Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Day In Botswana

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The single most important conclusion I reached, after traveling through Japan, as well as countless hours reading, studying, and analyzing this fascinating culture, is that you should always tighten the cap on the shampoo bottle before you put it in your suitcase.
~ Dave Barry (the inimitable modern-day Montaigne)
It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

~ Toto (Lyrics from Africa) ๐Ÿ˜

Preamble ๐Ÿข

Following On The Heels Of The Previous Guest Contribution...

Yo, check out the geeky guy above, the one with that safari hat—so we’re told that this is going to be all about a day in Botswana—I mean, what exactly have we gotten ourselves into this time?

First the good news: following on the heels of the recent and spectacularly successful blog post (A Gift of Three Poems from a Reader), let us rejoice in the knowledge that we have been given yet another gift, this time a gift of prose!

See, I’m telling you, you all have kept your faith in me, faithfully reading everything I post around here—whether grudgingly or ungrudgingly I won’t say, because I can’t tell—so you clearly need a break from me, from time to time, and probably sooner than later. So there you go, your wish has been granted and your dreams—for now anyway and until my next rambling-filled essay—have been realized ๐ŸŽก

...We Have Ourselves A Guest Essay!

This charming essay—demurely entitled merely as A Day In Botswana—is by Kitty Fassett, who also happens to be our resident poet!

Allow me first, though, to answer a question which, dare I say—judging at least by the knotted brows on your forehead—is percolating right now in the nooks and crannies of your mind: Is this essay going to make me a better programmer, a better technologist, the author of smashingly beautiful code? ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

The brief answer is: No.

So What Gives? ๐Ÿ’ฐ

A slightly more elaborate answer: This essay will, however, make you a more relaxed programmer. And hey, that counts for something, does it not? I mean, come on, haven’t you heard of HDD (hammock-driven development)?

For crying out loud, it’s right up there with TDD (test-driven development), quickly ascending to the Pantheon where RDD (resume-driven development, whatever that means, and as some wags would have us believe) finds itself firmly ensconced. Pardon me if you mistook my RDD reference as standing for Resilient Distributed Datasets which, of course, are powered by one of my favorite programming languages, the Scala programming language.

But I digress.

We Stumble Upon A Ruckus ๐Ÿ‘ป

At this moment, as we find ourselves poised to dive into the essay proper, we get summoned to a higher court to take care of some improper (monkey) business ๐Ÿ’

Oh my, we got this mind-boggling dialogue in which yours truly finds himself the unenviable position of interlocutor- defendant (yo, fancy that!)
— Reader: “Wait a second, Akram, is that really you in that safari hat?
— Akram: “Um, maybe. But why do you ask?"
— Reader: “Because, like, that ain’t no Botswana. Oh. My. God. That’s New York City!"
— Akram: “Gulp, my readers are getting smarter and smarter each day—they must have started using mental floss, or maybe got AI hard-core processors implanted in their cranium, or something!—so there’s no pulling wool over their eyes."
— Reader: “For crying out loud, those New Yorkers can’t even spell, putting our American nation to shame. Did you even check out the inscription—or at least the part we can see, i.e. MUSEVM OF NATVRAL—etched into the upright concrete faรงade behind you in the picture above?"
— Akram: “Gulp, methinks this conversation is heading for the rocks…"
— Reader: “What do you have to say about that, Mr. Interlocutor-defendant, hah?"
— Akram [Thinking furiously and muttering something about using the element of surprise]: “There, see that kitty?"
— Reader: “Yes, I’m listening. What about it?"
— Akram [Double-gulping, course-correcting, and frantically casting about to save his rear]: “No, no, no. All I was saying the whole time was that we are in for another treat—a feast for the armchair traveler to gorge on—brought to us by not by any old kitty, but by the one and only Kitty Fassett, yay!"
— Reader: “Akram, you sniveler, we’ll that you go this time. And just this time."
— Akram: “Gulp, and you thought my life was easy. You don’t know half the trouble I wade through—wading through marshes, pulling myself out of quicksand with the heave-ho, and that’s only the beginning yo—to get the stories do you…"
— Reader: “Save your sob story for later. Can we, like, get straight to the travelogue from Kitty Fassett?"
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Introducing The Guest Essay ๐ŸŽช

