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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Aug 22, 2012 10:37 pm

• berth •

Pronunciation: bêrth • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Sufficient space for a ship to maneuver. 2. Sufficient space for anything to maneuver. 3. A place for a ship to dock or a person to sleep on board (a ship, train, etc.)

Notes: Today's Good Word seems to have a variety of unrelated meanings, but they all revolve around required space. The plural is often pronounced slightly more softly than the singular ([bêrdhz]) with a voiced TH-sound like that of this and that, rather than that of thistle. Either way is OK. Just remember to give a wide berth to birth so as not to confuse the spellings.

In Play: Today's word commonly occurs in the idiom meaning to keep a distance, steer clear (of): "I understand the health benefits of garlic so long as those who eat it keep a wide berth of me." However, this sense may be used elsewhere: "The horse I bet on came in a good berth behind the rest of the pack." Of course, sleeping places on board ships and trains are also berths: "I thought it was raining on the train until I realized that my traveling companion in the upper berth had been unable to keep his dinner down."

Word History: Although the spelling berth has now solidly established itself, before the 19th century today's word was spelled birth. That is because both words are nouns derived from the same verb: bear. Exactly why is anyone's guess, but seamen have always liked this verb (see also a ship's bearing). In Germanic languages it also refers to birth and that which is born: a bairn "child", as the Scots say. Bear is a member of a huge derivational family that stretches across all the Indo-European languages. In Latin it became ferre "to carry", found in dozens of English words (infer, defer, etc.); in Russian it appears in brat' "take" and in Sanskrit bharati "he carries, takes". (We would like to take the opportunity to thank Kathleen McCune for finding a berth for this word in our Good Word series.)
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Jeff hook
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Postby Jeff hook » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:12 am

These comments relate to the topic of ship-berthing rather than directly to the word "berth" so I guess they're "off topic." You're forewarned. If you're interested in this non-linguistic topic you may wish to read further. (Where do we draw lines between words and their "referents," anyway? Does it help to make words much more alive if we can focus on what they point to?)

I encountered a fascinating document a year or so ago while I was researching ISO (International Organization for Standardization) inter-modal shipping containers. (My interest was in personal investment. I was trying to educate myself about the marine shipping industry.) I was "absolutely blown away" by the professionalism which I discovered. I was also "gob-smacked" by the realization that this most-admirable competence and professionalism was seen EVERYWHERE AROUND THE GLOBE in this most international of businesses. The document which I found had impressed me by using sophisticated mathematics and computer science to analyze the optimization of ship-berthing. I'd not previously been aware of the complexity of this topic or of the amazing expertise which has been developed for the management of this activity. The document seemed to show how well the global economy had integrated. It also suggested that technicians around the entire world were all functioning at a comparable level of professional competence. I thought those insights were encouraging.

I've been looking in vain for that document or for references to it in all the most likely places but I haven't found it so I ran a Google Web Search for similar content. You might want to while away some time browsing through this response set.

Here are some excerpts from comparable documents which may clue you in to this process. The first is taken from a thesis, OPTIMAL SHIP BERTHING PLANS, submitted at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, by Lieutenant Katie Podolak Thurman, long ago, in March of 1989:


A ship berthing plan assigns surface vessels a berth
prior to their port entrance, or reassigns ships once in port to allow them to accomplish in a timely manner maintenance, training, and certification events which build readiness for future operational commitments. Each ship requires different services when in port, such as shore power, crane services, ordnance, and fuel. Unfortunately, not all services are offered at all piers. At present, ship berthing plans are manually prepared by a port operations scheduler and often result in unnecessary berth shifts, which puts ships out of action for several hours.

An extensive user-friendly computerized optimization
model is developed and tested to assist the schedulers in the creation of a berthing plan which minimizes port loading conflicts, thus promoting fleet readiness through berthing stability. Norfolk Naval Station is used as an example because it exhibits all the richness of berthing problems the Navy faces.

That was 1989. Lieutenant Thurman suggested some of the challenges which are involved in ship-berthing. I've only been able to find partial copies of this next document, and they're not dated, but the document was published in Singapore and it's listed in a German academic archive of papers about artificial intelligence (are you getting the picture of an integrating global community?!) as having been published in 1999, ten years after Lieutenant Thurman submitted her thesis about "computer aided ship berthing":

An Effective Ship Berthing Algorithm
A n d r e w L i m
Department of Computer Science
National University of Singapore
Lower Kent Ridge Road
Singapore 119260

I'm guessing I should refer to the author as "Doctor" Lim. He says:

Situated at the crossroads of the world, the Port of Singapore is one of the world's busiest ports. Every few minutes a ship arrives or departs the port. Every month the port handles more than one million transhipment containers.

When a ship arrives at the port, the planners must first decide where to berth the ship for the unloading and loading of containers. For the containers that are to be unloaded, the planners must decide where to place these containers in the yard. The wharf line of the port is divided into sections, and no ship can be berthed across any two sections. Which section to assign a ship to and exactly where to berth a ship within a section depend on factors like the locations of containers to be loaded and unloaded, the physical (i.e. depth of the berth) and resource limitations (i.e. suitably of quay crane) of each berth...

