Tag Archives: Notes from Terra

Second prize is a set of steak knives


According to rumor, Alec Baldwin ad-libbed this scene for the movie adaptation of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, although I’ve also heard that Mamet created the monologue especially for Baldwin’s character, Blake, who does not appear in the original Pulitzer Prize winning play.  A transcription of the monologue can be found here

Blake strikes me as the ur-Father of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, speaking to the id-driven sales force.  In good times, Blake comes across as a parody of all bad managers with his A-B-C rules — he is Stephen Covey’s evil twin.   In a bad business climate, however, he is the bearer of profound Hobbesean truths, and one feels obliged to internalize him and let him whisper in the back of one’s mind, for his is the voice that drives industry.

I’ve never kindled…


My employer disperses interesting technical gifts every Christmas, and this year it was to be the Kindle.  However the endorsement of the Kindle by Ms. Oprah Winfrey had apparently caused a run on the digital reader (thank goodness she did not endorse the American banking system) and so, now in mid-February, we are still not in possession of the item.  Fortunately, the Kindle 2 has been announced and our original order of several hundred Kindles has automatically been upgraded, with a release date at the end of the month.

I enjoy reading and disposing of books, which has led me to be a avid user of the local public library system.  At the same time, I rather enjoying collecting — on a modest budget — titles that I can display on my bookshelves, often unread, sadly.   Browsing my own books, which bring back memories of the periods in my life when I was inclined to peculiar interests — I have a shelf full of Husserl with titles like Ideas I, Ideas V, Ideas VI, etc. ! — is a source of great pleasure. 

Whenever I open one of my books I am uncertain of what will fall out.  Sometimes its orange peels, sometimes the whiff of stale cigarettes from college, sometimes money I thought I had cleverly hidden from robbers.  The other day I opened up a dog-eared paperback copy Benjamin’s Illuminations and naturally came across his essay on unpacking his books. 

My basement is currently filled with crates of Russian books and journals, inherited by my father-in-law from a distant relative and emigre historian of the Russian imperial family living in Prague.  The books this distant relative chose to collect reveal a thoroughly different world in which an interest in the newest theories of evolution existed side-by-side with an interest in how best to uplift one’s serfs.

The digital revolution has made many of these books now generally available, especially with the ubiquity of one-off printing.  But what mind could gather this particular collection together, with its hidden references made through the course of a life, entangling interests into an ultimate statement of a man’s life pursuit.  Absent the fact that a certain man, our distant relative, found something valuable in each of these books, and that by handling each of them we can to some degree reconstruct his life — would any computer program be able to generate this particular collection based on algorithms of selection and indexing?

While I look forward to receiving my Kindle, I find myself secretly believing that books possess an élan vital that Kindles, by their nature, lack.

My friend Mr. Conrad Roth blogged a few months ago about his less ambivalent attitude toward e-books at the Varieties here and here — which I highly recommend to anyone considering the Kindle.  Another friend, Bill Ryan, blogged about his own very positive reaction to the Kindle a few months back, as well as his attitude towards the most common criticisms of the Kindle. 

Always interested in bringing my friends together, I just wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to link both of them in one page.

The Imp of the Perverse


No college freshman in America is able to escape his courses without encountering Kant’s Categorical Imperative in some form or other.  Drawing on a Medieval moral tradition that held that God has placed in each man’s heart, whether Catholic, pagan, or apostate, the knowledge of right and wrong, Kant held that each person has an inherent rational knowledge of the Moral Law, or the pure form of moral action, which is commonly known as the Golden Rule.  Behind the Golden Rule is, furthermore, an impulse to act according to the Moral Law which Kant dubbed the Categorical Imperative — a concept which Freud later took up and reinterpreted as an irrational force: the Super Ego.

For Kant, however, the Categorical Imperative was always a rational impulse which revealed our transcendent selves.  How, then, to explain the not infrequent impulse to not fulfill one’s duty to the Moral law?  According to Kant:

"We are not, then, to call the depravity of human nature wickedness taking the word in its strict sense as a disposition (the subjective principle of the maxims) to adopt evil as evil into our maxim as our incentives (for that is diabolical); we should rather term it the perversity of the heart, which, then, because of what follows from it, is also called an evil heart. Such a heart may coexist with a will which in general is good: it arises from the frailty of human nature, the lack of sufficient strength to follow out the principles it has chosen for itself…" — Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone

Edgar Allan Poe made a point of exploring that which Kant would rather leave aside as pointless and empty of content.  In an 1850 short story, he wrote:

"Induction, a posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not.

"There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please, he is usually curt, precise, and clear, the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue, it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences) is indulged.

"We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay… We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle." — The Imp of the Perverse

The tendency which Poe calls perversity — the tendency to say the wrong thing, to zig when one should zag, to procrastinate merely to see what will happen next — seems to be more ubiquitous in software programming than in other occupations.  I’ve known programmers who not only say things they shouldn’t, but seem to take a particular joy in doing so.  They do not simply lack an internal censor that would keep them from saying certain things, but seem to actually be possessed by some sort of Socratic daimon who eggs them on.

