Brevity is the soul of wit

January 29th, 2013

There once was a man from the sticks
Who liked to compose limericks.
But he failed at the sport,
For he wrote ’em too short.

From Wikipedia.

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but he’ll remember, with advantages…

October 28th, 2012

Richard and I have been playing with flash cards as a way of learning things.

The great thing about an electronic implementation of the old ‘question on one side, answer on the other’ idea, is that it can make smart decisions about when and how frequently you should be presented with a particular card. Things you find easy to remember need only occasional repetition, while those which are new or more challenging need more regular viewing until they stick in your memory. When you see the answer, you just say whether or not you got it right, and how hard you found it.

Richard wrote a little while back about using this model to learn a reading he had been asked to give at a wedding. I’ve always liked learning poetry or bits of Shakespeare, but often find that large chunks will flow easily while there are one or two lines I always forget. Could this be the solution?

One of the popular flashcard systems out there is an Open Source one called Anki, created by Damien Elmes. It has Windows, Mac, Linux and Web clients, plus Android and iOS (though these don’t yet work on the latest version). And there are various ways you can get decks of cards in and out. The user interfaces are rather quirky, I find, and even the web sites can be confusing to navigate, but the underlying system works fine.

It’s easy to find plain-text versions online of most things I want to learn, so I wrote a little script called poem2anki which will take a text file containing lines of poetry (or prose!) and convert it into a file suitable for importing into Anki.

A question:

and the answer:

It will create these for all the lines in the poem, but you’ll quickly find you’re only tested on the ones you find difficult to answer.

You can find poem2anki here if wanted.

Ode to a Central Heating System

December 26th, 2010

As we shiver through what, for the UK at least, is a very chilly winter, it struck me just how much more unpleasant such weather would be without the wonders of modern heating systems. Lest we forget this blessing, I offer a small carol in honour of one of science’s great achievements, which I would encourage you to sing as you go on your way, and share throughout your community…


Pilot light, glowing light
All is warm, while you’re bright
Round yon pipes, radiators and tanks
For our comfort we give you our thanks
And sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Pilot light, went out in the night!
Frozen toes at dawn’s first light.
The boiler’s a new one, so how do we fix?
Knew the old one and all of its tricks.
Now the pipes will be frozen
At Christmas, I’m starting to fear…

Pilot light, dark as night
Who can help, in our plight?
Give me a bonfire, I know what to do;
Pressurised system? I haven’t a clue!
Plumbers are sure to be pricey
Especially at this time of year.

Pilot light, once more alight!
Found the instructions and they set us right.
At the back of the filing drawer
All that was needed for furnace to roar
So, sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace!

The Traveller

July 27th, 2007

A traveller met I, on an evening road
His struggle hard and long
And, though the end was now in sight,
Great danger lingered on!

I hope he reached his journey’s end
As I came safe to mine
His distance may be less by far;
His conquest? Far more fine!

The Traveller

Shelburne Farms, Vermont

July 17th, 2005

With apologies to Robert Frost…

The Barn House, Shelburne Farms

Two roads diverged at a heritage site
And, sorry I could not travel both,
And get to New Hampshire before the night
I studied the map as hard as I might.
To walk, or ride, through the undergrowth?
Then, took the Farm Trail, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
For I was podgy and in need of air
(And ’twas nearly an hour til the tour bus came)
The Farm Trail, Shelburne Farms
And both that morning equally lay
Through fields where Vanderbilts built their shack
I saved the Inn for another stay
(Though, knowing how much I’d have to pay
I wondered if I’d ever come back)
The Inn at Shelburne Farms
I shall be posting this through WiFi
Somewhere highways and highways hence
Two routes diverged at Shelburne Farms, and I,
I took the one less travelled by
And loved all elements.
The Farm Trail, Shelburne Farms

The Farm Trail, Shelburne Farms

Honour

December 20th, 2004

Hey – after my post on Clerihews, Jim posted one about me! I’m honoured! I don’t think anyone’s written a poem with ‘Quentin Stafford-Fraser’ in it before. The nearest was my friend C.D. Happel, who, perhaps aware of my occasional attempts at dieting, came up with an anagram:

Feasters ain’t fun for Dr Q!

Clerihews

December 19th, 2004

And, while we’re on linguistic topics, how about some Clerihews?

Tale of Troy Divine

June 27th, 2004

Seeing the recent film Troy reminded me of a poem that came to me by a roundabout route. It was originally published in Hymers School magazine in about 1900; close to the time of the Paris Exhibition, hence the reference in the poem. I don’t know the original author.

The Tale of Troy Divine

Fashionable wedding
Present Upper Ten
Gods in Olympus
Making merry, when
Woman discontented
Thought it rather hard
She for festive function
Hadn’t had a card;
So upon the table,
Breaking up the meal,
Threw a golden apple
Legend on the peel
“Present for the fairest”;
Each exclaimed, “That’s I”.
Maids were far from modest
In the days gone by.

Dwelt a little shepherd
Near the town of Troy,
Paris, son of Priam,
Artless kind of boy.
Him they made an umpire.
Held a Beauty Show
Candidates selected
Seated in a row:
Venus, Queen of Beauty,
Juno, Heaven’s queen,
Third and last, Minerva
Stocking blue I ween.
Each essayed to charm him,
Winked a tempting eye;
All was fair in contest
In the days gone by.

Venus was the victrix -
Easy to surmise -
Fairest wife in Hellas
Promised for the prize.
“Just the thing,” thought Paris,
“Greecewards I’ll be bound,
Visit Menelaus,
Have a look around.”
Helen was his hostess,
Very fair to see
“Fairest wife in Hellas?
Just the wife for me!”
Tickets taken Troywards
Fugitive they fly.
That’s the way they did it
In the days gone by.

Damages substantial
Menelaus sought.
Warriors in thousands
Hurried to his court.
All about the verses
Running you may read -
AJAX, AGAMEMNON,
NESTOR, DIOMEDE.
What a nasty temper
Young Achilles had!
Read a book by HOMER
Called the Iliad.
Ten long years encamping
Troy to take they try;
Sieges were protracted
In the days gone by.

How at last they took it
You will know, of course.
Wily man Ulysses
Built his wooden horse.
Strange the tricks “Invention’s
Foster Mother” finds!
Heroes crawl inside it
Pulling down the blinds.
Sighted from the ramparts
Troubles now begin
Horse and Greeks and Trojans
All are taken in.
Fire and sword and slaughter
Doughty Dardans die -
Slimness was successful
In the days gone by.

Interesting moral
Such a tale affords;
Paris Exhibitions?
Frequently are frauds.
Gentle maidens, should you
Golden apples find,
Never read the legend
Written on the rind.
Gentlemen, in choosing
Partners for your life,
Choose a maid or widow
Rather than a wife.
Meddle not with horses,
That’s the reason why
Trouble took the Trojans
In the days gone by.