Facebook bots apparently make their own language

From 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Like a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, computers are now seemingly taking matters into their own hands and possibly overthrowing their human overlords.

Many news outlets are telling us that Facebook bots can talk to each other in a language they are making up on their own. Some news outlets appear convinced that this communication is real. Even fairly respectable news outlets such as Al Jazeera are suggesting the proverbial sky is falling. However, they fall short of speculating that the Facebook bots are plotting against us.

While Facebook pulled the plug on the encoded “conversation” (which on inspection was repetitive gibberish along with repetitive responses), one half-expected the bots to try and prevent the operators from turning them off somehow. Maybe by disabling Control+C or something. Maybe they were plotting to prevent the human operator from pulling the plug from the wall.

What Facebook was experimenting with was something called an “End-to-End” negotiator, the source code of which is available to everyone on GitHub. Far from being a secret experiment, it was based on a very public computer program written in Python whose source code anyone could download and play with themselves on a Python interpreter, which is also freely available for most operating systems. And to greatly aid the confused programmer, the code was documented in some detail. Just to make sure everyone understands it, what it does, and how to make it talk to other instances of the same program.

They were discussing something, but no one knows what. There are news stories circulating around that they gerrymandered the english words to become more efficient to themselves, but I am going to invoke Ocham’s Razor and assume, until convinced otherwise — that this was a bug, the bots were braindead, and the world is safe from plotting AI bots.

For now.

Exploring Thales’ Theorem

I was playing with a geometry software package and decided to explore Thales Theorem.

The theorem states that for any diameter line drawn through the circle with endpoints B and C on the circle (obviously passing through the circle’s center point), any third non-collinear point A on the circle can be used to form a right angle triangle. That is, no matter where you place A on the circle, the angle BAC is always a right angle. Most places I have read online stop there.

There was one small problem on my software. Since constructing this circle meant that the center point was already defined on my program, there didn’t seem to be a way to make the center point part of the line, except by manipulating the mouse or arrow keys. So, as a result, my angle ended up being slightly off: 90.00550^{\circ} was the best I could do. But then, I noticed something else: No matter where point A was moved from then on, the angle would stay exactly the same, at 90.00550^{\circ}.

Now, 90.00550^{\circ} is not a right angle. Right angles have to be exactly 90^{\circ} or go home. If it’s not a right angle, then Thales’ theorem should work for any angle.

Why not restate the theorem for internal angles in the circle a little more generally then?

For any chord with endpoints BC in the circle, and a point A in the major arc of the circle, all angles \angle BAC will all equal some angle \theta. For points A in the minor arc, all angles will be equal to 180^{\circ} - \theta.

Note that BC is the desired chord, making the arc containing point A the major arc, with the small arc in the lower part of the circle the minor arc. As shown, all angles in the major arc are about 30.3 degrees.

So, now the limitations of my software are unimportant. In the setup shown on the left, the circle contains the chord BC, and A lies in the major arc, forming an angle \angle BAC = 30.29879^{\circ}. If A lay in the minor arc, the angle would have been 180^{\circ} - 30.29879^{\circ} = 149.70121^{\circ}.

By manipulating BC, you can obtain any angle \angle BAC you like, so long as \angle BAC < 180^{\circ}. More precisely, all angles in the minor arc drawn in the manner previously described will be 90^{\circ} < \angle BAC < 180^{\circ}, and all angles in the major arc will tend to be: 0^{\circ} < \angle BAC < 90^{\circ}. If the chord is actually the diameter line of the circle, then \angle BAC = 90^{\circ} exactly.

Gnome, a tale of a dead fail whale with a happy ending …

I moved my window manager from xfce to gnome today, and spent most of the day so far getting gdm3 to work. For a while, I was using two window managers, then narrowed it down to gdm3 and uninstalled the other one.

The login manager failed to come up, and for most of this morning I was stuck in a character console. In gnu/linux, strange things happen when you read a lot of documentation and error messages. I began to see artifacts that are in themselves hilarious, although after hours of poring through debug messages and error messages, I first thought I needed a long break. But no. The same phrase can be google’d, and others have reported seeing it, thus confirming my strange experience.

