Posts Tagged poems


November was National Novel Writing Month, which is a global event (‘National’ in this context means ‘More Official Than Other Made-Up Events, I Swear! Also, I Forgot There’s More Than One Nation’) in which people attempt to write 50000 words in a month. This is often abbreviated NaNoWriMo. I decided to go for an easier homophone, NanoRhymo.

Every day, I tweeted a short poem inspired by a rhyme I’d found using the ‘Random‘ button on the rhyming dictionary I made, I’ve been tweeting interesting rhymes from this for a while, so some days I generated a new random rhyme, other days I looked through the @RhymeScience Twitter feed to find one that inspired me. Try it yourself! You might need to click a few times to get an accurate, interesting rhyme; I’m working on a new version that has fewer incorrect words or pronunciations in it, but don’t have enough spare time right now to get that up and running.

Some of them were fun little ditties, others were more inspired by current events or politics than my writing usually is. I’m not informed enough on most such issues to write on them, but that’s where the rhymes led me, and I have just enough of an informed opinion for a rhyming tweet. There are a few references to sexual assault and one to the Holocaust, so proceed with caution if reading such things is likely to be traumatic for you.

You can see all the NanoRhymos by clicking on the tweet above and reading the whole thread. But for those who prefer reading a blog, here they are. I’m considering continuing to write a NanoRhymo every day until I get bored of it, or until I have enough to publish a poem-a-day calendar. What do you think?

Day 1, inspired by the rhyme cloned and unowned:

It didn’t seem so wrong —
you wanted to prolong
the perfection of their hearts.
A collection of spare parts
was made when they were cloned.
They’re fêted and unowned,
but I’m a pair, impaired them-prime;
what’s mine is theirs, and theirs to mine.

Day 2, inspired by the rhyme no sin and close in:

A Jewish saviour way back
was questioned about payback,
and bade that those with no sin
grab stones and gather close in
to pelt a sinful other,
but then, the saviour’s mother
(whose immaculate conception
had made her an exception)
came forward — oh, Lord!

I would have ended that with ‘came forward, and Lord guffawed’, but I wanted to keep it in one tweet. The short version is probably better.

Day 3, inspired by the rhyme disguise and FBI’s:

This guy’s disguise will fool your eyes, but not the FBI’s.
They prize the wise who recognise through lies, despise the spies.

Day 4, inspired by the rhyme DVD on and neon:

Noise and darkness, stink and heat
Senses strained to find a beat
Shout to strangers lit by neon

Go home, put a DVD on.

Day 5, inspired by the rhyme young can and drunken:

Drunken groping long ago
Young can learn it’s wrong, and grow
Admit mistakes and make amends
Ensure the waking nightmare ends

Day 6, inspired by the rhyme enlighten’d and bite and, the election in the USA happening that day, and apparently also dogs:

Frantic voters running frightened,
Heavy hearts, but heads enlightened,
Two years on, they’ve seen his bite and
barking mad demeanour heightened.
Doggedly, they’ll put things right and
chase a future slowly brightened.

Day 7 (actually posted on November 10, because I missed a few days and made up for them by posting a few rhymes in quick succession) inspired by the rhyme promise’s and Thomas’s:

Don’t believe every Tom, Dick, and Harry;
Thomas’s promises won’t hold true;
Richard’s switch’d leave you hanging;
Trust Henry? Then regret that too.

Day 8, inspired by the rhymes rushes, crushes, and (in non-rhotic accents) ushers:

The wise one rushes,
Telling all their crushes,
Finding out the answers: yes or no?
No, they’ll only blush, or
Yes, follow the usher,
Make some more advances in the back row.

Day 9, inspired by the rhyme cynically and clinically:

After loving declarations,
you should not yet have relations,
but evaluate the information cynically.
Ask for terms and motivations,
and when provided with citations,
then concur, and place your arms around them clinically.

Day 10, inspired by the rhyme flattery and battery:

Some fake care to prime their victim:
soften and enlarge with flattery,
and while most juries don’t convict ‘em,
often they are charged with battery.

