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vfowler [userpic]

Thinking of something else

January 26th, 2011 (11:32 am)

I was thinking of something else when I arrived at the coffee stand. The University cafeteria belongs to “Elite café” and they have the discount cards, which are charged by some amount of money and then used instead of cash. I knew that my card was nearly empty and decided to charge it by a hundred.

Brief glance into my wallet exposed a couple of twenties and two 200 shekel bills. I gave the coffee girl 200 and asked her to charge my card and her partner to prepare long espresso with milk – just the way I like it. She gave me the receipts and moved on to the next customer.

I reflected for a minute and inquired: “Didn’t I give you 200?” She apologized and gave me a hundred.

At this time my coffee arrived, so it took another minute before I opened my wallet again in order to deposit the 100 bill and saw another 100 shekels between the twenties and the remaining 200. This totally confused me. And when I tried, in a very confused manner, to communicate this information to the girl she became confused too. Finally, I managed to formulate the question clearly: “Did you give me change of 100 once or twice?” Of course, if she could not remember before whether she gave me any change at all, she could not remember now whether she gave it to me twice. She looked inside the cash machine, but the abundance of the bills there did not make her life easier. Her partner did not say a word, but his eyes were clearly laughing.

            I guess, this mishap was not the first in her coffee-career, because she quickly came up with solution. She asked my phone number and promised to get in touch, if upon closing the shop she will find a hundred missing.

She did not call. I saw her this morning and she confirmed that everything was fine. So it turns out that the fault was mine… I was just thinking of something else.


vfowler [userpic]

French... English...

January 18th, 2011 (01:50 pm)


I am about to start studying French. The teacher, offered to me by the French center in BGU, is an African lady. I don’t have reasons to doubt her credentials as a French teacher, but I am wondering whether her French is the same as spoken in France or a kind spoken somewhere in Algeria or Ivory Coast.

This reminds me of my coming to America: I understood nobody and no one understood me. The problem was the incomprehensible New York accent.

The English course, to which I was assigned together with other foreign students from our University, offered an opportunity to meet weekly with a “native speaker” in order to improve our spoken English. Certainly, the English was the mother tongue of the “native” Indian girl who was assigned to be my conversation partner. By “Indian” I mean that her parents were from India, whereas the girl herself was born and raised in Zambia. I perfectly understood her English, but I still couldn’t understand anyone else.

 After six years in America, after dating and teaching in English, I understand it pretty well. I can even perfectly distinguish the irritating pitch of a single American female speaking in the other end of a conference room filled with the speech of a hundred non-native speakers. Still, I don’t understand the British…

Obviously, my Russian accent used to be equally incomprehensible. To no avail did I work on the problematic sounds: “th”-s, “bitch” versus “beach”, “full” versus “fool”, “pick” versus “peek” and, of course, “cut”, “cat” and “cot.” You would think that “cut” and “cot” are very different, but in New York these two words differ only by how wide you open your mouth: whether you say “ah” or “Ah.”

Finally, My English teacher pointed out that Russian is spoken very softly. She said that I had to speak louder.

Speaking louder greatly amused my Russian friends: “Do you really think that people understand you better when you scream at them?!” It turns out they do understand screaming better: the English sounds are more clearly articulated when your mouth is wide open and full of air. The native speakers don’t think that I am screaming… they think that my accent is German.


vfowler [userpic]

Man's logic

January 11th, 2011 (12:07 pm)

"Tell me who is your ex-boyfriend, and will I will tell you who you are... and whether I will marry you."


vfowler [userpic]

Once a Physicist is Always a Physicist

December 19th, 2010 (02:14 pm)

Today a friend forwarded to me the “Elephant hunt” joke that I reprint below. Most probably, you are familiar with it, because I had encountered it many times in the past. This time I noticed an important detail: the logic of the physicist is quite reasonable!

Indeed, a very quick research would convince you that the weight of an Asian elephant varies from 3000kg to 5000kg, whereas the weight of an African elephant is in the range 4500-6000kg. They say that in some cases the weight of the latter can reach 12000kg which, as you will see below does not really affect my estimates.

The heaviest land animals lighter than elephants are the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus and the elephant seal. All of these weigh up to 2000kg, which means that their weight is lower than that of the lightest elephant by at least 30%.

