, as well. The ending was a bit disappointing, but also had a nice touch I enjoyed that was missing in the other book.

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Where your people settled, part 2

In my last post I showed some maps of where Germans, Italians, Irish, Swedes, and Greeks are the most densely settled in the U.S. Now I want to show you a few more. First, the Scots. I would have thought they settled in the same places as the Irish, but those are distinct countries that came in different waves. The Scottish settled largely in Appalachia and the South, although the large contingent in Maine is consistent with the large Scots population just across the border in Eastern Canada. Nova Scotia actually means New Scotland. The coal mining industry may have been part of the explanation, too. I’ve read that Scottish and Welsh coal miners were recruited to mine the coal in Appalachia.


I’m a little surprised about Hawaii, but that’s what the data shows. Now, how about some smaller, more recent immigrant groups? Here’s the Vietnamese:


The white color indicates that the number of Vietnamese named people in the overall time period from 1910-2018 is too small to register in my tool. Only California had enough to register any at all. It’s not surprising that the number is small and that they, like any Pacific nation, would settle in California. I also ran the data for Armenian names and got the same result. California was the only state with enough to show. They are a European nation, of course, so the explanation may be something simpler: modern day refugees fleeing (the Armenian genocide took place during World War I)  and settling in one of  the newest, most quickly developing states. California also has warm weather and those two countries are warm weather lands.

Last, but not least, are the Japanese. Once again the numbers are small, but they register in two states: Hawaii and California. I think the numbers would be bigger if I used another method of counting than names, because in my experience many Japanese-Americans named their children with traditional American names, especially since the 1930s when Japan was looking like an enemy.

Where your people settled

It’s no secret that many immigrant groups to the U.S. formed communities with other countrymen. It’s interesting to see that there are some patterns to where those communities formed. Climate seems to have been a big part of it. Take a look at these maps.

In each of these The darker red indicates the highest density of people with that heritage, blue the lowest density. The data is taken from U.S. Census data from 1910 – 2018 so it shows long-term trends. I chose 20 names that are common to each of the nationalities shown and not common in other groups and measured what percentage of the total names in that state they represented. Note that Germans, from a more northern, colder, country tended to settle in northern parts of the U.S. while Italians flocked to the hot weather states. The Irish, no surprise, are densest around Boston and vicinity. I doubt climate had much to do with that; both are heavy fishing communities, which is a more likely explanation. Here are some more examples:


Again we see a cold climate group, Swedes, migrating to cold states while the warm-weather Greeks settled in hot states. Of course there are many factors influencing where immigrants settle, or where established Americans choose to move, including wanting to be near others with similar backgrounds.

A note on interpreting these maps: I’ve only compared each ethnic group to that same group in other states. You can’t tell from these whether Germans are more or less common than Greeks, say, in a given state, only whether those of German heritage are more common per capita in state A than in state B. If you have a nationality or ethnic group you’re curious about, post your request it in the comments or contact me using the contact form in the menu above and I’ll try to post a map for that group.

Understatement

We’ve all misjudged others from time to time. In particular, we may mentally write off someone who is really quite accomplished at something and refer to them using an understatement. Sometimes it can be the opposite – how bad something or someone is may be minimized with an understatement. Here are some well-known understatements.

Fred Astaire, now recognized as Hollywood’s best or at least most successful dancer of all time, auditioned for a role before he was successful. The executive who  watched him wrote, “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little.”

When British Airways Flight 9 flew through volcanic ash near Indonesia in 1982, the captain made this announcement over the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

Then of course there was Apollo 13 and the famous line “Houston, we have a problem.”

Charles Darwin was underestimated by his family and peers. He himself wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”

Oprah Winfrey was fired from one of her first television jobs because, as her boss said, she was “unfit for TV.” That one, like Darwin’s, wasn’t really an understatement, but a misstatement, but the same sort of misjudgement.

Another intentional understatement like the Flight 9 one, made to prevent a bad situation from becoming worse, was that of Antarctic explorer Laurence Oates. Knowing he was slowing down his troubled expedition, he left them during a blizzard with the words, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He was never seen again. His three companions continued on, but his sacrifice was in vain: they all died days later, frozen to death. His statement was only known from the records in the notebooks of his companions.

 

What3Words name game redux

A couple of years ago I posted about the website what3words.com, which connects every location on Earth to a set of three words. It’s fun to check out some combos that are surprisingly appropriate – or not. Here are a few more examples:

frozen.frozen.frozen is in New South Wales, Australia, a few meters from lush subtropical forest.

dreamer.magic.navigate puts you appropriately on the pedestrian path through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland, but sleeping.beauty.castle will land you in Damascus, Syria for some reason.

On the grounds of The Alamo in San Antonio you might find maybe.stray.limbs, but if you were expecting to fight.against.invaders here, you’d be disappointed, as that location is in Sudan, near South Sudan where the fight for independence from Sudan was fought only a few years ago.

You may recall that the Oscar winning film Driving.Miss.Daisy took place in Atlanta, Georgia, but W3W informs us that it is instead in central Kazakhstan.

If you’re into alt-right conspiracy theories, you will probably not be surprised to learn that deep.state.central is headquartered in Kyiv, Ukraine. No doubt Hunter Biden set it up there.