Son of Devil's Advocate, February 2000

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Son of Devil's Advocate

Stan Kelly-Bootle


Picture of Stan Kelly-Bootle

First Preamble

For those of you idly stumbling across this page via the link in SarCheck's fine home site:

My DA (Devil's Advocate) column has been running smoothly (sez who?) in the Miller Freeman Inc. (often called, for no apparent reason, the MaFIa) Performance Computing magazine (formerly known as UNIX Review) since 1984. I had outlived dozens of wonderful editors and countless more editorial titles (ranging from "Chief," "Sub," "Copy," and "Technical" to "Roaming" and "Acting") feeling that the future was everlasting. I even survived several attacks from bible black belts who swore that any column "advocating" Auld Nick's satanic works would be forever banned in their decent Mid West, God-fearing homes. (I rush to explain that an advocatus diaboli simply offers a contrarian rhetoric in the pursuit of truth -- indeed, in the medieval Catholic lexicon, the devil's advocate was an essential "promoter of the faith," helping to throw doubt on spurious claims for beatification. We still have many such claims.)

Out of this blue horizon, and nicely timed to ruin many a Christmas party, came the shock-horror dictat that [UNIX Review]/Performance Computing would, with the Jan'2000 issue, cease-to-be, expire, chew the daisy roots, go belly-up, join the choir invisibule, and, like the famous Norwegian parrot, f***ing die.

"Stung by this reverse," as the sports writers say, the internet buzzed with howls of disbelief: "Say it ain't so, Stan!" and "How can we live without our monthly DA fix?"

Well, my shared angst was quickly soothed by several offers to continue my 16 years of DA ramblings in alt.mag.media. The first irresistible such was from Don Winterhalter (literally ending our winter's discontent?) of Aurora Software Inc.

Whence, this SODA (Son of Devil's Advocate) column bravely hosted via www.sarcheck.com.

Second Preamble

For regular, long-loyal, dear, dear [That's enough "dears" -- Ed] DA fans:

Thanks for your support (I'll wear it always). Please pass on the news of SODA to your friends and/or colleagues. And, of course, links from your sites to www.sarcheck.com are welcomed.

It will take some time for me to adjust to the new bubbling SODA webbed format. It may lack the tactile pleasures of the glossy page, but think of the trees and time we are saving.

I can react more quickly to your reactions. Percipient reader response, corrections, and prize-winning contests have always been a major DA element. The old printed column suffered from a deadly two-month deadline as our wise submitted pearls went through the CAD (Computer Aided Delay) process of pre-, praeter-, and post-press. Worser still, the final printed version was often subject to last-minute cuts or demands for more, depending on the paginational vagiaries of adverting space. Here's a counterintuitive how-d'you-do: "We need to cut your column because the adverts are fewer than expected." Explanation: total affordable magazine pages depend on the advertising revenue.

With SODA, sizeof(content) is flexible and, apart from a few HTML tweaks, I feel that I am e-mailing you instanter as I write.

And, no more of those "controlled-circulation" subscription requests. I reckon that 10% of my reader-mail over the years related to complaints over the dumb free-sub forms. I used to warn readers to treat them with all the honesty and solemnity of corporate expense claims. The difference was that key questions asked how many Cray supercomputers and Sun workstations you intended to purchase next month. With a clear conscience (and implicit footnotes on demand concerning Tarskian state-of-mind epistemology), you could insert almost any integer. Rumor has it that a self-signed Adolf Hitler qualified with wild "intentions," while many a deserving applicant failed with honest, realistic purchasing predictions.

We are dubbing this first SODA column as February 2000 in order to maintain issue-date/contextual continuity with the [UR]PC DA columns. The latter often reached some readers during the month prior to the cover-issue month. Pay attention at the back! Eschew confusion! My final [UR]PC January 2000 column was written late October 1999. Just prior to that, there was a special Millennial [UR]PC issue that appeared optimistically with no signs of impending doom.

These things having been said (J. Caesar), here's my first SODA offerings...

The e-Word Redux

Together, dear faithful, transmillennial readers, we've often explored the fads of our fair trade. You may not have at hand (you disorganized slob -- no offence intended) my "Seamless Quanta" column (Software Development Magazine, October 1996) [ref 1] wherein I probed faddishness and its riveting etymologies. To refresh your fading cache, I wrote:

------- start extract -----------

Voltaire noted in the 1760s that "Chaque siècle a eu sa marotte," meaning, roughly, that each century enjoys or suffers its passing obsession or fad. The pace has quickened since then, and our current manias seem to come and go semi-annually, au moins. Regardless of their frequency and endurance, marottes and fads share an intriguing semantic domain going back to the 1400s. Marotte emerged as a diminutive of Marie, related to the poupée Marionnette, to whom or which, one dares to suggest, early French males devoted their volatile fixations before the movies replaced the puppet show. Remarkably, the ugly Anglo-Saxon fad is derived from "faddle," an understandably obsolete version of the melodious "fondle." It's no surprise, therefore, that faddology, the branch of psycho- sociology that deals with faddism, sees a connection between fads and fetishes. Metafaddologists, of course, spurn faddology as a mere psycho-sociological fad. And so on, as they say in meta- circles.