— Akram: “With a drumroll—and a genuine on-the-scene picture straight out of the wild terrain of Botswana—I hereby present A Day In Botswana by Kitty Fassett."
— Reader: “Oh. My. God. That’s still New York City! That ain’t no Botswana, Akram."
— Akram: “Oops."
— Reader: “Yes?"
— Akram [Sheepishly doing a fall-down job 101]: “Right you are! I got a tad carried away from standing next to one of our illustrious presidents—the one and only Honest Abe—momentarily realizing that there’s no Gettysburg address taking place in Botswana anytime soon. Or ever, for that matter."
— Reader: “Akram, you stay right there while I look for the mallet that was lying around on the floor of your garage him…"
— Akram [The direness and full import of the delicate situation finally dawning on his cranium]: “Help me, Muse, as I break into some verses of rhyme"
’Twas mostly, though not all, desiderata;
Foisted above for your kind considerata'
A bit pumped up, though not overly inflata’;
With that, I’m outta here, see you lata'
That being my final attempt to save my sorry rear—picture me, if you will, in the plight of Harry Potter facing the baddie Voldemort in the Deathly Hallows—the incipient verses above drifted from my lips just before I lost consciousness (Dang, those mallets sure can pack a wallop!) ๐Ÿ”จ

When I came to, the roaring engine of the Cessna was wailing like the banshee... ๐Ÿ‘บ
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But How Do We Get There? ๐Ÿš ๐Ÿš‚ ๐Ÿš• ⛵

Exactly. First we have to get there. Hey now, there's our ride, woohoo! All aboard the Cessna.

(Spoiler: Be on the lookout for authentic photographs from the Botswana trip itself—I bring them to you on behalf of Kitty Fassett—right after the guest essay that now follows. Meanwhile, as for the photographs embedded in the essay itself, I have carefully selected them topically from the public domain) ๐ŸŽฅ
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Okay, let's stop all this monkey business, and give us the guest essay. Like, right now!

Easy there, now... ๐Ÿ˜‚

A Day In Botswana (by Kitty Fassett) ๐Ÿˆ

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1. Full Of Sound And Fury, Signifying... Something!

It started with a roar and a clatter, followed by the loud thud of a falling tree limb brought down by a family of baboons acting out their morning exuberance, as they galloped across the cabin roof, lunging from there to the nearest tree and then bounding tree-to-tree until they reached their designated food source ๐ŸŸ ๐Ÿ”

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2. I Give Him You, The Noblest That Survives

It was lucky that we hadn’t been under the tree limb as it came crashing down. As it was, we already had plenty of thrills ahead of us as we climbed into the Land Rover that would bring us in close proximity to dangerous animals in the Okavango Delta. As home to "the big five"—elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion, and leopard—this swampy inland sanctuary within the Kalahari Desert provides a surrealistic backdrop to the lives of animals who act out the daily drama of eating or being eaten.

The scenery conjures up an image of life and death, with the black gnarled skeletons of dead acacia trees silhouetted against the sky and surrounded by wild sage and tall yellow grasses that provide perfect camouflage for things that creep and crawl ๐Ÿ›

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3. Nay, 'tis Strange, 'tis Very Strange

Scattered every few feet or so throughout the alternately wet or drought-ridden terrain, are mounds rising like mountains, some as much as ten feet tall, providing sustenance for the strange elusive creature called an “aardvark,” which makes itself scarce as it sticks its long nose into the private dwellings of termites ๐Ÿœ

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4. Fierce To Their Skill, And To Their Fierceness Valiant 

