A Box of (slightly) Puzzling Mystery

So I get home from work the other day, and a small, white, cubical mailing carton is waiting on the doorstep. Since that isn't all that unusual, it got nudged inside without much thought. A little later, Michelle noticed it and wondered what I had ordered since it wasn't hers after all.

Looking at the label didn't answer any questions. It was, indeed, addressed to me. My name was spelled right. The return address was a complete unknown and I am pretty sure I haven't been shopping on eBay (actually I know I haven't since I don't have an account there at all... that's Michelle's bailiwick).

A Puzzle Box

So we open the carton, and this is what we found inside neatly wrapped in plastic, bubble wrap, and air bladders. It is a very nicely made puzzle box, about 11.8 cm by 8.2 cm by 5.3 cm, covered with intricate inlay patterns.

There was no packing slip, so the plot thickens.

Proof that it can be opened.

I've seen this sort of thing before, so I know that opening it is just a matter of patiently searching out which bits of which panel will slide, and then solving the maze to get the box all the way open. An inscription found inside. It is possible its not right side up in this photo, however.This turns out to be a well made a fourteen step box, counting the final removal of the cover. Aha! There's a rolled up sheet of note paper inside. Perhaps that will answer the obvious question... but alas, it only answers questions for those who can read Japanese, and I cannot.

The one remaining clue is the return address: someone at U of Waterloo, in Canada. Perhaps Google will shed some light. Expecting to find someone known to the puzzle community, perhaps an importer of well crafted puzzle boxes, I give that a try. My unknown benefactor is clearly the first search result... but he has no obvious connection to puzzles, woodwork, Japan, or me.

 Except for one minor thing. He's one of a very small community of people who deeply understand quantum computers, another of whom almost certainly knows both of us, lives in Japan, and furthermore knows I collect things like this box and would be amused by a good puzzle.

Thanks, Rod, for the mysterious box...


Saving What?


I keep meaning to research and write a meaningful and coherent piece about the madness that is called Daylight Saving Time in the US, and Summer Time in other places, but I keep finding clocks I've forgotten about.

My wristwatch that keeps accurate time by listening to radio broadcasts on WWVB (tune the right kind of receiver to 60000 Hz out of Boulder, CO for a bit stream pulse width modulated on the carrier carrying "official" accurate time data provided by NIST from their atomic clocks) and disciplining its local oscillator naturally failed to have a signal and didn't actually reset itself. Anecdotal reports have it that I am not alone in that experience. Beating it firmly with its user manual got it to go reacquire the time signal and reset.

And don't even get me started on the consequences of the law passed in 2005 that changed the DST start and end date rules on the theory that this will save energy. I don't happen to know what our 20+ year old PDP-11 (still happily running RT-11 and TSX+ and patched to correctly handle Y2K) chose to do. Since the PC on my desk is the only one at the office running a "supported" version of Windows, it was the only one that got an "official" patch applied.

The only change that should be made to the DST rule is to eliminate it entirely. Sure, there would be some amount of confusion as devices nationally are patched to forget about DST, but that is a small price to pay for never having to worry about it again.

I have a real problem understanding how giving the entire country Jet Lag twice a year saves anything worthwhile. If some activities are better performed in daylight, then just don't do them in the dark.



And I though LA Traffic was bad...

I was following up on a recent article on an open source project that builds Windows Installer packages (.msi and .msn files) called WiX and wandered off to its lead developer Rob Mensching's blog where he had this post about driving in India: Its like Frogger!

That post links to this video at YouTube.  All I can say is that I'm surprised the 2 minute clip doesn't include at least one fatal injury ;-)

Aside from that digression, WiX looks like an interesting way to build reliable installation kits for both large and small tools without being obligated to buy yet another developer tool or distort the build process. Being command line based, it should integrate nicely with traditional Makefile builds, and comes with task definitions to fit with the new class of build tools (in particular Ant and MSBuild) that describe projects in XML.

I am currently using Inno Setup as my installation creation tool of choice, but it doesn't always play well with others since it creates executable installers rather than MSI packages. It too is open source, free, and it does integrate with Makefiles, so I don't have that much incentive to change tools.