Welcome back my friends
To the show that never ends!
We're so glad you could attend
Come inside, come inside!

— Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part II)

Hi there!

If you're reading this, you're probably just looking at my journal, perhaps even thinking about adding me as an LJ-friend; or alternatively, perhaps I just added you as an LJ-friend, and you're curious about me now. In either case, I'd like to use this opportunity to say a few things.

Trevor: You're skating the edge.
Æon: I
am the edge.

— Æon Flux

First of all, I tend to write freely about topics everything that matters to me; more distanced, "professional" entries may directly be followed by more personal ones (and vice versa), and I will, generally, openly write about all sorts of things, including philosophy, sexuality, politics and more. Some of my entries will be friends-only, others will be publicly viewable, too, and unlike other people, I don't use <lj-cut /> tags or specific "topic filters" (i.e., custom friends groups dedicated to specific topics) to shield people from things they may not want to see.

Well, as long as it's text, that is; I will cut images that aren't safe for work etc. (at least if I remember, which I might not always do!), since I wouldn't want for people to get in trouble if their boss happens to be shoulder-surfing at work. Text, though, is a different issue, and if you'll get into trouble for reading about certain topics at work, you probably shouldn't be checking your friends page at work to begin with.

He said, "I am told that when men hear its voice, it stays in their ears, they cannot be rid of it. It has many different voices: some happy, but others sad. It roars like a baboon, murmurs like a child, drums like the blazing arms of one thousand drummers, rustles like water in a glass, sings like a lover and laments like a priest."

— Mike Oldfield, Amarok (liner notes)

Second of all, concerning friending me: feel free to. There is no need to ask if it's OK to do so; everyone's welcome to, as well as to post comments etc. (as long as they're genuine: spammers etc. will not be tolerated, but that goes without saying, anyway). I may add you back if your journal looks interesting or if I know you, too, but this isn't automatic. If you do want me to add you back, engaging me and talking to me is probably the best way to go about it.

Please don't ask about being added back if I didn't do so on my own, either, unless I already know you well and you want to be able to read my non-public entries.

If I already friended you but you don't know who I am and haven't been in contact with me before, that most likely means I became aware of your journal somehow, took a look, and decided I wanted to keep up with what you're writing — "I find your ideas intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter", as it were. I don't expect you to friend me back or otherwise take an interest in me, but if you do — all the better.

If what it is to be furry you still don't comprehend
Then consider this advice, my curious friend
If you're willing to respect that which you don't understand
Then come take my paw and I'll take your hand.

— from "Furry", by Croc O'Dile of TigerMUCK with help from Tony DeMatio, June 1995

Regarding commenting, BTW, I'm always happy to receive comments. However, things like "lol" are not proper punctuation, and correct spelling and grammar would be nice as well. And of course, I expect people to not be insulting or rude, but that, again, should go without saying.

That's about all I can think of for now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.



We all know the pluralis majestatis, and those of us who've (had to) read scientific papers have likely also encountered the pluralis auctoris. I was tickled to learn that there's quite a few more plurales.

The pluralis majestatis is, of course, used by rulers of all persuasions and colors, at least those who feel secure enough in their position to let you know that you're beneath them. Queen Victoria's supposed uttering that we are not amused may be apocryphal, but Thatcher's announcement that we have become a grandmother is not.

Curiously there is a counterpart, the pluralis modestiae, where the plural form is used to downplay the fact that only one individual achieved something: a scientific author may write in this paper, we will show that even when he's the sole author of the paper in question. Wikipedia distinguishes between this and the pluralis auctoris, but my personal feeling is that this is simply different labels for the same thing that apply on different semantic layers: the phenomenon itself can be described as a pluralis auctoris (and it's this that, strictly speaking, is the counterpart to the pluralis majestatis, while talking about the pluralis modestiae is making a teleological statement: the author is using the pluralis auctoris for a purpose, namely to express modesty.

Another plural that resides on the teleological level is the pluralis benevolentiae, which is used for endearment, to create trust, and so on; it's the plural you use when someone comes to you talking about a problem, and you build him up and say, we can do this. You can also find this in the scientific literature, BTW; some authors, especially in older works, employ such phrases as let us now consider and so on, which helps the reader feel like they're part of the crew, as it were, actively taking part in an investigation. (Sadly, this has fallen out of style, and papers are now often written by a bunch of Dres. Dryasdust instead.)

