Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bodega Burger Co. set list 2016-07-15

The nice folks at the Bodega Burger Company in Socorro, the best restaurant in the county, took the risk of hiring me to be the dinner entertainment last Friday, despite the fact that I just sing and don't have any instrumental skills or an accompanist. Heck, I figure if the minstrels could do it, why not me? All it takes is some songs that have strong lyrical and musical content: there will be no blazing 32-bar guitar solos, obviously.

I sang from 6:30 to 9:00 with only a few very short breaks. Here's my set list. As you see, I have a real soft spot for top-40 material from ages past, but that's far from all I sang. I've been doing open mic nights in this town for twenty years, I have a lot of material: so far, about 100 songs that are ready for prime time.

Blue Bayou: Roy Orbison, Joe Melson.
In my life: Beatles.
Another you/World of our own: Tom Springfield.
Mega-hits for the Seekers in the 1960s.
Dance the night away: Jack Bruce, Pete Brown.
From Cream's second album, "Disraeli Gears".
Don't think about her (when you're trying to drive): Little Village.
Little Village was a one-album supergroup of John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner. I sing this one from the toenails because of a recent unpleasant memory.
Tiny Island: Al Gaylor.
Stolen from Leo Kottke. I love stealing his vocal numbers because we have compatible ranges and he has a wonderfully off-kilter taste in material. I didn't do 'Sonora's Death Row' tonight, not exactly dinner music, but another Kottke piece I've done many times at open mics.
Lady Jane: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards.
Not rock and roll in any way, but a song of courtly love.
Then you can tell me goodbye: John D. Loudermilk.
Another repeat offender from the top 40.
Sukiyake: Rokusuke Ei, Hachidai Nakamura
A Japanese crossover hit, the first Asian artist to break the Billboard Hot 100, in June 1963. They called it 'Sukiyaki' because they figured that's the only Japanese word Americans would recognize; it has nothing to do with beef stew. I throw in one verse of English to give the mood:

I'll hold my head up high, looking to the sky

So they won't see all the tears that are in my eyes

No one will know I'm going through

My first lonely night without you

Silence is golden: Bob Gaudio, Bob Crewe
Big hit for The Tremoloes.
Learning the game: Buddy Holly.
Not your typical happy Holly song: deeply sad and cynical. Stolen from Kottke.
The Longest Time: Billy Joel.
A ridiculously upbeat tune to counteract the previous one. I once sang this two days after my heart got put through a shredder. If I sounded upbeat that night, it was pure acting.
Disney Girls (1957): Bruce Johnston.
Yes, it's a Beach Boys song, but a long ways from "Surfer Girl." A hymn to Disney's shiny fantasy world, recalling my own crush on Hayley Mills. Rather difficult due to a pretty wide range.
Catch the wind: Donovan Leitch.
Another perennial in my open mic act, and one of my favorite songs of all time.
Celluloid heroes: Ray Davies.
From the Kinks album of the same name. A deeply felt lyric that, for a change, is not about romantic love. Don't step on Bela Lugosi, he's liable to turn and bite!
Change the world: Tommy Sims, Gordon Kenney, Wayne Kirkpatrick
Eric Clapton is not usually known for his vocals but his version of this convinced me I gotta learn this one. Sloppy sentimental candyfloss, just the way I like it.
Cold Cold Heart: Hank Williams I.
If I needed someone: Beatles.
Pamela Brown: Tom T. Hall.
Just so nobody can argue I never do country. Thanks to Leo Kottke for finding this one. I frequently end it with the line "And I guess I owe it all to Kendra Barrett," and the Hobbs High class of 1966 will know what that means.
Prime Time: The Tubes.
I saw this legendary band twice live. Better showmen I've rarely seen. This was from their "Remote Control" concept album about TV. At some point I want to do a medley starting with "TV is King" (oh, if only your chassis were covered with skin!), then Blondie's TV song "Fade away and radiate", and close with this one.
Supernova: Nate Borofsky.
Title track from my favorite album since the year 2000, and my favorite new group of the millennium, Girlyman. Sadly, they broke up forever in 2013. The harmony on their version is riveting. Heir to a long tradition of fine American vocal harmonists, from the Sons of the Pioneers through the Everly Bros. and Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby Stills and Nash. It's too bad I can only sing one line, but I think the lyrics are strong even without the harmony.
Desperado: Don Henley.
See the changes: Stephen Stills.
From Crosby Stills & Nash's "CSN" album.
Helplessly hoping: Stephen Stills.
Picking the so-called melody line out of the perfect choral tapestry of the album version took a lot of study. Then I heard Stills sing a solo version to confirm that I did it right.
Happy ending: Joe Jackson.
Another of my go-to songwriters; I've done at least ten of his pieces at open mic nights.
Things we said today: Beatles.
Time after time: Richard Hayman, Cyndi Lauper.
I didn't get to my other favorite of hers, "All through the night," but it's in the book and ready to go.
Overkill: Colin Hay.
Be my number two: Joe Jackson.
A post-romantic-apocalypse love song for the shattered.
Conversation/Blue Boy/Chelsea Morning: Joni Mitchell.
A repeat of a set I did for the NM Symphonic Chorus summer fundraiser a week earlier. I think I've done well over half the songs from "Clouds" and "Ladies of the Canyon" in open mic nights.
Don't let it show: Alan Parsons.
A wonderful song for people recovering from romantic disasters. His "I, Robot" album has been a good source of tunes. I've also done "Some other time" and "Day after day (The show must go on)".
You don't have to say you love me: Dusty Springfield.
Hit Single: Joe Jackson.
If I fell: Beatles.
I'll be over you: Steve Lukather, Randy Goodrum.
Yes, Toto was a commercial smash, but that doesn't mean they were bad. I like to sing this one through, modulate up an octave, and sing it again.
I'm an old cowhand: Johnny Mercer.

I know all the trails in the Big Square States

'Cause I ride the range in my Ford Escape

Hank Williams: I'm so lonesome I could cry.
Cool Water: Bob Nolan.
Gotta do Sons of the Pioneers because as they say at Bob's Country Bunker, Country and Western are two different things. Also known as the Bartender's Friend; guaranteed to spike drink orders.
Complicated Girl: Michael Steele, D. White.
The Bangles really should have been the next Beatles. They had it all: great instrumental skills, fine harmony, good writing right in the group, and they were photogenic.
Ana Ng: John Linnell, John Flansburgh.
These two call themselves They Might Be Giants and they have a goodly cult following among nerds. Lots of lyrics here that go by quickly and leave you wondering, what was that?
Endless Sleep: Nick Lowe.
Another song for the terminally depressed. Stolen from Leo Kottke.
Eternal Flame: S. Hoffs, B. Steinberg, T. Kelly.
Did I mention I adore the Bangles? They visited Elvis's grave once on a rainy day and found that the Eternal Flame was not burning. They complained and the caretaker said, "It's semi-eternal." And that's what inspired this song.
And I love her: Beatles.
It's not my time to go: Dan Hicks/Something: Beatles.
One night many years ago, back when the Socorro Springs Brewery was in their new building and they still did open mics, I had these two songs lined up. Then I suddenly realized that the first song ends with the same word that starts the second, so I made them a musical Siamese twin. By the way, I also love and adore Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks and have done several from him at open mics.
I wanna be sedated: The Ramones.
It would be a sin to ignore the entire punk movement, which so energized popular music after the Disco Disaster Years.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Is literate programming harmful?

All of my serious work of the last few years has used “lightweight literate programming,”: a program's source code is embedded in a document that describes the internals. See my lightweight literate programming page for an explanation and many examples.

So I feel obliged to respond to a post by my good friend and colleague Daniel Lyons entitled “Literate programming considered harmful”.

The code is important—it’s what makes it go, and we spend all day in there reading it and writing it. We have to be able to understand it to extend it or debug it. But if I’m not able to communicate clearly to a human, it won’t stop the program from entering production—but the “incidental” detail of it being wrong will.

Agreed. It's clearly true that the functioning of the programming is the first priority. And the second sentence above emphasizes the important truth that documented programs are easier to extend or debug.

I put a lot of stock in Brooks’s quote, “Build the first one to throw away, because you will.”...This leads to the second material limitation of literate programming, which is that if you were doing literate first, you have either just written a book about the wrong approach to the problem, which incidentally is also the throwaway program, or you have expended twice the resources to produce a book when what was desired was a program.

Maybe I've led a sheltered life, but I'd guess that in fewer than a third of my projects I threw away the first one and started over. Yes, it's often great to use what you have learned in the first revision. But the last major project I built for the NM Tech Computer Center went into service as soon it was finished, and according to my friend Dylan who is the primary user, has been trouble-free. Of course there lots of changes during the design, but there was less wasted effort because he caught the problems in the specification and not during testing. There are two components to this system: cmsadds: A GUI for CMS course creation, and a database access layer, cmsimport2: Courseware Banner integration tools.

There's another substantive argument here: that literate programming costs “twice the resources” as some unnamed other approach. To what are we comparing? What is the minimal level of documentation for a serious production system? I've been a software professional for fifty years now, and I've spent a goodly slice of that time discussing this very question with my peers. Contra my former coworker Joel Eidsath, I don't really think that zero is the correct level. I think the general consensus among seasoned professionals is that a decently documented program requires a substantial effort to provide comments or other documentation. This is certainly not free.

