12 November 2008

In Praise of Little Ideas

While it is true that there are plenty of science fiction authors who are writerly, whose language shows signs of care beyond the bare need to tell the story, it is nonetheless the case that most of such literature is read for the ideas. A good number of these ideas are conventional, a well-worn path the experienced reader of science fiction uses to get up to speed on whatever it is the author is about to do that's new.

Though I might appreciate The Big Idea in many of these books as a way to generate a story or to work out the idea, an awful lot of the time I don't consider The Big Idea terribly plausible. From time to time, however, I do run across a Little Idea — a one-off or a minor point — that strikes me as either absolutely true or a Really Good Idea.

For example, in one book, the title of which I cannot even remember, is a scene in a giant space ship several kilometers in length. Charlie Stross has convinced me that travel between solar systems is monumentally impractical, as much magic as dragons and rings of power. In any case, in this book the computing subsystems all over the ship were a pain in the ass to deal with because they were all kept on isolated networks. It turns out most of the ship's computers were riddled with viruses and couldn't be connected safely. This, sadly, strikes me as all too likely, should it ever happen that we have a legitimate reason to build such ships.

In Vernor Vinge's most recent book, Rainbows End, he makes occasional mention of the "Friends of Privacy," an organization that produces lots of false information about people all over the internet, with the goal of concealing people who want a little privacy in a world of ubiquitous online presence and data recording. This seems to me at least a possible development, and, frankly, given the growth of the participatory panopticon, a desirable one.

I have recently been reading Neal Stephenson's latest tome, Anathem. Because it's Neal Stephenson book it has quite a few Big Ideas. You can read the overview at the link, but the main point I'm interested in here is the world of this book, scholars are sequestered away in things quite like convents — here called "concents" — while the outside world goes on without them. Once a year doors are opened which allow those inside and those outside to mingle for about a week. Within the concents populations are sequestered from each other, too, so that the "centenarians," for example, only encounter the outside world once every hundred years. Within the concents people select different specialties — physics, philosophy, math, etc. One brilliant Little Idea mentioned a few times in passing and with a minor role late in the book is the order known as the Lorites,

Lorite: A member of an Order founded by Saunt [< Savant — Wm] Lora, who believed that all of the ideas that the human mind was capable of coming up with had already been come up with. Lorites are, therefore, historians of thought who assist other avout in their work my making them aware of others who have thought similar things in the past, and thereby preventing them from re-inventing the wheel.

People who've spent a lot of time with me have heard me complain that the field of computer science seems so consistently and utterly ignorant of its own intellectual past. This is a field that desperately needs Lorites. Granted, about half of the time our CS Lorites would be saying one of three things — (1) Lisp did this in 1960-mumble; (2) Alan Kay's group did this in 1970-mumble; or (3) MULTICS — but there'd still be plenty of work for them. Lots of fields of study could probably use a Lorite or two in the department. It would certainly save wasted paper on pointless dissertations and books.

09 October 2008

Greek prose has meter, too: Clausulae

Since I may be auditing a Greek class next semester on Plutarch, I decided to do a little background digging early. My primary reading in Greek is still usually verse, though I have slowly been working my way out into prose authors. When searching on Plutarch's prose style I ran across a few references to clausulae, a habit of prose rhythm — meter, really — at the end of sentences or major clauses. I already knew some Latin authors did this. Cicero, for example, was evidently fond of a double cretic, -u--u- (I'll always notate the final common syllable as long). It would not naturally have occurred to me that Greek prose authors before the Hellenistic period used clausulae, but it turns out it was fairly common after Thrasymachus, whom Greek tradition says invented these metrical touches in prose.

The first systematic study of these I can find reference to is by A.W. de Groot, who has an entire book of tables, Handbook of Greek Prose Rhythm (our library has a German edition, but I will have to delve into the oft-pillaged Cutter stacks to find it). By comparing frequencies of metrical patterns within a sentence to their frequency at the end you can see which patterns were preferred for the end of a line. It also turns out certain patterns were scrupulously avoided. For example, a hemiepies (-uu-uu-, a fundamental unit of Epic meter) occurs naturally in Plutarch's Lives 2.5% of the time, but only 0.8% finally. Other obviously Epic metrical patterns are avoided some authors, though Plutarch makes no special efforts to control the oft-avoided adonic end, -uu--.

Certain clausulae are common, regardless of author or genre: -u-- is very popular, and in the Moralia Plutarch uses it a whopping 29.1% of the time:

ὥστε καθίσας περὶ τὸν νεὼν τὰ μὲν αὐτὸς ἠρξάμην ζητεῖν, τὰ δ’ ἐκείνους ἐρωτᾶν [-u--], ὑπὸ τοῦ τόπου καὶ τῶν λόγων αὐτῶν ἀνεμνήσθην ἃ πάλαι ποτὲ καθ’ ὃν καιρὸν ἐπεδήμει Νέρων ἠκούσαμεν Ἀμμωνίου καί τινων ἄλλων διεξιόντων [-u--], ἐνταῦθα τῆς αὐτῆς ἀπορίας ὁμοίως ἐμπεσούσης [-u--].

