Tag Archives: poetry

Folly's Foliage


Here's a bit o' light verse, given that words are many but hours few.


Folly's Foliage

A dandelion puff aloft went wayward without sinking,
Uprooted, blown into the sky by simple wishful thinking.
So bold, its dreams of meaning made of happenstance and hope.
So dry, the withering stem now plucked– an epistemic trope.

The keep with no foundation falls apart in nothing flat.
Our prison-house of language games will make quite sure of that!
Each proposition needs a promise– given, cherished, kept–
Else thinking, thus unsteadied, spawns a progeny inept.

So build your treehouse near the stream and, firmly rooted there,
It will provide the place where thought may thrive and grow and dare.
The blooming bud once plucked becomes a thing already dead.
Perennial, the cultivated carefully instead.

What's the Frequency, Flik?

The internet is pretty slick. Every attached computer has a unique address sort of like a phone number. (Sometimes, entire sub-networks lurk behind a single address through the miracles of IP and routing and such, just as entire switchboards of phones may lie behind the phone number of a main switchboard, but that's another story.)

Thanks to Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), files can be sent from one address to another with amazing efficiency. The brilliance of TCP's design lies in this: the rate at which stuff is sent automatically throttles up or down in response to network latency as measured by response time!

The Office – S5/E9: The Surplus from Vimeo.

Let's break it down. TCP is cool because "transmission control" sounds like "mission control" and that sounds like something NASA would have. But TCP is also cool because of how it works. Grossly simplified, it works like this:

  • You want to send that document requesting a pony to someone who has sent you a blind solicitation.
  • The networky stuff in your computer breaks the document into a bunch of "packets". Just like real parcels sent through UPS or Fedex or that other service, each packet is wrapped with a label explaining where it came from, where it's going, and so forth.
  • The packets follow various routes to their destination. As they arrive, the recipient (i.e., networky stuff on the other guy's computer) sends a receipt (called an "ack") to the sender. Meanwhile, the recipient uses the wrapper info to figure out whether all the packets have arrived, to put them in their correct order, and finally to reassemble the document. Transmission Accomplished!
  • The best part is the flow control. The sender starts by spraying out some packets and timing how long it takes to get a receipt for them. If the receipts come quickly, the sender sends more packets at a time. If the receipts come slowly, the sender sends fewer packets at a time (even stopping cold, if necessary). And since there's an ongoing flow of shipments and receipts and timing, the sender can avoid flooding the network but can also avoid letting bandwidth go to waste! Faster and faster! Slower and slower! No, faster! Slower! Strike that! Reverse it!
Flik, from Pixar's A Bug's Life
Flik, from Pixar's A Bug's Life

Now, here's the trippy science factoid du jour: researchers at Leland Stanford Junior University have discovered that Harvester Ants (including, apparently, the most venemous insect in the world) have been using TCP all along… behind Vint Cerf's and Bob Kahn's backs! Says the press release:

the rate at which harvester ants – which forage for seeds as individuals – leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.

A forager won't return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.

They also found that the ants followed two other phases of TCP. One phase is known as slow start, which describes how a source sends out a large wave of packets at the beginning of a transmission to gauge bandwidth; similarly, when the harvester ants begin foraging, they send out foragers to scope out food availability before scaling up or down the rate of outgoing foragers.

Another protocol, called time-out, occurs when a data transfer link breaks or is disrupted, and the source stops sending packets. Similarly, when foragers are prevented from returning to the nest for more than 20 minutes, no more foragers leave the nest.

Further research into what these critters might teach us will be undertaken at the newly funded FourmiLab. Meanwhile, I leave you with a meditation on Proverbs 6:6 by e. e. cummings: go(perpe)go from his 1935 manuscript No Thanks (in George James Firmage, ed., E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962, Revised, NY: Norton, 1994, p. 403 or thereabouts).

go(perpe)go, e. e. cummings, No Thanks, #20, 1935
go(perpe)go, e. e. cummings, No Thanks, #20, 1935


Three Rings for the Republican Kings under the Missouri Sky


"Sing to me, David, of clown shoes and a man…." Re l'affaire Todd Akin? OK. If you insist….


