From: Meridian, ID:

(A Sudoku puzzle, "Hard" category.)

(A Sudoku puzzle, “Hard” category.)

I wasn’t a big fan of Sudoku puzzles from the beginning. Truth to tell, I considered them rather simple exercises, i.e., too easy for serious puzzle-solving. Of course Janet told me different, that they came categorized as “Easy,” “Medium,” “Hard,” and “Expert.” (Or “Evil,” or “Mind-boggling,” or “You haven’t got a chance!”) And she liked them from the beginning.

She had already influenced me to get into crossword puzzles, and before I saw the first Sudoku puzzle I had gotten passably good at that universal word game. Not an “expert,” mind you…and certainly not one of those people who works the New York Times puzzle, not concerned whether or not they will finish it successfully, but, rather, seeking to do it in record time! (I suspect nobody likes those people.)

But Janet had a habit of leaving her Sudoku books lying around in the bathrooms, and sure enough, before too long I was picking them up. Soon enough, I realized that my first impression (as to the difficulty…or lack of it) had been correct, at least with regard to the puzzles labeled, “Easy.” At the risk of coming across as a Sudoku-snob, they were but a very minimal challenge, suitable, really, only for children. They were not difficult enough to occupy my attention for more than the time it took to fill in the blank squares. But as I got in to the “Medium” category, things changed. In fact, on more than a few occasions, I found puzzles that required a second trip to the bathroom to finish. Oh…not all that difficult, still, but enough that I had to give them some thought. When I eventually got started on one labeled, “Hard,” I quickly came to the opinion that it was, indeed, “Hard!” Impossible, more likely.

But old guys have to find some way to pass the time on the pot, so I persevered. As time passed, I settled in to a “process” for solving, a system made up of a couple of routines I discovered myself, a few that I learned by reading the “Tips” in the front of most Sudoku books, and a few more that Janet was willing to share with me…after swearing me to secrecy. I took some pride in the fact that I could, given enough time to work on them, solve even the “Challengers” in most books.

I might easily have gotten a swelled head if not for the daily Sudoku in our morning newspaper. Like many other papers (I expect), the puzzle page contains word games, crosswords, and Sudokus that are graduated in difficulty over the course of a week, beginning with easy stuff on Monday and finishing with “killer” puzzles by Friday and Saturday. You can be sure I have no ego problems as a result of those puzzles; that’s because I have never completed one. Truth is, I rarely even start one of them, feeling nowadays my self-esteem is fragile enough without searching for new ways to pummel it. (Janet finishes those Friday brain-busters all the time.) But that’s okay; I enjoy the books that can still be found in and around our bathrooms.

What started me thinking about the subject was of a bit more serious nature. I think we’ve all read and heard more than enough about the big “A” lurking in wait for many of us somewhere down the road. Enough so that every stinking time our mind goes blank trying to remember the name of a best friend in high school, we wonder if it’s the first symptom, signaling the irrevocable descent into the awful pit of Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m getting better about shrugging off these little “brain burps,” but a few months ago I suddenly realized I was having more trouble than usual with the “Hard” Sudokus. (By the way, does any out there agree that is not a proper use of the word, “hard?” Shouldn’t the label be, “Difficult?” But whatever…) Occasionally, even a “Medium” would throw me for a loop. It was happening often enough that the inevitable worry about you-know-what was entering my thoughts much more often. I mean, it’s one thing to forget – for a moment or two – a name or acorn of information, or even information snippets that have been with a person for a lifetime. I think we all do that from time to time. But it’s quite another thing if one is suddenly beginning to have trouble with simple logic…or so I figure.

Happily, that period of doing not-so-well with Sudoku puzzles seems to have passed. I’m now working them again as well as I ever did. (Get thee behind me, big “A!”)


Have you heard on the news, recently, about how close the “techies” are coming to developing a car that can actually drive itself? It’s true, the research and designing has reached a point where governments have to think about how the technology would (or should?) be implemented. We’re talking about a time, and possibly not that far distant, when we will all be mere passengers in our vehicles. And in city traffic, too…not just on the isolated country road out to Grandma’s place!

I gotta be honest…I don’t care much for the idea, myself. Oh, sure, we’ve all grown accustomed to cruise control and most of us use that with no qualms. But handing over every aspect of driving to a computer chip? Well, that’s something else, again.

I’ll admit that computers and robots do a fantastic job at a lot of things. But here’s the rub: They DO make mistakes! They freeze up for no good reason. They initiate “job action” slowdowns at the most inopportune times. They will suddenly stop communicating with other computers…machines they have known and loved for years. You’ve got a home computer. Would you hand over control of your car to it? Would you feel safe and comfortable careening down the Interstate knowing that every speeding vehicle in view (and beyond) was being driven by a microchip?

(A woodscrew, created by a computer-driven automated process. Can you spot the defect?)

(A woodscrew, created by a computer-driven automated process. Can you spot the defect?)

And here’s an example. Like so many jobs in manufacturing, the making of a simple woodscrew is now automated. Without such automated production lines, every piece of work needing a woodscrew would come to a screeching halt. Modern machines, guided by a simple piece of silicon with memory, can produce millions and millions of the dang things…and done in good time. To have men produce the equivalent would require who-knows-how-many lifetimes. Worse yet, the products produced by the craftsmen would almost certainly not be of a uniform standard.

Yes, the machines and computers are good. But they are NOT infallible! Just the other day I bought a box of screws (made in China, of course, but that’s beside the issue). I think it was a box of 50…certainly no more than a hundred. They were all identical in their perfection…except this one. You can’t see it in the photograph, but the Philips head was done correctly. The problem, obviously, is that the “blank” was never turned in to a screw…it is, as you can see, still a blank.

So if the box contained 50 screws, we can say that the computer running the line functioned correctly 98 percent of the time. Or, giving it the benefit of the doubt and saying the box contained 100 screws, it was correct 99 percent of the time. Now if that computer were playing Jeopardy, I’m sure we would all applaud its performance. I know I would. But if we put that same computer in charge of our vehicle and drove across Los Angeles, that same percentage of “good behavior” would, in no time at all, get us surrounded by smoking hulks of wreckage. And that would be the “good” outcome. The alternate possibility would have us actually being one of said piles of wreckage.

On the other hand, I suppose one could easily make the point that even if the computers were but 99 percent reliable, they would still far surpass the reliability of humans. I can’t argue with that supposition. Can you? So let’s re-boot the family wagon, have the glove compartment robot hand me a gin and tonic — with a lime, thank you — and we’ll get on our way down the highway. Good luck to us all!



3 Responses

  1. Janet says:

    I love your mind!

  2. Jerry Howard says:

    I love your mind to! How would you like to strap your butt in the Space Shuttle and blast off to the Space station. All done by computers. Yikes!

  3. Ron Boy says:

    I love your mind too. So, what did you and Jan come up with on the lil IQ test I sent you? We just want to know if it actually had any real value. Also, the government, as well as society, is willing to accept a certain amount of lost lives when it comes to highway safety. For instance, if the speed limit were say 30 MPH on our freeways, there would be far fewer deaths on our highways. But that wouldn’t make drivers, or the population in general, very happy to have to travel at that speed. So the same for a few lost lives due to automation. For the good of all, a few have to be sacrificed.

Leave a Reply