The One with the Thoughts of Frans

Archive for Thoughts

Some Practical, (Extremely) Simple Algebra

Early in secondary school, many of my classmates used to be exasperated by the perceived lack of practical application of the mathematics we had to learn at the time. I never really understood why, because it had clear practical applications, though I admit I also simply thought it was fun. Later on, things like statistics were really boring, but I figured I’d share how the simplest of elementary algebra can help you make financial choices.

Having just moved, we had to decide whether or not to buy a washing machine. Washing machines start at about €400 — they can be obtained used for much less, but last time I picked up a used washing machine for €40 it broke within about a year and it’s just so much trouble trying to fix it or getting yet another used replacement — while laundromats cost about €3-4 per load (+20 cents for detergent). Admittedly the load sizes are slightly larger at the laundromat, but I don’t see that as a good thing: it just makes it harder to carry and dry the laundry.

Washing costs per load for various temperatures in € according to Nibud
temperature/ type of costs 90°C 60°C 40°C
electricity 0.48 0.25 0.15
water 0.10 0.08 0.08
washing powder 0.19 0.19 0.19
depreciation / maintenance 0.48 0.48 0.48
total 1.25 1.00 0.90
total without depreciation 0.77 0.52 0.42

We usually wash on 30 degrees and have an otherwise energy and water efficient washing machine, but I’ll just run with the price for a single wash without depreciation value. I’m not interested in depreciation of the value of the washing machine, since the point is how many times you have to wash to break even compared to the laundromat. Of course a depreciation value could be used for this so that ax = bx should yield a useful conclusion, but that’d be a bit of a roundabout way.

I devised the following simple formula: ax = bx + c, where a is the cost of one load at the laundromat, b is the cost of one load in a self-owned washing machine, and c is the price of a washing machine. x is the break even point of the number of washes required to make it worth your while to buy a washing machine as opposed to utilizing a laundromat.

3.20x = .42x+480 (-.42x)
2.78x = 480

I haven’t counted the number of times we’ve washed, but if we haven’t surpassed it yet, I bet we’re quite close. We’ve had it for nearly two years and we wash slightly more than once a week on average.



Lost now to family, buddies, girlfriend, rabbit hound, society, and himself, this poor young sailor had fallen—not very many miles from Jerusalem—understanding virtually nothing of the situation in the Middle East. He probably believed it involved a struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, freedom and oppression. That was his second mistake. His third mistake was in trusting that even if he didn’t understand the situation, his leaders did. His first—and worst—mistake was blindly doing what he was told to do. Without questioning their methods or their motives, he allowed politicians to make the decisions that led to his early demise.

What is politics, after all, but the compulsion to preside over property and make other people’s decisions for them? Liberty, the very opposite of ownership and control, cannot, then, result from political action, either at the polls or the barricades, but rather evolves out of attitude. If it results from anything, it may be levity.

From Skinny Legs And All by Tom Robbins (p.118 of the May 2003 Bantam trade paperback reissue).


Hard to Find Translations: Burner Grate

Dutch pannendrager (pan carrier/support) is known as burner grate (primarily AmE) or pan support (primarily BrE) in English.


Wikipedia: Trustworthy Reference or Flawed Experiment?

This post is not recycled, but it is a couple of years old; it was originally written as part of proving possession of near-native English proficiency during some relevant academic writing course. Someone on the Internet wrote that “Wikipedia is a load of rubbish and [doesn’t] always tell the truth and anyone can go on and edit the answers; I’ve been told about this at college by a few lecturers.” This reminded me of the following essay, which argues the opposite: Wikipedia can be useful and even trustworthy as long as you use it wisely.

