19 April 2011
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Kedging the Halala

I'm not unduly keen on Scrabble.  I'm OK at it because I know a lot of words, but I'm just OK at it because I don't know Scrabble words.  These are the odd two- and three-letter words such as qi (pronounced "chee") or dah.  I didn't know qi until I found that, in addition to its Chinese meaning, it is the new standard for wireless charging of cellphones and other small gadgetry.  Now I'm no longer hopeless with a Q and no U*.  But this is just the Scrabble surface.  My occasional playing partner can often make 3 or more words in a single bound.  She is my occasional playing partner because she usually wins, and she always gets the good letters.  (And may cheat, of course, although I'm not even sure that it is possible to cheat; I reserve the right to whine about losing for any reason, real or hypothetical.)  Because I'm reluctant to play and always behind in my reading, she will often play against the machine, in this case a program on her iPad. 

The iPad program has a built-in frustration generator.  It will create words such as kedge and halala.  Although I'm an expert on nautical terminology and can keelhaul the bilge on the starboard scuppers along with any ensign you can name, I confess to not having known that a kedge is a small anchor.  And while I know halal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher (which explains a lot), my theology is spotty enough that, while I picked halala as being related to Muslim law, the definition and explanation escaped me both before and after reading about it.

My Modest Invention

I have suggested a number of inventions on this blog, such as the Monversometer, which still cries out for corporeal realization.  I'm not even sure that the one below is exactly an "invention," as many would argue that software doesn't fit the category, and I don't want to argue back.  Furthermore, in terms of patentability, it will be instantly "obvious" in about one paragraph, and anyone "skilled in the art" can crank it out in hours.  The big puzzle to me is why this doesn't exist already (if, in fact, it doesn't).

When the iPad dredged up kedge as its turn at Scrabble, I wanted to know the definition.  Why did I have to look it up separately?  Why not simply (yes, simply) touch the word?  How hard can it be for a computer already enabled for touch and already connected to the internet, to show the definition of a word by looking it up in any one of the online dictionaries (or internally, for that matter)?  If it's necessary to disambiguate words that all share common letters before defining them, how about this brilliant scheme:  Touch the first and last letters of the word!  Of course this will turn Scrabble from a fun game into a dreary educational tool, so maybe it would be best to provide an option to turn the definition feature off.

I'm putting this in the public domain and whatever rights I may have to this scheme are now thrown open to developers everywhere.  The next time I see kedge, I don't want to have to keelhaul the iPad.

* My favorite DJ, Dan Ingram, once introduced the song I Will Never Find Another You by the Seekers with the line "The lament of a Scrabble player trying to make the word uvula."

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