December 2003

From a Limerick Battle

If we root through your thoughts we should find
mainly empties your brain left behind
when it threw in the towel
and crawled though your bowel
to leak out where the sun never shined.

I was misled

I should have done my research. It seems the anecdote about Wolfgang Pauli was incorrectly remembered. The physicist in question was actually Paul Dirac.

Dirac discovers purling
Another time, Dirac was watching Anya Kapitza knitting while he was talking physics with Peter Kapitza. A couple of hours after he left, Dirac rushed back, very excited. "You know, Anya," he said, "watching the way you were making this sweater I got interested in the topological aspect of the problem. I found that there is another way of doing it and that there are only two possible ways. One is the one you were using; another is like that. . . . " And he demonstrated the other way, using his long fingers. His newly discovered "other way," Anya informed him, is well known to women and is none other than "purling."

I guess that means I'll have to rewrite that limerick. In the meantime:

I tangled my Wolfgang-Paulology
in my yarn based on knitting's mythology.
Now it seems apropos
to admit that I owe
both Wolfgang and Paul an apology.

View More Limericks

Putting a new spin on Pauli

I was reading some comments on the subject of knitting and came across a little anecdote about Wolfgang Pauli shared by Alan Bostick:

So goes the story, one night while his wife was knitting he took notice and watched her for a while. Then he got close up to her and studied what she was doing. Then he left and went to his offfice.

After some time, he came back to the parlor and said, "You know, there's another way to do that." He took the needles from her hands and clumsily demonstrated purling.

Given Pauli's famed antagonism to any work that failed to meet his perfectionist standards, I thought I'd add my own unprincipled spin on the tale:

Old Pauli was heard to opine,
after too many glasses of wine,
"Franciska, my dear,
at my knitting you sneer.
Am I casting my purls before swine?"

[Edit: It wasn't Pauli. It was Dirac.]

View More Limericks

Feline Verse

I was reading through a list of cat rules (which can be found growing wild on many personal web pages) and noted that one of the rules sounded like an excellent end to a limerick. Of course I just couldn't stop at one, could I?

Just ignore them when you're busy stalking.
When they call for you, just keep on walking.
Treat them all with disdain.
You don't have to explain.
When in doubt, let your tail do the talking.

In the morning an east window's best.
After midday migrate to the west.
If you sleep the whole day
then at night you can play
by pretending you're demon possessed.

View More Limericks

The Poetry of the Pussy

Maybe I got your attention for the wrong reason with that title. ;)

"Your judgement is heading downhill.
I fear you are mentally ill.
You must lack a brain
or be quite fond of pain
if you think you can feed me that pill."

View More Limericks

Limericks about Cats

A curious cat likes to climb,
so why should that be such a crime?
Don't get all upset
when your pretentious pet
meows: "Please let me have a good time."

To avoid any misapprehension
you may like to note my convention
of yowling to test
if you really need rest
or are wanting to pay me attention.

"Your judgement is heading downhill.
I fear you are mentally ill.
You must lack a brain
or be quite fond of pain
if you think you can feed me that pill."

Everybody wants to be a cat

A curious cat likes to climb,
so why should that be such a crime?
Don't get all upset
when your pretentious pet
meows: "Please let me have a good time."

To avoid any misapprehension
you may like to note my convention
of yowling to test
if you really need rest
or are wanting to pay me attention.

View More Limericks

More of the Craft


Explanation delayed further.

A Christmas Carol

Away in their "stranger than fiction" mind set
The Answers in Genesis crew felt regret;
The list of their arguments held to be true
Was shorter by far than the list to eschew.

Computers at NASA that found a long day
Were found to be fiction, but Grigg's quick to say
That Joshua did battle while God slowed earth's spin --
No effort's too great when you're slaughtering sin.

What Einstein and Darwin believed in the end
Turned out to be lies they could not recommend
To all the dear children trained by Ham's machine
Who find disillusionment by age fifteen.

(Thanks to Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light for the link to the ever-absurd young-earth creationists.)


Does anyone know of any biographies of Sauron?