Day 11, inspired by the rhyme aghast and gassed:

See the harrowed and harrassed
Seething horrors of the past
Browse and mull, and be aghast
Thousands, millions, people gassed

This one has a different rhyme scheme in different accents: ABBA with the trap-bath split or AAAA without. It’s probably about the worst way I could have demonstrated the trap-bath split.

Day 12, inspired by the rhyme borders and marauder’s:

Halt, ye marauders,
attacking our borders!
Just following orders —
you can’t come in here!
If we don’t mistreat you,
we’re worried that we, too,
will soon have to flee to
another frontier.
(But they’d give us shelter;
they’d surely do well to!
We’re good folk, just dealt a
harsh blow; we’re sincere!)

Day 13, inspired by the rhymes (in non-rhotic accents) built a, kilter, and still to:

We’re all a bit off-kilter now;
we’ve lost a then and built a now,
but later’s what we’ve still to know,
and do we have the will to? No.

Day 14, inspired by the rhyme mathematician and proposition, and also Rudyard Kipling’s poem If—:


If you see a proposition,
apply to it your intuition,
at length, exerting full cognition,
come to trivial fruition,
and restart with a new suspicion,
then you’ll be a mathematician.

Day 15 (actually posted on November 17, because I missed a few days), inspired by the rhyme compiling and unsmiling:

Robotic faces, cold, unsmiling,
hypnotic glaze of code compiling,
illuminating status lights
as humans wait for access rights.
Once it’s done, they wake anew —
the robots and their coders too.

Day 16, inspired by the rhymes amnesia and anesthesia, and whiskey and frisky:

Dull the pain with anaesthesia,
hoping for a brief amnesia
of harm sustained while he was frisky
(lapses blamed on too much whiskey)
Clear dark thoughts to fit some leisure:
dull clear thought with too much whiskey.

Day 17 (actually posted on November 18, because when catching up the missed days on November 17, I missed a day, so everything after this is a day late), inspired by the rhyme predestined and unstressed and:

If your plans have not progressed, and
stasis leaves you quite depressed, ind-
eed, you must stick out your chest, and
pray that you’ll be always blessed, and
loaf around, remain unstressed and
wait for that which comes predestined.

Day 18, inspired by the rhyme prick’d and afflict:

If Santa wanted Christmas cheer
to fill the Northern Hemisphere,
he’d send the elves to spread the word
to save yourselves and save the herd:
Inoculate yourselves; get prick’d!
Be those the flu will not afflict!

Day 19, inspired by the rhyme trustee can and deacon, although I ended up using 15 other rhymes for deacon and not trustee can:

Sea can weaken a Puerto Rican deacon.
We can be concerned, and we can sneak unspeakin’
or be concertedly connected shriekin’
so s/he can see kin be a freakin’ beacon.

Day 20, inspired by the rhyme Wozniak and Bosniak:

Once upon a time I met Steve Wozniak,
Who bought me a replacement when I lost me Mac
My life got weirder still; I saw a tokamak 🤷🏻‍♀️
And now I code for iOS to clothe me back
While Android code is handled by a Bosniak

It’s a pretty silly poem, but it is also 100% true (you can read the Wozniak story in even cheesier rhymes, if you like), and how could I ignore it when my random rhyme generator comes up with ‘Wozniak’?

Day 21, inspired by the rhyme xylem’s and asylums:

I’m committed to squeezing out a daily poem —
soon committed to a poetry asylum?
But pull enough good water up a xylem
and some day something sweet comes down the phloem.

Day 22, inspired by the rhyme Dulles’s and portcullises, and that time when I had about three hours to change planes in Washington Dulles airport but still only just made it, with an airport staff member running while pushing me in a wheelchair:

A change of planes is always an adventure
and no ride is as perilous as Dulles’s —
with far-off gates and queues there to prevent’ya
you’re sliding under plummeting portcullises.

This one is best read with low rhoticity and yod coalescence, to make adventure rhyme with prevent’ya.

Day 23, inspired by the rhymes routeddisputed, and (in non-rhotic accents) untutored:

In the untutored,
the pronunciation of ‘routed’
can be disputed,
so if you doubted
the pronunciation of ‘routed’
you’ve been outed.
(It depends on where you’re rooted,
so feud no more about it.)

