Daniel Dockery's Portfolio

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Work in progress

April 11th, 2011

This site is intended to be a portfolio of past and on-going work as a demonstration of capabilities and various areas of specialization. As time goes on, more archival material will be added to flesh out other areas—at present, for instance, there is little here to demonstrate the programming and writing topics—and new material will be posted as it is completed.

My availability for work in any of these fields will always be indicated in the tab in the sidebar; if you are interested in contracting me for work in an available topic, please feel free to write via the contact form to discuss it and make inquiries.

—Daniel

Machado, “O delírio”

May 18th, 2012

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Memorias Posthumas de Braz Cubas (1881), cap. 7, “O delírio” (“Delerium”):

[…] espera-te a voluptuosidade do nada.

Quando esta palavra ecoou, como um trovão, naquele imenso vale, afigurou-se-me que era o último som que chegava a meus ouvidos; pareceu-me sentir a decomposição súbita do mim mesmo. Então, encarei-a com olhos súplices, e pedi mais alguns anos.

—Pobre minuto! [Natureza] exclamou. Para que queres tu mais alguns instantes de vida? Para devorar e seres devorado depois? Não estás farto do espectáculo e da luta? Conheces de sobejo tudo o que eu te deparei menos torpe ou menos aflictivo: o alvor do dia, a melancolia da tarde, a quietação da noite, os aspectos da terra, o sono, enfim, o maior benefício das minhas mãos. Que mais queres tu, sublime idiota?

Translation:

[…] the voluptuousness of nothingness awaits you.

When that word echoed like thunder in that immense vale, it seemed to me it would be the last sound I’d ever hear; I seemed to sense the sudden decomposition of my self. Then I faced her with pleading eyes, and I asked for a few more years.

[Another] mingy minute! [Nature] exclaimed. For what do you want a few more moments of life? To devour and be devoured later? Aren’t you sick of the spectacle and the struggle? You know all too well all that which I have provided for you of the least foul or least painful: the dawn of the day, the melancholy of the evening, the stillness of the night, the ways of the land, sleep, ultimately the greatest blessing from my hands. What more do you want, you consummate moron?

Rilke, “Auferweckung des Lazarus”

March 30th, 2012

The poem (January, 1913):

Also, das tat not für den und den,
weil sie Zeichen brauchten, welche schrieen.
Doch er träumte, Marthen und Marieen
müßte es genügen, einzusehn,
daß er könne. Aber keiner glaubte,
alle sprachen: Herr, was kommst du nun?
Und da ging er hin, das Unerlaubte
an der ruhigen Natur zu tun.
Zürnender. Die Augen fast geschlossen,
fragte er sie nach dem Grab. Er litt.
Ihnen schien es, seine Tränen flossen,
und sie drängten voller Neugier mit.
Noch im Gehen war ihm ungeheuer,
ein entsetzlich spielender Versuch,
aber plötzlich brach ein hohes Feuer
in ihm aus, ein solcher Widerspruch
gegen alle ihre Unterschiede,
ihr Gestorben-, ihr Lebendigsein,
daß er Feindschaft war in jedem Gliede,
als er heiser angab: Hebt den Stein!
Eine Stimme rief, daß er schon stinke,
(denn er lag den vierten Tag)—doch Er
stand gestrafft, ganz voll von jenem Winke,
welcher stieg in ihm und schwer, sehr schwer
ihm die Hand hob—(niemals hob sich eine
langsamer als diese Hand und mehr)
bis sie dastand, scheinend in der Luft;
und dort oben zog sie sich zur Kralle:
denn ihn graute jetzt, es möchten alle
Toten durch die angesaugte Gruft
wiederkommen, wo es sich herauf
raffte, larvig, aus der graden Lage—
doch dann stand nur Eines schief im Tage,
und man sah: das ungenaue vage
Leben nahm es wieder mit in Kauf.

