Give me a moment

The Macquarie dictionary is excellent. But it reports what people do do not what experts think they should do. This is good for linguists and scrabble players, bad if you want a simple and strong rule to follow when editing something.

The dictionary has a strong bias towards being descriptive, whereas many users come from a more prescriptive angle. So, for example, if enough people use (say)  ‘fortuitous’ to mean ‘lucky’ when it ‘ought’ to mean ‘accidental’, then that is one common understanding of the word so that is effectively one of its meanings so now it does mean ‘lucky’, even though we already have ‘fortunate’.

What that means is that editors don’t use Macquarie blindly. Since it mirrors usage, it is fairly inconsistent (especially in things like whether to hyphenate prefixes and compound words). So we use consistent rules for a lot of things and don’t slavishly follow the dictionary.

Here you go:

What does momentarily mean?

  1. in a moment (I’ll be there momentarily)
  2. for a moment (I’ll only be there momentarily)
  3. at any moment (my arrival could occur momentarily)
  4. every moment, or moment to moment (the noise is increasing momentarily)




The first is considered a US usage, but all four are in Macquarie.

Oxford Australia says ‘for a moment’, plus notes ‘in a moment’ (‘instantly’) as a US usage.

Webster (a US dictionary) says ‘for a moment’ and ‘instantly’ on equal footing.

Frankly, I think the word should be banned.

Just say ‘soon’, ‘in a moment’, ‘for a moment’ etc, and never use the damned word.


That’s all from the bunker.


Guinness World Record attempt at the most authors contributing to an anthology of short stories

Well, here it is, what the world’s been crying out for… a great big book of brand new stories, so many in fact that a world record is in sight if enough copies get sold. The details are at

The writers are from all over the world and all sorts of genres. The Smashwords link is here.

The cover:

Cover of the Greatest Anthology Written

The cover of one big book.


Big stuff.

Logical climate change denial

Tony Abbott is clearly railing against climate change, but just as clearly lacks the intellectual tools to argue for his point of view. As a kind of service to our (shudder) former prime minister, I offer this simple guide to logical climate change denial.

How about:

Mass of the Earth: 5.972 × 1024 kg.

Mass of all humans: approx. 6 × 1011 kg.

Clearly when Earth is 1013 bigger than us there’s no way we can affect it. Therefore climate change is impossible.

How about this one:

God said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Somewhere in Genesis.)

Here is the definition of subdue (courtesy google):

verb: subdue; 3rd person present: subdues; past tense: subdued; past participle: subdued; gerund or present participle: subduing
  1. overcome, quieten, or bring under control (a feeling or person).
    “she managed to subdue an instinct to applaud”
    synonyms: conquer, defeat, vanquish, get the better of, overpower, overcome, overwhelm, crush, quash, quell, beat, trounce, subjugate, master, suppress, gain the upper hand over, triumph over, tame, bring someone to their knees, hold in check, humble, chasten, cow; More

    informal lick, thrash, wipe the floor with, clobber, demolish, hammer, make mincemeat of, walk all over
    “he is said to have slain or subdued all those who had plotted against him”
    curb, restrain, hold back, constrain, contain, inhibit, repress, suppress, stifle, smother, check, keep in check, arrest, bridle, rein in;
    control, govern, master, quash, quell;
    moderate, tone down, diminish, lessen, damp;
    informal lick, nip in the bud, keep a/the lid on
    “she could not subdue her longing for praise”
    • bring (a country or people) under control by force.
      “Charles went on a campaign to subdue the Saxons”

So there you go. We have to beat Earth, we have to bring it to its knees! Humble it. Subjugate it.  Climate change is a key part of our overall strategy of smothering and lessening. We have to make mincemeat out of the Earth. And we’re on track! All we are doing is fulfilling our mandated destiny, and anyone who tries to stop that is immoral, unethical and simply wrong.

How about this one:

There are many ways to succeed. Who’s to say that a planet is not at its best with a high-carbon atmosphere? The idea that there is only one way for Earth to be and that we know what that way is is presumptuous and arrogant. Who are we to say what’s the ‘right’ amount of carbon for an atmosphere? How high the oceans should be? How much ice there should be at the poles? We have a long history of thinking we know what we’re doing and being proved wrong, and of forcing our beliefs on others. Instead of telling the planet how it should be, we need to let it develop as it would, and with an understanding that we are products of that planet and part of that development.