The E at Delphi, 385B

-u-- is also used by Xenophon, Lysias, Isocrates, Demosthenes (this is the only clausula he obviously favors), Plato, Aristotle and sometimes Lucian (sometimes he avoids it).

Other common clausulae:

  • -u--- : Isocrates, Isaeus, Plato (in some works; avoided in the Laws), Plutarch

  • -u--u- : (Cicero's double cretic again) Aeschines, Aristotle, Lysias, Lucian; avoided by Isocrates

  • ----u- : Lysias, Isaeus, Aeschines, Plato, Aristotle, Lucian; avoided by Plutarch

  • -uu-u- : Lysias, Isocrates, Xenophon, Aeschines, Plato, Lucian

Thucydides is fairly restrained, obviously preferring only -uu--- and avoiding -u-u- (a shape favored, on the other hand, by Xenophon).

Here's a selection of Xenophon's Cyropaedia (1.2.1 - 1.2.2) with some clausula noted:

Πατρὸς μὲν δὴ ὁ Κῦρος λέγεται γενέσθαι Καμβύσου Περσῶν βασιλέως [uuu-]· ὁ δὲ Καμβύσης οὗτος τοῦ Περσειδῶν γένους ἦν [-u--]· οἱ δὲ Περσεῖδαι ἀπὸ Περσέως κλήιζονται· μητρὸς δὲ ὁμολογεῖται Μανδάνης γενέσθαι [-u--]· ἡ δὲ Μανδάνη αὕτη Ἀστυάγους ἦν θυγάτηρ τοῦ Μήδων γενομένου βασιλέως [uuu-]. φῦναι δὲ ὁ Κῦρος λέγεται καὶ ἄιδεται ἔτι καὶ νῦν ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων εἶδος μὲν κάλλιστος, ψυχὴν δὲ φιλανθρωπότατος καὶ φιλομαθέστατος καὶ φιλοτιμότατος, ὥστε πάντα μὲν πόνον ἀνατλῆναι, πάντα δὲ κίνδυνον ὑπομεῖναι τοῦ ἐπαινεῖσθαι ἕνεκα. φύσιν μὲν δὴ τῆς μορφῆς καὶ τῆς ψυχῆς τοιαύτην ἔχων διαμνημονεύεται [-u-u-]· ἐπαιδεύθη γε μὴν ἐν Περσῶν νόμοις· οὗτοι δὲ δοκοῦσιν οἱ νόμοι ἄρχεσθαι τοῦ κοινοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἐπιμελούμενοι οὐκ ἔνθενπερ ἐν ταῖς πλείσταις πόλεσιν ἄρχονται. αἱ μὲν γὰρ πλεῖσται πόλεις ἀφεῖσαι παιδεύειν ὅπως τις ἐθέλει τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ παῖδας, καὶ αὐτοὺς τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους ὅπως ἐθέλουσι διάγειν, ἔπειτα προστάττουσιν αὐτοῖς μὴ κλέπτειν μηδὲ ἁρπάζειν, μὴ βίαι εἰς οἰκίαν παριέναι [uuu-], μὴ παίειν ὃν μὴ δίκαιον [-u--], μὴ μοιχεύειν, μὴ ἀπειθεῖν ἄρχοντι, καὶ τἆλλα τὰ τοιαῦτα ὡσαύτως· ἢν δέ τις τούτων τι παραβαίνηι, ζημίαν αὐτοῖς ἐπέθεσαν [uuu-].

Until now I've been telling people on Textkit asking about Greek pronunciation that vowel quantities probably didn't matter to appreciate prose. I guess I'll have to stop saying that.

I've grabbed the data for this post from W.H. Shewring's Prose-rhythm and the Comparative Method, CQ v.25 no.1 pp. 12-22. He has a lot more on the Greek authors, as well as all the Latin authors I've skipped here. And F.H. Sandbach's Rhythm and Authenticity in Plutarch's Moralia, CQ v.33 no.3/4 pp.194-203. I still have to track down de Groot.

07 September 2008

Patsy Cline Greeked

About a month ago my iPod handed me a classic Patsy Cline tune, Leaving on your Mind. For some reason I decided the song needed to be translated into ancient Greek. I decided on quatrains of glyconics (xx-uu-u-) with the occasional anaclastic glyconic, a.k.a. the choriambic dimeter, xx-x-uu-. Here's the original:

If you've got leavin' on your mind
Tell me now, get it over
Hurt me now, get it over
If you've got leavin' on your mind

If there's a new love in your heart
Well, tell me now, get it over
Hurt me now, get it over
If there's a new love in your heart

Don't leave me here
In a world filled with dreams that might have been
Hurt me now, get it over
I may learn to love again

If there's a new love in your heart
Well, tell me now, get it over
Hurt me now, get it over
If there's a new love in your heart

Hurt me now, get it over
If there's a new love in your heart

I removed some of the repeats. I indulged in an outrageous aeolic future infinitive — ἀπολειψέμεν — using a verb Lucian disapproved of for men to describe "leaving." However, I don't think ἐκπέμπω quite captures the right feel for "leaving" in this song.