It is far from clear whether these layered, hyphenated academic labors have ever really explained our sudden gadarene obsessions with Hula-Hoops (tm), Davy Crockett hats, Rubik's Cubes (tm), pet rocks, and Liberalism. Equally mysterious is the rapid decline in such interests, leading to warehouses stuffed with yesterday's unsold crazes and a Republican-dominated Congress. As the stand- up marketeering comics hint, "It's all a matter of t-t-timing." Complicating the issue is the fact that the pejorative fad has oft been applied prematurely to many innovations that, in fact, survived to become everyday, sine qua non artifacts. Nevertheless, it's difficult to cast away the adverse tag. Thus, Peter de Vries, my favorite and only Calvinist humorist (he went laughingly to his predestined paradise or hell in 1993), provides the tantalizing oxymoron: "psychoanalysis is a permanent fad." Incidentally, you must love the man who also wrote, "Anyone informed that the universe is expanding and contracting in pulsations of eighty billion years has a right to ask, 'What's in it for me?'"

The lesson is to be cautious before labeling the latest fave as a passing fad. In our own fair trade, especially, we can be misled in both directions by a sudden explosion of column-inches and web pages proclaiming the ultimate, silver-bullet solution to all our SE (software-engineering) woes. Skipping for the moment the plausible objection that SE itself is the ultimate fad, it's interesting to note the growing number of what I call damp fads, based on the collocation damp squib (an over-heralded firework that fails to ignite). Thus, promising, expensive frameworks such as Taligent and Kaleida inspired much faddish publicity and fat text books but spluttered out before a hard- dollar market presence was established. By contrast, the traditional hula-hoop-type fads sell big and then die through overexposure and boredom. I'm loath to push such analogies too far. Many "failed" technologies leave valuable legacies for their next-of-kin. Consider also the case of OpenDoc, struggling for three years against Bill's Evil OLEaginous Empire to gain more than a token-cultic, OMG acceptance as the standard component architecture. The whole point of such a standard was wide deployment, and, alas, not enough developers were seduced even when promised "seamless OpenDoc/OLE/ActiveX interoperability" on all known platforms. One wonders if the decision to rename the user portion of OpenDoc as Live Objects was not simply tempting the damp-fad fates.

For staggering hindsights on the dangers of technical prophecies, consult The Experts Speak -- The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, by Christopher Cerf & Victor Navasky, (Pantheon Books, NY, 1984). My favorite quotes are "I can assure you on the highest authority that data processing is a fad and won't last out the year" (a Prentice-Hall Editor, 1957), and "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home" (Ken Olsen, President, DEC, 1977).

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The raging e-name "fad" seems likely to survive, and generate IPO billions forever. The approaching obsession was noted as early as 1996 by Peter G. Neumann <neumann@csl.sri.com> in his Risks-Forum Digest, Monday 1 April [sic] 1996 Volume 17:

----------- start PGN ----------

Subject: A note on E-mail, e-mail, and email The Hyphenater's (Hyphen Hayer's?) Handbook:

Chapter excerpt, "e is for electronic" -- Copyright, Peter G. Neumann, 1996

Up until last year, I have used the term "E-mail" in RISKS to denote "electronic mail". I would like to be able to let the letter of an acronym reflect the upper- or lower-case appearance of the word or term it denotes (as in "DoD"), and to separate acronyms and text with a hyphen in hybrid representations (as in "e-mail"). However, lower-case acronyms that mimic natural linguistic expressions (such as "ram" and "pin") thereby become confusing, while upper-case acronyms beg for lower-case plurals to distinguish them from the final S as an acronym (as in HTTPs versus HTTPS). We also must live with multiple meanings (as in MAC, not to mention Mac, Macs, MACs, and MACS). Thus, there seems to be no easy algorithm that is also sensible. So great care is required in choosing risk-free acronyms.

This note is a discourse on why the hyphen is desirable for disambiguation, although it is clearly anathema to hyphen-haters. Two representations are given -- one without hyphens ("NO-"), and one with hyphens ("YES-"). Some suggestive interpretations of the latter are included [with occasional retrointerpretations of the former in square brackets].