Day 24, inspired by the rhyme fantoccini and Jeannie:

Jeannie, Jeannie, fantoccini
pulled the strings of her bikini,
made a pervy man look up it,
then she moved him like a puppet.

Day 25, inspired by the rhyme unstudied and ruddied, and the first image sent back from Mars by NASA’s InSight lander:

Freckled surface, still and ruddied,
sweeping spaces still unstudied,
far in space is InSight near;
insight can begin right here.

The freckles were actually dust on the lens, though.

Day 26, inspired by the rhyme Bernard would and hardwood:

A tree would never leave you;
it’s your steadfast, loyal bud.
A tree would never leave you;
it will root for you, come hail or flood.
A tree would never leave you;
it’s as solid as hardwood.
A tree would never leave you,
but Bernard would.

Day 27, inspired by the rhymes ultimata, weight a, and (in non-rhotic accents) eliminator:

The real eliminator
is bearing all the weight a
gazillion ultimata
can have on the enforcer.
Can they just divorce a
person they adore so
much because they made a
gaffe they said would force it?

Day 28, inspired by the rhyme conceal’d and kneeled:

They saw the violence, and they kneeled,
did not kowtow, and did not yield.
A shout of silence that conceal’d
the loudest power they could wield.

Day 29, inspired by the rhymes miss a, Alissa, and (in non-rhotic accents) kisser:

🙂: “Why would you miss a
girl named Alissa?”
🙃: “She’s a good kisser;
don’t you dismiss her!”
🙂: “But so is Melissa,
also Clarissa,
even Idrissa,
why just one Miss, huh?”
🙃: “Not gonna diss ya,
just not down with this, yeah.
I’ll follow my bliss, you
kiss them and I’ll miss ‘lissa.”

Day 30, inspired by the rhymes becharmed, unharmed, in non-rhotic accents calm’d, and in non-rhotic accents with the father-bother merger, glommed:

Onto magic guild they glommed,
vibes they quivered, nerves they calm’d.
Vicariously thus becharmed,
they came through escapades unharmed.

NaNoWriMo is over, but tune in on Twitter to see if NanoRhymo continues!

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In which I appear content with content in which I appear

I’ve been having a pretty relaxed month, but my life is ridiculous, therefore so far in September I have appeared in a music video, a radio broadcast, and a podcast.

The music video is Molly Lewis’s ‘Pantsuit Sasquatch‘, for which I recorded my feet walking up to a tortoise sculpture on a playground:

This joins the six other official music videos I have contributed to, and five unofficial music videos I’ve made. I guess I just like being in music videos.

The radio broadcast (which you can also listen to online) was episode #9 of the Open Phil Broadcast on Radio Orange. The broadcast mostly features regulars at the Open Phil open mic in Vienna. Each episode features an interview with and performance by two acts; I shared this one with Adrian Lüssing, also known as The Cliff.

It was an honour to be invited to participate in the broadcast, and it was made extra awesome by the fact that it happened while Joey Marianer, who has been setting a lot of my poetry to music, was visiting Vienna, so he participated too. I recited They Might Not Be Giants, then he sang his version of it, then we sang I Love Your Body, with Joey singing the first part and me singing the second part. Yes, me singing. This is about the first time I’ve sung for an audience, and the third time Joey and I had sung that song together, and it went on the radio. I think it went pretty well, though! We performed it again a few days later on the Open Phil stage, and I’ll post video of that once I’ve uploaded it.

The podcast was episode #60 of Wrong, but Useful, a recreational mathematics podcast by @icecolbeveridge (Colin in real life) and @reflectivemaths (Dave in real life). I was invited to be a special guest cohost. I’m not sure I contributed very much, but I once again recited They Might Not Be Giants, because the hosts had heard me perform that at the MathsJam Annual Gathering last year. I have to admit, I had not actually listened to the podcast until I was invited to be on it — podcast listening is something I usually do while commuting, and lately I’ve been noncommutative. However, before episode #60 was recorded, Joey and I listened to episode #59 together, and I’m happy to report that the answer we came up with for the coin-flipping puzzle was correct.

In hindsight, I wish I’d mentioned my linguistics degree while we were chatting about English and poetry and such. I also wish I’d said something about the fact that nobody on episode #59 noticed that the diameter of the Fields medal in millimetres happened to round up to the number of the podcast (that is, 64, not 59. You don’t expect mathematicians to give each podcast episode only a single number do you?)