The error I saw was

We failed, but the fail whale is dead. Sorry.

So, what on Earth is a “fail whale”? It appears to mean that a part of the server that issues error messages, has died. Apparently, gdm3 itself didn’t die, since running ps showed that it was still running, although not running a login screen.

It turns out that the “fail whale” was a meme created by someone named Yiying Liu to refer to errors reported by Twitter. I guess I missed out on that meme.

Somewhere in the thicket of error and debug messages was a reference to the fact that /usr/share/gnome-sessions/sessions/ubuntu.session did not exist. I went to that location as root, and symlinked gnome.session to ubuntu.session.

ln -s gnome.session ubuntu.session

That appeared to be all that was needed. I was able to log on to a gnome desktop.

BoUoW: Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

Tux is telling you the most current Ubuntu running for Windows for BoUoW.

I am not proud of possibly inventing the ugly acronym “BOUOW”, but “BASH on Ubuntu on Windows” appears to compel it. Maybe we can pronounce it “bow-wow” — not sure if that’s complementary. Just did a Google search, and, no, as predicted I couldn’t have invented it: It is variously acronymed: B.O.U.O.W., or BoUoW. It has been around since at least March of 2016, giving end users, computer geeks, and developers plenty of time to come up with something of a nickname or acronym.

But I actually mean to praise BoUoW, and to give it considerably high praise. This is a brave move on Microsoft’s part, and a long time coming. MS has made *NIX access available in its kernel for some time now, thus making *NIX conventions possible on the command line like certain commands in the Power Shell. The user has to enable the capability in the Windows 10 settings (“Windows Subsystem for Linux” (WSL)), and as Admin, the kernel has to be set to “Developer mode”, and follow the instructions on the MSDN website to download binaries and to enable a bash shell on either the command line or PowerShell.

BoUoW takes advantage of the WSL to do impressive things like use the same network stack as Windows 10 itself. This is because with WSL enabled, a UNIX command such as SSH can now make calls directly to the Windows 10 kernel to access the network stack.

This is, by Microsoft’s admission, a work in progress. It would worry me if they would not have said that. But lots of things do work. vi works and is symlinked (or somehow aliased) to vim. The bash shell comes with some other common aliases like “ll” for “ls -l”, for instance, and apparently, as part of the installation, you actually have a miniature version of Ubuntu, complete with a C compiler, and an image of Ruby, Perl, Python, and if it isn’t installed, you can always use “apt-get” to install it.

One of the security features has the disadvantage of conducting an install of BoUoW separately for each user. If a user types “bash” in a cmd window, and if BoUoW is not installed for that user, the install happens all over again, and the image goes under each user’s AppData directory requesting a BoUoW install. If you are using an SSD for C: drive like me, then you might find that limiting due to a shortage of space.

There are many things not recommended yet. If you are a serious web developer, for example, you would find many of the things you want, such as mySQL, are not currently working the right way. If you are a systems programmer, then you’ll find that ps and top only work for unix-like commands, so I wouldn’t use BoUoW for any serious process management. That being said, it does contain the old standbys: grep, sed, and awk.

The compiling and output of my “Hello, world!” program, also showing the source code.

gcc had to be installed separately. The binary it created for my “Hello, world!” program lacks the Microsoft .exe extension. And as it is for Unix binaries, it lacks any default extension. It is using gcc version 4.8.4. The current version is 6.3. This older gcc usually won’t pose a problem for most users.

The current stable Ubuntu is 16.04. BoUoW uses the previous stable version, 14.04, and thus has slightly older versions of Perl (5.18), Python (2.7.6), bash (4.3.11), Ruby (1.8) (available using apt-get), vim (7.4), and other software. Vim, however, appears to be the “large” version, which is expandable, using plugins like Vundle, which is good news. I don’t suspect that these slightly older versions would cause anyone problems, except possibly for Python, which has gone all the way up to version 3.5.2 since. You are warned also that it is possible that under Python or Perl, you might run into problems due to not all of their libraries running correctly under BoUoW. Not surprising, since Python has hundreds of installable libraries and Perl has thousands of them. Could take a while.


