I Am Extremely

Years ago, Google helpfully added a “search suggestions” box that recommends possible search terms as you start typing your query.  Type “Tina” and it recommends “Tina Fey.”  This is even integrated into Firefox now, so you can get the same suggestions when typing in the browser’s own search box.

This is old news, of course.  What’s new (at least to me) is the particular suggestions you get if you start to enter “I am extremely”


I am Extremely... Scared?

The first few make sense (at least for the Internet)

i am extremely tired      9,070,000 results
i am extremely depressed  4,730,000 results
i am extremely lonely       291,000 results
i am extremely jealous      324,000 results
i am extremely shy        3,650,000 results

It’s the last one that’s surprising:

i am extremely terrified of chinese people   303,000 results

That’s surprisingly specific… and surprisingly popular.

Second Base, Mr. Feynman?

Wow!  I found an instance where Feynman turned out to be wrong about something!

The Textbook League (no, I did not just make that name up) republished the part of Feynman’s book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman describing his participation in the State [California] Curriculum Commission’s efforts to choose new textbooks.

The commission did some phenomenally idiotic things, up to and including rating one textbook that was “printed” with entirely blank pages.  (They rated it favorably.)  Of course, you already knew that, since you have already read Feynman’s books.

As I reread it online, this excerpt in particular stood out:

They would talk about different bases of numbers — five, six, and so on — to show the possibilities. That would be interesting for a kid who could understand base ten — something to entertain his mind. But what they turned it into, in these books, was that every child had to learn another base! And then the usual horror would come: “Translate these numbers, which are written in base seven, to base five.” Translating from one base to another is an utterly useless thing. If you can do it, maybe it’s entertaining; if you can’t do it, forget it. There’s no point to it.

When this happened in 1964, there was probably no point at all.  Today, however, every software developer has had (at least once) to convert base 10 into base 16 or base 2.  Those like me found the exercise frustrating at first.  If only there’d been some sort of practice for this in the mathematics textbooks of my childhood!

(I’m mostly joking — surely! — but I do find interesting how that analysis might be completely different today.)


I’ve chosen my favorite story from Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day (having had to stop reading partway through and then pick it up again).

At Omaha Beach, the Navy prefaced the invasion with an extensive bombardment of Nazi fortifications along the shore, but then moved their fire to inland targets as Allied infantry began landing.  Since the Navy couldn’t possibly tell where Allied troops had already made advances, they relied on forward observers on the beach to radio the positions of specific targets.

The plan failed when many of the forward observers were killed, and those who weren’t found that radios had been dropped or destroyed when coming ashore.  This left the Navy out of contact with the infantry, and thus powerless to help the men getting slaughtered on the beach.

Frustrated, Destroyer captains pushed their ships closer and closer to the shore, at great risk of running aground, hoping to find some way of spotting targets on the beach themselves.

Comdr. Robert Beer on Carmick went in to within 900 meters of the beach, where he could keep up a visual communciation of a sort with the troops ashore. When he saw a tank fire a single shot at a certain point on the bluff, Beer blasted the same spot.  When he could see riflemen firing at a target, he laid into it with his 5-inch shells.

Frankford fired away from shoal water 800 meters off the beach.  Gunnery Officer Keeler recalled: “A tank sitting at the water’s edge with a broken track fired at something on the hill.  We immediately followed up with a 5-inch salvo.  The tank gunner flipped open his hatch, looked around at us, waved, dropped back in the tank, and fired at another target.  For the next few minutes he was our fire-control party.  Our range-finder optics could examine the spots where his shells hit.

A bit later, McCook had the perhaps unique experience of forcing German troops to surrender.  As [Lt. Comdr. Ralph] “Rebel” Ramey  was firing at a cliff position, German soldiers appeared waving a white flag and attempting to signal the ship by semaphore and flashing lights. … Ramey had his men signal to the Germans that they should come down the bluff and surrender themselves.  They understood and did, coming down single file with hands up to turn themselves over to GIs on the beach.


In 1968, William Steig published a book titled C D B! Like the “txt spk” of today, its entire text consists of individual letters and numbers that, when pronounced, sound like words.  For example:

C D B!  D B S A B-Z B.  O, S N-D!

This, as is obvious to anyone who’s ever deciphered a YouTube comment, is meant to read:

See the bee.  The bee is a busy bee.  Oh, yes indeed!

This seems less novel in 2009 than it must have in 1968, but it’s no less remarkable.

(Credit for this find goes to the Harvard Pops, who accompanied the book’s images and cryptic phrases with maestro Allen Feinstein’s own composition.)