Working on the bibliography of Ephraim Graecus

This is a bit of a computer-y post, so perhaps will be of interest to few.

A couple of days ago I started with a list of PDFs of Greek works of Ephraem Graecus from here, and I opened it up in Notepad++ and global search and replaced on it.  So this:

became this, by changing <li> to <hr>\r\nGreek Title:

A similar process of changes added in blank fields, and became this:

Then it was time to type in some of the data, from the CPG, picking up the pages of the Assemani edition.  The file became this:

Next came the pages of the Phrantzolas edition:

I carried on, until I ended up with a text file like this:

Now this is well and good, but I really wanted to manipulate the data programmatically.

For one thing I knew that the works were in the same order as the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae entries – 001-156 – which meant that all I needed to do was number them.  But I didn’t fancy typing that in.

What I did, therefore, was to turn each row into XML tags, of my own invention.  The file became this:

Of course it is really easy to get the start and end tags mismatched, so I used a free online validator to check the XML, just pasting it in, and dealing with whatever errors it found.

I avoided reformatting the XML in Notepad++, tho.  I did install the XML plugin, and tried it out; but it made the file much less compact – not a great idea if you are paging down it and filling in blank fields, as it doubles your keystrokes.

I then added in the translations information from the Ephraem Graecus website list of translations.  This meant more tags; but of course I could alter the structure as I went along.  I jammed in the data, separated with commas, for speed of entry, and got stuff like this:

So far so good.  But I was beginning to feel the need to start turning the XML into something that could be used in a web page.  That meant coding.

A moment’s thought suggested that I use perl.  I installed Strawberry perl, at the suggestion of the site.  I had a lot of trouble installing other types of perl.

That done, I opened a command window and installed the CPAN libraries using

This done, I looked for a bit of sample code, which I found here, using the XML::LibXML library.  This I adapted.

I got a lot of “Wide character in print” messages, which turned out to be unicode-related.  I had to specify in the perl to use utf-8, and also that the STDOUT should use it too (see my code below).

When the script ran, the Greek was gibberish.  So I changed the windows console font to “Lucida Console”, and also specified that the code page for it to use was utf-8 by entering the command “chcp 65001”.

But once I had this running, it was fine!

Of course then I had to decide what I wanted my output to look like. I built it up, a bit at a time.  I found there was more than one translation; so I had to create a nested array of translations.  Some translations had a url, because they were online, so I needed a way to have a url.  I had to break up the original <translation> tag above into <info> and <url>.  But I managed.

I kept validating the xml file, and I kept running my perl script.

At the end, the output file looked like this:

So, if you open it in Chrome – the browser everyone uses for web development -, it looks like this:

Not bad!  The first entry is a bit messy, but that was a vice of the original data.  The Phrantzolas edition doesn’t give a title in Greek for the whole work, only for each of 26 bits.  Nor is there one in the CPG.  The links I made up from the <url> tags that were in my file.  I didn’t add much formatting, other than <small> on the editions etc line.

It’s fairly plain HTML.  My guess is that it will paste into a WordPress page quite nicely, in the “Text” tab in the editor.

It may need some rejigging, but the code is hardly complex.

Anyway, here are the complete files, as of today:

This contains the script, (if I have to type “perl > op.htm” I want as few characters as possible), the xml file input.xml, and a sample output, op.htm.

Of course the bibliography could be extended mightily, but I don’t propose to do this.  What I really wanted was the cross-reference between the old Assemani edition, the new Phrantzolas edition, and the CPG, plus any translations that were around.  We’ve got more than one translation already for some works.

All this did take a while!  But it was worth it.


From my diary

On Saturday I was working on a text file containing the works of Ephraem Graecus, as they appear in the Phrantzolas edition, with CPG numbers and Assemani page numbers.  This proved much more difficult than I had at first thought, and I was reduced to opening the PDFs of the Greek text and looking at the opening words in the index of initia in the CPG volume 5.

At various points it became obvious that it would be very helpful if I had a PDF of the CPG that was searchable.

I don’t possess the volumes of the CPG and never have.  The price puts them outside the reach of the layman.  (I do possess a copy of the CPL, however, because Brepols issued a paperback of it).  So, like most people, I am dependent on PDFs made up of photos taken with a mobile phone by someone or other.  These are always askew, and can’t be made searchable.

