A billion dollars in Great Britain is worth a trillion dollars in the United States
No, this isn’t about international conversion rates, arbitrage, alternative universes, or even alien abductions (I’m only kidding about these last two.) It’s all about the way the different countriescount their chickens and eggs.
Athough my memories of the three or four weeks I spent in Conundrum Canyon are fuzzy at best, there is one experience that has left its indelible mark upon my musical soul: a lesson in how to play the blues from a true master of the form (at least that’s what he told me he was). But, Roger, you’re probably saying to yourself, you’ve been a musician most of your life. How could it be that you need instruction in playing the blues?
I wasn’t that guy
Allow me to explain the seeming inconsistency, young Padawans:
It is true that I am a long-time practitioner of the musical arts; it is also true that, having been exposed to the myriad forms of musical expression, I found the blues—with its immutable I-IV-V progression of chords—to be among the most limiting and (dare I say?) boring.
However, Conundrum Valley, off-the-grid as it is, offered little in the way of amusements or even outlets for one’s artistic muse to run free.
So when—during an interminable week of watching the (admittedly) majestic redwoods grow their leafy limbs ever higher into the azure sky that domed the Valley—an old man, his skin the color and texture of teriyaki beef jerky (the peppered variety), offered to tutor me in the basic nuances of what he called the troubles (taking a hint from the Irish Rebellion, no doubt), I leaped at the opportunity to acquire such insight at the talented and aged fingertips of the legend known to the world as “Flatulent Willie” Warbuton.
I had planned to recount Flatulent Willie’s blueseloquent insights verbatim, but was informed by his attorney that they were copyrighted and his intellectual property and were scheduled to be published in book form in the Fall and online and if I repeated, Tweeted, blogged, or Facebooked even a single solitary syllable of his syntactic wisdom he—on behalf of his client—would “sue my plagiarizing ass off.”
So, I went online myself and found the following:
“How To Sing The Blues”
Getting started with the blues
Most blues songs begin, “I woke up this morning.”
“I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin a blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line, such as “I got a good woman—with the meanest dog in town.”
Blues are simple. After you have the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that sort of rhymes.
Think of this as a way to get your right brain working when you’re stuck for a writing assignment.
I came across this “Equation Analysis Test,” by Will Shortz in the early 80s and was immediately taken by it: It was perfectly suited for my right-brainishness. I won’t claim to not be bragging when I—okay, I’m bragging!—say that I figured it out in about an hour and a half—ahem! — but, it’s a lot of fun.
When you think about it, it’s mostly a matter of pattern recognition sort of like in A Beautiful Mind—without the schizophrenia.
If you don’t get them all the first or second time ’round, don’t worry: just print it out and leave it someplace where you’re sure to glance at it in passing—that’s what I did. The answers will come to you when you least expect.
EQUATION ANALYSIS TEST
By Will Shortz
This test does not measure your intelligence, your fluency with words, and certainly not your mathematical ability. It will, however, give you some gauge of your mental flexibility and creativity. In the three years since we developed the test, we’ve found few people who could solve more than half the 24 questions on the first try. Many, however, reported getting answers long after the test had been set aside — particularly at unexpected moments when their minds were relaxed, and some reported solving all the questions over a period of several days. Take this as your personal challenge.
Instructions: Each equation below contains the initials of words that will make it correct. Find the missing words. For example:
26 = L. of the A. would be:
26 = Letters of the Alphabet. Get it?
7 = W. of the A.W.
1,001 = A.N.
12 = S. of the Z.
54 = C. in a D. (with the J.)
9 = P. in the S.S.
88 = P.K.
13 = S. on the A.F.
32 = D.F. at which W.F.
18 = H. on a G.C.
90 = D. in a R.A.
200 = D. for P.G. in M.
8 = S. on a S.S.
3 = B.M. (S.H.T.R.!)
4 = Q. in a G.
24 = H. in a D.
1 = W. on a U.
5 = D. in a Z.C.
57 = H.V.
11 = P. on a F.T.
1,000 = W. that a P. is W.
29 = D. in F. in a L.Y.
64 = S. on a CB.
40 = D. and N. of the G.F.
By the way, if you liked this challenge—or just want to do some Sunday morning calisthenics, without the Spandex® and sweating—Will Shortz hosts the Sunday Puzzle segment your local NPR station.
If anybody reading this would like the answers, you’re welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to post a comment in that little rectangular field below.
This list of “rules” has been floating around since the days when photocopiers and faxes provided the social connectedness of their day and is usually attributed to one Frank L. Visco, Vice-president and Senior Copywriter at USAdvertising.
Was there ever a name for jokes and such that were photocopied—ah, hell, I’ll just say, Xeroxed® with the little ® symbol—and passed around the office or plastered on bulletin boards in the break rooms (usually off-color, almost always funny or clever)? How about “copy network” or “faxi-media”?
Something like that.
