Mathematical Proof You Are More Than Possible


Infrequently Answered Question #113: Considering all the multiple millions of connections over the millennia which had to be made of people having kids having kids having kids et cetera, what are the odds I would have been born at all?

A: Exactly one hundred percent. If you’re reading this you exist, right? It’s the old I think therefore I am bit. The chance of something that happened to happen is one hundred percent. At any rate, there is no such thing as a force of randomness that causes things to happen willy-nilly. Randomness calculated as probability is a measure of our ignorance of what everything happening now will lead to. That’s all.

For instance in draw poker we’ll say the odds of drawing to an inside straight with one card is four in forty-seven. (Pack of 52 minus the five you hold.) But what if you know what the card you’ll draw is? In that case you’ll know the chance is zero percent or one hundred percent. Has some imaginary force of randomness changed? Nope, your knowledge has.

All the same, if you asked one of your distant ancestors the odds of you being born, they wouldn’t have a clue. It might strike them as pretty unlikely. After all, a lot of people lived and died without bearing offspring. But then, they’re not anyone’s ancestors, are they?

Filed 4/15/17

Ah-h-h, Spring Springs

Infrequently Answered Question #112: How did they know when spring began before they had clocks to tell the days were starting to be longer than the nights?

A: Oh, who cares? Maybe they watched the sunrise over a rock or used a triangle with notches or something. We don’t live in the past so we don’t have to worry about how they did a lot of the things they used to do. All that matters to us is spring is in the air. Perhaps it’s seeping into the ground and lakes, too. As long as a fair share comes our way we’ll not bother triangulating its precise location.

Once Mother Nature stops dithering around with the snowy cold, brushes off the overcast and gets into the full swing of spring it will probably mean fewer daily entries as the Terry Colon dot Com Gardening and Squirrel Cursing League starts in earnest. The Terry Colon dot Com Barbecue and Porch Lounging season kicks off shortly thereafter. Followed closely by the Terry Colon dot Com Scooter Touring and Flea Market Finders Club schedule of events. Not terribly ambitious or exciting by most standards, but it gets us out of the house. Good enough.

Filed 3/22/17

It’s Times Times Times Time


Infrequently Answered Question #111: Robby ran around the track two times. Bob ran around the track three times more than Robby. How many times did Bob run around the track?

A: Ah, a puzzler. Or is it a riddler? A stumper? Whatever it is, we ask the reader to answer the question themselves first, and then proceed… pause…

The answer is six. No wait, five. Or six. Maybe both. It’s another quiz you can’t get wrong. Or, to be devious, you can’t get right. The answer depends on what “three times more” means. Is that three times as many as two, six, or is it three times (instances) more than two times (instances), five? The language isn’t clear if we’re supposed to multiply or add. Times can mean how many multiples or how many instances.

Then again, Robby and Bob are both diminutives of Robert. So maybe it’s the same person who outdistanced himself by running the track seven times. Or eight times. Or, if Robert is a quantum particle, both seven and eight. Whatever. There is no right answer.

Or is there? The first sentence, “Robby ran around the track two times” establishes that times means laps, instances. To be consistent “Bob ran around the track three times more” must mean three laps more. Ergo, the correct answer is five. QED.

Filed 3/3/17

The One TV Theme That Breaks the Mold


Infrequently Answered Question #110: What’s the most memorable and distinctive TV show theme music?

A: This will be an opinion, of course, because memorable and distinctive are perhaps subjective and not clear-cut or quantifiable exactly. Also, we haven’t heard every theme for every TV show out there. Then there’s the problem of our lack of deep musical knowledge, both historical and structural. Weasel words aside, one TV theme clearly stands out for us. Which we will get to after setting up why that is.

We might remember some themes because we’re heard them so many times we can’t drive them away if we wanted to. Which doesn’t make them memorable per se. Someone our age might have heard The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson theme every night for thirty years or whatever it was. So, you’re going to remember it, but it’s really not that memorable or distinctive. It’s pretty standard orchestration. And it lacks a real hook which makes a tune intrinsically memorable.

