Things that are better than scabies

A little over a year ago, mefite Roger Dodger made a nice post to Metafilter about some free LISP resources.

I’m actually goofily fond of the LISP family, but I have a hard time walking away from a good straight line. Another user commented, I zinged back, and that was that.

Until Monday, when Joceyln Paine over at Dr. Dobb’s Code Talk recapped the exchange:

— [jeffamaphone] Learning LISP is an interesting exercise in logic, but a waste of time if you want to write programs that are actually useful. I’ll take LISP over Prolog though.
— [cortex] Faint praise. I could say the same for scabies.

If you want to see that in context, here’s jeffamaphone’s full original comment, my response, and me going on to say nice things about LISP.

As someone form the mefisphere noted, Dr. Dobbs and Metafilter are kind of two different social/functional universes, so it’s kind of neat to see them overlap, and neater still for me when it’s my snark getting quoted.

Economics Theater

Go read this wonderful little Princess Bride satire, from econ blogger Macro Man.

Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of problem that will respond well to a tightening of domestic monetary policy that will not kill the consumer? Now, an endogenous inflation problem will respond to reduced demand and a slackening of labour markets, so I can clearly not choose the dovish policy in front of me. But only a great fool would think that US consumer demand is driving the price of oil. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the hawkish policy in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the policy in front of me.

Drama penguin?

Via AskMe:

Drama penguin of the day: I am infatuating a work colleague of mine badly and I am looking for resources to understand the nature of my infatuation to get over it.

Emphasis mine. Now what the hell is a drama penguin? I’m pretty sure it’s not this or this; nearly all the hits for “drama penguin” on google are actually related to dramas published by Penguin in some way.

And the way folks introduce questions on AskMe makes it unclear even what role “drama penguin” is supposed to play here: is the penguin the poster? Is the penguin the question? Is it perhaps a general characterization of the overall arc of a relationship-advice thread? Does “penguin” have something to do with the anonymity of the question? Is it some odd misspelling of something more plausible?

I am boggled. And very curious.

Don’t Go Stop, a Harvey Girls music video

From the frenzied mind and hands of bandmate and engine-of-creativity Hiram comes a stop-motion film about heartbreak, nude beaches, and tiny plastic dinosaurs.

He did a really good job with it. It’s not a recording I had any hand in creating, but he borrowed my tripod so technically I helped.

The song is from a new Harvey Girls album of stuff Hiram and Melissa had been working on for a while. The album is called Nutate, and some folks are doing some remixes of songs from it, too.

Bathroom etiquette: Ask Metafilter edition

People ask a lot of questions over at Ask Metafilter. And some of those questions are about the bathroom: about why people talk in there, why they flush things, how to not die of bathroom poisoning, and so on.

Really, there are a whole dang lot of these questions. I’ve rounded a few of them up, with a general focus on the intersection between restrooms and etiquette and grouped roughly by topic. Links after the dump jump.
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Allegedly misplaced modifiers

Something started itching at the back of my skull when I read this sentence today, from a local weekly’s article about a man suspected of killing and dismembering his roommate as well as his landlord:

Prosecutors still aren’t sure why Hudson allegedly killed both men.

Now, a couple of reasonable givens, here:

- Hudson did, in fact, allegedly kill both men. That he killed them is the main allegation.
- Prosecutors are not, in fact, apparently sure why he would have done so.

So that’s all fine, and when you get right down to it it’s clear from the context of the article that the quote above is just an attempt at 2 + 2 = 4. And any sane reading of the sentence, certainly in context but also even by itself, bears out only that interpretation. But here’s the parsing ambiguity that made my brain hiccup despite all that:

Are they unsure of why Hudson would do the thing they’re alleging he did…or are they unsure why he allegedly killed them instead of just plain killing them?
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New to my vocabulary: chyron

What’s a chyron? The graphical overlay occupying (approximately, at least) the lower third of TV broadcasts, particularly news. So named apparently for a major manufacturer of equipment used for said overlaying; “aston” in the UK, also after a manufacturer. Neat.

This bit of news production lingo via a quasi-apology from someone at Fox News. Vocabulary enrichment via PR damage control.

But where the heck does “chyron” come from? Was it invented by the corporation so named? Was it a surname of a founder? Some brief, impatient googling didn’t get me anywhere. The OED has an entry for “chironomy”, with the primary definition being this:

The art or science of gesticulation, or of moving the hands according to rule in oratory, pantomime, etc.

