Son of Devil's Advocate, March 2000

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Son of Devil's Advocate

Stan Kelly-Bootle


Picture of Stan Kelly-Bootle

SODA So Far...

A quack (portmanteau for "quick ack") for all DA (Devil's Advocate) fans who wrote tearfully re-the demise of [UR]PC (UNIX Review's Performance Computing) and more so to those who promised to follow my rambling SODA (Son of...) freshly bubbling via Aurora (a radiant emission from above) Software's www.sarcheck.com.

This is my SODA #2 column, formally, unarguably designated SODA March 2000 although most of you will be "idly-clicking-through" and/or enjoying/enduring it during February 2000, a strange month that has either 28 or 29 days depending on which leap-year algorithm your system has adopted. (An infamous "Y2K warning/correction" in Software Development Magazine still managed to get the divisibilty-by-4-100-400 test sequences wrong!)

Some of you with 300-baud acoustic modems ("reliability beats speed every time") running my GODOT [tm] browser under Java- enhanced MS-DOS 4.00, may have to wait until April 1st 2000, or forever, whichever comes first.

The lucky remnant, equipped with SarCheck's diverse UNIX accelerators (www.sarcheck.com), will already have seen SODA #2 during January 2000 or earlier.

However, whenever, whyever, this is my March 2000 SODA column, and previous/relatively-future instances will be duly indexed/archived via www.sarcheck.com as the --months++ go by. Cue in the bloated Mario Lanza: "At the Stroke of Your Mouse, Heaven Opens Its Portals to Me..."

The Boring Dating Game

Any mention of calendric and millennial-enumerating quiddities invokes as many reader reactions as hints that the old GOTO ain't that bad or that objects ain't that good. [ref 1] for Grazziano Lo Russo's remarkable interview with A. (STL) Stepanov and therefrom to other riveting pages. Remember, though, to come back home to MOI what sent you.

In the final UNIX Review/Performance Computing magazine (January 2000 -- don't let your mother throw out this issue with your old SuperMan comics!), Letters section, Johan Van Zanten, Systems Shaman of Tumbleweed Electron Wranglers Inc. [sic, bis, amen], rightly complained that

"If you're using the Gregorian calendar, the twenty-first Century and the third Millennium begin on January 1, 2001."

Johan refers you to two apodeictic sources:

www.usno.navy.mil/

and

www.rog.nmm.ac.uk/

that have been "officially tasked [ref 2] with keeping time since the days when people's lives depended on it. If you want to blame someone, blame the Catholic Church. They made up the calendar, not me."

For a more readable and paper-based account (lots of graphics including the front page of Gregory's Papal Bull [sic] Inter Gravissimas dated [sic] October 15, 1582 together with many suggested "world calendar" reforms to cope with our irrational planetary orbits), see "Adoption and Reform of the Gregorian Calendar," Edward L. Cohen, Math Horizons, February 2000, The Mathematical Association of America.

Adding to the confusion of the "missing days" (ten or eleven?) immediately following the Gregorian 4-15 October, 1582 step- function, Cohen lists the various dates on which the Papal dictat was officially recognized (if at all) in diverse parts of the known world (ranging from Italy [of course] and Poland in 1582, the American Colonies in 1752, on to the Romanian/Greek/Yugoslav Eastern Orthodox Churches in 1924.)

All I can add to Cohen's brilliant account is to remind readers that the Julian Calendar (named for the Brit-bashing Caesar) is not be confused with the Julian Day (JD, the number of real [sez who?] days elapsed since January 1, 4713 BCE) named for Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558) by his son Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609), author of Opus de emendatione temporum (1583 [sic]).

The plot thickens, of course: there are many mm/dd/yyyy-to-JD and JD-to-mm/dd/yyyy algorithms out there, some purporting to be valid and consistent for all date values and allowing for negative JDs (after all, some serious scholars deal with events prior to January 1, 4713 BCE and straddling the Gregorian gap). Simpler algorithms, common in business and actuarial applications where the main gist is "days-between-dates," "sue-after-90-days- past-due," and "name-the-end-quarter-following-preferred-death," are correct for limited date ranges, typically 1/1/1900 and thereafter. The absolute JD value (officially 2,438,762.00 for noon Greenwich Civil Time, January 1, 1965) is often of no consequence provided the applications use consistent algorithms. Alas, IHS ("I have suffered!") Mixing "reusable" subroutines/components have resulted in embarrassing "off-by-one" even "off-by-two" glitches. Not only the "index" problem, do we start counting from the 0th or the 1st (finally "resolved" by the BASIC standards argufiers with the terrible OPTION BASE compromise: start counting at N), but occasional disputes over "noon" when your debtor has a house-boat near the Bering Seas International Date Line.

