Boston in the World Series

Wow!  What a match.  It was difficult to stay awake, particularly as the late start (due to the other semi finishing late) meant that it didn’t finish until around 11.30 (04.30 according to my body-clock), but it was worth it.  Boston started with a roll, two home runs from Johnny Damon earning six runs, and never squandered the lead.  (BTW, ESPN has to be the worst implementer of contextual links known to man.)

Chants of "Who’s Your Daddy" to Boston’s Pedro Martinez (his earnings this year totalling $17.5m, showing how big the sport is) confused me somewhat (at one point, I honestly thought they were questioning his parentage), until I realised he used to play for the Yankees, and had previously commented that they were his Daddy.  The long-standing argument over the validity of the title of the World Series will continue, with very limited involvement from countries outside North America.

It’s Boston’s first World Series for 18 years, and it should be good.


In response to Ms. Scott’s conundrum in the earlier post Prime factorisations, I’ve created a spreadsheet that does this for you. It’s not iterative (so I’ve taken it up to values of n up to around 12,000). It’d need some macros to automate it. Also, not sure how Excel deals with very big numbers (I think it starts rounding them) so not sure if Excel’s the best tool for this.


Planes, buses, taxis, baseball, texters, visas and films

Although I’ve done the odd update over the last couple of weeks, they’ve been a little sparse.  They’ve been truncated somewhat due primarily to the transient nature of internet cafés (I’ve now regained the power of the acute accent, btw).  You’re always clock-watching, particularly in Stelios’s joints, where you pay for your time up front.  I’m now back to the wireless wonderland in New York, so can wax lyrical…

So we left New York just over two weeks ago, the taxi taking the Van Wyck Expressway.  The golden sunset created the most fantastic silhouette of the Manhattan skyline as we wended our way to JFK.  The following morning, our pilot interrupted our flight just south of Ireland to inform us that one of the engines (that’s 50% on a 767) had "started coughing" and so it was now "idling".  Now, if presented with an array of adjectives to describe an engine’s activity while crossing the Atlantic, idling would not come high up my list of favourites, particularly when there’s only one other engine.  In fact, I think ablaze is the only descriptor that would worry me more.  Anyway, I’m writing this update, so you may have gathered that we landed safely.  I was much less nervous than the lady to my right, who turned white and kept thrusting her head between her legs.  The 777 on the return leg this afternoon didn’t suffer any problems, which is nice.

I forgot to mention that on our visit to the US Embassy the other week, we (I) spotted the two runners-up from the latest Pop Idol.  Couldn’t remember their names at the time (or later), but they’re called Sam and Mark.  That suggests that they may well be coming across here to try and make it big – can’t wait.  This afternoon, we entered the US on our new visas, and the feeling was great – a sense of permanence and belonging that the 90-day waiver doesn’t offer.

A couple of films worthy of note on the flight back.  Around the World in 80 Days is a dreadful film.  It has its moments of mild amusement, but there is little redeeming about it.  Meanwhile, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story has all the hallmarks of being absolutely atrocious, but I quite enjoyed it.  Maybe the altitude affected my judgement, but it had some moments of rip-roaring laughter, although Ben Stiller and a dodgy ‘tache did their best to spoil it.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone (I did that with Mars Attacks, much to the chagrin of the victims of said recommendation – I maintain it’s a good film btw), but if anyone else sees it, let me know what you think.

Americans (and other nationalities for that matter) must be appalled on arrival at Heathrow, as they board a taxi (do you board a taxi?) and see the meter working overtime as it makes its way towards their London hotel.  It’s a minimum of £45 to get from Heathrow, more in peak hours, and you can double that for Gatwick.  The £50 that we paid this morning (from West London to Heathrow) is almost double the $55 we just paid to get from JFK to Manhattan this afternoon.  On the way through London, I couldn’t help but notice a shop called Iranian Caviar.  You rarely see caviar shops, but this one was even more specialist.  Maybe the Iranians are world-leaders in this market.

Texters who don’t use predictive texting should be lined up and shot (along with Tube Fare Dodgers, as I pointed out back in 1998).  It’s a wonderful feature that makes the twelve phone buttons way more powerful than they used to be (there’s that number twelve again!).  I saw a girl on the bus yesterday who was obviously one of those requiring capital punishment, as she wore out both her thumb and phone by that annoying repetitive button-clicking.  She was a one-thumb-texter as well, which annoyed me – two is way quicker.  Quite a few people are afraid of it (predictive texting), don’t understand it, or are happy with their current method.  I s’pose it’s like touch-typing, if a little better adopted.