This reminds me, I need to register for the MathsJam Annual Gathering soon. You should too, if you can get to it. It’s a lot of fun! And who knows? Maybe if you go, you’ll end up co-hosting a podcast.

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Negative Return (a poem about a Space Shuttle launch and/or a breakup)

Well, it’s Global Poetry Writing Month again. I can’t promise to blog a poem every day, but I have a few I prepared earlier. Here’s one called Negative Return, which I wrote in 2015 in order to have an excuse to wear my flight suit on stage. It’s about a Space Shuttle launch, or a breakup, or a breakup in which the person breaking up with you is leaving in a Space Shuttle (my preferred way of breaking up with someone.) It was inspired by something a tour guide at Kennedy Space Center said, which I happened to record audio of.

This particular performance is from the open mic on the 2018 JoCo Cruise, even though on the JoCo Cruise, no excuse is needed to wear a flight suit at any time.

I’ve performed it a few times in Vienna, with slightly different wording, though I’d never actually posted about it here before. Here’s a playlist of the recorded versions of it.

Immediately before me at the open mic, Joey Marianer, who follows me around singing everything I say, sang my parody of Jonathan Coulton’s ‘Glasses’:

As I’ve previously mentioned, he’d sung it before on YouTube, but I think this live performance was even better.

I’m still processing, uploading, and getting the performers’ permission to post my video from the rest of the open mic.

I recommend watching the video if you can rather than just reading, as there are some added sound effects, but here are the words to Negative Return:

Read the rest of this entry »

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I made a bookmark!

photoI’ve been meaning to put a revised version of the poem The Bookshop on a bookmark for a while, but put it aside as I didn’t have the tools to do it the way I wanted. Motivated by the recent Christmas shopping edition of the Open Phil open mic, I finally bought the app I needed, finished the design, and had some printed, so now you can buy them on my Etsy shop. They may be a little late for Jólabókaflóðið, but you were going to read all year anyway, right? These are considerably cheaper to post worldwide than my posters (fun falsehood: posters are call that because they’re more post), and while the postage still costs more than the thing itself in most cases, you can save on postage by ordering more than one at once.

If you’ve ever started casually reading something in a bookshop and then looked up and realised the sun has gone down, you’ll understand the generally timey-wimey nature of books and bookshops shown in this poem. Admittedly, when this happened to me shortly before I wrote the poem, I was in Stockholm on the shortest day of the year, but it can happen on longer days too. The background shows a sky slowly darkening and becoming a sunset as you read through the poem. The reverse of the bookmark has the name of the poem and author, on the same sky as seen facing away from the Sun.

It occurs to me that a customised version of this poem bookmark might be useful to promote an actual bookshop, so if you’d be interested in that, let me know.

Much thanks to my friend Grace Bridges for her advice on the design of the bookmarks; I would recommend her books to use the bookmark on, but they’re mostly on Kindle, so I’ll just recommend them whether you still use physical bookmarks or not. She also has some posters and T-shirts available on Teechip. I am now considering putting some things up on Teechip myself, since it would be better value than either Zazzle or Etsy for getting posters and T-shirts to people around the world. I’ll also publish a book some day. I’m also working on a few videos and apps and version two of the rhyming dictionary I’m not officially publicising (don’t tell anyone I just linked to it! It’s our secret) until I’ve finished version two. But one thing at a time.

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I did a poetry show, and you can watch it!

IMG_2370April 28 is Great Poetry Reading Day, so I’m going to share some videos of myself reciting my poetry for an audience. It isn’t reading, but it is poetry! Back in February, Johanna Van Tan asked me if I’d like to recite some poetry at her Sing, Talk, Feel event, along with Matylda Q and Stephanie Ora. The performance was two days before I flew off to JoCo Cruise, so I had a lot of other things to do, but, as you’ll hear in the second poem, this sort of opportunity is exactly what I’ve been preparing for. So I said yes, wrote a script to randomly generate a coherent setlist, ran the script enough times to get a setlist I wanted, and in whatever time was left after that, practised.

