The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

August 31, 2003

Automatic schema generation

Last year I wondered whether there was a good tool for automatically generating schema diagrams in PostgreSQL. A week ago I found out about PostgreSQL Autodoc, which does almost exactly what I wanted, and more. Then, a day later, it popped up as a Debian package in the unstable archive. Super! I foresee another burst of work on the Changeling: the Dreaming Database Registry.

Posted by jamie at 10:59+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

August 29, 2003

Unicode typography, scripts, and markup

I have sometimes wondered just how many problems I cause for visitors to this site by using such things as:

There is a Movable Type plugin to translate plain ASCII punctuation characters into typographic punctuation HTML entities, as per the first item above. Though I don’t use it myself, I assume from its existence (and the lack of comment on the webpage) that standard fonts include these glyphs.

The same surely cannot be said of other alphabets, but that’s okay because I almost always provide a transliteration (though the transliteration will often include characters which themselves may not be in common fonts; oh well), and in any event people who do not have appropriate fonts installed probably can’t understand the language anyway.

The markup issue should be fairly minor, except in the case of those citations. Mozilla/Firebird, at least, has clunky support for getting cite attribute information from a quotation; the trick, even when the browser does support the full glory (cough) of HTML, is knowing that the information is there in the first place. I will occasionally check quotations in other websites, to see whether they are fully marked up; I have invariably been disappointed. To aid those who don’t do such things, the screen stylesheet for this site will display the citation after a blockquote, just as links to PDF and PS files are marked as such. Yes, I do use the type attribute of the a element.

Given that I am not about to do anything any differently, even if users do have problems, perhaps a better question than my opening one is this: does anyone but me appreciate the flourishes, visible and behind the scenes, that I put into this site?

Posted by jamie at 12:41+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

August 27, 2003

Falling into academia

In the course of researching and thinking about my essay for the Tolkien and medieval literature course, I found myself spontaneously slipping into what might be termed an academic mode. Tolkien problematises fire, apparently, placing it in an ambiguous position within a matrix of associations and oppositions that pervade his works. Monsters, qua monsters, are contextualised in Beowulf by means of their perilous fluids, which serve to establish their estrangement from mortals and… you get the idea.

I am also, now that it’s time to write the thing, composing epic footnotes (which reminds me that I should read Flann O’Brian’s The Third policeman) which bear only tangentially on the main matter. There’s a small chance I’ll be able to justify (to myself, if to no one else) an appendix on the contagion of grimmr in Vǫlsunga saga and the Poetic Edda subsequent to the eating of Fáfnir’s heart. And of course nothing will be translated, either from Old English, Old Icelandic, or Hobbit, unless unavoidable. Does this require delving into The Peoples of Middle-earth in order to learn that Razar is Pippin’s real name? Yes, of course; if I cannot get away with this sort of irritating geekery in a course on Tolkien, where else may I?

I was going to say that this is a regression of roughly a decade, but I suspect a number of my friends would say that in fact the cause of this behaviour is always in me, and this is simply the first chance I’ve had in a while for it to manifest in this particular form. They are no doubt right.

Posted by jamie at 17:47+12:00 | Comments (3) | Permalink

August 21, 2003

More dictionaries

I have mentioned Monier-Williams’s Sanskrit-English dictionary. There is another, far more ambitious, project to create an authoritative Sanskrit dictionary. After fifty-five years, they have almost completed the first letter. Actually, I’m not quite sure whether they have almost completed अ (short a) or both that and आ (long a) — the article mentions the 44-letter language, which is incorrect. There are 46 base glyphs in the script as used by Sanskrit, one for each phonetic element in the language (though ऌ, vocalic l, is rare).

I have also mentioned dictionary markup and associated processing. The Deccan College Post-Graduate Research Institute dictionary project does not have, and is not likely to have in the near future, a single computer. Gail Armstrong suggests starting a fund to buy them one. Perhaps there is no need, for there is some different information at a description of Deccan College:

The Sanskrit Dictionary Project is the most ambitious project undertaken by the Institute. From 1948 to 1975 a data bank of nearly nine million words extracted from some 1500 texts from Vedic period to 18th century was prepared. From 1976 editing and printing of the Dictionary began and to date some 2500 out of the proposed 20,000 pages have been printed. Efforts are under way to computerize the working of the project so as to expedite its completion. Many prominent Sanskrit scholars (Prof. Basham, for example) have remarked that the “Dictionary when completed, will be the greatest work of Sanskrit Lexicography the world has ever seen”.

