Archive for Language

Soft Cheese

A play for two actors.

Act 1

A rustic village in Normandy. Candide, a recent émigré from the big city, has become quite fond of the rural lifestyle.

Candide enters the local cheese shop. Gaute, the store owner, looks up at the sound of the bell.

Gaute
Good morning, Candide! It’s so nice to welcome you again to my humble realm.
Candide
I inspected my garden this morning and some wonderful champignons matured nicely. Last week I ate mushrooms with Vieuxchatêl as per your suggestion, but I’m looking for a different type of local soft cheese today. Do you have any recommendations?
Gaute
Certainly, a new cheesemaker opened up shop in this area recently! They call it La Vache Qui Pleure. Would you like to sample some?
Candide
No thanks Gaute, that’s alright. Your judgment in these matters has been absolutely impeccable in these past few months, and whatever you recommend is always a culinary delight.
Gaute
Very well! That’ll be €3 please.
Candide
Here you are. Thank you so much!

Candide exits the store.

Act 2

The next morning, an angry Candide rushes into the store. The bell jingles violently.

Candide
Why didn’t you tell me this was processed cheese?! Why did you lie to me?
Gaute
Lied? But monsieur Candide, this is locally produced soft cheese, just like you asked for.
Candide
I don’t care if it’s technically soft and produced locally. You knew very well I wanted a real local cheese and you gave me this mass-produced junk.
Gaute
But the product I sold you already had artificial penicillium camemberti flavor added to it!
Candide
Artificial fungus flavor? Are you insane? You lied to me.
Gaute
You will quit making these libelous remarks! And besides, the cheese was never truly without fungus. You could have sprinkled some fungus on it yourself and it might’ve taken to the cheese.
Candide
You’re insane. This is no proper cheese.
Gaute
Sir, I will take you to court for libel and slander.
Candide
Do your worst. The truth is plain for all to see.

Act 3

A courtroom. Candide is down on his knees in front of a judge in court dress with his eyes toward the ground.

Judge
Are you Candide, the man who libeled against Gaute the cheese store owner?
Candide
I am Candide, but I did not libel against Gaute. He promised me a local soft cheese and he gave me mass-produced processed cheese.
Judge
But it was a local product. Your libelous lies make a mockery of this court.

Candide finally looks up at the judge. His face changes into a shocked expression of understanding.

Candide
You!
Gaute
In a small rural village such as this, I have to take on the role of judge, jury, and sometimes executioner.
Candide
This is a travesty of justice!
Gaute
The accused shall not yell in court.
Candide
You did not sell me proper cheese!
Gaute
The defendant is found guilty of libel. Gaute did sell cheese.
Candide
But proper cheese does not contain emulsifiers! It has the right fungus growing on the outside! It does not stay good for weeks while unrefrigerated!
Gaute
The defendant is also found guilty of trolling.
Candide
You cannot be serious. Until this very week you never sold me cheese with such artificial properties and additives. You sold me real cheese.
Gaute
The court finds itself obliged to forgive you for your ignorance of what is technically allowed to qualify as cheese. But by insisting on your own definition of this so-called proper cheese, you have proved yourself guilty of conceitedness. Bailiff, this man shall hang for the crime of being full of himself. Prepare the gallows.

Fade to black.

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Torn Apart

Here’s a silly “children’s story” I wrote around mid December. It’s a bit rough around the edges, probably a bit odd, and too graphical. So it goes.


It was a perfectly nice day when Esprit stumbled and broke his front right leg. When the little boy did not find the horse at his trough a few hours later he thought nothing of it; sometimes Esprit would run off and play and forget about dinner. To make up for lost time, the boy promised himself he’d visit the horse the next morning as early as he could.

The next day he noticed with mild consternation that the horse did not appear to be in his stable. The boy went out to search the property, trying to remember what were Esprit’s favorite spots. He remembered the open hill, where Esprit would often lie in the sun.

Time stood still when the little boy discovered what had happened. Whether running back to his house, alerting his parents, and calling the veterinarian helicopter emergency service took minutes or hours was not a question he’d be able to answer, but the sky was already turning red as a thunderous cavalcade of chopped air signaled the arrival of the helicopter. Esprit was harnessed in with great care so the broken leg wouldn’t shift, was given a sedative, and was swiftly lifted up. The little boy waved at the horse, certain the veterinarian would be able to mend and properly set Esprit’s leg.

Unbeknown to the helicopter pilot, distracted by the glint of the setting sun in her eye, the rescue pulley system malfunctioned and started lowering the horse just as the helicopter was starting to pick up speed. The little boy stared in wide-eyed horror as Esprit started bouncing left and right from tree to tree. Gapes and gashes appeared and started to bleed, and despite the sedative the poor horse woke up when its broken leg got stuck between the top branches of a particularly sturdy evergreen tree and was torn off like a cocktail pricker. The horse started to howl the most agonizing scream the little boy would ever hear, but that was not the end of Esprit’s misery. A particularly sharp branch a few trees over impaled the horse, which consequently produced a guttural, almost stuttering, and above all angry sound. The pilot finally noticed that something was awry when the helicopter refused to go forward anymore, but it was already too late. The surprisingly elastic tree finally gave up under the barrage of the helicopter’s brute force and snapped like a twig, propelling the helicopter on its now downward trajectory into the trees. Like in the Hollywood movies the little boy loved so much, the rotored machine made a squealing noise before exploding in a fiery ball of death.