Yet sometimes I think it is not the programmers who are especially possessed of this imp, but simply they who are not able to mask it behind other, more acceptable, modes of behavior.   We often hear of the disgruntled chef who spits in a difficult customer’s food, or the unhygienic bartender who slips unsanitary items in a customer’s drink.  The same impulse, I think, takes over middle-managers at times.  They, who are forced to do unpleasant tasks by their direct managers, and who in the end are blamed by both the people under them as well as those over them when things go wrong, are always suspected of taking a particular pleasure — dare I say a perverse pleasure — when unpleasant things, such as dressing down an employee or on occasion firing one, must be done.  What is more perverse, after all, than actually taking pleasure in performing unpleasant tasks, and who could blame them if they did?

Similar to Poe’s "mobile without motive," Robert Herrick captured the mood as one of Delight in Disorder (1648):

A SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness :
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction :
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher :
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly :
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat :
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility :
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

The sexual element that is implicit in Herrick’s understanding of the imp of perversity is remarkably absent from Poe’s, just as the element of danger, pervasive in Poe, is absent in Herrick.  Our contemporary notion of the perverse tends to span both elements, and is generally accessorized with leather where Herrick has petticoats, and piercings where Poe envisions only murder.  Yet even in our own times perversity has started to lose some of its perverse luster.  The Christian Coalition may decry the slipping of moral standards as a slow slouching towards the Rapture, but I see the problem, rather, as one in which we’ve denied ourselves the real pleasures of perversity.  When even leather and piercings have lost their power to outrage as well as titillate, where shall we turn?

I’ve recently been enjoying pulp novels from the 40’s with a certain amount of furtive excitement that those authors are writing things they would never get away with writing today.  For instance, from Mickey Spillane’s 1948 I, The Jury (for those unfamiliar with the series, Mike Hammer is a tough detective, while Velda is his faithful secretary):

"Here’s one you’ll like, chum," Velda grinned at me.  She pulled out a full-length photo of a gorgeous blonde.  My heart jumped when I saw it.  The picture was taken at a beach, and she stood there tall and languid-looking in a white bathing suit.  Long solid legs.  A little heavier than the movie experts consider good form, but the kind that make you drool to look at.  Under the suit I could see the muscles of her stomach.  Incredibly wide shoulders for a woman, framing breasts that jutted out, seeking freedom from the restraining fabric of the suit.  Her hair looked white in the picture, but I could tell that it was a natural blonde.  Lovely, lovely yellow hair.  But her face was what got me.  I thought Velda was a good looker, but this one was even lovelier.  I felt like whistling.

"Who is she?"

"Maybe I shouldn’t tell you.  That leer on your face could get you into trouble…"

And so on and so forth.  I, The Jury was a runaway bestseller and made Mickey Spillane’s career.  This was due in no small part to the racy writing and tight plot, but something should also be said for the cover art.  Here’s the cover of the original 1948 edition:


And here’s the cover redone for a later edition:


Finally, here’s the poster art for a film version:


Do you notice a common theme?  A man with a gun pointed at a woman undressing.  Is he holding the pistol in order to force her to undress?  Or is she undressing in order to compel him to drop the pistol?  Thousands of readers in the 40’s and 50’s felt compelled to read the book in order to find out what was behind this juxtaposition of sex and violence, drawn by the imp of the perverse. 

Concerning Samovars


We have two in the house.  Passed down through the generations in my wife’s family, they currently sit in our living room as decorations, whispering to us of bygone times.

They once played a central role in the cultural life of the Russian emigre intelligentsia.  Alexandra Kropotkin evokes images of this bygone world in her wonderful book on Russian Cooking:

Among Russians who have gone away to dwell in other countries, it is easy enough to arouse mild attacks of homesick longing for Russian life and Russian flavors.  But to launch the expatriate Russian soul on a really unbridled jag of nostalgia, try mentioning our vechernyi t’chai, our evening tea.

There is the magic phrase that reawakens all out dearest memories of home!

When the samovar goes on the dining-room table, usually about 10 o’clock in the evening, the entire family gathers for the most intimate kind of get-together.  This is the hour of comfortable relaxation, with old and young meeting as equals in talk, drinking innumerable glasses and cups of tea while wandering conversationally into all fields of anecdote and gossip, of thought and speculation.

The babies and younger children are in bed.  The adolescents feel grown up.  The oldsters are sure of an audience.  And guests always drop in.  It is perfectly correct for friends to drop in, uninvited, for evening tea at any time between 10 P.M. and midnight.  The lady of the house is not expected to set out anything special for company.  There is no fuss or formality.  The scene is cozy and homelike.  When you come for evening tea, you take potluck with the family.

The dining-room table is covered with an embroidered tablecloth.  Beside the lady of the house, at her right hand, the steaming samovar stands on a little table of its own.  Or if there is no side table, the samovar will be standing directly on the dining-room table, with the hostess peeking around it to see and take part in whatever is going on.

A small china teapot fits into a metal fixture on top of the samovar.  The hostess herself has measured tea leaves into the china teapot, has brewed the tea with boiling water from the samovar, and has set the pot of tea on top of the samovar to keep on brewing.

The tea is made as strong as household supplies permit.  A few drops of this strong tea from the small china pot will be poured into each cup or glass, which will then be filled with hot water from the samovar.

Tea glasses in metal or silver holders that have handles, like American ice-cream-soda glasses, are set out for the men.  In Russia the men drink tea from glasses, adn the women drink tea from cups.

