Puzzles

Pieces of a puzzle
Pieces of a puzzle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been musing on the human liking for puzzles. I think that it is based on the need to understand the world that we live in and predict what might happen next. A caveman would see that day followed night which followed the day before, so he would conclude that night and day would continue to alternate.

It would become to him a natural thing, and in most cases that would be that, but in a few cases an Einstein of the caveman world might wonder about this sequence. He might conclude that some all powerful being causes day and night, possibly for the convenience of caveman kind, but if his mind worked a little differently he might consider the pattern was a natural one, and not a divinely created phenomenon.


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Puzzling about these things is possibly what led to the evolution of the caveman into a human being. Those cavemen who had realised that the world appear to have an order would likely have a survival advantage over those who didn’t.

The human race has been working on the puzzle of the Universe from the earliest days of our existence. Solving a puzzle requires that you believe that there is a pattern and that you can work it out.


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The Universal pattern may be ultimately beyond our reach, as it seems to me that, speaking philosophically, it might be impossible to fully understand everything about the Universe while we are inside it. It’s like trying to understand a room while in it. You may be able to know everything about the room by looking around and logically deducing things about it, but you can’t know how the room looks from the outside, where it is and even what its purpose is beyond just being a room.

Solving a puzzle usually involves creating order out of chaos. A good example is the Rubik’s Cube. To solve it, one has to cause the randomised colours to be manipulated so that each face has a single colour on it.

English: Rubik's Cube variations
English: Rubik’s Cube variations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A jigsaw puzzle is to start with is chaos made manifest. We apply energy and produce an ordered state over a fairly long time – we solve the jigsaw puzzle. After a brief period of admiration of our handiwork we dismantle the jigsaw puzzle in seconds. Unfortunately we don’t get the energy back again and that’s the nature of entropy/order.

Many puzzles are of this sort. In the card game patience (Klondike), the cards are shuffled and made random, and our job is to return order to the cards by moving them according to the rules. In the case of patience, we may not be able to, as it is possible that there is no legal way to access some of the cards. Only around 80% of of patience games are winnable.

Empire Patience Playing Cards, Box
Empire Patience Playing Cards, Box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other games such as the Rubik’s Cube are always solvable, provided the “shuffling” is done legally. If the coloured stickers on a Rubik’s Cube are moved (an illegal “shuffle”) then the cube might not be solvable at all. A Rubik’s Cube expert can usually tell that this has been done almost instantly. Of course, switching two of the coloured stickers may by chance result in a configuration that matches a legal shuffle.

When scientists look at the Universe and propose theories about it, the process is much like the process of solving a jigsaw puzzle – you look at a piece of the puzzle and see if it resembles in some way other pieces. Then you look for a similar place to insert your piece. There may be some trial and error involved. Or you look at the shape of a gap in the puzzle and look for a piece that will fit into it. One such piece in the physics puzzle is called the Higgs Boson.

English: LHC tunnel near point 5. The last mag...
English: LHC tunnel near point 5. The last magnets before the cavern. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The shape is not the only consideration, as the colours and lines on the piece must match the colours and lines on the bit of the puzzle. In the same way, new theories in physics must match existing theories, or at least fit in with them.

Jigsaw puzzles are a good analogy for physics theories. Theories may be constructed in areas unrelated to any other theories, in a sort of theoretical island. Similarly a chunk of the jigsaw could be constructed separately from the rest, to be joined to the rest later. A theoretical island should eventually be joined to the rest of physics.


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Of course any analogy will break down eventually, but the jigsaw puzzle analogy is a good one in that it mirrors many of the processes in physics. Physical theories can be modified to fit the experimental data, but you can’t modify the pieces of jigsaw to fit without spoiling the puzzle.

The best sorts of puzzles are the ones which give you the least amount of information that you need to solve the puzzle. With patience type games there is no real least amount of information, but in something like Sudoku puzzles the puzzle can be made more difficult by providing fewer clues in the grid. A particular set of clues may result in several possible solutions, if not enough clues are provided. This is generally considered to be a bad thing.

