Wordsworth’s “spots of time”

From Wordsworth’s The Prelude 12.208-218 (1805 edition):

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

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The innovation of the margin

From InfoWorld:

In chapter 4 of Klaus Kaasgaard’s Software Design and Usability, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) alumnus Austin Henderson says that “one of the most brilliant inventions of the paper bureaucracy was the idea of the margin.” There was always space for unofficial data, which traveled with the official data, and everybody knew about the relationship between the two.

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The mystery of the Voynich mss

From John Baez:

A page from the Voynich mssThe Voynich manuscript is by far the most mysterious of all texts. It is seven by ten inches in size, and about 200 pages long. It is made of soft, light-brown vellum. It is written in a flowing cursive script in alphabet that has never been seen elsewhere. Nobody knows what it means. During World War II some of the top military code-breakers in America tried to decipher it, but failed. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania seems to have gone insane trying to figure it out. Though the manuscript was found in Italy, statistical analyses show the text is completely different in character from any European language.

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A programmer’s poem

From dive into mark:

First, the poem itself (there are many versions, this is just one):

< > ! * ' ' #
^ " ` $ $ -
! * = @ $ _
% * < > ~ # 4
& [ ] . . /
| { , , system halted

In English, this reads:

waka waka bang splat tick tick hash
caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash
bang splat equal at dollar under-score
percent splat waka waka tilda number four
ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash
vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma crash

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Borges’ animals

From Tom Van Vleck:

In “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Borges describes “a certain Chinese Encyclopedia,” the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which it is written that animals are divided into:

1. those that belong to the Emperor,
2. embalmed ones,
3. those that are trained,
4. suckling pigs,
5. mermaids,
6. fabulous ones,
7. stray dogs,
8. those included in the present classification,
9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
10. innumerable ones,
11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
12. others,
13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

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The Forbes Fictional Fifteen

If fiction can be regarded as a culture’s subconscious, then it’s clear that we are a nation obsessed with the very rich. From avaricious caricatures like The Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns to literary character studies like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, our culture — both high and low — is littered with images of billionaires and tycoons.

Rank Name $Net Worth
1. Santa Claus $∞
2. Richie Rich $24.7 billion
3. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks $10 billion
4. Scrooge McDuck $8.2 billion
5. Thurston Howell III $8 billion
6. Willie Wonka $8 billion
7. Bruce Wayne $6.3 billion
8. Lex Luthor $4.7 billion
9. J.R. Ewing $2.8 billion
10. Auric Goldfinger $1.2 billion
11. C. Montgomery Burns $1 billion
12. Charles Foster Kane $1 billion
13. Cruella De Vil $875 millon
14. Gordon Gekko $650 millon
15. Jay Gatsby $600 millon” [Forbes]

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Another awful poet

Scotland’s worst poet, William Topaz McGonagall: From “The Tay Bridge Disaster”:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time. …

Or here’s a few lines from “Glasgow”:

And as for the statue of Sir Walter Scott that stands in George Square,
It is a handsome statue — few with it can compare,
And most elegant to be seen,
And close beside it stands the statue of Her Majesty the Queen. …

Read more at a site dedicated to William McGonagall, or just search Google. [William McGonagall]

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A beautiful Indian song

Beautiful poem of the day: I was reading a lot of Native American myths in preparation for a class I was teaching at Washington University several years ago, when I ran across this song by the Popago people. I really liked it, and I hope you do too.

Song for the Puberty Rite of a Girl Named Cowaka

A poor man takes the songs in his hand
And drops them near the place where the sun sets.
See, Cowaka, run to them and take them in your hand,
And place them under the sunset.

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Cuchulain fights the ocean waves

From Lady Augusta Gregory’s "XVIII. The Only Son of Aoife", from Cúchullin of Muirthemne (1902).

THE time Cúchulainn came back from Alban, after he had learned the use of arms under Scathach, he left Aoife, the queen he had overcome in battle, with child.

And when he was leaving her, he told her what name to give the child, and he gave her a gold ring, and bade her keep it safe till the child grew to be a lad, and till his thumb would fill it; and he bade her to give it to him then, and to send him to Ireland, and he would know he was his son by that token. She promised to do so, and with that Cúchulainn went back to Ireland.