On our evening tea table are plates of cold cuts and plates of sliced cheese.  We don’t serve fish at evening tea unless the season is Lent, or when times are particularly hard.  The bread basket offers slices of black bread and slices of white.  Unsalted butter is on the table in a pretty dish … Plenty of sweet things will be arrayed in front of us in any case.  There will be homemade preserves, crystallized fruits, fruit confections known as pastilla, and the semi-jellied fruit candies that Russians call marmelade …

At vechernyi t’chai, it seemed that the tea was consumed endlessly, most Russians taking it with thin slices of lemon.  The hostess always sliced the lemon herself with a special silver knife.  After cutting the lemon she always held the knife for a moment in the steam from the samovar to prevent the knife from tarnishing.

Everyone at the tea table had a plate and a small saucer, usually of cut glass.  The saucer was for preserves, which you either ate with a spoon or put into your tea.  Many Russians like preserves better than sugar as a sweetening for their tea.  After years in America it still irks me not to be able to find saucers of the right size for preserves to go with Russian tea.  We call these saucers blewdichki dlia vareniya.  They are about 3 inches across.  Very few Russians take milk or cream in their evening tea.  They take it that way on for breakfast.

The best breakfast in the world, of course, is a hot bowl of pho, which is a part of my cultural heritage.  My mother makes it for us whenever she visits, and I generally have it for lunch at least two or three times a month.  Nevertheless, the best time of day for ph? is the morning.  It includes a strong beef broth for protein, noodles for carbs, and spices to help you wake up as well as a variety of herbs, bean sprouts and citrus. 

Andrea Nguyen has written an excellent series of articles about pho for the Mercury News which covers the history and the rituals surrounding the flavorful soup.  She even provides a recipe, though it is a bit of a lark since few people will have the patience to actually try it out.  It requires some unusual herbs as well as long hours of boiling bones and meat for the broth.  My mother typically boils two chickens (either Vietnamese or Thai chickens, since she says American chickens have no flavor) as well as a large beef bone for about 8 hours until the meat has practically disintegrated into the broth.

Garnishing pho is like putting together your own hamburger — you can have it your way. So, before putting any pho into your mouth, add your own finishing touches. Then dive in with a two-handed approach: chopsticks in one hand to pick up the noodles, the soup spoon in the other to scoop up broth and other goodies.

Your pho ritual may include:

Bean sprouts: Add them raw for crunch or blanch them first.

Chiles: Dip and wiggle thin slices of hot chile in the hot broth to release the oil. Leave them in if you dare. For best fragrance and taste, try Southeast Asian chiles such as Thai bird or dragon rather than jalapeños. Serranos are better than jalapeños.

Herbs: Strip fresh herb leaves from their stems, tear up the leaves and drop them into your bowl. Available at Viet markets, pricey ngo gai (culantro, thorny cilantro, saw-leaf herb) imparts heady cilantro notes. The ubiquitous purple-stemmed Asian/Thai basil (hung que) contributes sweet anise-like flavors. Spearmint (hung lui), popular in the north, adds zip. [For details, see Essential Viet herb page on this site.]

Lime: A squeeze of lime gives the broth a tart edge, especially nice if the broth is too sweet or bland.

Sauces: Many people squirt hoisin (tuong) or Sriracha hot sauce directly into the bowl. I don’t favor this practice because it obliterates a well-prepared, nuanced broth. But I do reach for the hoisin and Sriracha bottles to make a dipping sauce for the beef meatballs (bo vien).

I typically do put both hoisin and Sriracha in my soup because this is the way my mother has always made it for me.  Additionally, I squirt some of each into a dipping bowl, pick out thin slices of rare beef out of my soup bowl with chopsticks and alternate between dipping the slices in the chile sauce and the sweet hoisin.

Unlike the Russian tea ritual, the Vietnamese pho ritual is no time to talk about politics or religion.  Eating soup is a serious business, and involves the constant motion of chewing on noodles and preparing carefully for the moment when one swallows one’s noodles by synchronized hand motions, with the chopstick hand picking out pieces of meat from the bowl and dipping them in the sauce dish, while the soup spoon hand gathers more noodles to chase the slices of beef.

Talking generally resumes after the meal, as all participants look with satisfaction at the empty soup bowls and the pieces of discarded herbs and sprouts strewn across the table.

The Vietnamese are a coffee rather than a tea people, having been colonized by the French rather than the English.  For breakfast I like a strong cup of coffee with my pho, and I like to sweeten it with condensed milk.  A meal like this generally leaves me full well into the dinner hour.

The Apocryphal Employee and Some Apocryphal Books


Nancy Davolio was a fictitious employee in the Microsoft Access 97 Northwind sample database.  Many office workers became smitten with her furtive smile and stylish hair, and while she continued to exist as an employee in later releases of the Northwind database, her employee photo changed, leading many to suspect that something untoward had happened to the real Nancy.

