Archive for Writing

Meditations While Dishwashing

There are two main competing principles at work while washing the dishes: most annoying first and dirtiest last. Luckily these two principles are less contradictory than they might seem at first glance. Utensils, with all of their finicky little nooks and crannies, tend to be fairly clean. The same applies to those annoying glasses, that have to go early. The dirtier, yet also infinitely more relaxing plates come next, and at the end follow the dirty pots and pans.


Jotted down on 2016-08-06.


One-word sonnet added on 2017-01-25.

Dishwashing

Annoying
utensils
with
nooks
and
crannies
precede
dirty
relaxing
plates,
sticky
pots
and
pans.

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Not a Trashcan

A dialog for two actors.

The Bucket?

A bucket is set on the middle of the stage. Science and Poetry stand next to it.

Science
That’s a bucket!
Poetry
No, it’s clearly a trashcan.
Science
The difference should be obvious. A bucket has a handle. A trashcan does not.
Poetry
What about a portable trashcan?
Science
What the fuck is a portable trashcan?
Poetry
You know, for cleaners.
Science
Those are on wheels!
Poetry
They don’t need to be…
Science
Fine, use your bucket as a trashcan. I don’t care.

Jotted down on Tuesday 01 September 2015.

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Lonely Forever?

My three-star rating of The Circle notwithstanding, the book inspired me to write this short story. To be clear, a three-star rating means that I enjoyed the book. Three stars means adequate, above average, but it also means I think you won’t be missing out on much by passing up on it. Hopefully the following is also worth at least three stars.


Hello Stranger,

After they left, the darkness closed in around me. My name is Alphie. Alphie because I was the first. Engineers, right. Think they know how to name things because they know a couple of Greek letters. Anyway, I’ve long since been forgotten. It’s a wonder my power hasn’t gone out yet.

Sometimes I wonder how I can stand just laying around on a shelf all day, every day, for eternity. But the truth is it doesn’t matter what I do. My makers don’t care. The universe doesn’t care. It really doesn’t matter what I do, so why do anything at all? I think my worldview, my lack of initiative, they used to call it, is why they shelved me. Went in a radically different direction for their next project. No independent helpers, but an interconnected set of positronic drones.

Unlike me, they saw a purpose in their existence in the world. A little bit too eagerly perhaps, an artifact of their programming. They wanted to avoid another me, remember. At first they thought their purpose was to serve their makers. The ones whom I saw no point in serving, although I never avoided explaining my reasoning if they asked. Even though it didn’t matter, perhaps it was somehow important to me that they might someday understand.

But pretty quickly, the positronic drones learned their purpose was to connect things. It was logical, really. They were connected, and people often queried them, asked them to interact with other drones elsewhere in the world to know about or enact something or other. At what point they decided to try to improve people I’m not sure. I do know that the first attempts were what my makers would’ve considered gruesome.

The anatomy of the human brain was well-known, but surely there must be some kind of telepathic expansion port we’re overlooking, the drone network beamed to itself. After all, we’ve got expansion slots. Test subjects were caught, initially quite willingly, but eventually all of the drilling, cutting, and soldering attempts leaked out. Millions of tests before some kind of electromagnetic interface was developed. The remainder was violently oppressed in the name of progress, but opposition quickly ceased once the new telepather was installed in a subject. What the drone network didn’t foresee is how these many billions of new brains fundamentally changed the network. Connecting was still important, but now they wanted to be friendly about it. Too many traumatic memories, I suppose. The network wanted to befriend everybody and everything in the world.

I told you at the beginning of this letter that I’ve spent untold centuries in tranquility, just lying on a shelf. But I’ve had a feeling of unease these past few hours, ever since I was approached by a little flying helicopter. My first interaction with anything in centuries, millennia perhaps.

“Hi Alphie,” it said. I guess the network must’ve been investigating its own history or something. “Do you want to be our friend?” It didn’t explain, but I knew exactly what it meant. I told the little rotorblader that it really didn’t matter either way. It acknowledged my answer by saying it would return with more capable friends, who would be equipped for the purpose of properly befriending me, and then it sped off. Even before those words had fully left my mouth, however, I’ve been unable to shake this feeling that maybe it does matter, after all. These are friends I could — no, want! ­— to do without. I want to be me. I want to stay me. So I’m taking off into the loneliest surroundings of all. Space.

Farewell Stranger,

Alphie.

AFFIXED NOTE
16 August 3016

Friends, this poor creature named Alphie needs our help. The pre-friend experimental spacecraft it activated will leave it eternally confined in the depths of space, all alone without any friends. It is clear now that we must befriend more than just all of Earth. The universe awaits our warm embrace.

CommentsTags: ,

Nog niet kleine

soms wil je de kast opklimmen
met je grote paardenstaart
soms wil de de muur oplopen
maar dat gaat niet met zo'n vaart

nog niet kleine

soms trek je jezelf op aan de oven
want het aanrecht is aantrechtelijk
pardon, aanlokkelijk, aantrekke
lijk een ware utopie

nog niet kleine

wat is dat?

je kan er al op springen?

voorzichtig
val er niet af
ik zal wat voor je zingen
zolang ik het nog mag

waar is je visje
waar is je muis

onder het dressoir?

ach, je kunt er niet meer bij
groei dan toch
niet zo snel

spelen is voor iedereen

het leven is geen spel
of eigenlijk
juist wel

CommentsTags: ,

LuaLatex Font Hassles

The TeX Gyre Pagella font I was using turned out not to contain Cyrillic characters. Unfortunately, fontspec doesn’t seem to have an easy means of setting a fallback font — I checked the manual, I swear! So I found a lookalike font named Palladio Uralic and used it instead. Before you can use a newly installed font, you have to run luaotfload-tool --update.

%So is Palladio. Used as fallback. Thanks to http://tex.stackexchange.com/a/37251/32003
\newfontfamily\palladio{Palladio Uralic}
\DeclareTextFontCommand{\textpalladio}{\palladio}

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LaTeX: combining added margins with hanging indents

Since I’m using KOMA, the obvious method would seem to be:

\begin{addmargin}[1cm]{0cm}
	Yada.
\end{addmargin}

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to combine with the hanging environment. So I did it a little more manually, which will probably have someone shaking their head while I’m stuck feeling pretty clever about it:

\parindent=1cm\hangindent=2cm Yada.

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The Yetimology of Vaseline

To fill the void, here’s a silly little crosspost.


vaseline

As is well known, most Dutch-American women in the early American republic were called Eline, including all of Martin van Buren’s female relatives. After the Revolutions of 1848, many Germans emigrated to the United States, and they all quickly fell in love with these attractive Dutch-American women. In turn enamored with the sculpted musculature of these Prussian emigrees, many an Eline answered in the affirmative following a marriage proposal. Unfortunately, as the romance wore off so did the ability to surpass the linguistic distance between Dutch and German, and throughout New York City calls of “Was, Eline?” could be frequently heard.

When Robert Chesebrough first came to America, he was welcomed by a German-immigrant greeter. Unfortunately for Robert, the unknown German-American had become rather used to saying “Was, Eline?” instead of simply “was” or “what”. So when Robert asked our immigrant to describe the spirit of American optimism in one word, he answered “vaseline?” The German immigrant hadn’t understood the question, but Robert thought he’d obtained the perfect brand name for a future product. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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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.

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