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Friday, February 19, 2010

Today's events

90 minutes ago I boarded a plane heading for home. The left engine failed immediately on takeoff. We heard bangs and then a couple of minutes punctuated by "chank-chank-chank-chank-chank!" We thought the landing gear was broken. Everyone knew something was wrong. We weren't climbing, and we weren't going very fast. This was followed by several beeps from the intercom system, the kind that they make when they want you to sit down. The plane started veering hard to the right, making turns. We knew something was seriously wrong and they were trying to head back to the airport. Then the stewardess ran up and down the aisle. She got on the intercom and told us, voice shaking, to prepare for an emergency landing, to put away all sharp and loose objects, and look for the nearest emergency exit. They had us read the emergency card in the seat pocket, and explained how to brace for a crash. Then the stewardess said, "You will know to do this when I yell 'Brace for impact'." (Yell?) Remember, I thought the landing gear was broken. I was positive our plane was going to crash and we were going to die. I watched for oxygen masks to appear.

A few minutes later the pilot told us: one of the engines failed, and we were returning to the airport. In retrospect, the "chank-chank" noise was due to the pilots trying to restart the engine. They circled for a while, presumably to empty all the fuel. Then they told us they would make a regular landing, which we did. "You'll see some emergency vehicles, they will just follow us." True enough, there was a fire truck right outside our window.

Immediately after deplaning I went straight to the first bar and drank a shot of rum to settle myself. Trite, I know, but effective, I think.

In talking with other passengers, I heard different stories. One person said that he could see the flames come out of the engine - he immediately hit the flight-attendant call button, which the flight attendants disregarded. Well, of course. He was going to surprise his wife for their anniversary. He got a refund instead. One passenger seems to think that most other people are overblowing the whole thing. There were sparks, not flames. He thinks people are going to try to play it up to get five-hundred dollar vouchers, and claims things were said in a different order than I recall them. Another woman walked past us and said there were giant flames, and he said "Not flames. Sparks."

They immediately set us up with a new plane, which should leave shortly. I went to the airline customer service saying that there was no way I wanted to fly on their airline -- what else was available? Nothing is available that is either soon, or direct, and I never wanted to be home so bad in my life, so I'll just get on the replacement plane. Every time they talk about the new flight, 685, I keep thinking "685-b".

I'm sure that when all was said and done, this was a routine problem. But it was scary as shit, no joke. Even though the stewardess was scared (who wouldn't be?) I'm grateful for the crew's skill, we're all safe.

Epilogue:
Woman: This was worse than surgery!
Me: Then I am really looking forward to surgery.

LA Times article | Buzz ]

Update: Added additional content.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How guessnumber works, overexplained

The mom I grew up next door to recently sent me this email:
Why does this work, it's not artificial intelligence, it's some probality. Thanks for your help.
http://www.quizyourprofile.com/guessyournumber.swf
The link takes you to a quiz that presumes to read your mind. I'm sure you're not unfamiliar with this puzzle. In fact, as a child my brother once taught me a card trick that works just like this puzzle, so my familiarity with that old magic trick made it dead simple to catch the trick in this one.  I document below how it works. (Side-note, I actually thought at one point it was more like a phone-book-based magic trick until the puzzle's conclusion. It turns out those old magic tricks were good for something.)

Before reading on, you should take the quiz. Do it now. It will only take a minute. I'll wait.

When you took the quiz you might have noticed most of it was misdirection. In fact, I'll ignore almost all the content, and focus solely on two pages, below.

Page 2: Pick your number.

This page shows you 25 numbers, and asks you to choose one, but keep it to yourself. It does, however, ask you to tell it the color of the number. See below:

See how the numbers are jumbled out of incremental order, or by color group? Misdirection! If the grid looked like this you might have been less confused:

Now we can see that, grouped by color, there are five groups of numbers. We also know the numbers increment from one to twenty-five. Finally by revealing the color, you turned a 1 in 25 guess to a 1 in 5 guess. So how then does it go from guess to certainty?

Page 4: Choose the house that has your number in it.


