Son of Devil's Advocate
Up To What Have I Been?I rush to calm my dear restless fans. Yet another stay at UCSF Medical Center has stayed my palsied pen. Happily, the minor vascular blockage was soon cleared by flushing my arteries with Draino© and restoring the blood-level in my alcohol stream.
The usual bevy of Florence Nightingales and their antibiotic bevvies [ref 1] brought both relief and dangerous palpitations, known in the trade as the "Nurse Effect." In my case, it's "Sister Cynthia Pak's Systolic Surge." She is MSN, NP-C; whence an instantiation of Tennyson's (or one of that gang's) "When pain and anguish wring the brow, a mini-string Angel Thou!
The weeks of relaxation have been filled re-reading newly unpacked books. Many turned out to be pleasantly self- referential, always reassuring when time's clanging chariots rumble by. Or, to switch mix'n'match metaphors from Marvell to MacNiece and Lawrence: "Make haste, O make haste! Have you built your ship of death?"
"...then worms shall try
I get several nostalgic nods in "Dazzling Stranger -- Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival," Colin Harper, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 38 Soho Square, London, W1D 3HB (paperback 2001) reminding me of long-distant friends -- "Some are gone and some remain, In My Life; I loved them all." It's churlish to point out an error on page 329. "Stan Kelly...author of such latterly well-known vignettes as 'Oh, You Are a Mucky Kid,' 'In My Liverpool Home,' and 'The Leaving of Liverpool'...Wherever he went on the early folk scene, his humour was a welcome relief from the dogma."
In fact, "In My Liverpool Home" belongs to my esteemed fellow- Scouser Peter McGovern. The probable culprit for this misinformation is Rambling Jack Elliot who was always confusing Peter's song with my "I Wish I Was Back in Liverpool" (for which Leon Rosselson wrote the tune). Both songs emerged in the early folk-revival days (late 1950s) and were widely performed and recorded by such groups as the Spinners, Jacqie & Bridie, and the Dubliners. My own rendition, accompanied by Peggy Seeger, was issued on Ewan MacColl's "Revival in Britain" (Folkways).
Colin Harper probably ascribed "The Leaving of Liverpool" to me because the song appears in the "Stan Kelly Song Book" (SING/Heathside Music, 1964 and 2nd Ed. 1968). However, I made no claims to authorship. As my songbook reports, this fo'c's'l ditty goes way back, having been collected by W. M. Doerflinger ("Shantymen and Shantyboys," NY, 1951) from Dick Maitland who first heard it in 1885. Yet, such are the quiddities of the "folk process." What I did do to Doerflinger's words was a single subtle edit that appealed to Merseyside soccer fans:
"So fare thee well, my own true love;
"When I return, UNITED we will BEAT..."
You may need to know that the one thing that unites the three Merseyside teams (Liverpool, Everton, Tranmere Rovers) is an implacable aversion to the neighbouring club, Manchester United. Indeed, I grew up believing that its proper name was "F***ing ManU." Basball fans could translate these rivalries as: "Giants/Dodgers" or "Yankees/Everybody."
So, Colin Harper scores 1-in-3 when citing this particular list of my songs. Batting .333 ain't too shabby in some ballparks.
The aforementioned Leon Rosselson has sent me his latest CD "Turning Silence into Song" (Fuse Records, CFCD 009. Available via 28 Park Chase, Wembley Park, Middlesex, HA9 8EH or from www.leonrosselson.co.uk). It's a moving collection of Leon's unique satirical polemics taken from his 40+ years of song writing. He has been called the British Georges Brassens. Others call it Noam Chomsky set to music. The final track, "My Father's Jewish World," is a poignant account of what it means to be a non-religious, non-Zionist Jew among the ceaseless sorrows of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The CD deserves a deeper critique, which must await a future column.
What's a Quavel?
More nudging of the fading neurons: finding a signed copy ("Cum Animo Grato") of Miguel Orio's "The Ark of Ao Tea Roa -- A Quavel" [ref 3]. This is volume 2 of Orio's trilogy "The Hermit Islands," following volume 1, "The Feather Chest" (1996).
He defines the portmanteau "quavel" as a "quasi novel," a genre now attracting names such as "historic-fiction" and blends such as "docudrama." The trilogy is a "cry for freedom of dignity in Polynesian culture on the brink of self-destruction." It deals with the fabular building of a New Zealand Utopia where the Cold War might be survived. The Ao Tea Roa of the title "was the last archipelago reached by the Pacific navigators at the south-west bottom of the Polynesian triangle long before William conquered Britannia." Orios details the global struggles to establish and preserve this area as the perfect topos for a Utopia. But how to fulfill Samuel Butler's dreams? (His Erewhon, of course, being Nowhere in reverse, not unlike Dylan Thomas's Llareggub which was so shocking read backwards that the BBC prudishly changed it to Llaregyb [ref 4]). "Naturally, only with the help of traditions, for the Maoris had survived for longer than one thousand years in that inhospitable environment. They were, like the Basques, the longest continuous surviving group to survive intelligently without any interruption until the arrival of the Pakehas."
