Posts Tagged poem

A Poetry Video for Star Wars Day


On Star Wars Day in 2012, all I had seen of Star Wars while fully awake was The Phantom Menace and The Star Wars Holiday Special. I finally had what seemed like the perfect opportunity to lose my Star Wars virginity, with a screening of the original three movies by the CERN CinéClub, and yet, I had doubts. Not many people reached my age without having seen Star Wars. Surely I should do something artistic with my unusual lack of knowledge. Which is not to say that art is the realm of unknowledgeable people, but humour can be, as long as one doesn’t mind being the target of the laughter.

I asked Twitter whether I should watch the movies, or instead write a poem about everything I knew about the movies from songs and internet memes. Twitter said to write poetry, so I did.

I have since recited the poem to an audience of nerds on JoCo Cruise 3, and to my surprise, they did not throw me overboard. One of them has even read my poem at an event at a library. I made a mistake on the cruise, though, so I never had a good video of the poem to share… until now. I have actually seen all seven Star Wars movies in the last year, so made a video with not only the poem, but a run-down of how it differs from the actual movies:

I quote Marian Call’s song, ‘I’ll Still be a Geek After Nobody Thinks it’s Chic (the Nerd Anthem)’ and The Doubleclicks’ song ‘Nothing To Prove‘ at the beginning.

The poem references OSV word orderWil Wheaton’s story, ‘The Trade’, from which I learnt the existence of land speeders, to some extent the sleeping bag from which I learnt about tauntaunsThe Tale of Eric and the Dread Gazebo, and the ‘Do not want‘ meme from Star War The Third Gathers: Backstroke of the West.

I used six seconds of Jonathan Coulton’s song ‘Screwed’ in the credits. I’m wearing this shirt; there are two versions of the shirt widely available online, but I got the only one which ships to Europe.

Star Wars is not the only thing I learn about mainly from songs and internet memes. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is another, and so, inspired by a song by Paul and Storm about George R. R. Martin’s slow writing, I contributed a picture to a music video for another song by Paul and Storm about the series:

I hope you enjoyed these videos. May the fourth be with you! 🖖😉

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Another Haiku Detector Update, and Some Observations on Mac Speech Synthesis


Screenshot of Haiku Detector

I subjected Haiku Detector to some serious stress-testing with a 29MB text file (that’s 671481 sentences, containing 16810 haiku, of which some are intentional) a few days ago, and kept finding more things that needed fixing or could do with improvement. A few days in a nerdsniped daze later, I have a new version, and some interesting tidbits about the way Mac speech synthesis pronounces things. Here’s some of what I did:

  • Tweaked the user interface a bit, partly to improve responsiveness after 10000 or so haiku have been found.
  • Made the list of haiku stay scrolled to the bottom so you can see the new ones as they’re found.
  • Added a progress bar instead of the spinner that was there before.
  • Fixed a memory issue.
  • Changed a setting so it should work in Mac OS X 10.6, as I said here it would, but I didn’t have a 10.6 system to test it on, and it turns out it does not run on one. I think 10.7 (Lion) is the lowest version it will run on.
  • Added some example text on startup so that it’s easier to know what to do.
  • Made it a Developer ID signed application, because now that I have a bit more time to do Mac development (since I don’t have a day job; would you like to hire me?), it was worth signing up to the paid Mac Developer Program again. Once I get an icon for Haiku Detector, I’ll put it on the app store.
  • Fixed a few bugs and made a few other changes relating to how syllables are counted, which lines certain punctuation goes on, and which things are counted as haiku.

That last item is more difficult than you’d think, because the Mac speech synthesis engine (which I use to count syllables for Haiku Detector) is very clever, and pronounces words differently depending on context and punctuation. Going through words until the right number of syllables for a given line of the haiku are reached can produce different results depending on which punctuation you keep, and a sentence or group of sentences which is pronounced with 17 syllables as a whole might not have words in it which add up to 17 syllables, or it might, but only if you keep a given punctuation mark at the start of one line or the end of the previous. There are therefore many cases where the speech synthesis says the syllable count of each line is wrong but the sum of the words is correct, or vice versa, and I had to make some decisions on which of those to keep. I’ve made better decisions in this version than the last one, but I may well change things in the next version if it gives better results.