How about this one:

Scientists have been wrong en masse before. They used to (almost) all think the Sun went around the Earth, that plague was caused by ‘bad air’ and that aliens built the pyramids, though not that last one. Probably they’re (almost) all wrong now and really the Earth is cooling, carbon is good for the environment and it was the Eiffel tower that was built by aliens.

How about this one:

God just wouldn’t let that happen. He might let it happen to you but he wouldn’t let it happen to me.

How about this one:

All the carbon that’s in the ground used to be on top of the ground. The atmosphere is on top of the ground. Therefore, we are just putting the carbon back where it used to be. We’re tidying up. It’s a good thing.






Accidental/coincidental fix of ethernet socket

The lights were out; those little LEDs that flash on the back of the computer when the Ethernet cable is plugged in. Dead. No internet. Could plug the cable into a different machine and it worked, but my main desktop could not even see the router.


Worse, I was working at home and needed to upload a day’s work to the server and it needed to be that day because it had to go to a client.


I tried rebooting, wiggling cables, jiggling the connections between the socket and the motherboard (it’s the built-in port, so attached directly to the MB). No good. Despite previous tests, rebooted router. No good.

In the end I copied the file onto USB and uploaded from the other computer. Then I turned the desktop off and left it for a few hours. Turned it back on.


Then I pulled out the Ethernet cable and the power plug. No standby power, nothing. Left it for a day.

Now it is working again.

Don’t know why; not complaining.

Random acts of something.

Weird Word behaviour part N+1

Styles in tables act funny. Here is a table (with the few codes that Word lets me see visible):

The bottom of the third data row shows an empty line that I don’t want. Here is what happens when I delete that line:

Huh! The line gets changed to a different size and the bullet point goes away —  and I cannot get it back! I cannot insert a bullet using the bullet menu on the toolbar/ribbon/whatever it’s called this week, but I can insert one using shortcut key combination (Ctrl+Shift+L). But the formatting is wrong — and when I make it right, the bullet goes away!

But that is a hint — the problem probably lies in an interaction between some aspect of the style the document specifies for bullets in tables and Word’s bulleting code. So, what I did was copy the second (working) bullet point, so the list had two bullet points the same. Then I cut the text of the third point (the one I wanted) and pasted it into a brand new document as plain text. I deleted everything that was not text that I wanted, then pasted that back into the third bullet point in the table,  as plain text (which means it takes the formatting around it) so I had a third bullet that looked like:

  • theirspending on furniture broken down by number of legs and fabric typecosts

Then I was able to delete the unwanted line, then delete ‘their’ and ‘costs’ to leave what I wanted. It’s all about getting rid of Word’s hidden codes that don’t do what they should. Now I’ve got:

which is what I wanted.

Word bugs: Search and replace using wildcards

Wildcard search and replace interacts badly with track changes. Even very simple examples.

Very simple — I want to find instances like 7,9 and replace with 7 9 where the space is non-breaking (nbsp). The dialog looks like this:

So this is supposed to find a 3 character pattern, digit comma digit, and replace it with digit nbsp digit. It works with track changes off, but with track changes on, it fails.

For example, it should take ‘2,3’ and replace it with ‘2 3’ but instead it gives ‘23 ’ (that is, the second and third digits are transposed).

Word disappoints again.

Russian revolution: Hell on Earth

A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes.

Russia 120 years ago was, for most of its in habitants, a horrible place to live. But that’s the view from here. From inside, it was just how things were. This is the story of how that inevitability was challenged, and how it fell. The central, though hollow, figure is the Tsar. Every opportunity for compromise was rejected by a man incapable of being an autocrat. He would have made an ideal constitutional monarch, since he was an indolent vacillator, but instead he demanded absolute obedience and then failed to lead.

Great events are, I’ve often thought, like a bomb and a fuse. Even when great historical forces have created the situation where change is looming, still a fuse needs to be lit. With a firmer Tsar on the throne the revolution would still have come, but later. With a Tsar who was wise enough to compromise because he could see that the telegraph and the written word and the advances occurring elsewhere in the world meant that the old way could not survive, it may not have had to happen at all. The bomb could have been defused. Instead a decade of fighting lead to 70 years of Soviet Russia and its tens of millions of victims and eye-watering brutality. I’ve read several times, though I can’t recall where, that even Russians will admit it takes a dictator to run the country, be it the Tsar, Stalin or Putin.

