News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus picture Mail Starting 3/3/97

From: psnively@digev.com (Paul F. Snively);
Sent at 3/4/97; 9:53:11 AM;
Monty Hall

This "puzzle," which has shown up in a slightly different form in Marilyn Vos Savant's column and is discussed exhaustively (exhaustingly?) in Raymond Smullyan's wonderful "Satan, Cantor, and Infinity," is indeed counterintuitive to anyone who hasn't spent much time studying multi-agent logic. As the answer page points out emphatically, the crucial fact to be aware of in the puzzle is that "Monty" knows that what he shows will be one of the bogus choices.

The odd part is that sometimes you don't need to know what someone else knows in order to solve a problem. Sometimes it's sufficient to know that they know it! There's a whole realm of mathematical logic based on this idea, a lot of stuff revolving around concepts like Zero Knowledge Proofs and the like.

In an earlier e-mail I referred to "Applied Cryptography," 2nd ed. by Bruce Schneier, and I'm going to do it again. Buy it. Read it. Be amazed at how deep and rich the issues are, including issues such as "I know that you know secret X, and because I know that you know it, I can deduce fact X." Very much like the Monty Hall puzzle.

Heck, while you're at it, buy "Satan, Cantor, and Infinity," and all of Raymond Smullyan's other books. I promise you that you'll never have so much fun learning things about logic!

Thanks, Paul Snively psnively@digev.com

P.S. I can't help but notice that both Douglas Hofstadter and Raymond Smullyan are professors at my alma mater, Indiana University. ;-)

From: psnively@digev.com (Paul F. Snively);
Sent at 3/3/97; 10:14:54 AM;

A brief note about the notion of "genius:"

A lot of misguided people have told me that I'm a genius, but I cannot tell you how thoroughly ungenius-like I felt when I first saw Chuck Shotton's NetEvents app. TCP streams through AppleEvents! My God, it's so painfully obvious I could just scream that I didn't think of it first!

This is what I think of these days as genius: being able to get past all of the allegedly inevitable complexity of things. One level of genius is able to see past it. A deeper level is able to bring out the simplicity for their own benefit. A deeper level still is able to bring out the simplicity for others.

The "IQ Test" is always a good thing to try, and it doesn't surprise me in the least that someone who's dyslexic wasn't taken in by it. I take it as trivially true that those of us who are, for lack of a better term, "lexically facile" do a tremendous amount of "chunking" (cf. Douglas Hofstadter's wonderful "Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" and equally wonderful but even less approachable "Fluid Concetps and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought" for some deep explorations of the concept of chunking). My mother, who upon receiving her Master's degree dedicated herself to the education of visually impaired students, is deeply interested in the perceptual process, including the extent to which people fixate on a line on a page while reading. Because I had been clocked as reading 400 words per minute with better than 90% comprehension in high school, she decided to use me as a test case. It turns out that when reading a US letter-sized page containing single-spaced 12-point type, I only fixate (that is, my eyes stop moving briefly) twice per line. The implication is that I "see" an average of four or five words at a time. As you might imagine, it also implies that I end up filtering out "noise words" like "of" rather aggressively!

It's worth pointing out that I was never "trained" to do any of this. I have never taken any kind of speed-reading course, and in fact when I've been exposed to concepts that others have learned from such courses, I've found them intellectually offensive--sort of an effort to reduce all reading to skimming through the Cliff Notes. I've always found people's seeming inability to read quickly surprising, and having two friends who are severely dyslexic has been a humbling experience for me.

It would be an interesting exercise to compare how we "fast readers" do on that test vs. those who read at a more leisurely pace.

I suppose the point of all of this is that what we think of as intelligence is actually composed of a number of disparate capabilities, and that a critical capability that is frequently overlooked in the discussions of intelligence is the ability to perceive--and the potential for conflict between perceiving everything down to the "of's" and getting so mired in perceptual minutae that we fail to see the forest for the trees.

Thanks, as always, for thought-provoking reporting!