On the night of February 8, 2009, an anonymous edit on German Wikipedia, in the article about the German politician Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, sparked the beginning of a controversy. Guttenberg gained an extra name: Wilhelm (Anonymous, par. 4). His full name is so extraordinarily long that the addition initially escaped the attention of Wikipedia’s editors, but they caught on quickly (Anonymous, par. 6). In theory, every fact on Wikipedia requires a source. However, that is what caused the problem. Since Guttenberg was to become the new Minister of Economics on February 9, the media all ran articles about him the day after the notorious edit, and, ironically, many used Wikipedia as a resource. While the additional name was considered suspect by Wikipedia’s editors, various newspapers were publishing it as fact (Anonymous, par. 7). Three days later, all the media had rectified their mistakes, and the article on Wikipedia was back to normal (“Wilhelm,” par. 5). Events like this keep casting a bad light on Wikipedia’s credibility. Even so, the number of factual errors in Wikipedia’s science articles is comparable to that of Encyclopædia Britannica. Furthermore, Wikipedia has no practical limit on the number and size of articles. Additionally, Wikipedia is a useful source of information. Finally, Wikipedia has a great deal of information that has no place in traditional encyclopedias. Wikipedia can be a reliable, comprehensive source of information.

Wikipedia is not significantly less accurate than Encyclopædia Britannica. According to Giles, Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica each had four serious errors when forty two articles were reviewed by experts; they were not aware from which encyclopedia the articles originated (par. 13). However, the quality and readability of Wikipedia’s writing often leave something to be desired (Giles, par. 15). For instance, in Wikipedia, scientific theories that are still the subject of controversy are given a nearly equal amount of attention as established theories, whereas Encyclopædia Britannica gives them little or no attention (Giles, par. 15). Wikipedia users not familiar with the subject might infer that the theories are equal, when they are not. An additional advantage of Wikipedia is that articles can be updated very quickly when new information is published. Therefore, it can potentially reflect recent insights and developments within hours, while changes and corrections to the information in paper versions can take years to update.

Wikipedia does not have the limitations of a paper encyclopedia. Consequently, in Wikipedia neither the number of potential articles, nor the length of articles, are bound by the physical constraints that limit paper volumes (“Wiki Is Not Paper,” par. 1). Articles on long subjects are frequently made into summaries of the most important points; there are links to in-depth articles in the relevant subsections (“Wiki Is Not Paper,” par. 6). One of the most intriguing implications is the fact that there can be a separate, detailed Wikipedia article for each character in a book, TV show, movie, etc. (“Wiki Is Not Paper,” par. 5). Furthermore, other media, such as images, can be implemented without additional costs, which typically restricts the usage of (colored) images in traditional encyclopedias (“Wiki Is Not Paper,” par. 16). Moreover, audio or animations can be added for further clarification and enhancement, which is impossible in print (“Wiki Is Not Paper,” par. 17). There are several other advantages to the electronic format of Wikipedia; for instance, words can be made into hyper links, which allows the user to immediately open articles for further clarification, or simply out of interest. Furthermore, the age of a person is always automatically calculated from date of birth (“Wiki Is Not Paper,” par. 18). There are quite a few other minor enhancements like that, but none of these advantages are as influential on the overall user experience. This does not, however, mean that Wikipedia does not apply traditional encyclopedic principles. It should be noted that there are also many things that are not possible in Wikipedia, like opinions and pure dictionary definitions, just as they are not in traditional encyclopedias.

Wikipedia is a worthwhile information resource: not just for random trivia, but also for scientific research. Its articles have greatly benefited from the introduction of the <ref> element in 2005, which is used for referencing sources. In April 2007, 30,368 references had already been made to external sources (Nielsen 4). Consequently, heavily referenced articles gain trustworthiness. Many references are to scientific journals: as Nielsen states, “the individual journals with the largest number of inbound citations from Wikipedia [are] Nature (787), Science (669) and New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) (446) … (number of citations in parenthesis)” (3). Wikipedia’s function is thus not only to provide a valuable summary of the information on a specific topic, but also provides ample opportunity for further research (Nielsen 4).