Translation, “The Resurrection of Lazarus”:

Thus was it necessary for the common man,
who needed unsubtle, screaming signs.
Yet for Martha and Mary, he dreamed,
it would suffice them to see
that he could. But not for these;
they all asked: Lord, why come now?
And therefore he went, to work
the forbidden upon tranquil nature.
Angrily. With eyes mostly shut,
he asked them of the grave. He suffered.
To them, his tears seemed to flow,
and they thronged curiously around.
Even as they went, it was monstrous
to him, a horrible, pointless test,
but suddenly a great fire arose
within him, such a contradiction
against all their distinctions,
their being dead, their being alive,
that he was hostility in every limb
when hoarsely, he instructed: lift the stone!
Someone called out that he’d be stinking—
he’d been entombed four days—but He
stood tensed, suffused with the gesture
which rose in him and heavily, so heavily
raised his hand (never has raised
a hand more slowly than this)
until it stood there, shining in the air,
and hovering, clenched into a fist:
for the idea terrified him now, that
all the dead might wish to return
through the pull of the open tomb
where the larval corpse had gathered up
itself from the death posture—
but then stood only One slumped in the day,
and one saw: vague, uncertain
life received it back without complaint.

Ex Bibliotheca, pt. II: A Proof of Concept

March 5th, 2012

Not long ago, in an earlier post, I wrote about Borges’ “Library of Babel” and some of the mappings that can be applied or removed to reveal it as pure number. In Borges, the mapping applied is textual so that the numbers take on the appearance of the written word, manifested as books, but thinking of an earlier experiment, the so-called Transcendental (Number) Études, where a sequence of digits was turned into a song, I began considering the idea of the Library manifested as music.

It occurred to me that reversing the Borges mapping, or a longer one supporting whichever alphabet or map one chooses instead of the limited one of twenty-two letters, any arbitrary text could be turned into a number, and that number then turned into a melodic line. As a proof of concept, I mentioned this and put out a request for a sample text on Tumblr, to which Mister Chu replied with this fragment:

A bag is packed. The man being left tries to save himself by allowing his life to tumble across his lips. All of his stories fall out, irrelevancies, laundry lists and places to park on the Southside of Chicago. This is everything he thinks, so little.

He subsequently posted the full text here. From that, I produced a number (using a 29-member mapping, the twenty-six letters of the Roman alphabet, the space, period and comma), and converted that into the following melody. The tempo, pacing, accompaniment and performance are, as before, at will, while the melodic line itself is an exact mapping from the number.

Ex Bibliotheca

February 21st, 2012

On Tumblr, earlier, I saw this:

Here is a site that offers digital renderings of some of the books in the unimaginably vast universe of information (and un-formation) described in Jorge Luis Borges’ story the Library of Babel

Explore, but remember that the possibility of of discovering your Vindication within the Universal Library “can be computed as zero.”

An interesting idea, but given Borges’ kabbalistic leanings, his remark that there is no form of capital lettering, no digits, and his insistence on the twenty-two letters and their fixed, symmetrical forms, it is most likely that he meant for the Library’s volumes to be expressed in the block Hebrew script, which he has admired in other places, though any language might be encyphered in that alphabet in the Library’s vast holdings, such as his “Samoyed-Lithuanian dialect of Guarani, with classical Arabic inflections” (“un dialecto samoyedo-lituano del guaraní, con inflexiones de árabe clásico“) mentioned in the story.

Other possibilities do present themselves, however, for clues suggest the language of the southern hemisphere of Tlön. How so? In “The Library of Babel”, Borges gives us explicit “titles” for three volumes: “trueno peinado“, “el calambre de yeso” and “axaxaxas mlö“. The first could be the “Combed Thunder”, the second “The Plaster Cramp”, but what of the third? If one were to read “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius“, from the same 1944 collection (Ficciones [Spanish, English]) in which “The Library of Babel” appeared, one would encounter a passage reading, “Surgió la luna sobre el río se dice hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö“, “‘The moon rose over the river’ would be said hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö.” In the additional text, he indicates all words are verbs in that language, and that “axaxaxas” would mean something resembling “flowing like a river”, while “mlö” would be “shining (or perhaps rising) like the moon”. Translate it however we will, there remains the point that at least one book in the Library is titled by one of the Tlönistas. Or by coincidence would appear to be.