A third option, which I have seen in practice, is that you have produced a book of negligible value, because although the book-production toolchain was employed and literate code was written, almost no effort went into forming the book-as-literature—that effort went directly into the code anyway.

Writing skills vary among software professionals. I don't know how you judge the literary merit of literate code. My technical writing guru Dr. Jon Price taught me that the first question is, who is your audience, and what assumptions can you safely make about their capabilities? And the second is, what are you trying to accomplish?

Lyons addresses this: “The market for programs that cannot be executed (or are not primarily to be executed) is precisely the book market.” I can't speak for other practitioners, but my primary audience is me!

When I start a nontrivial project nowadays, the first thing I do is to create a directory and place in it a DocBook-XML document and a rudimentary Makefile. The first section I write is the “Requirements,” which states why the project is being undertaken and what requirements it hopes to fill. Then I flesh out a complete specification of the external surface of the product.

I hardly think this is wasted effort. In my practice, the specification serves two purposes. It communicates the proposed solution to the users so they can evaluate the design before the developer has spent a lot of time building the wrong widget. Regardless of the audience, however, writing the specification is my favorite way to think seriously about how the widget is going to work: not just the feature set, but all the potential unfortunate interactions between features. So I argue that writing a tight specification should not be counted as extra effort.

This leaves us to consider whether the documentation of the actual code is extra work over and above the writing of what would generally be regarded as minimal comments or other internal documentation. Clearly the useability of the toolset is a critical factor on this evaluation. I've been using DocBook for twenty years. I use emacs with nxml-mode for DocBook creation and editing for almost that long. There is definitely a big learning curve to master those tools. But when I started using them for literate programming, the additional learning curve was inconsequential.

One of the biggest advantages DocBook has over other documentation tools is that it has the full CALS table model, so you can build complex tables with row and column spanning. Also, DocBook makes it easy to embed images with multiple formats so the Web version can show a .jpg but the PDF rendering can use a fully vectorized format like .pdf or .svg. ASCII art is clunky and not, to me, a lot less time-consuming than quality figure creation with Inkscape.

I am thrilled by Lyons' vision of the quality literate framework of the future, which he feels is justified for code that justifies careful study:

I picture something like a fractal document. At first, you get a one-sentence summary of the system. You can then zoom in and get one paragraph, then one page. Each section, you can expand, at first from a very high-level English description, to pseudocode elaborated with technical language, finally to the actual source code.

Exactly: someone new to the code wants to see the big picture first, then work their way down a sort of pyramid until they get to the nuts and bolts when necessary. This is exactly how I structure my literate document. The tip of the pyramid is the requirements. Below that is the externals. The next layer is all the high-level design work above the layer of individual modules:

  • Entity-relationship models for databases, XML document schemata, or internal program data structures.
  • Discussion of any algorithms or data structures that are not generally known standard practice.
  • Database schemata, UML diagrams, or other high-level design artifacts.

I argue that a properly documented program of any size needs these things anyway. The literate model gives you a place to put them.

So what remains is the narrative portion, which in my work generally takes about two-thirds or more of the page count. As I write the narrative for a function or method, I am not just describing the code, I am designing the code. As Flannery O'Connor once said, “I write to discover what I know.” If I'm having trouble describing what a module does, it tells me that I haven't really thought it through. This is one of the reasons that I so frequently emphasize writing skills to student programmers: for me writing is central to the craft, not peripheral.

One of the standard complaints about documentation is that it gets out of sync with the actual code. I find that having the narrative adjacent to the code makes it much easier to fix them both when something changes. Another payoff of the literate approach is that it gives you a place to document paths not taken: we tried this and it didn't work, and here's why; or, we didn't try this, and here's why we didn't.

Yes, I admit that it's somewhat more work to write the narrative sections. One of the chores for each document is to come up with a system of unique identifiers for each section, so that you can cross-refer some other point in the document using its section identifier. One of my standards is that if a section of code calls another function in the same system, the narrative for that code section includes a hyperlink to the definition of the called function. This addresses another of Lyons's points:

I don’t know if you could create the same experience in a linear manner. I suppose what you would do is have an introduction which unfolds each layer of the high-level description up to the pseudocode. Then, each major subsystem becomes its own chapter, and you repeat the progression. But the linearity defeats the premise that you could jump around.

The primary difference between literate programming as envisioned by Dr. Don Knuth in his WEB system (no relation to the World Wide Web; he did this work in the 1980s) is that he wanted to order the presentation of the bits of code to optimize the pedagogical value. My system presents the source code in its original order, and uses hyperlinks so you can examine related functions with a mouse click.

So what is the payoff for me? Here's an example. I have been doing data entry for the Institute for Bird Populations since 1988. My data entry system is on its seventh complete rewrite. Sometimes several years go by between change requests from the client. The specification is 34 pages, and the internals about 200 pages. A lot of the code is now obsolete. Yet when I get a change request, I can generally refamiliarize myself with the project structure and jet down to the point of the change and charge the client less than an hour's labor.

In summary, I think Lyons makes a number of good points. Certainly I hope that others may use my literate code as examples (whether good or bad ones is not for me to say!), but my personal justification for what I consider a relative modest expenditure of additional effort is that it makes it easier to work on my own code when I've been away from it for a while.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The great Socorro snowstorm of 2015-12-27

We got sixteen inches of snow between midday on 12-26 and dusk on 12-27, which ties an all-time single-storm record for Socorro, NM. Photos at my regular web site.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Fight Song Limitation Act

Whereas, repetition of a team's fight song can make an interesting feetsball game completely unwatchable;

Whereas, due to inept sound mixing by broadcasters, typically the fight song drowns out all commentary;

Whereas, despite the necessity to pump up the troops, avoidance of infliction of brain damage on the general public must take precedence over motivational music;

We inscribe and propose this Act, which shall be known as the Oh, Please Stuff It, Boomer Sooners Act, pursuant to which:

Performance of the fight song shall be limited to the following circumstances:

Upon a successful first down, one repetition;

Upon a touchdown, field goal, or safety, the scoring team's band may play two repetitions;

Upon final victory, three repetitions mayest thou play;

Four, of course, is right out.

This Act shall, upon its passage, include provisions for funding a permanent enforcement forcement, to be armed with, at the very least, quiet and efficient quadcopters armed with tranquilizer dart Gatling cannons.


Friday, June 21, 2013

The solution to the equal pay problem!

Women make something like 78% as much as men in the USA.  Clearly, all right-thinking humans agree that this is an unacceptable state of affairs.

Here's my brilliant solution: reduce men's pay until it matches that of women!

Then we will have happy equality and the Job Creators will have more money that they can then use to create even more jobs than they already have!

Problem solved.  I await my call from the Nobel Prize Committee.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Python and XML design philosophy question

My current design quandary revolves around Python interfaces to
XML files.  I use the ElementTree interface, which represents an
XML file as a tree of Element nodes.  This interface is
excellent: it reads or writes trees with a single method call,
and has provisions for validating a document against its schema.

The old way

Usually, when I have needed to read an XML file, I built a Python
class that encapsulates the XML structure, and makes its content
available through attributes and method calls.

Case in point: I recently set up an app that scrapes the official
Banner class schedules for each semester and puts them up at a
given URL as an XML file.  So for example the top-level class,
ClassSchedule, has a .timeStamp attribute that says when it was
scraped, and a .lookupSemester() method that selects a specific
semester's schedules.  Helper classes represent the other
entities: SemesterSchedule, DeptSchedule, CourseSchedule, and

Now, if the data in such a Python object needs to be written back
out using the same XML schema, my usual approach has been to add
a .write() method that rebuilds the XML as an ElementTree and
then reserializes it back out as XML.

The new way

For a while now I've been toying with a different approach to
writing these XML interface classes.

Rather than writing code to convert the XML into an ElementTree,
convert the ElementTree to lists and hashes and so forth, and
then also writing code to convert the lists and hashes back to an
ElementTree and then serialize that back to XML, I thought, why
not use the ElementTree itself to hold all the data?

In this view, my classes would basically be thin wrappers around
Element nodes.  My classes would still encapsulate the details
of the XML schema and provide access through attributes and
methods---so the external interface would not change---but
they would also provide methods that did things like search
the tree and read/write XML and so forth.

My first attempt uses this approach only for reading.  You can
read the external spec and the internals, but  it's not necessary
that you read these to comment intelligently on my design
question, which follows.

My current problem

My next interface is a read-write interface.  It can read the
XML file, let you change the data, and then write it back out.

For a very simple case, consider a three-level structure: the XML
represents a department and has course children, and each course
has section children.  So we make three wrapper classes called
Dept, Course, and Section, and each of these classes has a .node
attribute which is the corresponding Element node that contains
the actual data for that entity.

One purpose of this approach is to make the conversion of the
ElementTree back into XML trivial: it is literally one method
call: tree.write(outFileName).

