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I promised the floors

I promised the floors published on

Since the last set of shots didn’t actually show much in the way of floors.

The new floors are cork, the latest eco-friendly surface. It is a bit vulnerable to rough handling but otherwise perfect (quiet, soft, not cold to touch).
The new floors are cork, the latest eco-friendly surface. It is a bit vulnerable to rough handling but otherwise perfect (quiet, soft, not cold to touch).
Heading into the master bedroom (still being unpacked).
Heading into the master bedroom (still being unpacked).
Looking back from the master bedroom through to the spare room at the other end of the house. The floor is continuous (installer did a good job with that).
Looking back from the master bedroom through to the spare room at the other end of the house. The floor is continuous (installer did a good job with that).

Microformat proving ground

Microformat proving ground published on

From perfect grief there need not be

Wisdom or even memory:

One thing then learnt remains to me,—

The woodspurge has a cup of three.


As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies

As the Vulture teased

Forces the Broods in lonely Valleys

As the Tiger eased

By but a Crumb of Blood, fasts Scarlet

Till he meet a Man

Dainty adorned with Veins and Tissues

And partakes — his Tongue

Cooled by the Morsel for a moment

Grows a fiercer thing

Till he esteem his Dates and Cocoa

A Nutrition mean

I, of a finer Famine

Deem my Supper dry

For but a Berry of Domingo

And a Torrid Eye



WordPress, with the help of a couple of plugins, is … barely … able to add a layer on top for me to edit CSS, to drive the formatting. The worst problem is not actually the part about its being a plugin (and therefore prone to breakage), but rather in how WordPress is unable to save the native HTML dependably. It is evident why this is (for all kinds of reasons WordPress will not allow random HTML injections), but it creates a problem for anyone who … needs more …

Oh! And here’s an Achilles’ heel – the CSS is easily lost. For example, on the site’s front page, the same code that comes out pretty and formatted on the blog post’s page is … busted.

SVG in WordPress

SVG in WordPress published on

So … what I’ve learned is, with the help of an extension one can indeed get an SVG to appear under WordPress … barely. (Take a look at the little Irish Airman experiment.)

It drops in as media, and WordPress can only link to it, not embed it. I.e., via an img, not by including the SVG in the HTML. This is okay for some purposes, maybe not so great for others, since among other things, it makes controlling the scaling relative to the HTML page next to impossible.

The larger theme is the “too much to know” problem. Because people don’t know how to use SVG, support for it is slow to come. Since support for it is slow to come, no one explores it and learns how to use it. Folks like me (nothing special, I just came in through a side door) are outliers again.

Yeats’s Irish Airman (a visualization)

Yeats’s Irish Airman (a visualization) published on
Yeats's Irish Airman (a programmatic rendering)

A fanciful interpretation of William Butler Yeats’s fantastic poem, “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death”, in SVG. This was drawn (some years ago now) using an XSLT stylesheet working over a rather plain XML version of this poem in four quatrains of tetrameter lines. The “fourness” of this poem suggests its structure might be taken to be that of … a biplane.

If you see nothing, it’s due to a failure either in this platform, or your browser. (I can see it in the preview, but one of the hazards of this kind of work is that I can’t control every link in the chain. And some of them can be rather weak.) Some reflections on SVG in WordPress are coming in another post….

Humanism as waking up to the uncanny and unaccountable

Humanism as waking up to the uncanny and unaccountable published on

Visions of the Impossible: How ‘fantastic’ stories unlock the nature of consciousness” is a really well done piece by Jeffrey J. Kripal, raising fundamental questions, to which I too would like some answers. I think the world is thirsty right now for a “humanistic” perspective, in the wider sense. Yet there is also great hesitancy even about asking the questions. No one wants to be made fun of; and this is Trickster stuff, likely to get you in trouble.

A graduate professor of mine once asked me whether I didn’t make the assumption the psyche exists. “Consciousness is primary”, I think, was the way he put it. I admitted I did. (And I do. I think it was an insightful question.)

Is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a documentary history?

Is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a documentary history? published on

Frankenstein’s creature, in his story-within-the-story of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, says (along with much else) to Victor Frankenstein:

I have copies of these letters, for I found means, during my residence in the hovel, to procure the implements of writing; and the letters were often in the hands of Felix or Agatha. Before I depart I will give them to you …

Much later in the book, as Walton describes his transcription of Victor’s account to him, he vouches:

His tale is connected and told with an appearance of the simplest truth, yet I own to you that the letters of Felix and Safie, which he showed me, and the apparition of the monster seen from our ship, brought to me a greater conviction of the truth of his narrative than his asseverations, however earnest and connected. (Emphasis supplied.)