A hook is a hard thing to define, but all the most popular tunes have one. It’s like a short motif, phrase, melody or whatever that we connect with instantly, it’s catchy, somehow. Who knows why. A classic example, from Classical music, is the opening four note motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: Da-da-da Da-a-a-ah.

You could take several tacks on what makes something distinctive. You might consider an unusual structure or out-of-the-ordinary instruments or sounds. For instance the Addams Family theme with its finger snaps: Da-da-da-dum, snap, snap. This is a good candidate overall, catchy and unusual, which could be the same as memorable and distinctive. Still, there is one thing very run of the mill about it, the time signature.

Ninety-whatever percent of popular music these days is in 4/4 time. That’s four beats per measure by quarter notes. It’s no accident they call it Common Time. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular tune or TV theme that wasn’t in 4/4 time. You might have a march, but that’s pretty much 4/4 time divided in half to play while stepping left-right, left-right. Musically about the same thing.

Another fairly common time is 3/4, or waltz time. This was much more popular in the past. Classical music uses it a lot. Ballets usually contained waltzes. Some symphony movements were in waltz time. On the other hand you’re not going to hear rockers and rappers doing waltzes. About the only big pop hit in the last forty or so years in waltz time we can think of is Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe.”

Still, to be really distinctive you can use one of the extremely rare time signatures. Such as 9/8 time. Though depending on the phrasing, as in three triplets per measure, that can be like very fast waltz time. Then there’s 7/8 time, which might be the rarest. Dave Brubeck used it once. If you’re old enough you might recall one pop tune that used it. Devo’s “Jocko Homo. (Are We Not Men?)”

Devo’s tune went back and forth between 7/8 and 4/4 times. Plus it had two different phrasings of the 7/8 parts. It started, 1-2-3-4, 5-6-7 and switched to 1-2-3, 4-5-6-7. Very adventurous for a rock song. One that wouldn’t be popular on American Bandstand because you can’t dance to it.

Last we have 5/4 time. This is the time signature of our winner, what makes it the most distinctive. It also has a good hook. It goes, 1… 3-4-5, 1… 3-4-5, or dum-m da-da-da, dum da-da-da. It’s a driving motif that seems unresolved because of the extra beat beyond the typical 4/4 time. It’s dramatic, puts you slightly on edge. It really works for what the show was about. For us, the most memorable and distinctive TV theme music…

Mission: Impossible

One thing though, that’s the TV theme not the movie. They re-wrote the theme for the movies as a rock tune in 4/4 time. Idiots.

Filed 2/23/17

Our Sure-Fire Tips to Catch Some Z’s


Infrequently Answered Question #109: I’m having trouble falling asleep. Have you any tips on curing insomnia?

A: Believe it or not, we find the best method is the age-old advice of counting sheep. Not literally counting real sheep grazing around your bed or imaginary sheep jumping over a hypothetical fence, we mean doing what the old folk remedy is actually all about. Which is to stop pondering your troubles and think about something unexciting and settling.

This can take many forms, though usually some kind of fantasy works well. But not a scenario where you have to solve problems, which will keep you awake just like solving your real problems. It should be something where everything works the way you want. Once you have a few established fantasies, run one through your head as you hit the hay and you’ll be sawing logs in no time. Yes, it becomes a terribly boring rerun night after night, but that’s the whole point. Basically you bore yourself to sleep.

The downside is some folks get some of their best ideas relaxing in bed before the sandman arrives. We know sometimes we do. Then you have to get up and write it down so you won’t forget, which is not good if you’re trying to get to sleep. But then, you didn’t ask about being creative, so we let it slide. Anyway, they also say you can solve problems and improve your mastery of things in your dreams, so there is that.

As for other remedies like drinking warm milk or listening to ocean waves and such-like, we’re not sure. We’ve not tried those. The tactic outlined above works for us like a dream. (ha) We don’t recommend drinking yourself into a stupor or drugs, which often makes you pass out into dreamless unconsciousness, which isn’t sleep or all that reinvigor­ating. We did hear you can circle around on the bed three times, sit down and lick your… Oh wait, that’s for dogs.

Filed 2/11/17

The Future State of California


Click pic to play animation

Infrequently Answered Question #108: Will California secede? Should California be allowed to secede?