For those who might have missed it the first, second, or third time around, I hereby offer it in all its splendor—for good or ill-literate:
My several years in the word game have learnt me several rules:
Avoid alliteration. Always.
Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
Employ the vernacular.
Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
Contractions aren’t necessary.
Foreign words and phrases are not apropos One should never generalize.
Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
Be more or less specific.
Understatement is always best.
Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
One-word sentences? Eliminate.
Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
The passive voice is to be avoided.
Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
Who needs rhetorical questions?
If you’re reading the rules for the first time, enjoy! If you’ve chuckled over it in the past, I hope your remembrances are fond.
If you didn’t get the joke, well, there’s always MySpace.
Do you know of any similar rules that weren’t listed? If so, please take a minute and post ’em in the little box below, where it say “Comments.”
It may be a little early for this, but probably not. As the political field begins to form for the 2012 general elections, we can expect to see more and more polling results released favoring one candidate or another for any particular office. And, it will continue to get worse in the weeks and months leading up to Election Day.
With that in mind, I think a short examination of how public-opinion polls can be manipulated to reflect whatever results the organization paying for the poll wants it to.
Over the years, three polling tactics have been proven to be particularly effective by providing misleading results; and, while the first of these could be attributed to sloppy preparation, the second and third can justifiably be considered deliberately deceptive.
The Unrepresentative Sample
The Loaded Question
The Push Poll
Let’s take them in order:
First, the Unrepresentative Sample
An unrepresentative sample is one that does not accurately reflect the population one wishes to survey. As implied by the illustration above, the man answering the door isn’t your typical, er, normal human being. So, if you wanted to know what normal humans (the ones who do not wear bird cages on their heads, for example) thought about something, this fellow would not be the one to ask.
The real-life example that is cited most often is a poll commissioned in 1936 by the Literary Digest regarding the presidential race between Franklin Roosevelt and Alf Landon. The sample names were selected from telephone directories and auto-registration lists. The results indicated that Landon would win easily, and events of the Landon presidency are discussed in civics classes to this day.
As we all know, Alf Landon actually lost to Roosevelt in a landslide, which is why this particular instance of polling error is so well known. Remember where the sample came from? Telephone directories and auto-registration lists. Well, in 1936 few American had either, and those who did were mainly upper-class. But the less-well-off could vote, too, and there were many, many more of them. Literary Digest‘s sample was unrepresentative of the population, and the election results proved it.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881)
NOTE: The following statistics are from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! the 1946 edition, which has traveled with me from New York to Chicago to Hollywood to Las Vegas, and finally to now make my home: Reno, Nev.
Having been unemployed for most of the last three years, I was stunned to discover—with the book’s shabby covers and ragged spine—that all the time I’d thought I’d been working, I real hadn’t. Nobody had.
When I read that, in fact, nobody had been working, I wasn’t certain whether to believe it or not, so I checked the figures in that red-colored book. Mr. Ripley’s figures were incontrovertible, and I offer them to you now, in the unlikely event that you have been under a similar delusion.
To begin with, each year contains 365 days.
Are we all agreed with that? Good. We’ll call that the “base year.” 365 days.
Now, nobody works 24 hours per day (except maybe the zombies in those Dead movies, as well as Charlie Sheen, I presume), so we’ll subtract 8 hours of sleep per day, which adds up to up to 122 days we’re not working. Everybody got that? I’ll give the folks in the back with the NetBooks a moment to catch up.
Ready now? Because it’s going to go faster from here on out: I have nothing to do and not much time to do it in.
So, 365 days minus 122 days equals—anybody?—243 days available to work.
Another 8 hours per day to eat, watch TV, relax with the kids, study, etc,, subtracts another 122 days from the 243 we have left from that sleeping thing. So now we’ve only got 121 days available to work. You see where I’m going with this?
There are 52 Sundays in each year, and for the sake of argument, we’ll say nobody works then either. So, 121 minus our 52 Sundays leaves 69 days for working.
Give us 52 Saturdays off and we’re left with only 17 available days.
Why didn’t the unions catch this the first time, I ask you?
Okay, so we’ve got our 17 days. But most of us get a week’s vacation, as well, so subtract that 7 days. That leaves only 10 days left to work. Oh, I almost forgot: an hour for lunch, times 365 equals 9 days subtracted from the 10 days left, and that only leaves 1 day to work!
And, that day is Labor Day—when nobody works!
You’ve all caught the faulty reasoning behind the figures, of course, but if you squint a bit and allow a few brain cells to leak out your ears, some of you might have to think longer than the 5 seconds it took the rest of us to figure it out.
But, woudn’t it be nice, though?
Those of you who would like to either praise my sparkling sense of humor or condemn my less-sparkling arrogance are permitted to do so in the tiny “COMMENTS” space following this post.
And if you don’t write something, well, you wouldn’t want anything really awful to happen to that cute little dog of yours, would you?
