May 01, 2001

Rhyming orange


For some reason, my shoulders were sore this morning from rowing yesterday. So I went to the gym and did legs this morning so they could be sore too. My body is now symmetric in its pain.

"Doing legs" involves squats with a barbell behing my neck (up to 70 lbs today!), front squats, leg presses, hang cleans, a few clean and jerks (which I donít think I do quite right, so I only do a few), and calf raises, in case anyone is wondering. "Doing arms" is lat pulldowns, seated rows, bench pulls, shoulder presses, upright rows, and bicep curls. Either way, I warm up on the rowing machine and do lots of stretching afterward.

Stretches are important to me; if I donít do them, after a while I start feeling like Iíve built blocky, dense muscles (whether theyíre visible to the naked eye is a completely different matter). Theyíre actually a bit uncomfortable. In high school I got to the point the I could do splits (only with the right leg forward), but I lost them somewhere in my mid-20s.

End exercise journal

According to Amazon, in addition to one book for work, I have on the way to me:

  • The latest Elizabeth Peters, Lord of the Silent, just out today

  • Miss Readís Thrush Grange

  • the recently-issued collection of Manly Wade Wellmanís John Thunstone stories, Third Invocation to Legba

  • Sean Stewartís Mockingbird


Are you jealous yet? Probably not, if youíre Evilena, Mechaieh or Phelps, as the first two probably already have Lord of the Silent by now, and the third has a whole collection of Miss Read. Possibly not even if youíre My Brother the Writer, who may have the Wellman book by now. The Stewart book is recommended by people who like Connie Willis, so I think itís a safe bet.

On a completely different topic, it turns out the Tom Lehrer once managed to rhyme Ďorangeí, supposedly the only English word that doesnít have a rhyme:

Eating an orange

While making love

Makes for bizarre enj-

Oyment thereof.

This inspired Douglas Hofstadter to write a longer poem with similar rhymes in tribute, but I think those are all downhill from Lehrerís Ogden Nash-worthy quatrain, so wonít quote them here.

Which makes me think of poetry, which, believe it or not, is actually analogous to what Iím doing at work. One of the most common responses of software engineers to the imposition of processes is that they stifle creativity. The best answer Iíve seen to this is that instead, they give a framework, or foundation, within which to apply creativity. When designing a car, you donít exercise creativity in reinventing wheels; you build on what is known and try to go farther. Back to poetry, Robert Frost said that "Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down". I donít entirely agree -- there are constraints other than rhyme and rhythm that can be imposed on a poem -- but itís true that some of the most rigid forms, like sonnets and haiku, have been some of the most fertile.

On the other hand, poetic forms need to balance a certain amount of loseness with that strict structure -- the rules of a sonnet donít specify either content or the actual rhymes, just their pattern. I think this rule may have more general application to the ways in which humans do our best work. In other words:

Tell me, tell me what to do,

Just donít tell me how to do it.

Give me what I need from you,

Then let me find my own way through it.

Iíd rather not be just your pawn,

But still, donít be too laissez-faire,

I will not plead, I will not fawn,

Iíll work with you if youíll play fair.

Iíd rather work within the rules

If I help choose what those rules are.

Iíll find my way (Iím not a fool)

But sails must have support from spars.

I need a frame on which to lean my weight,

As trees need wind to grow up strong and straight.

It is left as an exercise for the class to determine why the above is not actually a sonnet. It is left as an exercise for the writer (me) to determine why she decided to post the above.

Posted by dichroic at May 1, 2001 09:31 AM
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