However… in my directory of CPG files, I discovered a set of 5 PDFs where the images of each double-page were pretty much square on, and also in grey-scale.  I never used them, as the grey-scale was faint, and unpleasant to look at.  But I started to experiment.

I pulled one volume into Finereader 12, with the options set to automatically split pairs of pages into two.  To my amazement this worked fine, without need for correction (in subsequent volumes I had to manually split a dozen pages).

The single page images were still a rubbishy hard-to-read grey, however.  I then tried saving the images out of FR12 to disk, as black and white .png files.  I hoped that these would be readable and … it worked!  The original images were such high resolution that the black-and-white versions were just fine.

The new page images were also much more readable, being black and white.

I then combined all the B/W images into a new PDF file, which became my new volume of the CPG.  So now I had a PDF of perfectly readable, square-on, single pages, in black and white.

I wanted to make this searchable.  Ideally the Greek should be searchable as Greek, and the Latin as Latin.  I am not clear how to do this.  One idea would be to pull the black and white images back into FR12, OCR them, and then let FR12 create a searchable PDF.  This might well work;  but the PDFs created by Finereader tend to be huge.  And… would the ancient Greek really work?

What I did instead was to use Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 to OCR the B/W PDFs.  This makes the Latin text more or less searchable.  It’s a start.

I’ve had to pause work on this for much of today in order to do a job interview, but I am resuming the process for all the volumes tonight.  Then I shall return to the Phrantzolas file, with the aid of searchable PDFs.

The job interview was successful, so I may have to go back to work next week!  Whatever I am to do must be done now!


Ephraem Graecus: the Phrantzolas edition (part 5)

Well, well.  At the start of volume 7 of the Phrantzolas edition of Ephraim Graecus, there is an additional introduction!  Let’s see what it says, shall we?  (Here are the pages – click to enlarge)

Once again I have OCRd them, and run the result through Google Translate.  We get this:

Αντί επιλόγου

Μέ τόν παρόντα Ζ’ τόμο ολοκληρώνεται ή έκδοση των Έργων του μεγάλου καί θεοφόρου Πατρός μας Όσιου Έφραίμ του Σύρου, ώστε νά γίνει προσιτή σέ όλους ή θεόπνευστη διδασκαλία του.

Τήν καλή αφορμή, γιά νά έπιχειρήσουμε τήν παρούσα έκδοση, πρόσφεραν σ’ εμάς Αγιορείτες Πατέρες, καί τό βάρος καί τή θεάρεστη φροντίδα γιά τήν πραγματοποίησή της έπωμίσθηκαν μέ προθυμία οί εκλεκτοί φίλοι έκδότες των Εκδόσεων «Τό Περιβόλι της Παναγίας». Άπό τή θέση μάλιστα αυτή θεωρούμε χρέος νά έκφράσουμε τίς ευχαριστίες μας στόν υπεύθυνο των Εκδόσεων γιά τήν πολύτιμη συνεργασία καί συμμετοχή σέ όλα τά στάδια της επίπονης διαδικασίας της έκδοσης αυτής.

Άπό τήν άρχή άνέκυψε όξύ τό πρόβλημα της άναζήτησης των έλληνικών μεταφράσεων των ’Έργων του Σύρου Πατρός. Γι’ αυτό καί ή προσοχή μας στράφηκε στήν άνεύρεση των παλαιών καί των νεώτερων εκδόσεων, καί των χειρογράφων.

Στό στάδιο αυτό μάς συμπαραστάθηκαν πατρικώς οί Σεβαστοί Γέροντες, π. Χαραλάμπης, Ηγούμενος της Ί. Μ. Διονυσίου, καί π. Γρηγόριος, Ηγούμενος της Ί. Μ. Δοχειαρίου, καθώς καί ό σεβαστός καί άγαπητός π. Νικόδημος, Μοναχός Άγιοπαυλίτης, τούς όποιους καί εύσεβάστως ευχαριστούμε.