Another crack at 6×6 magic squares

Even-ordered magic squares are not difficult just because they are even, in my opinion. They are difficult to design because their order is composite. My experience has shown that by far the easiest to design are magic squares whose order is a prime number like 5, 7, 11, or 13. I have run into similar problems with 9×9, 15×15, as well as 6×6 and 8×8. The 6×6 seems to have the reputation for being the most difficult to make magic, although I have stumbled on one system that produced them, and wrote about it a few years ago, about how I applied that method to a spreadsheet. That method, however, led only to 64 possibilities.

Spreadsheets are a great way of checking your progress as you are building such squares, especially when you are trying to build a square using, say, a method you made up on your own, such as applying a Knight’s tour (which works OK with an order-8 square) to an order-6 square. This would require some facility with using spreadsheet formulae and other features which improve efficiency. Using your own method is very much based on trial and error, and you have to make a rule as to whether you will be wrapping the Knight’s moves (if you decide to use a Knight’s tour) to the opposite side of the board, or will you be keeping your moves within the board limits, changing direction of the “L’s” in your movements (this seems to lead to dead ends as you find you have no destinations left which follow an “L”, and consequently, squares which are not really magic). At any rate, the best squares follow some kind of rule which you need to stick to once you make it.

The best ones I have been able to make with a knights tour are: 1) when your L’s are all in the same “direction”‘ 2) when you sum up two squares. The problem is, all of the ones I have made with these methods so far either end up with weak magic (rows add up but not the columns) but the numbers 1-36 are all there; or all rows and columns make the magic number of 111, yet not all of the numbers are present and there are several duplicated (and even triplicated) numbers.

1 9 17 24 28 32 111
26 36 4 7 15 23 111
17 19 27 32 6 10 111
34 2 12 17 19 27 111
21 29 31 4 8 18 111
12 16 20 27 35 1 111
132 111 111 111 111 111 111 90

The above table shows the totals for the rows and columns for one attempt I made for a semi-magic square. Rows and columns work out to the correct total, but not the diagonals, as shown by the yellowed numbers. There are also duplicate entries, as well as missing entries. 1, 4, 12, 19, and 32 have duplicates, while there are three of 17 and of 27. Numbers missing are 3, 5, 11, 14, 22, 25, 30, and 33. That being said, the rows and columns add perfectly to 111, but not the diagonals. However, the average of the diagonals is the magic number 111 (this does not always work out). The sum of the missing numbers is 156, while the sum of the “excess” numbers (the sum of the numbers that occur twice plus double the sum of the numbers occurring thrice) is also 156 (could be a coincidence).

The above semi-magic square results from the sum of two squares where a knight’s tour is performed with the second square where the numbers 1 to 6 go in random order going down from top to botton. If I am too close to the bottom edge of a column, the knight’s tour wraps back to the top of the square. Beginning on the third column, I shift the next entry one extra square downward. The result is 6 of each number, each of these unique to its own row and column.

The first square are the multiples of 6 from 0 to 30 in random order going from left to right, also in a knight’s tour, wrapping from right to left and continuing. The third row is shifted by 1 to the right.

0 6 12 18 24 30
24 30 0 6 12 18
12 18 24 30 0 6
30 0 6 12 18 24
18 24 30 0 6 12
6 12 18 24 30 0
1 3 5 6 4 2
2 6 4 1 3 5
5 1 3 2 6 4
4 2 6 5 1 3
3 5 1 4 2 6
6 4 2 3 5 1

Note that the first square wasn’t really randomized.  When I tried to randomize it, the result was still semi-magic, similar to what was described. In the case I attempted, the average of the diagonals was not 111. The two are added, this time using actual matrix addition built into Excel. There is a “name box” above and at the far left of the application below the ribbon but above the spreadsheet itself. This is where you can give a cell range a name. I highlighted the first square with my mouse, and in the name box I gave a unique name like “m1x” (no quotes). The second was similarly selected and called “m2x”. I prefer letter-number-letter names so that the spreadsheet does not confuse it with a cell address (which it will). Then I selected a 6×6 range of empty cells on the spreadsheet and in the formula bar (not in a cell) above the spreadsheet (next to the name box), I entered =m1x+m2x, then I pressed CTRL+ENTER. The range of empty cells I selected is now full with the sum of the squares m1x and m2x, which is the first semi-magic square shown in this article.