εἰ μέλλεις ἀπολειψέμεν,
ἐμοὶ μὲν λέγε νῦν τελῶν,
πήμηνον δέ με νῦν τελῶν
εἰ μέλλεις ἀπολειψέμεν.

εἰ δ’ ἐν θυμῷ καινὸς ἔρως,
ἐμοὶ μὲν λέγε νῦν τελῶν,
πήμηνον δέ με νῦν τελῶν
εἰ δ’ ἐν θυμῷ καινὸς ἔρως.

στᾶσαν ἐνθάδε μὴ λίπῃς
παθοῦσάν τέ με καὶ μάτην.
πήμηνον δέ με νῦν τελῶν,
ἀλλ’ αὖθίς πού μοι φιλία.

In my first pass I bungled the meter of the third line from the end. I'm still not certain about my repairs there.

04 August 2008

Gentium in Emacs via Unicode

I spent a little time over the weekend tweaking my Carbon Emacs configuration. When I first started using it I had to spend several interesting hours to get it to use a Mac-ish font large enough that I didn't go blind. I settled on a 15 point Vera Sans Mono. Unfortunately, the Greek that it picks for this isn't so nice. So with a little more digging, I managed to get Emacs to use Gentium for the Greek, but it had to be tweaked a bit for size:

;;; Greek extended
(cons (decode-char 'ucs #x1f00)
(decode-char 'ucs #x1fef))

;; "Greek and Coptic" U+0374 - U+03FB
(cons (decode-char 'ucs #x0374)
(decode-char 'ucs #x03fb))

Yes, it really does take an 18 point Gentium to match a 15 point Vera Sans Mono.

My next step was to tweak the fontset to include Cuneiform (via the nice Neo-Assyrian Assurbanipal font), but MULE, Emacs' internationalization library, chokes on Unicode code points in in the 0x12000's where Cuneiform lives. I suppose my commentary on the Enûma Eliš focused on interpretive dance will have to wait.

14 July 2008

Aoidoi: Mesomedes' Hymn to Nemesis

This week, the somewhat strange Hymn to Nemesis.

The poem starts off with a fairly striking equestrian image:

Νέμεσι πτερόεσσα βίου ῥοπά,
κυανῶπι θεά, θύγατερ Δίκας
ἃ κοῦφα φρυάγματα θνατῶν
ἐπέχεις ἀδάμαντι χαλινῷ...

Winged Nemsis, scale of life,
dark-eyed goddess, daughter of Justice,
you who check the vain whinnying of mortals
with an adamant bit...

The word I've translated "scale" above — ῤοπή, rhope — covers an interesting semantic range. The basic image, if the LSJ is to be believed, is of a scale sinking. But it covers everything from balance and weight, or "outcome," out to more remote notions like "decisive influence, crisis" or even just "moment."

06 July 2008

Aoidoi: two poems of Solon

Yet more elegiacs, this time two fragments of Solon in a single document, Solon 9 & 11

04 July 2008

Aoidoi: "The Toils of the Sun"

Yet more Mimnermus, this time 12 (West), The toils of the sun.

22 June 2008

16 May 2008

Roots and Tendrils

I've been hammering away at a Common Lisp library for SVG. Last week I decided to take a break from studying the arcana of clipping windows and alpha masks to see if I could translate some of the gallery examples from NodeBox into SVG nicely. My library isn't ready for Graphic Cellular Domestication — that'll take Javascript — but some of the random walk ones turned out ok:

I quite like my modification of the tendrils algorithm, if I do say so myself:

Of course, SVG isn't recognized as an uploadable image format many places, so the pictures are PNG.

12 April 2008

Computing Truisms, or, My 39th Birthday

We build our computer (systems) the way we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins. — Ellen Ullman

I hope I can be a computing industry pundit when I grow up. They get to mouth off about whatever they think the next big thing is, make gross generalizations about what the "average programmer" is like and even grosser generalizations about the "average user." I have no idea what the perfect X in computing, but there are exactly two gross generalizations I'm prepared to make with confidence:

First, Most programming is devoted to converting data from one ridiculous format into another ridiculous format. Actual programmers I've told this to tend to agree with me. I've recently started to churn out lisp libraries and of the four I'm working on now only one isn't obviously a data transformation problem.

Second, Most systems administration is a form archaeology. At an IT shop of any size it will really take months — up to half a year — for a new hire to really understand what's going on and where everything is, and that only in broad outline. Worse, even long-time staff may not know everything the computers are up to. In the last month I've run across things I once knew about and then basically forgot when they stopped being relevant. For example, we once used Netscape's (RIP) calendar manager program. Two weeks ago I discovered that we migrated that entire application infrastructure at least twice since shutting it down. Whenever a particular web service moved to a new machine, the calendar manager came along, a sort of junk DNA. I got rid of it this week.

Nine years ago Bryan, while he was a student working for me, wrote a perl script to do a small piece of file system sanity-enforcement. It has run once a night every night during those nine years. I feel I should publicly apologize to Bryan for not afflicting him — or the other students — with code reviews. More idiomatic but still readable perl could have saved him about 30% of the typing that went into the script. It works, so it'll probably run another nine years, and since it's so well-behaved I'll probably forget about again in short order.