This provides much of a proposed alphabet: in addition to the three titles, Borges also wrote that the combination of letters “dhcmrlchtdj” would appear in the Library and that there is one volume that consists of endlessly repeated “mcv”s. Taken together, sorted alphabetically with duplicate letters removed, this leaves us with 20 or perhaps 21 letters: a, b, c, d, e, h, i, j, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, x, y—and, as he does distinguish it, possibly ö. The alphabet in use on the above linked site adds f, g and q but omits the u needed for “trueno” and doesn’t distinguish the ö from o. If we accept that the line from the story of Tlön is of the same language or alphabet, as at least the title seems to be, then we also see evidence of the f and g in use. If we adapt those, but hesitantly combine the o and ö, we will have another set of twenty-two letters.

It likely doesn’t matter:

Un número n de lenguajes posibles usa el mismo vocabulario; en algunos, el símbolo biblioteca admite la correcta definición ubicuo y perdurable sistema de galerías hexagonales, pero biblioteca es pan o pirámide o cualquier otra cosa, y las siete palabras que la definen tienen otro valor. Tú, que me lees, ¿estás seguro de entender mi lenguaje? (Borges, “La biblioteca de Babel”)

An n number of possible languages use the same vocabulary: in some, the symbol “library” admits the correct definition: “an enduring, ubiquitous system of hexagonal galleries”, but “library” is “bread” or “pyramid” or anything else [in others], and the seven words that define it have other meanings. You who are reading me, are you certain you understand my language?

Many years ago (2003) my fascination with the idea of this library, from Kurd Laßwitz’s much earlier story (“Die Universalbibliothek“, 1904) on through Borges’ (whose 1941 variant of the tale I prefer by far) and similar themes (e.g., Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God“, 1954), etc., had me working out the elaborate mathematics of the whole and being in awe at the staggering numbers. For instance, given that Borges explicitly defined the volumes of the library as containing 410 pages, each page containing 40 rows of text with 80 characters per line (including punctuation and spaces), defined there to be exactly 25 possible characters, and said that the library contained exhaustively everything it is possible to express with them and that no two books were identical, we can calculate that the library must have exactly 25^(80*40*410), or 25 to the 1,312,000th power volumes. To put that in perspective, that is 1.956 x 10^1834097 books, a number 1,834,098 digits long. If you were to write out five digits a second, it would take you more than four days of non-stop writing just to transcribe the whole number.

One of the most enchanting things about the library is, of course, that in its seemingly endless volumes you may find everything that it is possible to write down—including your own life story (your “vindication”), perhaps spanning multiple volumes in elaborate detail, as well as countless millions of erroneous copies whether differing by a single letter or missing entire events or with events that end otherwise than reality’s version, the answer to every mystery or riddle that it’s possible to answer, truly everything. The damning part is that these volumes can be scattered anywhere throughout the universal library and your chance of finding the one you seek is only 1 in 25^1312000, which is so incredibly small it is for all practical senses zero. Should you by luck find one good volume of a multivolume set, you have again those vast odds against your ever finding the next.

Yet perhaps the most damning, or tantalizing, aspect of it all is that you could calculate any or all of these volumes and discern the universal order of the whole by a task no more arduous than counting by ones.