The book talks about a kind of ‘darkness’ in the peasant. A will to anarchy, and an intergenerational brutality handed down by husbands to brutalised wives and children. Here’s some advice:

Hit your wife with the butt of the axe, get down and see if she’s breathing. If she is, she’s shamming and wants some more.

The more you beat the old woman, the tastier the soup will be.

Life was cheap, and the only rewards came in heaven.

This book is a remarkable achievement. Deep, wide, beginning many years before 1917 — which, though venerated, is only one part of the story — and ending with the death of Lenin, it covers society, polity, military aspects of the many struggles that went on.

The title is apt. One gets the impression the revolution was a tragedy for everybody except Stalin (who shows up quite late in proceedings). So many opportunities to relieve the suffering pass because of vested interests, pig-headedness or greed for power. That is the tragedy of all peoples throughout history; some more, some less.

The book makes a few things clear; Russia under Lenin, had he lived another 20 years, would not have been very different from Russia under Stalin. Lenin is only less reviled because he died before committing his large-scale atrocities. If Hitler had died in 1939 he’d be remembered as a flawed genius who put Germany on the road to recovery but had some pretty unfortunate policies, rather than evil personified. Lenin is the other side of the calculation. Indeed, one quote in there says something like: He did not take power to bring the revolution, he brought the revolution because it gave him a chance to take power.

At 900 pages, it’s a big book; but not a word is wasted.

Highly recommended.



Hierogyphic security


It’s been a while. Here’s another in my long-running, sporadic series of not very amusing drawings. Should be producing them more regularly now that I have a job with more meetings.



$$ math $$ versus \[ math \] in LaTeX

Let’s say you want to display some maths in LaTeX. You don’t want to use equation and related environments.

Inline maths is enclosed between dollar signs, and is formatted as part of the sentence.

A displayed equation is enclosed between pairs of dollars or between \[ and \]. But $$ … $$ and \[ … \] are not the same. For one thing, \[ … \] responds to the documentclass option fleqn to align the equations to the left rather than center them. Thus, we get this:

Where ‘Inline’ is indented because it starts a paragraph. First two displayed equations use $$ … $$ and are centred, the last uses \[ … \] and is indented by a length called mathindent.

Here is the LaTeX code

Inline maths: a simple equation might be $x+y=1$.
The solutions to the quadratic equation
$$ax^2 + bx + c = 0$$
are given by
$$x=\frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a},$$
which is to say
\[x=\frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a}.\]

Notice the argument ‘fleqn’ has been given to the article class, but $$ … $$ did not obey it. \[ … \] did, but not all the way to the left. If you want the left aligned maths to be hard left, you need to redefine mathindent to be zero length:


and this gives



Comparing PDFs; diff-pdf, pdftotext, diff…

Command line tool diff-pdf at is a very handy tool. It basically superimposes two PDFs to make the differences show up. It’s not a textual comparison as such. Here is the command line:

$ diff-pdf --view test.pdf test_mod.pdf

The black bits are common to both files, the red is in one version and the cyan in another. If the differences result in new lines being inserted, the whole page turns blue/red, since the lines don’t match up any longer:

So it is a very good way of isolating minor changes (say, between consecutive proofs of the same document) and checking if two files are actually identical (though conventional diff can indicate whether two binary files differ or not). It’s less good for comparing and decided which version is ‘better’ since the result can look a bit messy.

Using conventional diff:

$ diff test.pdf test_mod.pdf
Binary files test.pdf and test_mod.pdf differ

Use of pdftotext on both PDFs, then using conventional diff is pretty useful, too. Here is the output from just such a test:

$ pdftotext.exe test.pdf
$ pdftotext.exe test_mod.pdf
$ diff test.txt test_mod.txt

< This is a very basic look at using METAFONT and gnuplot to make figures
< for use in LATEX. I am using Linux, but the same process ought to work for
< other LATEX environments; indeed, that ought to be one of its strengths. --- > This is an extremely basic look at using METAFONT and gnuplot to make
> figures for use in LATEX. I am using Cygwin, but the same process ought to work
> for other LATEX environments; indeed, that ought to be one of its strengths.
> Here is some text added to make the line wrap and offset compared to the other
> document.
< see. --- > see. Also, this document is really just to show use of diff-pdf.
< 5. If you like at this point you can try:
< $ gftodvi test2.600gf --- >
  5. If you like at this point you can try:
> $ gftodvi test2.600gf
> 2
  Figure 1: Here is my pointless plot.
< 2
  Figure 1: Here is my pointless plot.

No conclusion. Just noting that these tools are handy.