We never saw an aardvark, but we did see plenty of elephants, Botswana being the elephant capital of the world. These giant vegetarians roam in peaceful family groups, foraging for food, grabbing clumps of grass in their trunks, shaking out the dirt before shoveling the grass into their mouths. Competing in numbers with the elephants are herds of Cape buffalo ๐Ÿ—

Considered the most dangerous of African mammals, these are the Darth Vaders of the animal kingdom, black and scary and uniformly endowed with wickedly curved horns. The herd that we came upon was clumped together under a sycamore fig tree, managing to stay cool in the shade.

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5. Impatient Of His Fit, Breaks Like A Fire

The buffalo earns its bad reputation by its readiness to charge at anything that moves (a bovine tendency, I gather, if you consider the spectacle of bullfighting and the way a bull will charge at a red flag waved by a matador.) As we approached this particular herd, the alpha males of the group stood staring at us, sizing us up, I suppose, but with a fortunate preference for the cool of the shade over the sport of chasing us down ๐ŸŠ

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6. Prosper Our Colors In This Dangerous Fight!

Second only to the buffalo, the most dangerous animal—and in fact the one with a greater killing record—is the ridiculous-looking tub of lard known as a “hippopotamus.” Don’t be fooled by the fact that the hippo will stay submerged in a swamp all day, pushing up its nose now and then to take in air with a loud snort.

Most of the time you may not know it’s there, but it knows where you are, and if you start getting on its nerves, it will let you know by raising its head above the water level and opening his mouth in a wide yawn to show you its teeth. Most of these are molars used for grinding up the green grass, called “hippo grass” that grows on the edges of marshes, but towards the front of its mouth are incisors that serve no purpose other than biting its enemies ๐Ÿ‰

If you see a hippo opening its mouth at you, take it seriously and get out as fast as you can, since the hippo’s yawn is a sign of undisguised hostility, and you don’t want to find out how fast it can run to catch you and bite you in half.

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7. The Prey Wherein By Nature They Delight

Rhinos are scary creatures, too, but much less numerous due to poachers that kill them for the horn that is later ground up to make a powder that’s supposed to act like Viagra. We felt lucky to see a single black rhino that ignored us as it went about its business of eating the ubiquitous grass. One can hope that the rhino population can be once more on the increase, as activists in the area bring them in by plane from less protected areas, keeping them corralled until they’re ready to be released into the wild.

All the above-mentioned are herbivores. Not so the big cats that need to stalk their food, catching it in a surprise attack before it scurries. The cats are nicely disguised within the grassy plain, the lion’s yellow coloring blending in with the yellow grass, and the spots on the cheetah or leopard allowing it to remain hidden in the mottled light and shadow within the more jungly areas ๐Ÿฏ

Leopards are elusive and we had to search far and wide before finding one sleeping on a high-up tree branch, whereas the single cheetah that we saw was just hanging out in the shade of a bush, opening an eye to view us with boredom before yawning, rolling over, and going back to sleep.

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8. Stood Challenger On Mount Of All The Age

Cats are known for sleeping a lot, although the pride of nine lions that we saw was gearing up for a prowl, hoping to land something on the hoof in a surprise attack. As we arrived fully exposed in a wide-open Land Rover to ogle these beasts in the privacy of their home, I couldn’t help but wonder why a hungry lion wouldn’t lunge for the nearest prey at hand—namely us, when we are so easily accessible?

The lion has no need to outrun an impala or a zebra, when the buffet is right before its very eyes in the form of a group of khaki-clad tourists with cameras and binoculars. The fact that the lions don’t lunge at us makes me wonder if perhaps they need the challenge of a chase to stimulate their appetite rather than going after something so boring and predictable ๐Ÿ‘’

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9. Or You Survive When I In Earth Am Rotten

The best cat food consists of the many varieties of antelope such as impala, springbok, lechwe, and wildebeest, as well as zebras, warthogs, and baboons. Less so giraffes, because they’re too big and too top heavy. But the antelopes roam everywhere to be eaten not only by the big cats, but by hyenas and wild dogs as well.