So the caller of the Python interface wants to add a new Section
child to an existing Course instance.  In the underlying
ElementTree, this means that I'll create a new Section node and
add it as the next child of the Course node.  That's very

Now let's consider the implementation of the Course.genSections()
method: given a Course instance, this generates all of its child
Section children.

It's easy for the Course instance to go to its .node and
find all that node's child Element instances.  But how do I
go backwards: given the Element node for a section, find
the Section instance that wraps that Element node, which is
what I want to give back to the caller?

The brute-force way is to break encapsulation of the Element
instance and cram a .myThing attribute into it that points back
at the corresponding wrapper instance.  But as we highly evolved
software masters know, every time you break encapsulation, an
angel cries, and Satan drowns an innocent kitten.  So clearly
that is not even worth considering.

My current solution is not that ugly, but it's pretty ugly.
Each Course instance maintains an internal list, ._sectionList,
that contains the child Section wrapper instances.

This list obviously has to have a 1-to-1 correspondence to
the actual nodes in the tree.  Therefore every time I change
the set of child nodes in the tree, I have to make the
corresponding change in the wrapper class's list of wrapped
child nodes.  This seems to me like not only a lot of extra
code but a lot of opportunity for things to get out of sync
and then Bad Things Happen.

Can anyone suggest a better approach?  Think of the poor
innocent kittens!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Two neologisms for political writing

epistemotomy: Shaving the truth.
epistemectomy: Surgical removal of all truth.
[J. Shipman, 2013-02-02]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Solve two problems at once!

Okay, people, listen up.  Here's another Simple Solution to not one, but two Complex Problems!  I can't take all the credit for it: I must share it with the blogger who proposed to arm the toddlers so as to reduce the death toll when kindergartens are attacked.

Arm the blastocysts!

Solves the abortion problem and the dreadful lack-of-guns problem!

With today's advanced microgenetics technology, clearly there's no good reason we can't modify the spermatozoon to deliver advanced defense technology to the egg along with the father's DNA.  Think of it: we empower the zygote to decide for itself whether it wants to come to term.  If it senses an impending dilation and curettage, it could go with the flow, or take arms against a sea of consequences.

Also, think of the profits we could make on the ensuing arms race. Better nanomissiles for the blastocyst, better defenses for the OB/GYN, and round and round we go.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quote of the day from yrs truly

Theory without practice is lame. Practice without theory is blind.
Mr. Gaar, my ninth-grade science teacher, kept a copy of the famous quote from Albert Einstein prominently displayed in his classroom: “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” Tonight as I was talking about the tension between theory and practice with some of Today's Young People, the above mutilation occurred to me. I like it better than the original.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Triumph of the Poorwill

I saw my first Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) in June 1985 in Water Canyon in the Magdalena Mountains west of Socorro, NM. It is a smaller relative of Whip-poor-wills and nighthawks. It is nocturnal and is often found sitting on the ground near dusk and dawn. I have never before managed to photograph one.

Tonight I had a wonderful bit of luck: around 8:30pm, there was one sitting on the street where I live. I grabbed my camera and managed to get this picture using the built-in flash.

photo of Common Poorwill

Cute little guy, isn't he? About 8" long. As I drove away I found a second one half a block further on. It's fall migration; they must be moving.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Shipman goes to the nail salon

I forget which guru, probably Stewart Brand, once suggested that it's a good idea to dive into a completely alien culture once in a while. Following that maxim, I've always made it a point occasionally to pick up a publication I wouldn't normally read, like Better Homes & Gardens, and really study it, just to get a viewpoint almost completely outside my normal orbit.

And just such an experience was my visit to the local nail salon today. I went there out of necessity, not curiosity: grubbing around in the back of a drawer the other day, I managed to ram the index finger of my dominant hand into a hidden projecting metal plate and rip up the nail. The fissure went longitudinally, then sideways, leaving me with a square chunk of nail hanging by a thread at one corner.

Fortunately some folks at our breakfast group recommended Socorro's USA Nails. I go in, tell them my problem, they make a nearly invisible repair that keeps the fragment in place, and charge me three dollars. I'm outta there maybe twenty minutes after I walk in there at midmorning without an appointment. I've always been curious about the world of nail salons, but it's a competitive market, and I figure that any place that's been in business for a while must be delivering the goods, because their clientele runs to the very finicky and also to those of limited means.

And now for the cultural anthropology payoff!

A couple of really attractively dressed and made-up women peered at me as if to say, “What planet are you from, young man?” As I'm currently 62, I don't get so much of the cougar action nowadays.

There was a young mom with her infant sleeping in the carrier. I didn't see any women leave without really attractive nails, although your definition of attractive may vary. As a card-carrying nerdette-chasing nerd, most of my dating history is with women who were pragmatists and kept their nails short and undecorated. So I haven't consorted that much with those that go for glitter or longer extensions or little computer chips that sing your birth-month's special anthem.

So what have you done lately that expanded your cultural horizon?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Nogal Canyon to Box Canyon

In May 1985 my neighbor Philip Johnson and I went birding on a fascinating little route that starts in San Antonio, NM, heads west through a slot canyon with vertical rock walls and a floor of sand, sometimes deep sand, and then meanders through rangelands for twenty miles or so and drops you back on US-60 at Box Canyon, about 15 miles west of Socorro.

On 2012-07-28 my friend Josef Brown, a math professor here at NM Tech, and I retraced it and were rewarded with another amazing day in the field. Formal bird notes for this interesting field day are elsewhere. Warning: Do not attempt this route without four-wheel drive. Wider tires, for good flotation in sand, are more helpful than high clearance. Here's the entrance to the slot canyon. I know nothing about the shrine's religious significance. Click on the thumbnail for a large version.

Entering the Nogal Canyon slot, westbound, with shrine.

Much of this transect is open, pretty well overgrazed rangeland. However, just west of the slot canyon there is a tiny little oasis with several huge, ancient Arizona Walnuts (Juglans major). This species is actually native to the arid Southwest and evolved to fit the erratic but generally thin rainfall patterns. Here's a general shot of the grove. Figure this has been here for thousands of years.

Just leaving the slot canyon westbound, a general view of the whole postage-stamp grove.

Maybe fifty yards later, the road diverges from the streambed and heads west. The tree shown below is one of the largest walnuts. It is a tiny but complex ecosystem housing birds, lizards, chipmunks, and a sizeable bracket fungus, among others.

One of the largest walnuts, and the road west.

Most of the terrain looks like the photo below. The sign says, as far as I can tell, that it's 11 miles east to the Bianchi Ranch and the junction of I-25 and US-85, and 10 miles west to the Pound Ranch and US-60.

Sign at the point of no return

We didn't see anywhere near as many species as we would on even a slow summer day at the Bosque del Apache refuge, but what we did see were some rather special desert life forms. Like this Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) dozing on a high branch.

Common Nighthawk sleeping

Although I've specialized in bird photography since 1976, I'm always interested in all life forms: reptiles, invertebrates, wildflowers, even the occasional mammal. Lately, thanks to two excellent books I've recently acquired (details below), I've become a lot more aware of butterflies, and bird photo equipment is useful for shooting them. This Reikart's Blue (Echinargus isola) would fit on a dime and give you three cents back, so I'm delighted to get even a relatively cruddy flight shot. Here is one in flight, and one drinking from a muddy seep.

Reikart's Blue, flight

Reikart's Blue, ventral wing

If you are at all interested in identifying butterflies, this field guide is comprehensive, beautiful, and fascinating.

Brock, Jim P., and Kenn Kaufman. Field guide to butterflies of North America. Houghton Mifflin, 2003, ISBN 978-0-618-76826-4.

An even more engrossing and beautiful book, this one emphasizes the complete ecological context of New Mexico's butterflies, reviewing them according to their habitat and life zones. How, for example, do pupas defend themselves against carnivorous ants? Much more depth than a field guide, and the kind of beautiful book that befits New Mexico magazine, the publisher. One great value of this work is that it tells you where to go, when, and the specific microhabitat: seeps, treetops, hilltops, specific plants.

Cary, Stephen J. Butterfly landscapes of New Mexico. New Mexico Magazine, 2009, ISBN 978-1934480038.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dillard's puts me into a box

My quest for a decent pillow sent me to Dillard's, one of the few remaining department stores in Albuquerque. Situated in the Winrock Center, once the Happening Mall but now in the throes of rejuvenation, they have two two-story buildings with floorwalkers and escalators and all the trappings of big old-fashioned department stores.

I'm very picky about pillows. Must be feathers or down. No foam, no synthetics, no fiberfill. Dillard's has usually come through, but this time they were looking kind of picked-over. I finally settled for a reasonably-priced feather model in an odd “European” size: square, 25"x25". I foolishly assumed that it would fit into one of my king-sized pillowcases.

Well, apparently all pillowcases are 20" wide, so stuffed into a king case, this pillow resembles a large sausage. Not a very relaxed pillow at all.

Today I go back and demand a “European”-sized pillowcase. Wouldn't one assume that they want to sell you the linens that fit their weird pillow? But noooooo, as the late John Belushi might say.

They had a large number of color-coordinates ruffs, shams, duvets, foofaraws, googlymushes and carnelians and several other items of which I have never heard and which looked both expensive and uncomfortable.

