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Collected editorials

Sex and other matters

The toes knows

I am one of those unfortunates whose toes suffer from toe nail crud. As I understand these matters athlete’s foot can crawl under the toe nails and take root. (I may be completely wrong about this but that is my understanding.) Over the years my poor toes have gotten more and more discolored and just plain ugly. What to do about it?

For some decades the answer was nothing whatsoever. After all who sees your toes, particularly if you don’t wear flip-flops which I never do. The besides of which I never look at my toes. What kind of freak do you think I am? Don’t answer that.

These days you may have noticed some ads for lamby sill or something like that starring a rather repulsive little cartoon character with a smirk. You take these lamby sill pills and your cruddy little toe nails will grow into lovely little clean toe nails. My understanding is that you have to be off the sauce for the entire time you are on the pill treatment. That may seem like a small thing, but I’ve known people who went stark raving mad whilst on that treatment. The besides of which they say that the pills are bad for your liver.

Hello happy toes, bye, bye liver.

So it was that my cruddy little toes got cruddier over the years. And then came that magic moment at Mayo Clinic when, in the midst of all the pokings and proddings by Igor and his friends, I spoke to a doctor who specialized in crud of the feet. He looked at my feet and said, “Yup, you have cruddy toes.” Actually he didn’t quite say that, but that was the essence of it. Then he went on to say, “What you need is penlac.”

And what do you know, he was right. Penlac is a clear goop like nail polish. You put it on your toes every day just like nail polish. After a week you clean off your toes with rubbing alcohol and start all over. The process takes a few months but your toes (at least my toes) grow out all nice and pretty. (Pretty may be an overstatement.)

Mr. Liver says, “Hello happy toes, and thank you.”

Ants in the dishwasher, part II

In my last editorial I mentioned that ants had turned up in the dishwasher. I speculated, not very seriously, that they came through the drainage lines in the plumbing. I said that the idea made no sense at all. However …

Once of a time recently the kitchen sink plugged up. I called the plumber who disconnected the trap and ran his magic snake down the drain. He said that it had gotten plugged up with grease and that I should run some dishwasher fluid through it every so often. That’s what he said.

However it is distinctly noticeable that the ants have disappeared. Myself, I think that they set up residence in the plumbing and that the plumber did double duty as an exterminator.

Like I said, no sense at all.

That very fast, novel mapping algorithm

In April I posted some source code for something I called an H tree. Since then I have substantially reworked it, simplified it, and renamed it. The new name for the algorithm (a (key,value) mapping algorithm) is an UR tree, which is short for an Unordered Radix tree. This has been a fair bit of work and there is more yet to be done. Some of my readers may be asking why I am doing this sort of thing and why might it be important — and of course, others won’t be at all interested.

As to the why I do this sort of thing, the answer is simple enough: creating computer software and making it better and faster is what I do. It’s not all that I do – I write poetry, drink wine, bake bread, and renovate houses as well – but the computer software game has been a central part of my life, even a central part of my identity, for upwards of forty years. Some people might say, “Richard, you were working in the software mills for a long time. You’re retired now; why don’t you relax and have some fun.”

Any real programmer knows the answer to that one. Writing software is fun; solving problems is fun. Making things work better and faster is fun. There are things that are more fun but it is definitely up there in the top forty – if you have that kind of mind, of course.

As to why this particular bit of software is important, well the answer is a bit technical, but not terribly so. It turns out that in computer software it is very common to have key-value mappings. An example of a key-value mapping is a dictionary. The key is the word; the value is the definition(s). When you use a word you don’t drag in the definition with it; you just use the word. However when you need the definition you can always look it up. In a way, a word is a bit of short hand for the entire definition.

The catch lies in that looking up bit. As you might expect, the ways that human beings look things up is quite a bit different from the ways that computers look things up. Without going into the gory details, the essence of the matter is that human beings (assuming that programmers are human beings, a matter always open to question) have to figure out ways that the computer can look things up and then tell them how to do it.

As it happens, people (that would be programmers, computer scientists, and mathematicians) have come up with lots of different ways to do the looking up bit, partly because it such a common and important problem. One of the gold standards in this sort of thing is something called a hash table. They are used a lot. As it also happens, unordered radix trees are faster and slicker than hash tables. If hash tables are gold, unordered radix trees are platinum.

That’s what I do, I’m a software prospector looking for software platinum. You can recognize me by my virtual mule and my tattered virtual hat.


In the Merry Month of May my web site had 158,890 visitors and 327,687 hits. That would be upwards of 5,000 visitors a day. At least that is what my ISP says. Do I believe this? Well, yes and no. Yes, there are a lot of people out there with too much time on their hands and who are careless about what pages they point their browsers at. However I suspect that a lot of those visitors are computer programs. We know that all of the major search engines are busy running spiders all over the web searching out juicy flys, er, web pages to index. The NSA, the CIA, the FBI and Homeland Security are all out there diligently searching for the bad guys. I rather fancy their searches turn up their own undercover agents, but that is a different matter. The consumer research people are tracking down product references and buying habits. And so on and so forth. A recent study that I just made up suggests that snooping has overtaken downloading movies and music as the number one usage of the net, with porn coming in a distant third.

This is appalling. We should start a letter writing campaign and tell our representatives and senators that this sort of thing must stop. On second thought, you do it. I’m busy checking out my neighbours on my-space. It’s simply amazing what people will put up on the web.


According to the Church, sex is vile, dirty, and evil, and you should save it for someone you love.
    — Stolen from Greg G.

Culinary inventions

I am noted for my culinary inventions such as dehydrated water and tofu extender. I came up with my latest discovery after watching the food channel too many times. (I am planning to bring out my program, Rusted Out Chef America.) I have observed that many sauces require a reduction. My invention is a reduction of water.

When I proudly announced my concept to Our Lady of the Large Black Dog, she asked what a reduction of water might be. I replied that it was really quite simple; one starts with a pan of water that is about half full and lets it simmer until there is only about half an inch of water in the pan.

She absorbed this and rather skeptically asked what a reduction of water would taste like. I blandly replied that it had the same taste as unreduced water, only more intense.

Sometimes I think that she doesn’t entirely appreciate my culinary inventions.


The other day Our Lady and I were visiting the sodden metropolis of Aberdeen, South Dakota, not to be confused with the Aberdeen proving grounds. I say sodden because it gets an inordinate amount of rain from time to time. Recently it got nine inches in one long bursts, followed by other little bursts of two or three inches. This happens every few years; when it does the waters expand into the wannabe lakebed that is Aberdeen.

Why were we visiting Aberdeen? As it chances, Aberdeen is the nearest, ah, city that sports a number of Palaces of Consumption. These do not include any bookstores of consequence – it isn’t that large a city. We make it to Aberdeen every often to do a bit of shopping. As it chances Deb was there this time to see a doctor. A two hour drive to see a doctor is par for the course when you live in Highmore.

We were driving along the main consumption avenue when Our Lady spotted a bit of construction ahead. It was an ornate brick building. She said, It looks like they are building a church. I replied, no, it must be a bank. Sure enough, as we got closer we saw that it was a bank building.

Nowadays newly built bank buildings look like houses of worship whereas newly built churches look like Frank Lloyd Wright homes. That’s as it should be. In America, Mammon is our God, and the Financial Buildings are our cathedrals.

This page was last updated June 1, 2007.

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Collected editorials