Wikipedia is more complete than Encyclopædia Britannica on subjects that are of moderate interest to a more traditional encyclopedia. For example, Encyclopædia Britannica’s article on Star Trek: The Original Series is 343 words long, vs. roughly six thousand words in the Wikipedia article. The article does not contain all of Wikipedia’s information about Star Trek: much more information is available on independent related articles. Wikipedia has, among other things, a list of all episodes, with a summary and other trivia for each episode, and an extensive article about the Star Trek theme tune. This demonstrates very well that Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia; nevertheless, it is unlikely that all of this information would be present in a traditional encyclopedia, even if paper constraints were not a concern. Wikipedia contains information regarding television series, movies, books, music and much more, which makes Wikipedia very useful to find information about a fictional character that might only be mentioned by name, if at all, in a traditional encyclopedia.

To conclude, Encyclopædia Britannica is not much more free of error than Wikipedia. Furthermore, the restrictions associated with paper do not apply to Wikipedia. In addition, Wikipedia is a decent research tool, and, finally, Wikipedia contains a good deal of information that cannot be found as easily and as comprehensively elsewhere. Therefore, Wikipedia is a good source of information for subjects that have a large, interested fan base and for science articles that have many references to respectable sources. If there is one thing that can be learned from Wikipedia’s occasional embarrassing mistakes, it is that any source should be examined with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Works Cited

Anonymous. “Wie ich Freiherr von Guttenberg zu Wilhelm machte.” BILDblog. 10 Feb. 2009. 10 Mar. 2009 <>.

Giles, Jim. “Internet Encyclopaedias Go Head to Head.” Nature 438.7070 (15 Dec. 2005): 900-901. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO. Utrecht University, Utrecht, NL. 13 Mar. 2009 <>.

Nielsen, Aarub. “Scientific Citations in Wikipedia.” 1 Feb. 2008. 17 Mar. 2009. <>.

“Star Trek.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 14 Mar. 2009 <>.

“Star Trek: The Original Series.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 14 March 2009, 13:02 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Mar. 2009. <>.

“What Wikipedia Is Not.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 March 2009, 22:30 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 19 Mar. 2009. <>.

“Wiki Is Not Paper.” Wikimedia, Meta-Wiki. 19 February 2009, 00:00 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Mar. 2009. <>.

“Wikipedia: Size Comparisons.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 31 January 2009, 02:50 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Mar. 2009. <>.

“Wilhelm II.” BILDblog. 12 Feb. 2009. 10 Mar. 2009 <>.


Oaths Are Silly

To a nice observer, it would have been worth while to remark the difference in tone and manner between the Resident and Havelaar on this occasion. Both had often attended such a solemnity [the reading of the decree of the Governor-General, whereby Mr. Max Havelaar was appointed Assistant Resident]; the difference which I refer to was not, therefore, occasioned by their being more or less affected by a novel and unwonted spectacle, but was only a consequence of the very different characters of the two persons. The Resident, it is true, spoke a little quicker than he was used to do, because he only had to read the decree and oaths, which saved him the trouble of seeking for the last words of what he had to say; but still all went on with a gravity and a seriousness which must have inspired the superficial spectator with a very high idea of the importance which he attached to this matter.

Havelaar, on the contrary, had something in expression of countenance, voice, and mien, when with uplifted finger he repeated the oath, as if he would say, “Of course, without ‘any oath,’ I should do that.” Any one having a knowledge of men would have had more confidence in his freedom from constraint than in the sedateness of the Resident. Is it not ridiculous indeed to think that the man whose vocation it is to do justice, the man into whose hands is given the weal or woe of thousands, should think himself bound by a few uttered sounds, if his heart does not feel itself obliged even without those sounds to do so (emphasis mine)?

We believe of Havelaar, that he would have protected the poor and oppressed wheresoever he might meet them, even if he had promised by “God Almighty” the reverse (emphasis mine).

From Max Havelaar by Multatuli.

