even real work leads to distraction

My third how to write good documentation column is out.

And, while it was real work for me, I crammed a fair swag of background that’s only really of use for impressing your mates at parties. (Always assuming your mates are impressed by a smattering of knowledge about the Hanoverians and their impact on the English language.)

Anyway, the column goes on and on about Kings, conquerers, invasions and class divides. Oh, and the intricacies of using the indefinite article correctly.

Best of all, there’s already real comments and those comments come with links.

Which means I was able to waste spend quality time this morning discovering yet more avenues of distraction.

Consequently my ‘place to go instead of doing actual work’ for today is Paul Frields Grand Fallacy, an active personal blog with interesting stuff (like this account of the barriers open source tools can impose on non-Anglophones) and pointers to other interesting stuff (like the Mooninites).

Quick side-note: as of 2007/02/27, this particular Paul Frields is the king of Google so far as his name is concerned.

Small problem: Paul’s Next Page and Previous Page links aren’t working as I type this. They have the form:


Where ‘x’ and ‘y’ are numbers

They need to be of the form


to work.

I suspect a glitch in Paul’s .htaccess file is the culprit but it’s not that difficult to work around for the moment: just delete the ~paul/wordpress string from any paul.frields.org URLs before heading off to visit a new page.


steampunk inspired distractions for the busy working day

I want one of these and one of these. I suspect others will as well.

Unfortunately we can’t have the ones on display, and most of us don’t have the skill to make even dodgy facsimiles.

On the plus side, thanks to the serendipidy that lead me to the Steampunk Workshop I can point to music to listen to and offer a timely reminder for everyone to catch up on reading Girl Genius and other work by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

The Foglio link is especially rich in distraction-inducing goodness.

There’s Buck Godot, What’s New with Phil and Dixie and even Girl Genius, all available for free on-line reading. (I’m probably going to spend way too much money getting the stories on pressed-pulped wood, nonetheless, especially since it’s the only way to get a copy of Darc Tangent).

The Steampunk Workshop also leads to the Datamancer site, with yet more one-of-a-kind industrial crafting. Plus hours of work-avoidance wonder via the Datamancer’s own links page as well.

Finally, and in preparation for future distraction, there’s Steampunk Magazine. Not a huge amount here as I type but the hope of plenty of fun reading ahead, none of which will help anyone meet a work deadline.


explaining maths jokes: surely the saddest thing of all

So, where to go today instead of being productive.

Here will do. It’s a mathematically comedic

response to George Vaccaro’s horrifying encounters with the Verizon billing department

George Vaccaro’s ‘horrifying encounters’ are worth letting a deadline or two slide as well, if only to be appalled anew at the level of basic inummeracy abroad in the world.

For those who don’t get Munroe’s joke, there’s more distraction to be had. The Mathematics Department at the University of Toronto has a rather nifty Question Corner.

It’s not being updated any more but it has a fair swag of questions already answered including a question about e(i?) that makes the middle third of Randall Monroe’s cheque explicable.

As for the last third, it’s a summation expression. One way of expressing the series in English is

for all whole numbers, n, starting at 1 and going on forever, add together all the fractions, one divided by (2 to the power of n).

Another way, which attempts to lay out the steps involved in calculating the value of each item in the series is as follows.

Step A

  1. Start with 2 to the power of 1


  2. Calculate this:

    21 = 1*2 = 2

  3. Make this value the denominator of a fraction with 1 as the numerator:


  4. For convenience’s sake, turn the fraction into a decimal:

    1?2 = 0.5.

  5. Set this value as the first item in an addition:

    0.5 + [more values to come]

Step B

  1. Now go with 2 to the power of 2:


  2. Calculate this:

    22 = 2*2 = 4

  3. Make this value the denominator of a fraction with 1 as the numerator:


  4. For convenience’s sake, turn the fraction into a decimal

    1?4 = 0.25

  5. Set this value as the second item in an addition:

    0.5 + 0.25 + [more values to come]

Step C

  1. Next is 2 to the power of 3:


  2. Calculate this:

    23 = 2*2*2 = 8

  3. Make this value the denominator of a fraction with 1 as the numerator:


  4. For convenience’s sake, turn the fraction into a decimal:

    1?4 = 0.125

  5. Set this value as the second item in an addition.

    0.5 + 0.25 + 0.125 + [more values to come]

Step D &c

  1. Keep repeating the above steps, increasing the power you raise 2 to by one each time.

  2. Don’t stop, ever.

Stepping back from this endless task for a moment. Try the steps above for all values of n from 1 to 10. To really see what’s going on, note the intermediate values you get as you increase n.

For example, for n = 2 above, the sum is

  • 0.5 + 0.25

For n = 3 above, the sum is

  • 0.5 + 0.25 + 0.125

Think for a minute about what happens to the value of this sum as you keep adding together fractions derived from ever larger powers of 2 (hint: it keeps getting closer to a particular number). Now, consider what would happen if you kept going forever.

Now, go back and take another look at Randall Monroe’s cheque.

Funny, yes?

/* Funny, no, probably. Nothing like explaining a joke to suck all the life out of it. */

Amused or not, take at least a moment to check out Monroe’s webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. With any luck I’ll have a few more people missing deadlines as they spend ‘just a few minutes more’ reading through the more than 200 strips Munroe has produced as of this posting.

And, don’t forget to mouse-over the comics. Most of them have an extra tidbit tucked away in the image’s title attribute which will show up only if you hover the pointer over the image for a few seconds.