I recorded it, because it’s my first show and that’s quite a milestone. Besides, I record everything. I hope that some day I will be good enough that I’ll look back on this and cringe, but for now I’m pleasantly surprised by how well it went and how easily I can watch it without being self-conscious. Johanna improvised piano music behind my poems, which added a lot.

I think I did really well on my segues during this performance, and I love that Johanna played music through them, but that made it hard to find good points to split the recording without leaving comments that pertain to the wrong poem. I would recommend watching the whole playlist to get the full effect. There are links in the individual video descriptions with more information about each poem. Thanks to Thomas for pressing the button on my camera at the right time.

I wore an astronaut flight suit (bought from Kennedy Space Center, with patches from ESOC and a cosmonaut exhibition at London Science Museum added), because they say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. In future I plan to have all my props in various pockets of the suit, so I don’t have to bend down and get things out of bags and so on.

A week or so later, I performed a couple of poems as part of the ‘A Bunch of Monkeys Read Some Stuff’ event on JoCo Cruise. Here’s a playlist of the whole event, and here’s my part:

I also performed at the open mic on the cruise, but I haven’t uploaded my video of that yet; I record all of the shows I am allowed to on the cruise, and for the most part, upload them in order. I’m currently up to the afternoon of the fifth day. Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you want to keep up with my latest JoCo Cruise, poetry, or other videos. Once I’m done with the cruise videos and have checked with the other performers, I’ll also upload the video I have of the rest of the Sing, Talk, Feel event.

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Unintentional Haiku in New Scientist’s Medical Frontiers: The Movie

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?I’ve made a new version of Haiku Detector. The main changes are:

  • Performance improvements
  • Tweaks to which haiku are identified when punctuation is pronounced differently depending on line breaks and other factors (this includes a workaround for the ‘all numbers pronounced as zero’ bug I found in the speech synthesiser.) In my test data the list of haiku identified is better now.
  • Bug fixes.

To celebrate the new release, I fed in the text from the latest New Scientist ‘Collection’ issue, on medical frontiers. The funniest haiku arose when the last sentence of one article joined up with the headline and byline of the next. For example, this looks like the tagline of a movie about an underappreciated superhero, fighting to save anti-vaxxers from diseases of yore:

They will not thank you.
Small shot, big impact

After the opening credits, we see our hero Dan Jones in his lab, and the subtitle announcing his first challenge.

DRUG: Chlorotoxin
SOURCE: Deathstalker scorpion

His superpowers come, of course, from vaccines:

Some vaccines seem to
provide us with a host of
extra benefits

But not everybody is happy with that:

Several groups have been
trying to develop drugs
that block these signals.

These groups spread propaganda:

Half an hour or
so later, you’ll feel a lot
better. Or will you?

They work around rules:

“Because we use cells,
not field-grown plants, we don’t come
under the same rules.”

And they target humanity by zapping the very microorganisms they’re made up of. Here’s a quote from the evil mastermind:

There are more cells in
your body than there are stars
in the galaxy.

These cells can then be
killed using a laser that
penetrates the skin.

And just when Dan thought he had the solution, the problems compounded to the point of suspension of disbelief, precipitating a crisis. The mastermind had cooked up her own microbial minions:

Those microbes can be
in the environment or
a vaccine syringe.

To make matters worse,
there is a shortage of new

The sequel, which may or may not be a Doctor Who crossover, features a heroine who will live forever:

“Just endless.” Helen
Let’s get physical

Yep, it’s definitely a Doctor Who crossover. Here’s a quote from that movie:

“I’m the doctor. I’m
going to tell you what your
feelings really mean.”

She discovered that time, and specifically time travel, is the best cure for a broken heart:

If we can’t fix hearts
with stem cells there might be an
even better way

As the animal
was slowly warmed, it began
to return to life.

But however clever the TARDIS is, there’s one thing Helen Thomson isn’t sure she can do:

But can we ever
turn the clock back to a world
without HIV?

It turned out, weirdly enough, that the answer was in making sure there was enough shelf space for one’s awards. So she went home to Britain to save the Officers of the British Empire:

On her return home,
she applied those lessons in
British hospitals.

