Constellations - plays branching and switching - and fragmentary Tolkien

I’d heard great things about, but never got to see, Nick Payne’s two-hander play “Constellations” featuring a cosmologist, a bee-keeper, and branching scenes to show the many alternative ways their story could have gone. (The Guardian explains more in its review of the original production.) So I was excited to see it appear for streaming on National Theatre at Home, with Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd…

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plays  films 

The tricky Round Britain Quiz

I continue to be in awe of the panellists in “Round Britain Quiz” on Radio 4 as I catch up on the new series - fluently pulling out pieces of obscure “general” knowledge and tracing the connections which the question-setter had woven together. (But if they are stumped, as sometimes happens, then the host mercifully - both to the panellists and the audience - gives hints and nudges - at the cost of the points to be awarded at the end.)

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Three types of ambiguity - jokes with footnotes [1]

A trio of jokes from psychology, philosophy, and linguistics

Some jokes benefit from footnotes.

That may not be true of these, but I’m going to provide them anyway.

When I found in quick-ish succession a good psychology joke and a good philosophy joke, I thought of looking for a physiology joke to complete the PPP hat trick - but found that PPP has been replaced by PPL, so here we go…

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Running Calibre server on AWS EC2: your ebooks available wherever you are

I have built a large library of PDF books over the years, using the Calibre ebook management tool to manage the collection. For a long time I ran it on my local PC, but sometimes find myself wanting to refer to something when I don’t happen to be sat at my home office desk. So I wanted a way to have an online mirror so I could access my library wherever I was (while securing it from unauthorised access). And this article provides an overview of how I did it for readers who are interested in doing the same.

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Linux  books 

The pub quiz 'Play Your Cards Right' jackpot meets Monte Carlo analysis

How long *is* that long shot?

Our semi-regular pub quiz ends with the jackpot round - one team competes in a luck-driven “higher/lower” card game to win a jackpot (currently c.£500), and if they lose, some more money is added to the jackpot for the following week. I’d never seen anyone win the jackpot - so was curious to work out what the chances actually are and what the optimal strategy (to the extent that there is strategy beyond the obvious) is.

The cards are dealt without replacing them in the deck, so the probabilities vary during the game, making it trickier to explicitly calculate the probability of winning. But it is relatively simple to estimate using Monte Carlo simulation - running multiple simulated games, counting the wins, and using that to estimate the win probabilities when applying various strategies.

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maths  games 

Scrabble: not a game of language?

“Scrabble isn’t a word game. It’s an area-control game with 150,000 rules to define legal placement for your resources. Some of those rules have mnemonics in the form of words you know.”

The origin of this fair description of Scrabble is traced in a recent Hacker News discussion of the game, prompted by Oliver Roeder’s 2022 article On the Insanity of Being a Scrabble Enthusiast.

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Frets, on ukuleles, violins, and - tangentially - minds

Earlier in the year we acquired a ukulele. Having played violin years ago, I was impressed by innovations - a digital tuner is much better than the pitch pipes whose pitch varied depending on how hard you blew - I know I should have been able to do it all with an A and an ear…)

And I only now learned that the metal bars running across the fingerboard of ukuleles, guitars, etc. don’t just guide the fingers but actually stop the string themselves, making tuning more precise - which set me wondering why I never had frets on my violin…

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music  books 

The History Boys, and teachers real and archetypal (August 2004)

[This post - on Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys when it was still new, my own French and maths education, and comedian Adam Bloom’s narrative maze-hedging - was originally published on LiveJournal on 4 August 2004 and is re-posted here as part of a migration from Livejournal. It has some minor editing, interjections from 2022, and fixing/replacement of broken links - not everywhere has been able to follow Tim Berners-Lee’s 1998-and-still-there advice that Cool URIs don’t change.]

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