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Damn, It Is Cold

Weather in fall always comes paired with temperature drops, fall storms, and lots of rain. But seldom did the temperature drop from 20°C to a mere 7°C from one day to the next.

The release of Ubuntu 10.10 coincided with this change for wintry weather; however, while I’m sure it’s swell, you won’t see me upgrading just yet. Perhaps I’ll have to look a little harder into acquiring a netbook so I can use it with the Ubuntu Netbook Edition.

Of more interest is the announcement that Opera 11 will have extensions. Or, more particularly, that I was the first to guess this in a contest.


Google Calendar Synchronization

syncme.sebeta performs synchronization of Google Calendar with SyncML supporting cellphones in a manner that easily outperforms all other alternatives.

Opera Mini and this kind of calendar synchronization enable me to use my now over three years old Sony Ericsson s500i much like it were a modern smartphone. I realize the phone is as ubiquitous these days as the Nokia 3310 was in the early 2000s, but I take comfort in being a pioneer: I got the phone about one to two months after it came out.

But none of that is really relevant. If you use Google Calendar and a phone that supports SyncML, might just be what you were looking for.


What Is A Tab?

Recently I’ve noticed some ignorance regarding what constitutes a tab, largely fueled by the announcement of the badly-named Tab Candy. Panorama is a much better name.

To clarify what a tab is, I looked for a random picture of a tab and added a circle around the tab.

If those tabs aren’t there in some kind of metaphorical pixel-form, there are no tabs. Or to put it another way, a tab-based user interface consists of multiple internal windows with a sort of task bar.


Printers Waste Ink

Quelle surprise,” you might exclaim sarcastically, and you’d be right. However, as it turns out the waste is worse than you might expect. A few head cleanings and you’ve wasted more than twice as much ink than what comes in a single cartridge.

In round numbers, the cylinder is 40 mm ID and the cap is 20 mm tall. Volume of a cylinder is πr2h, so you’re looking at 25×103 mm3 of waste ink.

Seeing as how 1 mm3 = 0.001 ml, the tank currently holds about 25 ml of ink!

The printer has six cartridges. Assuming head cleanings drain an equal amount from each cartridge, that’s 4 ml apiece. Given that the large OEM ink cartridges come with 11 ml of ink, you can do the math: a third of a cartridge of each color just for head cleanings so far.

Assuming that the cartridges are at or around 11mL in my older Epson Stylus Photo R220 model as well, the amount of waste is likely very similar for my printer. I can’t find any indication of measurements, whether cubic or otherwise, on my cartridges: presumably because you’d realize just how little there is in those cartridges if it were indicated properly.

Combined with idiotic default settings that make you waste ink and paper, and ludicrous region restrictions that may make you waste ink, owning printers sure amounts to an awful lot of fun.


Feminism and Atheism

It’s amazing how often I see the same information posted on both the feminist and atheist blogs I follow. Religion is not good to women.

On a very related note, I would highly recommend anyone to read Infidel, the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. These issues all come down to treating people equally and fairly regardless of sexuality, gender, race, religion or any other reason, but religion is often in direct opposition with those values. For illustration I’ll quote the devil of whom I just spoke:

Feminists need to be wary of the celebration of “cultural diversity” unless they want to inadvertently celebrate polygamy, child-marriage, marital rape, honor killings, wife beating, selective abortion of female fetuses and other traditions that are now legitimized in the name of culture.

To end this quick post I’ll link to some of my favorite atheist blogs.

  • Pharyngula, no doubt well-known to many. The amount of time he spends debunking quacks is to be admired – or to be pitied. Regardless, his blog is intelligent and provocative and an excellent source of rationality.
  • Friendly Atheist isn’t as entertaining as Pharyngula, but heck, not everything can be.
  • Heaving Dead Cats also hails from the US and telltales of living in a society that sounds like the 1950s to my Dutch ears.

I’ll end this post with Bill & Ted’s idiom, aka the Golden Rule: be excellent to each other.


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