Just got back to the US in time for the climax of the two semi-final series in the baseball.  St. Louis just beat Houston to take it to the deciding seventh game.  Meanwhile, I’ve just sat down to watch the final game in the Red Sox vs. Yankees series.  Apparently, New York won the first three, and Boston then won the next three to set up tonight’s thriller.  Should be fun, if I can stay awake.

A cure for cancer?

The internet has the power to get to lots of people very easily, hence the proliferation of spam and the like.  What if this ability to reach so many was put to good use?

If the NHS, or maybe a reputable cancer research body, sent me an anonymous questionnaire all about my life (or allowed me to access one online), then I’d be willing to fill it in, so long as I knew it would be going to the right people and used for the right reasons.  I’m thinking of quite possibly the most detailed and longest questionnaire ever.  From demographic profile to drinking behaviour, drug use, smoking history, diet (down to specific food-stuffs – do you like grapefruit, how often do you eat it), exercise patterns, work environment, home environment (proximity to traffic, power lines etc.).  All of this would cover both current behaviour and that earlier in life.

At the end (or beginning) of the questionnaire, you would then be asked about illnesses you have suffered, are suffering etc.  You could even have the option for people to update their anonymous questionnaire as they progressed through life, were struck by illness etc.

The rationale behind this is the fact that people keep linking certain food-stuffs and behaviours to diseases – farmed salmon and microwaved coffee both cause cancer, so I heard this week.  If there was a huge, reliable database containing very detailed information about people’s behaviours, then not only could such claims be validated, but more informed causes of major diseases could be made.  Cross-tabulations and regression analyses would take some doing, as the aim would be to have a very wide dataset, but computing power could deal with this.  At the moment, I assume that the only data available to researchers is test data (based on small samples of people) and data from sufferers of the disease (knowing that these people eat white bread does not prove anything, as you don’t know whether non-sufferers eat white bread too).

Thoughts would be welcomed, but I genuinely believe that this would be a useful exercise, and one that would be relatively cheap to realise.

Counting cards

There was a fascinating programme on BBC2 on Thursday about the history of black-jack – how casinos and a specific section of the general public had each been upping the ante (so to speak) in cheating and the war against it. A guy called Edward Thorp is credited for developing a wonderful yet simple system of card-counting, aiming to and succeeding in beating the odds.

At one point in time in the early 90s, around 125 students (geeks) from MIT (they have a great website, btw) were all travelling to Vegas at the weekends to beat the casinos. In the end, the security firm hired by the casinos to crack down on it used the MIT yearbook as the basis for its facial recognition database. I’m not an aficionado of US universities, but I’ve always maintained that if I was to be associated with any, I’d love it to be MIT, and this story only serves to increase this desire.

In the end, the casinos won the battle, but only by prevention means (you can’t play in here because we think you’re too intelligent). I like the fact that if allowed to play, they’d clean up.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

It seems that the politics matters little in this year’s election. They say that Schwarzenegger may run for president next time, but based on this evidence, he might as well not bother. Can’t wait to get back to the US for the unbearable last two weeks before the election…

Lack of reading material

Apologies for the lack of reading material with which I’ve been providing you over the last few days.  I’m sure you’ve all been going spare, not knowing where to turn…

Anyway, we went to the US Embassy last Wednesday for our interviews.  It’s a somewhat primitive process, similar to that you go through at the Sainsbury’s deli.  They give you a number (as opposed to you taking one from the machine) and you wait until your number is called.  Instead of asking you what type of meat, fish or cheese you want, they take away your paperwork and ask you to sit down again.  Then you’ve got to wait for your number to be called again for your interview.  Four questions later, our visas were processed, and two days later, our passports were issued, complete with a visa allowing me to work in the US for the next three years – which is nice.

Spent the last few days helping my parents move house – 200 metres round the corner, but stressful and chaotic nonetheless.  I think the lack of distance lulled all into a false sense of security (we can always go back for it a bit later) which later bit us.  Anyway, all has gone well, and the relocation has been completed.  It’s been great to catch up with the family (bro’ included) for the last few days, even if in such stressful circumstances.

BT’s idiocy over transferring their phone means that I type this from a manky Internet cafe (it doesn’t even have Word, so I’m struggling to find out how to get an acute accent over the "e" of "cafe" – I think you can do some form of crazy "alt + three digit number" combo, but I’ve not got time to trawl through them all).  Back to London on Friday to catch up with some folks before heading back home to New York next Wednesday.  Fingers crossed, start work on 25 October.

