Un Crucigrama Críptico: A Cryptic Crossword in Spanish

I’m hardly qualified for the job, but it had to be done: I created a Spanish-language cryptic crossword in the style of the English-language cryptics the Anglophone world knows and loves.

I hadn’t been able to find a Spanish cryptic on the internet. Now when I search for one, I find the one I created. Hopefully some time soon, I’ll find plenty more Spanish cryptics which aren’t my own. No doubt a native speaker of Spanish will do a better job of creating them.

A Short Story: The {Eulogy}

The {Eulogy}

Seven words. All I could show for the forty-three minutes that had passed since the eleventh hour of the day were seven words. I write multi-threaded machine-learning algorithms with ease; the ability to write in languages that are not computational, however, eludes me. I was attempting to write a eulogy which I was to deliver that evening for my dearly departed Beatrice, yet by noon, I had written practically nothing. I had avoided writing the eulogy for over a week, and now four hours were all that remained before I would have to depart for the funeral. I grew pensive; I had calculated that if my rate of word production were to continue, I would have only thirty five words prepared by four o’ clock — a mere trifle for the lady that continues to be, even more so in death, the unrequited love of my life.

I had spent the majority of my years concealing my love for Beatrice. She had died young — not long after having celebrated her twenty-seventh year on this mortal coil — and I had had the pleasure of sharing intimacies with her that only propinquity through time and the implausibility of carnal relations make possible. Thus, finding the right words to do her memory justice without revealing the full depth of my feelings was proving especially difficult. I hoped that something other than my own inadequacies were at fault and apportioned blame to my keyboard. I swapped it for my mother’s in the next room, but on the basis of my writing all of twelve words in the subsequent hour, I concluded that a keyboard accustomed to writing human code is no better at forming sentences than another accustomed to writing computer code.

All I could show for the 103 minutes that had passed since the eleventh hour of the day were now nineteen words. Vaguely in search of inspiration, I did as procrastinators do: I experimented with fonts, I corrected my posture, I fiddled with curtains, I rearranged the room. Twenty-eight minutes later: still nothing had been added to nineteen words.

Soon enough, twenty-eight minutes ticked over to twenty-nine, and what was innocuously and inertly even became indivisibly and intrepidly odd. Nineteen words of trite eulogising were still nineteen words, but they had now become fifty-seven letters, seven spaces, three commas, two line-breaks and two full stops. The unflinching starkness of the idle computer screen had flipped my mind: I could no longer perceive words, only the arbitrary characters they consisted of. Grief was no longer a word imbued with meaning; instead, it was a seemingly haphazard arrangement of characters that consisted of a g followed by an r, an i, an e and an f, all of which stood together as arbitrarily as would a t followed by a k, a p, a % and an x. Nothing on the screen had changed; something significant inside my head had.

Although we tend to conceive of all things in their own customary aspect, we are not beholden to conceiving of any one thing in any one aspect. A tiger, for instance, is customarily nothing more than a tiger: it prowls, it entrances, it hunts, it kills. From another aspect, however, a tiger is a not-quite-infinite collection of atoms organised into interrelated molecular arrangements that constitute the entirety of perhaps the most magnificent and majestic of sublunary creations. After twenty-nine minutes of benumbed inactivity, I had come to see language as a grand set of elemental particles arranged to form a metaphorical tiger as graceful, alluring and deadly as any of its corporeal particulars out in the wild. In this new light, the g, the r, the i, the e and the f were but five linguistic atoms forming a lexical molecule that is part of the literary tiger known as English. The molecular bonding of a t, a k, a p, a % and an x, on the other hand, formed the basis of mutant cells in a beast not meant for this earth.

Such alchemical thoughts turned my mother’s dormant keyboard into a linguistic periodic table. Sitting there were all the signs of any import, the very building blocks of any possible permutation of the English language, and perhaps to demonstrate the veracity of my conceptual meanderings, tapping away before me were the countless keystrokes that would generate literature of the highest order. As if it were a Pianola player piano, I was privy to the pitta-patta-pitta that on my mother’s keyboard produces Joyce rewritten in Shakespearean English, another new-and-improved translation of Madame Bovary or Sappho’s lost poetry. In the form of keystrokes, I was beholding apocryphal histories of the future, crackpot scientific theories of the past and the nature of God that I once thought ineffable. Alas, although I could see the keystrokes, my computer screen was recording nothing. I bashed away at the keyboard in an attempt to capture at least some skerrick of these literary confabulations, but to no avail: my fingers were no match for the touch-typing hand of literature’s masterful and ethereal scrivener.