As most people know, "Nancy Davolio" is an anagram for "A Navy Cod Loin", which provides a hint about her origins and eventual fate.  For a list of further Nancy Davolio anagrams, I recommend the Internet Anagram Generator here, where may find more of the 1394 or so anagrams derived from Nancy’s name, for instance:

Cavil Noonday
A Viand Colony
A Divan Colony
A Vainly Condo
Canal Void Yon
Canola Nod Ivy
Canola Don Ivy

Ado Van Coy Nil
Vandal Coin Yo
Vandal Icon Yo
Vandal Coo Yin
Vandal Coy Ion
Avail Cony Nod
Avail Cony Don

And La Coy Vino
And Oval Icy On
And Oval Icy No
And Oval Cony I

Avian Cold Yon
Avian Clod Yon
Avian Doc Only
Day Van Cool In
Day Van Loco In
Day Van Con Oil

Coda Via Nylon

A Navy Cod Loin, however, seems particularly significant, inasmuch as Rabelais has a whole chapter devoted to playing on the word "cod".  Rabelais was a master of lists, as well as a master of profanity.  It has often been suggested that the French simply are much more versatile at cursing than we English speakers, and there may be some truth to this, though you don’t need to understand French to enjoy Book III Chapter 28 of Gargantua and Patagruel (since I’ve found a translation for you):

"And if so be it was preordinated for thee, wouldst thou be so impious as not to acquiesce in thy destiny? Speak, thou jaded cod.

"Faded cod. Louting cod. Appellant cod.
Mouldy cod. Discouraged cod. Swagging cod.
Musty cod. Surfeited cod. Withered cod.
Paltry cod. Peevish cod. Broken-reined cod.
Senseless cod. Translated cod. Defective cod.
Foundered cod. Forlorn cod. Crestfallen cod.
Distempered cod. Unsavoury cod. Felled cod.
Bewrayed cod. Worm-eaten cod. Fleeted cod.
Inveigled cod. Overtoiled cod. Cloyed cod.
Dangling cod. Miserable cod. Squeezed cod.
Stupid cod. Steeped cod. Resty cod.
Seedless cod. Kneaded-with-cold- Pounded cod.
Soaked cod. water cod. Loose cod.
Coldish cod. Hacked cod. Fruitless cod.
Pickled cod. Flaggy cod. Riven cod.
Churned cod. Scrubby cod. Pursy cod.
Filliped cod. Drained cod. Fusty cod.
Singlefied cod. Haled cod. Jadish cod.
Begrimed cod. Lolling cod. Fistulous cod.
Wrinkled cod. Drenched cod. Languishing cod.
Fainted cod. Burst cod. Maleficiated cod.
Extenuated cod. Stirred up cod. Hectic cod.
Grim cod. Mitred cod. Worn out cod.
Wasted cod. Peddlingly furnished Ill-favoured cod.
Inflamed cod. cod. Duncified cod.
Unhinged cod. Rusty cod. Macerated cod.
Scurfy cod. Exhausted cod. Paralytic cod.
Straddling cod. Perplexed cod. Degraded cod.
Putrefied cod. Unhelved cod. Benumbed cod.
Maimed cod. Fizzled cod. Bat-like cod.
Overlechered cod. Leprous cod. Fart-shotten cod.
Druggely cod. Bruised cod. Sunburnt cod.
Mitified cod. Spadonic cod. Pacified cod.
Goat-ridden cod. Boughty cod. Blunted cod.
Weakened cod. Mealy cod. Rankling tasted cod.
Ass-ridden cod. Wrangling cod. Rooted out cod.
Puff-pasted cod. Gangrened cod. Costive cod.
St. Anthonified cod. Crust-risen cod. Hailed on cod.
Untriped cod. Ragged cod. Cuffed cod.
Blasted cod. Quelled cod. Buffeted cod.
Cut off cod. Braggadocio cod. Whirreted cod.
Beveraged cod. Beggarly cod. Robbed cod.
Scarified cod. Trepanned cod. Neglected cod.
Dashed cod. Bedusked cod. Lame cod.
Slashed cod. Emasculated cod. Confused cod.
Enfeebled cod. Corked cod. Unsavoury cod.
Whore-hunting cod. Transparent cod. Overthrown cod.
Deteriorated cod. Vile cod. Boulted cod.
Chill cod. Antedated cod. Trod under cod.
Scrupulous cod. Chopped cod. Desolate cod.
Crazed cod. Pinked cod. Declining cod.
Tasteless cod. Cup-glassified cod. Stinking cod.
Sorrowful cod. Harsh cod. Crooked cod.
Murdered cod. Beaten cod. Brabbling cod.
Matachin-like cod. Barred cod. Rotten cod.
