Archive for the ‘General Life’ Category.

The Word “Love” and Tomatoes

— Do you love tomatoes?
— Eating them — yes; otherwise not so much.

The word “love” expresses an emotion. But the range of emotion it can span is an enormous interval between a slight preference and a burning desire.

— Do you love tomatoes?
— I love tomatoes so much that I eat them with ketchup.

Still we can usually figure out the intensity of this emotion from the context. When someone says that he loves M.C.Escher, nobody concludes that he is a necrophiliac.

I do feel lucky that there is a special variation of the word “love” reserved to express passion. When I say that I am in love, everyone understands that I am talking about a man. You can’t say, “I am in love with my stick-shift car.” Or, maybe, you can; but I am stepping into the territory of dirty jokes:

— Anyone know any? I have lots of tomatoes, but they’re all green. A dirty joke or two might make them blush.

Why am I writing this? I do not even like tomatoes. Maybe it is because yesterday I bought some prunes and they reminded me of the tomato who went out with a prune, because he couldn’t find a date.


Borrowing Money

To translate from a Russian joke, borrowing money is taking someone else’s: temporary; giving back your own: forever.

This is a story about my great-uncle Fred. His name is not Fred, of course, because I don’t want to reveal which one of my thirteen great-uncles created this ingenious scheme.

My great-uncle Fred asked to borrow 100 rubles from my mother. He was notorious for not returning money, but he knew how to work my mother. He whined about being sick and urgently needing to buy pills, until my mother, who has a big heart and is an easy touch, gave up. Of course, Fred wasn’t in a hurry to return the money. But 100 rubles was a lot of money for my mother and she wasn’t planning on giving up trying to get it back. My mother started bugging her uncle with increased intensity. Finally Fred promised to return the money as a gift for mom’s upcoming birthday.

Of course, it was tacky to present the money he owed as a gift, but my mom was so glad that she would finally get her money back, that she was actually looking forward to it.

During her party, as the guests sat around the table, Fred got up to give the birthday toast. Then Fred handed my mother an envelope and said, “Congratulations on your birthday! Here is a gift for you.” Everyone applauded.

My mom felt that something in this scene was not quite right. Why was the applause so enthusiastic when he was just returning a debt? After the party my mother decided to investigate. It turned out that Fred explained to my mother’s relatives that she prefered money as a birthday gift and collected the gift money from everyone. The cash he returned as his debt in the envelope was not his. Everyone else thought he was presenting the joint gift, except for my mother, who was made to believe that he was repaying his debt.

After that my mother stopped bugging her uncle Fred. It became clear she couldn’t match his superb skills in escaping his debts.


Designing Bill Gates’ Bathroom

One of the questions from the Microsoft employment interviews for creative thinkers is: “How would you design Bill Gates’ bathroom?” I gave this question to my students at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School. Most of them started by suggesting it be big and gold, but they also suggested more interesting ideas:

  • Heat the floor and the toilet seat.
  • Run a medical test automatically for every flush.
  • Provide a shampoo dispenser with a choice of 20 smells.
  • Paint the portrait of a favorite enemy inside the urinal.
  • Create a shower that looks and feels like a waterfall.
  • Install a face recognition system that immediately adjusts all the default settings according to who enters the bathroom.
  • Build a very simple bathroom and give the leftover money to charity.

Tell me your own ideas.


A $1,000 Typo

I resigned from BAE Systems on January 3, 2008. At the beginning of a year, it often takes time for people to adjust to writing the new number. Probably out of habit, someone somewhere wrote that I resigned in January, 2007. The computer at my medical insurance company Cigna got overexcited. It noticed that Cigna paid all my medical bills for 2007, a period for which, according to that creative but premature resignation date, I was ineligible. In its zeal Cigna retracted the money that they had already paid to my doctors for all of my 2007 visits.