All these these would doubtless make my futon a decorator showplace—if I ever actually made the bed. But because my decorator scheme is Aging Bachelor, stuff that lives on my bed is for comfort, not to entice Sunset magazine to feature my house in a photo spread.

“I would prefer,” I said, “something that is not made of silk or brocade, without embroidery, because I would like to rest my face on this pillow at night.”

Once she finished the 20-minute phone call that started her shift, the woman who runs this half of the floor suggested that try Bed Bath and Beyond. “They're right around the corner.”

Oh perfidious floorwalker, to put your customer in a box and then suggest they try the competition?

Naturally, Bed Bath had nothing either. Not to mention no pillowcase covers that would fit.

Maybe I can try Europe.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The NY Times has spell checker software, yet....

From Bozo Brooks' daily excretion, as quoted by Balloon Juice:

The whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.

It's all about the disbursement, in his world.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spellcheck follies #2

From Trains magazine, July 2012, p. 7, in an article discussing how the Talgo corporation gambled on being able to build trains in the USA for domestic markets:
Although Washington and Amtrak had initially purchased four trainsets, Talgo built a fifth set at its own expense to pedal in other corridors.
It's an old Shipman family tradition, when in a car climbing a grade without quite enough power, to shout, “Pedal harder!”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If programming religions were languages

I generally agree with this post, “If programming languages were religions”, and not just because he said nice things about Python.

However, I'd like to comment on this point:

APL:'ve always suspected that it's a huge and elaborate prank that got out of control.

That's a pretty accurate description of Scientology, but APL's story is different.

It started with Ken Iverson's 1962 work A programming language. This book was not intended as a programming language, but as an exercise in mathematical notation. Specifically, Iverson wanted to describe certain operations in abstract terms. For example, adding two 50-element vectors was generally described in programming terms as looping over the 50 addends and producing 50 sums. Iverson proposed that the “+” operator be defined on two conformant vectors as a single operation.

An IBM researcher, Herbert Hellerman, implemented a language processor for a subset of the notation, and from there it grew by word-of-mouth. At one point IBM tried to shut it down but the user community screamed too loudly, and IBM eventually sold quite a number of big mainframes just to run APL.

The notion that you can add two arrays with a single operator is taken for granted these days, especially in contexts like MATLAB and Mathematica and the excellent NumPy package for Python. Bits of APL survive in all these languages. For example, the “reshape” operator, which can turn a 1000-element vector into a 10×10×10 array, was the ρ (rho) operator in APL.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Parking enforcement, Lithuanian style

"There are very few problems in computer science that are not susceptible to brute force." (Ed Runnion, former NM Tech computer science professor)

Or in parking enforcement: (short YouTube video)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

One of these words is not like the others

This New York Times press release about a burger chain got through the spell checker. Can you spot the funny?

An innovative addition to Red Robin’s lineup of delicious milkshakes, malts and other dessert offerings, the Salted Caramel Shake combines soft serve ice cream, milk, and decedent caramel sauce mixed with Red Hawaiian Sea Salt and topped with whipped cream and red sea salt sprinkles.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

There's no dot like an old dot

Some more gleanings from my series of 3x5 cards in the MISC category.

 * * *

“I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” (Laura J. Mixon) Another fine example of the need for care in punctuation.

 * * *

“The modern conservative is engaged in of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” (J. K. Galbraith)

 * * *

Six dozen of the half, one of the other. (JS 2008-04-09)

 * * *

Is “delible” the opposite of indelible? (JS 2008-04-15)

 * * *

Columny: calumny by a columnist. (JS 2008-04-30)

 * * *

Don't hate the player, hate the fame. (Railroad car graffiti, 2008-05-06)

 * * *

It doesn't matter how much it costs so long as it looks cheap. (Prescott Grey on the equipment purchased by MIT Lincoln Labs)

 * * *

The rotten cream rises to the top. (Kathy Albrecht)

 * * *

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons? (Anon.)

 * * *

The odds are good, but the goods are odd. (On MIT coeds being able to find a husband there; fide Pat Buckley)

 * * *

Where is that chocolate sauce leaking from? (Discussion between two employees overheard at the Albuquerque Airport Village Inn, 2008-03-01)

 * * *

What a catastrostroke! (Jimmy Durante)

 * * *

Innovation is hard to schedule. (Dan Fylstra; from the Unix fortune file)

 * * *

Energy-to-clues ratio: a metric for twinkishness (JS 1999-06-12)

 * * *

I didn't major in shutting up. (JS 1999-07-02)

 * * *

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. (Frank Zappa)

 * * *

A chicken farmer went to the New Mexico State University agricultural extension agent to get help with his chickens. “When I plant them head down, they die. When I plant them with their head sticking out, they die. I tried flooding the field. They all drowned.”

The agent replied, “Let's start by taking a soil sample.”

 * * *

Information wants to be anthropomorphic. (Via Allan Poindexter; a riff on “Information wants to be free”, an Open Source manifesto.)

 * * *

Even the gravy is going to be tough. (Don Huebner explaining why it's a bad idea to bag an old, toothless elk.)

 * * *

If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it. (Al Stavely, 2001-01-24)

 * * *

Claptraptions: marginally functional automobiles. (JS 2001-02-14)

 * * *

Careful. We don't want to learn from this. (Calvin & Hobbes)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some gorgeous unaccompanied choral works

Alexander Gretchaninov (1864-1956) has always been one of my favorite choral composers, especially his works in the Russian Orthodox tradition.  I love the dense harmonies and especially the way this tradition uses those low bass voices.  When my local group, the New Mexico Symphonic Chorus, did Rachmaninoff's All-night vigil in the spring of 2011, it reminded me how much I love this kind of music. We will be doing some more a capella modern liturgical music in our upcoming concert, including Gorecki's Totus tuus, that has many of these qualities.

Here are some YouTubes of Gretchaninov works that gratified my search for good performances.
  • Svete Tihiy (O gladsome light). This April 11, 2011 performance by the Central Washington University Chamber Choir in Ellensburg gave me goosebumps. Their faces reflect the ecstasy I feel listening to them. See how their bodies sway so slightly, leaning into the notes.
  • Nunc dimittis (Time to hit the road).  Holland Chorale, Hope College, Holland, MI. A larger, older choir with a beautifully balanced sound.
  • Vespers. No information about this version, but it is apparently a study compilation that also shows you the sheet music (hope you can read Slavonic).  The first piece shows off that great Russian basso sound.
  • The cherubic hymn by the Wicker Park Choral Singers of Chicago. Sweet sound, nice balance, solid bass line. Nice-looking room they're in, too.
Our recording of the Rachmaninoff Vespers should be available shortly.  Until then, our CD of our October 2011 Mozart Requiem is already available. I think it came out rather well, for one show—live without a net, as our director Roger Melone calls it.

Meanwhile, check out the State Russian Choir's version of Blagoslovi Dushe Moya Gospoda (Bless the Lord, O my soul).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The three hardest choral pieces I've sung

After singing baritone parts for 18 seasons with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus (NMSOC) and its 2011 reincarnation as the New Mexico Symphonic Chorus (NMSC), I've seen our director Roger Melone pick pieces that are all over the classical map, from ancient times to several actual 21st Century works.

It's a tough balancing act. You can't ignore the warhorses like the Mozart Requiem and the Beethoven Ninth, but you can't just program the warhorses if you want to keep singers from getting bored. You have to give your singers some challenging works to keep them growing, and program some modern works to attract concertgoers who may also be tired of the warhorses.

Of all these pieces, some of them were tough and some of them relatively easy, but three stand out in my memory as the hardest I've had to work to prepare my part.

  • Rhythmically, the most challenging was Sir William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast (1931).  This is the story of the Writing on the Wall, mene mene tekel upharsin: you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It reminded me of some jazz pieces by Thelonious Monk or Dave Brubeck.  Highly dramatic, punchy notes in odd places, surrounded by treacherous rests.  The most dangerous piece I've sung in terms of opportunities for an accidental solo.
  • In terms of being able to find pitches, the hardest piece to hear was When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd by Paul Hindemith (1946). This deeply moving piece was a setting of the Walt Whitman poem commemorating the death of Abraham Lincoln. It was commissioned by Robert Shaw to commemorate the passing of Franklin Roosevelt: the mood was similar, the passing of a great national leader who had just gotten us through a long and bloody war.  Learning the piece was a bloody war, too.  In many sections I had to mark every single interval in my line. I use lowercase Roman numerals for minor intervals and uppercase Roman numerals for major intervals.  Long sections have marks like “ii III iii IV ii II ii ii” so I could hear each interval. Very 20th century.  By the time the concert rolled around, all this chopped salad somehow jelled into quite emotionally intense music.
  • The most physically challenging piece was clearly the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven (1824).  In the engineering field we have a saying: “Faster, better, cheaper: Pick any two”. For this piece, the rule is easier: Faster, higher, louder, longer, pick any four. An hour of singing, much of it at high volume,  much of it in a very high tessitura, with lyrics that go by like a bullet train.
Honorable mentions:
  • The piece the NMSC just sang in January 2012, the oratorio King David (1925) by Arthur Honegger, was notable for both rhythmic and chromatic difficulty. Lots of pitches you have to pull out of thin air, lots of rapid-fire words that sound terrible unless every single singer is extremely careful about diction.
  • In 2004, the New Mexico Tech Chamber Chorus performed Giancarlo Menotti's The unicorn, the gorgon, and the manticore. Another piece both rhythmically and chromatically non-Euclidean.  It took us three semesters to get this piece working, along with the accompanists (one flute and one bassoon). We took it on the road and performed it in St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe. After I got my first look at the score, and swallowed hard, I asked Roger Melone if he knew the piece. “Oh, yes,” he replied, “It's very difficult.” But the NMT Chamber Chorus did a credible job, thanks to the tireless and inspiring work of our conductor Dr. Doug Dunston.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Poppa Needs Shorts

Poppa Needs Shorts, by Leigh Richmond and Walt Richmond, is one of my all-time favorite short stories. Originally published in Analog, it is available here in a free version. It's a quick read and rather charming.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hewlett-Packard tightens the screws (1973)

Around the time of the 1973 Oil Crisis, energy conservation suddenly became an issue in California. Hewlett-Packard was concerned about their electric bill. So they started a program to save energy.

