Archive for 'Language'

Where in t’ world


Arrrrr… Got some travelin’ comin’ up, some involvin’ t’ high seas. Here be t’ details — ye’ll want ter mark ’em all down.

I’ll be at Digital ID World next week, speakin’ about Sun’s OpenID d’ployment on Monday (thanks t’ David fer invitin’ me t’ join him!) and singin’ some fine Concordia shanties on Wednesday. And a kind wench at OASIS asked me t’ speak on mashin’ up and wirin’ up identity technologies at their Identity ‘n’ Trusted Infr’structure Workshop at Burton Catalyst in Barcelona next month.

So, me buckos, come on out ‘n’ say “Ahoy!” — maybe we can share some grub.

The five-things virus

Uh, thanks, Tim. I think. (And congrats on becoming a Distinguished Engineer!)

Here’s a list of five things most people probably don’t know about me:

  1. I have a bit of graphite embedded in my left palm from a knife game — only with pencils! — gone awry when I was five years old.

  2. I have a severe case of bovilexia.

  3. There are nine distinct versions of Bohemian Rhapsody on my iPod:

    And I don’t even have the ID Gang Choir’s version of Bohemian Rhaps-ID on there yet.

  4. I have performed in a strip club.

    I used this in playing a game of three truths and a lie with Sara Gates, Michelle Dennedy, and some other great folks at a conference last year, so I guess they know this about me, at least. It was supposed to be the one “ringer truth” that everyone would assume was a lie, but I got tripped up by Michelle, who independently joked, just before my turn, about my “stripping career”… In fact, my first band Sleeper did play in a club (I think it was somewhere on the Pearl Harbor military base) that did indeed have, y’know, dancers as part of the entertainment. A weird experience, especially since the poor dancers had to cue up their own music on the jukebox.

  5. I think watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers are an abomination.

Conor, Pat, Paul, JeffH, John: tag, you’re it! (As if there’s anything left we don’t know about Conor. Or Paul.)

Just doing my part to be a vector…

[UPDATED to fix link to John’s blog.]

Chicken and juice

The seventh annual XML Summer School is well under way, and so far it’s a blast and a half. A number of interesting locutions have already arisen…

I sat in on Debbie Lapeyre‘s talk yesterday, in the Content and Knowledge with XML track, which was great. I saw lots of nodding as people “got” the important concepts. Debbie used a phrase that was new to me: I’ve heard the < and > characters called “angle brackets” and “less-than sign and greater-than sign” (the official Unicode names), but never “chicken lips”!

Last night the speakers and delegates had a lovely dinner alongside the Cherwell River, after which we punted up the river to the Victoria Arms pub and back. The reception preceding the dinner involved a lovely libation that is usually known as a Pimm’s Cup, but the little crowd I was hanging out with dubbed it “punting juice”. Mmm, punting juice… I think it’s my new all-time favorite.

Still to do: The Trends & Transients track and my Web Services and Service Architectures track. I’m eager to try out some new material I’ve got on federated identity topics. If it works on my classroom guinea pigs, I’ll share it here.

The smell of software

Recently I’ve been working with my team of XML Summer School lecturers on our materials, and Jeff floated the idea of a using a visual metaphor to show how each topic fills in another piece of the web services/SOA story. Paul advised against using “puzzle pieces”, which imply that the picture isn’t complete until you use every last piece. So we brainstormed some alternatives. (My unserious suggestions: onions and bricks…)

A common metaphor is Lego(R) and Duplo(R) pieces, which, due to a single standard (in this case imposed by the Lego company itself) for fit, always go together. But we can see that different “stacks” might not:

Lego-like conference swag

(It’s hard to see, but the upper one comes from DataChannel.) I found these while cleaning out my home office desk a few weeks ago, and immediately noted that they were not interoperable…

While hunting for additional useful metaphors, I googled “layering metaphors” and came across this fascinating paper on Software Metaphors. From the introduction, titled “Software as Fiction”:

As fiction, software is entirely and thoroughly metaphorical. Metaphors pervade every element and aspect of software, from the lowliest variable name to the largest of enterprise architectures. Software is so steeped in metaphors that we often overlook the extent and nature of these metaphors. Like fish in water, software developers often do not perceive the medium that surrounds us: our natural languages, natural conceptual models, and the natural and linguistic metaphors we use every day in our software designs. Even so, software developers borrow ideas, terminology and organizational structures from every field they encounter and every problem they solve.

Indeed, our brains can’t help applying patterns — and the most concrete and atom-based patterns, like the “Bad is Stinky” and “Categories are Containers” examples given in the paper, are the easiest to make because we’ve been familiar with those referents for a whole lifetime. In fact, every time we use a preposition, we’re making an implicit physical-relationship metaphor (this module hands control to that module; the UI goes in front of the business logic).