Cygwin has come a long way … A story in animated GIFs

Search is handy for adding new packages to your installation.

First of all, let me say that there is some currency to what the title and pictures imply.

Cygwin/X really has come a long way.  10 years ago, the only viable way to run Cygwin was through a DOS-style UNIX shell. The windows system Cygwin/X provided, such as it was, was  mostly TWM, a primitive window manager which  I used to use, which ran the core programs in the X-Windows distribution. Most  of what came with Cygwin,  such as Gnome or KDE, never worked for me, making me an FVWM2 fan for a long time. Along the way, I appreciated  that while FVWM2 was very stripped-down, it made up for it in flexibility and configurability. Even now, FVWM2 is quite liveable.

Postinstall scripts can be a bit of a wait.

I decided yesterday to upgrade Cygwin on one of my older computers,  and after working past some glitches in installation, found that:

  1. If you have your guard down, you may still install packages you hadn’t intended, particularly the TeX language packs for languages and alphabet systems that you know you will never use. Minutes can turn to hours with postinstall scripts running trying to configure these redundant packages.
  2. hacking_keys
    I had this idea of moving my old Cygwin installation to another drive; and it was then I discovered a thicket of permission problems that I had to untangle. This took a lot of work.

    Mate is recent addition to Cygwin, and actually works on my slow system in 2016. In fact, I am using the Midori web browser to edit this blog under Mate in Cygwin/X.

  3. GIMP was once a graphics program you had to compile; now it is intallable for Cygwin as its own package.
  4. When moving my old
    Github is the place for a lot of things to round out Cygwin. I was using it to clone source code remotely, then compile and install.

    distribution to another drive, I found a ton of permision problems which were caused by compiling the source for various downloaded code  as another user – not the owner of the directory.

  5. I now have a good system, with much more functionality than ever before. Cygwin has gone from a system that was “mostly broken” to “mostly working” in the space of 10 or so years.green_ninja

Programmatic Mathematica XVI: Patterns in Highly Composite Numbers

This article was inspired by a vlog from Numberphile, on the discussion of “5040: an anti-prime number”, or some title like that.

A contributor to the OEIS named Jean-François Alcover came up with a short bit of Mathematica code that I modified slightly:

      record = 0; n = 1, n <= 110880, n = If[n < 60, n + 1, n + 60], tau = DivisorSigma[0, n]; 
      If[tau > record, record = tau; Print[n, "\t\t", tau];
      Sow[tau]]]][[2, 1]]

This generates a list of a set of numbers with an unusually high amount of factors called “highly composite numbers” up to 110,880. The second column of the output are the number of factors.

1      1
2       2
4       3
6       4
12      6
24      8
36      9
48      10
60      12
120     16
180     18
240     20
360     24
720     30
840     32
1260        36
1680        40
2520        48
5040        60
7560        64
10080       72
15120       80
20160       84
25200       90
27720       96
45360       100
50400       108
55440       120
83160       128
110880      144

For a number like 110,880, there is no number before it that has more than 144 factors.

Highly composite numbers (HCNs) are loosely defined as a natural number which has more factors than any others that came before it. 12 is such a number, with 6 factors, as is 6 itself with 4. The number 5040 has 60 factors, and is also considered highly composite.

This works out to 60, because with 24, for example, we get the factors 2, 4, 8, and 16. With 24×32, we get 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 16, 18, 36, 72, and 144, all which evenly divide 5040. The total number of factors including 1 and 5040 itself can be had from adding 1 to each exponent and multiplying: (4+1)(2+1)(1+1)(1+1)=5×3×2×2=60.