Frustration and the fabulous do not freely mix. My visions subsided as quickly as my agitation grew, and the only vestiges of my frenzied tapping were 1001 letters, ninety-two spaces, seventeen commas, fourteen semi-colons, eight line breaks, four quotation marks, three question marks, two dashes and not a single word from the English language that I could recognise. I had beheld untold literary treasures, yet all I had managed to record was a nonsensical collection of characters not even a madman would claim as his own.

The eulogy that would dutifully honour my beloved’s memory was, alas, still no closer to being written in time for my oration at her funeral. Others with more commonplace minds would perhaps have eked out something commensurately commonplace in whatever time remained and sensibly disregarded similar literary psychoses as diversionary. I, however, am possessed of a mind that programs computers. In the form of keystrokes, I had seen an ordinary keyboard churn out literature of genius, and my predilection for programming had me mulling over how this could be recreated and captured. Instead of wrangling with human code, I planned to write what comes naturally to me and develop computer code that would programmatically assemble a eulogy for my Beatrice as dazzling as any in literature’s history. It is the holy grail, the philosopher’s stone, El Dorado; so too is my computer, which can do in a second the work of thousands in a year. My pipe dream was standing on the shoulders of another pipe dream, but one that had been made real. In that, I took solace.

I began programming with zeal. I wrote in Lisp — how else to write a program of such awesome scope than with a functional programming language of such brevity? — and the first cut of my program generated a file of no more than 10,000 characters, all randomly selected and all randomly terminated on a full stop. As expected, the file was gibberish. I tinkered: I made vowels more likely to appear; I practically eradicated obscurer characters such as curly brackets; I introduced paragraph breaks and I allowed for text to be italicised. All of this, however, was the rudimentary prelude to the much more complicated task of incorporating distribution statistics for each letter of the alphabet into the program, so that a q, when rarely selected, would almost certainly be followed by a u. I was plunging headlong into developing an algorithmic representation of each letter’s relationship to itself, its twenty-five neighbours and the punctuation marks that feature in any sentence worthy of the name. Even though I was well aware of how complex the project would be, as I surveyed the great variety of possible and probable combinations, I could do nothing to beat back the dismay engulfing me upon surmising that I too was likely to have passed away before having developed a program that would somewhere approach the semi-structured malleability of the English language.

Be that as it may, I persevered with my endeavours for some two hours. Although I could not claim that my program had generated anything one would call literature, distinct progress had been made: an n often followed an i, no word ended with a j, an a would often stand alone, and from the inauspicious beginnings of “oly$PcC+!oa <Q* ll?pH”, I had managed to produce “Nasper, cart tulo jammalikire, a teaef nolt caflow”.

All the same, I knew no funeral address would come of my programmatic endeavours by the time my Beatrice would be laid to rest, and I now had only fifty-five minutes in which to compose a eulogy. I could waste no more time on whimsy and switched over to my word processor. Once again I was face to face with my literary trial; once again I failed to assemble a set of characters for my beloved Beatrice in the conventional manner.

Beatrice was born on the 2nd of April, 1975. A fresh batch of literary idleness had my mind again wandering from the task at hand as it began to ponder the essence of that date as a number. 020475 equates to 20,475, and in that form Beatrice’s date of birth became my calculator’s plaything as I endeavoured to unearth the properties of this most sanctified of numbers. I came to learn that the number is divisible by 3 and 6,325; 5 and 4,095; 7 and 2,925; 9 and 2,275; 13 and 1,575; 15 and 1,365; 21 and 975; 25 and 819; 35 and 585; 39 and 525. This meant that 20,475 had at least 20 factors – a remarkable feat for an odd number of not so large a size.

To prove that this number really was extraordinary, I tried to find factors for 311,299, the largest number anyone can be represented by according to their date of birth. I was astounded: not a single figure could I find that would divide evenly into the largest numerical representation of a calendar year. 311,299 is a forlorn and introverted loner of a prime number. By contrast, my beloved’s numerical form, 20,475, although less than a tenth the size of 311,299, is an attractive and gregarious marvel that abounds with fellow numbers seeking its association.

I had discovered what I would say at the funeral by way of a calculator. Whilst I consider myself a Romeo at heart, my version of the lovelorn Montague could never express himself like Shakespeare’s upon meeting Juliet’s lifeless body. I speak in mathematics, not iambic pentameter, and after such a drawn-out process, I was exceptionally relieved to have found something that spoke of my lady’s everlasting brilliance as only the timeless nature of mathematics could. Nevertheless, I had to write about numbers in words, so the thirty-seven minutes I had left to craft the eulogy still remained a daunting prospect. And as a programmer of computers, much more inclined to bits and bytes as opposed to syntax and grammar, the valence of Beatrice’s date of birth suggested another possibility much more to the liking of my procedural mind.

