• The Old New Thing

    Different senses of scale create different travel expectations


    A friend of mine had a business meeting near London, and he decided to extend it to a tour of Scotland and England once the meetings were over. (This is the same friend who took me on the emergency vacation many years ago.) His plan was to rent a car early one morning and drive from the meeting location all the way up to Aberdeen at one go, then slowly work his way back south, enjoying the sights along the way.

    He sanity-checked his plan against his colleagues from Great Britain. "I looked it up on multiple online mapping sites, and they all say that the trip from London to Aberdeen is doable in a day. I take motorway X, then Y, then Z. Does this make sense to you?"

    Every single one of his colleagues said, "Oh, no. You can't do it in a day. You should budget two days travel time."

    My colleague was curious. Is the motorway really congested?

    "Not particularly."

    Is the road unusually difficult to navigate, or is the road in poor condition? Something that would prevent me from traveling at the posted speed limit?

    "No, the roads are just fine, and driving is straightforward."

    He asked several other questions trying to find out what it was about the trip that required it to take two days. Is there something funny at the England/Scotland border that takes a long time? Do I have to cross a mountain or something?

    "It just can't be done in one day."

    My colleague concluded that it was simply in the mindset of the locals that driving that far in one day is Just Not Done. There is nothing physically preventing it, but it is considered to be highly unusual.

    As I recall, he ultimately executed his plan without incident. I wonder if the other drivers on the road looked at him funny.

    Bonus story: Another friend of mine was staying in Reading, and he decided to take a weekend excursion to Wales. He pulled out the map, calculated how long it would take him, and noted that the map indicated that there were mountains that he needed to cross to reach his destination.

    He set out with what he thought was plenty of time to spare, but it started getting late, and he still needed to cross the mountains, and he was concerned that the people in Wales would start worrying when he didn't show up.

    And then he reached his destination.

    He drove over the mountains without even realizing it.

  • The Old New Thing

    When visitors to the United States underestimate the size of the country


    A friend of mine who is from Lebanon (but now lives in Seattle) invited his grandmother to come visit for the summer. When she arrived, he asked her, "Grandma, is there anywhere in particular you would like to visit?"

    His grandmother replied, "I'd like go to to Washington, DC."

    "Okay, Grandma. Let me buy some plane tickets."

    "No, let's drive."

    "You want to drive all the way to Washington, DC? Here, let me show you on a map how far away it is."

    Grandma replied, "Let's do it."

    My friend said, "Okay, Grandma, we're going on a road trip!" He got the rest of the family on board with the plan, packed up the car, and set out early one morning for their cross-country trip.

    By the end of the day, they had made it as far as Idaho, where they stopped for the night. I assume that they made plenty of stops along the way because (1) part of the point of a road trip is to enjoy the things along the way, and (2) Grandma.

    Grandma asked, "Is this Washington, DC?"

    "No, Grandma. Washington, DC is still very far away. Here, let me show you on the map where we are."

    Grandma was unconvinced. "If you'd only stop and ask for directions, we would have been there by now." Grandma was certain that the only reason they were driving all day was that her grandson was lost and stupidly driving in circles, and if he only had driven in the right direction, they'd be there by now.

    Grandma's reference for distance was Lebanon, which is a relatively small country. You can drive from the northern tip of the country to the southern tip in a day. The United States is a bit bigger than that.

    A related story was when my parents in New Jersey hosted some friends from Japan. The first excursion they took was to New York City, a convenient train ride away. For their second trip, they said, "How about today we drive to Chicago?"

    Third story.

    Please share any funny stories about geographic blindness in your home country.

    (This was supposed to be posted on Geography Awareness Week but I messed up.)

  • The Old New Thing

    Raymond's highly scientific predictions for the 2014 NCAA men's basketball tournament


    Once again, it's time for Raymond to come up with an absurd, arbitrary criterion for filling out his NCAA bracket.

    This year, I look at the number of followers of of the basketball team's official Twitter account, or one tenth of the number of followers of the school's athletic department if the school's basketball team does not have its own dedicated Twitter account. The fraction 1/10 is completely arbitrary, but that's what makes this algorithm highly scientific. And yes, counting fans also includes people who hatewatch the team. I accept this, because if a lot of people hate a team, it's probably because they're "too good."

    This works similarly to last year's algorithm based on Facebook Likes, but now I'm using Twitter because Facebook is for old people. That may be why last year's predictions were so awful.