A few months ago user C had a problem he suspected was related to his quota. It wasn't but he wanted a way to see what his quota was. Because of the oddball file system we use the normal tools for that don't work. I just work with C directly when he has disk issues, but thought up a scheme to let people check their quotas more easily, dashed off a quick note in the req (other people might call that a "trouble ticket") about it, and left it there for when I had time to code up a solution. Last week, while looking for something else, I discovered that I already solved the problem in 2004. Not only solved, but because my programs log compulsively, I know that users have been using it, including the newest faculty hires. Who told them the program existed?! The design that went into the req wasn't an invention but a memory.

Today I turn 39 (next prime birthday: 41, next power of two, 64). In a computing age it's too easy to compare a brain to a computer, but recently I've started to wonder if my own brain isn't rather too much like another computational archaeology site. Things burble up out of my unconscious onto the whiteboard in my brain with every sign of novelty and shoot out my mouth. An hour later I wonder if it's new, or if the scent of yinhao jasmine tea, the act of scratching my nose, or trying to remember if I turned off the stove has reactivated some random tangle of a hilbert-space memory trace in my neurons and shot a context-free memory upstairs to be misidentified as a new thought. As aging worries go, this one's pretty minor. My martial arts abused joints should probably get more of my attention.

26 February 2008

Somewhere a cardiologist got their wings

Last week a group of us had dinner and tasty if a bit snooty beers at Brasserie V.  One appetizer was almond-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon.  These were so good that it was decided the recipe should be reproduced at this week's Geeks' Night In.  So, along with the evening's bottling and brewing of beer, dates were stuffed, wrapped in bacon, skewered, lightly sprinkled with brown sugar and broiled.

Our version was also delicious.  My brilliant innovation came when I spied the loaf of French bread looking lonely on the table.  I ripped a hunk off, and dipped it into the date-flavored bacon fat left in the broiling pan.  Everyone else was appalled — including, I hasten to add, Chuck. Until they tried it.

17 February 2008

I should be studying...

Instead I did this:

I blame Nicholas' recent posts.

I had brief anxieties when the wind and the cold really started.  Branches were falling off neighbors' trees and my working area was right under some suspicious branches.  I was ready to bolt at the first hint of a crack above me.

14 February 2008

It's the little things: Lisp + Unicode

This little snippet of code makes me giddy out of proportion to what it accomplishes:

 ;; A non-final sigma cannot occur at the end of the string.
(when (char= (elt uni (1- (length uni))) #\σ)
(setf (elt uni (1- (length uni))) #\ς))

That this is so easy is a lucky accident of Common Lisp's history. The "common" in Common Lisp is because it was supposed to unite several popular (hey, it was the 80s), but incompatible, Lisp variants. There were lots more kinds of computers in wide use in the 80s, and many different encoding schemes for text. Thus, Common Lisp strings were always arrays of characters which were not necessarily bytes, or even ASCII. EBCDIC, anyone?

Well, the betacode to unicode conversion library works. Next up, indexing Perseus' exotic XML texts.

04 February 2008

Weekend Puzzlements

1) If the system name of the DTD is a 404-ed URL is your XML document valid?

2) What's the point of a DTD, anyway, if you're just going to obliterate it when you think up something cleverer?

3) Anyone who thinks the modern world is "too coldly rational" isn't paying attention.

30 January 2008

Answering him she spoke...

I recently read the BMCR review of A. Kelly's A Referential Commentary and Lexicon to Homer, Iliad VIII. It seemed very interesting so I was delighted to find it in our library. The review will give more details, but basically he presents the text of Iliad VIII on one page and on the facing page gives the title and number indexed to the referential lexicon for every phrase of interest. The entries in that lexicon may be specific phrases, like κέκλυτέ μοι or more general thematic matters — a chariot journey, say.

For each of these entries he has checked the rest of the Iliad for similar words, phrases and scenes, seeking out narrative similarities. The results are really fascinating. For example, the phrase κέκλυτέ μοι is in every case used by someone under a delusion: "[s]peeches so introduced are allotted to figures of particular authority, and contain proposals which are not usually carried out (a narrative disjunction being the result when they are not) and reveal the speaker's delusion" (p. 76). Or οὐδ’ ἀπιθήσεν "denotes acceptance of a command or suggestion (usually from a previous speech), connoting that its substance is then played out in the course of the narrative in the manner forseen by the character giving the command. The command is usually successful." (p. 54). Or again, ἰθὺς μεμαῶτος ("straight eager") "accompanies the onset of a character about to be defeated."

So not only is Homer helping to keep the audience straight with the usual pragmatic tools available to Greek — like those flourishing particles — but the formulaic language itself has a sort of, well, narrative semantics I guess you might call it.

Appendix A is devoted to three speech introduction formulae. He hunts down every scene in the Iliad where two or more of these are used. According to him τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα indicates emotional perturbation, τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπεν is used when the speaker "will or wants to align himself in a co-operative relationship with the first speaker," and the (similar to the first) τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη "represents a relatively greater determination on the part of the speaker to impose his or her will upon the narrative."