The little boy was finally able to break out of his trance, and he collapsed into a sobbing mass. For months after he was bedridden, and each night he claimed Esprit came limping to his window while floating through the air, on three legs and a bloody stump, with mad, bloodshot eyes. The boy’s parents were worried sick, and their little boy’s German-accented psychiatrist was having the time of his life writing article after article about the little boy’s disturbed unconscious. When they found the broken window and the little boy’s dead body with the missing right arm, the autopsy report bluntly stated he had inflicted all these injuries on himself—that he had torn off his own arm. The hoofmarks all over his body were left out of the official report. The estate was up for sale the next day already, and no one’s lived there in sixty years. The locals are still weary of the place where the little boy died, but a real-estate developer drove by the other day and is planning to turn it into a hotel. The organization he represented put up a sign already: “The Hillcrest Hotel. Opening in May 2016, just in time for the holidays!”

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Pandoc Markdown Over Straight LaTeX

I familiarized myself with LaTeX because I like HTML better than word processors. In fact, I disprefer word processors. LibreOffice Writer can do a fairly decent job of WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean), but in many ways I like it less than HTML. So why don’t I just use HTML, you ask? Quite simply, HTML isn’t necessarily the best option for print.

Prince does a great job generating printable PDFs, but even though writing straight HTML is easy enough and adds many benefits, I mostly only prefer it over your run of the mill text editing software. Besides, I wanted to profit from BibTeX reference management, which tends to come along with LaTeX.

Clearly then, LaTeX has some nice features. Unfortunately, it shares many of HTML’s flaws and adds some others: \emph{} is at best marginally easier to type than <em></em>, but I find it somewhat harder to read. Besides which, converting LaTeX to other formats like HTML can be a pain.

On the good side, LaTeX and HTML also share many features. Both depend on plain-text files, which is great because you can open them on any system, and because you can use versioning software. Binary blobs and compressed zip files are also more prone to data loss in case of damage. The great thing about versioning software isn’t necessarily that you can go back to a former version, but the knowledge that you can go back. Normally I’m always busy commenting out text or putting it at the bottom, but when it’s versioned I feel much more free about just deleting it. Maybe I’ll put some of it back in later, but it lets the machine take the work off of my hands. I know, Writer, Word, et cetera can do this too, but did I mention I prefer plain text anyway?

Where LaTeX really shines is its reference management, math support without having to use incomprehensible gibberish like MathML or some odd equation editor, and its typographical prowess. On top of the shared features with HTML, those features are why I looked into LaTeX in the first place. So how can I get those features without being bothered by the downsides of HTML and LaTeX? As it turns out, the answer is Pandoc’s variant of Markdown.

In practice, I rarely need more than what Pandoc’s Markdown can give me. It’s HTML-focused, which I like because I know HTML, but you can insert math (La)TeX-style between $ characters. It also comes with its own citation reference system, which it changes to BibLaTeX citations upon conversion to LaTeX. As these things go, I wasn’t the first with this idea.

Of course it won’t do to repeat myself on the command line constantly, so I wrote a little conversion helper script:

#!/bin/bash
#generate-pdf.sh

BASENAME=your-text-file-without-extension
# I compiled an updated version of Pandoc locally.
PANDOC_LOCAL=~/.cabal/bin/pandoc

if [ -x $PANDOC_LOCAL ];
then
   PANDOC=$PANDOC_LOCAL
else
   PANDOC=pandoc
fi

# Output to HTML5.
$PANDOC \
$BASENAME.md \
--to=html5 \
--mathml \
--self-contained \
--smart \
--csl modern-language-association-with-url.csl \
--bibliography $BASENAME-bibliography.bib \
-o $BASENAME.html

# Output to $BASENAME-body.tex
# $BASENAME.tex has this file as input
$PANDOC \
$BASENAME.md \
--smart \
--biblatex \
--bibliography $BASENAME-bibliography.bib \
-o $BASENAME-body.tex

# Pandoc likes to output p.~ or pp.~ in its \autocite, but I just want the numbers.
sed -i 's/\\autocite\[p.~/\\autocite\[/g' $BASENAME-body.tex
sed -i 's/\\autocite\[pp.~/\\autocite\[/g' $BASENAME-body.tex
# It would probably suffice to just do this but I don't want any nasty surprises:
#sed -i 's/p.~//g' $BASENAME-body.tex
#sed -i 's/pp.~//g' $BASENAME-body.tex

# If ever bored, consider adding something to change \autocite[1-2] into \autocite[1--2]

# Generate the PDF.
lualatex $BASENAME
biber $BASENAME
lualatex $BASENAME
lualatex $BASENAME

# Remove these files after the work is done.
rm  \
$BASENAME.aux \
$BASENAME.bbl \
$BASENAME.blg \
$BASENAME.bcf \
$BASENAME.run.xml \
$BASENAME.toc \
#$BASENAME-body.tex

Something that may not be immediately obvious from the script is that I’ve also got a $BASENAME.tex file. This contains all of my relevant settings, but instead of the main content it contains \input{basename-body.tex}. There are some prerequisites for working with Pandoc-generated LaTeX, for instance:

%for pandoc table output (needs ctable for 1.9; longtable for 1.10)
\usepackage{longtable}

I haven’t yet made up my mind on what to do about splitting up chapters in different files, but it hasn’t bothered me yet.

