Monday, November 17, 2014

Pulling a Punch Line

A store near the baggage claim are of the Rome airport has a handful of signs, about hip high, in the entrance, each with the image of some famous person and a quotation praising books. Some are to be expected, for example Thomas Jefferson's "I Cannot Live Without Books". One did surprise me:

I considered the reasons one might provide only half of the quip:
  1. Not enough space. But Oscar Wilde gets more words.
  2. "Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read" just doesn't work in Italian humor.
  3. The signs are there to encourage one to buy books, not to make one laugh
  4. "All'infuori di" has a logical meaning but not a spatial one, and so cannot be opposed by "dentro" as "outside of" is by "inside of".

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


We are a bit touchy about squirrel sounds on the roof, having had to deal with a couple of intrusions. Several summers ago when one had dug at a window frame we trapped a couple of squirrels and exiled them to Arlington County. Since then, they have contented themselves with digging up the lawn to hide acorns, or digging out bulbs. But we remain on the watch.

This morning, K sent to me out to look for one on the front roof. He was there on the gutter. Presently, he clambered back up the slate at the southwest corner and disappeared over the roof. When I got to the back yard, he was in the holly tree at the northeast corner, about to head down.

For now, I assume that this squirrel is foraging for acorns that have fallen from a neighbor's tree into our gutters. I would find it more restful if he didn't, and perhaps once he satisfies himself that the acorns are gone, he won't. If he looks for storage or nesting space in the attic, he may find himself transported to Four Mile Run.

The other day I thought that I heard woodpeckers at our rake boards. This would have meant woodpecker damage to repair and bug infestation to deal with. Once I opened an attic window, I could hear that the hammering was from a crew down the alley.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Busy Neighborhood

For the last few days, a crew of masons has been replacing a neighbor's front steps and walk. Today I noticed also, on my way around the neighborhood,

  • a neighbor's porch ceiling being painted
  • a new driveway going in on Argyle Terrace near Varnum St.
  • a new front walk on Argyle Terrace near 17th St.
  • major work on a house (recently sold) at 17th and Varnum: new windows, new gutters, new floors at least
  • diagonally across the intersection, window replacement on somebody's addition
  • a new brick walk at 17th and Upshur
  • in the alley between Taylor and Upshur, a new fence going in
  • a neighbor's basement cleared out for renovation
Perhaps this work goes on all the time, but on weekdays when I'm at work.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Short

We are putting together a leave tracking system for an affiliate, the third leave tracking system that we will have done in four years. I hope that we are getting better at this, not that the first one was bad. In any case, I have made a number of simplifications that render one of the main portions less scary.

But while going through and removing commented-out procedures left over from a prior version, I noticed that the package body runs just over one thousand lines. Further edits might have eliminated another fifty lines. Now, there is a fair bit of white space in that count, a line or two around data structure declarations and subprogram bodies, generally a line before the return statement of any function, and so on. There are not many, not enough, lines of comments, though those will come: our own organization's working version has some comments twenty or thirty lines long, carefully setting out all the errors I have made and corrected. I suspect that the true working payload is about 600 lines of PL/SQL. That's a fair bit.

The largest single procedure is probably around eighty lines, though most of that it is in subprograms, the main portion being around a dozen lines. I am generally satisfied with the structure. Some pieces need to be pulled out to make it easier to accommodate other classes of employees. I'd like to find a better way to handle testing, too.

There remains one other package, dauntingly line, full of procedures or functions written to handle this or that need of ours, and not applicable to the affiliate. I would guess that it is around 1200 lines, and should be nearer 400. We'll see next week.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Not a Bad Halloween

A good Halloween is one on which I recognize half a dozen neighborhood kids, give generously, and turn out the light at 9 pm with a little bit of insurance candy left in the bowl. On a poor Halloween, I see nobody I know, and at 8:30 there are 14-year-old boys on the porch at 8:30 with not the slightest excuse for a costume. I give them the candy, but I think that they might have exerted themselves more.

