Posts Tagged Douglas Adams

A Towel Day quotation creation

May 25th is International Towel Day, in honour of Douglas Adams. The following contains 42 –ation rhymes, 41 of which are found in Adams’ book ‘Last Chance to See…‘:

Earth’s vegetation made slow transformation as each confrontation or new situation provoked adaptation in each generation for eons duration.

Until civilisation, and its acceleration of our population at high concentration with great exhortation and disinclination to make accommodations with administration of conservation.

Then Adams’ fascination and realisation that with elimination of echolocation no cetacean reincarnation will save our reputation; his bold exploration to spread information and fuel education and his determination to stop exploitation by identification and communication of each dislocation of species, his observation and growing frustration we reduce speciation to bone excavation with every temptation to favor our nation and not immigration of distant relations… was his speculation we’d reduce penetration mere hallucination?

This time last year I had just submitted my Masters thesis in Web Development for Linguistics, for which I wrote a macOS application to find rhymes in any text, gave it a lot of text to chew on, added some parameters for features of accent which affect rhymes, and made a website to make those rhymes searchable on the internet. I’m still working on some big improvements to it so I haven’t been publicising it much yet, but it’s the stress-sensitive, accent-aware, mosaic-rhyme-finding rhyming dictionary I always wanted.

That evening I was heading to an open mic night and wanted to do something Adams-related. I happen to have a plain text version of his book ‘Last Chance to See…’ somehow, so I fed it into my app, and noted down the largest group of rhymes. There were 52 distinct –ation rhymes, not counting -ations rhymes or similar derivations. I arranged them into this summary of ‘Last Chance to See…’ while on the way to the open mic. I later added the word ‘cetacean’, which was not in the book, because cetaceans (specifically, baiji, which have since been declared functionally extinct[cetacean needed]) are one of the topics. I was honestly surprised to notice today that I’d used 42 -ation rhymes in total, and I don’t recall whether it was intentional.

The way I went about writing this is summed up nicely by this quote from the book:

I have a well-deserved reputation for being something of a gadget freak, and am rarely happier than when spending an entire day programming my computer to perform automatically a task that it would otherwise take me a good ten seconds to do by hand. Ten seconds, I tell myself, is ten seconds. Time is valuable and ten seconds’ worth of it is well worth the investment of a day’s happy activity working out a way of saving it.

I highly recommend the book (preferably the actual book, with photos) for anyone who is a fan of Douglas Adams or of life on Earth. The -ation words in the book which are not included in the above are:


If you like this blog and you also like Douglas Adams, you might also be interested in my misinterpretation of the phrase “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea” or some haiku I found in Last Chance to See.

Have a great towel day, and don’t panic!

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Misinterpreting Douglas Adams: Digital watches were a pretty neat idea.

My first watch was digital. I was probably nine or ten, and the watch was a black Casio with a dashed line around the face in alternating green and blue. My brother and I would race to find each other whenever we noticed the hour was about to change, so that we could watch the watch digits all change at once. Needless to say, the changes from 9:59:59 to 10:00:00 and 12:59:59 to 1:00:00 were especially thrilling[⁉︎].

I’d learnt how to read an analogue clock, of course, but not fluently. To me, reading an analogue clock was akin to reading Roman numerals: a quirky, difficult system from long ago. Some analogue clocks even had the hours in Roman numerals. Some had no numbers at all. Some such watches only seemed to exist to give men a socially acceptable way to wear bracelets. Telling time was clearly not a priority.

So when I read in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy that humans were “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea,” I naturally assumed it was because intelligent life forms had invented them so long ago that digital watches had about as much chance of being described as a ‘neat idea’ as the wheel. Digital watches are too simple an invention for anyone to find interesting. These days, almost everything has a digital clock built in, so the most important thing about a digital watch is a strong strap to keep it conveniently on the wrist.

A Casio digital watch displaying Sunday, 3 August, at 13:37:59 daylight savings time, set against a backdrop of The Ultimate Hitchhikers' GuideA few digital watches and a grudge against fragile watch straps and lost pins later, I moved to Switzerland, and when my watch strap broke or fell off I felt obliged to check out some of the famous Swiss watches. I was baffled by the evidence that not only did humans still think digital watches were a pretty neat idea, they also still thought analogue ones were. The only Swiss digital watches with good straps I could find had skeuomorphic round faces, or lacked such basic features as seconds, dates, or a light. I get it: the Swiss are proud of how precise they can be with tiny gears. But it’s the third millennium; get with the timepieces!

As Swiss innovations go, I prefer milk chocolate and Velcro. I found a Casio dealer and bought a solar-powered, waterproof, digital watch that synchronises daily with an atomic clock using radio waves and has a well-attached metal strap. It will stay on my wrist and display precisely the right time in plain digits, indefinitely with no intervention whatsoever, for less than the price of a piece of Swiss jewellery that doesn’t even have numbers on it. A fall onto concrete gave it some sparkly cracks in one corner, but it is still waterproof and functional many years and no battery changes or time adjustments later.

Unhappy with the hypothesis that most of the human race was more concerned with adding respectability to their diamond bracelets than with locating themselves in spacetime, I had to eventually accept that there was something people liked about analogue watches. Just as there must be something great about shoelaces that keeps Earthbound people using them even after the invention of Velcro, and even though Back to the Future fans know that by 2015 we shouldn’t still be tying them.