There you have it. That’s my way of keeping thing simple while still profiting from LaTeX typesetting.

Comments (1)

Tunnel Anxiety

I was asked to publish more of the private writing I sometimes do as a past time. About a week ago, I wrote this short story in Dutch and kind of liked it, so I decided to try my hand at a quick machine-aided translation. The quality of the initial product was surprisingly high, but it’ll nevertheless be fairly rough around the edges, especially in regard to aspects like wordplay and rhythm that were lost in the process. The Dutch original is included after the tranlation, and I’ve included some hints about literary allusions at the very end.


The GPS spoke and the driver obeyed. He had seen the sign GPS, but the dark gaping tunnel mouth looked rather scary, so he turned right as the unit ordered. Therefore he now rode on a friendly, welcoming country road. It snaked through a large green pasture, enclosed with slim ditches. While a small hare hastily hopped off, leaving behind his meal consisting of now-swaying grass stalks, the driver decided that this road was truly sublimely chosen. A Mirkwood would not be found in such an environment. No, the only trees that earned more than the epithet bush-like, grew in a manner strongly reminiscent of a battleship. The mighty bow pierced the pasture without any hassle. Captain Owl was busy talking to a virgin eagle owl, who ordered him to aim the heavy calibers for the Ilian bushes — the same bushes that bordered the road. But the larks seemed not to be disturbed by these activities, so the driver felt reassured.

In the new Scooby Doo movies, the Mystery Machine was equipped with a wisecracking, sarcastically mocking GPS. The driver was only too happy that his navigation system did not come from a cartoon, when it suddenly came to life. “Dude, what what are you doing? I just told you that you had to drive straight forward, but now you’re suddenly on a lousy back road. Turn around quickly, because that road has a dead end in about a kilometer.” Well, why had he turned right, against the advice of the GPS? A quick glance at the dashboard proved that it was only half past eight. The sun was shining pretty bright already, but with the A/C on gently it couldn’t be noticed. Hours a-plenty and why had he even wanted to go north? The current northeastern course was much more pleasant.

It was already half past nine when he looked at the clock again. Hadn’t the GPS claimed that this road had a dead end? Sure didn’t look like it. In the meantime, the landscape had started to change. The flat polder landscape gave way to gentle slopes, nicely fitted by the propulsive glaciers in the last glacial.

This road was really nice and quiet. The only sign of life were those three rams, who did not want to let him pass through the cattle guard — no matter how much he honked. Eventually he had gently pushed them aside with the bumper. Although only a few tens of minutes had passed, the road started to climb and was increasingly surrounded by spruce. A dilapidated wooden sign welcomed him in Nifolland, which was quite appropriate given the emerging fog.

Gradually he began to find it a little odd that he hadn’t seen anything for such a long time. The tank was almost half empty, so he would be forced to return if he didn’t run into a gas station soon. Remembering that he had a (currently very quiet) GPS, he let his car come to a standstill to look for a pumping station on the device. But as soon as he had found the right menu, the GPS said: “There is no turning back. The only accessible gas station is located one hour onward on this route.” With a shrug he let out the clutch and the sound of a lone car reached the ears of the dealer long before the driver became aware of the first signs of human civilization in hundreds of kilometers through the damp vapor.

“It is recommended to seek shelter from the upcoming snow storm,” said the GPS suddenly. “The Nifollandic Meteorological Institute recommends that no one goes on the road for the next few hours.”

The door put an old-fashioned bell in operation. The interior of the shop at the gas station was paltrily furnished. On crooked shelves stood foreign brands of unrecognizable engine oil and bags of junk food. He bent closer to read the gothic-style letters. Barbecue chips with sooty-sea-beast flavor. They probably also had those make up your own flavor competitions over here. Nevertheless curious, he picked up a bag and went to the counter, which was still vacated.

“Hello? Is anyone here?”

A noisy silence was the only answer.

“I want to refuel and buy a bag of chips!”

When still no one came, he decided to refuel, took the chips, and on the counter left what he owed. But how he was to find accommodation? Absent-minded he opened the chips and put some in his mouth, when suddenly a shouting dwarf came running. “Stop! Stop the thief!”

The driver hurriedly looked around, hoping to make the right impression on the local population with a good deed, when he was suddenly struck down by a punch on the jaw. Regaining consciousness an unknown amount of time and dazedly looking around, he saw three dwarfs menacingly standing around him. While he aimlessly blinked, the oldest dwarf — the same who had beaten him down — started to talk.

“This long john took off with the veteran’s food. Arrest him!”

“He’s obviously not from around here,” said another dwarf, recognizable as a police officer by a blue cap.

“I don’t care! In the cell with that worthless oat!”

“But wait…” the driver tried to say, but a simultaneous “QUIET!” by all three dwarfs locked the words in his mouth. How many days had gone by in the meantime while he was in jail, was not entirely clear to him. The dealer’d had the last word and now he was sitting here, while the snow blew through the open, barred window. The loneliness was becoming less pleasant, and when the lock of the cell door opened he looked forward to a brief conversation. In addition, he still did not know what was going on.