Where on earth [sic] do I fit into this arcane survivalist quavel? Well, not until page 375! Without spoiling the plot:
"The Pilot began to think that, in its very core, sex was a hoax. In fact, he got up and retrieved Kelly-Bootle's Dictionary [ref 5], and opened it to reread the entry algorasm, a common Johnny-come-lately in Homo eroticus describing Sarah's computer literacy by paraphrasing her own sexual literacy."
Orios then quotes my entry in full. All two delightful pages, if I may say so:
(The token "^" indicates a cross reference)
algorasm n. [Origin: blend of algorism + orgasm. A sudden, short-lived moment of pleasure enjoyed by the programmer (and, for all we know, by the system) when the final ^KLUDGE^ rings the bell.
+ A DP psychiatrist writes: "However brief the thrill, and however many disillusions lie ahead, one's first algorasm is long remembered and savored. Many programmers, alas, in spite of years spent sweating over a hot terminal, have never attained this summit. Perhaps they try too hard. Learning to relax while the system recompiles successive ^VERSION^s is a good habit to acquire. And then one day, after a series of ^FLEEP^s, when least expected, the magic 'No detected errors' message will fill your screen. In their classic, The Algorasm Dissected: A Prolonged Study of Person-Machine Intercourse in the Climactic Environment, Masters and Thumps have described a variety of algorasmic step functions, the many different tumescent plateaus possible before the final, massive tintinnabulation, or the 'real McCoy' as we psychiatrists prefer to call it. After the Holy Grail has come home to roost in the ballpark, expect a period of deflation, or perhaps even self-doubt and guilt.
"Some of my patients, disregarding the mural caveats, light up a cigarette and ask themselves, 'O God, do I really deserve so much happiness?' This is such a crazy attitude I could scream. Relish that moment, I say, feel good and comfortable, even though the algorasm may signal a project completed and the need to seek employment elsewhere! Fresh fields and postures new lie ahead. The frequency and intensity of your algorasms will certainly improve with a change of system, and who knows, maybe a coarser language and a less inhibiting development environment await you. A log of your previous climaxes with date, place, language, OS, etc., can spice the weakest resume, but keep the narrative crisp and objective. Your prospective employer cannot be expected to wade through a forum of boastful confessionals: 'As I stroked the keyboard, I felt my patellae stiffening; yes, yes implored the screen, just one line more, escape...' and similar hyperbole are unlikely to impress a bank seeking some RPG fixes in the School Savings package. Simple entries such as '03/15/78:2:00A.M.; made it with Win32; all the way; wow; three days to recover' are infinitely more effective.
"Patients often ask me what the normal algorasmic frequency is -- a typically misguided attempt to quantify the unquanti- fiable. If you are content to write and run furtive FACTORIAL N routines in FORTRAN, a meaningless masturbatory exercise, there is, of course, no limit to your daily emission rate. Similarly, there are voyeurs and kibitzers who achieve dauntingly high climactical averages by invading someone else's interactive space. So there is, and I stress this regularly at $150 per stress, no conceivable pattern of algorasmic activity or inactivity that can be in any way characterized as abnormal. As DP involvement sinks downward into socioeconomic groups unaware of the cost-effectiveness of psychiatry, our profession and fee scales will maintain their traditional integrity. The humblest of personal computer owners will be treated no dif- ferently from our major mainframe victims."
For completeness, I add the following, adjacent definitions, not cited by Orios. algorism n. A pre-LISP ^ALGORITHM^ devised by abu-Ja'far Mohammed ibn-Mu[-long-vowel]sa al-Khuwa[-long-vowel]rizmi (Persian mathematician fl. C.E. 825) who wrote the first BASIC substring modifier in a vain attempt to shorten his name.
+ There is much unexplored and spurious evidence that he cooperated with his poet-mathematician friend Omar Khayyâm in many other areas of anachronistic computer science. Alas, the demon drink then (as now) clearly interrupted the study of stacks and boolean algebra.
And 'UP-and DOWN' by Logic I define,
Of all that one should care to fathom, I
Was never deep in anything but --Wine.
(Tetrasich #58, Rubâiyât; tr. E. Fitzgerald.)
Omar's entire output reflects that poignant, calvinistic despair common to all programmers. Then (as now) progress was stultified by the lack of effective text-editing facilities:
Moves on: Nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
(Tetrasich #76. Op.cit.)
Cold Fusion and Hot Sex
Further linking me with the seamier side of Computing Science came a fan-email from Jed Rothwell, Librarian, http://www.google.com/
> Dear Mr. Kelly-Bootle,
My readers, if such remain, are invited to respond. Hint: the next MS Windows is codenamed LONGHORN, offering some scope for naughty innuendi?
