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“Once” – a must see movie January 23, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in movies, music.
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Lorraine was in the video store (I wonder why I still call it that) a couple of days ago and picked up a movie which she’d seen on one of the LA Times movie reviewers top ten lists.  It also jumped out at her because we both like movies with strong musical content.  The movie was “Once”, and we loved it.

The story is simple enough.  A Dublin street musician meets a Czech girl who plays the piano, and they get together to make a demo.  There’s not much more than that.  But, good grief, the music!  Both the leads are professional musicians.  Glen Hansard is a singer/guitarist with The Frames, a long-lived Irish rock band, and Markéta Irglová is a singer and songwriter on the Dublin scene.  The two of them wrote most of the songs in the movie (and since it’s a movie about their musical experiences, you get to see and hear full performances) and they’re just spectacular.  Hansard is a magnetic, committed personality with a powerful, emotionally rich voice, and Irglová is a perfect foil, gentle, vulnerable and sweet.  The songs are strong, complex and gripping, and they’re circling my brain as I write this.

I hope you like it as much as we did.

53 and counting January 19, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in worklife.
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Today’s my 53rd birthday, I’m happy to say.  My life is in the middle of being turned upside-down, so it’s maybe time for some reflection.   A year ago, I was halfway through my 30th year with Unisys, and wondering, with increasing frequency, if this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my working career.  Well, the question was resolved in December, and I’m – mostly – pretty delighted.  For the first time in decades, I can say, with some certainty, that I have no idea what I’ll be doing, or where I’ll be doing it, a year from now.  There a sense of liberation, but also a feeling that this is a chance, maybe my only chance, to move my life in a direction of my own choosing.

And there’s the wrinkle.  I’ve never been particularly good at acting, rather than reacting.  Most of my career moves, starting back to 1977, when I joined Burroughs in the UK, have been, to a lesser or greater extent, influenced more by circumstance than my conscious choice.  So, here’s a chance to change that, and I’m starting by taking advantage of the outplacement services provided by Unisys.  The program is offered by Right Management, and I attended my initial orientation class on Wednesday.  Right Management seem very energised and on the ball, and I’m looking forward to working with them.

But not just yet.  First comes some travelling.  We have three jaunts planned over the next six weeks or so.  First off, we’re heading up to the Bay Area, to see friends in Paso Robles, San Francisco and Sonoma.  Lorraine also wants to get to Fort Bragg, famed home of beach glass, so we’ll try to fit that in too.  Then it’s a road trip to Tucson, for our second annual visit to the Tucson Gem Show.  Last year, we were like a couple of kids, just blown away by the size of the thing, and by the astonishing range of products available.  This year, I think we’ll have a little better idea of what we’ll be looking for, but it’s still going to be pretty overwhelming.  Finally, we’re planning a week on the East Coast, to see friends in Philadelphia and New York.

And then, in early March, it’ll be time to start the serious business of inventing a future.

Watch this space.

Four fours update January 4, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.

I may have neglected to mention that one of the permitted Four Fours techniques is the use of ‘.4’. So, you can burn two fours on 10 = 4/.4 if you want. That’s not desperately interesting, since 10 is available other ways, but when you use it with the factorial, it can get you to places you can’t get to otherwise.

So, it turns out that

1194 = (4^!-\sqrt{4})^2/.4 - 4^2\hspace{10 mm}(1210 - 16)

Dammit, this is like pulling teeth. I’m now staring at 1195, which is staring back at me with a mean, uncompromising expression.

Four Fours unblocked – after forty years January 1, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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The New Year seems to have started pretty auspiciously for me. I was fooling around this morning with a little maths problem which has been bugging me every now and then for, well, essentially my whole life. Every couple of years, I’d take it out, give it some mostly aimless thought, get nowhere, and put it away again. Today I played around with it for about twenty minutes, and found the solution. It’s not quite Andrew Wiles proving Fermat’s Last Theorem, but I was totally astonished and delighted that I’d found what what I’d been looking for, after having been stuck since I was maybe 10 years old.

Allow me to explain. Don’t laugh too much.

When I was about eight years old, sometime around 1963-1964, my teacher, a wonderfully inspiring man called Dr Fred Everett, presented the class with a challenge, which he called “Four Fours”. He asked us to take each integer in turn, and represent it using the digit ‘4’, used four times. Each use of ‘4’ could be modified in various ways. You could raise it to a power, you could take its square root, and raise that to a power, you could use the factorial – and there were several other possibilities which we asked about at the time, and which were ruled legal or illegal. The idea was to see how far you could get.

Let’s try a few easy examples.

16 = 4 + 4 + 4 + 4
17 = \sqrt{4}^3 + 4 + 4 + 4^0 \hspace{20 mm}(8+4+4+1)
179 =  \sqrt{4}^7 + (\sqrt{4}^3 - 4^0)^2 + \sqrt{4}\hspace{10 mm}(128+49+2)

Clearly, the first few hundred are pretty easy, although a few caused us some thought. Once you get into the high hundreds, the values you can construct from the basic rules start becoming a little wider spaced, and you have to start getting inventive. We were stuck on 811 for some time.

811 =  (4^!)^2 + (4-4^0)^5 - \sqrt{4}^3\hspace{10 mm}(576+243-8)

With that out of the way things moved along fairly easily for a while. We asked for a ruling on

888 = 444 \times \sqrt{4}

and were told that it was acceptable, not that it would have been too hard to come up with another answer. So time went by, and after a few months only my friend William Irving and myself were pushing on. We arrived eventually at

1190 =  (\sqrt{4}^5+\sqrt{4})^2 + (\sqrt{4})^5 + \sqrt{4}\hspace{10 mm}(1156+32+2)

and then ran into a brick wall. Neither of us could solve 1191, and after a while, we both gave up. This would be around 1965-1966.

All of my results were written in a notebook which moved with me from place to place, which is a miracle in itself. Whenever I’d clear out a cupboard in preparation for a move, I’d run across the book. get it out, think about 1191 for a while, and put it away again. The book came out again yesterday as I was freeing up some space in one of our storage closets, and I started thinking about 1191 again, with no expectation of success. This morning, the book was still on my desk, so I sat down, made some notes, and, within twenty minutes, had come up with

1191 =  \sqrt{4}^{11} - (4-4^0)^6 - \sqrt{4}^7\hspace{10 mm}(2048-729-128)

I walked around for a while, not quite believing that the solution had turned out to be so simple. I even broke out a calculator to make sure that my arithmetic was correct.

So there we are. It’s New Year’s Day 2008, and I can start writing in the Four Fours notebook again, after a gap of over forty years. It’s a very strange feeling.

Happy New Year!

Update: Bugger. Now I’m stuck on 1194. Check in here again on my 90th birthday.