How I Became the World’s Best Wordle Player

Wordle 233 1/6

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The world is gripped by a new game: Wordle, which is an odd and addictive combination of a word guessing game with MasterMind, a game involving color created in 1970. You have six tries to guess a five letter word, and for each guess you get in reply which letters of your word are correct, which ones would be correct in a different location, and which ones are plain wrong.

Say the word to guess is SABLE and your try is KEBOB. Wordle would show you a green B in the middle, since both words have the letter B in third place. Since both words contain the letter E, but in different locations, it would be colored yellow. The letters K and O, not present in SABLE, would be colored gray.

In 2022, another year of the plague (at least in the beginning, I am crossing my fingers) this game has stormed the Internet. Smart people are playing it, dumb people are playing it, and I am the world’s best player. I always guess the word on the first try. Five green boxes, baby!

This article is not about being the world’s best player, and not about how I “cheated.” This article is about the tools I used to figure out the game’s logic. These tools are available to anyone that uses a modern desktop browser, and maybe this writeup will inspire you to learn how to figure out new things.

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Steamboat During the Bomb Cyclone

It was (and still is) an amazing snow season, one of those you can tell tall stories about to your grandkids surrounding the fireplace. But the crown of the worst storm of the many definitely goes to the one that dropped a blanket of white from Aspen to Chicago. It marked the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in Colorado, with some of the worst winter winds recorded.

What a better day to do a road trip? I collected my friends in Vail Valley, from which you can drive directly to Steamboat without going over the famously finicky Rabbit’s Ear’s Pass, and we decided to have a good time in the blizzard. To be fair to us, it wasn’t exactly that we planned to be in a blizzard: we simply had heard there was a storm system coming, the season was ending, and we wanted to all go to Steamboat. Changing the day invariably meant the trip was going to fall apart, so Bomb Cyclone it was.

First, the drive. We left relatively early, around 8a. On a normal day, that would have gotten us into Steamboat (the resort) around 9:30a. That wasn’t to be. I wasn’t driving (since I don’t drink and hence am the Eternally Designated Driver on the way back) but I could feel how the magnificent car was at times lost. The roads were worse than slick, they were treacherous.

To get to Steamboat from Vail, you take I70 to Wolcott, where you briefly join US6 (which parallels I70 much of the way). Then you take CO 131 North until you hit US40 (the main route from Denver) just before town. Unlike the US40 route, that requires navigating the perils of Rabbit’s Ear’s Pass, CO 131 is fairly flat and navigable. Some of it is in valleys that protect you from the snow, and until you get to the plain of the Grouse Creek views are not expansive.

It is clear that US40 is the main entrance to town and the Denver crowd the money maker for the resort. The poor two-lane CO131 gives way to something approaching freeway standards and you quickly get into the main drag to the resort, Mt Werner Road (Mt Werner obviously being the main summit).

I checked parking online before we left, so I knew there was a small free lot near the base, another one farther down, and a shuttle lot even farther away. My homies didn’t want to shuttle in and the close lot was already full at 10:30, the miserable time we made it into the resort. So we parked at the gondola lot, right by the shops. The covered parking was gone, the rooftop was empty. Price was $30, and you pay via an app.

From the lot to the gondola was an easy stroll, comparable to what you’d do in Vail from the Village Parking structure. The place looked more modern than most resorts, who try to go for the Old World Feel. We quickly found the entrance to the gondola and stood in line. Thankfully, that area was covered and enclosed. While the blizzard was starting to heat up outside (or is it, cool down?), we were chatting merrily in the warm enclosure. The lift line moved very fast, thanks to an impressively zippy lift. You could see the cabin accelerate and it felt like you could easily feel nauseous just looking at it.

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I Can Tell-u-ride!

Yes! We finally had the most fantabulous snow season of the (this) century! 2018-2019 will forever go into snowboarding history as Colorado’s most fun, especially with the future being warmer and the snow trending towards occasional more than regular.

In fact, I haven’t been updating this blog for a long while because I was having way too much fun on the slopes. Now the season is winding down and it’s time to recap almost six months of awesomeness!

I usually plan for a longer trip outside the state, just to get to know new resorts and to just get out of town. I haven’t felt like that since moving to Denver, since our snow (even on a marginal season) is better than almost everywhere else. But Colorado is huge and there are plenty resorts far enough from Denver, you can’t reach them on a day trip.

Last year, I tried Crested Butte and had a blast. This year I wanted to go even farther and picked Telluride. It was convenient, in that it had just been acquired by Vail Resorts, which also runs most of the mountains near Denver.

So, waking up at 4a and three days, but only two nights in Telluride. What’s the verdict?