NO-        YES-        Interpretation
---------  ----------  --------------
eat        e-at        The "@" symbol [which causes many
                       programs to choke]
educe      e-duce      The tyrannical leader of a moderated
                       e-mail newsgroup
egad       e-gad       1. An electronic crowbar used to disrupt
                          systems;
                       2. To surf the net nonspecifically
                          (to e-gad about);
                       3. A mild e-mail oath.
egest      e-gest      An electronic adventure or exploit
                       [well discharged]
ego        e-go        To initiate or restart a program
                       [especially if self-validating]
egrep      e-grep      A command to search for a given string
                       expression [note the ambiguity between
                       grep and egrep]
elan       e-lan       An electronic local-area network
                       [*elan* suggests *dash*, not *hyphen*!]
elan vital e-lan vital After Bergson, the vital force immanent in
                       or at least desirable in, local-area networks.
elapse     e-lapse     An omission in an electronic communication
elate      e-late      Relating to delayed electronic operations
elater     e-later     Lazy evaluation, as in a c-u-e-later
                       allocator [click-beetle used to cue next slide
                       (very obscure)]
election   e-lection   An altered electronic version of text
                       [particularly for voting data]
elicit     e-licit     Legal, as in a valid argument or
                       nonrepudiatable message
elite      e-lite      Optimized version -- e.g., a starkly compressed
                       e-mail message, or a minimum-toehold process
elocution  e-locution  Peculiar expression that results from use of
                       spelling and grammar checkers
email      e-mail      Electronic mail [Distinguishing itself from
                       every other term on this list, the
                       unhyphenated version has no natural meaning
                       whatever, but spelling checkers might suggest
                       Emile or Ismail.]
emend      e-mend      To make a hex or binary patch
emerge     e-merge     To combine different input streams
emigrate   e-migrate   To move electrons externally
emission   e-mission   Sometimes known as a C4I task
emu        e-mu        Electronic microunit
                       [found mainly in crossword puzzles]
enfold     e-n-fold    Replicated *n* times electronically
                       [SEE FOOTNOTE below]
enucleate  e-nucleate  To cluster disparate data
                       [or to remove the kernel!]
enumerate  e-numerate  Someone who is literate about computer
                       representations
epact      e-pact      An agreement on programs for leap-year
                       adjustments [Note: the epact is the excess
                       of the solar year over the lunar year.]
equality   e-quality   A property of a computer system or network
equip      e-quip      Humor embedded in e-mail
erector    e-rector    The head of a remote-access university
escarp     e-scarp     The protected side of a firewall
                       [This is a case in which the e is gratuitous,
                       as in estop, enow, and the next example.]
especial   e-special   An anomalous event of some particular interest
estray     e-stray     Random electromagnetic interference
estrange   e-strange   An anomalous output or internal state
eta        e-ta        An abbreviated e-mail goodbye (ttfn)
evaluate   e-valuate   To assess an electronic system
event      e-vent      An air-conditioning duct for a computer system
every      e-very      A technocomparative term
evocation  e-vocation  Job of someone who works with computers
evolute    e-volute    A system with a resilient spiral
                       shell structure
eyes       e-yes       ACK! or positive acknowledgment
                       [the eyes have it]


VIRTUAL REALITY TERMS:
eastern    e-astern    The virtual view to the rear
Eden       E-den       A virtual retreat [e.g., a paradise]
edentate   e-dentate   Using a tooth-valued logic [toothless
                       projective logics include and-eaters]
elope      e-lope      A fast gait experienced in virtual reality
emir       e-mir       A feeling of peacefulness, resulting
                       from use of a Russian VR program
                       [Eastern potentates like it]
emotion    e-motion    Screen dither
epic       e-pic       A digital image such as a .gif file
                       [classical!]
eryngo     e-ryngo     Electronic drummer [obscure: with
                       aphroditic rhythms resulting in candid
                       C-HOL-ly root privileges!]
escape     e-scape     A virtual view
                       [particularly, an elusion or avoidance]
evert      e-vert      A background shade of green on
                       video screens [particularly confusing
                       while viewing tennis matches at
                       Chrissie Field in San Francisco]
eyewash    e-yew-ash   A logical grafting of two different
                       tree structures
ewig       e-wig       Computerized enhancemenment of a balding
                       image [German: *ewig* = eternal]

