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Millions of virtual monkeys have almost typed out the entire works of Shakespeare by bashing random keys on simulated typewriters.

The virtual monkeys, created by an American programmer, have already typed up the whole of the poem A Lover’s Complaint and are 99.99 per cent of the way through the Bard’s complete works.

The experiment attempts to prove the theory that an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters would eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare by chance.

Jesse Anderson, the programmer behind the project, said he was inspired by an episode of The Simpsons which spoofs the famous problem.

Mr Anderson set up millions of small computer programmes, or virtual monkeys, using Amazon’s SC2 cloud computing system, and programmed them to churn out random sequences of nine characters.

If the nine-letter sequence appears anywhere in one of Shakespeare’s writings, it is matched against the relevant passage in a copy of the Bard’s complete works, and is checked off the list.

Hang on, though, that’s cheating, innit?

I always understood the infinite monkeys theory to be that eventually they would produce all of Shakespeare’s works as written.  In other words, there is one complete sequence of typewriter keypunches, out of all the jillions of possibilities, which if entered will give you the whole of Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or whatever else.   This experiment sounds more like flinging random chunks of monkey poo at a wall until it’s completely covered.

Reminds me of the old Bob Newhart routine: “Yeah, Jerry, I’m gonna go down and check on No. 92.  I think he might have something.  Lessee….’To be, or not to be.  That is the rackafratz.'”

UPDATE:  Whoops, perhaps I should have read below the fold, because the Telegraph is way ahead of me:

But the experiment is an imperfect reproduction of the infinite monkey theorem because it saves correct sections of text while discarding future wrong guesses, experts said.

Dr Ian Steward, emeritus professor of mathematics at Warwick University, said that for the monkeys to type up the complete works in the correct order without mistakes would take much longer than the age of the universe.

He told the BBC: “Along the way there would be untold numbers of attempts with one character wrong; even more with two wrong, and so on.

“Almost all other books, being shorter, would appear (countless times) before Shakespeare did.”

The fellah running the thing seems to be aware of his own weakness.

Writing on his blog, Mr Anderson said: “This is the largest work ever randomly reproduced. It is one small step for a monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere.

“I understand the definition of infinite and infinite monkey theorem and I realise that this project does not have infinite resources.

“No monkeys were harmed during the making of this code. This project is my attempt to find a creative way to attain an answer without infinite resources.”

Which of course, given that it’s a question of infinity, is an impossibility.  Sounds to me more like an attempt to find a creative way to screw around.  Who’s paying for all this?

And speaking of monkey poo:

In 2003 the Arts Council for England paid £2,000 for a real-life test of the theorem involving six Sulawesi crested macaques, but the trial was abandoned after a month.

The monkeys produced five pages of text, mainly composed of the letter S, but failed to type anything close to a word of English, broke the computer and used the keyboard as a lavatory.

I find that last mental image infinitely amusing.

I have a theory, which is mine, that hair does not grow at a consistent rate, but instead does so in fits, starts, leaps and bounds.

How else to explain going for weeks looking like a Marine recruit and then suddenly waking up one morning with a head like a chrysanthemum?

As to what factor or factors control this variation, I couldn’t say.  It may have something to do with the days on end we’ve had of muggy, drizzly, soggy weather.  (This certainly is causing my ivy to bust out.¹)  Perhaps it has something to do with parental frustration (although I would think that would cause it to fall out).  Perhaps the follicles collectively know when I don’t have the time or the inclination to go to the barber.

I suppose one can only sit back and wait until Scientific Knowledge has crossed this particular frontier.

¹Which reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons.


Just a few thoughts:

♦ Sat behind a fellah at Mass yesterday who was sporting what appeared to be an e-missal.   I know the message is more important than the medium, yadda, yadda, yadda, but still, this just doesn’t seem right to me.

♦  For those of you following the great chainsaw debate, no new developments yet.  Too wet to work outside this weekend.  A certain part of Robbo’s brain is now saying, “Oh, just get somebody else to cut the tree up for you.”