From: eric.kidd@pobox.com (Eric M. Kidd);
Sent at 3/4/97; 1:55:27 AM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

I count two, then notice the F in scientific. I feel clever. I go back over the phrase character by character, searching for any letters I might have missed. Just three.

Suspicious, I hit command-F and type 'F', return. Sure enough, three more F's in front of my eyes.

Most bugs are like this. I'm glad we have debuggers and printf statements, because they provide new perspectives. I'm thankful that other people will read my code for me, looking for invisible gremlins with fresh eyes.

From: jbordage@cts.com (John Bordage);
Sent at 3/3/97; 8:40:11 PM;
Re:Simulated People

What got me about the article was that there was very little in it that was actually news. After the eye-grabbing cover and over-the-top initial proclamations (they are, after all, Wired - sarcastic and disrespectful are their badge of honor) they went on to hose down their fired rhetoric and just announce what we all know to be true: that the new technology and increased bandwidth will allow a greater range of products and services that will not replace the previously existing media, just add more possibilities for channeling information of varying quality to lazy people willing to pay for it.

Yes, and ...

Radio didn't replace the paper, nor TV the radio, nor the Web the TV, nor WebTV the Web ... more outlets, more views, more Fun! There's more crap on the Web because there's more *everything* on the Web. Just because your paying money doesn't mean that its better (its damn hard to find a single thing of value on TV frequently, and look at all the money that's spent producing TV content). Some people like to have their info spoon-fed to them, and others like you and myself like to look for ourselves.

There's always going to be those who try to dam up the river and charge you for the rain that falls from the sky, but I am optimistic that the flood will overtake any who wish to contain it.


PS. I think you're missing the three OFs in that sentence (I got all six, but not because I'm a genius, which I am, but because I'm a slow reader :)

PSS. The scary thing is that you found it easier to write a script to find the f's than to read them yourself!

From: ryand@gemstone.com (Ryan Davis);
Sent at 3/3/97; 3:29:28 PM;

It is a puzzle I learned in a Linguistics component of a Formal Language Theory/AI class that I took. You are looking for an 'eff' phoneme, and missed all of the "of" words because it is composed of an "veh" phoneme. It is a cool puzzle huh?

From: Arlen.P.Walker@jci.com;
Sent at 3/3/97; 4:56:03 PM;
Re:Simulated People

I keep a clipping from Upside, May 1995, John Trudel's column, on my wall. It applies here.

In it he rails against "Revelation Management." We could substitute "journalists," or even "people" for "managers" in the opening quote and not lose the essential truth of the statement:

"They call it the Information Age, but I doubt there has been a time when there was so much frenzy and so little thought. Managers lack the time and self-discipline to read for their own education and renewal."

It's so true it hurts, myself included. We're so obsessed with checklists that we're losing the ability to distill data into information for ourselves. "Don't tell me principles, just give me a list of things to do."

When we have that paradigm in our minds, it's true, we won't find much of interest or use on the Web. But is that the Web's fault? Or is it ours?

From: julian@mps.co.nz (Julian Harris);
Sent at 3/4/97; 12:26:45 PM;
Re:Simulated People

Re: the F Quiz...

you missed the F's because the brain is trained to ignore the small, trivial words - words that do not contribute significantly to the meaning of the sentence. In fact the brain is so highly trained that even if you look hard, the words are still filtered. It's a great optimiser - most of the time, you don't need to know the actual content of the sentence - just the meaning. I'm an interface designer, and find this sort of discussion fascinating.

Combine this automatic with the fact that the small word 'of' is pronounced 'ov', so even listening to yourself saying the sentence, there are only three announciations of 'ffff'.

All my opinion, based on a supercial background in cognitive sciences...

BTW - I got six F's! :) Probably because I saw a slightly less subtle word puzzle and knew that there was some trick to it...


Read it out, then read it again...