In Tlön, etc., Borges mentioned in passing various numerical bases, touching on the base 12 system (duodecimal) of one of the Tlönistas and the base 60 system (sexagesimal) of ancient Sumeria and Babylon (and in its way even today in our system of minutes and seconds). This is the essential clue. While base 10 (decimal) seems to have conquered all others today, other bases have been in use elsewhere: the now infamous Mayan calendar system, for instance, uses base 20; and in computing, we sometimes use base 16 (hexadecimal), base 8 (octal) or at the lowest possible level base 2 (binary). We can conceive of the Library as being expressed in base 25 (quinquevigesimal) notation, but instead of mixed case, such as with base 16 (where the “digits” are 0 through 9, then A through F, such that the decimal number 190 is expressed as BE in hexadecimal), we can define our 25 digits to be the twenty-five symbols set out by Borges, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, the comma, the period and the space. Each volume in the library then is merely a number, and the order of their seemingly entropic arrangement is numerical. Which is also suggested in the story when he writes how some have asserted that while the books are written in the “natural symbols” of written language, any appearance of meaning is coincidental, a side effect of using those symbols. To demonstrate, we can see the same thing in hexadecimal, such as above when I pointed out that the number 190 is “BE” which could be interpreted as an English verb; or the number 57,005 is DEAD in hexadecimal, again a “word” in appearance though a number in intent, like the dreadful notion of DECAF, which represents the number 912,559. Treating the volumes as natural numbers also explains the Library’s first axiom, that it exists “ab æterno“, just as the numbers.

An example, to demonstrate. If we take the numerical order of the characters to be that in which Borges gave them in his text—to wit, “the space, the period, the comma, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet”—and set them, in the natural arrangement, as being equal to our base 10 values of 0 through 24, then our first book, corresponding to 0 would be an entirely blank volume. The second, corresponding to 1, would be entirely blank but for a single final period. The next would be the same, but with a comma. Then an “a”, a “b” and so on for the first twenty-five books, one for each symbol. The twenty-sixth would be blank but for the last two symbols which would be a period followed by another space. The sequence would continue, almost forever. In the 9,752nd volume we’d find it blank but for the last letters “mm.”; the next would be “mm,”; the next, “mma” then “mmb” and so on again. At the end of the 19,370,996,558th volume, we would find “abula‘fia”, the name of the 13th century kabbalist renowned for his combinatorial ability. The numbers have grown enormous by the time we even get beyond single sentences. And it continues, letter combining with letter, line with line, page with page, growing and growing, as the early kabbalist text, the Sefer Yetzirah, has it (IV:16, dealing with permutations):

מכאן ואילך צא וחשוב מה שאין הפה יכול לדבר ואין האוזן יכולה לשמוע׃


“From here on go out and calculate that which the mouth cannot speak and the ear cannot hear.”

Unfortunately, even with the fastest computing systems in operation today, our sun would burn out before we could generate a fraction of the library, which is moot anyway since with even the best possible compression available today, the library would require more storage space than currently exists or will exist for likely ages to come, if ever. The most recent figures I’ve seen suggest that as of 2011, the global data storage demands for all digital media of any kind covers “only” about 940 exabytes (for those of you playing along at home, that’s roughly 985,661,440 terabytes), with that number essentially doubling every two years—and with it generally pushing the limits of the amount of storage capacity we actually have available globally. Another way to look at data amounts, if every one of the 6,995,685,817 people of the current estimated world population had a full terabyte of data, the total would be roughly 6.5 zettabytes, a vast number far, far beyond current global capacity (there are 1024 exabytes in a zettabyte). At the expected rate of growth, it should take us almost six years to reach that capacity. Yet a complete digital copy of the Library of Babel, at ideal, maximum compression, would require something to the effect of 4.24562416107 x 10^1,834,075 yottabytes—where a single yottabyte is 1024 zettabytes or 1,125,899,906,842,624 gigabytes! At that projected growth rate, it should take a measly 12 million years for us to reach that capacity.

For a countering thought, Seth Lloyd, in an article (“Computational Capacity of the Universe”) in the science journal Physical Review Letters, in 2002, asserted that the total information capacity of the observable universe is only 10^92: the capacity necessary for the complete Library is over 10^1,834,099. Borges equated the Library with the Universe, yet it seems the Library is greater in scope. By far.