If you're a fan of the Lockpicking Lawyer (LPL) over on Youtube, you'll also be familiar with his satisfied statement and we got this open. That's a pluralis benevolentiae as well; in reality, he got it open, while the viewer did nothing in particular (and did it very well), but it helps bring the viewer onboard and make them feel like they contributed to the lock-opening process. As far as encouraging people to come back to your channel and watch more of your videos is concerned, it's a pretty shrewd move.

Of course, the pluralis benevolentiae can also be subverted to give someone the feeling that you're talking down to them. In the future, maybe we'll think first and then act, right, friend?

The final plural I'm aware of a variant of the pluralis benevolentiae that, like the plurales majestatis and auctoris, resides on a lower semantic level again: the pluralis sanitatis, vulgo: the doctors' plural. If you've ever been in a hospital and been rudely awakened from your largely unrestful slumber by a pack of doctors at what feels like 4am, only to be asked good morning, and how are we today?, then you've seen it in action. The purpose is that of the pluralis benevolentiae, but if you're a night owl it may well end up just getting on your nerves instead.

One more that does not exist yet: the pluralis commoditatis, which you use out of convenience and/or laziness, say because it's easier to always write your scientific papers using we rather than I since then you won't have to change your style just because you onboard[1] a co-author. In fact, pretty much any grammatical mistake you make can be justified by assigning a Latin name to and slapping commoditatis on it. Learning German and used the wrong case, ich gebe ihm dem Geschenk? No problem! It's a dativus duplex commoditatis! Eat that, teacher!

  1. Verbing weirds language, eh?

Preserved Fish, and other rich Fuggers

I started reading Terry Pratchett's A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction recently. Halfway through it, I think I can say it's like his Discworld novels: a bit of a mixed bag at times, but when it's good and when it's funny, then it's really good and really funny. I'd recommend picking it up.

An interesting tidbit that also appears in this article in the Grauniad:

Undirected research goes on all the time, of course. There's no research like the research you're doing when you think you're just enjoying yourself. In Hay-on-Wye, under the very noses of other authors, I picked up that not-very-famous work The Cyclopedia of Commercial and Business ANECDOTES; comprising INTERESTING REMINISCENCES AND FACTS, Remarkable Traits and Humors... (and so on, for 64 words). There are obvious nuggets on almost every page (for instance, that Preserved Fish was a famous New York financier). Then there is what I might call secondary discovery, as in, for example, the dark delight of the Victorian author, when writing about a famous German family of financiers, in coming up with sentences such as "soon there were rich Fuggers throughout Lower Saxony". And finally there was the building up of some insight into the minds of people for whom money was not the means to an end, or even the means to more money, but what the sea is for fishes.

Wikipedia has an article on Preserved Fish. And on those other rich Fuggers, of course.


Golden Earring

I just learned that Golden Earring may have ended their long and illustrious career, due to George Kooymans, one of the band's founders and still an active member, being seriously ill.

That's a real shame. Golden Earring isn't (wasn't) only the world's oldest still-active band – originally having been founded in 1961, making them older even than the Rolling Stones –, they're also one of those great and underrated bands that never quite got the commercial breakthrough they so rightfully would have deserved.

I was quite a fan at some point, and had more than 300 of their songs in my collection. These days I mostly listen to other things, but I remember them fondly. Guys, thank you — for everything. I hope you can continue performing, but if not, then so be it, and it has been a pleasure and an honor having you in this world.


That's DEATH

Although I've read a lot of Discworld novels, I've never played any of the Discworld games that existed in the 1990s; I watched Let's Plays of two of them, though, and thought that the theme song from the second one was spot-on:

Whoever managed to enlist Eric Idle as the voice actor for Rincewind – the protagonist of both games, and the singer here, obviously – deserves a medal, too. Here's the lyrics, BTW:

There's a place you're always welcome
That's as nice as it can be
Everyone can get in
'Cause it's absolutely free!

That's Death
No need to take a breath
Just lay around all day
With not a single bill to pay

That's Death
No more sicknesses or flu
If you lived beyond your means
You can die beyond them too
Boo hoo!

Well the greatest and the finest
Mmm, have already died
Why not simply join them
On the other side?

That's Death
Say farewell to all your bills
Rip up all your wills
And pop your final pills

That's Death
It's a tête-à-tête with fate
If you're not feeling great
Then it's the best way to lose weight

Nothing here to hurt you
No one's here to nag
Come die with me
If your life's a drag!

