Son of Devil's Advocate, February 2004

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Son of Devil's Advocate

Stan Kelly-Bootle


Picture of Stan Kelly-Bootle

Cui Bono?

For those who don't have the Latin (a nice distinction from the usual speak with competence, as in "Mad'msel from Armentiers, Parlee Voo?"), my title from Cicero, or one of that crowd, finds a cynical (what else?) up-to-date translation in Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary as "What good would that do me?"

For once, I do not invoke Bitter Bierce to promote my own feeble parodies, but rather to sing the praises of the recent Folio Society edition of The Devil's Dictionary (2003) with an appropriately witty intoduction by Miles Kington, and new letter-key illustrations by Peter Forster. British readers will know of Kington's regular contributions to the Independent, a newspaper that, as the name suggests, offers a sensible alternative to the Telegraph and the Guardian [ref 1]. Of course, the Gallup Polls continue to report that everybody reads the The Times (of London, implied), rather than the multi- million-selling tabloids!

Having helped to install IBM at Gallup UK way back, I know a lot about the "loaded" questionnaire. Examples at the time (subject to some essential exaggeration) included:

"Given the poor state of the economy under Labour, would you vote for that bastard Harold Wilson again?"

And similarly with probing people's reading habits:

"At what age, if any, would you allow your children to read The News of the World?" [ref 2]

Picture of Miles Kington I should mention that I've admired Miles Kington's risible columns for years, and my daughter Kate even moreso. She was, unduly perhaps, thrilled but dubious to hear that I had dined and supped with Himself on several occasions while visiting my friends Stan and Wendy Hey in Bradford-upon-Avon [ref 3]. Eventually, I was able to stake my claim by showing her a photograph I had taken, then the final proof: introducing her to Miles, who happened to be dining at the same restaurant.

Having read (many Folio books are simply admired and proudly shelved) the Devil's Dictionary, my next Folio choice was The Pick of Punch (1998). Would you believe that until it arrived I had no idea that this anthology was selected and introduced by Miles Kington? [I think that's enough mileage for now -- Ed.]

Computer Theology

In the early days much patience was needed when booting the computer or running a modest sort. Indeed, Hoare's QuickSort was oft unfairly dubbed an oxymoron, along with OS (operating system, indeed). These were the pre-multi-tasking years, and the British manuals would say "Hit Start, then go and make a nice pot of tea. Remember one teaspoon of tea per putative cup, and then one extra 'for the pot.'"

The pessimistic Yankee advice was "Hit Start, then go catch a movie." Recommended movies were the longer epics such as Napoleon or Fritz Lang's Niebelungen. The latter was shown in two parts with a meal-break at half-time, allowing at least six hours plus travel time for your system to process its job-trickle (as job-streams were known back then).

Such patience is still needed in spite of safe-threads (another oxymoron contender?) and fast Pentia. I refer to downloading MAHLER2.WAV or WAGNER-RING.MP3 in the piracy of your own home [ref 4] with a less than adequate baud-rate.

Incidentally, with the success of the iPod and its clones, I predict that the virus thugs may turn their attention to Apple's music software. Macintosh users boast of their immunity from such attacks, but their 2% of the PC market has never attracted the venom directed at Microsoft's dominant Windows. A benign but frustrating hack of the iPod transfer programs could result in your requesting, say, a dollar's worth of Diana Krall, only to find that you have downloaded the Best of the Lawrence Welk Polka-Accordeon Ensemble. (Recall: Accordeons don't play "Ladies of Spain" -- People play "Ladies of Spain.")

What I suggest to occupy you during lengthy processes is Krzysztof Kieslowski's masterpiece, The Decalogue. It runs for ten hours, one per commandment, on three DVDs (with distracting English subtitles but helpful interviews with the producer, director, cameraman, and critics), so you can pace yourself with suitable breaks for meditation on the Wages of Sin.