Ευχαριστούμε επίσης τόν ’Ομότιμο Καθηγητή της Θεολογικής Σχολής τού Πανεπιστημίου ’Αθηνών κ. Γεώργιο Γαλίτη, καί τόν Επίκουρο Καθηγητή τής Φιλοσοφικής Σχολής τού Πανεπιστημίου Θεσσαλονίκης κ. Παναγιώτη Σωτηρούδη, γιά τό άμέριστο ένδιαφέρον μέ τό όποιο μάς συμπαραστάθηκαν στήν έκδοσή μας.

Τή μνεία ώστόσο τού μακαριστού Γέροντος Έφραίμ, Ηγουμένου τής Ί. Μ. Ξηροποτάμου, αισθανόμαστε έπιβεβλημένη γιά τό πατρικό ένδιαφέρον πού έδειξε γιά τήν πραγματοποίηση τής άπόφασής μας.

Τό άρχαΐο κείμενο τής παρούσας έκδοσης άντλήσαμε άπό τίς παλαιότυπες έκδόσεις τών Ed.Thwaites (’Οξφόρδη, 1709) καί J. S. Assemani (Ρώμη, 1732-1746), άλλά καί άπό νεώτερους έκδότες-έρευνητές. Παράλληλα άναζητήσαμε στούς χειρόγραφους κώδικες κείμενα τών Λόγων τού Σύρου Πατρός, άνέκδοτα ώς τώρα. Πολύ χρήσιμη στάθηκε ή έργασία τού Μ. Geerard (Clavis Patrum Graecorum), όπου έχουν καταχωρηθεΐ τά άποτελέσματα τής έρευνας στό χώρο τής έφραίμειας γραμματείας.

’Ανέκδοτα κείμενα πού άντλήσαμε άπό χειρόγραφους κώδικες, είναι τά εξής:

1. Λόγος περί τής άναστάσεως, έν τοίς έγκαινίοις, καί περί τού άγιου μνήματος (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 244 ΜΠΤ τής Εθνικής Βιβλιοθήκης ’Αθηνών, ΙΔ’ αί., φύλλα 60r-62v).

2. Λόγος έν τώ σταυρώ, έπί των έγκαινίων, καί περί τοϋ άγιου ξύλου του σταυροϋ (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 244 ΜΠΤ τής Εθνικής Βιβλιοθήκης Αθηνών, ΙΔ’ αί., φύλλα 62v-65r).

3. Πώς ό ληστής προ τής άναστάσεως είσήλθεν εις τον παράδεισον (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 115 τής Ί. Μ. Δοχειαρίου Αγίου Όρους, ΙΕ’ αί., φύλλο 157).

4. Λόγος εις τό μαρτύριον του άγιου μεγαλομάρτυρος Βονιφατίου (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 4887.767 τής Ί. Μ. Ίβήρων Αγίου Όρους, ΙΗ’ αί., φύλλα 44ν-54ν).

5. Λόγος περί τοϋ Καιν, καί τοϋ Αβελ τής άναιρέσεως (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 99 τής Ί. Μ. Παντοκράτορος Αγίου Όρους, ΙΣΤ’ αί., φύλλα 375r-396r).

6. Λόγος εις τον Αβραάμ καί Ισαάκ (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 163 ΜΠΤ τής Εθνικής Βιβλιοθήκης Αθηνών, ΙΣΤ’ αί., φύλλα 8v-17r).

7. Λόγος ότε οί μάγοι παρεγένοντο εις ‘Ιεροσόλυμα (Χειρόγραφο Μόσχας άριθ. 284 (Vladimir 215), Θ’ αί., φύλλα 101v-103r).

Στήν πορεία τής έκδοσής μας άντιμετωπίσαμε οξύ τό πρόβλημα τής αυθεντικότητας τών μεταφρασμένων στήν ελληνική έργων τοϋ Σύρου Πατρός, πού από τίς αρχές τοϋ αιώνα μας απασχόλησε τούς ειδικούς καί τήν έρευνα. Εμείς κατά τήν έπιλογή τών κειμένων σταθήκαμε μέ σεβασμό στήν παράδοση τών χειρογράφων, καί γι’ αυτό μόνο έλάχιστα κείμενα άφήσαμε έξω άπό τήν παρούσα έκδοση.

