Kevin's Compendium of Useless Fantasia
2 October 2002
Welcome to the third issue of Kevin's Compendium of Useless Fantasia.
This is my attempt at a monthly publication of some of my creative
endeavors. I started my new job this month. It is a five-month position,
but I hope to keep busy creatively while I'm working.
Let's take a look at what I did in September:
That's it for this third issue of Kevin's Compendium of Useless Fantasia.
Watch for Issue 04 coming out 1 November 2002.
- I started making jam this month. My first two jams were a hot-pepper jam
(I think I used Anaheim peppers) and a grape jam. The grape didn't gel at
all. I think the reason people use Concord grapes is that they have more
pectin than other grapes, but that's only a guess. I will definitely use
Concord grapes if I ever try to make grape jam again. The hot-pepper jam
called for cider vinegar, but all I had was red-wine vinegar, so I used that.
It gelled nicely, but it tasted a bit strong when I tried it straight. I took
it over to a friend's house with some Wheat Thins and some cream cheese, and
the jam on top of that was excellent. All of the people over at the house
then enjoyed some of it. I consider that a success, and I'm definitely going
to make some more hot-pepper jam, experimenting with different kinds of
- I made a kosher dinner of brown rice pasta topped with a puree of black
beans, onion, garlic, and hot peppers. I also made broccoli. My dinner
companion wasn't fond of the pasta, since it was a bit overcooked. I enjoyed
it, however. I'd love to try it with some cheese, except I'm trying to avoid
dairy now, to see if that helps with allergies. It means I have to be a lot
more creative in my cooking, I guess.
- Based on a dream I had, I created a game I call JottoZendo. It's
basically Jotto with a splash of
You play a normal game of Jotto, except that you put a little twist on how the
scoring works. The class of rules I first came up with, based on the dream, is
"score X only if Y is also in the word". So, if the secret word were
blank, the rule might be "score n only if s is also in the
word". So, flank would only score 3, but stank would score 3. You
could also try to guess the rule, but you pretty much have to figure that out if
you want to get the word, so I've set the winning condition to just be getting
the correct word. Because of how I set up my Perl Jotto program, I only had to
make a few changes to the scoring algorithm to allow me to play a game of this
against the computer. It randomly chooses a letter from the secret word and then
a letter from the thirteen most common letters. Note that the "enabler" letter
may or may not also be in the secret word. I played a few games of this, and it
is definitely playable. I have yet to play it with another person, mostly because
I don't think anyone else is nuts enough to want to play it. I've also thought
that other classes of rules could be used as people get more experienced at
- My friend who runs the role-playing game I'm in uses his own system. In it,
there is the concept of a continued die. Whenever you roll a six-sided die, if
you get a 6, you get to roll an extra die and add that to the total. If you get
a 6 on the extra die, you can roll another die. And it keeps going. So, for
some formulas for determining starting wealth of players (5 x 3d6 + 20 x 2d6,
stuff like that), he wanted to know what the average rolls were going to be and
how often players would get extremely high rolls. I set up a program to run a
bunch of iterations of this. As this was running, I figured out the expected
value for each die and was pleased to find that my theoretical results matched
the expermental results. When you roll a six-sided die, the expected value is
3.5. It turns out that, when you roll a continued six-sided die, the expected
value is 4.2 (there's a really nice series that converges to 4.2). I took the
experimental results for all 9 cases, used Perl to format them in a way that
Excel would like, and graphed the results using Excel. He was very happy to see
the graphs, so I felt pleased.
- There is an 82-page PDF document that I need to constantly search at work.
Using the search feature in Acrobat Reader is tedious, and I also cannot copy
things out of there, which is useful to do. I don't have any software to turn
PDFs into anything else on my machine. So, I used Adobe's web site to convert
the PDF into HTML. Then I used Perl to remove all of the HTML tags from it to
make it just a plain text document. The document is made up of refernece
numbers along with descriptions. I was able to take a document that just had
the reference numbers, one per line, and tack on the description after it.
Also, now that I have it as a text file, I can simply grep for various terms
and then copy-and-paste from the terminal window into my Word documents that I
need to create. Once the actual work starts (which it hasn't yet, after a month
of being here), I might find more ways to use this text file to organize things
and generally make my job easier.
- My first attempt at canning jam was with mangoes and hot cherry
The mangoes were a bit of a pain to cut, and so was filling the jars
specialized equipment. It took me two hours to make a batch, but I managed to
keep it kosher. Three mangoes, five peppers, juice of one lemon, one package of pectin,
and about seven cups of sugar. It made three pint jars, one half-pint jar, and one
quarter-pint jar, with enough left over in the pan for another quarter-pint
jar. The jars all sealed, even without doing a canning bath. I kept one jar for
myself and gave the rest away. I've had the opportunity to taste the jam twice
at other people's houses, and I really like it. I'm very interested to see how
the flavors meld as the jars sit for longer periods of time. I think I might
open my jar in another few months.