Solution in red for puzzle to the left
Solution in red for puzzle to the left (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some puzzles are logic puzzles, such as the ones where a traveller meet some people on the road who can only answer “yes” or “no”. The problem is for the traveller to ask them a question and deduce the answer from their terse replies. The people that he meets may lie or tell the truth or maybe alternate.

Scientists solving the puzzle of the Universe are very much like the traveller. They can question the results that they get, but like the people that the traveller meets, the results may say “yes” or “no” or be equivocal. Also, the puzzle that the scientists are solving  is a jigsaw puzzle without edges.

English: Example of a solution of a Hashiwokak...
English: Example of a solution of a Hashiwokakero logic puzzle. Deutsch: Beispiel einer Lösung eines Hashiwokakero Logikrätsels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone who has completed a jigsaw puzzle knows that the pieces can be confusing, especially when the colours in different areas appear similar. For scientists and mathematicians a piece of evidence or a theory may appear to be unrelated to another theory or piece of evidence, but often disparate areas of study may turn out to be linked together in unexpected ways. That’s part of the beauty of study in these fields.


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Shopping

A New World Department Store located at New Wo...
A New World Department Store located at New World Centre Shopping Mall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I do practically anything, I tend to muse about the origins of whatever it is I am doing. This is my way of looking at something in a different way. So today I’m going to think about shopping.

In the days before money, people would presumably have gone around trading for the things that they needed, which makes shopping in the way we understand it difficult and complicated. Role specialisations (butcher, baker, candlestick maker) would probably have arisen well before money was invented and shops as we know then would be unlikely to have existed.

English: Traditional Butcher Shop in Abbotsbury.
English: Traditional Butcher Shop in Abbotsbury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trade would have been, for example, a barrel of apples for a side of pork, and complex networks of obligations would have arisen as Peter owes Paul a dozen eggs, while Paul owes Saul a side of pork, who owes Roger a hour or so labour to repair a pig byre, and Roger owes the blacksmith some wheat for his knives, and so on.

Once the human race invented money, this would all have become a lot easier. The value of the side of pork or the labour to repair the pig byre  could be assessed and indebtedness could be quantified more accurately. The advantages were obvious. Instead of passing around obligations, one could use money to pay for things.


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Of course, the underlying principle is the same, the exchange of one thing of value for another thing of value, but the big advantage was the decoupling of the direct “thing for a thing”. An intermediate “thing of value” or money, enabled the keeping track of indebtedness much easier.

A smithy would be naturally located in a central position, as would the mill. Other suppliers would maybe not be so central – the proto-butcher might travel around the countryside killing and butchering animals, and the proto-baker probably worked from home and may have dealt with the passing trade and also delivered. Perhaps the proto-milkman might have distributed his spare milk and butter around the countryside too.

Bread rolls
Bread rolls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s likely that market places existed before money was invented, as places for people to trade their surpluses for other people’s surpluses, but the invention of money would probably have boosted the use of market places, and specialist traders would turn from prototypes to more specific traders.

And a retail/wholesale split may have happened pretty much as a result of the invention of money. The beef and pig farmer may have completely dropped any attempt to grow grain, or to keep a milk cow, if he could sell all his animals to the butcher and buy bread, grain, milk and cheese and butter from similar specialists.

English: Office candlestick in brass, made by ...
English: Office candlestick in brass, made by Skultuna mässingsbruk, Sweden. Svenska: Kontorsljusstake i mässing från Skultuna mässingsbruk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, the market place may have started out as place to trade produce, but it would have swiftly changed to a place where one could buy stuff. Pretty soon it would have occurred to the market traders that the hassle of setting up stalls and taking them down each day was a waste of time. They would use the new money to buy a house in or near the market, not to live in, but to store and even market their goods.

