Message category: Zzzz…

This alphabetically-disadvantaged category is for various outpourings that have nothing to do with the coldly corporate aims of the AHA! Software empire.

November 17, 2011

Sensation

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Just when I thought I couldn’t feel anything any more, today I feel numb.

November 12, 2011

Sound the retweet

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Freer-spirited writers may dash off tracts and verses then throw the papers to the wind, the fireplace, the sea or a mailbox. Me, I like to save everything, back it up, and re-use it if possible. It probably comes of having both a chary Muse and a bad memory. In that spirit, at all events, so mainly for my own benefit, here are the first 10 messages of my short Twitter history, pruned of strictly-work messages like announcements. Further exciting episodes will appear as time permits.

24 May 08: Mulling the proposition that “Using Twitter is going to change the way you think about staying in touch with friends and family”.

[First Tweet; still mulling.]

29 Apr 09: Which is the best social network for misanthropes?

7 May 09: The future PC not dead but shrunk past recognition? Yes, saith “PC for ever”, a fresh ordering of some old words at my Facebook page. http://facebook.com

7 May 09: ahasoft’s headline of the day: “Electrical stimulation produces feelings of free will”. Fascinating article too: http://scienceblogs.com

[The article is by the esteemed science blogger Ed Yong.]

10 May 09: Just got off 1st Skype4 call. A1 audio. (The other station was also in Victoria, though.) Feedback cancellation superb even when stressed.

12 May 09: Enjoyed today an unusual, modestly-priced, and very pleasant smooth single-malt: Armorik, from Brittany in the NW extremity of France.

13 May 09: No journey is complete that does not end at its starting point. In tweeting one’s followers, does not one also tweet oneself?

14 May 09: From A Word A Day, a curious fact: the past participle of “go”, “went”, belonged first to “wend”, as in “to wend your way”. http://wordsmith.org

15 May 09: Via Slashdot, a scary backup practices reminder: 13 years of irreplaceable data, AND backup, wiped out at a stroke. http://it.slashdot.org

15 May 09: Most email address validators skip the hard stuff, but this PHP code by Dominic Sayers seems thorough and sound. http://isemail.info

[Click the Download tab at the site to access the code]

The taste of revenge

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Since revenge is on the one hand sweet, and on the other hand a dish best served cold, it is possibly a variety of cheesecake, or else some kind of ice-cream confection. This reflection encourages us to enjoy revenge in moderation only, to share with others, and not to go swimming right afterwards.

November 10, 2011

One memorable quatrain

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The American Naturalist poet Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn (1876-1959) wrote and published verse throughout her life, but only one snippet of hers, a solitary gem of a stanza from a satirical poem about child labor, is widely known and quoted. It is indeed a zinger:

The golf links lie so near the mill,
That almost every day,
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) is supposed to have written some 10,000 stanzas of about that size ā€” 30 years’ worth if he was putting a quatrain a day on his blog. It was a splendid feat in itself, and one he buttressed with notable accomplishments in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, diplomacy, and so on. He was, in short, a very tiresome man, considering that he had to work without the benefit of Wikipedia, probably with sand in his eyes much of the time, and still accomplished more of note than we would regard as medically advisable today. Even discounting the rest ā€” the parts he probably viewed as important ā€” an oeuvre of 10,000 verses goes far beyond normal limits of prudence, taste and safety.

For the modern immortality-seeking wordsmith, Sarah Cleghorn is a much more inspiring example. You never know when you’re going to strike it lucky and come out with that one memorable quatrain.

November 7, 2011

Writing lessons from Saltbush Bill

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Good clear expository writing can take a lot of forms. Here’s a beautiful example from the start of ‘Saltbush Bill’ by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941), an Australian poet who romanticized the Outback much as Robert W. Service romanticized the Klondike.

The ballad describes a fistfight between Saltbush Bill, a drover, and a ‘new chum’ from England, a squatter. The droving profession entailed driving large numbers of sheep across miles of inhospitable outback terrain, and delivering as many as possible alive. The squatter, whose vast property the drovers would cross, wanted his own grass for his own stock. The scene was ripe for violence — and for regulation. The law of the day laid out the necessarily quantitative compromise between the drovers’ and squatters’ interests that forms the background for Paterson’s story. In a couple of deft introductory verses, he puts you in the picture, laying out precisely the letter of the law, the cross-currents of interest that it represents, and what happens ‘on the ground’. How dry this could have been:

Now this is the law of the Overland that all in the West obey —
A man must cover with travelling sheep a six-mile stage a day;
But this is the law which the drovers make, right easily understood,
They travel their stage where the grass is bad, but they camp where the grass is good;
They camp, and they ravage the squatter’s grass till never a blade remains,
Then they drift away as the white clouds drift on the edge of the saltbush plains;
From camp to camp and from run to run they battle it hand to hand
For a blade of grass and the right to pass on the track of the Overland.

For this is the law of the Great Stock Routes, ’tis written in white and black —
The man that goes with a travelling mob must keep to a half-mile track;
And the drovers keep to a half-mile track on the runs where the grass is dead,
But they spread their sheep on a well-grassed run till they go with a two-mile spread.
So the squatters hurry the drovers on from dawn till the fall of night,
And the squatters’ dogs and the drovers’ dogs get mixed in a deadly fight.

And thus into the story… Like many of Paterson’s poems, this one is well worth reading. It is available at Project Gutenberg. If you have time, check out “The Geebung Polo Club”, “The Man From Ironbark” and “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle” as well, or the better-known and more serious “Clancy of the Overflow” and “The Man From Snowy River”.

Eric Idle’s “Galaxy Song” from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is another great example of this kind of writing.

November 4, 2011

On Woolf on obscurity

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While fame impedes and constricts, obscurity wraps about a man like a mist; obscurity is dark, ample, and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffusion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful, he alone is at peace.

Virginia Woolf, writer (1882-1941)

You canā€™t help thinking that someone with all those good qualities deserves to be better known.

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