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Archive for ‘The Friday Fillip’ Feature

The Friday Fillip: Chickens in the Air

Around my house we sometimes ask “Do chickens anticipate?”. This is a roundabout way of saying “No way,” of course. It’s one of a number of chicken questions that aim at the same thing, another being “Do chickens have lips?”. Or “Do chickens fly?”. But the answer to that last is, surprisingly, yes. Which fact makes the intro to this fillip somewhat plausible.

It’s a fillip of four puzzlers, brain teasers — simple-seeming questions that have difficult or surprising answers. And the first has to do with a truckload of chickens:

  1. A truck transporting live chickens is overweight and will
. . . [more]
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The Friday Fillip: Loco Motion

After more than a decade in one place, I’ve recently moved to a new neighbourhood — which means new eyes for what’s around me. And because it’s summer and near beaches, I’m seeing a lot of families with children, noticing, as I do every so often, how children move, how they get from point A to point B, eventually.

If there’s a low wall they walk on top of it. If the surface is relatively level, they skip. If it’s rainy, they wade straight through the middle of puddles. If there’s interesting stuff around them — and when is there . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Alpha Wolf

You have to wonder whether Stephen Wolfram was thinking of top dog when he named his . . . what shall we call it? . . . marvelous machine Wolfram|Alpha. After all, the man is not noted for his humility, though I have to say that when you look at his biography you might conclude that any immodesty on his part is merited.

I’m sure that most of you have at one time or another visited the “answer machine” that is Wolfram|Alpha. If you haven’t been there in a while, I encourage you to go again now and tour . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Binaural

Here’s a pair for your ears.

I enjoy injecting sound into the stream of fillips from time to time, because sound has no intrinsic meaning — unlike the words we wield every day — and despite or because of that it can be beautiful and intriguing.

Today you get to compose, or at least to set free a small program that will run its musical course and either fall into repetition or modulate into endless variation, rather like the Game of Life I pointed to a great many years back and that demonstrates how complexity can emerge from a very . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Surprise!

Like most of you, I’m sure, I get momentarily caught whenever I see the word “law” in something I’m reading. Much of the time it has nothing to do with our business and means to describe only some regularity, whether scientific, logical or folkloristic. That’s the way it was when I stumbled across “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” (See, e.g.,the title of this piece in the Economist.) Curiously, this “law” almost never gets framed as such, and from what I can tell amounts to nothing more than the observation that we’re not too good a predicting the future, particularly when . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Pants

Pants: Rubbish; nonsense. Freq. in pile (also load) of pants. (Brit. slang)

Which is one reason why I’m going to talk about trousers instead. (Another reason, also grounded in respect for our British readers, is that in that green and pleasant land “pants” refers to undergarments and can cause fourth form giggling.)

What piece of clothing could be more humble than a pair of men’s trousers?

Socks, perhaps. Though, socks have the potential to be colourful and to display strange and wonderful designs, something that trousers continue to resist, the recent craze for red jeans notwithstanding. Yet . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: What’s the Big Idea?

When I was younger I had a fondness for big ideas — or, a few of them, at least. Only natural in a tyro trying to learn how to dance to the ineffable ruck and roil of life itself and looking for some Arthur Murray guidance.

Now, Big Ideas are potentially dangerous, as that originating interesting concept expands to a full-blown idea, idea inflates to Big Idea, which in turn can bloat to ideology, gripping the mind and wresting all awareness away from the pragmatic to the programmatic. Perhaps I’m too intellectually lazy ever to have worked my way up . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Ups and Downs

Odd that downs are ups.

Apparently in their full regalia they’re “downlands,” which are open chalk hills: exposed layers of chalk wear away into rounded hills, which then are covered by a thin layer of surface soil and grass. Of course, downs are “dunes” in another context, that being sand. (Not sure how “downs” got associated with racecourses, as in Kentucky’s Churchill Downs; it might have to do with the treeless grassy nature of some English downlands, making them suitable for horse racing.)

We dig holes and make mounds: it’s what human beings do when given a spade and a . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Starlight, Starbright – Not So Much

I’ve banged on here before about the splendour of the unobstructed night sky and the need for all of us to gaze up into it at least once in our lives. I’m going to do it again today, but with a new visual argument to bolster my stance (head back, neck crooked, back braced, eyes wide open…). A mere century ago my opening line would have been nonsensical to most people — certainly to the great majority who didn’t live in London, New York, Paris or one of the other large cities: the sky was ever present after sundown, the . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Disturbing Tribe

Should crafty lawyer trespass on our ground,
Caitiffs avaunt! disturbing tribe away!
Unless (white crow) an honest one be found;
He’ll better, wiser go for what we say.*

What wears black, talks a lot, occasionally hangs out at murders, and is intelligent, aggressive, and generally little-loved?

Yes, that’s right.

Seems to me there are worse things than being compared to crows, however. I have a lot of respect for these loud, shiny birds — for corvids generally: jays, ravens, rooks, crows, magpies — mostly because they do interesting things, which is to say that I think they’re “smart.” And in . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: My Big Bach Theory

Bach is the best.

Better than all the other big B’s — Buxtehude, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Bizet, Berlioz. . . . Better even than the M’s — Mozart, Mendelssohn, Mahler . . .

Foolish thing to say, though: that one composer at that level of excellence is “better” than another. Surely “different” is the right word. But for me, Johann Sebastian is the bees knees, il miglior fabbro, Napoleon brandy, the MVP.

Now I know that baroque music is not to everyone’s taste: it’s been called “sewing-machine music” because of the underlying ricky-ticky, rum-tum-tum lines that keep the . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Name Your Toes

This little piggy went to the market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home.

Yes, but which piggy’s which? Who had the roast beef?

Maybe your brain is too far away from your toes to care. Or maybe the Adam in you is exhausted by the long march down to the foot and falls unconscious at the arch after muttering a brilliant “Big toe, little toe… ” Whatever the reason, your three toes in the middle are innominate and . . . [more]

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