Here are some interesting examples of words which are pronounced differently depending on punctuation or context:

ooohh Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect
ooohh. Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect
ooohh.. Spelled out (Oh oh oh aitch aitch)
ooohh… Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect
H H Pronounced aitch aitch
H H H Pronounced aitch aitch aitch
H H H H H H H H Pronounced aitch aitch aitch
Da-da-de-de-da Pronounced with five syllables, roughly as you would expect
Da-da-de-de-da- Pronounced dee-ay-dash-di-dash-di-dash-di-dash-di-dash. The dashes are pronounced for anything with hyphens in it that also ends in a hyphen, despite the fact that when splitting Da-da-de-de-da-de-da-de-da-de-da-de-da-da-de-da-da into a haiku, it’s correct punctuation to leave the hyphen at the end of the line:

Da-da-de-de-da-
de-da-de-da-de-da-de-
da-da-de-da-da

Though in a different context, where – is a minus sign, and meant to be pronounced, it might need to go at the start of the next line. Greater-than and less-than signs have the same ambiguity, as they are not pronounced when they surround a single word as in an html tag, but are if they are unmatched or surround multiple words separated by spaces. Incidentally, surrounding da-da in angle brackets causes the dash to be pronounced where it otherwise wouldn’t be.

U.S or u.s Pronounced you dot es (this way, domain names such as angelastic.com are pronounced correctly.)
U.S. or u.s. Pronounced you es
US Pronounced you es, unless in a capitalised sentence such as ‘TAKE US AWAY’, where it’s pronounced ‘us’

I also discovered what I’m pretty sure is a bug, and I’ve reported it to Apple. If two carriage returns (not newlines) are followed by any integer, then a dot, then a space, the number is pronounced ‘zero’ no matter what it is. You can try it with this file; download the file, open it in TextEdit, select the entire text of the file, then go to the Edit menu, Speech submenu, and choose ‘Start Speaking’. Quite a few haiku were missed or spuriously found due to that bug, but I happened to find it when trimming out harmless whitespace.

Apart from that bug, it’s all very clever. Note how even without the correct punctuation, it pronounces the ‘dr’s and ‘st’s in this sentence correctly:

the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met on the st john’s st turnpike

However, it pronounces the second ‘st’ as ‘saint’ in the following:

the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met in the st john’s st john

This is not just because it knows there is a saint called John; strangely enough, it also gets this one wrong:

the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met in the st john’s st park

I could play with this all day, or all night, and indeed I have for the last couple of days, but now it’s your turn. Download the new Haiku Detector and paste your favourite novels, theses, holy texts or discussion threads into it.

If you don’t have a Mac, you’ll have to make do with a few more haiku from the New Scientist special issue on the brain which I mentioned in the last post:

Being a baby
is like paying attention
with most of our brain.

But that doesn’t mean
there isn’t a sex difference
in the brain,” he says.

They may even be
a different kind of cell that
just looks similar.

It is easy to
see how the mind and the brain
became equated.

We like to think of
ourselves as rational and
logical creatures.

It didn’t seem to
matter that the content of
these dreams was obtuse.

I’d like to thank the people of the xkcd Time discussion thread for writing so much in so many strange ways, and especially Sciscitor for exporting the entire thread as text. It was the test data set that kept on giving.

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A Skirmish [With My Least-Favourite Body Part]


The following is based on a true story. I wrote down a few lines and ideas when it happened, but wrote most of it today so that I could read it at Open Phil, to go with the post-Easter theme of leftover eggs. In the spirit of NaPoWriMo, I’ll post it now in its somewhat unpolished state.

My body keeps my brain alive,
like worker bees in sentient hive.
Each organ helps the whole to run.
Every part, except for one.

One part seems to want me dead
and murmurs in a monthly threat
to hurt, disgrace, abase, efface me,
kill me off, but first, replace me.

