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Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 26: Unrhymable word 9 August 1999

On my last desk top, I asked if you knew the only word in the English language which cannot be rhymed. Either nobody did or those who did didn't want to look like smart arses as I was completely undewhelmed by the response. The answer is at the bottom of this desk top in case you want to have another think. A clue - it is a four letter word.

Scottish hero (1) - Archie Armstrong was sentenced to hang for sheep stealing (I am not sure of the date, but I don't think it was recent). His last wish was to read the Bible with his eyes shut. This idea so amused James VI (or James I of England) that Armstrong was appointed Court Jester (a position now occupied by Prince Charles). He was later sacked for being rude to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Prince Charles beware.

Scottish hero (2) - Lord Monboddo was an 18th century judge and eccentric. He had a theory that all children were born with tails (which were removed by mid-wives) and he would frequently hire a sedan to take his wig home while he walked alongside. Much of the current judiciary follow this tradition.

Scottish hero (3) - Alexander Cruden was an 18th century bookseller who one day decided to count how many words there were in the Bible. He counted 773,692 and then decided to count the letters (3.6 million). He was later confined to a lunatic asylum. I am not sure why.

To mark the Millennium, the French are temporarily reviving the historic dispute over the location of the prime meridian. The Greenwich meridian (well one of them - check out the archive) was recognised by a conference in 1884 after years of competition with the French meridian. How does one meridian compete with another? My meridian's better than yours? Mine's more fashionable, comes in a range of colours and is better designed? Anyway, by the time of the Conference, only Brazil and Santo Domingo were using the French longitude. Now the French are to mark the site of le meridian, just over two degrees east of Greenwich, with a line of trees that will join 337 towns and villages over a distance of 600 miles. May I suggest that you consider celebrating the Millennium by creating your very own meridian. It could be anything from a chalk mark down the garden path to something like the brass strip set in the ground at Greenwich. The line running the other way round the World (the Equator) is unmarked in many places, so you could pop along and add a section to impress your girlfriend/boyfriend etc. I would not suggest competing head to head with the brand leader, the Prime Meridian though. Go for a niche market.

The Warrington Guardian (England) reports, "bus services axed as passengers fall off".

The village of Corston in Wiltshire (England) will hold its Millennium celebrations next June to avoid clashing with other events reports the Bath Chronicle.

Research from Denise Chen of the Monell Chemical Senses centre in Philadelphia has found that sniffing an old lady's armpits can improve your mood. I don't think she had a particular old lady in mind which is proabably just as well really. Denise recruited 30 volunteers who each strapped a gauze pad under their armpits for 10 hours. The volunteers were chosen to represent a range of ages from girls and boys aged three to folks in their seventies. They were not allowed to use perfumes or eat strong-smelling foods in the four days before the experiment. They could shower but were not allowed to use scented soap. University students were then asked to sniff the gauze pads before completing a questionnaire to assess their mood. "Old women had an uplifting effect", said Chen. The smell of young men, however, produced a depressive effect. Anyone who works out in a men's gym could have told her that. Eau de Trainer would be banned under the Geneva Convention if it was used as a weapon of war. Being a university student is hard enough these days without having to sniff armpits to supplement your income. What worries me most though is how this research may be put into action. I can see centres being set up all over the place with lines of sweaty old ladies exposing their armpits to increase productivity. There could be sniffy breaks instead of coffee breaks. Now I really must stop speculating.

Those of my readers who love to worry should now be working up to a frenzy for the y2k bug which, of course, isn't a bug at all. However, I am concerned that things may fall a little flat for them after 1 January 2000 so I have investigated the 2038 bug a little more. It stems from the use of 'long int' type to represent time in C and Unix programming. This records the number of seconds since the start of 1970, and on 32 bit systems will roll over some time on 18 January 2038. This includes most versions of Unix and any applications that are written using Microsoft's MFC C++ libraries. The consequences of this rollover will be very similar to y2k; all of a sudden your PC will believe that it's over 100 years earlier. The 2038 problem is either very easy or very difficult to solve depending on which way you look at it. If all applications are moved to 64 bit systems before the 2038 rollover, there shouldn't be any problems. However, that in itself will be a monumental task. Apart from the currently very small number of 64 bit operating systems available, the applications themselves might not be easy to port to the new system even if it uses the same APIs as the original platform. This will be of little concern to many of my readers whose lifestyles suggest that they will not be around to feel the effects of this 'bug', but many will see money-making opportunities by sitting on Government commissions, setting up training courses and generally ripping people off. Or you could just have a good worry for the next 38 years.

The unrhymable word? Pint.

Finally, did you notice any powerful king coming from the sky during July as Nostradamus had predicted? Best suggestion so far? Kennedy.

Check in again at my desk soon!

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