Thanks for the compliment!

January 20th, 2012

I’ve found little to write about since December, but I check all comments that my site gets. Nearly all are spam, but I really loved the following one, whose author and his/her (commercial) internet link I’ll spare you:

One thing I have realized in all your blog posts and I thought I’d compliment you on is how good your English and grammar are. How did you figure out how to write so well? It looks like you have a degree in writing from a University.

Here’s what I would have answered if I’d taken this seriously:

Thank you ever so much for that charming compliment. I have a university degree, but it’s in mathematics, so not related to writing per se. However, for the last three years I have been an Associate Editor for one of the largest online dictionaries, the OEDILF (Omnificient English Dictionary In Limerick Form).

Need I mention that this “comment” will be published in the OEDILF forum? I’m sure my collaborators will be impressed.

Ugg what?

December 29th, 2011

Here’e another OEDILF limerick, for Ruchiccio, who displays a strange affinitity towards ugg boots:


He needs both hands to count up to seven.
And I wish him to Hell, not to Heaven.
He’s called Bruce, he wears ugg,
He’s a lout, he’s a thug,
And his surname must surely be Bevan.

Apart from being an uncommon surname, in Queensland, Australia, a bevan denotes an unsophisticated male from the wrong social class or part of town. In other parts of the country he is known as a bogan. Ugg is thick sheepskin used for bevans’ boots. Other signs of “bevanism” include panel vans, flannel shirts and obnoxious hard-rock music.

Well meant, I suppose …

December 29th, 2011

I just received this message from a friend:

May the sun shine on you, Michael, and may your socks fit perfectly today. Not so loose that they bunch at your ankles, yet not so tight that they cut off the circulation. And may they keep your feet warm enough today without getting sweaty by the end of the day. Peace my brother.

It came too late, alas, as you can see for yourself:


Merry Christmas, dear elks!

December 25th, 2011

Metal elkI don’t know when I started collecting elks (and moose and reindeers), but I think my first one was a cuddly toy from IKEA. Every year in December I bring them all out for decorating, and they always seem to have multiplied during the year. Since they’re all out and about now, I’ll be taking photos of them to post here. I hope you like them as much as I do and I wish you a merry end-of-the-year festivity, no matter what you call it!

This small (8cm tall) metal elk is, strictly speaking, not mine. I included it in a self-made advent calendar for my wife in 2009. Since then he has always got a nice place to hang near the top of our Christmas tree.

Red felt reindeerI don’t bother much about distinguishing between elks, moose and reindeers, so this red felt reindeer is an “elk”, as far as I’m concerned. In some years we hang him in a window, in others he hangs on a wall. The green star in this photo was a gift from our friend Susan, and it’s also part of our annual Christmas decoration.

Merry Christmas, Eve

December 24th, 2011

Here’s another limerick I wrote for the OEDILF:

Christmas Eve

“I see that you cannot conceive
Of my plans for you, so please believe
That this present, dear Adam,
Is now your new Madam.
Merry Christmas,” spake God. (Enter Eve)

No meta wish for YOU!

December 22nd, 2011

Here’s a variation of a well-known story:

A man walks along a shore and finds a bottle. He opens it and out comes a strange being who says “Thank you ever so much, dear fisherman, for freeing me. I am a genie, and I’ve been locked up for centuries. As a sign of my gratitude, I offer you a wish. What would you like?”

“Thanks yourself,” says the man. “BTW, I’m not a fisher, but a professor of mathematical logic. And I’ve heard this story before. Some idiots ask for a million dollars or happiness or something similar. But I’ve dreamed of this moment for years and planned ahead. My wish is: I want you to grant me ten wishes.”

“Smartarse, eh?” says the genie. “We were warned about your kind in genie training. What you want isn’t a wish, but a ‘meta wish’, a wish about wishes. And that you can’t have. You must choose something material, like a ton of gold or a pink unicorn, or something immaterial, like intelligence or eternal life. If what you wish for doesn’t exist yet, I can create it for you. But meta wishes are out.”

“Okay,” replies the mathematician, “then I want ten bottles with genies like you inside.”

Brave New World

December 21st, 2011

Back in June 2007 I wrote this limerick version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for the OEDILF:

I lie here bare-naked: no pants
And no shirt. But then, softly, some chants
Fill my yet-unborn ear.
And the voices ring clear:
“Now let’s watch how the doctor decants.”

In a crêche I grow up with the others.
We are eighty identical brothers.
Hypnopaedically we
Learn how life soon will be,
Taught by nurses — not fathers and mothers.

I’m a Delta, and we are the best.
Epsilons are really a pest.
And when meeting a Gamma
I just start to stammer —
They work so much more than the rest.

The Alphas and Betas, now they
Live a life which is dismal and grey.
Though their bodies aren’t strong
They must think all day long,
Which I’d never endure, come what may.

I work hard all my short adult life,
But I know neither “struggle” nor “strife”.
For the factory’s noise
Any Delta enjoys
More than children, or friends, or a wife.

Once I’m sixty there will come a time —
Up to then I’ll remain in my prime —
When my brain will grow old,
And my flesh will get cold,
I’ll recycle, to smoke and to slime.

So this is the future for me!
You’ll enjoy it! As now so do we.
If you’re brought up my way,
You will love every day
Of the Brave New World that is to be.

Nepomuk goes for a ride

December 20th, 2011

I have a number of mathematical puzzles about a (ficticious) French friend of mine called Nepomuk. Here’s the first of a series:

Nepomuk is driving to Paris, and he passes a road sign telling him the distance left. Unluckily, he’s a bit short-sighted, and so all he sees on the sign is that the number of miles to Paris has three digits, with the middle one being a zero:

Nepomuk travels along at a constant speed, and after exactly one hour he passes a road sign telling him that he’s still YX miles from Paris — the same two digits appear, but inverted.

And yet another hour later (he’s still driving at the same constant speed), he sees a sign telling him that he’s only XY miles from Paris — the same digits as on the first sign, but without the zero.

What is the (constant) speed that Nepomuk is travelling at?

See that bridge?

December 16th, 2011

The mayor of a Greek town visited a town in Italy and was invited to dinner at the Italian mayor’s home. The Greek marveled at the splendour in which his colleague lived — a large house with a nice garden, both well tended, and so he asked “Dear colleague, how can you afford all this luxury on what must be quite a modest salary?”

The Italian took him to the window and said “Do you see that bridge over there? The EU gave us enough money to build a two-lane construction, but we made it single-lane, installing a set of traffic lights instead to prevent cars from driving over it from both ends at the same time. What we saved went into this house.”

The year after that, the Italian went to Greece to visit his new friend. He found his colleague living in a huge villa, surrounded by a park, with a large garage full of sports cars. At dinner, the Italian asked “How on earth did you get this much on your salary, which must be even less than mine?”

The Greek took him to the window and said “Do you see that bridge over there?”

“No,” said the Italian.

“That’s how.”

My pre-Xmas present

December 16th, 2011

My wife’s nephew, knowing how much I like everything having to do with elks and reindeer, sent me a nice birthday present. It’s a pity I can’t see it while I wear it, but you can:

If you listen to the sound, you’ll first hear the bells on the antlers and then the actual music they play when you press a button on the headband.