First, the drive. There are two main ways to get to town from Denver: one goes first West on Interstate 70 to Grand Junction, then South. The other is to follow US 285 and then US 50, past Crested Butte (and a few more resorts). I picked the Grand Junction route, which is slightly faster and shorter. It was a good call, since it was also incredibly beautiful.

I had already driven many times from Denver to Grand Junction, on my way to San Diego. Turning South there was at first only marginally interesting. To the left (East) was the towering enormity that is the Grand Mesa (famous to the inclined as one of the Natural World Wonders in Civ V). The right is dominated by the spires and canyons of Colorado National Monument.

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English-based Creoles, Esperanto, and the Quest for the “Perfect” Bridge Language

Meet Mom and Dad

See the man at the bottom with the jet-black hair? The lady in the chair to his right? The bundle of joy in her arm? Those are respectively my father, my mother, and myself. Both my parents sadly passed, but their story is remarkable. He was Italian, she was German. The official story is that they met on the freeway, passing each other repeatedly over hundred miles. It was, by all accounts, love at first sight.

Mom spoke German, dad, Italian, not exactly the most compatible of languages. When the two of them were together, they used the one language they both spoke, for very different reasons. Mom had grown up during World War II and her house had been confiscated by G.I.s, with whom she had to communicate. Dad was an (Italian) Air Force officer and English is the mandatory language of flight and of NATO, both.

Eventually, they learned each other’s language and stopped speaking English. That was a blessing to both, since they never had gotten used to their accents and communication was a bit of an issue. I was born at about their second anniversary and they were still speaking English, but I never even recall them using the language.

English, to them, was what they call a bridge language. Useful, even necessary, for a period, then discarded as it was not required any longer. It wasn’t just that it wasn’t required, though: they seemed not to like using it to talk with each other. Was English maybe not a good bridge language?

Lingua Franca

The need for a bridge language is very common and has been common for a very long time. Traders, in particular, frequently get in touch with people whose language they don’t speak and who don’t speak their language, but they need to talk to trade. What did they do? It turns out they would often invent a language that had some words of one, some words of the other, and a grammar that suited everybody. An example of this is so famous, it serves as a generic name for bridge languages to this day, lingua franca.

Lingua Franca (proper name) was the language used in the Mediterranean basin in the Middle Ages and early Modern Age, mostly by traders. While the name makes it sound like a derivation from French, at the time all Westerners were called “franks.” That included Italians, who were the most successful traders and whose language became the foundation of the Lingua Franca. (more…)

CyberSecurity Done Right

I received an email. It came from TaskRabbit, a company about whom I don’t know much. I used them to get moving help when my containers were delivered and had a really strongly positive impression. Also, they had some heavy-handed product placement in Unbreakable – Kimmy Schmidt, which still was endearing.

While I know little about the company, I know something about their handling of a cybersecurity incident. Here is what they had to say:

Dear Marco,

TaskRabbit is currently investigating a cybersecurity incident. We understand how important your personal information is and are working with an outside cybersecurity firm and law enforcement to determine the specifics. In the meantime the app and the website are offline while our team works on this.

We will be back in contact with you with more information once we have it. As an immediate precaution, if you used the same password on other sites or apps as you did for TaskRabbit, we recommend you change those now.

If you have any questions in the meantime, please reply to this email.

Thank you for your patience while we investigate the issue and for being such an important part of our community.

TaskRabbit Team

Now, the reason I feel comfortable quoting the message is that I can only applaud it. If the content is accurate, TaskRabbit is taking this seriously, is proactive with information, and says it is doing the right things.

Compare that to another company that knew it has lost the information of half the population of the United States of America and didn’t say anything for an extended period of time, while it was “investigating.” Or the other company with which I used to do business, who lost my credit card information (including the CCV it is not supposed to store), leading to a series of charges to the tune of $10,000 on Bing Search and a heavy downgrade in credit rating.

I don’t know. How can we continue pretending that identity theft is a problem for the individual and not for the companies that leaked that information? How can the customer be responsible for fraudulent charges when the gas station didn’t do anything about the skimmer on their premises? Why do we accept that a company hiding a massive data breach can get away claiming oopsies while thousands or even millions of their customers have to worry every day about getting ripped off?

FAQ: Did Jesus Really Save a Gay Couple?

Note: This is an FAQ to the article written here.

What is this claim about Jesus saving a gay couple?

In the Gospels, a story is found of Jesus being approached by a centurion. The centurion is trying to get Jesus to heal his servant, who is back home dying. Jesus rushes to help, but the centurion says that he (Jesus) doesn’t have to go all the way; if he just says the word, the servant will be healed. Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith and says the servant is healed. And so he was.

