CategoryGeneral insanity

Great design?

I gave a presentation at The Design Council in London a few days ago.

The organisation is dedicated to the concept of great design and communicating its virtues to British business.

In order to stay true to its mission, everything in its headquarters has clearly been thoroughly designed with a great deal of thought and cutting edge design input going into every aspect of its content and layout.

Included in this radical thinking was the gents’ toilet which had no urinals – just a row of stalls. I’m sure the architect had a long justification about how this was superior to conventional male facilities but the effect on this user was dramatic: three seconds after setting foot in this facility I was rushing out again in a panic, in the firm belief I’d accidentally walked into the Ladies’

comfortable and lovable

There is nothing I like more than hearing from people who use my software, especially when the experience is positive. Here’s the start of an email I received this morning (with the personally identifiable information removed):


this is [name removed] here from INDIA.

I’ve tried your Crossword Maestro solving software demo & felt very “comfortable & lovable”.

I request to let me know two things :

It isn’t often that software evokes those kinds of emotions but when it does I’m very glad to hear about it!

Carol Vorderman’s laugh (or “no I’m not Des Lynam”)

Years ago, when I ran an email-based anagram server, I used to get a lot of misdirected email from people who would reply to the server thinking the reply was going to their friend who made the request (and typed their email address into the form). I would promptly reply with a standard paragraph suggesting they forward the message to the correct recipient. Usually the content was fairly innoccuous. On one occasion (at least) it was profoundly embarrassing to the sender. I also made one extremely good friend this way.

Recently, my diet of misdirected emails is limited to the tiny numbers of people who manage to (1) watch Channel Four’s Countdown television show; (2) go to a search engine to find an email address for the show; (3) find and visit (4) somehow manage to think that is the official Countdown website despite it very obviously not being; (5) miss all the disclaimers explicitly saying that we have nothing to do with the show; (6) find and navigate to the feedback page; (7) somehow miss once again the prominent text on the page saying “We have no affiliation with the Countdown television programme. If your feedback is about the show, please contact” and then (7) Write and submit their message still in the belief that it will find its way to Channel 4.

Needless-to-say, navigating all these tests, requires a particularly “special” kind of person…

Today I received a classic which I’m reproducing here (with all personally identifiable information removed). The message gives a tiny glimpse into the kind of correspondence that Countdown receives (and the abuse that poor Carol Vorderman gets from time to time):

Dear Des,
I admire your programme and I think you are doing a great job. But it is a pity that it is spoilt by
Carol Vordemans laugh. Aften there are jokes and funny stories told during the programme and they
are interrupted by a false hee hee from Carol, if you watch tapes of the programme you will notce,
She is there to put up the letters and try and do the numbers which lateley she finds this difficult..

Yours Sincerely.
(name removed) of pershore Worc’s


More anagram craziness

Though perhaps not quite on the scale of Dan Brown, I got contacted today by a Professor of Psychology from Chicago, Dr Jon Smith, telling me about a book he had written using Anagram Genius.

His career seems mostly to be related to writing about stress and how to conquer it, but recently he has taken to writing “parodies of religiosity” about a god called The Flying Spaghetti Monster (“the world’s first carbohydrate-based deity”). I must confess I had the author labelled as a possible crank until I typed “Flying Spaghetti Monster” into Google and found that it was discussed on almost one million web pages

The deity was conceived for the very serious purpose of debunking Intelligent Design in the United States. The idea is that instead of beating one’s head against the wall trying to engage directly in the debate with its proponents, one should debunk their ideas by making precisely the same arguments for a ridiculous religion and thus reveal the flaws in their position, reductio ad absurdum. Much more can be found on the Flying Spaghetti Monster Wikipedia page.

Intelligent Design is a philosophy put forward as a genuine scientific theory in competition with Darwinian Evolution. It asserts that life as we know it was created by a supreme being instead of coming about via evolution. The debate in the US centres around whether it should be taught in schools alongside Darwin’s theories (and whether it is a genuine scientific theory or simply theology masquerading as such).

The description of the book on his website reads:

1,000,000 Verses Direct from the Flying Spaghetti Monster
This remarkable book contains exactly 1,000,000 verses direct and uncensored from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s 600 pages and 5,000,000 words. Revolutionary computer techology and groundbreaking artificial intelligence software from Europe have searched nearly 3,000,000 verses and identified 1,000,000 as most profound. All are RANKED for meaningfulness, a claim no other world religion can make about its scriptures! Useful tool for intimidating disbelievers and squashing religious dissent. Excellent bedtime reading for insomniacs. A beautiful coffee table book or door stop. Close your eyes, and poke any page with a pencil to obtain your own personalized Spaghetti “reading.” (Research yet to prove FSM readings less accurate than readings from astrology, Tarot cards, the Book of Revelation, or pig entrails.) WARNING: THIS IS AN ABSURDLY GIGANTIC HOLY BOOK GUARANTEED TO BAFFLE AND BEMUSE THE MOST SOMBER AND PIOUS SEEKER.

The “groundbreaking artificial intelligence software from Europe” is, of course, Anagram Genius and what the above is saying is that the entire book was generated directly by my software. (The bit about being “ranked for meaningfulness” is a reference to the Anagram Genius scoring function.)

As the scripture is the word of the deity, as it also came directly from Anagram Genius and as I am the creator of Anagram Genius, I asked him where this placed me….

The response was that in this metaphysical hierachy I was “The Grand Programmer” who was “the ultimate source” of both scripture and god. It isn’t often one gets flattered quite so profoundly (even if it is a “metaphysical hierachy” that includes a deity with meatballs for eyes, lots of tangled spaghetti for a body and many “noodly appendages”….!)