On the other hand, if you take a heavier mammal, i.e. the whale, you will quickly discover that its weight is more than 30000kg – several hundred percent bigger than the weight of the elephant.

Thus, the physicist is right! Any animal whose weight deviates no more than 15% from the weight of an elephant can be only another elephant!


P.S. In fact, the “killer whale” (Косатка) has weight in the same range as the elephant, but this animal is extremely rare in Africa.



Охота на слона:

МАТЕМАТИК: едет в Африку, устраняет все, что не является слоном и ловит
слона как разницу вычитания.

ОПЫТНЫЙ МАТЕМАТИК: будет сначала пытаться доказать существование какого-
либо слона, прежде чем приступит к шагу 1 вышеприведенного задания.

ПРОФЕССОР МАТЕМАТИКИ: доказывает существование определенного слона и
перекладывает затем охоту и поимку слона на группу своих студентов.

ПРОГРАММИСТ: разрабатывает алгоритм А:
1) едет в Африку
2) начинает на мысе Доброй Надежды
3) пересекает Африку с Юга на Север в западно-восточном направлении.
4) при каждой встречи с животным:
а) ловит животное
б) сравнивает с животным, похожим на слона
в) оставляет в случае соответствия

ОПЫТНЫЙ ПРОГРАММИСТ: изменяет алгоритм А путем помещения животного,
похожего на слона, в Каир, чтобы программа могла всегда заканчиваться

ФИЗИК: едет в Африку, ловит всех животных серого цвета и принимает за
слона, если его вес имеет отклонение не более 15% от ранее пойманного

ЭКОНОМИСТ: не ловит слонов. Считает, что если достаточно платить слоны
придут сами.

СТАТИСТИК: ловит первое животное, которое видит
n раз и называет его

МЕНЕДЖЕР: не ловит слонов. Он вообще никогда никого не ловит. Но время
от времени его призывают, чтобы он мог дать свои полезные советы.

СИСТЕМНЫЙ АНАЛИТИК: теоретически может определить отношение между
размером пули и квотой поподания на слоновой охоте, если ему кто-то
скажет, что такое слон.

СОЗДАТЕЛЬ КОМПЬЮТЕРНЫХ ВИРУСОВ: посылает мышку на мыс Доброй Надежды и
ожидает в Каире стада перепуганных слонов.



vfowler [userpic]

Of mice and women

December 17th, 2010 (12:44 pm)

  1. Russia

D. was a biology student and an accomplished mouse rights defender. She incessantly campaigned against the war that I tried to wage against the mice, who happened to be my neighbors in the ground floor apartment that I recently moved in. A mere view of a mousetrap broke her heart, and all our dates would begin and end with her passionate pleas to be merciful and to discharge the horrible weapon.

A liberally minded person would say that the mice and I could have coexisted peacefully. Indeed, I did not feel special hatred against them, and even though their presence was detectable, my food supplies were safe from their attacks… strictly speaking, the only food that they obtained from my supplies was the cheese that I put in the mousetrap, since I did not know how to set the trap properly (in addition, it had a very strong spring and I feared for the safety of my fingers). What eventually tipped the scales and led to a war of extermination, was their outrageously provocative behavior, illustrated by the following episode.

            That day I took a short nap on the sofa with the light in the room was still on. When I opened my eyes I saw a mouse. It was clearly thinking that I was asleep, as it walked from the corner towards the mousetrap, stopped for a second to look at me with its beautiful black eyes, and proceeded to devour the cheese.

            I was outraged at such impertinence and the very next morning consulted a colleague, who was a kind of an expert in rat-hunting (he gained the experience while fighting rats in his father’s garage). This is how I learned to set the mousetrap properly – with risk to my fingers, but with much success against the mice.

            D. and I broke apart soon after I exterminated the whole mouse family.


  1. America

J. brought fresh mozzarella cheese and wine, and promised to cook for me something special. She was in a bossy mood and sent me to the living room to prepare the table and music, while busying herself in the kitchen. Of course, a few minutes alone with the cooking was too much for her, because when I returned she immediately turned to me and started excitedly telling, me something about her friend and her friend’s Russian boyfriend… and this was when I saw it

It was a tiny mouse running all the way along the kitchen counter toward the cheese. In such moments a man thinks quickly and clearly. I said: “J., dear, come to me and please don’t turn around”…

Having led J. out of the kitchen, I bravely entered in to face the animal. Not willing to take any chances against the wild beast, I was advancing slowly and carefully, preparing to retreat, if it pounced at me… well… actually I hoped that it would escape and spare me the necessity to catch it with my bare hands.