The Dictionary of Old English Project has a lot of catching down to do, if it is to compete with the Sanskrit dictionary: it has only been going since 1980 or so, and they have already covered six letters. At that rate, they will be finished before the people at Pune get to काश् (kāś: it’s a poor pun, don’t worry about it).

Posted by jamie at 17:26+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

August 15, 2003

Dictionaries and a neologism

I have started researching for my essay in the Tolkien and medieval literature course. This is interesting and fun, but has pointed out a failing in both my own book collection and the university library: a lack of Old English and Old Norse dictionaries that I can use at home. Thankfully there is the glossary in E.V. Gordon’s An Introduction to Old Norse, and an online version of Geir Zoega’s A Concise dictionary of Old Icelandic, and there appears to be a lot of vocabulary help in George Jack’s Beowulf : a Student edition. So really, I guess, I have nothing to complain about, unless it may be that I miss the detail of the OED or Monier-Williams’s Sanskrit–English dictionary. I’d be interested to see the ways grimmr has been used, for example.

I came across the following word in a description of a really poor roleplaying session, describing one of the silly characters: überbarian. I laughed for some time.

Posted by jamie at 18:04+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

August 10, 2003

Modern English to Old English wordlist

I am currently studying Old English, which is a great deal of fun, but am lacking composition exercises. There is the Englisc Composition mailing list, but nothing in the way of exercises. I have consequently decided to create some of my own, both for myself and for future students of the course I am taking. Naturally, this immediately led me to looking into the best way of marking up a lexicon (rather than doing actual work). The Text Encoding Initiative have pretty much what I need.

After all, why should I simply write: “immediately: ardliċe, sōna” when I can write instead:


A normal person would probably answer that by saying that the former is much less work, but that’s because there’s much less information in it. After creating something like the latter I can easily generate something I can feed to a DICT dictionary server, I can have HTML and PDF plain text versions, all with easily varying amounts of grammatical information and formatting.

I suspect I may be somewhat prone to over-engineering, at least in this particular case, since I’m unlikely to end up with more than 500 words in this lexicon. However, it’s fun and allows me to ponder fruitlessly on the relative merits of ċ and ċ on my display.

Posted by jamie at 22:02+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

August 08, 2003

Colour me surprised

It appears that overhead transparency pens come in a strictly limited range of colours, a range which includes a single green. This is unfortunate for my recent map, which would work best with a second shade of green. I have tried using a non-OHP pen, but it was barely successful — after half an hour the deep colour had faded to a gentle patina. It will do, I guess, but it’s hardly ideal. Perhaps it’s simply not feasible to do nicely coloured maps with multiple layers except on computer? I hope not; part of the appeal of making maps is the drawing, the physicality of the process.

Here’s a few of the quotes I’ve noted down from the game. I have no idea what the context for the first one was.

Posted by jamie at 11:14+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

August 07, 2003

Knowledge about the nature of the universe

Michael asks me to provide some examples of knowledge about the nature of the universe that a religious method has produced. I doubt he’ll consider the following knowledge about the nature of the universe (quite apart from any question of investigation), but here’s Chapter 5 of Book 1 of विष्णु पुराण (Viṣṇu Purāṇa):

Maitreya.―Now unfold to me, Brahman, how this deity created the gods, sages, progenitors, demons, men, animals, trees, and the rest, that abide on earth, in heaven, or in the waters: how Brahma at creation made the world with the qualities, the characteristics, and the forms of things.

Paraśara.―I will explain to you, Maitreya, listen attentively, how this deity, the lord of all, created the gods and other beings.