Literary minds imbue certain words with certain colours and suppose they possess properties not ordinarily perceivable to the untrained or untalented; musical minds do much the same with notes and chords. Analogously, mathematical minds find numbers have their own individual characters, a certain few of which possess talismanic qualities that can be employed in the service of resolving problems. 20,475, a number I freely admit I had not extensively considered before, became that talisman, that harbinger of light into the darkest corners of benighted ignorance and confusion. And as confusion was certainly the only thing I had programmatically assembled until then, I concluded that if 20,475 were to be interpolated into my program’s workings, it would come to produce the text that I was scheduled to deliver at the funeral. Only a short hop then had me supposing that if my program were to generate 20,475 files of text, that last collection of characters, the 20,475th, would acclaim Beatrice’s much cherished memory better than any other collection of characters possibly could.

The unexpected heat and humidity of the late April day augured well for the success of so improbable a venture. I was merging numerical mysticism with algorithmic rigour in a way that harkened back to Pythagorean times, and I garnered strength from knowing that I was pursuing a course blazed long ago by the genius of the ancients. With the illustrious example of the Hellenes as my guide, I made some final changes to my program and executed it. 20,475 files of randomly curated text were being created, and after seventeen minutes of operation, my computer came to rest with only ninety-seven seconds remaining before I was to depart for Beatrice’s interment. Steeped in hubris, I opened the fateful file feeling as if the success of my programmatic exploits had already been foretold. But like the prognostications of the oracles of times long past, interpretation and prophecy were shown once more to be natural bedfellows, for instead of finding myself with the text that would make even Beatrice’s sworn enemies pay tribute to her exalted memory, my disbelieving eyes read three times over exactly the same collection of characters that you are now reading.

Git Blame: List a Particular Author’s Files Across a Code Base

My goal: to have git tell me which files across the breadth of our current code base have lines of code in them that are attributed to a particular author.

My googling for a script came up with bubkes, so I decided to write my own and share that on the internet. No doubt there’s a better way of doing this, and no doubt there’s a better bash script possible (my bash scripting skills are rudimentary at best), but what I did does do the job.

Here’s the bash script:


matchGitBlame() {

	if [[ "$1" == *$2* ]]
		local count=`grep -o "$2" <<< "$1" | wc -l`

		if [ $count -gt 0 ]
			echo "$count : $2 : $3"

files=`find . -type f`

for file in $files
	blame=`git blame $file`
	matchGitBlame "$blame" "$name" "$file"
	matchGitBlame "$blame" "$name2" "$file"

If you execute the script like so (the script works with one or two author names as attributes):
./blame-script.sh authorName1 authorName2 > blame-script-results.txt && sort blame-script-results.txt -rVo blame-script-results.txt

you should find in the file named blame-script-results.txt something like the following:

180 : authorName1 : ./Breadcrumb.java
43 : authorName1 : ./ManagementTrail.java
41 : authorName1 : ./DashboardTrail.java
24 : authorName2 : ./NavigationTabsPanel.java
17 : authorName1 : ./DropDownMenuPanel.java
5 : authorName2 : ./ManageReportDropDownMenuPanel.java
1 : authorName1 : ./CrumbItem.java

Philip Roth on Politics in Art

From what I consider Roth’s best book, I Married A Communist:

“Politics is the great generalizer,” Leo told me, “and literature the great particularizer, and not only are they in an inverse relationship to each other – they are also in an antagonistic relationship. To politics, literature is decadent, soft, irrelevant, boring, wrongheaded, dull, something that makes no sense and that really oughtn’t to be. Why? Because the particularizing impulse is literature. How can you be a politician and allow the nuance? As an artist the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, a la Hemingway, the task remains to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, not to deny the contradiction, but to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow the chaos. To let it in. You must let it in. Otherwise you produce propaganda, if not for a political party, a political movement, then stupid propaganda for life itself — for life as it might itself prefer to be publicized.”

Best-of-Three Coin Toss: The Most Likely Way to Win

Always pick whatever side of the coin comes up first, i.e. if heads comes up on the first toss, always choose heads thereafter.

The reasoning: There’s probably some kind of minimal bias one way or another in the coin or in the tosser’s toss. Assuming there’s no data to help you out beforehand for determining the bias, as soon as you get your first piece of data in the form of the first coin toss, chances are the bias is towards whatever side of the coin turns up.

