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Only for geniuses

13 Dec

An algebra lesson from Timmy. Because I love you. And I want to stay your friend.

2016 has been a year of shocks and surprises, and I for one will be glad to see it over. I am hoping and praying that one trend will disappear next year – the horseshoe/burger/beer mathematics puzzle. Because every time I see one of these I am drawn to look at it and dismayed to find out… you’re still damn well getting it wrong!

Now, first off.

If you title your post "only for genius’s" then I will find you. I will hunt you down. And I will take away your apostrophe key until you can use it properly.

There. That’s that out of the way.


I hear a lot of people complain that they never use the algebra they were taught at school. This is very clear, looking at the answers we’re getting…but in fact you are using algebra, and you’re doing it in your head. Go you!

(Now, a caveat. I am not a mathematician. I have however got a degree in physics and electronics, including semiconductor physics, nuclear physics and particle theory. I have therefore done more algebra and arithmetic than you can shake an abacus at.)

If you apply the mathematical rules correctly, you will always arrive at one consistent answer. This answer will, in fact, be wrong. But we will look at that in a minute. Let’s try and find the answer you’re ‘supposed’ to get if you are a ‘genius’.

These puzzles always seem to take a similar form.

Line One:

Line one is something like

horse + horse + horse = 30.

This is like writing [a+a+a=x] or [3a=x]. Or [a=x/3]. Where x=30. So a=30/3. Which we all manage to solve to get ‘horse’ = 10.

So far so good. Your algebra is working. Awesome!

Line Two:

The next line is probably something like

horse + horseshoes + horseshoes = 18

This is writing [a + b + b = y], or [a+2b=y], where y=18 and a = 10 (from line one)

So [2b=y-a], so [b=(y-a) / 2] , or [b=(18-10)/2]

Which would make ‘horseshoes’ = 4

So far so good. Your algebra is holding up nicely, even if you’re actually solving this in your head. It’s still algebra.

Line three

Same again. Something like

Horseshoes – boots = 2

We used b to represent the horseshoes, and a to represent the horse. If c represents the boots then…

[b-c=z], or [c=z-b] – which for us is [4-c=2], which makes c (boots, remember) = 2

You probably did that in your head too..

Line four

This is where it all goes to hell in a handbasket. There are two little tricks in here that mean you’ll probably get it wrong. Line four is something like

Boot + Horse x horseshoe = ?

Trick one. The first thing you might miss is that there’s only one boot, and only one horseshoe. So when boots=2, boot (singular) must be 1. If horseshoes = 4, then horseshoe (singular) must be 2.

So that line becomes

1 + 10 x 2 = ?

Trick two. Now, the evil blighters want you to forget that you don’t do arithmetic from left to right. There’s a reason for this, and we will talk about it in a minute.

There’s an order to do these in. First off deal with the brackets. There aren’t any here.. and we’ll talk about that in a minute too.

Then do the division and the multiplication from left to right.

So that’s 10 x 2 = 20.

Now do the addition and subtraction from left to right.

So that’s 1+20=21.

Always. The absolute values may vary from puzzle to puzzle, and the horses might get replaced by hamburgers, but the rules are still the same.


Horse = 10
Horseshoe pair = 4
Boot pair = 2
=> Horseshoe =2
=> Boot = 1
1 + 10 × 2 = 21
(Calculated as 1 = (10 x 2) because you have to do things in the right order according to the rules of arithmetic.)

Now. Here’s the thing. If you were a REAL genius you’d have remembered that mathematics is a way of representing the real world in numbers and symbols. Which is why the rules exist and you do multiplication first.

And real geniuses want to make sure that there’s no room for getting things wrong, so we throw brackets in like there’s a sale at the bracket store.

So, in the real world, this puzzle might at the end mean

"Multiply the number of horseshoes per horse by the number of horses and you’ll get the number of horseshoes to buy…

Then add on the number of boots to buy and you’ll have the total number of things to bring home from the chandlery. "

We obviously have a large number of two legged horses and a peg legged cowboy, but who cares.

What you can’t meaningfully do is add the number of boots and the number of horses and multiply by a number of horseshoes. That’s craziness, unless you are in the habit of putting horseshoes on your boots.

AND… we’ve assumed that a picture of two horseshoes is equal to twice as many as a picture of one horseshoe. But that’s only an assumption. In reality we worked out what the value of the symbol ‘horseshoes’ meant but not what the symbol ‘horseshoe’ meant. It might be different. (While a ‘W’ looks like two ‘V’s together, it’s a different symbol, remember. This is no different)

So the only real and true answer to these puzzles is ‘it’s meaningless’ until we know what things represent and what the symbols mean. If they mean anything.

Can we stop posting these now? Please?

I surrender

18 Mar

surrenderOK, I’ve taken a great and momentous decision. From now on I will NOT be commenting on anyone who reposts stupid stuff on line without researching it first. When I was younger we used to have to spend hours in something called a ‘library’ to check whether something was true or not. Nowadays it’s simple to check on Google.

Now, you’ll notice a parallel with an earlier announcement that said that I’m going to ignore grammatical disasters and misplaced apostrophes. While it will still make me twitch, you’re on your own, grammar wise.

