Archive for August, 2003

Graffito Misterioso

Saturday, August 16th, 2003

Painted in half-foot high black letters on the sidewalk on Broadway, across from the Rindge & Latin school:





And the internet claims that “fat suffices“. Apparently there’s a character in a Raymond E. Feist book named “Fitz”. Ah well, I guess I just don’t get it. (Update: or do I?)

In other news, the acorns are back! (kids — that’s oak-corn!) So now I get several months of satisfying foot-crunch as I walk to work. They were awfully resilient today — not aged enough to have gotten crunchy, I reckon — but I’ll test them every day, yeah I’m ready for them. This year I think I’ll dig into the ol’ bag o’ tricks and use two acorn-hats and a black pen to make little Frenchmen out of my thumbs:

Thumb 1 (bowing): “Parlez-vous pouce?”
Thumb 2 (bowing): “Oui, merci! (pause) Pardon, monsieur, est-ce que vous avez du pouce?”
Thumb 1 (disconsolately): “Hellas, non.”
Thumb 2 (anticly): “Alors, j’ai une pouce très grande – elle est plus grand que toi! Hon hon hon!”

¡Me Agrada El Capitán!

Friday, August 15th, 2003

Wouldst speak after the manner of one of our pockified blades? Woot parley “party”?

Pardee, peruse thou the Lexicon Balatronicum, (“Jester’s Dictionary”), child of “Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”.

It’s said Captain Grose sembled Dr. Slop. Thanks for the link, Becky!

O Captain Grose, he’s a capital chap,
    as tall a man as any.
But take good care what thou say’st in his ear –
    he’ll write it down, he’ll write it down.

Matrix, Metrics

Monday, August 11th, 2003

After spewing four paragraphs of the following into Ez’s comments section re: this post, I’ve decided to put it here instead. It is with reluctance that I forgo the advanced “strikethrough technology” that forum would offer, but the ability to save this and come back to it seems more valuable to me right now…

Ovid uses “number” to refer to meter a couple of times. I wouldn’t be surprised if other Romans did so too. Nor if they bit the idea off the Greeks, from whom they swopped their prosody wholesale.

Shakespeare was perhaps the earliest English user of “number” in this sense. He was by most accounts an Ovid fan, and a bit of a parrot — he’s been shown to be using some of Ovid’s words when he’s dealing with a theme or story lifted from that great author. It doesn’t seem ridiculous to suggest Ovid may have influenced his usage of “number”. OED’s first citation for the sense is from Love’s Labours Lost. Here’s the section:

LONGAVILLE. I fear these stubborn lines lack power to move.
  O sweet Maria, empress of my love!
  These numbers will I tear, and write in prose.
BEROWNE. O, rhymes are guards on wanton Cupid’s hose:
  Disfigure not his slop.

“Slop” is here in its old sense of “baggy sailor pants”. But onward… the giving up on one meter, and the presence of Cupid here, remind me tropically of the beginning of the Amores:

Arma gravi numero violentaque bella parabam
  edere, materia conveniente modis.
par erat inferior versus—risisse Cupido
  dicitur atque unum surripuisse pedem.

I was going to publish about arms and violent wars using a heavy number, the matter matching the mode.
The lower verse was equal – but they say Cupid laughed and stole a foot away.

i.e. I wanted to write a big chest-thumping dactylic hexameter epic like Virgil, but that savage boy Cupid is messing up my concentration, and all I can do now is write these funny elegaic couplets (a hexameter followed by a pentameter – hence the innuendo of pedal-extremity abscondence).

OK OK. Now about “matrix”. The basic meaning of this in earlier English is “womb”, as in Latin. The root is mater, mother. This started to broaden in the 16c to figurative uses along the lines of, to borrow OED’s definition: “A place or medium in which something is originated, produced, or developed; the environment in which a particular activity or process begins; a point of origin and growth.”.

So we see Darwin in Voyage of the Beagle, using “matrix” to mean “the material by which fossils are surrounded” and to describe ore from which gold can be extracted. I haven’t read that book, but extracted the quote from a “Matrix Dictorum” which is itself part of The Matrix. The backend algorithms of this Matrix Dictorum use matrix algebra.

The mathematical sense of “matrix” is actually amazingly new – OED’s first quotation follows:

1850 J. J. SYLVESTER in Philos. Mag. 37 369 We..commence..with an oblong arrangement of terms consisting, suppose, of m lines and n columns. This will not in itself represent a determinant, but is, as it were, a Matrix out of which we may form various systems of determinants by fixing upon a number p, and selecting at will p lines and p columns, the squares corresponding to which may be termed determinants of the pth order.

In this quote, the original sense of “mother” or “womb” is apparent – a matrix is so called because it’s where determinants can be extracted from.

Window Science

Wednesday, August 6th, 2003

Now I know how to use my windows optimally, thanks to this. I’m psyched siked to improve my ability to keep cool without A/C, which is Sinful.

What I’m not siked about is that Manila doesn’t allow me to use a tag in any way I can figure out. It unhelpfully converts my HTML so that tags which it doesn’t approve of are escaped to appear as plaintext, as y’all can see above in the ruination of my witty visual joke. The internet seems to think I can tell Manila to recognize these strikethrough tags by enabling in the “legal tags” section of my preferences, but alas, it ain’t an option there. Anyone know how to fix this? Or better yet, how to just edit raw HTML?


Monday, August 4th, 2003

“Stranded”. The etymology of that one comes clear when you use it in the context of something being stranded on a beach… As far as I know, we only use its double “beached” literally, and only for whales.

“Or Clog Their Beaches With Our Dead”

Monday, August 4th, 2003

I was alone at a beach-house at Wareham on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Walked along the beach in the evening and morning. An interesting beach. Lots of rounded little hunks of red granite strewn about. Some unfortunate shelled creatures had been dragged too far ashore by parasitic-seeming kelpy plants attached to their shells, and stranded high and dry by the receding tide.

Along some past high-tide mark, there was a whitish line — a heap of shells, almost all of the same kind. Some sort of snaily creature without the will for much spiraling. The shells were shaped almost like half of a bivalve’s, but with part of their bottom blocked off to make a cozy little house for the snail creatures. This shell-heap (which stretched out of sight along its tide line) was about eighteen inches wide, triangular in cross-section, rising to a height of some nine inches in the middle. Lots and lots of shells!! I wondered what snail plague, or plaguey weather, brought them all ashore at the same time.

And I’ve had a word tickling at me since — a word which denotes ground-covering of crunchy shells and such along a beach. A nice onomotopoeic word, if I remember right, sounding just like a footstep crunching the shells. I can’t bring this word to mind but I’m pretty sure I ran into it once. Please tell me if you know it!