The complication: If the probability distribution is 90% heads and 10% tails and tails happens to come up up first, well, you’re very likely to lose a best-of-three coin toss series by always choosing tails. But if no one actually knows the probability distribution beforehand, you’re better off always choosing the side of the coin that comes up first for a short coin-toss series. Larger coin-toss series, i.e. a best of twenty series, will mean that if the bias is sufficiently skewed, it is indeed better to change your coin-flip choice in light of results.

Top Ten Prince Songs You Might Not Have Heard

Prince is coming to Melbourne, and on Monday night I’ll be five rows from the stage with a iridescent smile on my face and the funk in my hips.

The last time Prince was in town, his jam on All The Critics Love You In New York during the encore was the highlight, even if only diehards such as myself would have known of the song. And that’s generally the problem for diehards attending the big shows of the big names: they will have already heard the hits done to death and could do with their own personal favourites getting a run rather than the same-old same-old.

So here’s my personal top ten selection of B-sides and album tracks that I very much doubt I’ll hear Monday night, but like All The Critics Love You In New York managed to do the last time around, perhaps one of them will sneak into the show.

1. Erotic City

Perhaps the greatest B-side ever put down on vinyl.

Erotic City was literally and figuratively on the flip side to Let’s Go Crazy. No doubt Prince delighted in the thought of unsuspecting kids turning over their newly purchased single of good time funking rock to discover a sinuous, spare, almost mechanical dance song that would revolutionise club music and shock the bejesus out of people who say “bejesus”.

Ridiculously good.

2. PFUnk

The best that Prince can do at this stage of his career is a killer song on a mediocre album. But like so much of Prince’s best work, PFUnk didn’t even appear on an album.

PFUnk is Prince’s rather ungracious response to the rebuke he suffered after issuing legal notices to the relevant parties ordering any product or image of his to be taken down from the internet. Ironically enough, the song was an internet-only release. Happily enough, it was the best thing he’d done in years.

PFUnk is a huge, one-man Funkadelic jam — over seven minutes long; a hard rock chorus, skeletal space-age funk verses; multiple voices, multiple beats; killer solos, killer horn fills; false ending, latin-jazz outro. All that and it features a series of the hardest ones in the business throughout the chorus (the four is silenced every second bar so the one hits harder than a bomb).

3. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker

The Ballad of Dorothy Parker is Prince’s paean to Joni Mitchell, a feminine folk funk classic that’s the equivalent of a fresh summer kiss. And like When Doves Cry, Prince renders a full rhythmic symphony out of programmed drums that make the sparseness of the instrumentation noticeable only in retrospect.

4. Tamborine
Not content with too-fast corvettes as code for sexual frustration (is Little Red Corvette the only smash hit to have been about premature ejaculation?), Prince turned to tambourines that he dreamed being inside of.

One can only assume those dreams were heady stuff — they’re accompanied by manic drums, eastern melodies evoking harems and yet another demonstration of how well Prince can scream.

5. Lady Cab Driver

Prince usually celebrates sex. On Lady Cab Driver, not at all.

Prince brings the funk, but it’s a cold funk, mechanical, emotionless, like the sex he’s seeking. And when he finds it, the frustrations pour out with the climax.

6. New Position

It’s a throwaway song, probably something Prince laid down in an inspired hour or two of fun, and its infectious, slinky and sexy joy should have anyone heading to the boudoir to try out a new position.

7. Irresistible Bitch
Another ridiculously good and ridiculously explicit B-side. So spare that every little line is a memorable hook.

8. Feel U Up

As above, a signature B-side.

9. D.M.S.R.

Some of the slinkiest synthesisers on record — a party starter.

10. 17 Days

Erotic City eclipses its A-side, Let’s Go Crazy. 17 Days can’t do the same against When Doves Cry, but it’s killer nonetheless.

Also continues Prince’s fine fascination with prime numbers: 1999, 7, “17-year-old boys and they’re idea of fun” in Sign O’ The Times, 3121, 1+1+1 is 3, “23 positions in a one-night stand” in Gett Off, 3 Chains Of Gold, 17 Days, “it’s been 7 hours and 13 days” in Nothing Compares to U, and 5 Women.

And for bonus joy, here’s Living Colour’s rendition:

And the honourable mentions: Housequake, Let’s Work, Adore, Sister, Forever in My Life, Girls and Boys, Hot Thing, I Love U in Me, Do U Lie?, Vibrator, G-Spot, 5 Women, Joy in Repetition, Crystal Ball, Eye No, Damn U, Feel U Up, Girl, La, La, La, He, He, He, A Love Bizarre, Scarlet Pussy, Crystal Ball, It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night, Sexy Dancer, Bambi, She’s Always in My Hair, Scarlet Pussy, Hello, 1+1+1 is 3, Party Up, How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?, Starfish and Coffee.