The following is a corollary to Following instructions: A (sort of) defense. I remember this particular test from my elementary school days, back in Long Beach, NY, and did some Googling until I found a copy. Many of you probably taking this test or a similar one, but I thought I’d include it here, anyway, just in case you knew somebody who hadn’t.
Anyway, here is that test—just as I remember it:
Use a blank sheet of paper. When everyone has finished, you may compare answers. Read everything before doing anything, but work as fast as you can.
Write your full name in the upper-right-hand corner.
Write the name of the place where you live.
Draw a circle around the answer to item 2.
Write the name of your birthplace
Write the name of your favorite superstar (sports, film, etc.).
Draw a triangle on the lower left hand corner.
Underline the answer to No. 5.
Write down your age in months.
State whether you are married or single.
Multiply your age in years by 8 and write down the product.
Draw an equilateral (equal-sided) triangle on the upper left hand corner.
Draw an X inside this equilateral triangle.
When you reach this point, shout, “I have!”
Whisper your first name aloud.
Put your hand on top of your head, close your eyes, and count out loud from 10 to 1.
Keep your hand on top of your head and write down your favorite number.
Complete only item No. 1. Put your pen or pencil down and if others are taking this test, wait for them to finish. Do not talk!
How old were you when you first came across this little bit of misdirection? So, how did you do? Comments (and answers) are always appreciated. Just remember to follow the instructions.
Some years back, I was the point man on a bid to build a VA hospital in Las Vegas. The primary investor on the project was a multimillionaire with prior experience with this type of construction, and the team included several of the more prominent Las Vegas businessmen. The RFP (Request For Proposal) included the requirement that there be 16 parking spaces per floor (or, something like that), a requirement the RFP was specific about.
One of the group members was adamant that he needed more space for other projects than the plans allowed, so he finagled his way into having the proposal submitted showing only 14 spaces per floor.
We didn’t get the bid. And, we were informed later, the two fewer parking spots had disqualified us from any further consideration.
We had failed to follow the instructions.
More recently, I had the opportunity to read and critique a business plan that had been submitted to a prestigious competition. The rules for the contest were many and specific, but there was a large cash prize, which would seem to make any effort worthwhile.
Some of the instructions made sense, while others seemed arbitrary. One rule, in particular, had to do with formatting and laid out—in specific detail—what item(s) had to be addressed in each plan, in what order, and what type of support had to be included. The business plan I was asked to examine ignored many of the categories, and when they were addressed, failed to include the specificity the rules demanded. Needless to say, the business plan was rejected and the $50,000 prize went to someone else.
The business plan’s author had failed to follow the instructions.
In almost every instance, in every action created by someone other than ourselves, we are told how to do something by someone who—supposedly—knows better than we do. They are called “instructions”—and we ignore them at our peril.
Do not take internally.
Place a checkmark beside your choice.
Fit Part A inside Part B.
Don’t spam your FaceBook friends.
That isn’t to say that all instructions should be followed blindly: we filter instructions though our powers of reasoning, moral code, experience, and commonsense. Based upon what we know, we can modify or decide not to follow instructions entirely. But, as I mentioned, we ignore them at our peril.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to VCR instructions written by that guy in China.
So, this guy walks into a bar, spies me at a back table, nursing a double. He walks over to me like he owns the joint, pulls up a chair, sits in it without being invited. I take a pull off my rye and soda, let my eyes drift over his 5’4″ frame.
Soft, I say to myself: A thinker. An arguer. Just what I need on a Saturday night that’s been as empty as a politician’s promises. I stare at him, daring him to say why he’s there. Finally, he breaks:
“There’s something I want to discuss with you,” he says to me, tossing off the words like a challenge.
What follows is a narrative version of a flowchart by Brandon Scott Gorrell, from his blog, The Thought Catalog, via Critical-Thinking. The actual flowchart follows at the end of this post. To continue:
I pause for a moment, as if considering what to say next, although my words are as familiar to me as the lyrics of a favorite song or a long-recited Act Of Contrition.
“So, you wanna discuss something, eh?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he replies. “I do.”
Now for the part where these so-called Arguers usually slink away:
“If you wanna discuss something with me,” I say, emphasizing the last word, “there are certain rules I insist on: First of all, no sermons, no lectures or diatribes.” He nods his head absently, as if he expected something like this.
“Also,” I continue, “discussions are a dialog between people in which the participants are willing to alter their position if it makes sense to do so. I don’t care what you want to discuss. Here’s the kicker, though: ‘Can you envision anything that will change your mind on the topic’?”
If he answers no, then I’m done with him and I think he knows it. He knows I’m not about to waste my time otherwise. He nods a silent “yes,” starts to open his mouth.
“I’m not done yet,” I say.”There are a few other ground rules to this so-called “‘discussion’.”
The guy sits there, waiting for me to articulate those rules. I know I’ve got him, though. By the time I finish laying them down, he’s gonna either agree or slink away. I wait.
Finally, he nods again and I give him the bad news: