Semicolon I came up with a damn funny double pun this afternoon:

“‘I’m sorry sir, but the cancer has spread to your intestine; we’ll have to remove at least half of it,’ said the doctor semicolonically.”

I wondered if anyone else had thought of using such a word in such a way, so I did a quick Google search on “semicolonically.” And what do you know, it was one of those rare words that only generates a single hit. It happened to be on David Egger’s magazine McSweeney’s of all places. Of course, the word wasn’t used nearly as cleverly as I had used it.

The single generated Google search result as of 10/30/2002 is cached here. The uncached result at McSweeney’s is here.

Actually, I’m really not that clever after all: - and I suppose it might not be all that funny to some poeople…

Incidentally, the semicolon has been under a certain amount of examination lately, see: Semicolon Politics. Some find it “pretentious and overactive,” see: Paul Robinson’s The Philosophy of Punctuation. Other’s find it beautiful: In “The Survival of the Fittest,” collected in The Best American Essays 1994, Nicholson Baker calls it “that supremely self-possessed valet of phraseology” but notes that it is “even now subject to episodes of neglect and derision.”

» Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 | Permanent Link

One Iota: Homoiousios and Homoousios

One of the more fundamental and earliest controversies within the Christian Church centered around the ideas identified by two Greek words: homoiousios (ηομοιουσιος), meaning “of a similar substance,” and homoousios (ηομοουσιος), meaning “of the same substance”; two words that differ by a single letter: iota. In fact, in his “History of Christianity,” Edward Gibbon pointed out, with some ridicule, that Christianity was nearly split by the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet.

In Alexandria around the year 319, the previously obscure presbyter Arius attempted to rationalize the mystery that Chrisitians find in the relationship between Jesus and God. He attracted a large following preaching the neoplatonist idea of the absolute oneness of the divinity. He felt that this was a unity that could not be shared, and therefore Jesus was a lesser deity who had been called into existance by God. Jesus was “homoiousian,” that is, of a similar nature to God, but not the same as, God.

Opponents, led most promenently by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, preached that Jesus was in fact “homoousian,” the same as God. This caused such conflict that Emporer Constantine demanded they work out their differences at what became the Council of Nicaea in 325.

The homoosians won the debate and codified their beliefs in a set of statements known as the original Nicene Creed, which states that Jesus is “one in being” with the Father. A version of the creed is still recited at mass by Catholics to this day.

» Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002 | Permanent Link

The Vinland Map

News of the possible discovery of the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus, and the controversy that is guaranteed to ensue, immediately brings to mind the on-going debate surrounding the so-called Vinland Map.

Vinland (Newfoundland), Markland (Labrador) and Helluland (Baffin Island) were the names given to the lands discovered by Eirik the Red as told in the Grælendinga Saga and Eirik’s Saga.

The map clearly shows a body of land labeled “Vinlandia Insula” or Island of Vinland. If its purported early-15th century date is correct, it would predate Columbus by over 50 years and be the earliest map showing the North American continent. The map was discovered bound in a medieval book called Historia Tartarorum in 1957. It was purchased by a Yale University benefactor and given to the university who then presented it to the world to great fanfare - which was followed immediately by doubt and controversy. Debate continues to this day.

The question of its authenticity will probably never be definitively answered. I have my doubts, but then I’m certainly no expert; still, while Greenland was known to Europeans (Greenland had its own bishopric as early as 1126) it was generally thought to be a penninsula connected to the rest of northern Europe (Jötunheim to the Norse.)

nb.: There is a huge, 2.5 meg, 3000 by 2100 pixel, image of the entire map maintained at the Brookhaven National Laboratory web site here.

» Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 | Permanent Link

I-695: The Boston Inner Beltway

Cambridgeport I-695 Interchange

Interstate 695 was the official designation of the proposed inner beltway to be built around Boston. It was originally proposed in 1948 and not officially cancelled until 1972 after construction had already begun. Huge public protests erupted when the full scale of its impact was finally understood.

I-695 would have:

cf.: note

Had the highway actually been built, it would have had a devastating impact on the quality of life in the areas it bisected.

» Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 | Permanent Link

The Pixelated Universe

Cellular Automata
Cellular Automata have received a lot of attention ever since the publication of Stephen Wolfram’s book, A New Kind of Science. I found the ideas fascinating, the diagrams beautiful, but was ultimately disappointed at the lack of any real-world proofs.

While there may be no real connection to Wolfram’s work, it’s interesting to note that scientists such as Craig J. Hogan of the University of Washington, exploring the emerging field of quantum gravity, have theorized that a given region of spacetime has a limited amount of information that it can contain. This is known as the Holographic Principle. Roughly stated, it limits the amount of information that can be contain by a given area to be about 1069 bits per square meter. Given the dimensions of the early universe, it would work out to around a gigabyte of data, easily storable on a CD-ROM.

Generate an automata here.

» Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2002 | Permanent Link

Veni, Vidi, Vici

Zeugma. From the Greek word, ζευγμα, meaning “to yoke.” One of the more interesting words that you may not have heard before…

A “zeugma” is a construction in which a single word, especially a verb or an adjective, is applied to two or more nouns when its sense is appropriate to only one of them or to both in different ways. E.g.: He took my advice and my wallet.

Incredibly, there is a word that is defined as the opposite of a zeugma: Hypozeuxis, from the Greek word, υποζευξις, hypo (slightly) + zeugma (yoke).

In a “hypozeuxis”, every clause has its own verb. E.g.:

The Republicans filibustered, the Democrats snored, and the independents complained.

Or better yet:

I came, I saw, I conquered.

Explore the art of classical and renaissance rhetoric at Silva Rhetoricæ.

» Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2002 | Permanent Link

The Attempted Assassination of Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt, was shot by anarchist William Schrenk just outside the Hotel Gilpatrick in Milwaukee, Wisconsin while on his way to give a speech on this date in 1912. The bullet perforated the manuscript that he had prepared and lodged in his chest, but he refused medical attention and went on to speak extemporaneously for 50 minutes.

From the Detroit Free Press, Oct. 15, 1912: “The manuscript of his speech doubtless had done much to save his life. When he had come upon the platform at the Auditorium he drew the manuscript from his vest pocket during his first few words, the torn sheets of paper, showing many stains blood, showed also that the bullet had gone through the manuscript.

‘You see,’ cried the colonel holding up the manuscript so that the audience could see the bullet hole through the sheets of paper, ‘It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.’”

October 14th; truely a manly day in history.

Update:References to archive material here.

» Posted: Monday, October 14, 2002 | Permanent Link