Από τά διπλά ώστόσο κείμενα πού συναντήσαμε στους παλαιούς έκδοτες καί στά χειρόγραφα, έπιλέξαμε τά πληρέστερα. Τά διπλά κείμενα τής έκδοσης τοϋ Assemani έπισήμανε μέ άκρίβεια ή Δημοκρατία Hemmerdinger-Ήλιάδου (βλ. Orientalia Christiana Periodica, τόμος XXIV, 1958, τευχ. 3-4, σελ. 371-381).

Κείμενα ελληνικών χειρογράφων πού άφήσαμε έξω άπό τήν έκδοσή μας είναι:

1. Λόγος εις τόν βίον τοϋ οσίου πατρός ημών Ανδρονίκου καί τής συμβίας αύτοΰ Αθανασίας (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 2541.208 τής Ί. Μ. Ξηροποτάμου Αγίου Όρους, ΙΒ’ αί., σελ. 406 κ.έ.). Αποδίδεται στόν Όσιο Έφραίμ, άλλά ό βιογραφούμενος Άγιος έζησε τόν έκτο αιώνα.

2. Κεφάλαια πάνυ τερπνά (Χειρόγραφο άριθ. 394 τής ‘I. Μ. Μεταμορφώσεως Μετεώρων, ΙΒ’ αί., φύλλα 394-405). Είναι άνθολόγηση άπό Λόγους τοϋ Όσιου Έφραίμ τοϋ Σύρου, τούς οποίους έχουμε περιλάβει στήν έκδοσή μας.

Πληροφορούμε τέλος τούς ένδιαφερόμενους άναγνώστες δτι ετοιμάζεται ή έκδοση Εύρετηρίων τών Έργων τοϋ Όσιου Έφραίμ σέ ξεχωριστό τόμο.

Παραδίδοντας λοιπόν όλοκληρωμένη τήν παρούσα έκδοση τών Έργων τοϋ μεγάλου καί θεοφόρου Πατρός μας Όσιου Έφραίμ τοϋ Σύρου στήν κοινή ωφέλεια καί οικοδομή, παρακαλοΰμε τούς φιλόθεους καί φιλάδελφους άναγνώστες νά εύχονται γιά τούς κοπιάσαντες σ’ αυτό τό πνευματικό έργόχειρο, ώστε νά βροΰμε έλεος ένώπιον τοϋ θρόνου τής μεγαλωσύνης τοϋ μεγάλου Θεοΰ τής έλπίδας μας.

Στόν Σωτήρα μας Κύριο Ίησοΰ Χριστό άνήκει ή δόξα, καί στόν Όσιό του Έφραίμ τόν Σύρο ή τιμή, στούς άπέραντους αιώνες. Αμήν.

Κωνσταντίνος Π Φραντζόλας


With this present volume, the publication of the works of our great and divine Father St Ephraim Syrus is completed so that he and his inspired teaching becomes accessible to all.

The good reason for us to handle the present edition was the offer of Holy Fathers to us, and the weight and the sincere care for its realization were eloquently expressed by the eminent friends, “The Garden of Our Lady” publishers. From this point of view, we feel obliged to express our gratitude to the publications officer for valuable cooperation and participation in all stages of the painful process of this publication.

From the beginning, the problem of the authenticity of the Greek translations of the Syrian Father’s Works was raised. That is why our attention turned to the discovery of old and newer versions, and manuscripts.

At this stage, the Sacred Elders, Father Charalambis, Abbot of I.M. Dionysios, paternally supported us. and P. Grigorios, Abbot of I. M. Docheiarios, as well as the respected and dear Nicodemus, the Monk Agapassilitis, whom we thank graciously.

We also thank the Professor Emeritus of the Theological School of the University of Athens, Mr. George Galitis, and the Assistant Professor at the Philosophical School of the University of Thessaloniki, Mr. Panayiotis Sotiroudis, for the unparalleled interest with which they supported us in our publication.

However, the mention of the elder Efraim, the Abbot of the I. M. Xeropotamos, we feel affectionate for the parental interest he has shown in the realization of our decision.

The original text of this publication was derived from the old editions of Ed. Thwaites (Oxford, 1709) and J.S. Assemani (Rome, 1732-1746), but also from more recent editors. At the same time, we looked at hitherto unknown manuscripts of the Syrian Father’s works. Most useful was the work of M. Geerard (Clavis Patrum Graecorum), where the results  were recorded of research in the field by the secretariat.