So it seems very possible that while the mind can conceive of the Library, can understand it, can know how to create it, its actual creation is beyond the scope not just of human ability but also beyond the scope of universal capacity, beyond the time scale of our solar system. We have to be satisfied with only knowing that these things “exist” in some abstract sense, our vindication, the answer to every pressing problem, to every question that’s ever passed our mind or anyone’s, every great novel (and every awful one!), even this post I’m writing now, exist, waiting for someone to discover them, yet outside the possibility of truly being able to search or find them in any clear or orderly fashion.

Perhaps we should, after the fashion of the site at the beginning, pick up our own “forbidden dice cup”…

“A blasphemous sect suggested that” [rather than searching for meaningful volumes] “all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an improbable gift of chance, these canonical books.” […] “The sect disappeared, but in my childhood I have seen old men who, for long periods of time, would hide in the latrines with some metal discs in a forbidden dice cup and feebly mimic the divine disorder.”

Rilke, “Der Nachbar”

February 2nd, 2012

The poem, from Das Buch der Bilder:

Fremde Geige, gehst du mir nach?
In wieviel fernen Städten schon sprach
deine einsame Nacht zu meiner?
Spielen dich hunderte? Spielt dich einer?

Gibt es in allen grossen Städten
solche, die sich ohne dich
schon in den Flüssen verloren hätten?
Und warum trifft es immer mich?

Warum bin ich immer der Nachbar derer,
die dich bange zwingen zu singen
und zu sagen: Das Leben ist schwerer
als die Schwere von allen Dingen.

The translation, “The Neighbor”:

Strange violin, are you following me?
Already, in how many distant cities
has your lonely night spoken to mine?
Are hundreds playing you? Only one?

Are there such men in all great cities,
who without you would already
have lost themselves in the rivers?
And why does it always hit me?

Why am I always the neighbor
of those who anxiously force you
to sing and to say: Life is harder
than the heaviness of all things.

The non-Mayan “Mayan” Prophecy

December 26th, 2011
The Mayan Prophecy

The most annoying thing about the “Mayan Prophecy” is that it isn’t Mayan. It’s a “prophecy” made by moderns about the Mayans, made by people who either misunderstand or willfully misrepresent their numerical and calendrical system. Some more reasonably minded folk have suggested the Dec 21st, 2012 date is nothing more than a Mayan equivalent to our own modern Y2K bug of a decade ago, but in reality it’s not even that. The Mayan long count calendar is perfectly capable as it stands of representing another 2,365 and a half years before it runs out of digits and has to reset the way our digital calendars rolled over from 99 to 00 without a column to indicate the century.

To understand what the date does represent, it’s first necessary to gain a very basic understanding of how the long count calendar (used by much of Mesoamerica and not just the Maya) notates dates. First, the Mayan numbers were written in a base-20 not in the base-10 number system we know in most of the western world today). That is, whereas with our numbers each column of digits indicates a number from 0 to 9 before rolling over into the next column to its left, a Mayan number has symbols from 0 to 19. A further complexity is that in their calendrical system, the second column from the bottom (their dates are written vertically) only goes from 0 to 17, then the remaining three columns return to the 0 to 19 count (this allowed a full run of the second and first row to indicate 360 days, the equivalent to their year). In most modern transcriptions of the dates, we use a simple notation of 0.0.0.0.0 where the leftmost position correlates to the one traditionally on top and the right to the bottom. So we have a possible range of 0 days (0.0.0.0.0) to 2,879,999 days, or about 7,885 years (19.19.19.17.19).

All December 21, 2012 corresponds to is the date 13.0.0.0.0, a period of 1,872,000 days, 5,125 years, since what the Maya held to be the date of “creation” of the current cycle in 3114 BCE, which is simply the last time they indicated the date to be 13.0.0.0.0 (which leads to one of the speculations that the topmost rung of the calendar may only go from 0 to 13 in the same way that the second rung only goes from 0 to 17 rather than the full 0 to 19).