That's Death (That's Death!)
The wealthy and well-bred
All of them are here
And they're all completely dead (So dead!)

That's Death (That's Death!)
No more headaches, no more pain
Of the millions who died
No one came back to complain! (Nuh-huh!)

You can't take it with you
You can't keep what you've got
So why not just lie back
And simply rot? (That's Death!)
Just simply rot! (That's Death!)
It's so cool, it's hot! (That's Death!)

That's Death!

I really like the sentiment, too — of all the things in life, the only one that's certain is that we will die, all of us, without exception.

And it will happen sooner rather than later, so we'd best make the best of the couple of years we have left. Stop taking life so seriously, for you'll never get out of it alive.

And don't fear death, either, but rather welcome him as an old pal who's finally catching up with you. There's nothing bad about dying, it's part of the natural world. See death as an opportunity to move on to whatever lies beyond; and it must be something good, for as the song says, noone's ever come back to complain, right?

And while you're still here, remember death and honor the dead. Remind yourself of your mortality, but also enjoy the fact that you're still alive. Life is a vacation, really; it eventually has to end, but that just means you shouldn't waste any time enjoying it.

I'm also thinking that it would be nice if we embraced death more as a society and, say, started taking up the custom of celebrating the Day of the Dead the way that Mexicans apparently do. I don't see it happening here, and it would be kinda pointless to do it on your own when most others are unlikely to even have heard of it, but still.


Removing (known) passwords from PDFs

It's a breeze, using qpdf:

$ qpdf --verbose --decrypt --password=PASSWORD encrypted_file.pdf decrypted_file.pdf
qpdf: wrote file decrypted_file.pdf

To decrypt several files at once, you can use your shell's facilities:

$ for i in *.pdf; do qpdf --verbose --decrypt --password=PASSWORD ${i} ${i/.pdf/_decrypted.pdf} ; done
qpdf: wrote file secrets_decrypted.pdf
qpdf: wrote file shhh_moresecrets_decrypted.pdf

If you don't like command line tools, you can also use PDFsam — the Basic edition is FOSS, available under the GNU Affero GPL.


Happy Celestia Day

Happy Celestia Day, a. k. a. summer solstice — which (if LJ's scheduled posting feature still works; not a given, and I haven't tried it in years) is actually right now that this entry's getting posted, at 3:32am UT!

Enjoy the longest day and shortest night; don't forget to have barbecues with friends, go to the beach, swim, bike, and all the fun things one gets to do in summer. :)

And if you're on the southern hemisphere, then enjoy the shortest day and longest night and engage in all the fun winter activities that may or may not be possible depending on your local climate!

The English plural

As seen elsewhere, The English Plural according to George Carlin:

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England. We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't finge, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? We ship by truck but send cargo by ship … we have noses that run and feet that smell. We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway. And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing … if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop?

Some of these at least seem to be due to the fact that English has suffered from a loss of grammatical information — “house” and “mouse”, for instance, are neuter and feminine in languages respectively such as Icelandic ( “hús” and “mús”), which explains why the plurals are different: mús gets an umlaut (“mýs”), hús doesn't. English has forgotten about these things, and is thus left unable to explain “houses” vs. “mice” (without looking at history and/or other languages anyway).

Some more thoughts: I can totally make just one amend! :D And if I have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one, I have an odd and end. Of course, then again I subscribe to the Humpty Dumpty school of linguistics myself: when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.


Nethack 3.7

It's not out yet, but I was randomly looking at the as-of-now current version (this is a stable link to that revision BTW) of the fixes37.0 file, specifically the General New Features. Lots of interesting little things there; some are quite whimsical, funny, or just plain silly:

tiny chance for randomly created spellbooks to be Discworld novels instead
wearing a wet towel confers "half damage from poison gas" attribute
more grades of self-appearance than beautiful or handsome vs ugly
tipping your cap might get a response
give feedback for '#chat' directed at walls
mild zombie apocalypse
let tourists read conical hats

It's often quipped that when it comes to Nethack, “the DevTeam thinks of everything” — and although I never was any good at this game, I think it's really neat that they do indeed continue to do so!

R.I.P. Robert Marchand

Robert Marchand died — one of the oldest competitive bikers in the world, if not the oldest outright, a man who, at the age of 100, did a 100 km ride in 4:17:27 hours (this would be a pretty good time for this distance for myself as well).

He was 109 in the end. All the best to you, Robert, and may you ride those Elysian fields forevermore.