Glad to see that the numbers conundrum appealed to at least someone (AMS).  There was some confusion between myself and Mr. Creutzberg as to whether He-Man was indeed the Master of the Universe, or whether it was actually "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe".  Anyone?  Also, my Dad threw in "Wilson: Trainer of Champions" for those of you the other side of 40 (or 50?).

Prime factorisations

I’m sure you’ve all been eagerly awaiting the answer to the numbers conundrum that I offered up the other day. Well, wait no longer. Each number represents (sequentially) the numbers 1 through 100, but represents it as its prime factorisation as opposed to using our traditional decimal system. (Another thread that I may start when I’m suitably bored is why the world should change from decimal to duodecimal, if only to help those parents with three, four or six kids, at the expense of those with five. Not now, but it’s something I’m passionate about.) The last number in the string represents 2, the next one to its left represents 3, then 5, then 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23 and so on.

The number 90 is 2 x 3 x 3 x 5, so is represented as 121, the former 1 representing the 5, the 2 representing the two 3s and the latter 1 representing the 2. This system is fine until you get to 1,024, when you get single prime factors represented more than nine times, so maybe at this stage, you could pipe-separate such entries, 15,360 being represented as 11|10| (one 5, one 3 and ten 2s). Actually, in thinking about this, the leading and trailing separators must be different from one another, otherwise it could be confusing which number is being separated (10|10|10|10|10 could mean 1, 0, 10, 1, 0, 10, 1, 0 or 1, 0, 10, 10, 10, 1, 0 for instance). Maybe a leading forward-slash and a trailing back-slash would sort it out. This would only be an issue for numbers for which one of 210, 310, 510 etc. was a factor, so it would rarely come into play.

I found it easy to find out which decimal number a string represented, but more difficult to work out a decimal number’s prime factorisation in order to generate it, particularly when numbers get big. Excel helps, but I’d need some macros to fully automate it. Originally, I was under the impression that it would have a 1 to 1 mapping with the decimal system – making it kinda cool – but the above issue makes this not the case. However, every decimal integer that we use does represent another decimal number if you think of it as its prime factorisation. I wonder whether there are any numbers (other than twelve) that are identical using both systems. This would be 10 in duodecimal, btw.

Diana: Warrior Princess

The other day, I walked through London, from Victoria to Holland Park, taking in the delights of Hyde Park, something I rarely/never did while living here. In doing so, I stumbled upon the "Diana, Princess of Wales" scenic walk.

Whenever her name appears like this (following the rigmarole over her title after separating from Charles), I’m often reminded of the various other people who’ve succeeded their name with a strapline: Xena: Warrior Princess, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, He-Man: Master of the Universe, Michael Flatley: Lord of the Dance. The list goes on. There’s a certain degree of expectation following the name that I think warrants a colon after "Diana" rather than a comma.

During the walk, I encountered the new fountain that was dedicated to her a few months back, located just north of the Albert Memorial on the south side of the Serpentine. I was reading the blurb about how the fountain was built, standing behind a couple of middle-aged, northern women who were reading it aloud to one another. Not sure why they were doing this, as it was clear that they both were fully capable of reading. One read that "it was designed using state of the art technology and assembled using traditional techniques". The other lady’s response was "Well, they forgot one traditional technique: gardening".

This comment highlighted two traits of the British that are just not shared by the US:

The fountain itself is quite impressive. You can walk across any one of three bridges to the centre of the ring that it forms, but the resultant footfall has turned the underlying grass into more of a soil composite. With reference to pessimism, the ladies didn’t seem to appreciate the beauty of the fountain, instead preferring to focus on the negative side. I can’t help but think that when they left their hotel that morning, it was already in their heads that nothing would be good enough to commemorate this great lady, and that they were out to find fault.

With regard to mediocrity, I have to say, I agree with their sentiment somewhat. While the fountain itself is impressive, its surroundings do let it down. The soil underfoot; the temporary B&Q-esque fencing used to cordon off the area; the cheap, plastic boards strung up on said B&Q-esque fencing to tell us tourists all about it. They all created an aura of a half-assed (half-arsed?) job having been done. In contrast, I’m sure the area that will be used to commemorate the victims of 11 September at Ground Zero will not be surrounded by soil, nor will it come with plastic information boards.

So far, the only thing I have missed about the UK is the automated woman’s voice that tells you which cashier to go to in Boots. "Cashier number 2, please."


Just a little teaser. I’ll come on to the rationale behind it when I give (or someone else gives) the answer.

What’s the significance of the sequence of 100 numbers below?


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