Sunday, 27 January 2019

99 Random Facts About Me: Twitter Megathread.

Following is a huge long twitter thread I posted last night and today.  I enjoyed it and it took my mind of the various kinds of misery I've been feeling lately.  
So I thought I would preserve it here. Barely edited with a few inter-fact tweets italicised.
I have really really been struggling with my mental health so far this year. So I thought I would try to let my twitter friends cheer me up by loving and chatting random supposedly interesting facts about myself. 1/megathread
There was thing before Christmas of one like = one interesting fact. I'm not saying any of these should interest you but I had a conversation with @aquigley where I said I could easily do say 50 "interesting facts". So here goes.
I'll start numbering when I start the facts in the next tweet. Some will be academic boasty and most will be obscure little things to do with niche interests of mine that you probably don't share.
Random interesting fact number 1. 
I once won a bottle of champagne from The Independent for a spoof piece in 100 words based on a real headline from the paper that week. 1/
I saw Glenn Turner score his 100th century in first class cricket at Worcester. Probably the best innings I ever saw as he went on to make 311 not out in the day. 2/
When I was at school I could solve Rubik's cube reliably in less than a minute. But I can't solve it now at all. 3/
I taught a Turing Award winner, Robin Milner, to juggle, but I don't suppose he kept it up. 4/
For a while in the mid 90s my teddy bears' pictures on my web page were some of the top hits for teddy bears on the entire internet. 5/
I don't think I invented it but I want the following to be known as "Gent's First Law of Putting Things Back".

Always put things back in the first place that you looked for them. 6/
One of my ancestors was on the jury for a murderer in a case where his navy captain was called as a witness. The captain was Horatio Nelson. 7/
In the 1970s there was a stationer in Malvern where I grew up which had printing calculators in it. I would go in there and do sums on them just for the fun of seeing the numbers go up on the printout. 8/
As a child I loved Asterix books and often had a dream that the next day I would go into a bookshop and find a brand new Asterix book. One day it came true. 9/
The first time any intellectual work appeared in print was in my mother's school maths textbook. This textbook was published by Mills & Boon, overwhelmingly famous for publishing romance novels. 10/
The only autograph of a cricketer I ever personally collected was Basil D'Oliveira's. I'm incredibly lucky that my childhood sporting hero also turned out to be a hero in real life, playing an important small role in the history of anti-apartheid. 11/
One day helping with washing up I looked out of the window and said to my dad "that looks like an eclipse of the moon". He said "no I doubt it because I would have heard about it if it was." He had 9 papers in Nature on astronomy but I was right. 12/
Talking about my dad I gave the eulogy at his funeral, an incredibly moving experience. I started with the words "Hubert Gent wore a monocle". Don't think I mentioned the cloak though. 13/
I've published a chess puzzle in which you can prove you can mate in two moves but you can't tell which of three moves will achieve this. (Really). 14/
I once solved an open problem in Combinatory Logic posed by Raymond Smullyan, only to discover an AI program had already solved it. 15/
Talking about resolution theorem proving... I once impressed Alan Robinson (who invented it) by noticing that "Bare Story" is an anagram of "Oyster Bar" 16/
I heard the first episode of The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy the first time it was ever broadcast on radio. I remember talking about it the next day at school with somebody else who had been struck by it. 17/
Talking about the radio... my parents agreed that if I went to bed early I could stay up all night to listen to the last day of the amazing Centenary Test Match in 1977. Something went wrong with the alarm so I missed most of it. Maybe they snuck in and turned the alarm off? 18/
Twice in my life I listened to every official Beatles track in a single day. I think it takes about 12 hours but since they well on physical records you had to keep going quite efficiently, especially for the singles. 19/
One of my favourite words is "antepenultimate" which means "two before the last". Once I gave a talk which was scheduled as the antepenultimate one just because the organiser knew I loved the word. 20/
There's a very obscure thing called the "Gent representation". I did invent it but I got it called that by bribing @Azumanga with a beer (or maybe it was a cider). 21/
My older sister and her school best friend used to love taking me to shops when I was ridiculously young and see me stunning the shop assistants by telling them how much change they should give my sister. 22/
I once started a thread on an internet newsgroup which lasted for many years - it was a "Clue Writing Competition" on rec.puzzles.crosswords. 23/
I was born 100 years to the exact day after overarm bowling was legalised (according to Wisden Cricketer's Almanack) 24/
Talking about Wisden, age 11 I got Wisden 1975 for my birthday. I found an error in it and wrote to the editor. He wrote back to confirm it was a mistake.