Besotted cod. Abandoned cod. Anxious cod.
Customerless cod. Confounded cod. Clouted cod.
Minced cod. Loutish cod. Tired cod.
Exulcerated cod. Borne down cod. Proud cod.
Patched cod. Sparred cod. Fractured cod.
Stupified cod. Abashed cod. Melancholy cod.
Annihilated cod. Unseasonable cod. Coxcombly cod.
Spent cod. Oppressed cod. Base cod.
Foiled cod. Grated cod. Bleaked cod.
Anguished cod. Falling away cod. Detested cod.
Disfigured cod. Smallcut cod. Diaphanous cod.
Disabled cod. Disordered cod. Unworthy cod.
Forceless cod. Latticed cod. Checked cod.
Censured cod. Ruined cod. Mangled cod.
Cut cod. Exasperated cod. Turned over cod.
Rifled cod. Rejected cod. Harried cod.
Undone cod. Belammed cod. Flawed cod.
Corrected cod. Fabricitant cod. Froward cod.
Slit cod. Perused cod. Ugly cod.
Skittish cod. Emasculated cod. Drawn cod.
Spongy cod. Roughly handled cod. Riven cod.
Botched cod. Examined cod. Distasteful cod.
Dejected cod. Cracked cod. Hanging cod.
Jagged cod. Wayward cod. Broken cod.
Pining cod. Haggled cod. Limber cod.
Deformed cod. Gleaning cod. Effeminate cod.
Mischieved cod. Ill-favoured cod. Kindled cod.
Cobbled cod. Pulled cod. Evacuated cod.
Embased cod. Drooping cod. Grieved cod.
Ransacked cod. Faint cod. Carking cod.
Despised cod. Parched cod. Disorderly cod.
Mangy cod. Paltry cod. Empty cod.
Abased cod. Cankered cod. Disquieted cod.
Supine cod. Void cod. Besysted cod.
Mended cod. Vexed cod. Confounded cod.
Dismayed cod. Bestunk cod. Hooked cod.
Divorous cod. Winnowed cod. Unlucky cod.
Wearied cod. Decayed cod. Sterile cod.
Sad cod. Disastrous cod. Beshitten cod.
Cross cod. Unhandsome cod. Appeased cod.
Vain-glorious cod. Stummed cod. Caitiff cod.
Poor cod. Barren cod. Woeful cod.
Brown cod. Wretched cod. Unseemly cod.
Shrunken cod. Feeble cod. Heavy cod.
Abhorred cod. Cast down cod. Weak cod.
Troubled cod. Stopped cod. Prostrated cod.
Scornful cod. Kept under cod. Uncomely cod.
Dishonest cod. Stubborn cod. Naughty cod.
Reproved cod. Ground cod. Laid flat cod.
Cocketed cod. Retchless cod. Suffocated cod.
Filthy cod. Weather-beaten cod. Held down cod.
Shred cod. Flayed cod. Barked cod.
Chawned cod. Bald cod. Hairless cod.
Short-winded cod. Tossed cod. Flamping cod.
Branchless cod. Flapping cod. Hooded cod.
Chapped cod. Cleft cod. Wormy cod.
Failing cod. Meagre cod.
Deficient cod. Dumpified cod. Faulty cod.
Lean cod. Suppressed cod. Bemealed cod.
Consumed cod. Hagged cod. Mortified cod.
Used cod. Jawped cod. Scurvy cod.
Puzzled cod. Havocked cod. Bescabbed cod.
Allayed cod. Astonished cod. Torn cod.
Spoiled cod. Dulled cod. Subdued cod.
Clagged cod. Slow cod. Sneaking cod.
Palsy-stricken cod. Plucked up cod. Bare cod.
Amazed cod. Constipated cod. Swart cod.
Bedunsed cod. Blown cod. Smutched cod.
Extirpated cod. Blockified cod. Raised up cod.
Banged cod. Pommelled cod. Chopped cod.
Stripped cod. All-to-bemauled cod. Flirted cod.
Hoary cod. Fallen away cod. Blained cod.
Blotted cod. Stale cod. Rensy cod.
Sunk in cod. Corrupted cod. Frowning cod.
Ghastly cod. Beflowered cod. Limping cod.
Unpointed cod. Amated cod. Ravelled cod.
Beblistered cod. Blackish cod. Rammish cod.
Wizened cod. Underlaid cod. Gaunt cod.
Beggar-plated cod. Loathing cod. Beskimmered cod.
Douf cod. Ill-filled cod. Scraggy cod.
Clarty cod. Bobbed cod. Lank cod.
Lumpish cod. Mated cod. Swashering cod.
Abject cod. Tawny cod. Moiling cod.
Side cod. Whealed cod. Swinking cod.
Choked up cod. Besmeared cod. Harried cod.
Backward cod. Hollow cod. Tugged cod.
Prolix cod. Pantless cod. Towed cod.
Spotted cod. Guizened cod. Misused cod.
Crumpled cod. Demiss cod. Adamitical cod.
Frumpled cod. Refractory cod."