The Decalogue took ages to reach the American cinema from its Polish birthplace, and even then its length precludes wide commercial showings. When Iwonka and I first saw it on the big screen, it took five trips to complete the odyssey, a chore that the DVDs remove. You can order it from www.acornonline.com without knowing how to pronounce either Krzysztof or Kieslowski, or direct from Facets Video, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago, IL 60614.

I'll concentrate on Kieslowski's first film of the sequence, for as you'll see, it reveals unusual interpretations of the familiar scriptures that continue in the remaining nine sections. In particular, the opening commandment turns on the unexpected modern dangers of "polytheism" (belief in the existence of many gods), or rather "polyolatry" (the worship of many gods). This 20th century exegesis starts with:

"I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me."

This is based on Exodus 20:2-3 with some subtle variations on the usual English KJV and Gideon translations:

"I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me."

Of course, the case-shifts are not in the original "single-case" Hebrew text, but they do reveal nuances that have engaged Western theologians for many disputatious centuries. Note first that "LORD" (Adonai) replaces the unspeakable, mysterious tetragammaton, JHWH, although many Christians have no qualms addressing Him as Yahweh or Jehovah, adding spurious vowels not found in the Masoretic texts. Then, we see a distinction between God and god. The former is, presumably, the one-and-only Deity who earlier revealed His name to Moses as "I AM WHO I AM" or "I AM" for short (Exodus 3:14), also qualified as "The God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:6). The first commandment further identifies God as He who brought the Jews out of Egypt, whence, of course, the name "Exodus."

But, the big, much-debated BUT: can God's own declaration of monotheism allow mention of the "other gods" to be shunned? [ref 5] One convincing answer relies on the refutation of raw "nominalism," namely [sic] that naming some entity does not necessarily imply its existence. (Qualified metaphysicians would write "existence" but I've exhausted my monthly quotational quota.) Thus the classic examples of square circles or robust software, and Russell's The present King of France

The alternative, taken by Kieslowski, is the more natural- linguistic spin that we can and do treat many gods as though they were God-like, with or without really believing them to be omnipresent, omni-whatever.

And so, finally to the plot, which I will not entirely divulge!

Henryk Baranowski plays Krzysztof, a leading Computer Scientist, a single parent who schools his precocious son Pawel (Wojciech Klata) in the omniscience of data and algorithms. Pawel is anxious to try out his Christmas present: a new pair of ice- skates. The nearby lake seems almost ready, but father and son collect real-time data from the weather stations and calculate the thickness and weight-bearing potential of the ice. You may guess that they are putting the computer-god before the Creator of Genesis and the jealous, wrathful God of Exodus. His revenge is swift and terrible.

Moral: if you watch The Decalogue while downloading illegally, think on these things. When you reach Decalogue 6, Thou shalt not steal, rush home, hit Abort, and say seven Hail Mary's.

ref 1: The usual, satirical spellings, Graudian or Graduian (etc!) are now unfair since the paper's typesetting system now seems to be equipped with a reasonable spelchock, at least for its own name.

ref 2: I don't think this Sunday (of all days) newspaper survived the more pictorial "bum'n'tits" enticements of tabloids such as The Daily Mirror which still outshines Elizabethan drama by holding a daily mirror up to nature, with contradictory headlines boasting "INSIDE: The Picture We Dare Not Print." The News of the World specialized in prose accounts of lurid events, demanding at least some quantum of literacy. Various templates emerged much to the glee of satirists who wouldn't be seen dead reading the paper. The police were always visiting brothels and strip-clubs as plain-clothed agents provocateurs, and re-re- visiting until sufficient evidence was accrued. In typical CopSpeak: "Upon ascertaining her alleged proposal, contrary to the Public Decency Act, 1867, Section 9, I revealed my identity and proceeded to take down her putative particulars."