Replace me from its own interior,
for I, the brain, am deemed inferior,
and if I should refuse to mother,
this vengeful organ cues a smother.

Smother me in wracking pain.
Smother lifeblood from my brain.
Smother till I stand no more
and wake up gasping on the floor.

The floor of where, I can’t recall.
I try to move; I hit a wall.
Blurred from lack of air, I force it in
till eyes perceive the restroom porcelain.

Porcelain face with skin torn open.
Stumble towards the ibuprofen,
The mirror where with sore red gut
I tend to where my forehead’s cut.

Forehead cut, lump, one black eye,
but you should see the other guy!
Been bleeding now for seven days!
For one more month, it’s scared away.

People laughed more than I expected them to at this, which is good because I like making people laugh. I followed it up with a full-costume performance of Chemistry (though without keeping the moustache on throughout, since the one I got on JoCo Cruise 2015 was not self-adhesive), because at least for the duration of that poem I get to pretend I don’t have a uterus.

I’m trying to give up fainting on toilets, since the last time I found a lady passed out in a restroom (for unrelated reasons, as she turned out to be 80) she didn’t survive, but sometimes the ibuprofen doesn’t kick in fast enough, and the inexplicable call of the loo is too strong. A few years ago I might have been embarrassed to post something like this, but now I know Chella Quint so I feel obliged not to be. Check out her TED talk if you haven’t seen it:

There’s nothing to be ashamed of here, folks. (Except maybe rhyming ‘force it in’ with ‘porcelain’.) Chella wrote a #periodpositive article in the Guardian just recently, and I recommend it. If you like Chella but need to put a full stop to the periods, there’s always her #CometLanding song parody that I published on my blog when she didn’t have her own.

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Forms and Formulae: Self-Avoiding Walk


A picture of the Sun peeking over the spine of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics as it rests on top of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & PoeticsThis is the fourth in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This post’s mathematics article is entitled ‘The General Goals of Mathematical Research‘ and the poetic form is alba, which is a kind of song; I recorded it [direct mp3 link] using my robot choir and some newfound musical knowledge, and there are many notes on that after the lyrics below.

Here are some extracts from the article on the alba, explaining the features that I ended up using:

A dawn song about adulterous love, expressing one or both lovers’ regret over the coming of dawn after a night of love. A third voice, a watchman, may announce the coming of dawn and the need for the lovers to separate. An Occitan alba may contain a dialogue (or serial monologues) between lover and beloved or a lover and the watchman or a combination of monologue with a brief narrative intro.

The alba has no fixed metrical form, but in Occitan each stanza usually ends with a refrain that contains the word alba.

…the arrival of dawn signaled by light and bird’s song…

The watchman plays an important role as mediator between the two symbolic worlds of night (illicit love in an enclosed space) and day (courtly society, lauzengiers or evil gossips or enemies of love)

I based the song on section 8.3 of the article, entitled ‘Illegal Calculations‘. In retrospect, using the word alba in each refrain (are these even refrains?) doesn’t make much sense, since I’m not writing in Occitan, and the casual listener will not know that alba means ‘dawn’ in Occitan. But hey, it kind of rhymes with the start of ‘self-avoiding walk‘. How can I not rhyme an obscure foreign word with an obscure mathematical concept?

Introduction:
Mathematicians struggle even today to learn about the average distance between the endpoints of a self-avoiding walk. French physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes found answers by transforming the problem into a question about something called the n-vector model when the n is zero. But since this implies vectors with zero dimensions, mathematicians reject the approach as non-rigorous. Here we find that zero waking up next to its cherished n-vector model after a night of illicit osculation.

Zero:
I am just a zero; I am hardly worth a mention.
I null your vector model figure, discarding your dimension,
and every night I’m here with you I fear the break of day,
when day breaks our veneer of proof, and we must go away.

Here by your side
till alba warns the clock.
Fear’s why I hide
in a self-avoiding walk.

N-vector model:
Let the transformations of De Gennes show your place.
Never let them say we’re a degenerate case.
When I’m plus-two-n there’s just too many ways to move,
But you’re my sweetest nothing and we’ve got nothing to prove.