“Warden, could you tell me what crime I am accused of?”

“That is not my job. If you’re here, you’re guilty. You know what of.”

“But no, I do not know that at all. Couldn’t you ask? I want an appeal.”

“Appeal? Who’s here is guilty. That’s how it is and no other way.”

“But what if you were wrongly accused of something?”

“The law does not make mistakes. But I’m not here to keep you company: we have found your companion.”

“My companion? I’m alone.”

“Sure, sure. You can figure it out among yourselves.”

It turned out that the people in this remote hamlet were not familiar with the concept of a GPS. But it is true, the device had recently shown some rather strange antics.

“Say lazybones, what are you doing? I have come to save you.”

“…how do you mean? You’re a GPS. You can only show the way.”

“And now I will show you the way out of this cell. What an idiot you are. Who swipes a bag of chips?”

“But I left compensation.”

“Dude, I have a currency-information function. They work with gold and silver coins.”

“You could’ve told me.”

“You’re already too lazy to look on the map. Should I have to think for you as well?”

“No, of course not. That I can handle.”

“I haven’t noticed you thinking for shit. See you later, until you think again.”

“Wait! Do not leave me alone!”

While the blizzard raged, the driver thought. For hours, days or years the driver thought. He meditated and fasted, but the GPS remained silent, until one day he dreamed of a big river. “Yes! You got it!” exulted the GPS.

“But I—” do not get it, he wanted to say, but the GPS interrupted him.

“Turn to the left and touch the door handle.”

“A cell door has no handle on the inside.”

“Turn to the left.”

He opened the door and walked outside, where the blizzard had subsided. The snow was swirling gently down and gently he swirled toward his car. On the way back the once beautiful landscape seemed formless and empty, but at the end of the road waited the unknown tunnel mouth. “Turn left,” said the GPS, but he turned right into the tunnel. It is said that the GPS slyly smiled. It is also said that the GPS smiled happily, maternally, paternally, neuterly, and so on. Yet everyone agreed that the GPS would still lead the way for many others. But where to no one knows.

Tunnelvrees

De GPS sprak en de bestuurder gehoorzaamde. Hij had het bord GPS wel gezien, maar de donkere gapende tunnelmond oogde nogal eng, dus sloeg hij maar rechtsaf zoals het apparaat beval. Daardoor reed hij nu op een vriendelijk, uitnodigend landweggetje. Het kronkelde door een groot groen weiland, omsloten met slanke slootjes. Terwijl een klein haasje nog haastig weghuppelde, zijn maaltijd bestaande uit grassprieten wuivend achterlatend, besloot de bestuurder dat dit weggetje toch werkelijk subliem gekozen was. Een Donkere Bomen Bos zou in zo’n omgeving vast niet te vinden zijn. Nee, de enige bomen die meer verdienden dan het epitheton bosjesachtig, groeiden op een wijze die sterk deed denken aan een slagschip. De machtige boeg doorkliefde zonder enige moeite het weiland. Kapitein De Uil was druk in gesprek met een maagdelijke oehoe, die hem beval de zware kalibers op de ilische bosjes te richten — dezelfde bosjes die de weg omzoomden. Maar de leeuweriken leken zich er niets van aan te trekken, waardoor de bestuurder zich gerust gesteld voelde.

In de nieuwe Scooby Doo films was de Mystery Machine uitgerust met een bijdehante, sarcastisch spottende GPS. De bestuurder was maar wat blij dat zijn navigatiesysteem niet uit een cartoon kwam, toen het opeens tot leven kwam. “Zeg gast, wat moet dat? Ik heb je daarnet nog gezegd dat je immer rechttoe, rechtaan moest rijden, maar nu zit je opeens op een of ander belabberd achterweggetje. Draai om en vlug wat, want die weg loopt over een kilometer dood.” Tja, waarom was hij eigenlijk rechtsaf geslagen, tegen het advies van de GPS in? Een vlugge blik op het dashboard bewees dat het nog maar half negen was. De zon scheen al behoorlijk fel, maar met de A/C zachtjes aan was er niets van te merken. Nog uren de tijd en waarom had hij eigenlijk naar het noorden gewild? De huidige noordoostelijke koers was veel prettiger.

Het was alweer half tien toen hij weer eens op de klok keek. Had de GPS niet beweerd dat deze weg dood zou lopen? Daar was anders niets van te merken. Intussen begon het landschap te veranderen. Het vlakke polderlandschap maakte plaats voor lichte glooiingen, in de laatste glaciaal netjes door de voortstuwende gletsjers aangebracht.

Deze weg was echt heerlijk rustig. Het enige teken van leven waren die drie rammen, die hem het veerooster niet hadden willen laten passeren — hoeveel hij ook toeterde. Uiteindelijk had hij ze dan maar zachtjes met de bumper uit de weg geduwd. Hoewel er slechts enkele tientallen minuten verstreken waren, begon de weg al flink te klimmen en door steeds meer sparren omgeven. Een vervallen houten bordje verwelkomde hem in Nevelland, wat gezien de opkomende mist erg toepasselijk was.

