Category Archives: Humor

English is tough stuff

This poem by the Dutch writer Gerard Nolst Trenité is called The Chaos and is a frequent floater around the Internets in a slightly simplified form, sometimes attributed to "personnel at NATO headquarters". In the interest of anyone thinking they know English, it herewith reproduced (from the Spelling Society) in its full, glorious 274-line form:

The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say – said, pay – paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From "desire": desirable – admirable from "admire",
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your R correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes with Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.
Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the A of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

"Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker",
Quoth he, "than liqueur or liquor",
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.
Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
eason, hover, cover, cove

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)
Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.
Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.

The TH will surely trouble you
More than R, CH or W.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight – you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.
Shoes, goes, does*. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry, fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess – it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.
Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.
Mind the O of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid, vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,
Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation – think of Psyche! –
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying ‘grits’?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

                                — Gerard Nolst Trenité

* No, you’re wrong. This is the plural of doe.

There. That should do it.

Say what you will about the Gubernator…

Some years ago I talked with a Berkeley professor who first was shocked when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected guvenor of California – then, a year later, had to grudgingly concede that he wasn’t all that bad – especially in that he took on the State Assembly, which is incredibly conservative in its vested-interest radicalism. The following message recently sent to the State Assembly shows that he (or someone on his staff) has a sense of humor, too:


How I wish the underlying messages of other political emissions where equally clear…

(Via boingboing, which, true to form, spends most of the comments on calculating whether this was a coincidence or not…)

Not sure if this is a good thing

Bill Schiano and I, between ourselves, solved this one pretty quickly. (That is, we found the computer names, not the extra thing, not mentioned on the site.)

(Incidentally, I also found SAGE, which was a pretty important computer system in its own right (as well as a computer company.). Also UNIX, CEC 80 (which at least sounds like a computer) and "rank" and "crib". Oh well.

A product I would really like to see…

I would love to have a set of noise-canceling head phones that could filter out bureaucratese and administrative noise from academic and other meetings, so that only relevant and interesting information reaches the wearer’s ears.

(Yes, I initially sent this to some collaborators as an April Fool’s joke. But eventually, this could really be done.)

As an academic and a technologist, I inevitably have to sit through many meetings of a bureaucratic nature, characterized by a low information signal-to-noise ratio, slow tempo and endless repetitions. As Brad Delong has described it, "an academic meeting is not over when everything has been said, but when everything has been said by everyone."

Imagine a collaboration with a good search technology company, such as FAST (now Microsoft) and a good headphone company, such as BOSE. Noise-canceling headphones work by recording the ambient sound picture and then filtering out noise (characterized by an irregular wave pattern), only letting well-modulated sound waves, such as voices and music, through.

It is a small step to strengthen this filtering by using advanced search technologies such as sentiment analysis, which applies automated semantic analysis to words and phrases. It is now mostly used to automatically evaluate blog comments, but it could be used directly on the audio patterns coming in, perhaps initially using speech-to-text conversion. Since administrative and bureaucratic language is characterized by many easily recognizable phrases and a high degree of repetition, it should lend itself well to filtering both in an initial phase and through collaborative techniques (easily implementable with a red "banish" button on the head phones themselves.) Personalization could also add value, by filtering out stuff you have heard before and only letting through things that are new to you.

Response time might be a problem, but professors are deemed to be a bit slow in their reaction to external stimuli anyway, so I doubt if anyone would notice any difference.

(Initial responses from my collaborators suggested dealing with this by skipping the meetings altogether, which I must admit is an attractive alternative. But not everyone can do that, and besides, there is always the chance that something might slip through the filter.) And imagine the market opportunities, for students, journalists, politicians, parents (at PTA meetings). Not to mention how this would put the final nail in the TV advertising coffin. I suppose seeing a movie such as Groundhog Day would be hard, but personalization would eventually fix that.

Ah, the dreams of reason

Stewart, Cramer and ducking humiliation all the way to the bank

Like many others, I have been enjoying Jon Stewart’s skewering of Jim Cramer, CNBC’s money madman. But the New York Times has an interesting perspective interesting perspective on this: The media attention may be to Cramer’s advantage (as opposed to what happened to Crossfire when Jon Stewart appeared and exposed them for what they were.