Unpublished texts that we drew from manuscripts are as follows:

1. Sermon on the resurrection (anastasis), during the inauguration (of the temple), and on the tomb (of the Lord) (Manuscript No 244 of the National Library of Athens, Nos., Pages 60r-62v).

2. Sermon on the Cross, on the Inaugurations, and on the Holy Wood of the Crucifix (Manuscript No 244 of the National Library of Athens, Nos., Pages 62v-65r).

3. How the robber entered paradise prior to the resurrection (Manuscript No. 115 of St. John’s Doheryour, Mount 157, p. 157).

4. Words of the Holy Martyr Boniface (Manuscript No. 4887,767 of the Holy Monastery of Iviron of Mount Athos, LH., Pages 44v-54v).

5. Sermon on Cain and Abel in Revelation (Manuscript No 99 of the Holy Monastery of Saint Athos, Pasteur, pages 375r-396r).

6. Sermon on Abraham and Isaac (Manuscript No 163 of the National Library of Athens, pp. 8v-17r).

7. Sermon on why the magicians came to Jerusalem (Moscow Manuscript No 284 (Vladimir 215), Ile., folios 101v-103r).

In the course of our publication, we have faced acutely the problem of the authenticity of the works of the Syrian Father translated into Greek, which since the beginning of this century has been the concern of specialists and research. When selecting the texts, we were respectful of the manuscript tradition, and so only a few texts were left out of this publication.

However, from the double texts we encountered in the old editions and the manuscripts, we have chosen the longer. The double texts of the Assemani version have been accurately documented by Hemmerdinger-Iliadou (see Orientalia Christiana Periodica, volume XXIV, 1958, pp. 3-4, pp. 371-381).

Greek manuscripts that we left out of our publication are:

1. A speech in the life of our father Andronikos and his wife, Athanasia (Manuscript No 2541.208 of Ioannis of the Xeropotamos monastery, Mount Athos, pp. 406 et seq.). It is attributed to the Holy Ephraim, but the Saint in question lived in the sixth century.

2. All-pleasing (τερπνά) Chapters (Manuscript No. 394 of I.M. Meteorosis Meteora, L.A., folios 394-405). It is a liturgy from the Words of the Holy Ephraim of Syros, which we have included in our edition.

Finally, we would like to inform our interested readers that the publication of an index of the works of St Ephraim is being prepared in a separate volume.

Delivering therefore the completed present edition of the works of our great and God-bearing Father, the venerable Ephraim of Syros to the common benefit and edification, we ask the God-loving and brethren-loving readers to pray for those who toiled in this spiritual handiwork so that we may find mercy before the throne of the greatness of the great God of our hope.

To our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to St Ephraim the Syrian, be glory and honor, throughout the centuries. Amen.

Konstantinos P. Phrantzolas

Now I do not speak even a word of modern Greek, but we do get quite a lot of information from this, even if it degenerates into gibberish at points.  We get the extra texts that Phrantzolas added, although I’m not at all sure about the accuracy of the English titles!  We get the mss that he used (probably more reliable in the Greek).

All useful stuff!

UPDATE: (7 Nov 2018): Many thanks indeed to the correspondent who wrote in and corrected the gibberish bits of Google Translate for us – thank you!


Ephraem Graecus: the Phrantzolas edition (part 3)

Phrantzolas is mentioned in Part 1 and part 2)

A correspondent has discovered PDFs – or, rather, Djvu files – of a number of volumes of the Phrantzolas’ edition of Ephraem Graecus.[1]  Unfortunately volume 2 is corrupt and will not open – does anyone have a copy of this?