From the point of view of the customers, as well as the new class of merchants, this was a great move. Instead of travelling to the butcher, the baker, and indeed the candlestick maker, they only had to go to one place, the new expanded market. It would not be long before the houses around the market were modified to make buying and selling easy and for merchants to display their wares. Shops were invented.

English: Mindpro_Citinall_Giordano_Shop
English: Mindpro_Citinall_Giordano_Shop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More exotic products, such as spices from abroad and fabrics from other parts of the country would have started to make their way in to the market places as distant merchants could send large quantities of their goods and would know that a local trader could buy them, and sell them on to local people. Of course, a profit was to be had at each stage of the process.

Shops would naturally tend to arise near the market (which would still be used for livestock and work fairs), so shopping areas would have arisen, well placed in the town centres.

Oskargallerian, a shopping mall in Örnsköldsvi...
Oskargallerian, a shopping mall in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the largest centres of all, the cities, this concentration of shopping gave rise to problems for the shopkeepers, such as where to store one’s wares, and, inevitably, how to attract customers. Attractive shops help with the attraction, as does a large range of wares. Warehouses slightly out of town and large storeroom solve some of the other problems.

A larger range of wares means that some shops would have started to sell multiple types of wares. A clothier may sell clothes for all purposes, gender and ages, and may also sell raw materials for clothes making and the tools for making clothes. A hatter may also start to sell suits, maybe from the clothier, wholesale.

The Milliner (hat maker)
The Milliner (hat maker) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time  in the 20th century the so called department stores became popular. These store sold wide ranges of things for as many household needs as possible. They were called department stores as they were divided up into departments – clothes here, crockery and other cooking equipment there, haberdashery here, gardening requisites there. Even jewelry would perhaps be found over there.

We are seeing the ultimate in bricks and mortar shopping these days, in the big shopping malls. These are usually based around a supermarket or a department store and contain many smaller speciality stores. Since they are truly “single places to shop” or “one stop shopping” they can be locates away from the town or city centres, to the detriment of any remaining city centre shops.

English: Bentalls Kingston department store wh...
English: Bentalls Kingston department store which is now incorporated into the Bentalls centre shopping mall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But in this virtual age, virtual shopping is becoming more important. You can buy almost anything that you can think of on line these days, even your daily groceries, and it is usually cheaper. However, there may be a limit to this, as many people like to touch and feel and pick and choose what they purchase, and clothes often need to be tried on. So while the on line trend in shopping is gathering pace, it is probable that bricks and mortar shops will survive, in some form, at least for a moderate amount of time.


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Holidays

English: Holiday in village
English: Holiday in village (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should imagine that going on holiday, for many people would be a relatively new thing. While those with money might decide to shift operations from home to another location, which might or might not be near a beach, those who work from them would mostly have no respite from day to day toil, since their employers would still require looking after as usual.

As ordinary people became wealthy, and the old social structures faded away for the most part, it would have become more usual for ordinary people to go away, just as their employers used to.

Rangiputa, Karikari Peninsula, Northland, New ...
Rangiputa, Karikari Peninsula, Northland, New Zealand. Rangiputa is a beach and bach (holiday home) community on the west side of the peninsula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The word “holiday” itself is a  contraction of “holy day”, and on holy days there were celebrations and less formal work. The word has come to mean a day on which one does not have to work. Most countries these days would have statutory holidays on which which people would not have to work. There may be other restrictions, such as legislation that shops should remain closed.

It’s understandable that some countries require shop closures, as this means that shop staff get the holiday too, but many countries these days allow shops to stay open if they wish and some of the best retail days are on statutory holidays. Usually shops that stay open are required to compensate staff who are required to work.

English: Brixham - Harbourside Shops These sho...
English: Brixham – Harbourside Shops These shops mainly cater to the holiday trade who visit the harbour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holidays are disruptions to normal schedules. When one goes away, one is in a different environment and one has to make do. Even something as simple as making a cup of tea may be complicated by the need to find a spoon, a cup, and a teabag, not to mention the need to figure out the operation of a different jug!