Increase Your Word and World Power
When reading becomes difficult, I turn to my Audio Books. In particular, I'm an overboard fan of The Teaching Company (www.teach12.com) who produce "The Great Courses -- Teaching that engages the mind." My current devotion is to Professor Mark Steinberg's "A History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev" in 3 volumes, each containing 12 30-minute lectures.
There are two words to savour that sum up the whole Tsarist "experience."
Groznyi meaning "awesome and mighty," but coming out as "Terrible" in the case of Ivan. And, a strange contrast, tishaishii meaning "gentle, pious, and saintly." Peter the Great attracted, and deserved, both predicates, reflecting the ancient Roman ideal of a mighty secular ruler together with the Byzantine model of a pious, Christian monarch. It sure fooled the serfs for many centuries.
ref 1: The homophones seem unrelated etymologically. The mainly Brit. "bevvy" for alcoholic refreshment (usually beer, rarely spirits) is derived from "beverage," but can hardly be called a diminultive. "We was bevvied," indicates a surfeit. "Bevy" is an old collective noun (Middle English circa 1400 AD, of doubtful origin) indicating a consortium of birds or animals. Webster offers the example "A bevy of boisterous sailors," which brings us back to "bevvy, the booze."
ref 2: You need not accept the "Marvellous" pun: quaint with the Chaucerian quenyte. See "Wicked Words," Hugh Rawson, Crown Publishers, Inc., NY, 1989.
ref 3: Janus Publishing Company, Edinburgh House, 19 Nassau Street, London, W1N 7RE (1998)
ref 4: "Under Milk Wood," Dylan Thomas, The Folio Society, 5th printing 2003. See editor Douglas Cleverdon's Introduction, page 9, where he boldly restores Dylan's naughty original!
ref 5: "Devil's DP Dictionary," Stan Kelly-Bootle (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1985).
ref 6: MOZ DONG appeared on an invoice for Mozart's Don Giovanni way back when the music club's tab card allowed 8 columns for Title.
A Mere 15 Years Ago
UNIX Review May 1989: Devil's Advocate: Marquis S. K de B. (written: 03/22/1989)
My Chip Runneth Over
My recent columns on lipograms, punctuation, and overloaded acronyms have brought a flood of four letters, a somewhat calmer tsunami than usual. Come on! What gives with you guys? Too busy writing code or what? Meat for worms, I say. You don't fool me or your analyst, pecking away at two lines a day (including dumb comments), trying to look algorithmic.
Look, I read your letters with pleasure and pass them on to a doting, international gallery. But who will ever steal a glance at your source listings without an overpowering attack of revulsion and superiority? Your compiler feels the same way too, and will lose no time in announcing its disdain. Even the least discerning garbage collector will skip your block and pick around elsewhere.
Although Miss Manners has taught us never to criticize anyone's automobilistic or sexual competence, she never got round to similar solecisms in the software trade. As a result, I know of no single published program that has not been immediately lambasted on the grounds of illegibility, incorrectness, incompleteness, inappropriateness, or obesity.
Which reminds me that some years ago I discussed with Jim Joyce the concept of the "most erroneous program". I wondered if one could maximize the ratio E/S, where E is the total length in bytes of all the error messages resulting from compiling, linking, and (as if) running a program of length S > 0. You may well have produced a candidate without realizing it. Let me know. I will protect your identity if you so wish, or you can always finger a colleague.
Jim's sneaky suggestion was to discover where the error messages were stored and write the shortest possible program to display them all. Of course, this is not a real solution, since we are seeking genuine rather than simulated error meesages. To give you a target to beat, consider the program called UNTITLED.C that is spartan and yet richly bug-riddled. It consists of the single character x, so that S=1 (nulls and spurious whitespace need not be counted). Microsoft Quick C version 2.0 greets your submission with the following pedantic whinges:
untitled.c(2) : error C2054: expected '(' to follow 'x' untitled.c(2) : error C2010: syntax error: EOF
giving a healthy E/S of 101 (decimal). Yes, you can cheat by giving the program a longer name! And if the compiler allows different levels of error reporting, you are free to use the "tell-all-super-nitty-picky" mode: "We can find nothing wrong with your syntax at this time, but your indentational methodology leaves much to be desired."
So, let's get those E/S's and covering letters rolling in. Perhaps we can compare max(E/S) for different language/compiler combinations and award a Pettifogging Prize?
By the way, the S=2 program given by x; compiles with no error message, so why shouldn't QC assume that the singleton x is a statement with a missing ; rather than consider x to be the function x(...) with some bits missing. The former is clearly the more parsimonious hypothesis, since x( could be part of a function call, declaration or definition. Briefly (sic), the absence of a storage class modifier and return data type specifier does help (eventually)
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: email@example.com
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Portions © copyright Stan Kelly-Bootle 2004.