Posts Tagged poetry

Sings up to which Joey has been (a poem about a song of a poem)


What I wrote were some mere rhyming words.
What I got was this wonderful song
by a friend with whom I get along
that I met on a ship full of nerds.

’Twas the cruise, as you might have inferred,
of that singer of many dings-dong.
We were one thousand five hundred strong
and a blue plastic uke was conferred

upon each of us on the first night
so we all could repeatedly tune
and observe it was never quite right.
The performers had hoped to attune
us to not make such fun of their plight,
but we did, sure as schooners will schoon.

I’m working on/playing with a few other silly poems to update you on that up to which I have been, but meanwhile, have a song version of the last one! How cool is this?! I met Joey on the JoCo cruise and he’s learning to use one of ‘the cheapest possible ukuleles that do not get classified as industrial waste‘ that Cards Against Humanity provided us all with.

This poem is another of these weird Petrarchan-sonnet-like-things in anapaestic trimeter. They said at different times in the cruise that there were either 1700 of us or 1500. I’m going to guess that the first number includes the performers. In any case, 1500 fits the meter better (as does 1600, if you want to take the middle ground.) As I process my cruise footage, which is most of what I will be doing in my spare time for the next few months, I am implementing Jonathan’s suggestion of making a supercut of tuning. If you have footage of tuning at events on this cruise that I wasn’t at, and you’re happy to send me clips of it, let me know so I can add it to the supercut.

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Things up to which I have been (a poem)


(Note: there is no grammatical reason not to end a sentence with a preposition. I just wrote the title this way for comic effect.)

I’ve been busy in so many ways
and my blog’s gone from quiet to worse
so for poetry month, I’ll be terse
with my news in prosodic arrays.

Here’s a list of my works and my plays —
check the links if you want to immerse.
I’ll explain it all further in verse
in new posts in the upcoming days.

I’ve performed and I’ve published and coded,
got a job, got a fan page, and masters
in linguistics and web dev and showed it
with a site to find safer rhymes faster,
took a cruise, got some footage uploaded,
and wrote poems when I could be arsed to.

That was some kind of Petrarchan sonnet in anapaestic trimeter; what in the bard’s name am I doing? I’ve been wanting to update my blog for some time now, but I keep doing more things that I want to blog about and it seemed like any blog post doing them all justice would be too long. I also still want to make improvements on, or upload footage of, many of the things I want to blog about before blogging about them. I have been posting a bit more often on the fan page, though, so like that if you want to stay informed.

The only way to clear this blog backlog (ack, blog backlog!) is to blog, and it’s Global Poetry Writing Month (also known as National Poetry Writing Month, though a nation is rarely specified) so if I blog something, it should be a poem. I’ll be blogging poems, perhaps daily, until I have poem-blogged about all the things from the last 11 months that I wanted to blog about. Consider this poem the table of contents, or the tl;dr version of blog posts to come.

If you’re also participating in GloPoWriMo, and need some inspiration, try my random rhyme generator. Someone suggested that feature when I told him about the accent-aware rhyming dictionary I made, and I promptly spent my free time on that instead of making the other improvements I had been planning, such as clarifying when ‘faster’ rhymes with ‘arsed to’ (hint: it happens in most accents where ‘can’t be arsed‘ or indeed ‘arse’ is used) and when it rhymes with ‘amassed a’. But more on that in a later blog poem.

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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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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.
Dan Jones FIGHTING INFECTION
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
CONDITION: Cancer

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
antibiotics.

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

“Just endless.” Helen
Thomson REGENERATION
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
possibilities.

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:

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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Haiku Detector Update


I’ve been sitting on some improvements to Haiku Detector for a while, and it’s about time I released the new version. I had been planning to put this version on the app store, but I’m waiting to hear back from somebody about an icon for it. So for now, you can download it without going through the store. It should work on Mac OS X 10.6 or later.

This version finds haiku made up of multiple sentences rather than only those made of 17-syllable sentences. I also fixed the bug which caused it to crash occasionally when dealing with very long texts. To celebrate, I’ll go through some of the same texts I did when I first released Haiku Detector, and see what new haiku are discovered. To start with, John Scalzi‘s Old Man’s War. This version of Haiku Detector finds 304 haiku in it. Sometimes, sentences can be included in more than one haiku:

“I’m sorry. My sense
of humor was surgically
removed as a child.”

