Thursday, July 31, 2014

Imaginary Tossups with Real Toads in Them

Before July passes, let me add this thought to my blog: Marianne Moore's "Poetry" is really about quizbowl. At some point every quizbowl player comes to the realization that "there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle," but let me highlight some of the poem's deeper observations.
these things are important not because a

high sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
    useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible,
    the same thing may be said for all of us
Clearly, she is calling out stock clues, and players who buzz exclusively on them.
that we
        do not admire what
        we cannot understand
Why else has so little Canadian literature made it into the quizbowl canon after all this time?
nor is it valid
    to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books": all these phenomena are important.
What is "askable" knowledge? Should the canon be limited to the subjects of "school-books"? What about real-world knowledge ("business documents") that people don't necessarily learn in school? What is "important"??
One must make a distinction
    however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
    nor till the poets among us can be
        "literalists of
        the imagination" -- above
            insolence and triviality... shall we have it.
See for reference any question feedback discussion ever.

In conclusion:
if you demand on one hand,
    the raw material of quizbowl in
        all its rawness and
        that which is on the other hand
            genuine, then you are interested in quizbowl.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

State of My Bookshelf, or I Think This Is Getting Out of Control

Over lunch about a month ago, a friend asked me if I had read any good books recently. After some vacillation, I settled into an eager endorsement of Ben Lerner’s novel “Leaving the Atocha Station.” My friend accepted the recommendation and told me that he would seek out a copy. “I’d loan you mine,” I said, “but I haven’t finished it yet. I actually sort of stopped reading it a few weeks ago, about two-thirds of the way through. I should probably get back to it.” My friend narrowed his eyes, sighting me skeptically down the barrel of his burrito. He didn’t get it. If it was such a good book, and such a short one (a hundred and eighty-six pages), why had I abandoned it? An excellent question, maybe even a necessary one, but I didn’t have much of an answer. Abandoning books was just something I did, I told him, and something I was increasingly unable to stop myself from doing. I’ll start a book, get about halfway through it, and then, even if I’m enjoying it, put it down in favor of something else. My friend just shook his head sadly, perhaps a little dismissively, and resettled his attention on his burrito.
-- from Promiscuous Reading, by Mark O'Connell
Books On My Shelf That I...

...Have Not Started
Flaws in the Glass, Patrick White
Frederick Philip Grove, Douglas O. Spettigue (part of the Studies in Canadian Literature series of books about different authors)
The Perfect Order of Things, David Gilmour
Herland and Selected Stories, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Washington Square, Henry James
A Temple of Texts, William Gass
Switch Bitch, Roald Dahl
Morality for Beautiful Girls, Alexander McCaul Smith (I read and enjoyed the first two in the series, then never picked up the third)
Home Sweet Home, Mordecai Richler
Jane Austen, Carol Shields
The Professor, Charlotte Bronte
The Manticore, Robertson Davies
Mad Shadows, Marie-Claire Blais
Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy
The Road Past Altamont, Gabrielle Roy
Earth and High Heaven, Gwethalyn Graham
Women Writing About Men, Jane Miller
The White Castle, Orhan Pamuk

...Have Started But Not Finished
Briefing for a Descent into Hell, Doris Lessing
The Overwrought Urn, edited by Charles Kaplan
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (okay, so I never did read the last couple of chapters of this...)
Tales of Pirx the Pilot/Return from the Stars/The Invincible, Stanislaw Lem
Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
The Golden Gate, Vikram Seth
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories That Go Bump in the Night
The Riverside Anthology of Short Fiction, edited by Dean Baldwin
Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott
Needle in a Timestack, Robert Silverberg
Seven Come Infinity, Geoff Conklin
Two Lives, Vikram Seth
Jake and the Kid, W. O. Mitchell
The D. Case, Fruttero and Lucentini
Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro
Roses Are Difficult Here, W. O. Mitchell
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
The Stochastic Man, Robert Silverberg
Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz
An Area of Darkness, V. S. Naipaul
Words on Waves, Earle Birney
The Architects Are Here, Michael Winter
Old Love, Isaac Bashevis Singer
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby
The Hugo Winners, vol 1 and 2, edited by Isaac Asimov
Collected Stories of O. Henry
World of Wonders, Robertson Davies (had to return this to the school library back in high school before I was finished, then never picked it up again, even after I bought myself a copy)
As For Me and My House, Sinclair Ross
Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger
Good as Gold, Joseph Heller
Young Men in Spats, P. G. Wodehouse
St. Urbain's Horseman, Mordecai Richler
Puckoon, Spike Milligan
We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
Selected Tales, Brothers Grimm
84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
Slow Learner, Thomas Pynchon
Women in Love, D. H. Lawrence
The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Debt Unpaid

I owe my blog another June post, as previously promised. I finally went shopping for a new laptop yesterday and ended up getting a Chromebook (Acer C720). I like it so far ("so far" being the one hour I played with it last night). I'm going to try putting Chrubuntu on it this weekend, after which I'm sure I'll like it infinitely more.

I've been reading a number of things and also this list of numbers, which is now my favourite Wikipedia page. In particular I was reading this morning about Kaprekar's constant, a uselessly awesome result. You take any 4-digit number with at least 2 distinct digits (leading 0s allowed), sort the digits into ascending and descending order, subtract the smaller of these sorted numbers from the larger, and repeat, and eventually you will get stuck on the number 6174. There is basically no point to this, besides that it's pretty cool.