Pre-SODA Resolutions

A thread in the extinct [UR]PC columns followed man-page humor both covert and intentional. Jim Smith reports the overt Solaris entry under spell that lists as a bug: "British spelling was done by an American." More examples welcomed via skb@crl.com

My final January 2000 [UR]PC DA column carried two quizzes which I now answer:

Chess: the given position (by R. Frangen) invokes a remarkable sequence of checks/counter checks:

Picture of a game of chess

1. g8 = Qch, Kf5ch;
2. g4ch, Qxg4ch;
3. e4ch, Bxe4ch;
4. Bd7ch, Rxd7ch;
5. Nd6ch, Rxd6ch;
6. Qd5ch, Bxd5ch;
7. e4ch, Qxe4ch;
8. dxe4ch, Bxe4ch;
9. cxd6ch, Nab5ch;
10. Rbxb5ch, c5ch;
11. Rxc5ch, e5ch;
12. Rxe5ch, fxe5ch;
13. Nxe5ch, Bf3ch;
14. Ng4ch, Nb5ch;
15. Qxb5ch, c5ch;
16. Qxc5ch, bxc5ch;
17. Rxc5ch, Be5ch;
18. Rxe5ch....

then, reports Koltanowski, "both kings get time out for some fresh air! Can the check number be improved on?" Hard to imagine!

Linguistic Trick question: "Can you name a specific-vowel-free work written in the South Caucasus language Lezghi that matches Perec's feat (a novel in French avoiding the vowel 'e,' apart, of course, from the title/author page)?"

Trick answer: Lezghi is rare in lacking the vowel "o," so, unless I hear otherwise, all Lezghian novelists can match Perec by "doing what comes naturally."

SODA FAQs

What is Scouse?

Scouse is the inhabitant, dish, and dialect of Liverpool/Merseyside. Lern Yerself Scouse is the definitive guide now in its 16th edition, published by Scouse Press. Order via fritz@scousepress.co.uk

How to pronounce LINUX?

Most IPO billionaires prefer two short equally-stressed syllables as in \\RedHat\\

How to pronounce Bjarne Stroustrup?

Listen several times to the .wav file on www.research.att.com/~bs/

How to pronounce Van Wijngaarden?

The first part is as in the mythical Ajax soccer star, Hertz Van Rental. The proper name (Dutch for Winograd) requires several months in Amsterdam gargling Genevers Wynand Fockink and inhaling dubious substances.

What were the first words uttered by Richard, latest son of Fred and Anne Butzen?

"Dot Com."

How many Alta-Ego Vista matches emerged from a "Kelly-Bootle" search?

Up from 64 in 1993 to 555 in 2000. Not yet the anti-christ, but prends garde a toi.

How Many CDs?

The complete works of J. S. Bach (the Ha:nssler Edition Bachakademie) will soon be available on 170 audio CDs. So far, as a high-ranked MSDN member, I have received 169 CDs from Microsoft, but these include pre-alphas and post-omegas of the volatile APIs du jour not to mention the Hungarian and Uzbeck variants of Word 9x. A sobering thought when one of my fat books comes back on a slim floppy.

NEW SODA FEATURE

To further enrich, delay your page visitation, I attach a 15- year-ago DA column that is otherwise gathering dust in forgotten attics.

UNIX Review - March 1985 - Stan Kelly-Bootle
Satire, Spelling...more!

"May your Kids shun Satire," warned the delinquent Juvenal during Superbowl minus MXCC (the result of which, if memory serves, hinged on a last minute penalty when the Christians were nailed for illegal motion and having only one player on the field). Today, Juvenal would be more adamant - urging you to avoid the Satiric Trade, the company of Satirists, and all who might be remotely suspected of reading Satire. For, truly, a Satirist's life these days, is far from being a happy one, especially for those seeking to peek'n'poke a little fun at the computer whirligig.

That grotesque sequence of improbable events which we begrudgingly call "Reality" is unfailingly ahead of our wildest scenarios by several megaparsecs. A serious Wall Street Journal hightech editorial can now out-belly-laugh the most bizarre of Douglas Adam's galactic creations. Each Silicon Valley Wunderkind biography is straight out of "Son of Monty Python."