Rabelais is also famous for his list of apocryphal books, of which here are a few:

In his abode there he found the library of St. Victor a very stately and magnific one, especially in some books which were there, of which followeth the Repertory and Catalogue, Et primo,

The for Godsake of Salvation.
The Codpiece of the Law.
The Slipshoe of the Decretals.
The Pomegranate of Vice.
The Clew-bottom of Theology.
The Duster or Foxtail-flap of Preachers, composed by Turlupin.
The Churning Ballock of the Valiant.
The Henbane of the Bishops.
Marmotretus de baboonis et apis, cum Commento Dorbellis.
Decretum Universitatis Parisiensis super gorgiasitate muliercularum
  ad placitum.
The Apparition of Sancte Geltrude to a Nun of Poissy, being in
  travail at the bringing forth of a child.
Ars honeste fartandi in societate, per Marcum Corvinum (Ortuinum).
The Mustard-pot of Penance.
The Gamashes, alias the Boots of Patience.
Formicarium artium.
De brodiorum usu, et honestate quartandi, per Sylvestrem Prioratem
The Cosened or Gulled in Court.
The Frail of the Scriveners.
The Marriage-packet.
The Cruizy or Crucible of Contemplation.
The Flimflams of the Law.
The Prickle of Wine.
The Spur of Cheese.
Ruboffatorium (Decrotatorium) scholarium.
Tartaretus de modo cacandi.
The Bravades of Rome.
Bricot de Differentiis Browsarum.
The Tailpiece-Cushion, or Close-breech of Discipline.
The Cobbled Shoe of Humility.
The Trivet of good Thoughts.
The Kettle of Magnanimity.
The Cavilling Entanglements of Confessors.
The Snatchfare of the Curates.
Reverendi patris fratris Lubini, provincialis Bavardiae, de gulpendis
  lardslicionibus libri tres.
Pasquilli Doctoris Marmorei, de capreolis cum artichoketa comedendis,
  tempore Papali ab Ecclesia interdicto.
The Invention of the Holy Cross, personated by six wily Priests.
The Spectacles of Pilgrims bound for Rome.
Majoris de modo faciendi puddinos.
The Bagpipe of the Prelates.
Beda de optimitate triparum.
The Complaint of the Barristers upon the Reformation of Comfits.
The Furred Cat of the Solicitors and Attorneys.
Of Peas and Bacon, cum Commento.
The Small Vales or Drinking Money of the Indulgences.
Praeclarissimi juris utriusque Doctoris Maistre Pilloti, &c.,
  Scrap-farthingi de botchandis glossae Accursianae Triflis repetitio
Stratagemata Francharchiaeri de Baniolet.
Carlbumpkinus de Re Militari cum Figuris Tevoti.
De usu et utilitate flayandi equos et equas, authore Magistro nostro
  de Quebecu.
The Sauciness of Country-Stewards.
M.N. Rostocostojambedanesse de mustarda post prandium servienda,
  libri quatuordecim, apostillati per M. Vaurillonis.
The Covillage or Wench-tribute of Promoters.
(Jabolenus de Cosmographia Purgatorii.)
Quaestio subtilissima, utrum Chimaera in vacuo bonbinans possit
  comedere secundas intentiones; et fuit debatuta per decem
  hebdomadas in Consilio Constantiensi.
The Bridle-champer of the Advocates.
Smutchudlamenta Scoti.
The Rasping and Hard-scraping of the Cardinals.
De calcaribus removendis, Decades undecim, per M. Albericum de Rosata.
Ejusdem de castramentandis criminibus libri tres.
The Entrance of Anthony de Leve into the Territories of Brazil.
(Marforii, bacalarii cubantis Romae) de peelandis aut unskinnandis
  blurrandisque Cardinalium mulis.
The said Author’s Apology against those who allege that the Pope’s
  mule doth eat but at set times.
Prognosticatio quae incipit, Silvii Triquebille, balata per M.N., the
  deep-dreaming gull Sion.
Boudarini Episcopi de emulgentiarum profectibus Aeneades novem,
  cum privilegio Papali ad triennium et postea non.
The Shitabranna of the Maids.
The Bald Arse or Peeled Breech of the Widows.
The Cowl or Capouch of the Monks.
The Mumbling Devotion of the Celestine Friars.
The Passage-toll of Beggarliness.
The Teeth-chatter or Gum-didder of Lubberly Lusks.
The Paring-shovel of the Theologues.
The Drench-horn of the Masters of Arts.
The Scullions of Olcam, the uninitiated Clerk.
Magistri N. Lickdishetis, de garbellisiftationibus horarum canonicarum,
  libri quadriginta.
Arsiversitatorium confratriarum, incerto authore.
The Gulsgoatony or Rasher of Cormorants and Ravenous Feeders.
The Rammishness of the Spaniards supergivuregondigaded by Friar Inigo.
The Muttering of Pitiful Wretches.
Dastardismus rerum Italicarum, authore Magistro Burnegad.
R. Lullius de Batisfolagiis Principum.
Calibistratorium caffardiae, authore M. Jacobo Hocstraten hereticometra.
Codtickler de Magistro nostrandorum Magistro nostratorumque beuvetis,
  libri octo galantissimi.
The Crackarades of Balists or stone-throwing Engines, Contrepate
  Clerks, Scriveners, Brief-writers, Rapporters, and Papal
  Bull-despatchers lately compiled by Regis.
A perpetual Almanack for those that have the gout and the pox.
Manera sweepandi fornacellos per Mag. Eccium.
The Shable or Scimetar of Merchants.
The Pleasures of the Monarchal Life.
The Hotchpot of Hypocrites.
The History of the Hobgoblins.
The Ragamuffinism of the pensionary maimed Soldiers.
The Gulling Fibs and Counterfeit shows of Commissaries.
The Litter of Treasurers.
The Juglingatorium of Sophisters.
Antipericatametanaparbeugedamphicribrationes Toordicantium.
The Periwinkle of Ballad-makers.
The Push-forward of the Alchemists.
The Niddy-noddy of the Satchel-loaded Seekers, by Friar Bindfastatis.
The Shackles of Religion.
The Racket of Swag-waggers.
The Leaning-stock of old Age.
The Muzzle of Nobility.
The Ape’s Paternoster.
The Crickets and Hawk’s-bells of Devotion.
The Pot of the Ember-weeks.
The Mortar of the Politic Life.
The Flap of the Hermits.
The Riding-hood or Monterg of the Penitentiaries.
The Trictrac of the Knocking Friars.
Blockheadodus, de vita et honestate bragadochiorum.
Lyrippii Sorbonici Moralisationes, per M. Lupoldum.
The Carrier-horse-bells of Travellers.
The Bibbings of the tippling Bishops.
Dolloporediones Doctorum Coloniensium adversus Reuclin.
The Cymbals of Ladies.
The Dunger’s Martingale.
Whirlingfriskorum Chasemarkerorum per Fratrem Crackwoodloguetis.
The Clouted Patches of a Stout Heart.
The Mummery of the Racket-keeping Robin-goodfellows.
Gerson, de auferibilitate Papae ab Ecclesia.
The Catalogue of the Nominated and Graduated Persons.
Jo. Dytebrodii, terribilitate excommunicationis libellus acephalos.
Ingeniositas invocandi diabolos et diabolas, per M. Guingolphum.
The Hotchpotch or Gallimaufry of the perpetually begging Friars.
The Morris-dance of the Heretics.
The Whinings of Cajetan.
Muddisnout Doctoris Cherubici, de origine Roughfootedarum, et
  Wryneckedorum ritibus, libri septem.
Sixty-nine fat Breviaries.
The Nightmare of the five Orders of Beggars.
The Skinnery of the new Start-ups extracted out of the fallow-butt,
  incornifistibulated and plodded upon in the angelic sum.
The Raver and idle Talker in cases of Conscience.
The Fat Belly of the Presidents.
The Baffling Flouter of the Abbots.
Sutoris adversus eum qui vocaverat eum Slabsauceatorem, et quod
  Slabsauceatores non sunt damnati ab Ecclesia.
Cacatorium medicorum.
The Chimney-sweeper of Astrology.
Campi clysteriorum per paragraph C.
The Bumsquibcracker of Apothecaries.
The Kissbreech of Chirurgery.
Justinianus de Whiteleperotis tollendis.
Antidotarium animae.
Merlinus Coccaius, de patria diabolorum.
The Practice of Iniquity, by Cleuraunes Sadden.
The Mirror of Baseness, by Radnecu Waldenses.
The Engrained Rogue, by Dwarsencas Eldenu.
The Merciless Cormorant, by Hoxinidno the Jew.