Literature and Australia

There is no Australian literature, no Russian literature, no French literature; there is only literature. But over at the Age, Michael Hayward reveals, despite working in publishing, how parochial and uncritical he is:

In 2011, in not a single course in the whole country were students asked to read Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. This is the equivalent of not one Russian university teaching Anna Karenina, of Madame Bovary going untaught in France.

The real shame is that in literature departments, where people supposedly have a love of literature and have developed the ability to critically appraise it, they do not read Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary and Hamlet and Don Quixote and The Leopard and American Pastoral and Love in the Time of Cholera as the basis for all courses. The real shame is that anyone could suppose that The Fortunes of Richard Mahony touches Anna Karenina and that they are both equally deserving of study in a literature department.

Perhaps to prove my point, the very next sentence in Michael Hayward’s piece is this:

It is a rampageous scandal, to borrow a coinage from HHR  herself.

Rampageous scandal is hardly a bon mot worth quoting, and one only hopes it’s not the most felicitous turn of phrase in Henry Handel Richardson’s oeuvre.

A Link Between Unphonetic Orthography and Homophony?

Considering the number of languages in the world, I really don’t have much to go on, but my impression is that the more homophonous a language’s lexicon, the more unphonetic its writing system.

Here are some languages that I have some acquintance with that I’ve grouped according to their relative homophony and orthographic phoneticism, from the least homophonous and most phonetic to the most homophonous and least phonetic:

Group 1: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Russian and Finnish.
Group 2: English and French.
Group 3: Languages using the Chinese writing system and Japanese.

This grouping I freely admit is purely impressionistic: I have no hard data on the amount of homophones in each language, although the relative phoneticism of the writing systems I can say with confidence is about right.

The link that I’ve conjectured, if it does indeed exist, would seem to make sense. Written and spoken languages are different — you don’t often say what you write and vice versa — partly (mostly?) to take advantage of the particular properties of pages and eyes, voices and ears; so it shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise that homophones need further elucidation on the page and a move away from pure phoneticism becomes desirable.

I think Korean would be one language to go against the presumed trend — its writing system, Hangul, is deeply phonetic while having to deal with a number of homophones that come from Chinese loanwords.

I also suppose that Korean illustrates another linguistic trend: the later a writing system’s invention or adaptation for a specific language, the more phonetic it is designed to be from the outset, and the less time has passed for the spoken language to have drifted from how it’s written down.

Of course, take this with a large, unsubstantiated grain of salt: it’s all speculation based on the private musings of a very amateur linguist, none of which is supported even by a Wikipedia page written by a prankster.

Sade @ Rod Laver Arena, 2nd December, 2011

Countless people would have looked twice at Sade’s name and assume it a prank when she first came to prominence in the mid-eighties. No one need look twice these days: Sade is pronounced her way first, the marquis be damned.

Thirty years since the heady days of Smooth Operator and Sade still pulls a sizeable crowd, and a much cherished one at that: the kind that still pays full-price for music. Although Sade is an understated performer and her between-song patter is mostly rehearsed, the theatrical elements of her show — video projections, choreography, costume changes, stage effects — combined with an overlong absence from these antipodean shores make for an entertaining evening.

The night begins with Soldier of Love. The song incorporates a mechanised, industrial feel that is a slight departure from her usual fare, and the whole production plays on it: the performers emerge from the depths of the stage on the beat; the band synchronise their movements in lock step; Sade coolly hams it up; the lights accent the snare drum pounding on the two and four.

These theatrical elements are generally a clever touch the whole night through; a nonsensical video providing the back story to Smooth Operator while affording time for an obligatory costume change, however, is not. Regrettably, neither is the song’s rendition a great success — Smooth Operator feels limp and rushed. But no matter: soon after, an atmospheric rendition of Is It A Crime elicits the greatest response of the night, the slow burn of the verses that build to the chorus that goes somewhere close to emotional a welcome change from the general restraint of Sade’s material.

The relaxed funk of Paradise has a handful of the audience on their feet, and when the song breaks down into a sanitised, adult-oriented hip hop section, everyone gets on up. Sade wisely leaves the stage to her two back-up singers who have the crowd responding to their cliched calls. It’s lightweight and ridiculous; nonetheless, it’s fun.

We’ve been told we’re loved, we’ve heard the hits; while she never commands the stage, Sade is a gracious performer, and, smartly, she doesn’t rely on her intimate, understated music alone to entertain in a venue as vast as Rod Laver Arena. Her urbane exotica and the show’s production are all well done and — dare I say it — a smooth operation indeed.