Whilst he (Brahma) formerly, in the beginning of the Kalpas, was meditating on creation, there appeared a creation beginning with ignorance, and consisting of darkness. From that great being appeared fivefold Ignorance, consisting of obscurity, illusion, extreme illusion, gloom, utter darkness. The creation of the creator thus plunged in abstraction, was the fivefold (immovable) world, without intellect or reflection, void of perception or sensation, incapable of feeling, and destitute of motion. Since immovable things were first created, this is called the first creation. Brahma, beholding that it was defective, designed another; and whilst he thus meditated, the animal creation was manifested, to the products of which the term Tiryaksrotas is applied, from their nutriment following a winding course. These were called beasts, etc, and their characteristic was the quality of darkness, they being destitute of knowledge, uncontrolled in their conduct, and mistaking error for wisdom; being formed of egotism and self-esteem, labouring under the twenty-eight kinds of imperfection, manifesting inward sensations, and associating with each other (according to their kinds).

Beholding this creation also imperfect, Brahma again meditated, and a third creation appeared, abounding with the quality of goodness, termed Ūrddhasrotas. The beings thus produced in the Ūrddhasrotas creation were endowed with pleasure and enjoyment, unencumbered internally or externally, and luminous within and without. This, termed the creation of immortals, was the third performance of Brahma, who, although well pleased with it, still found it incompetent to fulfil his end. Continuing therefore his meditations, there sprang, in consequence of his infallible purpose, the creation termed Arvaksrotas, from indiscrete nature. The products of this are termed Arvaksrotas, from the downward current (of their nutriment). They abound with the light of knowledge, but the qualities of darkness and of foulness predominate. Hence they are afflicted by evil, and are repeatedly impelled to action. They have knowledge both externally and internally, and are the instruments (of accomplishing the object of creation, the liberation of soul). These creatures were mankind.

I have thus explained to you, excellent Muni, six creations. The first creation was that of Mahat or Intellect, which is also called the creation of Brahma. The second was that of the rudimental principles (Tanmatras), thence termed the elemental creation (Bhuta sarga). The third was the modified form of egotism, termed the organic creation, or creation of the senses (Aindriyaka). These three were the Prakṛta creations, the developments of indiscrete nature, preceded by the indiscrete principle. The fourth or fundamental creation (of perceptible things) was that of inanimate bodies. The fifth, the Tairyag yonya creation, was that of animals. The sixth was the Ūrddhasrotas creation, or that of the divinities. The creation of the Arvaksrotas beings was the seventh, and was that of man. There is an eigth creation, termed Anugraha, which possesses both the qualities of goodness and darkness. Of these creations, five are secondary, and three are primary. But there is a ninth, the Kaumara creation, which is both primary and secondary. These are the nine creations of the great progenitor of all, and, both as primary and secondary, are the radical causes of the world, proceeding from the sovereign creator. What else dost thou desire to hear?

Maitreya.―Thou hast briefly related to me, Muni, the creation of the gods and other beings: I am desirous, chief of sages, to hear from thee a more ample account of their creation.

Paraśara.―Created beings, although they are destroyed (in their individual forms) at the periods of dissolution, yet, being affected by the good or evil acts of former existence, they are never exempted from their consequences; and when Brahma creates the world anew, they are the progeny of his will, in the fourfold condition of gods, men, animals, or inanimate things. Brahma then, being desirous of creating the four orders of beings, terms gods, demons, progenitors, and men, collected his mind into itself. Whilst thus concentrated, the quality of darkness pervaded his body; and thence the demons (the Asuras) were first born, issuing from his thigh. Brahma then abandoned that form which was composed of the rudiment of darkness, and which, being deserted by him, became night. Continuing to create, but assuming a different shape, he experienced pleasure; and thence from his mouth proceeded the gods, endowed with the quality of goodness. The form abandoned by him, became day, in which the good quality predominates; and hence by day the gods are most powerful, and by night the demons. He next adopted another person, in which the rudiment of goodness also prevailed; and thinking of himself, as the father of the world, the progenitors (the Pitṛs) were born from his side. The body, when he abandoned it, became the Sandhya (or evening twilight), the interval between day and night. Brahma then assumed another person, pervaded by the quality of foulness; and from this, men, in whom foulness (or passion) predominates, were produced. Quickly abandoning that body, it became morning twilight, or the dawn. At the appearance of this light of day, men feel most vigour; while the progenitors are most powerful in the evening season. In this manner, Maitreya, Jyotsna (dawn), Ratri (night), Ahar (day), and Sandhya (evening), are the four bodies of Brahma invested by the three qualities.

