Tag Archives: nest

The Urinal Problem

urinalToday we study a particular variation of the classic so-called Urinal Problem. For millennia great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Bill Gates and others have pondered the great mysteries of gentlemen’s restroom etiquette. Now it’s my turn to take the problem out for a spin.

The classic definition of the problem, of course, involves an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of urinals. It’s easy to see how a problem like that could humble even the greats. In a flight of hubris, even I once made the attempt, and was left humbled and feeling flushed.

For simplicity, we will closely examine a three-urinal subset of n and attempt to fully solve the problem variation.

Abstract. A man walks into a men’s room and observes n empty urinals. Which urinal should he pick so as to minimize his chances of maintaining privacy, i.e., minimize the chance that someone will occupy a urinal beside him? In this paper, we attempt to answer this question under a variety of models for standard men’s room behavior. Our results suggest that for the most part one should probably choose the urinal furthest from the door (with some interesting exceptions). We also suggest a number of variations on the problem that lead to many open problems.

Source: Springer Link – The Urinal Problem. The complete paper is available for purchase.

It was easy to theorize a solution for the three urinal-subset based on the process of elimination (no pun intended). This is also known as The Vizzini Gambit. (See: The Princess Bride.)

Clearly you should not choose the urinal in the center as the next visitor must choose one of the adjacent urinals. Thus, it is obvious that the solution must be one of the end urinals. But which one? Elimination only gets us so far.

As is often the case, field research is required to test theoretical constructs. And that’s where the shit hit the fan. (The results of that experiment are beyond the scope of this article.)
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Gerbil Games: The Re-Nesting

Our house had a visitor recently…

Yes, the gerbil stopped by. After months of no contact my wife was able to arrange some time together with our son. We were atwitter with nervous anticipation. Would he actually show?

The day of the meeting we spotted gerbil spore. A tweet from the gerbil! The meeting was on. It looked like it would actually happen.

In typical gerbil style he didn’t come to our house and she couldn’t pick him up at wherever he might currently be living, either, since that place is totally unknown to us. No, he wanted to be picked up at the local Walgreens. Gerbils are quite fond of comings and goings in public settings.

The plan was that my wife would take him into a nearby town for dinner and shopping. She had to get a present for our grandson’s 2nd birthday.

The evening went well and my wife had a good time with our son. She did say, however, that when she first picked him up, she almost got a “contact high” from the stench of marijuana that emanated from his person. Ugh. He’s still classy as ever, I see. We did note, however, some baby steps towards civilization. The nose ring and gauged ear lobe thingies were gone.

After the evening was done, she brought him back to the house to use our computer and, little surprise, I was told he’d be spending the night. On our sofa. Just like the good old days. The gerbil was back in the nest.

In the morning, after my wife went to work, it was just me and the gerbil. He slept in to the last possible moment. He finally woke up when it was getting time for me to go to work. It was a bit awkward between us. He grabbed a quick shower then it was time for us to go.

Since the gerbil is no longer trusted with a key to our house, he had to leave when I left, or he’d have no way to lock up the house.

I asked him if I could drop him off anywhere. He said no and elaborated on some complex gerbil plans.

So it was that I drove off to work and saw the gerbil walking away up the street.

Now, get this. I don’t believe in premonitions or instinct or feelings or what not. But as I approached the stop sign at the outer edge of our subdivision, a little voice was yelping in my mind.

“Go back,” it yelped. “Go back and made sure he didn’t leave that side door to the garage unlocked.” I checked my watch. I just had enough time.

So I did a u-turn and swung back around to the house. I couldn’t help but note that as I did so the gerbil had reversed his course and was walking back towards our house. In fact, he seemed mighty surprised to see me.

He stopped, shuffled around comically for ten seconds, as if deciding what to do, then headed off in a whole new direction as if that’s what he had been planning the whole time. Yeah, right. I just sat there and watched.


The gerbil safely out of sight I ran into the house and headed directly to the side door of the garage.

It was unlocked!

And that’s the way that cookie crumbles. This may be the end of this particular chapter but hang on, folks. I’m sure I’ll have more for ya real soon.

(click here for audio track for these lyrics)

Little hellion, kid’s feelin’ rebellious
Checking to see if he can pass our smell test
Pushing us until we feel helpless
’til someone comes along on a mission and yells BITCH!!!
I’m a visionary, had a vision of scary
Could start a renunciation, pollutin’ his brainwaves
Forcing responsibility upon him as an unpleasant task
If it doesn’t work he be kissin my ass *smak*
And it’s a disaster, such a catastrophe
For you to see seem damn gerbil you ask of me?
Well he’s back, na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na
*bzzt* Lock your doors and get your keys
He’s entering in, endin’ up in house like a splinter
The center of attention, back for the winter
It’s interesting, teaching him – my failed questing
Infesting our home he’s back in and nesting
*bzzt* Testing, attention please
Feel the tension, soon as someone mentions he
Here’s my ten cents, my two cents is free
A nuisance, you sent? You sent to me?

The Gerbil Strikes Back

Um, yeah. It has come to my attention that I'm your father. Any room for negotiation on that?