And while I can make a leap from oratorical handwaving to cable news talking heads, it’s not a leap I’m all that comfortable with.

I imagine a whole lot of newsreaders are asking themselves what the hell this word is, today.

The implied severity of sex

From a boston.com article on two male college students currently in hot water over a peeping-tom video they made of two female students in an adjascent dormitory:

“We in no way meant to embarrass them,” he said. “We didn’t understand the severity of the situation when we were taping it.”

While it’s clear (I think) that he meant for “it” to refer to an antecedent that doesn’t show up in the quote — it = the girls being intimate — out of context it prompted in my head a bizarre guess-and-check process as my brain tried to work out a couple of options:

- it = “the situation” as an odd, awkward way to describe the girls doing their thing (what that is is [reasonably enough] left vague in the article; “lay in bed together” and “their intimate encounter” is how the reporter describes it). It’d make the statement reasonable but the phrasing is too weird. Plus, it makes girls-fooling-around something about which they didn’t realize a degree of severity. The severity of lesbian tomfoolery? Doesn’t scan.

- it = “the situation” as a way to describe the students watching the girls. But that’s bizarre too, of course: aside from the literal impossibility of “taping the situation of us taping the girls”, the possible “taping the situation of us watching the girls” is also just to weird to seriously consider.

Which is a long way to go to say that the obvious reading is the correct one and the lack of a clear antecedent for “it” is just a blip of poor (and possibly extemporaneous) speech. The missing antecedent itself might have been in the sentence that preceded the bit quoted in the article, for that matter, mitigating the weirdness I’m on about even further.

But it made me blink; while I didn’t seriously consider either of those alternate readings as what the student meant, my brain did a double-take on the sentence and at least, in some fuzzy sense, put those parsings on the table.

found poetry

There’s a discussion from late last week on Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror of a strange comment left on one of his old posts, offering a nonsense defintion of “programming”:

Programming is all about knowing when to boil the orange sponge donkey across the phillipines with an orangutang gorilla crossed with a ham sandwich to the fourth power of twelve across the nile with an awful headache from the previous night when all of alfred’s naughty jalapeno peppers frog-marched the nordic elves across the loom-lined geronimo induced swamp donkey over and above the fortran fortified kilomanjaro fence past the meticulously crafted anti disgusting sponge cake scenario where all the hats doth quoteth the milk which is not unlike the super werewolf from the infinite realm of ninja-step. it’s hard to define, really.

The odd comment led Jeff by-the-by into a discussion of Markov chain theory, including the use of Garkov as an example, which is how the whole thing caught my eye. I agree, though, with Jeff’s analysis from an earlier thread that the comment above probably wasn’t the produce of a markov process. What it reads to me as is honed human-generated nonsense, pure and simple.

But reading it, it also struck me as being familiar in another way. I went to a lot of open-mic poetry readings when I was younger — it’s how I cut my teeth as a performing musician and got over my, if not stage fright, at least stage vague anxiety. And what the comment reads to me as, most of all, is bad poetry.

So I’ve applied what folks in the bad-high-school-poetry biz might call The Cummingsesque Gambit (quick gloss: linebreaks = art), and I feel fairly vindicated by the result. It’s my questionable pleasure to present:

programming is
by “hello”

programming is all
about knowing

when to boil the orange sponge donkey
across the phillipines
with an orangutang gorilla
crossed with a ham sandwich
to the fourth power
of twelve

across the nile
with an awful headache
from the previous night
when all of alfred’s naughty jalapeno peppers frog-marched

the nordic elves
across the loom-lined geronimo induced swamp donkey
over and above
the fortran fortified kilomanjaro fence
past the meticulously crafted anti disgusting sponge cake scenario

where all the hats doth quoteth the milk
which is not unlike the super werewolf
from the infinite realm
of ninja-step.

it’s hard to
define, really.

Mefi makes strange embedding-fellows

Got a nice note in the mail from a fellow mefite this morning:

Hi Josh,
You wrote this last night, “tim, the folks who are pointing out that posting a metatalk thread to tell us we can email you is weird are right. ” and I just thought it was a supercool example of a deeply embedded clause construction (esp. with verbs, modals and even a quasi-modal I think).
-K

Yep. Neat, and utterly accidental on my part; I wasn’t trying to be structurally clever at the time at all. Language is awesome.