His letter finished "Tell mummy she wrote the envelope very nicely." 25/
There's a few academic things I've not invented but named: all of these are mine:
  • Large Neighbourhood Search
  • Solution-directed Backjumping
  • Support Encoding
  • Petrie Multiplier.
The best joke I've ever come up with is this:

"Why is it even more important to remember your girlfriend's birthday than your mum's?"

"Because the day after you forget your mum's birthday, she's still your mum."

I once had a maths teacher who told us it was her birthday and we could guess which one because it was a prime number. We thought she was about 30 so said "29" as a safer guess than "31".

She was offended and said "No, I'm 27!!".

27 is not a prime number. 28/
I own what a very reputable antiques dealer tells me is the only surviving railway sign telling you are now in Wales. (She's reputable because she's my sister). 29/
My mother once swapped open-air cockpit seats in a biplane in mid air.

I only found out about this a few years ago. She'd never bothered to tell me because she didn't think it was very interesting. 30/
Talking about my mother and cricket, I seriously annoyed her by refusing to tell her how exciting the 1981 Headingley Test was becoming. I was superstitious and thought if I let her watch it she would jinx it. 31/
One day I was walking to work and thought "I'd love something nice to happen to me today." When I got to work there was an email from a woman I'd met at a conference inviting me to visit her. We've now been married almost 25 years. 32/
I never really enjoyed the Fringe when I lived in Edinburgh but in 1987 I was really impressed by a show I saw which turned out to the first time Reduced Shakespeare Company did the Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). 33/
I once had an argument with my co-authors on a paper where I said we should call a new algorithm after the famed Scottish haggis. I won the argument, or perhaps you might think we all lost. 34/
When I was a PhD student my office was Room 101. 35/
There's an incredibly exclusive club called the "Gotcha Club" for people who found mistakes in the New York Times crossword. I am a member and the puzzle with the mistake was published as an example of one of their all time best. 36/
The woman who invited me to visit her 3000 miles away and I then married was best friends with an office mate with a best friend of one of my best friends. The chain of 5 is not unusual but I feel the closeness of each relationship was unusual. 37/
My sister-in-law @underwoodwriter has written many successful children's books include New York Times bestsellers. But when discussing this with @afd_icl I spectacularly lost the boast battle when he asked if I'd heard of his mum's book "The Gruffalo". 38/
To be clear and fair to Ally I don't think he realised he was in a boast battle. But when most people say their mum has written children's books you can win the boast battle if a book dedicated to your daughter has been a bestseller.
Talking about @underwoodwriter, her book was meant to be read by Pearl Mackie on CBeebies on Christmas Eve 2017. My tweet complaining about the fact they showed the wrong episode was quoted by The Sun. 39/
When I went to "meet the parents" of my future wife, flights around Christmas meant that I got there the day before my girlfriend. They were exceptionally nice.40/
In the early 1990s I used to type in the Listener Crossword in LaTeX and email it to America for my girlfriend, and to other aficionados in the US. Since paper copies took too long to get there, entries on my latex version were accepted as official entries. 41/
One of the people who got on the mailing list was the setter "Sabre" who asked if my father's name was "Hubert" (which it is), since he knew the family. I still remember when I read his email telling me that Fermat's Last Theorem had been solved. 42/
Yes the Hitch Hiker thing should have been #42. We apologise for the inconvenience.
One of my photos of one of my hostas has been used as the facebook cover photo of maybe the most famous hosta-seller in the UK. Some of my twitter friends just think of me as that guy who posts photos of that plant they'd never heard of before. 43/
I haven't yet opened my wedding present from my wife. It was a bottle of whisky distilled the year after I was born. It was distilled 53 years ago but in whisky years will forever be 29 years old since that's when it was bottled. 44/
My most highly cited paper was rejected twice before being accepted. 45/
As a youngling I used to love looking in my dad's copy of the (then-physical) Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. I now have a few sequences I've helped calculate in there, including Sequence number 250,000 46/
I wrote an item for cricinfo before it was even a website still available today about shortest chain of players from the first test to that day. Years later I mentioned it to a cricket fan at a conference and he said "That was you?!!" 47/
I have an Erdös number of 3.