We are meant to weep at the picture of two guys inventing things in a garage! What they don't tell you is that they first had to park both Bentleys in the covered driveway and then push the Bugatti Royale into a corner. Come on! Archimedes used to dream about owning a car, and Edison's best work was done in a dark, damp kiosk.

On the flip side of the floppy, readers nowadays have been rendered incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction (witness the sales of noddy home computers, and books on AI for a 2K Timex-Sinclair!).

One micro-marketing journal has found it necessary to head up its regular jokey column with the type of caveat they flash by you at the cinema - "Any resemblance to creatures or packages alive or dead, great or small, is entirely coincidental. The Adam Osborne mentioned in this piece is NOT the famous entrepreneur; IBM does NOT REALLY stand for Irish Business Machines, and, notwithstanding our statement to the contrary, Chopin NEVER composed in the Polish Notation."

I have encountered this fractal blurring of Truth's coastline on several occasions. A piece I wrote in the 1960s on Shakespeare's computer, MUSE (Most Unusual Shakespearean Engine), prompted many serious requests for price and delivery information. One scholar confirmed my tongue-in-cheek hypothesis that Richard Burbage (Bill the Quill's leading actor-manager) was an ancestor of Charles Babbage - "...the most cursory inspection of Elizabethan documents proves that MUSE's Spelchek was grossly inadequate!"

The subject of spelling reminds me that, in spite of the miracles of modern WP and WWB, the general literary standard of our industry is forever declining. Orthographic solecisms on the printed page are too frequent and invoke but a brief howl of despair (my recent favorite is "rudementary," simply because it has a delicious Joycean rudimentary recursiveness - also it occurred thrice in a publisher's handout), but when they jump on your screen from the bowels of the operating system, your confidence in the kernel-grinders is severely diluted. I suffered a "Non-existant File" message under AMOS for many months until Bob Toxen told me of two ways to avoid the agony. One method was never to invite the message by using only "existant" file-names; the other, in the absence of OS source, was to locate, dump and DDT the offending block.

Of course, one could argue that the skills of programming and spelling have little in common. The latter accomplishment merely indicates a dull, slavish devotion to arbitrary rules, whereas programming.....gotcha! What really counts in programming is consistency (or even "consistancy?") - if my variable is declared as amount_recievable, then that is exactly what must be added to get the total "recievable."

Returning to the subject of satire v. reality, a friend of mine, toying with the old probabilistic fantasy of monkeys typing Hamlet, pondered aloud at a party on how many drunks at how many CRT's could produce UNIX System VI ahead of schedule. A nearby AT&T employee pulled him aside and warned him not to discuss company secrets in public.

Shortly after publishing a spoof software specification for IMP (Integrated Morticians Package), which offered Pre- and Post- need Casket Accounting, Armband Inventory Control, Bitmapped Epigraphics and Nondestructive Crematorial Temperature Gradients, I received a lively call from the Colma Garden of Infinite Repose (an Equal Opportunity Corporation) asking for a demo. Yesterday I read that AlphaMicro of Irvine, California are now offering a package for Mortuaries - aha, but can it link into the Hertz Rent-a-Hearse Network like my fictitious IMP? Does it have On- line Floral Tributation? Does it offer "MORE?" My IMP list definitely offered...MORE! A list, however long and comprehensive, which does not terminate with MORE is clearly suspect, both semantically and syntactically. A null list, of course, contains just the one element, MORE!

Consider the many futile attempts to improve on the King [ref 3] James' Version (KJV) of the Bible. All that is needed, I claim, is a dash of modern list-processing:

"In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth,...more." "And Seth begat Enosh,...more."

ref 1: With this new webbed format, I feel free to embed useful links in addition to the paper-traditional bibliographical footnotes. In particular, re-the merits of OO, I urge you to click on

www.cis.umassd.edu/~asanchez/gp/Edizioni-Infomedia.html

ref 2: Lest Brits rush to query task, the verb: calm yourselves; it's anciently attested as "to subject to severe or excessive labour or exertion; to put a strain upon (powers, resources, etc.) -- Webster III.

ref 3: Since writing this in 1985, I have been warned by several gender- free theologian-activists that the preferred designation is "Ruler" James'.


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.