The edition prints a translation in modern Greek at the foot of each page, like this:

I’ve just installed a more modern WinDJView viewer, which seems to work well.  Using this, you can save a page out as png, and then import to Finereader 12, where the Modern Greek comes out as:

Μακαρίζω τήν υμών ζωήν, ώ φιλόχριστοι, δτι εύπαρρησίαστός έστι καί ταλανίζω τόν έμόν βίον, δτι άχρηστος υπάρχει. Μακαρίζω υμάς, ώ γνήσιοι, δτι όρθή πολιτεία φίλους έαυτούς έποιήσατε τώ Θεω [καί τοίς άγγελοις]. Τίς δέ περί έμου πενθήσει, δτι παρώξυνα Αυτόν διά των έργων μου των μάταιων;

Μακάριοί έστε υμείς, οί κληρονομοΰντες τόν παράδεισον διά της αγνής υμών άναστροφής καί τής αγάπης υμών τής άμέτρου. Θαυμάζω γάρ υμάς, πώς ούκ ώκνήσατε τοσαύτης όδοΰ διανύσαι διάστημα διά λυσίτέλειαν ψυχής. Τό δέ θαυμαστότερον, δτι πρός ευτελή καί κατακεκριμένον ταίς άμαρτίαιζ ήλθετε, παρ’ αύτοΰ αίτοΰντες τόν τής ώφελείας λόγον. Θαΰμα άληθώς, πώς

Which Google translate renders as:

I blame your life, you gentlemen, that you are intimate, and that I am ostentatious of life, that it is useless. I blame you, genuine ones, that you have made good friends with your friends, God and the angels. Whom do you mourn about me, that I have paraphrased Him through my works of vain?

Blessed are ye, the inheritors shall partake of it by your pure anger, and of your loving kindness. I admire you, how did you go along this path for a while? The most miraculous thing is that you have come to the lamentations and to the miserable sins, and they are asking for the word of opportunity. Marvel truly, how

This is gibberish, but as with all Google translations, not without uses.  If you interleave the Greek and English sentences, it acts as a useful vocabulary check.  But of course one must be wary.  Interesting how “blessed” is initially rendered as “blame”.

UPDATE: 2nd November 2018.  OK, well apparently the top is the modern Greek and the bottom is the ancient!  Thank you to the kind commenters who pointed this out.  Yes, I really cannot tell which is which on first glance – anybody got any tips on what to look out for?  Finereader for the top section gives me:

Λόγος γιά τις αρετές καί τις κακίες

Μακαρίζω τή ζωή σας, φιλόχριστοι, διότι είναι εύπαρρησίαστη1, καί ελεεινολογώ τόν δικό μου τρόπο ζωής, διότι είναι άνώφελος. Σας μακαρίζω, γνήσιοι άνθρωποι, διότι μέ τόν όρθό τρόπο ζωής κάνατε τους εαυτούς σας φίλους τού Θεού καί των Αγγέλων. Ποιός λοιπόν θά πενθήσει γιά μένα πού παρόργισα τόν Θεό μέ τά μάταια έργα μου;

Είστε μακάριοι εσείς, διότι μέ τήν αγνή διαγωγή σας καί τήν άμετρη άγάπη σας κληρονομείτε τόν παράδεισο. Σάς θαυμάζω δηλαδή πού δέ διστάσατε νά διανύσετε τόσο μακρύ δρόμο γιά τήν ώφέλεια τής ψυχής σας! Καί τό πιό αξιοθαύμαστο είναι, δτι ήρθατε σέ άνθρωπο τιποτένιο καί καταδικασμένο γιά τίς αμαρτίες του, ζητώντας απ’ αυτόν ώφέλιμο λόγο. Αληθινά, είναι νά άπο-

and Google translate for that gives me:

Reason for virtues and malice

I love your life, you are compassionate, because it is compassionate1, and I study my own way of life because it is beneficial. I blame you, genuine people, because in the right way of life you have made yourselves God and Angel’s friends. Who then will mourn for me that I have tempted God with my futile works?

You are blessed because, in your pure conduct and in your direct love, you inherit paradise. So I admire you where you did not want to go that long way for the benefit of your soul! And most admirable is that you have come to a humble and condemned man for his sins, asking for a beneficial reason. It is true,

Better, I think.

A kind correspondent tells me that the things to look for are:

  •  Dative drops off in later Greek
  • Nu disappears from the end of neuter nouns ~o
  1. [1]Konstantinos G. Phrantzolas (or Phrantzoles  – although the copyright on vol. 1 gives Κων. Γ. Φραντζόλάς – both seem to be used), Ὁσιοῦ Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου  ἔργα, Thessaloniki: Το περιβόλι της Παναγίας / To Perivoli tis Panagias, 1988-98, 7 vols

Microsoft does not believe that Microsoft has a future?

