Archæology

The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

May 30, 2003

The Candlestickmaker

Last night I went to see The Candlestickmaker. This is the second play in a loose trilogy, of which I have also seen the third, The Pickle king. This time Jacob Rajan was the sole actor (though not the only performer), and the mask changing took place frequently and, for the most part, in plain sight. I was impressed by his ability to make an instant switch into another character, both in terms of posture and bearing and also in accent. The puppeteering of Kate Parker was marvellous. It was nice to have no backstage to speak of, with all the ropes and tricks on display throughout.

As with The Pickle king the set up in the first half was better than the payoff in the second. Both halves were excellent, however, and I hope that they bring back the first play, Krishnan’s dairy so I can see that one too.

Finally, they played Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan before the show, and during the intermission. Nice.

Posted by jamie at 17:34+12:00 | Comments (1) | Permalink

May 27, 2003

Impatience

Roll on the day when Unicode/UTF-8 is a given in OSs and applications, and everything just works. The GUI for IPA Zounds is currently suffering from the fact that the version of wxPython in Debian GNU/Linux stable doesn’t have Unicode support, and so dies on any non-ASCII character. (I’ve decided not to use Tkinter, and so far my experience with wxPython has not been too bad.)

I suspect that once I’ve resolved that issue, I’ll face font problems. Ideally, I won’t have to do anything in order for the application to display the correct IPA characters, assuming that the machine it is running on has those characters in one or more of its installed fonts. But will this actually be the case? Mozilla seems to manage to find necessary characters from different fonts, but I want that effect without any programming or specifying on my part. I have enough difficulties with font selection as a user, let alone when dealing with other people’s setups!

As an aside, the nice people at the Department of Linguistics at the University of Victoria have updated their Unicode IPA chart so that it uses the correct diacritic character to mark retraction. I’m glad I was helpful.

Posted by jamie at 15:02+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

May 25, 2003

Feeling aGUIsh

The IPA extension to Zounds is now close to being finished, in terms of backend code. It doesn’t handle stress markers (which are syllable based and precede the syllable they mark, both of which properties are incompatible with the way Zounds works), and it deviates slightly from the latest version of the IPA (Unicode doesn’t yet have characters for the new tone markers), but apart from that I think it’s solid.

Unfortunately, that means I can’t really put off making the GUI any longer. Since the whole project is written in Python, I’m going to use Tkinter, and I just know it’s going to be awful. I don’t mean the look of the thing (though it might not be great), but just writing the code. My past experiments with Tkinter were brief and painful — there always seemed to be a lot of code in order to do bugger all. I’m really hoping it will be different this time, but I think there’s more chance of a kind-hearted reader giving me advice and offering to help.

I have, in between writing the last paragraph and this one, noticed a discrepency between Unicode IPA charts and the Unicode standard, in the matter of which diacritic is to be used to mark retraction. Unicode specifies COMBINING MINUS SIGN BELOW (U+0320) while the University of Victoria’s chart and the almost copy at The Linguist List use COMBINING MACRON BELOW (U+0331). I’ve pointed this out to the University of Victoria people, so hopefully the discrepency will soon be resolved. So, procrastination is useful!

Posted by jamie at 16:08+12:00 | Comments (2) | Permalink

May 23, 2003

Immaturity in linguistics

Progress on the extension to Zounds is steady. The converter to transform a series of IPA characters (including diacritics) to a binary features representation and back again works. For example, it takes d̪̥ and produces a representation of +anterior, -back, +consonantal, -continuant, +coronal, etc, which when converted back becomes (properly) t̪. Marvellous! The next step is to add in the necessary preprocessing of the binary features representation so that it can be used in the existing Zounds sound change engine.