“My sense of humor
was surgically removed as
a child.” “Oh,” I said.

“Oh,” I said. “That was
a joke,” she said, and stood up,
extending her hand.

Here are some of my favourites of the multi-sentence haiku:

She asked, still without
actually looking up
at me. “Pardon me?”

“Okay,” I said. “Mind
if I ask you a question?”
“I’m married,” she said.

“Well, she doesn’t have
to live with you, now does she.”
“How was the cookie?”

“Our friend Thomas would
make it to mile six before
his heart imploded.”

This one sounds like it could be a metaphysical statement about what consciousness is in general:

Your consciousness is
perceiving the small time lag
between there and here.

“I would not presume
to assume, Master Sergeant!”
‘Presume to assume’?

My wife’s out here, sure.
But she’s happy to live her
new life without me.

“Let me see.” Silence.
The familiar voice again.
“Get this log off him.”

“The question now is
what is really going on.”
“Any thoughts on it?”

I think this one is my favourite:

I can just be me.
But I think you could love me
if you wanted to.

I found a lot of new haiku in the CMS paper announcing the discovery of the Higgs boson, but they were all combinations of names from the stupendous author list. Since I included some from New Scientist last time, here are some from the issue of New Scientist that I am currently reading, a special issue on the human brain:

Imaging techniques
are allowing us to see
the brain in action.

The sound waves broke up
the synchronous firing,
ending the seizure.

Thought experiments
Sometimes an experiment
is impossible.

The ancient Greeks knew
about thought experiments
in mathematics.

These two go together:

Does that mean we should
revise our definition
of intelligence?

Until recently,
the same one had been used since
the 1950s.

I have many ideas for improving Haiku Detector, and I’d still like to see if I can detect the best-sounding haiku using linguistic tagging, but before that I’m thinking of rewriting the whole thing in Swift as a learning exercise. Since I don’t have a day job at the moment, I have a bit of free time if I strategically ignore sections of my to-do list. Actually, on that note, here are some particularly obvious haiku from the Mac OS X and iOS Human Interface guidelines:

At a minimum,
a menu displays a list
of menu items.

A picker displays
a set of values from which
a user picks one.

That will do for now. I hope you enjoy playing with the new version of Haiku Detector.

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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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Unintentional Haiku from New Scientist on A Better You


It’s been a while since I’ve run an issue of New Scientist through Haiku Detector. Since I’m far behind on holidailies, here are some of the unintentional haiku in their collection issue, A Better You. There were 40 haiku all up, many of which were bylines or captions. Many others were rather underwhelming as haiku, but here are the at-least-passably-whelming ones. First, some about getting smart:

We kick off with the
most important organ in
your body: your brain.

These brain areas
are very active when you
play an instrument.

Then you have to have
the motivation to do
something about it.

Now some about what not to eat:

As a result, health
bodies are gearing up for
a “war on sugar”.

Its conclusion: there
is “no evidence” that food
can be addictive.

Is it simply that
too much sugar equals too
many calories?

Unfortunately,
recent research casts doubt on
their effectiveness.

Headlines have appeared
questioning the benefits
of eating less salt.

The last one on that topic echoes Hank Green’s thoughts on picking the right addiction:

Assuming you will
have some vices, the trick is
to choose them wisely.

Some about growing old gracefully:

Some think the effect
is simply about having
a long way to fall.

What you need is a
bit of excitement along
the way. Take some risks.

What on earth was he
doing differently? What was
cushioning the blow?

Not surprisingly,
one of the most important
is intelligence.

Learning like a child
is easy if you know how,
says David Robson

Whatever you want
to learn, it’s never too late
to charge those grey cells.

He recently took
up Chinese, and has no plans
to stop after that.

Some under the heading ‘Get physical’:

They just haven’t been
very good at telling us
what they’ve discovered.

Could exercise be
a killer lying in wait
for the unwary?

Pain may return on
finishing the exercise,
or the next morning.