Nevertheless, it must have been uncomfortable being up there, and deservedly so. But I do prefer this one:

The view from the fringes

Them: Adventures with Extremists Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

My review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Alternately deeply disturbing and howlingly funny about the paranoid of the world – and the exclusive but increasingly out-of-touch elite meeting fora that feed the fringes.

I keep shaking my head when someone can get time on national television (in any country) claming that the world’s leaders meet in secret places to plot wars and elections – and that most of them really are giant lizards inhabiting human bodies…

View all my reviews.

ERP analogies

Andy McAfee uses an analogy of an ERP as a factory for business processes. Here are my analogies:

  • We are born as originals and die as copies. ERP systems are the other way – they start as copies and die as originals. An ERP system, when it is installed, allows you to configure it by choosing parameters – what kind of budget process, how you define "customer", etc. etc. After having set a few thousand parameters, you can be absolutely certain that you are the only company in the world with that particular SAP or Oracle or whatever configuration. Of course, standardization was what ERP systems were all about when they were introduced in the mid-nineties: The idea that software should be simple again.
  • ERP systems are flexible the way cement is flexible. Less true now than it was – cement is ultimately flexible when you pour it, then it hardens into the shape of the hole it was poured into.
  • A more advanced version of this is the old joke that SAP (or insert your favorite ERP system) is like a new basic element. Basic elements go through three stages: Fixed, fluid and gas. SAPium (and its cousin Oraclium) start out as a fluid that runs down and fills the holes (basic business process) you want fixed. It then becomes a gas, expanding to fill the whole area (organization) until it has permeated everything, whereupon it becomes a solid that can never be changed again….

Oh well. Less true now than it was, maybe. Or maybe not.

Myers-Briggs and me

Typealyzer is a service that classifies your blog (and, by extension, you) into the Myers-Briggs personality classification framework. Based on, I am an INTJ, which is fine by me, though I thought I was more over towards ENTJ:


OK. Not sure I have difficulty communicating, but that may just be that I mostly sit by myself pontificating to the wall or similar-minded people who find my communicating style compatible. Anyway, what I really liked was this brain chart:


In other words, little chance that I will survive in a world like the one described in Ben Elton’s Blind Faith….

(Hat tip to Vaughan and Kimberly for this one.)


Until 2003, I lived in a part of Norway that gets about 7 ft of snow every year, so after a brief period of sweaty and aching mornings I invested in a small snow-blower. Then I moved to a place about 20 ft above sea level, where snowfalls are few and far between. But my little snow blower has brought unexpected benefits.

The first winter here was bare and cold until late January, when I woke up one morning to about a foot of snow. It was before seven in the morning and the office beckoned, so I dressed warmly and got to it.

I was a little worried, though. My next-door neighbor, with whom I share the driveway, is unofficial Norwegian champion sleeper and likes to delay the vertical part of life as long as possible. I wondered how he would react to the noise from the snow-blower at a time he considered to be just after bedtime. But I had to get to work, so I pulled the cord and started.

Half an hour later I was done, garaged my little machine (which is more like a motorized broom than a real snow-blower, except in the noise-making department) and got inside for a brief thaw-out and the day’s first coffee.

Then the doorbell rang. I prepared for the worst and nervously opened the door. There stood my neighbor, in slippers and morning coat and with his hair in all directions.

He had woke up, seen the snow and resigned himself to having to get up and do something about it when he heard me start the engine. He didn’t know I had a snow blower, and explained with an ecstatic expression that little snow-blower with a missing muffler was "the most beautiful sound he had ever heard."

Whereupon he handed me a bottle of Cognac and returned to bed.

PS: We have since formalized the arrangement. I blow the driveway, and he buys one bottle of wine per snowfall, which we consume with a delightful dinner sometime in April.

Demotivators Fall Catalogue

…has arrived. And they are keeping up with the times:


I guess I like the procrastination one as well, as evidenced….

Come to think of it, there is no demotivator for strategy, and I need one for a project I am working on with nGenera – and because it would be wonderful on the wall of the department of Strategy and Logistics here at NSM….