A: Normally we don’t comment much on issues in the news, and we’re really not going to here. Instead we’ll cop out and co-opt the questions to illustrate a point of human psychology. Ask yourself honestly, what was your initial reaction to hearing some Californians want to secede? For? Against? The fact that you had an initial reaction, assuming you did, is what we’re on about.

People more often than not have an opinion first, and afterward seek or come up with reasons to support the opinion. Which is not to say the initial reaction is formed in a vacuum out of thin air, to mix a metaphor. Still, decisions about many things in all areas of life are not necessarily arrived at by any type of scientific method of gathering facts and then drawing conclusions. Heck, a lot of science isn’t done that way, but that’s another story.

This is one reason people can some­times have completely contradictory opinions on very similar, or even identical situations applied at different times. For instance, a person might be against the right of California to declare indepen­dence from the U.S. but approve the right of California to declare independence from Mexico as happened in the 1800s. Then again, a pro independence Californian might also be a pro one world government type where nobody has the right to independence.

Thing is, people are a less rational than we’d like to believe. It’s just the way the mind works, it’s very hard to disconnect emotion from thinking. You might say it’s because emotion is part of thinking, it’s all done in the same place the same way. Though you can argue about how the mind works, too. Folks understand thinking a lot less than might be generally supposed. The whole brain mapping with MRIs is not an exact science, it’s a lot of fuzzy details run through averaging programs which themselves are based on assumptions. But, as we’re quite fuzzy on the details, we’ll not go into all that here.

We’re not claiming to have all the answers, or even all the pertinent questions. We are also not going to give our opinion on the matter, that’s not the kind of thing terry colon dot com does. Still, we suggest there are questions that need to be asked and answered. If some areas of California are against secession, should they be allowed to secede from California and remain in the U.S.? Should a town in either area be allowed to secede and form a city-state?

As we said at the beginning, this post has strayed from our typically light tone. We’ll try to get back to our usual more frivolous form in the future. To that end we ask one last and less serious question: Do the California secession rights advocates owe an historical apology for denying the same right of secession to the Confederate States of America?

To further get away from brow-knitting seriousness, you might also check out our map of the U.S. after the break-up:

Disunited States of America.

Filed 2/4/17

The Plane on a Conveyor Belt Conundrum


Infrequently Answered Question #107: Say a plane had a takeoff speed of 100 mph. If this plane were on a conveyor belt that was moving backward at 100 mph, would it be able to take off?

A: This is a hypothetical question of course, nobody in their right mind would build a runway that’s a conveyor belt. Still, there’s been some speculation and debate about this on the Interwebs. Let’s see if we can suss it out without having to build a runway conveyor belt to try it.

A car going 100 mph on a conveyor belt going 100 mph the opposite way would be going 0 mph compared to the surroundings beyond the conveyor belt. Still, relative to the belt the car is going 100 mph. Easy enough to understand. Substitute the car with a plane and what happens? Before answering that, answer this: Is the plane’s engine connected to the wheels and do the plane’s wheels move it forward?

A car travels forward by applying force to the ground. A plane travels forward by applying force to the air, not the ground. Ergo, the ground moving backward would have no effect on how the plane moves forward. So, a plane on a conveyor belt runway would take off as it normally would, except the wheels would spin twice as fast. Which wouldn’t do anything except put extra wear and tear on the wheels.

What if the same plane tried taking off into a 100 mph headwind? No problem, hypothetically speaking. Even though relative to the ground the plane is going 0 mph, its air speed would be 100 mph. It could take off without moving forward. If the headwind were 50 mph it could take off on a half length runway. That’s why aircraft carriers used to turn into the wind to launch planes, it lessened how much runway was needed for takeoff and aircraft carriers had pretty short runways.

All the same, they didn’t launch planes into 100 mph headwinds, nobody in their right mind would take off into a typhoon.

Filed 1/29/17

Reinventing the Wheel-Lock


Infrequently Answered Question #106: If there’s nothing new under the sun, where do inventions come from?

A: From people working indoors. Mostly garages. Or maybe basements. Which is why a lot of inventions never see the light of day. A rather feeble Q&A segue to get to the real issue at hand.