- I came up with two anagrams for my wife's first name. I used the Internet Anagram Server.
His cheat gal
- I made a comics web page for my
wife. It has (almost) all of the comics she reads every day, all on one page.
Some of them were easy, since they use a simple algorithm for the file name
that is based on the date. Some, however, throw in a random number, probably
to thwart people like me. People like me aren't so easily thwarted. This gave
me an opportunity to use an HTML Perl module. So, it gets the page, searches
for the image (which is trivial, since the directory name is fixed), and
links to it, random number and all. One of her comics, Zippy the Pinhead, does
something smart. The image is served by a script, and it apparently only
returns the image if the server requesting it is on its list of subscribers.
Anyone else gets an image that just says "This image is not available."
Pretty neat, and I don't think that's beatable, at least not by me.
- I made a Perl program that lets you input Jotto guesses and scores. After
each one, it lets you know how many words in its dictionary the secret word
could possibly be. At any point, you can list the possible words. This is
great for cheating at Jotto, and also just for seeing how many possible words
there are for one of your games or someone else's game.
- I baked and decorated a birthday cake for my wife. It was entirely vegan,
including the "buttercream" frosting. I drew an outline of a bird freehand
(using a coloring-book picture as a model) and then filled in between the
lines in colors. Something with the consistency of the frosting made the
individual stars of the fill-in melt together, but the effect was still
pretty neat. I got a request to make a vegan birthday cake from one of the
- I invented Jotto puzzles and
made a Perl program to generate them. A Jotto puzzle is a series of Jotto
guesses and scores, where no score is higher than 2 (or 4, for the 6-letter
variant), and where there is only one secret word that fits all of the
guesses. Some are harder than others. Several friends have been playing the
ones that I posted, and I've found my Jotto utility (see above) extremely
helpful in solving them quickly so that I can let people know how they did.
Because of this project, I'm getting my dictionaries in better shape, since
people were finding words that I didn't have in my dictionary, for some
reason. Once I get the dictionaries all set, I'm going to generate some Jotto
puzzles with the intent of publishing them. I've been kicking around
different ideas for publishing, but I haven't settled on one yet. Maybe next
month's compendium will have something about that.
- I wrote a
poem at work one morning. I wrote it as a song, with music for it in my
head. I should learn to write music so that I can actually write these
- After hearing about something similar, I made pesto sandwiches for dinner
one night. The pesto included basil, mint, garlic, walnuts, and olive oil. It
was my first time making pesto without cheese. I made it kosher so that I
could give away the leftovers to someone who keeps kosher. I toasted bread
and let people make their own sandwiches, putting pesto, avocados, and
tomatoes on the bread. One person mistook the salad for more sandwich
toppings, but that turned out well, since I think the lemon juice in the
dressing really added to the sandwich. Served with some prepackaged butternut
squash soup. A very nice dinner, and one I'm going to repeat, I'm sure.
- I continued in my jam-making experiments. I made a plum jam with some
ginger powder in it. It's pretty wonderful. I've eaten it on toast and as
part of a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. I also made some tangelo (Ugli
fruit) marmalade. The instructions said that it could take up to two weeks to
set, so we'll see what happens. The little taste I had of it plain wasn't all
that appealing, but maybe it will improve with age or in combination with
other things. I managed to keep a jar of each for myself and give the rest
- Inspired by the avocados from the pesto sandwiches (see above), I made my
first attempt at guacamole. The recipe warned that it was very easy to overdo
the onion, and I certainly overdid the onion. I managed to eat it all with
some bread, but it wasn't very good. I might as well have been eating plain,
raw onions. I think next time I might just try mashing up a few ripe avocados
with some seasoning, like a friend does.
- After having a dream about her, I tracked down an email address for a
former teacher. I wrote and thanked her for what she had done for me. I was
pleasantly surprised to get a very nice response the next day, saying that
she remembered me very well (and in a good way, too). I need to make an
effort to write back. I'm not usually very good about keeping up
relationships over a long distance. We'll see how I do with this.
- I came up with two entries for the NPR Weekend Edition Sunday
Puzzle challenge given on 22 September. This is a two-week creative
challenge inspired by Ella Minnow Pea, a book I recently read. The
challenge is to come up with a pangram that includes a
famous person's name. I came up with the following:
Jesus moved quickly to thaw a frozen grape box. (38)
"Joking fly became vexed," quips Will Shortz. (35)
I submitted them, even. I know I won't win (I spent less than an hour on
these), but I am excited to see what the winning one is.
Issue 01 | Issue 02
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Last modified: 02 October 2002