Just to state the obvious: the creature gives Victor copies of the letters of Felix and Safie (his correspondent), as evidence of the truth of his account. (Which is a bit odd, as we have no particular reason to doubt the creature’s story, once we have accepted his existence. Yet there it is.) Later Victor shows these to Walton, presumably to substantiate his own retelling of the creature’s story to him.

So, is the novel a history of how certain papers got to be in Walton’s hands? (No mention is made of what happens to them after Victor’s death.) Does Walton enclose them in his letters to his sister Margaret (presumably the source of the publication)?

How about the other letters described (and sometimes transcribed) in the course of the narrative? Do they also exist as documentary evidence? Is “Mary Shelley” a front for Margaret Saville?

Are XML tags sharp objects?

Are XML tags sharp objects? published on

Start and end tags, no, they are not sharp, despite appearances. They will generally not poke or hurt you as long as you keep them properly closed (that is, every start has its end inside the same parent). Tags written with angle brackets indicate structure, bracing the XML document, holding everything in place. They are your friends.

The really bad tags in XML and the ones you have to watch out for are the entity references, the things that start with &. Think about what & means to an XML parser. It sees & and it doesn’t know what comes next. It looks for a name. (Let’s hope it finds a legal name before it hits ;.) Finding a name, it looks it up. (Let’s hope it is able to find someplace to do so.) It splices in what it says. It then goes back.

This is a precarious operation. Stuff supposed to be “XML” fails to parse all the time, not because its element markup is awry, but because its entities are not resolving correctly, if at all. And if even a single entity reference fails, the document cannot be processed. Use entities only with care. Don’t assume they’re safe just because you’ve seen them a lot elsewhere (such as in HTML).

Note that XML character references look like entity references, but aren’t. It’s pretty safe in XML to refer to a character in Unicode by its number, such as 
 (the LF character) or (its hexadecimal equivalent) 

Watch out for your entity references! They can break your documents when they move across boundaries, if their declarations become lost. To have standalone XML (this means well-formed, but also entirely self-contained) you should avoid any entity references that have to be declared. Which is pretty much all of them.


“Strategic Reading”: Renear at JATS-Con

“Strategic Reading”: Renear at JATS-Con published on

Video of JATS-Con 2013(4) is here: Day One; Day Two. My demo of visualizations of data encoded in NLM/JATS XML (or with adjustments, of any XML data) starts around 2:46 of Day Two (I went first in the open session).

But the reason for my post today is Allen Renear’s keynote. (Well worth the watch, it starts at Day Two, 4:58.) As always, Allen is both revelatory, and provocative. Every time I hear him, things come into better focus: where all this is coming from, where it’s aiming, and where the rub is happening between fundamental principles, and present-day exigencies.

His talk last week was on what he calls “strategic reading”, which I think is both profoundly incisive, and in its way troubling. Incisive because this is, indeed, the shape of things to come. What Allen describes sounds correct, both as a description of what is happening, and as a tendency and a trend. Troubling because I, for one, can’t help be concerned about what we risk losing next to what we gain.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all in favor of “strategic reading”, and I do quite a bit of it myself. Allen is describing the way we now scan and read at once, dipping in and out, making assessments at a distance, making choices even before we read, before we commit time and effort to deeper engagement. Electronic media and (where we have it) the strong encoding behind it (behind them, I am quick to correct myself) facilitate this inasmuch as they allow us to aggregate and filter according to criteria selected in advance–to foreground, highlight and dramatize significant content before we even know it is there. (Back to my demo on visualization of document structures.) Especially in an age of information overload, when so much of what we see is only a distraction, this is necessary and inescapable. We will even have serendipity engines, or so they tell us. (Unless that’s another case of Artificial Intelligence Meets Natural Stupidity.)

Yet at the same time, the other voice says this isn’t really reading, but a strategic avoidance of reading. Not that that isn’t perfectly fine, in its way (we’re certainly not going to read all that stuff). But it doesn’t offer the rewards that I once learned can be won, with effort, from a well-wrought text, serving as an occasion for a kind of contest of mind, a discipline of attention with an unknown outcome.

So much of what we “learn” isn’t learning at all, but only reinforcement. We only become more like what we were already (as Gertrude Stein said of Americans between the wars). I can’t help but wonder whether this is enough. I also want to be changed by what I read.