Friday, December 31, 2010


Dear Jack,

I was just poking around the wikipaedian's notes on your Chronicles heptalogue, and see that in the phrase "traditional British and Irish fairy tales," he has links to "British people" and "Irish mythology."

I always thought Ireland sounded a bit too-good-to-be-true!

wishing you'd swim the tiber already ...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A little bit of misdirection

... wherein we reduce the classical Sorites Question to a problem of Hilbert...

The question was "how many grains of sand are needed for a heap?"
I answer that four are enough, though ten thousands may not suffice.

Put another way, the question of "how many" is the wrong question. Heapness isn't about quantity but about geometry. You have a heap of sand on a table when some of the sand isn't touching the table, but only more sand. To stably hold one grain of sand off the table, a tripod of lower grains will do nicely. But if they're spaced, say each 1cm from the others, you can easily fit 10000 on a modest square table, and there will be naught of heap to the ensemble.

We suspect that other Sorites-type questions (how many voters make a democracy? How many roads must a man walk down?) have similar resolutions.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Home-visiting adventures

Dear Interface Designers,

... So, I'm home for the holidays, and thus I've discovered the new laundry washing machine my parents bought to replace the one that flooded our basement. It does a lovely job of washing the clothes, and has all sorts of blinking lights, which are nifty (although I worry about all that implicit software... there are no hard-set dials or aught.) What bugs me, though, is that the machine seems to be permanently cheerful. It strikes me as the product of a segment of a generation who grew up with talking books and ignored books about talking machines.

And so, when you set the machine to a particular program and initiate its run sequence ("tell it what you want, and ask it to start"?), it sings a chipper little musical motif, and when it's done it pipes another happy little tune to signal its satisfaction and gratitude for being given a task within its measure, the joy of a job well-done.

So indescribably phoney.

Anyways, to say the unnecessary, it would drive me up the wall if I were staying here very much longer than I otherwise intended.

I hope this has been entertaining,

a confused non-customer

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deadlines? But it's holidays!

and I just haven't got a good poem idea; the word and the question have been stewing for a couple weeks; but I've got boppquiche.

When I do come up with something versifiable, I'll put it here. I hope the remaining Advent days are fruitful for you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"The most forgettable..."

Dear P.D.Q,

Christmas is coming! Hooray! I don't know why (at least, I haven't thought about why), but that always makes me think of old childrens' movies, like the animated Peter Pan. And the best thing about the animated Peter Pan, of course, is the Crocodile. And the best thing about the Crocodile, of course, is his delightful musical theme!

Have you ever noticed that there is some music that just have to be sung, and others that seem more to suffer from the imposition of words and human voices? The former is definitely the case with, for example, any part of Mozart's setting of the Requiem propers --- I can say this with confidence because I heard a reduction of it for string quartet as I was looking through a local record shop. But I'm pretty sure the Crocodile falls into the latter category. I mean, the song is cute and all, but there's something inimitable about the bassoon's chuckling waddle. And the little rippling glimmers of string and flute... they sound like the dazzling sunlight reflecting in odd ways off the submerged croc's wake, oh so precious, and Oh! so alarming!

Hmmm... come to think of it, I can only find tenors (or mock-tennors) singing it, and very much poppishly, too. It really wants a bass voice... I'm looking for examples singing other stuff --- like a solid Sarastro maybe, but...

Anyways, thanks for the Panther Dance Quodlibet!
the frosted cyclist

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nothing to report

Dear G.K.,

Maybe you have heard of the electronic aperiodical Caepe? They specialize in satire, of course; but then I discovered a particular article (append "articles/marriage-handled-amicably,18566/" to their address), which I must suppose they meant to be funny, along lines like those of the item "Report: Mom Just Locked Her Door", which is funny in how it describes in action-news-speak a moment of household tension many of us recognize. The thing is, though, "Amicably" just isn't funny.

Perhaps I might toss a lit.crit. word into the mix? Part of the humour in "Locked" is the dramatic irony present in many of the characters' statements, e.g.
"It wasn't me," Katie, 11, told reporters. "I was just sitting here. I didn't do anything."
Anyone who has grown up with parents and siblings will recognize that the disclaimer "I was just sitting here" identifies one of the many (small) things that lead to "Mom"s escapade.

The irony in the "Amicably" item is that it has essentially substituted "marriage" for "divorce", and an ordinary family in mundane settings for celebrities amidst artifice. OK, so maybe it's a satire of the celebrity gossip rag. It's still not funny. It's just a sad story of a marriage gone tired, and I can easily imagine in our modern culture that some will find the joke to be that these are "stupid bored married people! they should just split and have fun!" Here's the thing: altogether, the pretend couple described are actually doing the very thing (if not everything) they should do, given that neither seems to be a danger to the other. So we have an example of perfectly ordinary people being faithful in spite of trials, being held up for laughs?

I think the world needs more people alive with two legs!

your adopted nephew Bat