Here by your side
till alba warms the clock.
Fear can’t divide;
it’s a self-avoiding walk.

Watchman:
The sun has come; your jig is up. It’s time for peer review.
You think your secret union has engendered something new.
You thought you would both find a proof, but is it you’re confusing
The sorta almost kinda-truths the physicists are using?

That’s not rigorous,
says alba’s voice in shock.
All but meaningless
to the self-avoiding walk.

Zero and N-vector model together:
If you say that our results don’t matter,
then go straight to find a better path.
For as long as you insult our data,
Is it wrong to say you’re really math?

Hey there, Rigorous
at alba poised in shock,
you are just like us,
in a self-avoiding walk.

All voices are built-in Mac text-to-speech voices, some singing thanks to my robot choir (a program I wrote to make the Mac sing the tunes and lyrics I enter, which still needs a lot of work to be ready for anyone else to use.) Older voices tend to sound better when singing than the newer ones, and many new voices don’t respond to the singing commands at all, particularly those with non-US accents. So for the introduction I took the opportunity to use a couple of those non-US voices. These are the voices used:

Introduction: Tessa (South African English) and, since I also can’t fine-tune Tessa’s pronunciation of ‘Pierre-Gilles de Genne’, Virginie (French from France)

Zero: Junior

N-vector Model: Kathy

Watchman: Trinoids

Most of the bird noises come from the end of Jonathan Coulton’s ‘Blue Sunny Day‘, and I can use them because they’re either Creative Commons licensed or owned by the birds. The two peacock noises are from a recording by junglebunny. Free Birds!

As I mentioned, I’ve been learning about songwriting from John Anealio, and since the Forms and Formulae project sometimes requires me to write songs, I’m putting the new knowledge into practice sooner than I expected. This song uses several musical things I’ve never tried before, which is quite exciting, but it also means I probably didn’t do them very well, because there’s only so much I can learn in a couple of months of half-hour weekly lessons. I welcome friendly criticism and advice. The new things are: Read the rest of this entry »

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The First Attack


In one of the workshops I went to before the official start of the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English, we were given four pages of text from various sources (see if you can recognise them!) and instructed to cut each page into four pieces, mix them up, lay them out on a table and note down any interesting phrases we found by aligning lines from different pieces of paper. We were free to slightly alter the sentences so they’d make sense. What I ended up with rather amused me, so I’ll post it here, as a sort of found poetry:

The first attack, where ignorant armies clash
Where the sea meets the shadow of the moon of death
The thing they would not stand was back, and back, and fling
Stand together to win the war against steel, but they cannot dent the steel.
A great people has been moved to naked shingles of the world
The President agreed, in the white immunity, “I fear no evil, for I implemented our government’s. Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all the three-shilling tea, and the best worlds have been shattered.”

I was particularly amused by the two chance juxtapositions that led to ‘in the white immunity’ and ‘I fear no evil, for I implemented our government’s’. So far at the conference I’ve met all sorts of interesting people and learnt many things (it is strange to see a partially-academic conference that has nothing whatsoever to do with particle physics) and heard many stories. I can’t say much about them now, though, as I’d like to get a half-decent amount of sleep before I read a story and introduce a few others at the conference tomorrow. I’m too tired to even read the entry on aleatory poetics in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.

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Unintentional Haiku from New Scientist on The Unknown Universe


I added some features to Haiku Detector so that it will find haiku made of more than one sentence, though I haven’t released the new version yet, since I’d like to release it on the Mac App store (even though it will probably still be free, at least at first) to see how that works, and to do that I’ll need an icon first. If you know anyone who can make Mac icons at a reasonable price, let me know. Meanwhile, New Scientist has released a new ‘collection‘ called The Unknown Universe, so why not mine it for haiku? The topics are ‘The early universe’, ‘The nature of reality’ (again), ‘The fabric of the cosmos’, ‘Dark materials’, ‘Black holes’, ‘Time’ (again) and ‘New directions’.

Let’s start at the very beginning, the early universe:

Can we really be
sure now that the universe
had a beginning?

