Ireland: a nation

I don’t think people who aren’t from this island realize the extent to which Ireland really is one nation, even if it’s two different jurisdictions. The vast majority of sporting, religious, and other cultural bodies in Ireland operate on an all-Ireland basis.

In sports like rugby, there is a single national team for the whole of Ireland. In sports which don’t generally have national teams, such as golf and showjumping, the organization is nonetheless on an all-Ireland cross-border basis. Association football (soccer) is an exception. (I think the sole exception, though I’m not sure about sports like gymnastics.) The Gaelic Athletic Association also of course operates on an all-Ireland basis, and that too doesn’t generally have national teams. (There actually are national teams, in International Rules Football, Compromise Rules Shinty-Hurling, and Rounders, but none of these contests are the pinnacles of their sports.)

The Irish Shows Association, which organizes agricultural shows, is all-Ireland. So is the Association of Irish Musical Societies, the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, and many others. On the Wikipedia category list “All-Ireland organizations“, I also see the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation, the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies, the Irish Museums Association, the Geographical Society of Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches. There are also a few trade union bodies: the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, and SIPTU, and one professional body: Accounting Technicians Ireland. There’s also the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which also operates in Great Britain, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

There are even government departments which operate across the island, under the aegis of the North/South Ministerial Council. One that I am aware of is Waterways Ireland, responsible for the management and upkeep of internal navigable waterways (canals and rivers) across the island, because their headquarters on the Grand Canal are in Tullamore, a stone’s throw from my house. There is therefore a sign up on Harbour Street in three languages: Waterways Ireland, Uisceabhealaí Éireann, Watterweys Airlann.

Female Wizards on the Discworld

I have a theory about female wizards on the Discworld, which is just about possible to defend on the basis of the first three books (The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Equal Rites), but which also owes something to much later ones (The Last Continent and Unseen Academicals).


Unseen University is the Discworld’s premier college of magic (in its own mind, at least); not the only one. We already know there are wizards on Krull, which is almost completely separate from the rest of the Disc. We know that at least one of them (Marchessa) was female, and that this was not remarked on.

Buggarup University in XXX is another example of a separate college of magic, though it too is all-male.

In Unseen Academicals, we see that in fact Unseen University has rivals not only in places separated from the rest of the Disc, but also on the main supercontinent. The UU Dean has just set one up in Quirm; there’s a visiting professor from one in Genua; and I recall hints that there are others, with long-standing rivalries between them. (And Ponder Stibbons can play academic politics as well as anyone, thank you very much!)

We also see that there are differences in academic culture. UU wizards must be celibate (there’s a hint in The Colour of Magic (and again in Sourcery) that it’s only straight sex which is outlawed, but the possibilities thereby left open are never explored. This does not appear to be the case in Genua. When Ridcully heard that a Genuan wizard had been “named in divorce proceedings”, he just assumed that the Genuans didn’t prohibit their wizards having sex with women. He had to be explicitly told that in this case it was gay sex.

So UU has a “straight sex explicitly outlawed” and “gay sex doesn’t happen, does it?” culture, but accepts that other universities have different cultures. The one in Krull even accepts women, and did even before Esk’s time. Maybe others do too? Maybe, in fact, UU is the sole remaining holdout?

 

Experts and Expertese

I have a great deal of respect for experts. Actual, real, honest-to-goodness experts. The people who have written theses. The people who put massive amounts of work into coming up with original ideas, then do their very best to poke holes in them before publishing them. The people who will graciously admit defeat when they’re proven to be wrong, and will carry on working, carry on developing new ideas. I have a great deal of respect for the scientific method and for scientists themselves. And I know it doesn’t always work like that, but it does often enough.

And what really annoys me, what really gets me going, is seeing that respect misappropriated by “psychic healers” and similar bullshit artists. Those people dream up ideas which sound good, but are disdainful of the tools humanity has painstakingly developed over centuries for checking whether ideas are true. In fact, in many cases, they seem to not even care whether or not their ideas are true. It is dispiriting to see such people given respect that is not their due.

The utter contempt these scam artists have for the real experts, the people who put their life’s work into working out how the world really works, is the rudeness.

And besides all that, there’s the issue of how dangerous these people can be. Should I mention vaccines?


This entire blog post is under the license CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere, as long as you link back.

Dublin LGBT Pride was asking for feedback. I gave them some.

I will say that I didn’t go to the remembrance ceremony this year, after being utterly disgusted with it the year before last.

There’s nothing wrong with religious ceremonies. It is, however, utterly disgusting to foist them on an unsuspecting audience. The ceremony was in no wise advertised as religious, and I attended in good faith, expecting something that would be respectful and which I would be happy to observe.