This whole “prophecy” mess got started with the discovery of what’s now known as the Bernal tablet during some roadwork back in the 1960s. It’s a large Mayan stele which originally held a great deal of text, including a passage identifying 13.0.0.0.0, the Dec 21st, 2012 date. However, the tablet is badly damaged with missing portions and more than a few passages on the surviving parts eroded or otherwise illegible including the part about just what it is that’s supposed to take place on that date. There remain only some vague remarks about the little known Mayan god “Bolon Yokte”, apparently associated in some way with “creation”, however just what his association is with the date is obliterated from the tablet. While you can find many of the 2012-world-ending sort today claiming it says Bolon Yokte will “descend from the sky” or whatever (which is anyone’s guess as to what that supposedly means), the archaeologist Bernal, who did the original translation, made it explicitly clear that the passage was speculation on his part and not at all visible on the tablet. It is just as reasonable, perhaps more so, to assume a reference to a god of creation is only in observation of the calendrical date being the same as that assigned to the original “creation” myth.

Given that other Mayan inscriptions list dates far in the future of 2012, it’s very obvious that they themselves didn’t believe 2012 would be an apocalyptic end of the world. For instance, an inscription to commemorate the (future) anniversary of the 80th calendar round of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal’s coming to the throne projects to a date of October 21st, 4772 c.e. And despite the typical representation of long count dates as having only five parts, as detailed above, there are texts that add several more. The stele known as Quiringua F shows 9.16.10.0.0.1 and subtracts a “distance date” of 1.8.13.0.9.16.10.0.0 producing a final date over 90 million years in the past. On stele D from the same site, there’s a date of 9.16.15.0.0.7 that adds a distance date of 6.8.13.0.9.16.15.0.0 which would be more than 400 million years in the future from the time the stele was erected (circa February, 766 c.e.). Rather dwarfs 2012, doesn’t it?

As for the association of the Mayan god to the date, if one considers comparative religion in general and not just a Mayan focus, the association of deities or supernatural entities generally, to calendrical cycles isn’t at all unusual or even overly significant. The Hindu system of yugas is particularly similar, citing the world to currently be in the Kali yuga (कलियुग), which they say began 3102 b.c.—only 12 years after the beginning of the current Mayan cycle. Curiously, they indicate the Kali yuga as the 4th cycle, while the Mayan text, the Popol Vuh, claims the current cycle is also the 4th. But don’t read too much into it: these kinds of coincidences happen all the time if you read broadly enough in comparative studies.

In the end, the point is simply this: there is no prophecy by the Mayans that the world or anything else—other than a calendrical cycle!—ends in 2012.

Bacovia, “Dimineaţă”

November 3rd, 2011

The poem, from Scîntei galbene (1926):

O cafea neagră… şi-o ploaie de gheaţă,
Când spiritul mai arde culori în odaie—
O privire pe-o carte, pe straie,
Şi pasul mă îndrumă în dimineaţă.

Cum frigul tremurând ca o veste,
Tot plange de-al meu şi de-al tau…
Tot mai mult am rămas cu ce este,
Şi plouă cu-o părere de rău.

Am uitat dacă merg… încă tot mai iubesc…
Am ajuns la timp, ocup şi un loc.
Dar gândul apasă cu greul său bloc…
E numai vedere… nu mai pot să vorbesc…

Translation, “Morning” from Yellow Sparks:

A black coffee… and a hail of ice,
when the spirit burns more color in the room—
a glance at a book, at clothes,
then my steps lead me out in the morning.

When the cold, trembling from the news,
so mourns over what’s mine and what’s yours…
I am increasingly stuck with what’s left,
and it’s raining regret.

I’ve forgotten where I’m going… I’m still in love…
I’ve arrived in time, with a place to sit.
But the thought hits me like a brick…
There is only the vision… I can no longer speak.

Daniel Dockery's Portfolio

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