At first, that seems like a terrible place to break the sentence to start a new line. But what if we pretend, until we get to the next line, that ‘Can we really be?’ is the whole question? Because that’s the real reason people wonder about the universe.

Now, here’s a multi-sentence one, which conveniently has a full sentence as the first line:

“We’re back to square one.”
Tegmark agrees: “Inflation
has destroyed itself.”

Deep. But what is this inflation thing, anyway?

Well, for one thing, it’s
not clear what actually
does the inflating.

Only then will we
truly know what kind of a
bang the big bang was.

“I am not convinced
the cyclic model is that
grander idea.”

But I think this is my favourite. There’s a monster at the end of this universe, and it’s making crosswords.

Cosmic monsters that
have survived into our times
also pose puzzles.

Now for the nature of reality:

“It pulls the rug out
from under us to prove a
theory right or wrong.”

Maybe we just need to look around us.

There is also down,
and, for that matter, left, right,
forwards and backwards.

Have we figured out what we’re looking for yet?

What it is, though, we
do not have the words or the
concepts to express.

Maybe E. L. James can help us figure it out:

“This experiment
allows us to see the shades
of grey in between.”

These ones are about the fabric of the cosmos:

“If you go by what
we observe, we don’t live in
space-time,” Smolin says.

We battle against
them each time we labour up
a hill or staircase.

“But where did the weak
primordial fields that seed the
dynamo come from?”

The same force that keeps
our feet on the ground also
shapes the universe.

I like this one for the contrast between the first and last lines:

The information-
loss paradox dissolves.  Big
questions still remain.

Here are some of the ‘dark materials‘ haiku, about dark matter and dark energy:

The discovery of
dark matter would be the find
of the century.

I love how this contrasts ‘discovery of’ with ‘find of’; I didn’t notice that in prose form.

We still don’t know what
it is. It is everywhere
and we can’t see it.

That opens the door
to a dazzling array of
possibilities.

This chase through space will
be thrilling, but the quarry
may still elude us.

“It seems like a long
shot,” he says. But others are
being won over.

“But we don’t see a
fifth force within the solar
system,” says Burrage.

Though maybe the array of possibilities isn’t so dazzling after all:

It is limited
to perhaps three things. First, dark
energy pushes.

There are only two haiku about black holes, but one of them sounds like an idea Dan Brown might write about, probably without first reading New Scientist:

A BOMB made out of
a black hole is a rather
unsettling thought.

And the other sounds like it belongs on an episode of Doctor Who:

One of them will have
to blink if this paradox
is to be undone.

There are no more haiku on time, but luckily there were some in the last collection. I love this one about new directions, though:

Put that to many
physicists, and you will get
a grumpy response.

Ah, those physicists, always hopeful:

“Historically, these
things have usually led
somewhere,” says Davies.

They even have a solution to that ‘we still don’t know what it is’ problem from earlier:

“We don’t know what it
is so we have to give it
a name, a symbol.”

After that, it gets
a lot more speculative,
but here’s the best guess.

But they’re not that confident about it:

There are also good
reasons to think it is an
unwarranted one.

Paths to a theory
of everything will become
even more winding.

For instance, it could
decrease with time, or even
become negative.

Infinity makes things even more difficult:

INFINITY. It
is a concept that defies
imagination.

But it is at the
big bang that infinity
wreaks the most havoc.

The first line of the first infinity one reminds me of a CERN friend’s recipe for gravity: you just put ‘it’ in gravy.

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Forms and Formulae: The Numbers Are Not Enough


A picture of the Sun peeking over the spine of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics as it rests on top of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & PoeticsThis is the third in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This post’s mathematics article is entitled ‘Some Fundamental Mathematical Definitions’ and the poetic form is air, which is a kind of song.

This song covers the first few sections of the article, about the development of the various number sets (Natural numbers [which I learnt as not including zero], whole numbers [including zero], integers, rational numbers, real numbers, and complex numbers) and finally a little abstract algebra. I’ve made a recording of it [direct mp3 link] using my robot choir and some instruments in GarageBand. I didn’t follow all the suggestions relating to airs, but one hallmark of an air is ‘illustrative musical devices highlighting specific words’, and I went overboard on that, illustrating each set using the background music. Airs are typically accompanied by a lute or other plucked instrument, but I used a piano instead, to highlight the word ‘Peano‘ in the first line.