Episode 99, THE GERBIL STRIKES BACK: It is a dark time for Parental Forces. Although The Key to The Nest has been reclaimed, the Rebellion, led by The Gerbil, has continued its onslaught unabated.

Using daytime nocturnalism powers, the Gerbil has established a hidden rebel base to engage Parental units in an ongoing campaign of terror and harassment.

Emboldened by a strange phenomenon known as a “job,” the Gerbil is seeking to stockpile vital supplies of cigarettes, energy drinks and drugs while continuing to avoid all forms of responsibility…

Alrighty, then. Where were we? Oh yes. The gerbil had obtained a job and had even voluntarily chosen to hand over the source of his powers, The Key. (The key to our house.)

First up, the “job.” Yes, through absolutely no effort on the part of the gerbil, he had obtained a job. We had previously tried log sheets where the gerbil was to document his job hunting efforts. After weeks had gone by, the sheet amassed two or three entries of gerbil scrawl with the names of establishments where the gerbil had submitted applications. The entries turned out to be lies, however. Then the gerbil claimed to have emailed applications to a few other jobs. A check of the “sent folder” revealed these were also lies. It seems the gerbil would leave no stone unturned in his efforts to embrace total hedonism and avoid all possible forms of responsibility.

Finally, though, he ended up helping a relative of ours at her place of employment. She took a little pity on him and gave him odd jobs and such out of her own pocket. He was rather rude about this, often not showing up and bothering to call.

Then another other employee at this place of business decided to quit and gave one week notice. They were in a little bit of a bind. Because the gerbil had been hanging around and was already familiar with the operation, the owners gave him a shot. Did he want the job?

Amazingly the gerbil accepted. The job had landed right in his lap to a sufficient degree that the gerbil was willing to give it a try. I guess he figured our anger would know no bounds if he declined. He was right about that.

The first week was iffy and he almost got fired. He was late one day and called in sick on another. Classic. Amazingly, though, to this day, he still has managed to hang onto the job. Inconceivable!

Two things immediately happened. First, the gerbil and our relative decided amongst themselves that our fucking driveway would serve as their personal bus stop. Our relative would pick up the gerbil on the way to work in our driveway. Why in the name of all that’s holy did it have to be our driveway when there is a whole city out there that could serve the same function? I’ll never know!

So every morning now I open the garage door to find our relative’s car in my driveway and blocking my exit. I get to sit and wait while she moves the car so I can go to work. Ever hear of the street? You could park on the curb. I fail to understand why the difference of 15 fucking feet makes a big difference. It just has to be in our driveway. And every day it’s the same routine. Open garage door, she moves her car, I wait. You think it would have dawned on her by now, “Hey. Gee whiz. Park on the street and I won’t have to move the car every time.” Grrrr.

Secondly, every single day this last week, following the return of the key on Sunday, the gerbil has been loitering in our driveway when I return home from work. I open the garage, pull in, then he is in my face. “Can I borrow your phone?” (He has a super fancy phone but never made the payments so it is disconnected.) “Oh, yeah. Can I borrow your mountain bike to get to work?” Like always everything is about what he wants.

His first week after returning the key and we just had five days of gerbil mooching visits. What part of “moving out” don’t you understand?

Lastly, there is one other amusing anecdote to share. The most interesting thing about the gerbil finally landing a job is this – nothing in the physical universe has changed. The gerbil still doesn’t have any money, of course. That would require “not spending” and “saving” acting together in unison. As far as I can tell, the only thing that has changed is that the gerbil now has more energy drinks, more expensive coffee stand drinks, more cigarettes, more alcohol, and (I’m assuming) a lot more drugs. Well whoop-de-frickin-do!

One afternoon this week my wife attempted to engage the gerbil in chit chat. I was not in the room. She wanted to inquire about money and how that was coming along for him. As usual this line of discussion really agitated the little feller. (He owes us about $1,000 by now, money that we desperately need.) I’m told the conversation went a little something like this:

  • Mom: So. How are you doing on saving money now that you have a job?
  • Gerbil: [angrily] You know I don’t have any money!
  • M: Well, I thought with a job you’d …
  • G: No! I don’t have any!
  • M: Well, where is it all going?
  • G: You know I don’t make hardly anything. And every penny I make goes to bills.
  • M: So you’ve been working for weeks now and you don’t have any money?
  • G: [shrieking] What do you want? Do you want to see me swinging from the end of a fucking rope? Is that what you want? I’ve got nothing!
  • M: What? No. God no! Why are you saying things like that?
  • G: [angrily stomps out of our house and slams our front door]

I have dubbed this behavior the “proactive conversation blocking technique.” It is a tactic the gerbil employs often. The gerbil knows that nothing freaks out his mother more than dropping vague and angry little suicidal hints. Or, as in this case, not so vague. “Swinging from the end of a rope” is pretty frickin’ clear. So he employs this little tactic and the discussion he finds so uncomfortable is over and he usually follows up with storming out of the house.

I can only hope stuff like this keeps going and going and going and never ends so I’ll always have something to write about. Yeah, that would be good.