In writing the conversion code, I came across a disturbing property of the current state of linguistics as a discipline: it’s undisciplined. There’s a standard alphabet, but the Americans don’t use it, nor is it the last word in other traditions of linguistic study. There are a number of binary features models and none of them call the same features by the same name. It’s a mess! The IPA was established in 1886 and the whole field is still defining its terms (again, and again, and again). I appreciate that understandings change, and terminology may need to change in response, but don’t these people read the literature, look for commonalities, and standardise on usage? How much controversy can there be in deciding between “rounded” and “round”, to take a trivial example? Pick one, make it the standard, and roundly chastise anyone who deviates.

Posted by jamie at 11:21+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

May 20, 2003

Zounds!

I have rewritten Mark Rosenfelder’s Sound Change Applier C program in Python. I’m not linking to it yet because there are only two areas in which it is an improvement on the original (it can easily be used by other scripts, and its output of applied rules is more helpful), and there’s also a Perl version already out there.

As noted in the documentation for the original, the program is powerful because it’s simple — it doesn’t do any interpretation of the input it is given. You could represent changes on the phonemic or phonetic levels, or mix the two, or whatever. This is both good and bad, and since the other versions exist, I thought I’d try to change mine so that the bad becomes good (at the expense of the reverse). I want to add an interpretive layer to the basic engine, to model a particular level of change (say, phonetic). This would involve defining sets of variables and mapping the symbols used by the sound change engine to symbols more recognisable to linguists, and allowing for easy rule-building.

Of course, having very little knowledge of linguistics, I may well be reinventing the wheel (though a quick search reveals only the Reconstruction Engine (program not released) and Phono (no source code)) and certainly I’ll be requiring the assistance of a friendly linguist (who has already told me I shouldn’t use the word “level” above). Of course, I wrote my version as a chance to play around with Python’s unit testing facilities, and my main hope for the add on is the chance to play around with whizzy fonts, so that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Oh, and the title of this post? I couldn’t think of a more fitting name for a version of a sound change program whose executable is called “sounds”. I am unrepentant.

Posted by jamie at 20:24+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

May 17, 2003

Blockquote within paragraph

Given a markup language akin to HTML which allows the paragraph element to have the blockquote element as a child, I don’t believe that the difficulties of styling the span of text post-blockquote need be as great as it apparently is. Only in braindead web browsers do tags tell the typesetting program to do things. CSS selectors don’t work exactly like that either.

Just as a decent HTML renderer knows to continue to apply the formatting rules for a paragraph’s content following an inline element, so it could do the same when it follows a block level element. You can see this effect now by setting a CSS rule of display: block; for an inline element and including such an element in a paragraph. For example:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN"
   "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd">
<html lang="en">
  <head>
    <title>Test of display: block and formatting</title>
    <style type="text/css">
    em { display: block; }
    p { text-indent: 2em; }
    </style>
  </head>
  <body>
  <p>A paragraph, with enough text to have it wrap onto other
lines so that the indent can be noticed. Actually, I need a bit
more text for my screen width. This should now suffice for most
people. So, here’s some text in a block with some
<em>emphasised text</em> which is styled as a
block.</p>

  <p>Another paragraph, with enough text to have it wrap
onto other lines so that the indent can be noticed. Actually, I
need a bit more text for my screen width. This should now
suffice for most people.</p> 

  </body>
</html>

The above should display on screen with the text “which is styled as a block.” of the first paragraph displayed without an indent, without any work-arounds or painful setup required of the author.

Posted by jamie at 13:21+12:00 | Comments (3) | Permalink

May 15, 2003

Cutting loose

Spoilers for non-graphic discussion of cutting.

Fionnaigh writes in part about cutting as a coping mechanism, and whether knowing that it upsets the people around her is reason enough to stop doing it. Obviously I can’t answer that question for her, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

Cutting, even while being a coping mechanism, adds to what needs to be coped with. The physical damage is not the main issue, if you’re careful. That’s not to say that even normal tissue damage doesn’t cause lingering physical problems, nor that resulting wounds and scars can’t lead to social problems — of course they can and do. However, even though cutting tends to be a symptom of a hatred of oneself, a dissociation between mind and body, or what have you, it also serves to reinforce its cause, and I think that that is its worst aspect.