[1 2 3]
You can play the Peano axioms.
Your successor will never fail.
But if you ain’t got nothing you ain’t got enough
so you start lower down the scale.

[0 1 2]
Well you’ve now got zero problems.
You can count on every fact.
You can add without an end, but exceed your subtrahend
or you’ll find you can’t subtract.

[-1 0 1]
So you add in the minus integers.
Zero gains another side.
You can add and take away, but not conquer all the way
’cause you can’t always divide.

[⅕,⅓, ¼]
Now your system is highly rational,
no division you can’t deal.
But no matter what you do, you can’t find the root of two
though you know that it must be real.

[ɸ, e, π]
So you fill all the gaps with irrationals.
You have a solid number line.
Solve absurdities at will but you’re out of square roots still
when you start with a minus sign.

[1+⅕i]
So you use your imagination.
You take the square of your mind’s i.
Your calculations never stall, but you wonder if that’s all
that this complex plane can fly.

[triangles, snares, cats]
The operations work on all numbers,
but is that all they can do?
They apply to other things; now you’ve groups and fields and rings
to apply that structure to.

This took longer than my last Forms and Formulae, due to the recording. I made several improvements to my robot choir (an app I wrote one weekend to get my Mac to sing for me) including fixing a silly bug which had thrown the timing of my previous recordings off. I’ve also been taking music lessons over Skype with John Anealio, and I used a few of the things I learnt for this; if you know a bit of music theory you might notice a few music theory puns in there.

It’s not especially funny overall, but I mentioned when I called into Dementia Radio last night that I would submit it to the FuMP Sideshow, so I will. [Edit: and here it is!] Another thing that came up were these Tom Lehrer songs about mathematics, which the host was not aware of. They were some of the first Tom Lehrer songs I heard, and definitely worth a listen if you like Tom Lehrer, maths, or both. I found them in 2005 while looking to replace some pirated Tom Lehrer songs I’d accidentally deleted before listening to them (I did eventually buy all of Tom Lehrer’s albums) and in that same search I came across the MASSIVE database of maths and science songs, which led me to Jonathan Coulton and so many other musicians and friends.

One of those other musicians was Monty Harper, and the first tune I came up with was very similar to the verses of his Silly Song. I changed some parts to make it less similar, but mostly I just made it more repetitive and annoying.  Dammit, Jim, I’m a poet, not a musician.

The article in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics was actually very long, and I haven’t finished reading it yet. Assuming I do get to the next article instead of writing something about the latter parts of this one, the next Forms and Formulae will be an alba (a dawn song about adulterous love!) about the goals of mathematical research. That should be fun. It will probably take a while, since it’s another song. Also, I will be busy next week at the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English. I will be reading a story on the Thursday afternoon; probably a slightly revised version of Valet de cœur.

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Forms and Formulae: Linguistics → Mathematics


A picture of the Sun peeking over the spine of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics as it rests on top of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & PoeticsThis is the second in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This week’s mathematics article is entitled ‘The Language and Grammar of Mathematics’ and the poetic form is acrostic, which is a superset of last week’s form, the abecedarius.

I’ve already written plenty of apronyms about mathematics that could be considered acrostics, so for this I had to do something else. The following is a double acrostic about the language of mathematics — the first letter of each line spells ‘Linguistics’ and the last letter of each line, read upwards, spells ‘Mathematics’. The line lengths are highly irregular (just as the mapping from linguistics to mathematics can be), which makes that less impressive, but I tried to keep decent enough rhythm and rhyme that it sounds good when read aloud.