Most -hp- buildings back then had high ceilings illuminated by fixtures that held eight fluorescent bulbs, each eight feet long. Every division's maintenance staff had various ladders and work platforms for getting up to the ceiling. They came around to take one bulb out of every fixture.

When that was done, they came around and took another bulb out of every fixture.

About the time the fixtures were down to three bulbs each, a lot of people started to complain that they couldn't see what they were doing. So they sent the staff around to make sure there were at least four bulbs in every fixture. The complaining died down because the company had responded.

This is a pattern I have observed many, many times in other contexts. I suspect they actually teach it in management schools: lay off staff until the remaining staff explode from the stress, then hire a thin slice of them back until the screaming dies down.

Is this actually a good idea? Not always, I'd say. Consider the American health care system. Because so much of the health care and pharmaceutical industries revolves around profit, they tend to cut to the bone, and then maybe a little more.

Maybe in normal times this will fly for a while. But what happens when disaster strikes? Have you spent much time in an emergency room lately? Because so many people are uninsured, they can't afford preventive care, then they get really sick and go to the ER. Waiting times in most ERs nowadays, I hear, are pretty long unless you have a severed artery or aren't breathing. And this is pretty much all the time. What if we get a really ugly flu epidemic or a natural disaster? Where is the reserve capacity?

My solution is, of course, typical Progressive cant. Make health care a nonprofit activity. Go to single-payer like all the rest of the civilized nations, which spend half what we do and get better outcomes, like the Canadian healthcare system.

The day I wore a burqa (ca. 1980)

Somewhere around 1980 I was invited to a Halloween party by an old New Mexico Tech friend who was living in Palo Alto at the time.

Another friend of mine was an inveterate shopper of second-hand stores and had a number of treasures, including an authentic burqa. She agreed to loan it to me for the party.

It was a black robe with a head covering that left only two parts visible: a tiny rectangle enclosing my eyes (with some small coins hanging just underneath), and my legs up to about mid-calf. I put flip-flops on my feet and drove to the party.

This was during the Iranian hostage crisis, when Islamist militants took over the American embassy and held 52 Americans for over a year. The news often showed footage of Iranian militants screaming “Death to Carter!”

So when my dear friend Candy answered the door, I said in a high sing-song voice, “Death to Carter! Death to Carter! Happy Halloween! May I come to the party now?”

Candy and I have been friends since we were freshmen together in 1966, so I was quite surprised that she didn't seem to know who I was. But I wasn't armed or otherwise menacing so she let me in. I didn't shave my legs, so I doubt anyone thought I was female, but no one had any early correct guesses about who I was.

I stayed in character for twenty minutes before Candy figured it out! The lesson that has stayed with me, since that day, is how much a burqa makes one anonymous. This is not a value judgement, just an observation.

At this point I weighed probably around 300 pounds, so finding a costume that concealed my identity was a good trick. But a burqa worked surprisingly well.

The first computer program I ever ran (1966)

This story is part of my permanent Web, but you are welcome to leave comments here.

At Texas Tech, I found a sympathetic staff member who said I could run my program. I was in ecstasy.

They had two computers then. One was an IBM 1620 with add-on core memory (persistent storage—a luxury of the day!) and a Flexowriter terminal. However, such was not for mere mortals, but I would be welcome to run it on their IBM 7044, the older and not so shiny system.

The first obstacle was learning how to use an IBM 026 keypunch. What a miserable excuse for a human-computer interface! Communicating with computers by punching holes in a piece of cardstock! If you made a mistake, you had to throw away the entire card and start over: once you punch a hole, you can't unpunch it.

(the full story)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A foot of snow in Socorro

The weatherman predicted 2-4", but we got over a foot the morning of 12/05. First shot shows the bird feeders and birdseed bin in my backyard with foot-tall snow caps.
I cleared off the back half of my car so I could get some snow gear out of the trunk. This picture shows the depth of the snow on the car roof. The “Pica pole” is a little over a foot long; there is another 3/4" or so of metal past the 0" mark, so definitely over a foot.
Looking east along Campus Drive on the south side of Fitch and Driscoll, you can see more cars with serious snow caps. Note the depth of the snow on the roof of the pickup truck on the left.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Let our sorrows/Carve out hollows/For our happiness to fill.—John Hall

Monday, July 4, 2011

Three bangs for the Fourth

Some items from the mid-Aughts, some new ones. Let's start with a few neologisms.


Oneiroplasty: Create your dreams. (JS)


Dysmenorah: Crankiness during Hanukkah. (JS)


These quotas are so arbitricial. (Arbitrary x artificial; JS 2011-1-13)


Delorious (delightful x glorious; JS 2004-6-26)


Glorgeous (glorious x gorgeous; JS 2004-7-24)


Indicement (inducement x enticement; DJ on Radio Free Santa Fe)


De-furred gratification. (JS, on the Shed-Ender 2006 for removing thatch from cats)


Nobody knows you're a dog, on the Internet. (Thaddeus Bejnar)


If there's a “Lighthouse for the blind,”, how come there isn't a “Foghorn for the deaf”? (Richard LeRoy)


That's just icing on the gravy. (Richard LeRoy)


Gotta watch both ends at the same time. (Thumper, to Bambi, on the ice)


That Achy-Breaky song has turned country and western music into an ass-wiggling contest. (Waylon Jennings)


Excuses and rarblizations [sic]. (Bad TV closed caption, probably for “rationalizations”.)


“When I grow up, I want to be a musician.”

“Son, you can't do both.” (Anon., from the Christian Science Monitor)


I dare you to make less sense! (Hank Venture)


Done there, been that. (Joe Martinic)


I've got things to place and goes to be! (JS, 2010-12-27)


Talk to the booty, 'cause the hand's off duty! (Pat Buckley's 9-year-old grandson)


We had to clean out the plastic dinosaur tray at Walmart. (Pat Buckley on entertaining grandchildren)


Did you hear about the Amish woman who went wrong? She wanted two, Mennonite.


Loan Sum Pawn (now-closed hock shop in Belen, NM)


I've seen that look on his face before, but not at the table. (Woman who wishes to remain anonymous; of her husband; at Denver's Rioja restaurant; I've been there, the food is really that good.)


Roger Melone: Is this tempo too fast for the clarinet?

Clarinetist: It's also difficult for the player.


Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby. (Anon.)


The Information Technology degree is for people who can't program but want to control the computers because there is money and power involved. (Pat Buckley)


Real programmers can write in FORTRAN no matter what language they are using. (Pat Buckley)


If your program is long enough to need a subroutine, Perl is the wrong language. (Brian Truitt)


Being really good at C++ is like being really good at using rocks to sharpen sticks. (Thant Tessman, via Bill Weiss)


A true friend will stab you in the front. (Oscar Wilde)


That's the best one of that kind I never saw before in my life. (Bob Eveleth)


Quantum mechanics: The dreams that stuff are made of. (Bumper sticker)


Schroedinger's Cat: Wanted dead or alive!


In the ballet of life, some people are the dancing potatoes. (JS 2010-12-8)


Ormolu Cummerbund (band name, JS, Dec. 2010)


There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want. The other is getting it. (Oscar Wilde; found on a gravestone in the Eunice, NM, cemetery)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On ways of teaching and learning

This essay on instructional methodology is on my regular web, but you can leave comments here.

Updated 2011-07-04 with some feedback from Dr. Cormack.

Two rules for writers

This essay on being a writer is on my regular web site, but you can leave comments here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

John McPhee, my favorite technical writer

I never had specific training as a technical writer, just always wrote the documentation because nobody else wanted to. Reading widely and copiously, though, is my first recommendation for becoming a better writer, so I try to seek out the better nonfiction writers to inspire me.

There are a number of nonfiction writers whose work I enjoy and would hold up as good examples. Stephen Jay Gould in biology, Lewis Thomas in Medicine.