And I copied and pasted this from @michiexile's thread inspired by mine because we have the same number!

Talking about @michexile we co-founded @depressed_acad when we found out each other had mental health issues which we'd never known about when we worked in the same place. 49/
I was really surprised "turingfan" was available as a username when I joined twitter. I've met a number of people who knew Alan Turing. For example at one conference I went to my bedroom was next door to Robin Gandy's since rooms were assigned alphabetically. 50/
I've got to 50 facts now but slowing down and it's bedtime. See if I have a burst of energy in the morning and try to reach my century.
Since @tnhh mentioned my h index...

The most cited paper which is not in my h index is also the very first refereed paper I ever published. Seems unusual to me - I'd assume that your first paper is either going to have almost no citations or lots and lots. 51/
I can think of at least 2 journal papers I was involved with which were rejected and then never resubmitted there or anywhere else because we lost the text of the paper on our computers. 52/
The family dog when I was a kid was "Sue", and therefore unacceptable as an answer to those internet security "First family pet" things as it has less than four letters. 53/
Talking about Sue, as a child I was always told she was born on the same day as me. When I eventually saw her pedigree certificate I was disappointed to learn that she was one week younger than me. 53/
This one's grizzly, sorry.
One day I was alone in the car with Sue and my sister's pet mouse. Sue opened the cage and ate the mouse, and I can still picture its back legs wriggling in her mouth.
I wonder if my family thought I opened the cage for her (I didn't).  54/
We live next to a river. For the first couple of years we lived here a pig lived in a little sty across the river on the wasteland, I assume kept by the landowner.

It disappeared after foot-and-mouth in 2001 and was never replaced.  55/

I can type much faster than people who can't type and much slower than people who have been taught well to type. 56/
The only time I got terrible sunburn was in Edinburgh since I wasn't worried about it. It was watching Scotland play West Indies at cricket and I even had a sunhat with me. 57/

My favourite movie is Groundhog Day. 
So yes, I've watched Groundhog Day over and over again. 58/
I have soft spot for the movie The Dish because my dad would have known some of the real radio astronomers involved.
But the plot point where they lose the signal is ludicrous. My dad's friends would have (a) owned up immediately and (b) had no problem relocating the signal. 59/
I used to love watching shopping channels like QVC but never bought anything from them.
One day a friend challenged me to talk about a pencil as if I was on a shopping channel assuming I couldn't do it.  
After a few minutes he conceded defeat to get me to shut up. 59/
Talking about shutting up, I once won 10p off my sister for not talking for 7 minutes. She was very surprised I succeeded.  60/

Talking about winning 10p off relatives, one once taught me to mount a bike from a standing start and promised me 10p if I could do it. With that incentive I did it first time. 61/

Talking about cousins I don't see that often, I have a second cousin who I've only met once or twice. When I moved to St Andrews it turned out she was the best friend of the wife of one of my colleagues in my small department. 62/
I was always unfit , so it was a big surprise when it turned out I could keep running for a long time if not very fast.
I achieved my lifetime running goal when I ran a 10k in fewer minutes than my age in years, doing it in less than 50 minute when I was over 50. 63/
Talking about academic collaborating I've used the following gag semi seriously.

