Author: David Byron

Odds and Ends

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Welcome back! The site is now available over http, as you can see. Supporting https will take a few days– a timeline defined not by me, but by our reverse-proxy/CDN service, which also handles TLS for us.

During the interim, don't worry about SSL errors; just skirt them by approaching us through http. Likewise, there may be small anomalies such as mixed content or the occasional missing piece of flair. Thanks for your patience. Once all the small pieces fall into place, we'll be good to go. Or to stay. Or whatever it is we do here.

On Seeing John Waterhouse's My Sweet Rose

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John Waterhouse, My Sweet Rose, 1908

John Waterhouse, My Sweet Rose, 1908. Photo courtesy of

Contemplate in all detail
A scintillating allegory
Integrating to avail
Alated visions of the story
Of a maid's respiratory,
Hortatory adoration
Of a floral territory:
Horticultural elation.

Ruminate this painted tale,
Instilling senses desultory
Till the slated sights regale
Your appetite for gustatory
Stimulation, for the glory
Of this vernal fascination
Inundates one category:
Horticultural elation.

Penetrating import's veil,
Distill the scents explanatory,
Requiring that the maid inhale,
Allowing that her laudatory
Attitude be prefatory,
Topiary recreation
Finishing her repertory:
Horticultural elation.

Devotion to this inventory,
Flights of the imagination,
Are baited by obligatory
Horticultural elation.

~David Byron, ca. 1990, for Cathie

A Jingle from the Lockheed Skunk Works

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There's no confusion!
We aim to implement fusion!
It's a tougher catch than lightning in a bottle.

But we can do it!
We made the Blackbird and flew it,
And we circumnavigated at full throttle.

Yes, some are skeptical
That our receptacle,
For holy fire might be a mayonnaise jar.

So we'll assure 'em,
Our R&D is kosher for Purim,
And this'll be our best result by far!

Hedge funds: don't short us!
Federal watchdogs: don't report us!
It'll take a while, so journalists: rake some muck!

Still, we're not kidding.
We're doing DARPA's bidding,
And soon we'll ship reactors on a truck!

(WaPo on Lockheed)

Marian is on the move

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If you have followed our previous coverage of Marian Call, you know that she's our favorite wandering geek-minstrel and catalyst of casual fun. Well, Marian's on the move in her Portland to Portland (and back!) tour, which has already taken her from the Pacific Northwest to New England. At this very moment, she's on her way down the coast toward DC. She'll meander across Penn and Ohio on the way to Minestrone, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah, and finally end up (of course) in Portland again (on the way back to Alaska).

Braving the same trip is flightless wingman Scott Barkan.

Marian and Scott will be playing in a variety of small venues and at house concerts, and she'll be vending worthy goods. If you enjoy folksy singer/songerwriters with a novel, quirky edge, you should go see her. That's what I plan to do. It's Elementary!

Dog's Best Friend

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In these parts, we're all understandably outraged about the War on Dogs, an apparent precursor to the rising police state. After all, we've befriended some of the cutest dogs on the planet.


It's only fair, then, that I give the copper his due. Today, I went to the public library. Following local custom, I had pulled through one parking spot and into the one opposite to set up an easy departure. In that space, I was flanked by an SUV on one side and a white minivan on the other.

After czeching out some language-related materials, I made my way to the parking lot. There, a police cruiser was parked laterally in front of my vehicle and the adjacent minivan. The latter's owner had left the building when I did. Ignoring me, the policeman intercepted that guy.

"License, registration, and proof of insurance, please."


"There's a dog in your vehicle. It might be 110 or 120 degrees in there. Your windows are up. His life is at risk. That's illegal."


They unsealed the door, and out popped the panting head of a large, goofy, loveable canine, none the worse for sweltering.

Nobody had parked behind my drive in the interim, so I backed up, drove around, and went on my way, wondering how this had come to pass, and feeling glad for dog's sake that it had.

Well done, Office X of the Y police force. Well done.

New Theme: Comments

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We're customizing a new theme. Feel free to add your constructive feedback, positive or negative, to the comments below!

In case you're interested, the theme I'm tweaking is Hueman by Alexander Agnarson, and he has released it (in exchange for acts of kindness) under the commendable WTF Public License.


In the coming days, we'll be revisiting our venerable logo to make it larger and jauntier in the new theme. We'll also be making minor refinements and major changes as we discover things not to our liking. Feel free to add your thoughts by commenting!


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So, if you're a grammar Nazi, then feats of form and usage that strike you as "wrong" (or inferior, or jarring) fairly leap off the page or screen at you in just the same way that my use of "so" at the start of this sentence irks all who are by now fed up with hearing that word abused that way.