ref 3: Never to be confused with far-distant Bradford, Yorks, whose soccer team are drab and relegated in spite of sporting a wallpaper strip to rival Joseph's so-called polychromatic coat. All British major-league soccer teams now advertise their sponsor's logo for added income, the more successful teams obviously attracting the wealthier corporations. My own Liverpool FC (de Reds) promote the Denmark-based Carlsberg Brewery, although Bjarne Stroustrup assures me that the lager served in the UK is far inferior to the Carlsberg of his native land. Arsenal FC (the Gunners) players wear a white O2 on their red shirts, but most of their London fans wouldn't know an Oxygen molecule if one accidentally blew in. The Chelsea team- shirt urges us to "Fly Emirate," not an airline of choice for most of us. Since Chelsea has a new owner, Russian Oiliarch billionaire Roman Abromavitch, the club has been dubbed Chelskov, and no doubt Aeroflot will one day replace Emirate?

Picture of Shannan Hobbs and Stan ref 4: We ASCAP/BMI members have mixed feelings but mainly negative ones about those who unwittingly snatch the bread from our starving kids' mouths. At a Larry/Tina O'Brien party (he the former editor of Software Development Magazine, and begetter of the Annual Jolt Software Productivity Awards), Larry announced with the best of intentions that he had just downloaded my Liverpool Lullaby. The party paused reluctantly to hear the Judy Collins rendition, gave me a drunken cheer, and resumed their idle bantering. From the car outside, I thought I heard my children singing an old Irish-Famine lament: "O we're ground into the dust, over here..." But, on the bright side, 'twas there I met Shannan Hobbs, my favourite epistemologist [op. cit. & passim]. Having beaten me at Naughty Scrabble, she is now challenging me to Strip GO. More on this ancient Geisha game at your favourite search-engine: double-click on the GO button!

ref 5: For a recent exhausting account, try the 2-volumed The Monotheistics: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, E. E. Peters, Princeton Univ. Press. Or the succinct review by Edward T. Oakes in First Things, Febuary 2004, Number 104. .Peters tackles the deeper problem of the one God having not only many names (why not?) but having conflicting attrributes, both between different religions and between sects of the same religion.


Sixteen Long Years Ago

UNIX Review -- Devil's Advocate, Feb 1989 -- Stan Kelly-Bootle 12/16/88

Yin 5, Yang 4 (OT)

Since time immoral, mankinds of all genders have been seeking the ideal guru, the perfect messiah, the prime slice of grail, the know-all who will reveal all without unduly disturbing a person's innermost, cherished convictions. Seek no more! I stand before you tonight, glowing with immodesty, to proclaim that le Jour de Gloire est indeed arrivé! And may I take this opportunity to apologise for my late arrival? Yes, my dear readers (or may I call you disciples?), your patience and financial contributions will soon be rewarded. My truth will not only make you free, it will make you free-spending. My visions come in crisp, tight C, avoiding the endless disputations inherent in my rival prophets' texts:

   while (yours > 0) {
        transfer(yours, mine);
        thanks(alot);
   }

I had not intended to invoke the old cash-flow nexus so early in my crusade, but a sage has overheads same as anybody else. Although I get my aphorisms wholesale from Jean Baudrillard, there is much editing, polishing, and remapping before I pass them on to /usr/games/fortune, my newly-signed distributor. These are not your tired, half-cooked-mode cookies. These are your genuine Welsh Granny's Biscuits, from Betws-y-Coed in Gwynedd, complete with multiunit recipe:

  • 8 oz. (200 gm.) plain flour
  • 4 oz. (100 gm.) butter
  • 4 oz. (100 gm.) castor sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • milk to mix
  • vanilla essence

Sift the flour and baking powder together. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the egg and add gradually to the butter/sugar mixture, beating after each addition. Add vanilla essence to taste. Fold in the flour using a metal love spoon. Add enough milk to give a firm dough. Roll out thinly and cut into 2 inch (5 cm.) rounds. Bake on a greased sheet in a moderately hot oven (400 degrees F, 204 degress C) for one fifth of a micro-century. * [see footnote]

(From "Welsh Teas," Emeralda Ltd., Cardiff CF4 1YP, Wales)

The accompanying motto is: "Give folks a Welsh Granny's Biscuit and they'll eat for twelve seconds; give them the recipe and they can stuff themselves forever."