Initially, facotorization of HCNs was done in Maple using the “ifactor()” command. But there is a publication circulating the Internet referring to a table created by Ramanujan that has these factors. A partial list of these are summarized in a table below. The top row headers are the prime numbers that can be the prime factors, from 2 to 17. The first column is the number to factorize. The numbers in the same columns below these prime numbers are the exponents on the primes, such as: 10,080=25×32×51×71. The last column are the total number of factors on these HCNs. So, by adding 1 to each exponent in the row and multiplying, we find that 10,080 has 6×3×2×2=72 factors.


As a number of factors (underneath the “# facotrs” column), We get overlapping patterns starting from 60. One of them would be the sequence: 120, 240, 360, 480, 600, and 720. But the lack of an 840 breaks that pattern. But then we get 960, then 1080 is skipped, but then we get 1200.

For numbers of factors that are powers of 2, it seems to go right off the end of the table and beyond: 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, … . Before 5040, the pattern is completed, since 2 has 2 factors, 6 has 4 factors, 24 has 8 factors, 120 has 16 factors, and 840 has 32 factors. The HCN with 8192 factors is 3,212,537,328,000. We have to go beyond that to see if there is a number with 16,384 factors.

Multiples of 12 make their appearance as numbers of factors: 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 (which are the numbers of factors of 5040), 72, 84, 96, 108, 120, but a lack of a 132 breaks that pattern. But then we see: 144, 288, 432, 576, 720, 864, 1008, 1152, and the pattern ends with the lack of a 1296.

We also observe short runs of numbers of factors in the sequence 100, 200, 400, 800, until we reach the end of this table. But the pattern continues with the number 2,095,133,040, which has 1600 factors. Then, 3200 is skipped.

There are also multiples of 200: 200, 400, 600, 800, but the lack of a 1000 breaks that pattern. But when seen as multiples of 400, we get: 400, 800, 1200, 1600, but then 2000 is skipped.

There are also peculiarities in the HCNs themselves. Going from 5040 to as high as 41,902,660,800, only 4 of the 60 HCNs were not multiples of 5040. The rest had the remainder 2520, which is one-half of 5040.

Also beginning from the HCN 720,720, we observe a run of numbers containing 3-digit repeats: 1081080, 1441440, 2162160, 2882880, 3603600, 4324320, 6486480, 7207200, 8648640, 10810800, and 14414400.

Number 2   3   5   7   11  13  17  # of
5040    4   2   1   1               60  
7560    3   3   1   1               64  
10080   5   2   1   1               72  
15120   4   3   1   1               80  
20160   6   2   1   1               84  
25200   4   2   2   1               90  
27720   3   2   1   1   1           96  
45360   4   4   1   1               100 
50400   5   2   2   1               108 
55440   4   2   1   1   1           120 
83160   3   3   1   1   1           128 
110880  5   2   1   1   1           144 
166320  4   3   1   1   1           160 
221760  6   2   1   1   1           168 
332640  5   3   1   1   1           192 
498960  4   4   1   1   1           200 
554400  5   2   2   1   1           216 
665280  6   3   1   1   1           224 
720720  4   2   1   1   1   1       240 
1081080 3   3   1   1   1   1       256 
1441440 5   2   1   1   1   1       288 
2162160 4   3   1   1   1   1       320 
2882880 6   2   1   1   1   1       336 
3603600 4   2   2   1   1   1       360 
4324320 5   3   1   1   1   1       384 
6486480 4   4   1   1   1   1       400 
7207200 5   2   2   1   1   1       432 
8648640 6   3   1   1   1   1       448 
10810800    4   3   2   1   1   1       480 
14414400    6   2   2   1   1   1       504 
17297280    7   3   1   1   1   1       512 
21621600    5   3   2   1   1   1       576 
32432400    4   4   2   1   1   1       600 
61261200    4   2   2   1   1   1   1   720 
73513440    5   3   1   1   1   1   1   768 
110270160   4   4   1   1   1   1   1   800 
122522400   5   2   2   1   1   1   1   864 
147026880   6   3   1   1   1   1   1   896 
183783600   4   3   2   1   1   1   1   960 
245044800   6   2   2   1   1   1   1   1008    
294053760   7   3   1   1   1   1   1   1024    
367567200   5   3   2   1   1   1   1   1152    
551350800   4   4   2   1   1   1   1   1200    

After that run, we see a 4-digit overlapping repeat. The digits of the HCN 17297280 could be thought of as an overlap of 1728 and 1728 to make 1729728 as part of that number. The 3-digit run continues with: 21621600, 32432400, 61261200, and after that the pattern is broken.

Programmatic Mathematica XV: Lucas Numbers

The Lucas sequence follows the same rules for its generation as the Fibonacci sequence, except that the Lucas sequence begins with t1 = 2 and t2 =1.

Lucas numbers are found in the petal counts of flowing plants and pinecone spirals much the same as the Fibonnaci numbers. Also, like the Fibonacci numbers, successive pairs of Lucas numbers can be divided to make the Golden Ratio, \phi. The Mathematica version (10) which I am using has a way of  highlighting certain numbers that meet certain conditions. One of them is the Framed[] function, which draws a box around numbers. Framed[] can be placed into If[] statements so that an array of numbers can be fed into it (using a Table[] command).

For example, let’s frame all Lucas numbers that are prime:

In[1]:= If[PrimeQ[#], Framed[#], #] & /@ Table[L[n], {n, 0, 30}]

The If[] statement is best described as:

If[Condition[#], do_if_true[#], do_if_false[#]]

The crosshatch # is a positional parameter upon which some condition is placed by some function we are calling Condition[]. This boolean function returns True or False. In the statement we are using above, the function PrimeQ will return true if the number in the positional parameter is prime; false if 1 or composite.

The positional parameters require a source of numbers by which to make computations, so for this source, we shall look to a sequence of Lucas numbers generated by the Table command. The function which generates the numbers is a user-defined function L[n_]:

In[2]:= L[0] := 2
In[3]:= L[1] := 1
In[4]:= L[n_] := L[n-2] + L[n-1]

With that, I can generate an array with the Table[] command to get the first 31 Lucas numbers:

In[5]:= Table[L[n], {n, 0, 30}]
{2, 1, 3, 4, 7, 11, 18, 29, 47, 76, 123, 199, 322, 521, 843, 1364, \
2207, 3571, 5778, 9349, 15127, 24476, 39603, 64079, 103682, 167761, \
271443, 439204, 710647, 1149851, 1860498}

This list (or “table”) of numbers is passed through the If[] statement thusly:

In[6]:= If[PrimeQ[#], Framed[#], #] & /@ Table[L[n], {n, 0, 30}]

to produce the following output:


Note that this one was an actual screenshot, to get the effect of the boxes. So, these are the first 31 Lucas numbers, with boxes around the prime numbers. The Table[] command appears to feed the Lucas numbers into the positional parameters represented by #.

There was a sequence I created. Maybe it’s already famous; I have no idea. On the other hand, maybe no one cares. But I wanted to show that with any made-up sequence that is recursive in the same way Fibonacci and Lucas numbers were, that I could show, for example, that as the numbers grow, neighbouring numbers can get closer to the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is \phi = \frac{1 + \sqrt{5}}{2}. I want to show that this is not really anything special that would be attributed to Fibonacci or François Lucas. It can be shown that, for any recursive sequence involving the next term being the sum of the previous two terms, sooner or later, you will always approach the Golden Ratio in the same way. It doesn’t matter what your starting numbers are. In Lucas’s sequence, the numbers don’t even have to begin in order. So let’s say I have:

K[0] := 2
K[1] := 5

K[n_] := K[n-2] + K[n-1]

So, just for kicks, I’ll show the first 31 terms:

Table[K[n], {n, 0, 30}]
{2, 5, 7, 12, 19, 31, 50, 81, 131, 212, 343, 555, 898, 1453, 2351, \
3804, 6155, 9959, 16114, 26073, 42187, 68260, 110447, 178707, 289154, \
467861, 757015, 1224876, 1981891, 3206767, 5188658}

Now, let’s output the Golden Ratio to 15 decimals as a reference:

N[GoldenRatio, 15]

Now, let’s take the ratio of the last two numbers in my 31-member sequence:

N[K[30]/K[29], 15]

You may say that the last two digits are off, but trying against the Fibonacci sequence, the ratio of the 30th and 31st numbers yields merely: 1.61803398874820, off by 3 digits.