The French have an expression for obvious things and especially for things obviously wrong: ça saute aux yeux! That leaps out at the eyes! Like an eye-attacking deathfrog of death. Or blindness. Or blinding obviousness.

Many folks notice deviations from canonical grammar and usage; the Nazi is the one who sees most or all, all the time, until she's fed up. She feels welling up within her an urgent, primal cry in behalf of the norms she has embraced, the quirky irrationales of the tongues to which she's wedded. The Nazi is the one for whom, involuntarily, cela saute aux yeux. Finally, with eggshell sensitivity to the descriptivists and positivists, she pipes up: "perhaps you should reconsider using 'begs the question' in that way." Then she ducks.

Have you been watching the newish BBC series Sherlock? I enjoyed the Holmes stories as a child but wasn't passionate about them. I enjoyed them again as an adult with the same result, but with an admixture of pity and contempt for the racism, sexism, inconsistency, and lack of complexity. I enjoyed them (despite these and other flaws) because they project a world and an ill-fitting inhabitant of that world, and they spark the imagination to consider how that combination might play out– a worthwhile exercise (especially for the logically inclined).

I grew up in a time when Basil Rathbone was the archetypal realization of Sherlock. And his bumbling Watson, who had so little to do with the character described in Doyle, was the archetypal moronic foil. I watched the fading films, but I wasn't married to that realization. Years later, I tried to watch Jeremy Brett's Sherlock– many consider it definitive– but couldn't stomach his interpretation. I didn't reject it because Rathbone; I rejected it because reading. That Sherlockian series aimed within a reasonable margin to be faithful to the canon, so Brett's Holmes is one reader's way of expressing what he found there. What he found, however legitimately derived, isn't what I had found.

The Sherlock of Robert Downey, Jr? Uhm… nice Wing Chun. And I haven't seen Elementary. And I skipped House. (See? Hardly a passionate Irregular.)

The BBC's Sherlock, now entering its fourth season, doesn't aim to stay faithful to the canonical stories; it aims to stay aware of them, and to show this, while re-envisioning the series in a contemporary setting. In this respect, its fidelity is like that of the more recent Battlestar Galactica vis-à-vis the less recent one. And it's brilliant. Often contrived, but then so were the Doyle tales. Sometimes hilarious, always well acted, often clever. Fragmented for the postmodernists, ironic for the Xers, savvy for the millennials. It's a lot of fun.

The show is, among other things, a fabric of in-jokes and allusions, some of them reaching forward within the reimagined world and some reaching out and back toward its Victorian antecedent. That the "Sign of Four" becomes the "Sign of Three" is reaching back; how it does so is reaching forward. That extra layer of literary texture provides a lot of the pleasure.

A recurring motif in Sherlock is that facts and inferences from them jump out nearly involuntarily at Sherlock. Cela saute aux yeux! And the show makes this clear in a medieval way, by literally overlaying text on the screen near the things he's observing. (Sometimes, the overlaid text is used for other purposes, such as making clear to the viewer what has just been texted to someone's device regardless of whether Sherlock knows that. This dual use of superimposed content would be interesting to study more systematically if you're looking for a dissertation topic….)

One respect in which this new Sherlock is enjoyable is that he's clearly superhuman; no mnemonist, no prodigy, no abductive reasoner would or could infer and calculate at the pace and in the ways that he does. He's a freak, and he's presented as a freak. ("Do your research! A high-functioning sociopath!"). And this offers another pleasure: in those moments when we, viewers entangled in the quotidian, draw a little inference from a telling detail in real life, we not only feel like Sherspock but participate in his condescension. We rise above our mundane capacity and attain a height from which to criticize (on eggshells). Having tested the tapir, we fling the femur. We enjoy, however briefly, the subtle pleasures of superiority, enforcement, and reproof. (Oxfordian in commas; Stratfordian in dramas.)

For example, we may read the clickbait article How to Fix Open Offices at Fast Company because we have an innocent interest in rolling back the horror. But as soon as we reach the second paragraphette, ça saute aux yeux: "Ferrigan's team ­creates 'enclaves' for collaborative working…" (emphasis added).

We try to proceed, but the solecism will not allow it– not until we've at least privately acknowledged the nature of the blunder, gauged its importance, and decided whether to intervene. Involuntarily, we recognize inferences about the writer that may be drawn with high probability: Didn't study Latin. Doesn't know roots. Mixes Latinate and Germanic irrespective of stylistic effect. Is insensitive to redundancy. Missed the 19th century. Was proofed, if at all, by someone with similar deficits. Doesn't care.