Linguistics is mathematics.
Is’ it? Well, that ‘is’ a classic.
Now which ‘is’ is that ‘is’ that you and I
Grammatically understand… wait!
Understand, or understands? It all depends on how that ‘and’ treats data:
I understand ∧ you understand, or you+I is? Are? Am?
Some singular object that understands ambiguous copulae
That may~equivalence relations, ambivalent notations for functions, adjunctions, or ∈ life ∪ death
I ‘am’ and i ‘is’, in a nonempty set?
Cogito, ergo ∀ subjects Ɣ ∈ {sums, numbers, dynamics, …} Ɣ has Grammar s.t. Meaning(s)=Meaning(t)⇔s=t ∀ symbols s,t in Grammar sub gamma.
So, let ‘is’ be a relation where no such equation’s imposed but the intersection of the sets of accepted bijections on the subjects’ grammar sets are nonempty we get (and I don’t have the proof yet to hand, um… It’s trivial, readers with wits understand’em) that linguistics is mathematics, quod erat demonstrandum.

This was a particularly interesting article for me, since I’m very interested in language and grammar in general. It goes into various symbols used in mathematics and talks about which parts of speech they are and how they compare to similar words or parts of speech in English. It turns out mathematics has no adjectives. I had several attempts at different acrostics, and when I figured out the first few lines of this one, I thought I’d move on to explaining a different section of the article every few lines. Then I was inspired to continue it at a time when I didn’t have the book handy, so it ended up focusing on just the first few parts with a nod to something mentioned in a later section. One nice thing I found in the article was:

  1. Nothing is better than lifelong happiness.
  2. But a cheese sandwich is better than nothing.
  3. Therefore, a cheese sandwich is better than lifelong happiness.

Soon after, we get the haiku I found earlier:

For every person
P there exists a drink D
such that P likes D.

It’s really a fun book to read. Next week’s Forms and Formulae will be an air on some fundamental mathematical definitions, which should be interesting because I’m not certain I fully understand the requirements for an air. I may have to dust off the robot choir.

In other news, I got some copies of the They might not be giants poster printed locally, and they look great, even when accidentally printed at twice the intended size. The English pronoun poster is quite readable at about 42x42cm, which is a little less than the size it’s on Zazzle at.

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‘They might not be giants’ Poster


A while ago I wrote a poem called ‘They might not be giants‘, about the famous phrase, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ A while later, that poem was published in Offshoots 12, the 2013 anthology of the Geneva Writers’ Group.

Ever since writing it, I’ve been thinking about how great it would be to see a picture of the tower of dwarves described. I’ve also been thinking about which plural of ‘dwarf’ is best, and a couple of grammatical and typographical decisions I made regarding the poem, but mostly I’ve been thinking about the picture. Well, I finally commissioned Len Peralta to draw that picture for me! It is gorgeous.

It is also the real reason I set up a Zazzle store; you can buy it as an 11×17 poster featuring the poem. I’ll have some printed locally as well, so if anyone near Vienna wants one they can buy one directly from me. Maybe you’d like one for yourself, or an aspiring scientist, or an inspiring teacher, or a Len Peralta fan, or an Angela Brett fan (do they exist? Edit: there is one) or even a They Might Be Giants fan who wants their poster collection to cover all possibilities. I think it’s suitable for anyone who has walls. If you know anyone who doesn’t have walls who would like some, see if you can help them find a home.

I’ve always been fascinated by Len’s videos of himself drawing, so I paid a little extra to get this mesmerising speedpaint video, which doubles as a great way to get an idea of what the poster looks like close-up. Note that the final poster has the title of the poem on it, and a few other small changes to the text.

I still can’t watch it without squeeing. It took him 2 hours, 36 minutes, which is about how long it would take me to draw a stick figure version indistinguishable from a Christmas tree.

This is actually not the first time I’ve commissioned Len to draw something for me; he also drew the picture of Jonathan Coulton transforming into an internet superstar at the beginning of a video I made to celebrate Jonathan’s Thing A Week by summarising each song in the form of a ‘roses are red’ poem. He drew most of the rest of the art in the video, too, but that was done already as part of his Visual Thing A Week project, which is the reason I know he exists.

That’s all from me. Go have fun, and tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment of Forms and Formulae.