Langzamerhand begon hij het een beetje vreemd te vinden dat hij al zo’n lange tijd niets gezien had. De tank was al bijna half leeg, dus hij zou gedwongen zijn om te keren als hij niet snel een benzinestation tegenkwam. Zich herinnerend dat hij een (momenteel wel heel erg stille) GPS had, liet hij zijn wagen tot stilstand komen om op het apparaat een pompstation te zoeken. Maar zodra hij het juiste menu gevonden had, sprak de GPS al: “Er is geen terugkeer meer mogelijk. Het enige nog bereikbare tankstation ligt één uur voorwaarts op deze weg.” Met een schouderophalen liet hij de koppeling opkomen en het geluid van een eenzame auto bereikte de oren van de pomphouder lang voor de bestuurder door de vochtige damp het eerste sein van menselijke beschaving in honderden kilometers gewaar werd.

“Het is aanbevolen hier te schuilen voor de opkomende sneeuwstorm,” sprak de GPS opeens. “Het Nevellands Meteorologisch Instituut beveelt aan dat niemand de komende uren de weg opgaat.”

De deur zette een ouderwetse schel in werking. Het interieur van het winkeltje bij het pompstation was armetierig ingericht. Op wat scheve planken stonden vreemde merken motorolie en onherkenbare zakjes junkfood. Hij boog wat dichterbij om de gotisch gestijlde letters beter te kunnen lezen. Barbecuechips met roetige zeebeestsmaak. Ze hadden hier zeker ook van die verzin-je-eigen-smaak competities. Toch nieuwsgierig pakte hij een zakje op en begaf zich naar de toonbank, waar nog steeds niemand was.

“Hallo!? Is hier iemand?”

Een luidruchtige stilte was het enige antwoord.

“Ik wil tanken en een zakje chips kopen!”

Toen er nog steeds niemand kwam besloot hij maar te tanken, nam de chips mee, en liet op de toonbank achter wat hij verschuldigd was. Maar hoe moest hij nu accommodatie vinden? Afwezig opende hij de chips en stak er enkele in zijn mond, toen er opeens een roepende dwerg aan kwam rennen. “Stop! Houd de dief!”

De bestuurder keek haastig om zich heen, hopend met een goede daad de juiste indruk op de plaatselijke bevolking te maken, toen hij opeens door een kaakslag geveld werd. Een onbekende tijd later weer bij kennis gekomen en verdwaasd om zich heen kijkend, zag hij een drietal dwergen dreigend om hem heen staan. Terwijl hij doelloos met de ogen knipperde, begon de oudste dwerg — dezelfde die hem had neergeslagen — te praten.

“Deze langjanus ging met het veteranenvoedsel aan de haal. Arresteer hem!”
“Hij is duidelijk niet van hier” sprak een andere dwerg, door een blauwe pet als politieagent herkenbaar.
“Kan me niet bommen! In de cel met die waardeloze hannes!”

“Maar wacht eens…” probeerde de bestuurder te zeggen, maar een gelijktijdig “STIL!” van alle drie de dwergen deed de woorden in zijn mond steken.

Hoeveel dagen intussen voorbij waren gegaan terwijl hij in de cel zat was hem niet helemaal duidelijk. De pomphouder had het laatste woord gehad en nu zat hij hier, terwijl de sneeuw door het open, getraliede venster naar binnen blies. De eenzaamheid begon toch minder prettig te worden, en toen het slot van de celdeur opende keek hij uit naar een kort gesprek. Bovendien wist hij nog steeds niet wat er aan de hand was.

“Cipier, zou u mij kunnen vertellen waarvan ik beschuldigd ben?”
“Dat is mijn taak niet. Als je hier zit, ben je schuldig. Je weet zelf wel waarvan.”
“Maar nee, dat weet ik alleszins niet. Kunt u het niet navragen? Ik wil in hoger beroep.”
“Hoger wat? Wie hier zit is schuldig. Zo is het en niet anders.”
“Maar wat nu als u onterecht van iets beschuldigd werd?”
“De wet maakt geen fouten. Maar ik ben hier niet om je gezelschap te houden; we hebben je compagnon gevonden.”
“Mijn compagnon? Ik ben alleen.”
“Ja ja. Jullie kunnen het onder elkaar wel uitzoeken.”

Het bleek dat de mensen in dit afgelegen gehucht niet bekend waren met het concept van een GPS. Maar het is waar, het apparaat had recentelijk nogal vreemde kuren vertoond.

“Zeg luiwammes, wat zit je daar nou? Ik ben gekomen om je te redden.”
“…hoe bedoel je? Jij bent een GPS. Je kunt alleen de weg wijzen.”
“En nu zal ik je de weg uit deze cel wijzen. Wat een idioot ben je ook. Wie jat er nou een zak chips?”
“Maar ik heb geld achtergelaten.”
“Gast, ik heb een valuta-informatiefunctie. Ze werken hier nog met gouden en zilveren munten.”
“Dat had je me eerder wel kunnen vertellen.”
“Je bent al te lui om op de kaart te kijken. Moet ik soms nog voor je nadenken ook?”
“Nee, natuurlijk niet. Dat kan ik zelf wel.”
“Ik merk er anders nog geen ene reet van. Tabee, tot nadenkens.”
“Wacht! Laat me niet alleen!”