As to determining who eats who, it often boils down to numbers. A lion can take out a hyena, but a pack of five or more hyenas can take out a lion. Hyenas have a bad reputation, made worse by the movie The Lion King, and yet the sweetest sight I saw was a mother hyena nursing her cubs. It was a scene of maternal bliss, the hyena a Madonna of the animal world ๐Ÿ’‘

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10. Like A Wild Bird Being Tamed With Too Much Handling

I haven’t gotten around to mentioning the birds, which abound in hundreds of different varieties. Some can be seen swooping down for fish, while avoiding the jaws of the crocodiles as well as those of the mammal population, managing to avoid being eaten because they can fly ๐Ÿฅ

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11. And Vice Sometimes By Action Dignified

The birds would need more time to focus on them, but by the time we retired for the evening, we’d had a full enough day. And yet the drama wasn’t over. I was barely dozing off when I heard a ruckus much like the rude awakening of the morning.

The baboons were at it again, yelling their heads off and waking up the entire camp, with the camp manager telling us the next morning that the yelling was a warning to the other baboons about a predator. We’d had a lion at the door as I put a pillow over my head and went back to sleep ๐Ÿ˜ด

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Will In The End Conclude The Matter So

Oops… So the aardvark pic that had appeared earlier, I now realize—the guest essay having concluded above—was actually one of America’s beloved and adorable aardvark: Arthur! Based on deep research that I’ve subsequently conducted, aardvarks are evidently not known to be bespectacled in the wild ๐Ÿ‘“

Hmm… Who would have thought. Anyhow, to set matters right, I present to you above a somewhat less endearing aardvark.

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Or What Strong Hand Can Hold His Swift Foot Back?

Goodness, I nearly forgot to make good on a promise: Authentic photographs from the Botswana trip itself! So here they are. Again, I bring them to you courtesy of our guest writer, the inimitable Kitty Fassett. And yes—if only to confirm your foregone conclusion—I did not write this essay. I couldn’t have ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

Hey you, I heard that loud and clear (“Akram, you city slicker, we were dead sure anyway that you couldn’t have been roughing it in the jungles of Botswana. Like, your idea of roughing it is more like wearing a shirt with a starched collar!”) ๐Ÿ‘”

Sigh, I sure got a bunch of flattering readers. Your words are a balm for the hurting mind ๐Ÿ˜ณ

Picture Postcards (From) Botswana! ๐ŸŽซ

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Mom Elephant With Adorable Baby

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Fierce Jaws (Careful Now!)

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And spread the waters of the Nile on every golden scale
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws.
~ Lewis Carroll
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Dang, If Looks Could Kill...

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I Need My Morning Coffee. Now!

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Hey, You Talking To Me?

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Imagine One Of Us Giraffes Getting A Sore Throat...

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Ahh... Master Of All I Survey 


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Yo, I Am Grumpy (So What Are You Gonna' Do About It?)


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My Name Is Sergeant. And Yes, I'm Boss Around Here! 


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Hey, Didn't You Read That Sign?! "No Paparazzis Allowed." 


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Motherhood And Apple Pie (The Hyena Version)


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The Only Way To Stop Me From Charging Is To Take Away My Visa Card


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I Sure Could Use A Snickers Candy Bar 


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Hey, Me First (Aaa... Just Toss That Snickers Bar Right In)!