Considering the size of Iliad VIII, the commentary is substantial — 515 pages total for the book. I've barely begun to stare closely at all the comparative passages Kelly mentions, and I suspect some of his comments hang of very thin threads indeed. But I've have been paying closer attention to the speech introductions in the Odyssey books we're reading in class. So far Appendix A seems rock solid.

Arc, or, Láadan for Programmers

Paul Graham, six years after announcing it, has released arc, his new dialect of lisp.

One of the odder corners of my library — for most people at least — will be the section that has all the books on constructed languages. Of course there's Esperanto, but Klingon is represented along with several works on Tolkien's languages. I also have the second edition of A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan by Suzette Haden Elgin (neatly abbreviated SHE). SHE is a linguist by training, but is also a science fiction writer. She created Láadan not only for a series of books, but as an experiment to see if a language designed specifically to represent the views of women could change society, sort of an informal test of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Láadan is thus presented as representing women's views better somehow. I've never really been convinced that it does so — I know more gay men who have learned the language than women — but there is no doubt it does represent the viewpoint of one extremely intelligent woman.

Arc is just Láadanified lisp. It represents the particular views of one particular lisp programmer. He may be aiming at a hundred year language, but all I can see is perfectly conventional lisp with a few common functions spelled differently and a few parentheses eccentrically deleted.

This was my first warning sign:

It's not for everyone. In fact, Arc embodies just about every form of political incorrectness possible in a programming language.

Whatever one's feelings about speech codes, I think it's safe to say that any time someone warns you, or brags, that they're about to be politically incorrect you're almost certainly in for some first class assholism or lunacy. I've not previously seen it used in a programming language context, but it seems to hold here, too.

At long last, Graham's vaporous Microsofting of lisp is over. I need to prepare some Homer (I'm taking a class again this semester), but I think I'll spend some time this evening refining my Common Lisp betacode to unicode conversion library, and maybe play with Hunchentoot some more.

20 January 2008

A new convert to the LOOP facility

Some Common Lisp programmers hate the LOOP facility, some don't.  I used to fall into the first camp, for various reasons, the most important of which is that LOOP is effectively a specialized looping language grafted onto lisp.  Normally I'm a big fan of a single syntactic mode for all corners of a language (like the lisp family, or Smalltalk, quite unlike C or, god help us, perl).

I've been working on some basic forecasting and time series code recently, and I have to say, when you're looping over different time series and smoothing windows, LOOP results in neater code than almost any language I can think of. Here's a simple moving average forecast (in the interest of space, all examples have my anal-retentive sanity checking assertions removed):

(defmethod single-moving-average ((data sequence) (order integer))
(let ((n (length data)))
(/ (reduce #'+ data :start (- n order))

For such simple sums, the functional style reduce does the job. Once you get to a weighted moving average the math starts to get tricker. As I was thinking about the many, many traversals of sequences I'd be doing, I decided to check out LOOP more seriously by reading a chapter from Seibel's book I had previously skipped, 22. LOOP for Black Belts. I started to develop warm feelings for LOOP immediately. For starters, it does a great job of encapsulating the various sorts of set-up and tear-down you have to do when rolling your own loop so the mechanical bits for doing loops don't infest the rest of your code.

One really lovely touch makes it easy to avoid the off-by-one error — and fussing about — that comes when you use zero-indexed arrays. The FOR clause may indicate exclusive or inclusive bounds, with TO n including n, and BELOW n going up to but not including it. So here's a simple weighted moving average function:

(defmethod weighted-moving-average ((data sequence) (order integer))
(let ((n (length data)))
(/ (loop for i from 0 below n
sum (* (elt data i) (+ i 1)))
(/ (* n (+ n 1)) 2.0))))

Now I didn't really have to use LOOP for this, but the code I think is somewhat cleaner. The SUM clause accumulates by summing successive values of the expression after it, and in this simple LOOP clause that final sum will be the value of the expression.

My biggest example of LOOP-fu this weekend is a weighted moving average smoothing function. It takes a sequence of data and a sequence of weights and spits out a vector of the smoothed data. In this implementation I simply take the original values at the edges of the data where the smoothing sequence is longer than available values. What I need to do at each step is apply the weight vector to a window of data to compute the moving average for that step. This brings out the other really lovely feature of LOOP: parallel loop values. Here's the scary result, somewhat un-lisp-like to my eyes, but clearer I suspect than I'd be able to produce with functional style tools and DO:

(defmethod weighted-average ((data sequence) (weights sequence))
(let ((d-n (length data))
(w-n (length weights)))
(loop with smoothed = (make-array (list d-n))
with start = (- w-n 1)
with end = (- d-n w-n)
with denom = (reduce #'+ weights)
for i from 0 below d-n
if (or (< i start) (> i end))
do (setf (aref smoothed i) (elt data i))
do (setf (aref smoothed i)
(/ (loop for j from 0 below w-n
for dj from (- i start) to i
summing (* (elt weights j) (elt data dj)))
finally (return smoothed))))

A LOOP within a LOOP! The underlined section shows the parallel loop indices, j going over the weights sequence and dj going over the current window on the data. In the outer LOOP I went a bit crazy and used a lot of its abilities — initializing temporary variables, LOOP conditionals, a FINALLY clause — with the results that look like an Algol-Lisp chimera.