Two events in the last week have convinced me that the management of Microsoft does not believe that their company has a future.  The management are, it seems, the sort of grey people who took over Apple, expelled Steve Jobs, and ran the company into the ground.

The first event took place at my PC in my workplace, where I was working on something delicate.  Windows 10 popped up an announcement that it wanted to do an upgrade.  I reset the schedule for a couple of hours hence and carried on.  And then, in the middle of my work, suddenly it closed all my work and tried to reboot.  Windows had ignored my request and just restarted.  Obviously some petty upgrade was way more important than my work.  But imagine that I was a broker, doing a deal for a hundred million dollars?  Well, my deal could wait.  As far as Microsoft was concerned, their update mattered more.

The second event took place in the evening, or rather over several evenings, in my hotel.  While at work, I realised that I needed to write a small windows application.  I’ve not written anything for windows in a  long time, but I remember how to do it.  A quick Visual Basic .Net application would be quite adequate.

So I went to the Microsoft site to get the tools, and found that … um … you can’t download Visual Basic .Net any more.  You have to download some obese monster called “Visual Studio 2017 Community Edition”.  Except you can’t download it.  You can install it off the web; but you can’t keep the media locally.  When you do install it, it demands to know which of a baffling array of options you want installed, nearly all of them irrelevant.

Bear in mind that I want to create a tiny Windows application – the environment that Microsoft control – and I want to do it in Basic, the language they control.  Surely that is the beginners’ path?  Why is it so hard?

Well I found my way through the menus and installed this THREE GIGABYTE (????) environment on my laptop.  Then I tried to set to work.  But … everything was hard.  Despite a decade of experience with Microsoft tools, and knowing clearly what I wanted to do, I was quite unable to work out how to do it.

The last straw came when I wanted to embed two icons in the project.  This should be trivial.  It was not.  You could, with difficulty, insert icons into your project.  But you couldn’t edit them.  The toolbars were greyed out.  Much googling later, I discovered that this was just how it was; you had to create them as external files.

The only people who could possibly work with Visual Studio would be a large professional corporate software department.  The individual tinkering at home is excluded.  It requires immense effort just to create a trivial application.  I remember VB6 – it was easy to do this.  I remember the original VB.Net – harder, but still not that hard.  But now … nobody new will develop for Microsoft.  It’s just too hard.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Microsoft is now run by people who do not use Windows seriously, and none of whom write software.  Anybody who did either would not allow their products to get so out of shape.

But if Windows now is a relic, doomed to die – at least in the opinion of its owners – the rest of us still use it.  We would like it to work, thank you.

And if it is now impossible to easily develop new software for Windows, as seems to be the case, this again reinforces the feeling that the owners of Microsoft do not care.  They don’t believe that any real new software will be delivered.  They don’t believe in the hobbyist at home.

The hobbyist is now writing web applications, where he can run up an application with ease.  I saw this week a website which mimicked Microsoft Paint!  It was done in Javascript.  I guarantee it was easier to do than working with Visual Studio.  But Microsoft management don’t care what the hobbyist does.  They don’t give him any access.

It’s sad really.  Whither the desktop computer?


Raging against the … Windows?

This evening I’m in a hotel, as so often.  I turned on my travelling laptop.  I wanted to download Edward J. Watts, City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria, from, in order to OCR it and make the PDF searchable.

But something was wrong.  The machine kept stuttering.  Eventually I got the file; and set it to OCR.  And then, to my horror, a message appeared on-screen: Windows10 has silently and without my permission downloaded a huge “update” – now I understand the stuttering – and is now going to install it.

That was almost two hours ago now.  These precious minutes, in which I could have done things, all gone.  Microsoft decided their needs took precedence.  On my computer.

This is the second time in a few weeks that I have been locked out of my own computer by an arrogant US corporation.

I carry a laptop around with me so that I can work in the evening if need be.  This pattern of activity means that I can’t be sure that the laptop will be available to use.  Which defeats the whole purpose of having it.