Friday, I got home a little before 6, and sat down to carve the jack o'lantern. There have been years when managed to do this the night before, separate seeds from strings, and roast the seeds. Now I am the only pumpkin-seed consumer in the house, and don't bother. I did have the pumpkin carved, and set out on the steps before it was quite dark.

A neighbor stopped by early on, with at least one of his sons and that son's friends. With the costumes, I'm not sure whether the younger son was there also. A couple of girls stopped by later on, explaining to me that they were not a pair of unicorns, but rather a unicorn and a narwhal: with a closer look at the position of the horns, I could see that this was so. I think one lives on the next block down. The one young neighbor I positively identified is not quite four. She was done up as Snow White, which she had to explain to me, since I haven't watched many Disney movies lately. She had on her wig hair, she said, and her real hair under it.

And there were quantities of kids who certainly are not from the neighborhood. They were, without exception, polite, well spoken, and in costume. A pair of girls, probably about 14, showed up on the porch twice, and were slightly embarrassed to realize that they had done so. Of course we gave them candy again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Browsing Skeat, Or, "Click ; see Clack"

A few weeks ago, I came away with a copy of The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology, by Walter Skeat. It is said to have been a book that James Joyce enjoyed browsing in, and I can see why. It has among its merits a light weight, making it easy to hold, and a pattern of discrete pieces of information, generally linked backward and forward, so that one can browse happily for as little or as much time as happens to be available. (Another book I bought at the same table, The Reformation, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, is likewise fascinating, but it is heavy, and demands long stretches of attention.)

A couple of peculiarities struck me early on. First, organization of related words under a root, so that Scribe, in the main alphabetic order, is followed by ascribe, circumscribe, conscript, and on down to superscription  and transcribe. The words in the sub-sequence are given as here, not capitalized. Likewise Sooth is followed by absent, present, represent, sooth, and soothsay.

Second, the entries of the form "x; see y". So Scribe immediately follows "Scribble ; see Scribe". Some of these catch the eye from half a page away, as for example "Click ; see Clack". The latter he derives from the Middle English clacken, relating it to Crack, and also to words in Icelandic, Dutch, Irish, and Greek. A couple I noticed today seem to say something about fashion: "Thong ; see Twinge" and "Trousers, Trousseau ; see Torture". However, Skeat is not thinking about the sacrifices made to look good, but about roots: thong and twinge he traces back to the Old Friesic twingan, to force or constrain; trousers, trousseau and torture come back to roots meaning to twist.

I used to forget the components that went into the word "whiskey"; but now that I have seen Skeat relate "beath" to the Greek "bios", I won't again soon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Local Color

The other week, I picked up a copy of Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke, in part because I had him mixed up with Peter Schneider. I don't so far regret the confusion.

About sixty pages in, the narrator and a girlfriend begin a drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike:
We entered it from State Route 100, near Downingtown, after the eighth toll station. On the seat beside her Claire  had a box full of coins; at each toll station she would toss a few of them out the window into the hopper without coming to a full stop. From there to Donora we passed another fifteen toll stations. In the course of the day, Claire tossed more than five dollars into hoppers.
There are toll roads that work this way, but the Pennsylvania Turnpike, during the period I have traveled it, has not been one. One gets a ticket when entering, and one pays when leaving, whether one has passed one exit or many. Certainly in 1972 one had to stop for the toll booth operator to examine one's ticket and collect the toll..

Two points interest me here.
  1. The error does not bother me. Similar errors and anachronisms in historical novels set my teeth on edge. I infer that Handke's mistake does not bother me in part because this is really not an historical novel: it was written in 1972 and set at about that time. It does not aim at reproducing the feel of a distant time or place. There is more to Claire than her box of coins.
  2. In how many novels set elsewhere or at other times have I noticed such bits of detail and taken them for true when they weren't?