Verses, please!

Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10, John 4:46-54

How do the versions of the story differ?

The shortest version of the story is found in Matthew and is basically reported in shorthand above. It ends with an anti-Semitic rant about the grim future of the land of Israel that is missing in the other two versions and is characteristic of Matthew.

The story in Luke is very similar to that in Matthew, except it introduces elders who plead with Jesus on the centurion’s behalf and vouch for him, as he has been generous to the (Jewish) community. Also, while in Matthew Jesus and the centurion talk directly and freely, in Luke the centurion sends friends to talk with Jesus, who though say exactly what the centurion said in Matthew.

In John, the story is modified, to the point that most commentators deny it’s the same miracle. In it, the centurion becomes a royal official, while the servant, the official’s son. Also, the comment on the centurion’s faith turns into a simple statement about the whole household converting. (more…)

Spring Has Sprung! Or Has It? The Math Behind Seasons

Yawn! That’s not my reaction to the title, but to the sleepiness that comes from giving up Lent, eating chocolate (provided at half price by Safeway on Easter Monday), and sleeping in after a sugar rush. Easter, is a Spring holiday – not by chance, but by design: Spring officially starts on the Spring equinox, and Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox (unless bla bla). Since there is one full moon in every 29-something days, you are guaranteed to see Easter happen soon after the official start of Spring.

Yet, because I am a nerd, the first thing that comes to my mind is not Christ, the Lord and Savior returning, it’s not bunnies and chocolate, and it’s not even the painful reminder that the snowboarding season is almost over. In fact, the first thing that comes to my mind about every three months at the change of seasons is, “but the season has long started!”

Yes, all of March is relatively mild, despite the fact the first two thirds are officially winter. It’s the exact same thing for all seasons: June is already hot as all get-go, except maybe in San Francisco and Fairbanks, AK. September is my favorite month, and the hottest in San Francisco – but it’s the hottest there precisely because temperatures dip to its East. And finally, the cruelest joke of all, Christmas is close to the coldest day of the year, but it’s just the beginning of winter.

What’s the deal? Why do we assign some random point about a third of the way into the season as its beginning?

Let’s take the Winter solstice, traditionally falling around the 21st of December. It is the day with the shortest daylight duration. Before it the days were longer, and after it they will be shorter. Since our Earth relies on imported heat from the sun, the shortest daylight should coincide with the least heat. The coldest day of the year should be the Winter solstice!

Things aren’t that quick, since it takes the atmosphere some time to adapt to change, sort of like it’s been caught doing the naughties with the sun and needs to straighten out her dress. But, in fact, at least in Denver, the coldest day of the year is December, 26th, not even a week after the solstice. It is in fact very odd that we consider what should be the exact middle of winter, the beginning. Even when taking into account heat inertia, it makes very little sense to consider the solstice the beginning of the season instead of its middle.

But it’s convenient. The dates of equinoxes and solstices are constant, we need a day to start the seasons, might as well pick something that is somewhat related to them (even if the day picked should be the middle of the season by logic). Generally, it feels like the seasons should align more with the months (all of December, January, and February in winter, all of March, April, and May in spring, etc.), but who cares?

Well, your resident nerd cares. I went and decided I was going to compute when the seasons really begin and how long they really last!

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My Private Keystone

The previous post I spent dissing the EPIC Pass, but praising its mountains. Vail will always be one of my favorite places on Earth, despite being sick of high prices and breaking-down lifts. Breckenridge will always be my go-to place for a party (waiting for the Plunge!), but I’ll never reveal my secret stashes there, not even if you tortured me with a ski stick (yes, that’s what they were originally called!).

Keystone? Well, Keystone isn’t really much of a secret. The mountain is pretty big, but doesn’t really compare to the other big mountains in Colorado. The infrastructure is good, but the runs a bit on the iffy side. Keystone’s problem, really, is mostly not crowds or cost, but the alternating exposure of the slopes. If you look at a map, Keystone is in fact three mountains aligned North (front side) to South (Outback). You ski the North and South side of each mountain.

The problem? The sun melts snow on the South flanks/slopes much faster than on the North sides and you end up with a pattern of alternating-quality snow. The North sides are generally colder and have the better snow, while the South sides suffer from icy conditions in the morning and can become a slush trap in the afternoon. That’s not nearly universal, of course: sometimes you want the warmth, for instance if the snow is icy everywhere and you want it to melt, in which case the North sides can remain icy and inhospitable all day.