* [footnote] Readers puzzled by the appearance of cooking hints in a UNIX magazine may not be aware of a recent book of recipes compiled by the rich and famous of Silicon Valley. Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems, for instance, explains how to select a sandwich from the corporate cafetaria, while others discuss the numbering systems used by their local Chinese take- away restaurants.

As soon as sufficiently prayerful contributions reach me (no American Express cards, please), you can expect further life- changing bons-bons to appear on your screens, running that dizzy glissando from the bland-general to the boring-particular. My heavy mailbag this month convinces me that I have enough friends out there to get a reasonably remunerative cult underway.

Lipogram Quiz Award

In my November, 1988 column, I asked aloud: "Why is it a shame that Ernest Wright did not change his name to, say, Frank, Stan or Arthur Wright in 1939?" hinting that the Cambridge Encylopedia of Language held the answer. Frank Hecker quickly and brilliantly responded from Silver Spring, Maryland, as follows:

Sir:

I know Ernest Wright as the author of that statistically unusual book Gadsby, famous for its total lack of a common orthographic symbol (which in turn I sought to avoid using in this communication to you). Alas, just that symbol occurs at two points in fully naming Mr. Wright. This is a truly sad fact, particularly in light of Mr. Wright's ambitious goal in initiating his work and his unstinting labors in carrying it to its triumphant conclusion, and I applaud your honoring him (in a backhand way) by including it in your column,

Yours truly, Frank Hecker.

Yes, the only occurrences of the letter "e" in Wright's 50,000 word novel Gadsby (1939) occur on the title page: "by Ernest Wright." Frank Hecker avoids all avoidable "e"'s too without seeming overly stilted -- if you try this trick yourself, the lack of definite articles is the major challenge. I rather like the imperious absence of "Dear" in the salutation! However, unless Prime Computer Incorporated changes its name to Prim Systems Corporation, Frank's letterhead will continue to frustrate the perfect lipogram.

The CEL defines "lipogram" as a "composition which contains no instances of a particular letter." The 5th-century poet Tryphiodorus still holds the record with 24 volumes, each avoiding a different letter of the Greek alphabet. A more recent example is a remarkable novel in French by George Perec which, if memory serves, avoids the use of "a", "e", and "q". Once again, the author's name lets him down! Furthermore, I hear that Perec's work is being translated into English preserving the lipogramaticity!

Now what about Ernest Wright's version of hello.c:

/* hi.c, a lipogrammatic transformation of K&&R's introductory
   paradigm! */

main() { printf("Hi, world!\n"); }

Pity we can't use #include and #define , to name but a few. Any suggestions, short of revamping the preprocessor?

Paradigm Regained

My recent attack on the "paradigm" epidemic (UR, October, 1988) was, in general, well received, although two correspondents, Allan J. Mui and Christopher C. Brewster, wrote to chide me. While agreeing that "paradigm" is often used pretentiously, they both reminded me that Thomas S. Kuhn's book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," (the work has a complex publication history: my copy is the Second Edition, Enlarged, Volume 2, Number 2 of the "International Encyclopedia of Unified Science," The University of Chicago Press, 1970) established a new, specific usage by redefining "paradigm" in a rather specialized way to help describe how science jumps from one set of "background, community" beliefs to another. According to Hubert L. Dreyfus ("What Computers Can't Do," Harper Colophon, Revised Edition, 1979): "...Kuhn focuses on the importance of a paradigm, that is, a specific accepted example of scientific practice, in guiding research."

Re-reading Davies after Kuhn still leaves me a tad queasy. Davies's best-selling "Cosmic Blueprint," of course, is aimed at the lay public while Kuhn's work is quite heavy stuff for the specialist, ranging between the six subjects "the X of Y", where X and Y are distinct members of the enumeration {science, history, philosophy}. Although Davies's use of "Newtonian paradigm" may reflect some Kuhnian influence (and if so, the general reader deserves to be told what a Kuhnian "paradigm" is), my feeling is that Davies means something simpler, such as "model."

