Four letter fish

I noticed that a recent solution word in the NY Times Spelling Bee was “goby”. I had never heard of a goby, but I ended up getting it right anyway, because there are only so many possible four letter words that start with “go”.

After I finished the puzzle, I looked up the word, and it turns out that it’s a species of fish. Which wouldn’t be all that notable except that today it happened again.

In today’s Spelling Bee, one of the solution words was “dace”. Again, I got it only because there are just so many possible four letter words that start with the letters “da”.

Turns out, a dace is also a species of fish. Which got me wondering: How many four letter words are used in the description of a species of fish?

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I used a combination of Web search and letter-based pattern matching, and here is what I found:


I know that solving this little puzzle is not going to change the world. But it makes me happy.

Rocket Man

Saw Elton John in concert, and he was absolutely glorious. He happily focused on singing the songs that the audience wanted to hear, and his voice sounded much better at 75 than most voices will ever sound at any age.

His extended rendition of Rocket Man, in particular, was transcendent. But hearing it live reawakened a mystery that has lived in my soul ever since I first heard it half a century ago.

The mystery is this: If what he is doing up there is, as he says, “just a job, five days a week,” then what is he doing on the other two days?

Does this mean that when you’re stuck up there on Mars all by yourself, you get weekends off? And if you do get weekends off, what do you do when you’re not working?

I know there are greater mysteries than this. But I have lived with this one for a long time, and so far nobody has ever explained it to me.

Maybe Bernie Taupin knows the answer.

Implicit and explicit house rules

I was dining yesterday at a very good vegan restaurant, when I overheard something unexpected. Someone was had just arrived to join a large party a few tables over.

Just before he sat down, he said loudly to the waiter “Can I get a cheeseburger?” It was clearly an attempt at cheeky humor.

The waiter didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, we have that,” he replied pleasantly, and accurately (their burger is plant based, and quite good).

But the other people at that table looked uncomfortable. There was an awkward silence.

In my head, I started trying to unpack what had just happened. What exactly was going on here?

Clearly the guy was trying to be funny. But none of the people he knew at that table seemed to think it was funny.

Maybe he felt awkward about the choice of a vegan restaurant. But in that case, what he said was clearly a dig at whoever had chosen that restaurant.

Maybe it was a little more complex. Perhaps the man resented the choice of restaurant but was not consciously aware of his own resentment — until his joke misfired.

I found myself thinking about the “house rules” that kick in when we enter someone else’s space. Some rules are explicit, and others are implicit.

An implicit rule in a kosher restaurant would be not to jokingly order a ham and cheese sandwich. An explicit rule would be not to jokingly shout “Fire”.

The same thing goes for other shared spaces. Implicitly you shouldn’t cough too much during a play. Explicitly you shouldn’t start shouting curses at the actors on stage.

It’s a sliding scale. My guess is that the guy in the restaurant miscalculated, and broke an implicit rule of the house without quite intending to. At least not consciously.

Words I don’t know

A great way to realize how many words there are that you don’t know is to do the NY Times Spelling Bee. Some days I manage to get all the words, and other days I don’t.

Today I got them all, but for a while it was touch and go. One word in particular continued to elude me.

At some point I gave up on trying words I knew, and started to look for words I had never heard of. In particular, I tried the word “chancel”.

See, I had heard of the word,”chancellor”, and I figured that might be a related word. And that did the trick.

But the thing is, I still had no idea what this word meant. I had never even heard of it.

So I looked it up. Turns out it’s a very cool word. You could look it up too. 🙂

Widget Wednesdays #30

Continuing with the theme of “start with a grid and then do something,” I decided to create something mysterious.

I start with the graph paper, and then set each square of the graph paper to a different color. So of course I end up with a low resolution image.

Turning a vice into a virtue, I created an out of focus scene. I was aiming to create the impression that something is going on, without quite making it clear what it is. And an easy way to do that kind of thing is to use my noise function.

You can see the result here.

If you scroll down to the bottom, you can click on the word there to see and edit the code that makes the magic happen. Feel free to play with it!

Constitutional amendment, part 4

In conclusion, the proposed constitutional amendment treats a serious issue as a political football. By doing so, it shows no respect for families, women, children, or potential babies.

Any legislation that took this issue seriously would address the responsibility of government under the amended Constitution. It would discuss government funding to provide counseling, health care services — both pre-natal and post-natal — and mechanisms to enforce appropriate penalties for violent rapes that will now result in pregnancy, including pregnancy of children.

For example, serious legislation would need to ask, as a fundamental question, “What price should a rapist pay to society for an act of violence that will now lead to children bearing children?” That person’s criminal act will, after any such amendment, result in a huge financial burden on everyone.

In addition to any other charges, shouldn’t the criminal be declared, under the amended Constitution, financially responsible for all of those costs? And if he can’t pay those costs, shouldn’t he be forced to pay his debt to society in other ways?

I agree that there is a reasonable conversation to be had around regulating abortion, just as we now regulate handguns, automobiles, medical prescriptions and many other situations in which human lives are at risk.

But this is not that legislation. This seems like a bunch of old men in Topeka acting like scared little boys, lacking the decency and courage to treat a serious issue with the seriousness that it deserves.

The way this sham “amendment” is worded, nobody in Kansas is being treated with any respect or compassion. Except maybe rapists.

Consitutional amendment, part 3

Leaving aside the Orwellian doublespeak of the proposed Kansas amendment (“giving up your rights will make you free”), what concerns me is how it does not deal with the real human issues. If we accept that all life is precious, we still need to think about some serious questions.

Who will proper take care of and protect babies? How will healthcare and counseling be provided for victims of sexual assualt, some as young as 11 years old, who will now have no choice but to give birth? How will adoption services be adjusted and properly regulated? What will be the appropriately increased penalties for rapists whose crimes will now have vastly greater consequenses?

If we think seriously from the perspective of “pro-life”, rather than just throwing around that term as a glib slogan, what is the proper role of Government here? Government needs, at the very least, to take seriously the dictum “If you break it, you own it.” It shouldn’t just take away rights, cause a big mess, and then say “not my problem.”

Constitutional amendment, part 2

The proposed Kansas amendment is very short. It just takes away the right to an abortion. It does briefly mention the issues of pregnancy resulting from rape and incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk, but only in order to add that maybe somebody can “regulate” those situations later.

The proposed amendment is worded in a weirdly twisted way that makes it sound as though the proposed legislation will somehow give people more rights, although it is quite explicitly taking away rights. But to me the most important part of all this may be what the ballot initiative does not talk about.

More tomorrow.


People who invest in start-up companies hate production. What I mean by “production” is the process of a company doing custom jobs for clients.

That kind of work requires investment of people-hours, and it doesn’t scale. When you are doing production, you are essentially being paid for your time. A day’s work for a day’s pay.

But when you have a software product, you can scale. You might get millions of people using your product, and that creates an enormous multiplier factor for whatever effort you put in to support that product.

That’s the kind of value proposition that interests investors. That’s why some companies turn out to be Unicorns — little start-ups that grow to become mega-corporations.

So you could say the goal is to make the transition from production to product. To get those three letters “ion” off the end.

In other words, deionization.