    Once the field has been narrowed to four teams, the results are determined by a coin flip. (I should be doing this when the field reduced to eight teams rather than four, but I've been doing it wrong for so long, it's now a tradition. Also: highly scientific.)

    Opening Round Games

    NC State(23,060a) NC State
    Albany(3,969a) Mount St Mary's
    Mount St Mary's(942)
    Iowa(34,643) Iowa
    Cal Poly(777) Cal Poly
    Texas Southern(1,551a)

    Group 1

    1Florida(16,048) Florida
    16Mount St Mary's(942)
    8Colorado(9,395) Colorado
    5VCU(10,966a) SF Austin
    12SF Austin(1,387)
    4UCLA(13,052) UCLA
    6Ohio State(35,574) Ohio State
    3Syracuse(41,327) Syracuse
    14Western Michigan(351)
    7New Mexico(17,182a) Stanford
    2Kansas(71,239) Kansas
    15Eastern Kentucky(1,741)

    Group 2

    1Arizona(17,523) Arizona
    16Weber State(3,365a)
    8Gonzaga(9,559) Oklahoma State
    9Oklahoma State(14,271)
    5Oklahoma(15,869) Oklahoma
    12North Dakota State(1,538)
    4San Diego State(13,813a) San Diego State
    13New Mexico State(4,510a)
    6Baylor(18,310) Nebraska
    3Creighton(13,585) Creighton
    7Oregon(15,640) Oregon
    2Wisconsin(30,913) Wisconsin

    Group 3

    1Virginia(8,022) Virginia
    Michigan State
    North Carolina
    16Coastal Carolina(4,763)
    8Memphis(35,231) Memphis
    9George Washington(2,811)
    5Cincinnati(15,545) Cincinnati
    Michigan State
    4Michigan State(63,034) Michigan State
    6North Carolina(153,062) North Carolina
    North Carolina
    North Carolina
    3Iowa State(26,881) Iowa State
    14North Carolina Central(868)
    7Connecticut(10,417) Connecticut
    10St Joseph's(2,608)
    2Villanova(3,574) Villanova

    Group 4

    1Wichita State(15,957) Wichita State
    16Cal Poly(777)
    8Kentucky(62,164) Kentucky
    9Kansas State(445)
    5Saint Louis(6,604) Saint Louis
    12NC State(23,060a)
    4Louisville(14,844) Louisville
    6Massachusetts(5,863) Iowa
    3Duke(102,300) Duke
    7Texas(14,097) Texas
    10Arizona State(4,941)
    2Michigan(96,095) Michigan


    Kansas(3) Kansas
    North Carolina(2)
    Wisconsin(1) Wisconsin

    Oh, and if you need some advice on how to fill out your bracket, you can watch Slate's Mike Pesca fill out his. Okay, maybe he's not giving advice, so the whole if/then thing was a bit of a lie. Chris Wilson has actual advice.

  • The Old New Thing

    On live performances of Star Trek


    Spock's Brain is generally considered to be the worst episode of Star Trek. That may be why in 2009 Mike Carano decided to perform it as a theatrical production. Here is the opening scene, and here's Carano talking about the show's genesis. In the second video, skip ahead to 2:40 to see more clips from the show, or go to 4:35 for the fight scene.

    Whereas Carano played the show for laughs, the folks at Atomic Arts in Portland (yes, that Portland) played it straight for their Trek in the Park series, but they still get laughs because Star Trek.

    2009 Amok Time
    2010 Space Seed
    2011 Mirror, Mirror
    2012 A Journey to Babel
    2013 The Trouble with Tribbles

    And yes, when the Enterprise is hit, everybody jerks to the left or right, even the unconscious bodies in sickbay.

    Their five-year mission complete, the Atomic Arts folks are unloading their larger set pieces, so if you always wanted a pair of sickbay beds that can pump Vulcan blood, well now you know where to go.

    But just because Trek in the Park is over doesn't mean you should give up on Star Trek live in the park yet. Seattle arts group Hello Earth Productions continues to stage Star Trek episodes in public parks under the name Outdoor Trek. Hello Earth aims for a more creative interpretation rather than trying to do a perfect impersonation of the original.

    2010 The Naked Time
    2011 This Side of Paradise
    2012 (hiatus)
    2013 Devil in the Dark (bonus Horta content)
    2014 Mirror, Mirror

    They are currently holding auditions for Mirror, Mirror.