The thought crept up on me that maybe Douglas Adams didn’t like digital watches at all. Maybe he didn’t think they were ever a pretty neat idea. I thought about this for a few years, gradually becoming less and less sure that my initial interpretation was the correct one. Eventually, I looked it up:

So there you have it. Douglas Adams liked pie charts. I like pie charts too, but after the first glance I will look for the labels with exact percentages, and be frustrated if they aren’t there. For me, a word can be worth a thousand pictures, and a number can be worth a poorly-defined number of words.

As he says, digital watches have improved since then. I don’t need to put down my suitcase to press a button on my watch, unless it’s either dark and I need to turn the watch light on, or it’s recently been dark and the watch turned off its display to save power. In fact, my suitcase has four wheels (wheels! Now, aren’t they a neat idea?) so I never have to pick it up to begin with; I just give it a push occasionally while I stroll along, reading the time like a frood.

Reader participation alert:

Did you interpret the statement about digital watches the same way I did? If not, how did you interpret it, and how did it mesh with your own opinion on digital watches?

[⁉︎] If you think you’ve grown out of such primitive excitement, try watching the hour change on this clock made of planks of wood and rearranged manually by construction workers. The website only delivers one image at a time, now, so you’d have to refresh a lot to get a video effect there, but they sell an iOS app which will show you video, the Lite version of which has the transition from 9:59 to 10:00.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Haiku Detector Update

On Monday I posted a quick-and-dirty Haiku Detector Mac application I’d written which finds haiku (in terms of syllable counts and line breaks, not aesthetics) in any given text. Since then I’ve made it less dirty and maybe more quick. It now shows progress when it’s busy looking for haiku in a long text, and gives you a count of the sentences it looked at and the haiku it found. You can also copy all the haiku (Copy All Haiku in the Edit menu) or save them to a file (Save in the File menu.) Here’s where you can download the new version, which should still work on Mac OS X 10.6 and later. And here are a few more haiku I’ve found with it.

There’s only one (not counting a by-line) in the feature articles of the April 27 edition of New Scientist:

Inside a cosy
new gut the eggs hatch and the
cycle continues.

From Flatland: a romance of many dimensions, by Edwin Abbott Abbott:

On the reply to
this question I am ready
to stake everything.

“I come,” said he, “to
proclaim that there is a land
of Three Dimensions.”

Man, woman, child, thing—
each as a Point to the eye
of a Linelander.

This was the Climax,
the Paradise, of my strange
eventful History.

Here are a few more from Flatland which I’m editing this post to add, since I liked them more on the second reading:

Let us begin by
casting back a glance at the
region whence you came.

Therefore, pray have done
with this trifling, and let us
return to business.

Even if I were
a baby, I could not be
so absurd as that.

From Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine, which I somehow ended up with a text file of many years ago and eventually got a book of:

I’ve been here for five
days and I’m still waiting for
something to go right.

We each went off to
our respective rooms and sat
in our separate heaps.

They’re nocturnal birds
and therefore very hard to
find during the day.

It looked like a great
horn-plated tin opener
welded to its face.

We keep searching for
more females, but we doubt if
there are any more.

The very laws of
physics are telling you how
far you are from home.

Foreigners are not
allowed to drive in China,
and you can see why.

`Just the one left,’ she
said, putting it down on the
ground in front of her.

Yet it was hunted
to extinction in little
more than fifty years.

And conservation
is very much in tune with
our own survival.

And here’s my own haiku about a particularly amusing passage in that book:

Here Douglas Adams
trudges through his anagram:
Sago mud salad.

Charles Darwin’s most popular work, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits, only contained 12 mostly-lacklustre haiku, but I like to think this one is a metaphor:

Worms do not always
eject their castings on the
surface of the ground.

Something about lack of worm castings being only skin-deep.

But most of these don’t mention nature or seasons, as haiku should. So here are some from Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest Trees:

Dieu, and thence rode to
Blois and on to Tours, where he
stayed till the autumn.

How graphic, and how
refreshing, is the pithy
point thus neatly scored—

Meteorology, or Weather Explained, by J.G. M’Pherson contains some very poetic-sounding unintentional haiku:

“It’ll pe aither
ferry wat, or mohr rain”—a
poor consolation!

“Beware of rain” when
the sheep are restive, rubbing
themselves on tree stumps.

The brilliant flame, as
well as the smoky flame, is
a fog-producer.

Till ten o’clock the
sun was not seen, and there was
no blue in the sky.

But, strange to say, there
is a healing virtue in
breathing different air.

There is much pleasure
in verifying such an
interesting problem.

Unfortunately, there are no haiku in Dijkstra’s ‘Go To Statement Considered Harmful‘.

The app still uses a lot of memory if you process a novel or two, and may have trouble saving files in that case; It looks like it’s a bug in the speech synthesis library (or my use of it) or simply a caching strategy that doesn’t work well when the library is used in this rather unusual and intensive way. Anyway, if you ever try to save a file and the Save dialog doesn’t appear, try copying instead, and relaunch the program.

Next I think I’ll experiment with finding the best haiku based on the parts of speech at the ends of lines. But first, I’d better start working on the thing I’ve plan to do for the six of hearts.

If you’ve found any nice unintentional haiku, or if you can’t run Haiku Detector yourself but have ideas for freely-available texts it could be run on, let me know in the comments.

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