In this section:
Fri, 22 May 2020
There have been several reports of the theft of catalytic converters in our neighborhood, the thieves going under the car and cutting the whole thing out. The catalytic converter contains a few grams of some precious metal, typically platinum, and this can be recycled by a sufficiently crooked junk dealer.
Why weren't these being stolen before? I have a theory. The catalytic converter contains only a few grams of platinum, worth around $30. Crawling under a car to cut one out is a lot of trouble and risk to go to for $30. I think the the stay-at-home order has put a lot of burglars and housebreakers out of work. People aren't leaving their houses and in particular they aren't going on vacations. So thieves have to steal what they can get.
[ Addendum 20200522: An initial glance at the official crime statistics suggests that my theory is wrong. I'll try to make a report over the weekend. ]
Thu, 07 May 2020
Yesterday I went through the last few months of web server logs, used them to correct some bad links in my blog articles.
Today I checked the logs again and all the "page not found" errors are caused by people attacking my WordPress and PHP installations. So, um, yay, I guess?
Tue, 05 May 2020
I wrote a really great blog post over the last couple of days. Last year I posted about the difference between !!\frac10!! and !!\frac00!! and this was going to be a followup. I had a great example from linear regression, where the answer comes out as !!\frac10!! in situations where the slope of computed line is infinite (and you can fix it, by going into projective space and doing everything in homogeneous coordinates), and as !!\frac00!! in situations where the line is completely indeterminite, and you can't fix it, but instead you can just pick any slope you want and proceed from there.
Except no, it never does come out !!\frac10!!. It always comes out !!\frac00!!, even in the situations I said were !!\frac10!!.
I think maybe I can fix it though, I hope, maybe. If so, then I will be able to write a third article.
It could have been worse. I almost published the thing, and only noticed my huge mistake because I was going to tack on an extra section at the end that it didn't really need. When I ran into difficulties with the extra section, I was tempted to go ahead and publish without it.
Fri, 01 May 2020
I don't have much to add at this point, but when I looked into Sir Thomas Urquhart a bit more, I found this amazing article by Denton Fox in London Review of Books. It's a review of a new edition of Urquhart's 1652 book The Jewel (Ekskybalauron), published in 1984. The whole article is worth reading. It begins:
and then oh boy, does it deliver. So much of this article is quotable that I'm not sure what to quote. But let's start with:
Some excerpts will follow. You may enjoy reading the whole thing.
I spent much way more time on this than I expected. Fox says:
Thanks to the Wonders of the Internet, a copy is available, and I have been able to glance at it. Urquhart has invented a microlanguage along the lines of Wilkins’ philosophical language, in which the words are constructed systematically. But the language of Trissotetras has a very limited focus: it is intended only for expressing statements of trigonometry. Urquhart says:
The sentence continues for another 118 words but I think the point is made: the idea is not obviously terrible.
Here is an example of Urquhart's trigonometric language in action:
A person skilled in the art might be able to infer the meaning of this axiom from its name:
That is, a side (of a triangle) is proportional to the sine of the opposite angle. This principle is currently known as the law of sines.
Urquhart's idea of constructing mnemonic nonsense words for basic laws was not a new one. There was a long-established tradition of referring to forms of syllogistic reasoning with constructed mnemonics. For example a syllogism in “Darii” is a deduction of this form:
The ‘A’ in “Darii” is a mnemonic for the “all” clause and the ‘I’s for the “some” clauses. By memorizing a list of 24 names, one could remember which of the 256 possible deductions were valid.
Urquhart is following this well-trodden path and borrows some of its terminology. But the way he develops it is rather daunting:
I think that ‘Pubkegdaxesh’ is compounded from the initial syllables of the seven enodandas, with p from upalem, ub from ubamen, k from ekarul, eg from egalem, and so on. I haven't been able to decipher any of these, although I didn't try very hard. There are many difficulties. Sometimes the language is obscure because it's obsolete and sometimes because Urquhart makes up his own words. (What does “enodandas” mean?)
Let's just take “Upalem”. Here are Urquhart's glosses:
I believe “a tangent complement” is exactly what we would now call a cotangent; that is, the tangent of the complementary angle. But how these six items relate to one another, I do not know.
Here's another difficulty: I'm not sure that ‘al’ is one component or two. It might be one:
Either way I'm not sure what is meant. Wait, there is a helpful diagram, and an explanation of it:
This is unclear but tantalizing. Urquhart is solving a problem of elementary plane trigonometry. Some of the sides and angles are known, and we are to find one of the unknown ones. I think if if I read the book from the beginning I think I might be able to make out better what Urquhart was getting at. Tempting as it is I am going to abandon it here.
Trissotetras is dedicated to Urquhart's mother. In the introduction, he laments that
He must have been an admirer of Alexander Rosse, because the front matter ends with a little poem attributed to Rosse.
This is Pantochronachanon, which Wikipedia says “has been the subject of ridicule since the time of its first publication, though it was likely an elaborate joke”, with no citation given.
Fox mentions that Urquhart claims Alcibiades as one of his ancestors. He also claims the Queen of Sheba.
According to Pantochronachanon the world was created in 3948 BC (Ussher puts it in 4004), and Sir Thomas belonged to the 153rd generation of mankind.
Fox claims that the title Εκσκυβαλαυρον means “from dung, gold” but I do not understand why he says this. λαύρα might be a sewer or privy, and I think the word σκυβα means garden herbs. (Addendum: the explanation.)
Fox says that in spite of the general interest in universal languages, “parts of his prospectus must have seemed absurd even then”, quoting this item:
Urquhart boasts that where other, presumably inferior languages have only five or six cases, his language has ten “besides the nominative”. I think Finnish has fourteen but I am not sure even the Finns would be so sure that more was better. Verbs in Urquhart's language have one of ten tenses, seven moods, and four voices. In addition to singular and plural, his language has dual (like Ancient Greek) and also ‘redual’ numbers. Nouns may have one of eleven genders. It's like a language designed by the Oglaf Dwarves.
A later item states:
and another item claims that a word of one syllable is capable of expressing an exact date and time down to the “half quarter of the hour”. Sir Thomas, I believe that Entropia, the goddess of Information Theory, would like a word with you about that.
One final quote from Fox:
Fox says “Nothing much came of this, either.”.
I really wish I had made a note of what I had planned to say about Urquhart in 2008.
And while the usual Greek word for gold is χρῡσός (‘chrysos’), the word αύρον (‘auron’, probably akin to Latin aurum) is also gold. The screenshot at right is from the 8th edition of Liddell and Scott. Thank you, M. Yorgey! ]