The paper is chock-full of interesting thoughts and even advice on effective naming of things like variables, taking into account their metaphorical roles. Its stated goal — “This essay explores a wide variety of these metaphors in hopes of awakening a greater awareness of them in software developers and in hopes of making their acknowledgement more common and explicit in the general practice of software development” — is pretty modest, but its encyclopedic collection of metaphors used in the creation and maintenance of software is impressive and fun to read. (The attempt to catalog every metaphor puts me in mind of Douglas Hofstadter’s Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, which describes his team’s attempts to duplicate in software the sorts of nano-analogy-making that minds do all the time — sort of a reverse view of this paper.)

Imagine my delight when I found the section connecting code threads to stitch patterns (for which this is a reverse view!):

Computer processors are now generally fast enough that they can usually switch between and effectively trace several execution threads “concurrently” according to human perception. Thus, execution threads can be likened to the straight warp on a loom, around which intricate patterns of code are entwined and intertwined to produce a fabric of data as results.

And there’s a section called “Mathematical Formulas, Impurities and Stench”, which explores the “bad is stinky” realm — for example, discussing a book on software refactoring that refers to “(deodorant) comments” used “to mask bad smells in the code”.

With apologies to William Steig and Ted Elliott (and thanks to Robin), perhaps software really is most like onions. (They stink?) Yes — no! (They make you cry?) No! (You leave them in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs?) No! Layers! Onions have layers. Software has layers! Onions have layers. You get it? They both have layers.

The logic seems irrefutable.

Making Sweethearts

A friend told me today he’d written a poem for a special someone on the occasion of Valentine’s Day — an Ode to Sweethearts, in which the manufacturing process for making those little conversation hearts is glorified, along with lots of romance and innuendo.

That led me to the NECCO website, where I not only learned how they’re made, but also found the company’s announcement of new sayings to be printed on the little hearts this year. Be still my own heart — they’ve added a preposition (To) and a conjunction (And)!

Over the years, NECCO has introduced Sweethearts sentiments that are inline with current culture, but never before has its mix included grammatical “connectors.” With the addition of To and And, sweethearts can now “spell out” and communicate thoughts such as: ILU And Miss You; Kiss Me To Be Mine; or Love You And Home Soon.

A linguistic treat not to be missed, as is their complete list of seasonal Sweetheart products: I am pondering precisely what they mean by a Sweethearts Tart Laydown Bag. (Is it an imperative?)

Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

Unexpectedly modern

I have one of those page-a-day calendars with a new “insult from Shakespeare” on each page. (Actually, I have three of them. The others are a cross-stitch-a-day and an Atkins-tip-a-day. May I just say that I think the newer styles of these calendars that force Saturday and Sunday to share a page are a ripoff? Uh, that is, in the sense that there’s nothing to rip off when Sunday comes along.)

Today’s quote is one of those lines from Shakespeare that sounds weirdly modern:

Draw, you rogue, or I’ll so carbonado your shanks. — King Lear: 2.2.34-35

(Kent to Oswald, steward to King Lear’s evil daughter, Goneril)

As in, “he’s so not into you” or “she’s so dissing him”? I thought this was a very recent formulation, and had mildly disdained it, though I’m sure I’ve used it. I found a sub-category of this usage mentioned on a linguistics blog as “the So Not negative”, but without any history. Even the lovely Language Log seems not to have taken up this question, though it’s hard to tell when you’re trying to search on the word “so”.

There are plenty of normal uses where the degree of the “so” is designed to be proven or balanced with a “that” or “because”, as in this poem or the classic comedy bit — “My dog Buster is so lazy…” — “How lazy is he?” And if you translate the “I’ll so [verb]” formulation into “How I’ll [verb]” — like “How I’ll miss you” — the first one doesn’t seem so much like teen-speak (but maybe that’s because I’m using a verb like “miss” instead of “diss”!).

I guess I can now use it confidently, knowing that even Shakespeare sounded like a mall rat from time to time.

(By the way, there seems to be some disagreement over what “carbonado” means. My calendar defined it as cutting into strips or cubes, but some other sources I found suggested it was more like slashing or scoring the outside of the meat to make it cook faster. It makes an excellent threat either way, and “I’ll so carbonado your shanks” sounds positively piratical.)


I took a little hiatus there — if anyone’s still paying attention :-), here are some tidbits that may amaze or amuse you.

