Funniest Hungarian joke ever

No computer stuff today; since I am actually in Hungary today on business and it is the the anniversary of the happy event mentioned below, today’s FAIC is a rerun. Enjoy!

I’m back from my fabulous adventures in Austria, Romania and Canada and I had a fabulous time, as you might imagine. We were in Romania for a wedding of some close personal friends who live here in Seattle; much of the groom’s family escaped from Romania during the Communist period and settled in Austria, so we spent some time in Vienna and then headed to Bucharest, and then crossed the Carpathian mountains by bus into Transylvania for the wedding. Some of the highlights included:

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Friday fun with Ogden Nash

Someone at Reuters is having too much fun:

China threatens drama
if Obama
meets the Dalai Lama

Followed by

meets the Dalai Lama
despite China drama

I am reminded of the immortal words of Ogden Nash:

The one-L lama, he’s a priest
The two-L llama, he’s a beast
And I would bet a silk pajama
There isn’t any three-L lllama

To which my Bostonian friend Marty responds “that big fire was a right three-alahmah”.

Um, no

Dear non-English-as-a-first-language-speaking phishing attackers, let me point out all the ways that I know that this is not actually from PayPal. (Oddly enough gmail did not flag this as phishing, despite having a PayPal logo embedded in it and a link to what is obviously a phishing site.)

Dear Costumer, [A costumer is someone who makes clothing for actors. You meant “customer”.]

We need more information from you [missing period]

We need your help resoving [resolving] an issue with your account. To give us to work together on this, [this phrase doesn’t make any sense] we’ve temporarily limited what you can do with your account untill [until] the issue is resolved.

We need a little bit [of] information about you to help confirm you [your] identity [missing period]

Note: Please note that in 50% of cases you will receive this e-mail in the spam box, [comma splice] it is because of the increased security emailing services you use. [No, it’s because you’re criminals.]

UPDATE: This is deliberate! How astonishingly devious. See this transcript of On The Media and this Microsoft Research paper.

Higgledy piggledy

Hello all, I am back from vacation, but rather than get right back into programming language design, let’s have some fun for a Friday.

Most of you are probably familiar with iambic pentameter, which is the poetic meter that Shakespeare wrote in: most lines in Shakespeare are ten syllables, divided up into five iambic feet. Each foot has an unstressed syllable at the beginning and a stressed syllable at the end. As Hamlet says:

O, THAT this TOO too SOlid FLESH would MELT

Very serious, iambs. Continue reading

The psychology of C# analysis

developersThe organizers of the recent Static Analysis Symposium — conveniently held four blocks from my office — were kind enough to invite me to give the opening talk. Now, this is a conference where the presentations have titles like “Efficient Generation of Correctness Certificates for the Abstract Domain of Polyhedra“; I know what all those words mean individually, it’s just them next to each other in that order that I don’t understand. Fortunately for me, the SAS organizers invite people in industry to give talks about the less academic, more pragmatic aspects of program analysis, which I was happy to do.

They also let me pad my presentation with funny pictures of cats, which helped a lot.

Unfortunately I don’t have a recording of the talk, but my slides are posted here if you want to check them out.

Special thanks to Scott Meyer of who was kind enough to allow me to use his comic about informative presentations in my informative presentation.

The postmodern gumballs (rerun)

I’ve been writing this blog for almost ten years now and there are plenty of readers who have quite reasonably never gone back through that archive of over 750 posts. Maybe one Friday a month or so, I’m going to rerun one of my favourite “fun” posts from the last decade. Today, a story I posted on the first anniversary of my blog, in September of 2004. Enjoy! Continue reading

Big boxes

As someone who owns an old house and likes “do it yourself” projects, I spend a lot of time in “big box” warehouse stores. I try my absolute best to interact with as few employees as possible when I go to these stores because it never seems to go well. Here are a few conversational highlights from over the years:


—— Holy trash bags, Batman ——

Me: Hi there, you probably don’t have these but Western Safety is closed today. Do you have large four or six mil tear-resistant trash bags?

Big Box Store Employee: I don’t think so; what do you need them for?

Me: I’m tearing up a hundred-year-old sub-floor and the test for asbestos contamination has come back positive. The toxic waste dump won’t take asbestos contaminated waste unless it is properly bagged and labelled.

BBSE: Well, I’d just bag it and throw it out in the regular trash and not tell anyone.

(I went to Western Safety.)

—— Circular is the round one ——

Me, speaking to the guy at the tool counter: Hi, I need an eight inch abrasive cutoff wheel suitable for cutting thin, soft steel with a chop saw or circular saw.

BBSE: You mean these? 

Me: Those are reciprocating saw blades. Circular saw blades are circles.

BBSE: Oh, so you mean these?

Me: Those are ten inch wood cutting blades.

BBSE: Hmm. You mean these?

Me: Those are concrete cutting wheels.

BBSE: How about these?

Me: Those are metal cutting wheels but those are four inches wide. I need eight.

BBSE: Maybe you should try Lowes.

(I tried Ace, successfully.)

—— It’s not a nuclear reactor, it’ll come back online easily enough ——

Me, fifteen minutes before the store closes: Can I have this twelve foot board sawed into two six foot boards? I need two six foot shelves, and a twelve foot board won’t fit in my car.