I used to think I was a terrible collaborator.
Later I realised I was actually a better collaborator than most academics.
Later I realised both these statements were true.

At my interview for my current job, I was talking about my research and said

"This isn't an academic question, there are people all over the world who care about this.
"Actually, now I think about it they are all academics so yes it is an academic question"  65/
Talking about academic interviews, I once said to my head of dept that I was glad mine didn't involve a teaching talk about balanced binary trees as I never would have got the job.

Instantly he shot back: "Ian, why do you think we introduced them?"

He was joking. I hope. 66/
Having been given a programmable calculator by my parents I used it on holiday in the 1970s to calculate the handicap times in the dinghy sailing races where we went on holiday.  67/
I love skimming stones at the beach. With flat stones and a calm sea I take ten hops for granted but am pleased to get 20.  68/
The main thing I enjoy doing at the beach we go on holiday to every year is damming the stream in interesting ways. The best ever was when my wife and I made an aqueduct, using only natural materials from the beach.  69/
Seeing me build dams my mum told me that former Prime Minister Clement Attlee was very good at building recreational dams. I've tried to verify this several times without success. 70/
There's a long time family belief that we are related to the von Trapp family singers (from sound of music) but NOT either the Captain or Maria. Because the Whitehead branch was related to his first wife.

Sadly I'm pretty sure it's not true.  71/
Most people in my family are seriously good at remembering song lyrics etc, applying both to basically everybody in both my birth family and my wife's family and my children.

I just don't have that gift at all, and I think only my mum is also like that. 72/
I have an autograph sheet of the 1930 Australian Cricket team including Don Bradman, Stan McCabe and Archie Jackson. Personally collected by my uncle when they played Scotland and given to me as the only family member who liked cricket. 73/
I believe that both John Arlott and Brian Johnston's last commentary stints on Test Match Special ended with the same words:

"And after Trevor Bailey it will be Christopher Martin-Jenkins".

Arlott's was a big deal but nobody knew Johnners would die over the winter. 74/
I once won £10 off a statistics lecturer, and now FRS, Frank Kelly. I paid 11p to play a variant of St Petersburg paradox with him with an upper limit of £10. Heads came up 9 times in a row so I won the £10.  75/
I was a committee member of the Archimedeans, the Cambrige University maths society. One year I colocated an AGM with my birthday party to ensure it was quorate so that we could change the constitution in some way.  76/
Even though I was really good at mental arithmetic for many years I struggled with remembering 7x8. Eventually I internalised it by remembering that the answer to the hard sum I couldn't remember was 56.  7/
At a conference in 1989 somebody asked me if had an eidetic memory because I seemed to have a very visual memory.

I definitely don't have an eidetic memory in the sense of looking at a page of text.

But I can still picture the scene when the guy asked me that.

The same conference was when I first met @BarbaraKnits.

Years later I moaned about her not remembering me from there.

Her PhD student then asked me where I first met him and I said I didn't know.

Which is annoying because I vaguely thought it was Liverpool and it was.

The first conference abroad I went to was SEP 91 in Victoria, BC

I kept seeing cars with stickers which said "SEP 91", and I couldn't figure out why so many were advertising this obscure conference

When I saw one which said "Oct 91" I realised it was a tax renewal date

I once lost count before I got to one!

Coming home from SEP 91, I was jet lagged on the tube and worked out I had to get off after 4 more stops.

A couple of minutes later I thought "have we passed zero or one stops?" It was zero.

I once lived at 73 Newcombe Road, Coventry.

On the wall of 72 Newcombe Road is a blue plaque to Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine.

It's not a massive surprise to me that many of these facts involve numbers, because I have always loved numbers.

It is a bit of a surprise to me that I haven't bothered to synchronise the numbers with the fact number.
At my primary school I once got 99% on a history exam.

I have never forgiven the teacher for marking "Guthrum" wrong as a viking name, even after I appealed. Guthrum was Alfred the Great's viking enemy.

I still say that should have been 100%.