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Yo! Cheetahs, Too, Need A Siesta Or Two


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Hmm… That sure doesn’t look like prime-time jungle in Botswana, judging by all the concrete and that high-tech vehicle in the pic! (Yep, now that was my cue that the splendid pics provided by our guest author—Kitty Fassett—have now come to an end. That’s why I was filling in: Remember what I said elsewhere, all I do around here is “staple and glue”!)  ๐Ÿ“Ž ๐Ÿ“จ ๐Ÿ”–17 b
Now that is one magical-looking flower specimen that I just had to drag in, as we’re witness it unfold and announce its existence to the world. Parting thought, and if you could please turn your attention to the pic below: How many monkeys—look, we might as well throw some monkeys in there while we’re wrapping up an essay which took in the plains and jungles of Botswana—would it take to write the complete plays of William Shakespeare?15 b

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Gift of Three Poems from a Reader

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A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.
~ Oscar Wilde (Irish poet and playwright extraordinaire)
LISP programmers know the value of everything and the cost of nothing.
~ Alan Perlis (American computer scientist, and the first winner of the Turing Award)
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. So it is with value: It's all too easy to miss seeing the worth in a thing or things, even more so when it comes to grasping the worth get compounded when seemingly unrelated things are seen in the context of their interdependence. So let's shed some cynicism and see how far it'll take us ๐Ÿš—

First, though, let us all rejoice in the knowledge that we have been given the lovely gift of three poems by a reader of Programming Digressions; plus, needless to say, you all needed a break from my ramblings anyway, didn’t you? So there you go, your wish has been granted and your dreams—for now anyway and until my next rambling-filled essay—have been realized ๐ŸŽก

Before I introduce our benefactor who has given us this gift, allow me to answer a question which, dare I say—judging at least by the knotted brows on your forehead—is percolating right now in the nooks and crannies of the minds of many: Will this particular essay make me a better programmer, a better technologist, the author of beautiful code? ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

The brief answer is: It depends.

For a slightly more elaborate answer, check the framed pic below…
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Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.
~ Edsger W. Dijkstra (Dutch systems scientist, programmer, software engineer, science essayist)
— Reader: “Wait a second, Akram, what is that book (Algorithms, Languages, Automata, And Compilers: A Practical Approach) doing in the pic above? And are those tape flags you got plastered along the right-hand side edge of its pages?"
— Akram: "Yep, here’s the deal: Standing upright next to another fine book, that one all about poetry (The New Oxford Book of English Verse) is Exhibit A in my argument to demonstrate that it is unwise to circumscribe the branches of knowledge into a knotted ball."
— Reader: “There you go again, Explaining metaphysics to the nation. I wish you would explain your Explanation! And yes, that's straight from Lord Byron's Don Juan: Dedication. So don’t you be fooling us now, Mister."
— Akram: “Hey, hey, hey, easy now. What’s up with (the appearance of Algorithms, Languages, Automata, And Compilers: A Practical Approach in) Exhibit A is simply this: A memorable quote which can be found in its pages—one that fits the hand like a glove when it comes to our essay's themeleft quite an impression on me when I read it a several years ago…"
— Reader: “And what might that quote be, Mister smarty-pants?"
— Akram: “Yo, what’s the deal about this smarty-pants? Anyhow, glad you asked. That quote helped tie several loose threads for me, especially as it pertains to the theme—that it is unwise to circumscribe the branches of knowledge into a knotted ball—of this essay. It goes like this: Studying the theory of computing will not make you a better coder in a matter of a couple of weeks, but understanding the foundations of computer science will certainly increase your problem-solving and programming abilities."
— Reader: “Great, now everything is clear as mud. And the only knotted ball—turning the tables on you by using your own metaphor, ha!—that comes to mind is the anti-pattern, for crying out loud, and which we all know and dread as The Big Ball of Mud, so there!"
— Akram: “Gulp, this reader knows her stuff; no pulling wool over her eyes."
— Reader: “What else you got for me, Akram? And hey, by the way, what are those three outlandish balloons in the pic at the top—the ivory unicorn, the Tigger-like Tiger, and the Winnie the Pooh-like bear—floating around for? Is this symbolism or something? Dang, Akram, you trying to pull wool over our eyes again?" 
— Akram: “No, no, no, nothing of that sort. Symbolism notwithstanding, all I'm trying to do with those three fanciful balloons is to draw your attention, a tad subliminally, I must confess, to the three splendid points around which this essay revolves, locked in geosynchronous orbit."
— Reader: “Geosynchronous, what?!"
— Akram: “Tell you what, for the sake of your sanity and mine, let’s postpone our discussion on that topic—along with the magnificent contribution by Arthur C Clarke in this area—to a later time, shall we?"
— Reader: “Sounds good to me. Plus, can we, like, get on with the essay proper?" 
— Akram: “But of course, my lips are sealed from here on. Get ready for a treat to stellar poetry."


