2.18.2013

This is a story of doggedness, of persistence, of how attempts at a task one may try before success. If you're a regular This American Life listener, you may have heard this story before.

In the middle of the 17th century, a monk and mathematician (Marin Mersenne) published a formula for discovering prime numbers. His formula found a 21 digit number - 147,573,952,589,676,412,927 - which became mathematically famous as a super-large prime number.

In 1903, Frank Nelson Cole started his presentation "On the Factorization of Large Numbers" to the American Mathematical Society. He wrote Mersenne's famous prime on the blackboard, and then worked through the long multiplication to demonstrate that it was divisible by a nine digit number (193,707,721) and a 12 digit number (761,838,257,287).

Here's the most compelling part of the story. In the early 1900s, how long did it take Cole to find these two numbers and prove that Mersenne's famous number was not a prime number?

Three years of Sundays. These three years of Sundays were probably spent solving the problem by trying every possible solution - dividing Mersenne's number, by one number and then the next number and then the next. Three years of Sundays is 156 Sundays. For 155 of them, Frank Nelson Cole failed.

This is the marvelous thing about science, and scientists. Scientists are the type of people will fail for 150 Sundays, and still keep trying.

1.12.2010

I've signed up for quite a few commercial emails, and I'm pleased by most of them. The glass shops email me class schedules. The Space Needle emails me coupons. The library emails me when my held books are available. I want those emails; I get actionable information and useful coupons.

But Eddie Bauer sends way too many emails. They emailed me *every day* in the 5 days before Christmas. On average, I get an email every other day. At first, I signed up for the email list because it seemed to be the only way to get the frequent buyer coupons. (It isn't, actually. They mailed me a $10 certificate at the end of the year; and I bought a $9.99 sweater. They paid me a penny to take the sweater away!)

The frequency of emails really irritated me; just how often do they expect me to come into the store? Then I set up a message filter in Thunderbird. Now Eddie's emails are quickly filed away before I even see them. Problem solved.

8.31.2009

I have a new policy that I recommend to all spouses, and special friends, of photographers.

If the photographer brings the camera's tripod to any activity, then you bring your book, or DS, or knitting. In this way, you can remain entertained while photography is happening. Also, you are less likely to be pressed into duty as a voice activated light stand.

7.12.2009

By demand, here is another glass piece that I made during the last of my beginner's glassblowing classes. It's a free-form sculpture roughly 9 inches high. It's got a bit of a bulbous oval at the bottom, and as I flared the top edges, they took on a tail-fin appearance. It was fun to make; an exercise in working the materials into a shape that I liked. Next time I might go for a more definite fish shape.

7.1.2009

Just so every one knows, there's a huge difference between "jury rigged" (an usually clever hack) and "jerry built" (a fugly kludge); and it really isn't "jerry rigged". (I find the Urban Dictionary far too accepting of new / confused english.) You can see some examples of both at There, I Fixed It.

On the same note, "pore over", not "pour over". I've been using this incorrectly for years.

There are many more useful tidbits along the same lines at Paul Brians' Common Errors in English site. Perhaps there's something wrong with me, but I find this engrossing reading.