But the mouse didn’t run. It sat in the middle of the counter and looked at me with the same beautiful black little eyes as the mouse murdered by me in Russia. I had read somewhere that no animal can withstand a direct eye contact with a man, but the creature was simply too paralyzed with fear and did not move. I covered it with a plastic cup.

-         So, did you catch it? – I heard J.’s voice. I was sure that she was already bored from waiting and smoking second or even third cigarette.

-         I covered it with a plastic cup. What should I do with it?!

-         I don’t know. You are the man!

I put a sheet of paper under the cup and threw the mouse out of the window. Since a mouse hardly can be hurt by falling from the third floor, J. did not express much compassion for the little creature. Neither did she seem to appreciate my heroism. Nevertheless, since then we were meeting at her place. 


  1. Israel

V. was a ballet dancer. Actually, she was a mathematician, but as a girl she spent many years studying ballet. It was at the time when she entered the high-school that she had to make a choice between the career of ballerina and the one of a scientist.

Her best role was in “The Nutcracker,” which encompasses all her career on stage. She started as a soldier, which, according to her, was the easiest possible role: soldiers did only one thing - they marched across the stage. But she was a very good soldier and very soon was promoted to a mouse. Mice were more sophisticated than soldiers – they did three different things. First of all, they beautifully ran onto the stage…

But I had never learned exactly what the other two things were, because the only time that I actually saw her running was when she ran out of my apartment. And my ignorant of ballet neighbors, who stood on the porch, were so awestruck that they forgot to applaud her exit.



vfowler [userpic]

December 12, 2010

December 12th, 2010 (01:45 pm)

The Idiot

One gets strange impression from re-reading books by classics many years later. I remember reading Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” as a teenager – I did this, because I knew that it is considered a work of art, and I wanted to be an educated person. I understood nothing.

            Reading it now, I discovered that it is a book about the passions of young people, aged between 20 and 30, who fall in love, break each other’s hearts, feel extremely jealous etc. I am 33, and it really feels childish to me, even though well written.

            It is worth pointing one thing though (and I can say the same about the Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”) – the book is written with deep understanding of human psychology, which is very surprising, given that Dostoyevsky (as well as Tolstoy) could have never read Freud and later works on psychology. Of course, sometimes his views are naïve and sometimes they border on mysticism, but his understanding is still very deep.

            I would add that we need to credit Freud for bringing our understanding of human behavior from its rather irrational form, understandable only to artists, to common people, and for putting it on a scientific ground.


Asperger syndrome

I discovered yesterday that I may be having the Asperger sydrom: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome

Finding most of the symptoms in me was not very surprising, since most of them are rather characteristic for career scientists. In addition, I have this particular clumsiness, which prevents me from playing any sport games, even though there is nothing obviously physically wrong with me. (Indeed, I was healthy enough to qualify for the draft to the Russian army, even though I was convinced that this would be the end of me, due to my clumsiness and bad ability to integrate into social groups.)

Ironically, I encountered the Asperger when searching for the material on self-discipline. I believe that it is the lack of discipline that holds me back from achieving the things that are expected from the person of my education and my intellectual capacity, and I am very serious about taking measures to deal with this. Now, however, I am caught between the desire to solve my problem and the feelings of self-pity for my mental impairment!

            It is a characteristic of our age, and especially of life in America, that any of our problems are claimed not to be the fault of ours, and their solution is claimed to be not our responsibility. Indeed, whatever negatively affects your life (or life of our relatives) - depression, lack of self-discipline, unstable character – all this can be diagnosed as a result of some special mental condition, which is neither fault of yours nor that of your parents. And the ones responsible for solving these problems are not us, but our doctors/therapists, who should prescribe the right treatment. If we are still depressed, undisciplined and mentally unstable – it is their fault, not ours!



It seems that a corner apartment on the seventh floor is not such a great thing after all. The storm already lasts for two days, and the wailing of the wind and the trembling of the walls give one an impression of being on an airplane flying through the area of turbulence.

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