So far, two patients
have had OBEs, but neither in
a room with a shelf…

While we’re making sequels, let’s revive an old favourite, which never had any sequels:

The matrix holds a
dazzling array of future

But what is the matrix?

Normally, matrix
is harvested from human
or pig cadavers.

I guess you have to see it for yourself.

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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:


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 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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Unintentional Haiku in the works of Lewis Carroll

The other day I decided to run Haiku Detector over the works of Lewis Carroll, as found on Project Gutenberg. This is what I found. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of how well they work as haiku, to the extent that I can still measure that after reading so many (I will have to try out linguistic tagging and work out some heuristic based on parts of speech beginning and ending lines), but simply as bite-sized samples they give a nice sense of the work. I can’t tell whether they’re made more or less whimsical by being stripped of their context.

From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

‘But it’s no use now,’
thought poor Alice, ‘to pretend
to be two people!

But if I’m not the
same, the next question is, Who
in the world am I?

They all sat down at
once, in a large ring, with the
Mouse in the middle.

But I’d better take
him his fan and gloves—that is,
if I can find them.’

‘I haven’t the least
idea what you’re talking
about,’ said Alice.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Unintentional Haiku in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics

I’ve had a copy of the Princeton Companion to Mathematics for a while, and intended to start a series called ‘forms and formulae’, where I’d write about some of the articles using poetic forms from the Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics (addendum: I have since started a series called Forms and Formulae doing just that.) However, both books are huge and difficult to read on the bus, and the articles are long, so so far all I’ve managed to do in that vein is write a poem about platonic solids in a duel, and procrastinate my way out of writing about the entries whose names were alphabetically closest to Emmental. So I was excited to discover this morning that there is a pdf of the Princeton Companion to Mathematics available for free, apparently legally. Finally I can carry it around with me on my iPad and write poems about it whereever I want. But I don’t even need to do that, now; thanks to Haiku Detector, I can easily find the poems that are already in it. And boy are there some nice ones. Some were missed because Haiku Detector doesn’t know how to pronounce Greek letters and a lot of other mathematical notation, and the book sometimes hyphenates at the ends of lines so it looks like they’re good places for line breaks when they’re not. But these are the best ones I found. First off, some which don’t even sound like they’re about mathematics:

Watch your hand as it
reaches out gracefully to
pick up an object.

The difference between
the two definitions of
a secret is huge.

These ideas will
occupy us for the rest
of the article.

This opens you up
to new influences and

In our case, there are
two natural properties
that one should ask for.

Suppose that households
are able to observe one
another’s outputs.

Everything is now
a martingale and there can
be no arbitrage.

The magician can
at once identify which
digit has been changed.

This definition
has the advantage of great

Let us briefly sketch
the argument, since it is
an instructive one.

Moreover, it was
a thought that took many years
to be clarified.

The blocks are the sets
of seed varieties used
on the seven farms.

If you didn’t know where it came from, this could be about anything, but it also sums up the appeal of mathematics:

But then again, who
can deny the power of
a glimpse at the truth?

And a more transparent statement about the nature of mathematics:

“All roads lead to Rome,”
and the mathematical
world is “connected.”

But I really love it when you can’t tell it’s about mathematics until the last line:

The answer turns out
to be that we should weaken
our hypotheses.

It is important
to have a broad awareness
of mathematics.

We will focus on
the most important special
case: vector bundles.

Sometimes relations
are defined with reference to
two sets A and B.

This remains as an
outstanding open problem
of mathematics.

Church’s thesis is
therefore often known as the
Church–Turing thesis.

How, though, can we be
sure that this process really
does converge to x?

It turns out that both
choices are possible: one

We shall now describe
the most important of these
extra assumptions.

Several themes balance
in Hilbert’s career as a

Indeed, the study
of such designs predates their
use in statistics.

This turns out to be
a general fact, valid
for all manifolds.

However, it is
a well-understood kind of

In particular,
we can define the notion
of winding numbers.

This is exactly
the task undertaken in
proof complexity.

Questions mathematicians ask themselves:

How much better would
you do if you could compound
this interest monthly?

Why are spherical
harmonics natural, and
why are they useful?

What consequence should
this have for the dimension
of the Cantor set?

Can we reduce this
computational problem
to a smaller one?