I wonder if Nancy Davolio has read any of these books.

If you happen to be curious about some of the Latin titles, the Decretum Universitatis Parisiensis super gorgiasitate muliercularum ad placitum translates as The Decree of the University of Paris which Permits Young Ladies to Bare Their Throats at Will.   Campi clysteriorum per is The Field of Enemas.  The Cacatorium medicorum is The Doctor’s Chamberpot.

There are also apocryphal computer books, of course, which, oddly enough, I have the feeling I have read before.  Graham Nelson cites Tedium and Gnawfinger’s Elements of Batch Processing in COBOL-66: third edition and Mr Blobby’s Blobby Book of Computer Fun (h/t @ Paul).

I might also add to the list The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Multithreaded Applications, How Agile Will Make You So Productive The Code Will Write Itself, and Essential Project Management: Lying to the people under you, Lying to the people above you, and Making it all work out.

Big Cash Prizes


By way of Slashdot, here is a paper from Newcastle University suggesting that big cash prizes can drive technological breakthroughs.  Among successful examples of cash prizes driving innovation are the X-Prize Foundation’s fomenting of research into space rockets, space elevators, and moon landers.   Other competitions have driven innovations from breakthroughs in designing intelligent cars that navigate complex terrains to the successful construction of a half-scale model of an X-Wing that can actually take down a half-scale model of the Death Star.  In the same vein, the James Randy Educational Foundation has a standing one million dollar prize for anyone who can demonstrate, under "proper observing conditions", any paranormal or occult powers (restrictions may apply).

The notion that money can be a motivator is certainly an interesting one.   I myself once wrote an article on software interoperability in order to win an XBOX 360, and can testify to the power of electronics as a motivator for great endeavors.  Is it such a great leap from there to the idea that greenbacks can inspire similar feats of mental strength?

According to the synopsis for the article on cash prizes, the purpose of cash prizes is to drive "revolutionary" scientific breakthroughs, rather than typical scientific breakthroughs, for which the admiration of one’s peers is often sufficient compensation:

Given that revolutionary science is a high risk endeavor which usually fails; it is likely to thrive only when the incentives rewarding the rare instances of success are greater than for normal science. Therefore we would argue that it is insufficient for successful revolutionary scientists merely to get the usual rewards of prestigious professorships, respect from within the scientific profession, and a modestly high level of reasonably secure income. Something more is needed: lots of money.

The pluripotent possibilities boggle the mind.  Here are some of my own humble suggestions for achievable scientific goals and the cash prizes, in today’s dollars, that should be assigned to them.  Feel free to add your own prize suggestions in the comments.

  • A mass-producible flying car — $2 million
  • Pills that have the taste and nutritional qualities of real food — $3 million
  • A rocket to Mars — $5 million
  • A rocket to Saturn — $5.5 million
  • A rocket to Pluto — $1 million
  • Trained apes who will take over our menial tasks, freeing humans to live the good life — $5.5 million
  • Flying monkeys — $6 million
  • Disposable rocket packs (for daily commutes) – $6.5 million
  • Successful cloning of great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and Lincoln — $7.5 million
  • Successful cloning of B, C and D-list thinkers like Suetonius, Duns Scotus, and Ayn Rand — $1.5 million
  • Successful cloning of deceased pets — $2.5 million
  • Universal cure for cancer — $10 million
  • Teleportation devices — $11 million
  • Time Travel — $13 million
  • Worm Hole technology — $15 million
  • Hyperspace engines — $25 million
  • Mind-reading devices — $15 million
  • Robot sex-slaves — YMMV
  • Holodecks — $25 million
  • A computer that can defeat all chess grand masters — $1 million
  • Skynet — YMMV
  • A self-aware computer intelligence that will defend us against ape-slave uprisings — $25 million
  • Star Trek Replicators — $26 million
  • A working lightsaber — $27 million

As the paper suggests, if we haven’t achieved any of these goals so far, it may be because we have yet to offer the right incentives.