One after another, the phrases float up like on-screen annotations in Sherlock, and they hesitate near the eyes before dissipating. Id and Superego enraged, we begin to start to commence formulating a plan for intervention. Then the ego reels us in, and (wistfully waving farewell to the condescendible moment) we decide that the game that would then be afoot ne vaut pas la chandelle. It wouldn't be received well. Why waste illumination where it's not wanted? Pearls before Quine, but squirrels prefer pine.

Fine. Annihilate all stylistic norms. Wallow in your positivism. At this point, what difference does it make? I will diminish and go into the west.

That's one example, but if you're a grammar or usage Nazi, you don't need me to tell you that the occasions proliferate, especially among members of generation whippersnapper.

Correction offers a brief high, but a potent one. It's too engaging, too consuming, to allow oneself to be carried away with every noted blunder. Too indulgent. Here's my advice: offer a solution only seven percent of the time. And that's final.

Terminology and connotations

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The documents were taken from at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.

Once Mr. Snowden breached security at the Hawaii facility, in mid-April of 2013, he planted robotic programs called "spiders" to "scrape" specifically targeted documents.

This excerpt from Edward Jay Epstein's WSJ article sounds awfully sinister and, well, advanced. Not just compartments, but supersecret, Houdini-defying compartments! Except that "supersecret" just means "above secret"– top secret — and "compartments" aren't physical devices but logical, taxonomic infosec categories.

But robotic programs, of all things… in fact, robotic spiders! Oh, wait. He's talking about mundane bulk copy utilities and scrapers. Nevermind.

However one feels about Snowden's ideological self-presentation and whatever case can be made that he was/is under the control of foreign intelligence entities and using whistleblowing as a cover, I don't think this sort of rhetorical obfuscation is appropriate. The strength of a case should depend on its substance and validity, not on frosting applied through orc mischief or ignorance.

Who the what?

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A. Suppose there's a standard recipe for people who want to make coffee: harvest and prepare (or simply buy) some coffee beans, grind them up, boil them for a few minutes, and serve.

B. Suppose a company — let's call it Feurig — declares a patterned approach toward following this recipe:

  • Provide penetrable cups of a certain size containing prepared, ground beans.
  • Provide a ring sized to hold the cup, a mounted pin to puncture the bottom of the cup, a mounted injection nozzle to penetrate the top of the cup, and a hinged apparatus to automate these penetrations when a cup is inserted into the ring and covered by depressing a handle.
  • Provide an encompassing container capable of heating water, detecting its temperature, and injecting that water into the cup at a rate suitable for cooking the bean dust.

C. Suppose Feurig then implements this patterned approach toward following the recipe by making cups and a device to accommodate and process them.

D. Suppose further that a competing company with an interest in making coffee notes Feurig's success in the marketplace and creates a different machine — made from different materials, employing a different heating, monitoring, and injection facility, and penetrating the cup differently.

E. Suppose even further that yet another company makes a cup different from Feurig's but consistent with the scale of the holding ring  on Feurig's machine and capable of being refilled with arbitrary contents (such as tea or sympathy).

What is the API?

The API is not the standard recipe (A) for making coffee: that's an obvious practice deeply embedded in the common culture and widely exercised in industry and among hobbyists.

The API is not the device that Feurig made as an implementation (C) of the patterned approach that Feurig had declared, and it is not the competing machine (D), and it is not the alternative cup (E).

The API is B: a patterned recipe-following approach capable of being realized in a concrete implementation.

F. Suppose now that a complex culture of innovation and competition has arisen around the API defined in B, and that a company — let's call it Deploracle — comes along and buys Feurig.

Deploracle argues that its newly acquired intellectual property extends not just to the physical brewing device its wholly owned subsidiary invented, but also to the abstract pattern to which that device and its successors (and many knock-off devices) conform to ensure interoperability, substitutability, and some other seven- or eight-syllable word.

That's sort of like claiming IP rights not only over the particular car you manufacture, but also over the general idea of exposing a latch to open a door, providing access to a seat, and presenting a wheel, some pedals, and a feedback display to enable intentional control of a driving machine– a contingent set of conventions that declare a patterned approach to the general recipe for driving a car. (Adherence to those declared conventions of capability and method ensure that many automobile manufacturers can make a car, that many people can learn to drive a car, and that people who learn to drive a car can thereby drive any car that conforms to the expectations implicit in that training.)

So Diabetes-Benz lays claim not only to its actual line of cars, but also to the very idea of doing a car in that way, simply because they declared that convention when implementing their car.

Does that seem right to you?