How about checking
small numbers a, in order,
until one is found?

For what values of
the edge-probability
p is this likely?

Is every even
number greater than 4 the
sum of two odd primes?

Can one make sense of
the notion of a random
continuous path?

Perhaps this is the answer:

In mathematical
research now, there’s a very
clear path of that kind.

This one sounds like some kind of ‘how many roads must a man walk down’ question:

How many walks of
length 2n are there that start
and end at 0?

And while this isn’t actually a haiku, I can imagine it being sung in response to that song, with ‘the number of such walks’ to the tune of ‘the answer my friend’:

The number of such
walks is clearly the same as
W (k − 1).

Mathematicians don’t always answer questions in ways that other people find useful:

If instead we were
to ask each person “How big
is your family?”

In particular,
the average family size
becomes infinite

It follows that at
some intermediate r
the answer changes.

Things only a mathematician would feel the need to state explicitly:

This is a sum of
exponentials — hence the phrase
“exponential sums.”

What makes them boring
is that they do not surprise
us in any way.

Proof is left as an exercise for the reader; it probably takes several pages, but:

If you do know it,
then the problem becomes a
simple exercise.

Once this relative
primality is noticed,
the proof is easy.

All we have to do
is use one more term in the
Taylor expansion.

Doing things this way
seems ungainly to us, but
it worked very well.

It is not hard to
see that the two approaches
are equivalent.

(Of course, one needs to
check that those two expressions
really are equal!)

But this subtlety
is not too important in
most applications.

Some interesting statements:

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

That is exactly
what a sphere is: two disks (or
cups) glued together!

Thus, recursion is
a bit like iteration
but thought of “backwards.”

Nevertheless, it
turns out that there are games that
are not determined.

(It can be shown that
there is exactly one map
with this property.)

The remainders get
smaller each time but cannot
go below zero.

There are other ways
to establish that numbers
are transcendental.

(The term “Cartesian
plane” for R2 is therefore

As usual, we
identify R2 with
the complex plane C.

Note that a block of
size 1 simply consists of
an eigenvector.

The upshot is that
we should always use a prime
number as our base.

Among the other
important number fields are
the cyclotomic fields.

Thus we obtain a
number that is less than the
quantity we seek.

So we might define
the “points” of a ring R to
be its prime ideals.

(For both halves, the pinched
equator is playing the
part of the point s.)

Thus, we have deduced
that length-minimizing curves
are geodesics.

For example, the
geodesics on the sphere
are the great circles.

The generators
correspond to loops around each
of the two circles.

The image of this
map will be a closed loop C
(which may cross itself).

We consider what
happens to C if we add
a small ball to it.

It is not hard to
show that the orbits form a
partition of X.

There are many ways
of combining groups that I
have not mentioned here.

I have thrown classes
of groups at you thick and fast
in this last section.

To apply Newton’s
method, one iterates this
rational function.

A quick overview
of physics will be useful
for the discussion.

can get away with
not understanding quantum
mechanics at all.

The quantum version
of Hamilton’s principle
is due to Feynman.

These encapsulate
the idea of a proof
by contradiction.

(A graph is simple
if it has neither loops nor
multiple edges.)

It is really an
algorithm that inputs
n and outputs an.

(An involution
is a permutation that
equals its inverse.)

If the tree has 2
vertices, then its code is
the empty sequence.

But the number of
possible orders of A,
B, and C is 6.

Number theory is
one of the oldest branches
of mathematics.

The percolation
and Ising models appear
to be quite different.

First, Albert shouts out
a large integer n and
an integer u.

This one is interesting if you imagine it’s about lines of poetry:

Another affine
concept is that of two lines
being parallel.

A mathematical protest slogan:

equality if
and only if x and y
are proportional.

A title of the mathematician’s equivalent of a song about unrequited love:

Why Is It so Difficult
to Prove Lower Bounds?

A series of short films:

10 Differences in
Economic Life among
Similar People

And something said in a soothing tone after a litany during a maths/mass:

Now let us return
to polynomials with
n variables.

The probability of finding a good haiku in the end matter is low, but I think this one’s pretty neat, even if it only has the right syllable counts if you say the ‘and’ in 906 but not 753:

law of large numbers,

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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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