Terwijl de sneeuwstorm voortraasde, dacht de bestuurder na. Uren, dagen of jaren dacht de bestuurder na. Hij mediteerde en vastte, maar de GPS bleef stil, tot hij op een dag droomde van een grote rivier. “Ja! Je hebt het begrepen!” jubelde de GPS.

“Maar ik—” snap er niets van, wilde hij zeggen, maar de GPS onderbrak hem.

“Draai naar links en beroer het handvat van de deur.”
“Een celdeur heeft geen handvat aan de binnenkant.”
“Draai naar links.”

Hij opende de deur en liep naar buiten, waar de sneeuwstorm was bedaard. De sneeuw dwarrelde zachtjes neder en zachtjes dwarrelende hij richting zijn auto. Op de terugweg scheen het eens zo mooie landschap woest en ledig, maar aan het einde van de weg wachtte de onbekende tunnelmond. “Sla links af”, sprak de GPS, maar hij sloeg rechtsaf de tunnel in. Er wordt gezegd dat de GPS geniepig glimlachte. Men zegt ook dat de GPS gelukkig glimlachte, moederlijk, vaderlijk, onzijdig, enzovoorts. Toch is iedereen het erover eens dat de GPS nog vele anderen de weg zou wijzen. Maar waarheen weet niemand.

Antwerpen, 2013-03-28.

Afterword

I went a bit wild with the literary allusions in this story partly because I had just read a concise criticism of Nabokov. In a one-star review of one of Nabokov’s works, the reviewer stated that Nabokov brings his entire library with him when he writes. I can’t disagree, but I love that. I don’t necessarily love that I don’t get all the Russian or even all the French allusions, but there are aids such as critical editions and the Internet.

In my own text, I think the references to Greek mythology at the beginning are fairly obvious, perhaps too much so, but I hope the Norse mythology was significantly less in-your-face. Then again, I had to resort to Old English to find a cognate to the Old Norse nifl, which probably doesn’t help any. But most important, this story pays tribute to a variety of stories originally written by Marten Toonder, although I decided to replace the explicit mention of the Dark Tree Forest by the Mirkwood as a cultural translation. The prison exchange alludes — again too obviously — to Multatuli’s Max Havelaar. The little Joycean turn of phrase at the end is probably far more obvious to speakers of English than to speakers of Dutch, and the opening line attempts to somewhat paradoxically evoke Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. Whether there is more to be found I shall leave as an exercise to the reader. I hardly brought my entire library for a two-and-a-half-page story, but I did bring a little more that’s not Dutch.

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Some Notes on LaTeX

Because LaTeX offers nice typesetting, bibliography management, and most Linux distributions make it easy to play around with, I decided to experiment with the LaTeX basics. To get started on Debian and derivatives, the easiest option is to install the texlive package, which will pull in all the basics. Here’s a quick list of things that might be useful:

  • texlive: the basics.
  • pandoc, hevea, latex2html: pandoc can convert between a great many formats, the other two merely try to transform LaTeX into HTML.
  • texmaker, texworks: both seem to be good editors. Also of interest are Kile and Gummi.
  • lyx: a what you see is what you mean editor. Could be interesting as an alternative to LibreOffice Writer or Abiword.
  • jabref, biblatex, biber (not on Squeeze): JabRef is a BibLatex editor, something that makes citations easy. Biber is a superior modern Biblatex replacement which uses the same file format.
  • texlive-lang-dutch (Dutch hyphenation patterns): alter for your own languages, or just install texlive-lang-all.
  • texlive-fonts-extra: if you want some extra fonts to play with.

texlive-fonts-extra requires running (sudo) getnonfreefonts-sys -a to actually get most of them to work. Unfortunately it’s missing in Ubuntu 12.10. As a workaround we can get it straight from the horse’s mouth. However, it has some issues logging in as anonymous to the FTP, so we need to use HTTP instead: sudo getnonfreefonts-sys -H -aThe problem seems to have been fixed. sudo getnonfreefonts-sys -a will do.

pandoc and hevea seem to produce the best HTML. Unfortunately HeVeA doesn’t work with BibLaTeX, while pandoc sort of does. However, it needs a little coaxing.

pandoc GNL3-2012-2013.tex -o output.html --bibliography boeken.bib -s --toc

-o outputs to a file
–bibliography specifies the bibliography file to use, which isn’t automatically taken from the LaTeX file
–toc neither is the insertion of the TOC
-s creates a standalone file; is required for the title page and the TOC to be inserted.

It’s not quite ideal though.

Texmaker and modern times

In Texmaker you can simply replace the pdflatex line with luatex and you’ll be good to go.

To replace bibtex with biber, also make sure to remove the file extension. So instead of bibtex %.aux, we use biber %. Something similar applies to TeXworks.

Now that all the software is set up, you can start using LaTeX. There’s a very useful Wikibook about LaTeX. Or you can ignore all of the above and look into ConTeXt, which I understand should be easier to stylistically manipulate.