PS - your Davenet articles are a regular source of inspiration for myself. I love your attitude. I'm on your wavelength. I'm one of three down here in New Zealand running a software company called Musick Point Software Ltd (after a locality). We've been battling with the Mac and/or PC development strategy. We have about 20 man years of Mac programming experience and have very little PC development experience. We've been doing a Mac project, but found that without basic technologies like preemptive threading, our product, even using OT, is doomed for the Mac implementation. It just takes too much time and it's too complicated, and OT has a lot of nasty bugs, even in 1.1.2 release. It's sad. It's also life, and we'll live, and do well, and have fun.

See you later then!

Warmest regards,

Julian Harris

From: Julian_Milenbach@PCWorld.com;
Sent at 3/3/97; 3:00:01 PM;
Re:"Simulated People & Don's Amazing Puzzle"

Hey Dave,

Re: Don's Amazing Puzzle -- I question either the validity of the puzzle itself or the conclusions of relative intelligence based on the results. I saw all six right off the bat. I looked it over a 2nd and 3rd time because I thought that there had to be more than six and that I was missing some. Now, I do believe that I am smarter than the average bear but I long ago reconciled myself to the fact that I am not a genius. What do most people miss, the "of"s?

Re: Wired's trashing of the web... I completely agree with everything you said. To me, the Web is most often a wonderful research tool. Reading your essay, I started to think about what exactly I've done recently on the web, say over the last week. Some are things that I could have done by physically going to a library or some other location, some were possible only on the Web.

If you're into it, perhaps, it would be interested if you surveyed your readership and got some data on how real people are using the web. My web tasks over the past week included...

- ordering CDs on CD Universe - including learning about an upcoming CD from a favorite obscure artist six weeks before the release date

- getting contact info for the Career Center at an Engineering college in the L.A. area that I want to recruit at - it took less than two minutes to do this on the web, manually this would have been a pain considering that I had no memory of what town or city the school is in.

- doing medical research on strokes with my father

- getting precise street directions to the Superior Court in San Jose where I had to report for Jury duty - the mapping software on Yahoo is terrific.

- researching BART station locations, fares and schedules for the East Bay.


From: mark@tumbleweed.com (Mark Pastore);
Sent at 3/3/97; 2:33:09 PM;
Re:Simulated People

I read today's rants and have to tell you that I am also ready to puke over all the hype surrounding "push". We are selling a "push" solution (Posta, for universal, reliable, secure document delivery), however all this hype is both stupid and unwarranted. Though some might argue it's good marketing, I think the backlash will hurt all the valid "push" solutions providers.

There are two aspects of this phenomenon that really bug me (warning: my own personal rant is coming):

1. The lemming-like tendency of people to pronounce any single solution as a be-all, end-all. Television hasn't killed radio or movies, nor have newsstands replaced libaries. There is lots of room, and need, for lots of different communications metaphors that address the needs of a particular problem.

2. The arrogance of technologists and pundits to proclaim "invention" of an entire concept. The fact is, "push", however you define it, has been around forever. It's just like TV soap operas don't invent new plots, they merely replay the old ones written by the Greeks. Similarly, the magic of "push" is simply a re-intrepretation of tried-and-true communications metaphors (e.g., broadcast, point-to-point delivery, etc.) in a new medium. Sure, that new medium provides opportunities for clever twists and whizzy stuff, but basically, PointCast and Marimba are just like watching smoke signals or tuning in your radio, and our solution, Posta, is just like FedEx or a courier. This ain't rocket science.

From: raines@NeTProLive.com (Raines Cohen (NeTProfessional Editor));
Sent at 3/3/97; 1:25:01 PM;
Re:Simulated People

>Sarcastic and disrespectful. An often repeated mantra these days.

Unfortunately, the way Wired is constructed, that's one of two attitudes they can have. The other is awe-infused, as in the piece on the major intercontinental cable a few months ago. No room for levels of gray, everything is wonderful or awful (now I remember why I lead a caffeeine-free life ;-). Watch out if you end up in the wrong column in their books!

From: marc@canter.com (Marc Canter);
Sent at 3/3/97; 12:58:24 PM;
Re:Simulated People

Protection from Big Brother

Avatars and imagined TV friends actually have a lot in common.