Next from Brahma, in a form composed of the quality of foulness, was produced hunger, of whom anger was born: and the god put forth in darkness beings emaciate with hunger, of hideous aspects, and with long beards. Those beings hastened to the deity. Such of them as exclaimed, Oh preserve us! were thence called Rakshasas: others, who cried out, Let us eat, were denominated from that expression Yakshas. Beholding them so disgusting, the hairs of Brahma were shrivelled up, and first falling from his head, were again renewed upon it; from their falling they became serpents, called Sarpa from their creeping, and Ahi because they had deserted the head. The creator of the world, being incensed, then created fierce beings, who were denominated goblins, Bhutas, malignant fiends and eaters of flesh. The Gandharbas were next born, imbibing melody, drinking of the goddess of speech, they were born, and thence their appellation.

The divine Brahma, influenced by their material energies, having created these beings, made others of his own will. Birds he formed from his vital vigour; sheep from his breast; goats from his mouth; kine from his belly and sides; and horses, elephants, Sarabhas, Gayals, deer, camels, mules, antelopes, and other animals, from his feet; whilst from the hairs of his body sprang herbs, roots, and fruits.

Brahma having created, in the commencement of the Kalpa, various plants, employed them in sacrifices, in the beginning of the Treta age. Animals were distinguished into two classes, domestic (village) and wild (forest); the first class contained the cow, goat, the hog, the sheep, the horse, the ass, the mule; the latter, all beasts of prey, and many animals with cloven hoofs, the elephant, and the monkey. The fifth order were the birds; the sixth, aquatic animals; and the seventh, reptiles and insects.

From his eastern mouth Brahma then created the Gayatri metre, the Ṛg-veda, the collection of hymns termed Trivṛt, the Rathantara portion of the Sama-veda, and the Agnishṭoma sacrifice; from his southern mouth he created the Yahur-veda, the Trishṭubh metre, the collection of hymns called Panchadaśa, the Vṛhat Sama, and the portion of the Sama-veda termed Uktha; from his western mouth he created the Sama-veda, the Jayati metre, the collection of hymns termed Saptadaśa, the portion of the Sama called Vairupa, and the Atiratra sacrifice; and from his northern mouth he created the Ekaviṃsa collection of hymns, the Aṭharva-veda, the Āptoryama rite, the Anushṭubh metre, and the Vairaja portion of the Sama-veda.

In this manner all creatures, great or small, proceeded from his limbs. The great progenitor of the world having formed the gods, demons, and Pitṛs, created, in the commencement of the Kalpa, the Yakshas, Pisachas (goblins), Gandharbas and the troops of Apsarasas the nymphs of heaven, Naras (centaurs, or beings with the heads of horses), Rakshasas, birds, beasts, deer, serpents, and all things permanent or transitory, movable or immovable. This did the divine Brahma, the first creator and lord of all; and these things being created, discharged the same functions as they had fulfilled in a previous creation, whether malignant or benign, gentle or cruel, good or evil, true or false; and accordingly as they are actuated by such propensities will be their conduct.

And the creator displayed infinite variety in the objects of sense, in the properties of living things, and in the forms of bodies; he determined in the beginning, by the authority of the Vedas, the names and forms and functions of all creatures, and of the gods; and the names and appropriate offices of the Ṛshis, as they also are read in Vedas. In like manner as the products of the seasons designate in periodical revolution the return of the same season, so do the same circumstances indicate the recurrence of the same Yuga, or age; and thus, in the beginning of each Kalpa, does Brahma repeatedly create the world, possessing the power that is derived from the will to create, and assisted by the natural and essential faculty of the object to be created.

I’ve kept some of the formatting of the edition I am quoting (that of H.H. Wilson’s translation), but by no means all.

As I said, I doubt you’ll consider this knowledge; if you don’t, I can but shrug and say that that is exactly my point.

Posted by jamie at 21:35+12:00 | Comments (4) | Permalink

August 01, 2003

All hail science!

Despite having been exposed, sometimes in extremely large doses, to the flamewar that is creationism versus evolution, I remain incredulous that those who argue for evolution very often do one or more of the following things:

I remain bemused, too, that a theory can be held on to with such fervour, as if it is a holy land that must be defended by the faithful. Perhaps it is simply that those who have anything I might wish to hear would not involve themselves in either side of this miscarriage of communication?

Posted by jamie at 21:30+12:00 | Comments (10) | Permalink