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A Clove of Day

The Middle-Eastern man opposite him was characterized by a distinct garlic smell. Why did people make such a fuss about the smell of garlic by making funny faces, especially when there were disgusting smokers stinking up the air, with what seemed like years’ worth of cigarette fumes stuck in their clothes? Yet it would be strange to assume smokers washed their clothes any less than other people. The tram was driven by a madman — no, a madwoman. Better yet, by someone trying desperately to keep the tram on schedule. The big truck trying to turn in a tight corner didn’t help, but the driver was determined to make it to the next stop on time. She wasn’t going to make these poor people miss their connection. Earlier that week she’d been reprimanded because her GPS-based performance review was below average. You need to drive faster. I’ll try, she said. Choo, choo!

He was just about the only white person in the tram. Was it racist to notice? Of course it’s not, not unless you think the other people don’t belong. Fuck, I’m an immigrant myself. Not that he was what the haters thought of when they used a word like immigrant — they didn’t think of Caucasians who spoke their native language. Spoke it better than they did.

As the crowds mysteriously dissipated inside the central station, he sat down to study a bit before the train arrived. A couple of pages till he had to move would be nice, but just about everyone seemed to have a cold. Sniffing, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, blowing noses — the other travelers were trying their best to produce an orchestrated cacophony. Their timing was impeccably unrhythmic. A whiff of garlic sauce interrupted.

Oh yes, it was lunch time.

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New E-ANS Location

I couldn’t find the E-ANS website (a Dutch grammar), but apparently it moved to a new location without any kind of redirect (via).

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The Days of Terror

Here’s a silly story I wrote about a decade ago.


When I was born, I was immediately aware of everything around me. I was aware of my father, who also was my mother. Or maybe something entirely different. In a way, I was my father. But that doesn’t matter now. It’s not important for the story I’ll tell you. A story which is of great importance, for I am the last still alive born prior to the End of the Suffering. Therefore I must relate my experiences from the first days of my youth. This knowledge should not be lost.

Like I said, I was immediately aware of my surroundings. Unlike the larger creatures, formerly the masters of the earth, we are as you know one big, conscious growing process. When we are cut off from our base, we stay alive long enough to pass our acquired knowledge to our main body. It’s partially because of this, that I can account of these events so well.

When I was only a few days old, I had my first experience with what is now only vaguely remembered as the Days of Terror. Compared to our present freedom, the Days of Terror lasted longer than any of us can remember. Nevertheless, it was gruesome.

I wasn’t prepared for it. I was just standing there happily, gazing at the sun, when suddenly I heard screams in the distance. First I couldn’t hear what the screams said, but the screams seemed to come closer and closer. After a short while, although it seemed to last for hours, I could finally hear what they were screaming. No! Not again! Spare me! I will stay small!

As the young lad I was, I didn’t understand it at all until suddenly it hit me. A sharp piece of metal hit my body and sliced me in two. Part of me was lifted by an air stream generated by the sharp piece of metal. It was then that I, or rather a long-dead piece of me, first met Him. We must not let this happen to us without doing anything! is what He was shouting at anybody who would could hear. We must fight back!

It was an unwilling crowd. All the pieces of the older ones retorted that it had always been like this. They were not prepared to do anything. But I was, having experienced this terror for the first time and being completely shocked that something like this could happen. So I replied: What do you propose, what can we do against this terror?!

We must attempt not to grow to the sun, but stick to the ground! He replied. So this is what we did. We stuck to the ground. The older ones didn’t do so, however. And so, a few days later, when the Terror came again, they had grown all the way up again. Suddenly scared, they grabbed the few of us lying down on the ground, pulling us with them. Thus it happened again, struck by the Terror for the second time. But now those surrounding us had seen that we were initially not harmed. That day we gained many new followers.

A few days later, we could already celebrate our first little victory. None of those around Him, me and the few other original followers were harmed. This was a vital breakthrough, and the news spread quickly among our brothersisters. I considered this to be the end of it. I thought we could all live like this, happily ever after, until the end of days. But it wasn’t like that for Him. He was far from satisfied. Only the first phase of His big plan to change the world forever had succeeded.

None of us knew what He was up to at first. He was busy with something, but none of us knew what it was. It was such a novel idea that we didn’t even grasp the idea when he first succeeded at what he had been trying for so long. To make a long story short, he had somehow managed unrestricted movement. This might all sound very strange to you today, but at the time, none of us had ever done it. Millions of years had passed and yet He was not only the first to think of it, but also the first to actually achieve it.

With His new abilities, He went to visit all of us. While those close to him, including me, were trying to master this new technique, He walked further and further, visiting those who had but barely grasped the idea of lying down. Walking was an exaggerated rumor to their minds, until they saw it in real life. As I was still relatively young, I did not do much with this new technique, but the older among us, who knew they were going to die quite soon, set out for exploration. They walked up to our great brethren at whose feet many of us still grow, and tried to initialize communication with them — another novelty. After a while they even succeeded, but they were not enthused by the concept of walking.

Many of those exploring never returned. Newer expeditions found out that it was due to lack of food, so newer expeditions decided to be in the ground half of the day to prevent starvation. Because most of us preferred to wander by day, this became known as night rest or sleep in common parlance.

He was happy with our achievements for a while, but as soon as most of us were able to move as well as He could, He wanted more. Instead of avoiding the Terror, he argued, we should attack the Terror. It might take some victims, but it would be worth it in the end, for we would be rid of the Terror. We felt like we could do everything after having mastered movement, so almost all of us agreed with whatever He could come up with.

