Friday, October 30, 2020


 This year's weather favored mushroom growth. Now and then I would see a bit of mushroom on the walk, but I never considered how it got there. Then, a few weeks ago, I saw a mushroom stalk on a porch rail

and went to the computer to enquire whether squirrels eat mushrooms. Apparently they do.

I have never seen a squirrel eat a mushroom, but I knew that they had a diet that extended beyond nuts. During the last couple of summers, I would see squirrels in a holly tree along the fence, eating green berries. I'd prefer to see the berries saved for the birds, but I see that plenty have been left to ripen.

Monday, October 26, 2020

A Terrible Fate, No Doubt

 Late in the novel The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha, a character considers his options:

He couldn't return to spending all day in a cubicle, punching lines of Python into an IDE...

Now, I have written a fair bit of Python over the last twenty years, but rather little of it in an Integrated Development Environment or IDE. Generally I have used emacs as my editor, and found that worked well enough. Such VB.NET and C# as I have written I have written in the Visual Studio IDE, and could not have written without it.

I wonder what IDE the man used in his cubicle days. These would have been in the few years before 2009, and I'm not sure what the choices were. Visual Studio Tools for Python didn't come out until 2011, and my impression that NetBeans supported Python seems to be just wrong. Let's say that it was IDLE, the Independent Development and Learning Environment. IDLE is a fine tool, if not especially flashy as IDEs go, and it has been around since 2000.

And I find the expression "punching lines of Python" curious. Long ago in college I punched lines of Fortran IV into cards, and had the option of punching them into paper tape. But never since have I thought of my typing as punching. I have heard at least one person talk of "slinging COBOL". Still I think most coders just say "write".

Sunday, October 25, 2020


When we first moved into the neighborhood, there were three Orthodox church festivals each year within walking distance: at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, then at St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, then at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church. The first had hands down the best food, the second had an excellent used book table, the third was just the place if you needed a bilingual Arabic-English New Testament (I have bought two, for friends). 

 But Sts. Constantine and Helen followed its parishioners to the suburbs a few years ago. Neighbors who went to the festival in Olney said that the food had fallen off sadly. Whether or not this is so, we never went to find out for ourselves. 

St. John the Baptist held its fall festival yesterday, from 8 am to 2 pm, a mile and half west on the grounds of a school on Connecticut Avenue. The decision to move the festival makes perfect sense: the cathedral has no parking lot, and only limited space for people to gather. The terraces around the church are always jammed at festival time, just what one doesn't need now. I suppose that the shorter hours were set by the school. And they would not have been able to have much of an outdoor festival this afternoon, with cool raw weather, drizzly through early afternoon. 

I could have taken in the festival on my run yesterday, but did not. Though I have stopped for book sales while running, and carried a book or two home with me, the notion did not appeal yesterday. I hope that next year the festival will be back on the cathedral grounds.

 It is not clear whether St. George's will attempt a festival this year: no signs were up yesterday or today on 16th St. NW. St. George's does have a parking lot, ergo room to spread out a bit, and a somewhat larger parish hall than St. John's.

Sunday, October 18, 2020


Cynthia Haven posts pictures of assorted messy desks over at The Book Haven. Having occasionally maintained such a desk myself, I am perhaps more apt to remember reading of them. There is Hugh Kenner in "The Untidy Desk and the Larger Order of Things", collected in Mazes:

There are clean-desk people--you know them, you may even be one--whose working space always looks scrubbed for surgery. They make a virtue of handling no paper twice---"Do something with it right now. Don't dither. 'In doubt? Throw it out.'" Any time the clean-desker takes down a book, it's no sooner snapped shut than back with it to the shelf. Each paper summoned from the files is rebounded instantly to the files again. The steady stream from the In-Basket get deflected just two ways: to Out-Basket, to trash. Promptly at five, the clean-desker  departs from a place where the only hint that anything happened all day is an overflowing wastebasket.
 Off-duty, clean-deskers measure their vermouth with an eyedropper, walk their dogs by the clock, succor their spouses by the calendar. Such people exist, and some of them ask fees for training decentered souls to be just like them.
 But there are also souls like mine, content amid what clean-deskdom calls unholy clutter. Cleaning up the room I'm sitting in at the moment, to the extent of meeting clean-desk standards would take a week. The few times I have tried it, useful things have invariably vanished forever: things I routinely laid hands on without fail, back when they were integrated with the mess I fondly manipulate. I am, to put it mildly, an untidy-desker.

The context is a review of G.K. Zipf's Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort, which appeared to justify the preferences of the untidy-deskers. Unfortunately, according to the prefatory note in Mazes, Zipf's reasoning was not really satisfactory, a point that Benoit Mandelbrot brought to Kenner's attention.

 Nor are the untidy-deskers limited to the world of literature department. In the classic Transaction Processing: Concepts and Techniques, Jim Gray and Andreas Reuter compare memory buffering in databases to a desk:

The main idea behind buffering is to exploit locality. Everybody employs it without even thinking about it. A desk should serve as a buffer of the things one needs to perform the current tasks.

They then qualify this with the footnote

Andreas's desk probably doesn't, but that's a different story.

 For the last seven months, my desk has been a corner of the dining room table.  This makes clutter impractical, for come seven o'clock a table setting will supplant computer and monitor. The clutter is to some degree transferred into small text files in the Documents folder of my computer; but there one has the timestamp to sort on and, with luck, a meaningful filename.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

As Any Astute Student of German Knows

Noticed in the editor's introduction of Charles S. Peirce: The Essential Writings, the footnote:

That intrepid explorer of of the time continuum--the cartoon character Alley Oop--relies on just this principle. (Furthermore, he explores the continuum utilizing a time machine invented by Dr. Wonmug---and as any astute student of German knows, "wonmug" is a translation of "Einstein," which in English means "one mug" of beer.)

In the 1980s, I used to see the Alley Oop comic strip now and then. I remember that it sometimes involved time travel,  but I don't remember seeing the machine. And I'm afraid that such German as I know might not have been up to translating "Wonmug". I am grateful to Edward C. Moore for his explanation.

Thursday, October 8, 2020


 Colleges and universities advertise in the Washington, DC, area a good deal. This is not necessarily a tribute to our passion for learning, since

  • Employers can reimburse employees for training that "maintains or improves job skills" for the job then held. The IRS does not count this reimbursement as taxable income.
  • Many of us work for government contractors.
  • Contractors can bill the government more for the time of an employee with a higher degree than for the time of an employee with a lesser or no degree.
  • Some of that billing rate may be passed along to the employee, and in any case the employee becomes more attractive for work at the current employer and its competitors.

Among the media the universities use are the sides of Metrobuses. Today I noticed a bus advertising the University of Maryland Global Campus. After a moment, I understood that this must be a new name for the University of Maryland University College, the school's continuing education arm. A closer look showed wording that confirmed this.

I'm not sure why the school thought it well to use a new name.  In this area, University of Maryland University College was well known. I imagine that it was well known on US military bases across the country and the world. One of its alumni, General John Vessey, rose to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I will say one thing for the new version: it took a very little clicking to find the tuition rates at The last time I looked at the University College website, I simply could not find the rate per credit hour.