So, it can be hard for people to accept cutting as a coping mechanism, and I can’t blame people for being upset by it and wanting a cutter to stop. That’s not helpful, however, unless there’s a better coping strategy at hand that works for the cutter. Being asked or encouraged to stop cutting can be a prompt to find better means of coping, but it’s not easy to judge whether the cutter is ready and able to do that.

In other words, it’s no good just stopping cutting if one doesn’t have or find an alternative means of coping. And it sucks to have other people’s attitudes create negative associations for a coping mechanism that isn’t the easiest to live with without that.

Posted by jamie at 17:19+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

May 14, 2003

A new appreciation of bad films

My friend Stuart’s review of X2 specifies that he is in a minority of one (among his friends) in not liking the film. Strange, given that I saw it with him, and we talked afterwards about how neither of us thought it was good. Perhaps he can be forgiven for forgetting this because I have discovered one of the ways I have changed since spending that time in Thailand having snakes fall on my head: I am able to watch bad films without rancour, and allow myself to be entertained by their (few) merits.

Another friend has delighted in this discovery that I have become “indiscriminate”, able to sit happily through Maid in Manhatten. Not that I seek out these movies; I just get taken to them and end up being more entertained/less offended than those I am with. The Good girl tested my newfound calm to the utmost, however — an entirely squalid story (I knew I was in for trouble when The Catcher in the rye made an appearance) that conflicted sharply with the uplifting views on art expressed in Fire in the mind, the biography of Joseph Campbell that I was then reading.

X2 was therefore easier to take because it was rather lacking in merit than possessing repellant qualities. Even the almost constant violence was tolerable — I don’t enjoy those parts in the Iliad, so why in a film? I even consider it a virtue that the film’s fight scenes didn’t intersperse lion metaphors amidst the action; there’s only so much of that sort of thing those of us not writing theses on the topic can handle.

Posted by jamie at 14:15+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

May 12, 2003

Demise of the generalist

Yesterday I finished reading John Keay’s India discovered, a history of the British’s investigations into India’s past during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Aside from the horrors of some of the exploits and attitudes of the men and institutions involved (and looking at the current situation of relations between the United States of America and the Islamic world, sadly not much seems to have changed), the picture is a positive one of brilliant individuals doing the extraordinary. The author remarks on the broad scope of the Asiatic Society’s enquiries (essentially everything) and the achievements of individuals in a multitude of areas of study (archæology, linguistics, numismatics, zoology, mathematics, among others).

The world seems to have moved on from this era when it was possible for an individual to have great knowledge in many disciplines. Specialisation is now the accepted approach, ostensibly because there is so much to know that only through singleminded devotion to a single area of knowledge may any advance be made. I am not convinced that this is true.

Regardless of what is necessary to increase the sum of human knowledge, I think it’s important that wide-ranging interests not be squelched by an attitude that everything is best left in the hands of specialists. That leads to apathy on the one hand and an “I know best” outlook on the other.

Posted by jamie at 16:22+12:00 | Comments (1) | Permalink

May 07, 2003

Following on

After a little effort, my brother’s weblog, corollary, is now live as part of Artefact. I’ve enjoyed helping him set it up and move all the old entries over.

Posted by jamie at 18:28+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

May 04, 2003

I want references!

Having proved myself a geek, I’ll now demonstrate that I have a bit of the academic in me too. Why are CD liner notes typically so uninformative? Admittedly, excepting the case of greatest hits compilations, most popular Western music CDs provide the lyrics (if any) of the music. This would seem to be a minimum requirement for lyrics which are not in English (when the disc is intended for an English speaking audience). Sadly, this requirement is not often met, as any look at CDs of vocal classical music will demonstrate. Is it really so hard or costly to provide such basic information?

