Posted in random on September 19, 2008 by Philonous
  • beat
  • peat
  • boats
  • been
  • pears
  • boast
  • been
  • moats

These are all words for which removing any one letter always produces another word. Someone asked me for a longer one. Any ideas?



Posted in random on September 18, 2008 by Philonous

That’s right. Not Dvořák. Dvorak. If, like me, you grew up a philistine, you’ll probably share with me the experience of discovering that there was a Czech composer called Antonín Dvořák having already seen the option in Windows 3.1 to switch to a Dvorak keyboard layout. Curious, thought I, that he was named after a keyboard layout that I assumed was named, like qwerty, by taking at random a line on the keyboard and heading right.

I turns out that the keyboard layout was named after a distant relative, one August Dvorak, a professor of education and an educational psychologist at the University of Washington, Seattle. The original qwerty keyboard layout was designed in the 1860s having been decided upon by the maker of the first commercially sucessful typewriter. The layout was designed to try, as far as possible, to eliminate typewriter jams rather than for ergonomic purposes. To do this, the keyboard layout tries as far as possible to alternate between the left and right hand, although typing this sentence, I wonder how successfull it was.

The advent of the electric typewriter in the 1930s completely eliminated the need for a layout that eliminated jamming. Moreover, the increased speeds that were now possible started to reveal the inefficiency of the QWERTY layout as typists became fatigued faster. To the rescue August Dvorak who, through careful analysis of letter frequencies in the English language and the application of various a priori principles designed the right-handed Dvorak layout. Apparently of prime importance were

  • Letters should be typed by alternating between hands.
  • For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters and digraphs should be the easiest to type. This means that they should be on the home row, which is where the fingers rest, and under the strongest fingers.
  • The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
  • The right hand should do more of the typing, because most people are right-handed.
  • Digraphs should not be typed with adjacent fingers.
  • Stroking should generally move from the edges of the board to the middle. An observation of this principle is that, for many people, when tapping fingers on a table, it is easier going from little finger to index than vice versa. This motion on a keyboard is called inboard stroke flow.

As far as I know, Dvorak keyboards hold the speed record at the moment (which I think is Barabara Blackburn 212wpm). It seems rather hard to actually find references to this though.


Posted in nerd pride, xkcd on September 17, 2008 by Philonous

Now that GPS has been around for a little while and the devices and chips come down in price, various games have sprung up around the technology. More well-known are things like GeoCashing (a GPS-based treasure hunt) and many more… I came across a concept called Geohashing today while trawling the internet. The original idea of was to provide, given a location, a short URL which uniquely specified that location. It seems that the algorithm was inteded for use in forums etc.

Geohashing spawned an xkcd comic which gives an algorithm for generating a random location near you each day in terms of latitude and longitude. Here’s the algorithm, as seen on xkcd:

Having read this, apparently, people started to travel to the location given by the algorithm, quickly realising that there were other xkcd readers there too.

Check out the wiki for more details. Or alternatively go here to have Google maps show you where the geohashing algorithm will take you today!

Sporadic Simple Games

Posted in maths, Uncategorized on September 16, 2008 by Philonous

Are you au fait with finite simple groups? Well I know I’m certainly not.

For the uninitiated, a group is a mathematical object which can be thought of as the collection of symmetries of some object. As for simple groups, I guess they can sort of be thought of as the basic buidling blocks of groups (whatever that means…)

There’s a classification of finite simple groups which is one of the great results of the 20th/21st century. It shows that there are four categories (not in the mathematical sense) into which the finite simple groups may be divided, the most romantic of these consisting of the 26 sporadic groups. I say romantic, what I really mean is quirkily named – one of the groups contained therin is the Monster group while another is called the Baby Monster… Ah those finite group theorists.

Anyway, as someone who finds finite simple groups particularly scary, I was rather pleased to see a rather interesting page at Scientific American. There you can find a couple of games that give some idea of the structure of the groups M12, M24 and the Conway group without actually knowing any mathematics whatsoever. Click on the link below to investigate. Happy playing!

The finite simple groups at play

Incidentally, if you’re feeling slightly fobbed off by my lack of a definition of a finite simple group, then check out the articles on group, normal subgroup, quotient group and simple group.

The Power Ballad Conspiracy

Posted in 80s, music on September 15, 2008 by Philonous

Remember the 80s? Don’t answer that. Those ten years made up the best possible tribute to that most hallowed of musical forms – the Power Ballad. I was listening to Bonnie Tyler’s Total eclipse of the heart today and thought it sounded rather like Meatloaf. Indeed, it sounded like a lot of songs I remember from the 80s. I discovered that in fact there was a much more tangible link between all of these; the man, the legend – Jim Steinman. He wrote and produced all of these songs and many more including:

In fact, he wrote the whole of Bat out of Hell (I&II) and a significant proportion of 80s chart music. Amazing eh?

Some Facts About North Korea

Posted in politics on September 13, 2008 by Philonous

(taken from the book ‘A True and Impartial Look at North Korea’, published by the Kim Jong-il Foundation for Truth, Freedom, and Countering the Malicious Lies of the American Imperialist Aggressors; Pyongyang)

  • North Korea won the Korean War.
  • North Korea tolerates all religions. However, the state religion is so magnificent, 100% of all Koreans are converts, rendering all other religions superfluous.
  • North Korea developed the world’s first invisible car, which is why the roads look so empty.
  • Jesus famously fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. But during the famine in Korea in the mid ’90s, the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il fed 22 million Koreans without any food at all. In fact, this famine is the first famine in history in which officially nobody died.
  • North Korea does not, contrary to popular belief, suffer from food shortages, but thanks to the magnificence of the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, produces a massive surplus every year. To give thanks to the beloved Dear Leader, though, many devout Koreans frequently fast themselves as a form of worship. In remote rural areas, people have been known to fast themselves for several months at a time.
  • Koreans consider potholes to be a sign of good luck.
  • The Great Leader Kim Il-Sung is the founder of the all-encompassing Juche idea, a philosophy so complicated only Koreans are intelligent enough to understand it.
  • MASH would be much better if it was set in North Korea.
  • The Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il once beat Chuck Norris at arm wrestling.
  • South Korea is one of the most backward countries in the world, but in an effort to fool tourists, the government orders millions of citizens to walk around Seoul looking prosperous.
  • Lee Myung-Bak, the President of South Korea, lures little boys to his gingerbread house.So does George W. Bush.
  • North Korea is home to the world’s shortest acrobat.
  • The Dear Leader Kim Jong-il has never lost a game of rock, paper, scissors. So far he has 9,683 wins, many of them by knockout.
  • It is not true, as some have suggested, that The Great Leader Kim Il-Sung once raced a cheetah and won. It was in fact a leopard.
  • North Korea won the World Cup in 2006, equalling Brazil’s record of five triumphs. Thanks to the efforts of the Imperialist American Aggressors’ propaganda machine, however, many people mistakenly credit Italy with the victory.
  • In 2003, The Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il entered the Guinness Book of World Records by winning 120% of the vote in that year’s elections; such is the high esteem and reverence with which he is held by the Korean people. His tally beat a record previously held by Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein.
  • In 1994 The Great Leader Kim Il-Sung died of a heart attack, and ascended into heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.

By Goldengate

[Ed. Check out Kim Jong-il’s official biography]

Belle qui tiens ma vie

Posted in music on September 12, 2008 by Philonous

I thought I’d write a quick little ditty about a bit of music with which I have been strangely obsessed ever since we sang it in the Burlington Choir a couple of months ago. It’s a piece by Thoinot Arbeau (1519-1595), real name Jehan Tabourot originally written as an instrumental dance. Apparently Arbeau was a master of dances and wrote the definitintive book on Renaissance dance, the Orchésographie from which much of modern knowledge about the period is derived. The pavane Belle qui tiens ma vie is I think one of the very few pieces in the Orchésographie with all four parts filled in by Arbeau himself, the others having only the top line. Here’s a facsimile of the relevant pages and here‘s a modern version.

Perhaps because all of the original parts are included, this seems to have sparked off a great number of people with their own versions. The one which strikes me as most like an actual dance is that of The Broadside Bandand excerpt of which I couldn’t find online, but which is being played in the background of this YouTube video. What follows are a load of versions which get progressively… well I’ll let you decide.

Check out: