Monday, April 14, 2014

Pigments of imagination: Think Blue, Count Two

Underground transport network: Doin it rong
"What happens if we treat colour words in a language as the stations of an underground train network?" This is the kind of question which often arises after one or two pints of Old Shearing Shed Bière en garde. "You could ask lots of people to list all the colours they can think of, and treat those lists as itineraries through the network, and reconstruct the tube map."

"The maze of his infinity," said the smoko-room radio, which we keep tuned to the Synchronicity Channel broadcasting from Serendip. "The buried city. In the stars."

"Or you could just look it up in the appendices of the Metronomicon, the Book of Naming of Stations," tigris pointed out.
Multiple appendices
Tigris is of course correct. Very few things of import are not covered somewhere in the Book's Appendices, which proliferate and pullulate in such profligate profusion that they are not numbered, nor even lettered, but are identified instead by symbols in the corners of each page. It even shows how tube maps of major cities will appear when they are reproduced after the fall of civilisation, on palimpsestic parchment, limned with gold and foliage and marginalia by monks in future scriptoria.
Left: John Coulthart doin it rite

But I digress. Here without further ado is the tube map for Spanish colour terms, copied from a page in the Metronomicon identified by an anchor drawn with pen and ink as if by a schoolboy's clumsy hand.

Data courtesy of Dr Mari Uusküla of
the Institute of the Estonian Language
If everyone listed terms in the same order then a simple one-dimensional labyrinth trunk line would suffice, but fortunately for those of us with research careers to consider, it is not so straightforward. Many people begin with rojo or azul, these being somehow more colourish than other terms, prototypal exemplars of the concept of colour. But others begin with blanco or negro, which are perfectly cromulent colour names apart from their absence of colour.

Those who begin with one of the 'cardinal direction' primary names find it easy to go on to the other three. Together they form an interlinked chunk of semantic memory. Then people might proceed to the secondary terms like violeta and naranja which form a separate chunk, or to the achromatic basics -- from where there is a stronger link to gris and rosa, terms for which relative brightness dominates chromatic content in their conceptual classification. Those listers might continue to beige or turquesa.

Sad to say, one term is nowhere to be found:
At least there are gaps to show where room might be found for a fictitious term. Pigments of imagination and Colours out of Space fall within the ambit of Riddled Research laboratory. Another Kiwi informs me that an Ambit is what you get from crossing an agenbite with an inwit, but he might have made that up, as any fule kno that 'agenbite' is a semi-precious mineral often found with malachite.

In Turkish, 'dark blue' (lacivert) and 'blue' (mavi) are separate colours at the basic level of naming, and the English habit of stretching a single word to cover both seems as odd as applying a single name to 'red' and 'pink'. This time the trails of word-association-foopball producing these lists included 'brown' among the achromatic terms. This is the norm (for languages converge on a single conceptual map) from which Spanish has departed because reasons.
Russian is another 'two blues' language, as regular subscribers to the Riddled Weekly Encyclopedia of World Knolege are already aware. See the nice rainbow sequence in the tube map, from red to purple, with goluboj or 'light blue' beside sinij 'blue'? Russian children learn the rainbow with a Roy G. Biv mnemonic.*
See too the big gap in the middle of the language, suggesting that Russian is the place to hunt around for missing colour words like Ulfire and Jale.**
We are not having much luck with Fuligin and Argent, but Estonian looks promising.

"How about other semantic domains?" Another Kiwi vouchsafed. "Is there an Appendix for swearing?"
"It's worth a try," I said.
Data from Steven Borgatti
1. Invent new obscenity, tucked into the gaps between existing ones.
2. ?????
* Каждый Охотник Желает Знать' Где Сидит Фазан.

** Missing from the Impossible & Imaginary Colour List: the two new primary colours that the Second Men will experience in the distant future when Homo sapiens is extinct. This is NOT GOOD ENOUGH, Internet, and I want my money back.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In Orthodox Church, paintings weep at you

Alternative title: Lonely Teardrops

Two cats moved to tears by ash-based sculpture 
"Why are you loonies trying to instil artworks with the ability to make people weep?" This is a question we are often asked at Riddled Research Laboratory, for values of 'often' which include 'never'.
The short answer is that a reliable source of tears would provide useful insurance against triffids and alien invasions, both known for their vulnerability to salt water. Not to mention the food value for lacrymophagic moths.

Tear-based defeat of invading midget ninja

Central to our research is James Elkin's book on the topic of people who cry at paintings. Unfortunately no one single painting seems to be particularly lacrymergic, and the book is a series of N=1 anecdotes involving Rothko, Caravaggio, Bellini, Caspar David Friedrich and Greuze, noodling around for 270 pages without ever really coming to a point, or even making a joke about "Giving water to the Met, Stilgar".

Unaccountably, and also, it omits the best-known report:
The most plausible explanation for this omission is that the black-clad emissaries of Tristero paid Elkins a visit and reminded him with signifying gestures about the life-preserving virtues of silence.*

Anyway, not easily daunted or deterred, we are looking into more reliable means of stimulating art-related glandular secretions through the acetylcholinergic pathways of the sympathetic system. Possibly involving pheromones or subliminal photic driving.
Research with infrasonic vibrations from concealed speakers behind the canvasses has not been entirely rewarding, and Greenish Hue is now permanently banned from the Art Museum after one or two episodes of involuntary deliquescence. This is a small price to pay for scientific progress, and offers Elkins a theme for his next book. Also it has deepened our appreciation of the wisdom of Snappy Sammy Smoot's advice.
* A similarly conspicuous absence appears in another of Elkins' essays -- an in-depth inquiry into the artistic conventions of postage stamps.
Despite illustrating at length his instructions for looking at stamps, he somehow manages not to mention the unique subject-matter of Lot 49. Just coincidence?

Wait, someone at the door, BRB.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Even Mother Hitton had to start small

Littul Kitton / LOLcat mash-ups.You know you want them.

... Before checking the goofle for "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons", be aware that
The odd spelling of the "Littul Kittons" is intentional, as research into the term would act as a tripwire, alerting the Norstrilian defenses to potential hostile activity.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

MR James Blogging: Rupture-ready edition

Some say that the Riddled Amateur Dramatic Society should not accept sponsorship for product placement. Some people are asking to be pointed in the midriff by tigris with a sharp stick.
In collaboration with Throgmorton's Second-Hand Hernia Belt Emporium, RADS is proud to announce its newest production -- a dramatisation of "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You". Here is the scene where Parkins is menaced by a congeries of support garments, animated by a hostile force. Yes, in M.R. James' original story the psychic entity chooses a bedsheet to take physical form, but this is not crucial to the plot, and cartoon adaptations have even substituted a handkerchief to economise on special effects and CGI.

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Hernia who?
Claire, her knee, a thing of beauty.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spider spider walking fast
Down the racetracks of the past
Chronotechnic gambling thugs
Have increased your speed with drugs

Isn't it always the same? You let someone borrow the keys to the Riddled time machine -- "just stocking up on hadrosaur steaks for the barbeque!" -- and the next thing stories like this are appearing in the paper:
260 million years ago an arachnid of some kind, perhaps a tarantula, wrote the Braille letter 'P' repeatedly across the surface of a sand-dune. Probably to let the future know that unscrupulous members of the time-travelling spider-gambling fraternity had doped it with amphetamines in order to win a race.

Further evidence of the untrustworthiness of invertebrate inveterate arachnid gamblers comes to us from the august pages of the Journal of Paleontology. Even without time-travel they resort to increasingly ingenious excuses and cover stories to shield their activities from detection:
[Christa Sadler] set up a 4-meter long sandy runway with a slight hill in the middle. She sprayed water on some of the sand and kept the rest dry. Then she released tarantulas and scorpions onto the runway. She varied the speeds at which they could traverse the course by introducing a headwind, and recorded how their footprints changed with speed, angle, and moisture.
"Excuse me, Professor Sadler, I hope you and your colleagues are not betting on those spiders?" "Of course not, Dean! They are helping prepare the handicaps for the next stage of this important experiment!"

It goes without saying that any spider racing that might take place on Wednesday nights after 11 p.m. at the Old Entomologist is completely above-board and is conducted in accordance with all the relevant regulations. Also head barmaid Evangeline van Holsterin is unbending when she makes us clear all the sand off the shuffleboard table afterwards. In particular, it is inconceivable that any of the regular winners could be doped with performance-enhancing drugs -- notably, four-time champion Hot Needle of Inquiry -- and anyone who does whisper of doping is just a bad loser and poor sportsman. Come on, ZRM and Thunder, pony up.
The blood is the life
As irrefutable proof that Hot Needle was not on octopamine or similar stimulants we took a blood haemolymph sample and fed it to old fever-wracked Mauricio Santos-Lobos [author of The Spider Glyph in Time] -- having first locked him in the Evolvamat for two complete cycles to activate his silk-production genes -- to see how it affected his web-weaving.

He started weaving a sperm web with his specialised epiandral spinnerets, but Evangeline did not appreciate the inseminatory compliment and Mauricio is now banned.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Well I stepped into an avalanche, It covered up my soul

I had a hard time from family and teachers in my teens for reading schlocky thrillers instead of studying.
Still, I learned the word 'liquefaction' and knew better over the subsequent four decades than to build a house beside glacial-moraine landslide geology in the Pacific North-West Coast, so the time was not totally wasted.