Thursday, June 23, 2022

Order of Adjectives

 In teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), I learned that there is a rule governing the order of certain adjectives, as in describing clothes: size, then color, then pattern. I suppose that I had followed this consistently from childhood without ever thinking to articulate it.

It is easy to think of at least two-component examples from titles of songs or books: "Long Black Veil", Thin Red Line, and so on. I found it harder to think of those with three components, though I know perfectly well that my wife has a long black and white striped dress. But this year, I thought of a title that included all components, in proper order: "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini". I did not mention this to the class, given the difficulty of explaining the terms for size.

Paul Vance, who wrote the lyrics to "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" died last month. The New York Times carried an informative obituary of him.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Reading Matter

 I am in a hotel room in Philadelphia, near the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The room is clean and reasonably quiet. But it amazed me with its lack of reading matter. A canvass of the room showed the evacuation plan attached to the inside of the door, telephone instructions attached to the phone, operational instructions on the safe, and such labels as appear on the products in the bathroom and on the coffee. There is no stationery, no local information, no Gideon Bible. Management has concluded that the generation now traveling does not read print. I think this is premature.

Thursday, June 2, 2022


 Clive James wrote that

Auden lived long enough for me to see his tie. I thought it had been presented to him by Jackson Pollock until I realized that it was a plain tie plus food.

("Sergei Diaghilev", collected in  Cultural Amnesia.)

In his memoir What I Think I Did, the late Larry Woiwode reported that

A sad-eyed grad who attended the Iowa Workshop and is back for his Ph.D. says Illinois lost its real writer, Bill Gass, when somebody in the administration complained about the food on his ties.

Well, since the beginning of the pandemic I have stained no ties, for I have rarely worn one.


Monday, May 30, 2022

Ships and Prisons

 Happening to look into The Anatomy of Melancholy, close to where it split into halves, I found

What is a ship but a prison?

Having recently noticed, quoted in The Hall of Uselessness, one of Samuel Johnson's comparisons of ships to jails, to the advantage of the latter,  this set me to wondering how far the comparison goes back? Hardly, I would think, to classical antiquity. The Greeks and Romans did not make long sea voyages. Certainly the Mediterranean had galleys that were prisons for the oarsmen; but Burton and Johnson seem to have a different kind of servitude in mind.

There is a story of one POW at the Hanoi Hilton consoling another with the reflection that it still beat sea duty. Johnson said that in a jail one commonly had better company: but in this case I believe that both of the POWs were naval aviators.

Monday, May 16, 2022

People Also Ask

 A moment ago, I went to Google to verify the title of A Confederacy of Dunces, being momentarily unsure about the article. The first item on the page is a link to Wikipedia, and a very brief description. Just below that is a heading, "People also ask", under which the first question is

What is the point of A Confederacy of Dunces?

I am reminded of a passage from Leave It to Psmith, when the librarian remarks to Psmith that the detective novel he is reading looks quite enjoyable, and Psmith, then masquerading as a Canadian poet, says, "Ah, but what does it teach?".

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Ford and Forward

 The primary election in Washington, DC,  is about a month away, and many signs are up. Most or all have URLs on them. Those running for nomination to city-wide offices--mayor, attorney general, etc.--tend to have domain names of the form Those running for nomination to the council seat for a ward have domain names of the form So for example one has "" or "".  I find that my eye tends to pick out the "ford" in "fordc" and the "forward" in "forward3"

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Internet of Things

 Suppose that somebody ran an automated scan of your network for vulnerabilities, and reported that this web server had an outdated version of PHP, and that one an outdated version of JQuery. You would know to deal with this: if in a hurry, you would upgrade the packages at once, and trust in the developers to have maintained compatibility. If cautious, you might clone the servers, upgrade, and test carefully before upgrading the production servers. Either way, the path to the upgrade would be clear.

Now suppose that the outdated version warnings came attached to addresses that you did not recognize, and that on checking you found that they belonged to televisions and security cameras. Documentation on maintaining web servers is an internet search away, but not necessarily when those web servers simply provide the management interface for a device. A friend remarks that such servers could be implemented in firmware and essentially impossible for the owner to upgrade.

What can happen if someone uses a vulnerability in PHP or JQuery to take over a television or camera? Perhaps they could bore us by showing bad movies, or stream live video of our yards in Pyongyang. More likely, I suppose, intruders could set up the device as a base from which to try to break into more interesting systems. I would think that the facilities offered by a camera would be substantially less than those of a general-purpose computer, but I don't know.

Do "smart" devices with network interfaces--refrigerators, washing machines, etc.--make one's home less secure? I suspect that they do, but not substantially so, mostly because so much of the home is likely to be insecure already--routers with weak passwords, PCs without anti-virus software, users careless about clicking on links. Still, I wish that we didn't have to worry about the security of computers in devices that don't appear to have them.