April 2006


I tip my hat to Dan Brown. He's got some of the longest reaching publicity machines in the world spreading the word about his book, The Da Vinci Code. And they're doing it for free. What more could Dan ask, than the very public personal disapproval of head of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams.

Opening the cover of The Da Vinci Code (via Amazon), we read, "All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."  But, since the story is set in a world we know (or think we know), with a recorded history that is patchy at best and written by people who had the power to write it, Dan had the liberty to create a backstory for his page-turner that matched a number of our "generally accepted historical facts", and interpolated the rest to fit. Readers are left to decide what is fiction and what is real. Dan mentions enough historic places that readers can visit to verify that his story setting is real. He knows how to spin a good story.

Why does the church disapprove? Not because Dan's version of history is provably wrong, but because it sounds at least as plausible as the traditional religious interpretations. It forces inquisitive people to start asking questions about the origins of the teachings they'd been taught not to question. It points to the problem of "revealed" stories: who did the revealing and why should we trust them? What's amusing is that everytime a religious authority speaks out against a new heresy, they promote the existence of the heresy. Things were so much easier in the early days when books (and heretics) disappeared when you burnt them.

Beyond Fibs

From the Annals of Arbitrarily Constrained Expression

Let's not stop with Fibs, or with prime numbers or pi digits for syllable counts. John Conway's Audioactive Sequence provides a simple syllable pattern for writing incredibly natural poetry that simply overflows with the idealistic purity of mathematical structure. It's simple. It's elegant. It's geeky. Therefore we must use it.

Here are the first six strings in the sequence:


All you have to do is replace each "1" with a monosyllabic word, each "2" with a disyllabic word, and each "3" with a trisyllabic word. Instant poem. One example should suffice to demonstrate the power of the form:

I'm a
who's never thought of
why one should bother learning how
poetry can convey feelings in words.

Telling Fibs

(or Finding Fibonacci through Apophenia)

I looked at the recent rash of Fibonacci sequence poems on Slashdot. After a very short time it became apparent how ill-suited the monotonically growing sequence is to syllable counts in a poem. Were I to write in ever-increasing circles, beginning in stark poetry and fading to unbroken expanses of prose, then the mathematics of Fibonacci would be ideal. I don't write like that. Nor does any poet who wants to communicate. There is no naturalness about this mash up of geometry and verse, no mystic meshing of platonic form with concrete lyric.

The limited form suggested by Gregory K. (1/1/2/3/5/8) has a certain elegance, but to begin with two single-syllable lines strikes me as artificial (even pretentious), and the final eight-syllable line lacks any conclusion; it leaves the thought dangling. Compare this with the cinquain (2/4/6/8/2), where the final two-syllable line completes the poem. I find the cinquain far more satisfying.

There are many increasing sequences of syllables that would do just as well as the Fibonacci sequence. It fits a pattern that we associate with stories. The initial short lines give little information, thereby asking a question and begging the listener to anticipate an explanation. The gradual lengthening of lines builds steadily to a climax (and hopefully a resolution). The fact that the first few terms of the Fibonacci sequence seem to fit this pattern is attributable to the law of small numbers. I view it in the same vein as the supposed match between Fibonacci and limericks.

Fibs do have a number of redeeming qualities: catchy name; easy structure to remember; high geek-factor; and they're an alternative to haiku. I guess that means they're destined to spread through the blogosphere.

Random Thoughts

It's fun to go through the miscellaneous notes that I've jotted down while browsing and musing. In most cases I remember what triggered the thoughts, so they don't seem really weird to me. For your entertainment, I shall present a selection from the past few months in chronological order, but completely without context. Voila! Instant illusion of weirdo.

  • She sings her Truth into the spotless cradle
  • PR wins. There is no penalty for unapologetic dishonesty.
  • Some products work by good luck rather than good management.
  • Here you go, little world--a nice comfy handbasket. Enjoy the ride.
  • "You are mine"--words that never express love
  • The humourless are on the warpath.
    Time to rally to the defence of irreverence.
  • Consciousness is the recognition of self as a continuing entity
  • See, this lad who had thought about thinking,
    then thought about what he had done--
    he had an aversion to boundless recursion
    so made the mistake of assigning a fake
    sense of self to reflections and deep introspections,
    finding hierarchies where there were none.
  • I love the complex interplay of prude and lewd,
    the greying borders of might and right and rite,
    of foreign and fear,
    the religiously sharp perimeter of empathy.
  • Punctures are red,
    Bruises are blue;
    I'd colour your world
    If it wasn't taboo.
  • TV series: Voluntary Human Extinction Movement--The Next Generation
  • I went to the classroom of science,
    And heard what I could not believe:
    An argument wholly of holes
    That only the holy perceive.
  • Neologism of the day: Ununderestimable.
  • To foster evil: assume that your neighbour's current life is less important than what will follow it.
  • DD word: Swashbucklectomy
  • Hacking night through harrowed lungs
  • Dear Teddy, your left ear must Gogh.
  • Bernice Binturong

April 1. The morning after

This morning I stayed in bed and read. Lazy Sunday morning. April Fool's day was over for another year. Our (Socar, myself, and some help from Sica) prank had run its course and entertained a few. We'd managed to get our mythical Howard Glassman interviewed on a popular weblog. We'd drawn comments (both bemused and annoyed) from Neil Gaiman's fans in a number of web communities.

But, we'd failed. Neil hadn't shown the slightest inkling of awareness.

A little after 10am, I wandered over to the computer, bearing coffee and reheated leftovers for breakfast. My Sunday morning changed in 30 seconds when I opened my browser and chat windows. Neil blogged our prank... NEIL BLOGGED OUR PRANK! Poisson d'Avril, and other interesting dishes. (No, I don't believe Neil swallowed our hoax at face value and was completely taken in. If you're a regular reader of his journal, you'd know that he remains skeptical about what he reads on the web. His entry title should give you a clue.)

Socar (the one with the inspiration and wonderful Howardly writing) has a selection of responses. Here are a couple more:

From Robin Slick: In her own write

Neil! Susan! We've been duped!
Me sulking and then totally perplexed altogether

Wow. And just a few hours ago I was sulking that Neil Gaiman had linked Susan Henderson in his blog instead of me --the self-proclaimed Empress of Cyberworld -- as concerns the lunatic I told you about who was eating all of Neil's books.

But the story has now taken a strange, bizarre twist.

Guys? We've been duped.

In fact, we have been hornswoggled.

Ha! Brilliant!

From film ick

Strange Man Eats The Compleat Works Of Neil Gaiman
I saw this link on Neil Gaiman's blog. It seems like a brilliant marketing ploy, and I don't know for sure that it isn't.

But it might just be the work of a complete and utter lunatic.

Or maybe, to be fair, an odd-witted performance artist who needed a little more fibre in his diet.

Late update (12th April):

When catching up on some delayed blog reading over at tisiwoota, I noted Shameless Adulation of Virgil and Socar.

...Unlike those wannabes who think they’re being sooo clever by posting on March 30 rather than April 1, these pros get their pranks rolling a full month in advance. And boy are they elaborate...