Friday, 31 December 2010

loose ends

Looking back, a few of my posts during the past year left loose ends, which I will now endeavour to tie up. You can click on the title if you want to refer back to the original post.

a puzzle
I used to compile word puzzles because the ones appearing in newspapers were too easy to be worth bothering with. Some of these were posted in the early days, when I had few visitors, and I had no idea what kind of audience I would attract. I’m not planning to post any more, but I thought that you might like this one. It’s really just a question, but the answer has to be worked out, which is why I call it a puzzle. I ask only that if you do take a look that you do not post the answer in a comment. If you have the correct answer, you will know that it is correct.

fact or fiction
At the end of my assessment of the reliability of purportedly factual material in books, I described how I came across this sentence in the third edition of a standard university textbook on global environmental issues:
This was captured by John Turner in his paintings of the period.
The author was describing the famous eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 and how the huge quantities of volcanic ash that were fired into the stratosphere affected sunsets around the world for several years thereafter. I commented as follows:
If you think you know what is wrong with this sentence, do leave a comment. My reaction was to delete it completely, which in retrospect may also have been a mistake.
One reader pointed out that Turner had died in 1851, which makes the sentence a nonsense, but nobody seems to have noticed that it is not common practice to include a first name. Painters, like composers and writers, are usually referred to by their surname alone. However, if you do include a Christian name, it’s a good idea to get it right. Turner’s first name was Joseph.

So why did I suggest that deleting the sentence may have been a mistake? I could have rewritten it, because the paintings to which the author referred were painted around the time of the eruption, in 1815, of Tambora in Indonesia. This was four times more powerful than the 1883 event, and in addition to the obvious and predictable consequences, one unexpected byproduct (nothing to do with global environmental issues) was Frankenstein, written the following summer, the year ‘when summer was cancelled’ courtesy of the eruption.

probability
My discussion of probability ended with a description of a hypothetical television game show:
Imagine that…you are shown three locked boxes. You are told that one of the three contains $10,000, while the other two are empty. You are allowed to select one box, and if you choose correctly the money is yours. Let us refer to your selection as box #1. Now, before you are allowed to open your chosen box, the compere, who knows in advance which box contains the money, opens one of the other boxes (call this box #2) to show that it is empty. Now comes the offer: do you want to stick with box #1, or would you prefer to change your mind and choose box #3?

…if you know what you’re doing, you will choose box #3. Why?
If you haven’t come across this before, you may want to work out the answer for yourself, but if you’re interested in the answer but not in the working out, the answer is posted as a comment on the original article.

return to koon garden
After posting some of the photos that I’d taken in a ruined chee tong (spirit hall), I returned to take some more. I decided to add this one to the original post:

I’ve reproduced this photo here so that if you’ve already seen the original post you will not need to return to Koon Garden.

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