These things are not an enormous issue, and in fact draw attention to the fact that one is on holiday. All schedules are voided and one can do whatever one wants. Often this may amount to doing nothing.


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A “holiday industry” has evolved, which provides accommodation, and resources for those temporarily away from home. It also provides entertainments or “attractions” if the holiday maker doesn’t just want to lay on the beach. The holiday maker may do all sorts of things that he or she doesn’t usually do, from the exciting (bungy jumping or similar) to the restful (a gentle walk around gardens or maybe a castle visit or may a zoo).

These facilities are all staffed by helpful people who arrange things so that the holiday maker can enjoy his or her self without worries. These people are of course employed by the facilities, but many of them enjoy their work very much anyway. It’s a sort of bonus for helping people.

English: Ultra Dynamics Dowty Turbocraft water...
English: Ultra Dynamics Dowty Turbocraft waterjet boat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holiday makers must also be fed, and this has become a huge industry too. In any seaside towns so-called fast food outlets can be found in abundance, along with more up market restaurants and cafés, for more leisurely eating. For many people one of the advantages of being on holiday is that one doesn’t have to cook, and one can choose to eat things that one doesn’t normally eat.

Holidays can be expensive. Since we are close to the Pacific Islands, like Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, many people fly out to the islands on their summer holidays. This means flight and accommodation has to be booked and paid for.

English: Great Frigate Birds (Fregata minor) o...
English: Great Frigate Birds (Fregata minor) on Johnston Atoll, Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the holiday makers arrive at their destinations, they have to pay for food and entertainment. Other expenses may be for sun screen cream, snacks, tours, tips, and the odd item of clothing which may have been accidentally left at home.

Holiday entertainment may comprise guided tours, or visiting monuments or zoos. Amusement parks are often an attraction as are aquariums. All this can cost a lot, but unless you are content to veg out on the beach, you’ll have to pay for it. Even vegging out on the beach comes at a cost, from sun protection through to drink to offset the dehydration caused by the sun.

English: Roller coaster, M&Ds Theme Park, Stra...
English: Roller coaster, M&Ds Theme Park, Strathclyde Country Park The larger and older of the two roller coasters, at the very southern end of the park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, why do we throw over the usual daily regime, and drag our family on an often uncomfortable road, sea, or plane trip, to a location where we know little of the environment, which will cost us money, to spend the days traipsing from “attraction” to “attraction” spending more money and feeding on often costly food of unknown quality or provenance?

Part of the answer is that the daily regime becomes boring and descends into drudgery. Removing ourselves from the daily regime allows us to escape that drudgery for a while. As far as the cost goes, well, one is prepared to spend a certain amount of money to escape the drudgery for a while.

Money for All
Money for All (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Removing ourselves from the usual means that we can try the unusual. We may try Mexican food, or Vietnamese food. Or even Scottish cuisine if we choose. The world is our oyster.

We can try sports and pastimes that we have never tried before. Bungee jumping. Skiing, water or snow. We can visit a “Theme Park”, ride a roller coaster, or other ride. We can scare ourselves and excite ourselves.

Skiing
Skiing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can experience different cultures, different scenery, but at the end of the day we know that we will be returning to our mundane lives. We have at the back of our minds the cosy ordinariness of our usual lives, as a sort of safety harness.

We know our comfortable house will be there for us to return to, and while we may enjoy the beds in our hotel, motel, holiday home or tent, we look forward to the return to our own beds. We look forward to drinking the brands of coffee and tea that we prefer and fill the fridge with the foods that we prefer to cook.

English: Hotel room in the Waldorf Hilton, Ald...
English: Hotel room in the Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few people would want to live in hotels and sleep in strange beds as a way of life, but there are some people who do so. While we enjoy being on holiday, as a break from our usual lives, we would probably not want to live that way for an extended period. Those who do are unusual people.


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