♦  For those of you following the great Port-Swiller home computer repair/replace  debate, no new developments on that one yet because I’ve been mooching Internet service off various family laptops.  But this has only affirmed my preference for PC’s so I suppose I’m going to have to sit down and do the math on this soon.

♦  Tried some pistachios that were both salted and peppered.  Yum.

♦  Congratulations to my beloved Nationals for winning their final home game (and home stand) of the season by knocking off the Braves 3-0 yesterday.  (Those of you in St. Louis may thank us at your convenience.)  What a lot of fun this season has been – and it’s only going to get better from here on out.  Three games left (against the Fish), and a possibility of the first winning season in something like forty-five years of Dee Cee baseball.  GO, NATS!

♦  Given the wretched season the Dolphins are having so far, it’s probably just as well that my interest in professional football has been ebbing dramatically over the past couple years.

♦  By what process of logic does a child base the statement “Yes, I am ready for soccer practice” on a bag containing one shinguard and three unmatched shoes?  Grrrr……..

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter will know that ol’ Robbo’s foible is the possession of a vast horde of essentially useless knowledge.  Well, this weekend proved that occasionally, just occasionally, some of that knowledge does, in fact,  become useful.  (This is why ol’ Robbo is also such a packrat:  Because you just never know!)

You see, the eldest gel came home announcing a history class project to construct a diorama of the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack (or Virginia, if you Southerners prefer) in the Hampton Roads in March, 1862.  As we duly tooled off to Michael’s to fetch supplies of balsa wood and particle board, I was able to gas on at great length about the importance of the battle on a tactical, strategic and historickal level, thus giving her pointers for the write-up that will go with it.  I even wowed the gel by remembering the name of the Union ship that had run aground the previous day and which the Monitor was seeking to defend.  (She was the Minnesota, in case you want a good bar bet.  Two other Union ships, the Cumberland and the Congress, had already been sunk by the Virginia.)

We spent the better part of Saturday afternoon working on the thing.  And when I say “we,” I want to be clear that this was no Dad-doing-the-project-himself biznay.  Yes, I certainly lent a large hand in planning the construction, but other than some of the more difficult sawing, I insisted that the gel do the work herself.  For example, she looked up the length and beam of each of the original hulls and calculated the size of her models to scale.  (Thank Heaven both ships rode so low in the water that we could get away with simulating their hulls simply by cutting their deck outlines from a sheet of moderately thick wood.)  She also drafted the designs, first on graph paper and then on wood.  She painted and sawed her own cannon, smoke stacks and pilot house.  She created a very passable-looking bay using a bulletin board and various hues of blue spray paint.  She will assemble all the bits together once we’ve got them ready.  She also will draw the background – featuring the Minnesota and the wreck of the Cumberland – on a large piece of posterboard herself.  And we’re even talking about using tufts of cotton ball to simulate cannon smoke.  In fact, once I’ve cut some gunports for the Virginia, my main task from here on out will be to make sure she doesn’t sever a finger or glue the cat to the carpet or the like.

But one thing had me a bit snookered, namely, how on earth to recreate the Monitor’s gun-turret.  I had a big block of balsa, but I knew that any attempt of mine to whittle it to a circular shape would wind up looking pretty lame.

Then it hit me yesterday morning.  (During Mass, in fact, but in my defense it was only during the announcements.)  One of the derisive nicknames for the Monitor was “tin can on a raft.”  How would it be…..could the scale work out…..?  Well, when I got home and checked, the answer immediately turned out to be “yes”.   So if you ever find yourself in my position, I will pass this tip on to you:  For a slap-up model of the Monitor with a length of 15 inches bow to stern, an inverted (and empty) Iam’s cat food can works almost perfectly in the role of said gun-turret.

I spent the better part of the afternoon chuckling over the idea of using a tin can to replicate a tin can.  Art imitates history.

My family thinks I’m very strange.  (I heard the word “nerd” muttered several times.)   But you must admit that such strangeness has its uses.


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September 2011