So if exercise
is so beneficial, why
won’t people take it?

“I’m sorry,” he says
when I ask about the noise.
“I’m on a treadmill.”

and some recipes for success:

It seems that anger
can make us impetuous,
selfish and risk-prone.

Concentrating in
itself is not enough to
screen out distractions.

Instead of nuking
your friendly bacteria
you should nurture them.

Their wounds were slower
to heal, and they also caught
more throat infections.

One theory is that
CMV plays a key role
in immune ageing.

And good vagal tone
improves emotional and
social well-being.

In conclusion, a haiku from me:

I hope these will lead
if not to better haiku,
to a better you.

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Haiku Detector Achieves its Purpose (and will now proceed to have an existential crisis)


I originally wrote Haiku Detector because my friend Gry saw Times Haiku and wondered whether there were any haiku in her Ph. D. thesis. The other day I heard back about the haiku she found. It turns out that even the title of the thesis is a haiku:

Developments for
studies of the extremes of
nuclear matter

Here’s another one, which could be about anything. The last line is a bit of an anticlimax.

As of today, the
origin of this strength is
not well understood.

When I read this one, I wondered if miniball was a mini-golf style version of another ball game:

At HIE-ISOLDE
the MINIBALL would be used
for the same purpose.

The impurities
of 48,50Ti
are easily seen.

After seeing these, I sent her the as-yet-unreleased new version of Haiku Detector, which can detect haiku made up of several sentences. Having mostly had my name on papers authored by the entire CMS collaboration, I expected her to find a lot of haiku in the author list. But ISOLDE is much smaller, and also this is her thesis that she wrote, not some paper whose author list she got tacked onto. So she got some from references:

Kitatani, S.
Goko, H. Toyokawa,
K. Yamada, T.

C 47,
537
(1993).

and some things with section numbers tacked on:

2.1.1
Open shell nuclei and
collective models

This matrix is the
starting point for the Oslo
method. 45

That last one has so many possibilities. I like to think of it as being about an electronic band called The Oslo Method which released a 45rpm record about The Matrix. Unfortunately, nobody can be told what the haiku is. You have to see it for yourself. And indeed, you can see the other haiku she found on the #MyHaikuThesis tag on Twitter.

I noticed something interesting while writing this post — some of the ‘haiku’ Gry found include gamma (γ) symbols:

The γ-ray strength functions
display no strong enhancement
for low γ energies.

5.2.3
Particle energy-γ-ray
energy matrix

Haiku Detector on her Mac has treated them as having zero syllables, as if they are not pronounced, and I think I recall characters like that not being pronounced in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. But I just checked on my Mac running Mac OS X Yosemite, and the speech synthesis (which Haiku Detector relies on for syllable counting) pronounces γ as ‘Greek small letter gamma’, so Haiku Detector does not find those erroneous haiku. I think that this might be a new feature in Yosemite.

But here’s where it gets weird: you’d think that it’s just reading ‘Greek small letter gamma’ because that’s the unicode name of the character. I tried with a few emoji and other special characters, and that hypothesis is upheld. But the unicode character named ‘chicken’ (🐔) is pronounced ‘chicken head’. Spooky. Another strange thing is that there is no unicode ‘duck’ character.

If you’ve been paying attention, you probably know why I happened to come across those oddities. I’ll have to investigate them later, though; right now I’m in Edinburgh for NSScotland, and it’s about time I looked at some tourism information.

So, Haiku Detector; what now? Maybe look for supersymmetric haiku?

Update: It seems that in Mac OS X 10.8, γ is not pronounced, and 🐔 is pronounced ‘chicken emoji’. Other emoji also have ’emoji’ in their pronunciations, while still others are not pronounced. I wonder if pronunciations were added (and later edited to remove the ’emoji’) for certain emoji, and now the default pronunciation has changed from nothing to the unicode name. So ‘🐔’ ended up with the explicit pronunciation ‘chicken head’ while others which were not previously pronounced use their unicode names. So this should be a haiku in Yosemite, though for some reason Haiku Detector does not detect it:

🐒🐔
🐔🐒🐒
🍄🍄🐍

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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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