But John McPhee, columnist for the New Yorker, is my favorite of them all. When I was convalescing from my knee replacement last spring, I finally read his Annals of the Former World (ISBN 978-0-374-51873-8), a monster on the subject of geology.

I avoided geology in my college years. We had a choice of biology or geology, and at New Mexico Tech, the Geology Department is extremely tough, especially the undergraduate intro course. I figured if anyone could help remedy this large lacuna in my education, it'd be McPhee.

This guy has it all. The big picture. The thousand telling details. The human element and the accidents of history. But he also has a wicked gift for writing, especially explaining things in terms people can appreciate.

As I was reading Annals, one paragraph so impressed me that I had to stop and catch my breath. This is from page 121, as part of his general introduction to plate tectonics.

Almost all earthquakes are movements of the boundaries of plates—shallow earthquakes at the trailing edges, where the plates are separating and new material is coming in, shallow earthquakes along the sides, where one plate is ruggedly sliding past another (the San Andreas Fault), and earthquakes of any depth down to four hundred miles below and beyond the trenches where plates are consumed (Japan, 1923; Chile, 1960; Alaska, 1964; Mexico, 1985). A seismologist discovered that deep earthquakes under a trench had occurred on a plane that was inclined forty-five degrees into the earth. As ocean floors reach trenches and move on down into the depths to be consumed, the average angle is something like that. Take a knife and cut into an orange at forty-five degrees. To cut straight down would be to produce a straight incision in the orange. If the blade is tilted forty-five degrees, the incision becomes an arc on the surface of the orange. If the knife blade melts inside, little volcanoes will come up through the pores of the skin, and together they will form arcs, island arcs—Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, the New Hebrides, the Lesser Antilles, the Kurils, the Aleutians.

The boldfaced part just made my jaw hit the floor. What, structurally, is he doing there? The orange is a metaphor for the Earth, yes, but then what happens? It's a knife blade, but it's also a large geological structure, and it is melting.

One of the general principles that guides my own technical writing is that some people are verbal thinkers while some are more visual in their thinking, so pictures are a Good Thing. But here, McPhee doesn't need a picture; his words paint a clear picture that anyone can appreciate and visualize why island arcs form. A two-dimensional picture wouldn't work anyway. Better to let the reader use their three-dimensional imagination.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dot's a wrap

Tonight's batch of three-dot splendor comes from loose notes from the late 1990s.


Neologism file: anomalicious—not just strange, but evil. (1995-07-20)


You got a broken muffler belt. (Rural mechanic diagnosis)


Marcia's requirements for potential marriage partners: Don't marry anyone until you have (1) seen them vomit, (2) gone on a long car trip, and (3) met their parents. I would add, for those of us of a certain demographic, met their kids.


A change is as good as a rest. (Lioness's mother on staying busy)


The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it. (Abbie Hoffman)


Conceit causes more conversation than wit. (La Rochefoucauld)


It is practically impossible to teach good programming style to students that have had prior exposure to BASIC; as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration. (Edsger J. Dijkstra; I think you could say the same about FORTRAN, my first language.)


Romeo wasn't bilked in a day. (Walt Kelly)


Transcendental defenestration (idea for a new cult, 1999-2-21)


It's difficult to make a good show if the ingredient doesn't bleed or twitch. (Irondad, a fan of the original Japanese Iron Chef)


Everybody is somebody else's weirdo. (Unix fortune file)


Kaa's method for getting rid of religious proselytes: say “Well, I'm a nudist. If we're going to talk religion, I've got to be naked.”—and start disrobing.


My hometown of Hobbs, NM, is not exactly a culinary Mecca. Here are my notes from a trip there in 1998. Chinese Kitchen: rubber General Tso's chicken. Furr's cafeteria: broiled salmon with half a cup of tartar sauce; overcooked carrots; Iceberg lettuce and plastic tomatoes; cold toast; nice new potatoes with onion; German chocolate pie. Got the runs.


You can't underestimate the power of fear. (Tricia Nixon, according to a Unix fortune)


Back when Zen Rhino was a chef they had a special called “Happy Trails”: stuffed triggerfish and a Roy Rogers.


Philately will get you nowhere. (JS 1998-8-26)


Thank goodness modern convenience is a thing of the remote future. (Walt Kelly)


I can do without actually having to traipse around in leather lace-up boots and be hit upon by furry men in codpieces. (Sen, on why she doesn't like the SCA or RenFair scenes)


Ambiguity is a two-edge sword. (JS 1998-6-6)


Nobody can be like me. Sometimes even I have trouble doing it. (Talullah Bankhead)


The public at large tends to confuse the composing of a symphony with the writing of its score. (Edsger J. Dijkstra)


(1) If my girlfriend calls me passive-aggressive one more time, I'm going to make her pay in ways she won't even be aware of. (2) I'm not going to stop torturing myself until I figure out the cause of my pain. (The late Ycho)


She's about as stable as a coffee table perched on an epileptic penguin's beak. (Djinn, on an acquaintance of his)


Visual Basic? I might as well build my program out of mud and popsicle sticks. (nails)


But it's not *TRUE* object-oriented programming unless you can subclass a semicolon. (jafo, 1997-12-3)


Do you think reading about cowboys is sufficient to ride a horse? Like horses, real programs tend to throw you. (JS, late 1997, to a programming student)

100 meteors

Meteor-watching is the wide-angle form of astronomy. No optical aid, just lie flat on your back with a good all-sky view. On 2010-12-14 from 0058 to 0230 I observed 100 meteors of the Geminid shower, plus three sporadics. That's better than one a minute. Two of them were brighter than Sirius, and one had a strong blue-green color. Several of them left trails visible for a few seconds.

The Etscorn Observatory here on the NM Tech campus is not a bad place for meteor-watching. There is a berm surrounding the observatory compound that cuts off most of the nearby light sources. However, it was pretty chilly out there tonight: the thermomenator in the car read 25F when I was heading back home, and there was frost on the roof of the car. My hands were so cold after packing up that I had hand cramps. I had to stick my hand in my armpit for a while just so I could operate the car key.

Equipment: foam pad; sleeping bag; heavy coat; fur hat with the fur on the inside where it will do the most good; gloves; water; flashlight. If you do this sort of thing in the winter, keep in mind that you will not be moving much, not generating much heat.

For comfort, I much prefer the Perseid meteor shower in early August. My friend Elinor the astronomer uses the term “sucker holes” for those gaps in the clouds that make you hope it will clear up, but then it doesn't. For the Perseids this year I was lured out to the observatory by some sucker holes, but before I'd been out there an hour, it was socked in.

Tonight, though, the sky had that diamond-hard clarity that we often get in wintertime here on the altiplano. Nothing like staring at the entire sky for an hour or two to give one perspective.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A tale of three cities

This week's three-dot monsterpiece comes from a 15-to-20-year-old group of 3x5 cards that I fished out of the washing machine soaking wet. Because of my fetish for Fount India ink, they were all crisply legible after they dried out.


This is real music. There's no accordion part. (Roger Melone rehearsing the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus.)


There are lots of groups you can go sing in and have fun. (Roger Melone again. He meant that some choruses are only about fun. I personally think singing with this group is about the most fun I've had in my entire life...once the sweating and working are out of the way.)


Q: What's the difference between a soprano and a seamstress?
A: A seamstress tucks up frills.


I gotta be stuff and do places! (JS 1995-06-30)


Q: What's the difference between genius and stupidity?
A: Genius has its limits.


If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we put them all there? (Brenda Santistevan, 1997-07-10)


The only thing we have to fear is pheromones. (JS 1995-12-23)


Who's got time to budget their time? (JS 1996-03-08)


If your battle plan is going perfectly, you are in an ambush. (Early USENET)


NM Tech Computer Science professor Victor Yodaiken always referred to our local supermarket as “The Produce Museum”. I have never bought a bag salad there that would last until the third day. Rumor has it that Socorro is the end of the line for three different produce delivery routes, so we get the stuff that nobody in Belen, Carrizozo, or T or C wanted.


Neologism file: His optimism soon dwaned. (Steve Ingoglia, 1997-4-18; dwindled x waned.)


Everybody misquotes these lines. I carefully transcribed them during my N thousandth viewing of Wizard of Oz.

“I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.”
“Now I know we're not in Kansas anymore.”
“I keep forgetting we're not in Kansas.”


Natalie Derrick: He was Baroque.
Jeff Rhoades: He had no Monet.


Dump the notes, play the music. (John Murfin, 1996-02-24. John is an outstanding Celtic fiddler who knows approximately 10^13 fiddle tunes.)


If you could teach your dogs to smoke, they wouldn't chew up your slippers. (John Murfin)


It's too dark to see flashlights. (Becky Titus, at a Hop Canyon party.)


I'm very attached to non-attachment. (Me, demonstrating how not to do Buddhism, to Magail Medina, 1995-8-2.)


Is it still Monday again already? (JS 1996-02-01)


We have three seasons every month: morning, afternoon, evening, and wrinkled. (JS, 1996-08-24; can't remember what inspired this but the 3x5 card has a note: “Overactive Surrealist gland.”)


