October 2004

Tinfoil: the new black

Inspired by a scarily rational conspiracy theory discussion over at Making Light:

Why should tinfoil become the new black?
Is your government telling you jack?
"We don't have to explain.
Only foes would complain.
We're the empire -- no need to look back."

When will tinfoil become the new black?
When your country's been under attack,
And you cannot forget
You're a terrorist threat
If you're caught with the dread Al-Manac.

US honor is catching some flack
From your leader's reality-lack
'Cause there's evidence there,
But he just doesn't care;
Could be tinfoil is now the new black.

There's a mystery box on his back
And continuous speech is a lack.
Could it be that his soul's
Under fundie control?
That's when tinfoil must be the new black.

Motivational Poster

I thought I should make my own motivational poster.


Mal Webb

Upstairs at the Planet Cafe
We were rapt by Mal Webb's cabaret.
In the songs I adored
He was out of his gourd
(In a non-pharmaceutical way).

If you get a chance to see Mal Webb perform, take it. He's a brilliant entertainer.

Fibonacci + Limericks?

I found some interesting (in my geeky sort of way) reading in a short essay, Self-similar syncopations: Fibonacci, L-systems, limericks and ragtime by Kevin Jones.

He draws some interesting parallels, but I feel that some of his observed relationships between the Fibonacci series, L-systems and limericks have more coincidence than anything else, particularly given the variation in the number of leading and trailing unstressed syllables in popular limericks. Kevin has chosen one particular form of limerick (iamb-anapest-anapest) as the archetypical limerick form and then sung its praises and noted the way it can be modeled with an L-system. His matching of the syllable counts to the Fibonacci series (which appear in so many other places in nature) seems to make sense of the world unless we look closer at his own selection process.

If he'd chosen one of the other very common limerick line forms (anapest-anapest-anapest, or amphibrach-amphibrach-amphibrach) his numbers wouldn't have worked out, and yet limericks written in those forms are just as catchy, just as "strangely appealing and intuitively 'natural'".

Let's take another example of an Edward Lear limerick.

There was a Young Lady whose bonnet,
Came untied when the birds sat upon it;
But she said, 'I don't care!
All the birds of the air
Make my Limerick seem like a Sonnet.

di dum di di dum di di dum di
di di dum di di dum di di dum di
di di dum di di dum
di di dum di di dum
di di dum di di dum di di dum di

This has 13 stressed syllables, 28 unstressed syllables (a total of 41), 9/10 syllables in the longer lines, and 6 in the shorter lines. By my count that's only 1 Fibonacci series number. Does that make the limerick sound unpalatable? Not at all! The deviation from perfect self-similarity in the lack of one unstressed syllable at the start of the first line doesn't hurt it at all. The change from 8 and 5 syllables per line to 10 and 6, has done nothing to make this limerick less appealing. It still has the regularity of meter, even when it lacks the magic of "special numbers".

Let's look at the claims Jones makes about ragtime music. The variety of syncopated rhythms in ragtime is such that I'd have to regard his Fibonacci match here as complete coincidence. The very catchy Pineapple Rag has groups of notes in patterns of 2,9,2,2 and 6. How much of a contortion is required here to fit an L-system? One of the best known Joplin rags, The Entertainer, is littered with patterns of 4s and 2s -- very un-Fib. There are patterns in the groupings but self-similarity across levels is a coincidence if it exists.

The essence of catchiness in music and rhythmic poetry is a balance of pattern and variation. There must be enough repetition of patterns to make your mind predict what will follow, and enough variation to entertain or surprise. By employing building blocks of pattern and variation at different scales or levels within a work (beat, phrase, theme, section) we produce something that is entertaining to the mind. Any self-similarity arises from applying our process of repetition+variation at different levels.

There are a lot of instances of "copying with errors" in nature, where a working pattern is repeated but with small variations. From the regularity of crystals (strongly patterned with very few defects or variations) to the variety of a forest (many trees of the same form but every one clearly unique), there is an abundance of examples of pattern+variation in nature. Is it an "inevitable reflection of nature" that causes us to find pattern+variation appealing in our entertainment, or is it mere coincidence? Unless we find alien intelligence from a universe where nature is predominately pattern-less, or dominated by patterns with almost no variation, we can never test that assertion. I think it's a long stretch to declare that our human preference for a balance of predictability and surprise arises from nature's collection of patterns. Nature's sheer variety of forms from the very regular to the unpredictable ensures that one can always find coincidental matches.


Virge wrote:

Virge wrote:
Virge wrote:
Virge wrote:
Virge wrote:
There once was a message I wrote

So embedded in quote after quote

That it seemed to be stored

At the top of a hoard

Made of smalltalk and message board bloat.

3 Paradoxes

These thoughts are not new. This is an exercise in concision.

  • Most likely to gain power; least trusted to wield it.
  • Most sure of knowledge; least able to learn.
  • Most desirable; least accessible.


There once was a <person> from <place>
Who <insert more detail in this space>;
When <a theme for adults
Goes in here
> it results
In a <rude, yet still logical case>.

Limerick Anagram

When the limerick's too easy to do:
Anagrammy's Awards  they're for you.
The shrewd sods often say,
"Try, howe'er you may,
A limerick anagram too."


I decided it would be fun to create a limerick anagram. The OEDILF already has limericks that include anagrams as they attempt to define the word "anagram". I decided to go a step further and create a limerick where lines 3, 4 and 5 were an anagram of lines 1 and 2.

Step 1. I didn't want to work with scrabble tiles or pencil and paper. I needed software to automatically display a list of unmatched letters between the two halves of the limerick. I threw together a little program to do just that. It was only later that I found out that there is a free download of Anagram Artist available at Anagrammy.com. Never mind. My program worked.

Step 2. A concept was needed — a theme for the limerick. I decided to write one on, "When limerick writing gets too easy it's time to write a limerick anagram."

Step 3. Write a couple of lines, then just keep fiddling until you have an anangram, and limerick rhyme, and acceptable limerick meter (and hopefully still making sense). A few hours later...

When the limerick's too easy to do:
Anagrammy's Awards — they're for you.
The shrewd sods often say,
"Try, howe'er you may,
A limerick anagram too."

Step 4. Vow not to try another. (Well, not for a while, anyway.)