As consumers are barraged with commercials messages and news that saturate their senses, they find comfort in their 'favorite shows' - their little islands of recognizability and understanding in a sea of flack and distressful information.

We find that avatars can both provide that extra sense of personalization that everyone seeks via custom settings, your face, favorite sites, shows, music, etc.

But avatars also provide the veneer of commonality, the mask of anonymity that reassures us all in our utlimate privacy of ourselves.

By assuming the personalities of Huphrey Bogart or Mata Hari, cyberspace customers can smoke cigars or toss a few scotchs back, without worry of being detected. "That was Bogie, not me!" they'll plea to their angry spouses.

By combining the real drama of the Internet, with the production capabilities of Hollywood we can deliver real TV with agents who are our friends.

Basically the big issue is protection or our privacy. Jon Gilmore is making his contributions, we;re making ours.

Protection from Big Brother and other forms of behaviour monitoring systems, which will inevitably be appearing soon. Probably built into Windows '97 or Netscape.

We hope to use our MediaBar platform as an authoring enviromet to create real TV - now!

From: hoffman@colette.ogsm.Vanderbilt.Edu;
Sent at 3/3/97; 3:08:21 PM;
Re:Simulated People

It seems to me that push has peaked. The shakeout is imminent and it's pretty clear that success for push-based ventures will depend on specialization (e.g. business-to-business and Intranet apps built on a subscription or fee-based usage model) and not mass media content delivery (built on sponsored content as an advertising vehicle).

Push is likely to be even LESS effective than broadcast TV as an advertising vehicle. This makes it a bad deal for an advertiser.

One of my industry colleagues, Steve Krause, coined "spush" to reflect the spam-like indiscriminate use of push and Tom Novak and I coined "sqush" to refer to what happens when the user is overpushed into a state of numbness.

From: jkandt@pcconnection.com (Kandt Jeff);
Sent at 3/3/97; 3:41:08 PM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

It's an interesting puzzle, but it's more of an optical illusion than an IQ test. Like most optical illusions, it relies on the brain being too smart for it's own good. In this case, as veteran English speakers, our brains are so familiar with the word "of" that we identify the word by it's shape alone and no longer see its individual letters.

This particular "intelligence test" is most likely to be aced by people for whom English is a second language and dyslectics. Actually, come to think of it, that's a better definition of "intelligence" than some I've seen... ;-)

From: dwiner@well.com (Dave Winer);
Sent at ;
Re:Simulated People

Oh come on Louis! I wrote a positive piece about push. I described something that's two-way, which none of the push proponents are proposing (I wonder why..). I thought about doing a channel, I thought about using Netscape Inbox Direct. They all bore me. I'll try it anyway though. I know I can always learn something. Maybe an idea will come to me.

Maybe you have a better idea? I saw the Hotwired channel and it looks a lot like the Hotwired website. What did your designers see in channels that they didn't see on the web?

Of course DaveNet is push. So why write about push in 1997? Why put it on your frigging cover? All this posturing as if something new happened. Email was invented in the 70s if not before then. What's the point? And none of these things are really push. I f the IPOs work, more power to them. They can relax in the Bahamas while the real engineers figure out how to do the next generation of net communication software.

And I hate to see you piss all over the web, which, IMHO is still in its infancy as a medium and should be nurtured not ridiculed.


From: louis@wired.com (Louis Rossetto);
Sent at 3/3/97; 11:23:06 AM;
Re:Simulated People

We at Wired are happy, of course, that our story has generated some lively discussion. I'd just like to point out that we did not say that the Web is dead. That would have been foolish, especially since 95 percent of our interactive business is Web-based.

No, what we said was that the Web _browser_ is dead -- which is utterly accurate, since IE4 and Constellation, both coming in the next few months, move far beyond the browser, becoming always-on, interactive environments.