If I were a code purist weighted-average would probably make me crazy. Good thing I'm not.

07 January 2008

Aoidoi: more cranky poetry

The Delectus Indelectatus — a collection of brief, cranky poems — has been converted to unicode and has grown by five more poems.

06 January 2008

APA Sunday, Jan 6th — Winding Down

In addition to the receptions the evenings are filled with meetings of various specialized organizations. I spent some time last night at a reading session for the Society for the Oral Reading of Greek and Latin Literature. Most of the time was spent on Latin, and in a desperate attempt to get to Greek I tried to get people interested in one of Palladas' grumpy elegiacs. Alas, though comfortable with public speaking, public reciting makes me nervous. And I badly overemphasized a semantic range of one of Palladas' words in my disordered mental state. On the plus side, several of the attendees were very fluent reciters of Ovid. This is motivating.

Linguistics II

One of the organizers of this session was Benjamin Fortson, IV, and I had to restrain myself from full-on fanboy mode and gush about his Indo-European book at him. The first talk from Tim Barnes on a common epithet formula for Nestor, amassed evidence suggesting the word γερήνιος isn't a toponym at all but a non-Ionic (and non-Aeolic) by-form related to γέρων (old man). The rest of the track was on Italic languages, hardly my speciality. I got to hear le sauvage noble talk about Paelignian, after he was humorously introduced as one of the "last native speakers of Oscan" (or something like that). I do expect van den Berg's talk about the semantic range of malignitas to be useful to me in the future — far in the future, given the rate at which I'm reacquainting myself with Latin these days.


Several of these talks were very literary in nature, and I'll pass over them.

R. Blankenborg's talk, however, Tuning in: Tracing the Rhythmical Phrase in Homer, made me rather cranky. Most unwelcome to me are (1) the reintroduction of the terminology of thesis and arsis and (2) the analysis of the Homeric hexameter in terms of feet. From his hand-out, "Meter is about the balance within the individual foot." He made the not (to me) controversial assertion that any given thesis (argh!) is measured against the arsis, not against other theses. That is, the hexameter isn't stuck on a fixed tempo. He then went on to say that the arsis necessarily has less duration than the thesis:

μῆνιν ἄειδε > (synaphaea) μῆ.νι.να.
duration of μῆ must be longer than νι.να.

This struck me as typologically unlikely, and I asked him to clarify if he was saying this duration difference was phonetic or a recitation artifact. He said it was the later. Unfortunately this still seems to fly in the face of several Homeric practices. First, sometimes Homer will play some surprising stunts in the princeps (= thesis) position, with the result that a short, open vowel is scanned heavy. This same sort of behavior is not deployed in the biceps (= arsis). Paraphrasing West, a contracted biceps must come by it's length more honestly. I personally would expect the licenses and restrictions to be reversed under Blankenborg's metrical regime.

Finally, if I understand him correctly (our speakers had no mics, very annoying) he seems to be saying that an intonation unit (a phrase) crossing the metrical line will not be modified by crossing the line, that is, phrase structure wins out over metrical segmentation. This would make the hexameter unique among Greek stichic meters. We know in the iambics of Attic drama certain kinds of trickiness are avoided when you get close to metrical line end, which is often taken to signify a slower speaking speed, in which stunts are harder to get away with, near the metrical line end. Indeed, a weak metrical line end would take the Hexameter out of Indo-European poetics altogether, where it is precisely the line end which is most highly regulated.

On the other hand, what he said about rhythmical prominence seems potentially more productive. In particular, the idea that there are pre-pausal metrical habits (sort of like the clausulae of prose, I suppose). He believes pre-pausal word ends should be shaped like an anapest (uu- or --) and end on a princeps (thesis) position. This seems reasonable, and I'll be watching for that when next I read Homer.


The last session I went to was on comics and the classics. Frank Miller got two papers, one of course on 300, but evidently Thermopylae also figures in one of the Sin City story-lines. I was happy to see Neil Gaiman (Sandman #30, August) get a paper. I never know what to say about classics reception.


I have yet more poems I want to work on for Aoidoi.org.

I cannot justify the cost of attending the APA every year, but I wouldn't be surprised if I make it a few more times.

05 January 2008

APA Anecdote: The Name Tag

The best response to learning my background came today: "you came here for fun?"

APA Saturday, Jan 5th — Fewer Handouts

I just got back from a papyrological session, Culture and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Several of these were fiercely technical, but one paper on the distribution of postponed γάρ was short, sweet and full of numbers, which always makes me happy (Stephen Bay, Postponement of Conjunctive γάρ in the Papyri). He noted the contexts in which this postponement occurred. It turns out it frequently keeps company with prepositions, which immediately brought to my mind that in Modern Greek some ancient prepositions have merged with the article so tightly that they're written as one word. *εἰς τὸν γὰρ... or the like might sometimes have seemed like natural enclitic behavior.