I've picked up another Doris Lessing--Briefing for a Descent into Hell. (The cover says, "Her most brilliant and imaginative novel".) I have no coherent thoughts on it yet. I read Particularly Cats last summer because Lessing's writing and cats are both things that I enjoy. Lessing's writing on cats is brilliant. This passage from the book is just one of my favourite pieces of writing:
[S]he would crouch and fascinate me with her eyes. I stared into them, almond-shaped in their fine outline of dark pencil, around which was a second pencilling of cream. Under each, a brush-stroke of dark. Green, green eyes; but in shadow, a dark smoky gold -- a dark-eyed cat. But in transparent globes of the eyeball, slices of veined gleaming butterfly wing. Wings like jewels -- the essence of wing.

A leaf insect is not to be distinguished from a leaf -- at a casual glance. But then, look close: the copy of a leaf is more than leaf -- furled, veined, delicate, as if a jeweller had worked it, but a jeweller with his tongue very slightly in his cheek, so that the insect is on the verge of mockery. Look, says the leaf insect, the fake: has any leaf ever been as exquisite as I am? Why, even where I have copied the imperfections of a leaf, I am perfect. Do you ever want to look at a mere leaf again, having seen me, the artifice?

In grey cat's eyes lay the green shade of a jade butterfly's wing, as if an artist had said: what could be as graceful, as delicate as a cat? What more naturally the creature of the air? What air-being has affinity with cat? Butterfly, butterfly of course! And there, deep in cat's eyes lies this thought, hinted at merely, with a half-laugh; and hidden behind the fringes of lashes, behind the fine brown inner lid, and the evasions of cat-coquetry. (Doris Lessing, Particularly Cats)
(The actual passage is a little longer, but to stay within "fair use" guidelines, I cut it down. Obviously, everyone should just read the entire book.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Some Thoughts on Knitting Charts

I've been reading through the Vogue Knitting issue from 1994 that I got at the Textile Museum's fabric sale last week. There's an article, "Knitting on the Information Highway", about online knitting communities, which contains the following gem:
Internet was originally set up as an information network by the Pentagon and is now used some what informally by people around the world. Whole books have been written about how to use Internet. If you find your way into it, look for knitters within a USENET news group called "rec.crafts.textile"...
But then again, in 1994, the most computering I was doing was Millie's Math House on the tiny Mac in our kindergarten classroom, so I won't judge.

In the letters to the editor section of the same issue, under the heading "The controversy continues", are published two separate letters expressing anger that patterns in previous issues have been printed in chart form rather than being written out. The difference is that written patterns list abbreviations of stitches in words, e.g.
*k2p2, repeat from * to end of row
to indicate a simple ribbing pattern, while knitting charts convey the same instructions pictorially, e.g.
I can see why people would find the written instructions easier to parse quickly, but knitting charts, from a computation perspective, are far more interesting. If you consider a knitting pattern to be a program (which I do), then a knitting chart, as a visual representation of the output it produces, is a quine.

...Okay, so it's a quine in the way that the Scheme program
is a quine. But still, kind of cool.

Some interesting links that I found while searching for "image quines":

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bright Tights and A Long Weekend

I went with Meraj on Saturday to a screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood (the 1938 one with Errol Flynn). I highly enjoyed it; it was the kind of thing I am easily charmed by. It felt like a movie meant for a younger audience, with all the weird fake laughter and bad dialogue and abrupt shifts within scenes that would suit less developed powers of concentration. Every time someone died (from arrows or swords), the actor would just kind of pause, close his eyes, and fall backwards peacefully. There was no anguished yelling except for one moment where someone in the background of a scene falls off a scaffold onto a spear--and I flinched for a second thinking there would be a gruesome image but the spear tip bends and the actor flops to the ground.

Will and Allen were combined into one character which, I guess how useful is Allen anyway? We can do without him. Basil Rathbone was Guy of Gisborne and it was kind of exciting recognizing him, because in the Holmes films he's made up as an almost perfect mirror of the Sidney Paget illustrations. Watching him with different hair and costume I realized he himself doesn't look that much like Holmes. The Sheriff of Nottingham was basically a non-character (too scared to do things and always being yelled at by Prince John), and this version of Maid Marian was boring but with really pretty dresses.

Maybe I have high expectations of her because the best Robin Hood story I've ever read was Jennifer Roberson's Lady of the Forest, which is a Marian-centric (and well-researched, historically accurate) retelling. (I picked it up skeptically and only because it had Marion Zimmer Bradley's recommendation on the cover, but that recommendation is well-deserved.) I also learned a lot of interesting history from that book about the Crusades and medieval England, which I otherwise wouldn't have cared about. But as fascinating as that period was, I realized watching this film that it's not the historical context that draws me to these stories, or even the idea of a rebel nobly fighting his oppressors; it's just the fun of seeing Robin outwit foolish people. I'll happily watch the same story beats done over and over, because Robin's and his band's mischievousness is good company. That's probably why the more cartoon-like a Robin Hood adaptation is (or actual cartoon), the more I love it.*

*The very notable exception to this is, of course, Rocket Robin Hood, which used to air on Teletoon Retro and which Meraj vehemently denies having watched with me more than twice at most.