First, I was handed a candle, asked to participate. Well, okay, I suppose. I held the candle, still expecting something open and respectful.

And then suddenly we were in the middle of prayer and talks of heaven. Let me make one thing very clear: Praying on other people’s behalf, claiming to represent other people in prayer without their explicit consent, is fucking rude and extremely exploitative. Let me make another thing clear: Inviting people to attend an open ceremony and suddenly making it explicitly Christian with no warning is a rather nasty bait-and-switch tactic. I don’t know who organised and ran this event, but I have no respect for them whatsoever, as they clearly had no respect for the people they conned into attending with their dishonest advertising.

These are all general concerns. One other thing from a more specifically LGBT perspective: Many there have been hurt, seriously hurt, by the church. That doesn’t mean that many LGBT people are not still religious, and there is certainly a place for religious LGBT commemorations. It does mean, though, that tricking people into participating in a religious service when they were not expecting it is likely to be more hurtful to LGBT people than it would be to others.

I put down the candle smartly enough, as I did not want to be marked as participating in any religious ceremony, but I did not immediately leave. I don’t mind observing religious ceremonies, and I was hopeful that we would soon move onto more of the “remembering” bits. I was hoping for some anecdotes about much-loved and much-missed friends and activists. (Not my personal friends, as none of my LGBT friends have yet died, but still. I was there mainly to show support.) But no, the religious language went on and on, with quite a lot of “we” language, presumptuously intending to include us all in the prayers, and claiming to speak on all our behalfs. I soon got pretty sick of it, and left along with my friend. Others were leaving too.

I was utterly disgusted by the entire débâcle.

TRiG.

Undefined Behaviour Killed My Cat

schroedinger=/dev/null             # We'll need this guy.
heisenberg=/dev/urandom            # Also needed, for uncertainty principle.
cat $heisenberg > $schroedinger &  # Steal cat from Heisenberg and give it to Schrödinger.
felix=$!                           # Name cat for future references.
exec 2> $schroedinger              # Send all results to Schrödinger.
kill -SIGSTOP $felix               # Catch Felix and put him into a box.
if (($RANDOM & 1))                 # Flip a coin.
then kill $felix                   # Heads: Kill! Kill! Kill!
fi                                 # By now, Felix can be thought of as both alive and dead.
read -sn 1                         # Wait for somebody to open the box.
kill -SIGCONT $felix               # Let him open it.
if ps p $felix > $schroedinger     # Let Schrödinger check on Felix.
then echo The cat is alive.        # Hooray for tails!
else echo The cat is dead.         # At least, now we know.
fi                                 # This concludes the experiment.
kill -SIGKILL $felix               # Felix is no longer required.


From Dennis on Programming Puzzles & Code Golf Stack Exchange. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

Why does the Septuagint contain non-Tanakh books?

The deuterocanonical books, treated as part of the Bible by the Orthodox and Catholic churches, are accepted because they appear in the Septuagint. However, they are excluded from the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh (and are therefore also excluded by most (all?) Protestant Christians). Given that the Septuagint was a Jewish publication, why does it contain books which are not part of the Tanakh?


I’ve wondered that for a while, which is why I asked the question at Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. And there I got an answer: basically, at the time the Septuagint was built, the Jewish canon wasn’t finalised. Here’s an informative, but unsourced, answer from JoanW:

The Greek translation of Jewish scripture (the Septuagint) occurred between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. The canon of the Tanakh was finalized hundreds of years later. The Christian canon was debated from the 4th to the 16th centuries. We have a tendency of thinking of the Bible as written in stone, so to speak, but the canon has been the object of scholarly debate and change for millennia. Catholic and Orthodox Bibles are generally based on the Septuagint, whereas Protestant Bibles are based on the Masoretic (the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible), which was developed between the 7th and 10th centuries CE.

That’s a nice, straightforward overview. I like it.

Here’s a more detailed and referenced answer from Noah Snyder:

In Judaism the final decision of which writings (Ketuvim, the third part of the Tanakh) were canonical did not happen until at least the end of the 1st century CE. This was after Christianity and Judaism had largely split, and so the two groups made different decisions about which writings were accepted as canonical.

In particular, nascent Rabbinic Judaism made the decision to only include writings which were originally written in Hebrew (possibly with parts in Aramaic), but not books which were originally written in Greek (or thought to have been originally written in Greek). The deutorocanonical books are roughly the books which were popular among the Greek speaking Jewish diaspora in the 1st century, but were excluded from the writings on the basis of their being written in Greek (and possibly also excluded for other reasons). Around the same time nascent Rabbinic Judaism also rejected using the Septuagint in favor of only using the original Hebrew texts.