The morning session, "The Future is Now? Digital Library Projects and Scholarship and Teaching in Classics," was somewhat exasperating to me. Last spring I attended a giant workship about "cyberinfrastructure" in the University setting, and there was a rather serious disconnect between the haves up on stage and the have-nots in the audience. It was hard to get the big computing centers to really take the problems of smaller departments seriously. This same issue showed up today. The people on stage might be getting tenure by virtue of their digital publications, but in my life graduate students are often unprepared to admit in public they use Perseus.

Second, the orthodoxy of Moore's Law was the sole faith represented. In the traditional publishing model you write a book, it goes to reviewers and an editor, finally gets typeset and is sold for a modest fee (ha!) and at the end you have the most reliable mass storage and retrieval device for text so far ever created. In the brave, new digital and open world you have to do all of that and commit to maintaining the work indefinitely. We know almost nothing about really long-term digital storage, and we need only look to Perseus for the sad state of even short-term reliability. My books never crash for an entire weekend. Doing this correctly will cost beaucoup bucks, and neither I nor other people in the audience were able to get firm comments on funding except for catechismic recitation about ever-cheaper disk storage.

It was also suggested that some of these issues should be foisted off on university libraries. This is doubtless correct in the long term, since librarians have some experience in storing and, rather more importantly, finding again intellectual production. But university libraries are for the most part just as squeezed for resources as everyone else, at least those in the Humanities.

Once again I heard it said that, at least for infrastructure, the Humanities should parasitize the hard sciences, who get much more funding for giant digital projects. This just makes me sad.

In terms of facts, one thing that struck me is that evidently a lot of digitial Humanities resources are very poor at identifying to the world what they are and how you would use them.

I played my "gloomy sysadmin" role and asked everyone if they knew what would happen to their data when the died. We need data wills, including a list of executors so it doesn't get deleted by accident.


By now I have several poems I want to work up for Aoidoi, thanks to papers.

I look forward to flitting between this evening's many receptions, where I can think happy thoughts.

04 January 2008

APA Friday, Jan 4th — Oh, the hand-outs

Truly vast numbers of trees must meet their end due to this conference. Every single talk I attended today — all 15 minutes — had a hand-out, most about three pages, some as many as five. Several are in A4 format, which I must say satisfies the same deep, smooth part of my brain that likes symmetry. The National Research School in Classical Studies in the Netherlands appears to have an entire department devoted to conference handouts for their scholars — these have better typesetting than some classics books I own. The current owners of Teubner should chat with these people before publishing one more book.

8:30 - 11:00am

There wasn't any particular session that grabbed me for this time slot, so I wandered between sessions picking up particular talks. I started in the Greek Rhetoric session and caught Gunter Martin's talk The Interplay of Comedy and Rhetoric in Foruth-Century Athens. While I haven't yet dipped into comedy of any period, his critique of the idea that Middle Comedy was apolitical seem to me basically sound: Menander is hardly the only measure, and we need to be careful with fragmentary evidence. His mass of hand-out examples seem convincing, but this is hardly my usual area of interest. One trusts a paper will appear in some journal sooner rather than later.

T.A. van Berkel's Spoken like a Hunter: Dio of Prusa's Euboean Oration reminds me how little I still know about classics. Apparently lots of critics have things to say about this work and this author, both of which I have not previously heard of. I cannot meaningfully comment on her talk except to say that I'm tickled by the idea that Plato's Republic was early considered excessively digressive, and that this might have provided the model for an oration some consider incoherent.

I switched over to the Classical Tradition track so I could catch Anne Mahoney's talk, Pascoli's Cena in Caudiano Nervae. I see Mahoney's name frequently attached to interesting reviews and articles on Greek meter, so I figured I had to see anything she might present. I'm not currently in any position to talk about Latin, but this talk was about a late 18th early 19th century Italian author who wrote in both Italian and Latin. Of course the focus was on his Latin work. For me personally the zombie-like second life of Latin is in some ways more interesting that the Romans, so I shall have to come back to Pascoli when my Latin is in better order.

I ditched out at this point to hunt down more substantial sustenance than coffee. I learned last night that not just Unix conference attendees appreciate fine brews deep into the night, and was still catching up from a somewhat tardy awakening.

11:15an - 1:15pm: Linguistics

This session was more my speed. The room was crowded, which inspired surprised comment from the presider. Philology might be making something of a come-back.

Stéphanie Bakker's talk, On the so-called Attributive and Predicative Position in Ancient Greek has been the most important of the presentations I have seen, at least in terms of changing how I read Greek myself. The traditional terminology and explanation starts to fall over most obviously when heavier modifiers get involved (participle phrases, genitives), but hardly only then, and her fabulously typeset hand-out has good Herodotean examples. Her argument is that modifiers of a noun not preceded by the article are merely descriptive, while those with the article "modify the reference," that is, they select or clarify which referent is actually meant:

ὁ δὲ βασιλήιος πῆχυς τοῦ μετρίου ἐστὶ πήχεος μέζων τρισὶ δακτύλοισι. (Hdt. 1.178.3)
The royal measure is greater by three fingers breadth than the common measure.