And the other thing we said was that the Web was about to cede its position as the dominant interactive medium to push. By medium, in this context, we mean not a generic vehicle for communication -- like, say, paper. What we mean by medium is how media companies look at it -- namely as a creative environment and channel for the distribution of entertainment and information produced by professional staffs for commercial consumption. In other words, the article is talking about the media business, and how it relates to the Web.

Which is distinct from the Web as global bulletin board, brochure, catalog, library, or CB channel. We have no doubt that the Web will continue to provide those functions, for which it is perfectly suited. What the Web is clearly not perfectly suited for is the delivery of the kind of information and entertainment experiences which people in our modern world have grown accustomed to in other media.

People like bulletin boards where co-workers post pictures of their kids, they like their Victoria's Secret catalog, they like libraries, and they certainly liked CB -- but no matter how "real" or important these things are, people don't stare at bulletin boards for more than a few seconds, catalogs do not stop McCarthy hearings, they don't take dates to libraries, and listening to people chattering about their "real" lives on CB got way tired -- Smoky and the Bandit are history.

I have frankly been surprised at the stength of the reaction against push. Push is not the devil and it is not even television. Push is agent functionality built into programs and operating systems. If people don't want it, they don't have to use it, like the instant spell checkers on word processing programs. If, on the other hand, people want it, then what's the problem?

Finally, I think it's especially ironic that you, Dave, are so vehemently against push, since a good bit of your newsletter's traction is due to its unrequested, regular arrival in our mailboxes. In other words, to disseminate your message and create a usage habit among your community you have relied on -- push.

From: northrup@chem.ufl.edu (Dylan Northrup);
Sent at 3/3/97; 2:01:40 PM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

Both myself and my co-worker found all 6 F's. The easy ones are the ones in 'Finished', 'Files', and 'Scientific'. The only ones that would be easy to miss would be the three in the 'Of's, however if you get one of those you should get all three. In your page it says that Don says there would be people finding between 3 and 6 'F's. Maybe it's just me, but it would seem one would either find 3 or find 6.

From: bpettit@apple.com (Brad Pettit);
Sent at 3/3/97; 11:44:38 AM;
Book recommendation and request

Dave, you might dig this book. More people should read it.


From: searls@batnet.com (Doc Searls);
Sent at 3/3/97; 10:11:29 AM;
Digging puke

I puked on the Wired piece too. Read it at http://www.searls.com/dochome.html.

From: dbw11@cornell.edu (David Weingart);
Sent at 3/3/97; 1:51:41 PM;
Re:Simulated People

Your DaveNet pieces have been truly excellent lately, but todays article Simulated People is simply the best DaveNet piece you have ever written. (and you've written quite a few!) It shoudl be required reading for anyone who wants to "get" the web.

Too many people have been running around with dollar signs in their eyes. The web is not about making money. Some people will make money, some people will probably make lots of money, but that's not the point.

The web is about personal stories, voices that otherwise would never be heard.

I presume Wired thinks their own web site is worth reading, otherwise they wouldn't sink quite so much money into it.

Corporations would rather we shut up and listen. Consume, don't produce. The exciting thing about HTML and the web is that it is easy for people to become producers.

But you said it better than I can.

From: question@questionmark.org (Question Mark);
Sent at 3/3/97; 1:35:38 PM;
one person writing

That's what I'm trying to do. And now that Maggy's diary seems to be coming to an end, I invite you to my site to read my my plain, honest, rough-around-the-edges expressions.


Thanks for keeping up YOUR honest columns,

From: reg@codestorm.com (Reginald Braithwaite-Lee);
Sent at 3/3/97; 1:24:48 PM;
Re:"Don's Amazing Puzzle (More thoughtful answer)"

Anyone with proofreading experience will always find the F's. The reason is that proofreaders read the text *backwards*. This turns off the high-level processing the brain does and lets the proofreader mechanically check each word. Thus, the proofreader discovers the f in the word 'of', which is normally skipped by the high-level reading process.

I'm not sure that there is a strong correlation between solving this puzzle and intelligence. It occurs to me that someone with poor English reading skills might be very likely to find them all. Also, if you *know* this is a test, you might ask yourself 'what is the catch' after deciding that there were three F's.