Now you're asked to tell it in which house you see the number. Let's look.

Hey now, I see five houses with six numbers apiece. So here, the numbers go to 30, meaning there are five numbers in the houses that you could never have guessed. Misdirection! Let's remove them:


Back to it. Let's look at those colors. Do you think those colors match the ones from page two? Nope. As a point of reference, look at the number 2. On top 2 is colored red, but down here it's colored blue. Go check. See? Misdirection! Here's an updated photo of the houses, with the numbers slightly rearranged for clarity, and also where the numbers are recolored with their colors from page two:


Notice something? All five numbers in each house have different colors. More important, all five numbers from each group of colors belong in separate houses. This means that the first question determines which color group the number belongs in, and the second question determines which your chosen number from that color group. Once you indicate the house in which your number appears, you've given the puzzle all the information it needs to answer your question.

The code, cracked.


Each off the possible twenty five numbers can be selected from a single pair of color and house. The grid below lists the translation from number to color-house tuple.
Number
Color
House
1
Magenta
A
2
Red
B
3
Blue
D
4
Blue
A
5
Red
D
6
Magenta
E
7
Black
E
8
Black
C
9
Green
B
10
Blue
B
11
Black
A
12
Green
A
13
Red
A
14
Magenta
C
15
Red
E
16
Green
E
17
Blue
C
18
Blue
E
19
Black
D
20
Red
C
21
Magenta
B
22
Magenta
D
23
Green
D
24
Black
B
25
Green
C
Or, listed as a two-dimensional table of color and house:
A
B
C
D
E
Magenta
1
21
14
22
6
Red
13
2
20
5
15
Blue
4
10
17
3
18
Green
12
9
25
23
16
Black
11
24
8
19
7
Helpful, Mrs. M?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Buzz Pro Tip: omitting Google Talk statuses

Here's a pro tip for using Buzz: if you have connected Google Talk status to Buzz so your statuses appear as Buzz entries you can selectively omit gtalk entries by surrounding them with parenthesis.

By way of an example, "I'm king of the world!" will appear in Buzz, but "(I'm king of the world.)" will not.

If your first reaction is that it's unpleasant, I'd agree, that was my first thought as well. But inside Google we found that people got used to the idea. It didn't connote a temperament in our statuses, and people got used to it, just like people got used to #hash marks and @name references on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some Like It Hoth

Everyone knew we were facing a snowstorm today. Schools were closed, and I planned to stay home.

To my delight, I awoke to what we'll call "a good start".


This was going to be a sticky snowy day.

Any house looks better when it's covered with snow.


Maggie, whom I recently remarked just discovered the love of eating snow, learned the notion we know as "too much of a good thing".


... and wanted back in the house as soon as she finished her biological obligations.

By 2:30 we had true blizzard conditions. [link to embedded video below]


This didn't stop my neighbor and her two dogs from enjoying an outdoor romp.


The kids next door played outside almost all day.

I dared one of the kids to try to throw a snowball in my second-floor window. He got a little too close.

Even after the blizzard, the squirrels couldn't hide from our scavenger.

The snowstorm slowed around 8PM, so I brought out a ruler. The official home snowfall: fourteen inches.


I'd been outside twice already to shovel snow. For the third time I disregarded the front walk and most of the driveway, resorting to merely carving out a small path to the side of the house.

Even the snow tired out after its long day of falling.



The neighbors, in preparation for tomorrow's Snow War, built two forts, one on our lawn.












One fort has a special secret compartment for storing snowballs.


They have assured me they will knock on my door before the fight begins. I, for one, have secret knowledge these little punks aren't ready to handle:

Sunday, February 07, 2010

My dog has a serious addiction to snow


A month ago I let Maggie taste a snowball. My wife thought it was an awful idea. I thought it was hilarious. But little did we both know how quickly this occasional treat would become a craving.



Nothing can distract her from her sweet white powder:



Here's my guilty addict in her mug-shot pose.


Maggie refuses to admit there's a problem.

(More pictures of Maggie's romp in the snow here.)