The worst example I’ve seen, though, of a failure to provide any useful supplement is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Shahbaaz from Real World (I would link to the page on the particular album, but the site uses frames). About the track Beh Haadh Ramza Dhasdha, the notes say:

A translation of these words is not given here. To most people they would mean little without a great deal of academic explanation. Many of the lyrics Nusrat sings are challenging in this way. They are like verbal puzzles full of puns and references and mean more each time they are heard. Only listeners thoroughly versed in the history, literature and languages of Islam fully understand them.

Thank you, note writer Pervaiz Khan, for putting me in my place. I don’t object to being told that the music has depth and context, but I do object to the total failure to help a listener who is not immersed in the culture to understand what s/he is listening to. Even if I don’t grasp everything about the words, why can’t I make a beginning? Where are the pointers to other resources from which I can learn? (Yes, I can do my own research; that’s not the point.) To compound the problem, not only is a translation of the lyrics not provided, but also neither are the actual lyrics. Surely they would be useful even to a knowledgeable one?

In short, the notes are worse than useless, providing no information for either the new or the experienced audience, and discouraging the former from learning more. I can’t even mark up the name of the song with its language, because the notes don’t say what it is (Urdu? Persian?) — how am I going to learn this language if I don’t know what it is? I shouldn’t have to search around for the answers to such basic questions.

To end positively, the two CD set The Final studio recordings (of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) from The American Recording Company (I couldn’t find this album listed on their badly designed site) provides the lyrics in English translation and the original (using the correct script, no less). There are even a few notes with the translation. So, that’s the minimum requirement met in one case.

Posted by jamie at 18:52+12:00 | Comments (2) | Permalink

May 01, 2003

Scripting languages

I am interested in language and languages, and I am interested in (web) publishing. Naturally, then, I do things like include bits of Thai or Pali on my blog, making sure that they are correctly marked up and use the proper Unicode characters. This is definitely a learning process, particularly for writing systems I’m not familiar with. For example, today I discovered that Unicode provides a zero width space character particularly for use in languages such as Thai (which does not usually mark word boundaries in its script), so I hurriedly went back and added them in to the bit of Thai I’ve used.

I only came across that bit about the zero width space because I was trying to figure out how the word ghazal is written in the Arabic script. You can see the results of my investigations. I now know a little more about the ways of handling Arabic script on the web, and a little more about the script itself, and I now think I could legitimately use غزل in place of ﻏﹷﺰﹶﻝ (which is what I copied from another site). I shall try to find out for sure.

Of course, the whole process of overcoming my near total ignorance is not made easier by the fact that I don’t have total faith in the ability of Mozilla/my system to do the proper rendering of the Arabic characters into glyphs. So I’m trying to learn how to correctly specify a word in a language and script I don’t know, not knowing what the word should look like or whether what I come up with is being rendered correctly. To prove my geekiness, I find this fun.

Posted by jamie at 18:51+12:00 | Comments (2) | Permalink

Forbidden things from Beyond Creation

I came across the following humourous (yet accurate) description of The Apple’s Vault PBeM, written by one of the players, Tony:

We gathered our folks in the Apple Vault, where the most forbidden of forbidden things are stored. Two of us went out to get yet another forbidden thing, because we had not yet reached a critical mass where our destruction was assured. After we got that, and hid it with all the other deathly secrets, we had some guests come over, to give us yet another forbidden thing. Some of the forbidden things started to work their way free. Our guests squabbled. We squabbled. The elements of earth and sky squabbled. My character preened, because everyone was (he thought) squabbling over him. Jim’s character agonized, because everyone was (he thought) squabbling because of things he’d done wrong. Paul’s character flitted from one group to the next, because he thought he could stop the squabbling. Nick’s character chased sunbeams, because he’s a CAT.

Sadly my character doesn’t get a mention, since I wasn’t around to be involved in any squabbling.

Posted by jamie at 10:18+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink