Monthly Archives: December 2006

A game of cat and mouse

Harry is sitting next to his mother in the shoe section of a giant department store. It’s the first time he’s been allowed to sit down all day as he’s spent most of it being dragged round the different departments. It was all so very boring. Except the hat section that had been fun. His mum had told him off a lot but nothing serious. But now he was sat down for the first time he started feeling pretty tired and a little bit sleepy. But being pretty tired and a little bit sleepy couldn’t explain what he saw next. A large mouse and a small cat were fighting over a piece of cheese. The thing that struck Harry immediately as odd was that they were fighting with swords.

Harry quickly hopped off of his seat and ran over to the skirting board. He knelt down beside them and simply said, “Wow!”

But soon his “Wow” turned into “Ow” as the cat accidentally cut him on the knuckles.

“Keep back,” the mouse shouted out, “I’ll defend you”.
“You can talk!” cried Harry.
“You can see us!” cried the Cat.
“And, just think,” said the mouse, “if you could stab him like that then he could stab you back”.

This was clearly such an unsettling thought that the two of them stopped fighting and looked up at him.

“What are you doing here,” asked the mouse?
“I’m shopping,” said Harry.
“But this is a department store,” said the Cat, “boys don’t shop in department stores.”
“No, my mother’s shopping, I’m just with her”.
“But,” said the cat, “that happens all of the time. And the store never lets kids see us.”
“He’s bought something, must have”, said the mouse, “that’s the rule. Kids can’t see us because they don’t buy anything, parents can’t see us because they are never concentrating.”
“But I haven’t bought anything.”
“But you’ve definitely done something different,” said the cat.
“I did, I did try on a hat,” admitted Harry sheepishly.
“Aha!” said the mouse. “That must be it.”
“Incredible,” said the cat, “to think that this hasn’t happened before.”
“Indeed,” said the mouse, “Well I’m afraid I’m going to have to complain to management. What kind of system is it where we can be discovered so simply? Eh?”
“I know, I just can’t believe it. I’ll come with you – I have got to see the look on his face when you tell Cuthbert what’s happened.”
“So, about this cheese,” the mouse said as they started to turn away from Harry and towards a hole in the skirting board.
“Shall we split it?” said the cat?

And with that the cat cut the cheese in half with his sword and gave one half to the mouse, and popped the other half in his mouth. After chewing for a second or two he said, “One half in my mouth, the other half in my mouse” and the mouse and cat started laughing. In fact they didn’t stop laughing until they were well out of sight.

Harry stood up turned around and walked back to the stool next to his mother. He would say something to her – but he was sure she wouldn’t believe him.

Dating in ’57

It’s the summer of 1957 and Harold goes to pick up his date, PeggySue. Harold’s a pretty hip guy with his own car and a duck tail hairdo. When he goes to the front door, PeggySue’s mother answers and invites him in.

“PeggySue’s not ready yet, so why don’t you have a seat?” she says. That’s cool. PeggySue’s mother asks Harold what they’re planning to do. Harold replies politely that they will probably just go for a drink or to movies.

PeggySue’s mother responds, “Why don’t you kids go out and screw? I hear all the kids are doing it.”

Naturally this comes as quite a surprise to Harold and he says “Wha…aaat?”

“Yeah,” says PeggySue’s mother, “We know PeggySue really likes to screw; why, she’d screw all night if we let her!”

Harold’s eyes light up and he smiles from ear to ear. Immediately, he has revised the plans for the evening.

A few minutes later, PeggySue comes downstairs in her little poodle skirt with Her saddle shoes, and announces that she’s ready to go. Almost breathless with anticipation, Harold escorts his date out the front door while Mom is saying, “Have a good Evening kids,” with a small wink for Harold.

About 20 minutes later, a thoroughly dishevelled PeggySue rushes back into the house, slams the door behind her and screams at her mother: “Dammit, Mom! The Twist! The Twist! It’s called The Twist!”

How does the Traffic Alert function on a car radio work?

I was asked this question the other day in The Pirates and the Economy and the answer should really be in the form of a question. How does your radio know what the name of the radio station is?

Basically the answer is that the radio signal has a data signal that is sent along with it. This is very similar to the way that teletext works on television but with much less data.

For each radio station there is a set of different data that gets sent with certain identifiers. These data change for each radio programme and so it is possible for the radio to tell you which station you are listening to and even which program. The system for this is called RDS (Radio Data System [RBDS in America] – easy to confuse with the other acronym floating about for radio in Europe which is DAB even though it contains none of the same letters – DAB is digital radio RDS is data being sent via FM).

One of the identifiers is TA which means traffic announcement. This means that the station is playing a traffic announcement right now and so you should probably stop what you’re doing and listen to the radio. This basically only works if are tuned in at the moment that the station starts broadcasting the TA signal. But what if you want to listen to any traffic announcement not just one from the station that you were listening to before you put the CD player on?

Well in that case you need a different signal TP (Traffic Program – versus Traffic Announcement) this means that the station regularly has Traffic Announcements and so it’s worth paying attention to. Generally the way that most modern radios work is that they scan all of the radio stations once, and pay attention to any which have the TP signal. Then they scan just the ones which have TP, and watch for a TA appearing on any of them. And if one appears then they stop the CD or tape and play the appropriate radio station.

EON (Enhanced Other Network) is the original way that this was supposed to work which suggests to you other stations which broadcast traffic info. So BBC Radio 1 would suggest the local BBC station or Radio 2, 3, 4 or 5 to you. But the new method of monitoring all of the stations is a good way of dealing with the situation – this only really works if you aren’t actively listening to the radio though. Most car radios only have one tuner which means that they rely on using EON to tell which other radio stations are playing traffic news if you’re listening to the radio. But once the radio is off (or you’re listening to a CD) it can be from any station that you would get your travel news.

Although most stations don’t do it (or certainly most radios don’t receive it) the station could in fact display track info or information about the show on RDS. The BBC is one of the few broadcasters to bother doing this in the UK but you may find that your radio does not display it.

At one point the fact that the system automatically played track information played merry havoc as Simon Mayo’s quiz where people had to guess the name of the obscure tracks he was playing was ruined somewhat by the fact that a select band were being provided the answers by the radio itself!

Ask a question

Haven’t you always just wanted to ask a question to me here at gamboling but been too shy to ask?

Isn’t there some question lurking that you would really love to hear the answer to but have never worked out how to search for the answer on the modern interweb?

Or are you like Nick who suggested this idea because sometimes you know you could look up the answer to the question but you’d rather have the gamboling style answer to read?

Anyway whatever the reason is, just stick your question in the comments here and I will try to give you an answer as soon as I possibly can.

Doctor Doctor

I’ve got a mince pie stuck up my bottom.

Doctor: Oh, would you like some cream for that?

Merry Christmas

I hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas wherever you are. I’m sure you probably weren’t expecting a post today but it’s still a Monday and so post I must.

The thing I was going to talk about today was the two sides of Christmas. Some people really love Christmas and some people genuinely fear it. One of the things that some don’t like is the enforced jollity of the situation. But at least you can call them scrooge.

One of the things about Christmas is the themed art. Christmas films, music and to a lesser extent artwork get wheeled out again year after year. The worst of them are schmaltzy and sickening but the best of them have the ability to show both sides of this holiday.

In film we have the ever perennial It’s a wonderful life. I do love this film despite some rather saccharin moments of heavy handedness from Capra. The performance from James Stewart is sublime.

The other Christmas movie that I love is one that you can kind of watch any time of the year and most wouldn’t realise it was a Christmasy film is When Harry Met Sally. A great film. Especially for people who would love Woody Allen, but have a moral objection to him. I myself have no objection to him – but there are those out there who do.

My favourite Christmas song is Fairytale of New York which does ideally combine the two sides of optimism and sadness that can go with Christmas.

And my favourite Christmas carol is The Coventry Carol which deals with the sadness that the women faced knowing that Jesus had been born. The story goes that Herod the King was so worried that a rival to his claim was being born that he went and killed the first born children of everyone. Of course Jesus had been whisked away into hiding in Egypt. But the song speaks of the sadness of all of the mothers whose children have been killed. But also they have the knowledge that it is for a higher purpose.

My favourite piece of art associated with this period is linked with the last story, and it comes from William Blake (he of the poetry). He was also an accomplished painter, but this painting is wonderful because of its simplicity. It is a painting of Madonna and Child while in hiding in Egypt, but because it has the pyramid in the background it can’t help but look a little bit like a holiday snap.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to one and all.

Point of resolution (5)

This is part four (of four) of this years Christmas story on Gamboling. This started four weeks ago with: You may have seen a cakewalk, but have you seen plenty of this (9)

Jenny was sitting in her kitchen and it was snowing again. It didn’t
seem to snow that often anymore at Christmas. Not actually on the day
anyway. But there was still a week to go. It was getting dark out there.
She had a box on the table which had contained her outgoing Christmas
cards. “ho ho”, she thought to herself, “they probably are more outgoing
than me”. She looked at the box and it still had one more card in it. Of
course it did. It was a card she’d bought twelve years ago, two years
after she’d left Tom, and had always meant to send to him. It had a
picture of Father Christmas doing a crossword on the front. But she
never had sent it because… It never seemed enough. And because she had
left him at Christmas it had always seemed likely that he wouldn’t
really want to hear from her. And then after a while sending had seemed
much less important.

But she had seen something in town which had made her change her mind.
She’d put it off for about a week but now, this evening, with the snow
starting she’d decided that she would send the card after all. And there
was still time.

She picked up the card and inside wrote:

Your Answer: Hyphenate
My Question: Amundsen’s forwarding address (4)
Meet me there, 7pm, Tuesday if you’re interested in catching up.
Merry Christmas even if you’re not.
Jenny x

She sealed it, addressed it and walked out the house. She didn’t even
bring her coat with her as the post box was just at the end of her
drive. She walked down there hearing the slow crunch of the pebbles
beneath her feet. The crunch was slightly faster on the way back as she
realised just how cold it actually was. She got back in side and tried
to shake some of the snowflakes out of her hair. But they were already

On Tuesday she got ready early, and then sat around waiting. When she
got there early she realised that it was probably a mistake. She hadn’t
even bothered to look at what the place was like when she had seen it.
She had just picked it because the name was the answer to one of her
favorite crossword clues. Or in fact because it’s name had reminded her
of the clue, and in turn it had reminded her of Tom.

The bar was okay, she supposed, but it was clearly designed for younger
clientele. They only had two kinds of wine: white and red. But actually
when she started to drink the glass of white it wasn’t as bad as she had

At five minutes past seven he arrived. And a flood of relief flowed
through her. She had been sitting there for the last five minutes
imagining him looking at the card and laughing at the thought of her
sitting in the bar alone.

He walked up to her, and looked at her glass. It was empty and she knew immediately she’d given away the fact that she’d been early. She looked up at him and he said, “red or white – that’s all they have”.
“White please”.
“I’ll be right back”.

As she sat there waiting for him. She wondered what they would actually end up talking about after such a long time. She’d got as far as planning on them meeting, and worrying about if it work, but had stopped short of working out what it would be that they would discuss once they got there.

He ambled back to the table.
“So you figured it out did you,” she said.
“Yeah, we’ll it’s ‘mush’ isn’t it. Although the fact that I’ve made it here lets you know that I guess.” He grinned. And then he looked a bit more serious before going on, “I can’t believe it’s been so many years and we’re still setting each other clues like this.”
“Yeah, it’s weird isn’t it”.
“Here’s one, ‘Overloaded Postman'”.
“Oooh, um how many letters…”

They both laughed at the silly joke and it lightened the atmosphere a little further.

“So,” Jenny said getting down to it, “are you doing anything for Christmas”?
“No. Not really.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well it means that I haven’t really planned anything. I’ve got some food sorted out – sort of.”
“Ah,” she said.
“What about you?” he looked up and made eye contact for the first time in a few moments.
“Well I’ve got all the food sorted out but I haven’t got anyone to share it with.”
“You know you really hurt me before.”
“I know.”
“And I’ve not really dealt with that.”
“Okay. If you don’t want to come that’s fine.”
“No,” he said, “I’d love to come but…”
“What is it?”
“Well, if I come you have to promise me that you don’t ever do that again. It’s now or never for committing to me.”
“I can do that, I’ve always loved you since the moment we first met. I was just confused I think. I won’t hurt you again.”

Tom sat there thinking for a moment and then finally said, “Pixel”.
“What’s that?”, Jenny asked.
“That’s what this is as a clue. A ‘Point of resolution (5)’.”
“It is, but Tom.”
“No more games now. This has got to be real this time.”

