Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The story behind the description.

Behold my most excellent description!
Toehold's description has four A's, two C's, four D's, twenty-four E's, eight F's, four G's, five H's, ten I's, two L's, two M's, seventeen N's, seventeen O's, two P's, eight R's, twenty-nine S's, twenty-one T's, six U's, five V's, ten W's, two X's, four Y's, two Z's, and zero meaning.
What I like about it is that it's all true. If you're wondering what the story is behind all that, read on.

My wife asked me what kind of art I'd like to hang on the wall as decoration. Lacking much interest in art, I grabbed my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid and showed her some M. C. Escher art, which I've always found appealing in a cerebral way.

She asked me to send her a link.

I hit the net and got interested in the book more than the art, and I ran across the FAQ, which contains lots of self-referential things like this:
How long is the answer to this question?
Ten letters.
It also had a link to a pangram appendix, which has code for generating phrases like my description above. I thought that was so cool, and my enthusiasm was dimmed only slightly by the discovery that the "algorithm" to find a pangram is not detereministic. It generates random numbers until it finds a set that works!

I wanted to share this coolness with others, in the form of a .signature for my emails. For years now I've been using a two-line format like so:
Kyle Hasselbacher | Give a man a match, and he'll be warm for a minute, but set

kyle@toehold.com | him on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, the pangram the program found for me was much longer than two lines. It would never fit!
Kyle Hasselbacher | This .signature has six A's, two B's, three C's, three D's

kyle@toehold.com | thirty-one E's, six F's, two G's, fourteen H's, thirteen
I's, three K's, six L's, two M's, ten N's, eleven O's, fourteen R's,
thirty-three S's, twenty-three T's, five U's, four V's, five W's, six X's,
and six Y's,
I despaired. Then I wrote something that would come up with "partial pangrams" like this one:
Kyle Hasselbacher | This .signature has nine H's, nine I's, six L's, six O's,

kyle@toehold.com | six R's, eighteen S's, three Y's, and some other letters.
I can hear you saying already, "this is all very neat," you say, "but is it really necessary to blather on about this stuff, when it's obvious it's only tangentially related to your description?"

To which, I say, "this is a completely pointless waste of time anyway, and if you're not enjoying it, you can stop reading any time."

Now that that's settled, I would like to veer off even more to point out that I'd never heard of a pangram before, and I assumed that it was a self-referential sentence which describes a histogram of its own letters. As it turns out, a pangram is any sentence which contains every letter of the alphabet, and people usually try to make them as short as possible. Thusly, my "partial pangram" is not a pangram at all, and these long-winded histogram pangrams are substandard by the usual pangram norms.

Anyway, sometime after all that, I got a blog, and I knew not how to describe it. Still glowing with the prospect of sharing self-referential pangram joy with the world, I described it as you see above. Way cool, huh?

Yes. I think so.
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