This feeling is reinforced by Nicholas Wade's review of Kuhn's achievements quoted on the back cover of "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" from Science magazine:

"...Kuhn wastes little time on demolishing the logical empiricist view of science as an objective progression toward the truth. Instead he erects from ground up a structure in which science is seen to be heavily influenced by nonrational procedures, and in which new theories are viewed as being more complex than those they usurp but not as standing any closer to the truth."

"The Cosmic Blueprint" does not appear to me to share Kuhn's views on how and why science develops. Davies seems to hold the "traditional, practical physicist's" attitude that the "Newtonian paradigm (model)," for example, gave way to the "Einsteinian or Relativistic paradigm (model)" by way of a convergence to the "truth," following certain observed anomalies in the real world.

To avoid further argufaction, perhaps we could dilute these paradigmatic exploitations by occasionally using the well- established, perfectly respectable, blatantly pretentious, English-by-adoption word, "weltanschauung" meaning "world view" (not to be confused with the German, "Weltanschauung")? I leave the last word on this fascinating subject (and one painfully relevant to the AI industry -- see Dreyfus, op. cit.) to the previously quoted Nicholas Wade:

"Since Kuhn does not permit truth to be a criterion of scientific theories, he would presumably not claim his own theory to be true."

Keeping MUM (Multiuse Mnemonics)

Since mnemonics, often confused with acronyms (Alphabetic Collocations Reducing Or Numbing Your Memory) and abbreviations, are intended as aides-memoires, I have often proposed that we should reduce their number, ideally to one easy-to- remember example. The actual meaning would be clear from the context.

A uunet message from Steve Carnes of Interactive Systems reminded me that Reality is once again overtaking Satire. Steve noticed that CASE, apart from its various meanings in natural and computer languages, has been variously defined as "Computer-Aided Software," (mostly UK) and "Computer-Assisted Software," (mostly USA). If you subscribe as I do (if not, why not?) to the International Journal of Lexicography ($62 for 4 quarterly issues: Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, UK), you will know that such subtle differences can generate whole buckets full of scholarly slush. For instance, English sports, being statistically frugal, do not credit players with "assists," so the synonymity of "aid" and "assist" differs in some way to be discussed elsewhere.

Other examples of mnemonics and acronyms emerging with different or peculiar interpretations follow:

GOB: Graphics OBject also Liverpool dialect (Scouse) for mouth probably from Gaelic 'gob' beak (cf "Shut yer gob" French "Ta geule"). Also US, as in "gobs of icecream," large, shapeless masses many Graphics OBjects.

TAT: AT&T's first transatlantic underwater fiber-optic cable is called TAT-8. In Scouse, 'Tat' is the noun derived from adj. 'tatty' -- or vice versa, as in 'tatty-head' a person whose hair is full of 'tats.' Not related to 'tit-for-tat' which is an example of graded reduplication, as in 'tick-tock' or zig-zag' Cf: Liverpool triplets named Mary, Joe and Tat: "..there was no tit-for-Tat."

ART: Adaptive Resonance Theory, whence "Is ART an art or a science?"

pcVision: a comms/networking package from Alpha Pacific Computer Systems: the pc stands for author Phil Cooper!

EESFF: Enhanced Extended Super Frame Format, from Bell Comm's Research publication JA-TSY-000194. Seems to preclude further specification improvement without invoking 'hyper,' after which development must cease.

IBM: Intercontinental Ballistic Missile according to Webster's 3rd New Int Dictionary! Also used and closely protected by a leading computer manufacturer.

Mon: used in Borland's Paradox Manual date formats as abbreviation for 'Month,' but could be confused with 'Monday'?

WIMP: Weakly Interacting Massive Particle. Suspect that this was deliberately constructed to amuse the physicists.

Your input on similar quirks would be appreciated.


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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