NOTE on e-n-fold: Prefixing *n* as an index clearly needs a hyphen, as the following examples illustrate:


nacre      n-an-acre   An n-acre oyster bed
                       [whose mother was Pearl?]
nark       n-ark       An n-ark fleet of drug-enforcement agents
narrow     n-arrow     An n-arrow quiver [narrow with n=1]
nascent    n-ascent    An n-ascent astronaut
                       [nascent only if n=0]
near       n-ear       An n-ear audience; n need not be
                       an even integer; someone could be
                       listening with half an ear.
neon       n-eon       Referring to multiple eons
                       [a glowing sign of the times]

Using other symbols as indices also suggests further examples, such as an i-rate mortgage lender or an i-deal N-antes French card game. Other cases are left as an exercise for the reader. PGN

[I might add the need to disambiguate between various interpetations of strung-out adjectival nouns and nounal adjectives: key recovery concepts (the essence) versus key-recovery concepts third party poopers (repeat offenders) versus third-party poopers (who get someone else to stand in for them)

----------- end PGN ----------

HotChoc Additives

My request for cocoa spikeage ([UR]PC DA 12/1999) triggered many suggestions -- I'm sending this summary to all the kind boozy readers who have responded (so far that is!)

1. Alan Todd saw an early draft of the col. and I was able to include his recipe in my Jan'00 column. Alan swears by 80% Austrian Stroh Rum -- the ensemble is "one of the world's great nectars..."

2. Charlie Sorsby and Bryan Polyak both say Peppermint Schnapps. Charlie queries my use of the adjective "soporific" for a mugga cocoa since chocolate is known to "contain significant amounts of caffeine!"

3. Bernard McIlhany also says I'm wrong to classify cocoa as soporific since it contains the cerebral stimulant alkaloid theobromine!

Let me say this about that: (a) the bedtime tradition I inherited oft included a nice, soothing cup of hot milky drinking chocolate and I've always associated that with similar (?) nighttime beverages such as Ovaltine. My current "cocoa" is Nestle's Carnation double chocolate "Meltdown" hot cocoa mix (add hot water &/or milk) -- the blurb on the box says "RELAX with a cup of Carnation.." Whom can one trust these nights? BTW the "nutrition facts" sidebar omits any ref to the RDA% of caffeine and theobromine. It says 0% cholesterol but that seems to exclude any milk you may add? (b) I could do the old Signor Wriggletto by claiming that "soporific" was meant in the sense of "boring."

4. David Stefferud offers Amaretto "for a nice almond taste. You might start with a shot or so per cup but a jigger is still pretty good." [or even a Giga-shot? -- skb]

5. Fred Butzen enjoys the Chicago winters with a slug of "Amoretto" esp. good with dark Belgian cocoas. Fred, an "Amoretto" is a small cupid -- still, "in typo veritas"? --a great bedtime idea --

Just in from Larry Sullivan: a generous splash of Van der Hum, a South African liqueur from KWW (Kooperasie Wynbouwers Vereinging). At this rate, my column will replace <alt.drunken.bastards> as the Bachanalian Bible. Und sho to bed.

And this from Keith Willenson:

While reflecting on your mention of the mailing [URPC Jan'2000] list where a friend of your(yore?)s speculated about where he would be in a double digit year (55, 66, etc), it occured to me that we are all experiencing a once (twice at most) in a lifetime experience of two double digit years in a row. So perhaps it is time to take stock again in the year '00 and reflect on what we were doing in the last double digit year.

ref 1: Some of these ancient ramblings are still available online via "Stan's Corner" at www.sdmagazine.com.


Stan's bio:

Liverpool-born Stan Kelly-Bootle has been exposed to computing, on and off and vice-versa, since 1953 when, after graduating in Pure Mathematics at Cambridge University, he switched to impure post-grad work on the wondrous EDSAC I. After some trenching with IBM and Univac in the 1960s and 70s, Stan opted for self-employment as a consultant, writer, folk-song revivalist, after-dinner entertainer, and cunning linguist.

His monthly DA ("Devil's Advocate") column ran and ran in UNIX Review (aka Performance Computing) from 1984 until January 2000 (a date that will live in infamy) but lives on as SODA ("Son of DA") via www.sarcheck.com the homepage devoted to UNIX performance.

The latest of his umpteen books are "The Computer Contradictionary" (MIT Press) and "UNIX Complete" (Sybex). More on his biblio- and disco-graphy can be found on http://www.feniks.com/skb/ soon due for its millennial update.

Stan welcomes reader reaction: skb@atdial.net

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Portions © copyright Stan Kelly-Bootle 2000.
Portions © copyright Aurora Software Inc. 1997-2000, all rights reserved.
This column is sponsored by Aurora Software Inc., makers of SarCheck. The opinions of Stan Kelly-Bootle are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Aurora Software Inc. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.