The Pirates and the Economy

Here is a nice little logic puzzle for you all to play, it’s called the Pirate Loot problem and it goes something like this:

Imagine you are the oldest in a band of five pirates, where no two pirates in the group are of the same age. It is your responsibility as the oldest pirate to decide how to divide the group’s booty, which comprises one-hundred pieces of gold. Once you announce how you will allocate the gold, all the pirates in the group (including you) vote either “yes” or “no” on your decision. If at least half of the votes are “yes”, the pirates divide the loot as you directed, after which everyone carries on about his business. But, if more than half of the votes are “no”, you are then killed, and the task of deciding the allocation of gold lies with the next oldest pirate in the group.

Knowing that all the other pirates are just as smart, and just as logical as you, and furthermore, knowing that they all want the largest amount of gold they can get for themselves, how do you divide the gold so that you get the maximum amount of gold pieces possible, and guarantee that you will receive enough “yes” votes to stay alive?

For those of you who would like to work it out for yourselves please look away now – here be spoilers (and indeed Pirates).

The best way to solve the problem is to chunk it. Deal with smaller bits of it and build it up. So if you think of the 2 pirates situation then in that situation the older pirate can keep 100 gold pieces. And since there would be two pirates before there was one pirate (if they kept killing the oldest) the youngest pirate will always vote for you if you give him one gold piece, all it takes is giving him slightly more than he would otherwise get, to get the vote.

In the situation that there were three pirates that’s exactly what the oldest pirate would do, he is bound to vote for himself. So he can just give the youngest pirate 1 gold piece and get his vote and keep 99.

If there are four pirates then you can’t bribe the next youngest guy (in fact you’d never be able to bribe him however many younger people there are). And so you could choose to either bribe the youngest or the second youngest to get your vote.

So then in the five pirates problem (which after all was the one that I set) you can bribe the youngest, which gives you one vote at the cost of one gold coin. But who else can you bribe cheaply? Well you can bribe the second youngest with one coin because we know that in the three pirates problem he won’t get anything.*

So the answer is that if you’re the oldest pirate then you get to keep 98 of the coins and only have to dole out 2 coins to get the votes you need.

The thing I really like about this puzzle is that it is so close to real life. If we look at the economy around us then we see that the powerful can easily bribe the weak to agree with them. In fact the powerful can often bribe the weakest and ignore their middle strength rivals and still retain power and wealth. Just look at the situation in Iraq for example a variety of small countries are in the “coalition of the willing” circumventing the power of much larger rivals like France and Germany.

Basically this game really shows the mechanics of how the rich stay rich in the real world. Remember 2% of the world’s population hold 50% of the worlds wealth, it seems like that would be impossible, but this game shows exactly how this comes about.

*Some accounts of this problem will say that as part of the solution you have to bribe the middle pirate with one coin rather than the second youngest. The reasoning for this flows from imagining the problem the other way around. In their minds you give the gold to the second youngest to bribe them not the youngest. And then they go on to say that in the five pirate problem you would be unable to bribe the second youngest with one gold coin because he will demand two coins for his vote rather than just one. It doesn’t matter which of the two you bribe in the four pirate problem which means that in the five pirate problem there isn’t a guarantee for the middle pirate that he’ll get a coin if the oldest pirate is killed. This way he guarantees his coin so he would vote yes for one piece of gold.

A cowboy rode into town and stopped at a saloon for a drink

A cowboy rode into town and stopped at a saloon for a drink. Unfortunately, the locals always had a habit of picking on strangers, which he was. When he finished his drink, he found his horse had been stolen. He went back into the bar, handily flipped his gun into the air, caught it above his head without even looking and fired a shot into the ceiling.

“Which one of you sidewinders stole my horse?!?!?” he yelled with surprising forcefulness. No one answered. “Alright, I’m gonna have another beer, and if my horse ain’t back outside by the time I finish, I’m gonna do what I dun in Texas! And I don’t like to have to do what I dun in Texas!” Some of the locals shifted restlessly. The man, true to his word, had another beer, walked outside, and his horse has been returned to the post.

He saddled up and started to ride out of town. The bartender wandered out of the bar and asked, “Say partner, before you go… what happened in Texas?” The cowboy turned back and said, “I had to walk home.”