In my case, the first time I saw this puzzle, I counted the letters and came up with the obvious answer. Then, knowing something about how intelligence tests tend to have non-obvious answers, I had another look and discovered the extra F's. Does this make me a genius? Or merely someone with a devious mind?

I'd like to think that I'm neither a genius nor am I devious. Perhaps I just had lots of experience with intelligence tests and puzzles.

From: tony_jacobs@ced.utah.edu (Tony Jacobs);
Sent at 3/3/97; 9:42:19 AM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

I found six, but I don't necessarily consider myself a genius. I've seen this kind of puzzle before. The key is to look at every single character and not look for words with "F" in them. That's why many people overlook the "OF's".

The more kinds of puzzles you do like this the better you become at them, not that one's intelligence increases, just their familiarity with different kinds of puzzles.

One of the statements I've read in the past (one I believe I got from Ray Finchners book "Human Intelligence", a great read BTW) is that intelligence tests only test what intelligence tests test. It's not always intelligence, many times it's just ones familiarity with different kinds of tests.

Tony Jacobs
Center for Engineering Design
University of Utah

From: Don_Emery@msn.com (Donald Emery);
Sent at 3/3/97; 4:33:08 PM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

Dave: There's an older trick from poor spellers proofing term papers - read it backwards; in this case, letter by letter. It breaks the figure-ground relationship letting the details come through. Perhaps a crude form of lateral thinking (or seeing).

From: jamespl@MICROSOFT.com (James Plamondon);
Sent at 3/3/97; 8:36:39 AM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

Dave -

There may be no catch, but there is surely an explanation.

I, too, only found three F's - having overlooked the F's in the thee occurrences of "of." I would guess that you made the same error in finding three F's as you did.

Why are the F's in "of" invisible to fools like us?

Is "of" so common a word, that jaded readers recognize it as a single glyph, thus hiding the F? This theory could be tested using a phrase like NEVER NUMBER THE OTHER COM-




If the results are the same as for the F sentence below, then that would tend to support the "glyph" hypothesis.


From: bhyde@gensym.com (Ben Hyde);
Sent at 3/3/97; 10:42:59 AM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

Soon my family will get in the car for the annual morel expidition, we will drive an hour and a half to a forest in conneticut where an apple orchard formally resided and take a long stroll under the trees. My wife, and one of my three children will find many morels but the rest of us will find only a few. It's a gift, they have it I don't. The small brown mushroom is perfectly designed to blend in with the leaves of the forest floor.

I counted six "F" at a glance, but heavens my dislexia has only rarely be considered a sign of my genius! Now my wife, there's a genius!

- ben

ps. I thought it best to send this without the usual visit to the spelling corrector.

From: ed@ecoworld.com (ed ring);
Sent at 3/3/97; 7:26:28 AM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

Dave. You are setting push precedents. Easy now.

From: peter@stairways.com.au (Peter N Lewis);
Sent at 3/3/97; 11:21:57 PM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

I found 6 and I'm no genius. Last time I took an IQ test, I scored about 160. I'm start, but Genius should be reserved for people with deeper vision, able not to count the Fs, but to figure out why people see less than 6.

From: cs@apple.com (Larry Tesler);
Sent at 3/3/97; 6:49:54 AM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

Wow! I counted four times and found 3 each time. Then I used the the search feature of Eudora, and found 6.

From: scottr@sirius.com (Scott Rosenberg);
Sent at 3/3/97; 6:36:56 AM;
Re:Don's Amazing Puzzle

I got six on the first try, though the "of"s did require some special attention. The eye is trained to skip right over them.

I don't claim to be a genius -- just an editor.

If you've been proofreading and line-editing for years you train yourself to read every word...

This page was last built on Tue, Mar 4, 1997 at 11:08:11 AM, with Frontier. Internet service provided by Conxion. Mail to: webmaster@scripting.com. © copyright 1997 UserLand Software.