Bob DuCharme continues to feed me craft-related links. Here’s an article on called “Pundits and knitters find common ground in Web logs”. Yeah, it’s two months old, so sue me…

I really need to get off my backside and install something to kill the trackback spam. Mostly they’re boring, but one came in today that I thought was kind of funny. It was on my old Ripping the X off her varsity sweater… post. The text of the trackback is simply “Ripping the X off her …”, and — wait for it — it leads to a bondage-related pr0n site. That’s not what I originally had in mind…

John Cowan’s Recycled Knowledge blog continues to delight. In this post he notes that authentic and effendi share a Greek root. Cool…

I got Eli the moby version of this Opteron workstation for our 15th wedding anniversary. Ah, geeks in love. We haven’t come close to using its awesome capacity yet, but we’ve noticed that its rendering of the “Matrix” screensaver is blazingly fast, so that’s good at least. :-) I think the old gift guidelines are out of date. In the lists of “traditional” and “modern” anniversary gifts you find things like cotton, crystal, leather, and watches. Maybe we need the 21st century version (or maybe we need a fresh list every year, given that the singularity is approaching and all): wifi, iPods, workstations, plasma TVs…

It’s almost that time again, kids

Avast! Talk Like a Pirate Day is just around th’ corner — next Monday, September 19th. Better get practicin’, and make sure to lay in a supply of grog.

This year the TLAPD website has a countdown timer to The Day, instructions on how to talk like a pirate in German, and much, much more.

I have a theory (which is mine) that there is no human endeavor that can’t be made more complicated. I think TLAPD provides ample proof. (Not that we didn’t already have enough.) We seem to be hurtling towards the singularity, and we can blame it on the Participation Age

Distinguishing communities for fun and profit

Pat Patterson has done a wonderful thing in creating Planet Identity, a time-saving device of the first order (for those among us who are identity-crazed…). There I found this musing by the erudite Paul Madsen on how it’s possible to identify SAML community members (what he calls SAML’ites): we talk about “back-channel” communications — SOAP-based communications (versus “front-channel” ones — browser-intermediated). According to Paul, other similar technology systems don’t call out back-channel communications specially.

Actually, Liberty’ites (Libertarians? nope, that’s taken) were the ones who introduced this locution formally, so I don’t believe this distinguishes between the Liberty and SAML communities. I can suggest one that does.

Liberty introduced a neat “reverse-SOAP” means of communication that cleverly piggybacks SOAP messages on top of HTTP going the other way around, so that you can do identity-related messaging with devices that aren’t SOAP-aware but are otherwise “identity-smart” (not mere unmodified commercial browsers). Colloquially, this is known as PAOS. Here’s the abstract from the relevant spec (which exhibits some characteristics of both front and back channels, by the way):

SOAP is a lightweight protocol for the exchange of information in a decentralized, distributed environment. SOAP enables exchange of SOAP messages using a variety of underlying protocols. The formal set of rules for carrying a SOAP message within or on top of another protocol (underlying protocol) for the purpose of exchange is called a binding. Here a binding is specified that enables HTTP clients to expose services using the SOAP protocol. The primary difference from the normal HTTP binding for SOAP is that here a SOAP request is bound to a HTTP response and vice versa. Hence the name “Reversed HTTP binding for SOAP”.

In its Version 2.0, SAML adopted this PAOS method as one of its protocol bindings. Here’s the kicker: I’ve noticed that in SAML discussions, this is usually pronounced “pay-oss”. But in Liberty meetings, it’s pronounced “paah-ose” — by some of the same people. What’s with that??

The Language Log

A while back I followed a link somewhere at Michael Kaplan’s blog to the Language Log. This site offers up a steady stream of linguistic insights and tidbits that are just plain fun to read. One discussion is about “words needed for words used for special reasons”:

I’ve recently come across another kind of communicative act whereby words are used for something other than their conventional effect, in a way that doesn’t seem to have a conventional name. This is where you say something not because you mean it, exactly, but because it gives you a chance to use a word or phrase you’ve been saving up.

Make sure to read the whole entry to see an example of this phenomenon in comic-strip form. I can think of another halfway famous example: “I hope not sporadically!” In the technical documentation world, DocBook provides the wordasword element, which is for when you want to revert to a regular English (or whatever) meaning after having twisted a word all out of shape for some technical purpose; depending on whether you see technical jargon as “conventional” or “unconventional” usage, wordasword is either used for examples of this phenomenon or as an antidote to them…

The post never does find the word it’s looking for, but it eventually alights on a discussion of the Nihilartikel, a fake dictionary or encyclopedia entry created for playful or copyright-trap reasons. LRF should count as a Nihilartikel, at least on a metaphorical level — shall we call it a Nihilwort?

UPDATE: Ben Hyde had me laughing out loud with his response to what you call the communicative act of using a word because you’ve been saving it up:

I thought the word for that was blogging.