BBSE: Sorry, the saw is already shut down for the night.

Me, speaking to the store manager 90 seconds later: I have a question for you: is it the policy of this store that the saw “shuts down for the night” at some time before closing?

Manager: Uh, no… who told you that?

Me: I think it was the guy who just vacuumed up the sawdust and doesn’t want to do it again.

Manager: I know just who you mean.

(They sawed my board but boy, were they not happy about it.)

—— That’s just smurfy ——

Me, talking to a guy in the electrical aisle: Can you tell me where to find one-inch diameter flexible electrical conduit? It is made of thin, ridged plastic and is sometimes called “smurf tube” because it’s that colour of blue.

BBSE: Sorry, we don’t carry anything like that.

As I turned to leave I realized that of course the smurf tube was directly behind me; the BBSE was looking at it as he was telling me he didn’t have it.

—— How useful! ——

Me, talking to a (different) guy at the tool counter: Where are the rivets?

BBSE: Rivets?

Me: Rivets.

BBSE: I’ve never heard that word before; what’s a rivet?

Me: A rivet is a metal fastener usually used to attach metal objects together. You insert the rivet through the objects you wish to fasten together and then deform one end of the rivet by peening it with a special tool. If you have access to both sides of the objects you can use solid rivets, otherwise you can use hollow rivets.

BBSE: Wow, that sure sounds useful!

(Another employee knew what rivets were, and, bonus, where in the store they were.)

—— Take a number ——

Now, I understand that the people hired at big box stores have no experience whatsoever using any product that they sell, and, as we’ve just seen, often no knowledge of what they sell in the first place. I know that if I want knowledgeable conversation about a tool with an expert I should go to Hardwick’s, which is like paradise for hardware geeks. The trouble is that they don’t have convenient hours; they’re closed by the time I get home from work, and not open Sundays. I try to go to local small-box stores as much as I can. Which is why this experience I had at my local small-business lumber yard yesterday was so disappointing:

Me: Hi there, I need three dozen eight foot two-by-fours and three sheets of quarter inch drywall.

Cashier standing by the front door: I think we have those.

Me: I’m quite sure that you do, since this is a lumber store. Are the two-bys and sheet rock in this building, or in the warehouse across the street?

Cashier: I don’t know. I think you’ll have to ask someone else.

Me: You don’t know where the two-by-fours are?

Cashier: This is only my fifth day on the job. Take a number and someone will help you.

I would have thought that “where are the two-by-fours” is the kind of thing you’d sort out on day one at the lumber store, but, whatever.

At this point I note that I am the only customer in the store. Behind the counter there are five employees. Three are talking amongst themselves. One is typing on a computer. One is on the phone. As instructed, I take a number, and walk over to the paint aisle to browse spray paint while I wait for one of the five people behind the counter to call my number.

They do so immediately. The moment my number is called, the three employees who were talking amongst themselves immediately leave the building by the back entrance, and the guy on the phone hangs up and leaves by the front entrance, leaving in the building me, the guy on the computer, and the cashier who does not know where the lumber store keeps their two by fours. I point out to the guy on the computer that my number has just been called, and he says that someone else will help me shortly.

I waited ten minutes watching him silently ignore me, typing away, and then I left and went to the big box store at the other end of town; I knew where the two-bys were there. 

Attention small business owners: I am doing my best to give you my money. Stop making it so hard.

Attention big box store owners: You run vast multinational corporations with huge profits. You can afford to hire and/or train employees to familiarize them with the products you sell and their basic functions.




I emailed the last portion of this blog entry to the owner of the small business involved, and:


I really appreciate the opportunity to address such an egregious example of poor service. I won’t bore you with the details but it was a bad intersection of shift changes, yard service people hanging out at the counter and too few sales people. We watched the tape of your arrival and departure and have talked it over with everyone involved. Please let me tell you we’re embarrassed and ashamed of the way we treated you. Please accept my sincere apology.


The owner also offered me a discount on my next order and free delivery, which was I think a very nice gesture. As I have said often, you can tell the quality of customer service at an organization by how they deal with mistakes. Good service means recognizing the mistake, taking ownership of it, identifying the structural problem that allowed it to happen, and making a gesture of goodwill to the customer; this is an example of really excellent customer service, and I appreciate that very much.

Wackiness ensues

This Twitter feed  answers the question “What would happen if Anders Hejlsberg and Barbara Liskov were forced to share an apartment[1. A single-threaded apartment, I’d assume.] in an “odd couple” style sitcom?”

Apparently I’m the “Kramer” of this sitcom. I hope I’m played by Ryan Gosling. Additional suggestions on casting the principal roles can be left in the comments.

Next time on FAIC: Can the is operator return true even if there is no compile-time conversion to the stated type?

What would Feynman do?

No one I know at Microsoft asks those godawful “lateral-thinking puzzle” interview questions anymore. Maybe someone still does, I don’t know. But rumour has it that a lot of companies are still following the Microsoft lead from the 1990s in their interviews. In that tradition, I present a sequel to Keith Michaels’ 2003 exercise in counterfactual reasoning. Once more, we dare to ask the question “how well would the late Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Dr. Richard P. Feynman do in a technical interview at a software company?

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