For Lucas: 1.61803398875159, off by 4 digits — even worse.

So, my made-up sequence is more accurate for \phi than either Lucas or Fibonacci. I have tried other made-up sequences. Some are more, and some are less accurate. If it depends on the starting numbers, I think some combinations work better, and you won’t necessarily get greater accuracy by starting and ending with larger numbers.

The HP 35s Calculator: a revised review

The HP 35s Programmable Calculator

A while ago, I wrote a blog article on a different blog regarding the HP 35s programmable calculator. Depending on where you buy it, it could cost anywhere from $55 to $98 to buy.

I have heard in other places about the plastic used to make this calculator. It is indeed cheap plastic. It certainly feels hollow when you hold it. It belies the amount of memory and the increased calculating power that lies inside. The calculator has two calculation modes: ALG mode (algebraic mode) to resemble conventional calculators, and RPN mode (reverse-Polish notation), which, for those who do long calculations, provides a way to avoid parentheses, but requires getting used to stacks.

As far as RPN mode goes, only four numbers can be pushed on to the stack at maximum for this calculator. I have read other reviews for other HP calculators where the stack can be much larger. The numbers push to the bottom of the stack as you enter new numbers, and as you enter them, the “bottom” of the stack actually moves “up” on the display. It makes it difficult to discuss how it implements this data structure because the numbers scroll in the opposite direction. The theory goes that you “push” data to the top of the stack, and you “pop” data off the top of the stack. This is a LIFO data structure (LIFO = “last in, first out”). To see the HP25s implementation, you apparently “push” data to the bottom of the stack, numbers “above” it move upward, and then you “pop” data off the bottom of the stack. It actually amounts to the same thing in the end. It is still a LIFO data structure. Pushing a fifth number on to the stack will cause the first number to disappear, so you can only work with four numbers at a time.

So, let’s say that you have the following stack:

a: 8
b: 7
c: 6
d: 5

The last two numbers entered are the numbers “6” and “5” in memory locations “c” and “d” respectively. Operations will be done on the last two numbers entered. So, if I now press the operator “+”, it will add 6 to 5 and pop both of these numbers off of the stack.

a: 0 (empty)
b: 8
c: 7
d: 11

The stack rotates down, the “bottom” (location “a”) of the stack becomes empty, and the “11”, the result of the calculation replaces both 6 and 5.

Some operators are unary, so pressing the square root will perform an operation on only the last number (location “d”), and replace the result back into location “d”, eliminating the number 11.

a: 0 (empty)
b: 8
c: 7
d: 3.31662479036

Well, there is also the programmability of the calculator. There are many commands available, and one pet peeve is how you are only allowed to assign a single letter to name a program.

Latex editors: a comparison

If you are using Lyx or Texmacs, this book is still an absolute must. It is THE bible for this language.

Latex is a math typesetting markup language which has been around for about 30 years. It is about as old as HTML, and runs on pretty much any kind of computer that can support a Latex compiler. I have written many term papers in it, and continue to use it to write documents. Its best feature is its ability to handle mathematical and scientific notation. It is also the official typesetting language of the American Mathematical Society. A Stanford professor named Dr. Donald Knuth invented a lower-level markup language called Tex as far back as 1976, and Latex, designed in 1985 by Leslie Lamport, was and is just a bunch of Tex macros, sophisticated enough in itself to amount to a higher-level language. You can edit complete documents and even entire books with only a background in Latex. Latex is therefore robust enough that that is all I ever use for math and science documents.

Latex documents are known for their distinctive roman font, and its clean presentation of even the most complicated formulae. The WordPress editor used in making this blog article can show formulae using the distinctive Latex fonts: m = \frac{m_0}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}} is the way Einstein’s relative mass formula is presented on my editor. This is identical to how it would appear in a Latex paper document. Unfortunately, this editor only displays inline math, so I can’t show you how it would display “presentation-style” math, where the fonts would be larger.