You're born a Patty, then you find the grill. (Jan Thomas)


Less often than not. (JS 1997-06-12)


Sub-pessimal. (JS, date unrecorded)


Q: What do you get when you cross a Unitarian with a Jehovah's Witness?
A: Someone who rings your doorbell for no particular reason.


Out one ear and in the other. (James Robnett, 1995-10-20)


The trouble with the rat race is that if you win, you're still a rat. (Anonymous)


Q: What's the difference between an oboe and an onion?
A: You cry when you're chopping up an onion.


It's laudable to want to study your errors. But it helps if they aren't coming at you so thick and fast that you can't study them in isolation. (JS 1995-11-19)


No matter how cynical you get, it's impossible to keep up. (Lily Tomlin)


I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong. (Bertrand Russell)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Three dots in the fountain

Shipman family standards: “Purt-nost,” which is sort of a hybrid of “purty near” and “almost.”.

“What time is it?”
“Purt-nost five.”


One of the commonplaces of reunions is riotous tales out of school, from the days when we were young and foolish (we're old and foolish now.) Like the time some of my friends, under the influence of the Demon Rum, drove their car onto the railroad track at the Socorro station and went as far as they could go. Not sure why, but at the place where they got stuck on the tracks, the car was freed up by the expedient of tipping it into the adjacent irrigation channel.

These are all grownups now, at least nominally. Some of them resent being reminded.


You can see just by watching him. (Ty Murray, Pro Bull Riding tour announcer and nine-time world champion)


No foot will remain unshot. (Pat Buckley on the Democratic Party)


Dogminatrix: one who instructs dog owners in the proper maintenance of the dominance hierarchy. Cesar Millan, for example.


An American tourist in Belfast was confronted by a masked gunman who demanded, “Catholic or Protestant?” and pointed the gun at him.

The tourist thought for a moment. He had an even chance of being a martyr. Then he got a bright idea and replied, “Actually, I'm Jewish.”

The terrorist smiled through the hole in his ski mask. “I must be the luckiest Arab in Ireland.”


Vegaquarian: Someone who eats only vegetables and fish. (Lynne Heatwole)


Merle and Janet Bickford were a married couple of artists that I knew many years ago. They were both sculptors and had a large studio near the Pacific shore where they both worked.

At one point they sculpted each other, in life size, using a wild assortment of scrapbox materials. They were trying to express, they said, the complexity of their relationship. When the pieces were completed, they showed them.

During the showing, one art patron took such violent exception to the ice pick that was buried up to the hilt in the eye of one of the figures that she plucked it out and threw it on the floor. The artists rushed over and put it back in, insisting that that was an important part of the overall composition.


Bubba and Junior were standing by a flagpole, looking up at it. An attractive blonde engineer walked by and asked them what was going on.

“We need to know the height of this here flagpole,” answered Bubba.

The blonde pulled a wrench out of her pocket, unbolted the flagpole from its base, tipped it over and walked it down, laid it on the ground, pulled the tape measure off her belt, measured it, announced “Eighteen feet, six inches, plus or minus a quarter,” re-installed the flagpole and went on her way.

“Ain't that jest like a woman,” said Junior. “We need the height, and she gives us the length.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Non-Euclidean carpentry

To read this story, I'll have to ask you to visit it on my antique 1996-era personal Web pages. You can leave comments here if you like.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Three if by space

As of May 2007, the Owl Bar in San Antonio, NM, went through an average of 300 lbs. of green chile per week. That amounts to about eight tons a year. That does not include the Owl's Albuquerque branch.


A veritable Who's Who of Who's That. (Richard LeRoy on movies with no one famous in the cast)


I shoot every third salesman, and #2 just left. (Sign in Prescott Grey's office)


My dad was fond of three odd lunch items: cervelat (a Swiss sausage), braunschweiger (a soft liver spread—bleah), and Durkee's salad dressing. From the Wikipedia article on the Glidden paint corporation, I learned that Glidden bought Durkee & Co., and that Durkee's sauce was reputedly a favorite of President Lincoln. From Durkee's web page:
In 1857, Eugene R. Durkee created the product that helped make him famous, which today we call Durkee Famous Sauce. It was the first prepared and packaged salad dressing. To appreciate this endeavor, remember, this was created prior to refrigeration. It was carried west by the pioneers. Historians have found old, discarded Durkee dressing bottles along covered-wagon trails. Durkee Famous Sauce was even purported to be stocked in Mary Todd Lincoln's pantry and served to Abraham Lincoln in the White House during the Civil War.


Hooker: Buy a lady a drink?
Patron: As soon as one shows up.

My friend Frank says he has actually used this line. He is very tall and wide, though. I wouldn't dare. I hate pain.


Me: Don't mind me, I'm just part of the furniture here.
Dan Lunceford: I would never describe you as furniture. Furniture is utilitarian.


Four life stages of soprano: bel canto; can belto; can't belto; can't canto.


There are four types of tenors. A countertenor sings alto and even soprano parts in falsetto voice. Lyric tenors are for light romantic roles, while dramatic tenors are for tragic roles. Heldentenors (literally, “heroic tenors”) are for Wagner.

Two of my voice teachers said that if I had started younger I could have been a Heldentenor. The joke goes that there are four types of tenors:
  • A countertenor has no testicles.
  • A lyric tenor has one.
  • A dramatic tenor has two.
  • A Heldentenor has two, but he is standing on one of them.


Neologism file: travedy = travesty x tragedy (Laurelle Powers)


Neologism file: cargyle = the diamond-shaped patch of debris in the middle of a busy intersection that both straight and turning cars miss (Gary Henderson)


Neologism file: quoozy = queasy x woozy (Nan)


Perl: The popular version of Intercal. (Dworkin Müller)


The video game Dance Dance Revolution requires that players dance around on a special mat to score. One friend of mine who was rather overweight at graduation showed up two years later looking quite svelte, and attributed it all to spending significant time playing it.

Marcia said there was a new one called Pole Dance Revolution that was being test-marketed at the Burning Man Festival.


Goddamn English people have ruined our language. (JS 2009-01-02)


Eastern New Mexico University in Portales is a first-rate school for music and performing arts, among other departments. However, compared with my alma mater New Mexico Tech, it is somewhat less strong in science.

My friend Phil Johnson and I used to go birding frequently in Boone's Draw, a beautiful wooded tract near Portales that is one of the best birding spots in the state, surrounded as it is for many miles in every direction by treeless grasslands. The spot is also known to ENMU students as a party spot, since it is miles out of town and quite isolated. Tony Gennaro, the science department, told us that there were rumors of devil worship there, but based on our experience camping out one weekend there, Phil judged that beer worship was more likely.

One fine day we encountered a big hulking guy creeping around with a bow and arrow. Turns out that he was a student in an ENMU anthropology course. The instructor had taught them how to make knapped flint arrowheads, and promised this student that if he could successfully slay an actual bunny rabbit with it, he was guaranteed an A.

Three dots for Sister Sara

Excess will not be enough. (Director's advice to Jim Carrey before he made the life-action Grinch movie)


So it's less of a tossup and more of a toss-off. (Anthony Martinez on XM's classical channel, before they merged with Sirius)


Five stages of life:
  1. You believe in Santa Claus.
  2. You don't believe in Santa Claus.
  3. You are Santa Claus.
  4. You look like Santa Claus.
  5. You believe in Santa Claus again.


I nom, therefore I om. (Nan Silvernail; 'om' rhymes with 'Mom'; reference to lolcats)


Are you out of blinker fluid? (Encouragement to drivers who do not use their turn signals. "Turn signals are a sign of weakness," says Nan.)


Q: What's the capital of Iceland?
A: $4.30.


Focus on your own damn family. (Bumper sticker)


A well-deserved inferiority complex. (Miriam Nadel)


They're deep-frying everything on a stick these years at State Fairs. Here are some ideas I haven't seen yet:
  • Chitlins.
  • Kim chee.
  • Liver.
  • Lutefisk.


It's a good thing the shoe bomber didn't hide anything in his ass.


The little girl started to eat before the blessing. Grandpa admonished her, “In this house, we pray before we eat.”
“But Grandma's a good cook!” protested the little girl.

I can tell you from long experience that one of the hardest things about choral singing, and especially solos, is knowing when to breathe. A prudent soloist will have required breaths marked in the part well ahead of performance, and perhaps some optional breaths marked that may or may not be used depending on one's wind and the tempo. Which leads to this story about a rising young soprano who shared a stage with one of the most experienced warhorses in all of opera.

RYS: Do you really need that many breaths to get through that?

MEW: Honey, it takes a lot more gas to run a Cadillac than a Volkswagen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

As for the Republicans

“As for the Republicans—how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mystical ‘American heritage’…) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead.” (H.P. Lovecraft, 1936)

Hat tip to Digby.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Three-dot style

I didn't realize that my cousin Helen reads this blog, until she chided me (with good reason) for not posting enough. I hope this item will address this fault of mine, at least briefly.

When I lived in the Bay Area I enjoyed reading Herb Caen's column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Much of his content was what he called “three-dot journalism”, short items separated by ellipses.

So here are some random short items gleaned from one of the series of 3x5 cards I carry in my Nerd Pack at all times: the Misc series.