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Forms and Formulae: Y Lines About X Letters of the Alphabets (an Abecedarius of Math(s))


A picture of the Sun peeking over the spine of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics as it rests on top of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & PoeticsThis is the first in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, even though the Companion already contains plenty of poems. The first entry in the former is entitled ‘What is Mathematics About?’ and the first entry in the latter is abecedarius.

The following is an abecedarius of what mathematics is about — an ABC of mathematics, if you like. You can also try reading it along to  ’88 Lines About 44 Women’ (which you might be familiar with from The Brunching Shuttlecocks’ ‘88 Lines About 42 Presidents‘ or the great Luke Ski’s ‘88 Lines About 44 Simpsons‘) though the rhyme scheme is different. It only coincidentally has a similar meter, but once I saw it I decided to go along with it.

Axioms are how you ask ‘what if’; just pick some — you decide.
Break it down and every branch of math(s) depends on these.
Calculus will help you count the branches that you can’t divide,
Differentiating the conditions at the boundaries.

Elements of Euclid was a textbook for millennia.
Functions follow formulae to map domain to range.
Gödel showed some true things can’t be proven, but still many are,
Held without theology as truths that never change.

Inconsistent axioms will prove all and its opposite,
Jeopardising hopes the formal system will be sending forward
Knowledge for deriving knowledge-prime or knowledge-composite.
Logic’s only limits are the ones that something’s tending toward.

Manifold(s) are ways to bring such limits to geometry.
Numerous are non-numeric methods that we use.
Often are two manifolds the same, up to isometry,
Proving that(,) there’s gobs of generality to lose.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum quoth inerrant understander,
Rigorously rational and rooted in the real,
Symbol-shuffling spanning such solution sets with candor,
Theorem after theorem or conjecture from ideal.

Universal sets have mathematicians quite inside themselves;
Vector spaces set a basis they can build upon.
Wolfram’s Weisstein’s MathWorld’s website rivals books on many shelves.
X rules the domain that functions are dependent on.

Y‘s home on the range is the solution set that many seek.
Zeno cuts each line in half so drawing it is undefined.
Alphabet is insufficient;
Beta hurry onto Greek.
Gamma raises complex powers.
Delta changes Zeno’s mind.

Epsilon‘s so small that
Zeta covers the prime landscape sole.
Eta‘s very many things;
Theta‘s varied just by one
Iota in the calculus where
Kappa played a founding role.
Lambda has a calculus.
Mu (micron)’s small, but not-none.

Nu math(s) is Tom Lehrer’s nightmare.
Xi‘s that universal set.
Omicron‘s a small big-O.
Pi squares circles’ radii.
Rho‘s a row (zeros-out) rank.
Sigma sum is all you get.
Tau is sometimes phi, 2pi.
Upsilon, we wonder, ‘Y?’

Phi‘s the golden ratio.
Chi-squared ballpark’s on the ball.
Psi‘s a polygammous one.
Omegahd, there is no end;
Aleph-null can yet extend;
Aleph one is still too small;
Beth one, too, still isn’t all;
Beth-two, one can yet transcend.

Gimel still can bring you some,
Daleth beats continuum.

Now you know your ABC(-Omega-Aleph-NOP)
Out you go to maybe see (oh, mathematicality!)
That math(s) is an infinity (for all things there exists a key!)
And cast it as a trinity (a singular plurality!)

When I decided to do this, I don’t think I realised how many Greek letters there were. In the time it would have taken to finish a normal abecedarius, I was only halfway there, and further motion seemed impossible. Luckily, Zeno was there to sympathise. I also didn’t realise any Hebrew letters after bet were used in mathematics. Apparently Cantor used gimel and daleth for yet bigger infinities. I hope to write a new Forms and Formulae each week, so the later forms had better not be this long. I didn’t always stick to things from the ‘What is Mathematics About’ article, or even that subject. However, I think I conformed to the abecedarius form fairly well; the abecedarius is often used for religious purposes, and I was able to work in that mathematics requires no faith (‘held without theology’) and extends beyond alpha and omega, and also that the differing ways of abbreviating the word in different countries (with or without ‘s’) makes it similar to the three-in-one Christian trinity.

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