  • The Old New Thing

    Why Johnny can't read music


    In the book He Bear, She Bear, the musical instrument identified as a tuba is clearly a sousaphone.

    (For those who are wondering what the title has to do with the topic of musical instrument identification: It's a reference to the classic book Why Johnny Can't Read.)

  • The Old New Thing

    What two-year-olds think about when they are placed in time-out


    My niece (two years old at the time) was put in the corner as punishment for some sort of misdeed. At the expiration of her punishment, her grandfather returned and asked her, "你乖唔乖?" (Are you going to be nice?)

    She cheerfully replied, "仲未乖!" (Still naughty!)

    In an unrelated incident, one of my honorary nieces was being similarly punished. She told her aunt who was passing nearby, "In a little while, my daddy is going to ask me if I'm sorry. I'm not really sorry, but I'm going to say that I am."

  • The Old New Thing

    A simple email introduction: Fan mail


    One of my former colleagues on the Windows kernel team wasn't afraid to make changes all across the system when necessary. If the engineering team decided to upgrade to a new version of the C++ compiler, my colleague was the one who gave it a test-drive on the entire Windows source code, and fixed all the warnings and errors that kick up as well as ensuring that it passed the build verification tests before updating the compiler in the official toolset. Beyond that, my colleague also ran around being a superhero, writing tools that needed to be written, fixing tools that were broken, and generally being somebody.

    Since the effect on the Windows project was so far-reaching, everybody on the team knew this person, or at least recognized the name, and as a result, my colleage ended up receiving a lot of email about all different parts of Windows, be they bug reports, requests for help using a particular component, whatever.

    And when the question was about something outside my colleague's sphere of responsibility, the message was forwarded to the correct people with a simple introduction:

    From: A
    To: XYZ-owners, Y
    Subject: Problem with XYZ

    Fan mail.

    From: Y
    To: A
    Subject: Problem with XYZ

    Blah blah blah blah

    I've used this technique a few times, but it's been a while. I should start using it again.

    Bonus chatter: At least one of you has come out and said that you post your complaints here with the expectation that the complaints will be forwarded to the appropriate team. This expectation is false. No such forwarding occurs. This Web site is not a complaint desk.

  • The Old New Thing

    Nieces sometimes extrapolate from insufficient contextual data


    My brother-in-law enjoys greeting his nieces when they come over to visit by throwing them into the air and asking, "叫聲我?" (Who am I?)

    The nieces happily reply, "舅舅." (Uncle.)

    He then tosses them up into the air a second time and says, "大聲啲!" (Louder!)

    And the nieces happily shout, "舅舅!"

    One time, my wife was talking with her brother at a normal volume, and his niece came into the room and said to my wife, "大聲啲! 舅舅聽唔到!" (Louder! Uncle can't hear you!)

    Update: Per Frank's suggestion below, changed the niece's outburst from "舅舅冇聽到!" The incident occurred many years ago, and I cannot remember exactly what was said, so I'll go with what's funnier.

  • The Old New Thing

    The Grand Duke's monocle is an affectation


    In the Disney adaptation of Cinderella, the Grand Duke wears a monocle. The monocle moves from eye to eye during the course of the story.

    The Grand Duke's monocle is an affectation.

    Either that, or he needs a full pair of glasses, but is very frugal.

  • The Old New Thing

    When someone proposes marriage, bear in mind that there is a question that needs to be answered


    A colleague of mine was at a restaurant, and he spotted a young couple at the next table. The woman fawned over a classic diamond engagement ring, and when she put it on her finger, he decided that it was safe to ask them about it.

    They had gotten engaged earlier that day, and the man told the story of the proposal, up to the point where he asked her to marry him.

    My colleague then turned to the woman and teasingly asked, "And what did you say?"

    The woman chuckled, then suddenly her eyes opened wide with the realization that she had skipped over this important technical detail. She became dead serious and very, very clearly said to the man seated across the table from her, "Yes."

    My colleague paid for their dinner.

    Related story: When I proposed to my wife, the first three things she said were, "What are you doing?", "What's this?", and "Oh, my God!"

    If all you knew was that these three sentences were uttered in response to a marriage proposal, it would be difficult to determine with certainty whether the proposal was accepted or rejected.

    Fortunately for me, it went well, but after the hugging and kissing, I had to remind her, "You haven't answered the question yet."

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