So the days went by and inevitably the Terror came again. As it was not the metal, but the two things behind it which were important, as He argued, we should shrink away from the metal and then attack the two things behind it. He would give the sign.

Lying down, we waited for the metal to pass. Then, on his signal, we all extended over one of the two things. I don’t remember what we expected, but something much larger was attached to the thing and it fell down, crushing many of us.

The others, who had been waiting at the side, now jumped on the most important part of the Terror. The destructive metal didn’t seem to be doing anything anymore now that we managed to take down the controlling Terror behind it. We jumped all over the Terror, tying it. The Terror tried to get away and a long struggle ensued. At last it stopped moving.

Those who hadn’t actually helped getting the Terror down now went to look. The thing, which had given off warmth before, seemed to be cooling down. But then, not too long after having killed this one, another Terror approached. It was moving much faster than we were used to, so first it crushed many of us while running towards the lifeless Terror on the ground. But then we got hold of it. Tying it down to the ground, we repeated what we had done before. Again we succeeded.

As the months passed, we spent our time taking out an ever increasing number Terrors. Also, thanks to our movement technique, we found out that both we and the Terrors were with many more than we ever had expected. More importantly still, we were with many, many more. Our army kept on steadily growing and growing as we continued our struggle, The Terrors applied many different ways of fighting us. Billions upon billions were murdered in blistering flames. Later, these weeks became known as The Days of Terror, as the Terrors seemed to have reached a turning point. However, we found out that drinking our weight in water, while making us only barely able to move, also protected against the flames. From that moment, the war was all but won. The Terrors were cowardly running retreating. They fled to places were we couldn’t follow. As you know, they are still there. But they dare not harm us any more.

Finally having gained our freedom, we also thought He was appeased. But He was not. He wanted us to think of new techniques to better our lives. But it was then, that he suddenly passed away long before His time. A sudden frost struck us, and like many He was frozen. Still, the casualties were few compared to the battles we fought against the Terrors.

Our first independent new idea was to protect ourselves from things like frost. If we could battle the Terrors, why not winter? The Terrors left their dwellings behind, and we occupied them. Our scientists, as those with an aptitude for coming up with and testing hypotheses are called now, researched these dwelling. They found a lot of interesting stuff, but not all has yet been uncovered.

Recently the purpose of the objects made out of the dead bodies of our great brethren was discovered. These contain knowledge. The very kind of knowledge you are looking at right now. Yes, He changed the shape of the world forever. As the last of those who were there, it is my time to go now. I can already feel life flowing out of me. I’m no longer able to drink well any more.

I hope this message will not be lost over time. Do not forget the past. Do not become new Terrors yourself. Good luck living in the most exciting of times.

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Debian: International Fonts

Ubuntu comes with a large swath of international fonts installed by default, but Debian requires a little more attention. Although I can’t read the languages, I can recognize which script is which. Besides, boxes are just ugly.

  • East Asian: apt-get install ttf-arphic-uming ttf-wqy-zenhei ttf-sazanami-mincho ttf-sazanami-gothic ttf-unfonts-core (source)
  • Indic: apt-get install ttf-indic-fonts (source)
  • All together: apt-get install ttf-arphic-uming ttf-wqy-zenhei ttf-sazanami-mincho ttf-sazanami-gothic ttf-unfonts-core ttf-indic-fonts

These are merely the ones that I missed the most. I may update this post in the future.

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On Balls

For some reason male genitalia came up a couple of times in the past week, so I might as well share what I learned about German balls and repeat my plea for not only the acceptance, but the embrace of the word ballsack.

On Wimpsthe Weak Balled

The author of some book claimed that German has no word for wimp. Someone else replied that Weichei carries the load perfectly, but that it’s not something you’d put on the cover of a children’s book. I wondered why, because “I always thought it referred to how easy it is to break an egg: a metaphorical reference to how easy it would be to break a Weichei’s confidence.” As it turns out, because Eier doubles as slang for testicles in German, it actually means as much as weak ball(s).

This misunderstanding might’ve occurred because “In Dutch there’s the expression een zacht eitje. Saying ‘he’s a soft egg’ means ‘he’s a wuss/wimp,’ and there’s another usage, ‘it’s a soft egg,’ meaning ‘it’s a piece of cake’ (as in ‘it’s easy,’ but translating an idiom with another certainly seems more appropriate).”

On Ballsacks

A few days later, someone remarked that they felt embarrassed because their kid used the word “ball sac [sic].” I replied,

Ballsack is a perfectly ordinary Germanic word for a part of the male anatomy. Some people seem to prefer the Latinate scrotum, but I disprefer it. In Dutch as well as German the respective words balzak and Hosensack (lit. pants bag or perhaps more appropriately, pants sack) are perfectly ordinary words, and indeed the standard words for referring to the ballsack. If anything, saying scrotum carries negative connotations in Dutch. As a fellow speaker of a Germanic language, I implore you not to continue this treachery and disrespect toward our ancestors and to proudly scream ballsack from the roofs!

While a humorous veil covers what I wrote, I’m hardly kidding.

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