...Ships come in different lengths and they arrive at the port at different times to be berthed. Every ship has an expected duration of stay which may be different from another ship. To berth a ship is to place the ship along the wharf line of a section. Once a ship is berthed, it will not be moved until its departure time. When two ships are berthed side by side, a certain minimum inter-ship clearance distance must be observed. Each ship has an inter-ship clearance distance which is dependent on the ship's length. The minimum inter-ship clearance distance of two ships berthed side by side is the larger of the two ships' inter-ship clearance distances. If a ship is berthed at the end of a section, a certain end-berth clearance distance must be observed. This end-berth clearance distance is not fixed and is dependent on the ship. A ship can also be given a fixed berthing location within a section. A ship may also be prohibited from berthing at certain parts of a section. A berth plan for a set of ships in a section is the exact locations of ships within the section...

I regret that I can't reproduce his mathematical formulas; they're shown graphically, not textually.

One more from Andrew Lim in Singapore, also published in 1999:

Ant Colony Optimization for the
Ship Berthing Problem

Chia Jim Tong, Hoong Chuin Lau, and Andrew Lim
School of Computing
National University of Singapore...


Ant Colony Optimization (ACO) is a paradigm that employs a set of cooperating agents to solve functions or obtain good solutions for combinatorial optimization problems. It has previously been applied to the TSP and QAP with encouraging results that demonstrate its potential. In this paper, we present FF-AS-SBP, an algorithm that applies ACO to the ship berthing problem (SBP), a generalization of the dynamic storage allocation problem (DSA), which is NP-complete.
FF-AS-SBP is compared against a randomized rst- t algorithm...

...The Ant Colony Optimization (ACO) paradigm was introduced in [1], [2] and [3] by Dorigo, Maniezzo and Colorni. ACO has been applied e ectively to the traveling salesman problem (TSP) [4] and the quadratic assignment problem (QAP) [5], among several other problems. The basic idea of ACO is inspired by the way ants explore their environment in search of a food source, wherein the basic action of each ant is: to deposit a trail of pheromone (a kind of chemical) on the ground as it moves, and to probabilistically prefer moving in directions with high concentrations of pheromone deposit...

Und so weiter...
Last edited by Jeff hook on Sat Aug 25, 2012 9:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby MTC » Thu Aug 23, 2012 8:36 am

I will join you in your leap off the deep end of the pier, Jeff.

About words and their referents, personally I enjoy learning about the things words refer to. Should we study the word "honey," its linguistic properties, etymology, etc., or should we taste some "real" honey? Why not both?

And speaking of optimizing our options and honey, not to be one-upped by the ants, bees have also provided us with a model:

"In computer science and operations research, the bees algorithm is a population-based search algorithm first developed in 2005.[1] It mimics the food foraging behaviour of swarms of honey bees. In its basic version, the algorithm performs a kind of neighbourhood search combined with random search and can be used for both combinatorial optimization[2][3] and functional optimisation.[4]"


We could do worse than emulate the ancient wisdom of bees. Their model stands as yet another example of biomimicry in engineering and design.

But we have come a long way from our "berth," and here I have nothing but anecdotes to share. Berths on submarines can be quite cramped. Just you, a metal bulkhead, and a torpedo for company. As for berths on a pier, that was something surface ships had to contend with. We were always dark, ominous, and alone.

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Postby LukeJavan8 » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:49 am

h, well
-----please, draw me a sheep-----

Philip Hudson
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Postby Philip Hudson » Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:54 pm

Jeff Hook's reminding us of the traveling salesman problem brings back memories. I was once a judge of the National High School Science Competition. The top students in the nation came together and presented their projects for judging. I was a mathematics and computer science judge. A young lady from Mississippi presented an outstanding heuristic computer program for a close solution to the traveling sales man problem. You know there is no algorithm for solving this problem and an exhaustive search is the only sure fire way of solving it. An exhaustive search is easy to program but took hours of computer time to solve back in the day. I dare say that our fastest super computers of today would grind away for a while to get a fifty-point solution. We three math judges were certain that the young lady had the very best entry and that she would compete well in the finals. Imagine our amazement when the judges in the other categories had no idea what the young lady had done and were totally unimpressed. She didn't even win a bronze. The winner of the gold was a young man that had done something to enhance an electronic sound amplifier for his guitar. We math judges almost cried, but the young lady took it well. She was even pleased that the other "engineering" type judges couldn't understand her. The beauty of pure science is lost in the dross of useless “applications” of science.

There are also some very useful practical applications of science that change our very lives. Albert Einstein was voted the outstanding person of the 20th century By Time Magazine. The real most outstanding man of the 20th century was my friend and associate Jack Kilby. His genius is into everything electronic you use today, from kids toys to cell phones to space ships. We could never have sent a man to the moon without the work done by Kilby. I have always been grateful that I was able to assist him in a small way.
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.

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Postby MTC » Mon Aug 27, 2012 12:36 pm

Interesting anecdote, Mr. Hudson (Philip if I may.) And it was a revelation to learn about Jack Kilby who as co-inventor of the integrated circuit and sole inventor of the Miniature Computer may arguably be touted the "Outstanding Person of the Twentieth Century," considering the profound and universal impact of those inventions. Here's a link to his biography:

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