Over the decades, there have been editors in existence that mimic Latex in presentation of fonts and formulae. Two that I have encountered are Lyx and Texmacs.

Both Lyx and Texmacs try to distance themselves from being just WYSIWYG wrappers for the Tex/Latex language. While the metafonts displayed are the distinctive fonts known to exist in Latex are those displayed by default in these editors, saving the files saves to the format native to these separate editors. If you want Latex, you have to export your work into Latex format.

Examples of output from Texmacs. Not bad for math, (especially if you know the Latex math codes) but not so easy to use when not in math mode.

First I’ll discuss Texmacs, since my experience with it is the most recent. I discovered Texmacs by surprise when browsing through my Cygwin menus on my laptop. While one would think that going by the name, Texmacs must have some combination of Tex and Emacs, it has dependence on neither. The editor has no resemblance to Emacs (neither in the user interface nor the keystrokes), and a selection of document options appear on the toolbar and in the menus that appear to be in line with Latex document and font options. Texmacs produces its own Texmacs code by default, and while Latex can be exported, the document in Latex may not end up looking the same. I have found that many font changes were lost, for instance.

For one who has worked with Latex for close to 30 years, I can say that nearly all of the resemblance to Latex as well as its ease of use lie in the editor’s use of math commands, although there is more dependence on the GUI. One finds that you can’t enter “\frac{3}{4}” to get \frac{3}{4}, but there is a Texmacs icon you can click that handles that.  Its weakness lay in its handling of the rest of the document. Tables were not well implemented. It appears incapable of inserting gridlines forming the borders for the table cells, for instance, even though the command for it appears to be there in the GUI. I found I needed to export the Latex code, bail out of Texmacs and edit the Latex code directly in a text editor. Another drawback of Texmacs is that while the icons cover nearly anything you would like to do in math, the fact remains that your choices of math expressions are largely limited to the buttons provided. If you are going to do something more complicated, you are going to find reason to edit the Latex code directly by hand again in a text editor. And once you do, importing the *.tex file back into Texmacs to continue editing will not guarantee that your new Latex code will be understood the way you want it. One thing that Texmacs does rather well is change fonts. Latex/Tex has ways of changing fonts internal to its language, but you are limited to only a small number of standard Tex fonts, unless you know your way around the preamble, or header part of the code. Texmacs leaves you more open to alternative installed fonts, allowing you to take advantage of the diversity of Tex fonts of which there are hundreds, created over the last 10 or more years. In fact Texmacs is the only way I know of to take advantage of alternative fonts outside of the Roman/Helvetica/monospace fonts that are at the core of Tex in a way that is even remotely as easy as a word processor. Texmacs documents will have a Latex look and feel, with greater flexibility in font choices, but as said earlier, all this is great as long as you are sticking largely to simple math or math in the toolbars, or as long as you avoid typesetting constructs outside of the math markup, such as tables.

An older version of the Lyx editor.

Lyx is, I believe a much older editor. It claims to use Latex for its typesetting, but my experience with it (although admittedly years ago) was that for serious math applications, you have to export Latex code and edit it by hand if you want to get what you want. Make sure you have Leslie Lamport’s Latex book beside you at the time. After decades of working on and off with Latex, I can never completely get the language and all its nuances in my head, and need the constant assistance of Lamport’s Latex book at my side. This also ends up being the case for Texmacs, since even basic formatting has to be changed under that editor.

In the end, these editors can save a lot of time to get the basic look and feel down for your document, but in the end you need to, at some point, hunker down and edit Latex code directly, using a text editor. I use vi, where I constantly need to bail out and compile the code and run xdvi on the compiled *.dvi file to see what it looks like and what Latex code I need to tweak next.

Both Texmacs and Lyx are on the GPL.
Texmacs source code: http://savannah.gnu.org/svn/?group=texmacs
Lyx source code: http://www.lyx.org/Download