In an instant, I became a delinquent; my doctor bills were suddenly more than a year overdue and my credit score probably plummeted. My taxes became suspect, too. I had claimed that I had medical insurance on my Massachusetts taxes, which now Cigna wouldn’t confirm.

While Cigna was racing to get their money back from my doctors, they conveniently forgot that I and BAE Systems paid a lot of money for their insurance. They didn’t hurry to return this money. At one point I was thinking I would be richer if I got back the money paid to Cigna for my insurance and paid the doctors myself.

I had a conference call among Cigna, my former employer and myself. My employer confirmed that I had Cigna coverage until January, 2008, but this was not enough. Cigna insisted that it needed “computer confirmation,” even though it was their shoddy computer work that caused all this trouble.

After many phone calls and conference calls, finally Cigna admitted that I am right and reinstated my medical insurance coverage for the year 2007.

Can you guess what happened next? I received a new bill from my doctor. Cigna reinstated me, but didn’t pay the money back to my doctors. Now there was another round of phone calls and conference calls.

As of today, the time and nerves I spent to resolve this issue exceeded the money Cigna owes to my doctors and I am still waiting for the money to be transferred.

If they are fighting so hard not to pay their debt of $1,000, I wonder about the financial situation of this company. I would definitely consider it very risky to buy Cigna stocks.


Funny Pictures

Cape Cod Levitation Society

Violators GrilledI updated my funny pictures page with five new pictures. My new favorites are “Cape Cod Levitation Society” on the left and “Grilled Violators” on the right.


Sing Away Your Snoring

Singing for Snorers CD

Everyone agrees that you snore because some muscles at the back of your mouth are too relaxed when you sleep. Back in Russia, I heard about exercises for snorers that strengthen those muscles, but I never heard about them here. That is, until now.

Even medicine in this country is oriented towards making money. Simple exercises do not make much money. Here they offer you many devices and pills and even operations to relieve snoring, but not much in the way of exercise. Recently, though, I heard a very simple idea — sing before going to bed. Singing will help tone your throat muscles.

Some people are making money off of singing, too: check out the Singing for Snorers CD.


I am a Computer Addict

I know I’m a computer addict, because:

  • When I just wake up, before opening my eyes, my first thought is not that I need to run to the bathroom, but rather, “I need to check my email.”
  • My computer desk is the farthest surface suitable for eating from my kitchen, still I have most of my meals there.
  • To take a break from my laptop I play evil level websudoku. To take a break from sudoku, I check my email.
  • I gave a name to my laptop — Richard. Now when I travel I never feel lonely — I have my own Dick with me all the time.

If you’re reading this, you might be as bad as I am. Please finish this sentence and add it to comments below: “I know I’m a computer addict, because …”


Catalog Choice

Have you ever carried your mail from your mailbox directly to your recycle bin? If so, you feel my frustration with all this wasted paper. Each time I carry these catalogues up the stairs I think that my house should have a recycle bin next to my mailbox. Even better, maybe I can put my recycle bin at the post office, so my mailman doesn’t need to carry all this weight around. The real solution would be to call the catalog company and ask them not to send any more catalogs. For a long time the idea of being put on hold for a long time and the uncertainty of success, not to mention my usual laziness, prevented me from doing this.

You might imagine how high I jumped with joy when I heard about Catalog Choice at, the company that will request on my behalf a cessation of these mailings. Their website is nicely done and appropriately greenish. You just register and enter the catalogs you do not want. It doesn’t take much time and all the negotiation is done for you.

Up to this point, I’ve rejected 58 catalogs through this website. Only eight of them confirmed that they will honor my request. I even received a special confirmation letter from L.L.Bean. Sending a letter might be polite, but it contradicts my goal of reducing the waste of paper and of my time.