He certainly gets demonised by Tolkien - to the point where most readers can't see any good in him. History is written by the victor, and this is no different in fantasy literature. Most of you readers will be all too aware of what media spin-doctoring can do to current affairs. You'll no doubt already understand how wartime propaganda is generated and how ordinary people can be indoctrinated.

Some people look upon hobbits as quaint and cute. See how easily Tolkien has fooled you into adopting this in-bred, fanatically xenophobic race? He tells a tale about a handful of exceptions who are prepared to defy their traditional culture of intolerance and creates a misleading image of hobbits as an open and peace-loving people. The one good thing you can say about hobbit-kind is that they don't try to impose their insular Luddite ways on the rest of the world.

Should we look at the elves in any better light? - grace, charm, music, literature and an arrow shaft through your eye if you step into "their" woods without an elvish ambassador. What about dwarves? - the ultimate in ugly, gold-grubbing, expansionist cave infestations. Even the finest examples of dwarves head off in raiding parties to steal treasure from dragons who've stolen from men.

Then we come to humans. Petty, power-lusting, pontificating humans. Tolkien does give us a reasonably balanced view. We see Bill Ferny, Denethor, Boromir, Faramir, Butterbur, Éomer, Éowyn etc. We see the good and the bad, but we cling to the heroic humility of Aragorn. He epitomises the self-sacrificing, wise, fair human. He gives the appearance of shunning power, but is he really? He knows that if he takes The Ring (the Middle Earth WoMD) he could end up as a chewed up wraith like Sauron. He's politically savvy and decides to help destroy The Ring, knowing that the power of the other races will then fade and he can claim kingship of the humans. Look at how LotR finishes for Aragorn. If he'd gone back to being a ranger, living off the land, then I'd have believed the spin about his altruistic motives.

When you've seen these manipulative devices employed, you have to admit that it's hard for us to get a fair picture of Sauron. Sauron was an angelic spirit (or a maia) and was a servant of Aulë the Smith (creator of the dwarves). He fell in with bad company (Morgoth) before and during the first age, but he repented of that. He tried to re-establish himself  in a legitimate business making rings, but the sleazy elves he gave them to just wanted the power from them and not the responsibility. It's hard to believe that these elves thought they could get something for nothing, but that's the scam they tried. Fortunately Sauron had enough loyal support to put them back in their place.

At the end of the second age Sauron named himself "King of Men". This seems to have been a bad political move because it got right up the noses of the Númenóreans who, quite naturally, considered they held a divine prerogative on that title. The Númenóreans kicked his arse but Sauron, with heroic determination, worked with his conquerors and advanced through their ranks to a senior position. When the king of Númenor rebelled against the Valar, it's no surprise that the press scapegoated Sauron. He was an outsider, so they just prodded a few racist fears and pointed at him.

Well, the rest of Sauron's history is probably known to you. He pursued his dreams to unite Middle Earth, to promote the use of new technology, and to raise understanding and acceptance of the orcs. In the end he was defeated by the guerrilla actions of insular, orc-hating fanatics.

Getting Crafty

A craft project has begun.

Explanations later


I love the people I work with. They're a bunch of geeks. A small example will serve to illustrate.

On one of our products there is a stepper motor. Stepper motors usually make cute little whirring noises as they operate. However, if a stepper motor is mechanically connected to a device that can resonate, it can create an irritating whine. The motor in question seemed to have been acoustically coupled in a way that would have made Antonio Stradivari proud (that is to say, proud that his violins sounded nothing like this motor).

There is a Christmas celebration organised for the software team on Monday morning. The new software manager will bring cakes for a feeding frenzy. No, there's nothing geeky about that. After cake, the product's overly vocal stepper motor will be put to intensely geeky use as a musical instrument (and I use the word musical very loosely) in a tune-playing competition. This will be a stepper motor eisteddfod that will make all other stepper motor eisteddfods sound like constipated bumble bees. I'm certain the sounds I hear on Monday are going haunt me for the rest of my life. This is the kind of musical experience you just can't buy in a geekless work environment.

(I wonder what tune I'll play.)