One of the place names on the Alamo Navajo Reservation near Magdalena, NM: One-armed Man Who Walked Off Cliff.


Neologism file: Monitor lizards—people who spend all their time on the computer. (Nan Silvernail)


“It's like applesauce that knows somebody.” (Marcia B. on the apple compote at Standard Diner in ABQ.)


“Cotton balls garnished with angel farts.” (ibid, on haute cuisine)


Socorro, NM, was established in 1626, torched in 1680, and resettled around 1815.


There are two stories of how the Llano Estacado, the great Staked Plains of Eastern NM of my youth in Hobbs, were named. One theory is that the early explorers used tall stakes pounded into the ground to navigate—heaven knows there are few landmarks there, or any terrain relief. The other theory is that the edge, the Caprock, looks somewhat like palisades of stakes from a distance.


“A lifetime of temporary relief.” (a chronic pain sufferer on her life)


Natillas is a favorite local dessert from our Hispanic heritage here in the Rio Grande Valley. It is a custard with some vanilla wafers in it. The winner of the local reader's poll for this was Teofilo's in Los Lunas, right across from the Luna Mansion, which was recently bought by the people who own Teofilo's. Shipman's summary: Yum.


Speaking of local culture, mañana does not mean tomorrow. It means, not today.


“Cubist seeks square hole.” (Nan)


In Jack Williamson's autobiography, he tells the story of how he and Fredrik Pohl investigated the site of the famous Socorro Saucer Incident. They found two anomalous things about the scene. There were four depressions in the sand claimed to be the footprints of the saucer; they were laid out in a perfect square, except that one footprint that would have been positioned on a large rock was off to the side. Wouldn't a landing strut sit on top of the rock, or at least leave scrape marks on the rock? Also, the scorched bushes were scorched from the bottom up; one would expect bushes scorched by flame from above would be scorched from the top down.


“Politics is the art of getting votes from the poor and money from the rich while convincing each group that you are protecting them from the other.” (anonymous British labor official)


“Self-loathing government dependents.” (Pat Buckley on Teabaggers who are on Medicare and Social Security)


“Software as a disservice.” (Me, on SAS, Software As a Service; I also view The Cloud with some great suspicion.)


“A gift of fertilizer!” (Me, examining a guano strike on my car. So if you hear me say this, it's a more polite way of saying “bullshit.”)


“Sometimes being an adult means not telling Mom.” (Nan)


“Is that flounder or flow under?” (Overheard at an Albuquerque restaurant.)


“We've got to find out where this chocolate is leaking from.” (Overheard at the Village Inn, ABQ)


A man asked his wife, “I've never understood that is meant by this phrase ‘Mixed emotions.’ Can you give me an example?”

His wife replied, “Here's one: You have the longest one of all your friends.”


“This restaurant is a free circus. All you have to do is pay attention.” (Sign on a refrigerator at the Manzanares Coffeehouse, Socorro, NM.)


Neologism file: apostatheosis—the ultimate in apostasy. (Jim Campbell)


Neologism file: conslutant [sic]—one who gives advice for extremely low prices.


Random neuron firing: I finally remembered the name of the legendary high-volume fish restaurant on the Berkeley waterfront: Spenger's. Ate there somewhere around 1980. Great food, huge selection, and massive crowds at all hours.


“In order to understand recursion, first you must understand recursion.” (Anon.)


“Vertil concoupe”; this is how a member of my family, probably my sister Sally, mangled “convertible coupe” at a tender age.


I missed the New Mexico State Fair this year, so I failed to try Deep Fried Butter, but Zombie Doughnuts in Albuquerque has a maple bacon espresso doughnut that is also pretty impressive on the junk-food scale.


Me: Good bye, cruller world.
Nan: I'm going to a buttermilk place. (2010-08-23)


“We ran out of green chile so we had to come home.” (Pat Buckley on his return from to Socorro from a vacation in Wyoming)


“If the unexamined life is not worth living, the over-examined life must be well worth living.” (Miriam Nadel)


Verdolagas is the local Spanish name for common purslane, which is one of the evil weeds banned by city ordinance here in Socorro. According to my informant, it is a delicious stir-fried vegetable, eaten commonly here in Hispanic households, and a good vehicle for red chile.


The Animas River runs through northern New Mexico near Farmington. I heard that the full name is Rio de las Animas Perdidas, the river of lost souls, because in flood it has killed many in the past.


Neologism file: Decolletage—avoiding Colette. (Me)


Kid: What are all those books that look alike over there?
Parent: That's the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Kid: Whoa, somebody printed the whole thing out?


“Rougher than a stucco waterslide.” (Justin McKee, color commentator for the Pro Bull Riding Tour)


In the Hobbs (NM) Varsity Band, one of our signature pieces was a bombastic little march entitled “Grandioso.” Only recently did I realize it was ripped bodily out of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody. I'm so ignorant about classical music. On several occasions, the only way I've found out about a great classical piece was to perform it with the NM Symphony Chorus.


Neologism file: not-o-pilot—when you're not paying proper attention. (Me, 2010-09-20)


“It's a control freak thing. I won't LET you understand.” (Bumper sticker)


I don't mind straight people so long as they act gay in public. (Bumper sticker)


“Nature abhors self-esteem.” (Me, 2010-09-30)


At one point in my secondary school years, Dr. Pepper introduced a soft drink called Pommac. It was sort of the Edsel of soft drinks: introduced with a big splash, a commercial disaster. I used to drink this stuff. Pale pink, carbonated, not entirely unlike champagne.


Random neuron firing: I finally remembered the names of our family friends in Inverness, FL, around 1955: the Roscoes. Our family lived in this soggy pesthole for a few months between Dad's jobs because Dad's parents had retired there. The Roscoes were local real estate brokers who found us a small farm to live on. There were two horses on the property. Like so many young girls, my sister loved horses; as I recall, she actually rode the filly, Rowdy, at least once. The other horse was a big stodgy plow horse named Bob. I had no idea what he was good for, but I was only five then. I recall the electric fence in particular. I found out the hard way, of course.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Of cannons, Tchaikovsky, and a pregnant cheetah

On my regular web is a story from my first performance with the NM Symphony Orchestra Chorus in 1995.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I live

Got a total knee replacement 6/ went ok. I got a spinal instead of a general anaesthetic so I got to hear the saw...but that's the only thing i remember...they had me full of happy drugs.

Today the nurse said i was her star patient...walked about 10 yards with a walker...further than one expects.

Very hard to touch type with a blood oxygen probe on L index finger so i'll keep this short...many thnaks to all the well-wishers...will post here a bit when things improve.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No ski jumping for women in the Olympics

I was surprised to learn that:

  • A woman named Lindsay Van owns the all-time ski-jumping record for the hill being used in the Vancouver Olympics, and
  • There is no ski-jumping event for women in the Olympics!

Apparently, men can't handle being bested by women. (10-minute video)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kai Lung unrolls his mat

There are so far two books I have liked so much that I typed them in to make them freely available. I just finished the second one: Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat, a quite singular work of fantasy by Ernest Bramah first printed in 1927.

The other one is Why don't we learn from history? by B. H. Liddell Hart.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One day while checking out

Not sure why I'm an extrovert, but I scored 0.8 on the Myers-Briggs extrovert-introvert axis. This sometimes manifests in my tendency to start up conversations with random strangers.

The other day I was waiting to check out at Costco. It was crowded, and every one of the checkout lines had at least five carts. In front of me was a mom with two young boys, so I decided to use one of my Standard Gambits on her. “My,” I said, pointing at her younger son, who was somewhere around a pre-schooler and sitting in the cart, “what aisle did you find this product on? It's an attractive little number.” She smiled and thanked me.

At that point the older son, who looked to be in early grade school, pointed at the younger and said, “He wrecked the whole house!”

“That's his job,” I replied. (Thanks to the redoubtable Amy Blackburn for the “That's their job” meme, which is so universally applicable.)

“Why are you wearing sandals?” asked the older son, since it was a rather cold day in Albuquerque.

“I guess it's because I just don't have any common sense.” Several other people who were waiting nearby cracked up; this of course made my day.

I looked the kid straight in the eye and said, “Not everyone who is old is smart.”

This got another laugh from the folks standing in line, and a woman from the next line over remarked, “But everyone who is young is inquisitive.”

“That's their job,” I replied.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Statement on the 1964 Socorro UFO incident

Here is my all-purpose, final statement about the Socorro UFO incident of 1964.

I did not arrive in Socorro until 1966, so I have no direct experiences to report.

Please consider two things that will make this story very difficult either to verify or to disprove.

Firstly, there was no physical evidence left behind of any technology unavailable in 1964. Some scorched bushes and depressions in the sand are well short of proof of alien visitation. The police officer who reported the incident could have been fooled by special effects concocted by the many intelligent, bored, mischievous students then attending New Mexico Tech, which has always had a highly select and technically oriented student body. Furthermore, campus research activities at the time provided access to heavy equipment and weather balloons, and many mining students had both expertise in and access to explosives.

On the other hand, it is all too easy for college students to claim that they staged a hoax. It is the kind of thing an upper-division student might say to impress a younger student.

I have nothing useful to add except the skepticism expressed above.