Notes From Terra: Moon Music


Perhaps it happened with the advent of sound in movies — or perhaps with the mass reproduction of music — but it is not uncommon for people to feel an attachment towards a certain piece of music which, over time, becomes the soundtrack for their lives.  In my case, the soundtrack is Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, though Isaac Hayes’s Shaft will do in a pinch.  (I will defer the topic of my desire to be a powerful and confident black man for another post, but surely I am not the only one…) 

The pertinent point here is that music is one of the modern world’s most prevalent therapeutic techniques for controlling and guiding emotions.  To use more archaic concepts, it is a modern tool for building character — or even spirit.  In his second critique, Kant lauds the reading of Roman histories as a way to build the moral sensibilities of young boys.  And in later times poetry seems to have served the same purpose.  Perhaps it is revealing too much, but before every interview or important meeting, I like to recite to myself the immortal words of Wallace Stevens:

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Actually, what I recite to myself is "I am the emperor of ice-cream, I am the emperor of ice-cream …" which after a few repetitions fills me to bloating with confidence.  Why this is, I cannot say.


The moon — once worshipped by pagans across the world; to whom the ancient Egyptians are said to have offered human sacrifices — provided a wonderful display this past Wednesday.  The last full lunar eclipse visible from Earth until 2010, it was the occasion for a party in our household.  We invited some friends from down the street to peer at the moon through our Edmund Scientific Astroscan Newtonian reflector telescope, for which we recently acquired a tripod and a 100X magnification lens.  This eclipse was noteworthy in that the moon was positioned in proximity to Saturn, whose rings we could finally see with the new lens. 

This recent party was not as formal an affair as the one we threw for the March 3rd, 2007 lunar eclipse.  That one involved many more guests, and moon inspired refreshments.  Moon pies, moon cakes, Blue Moon beer, naturally, and mojitos, a cocktail said to have been favored by the older Hemingway and, for our purposes, beginning with the same letters as "moon."  It was also a bit different from the way I saw a lunar eclipse as a child in the early seventies from Southeast Asia, where we placed a mirror in a shallow bowl of water in order to view the astronomical event. 

To this day I do not know whether this was meant to enhance the viewing in some way, or whether it was the result of some local superstition about not looking directly at the moon.  In Greek mythology, Actaeon was transformed into a stag and killed by his own hounds when he happened to espy Artemis, twin to Apollo and goddess of the moon, bathing in a pool.  As mentioned above, we used a reflector telescope rather than a refractor telescope to view the moon, and so are unlikely to suffer a similar fate.


If you’ve never seen a lunar eclipse, I encourage you to leave your houses in 2010 to see this strange phenomenon.  Over a period of about an hour, the moon is slowly consumed by a black shadow.  And as parts of it disappear the remaining part, shrinking like the evaporating smile of the Cheshire Cat, seems to shine even brighter.  Just as the moon looks like it will disappear completely, a sudden transformation occurs, and instead of looking at a dark sky, the shadow covering the moon becomes semi-transparent, and one instead sees a tinted moon.  In the most recent eclipse, the moon was tinged with a coppery hue for about half an hour.  Then slowly, a bright light proceeds across the moon’s face, until she is restored to her original fullness.

Just as we might each have a personal soundtrack, the moon also deserves her own.  This is the music I compiled for the 2007 party, and brought out again for the 2008 affair (should you have any suggestions for enhancing this playlist, I would enjoy hearing from you):

  • Debussey’s Clair de lune — performed by Yakov Flier
  • Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata — performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy
  • Rusalka: O Silver Moon — performed by Renee Fleming
  • That’s Amore — Dean Martin
  • Shine On Harvest Moon — Leon Redbone
  • Mountains of the Moon — Grateful Dead
  • Catch the Moon — Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell
  • Bad Moon Rising — Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Shoot the Moon — Nora Jones
  • By the Light of the Silvery Moon — Ray Noble
  • Moon Over Bourbon Street — Sting
  • Harvest Moon — Neil Young
  • Fly Me to the Moon — Astrud Gilberto
  • Old Devil Moon — Frank Sinatra
  • Blue Moon — Cowboy Junkies
  • Pink Moon — Nick Drake
  • Moondance — Van Morrison
  • Reaching for the Moon — Ella Fitzgerald
  • Oh You Crazy Moon — Chet Baker
  • Moonage Daydream — David Bowie
  • It’s Only a Paper Moon — Benny Goodman and his Orchestra

The pictures above, by the way, were taken of the February 20th lunar eclipse from our backyard, somewhere in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.  The third picture was taken by pressing the lens of a digital camera against the view lens of our telescope.  It was then photoshopped to correct for the inversion that the reflector telescope inevitably causes.