Unfortunately, there were three catalogs, including Newport News, that refused to honor my request. I was so angry that I decided to call Newport News and demand my removal from their mailing list. They agreed to my request. Can you guess what happened next? I received another catalog. I called them again. And I was removed from the list again. I received yet another catalog. I called them again. They told me that I am in their database marked as a person to whom they shouldn’t send catalogs. But the catalog they sent to me had a temporary customer number, so it is not in their system and therefore doesn’t count. According to Newport News’ logic, the check-mark in the database indicating that I am not supposed to receive catalogs supersedes the fact that I actually continue receiving them. They believe their database is more reliable than facts. What can I do? I will not buy from Newport News again.

Later, I made another interesting observation: I started receiving catalogs with my name misspelled. Do they really think that if they write Tonya instead of Tanya, I will suddenly become interested in their catalogs? We all know that the reason of the misspelling is so that they can pretend to honor my request, but still send me their catalog.

This situation is not right. I shouldn’t be getting catalogs against my will, especially after I’ve made my preferences clear. I think that we should fine companies that persist in doing this. Perhaps we can have a “Do Not Mail Me Catalogs” Registry that is similar to the government’s “Do Not Call” Registry.

Meanwhile, if you are like me and care about the environment, you too can sign up at the Catalog Choice.


Blog Spam

I was very proud of myself when I started receiving tons of comments for my math blog. Many of the comments were quite flattering. For example:

You are getting better and better. Congrats, dude.

I know that in English you can sometimes replace “ladies” with “guys”, but I wasn’t sure if being called a dude constitutes a compliment.

I got suspicious, however, when I received this:

Get real! It is interesting, but you never give proofs.

This comment was placed on my Fibonacci entry, where I think I gave more than enough proofs. So I read all the small print that accompanied the comment. It appears that “sexy-girls-in-chains” were extremely excited about the divisibility of Fibonacci numbers.

I am used to my everyday winnings of Millions of Dollars in the UK lottery, but this was something new and different. They caught me off-guard. Here I was, so proud of the public’s positive reactions, only to realize that it was some automated program. Some computer sending spam caused me to have strong emotions. I was upset that I was caught. Sigh.

What can I do? Just laugh. We can laugh together at “girls-deflowered” who were interested in Quantifying Favors, at “is-your-penis-small” who commented on Losing the Lottery, at “squirting-vibrating-realistic-anal-dildo” who was impressed with my Fantasy Future and at “teenage-girls” who associated themselves with Numbers Needing Sponsors.

One of the latest comments was:

We can professionally say that this information is objective and true and of highest quality.

It was signed by “pissing-ladies.” Am I proud or what?


The “Why the Heck?” Diet

This is my first non-mathematical entry. But I invented this diet myself two days ago and I wanted to share it with you. It is a variation on my son Alexey’s “Am I hungry?” diet.

The only restriction for my diet is that you are not allowed to eat while your brain is busy with something else, like watching TV or playing sudoku.

If you are driving to your office while reading a newspaper and talking on the phone, you are allowed to have your morning donut, but only if you stop the car and put away your newspaper and phone. This diet is based on having an undistracted dialogue with your food.

Here how this diet works. Each time you open your mouth to take a bite, you should look at your food and ask yourself, “Why the heck do I need this bite?” This is it. Just look and ask. Nothing more.

It is better if you say it aloud. But if you are on a first date you are allowed to pronounce it in your head.

Here is what happened to my cake yesterday. On the first “Why the heck do I need this piece of cake?” I just ate one bite. On the second “Why the heck do I need this piece of cake?” my inner voice told me, “Shut up. I just want it.” On the third “Why the heck do I need this piece of cake?” my inner voice said: “Well, I am stressed out and I really crave some sugar. Besides, today is my last day at work, so I am allowed to celebrate.” On the fourth “Why the heck do I need this piece of cake?” I just put the piece of cake back in the fridge. I didn’t want it anymore. Altogether, I ate a third of my usual portion of cake. It works.

Try it. This diet is free. It is easy to remember. You do not need to change your lifestyle, go to the store to buy fresh vegetables or adopt new recipes. It might increase your morning commute time by one minute. But you can recover this minute by cutting down on exercise, since you won’t need it quite as much.