With A Drum Roll, Introducing The Author!

With that, let’s introduce our benefactor, the giver of this gift: Kitty Fassett, a retired pianist and intellectual extraordinaire—her distinguished background and training in the art of music (Vassar College, and the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music) are important aspects of her brilliant career. She has a finely-developed ear for the well-turned sentence, and who has given me much encouragement and extensive feedback on (drafts of) the essays that you read around here ๐ŸŽช

Yep, my essays are so much the better for her feedback! ๐ŸŽฏ

(As a matter of fact, some of you may remember another contribution by Kitty—the oh-so charming essay entitled Pop’s War: My Father, the CIA, and the Green Death—grace our blog about a year ago. Word to the wise: don't miss it!).

Oh, and since we touched on the subject of flight—remember those beguiling and blustery balloons, geosynchronous orbits, and stuff like that—it is only fitting that the very first poem by Kitty be all about space travel ๐Ÿ

Intrigued? (I am, for sure). Let’s get right to it!3 b

A Warning To Space Travelers ๐Ÿš€

by Kitty Fassett

Travel intergalactically
at your own risk.
The management assumes
no responsibility
in case you fall
into a
black hole
having foolishly
passed its pallid perimeter
past the point of no return,
lured by the personal magnetism
of the beast at the bottom,
finding yourself spaghettified
and stranded in darkness

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The Cat Lady* ๐Ÿˆ

By Kitty Fassett

What is it about her
that makes her attractive
to cats bearing bounteous tributes
of rats
and snakes
and on special occasions
a rare tropical bird
which they drop on her doorstep
all dead on arrival
after a nocturnal orgy of prowling
observed in a dissonance
of yowling polyphony
outside her bedroom

* Now for something, as follows, on what inspired Kitty to write this poem, by way of personal communication: "The cat poem was inspired by my years in Puerto Rico, where we had always a multitude of cats—as many as 13 at a given time. They left us presents on our doorstep almost every morning: usually dead rats, because we had a lot of those nesting in the surrounding coconut palms until we had them knocked down."

Speaking of Puerto Rico, anyone remember Castillo de San Cristobal? ๐Ÿ„
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A Moon Poem ๐ŸŒ›

by Kitty Fassett

Before jumping with joy
in a ritual of adoration
remember that the moon
is crazy.
After beaming beguilingly
she retreats darkly betraying
a Byronic disposition
towards despondency
and though people say be patient
she’s just going through a phase
I say phooey she’s a phony,
just a glorified goddess
possessed pathologically
with a polarized

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Sir Rider Haggard,
Was completely staggered
When his bride-to-be
Announced, "I AM SHE!"

~ W. H. Auden
And there you have it, poetic loveliness writ large by way of three splendid poems from a reader like you. Tag, it’s your turn now (Send in your contributions to me—prose, poems, whatever—and I'll make sure they get fair treatment on their way to getting posted right here in our digs!) ๐Ÿƒ

These three poems, I must confess, and each in its own way, remind me a lot of the poetry of W. H. Auden, a sample of which, incidentally—in case anyone was awake enough—appeared recently in an essay by yours truly on the subject of my recent adventures with the practice of the Go programming language. ๐Ÿ˜ด

Adios until next time!2 b