καὶ αἱρέουσι ἔρημον τὸ ἄστυ καί τινας ὀλίγους εὑρίσκουσι τῶν Ἀθηναίων ἐν τῷ ἱρῷ ἐόντας ... (Hdt. 8.51.2)
When then took the town it was deserted and in the sacred precinct they found a few Athenians...

I need to hunt down her earlier work on constituent order in noun phrases.

Coulter H. George's The Historical Present in Classical Greek and the Development of Greek Aspect was pretty nifty. He starts from some of the insights of the pragmatists but tries to make that work falsifiable by noting the company verb forms (present, imperfect, aorist) keep with phrases of time (dative, genitive or accusative). He has nice charts of the behavior of verbs broken down by Aksionsart, resulting in a reasonably strong showing that punctual verbs may use the historical present but durative ones rarely do. His idea is that the historical present in Attic represents a higher degree of punctuality than the aorist. In the questions it became clear that this greater punctuality may be a pragmatic (i.e., narrative) consideration.

The other talks in this session were also interesting but take us into areas I cannot really talk about (Indo-Aryan and Latin historical linguistics). There's another linguistics session Sunday morning.

1:30pm - 4:00pm: Archaic and Classical Poetry

There were several interesting talks in this session but I find myself at a bit of a loss to talk about them. I've not really read Tyrtaeus much, so I cannot respond to Maria Noussia's talk defending him somewhat from critics (he didn't need to argue his points — his audience already embraced what he was reminding them of). Mark Alonge ("Standing" Greek Choruses) amassed citations about the collocation of χορός and ἵστημι to suggest emendations to Electra and Iphiginia in Tauris that seemed pretty solid. So often in this field we have to work with sparse data a and little sure knowledge. The rest of the papers seemed to skate pretty close to the edges of what we know.

(See the abstracts for some more details.)


I signed up for the APA meeting online. I was required to fill in an affiliation field. Since I'm not actually a student at the UW, I just put in Aoidoi.org as my affiliation. This has provoked interesting responses. One person described the name as intriguing, but one person in the elevator said, somewhat aggressively, "What is that? Who are you?"

I found one Textkit member turned graduate student.

A surprising number of people are aghast at the current publish-or-perish system. "Why do you have to have a book within two years? You don't know anything yet!" In previous generations you might easily go a decade before your first book, often longer. Many people seem to regard current publishing as a huge expense for insight that might more profitably be condensed into a good paper. My own feeling is that as Greek especially fades from most universities as a unique field classicists need to take control of scholarly publishing away from people like Brill. Peer-reviewed, online and open is the only way scholarly work will be seen by anyone but the very richest institutions. Academic publishers will eventually reach a stage where classicists no longer support them. Latin will always have a place, but I'm somewhat cynical about the future of classical Greek. I expect In a few generations a local hellenist to be about as common as a local sumeriologist. Not everyone here is quite so gloomy as I am on this.

03 January 2008

APA: Opening Salvo

Well, here I am, using an extortionate internet connection.

Except for registration and committee meetings I have no business at, the conference hasn't technically started yet, but already I've managed to buy a book, Word Order in Greek Tragic Dialogue, Helma Dik. There are modest discounts from some vendors, which simply adds to the temptations. I should avoid that room for the remainder of the conference.

I have run into two people I remember from the UT-Austin Classics department from, ah, a while ago. Et le sauvage noble!

02 January 2008

APA Pre-game

Tomorrow I head to Chicago for the 2008 Annual Meeting of the APA. The last non-work conference I spent my own money on was the 1999 Congress of the Esperanto League of North America in St. Louis. I'd guess there'll be fewer aged socialists at the APA, but, given the increasingly mercantile nature of US universities, it may not be a less quixotic enterprise.

For the last two months there has been a painful Saga of Wm's Tooth, and I had some anxiety that I'd be in pain for the entire APA, but an emergency root canal on December 28th has solved all problems. I just need not to swallow the temporary crown.

I have a laptop, and the hotel has wireless, so I will be conference blogging. Of course I'll be focusing on sessions on Greek verse of any period — there's an entire session on Homer — Linguistics, and computer-classics hybrid geekery. There's nothing especially Greeky in one time slot, so I'll probably attend the Catullus session. I'll probably also hit the evening workshop for the Society for the Oral Reading of Greek and Latin Literature if I'm not camped out at Russian Tea Time sucking down kasha and currant tea.

  • laptop: acquired and charged, useful software installed (solving my travel anxiety problem)

  • bookbag: cleaned out and reloaded with moleskine cahiers and printouts of confirmation numbers

  • Hero fountain pens: freshly loaded up with the terrifying inks I favor, packed

  • luggage: nearly packed

  • portable school edition of Alcestis with notes and vocab: tucked in coat pocket

I was disappointed to learn there is no discount at the book stalls until the last day, at which point it becomes a feeding frenzy, with dignified giants in the field sprinting like new-born fawns and gnawing off would-be competitors' arms in the ruckus.

I just hope Madison doesn't wash away when all that snow melts Sunday and Monday. I'll try not to worry about it.