Probably my favourite crime novelist is Dorothy L Sayers whose detective is Lord Peter Wimsey.

The weird thing is that in several of her novels the murder method wouldn't work. I've seen Unnatural Death, Strong Poison, and Nine Tailors all criticised for this

I don't mind.

In light novels I really love E F Benson's Mapp & Lucia series.

But I really quite like Miss Mapp and dislike Lucia, while most people are the other way round. So it grates that all through the books they are both in, Mapp never ever wins.

I'm always thinking about my own thought processes, which can be bad.

I've sometimes used this to my advantage, one day thinking "what shall I make myself to eat?" and then

"Wait, I like things I like, and I liked last night's dinner, so I will do the same again."

I usually wear odd socks, on the basis that it removes all problems of attempting to match socks.

The principle is I wear the first two socks I pull out, so sometimes I do match.

My daughter used to tease me by putting them away in pairs tied together. 87/

I wear a Ben and Jerry's t shirt like this on special occasions.

I've got 5 of them so if you see me all week at a conference in the same t shirt it doesn't mean I will smell disgusting.

I can juggle three balls in one hand. Pretty reliably in my right hand and at times I've been able to do it in my left. I think this is probably more difficult than juggling five balls in two hands but I could do 3 in one before I could do 5 in two.  89/
I once decided not to prep a talk for a meeting when I realised there would not be time for it. There was great relief when I said I didn't mind not giving my talk.

My laziness went unrewarded when the organiser of the next meeting promised I could be on first! 90/
I used to buy real cricket scorebooks to score my games of the "Owzat!" cricket game. Staff at the Worcester cricket shop couldn't understand why I bought so many at the last game of the season.  91/
My first anniversary present from my wife was an HP programmable calculator. The vast majority of time I have spent with it has been programming or playing an "Owzat!" cricket game simulator.  92/
My father gave me his Curta mechanical calculator and I've often said it's the most beautiful object I own.

Of course I should add I don't own my wife or children who are far more beautiful.  93/
Talking about my beautiful wife

A friend once said that there was a word to describe me which was "uxorious". Which (I didn't then know) means "Having or showing a great or excessive fondness for one's wife."

I agree this describes me except for the word "excessive".  94/
The last number does match the fact since we got married in 94. That was also the year of "four weddings and a funeral".

That film scared my mother in law about getting a fancy hat so much that my mother firmly said "I will not be wearing a hat". 95/
Perhaps our best wedding photo is the one of @BlueManifold retying my tie into a windsor knot after expressing disgust at my terrible schoolboy knot and saying I couldn't get married in that. 96/
Our reception was at Worcester Cricket Ground. We were married on Monday because on Friday the 2nd XI MIGHT have got to the semi final of the one day cup, and they MIGHT have been drawn to play at home and though the game was on Thursday it MIGHT be rain delayed to Friday. 97/
Thanks to @chtruchet for reminding me of this one...
At CP95 in Cassis I gave a talk in which I juggled to explain the phase transition in constraint problems.
Gene Freuder came up to me and said "that was brilliant!" I'm going to learn to juggle so I can steal your idea. 98/
I've decided not to go to 100 but to run out at 99 with one that relates to that number, cricket and my wife, which have been three recurring themes.

As some guy I could google the name of 
 once used to say [It's John Ebdon
If you have been, thanks for listening.
I used to watch Dipak Patel play cricket for Worcester.
When I first visited my future wife in the US I could just listen on her shortwave radio in her bathroom to commentary of him playing for New Zealand vs England.
In one match he was run out for 99, like this thread.
I eventually ran out of steam at 99 facts. Not sure I managed to keep them all in one thread so need to storify them or something to make sure they are all reachable. [Special thanks to Duncan Smeed for using threadreaderapp and saving me most of the work in creating this post from the tweets.]
It's kept me busy and my mind off misery and the nice things people have said are uplifting.
On making this post I've noticed it actually is 100 because there are two fact 59s. But I'm keeping it at 99.  

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