(A key search term to find more to read on this topic is the “Council of Jamnia,” which is the name of the hypothetical council which made the decision on canonizing the Ketuvim. The hypothesis that there was an actual council is no longer particularly popular, instead people tend to think it was a more gradual process, nonetheless the name is still useful for finding material on the topic.)


This entire blog post, both my own writing and the answers I quoted from others, is under the license CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

Lightenings viii

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

© Seamus Heaney

Why did Thorongil warn Ecthelion against the White Wizard?

I’m rereading The Lord of the Rings. Appendix A, “Annals of the Kings and Rulers”, tells us that Aragorn son of Arathorn spent part of his youth in Minas Tirith under the assumed name “Thorongil” serving under Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor.

Thorongil often warned Ecthelion not to put trust in Saruman the White in Isengard, but to welcome rather Gandalf the Grey.

Appendix B, “The Tale of Years”, tells us,

2957-80 Aragorn undertakes his great journeys and errantries. As Thorongil he serves in disguise both Thengel of Rohan and Ecthelion II of Gondor.
10th July 3018 Gandalf imprisoned in Orthanc.
18th September 3018 Gandalf escapes from Orthanc in the early hours.
25th October 3018 Council of Elrond.

Saruman’s treachery was not clear to anyone before the dispute with Gandalf in July 3018. And Aragorn did not learn of it till he and Gandalf met again in Rivendell in October. So why was Aragorn already suspicious of Saruman roughly 40 years earlier?


I asked this question a while ago on Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange. I got a few good answers. Here’s the one I selected as the best, from Peter Turner:


Not sure where this is in the annals, but it says in the Tolkien Companion by J.E.A Tyler

Saruman made his first deliberate move in this direction (toward imposing his will, which was forbidden of the Istari) in the year 2759 Third Age, when he appeared at the Coronation of King Frealaf of Rohan, successor of the mighty Helm Hammerhand. The Wizard brough with him rich presents, and declared himself the friend of Rohan and gondor, and a little later was able to persuade Steward Beren of Gondor to grant him the Keys of Orthanc, the mighty Tower which, together with its fortress of Isengard, commanded the strategic Gap of Rohan. All thought this was a welcome move.

All, that is, except a weary ranger who would see everything given up by Gondor as a challenge to its power.

And it further says that

all the time the Wizard was secretly searching the Tower of Orthanc for a long-lost treasure of the Dunedain … the Palantír of Orthanc.

Then in 2851 the White Council met to think of ways to stop Sauron from coming back

Saruman, hoping that the Ring would expose its location if Sauron were left unharassed, deliberately overruled a strong recommendation (from Gandalf) … that Dol Guldur be attacked.

By his actions, Gandalf may have suspected that Saruman was up to something, although I don’t think Gandalf even knew of the ring.

So, either through his own understanding of the Palantír through the lore of his people or through his association with Gandalf, Aragorn was more naturally suspicious than Gandalf and I think it makes sense that he’d know something was amiss well before anyone else had reason to suspect.


You can read Peter’s answer and all the others at SF&F SE. This entire blog post, both my own writing and the section I quoted from Peter, is under the license CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

XML vs JSON

Tu Chu asked a question on Stack Overflow:

I am developing a game for the iOS (and later for Android) devices which needs to get data from a database on a server. What I have done so far is to use PHP to echo out the data from the database as XML. The program will check often with the server so performance is a big deal here. So, would JSON or XML be better for this task?

Well, which is better? I don’t know. It depends on the specific use case, and we don’t have enough detail to answer that question. And this, indeed, is what I said:

Produce XML output. Check the time taken and the file size.

Produce JSON output. Check the time taken and the file size.

Decide which is best.

What more could I say?

When Alice asked a more general question on Programmers Stack Exchange, I was able to say more.

Alice asked,

How important is it to learn XML when JSON is able to do almost all that I need? Having said that, I use JSON mainly for AJAX requests and obtaining data from various APIs. I am a total newbie to web development and the reason I am asking this is that I want to know whether I should go ahead and buy a book on XML or whether I can just give it a pass.

Well, while XML and JSON do have overlaps in use-cases, they are actually very different languages with very different design goals, so I replied,

XML definitely outshines JSON for markup (which is, after all, hinted at in the name).

I wouldn’t like to see a random XHTML page converted into JSON format. It would be horrible. OpenOffice and the latest editions of Microsoft Office all use compressed XML as their format of choice.

As a general rule: Markup goes in XML; structured data goes in JSON.

That’s when you’re outputting data and have full control yourself over the format. If you’re outputting data according to industry standards, or consuming other people’s data, you may need to use XML even in places where JSON would seem more appropriate. That’s because XML is longer established and has been used in many standards.


License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.