Son of Devil's Advocate
Aproval Would Be Follier
Over the years, since 1984 no less, of monthly Diabolical columny, some months have challenged me more than others.
Seasonable submissions such as Christmas and New Year can become predictably cliched, while a Thanksgivings column triggers yawning indifference from my many Non-USA readers.
Likewise, if I mention the Brit November 5th celebration, the Yanks will ask "Who's this Guy, Fawkes?" Well, the poor man was hung-drawn-quartered, even worse, in 1606 after the failed Gun Powder plot. He's a sortof Catholic terrorist hero insofar as he aimed to blow up a Proddy Parliament, yet he never attained real martyrdom insofar as the plot was an amateur, failed fiasco. We burn replicas of the Guy on BonFire night and as the flames grow higher and higher, we dance around his funeral pyre...but, pace Tom Lehrer, of whom later, I digress.
With a global multicultural audience, I must face the moveable feasts of Lunar calendars. A happy Ramadan, whenever. Repent now, avoid the Yom Kippur rush. O Ishtar, a Merry Isthmus. Incas: Hot throbbing, fresh-plucked hearts while supplies last.
Then there's the Soviet dates worth a vodka-slug or two. Swear that at an APL Conference in St Petersberg, our host proposed the toast: If Lenin alive today he would be 123 years, 3 months, 10 days, 30 minutes, 12 seconds old!" I'll drink to that.
April, though, is the cruellest month! Rival columns are bending in all directions, tempting to fool you with subtle mis- information.
Scientific American maintains this fine April Fools' tradition, such that the May edition is full of incensed letters saying, for example, "Surely the formula is e=mc² rather than m=ce²?"
But back to my December column following ecumenical traditions.
Grand Christmas Quiz.
Send answers to email@example.com with a snail-mail address.
Wit exceeds accuracy.
First prize is "The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook -- Sixty Years of Songmaking," (Oak Publications, 2001) signed by Peggy Seeger.
Two runner-ups: my "Computer Contradictionary," MIT Press.
1. When did Christmas and New Year fall in the same year?
2. When did Christmas and Hannukah fall on the same day?
3. When did Pancake Tuesday fall on a Wednesday?
4. Who was the last man to box Gentleman Jim?
5. Who played for Liverpool and Everton (soccer) on the same afternoon?
6. Who now occupies the chair vacated by Prof. N. Wirth at ETH?
7. Name the best software for testing/tuning UNIX system performance.
8. Who owns the "Marauders Map?" Hint: magic sans GPS.
9. Identify the following exchange:
a: Grandad, they say you are the greatest living Englishman? b: Yes, I am. Now bugger off.
10. Expand the acronym CORDIC.
11. What does Tom Lehrer rhyme with (i) chickens (ii) utensil?
A great prezzie for yourself or friends.
Membership of the MAA (Mathematical Association of America) www.maa.org
Many levels available with appropriate journals.
The current MAA College Mathematics Journal (Edited by Prof. Underwood Dudley) has a wondrous paper by David Strong: "Why It Might Seem That Christmas Is Coming Early This Year" The math is fairly simple but the derived perception of passing time as you get older is quite remarkable.
Lest you missed the sublime Tom Lehrer influence:
Christmas time is here by golly; Disapproval would be folly; Deck the halls with lotsa holly; Fill the glass, and don't say when...
Fifteen Years Ago
Devil's Advocate, UNIX Review November 1986 - Stan Kelly-Bootle
Disapproval Would Be Folly
In depressingly betinseled computer rooms throughout this mighty land, festive interrupts briefly still the spinning disks.
It is that sickening tide of the year when non-drinkers drink and drinkers drive, when the parsimonious bear gifts, and an uneasy pall of goodwill stifles our humanity. "For the DPM shall lie down with the Programmer, and the Systems Administrator shall lie down with All and Sundry!" (St. Presper's "Vaticinia o&3 Simulacraque" - unpublished doctoral thesis).
Sociologists and other soft-scientists, have devoted much ponderage concerning mankind's need for periodic flights from reality to fantasy. In my native Liverpool-Irish milieu, these occur every five minutes on average, accompanied by growing doubts as to the direction of flight, whereas with more staid cultures, such as the Rome of Nero or the Mets of New York, the frequency ranges from annual Saturnalia to septennial World Series' euphoria!
You might argue that each night brings blessed relief from the hurly-burly, but this is a passive escape, and one must be fully awake to enjoy one's dreams. In Sartre's "Huis Clos," the sleepless damned cannot even blink, a terrifying punishment when you think about it: being denied those regular respites from perceptory input. Is this the origin of the expression "My I/O is on the blink"?
It has been a mixed, trend-free year for the computing trade - the UNIX-Sun up, IBM down, Atari rising, Convergent converging (to zero?), Apple shining, Commodore at sea, Fairchild clipped and nipped, Eagle landing-belly-up, Motorola motoring, Intel segmenting, and the late Ma Bell wringing her hands.
Meanwhile, a million Apprentice Cloners keep on a-cloning while the Sorcerer sleeps. Perhaps IBM will wake up soon and do something more startling than juggle their price list. They could, for example, start cloning the Compaq 386. IBM have apparently threatened to drop the whole PC range if it becomes a mere "commodity." Most of us look kindly on fair-priced commodities in the sense of "useful articles of trade" whereas IBM seems to define a commodity as any item with a gross margin of less than 200% - but I digress!
With such a confused 1986 behind us I have no way of telling if your holiday will be spent celebrating victories or swilling away sorrows. Whooping or wailing, either way, my Christmas column plans to add or remove a smile from your pudding-stuffed faces! Depending on your mood you can skip the "+" bullets (good news) or the "-" bullets (depressing items).
First the bad news: my contribution to a grumpy Christmas is the following list of typos, growses and brickbats, gloatingly accumulated since December 26th 1985:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
The URL of this page may change in the future. Please bookmark the home page instead of this one.
Portions © copyright Stan Kelly-Bootle 2001.