Yet, as someone who used to run big email and networking services, it irks me to see so much crap filling up my newsfeed and going everywhere and back again when there’s so much really great stuff that I DO want to see. I want to hear people’s news. I want to be inspired. I want to laugh. There’s some amazing stuff out there.

What I don’t want to be is to be buried under posts that have their origin in fear. ‘Your food isn’t what you think’ (OK the horsemeat issue was true – but I feel sorrier for the pork found in halal meat, to be honest). ‘There are scarier critters out there than science ever guessed’. ‘Facebook is trying to steal your data.’

But, honestly, I haven’t got time any more to write back to everyone that reposts stupid things without checking. I want to spend more of my time creating great stuff, writing blog posts, recording programmes and sharing some of the awesome things that are going on in the world. And dancing. And keeping fit. And having fun. And spending time with my friends. And falling in love. And splashing in puddles. And creating wealth. And listening to my heart and its resonance with the Universe. And being happy.

So here’s some things you’re going to have to work out for yourselves….

1) Anything that asks you to do something complicated for someone else to protect their privacy. Just bonkers. Privacy is actually pretty simple. Contrary to popular opinion, Facebook are not stupid and they do have controls in place to protect your privacy. Set it to ‘Friends Only’. Simples.

2) Photographs of ridiculously sized animals are probably fake. This includes very big spiders/snakes/creepy crawlies. Just think whether these things would actually function under Earth gravity. The same goes for pictures of very small animals. If it looks like a normal sized cat made very small by Photoshop, it probably is.

3) Crazy offers for stuff from web pages that have only existed for two days yet promise to give away hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of kit are almost certainly false. (If you just tell them what colour you want. Oh, and fill in a ridiculous questionnaire to give away your personal data so they can spam you or steal your identity.)

4) Ridiculous claims about margarine/ onions/ chicken nuggets are actually patently untrue – if we just checked.

5) Denzel Washington/ Lady Gaga/ Jon Bon Jovi are not dead. Just check before writing that tearful obituary…

6) Posts claiming that Facebook/Microsoft/IBM/Amazon/The Red Cross will donate money if you like a post are complete tosh. That heartwrenching photo of some poorly child got used without their permission… so don’t perpetuate the misery.

7) Did you see what she did in public? video clips really ARE there to steal your data.

8) Pictures that ask you to like them or comment to ‘see what happens’ will, in fact, shock and stun you by REMAINING EXACTLY THE SAME.

9) Comments that this month is special because of the number of Mondays/Fridays/ Saturdays and won’t occur for another 823 years can be easily debunked by consulting a calendar.. where you will (surprise surprise) find that they occur every couple of months.

While I’m here, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t loop off on a tangent, I’m also personally irritated by ‘share to win’ offers that clutter up my newsfeed. I want to see interesting stuff, not find out that someone wants to win an ipod/corset/holiday. Do we really want to do people’s marketing for them? I don’t want to see these and I bet you don’t either. Give me some stuff that’s interesting.

Heretical moment: I also get a bit frustrated with the constant petitions for Starbucks/Amazon/Tesco/ whoever to give some of their money back in taxes because they are paying it somewhere else. We should complain to a government who allows this sort of tax loophole, not try and shame companies who are trying to make a profit and keep people in jobs – and, believe it or not – actually trying to follow the rules and then wake up to find the world has turned against them because they (shock horror) tried to maximise their profit. Because – and be honest now – if you could save tax by doing it… you’d do it too. OK, rant off.

Oh. And posts that trade on other people’s misery. Just cause they are in a video doesn’t mean they’re not real people with real feelings… just cause they’re overweight or lack ‘normal’ dress sense doesn’t mean we can just photograph them in Walmart and laugh? Does it?

So here’s a couple of sites that you’ll need, in my absence.





Do what I do. Assume it’s crap first and then challenge the internet to prove me wrong. Especially if it sounds as if it’s based on fear. If you’re going to repost it, for heaven’s sake check it out first. Surely?

So what DO I want to see? Well, if we can get rid of all that junk then I have loads of time for you to tell me what you had for breakfast or the fact that you’ve just had coffee. Really. Make it funny and I actually AM interested!

But especially send me

1) Pictures of cats doing funny things. Big cats or small cats, I don’t really mind. Or dogs. Or monkeys. I’m not speciesist.

2) Heartwarming stuff. Photos that make my heart sing.

3) Inspirational stuff. Videos that make me think. Quotes that make me ponder a bit. Stuff that interrupts my thought patterns. Beautiful pictures of amazing places.

4) News. I like to know what you’re doing, if you think it’s important enough to want to share it with me.

5) Interesting ‘oh my god that’s amazing’ stuff. Clever ideas. Science that takes my breath away.

6) Things that make me laugh. Or cry. Or both at once.

7) Witty pictures involving coffee. Or cake. Or both.

I’ll look forward to seeing your good stuff. The rest.. well, just think before you post it. Check before you post it. Please!

And let’s use this amazing, incredible technology to spread a little love and happiness.


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