The elephant nominates a clown
To foil the opposition and to win,
To try to shut that whole thing down!

And that's the part that makes me frown.
I ponder it with great chagrin:
The elephant nominates a clown?

An eleventh hour swap would win renown.
Akin's kisser clamors with foot within
To try to shut that whole thing down!

Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown…
But heavier plod the huge shoe and its twin!
The elephant nominates a clown.

Sucking Charybdis spins; who swims may drown.
He ought to wring his towel and throw it in,
To try to shut that whole thing down.

But there's no hope of change in Barnum town.
Though donkeys bray or take it on the chin,
The elephant nominates a clown
To try to shut that whole thing down.

New Hampshire Primary, 2012


Well, it's Primary Day in New Hampshire,
And the voters must finally decide.
In the Countertop State, it's for damned sure,
That no candidate gets a free ride.

Having put paid, Mitt Romney is cruising
By a margin of many a digit.
He likes firing his engine half-throttle,
While conservatives waver and fidget.

Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Huntsman,
To put brakes on Mitt's juggernaut and park it,
Have tried all the political stunts. Man
Bites dog! They disdain the free market!

Poor Rick Perry had fire in the belly,
But in truth he's at home on the range.
Since his race is all "Oops!" and "Whoa, Nelly!"
His insistence on bucking seems strange.

By both flanks of the centrist investor
Drives a dark horse who might take it all,
But would settle for place, show, or jester:
It's irascible Ludwig von Paul.

So Republicans, Democrats, and even
Independents will vote all day long
To anoint a Republican leader.
What could possibly go wrong?


What can change the nature of a song?

Ilya Somin gets to the heart of the matter:

The sole evidence the prison officials have submitted on this point [the connection between D&D and gangs] is the affidavit of Captain Muraski, the gang specialist.  Muraski testified that Waupun’s prohibition on role-playing and fantasy games was intended to serve two purposes. The first aim Muraski cited was the maintenance of prison security. He explained that the policy was intended to promote prison security because cooperative games can mimic the organization of gangs and lead to the actual development thereof. Muraski elaborated that during D&D games, one player is denoted the “Dungeon Master.” The Dungeon Master is tasked with giving directions to other players, which Muraski testified mimics the organization of a gang.

Ahem.  Apologies to Sondheim….

Dear NPC Muraski
You gotta understand,
It's just our daily maskey,
No need to bust a gland.
Our DM tokes a stogie,
His house rules are in vogue.
Drizzt Do'Urden! Natcherly we're rogues!

Gee, Captain Muraski, we're very upset;
We haven't tried the 4th edition starter kit yet!
We ain't no gang members,
We're headed true north,
Gather the party, venture forth!

Venture forth!

Venture forth! Venture forth!
Ere we venture forth!
We must gather all, then venture forth!

Dear kindly Judge, your Honor,
The warden ain't a fan.
Despite his high speed broadband,
He won't hook up our lan.
We just use pen and paper,
So whatcha gonna ban?
Creepin' kobolds!  That's a bogus plan!

Captain Muraski, you're nerfed in the brain;
This boy don't lead a gang, he runs a fictive campaign!
His imagination, it oughta be curbed.
He's dramaturgically disturbed!

We're disturbed, we're disturbed,
Roll to save or curb!
But there's still no need to be perturbed!

My cellmate is barbaric,
My friend's a mage arcane.
We'd better bring a cleric,
The new guy is insane.
That lifer is a ranger,
For thieves you won't look hard,
And on death row I hear there's a bard!

Capped Captain Muraski,
You've gotta admit,
You didn't roll your twenty for a critical hit.
You're some expert witness, no wonder you're pimped.
Too bad your theory's fully gimped!

Fully gimped, fully gimped,
They can't say you skimped,
But your testimony's badly gimped!

Gee, Captain Muraski,
No need to be lame,
It's not a mimicked gang,
It's just a role-playing game.
Hey, Captain Muraski,
Would you like a clue?
Gee, Captain Muraski,
Pike you!