It was not long after the child was born, word came to Aoife that Cúchulainn had taken Emer to be his wife in Ireland. When she heard that, great jealousy came on her, and great anger, and her love for Cúchulainn was turned to hatred; and she remembered her three champions that he had killed, and how he had overcome herself, and she determined in her mind that when her son would come to have the strength of a man, she would get her revenge through him.

She told Conlaoch her son nothing of this, but brought him up like any king’s son; and when he was come to sensible years, she put him under the teaching of Scathach, to be taught the use of arms and the art of war. He turned out as apt a scholar as his father, and it was not long before he had learnt all Scathach had to teach.

Then Aoife gave him the arms of a champion, and bade him go to Ireland, but first she laid three commands on him: the first never to give way to any living person, but to die sooner than be made turn back; the second, not to refuse a challenge from the greatest champion alive, but to fight him at all risks, even if he was sure to lose his life; the third, not to tell his name on any account, though he might be threatened with death for hiding it. She put him under geasa, that is, under bonds, not to do these things.

Then the young man, Conlaoch, set out, and it was not long before his ship brought him to Ireland, and the place he landed at was Baile’s Strand, near Dundealgan.

It chanced that at that time Conchobar, the High King, was holding court there, for it was a convenient gathering-place for his chief men, and they were settling some business that belonged to the government of that district. …

Cúchulainn rose up then and went to where Conlaoch was, and he still handling his arms. And Cúchulainn asked him his name and said: ‘It would be well for you, young hero of unknown name, to loosen yourself from this knot, and not to bring down my hand upon you, for it will be hard for you to escape death.’ But Conlaoch said: ‘If I put you down in the fight, the way I put down your comrade, there will be a great name on me; but if I draw back now, there will be mockery on me, and it will be said I was afraid of the fight. I will never give in to any man to tell the name, or to give an account of myself. But if I was not held with a command,’ he said, ‘there is no man in the world I would sooner give it to than to yourself, since I saw your face.

But do not think, brave champion of Ireland, that I will let you take away the fame I have won, for nothing.’

With that they fought together, and it is seldom such a battle was seen, and all wondered that the young lad could stand so well against Cúchulainn. …

But Cúchulainn threw his spear, the Gae Bulga, at him with all his might, and it struck the lad in the side and went into his body, so that he fell to the ground.

And Cúchulainn said: ‘Now, boy, tell your name and what you are, for it is short your life will be, for you will not live after that wound.’

And Conlaoch showed the ring that was on his hand, and he said: ‘Come here where I am lying on the field, let my men from the east come round me. I am suffering for revenge. I am Conlaoch, son of the Hound, heir of dear Dundealgan; I was bound to this secret in Dun Scathach, the secret in which I have found my grief.’ …

And then the sorrow of death came upon Conlaoch, and Cúchulainn took his sword and put it through him, sooner than leave him in the pain and the punishment he was in.

And then great trouble and anguish came on Cúchulainn …

‘I am the father that killed his son, the fine green branch; there is no hand or shelter to help me.

‘I am a raven that has no home; I am a boat going from wave to wave; I am a ship that has lost its rudder; I am the apple left on the tree; it is little I thought of falling from it; grief and sorrow will be with me from this time.’

Then Cúchulainn stood up and faced all the men of Ulster.

‘There is trouble on Cúchulainn,’ said Conchobar; ‘he is after killing his own son, and if I and all my men were to go against him, by the end of the day he would destroy every man of us. Go now,’ he said to Cathbad, the Druid, ‘and bind him to go down to Baile’s Strand, and to give three days fighting against the waves of the sea, rather than to kill us all.’

So Cathbad put an enchantment on him, and bound him to go down. And when he came to the strand, there was a great white stone before him, and he took his sword in his right hand, and he said: ‘If I had the head of the woman that sent her son to his death, I would split it as I split this stone.’ And he made four quarters of the stone.

Then he fought with the waves three days and three nights, till he fell from hunger and weakness, so that some men said he got his death there. But it was not there he got his death, but on the plain of Muirthemne.

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The printed book results in more handwritten mss

From “William Caxton“, at The Science Show:

More than 500 years later a copy of Caxton’s first edition of Chaucer became the most expensive book ever sold, knocked down at auction in the 1990s for 4.6 million pounds. But in the 15th Century, the obvious appeal of the newly printed books lay in their value for money. Books became so commonplace indeed, that some snobs employed scribes to copy Caxton’s printed editions back into manuscript, while both church and government became alarmed at the access to new ideas that the printing press offered to a widening public. [Emphasis added]

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