There are more problems. For instance, while the mountain(s) is(/are) pretty big, there is only one lift that gets you from mountain 1 (Dercum M.) to mountain 2 (North M.), and only one for the entirety of mountain 3 (The Outback). The line at Santiago lift (leading up 2) can get out of hand at any time of day, because it used to be the only way to get from 1 to 3. (There is the gondola from 1 to 2 now, and it’s usually uncrowded. Take it if you want to go to the Outback!)

But this is not a litany of bad things about Keystone Resort. Instead, I’d like to present my favorite places on the mountain. I feel generous, since I am not going to see you there next year, as I will be skipping the EPIC Pass (as mentioned before).

So, first a preamble. What makes a place one of my favorites? It needs to fulfill a stringent set of criteria:

  1. Access through one or preferably several express lifts
  2. Snow of constant/predictable quality in a wide range of weather conditions
  3. Lack of crowds and unpleasant types
  4. A real challenge to get through
  5. No flat areas long enough to require unstrapping and pushing/walking

How this affects my choice of secret stashes is pretty clear. (1) The terrain by Alpine lift in Copper is fantastic, for instance, but the lift itself freaky slow. (2) While I love the Ruby Express lift line at Keystone, the snow can be of extremely variable quality and easily turns into an ice trap. (3) I loved Paradise Bowl in Crested Butte, but there was no untouched powder ten minutes after resort opening. (4) Groomers have long not been my thing any longer. Part of it is that you have to take them anyway to get to your favorite places, but part of it simply that I find it boring to just go down a run, whether straighlining or carving. If there is lots of powder it can be fun, but even then just a couple times.

A word of caution: the places I frequent are dangerous. People on the slopes are dangerous, but trees are much worse. Also, there are things (rocks, stumps, branches) between trees. Finally, my favorite places have cliffs, jumps, bumps, moguls, and other torture devices strewn densely in them. Proceed at your own risk, and always remember that this article was written by someone who had to sit out snow sports for 5 years because of a shoulder separation.

Now, with all that preamble, my favorite places in Keystone:

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Good-bye RMSP, Welcome IKON!

Last year I decided to splurge and buy both major season passes available in Colorado: EPIC, which is Vail’s offering and includes access of some kind to A-Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, and Beaver Creek; and Rocky Mountain SuperPass (RMSP), which is good at Eldora, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Steamboat, and Crested Butte.

Of course, just as I decide to do that, we get one of the worst snow seasons on record. We are worried about water supply in the summer, as the snow melt is going to be insufficient, but right now I am more concerned about the tree stumps that are not covered and the runs that didn’t open until well into February.

Also, any crap season is good enough to throw the world of ski resorts into major turmoil. Whether that’s the problem or something else I cannot say, but I ended up buying the last RMSP season ever issued. RMSP is dead, as well as another competitor, M.A.X. They are replaced by a brand new pass that takes into account the shake-up in the industry.

What happened is that Vail Resorts (of EPIC) bought Whistler-Blackcomb from Intrawest, which runs Winter Park and Steamboat in Colorado. To make things more confusing, Intrawest renamed itself Alterra and is now a private company, still headquartered in Denver. And to top it all off, Alterra is co-owned by the company that runs Aspen, and synergies seem to emerge.

The end of all confusing happs is the emergence of a duopoly that is reflected in season passes. The old EPIC pass will continue, and will doubtlessly continue to be very popular. In fact, it snagged not only Whistler-Blackcomb, but also Crested Butte in its lineup. The pass will continue to offer some of the finest mountains in North America, including Whistler and Vail, two of my favorite three.

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Crested Butte Weekend

It’s been a tough year for travel. I had to deal with a lot of work, and if I found the time to snowboard, I rather shot up I-70 to my favorite haunts than drive for hours and days just to slide down a mountain I didn’t know. I mean, I am some 75 minutes from some of the finest resorts in the world, do I really have to fly to marginally better or really just different mountains?

Well, my friend C came to visit and he is an avid snowboarder. We make a point of always traveling to some place neither of us has seen, since we want to experience surprise in equal amounts, and there were quite a few mountains even in Colorado I had never seen before. Since I had the Rocky Mountain SuperPass and it included time at Crested Butte and Steamboat, I asked him to pick one of the two and he chose the correct one: Crested Butte!

[It was correct simply because it then turned out RMSP would not include Crested Butte next season, so this was my last chance to see the place for free!!!!]

A friend of mine, always the generous, let us stay at his condo in Downtown Dillon (as it were). So we decided we’d make a road trip out of it: drive to the condo in the evening, then to Crested Butte the next day.

Driving from Dillon to Crested Butte

There are basically two main ways to get to CB in the winter. Both are well-traveled highways, so either one is cleared of snow in a timely fashion. The last part of the drive is the same for both, while the two forks connecting with Denver are as different visually as you can imagine.

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