Forget building a better mousetrap, the thing invention-minded tinkerers really like to tinker with are firearms. Over the centuries the gun has been reinvented more times than wheels and mousetraps put together, a combination some inventor has probably tried. There’s been many improvements, and many what we like to call dimprovements, bad improvements, backward advances, or whatever you’d like to call them. Among these might be gravity guns, chain guns, and turret pistols. Some gun tinkerers were Q from MI6 before there was an MI6. These guys came up with knife guns, cane guns, watch fob guns, guns concealed in handbags and hats, and so forth.

Then there were gun reinventions we’d call dumbprovements, to coin a new word. For instance, one gun that shot rocket powered bullets. Which might not sound so absurd until you consider it took the bullets time to get up to speed meaning it was worthless at close range. Next was a pistol with triangular bullets for no reason anyone can figure out. The bullets of which were called trounds, triangular rounds. To go one better was the gun that was supposed to fire round bullets at Christians and square bullets at heathens. We don’t know what to call, or how explain a square round.

If you like obscure and oddball weapons, and perhaps even want to buy one at auction, check out…

Forgotten Weapons –You Tube Home

Whether, as building a better mousetrap is supposed to do, building a better handgun will have the world beating a path to your door is an open question. Though we imagine building some types of weaponry in the basement might bring the FBI. After which you might be reduced to fashioning a handgun out of a bar of soap and some shoe polish.

Filed 1/19/17

All About the Jolly Roger –Pirate Week Continues


Infrequently Answered Question #105: Who was Roger of the Jolly Roger and what made him so jolly?

A: Skulls with a full set of bared teeth look to be smiling. Though more of an evil grin, a ghoulish rictus or an all-the-better-to-eat-you-with smirk than a jolly smile. Which is beside the point because that’s not what makes Roger jolly or a Jolly Roger.

The first pirate flags were all black, signaling a targeted ship that should they submit without a fight the crew would be spared. If resisted the pirates would hoist a red flag indicating no quarter would be given. It is thought this red flag was the original Jolly Roger. Folks debate about the origin of the name. Some speculate it’s from the French jolie rouge, meaning “pretty red.” Others say it was named after Sicilian King Roger II who they believe was first to fly it. Nobody really knows for sure.

Not every Jolly Roger sported the now cliché skull and crossbones, or Death’s head. Even so, they were usually festooned with something scary which was the whole point of the flag, instilling fear. Besides skulls, full skeletons were popular as were swords and drinking. The flag was a warning label: ship contains armed and dangerous drunkards. Many were personalized as sort-of pirate logos, a kind of terror branding. Below are our renditions of six Jolly Rogers from some notorious pirates in history.


Top row: Calico Jack, Edward Low. Middle row: Blackbeard (Edward Teach), Stede Bonnet. Bottom row: Thomas Tew, Terry and the Pirates. OK, that last one was our little joke. The real number six is the right flag in the opening pic: Edward England.

While pirates have a colorful, swash­buckling image today they were nothing but sea gangsters who went around robbing and murdering people. To this day there seems to be some kind of connection between flamboyant attire and thuggery. Might be a hedonism thing, we couldn’t say.

Filed 1/11/17

What the Hell’s with “the Hell”?


Infrequently Answered Question #104: It’s cold as hell today. Last July it was hot as hell. Just what the hell is hell’s temperature?

A: Not having been there, we don’t know. But if there’s nine levels of hell, it could be extremely hot in parts and unbearably cold in other parts. Whatever the case, we’re certain, as both phrases suggest, it’s pretty darned unpleasant. That being the whole point of the place.

There are other common idioms that seem to contradict each other while they don’t. If your house burns up it burns down. A fat chance is a slim chance. Some hot new thing can be really cool, man. A hot/cold thing which brings us back to where the hell we started. (Though shoving “the hell” in sentences the usual way seems rather grammatically nonsensical. Why exactly? We the hell don’t the hell know the hell why.)

All this hell talk has us wondering, should hell be capitalized? After all, it’s the name of a place. Like Detroit.

Filed 1/5/17

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