I’ve had enough.  This is too much.  I am going to revert my travelling laptop to Windows 7, where at least I got a voice in whether downloads happened.  I gather the key is on a sticker on the underside of the machine, and media can be downloaded.  But it will cost me some hours of nuisance.

Infuriating. But it is intolerable to be prevented from using the machine.


From my diary

I’ve been looking some more at Byzantine science.  My original intention was to write a series of posts on each area of science.  But I’m finding that in fact I don’t know enough about the subjects to do so.  In particular knowledge of Byzantine mathematics and astronomy seems to require more knowledge of the works of Aristotle than I possess.  So I will probably do no more on this.

Yesterday I was looking at an English translation of a poem by al-Akhtal, the court poet of the early Ummayads, whom I wrote about here.  This led me to wonder how to post a poem on WordPress, which is what this blog runs on.  There is no feature in the blogging platform to support the sort of alternately indented lines that a regular poem has.  I found quite a number of posts asking why there is not a plugin to make this possible.

A bit of experimentation, and I developed a basic wordpress plugin with very little difficulty, that added a drop-down to the editor with a set of new and custom styles to apply to the text.  I set up Xampp locally on Windows 10 and installed WordPress inside it.  A short article told me what a simple plugin looked like. Another told me how to use a generator to create one, which I did, although I had to create a GitHub account to use it.  Finally another article advised me on how to do the changes manually; which I did instead inside my plugin, adding the PHP code to the main generated plugin .php file, and sticking a css file in the root.  It all sort of worked, and I pushed it to GitHub.

But … it just did not work to format poetry.  The problem is not the plugin.  The problem is that WordPress strips whitespace in a manner impossible to control.  You can insert stuff in a poetic format.  But the moment you open the post in the visual editor, that format is destroyed.

This is a fundamental problem with poetry in WordPress.  It can’t be fixed, unless or until the main developers address the whitespace handling issue.

The only possible approach is to format it all as <PRE>, which is not much of an answer and looks terrible.

Perhaps it says something about the importance of poetry in our society, that the main blogging platform for writing online makes it impossible to post verse?

I need to return to translating Eutychius of Alexandria.  I have a couple of books to review.

My trip to Rome later this month will not now happen, after my travelling companion became ill.

I read this morning that the publishing industry continues its campaign against the SciHub pirate website, through which alone normal people can access most journal articles.  Apparently a US judge wants to prevent Americans from accessing it.  That should certainly give China an advantage!  The site itself is apparently hosted in Russia, fortunately.

To finish, let me attempt to post the poem by al-Akhtal, in preformatted format, as translated by Suzanne Stetkevych.[1]  I laid it out in Notepad; but my attempt to create a preformatted block and paste it in was a complete failure.  Even preformatted text is not handled well by the visual editor, it seems.  In the end I switched to text view and pasted it in there, with <pre></pre> tags around it.  This gives the following appearance:

How long will it remain formatted, I wonder?  Well, let’s see!

Here is the complete poem, that al-Akhtal delivered before the caliph, while drunk.

Al-Akhtal's Khaffa al-Qatinu: The Nasib

1. Those that dwelt with you have left in haste,
       departing at evening or at dawn,
   Alarmed and driven out by fate's caprice,
       they head for distant lands.
2. And I, on the day fate took them off,
       was like one drunk
   On wine from Hims or Jadar
       that sends shivers down the spine,
3. Poured generously from a brimming wine-jar,
       lined with pitch and dark with age,
   Its clay seal broken
       off its mouth,
4. A wine so strong it strikes
       the vital organs of the reveller,
   His heart, hungover, can barely
       sober up.
5. I was like that, or like a man
       whose joints are racked with pain,
   Or like a man whose heart is struck
       by charms and amulets,
   Out of longing for them and yearning
       on the day I sent my glance after them
   As they journeyed in small bands
       on Kawkab Hill's two slopes.
7. They urged on their mounts,
       turning their backs on us,
   while in veiled howdahs, if you spoke softly to them,
       were maidens lovely as statues.
8. They entice the tribesmen
       until they ensnare them,
   Yet they seem feeble-minded
       when questioned.
9. Forget about union with beautiful women
       when they are sure
   That you are a man whom
       old age's blossom has demeaned!
10. They turned away from me
       when my bow's stringer bent it
   And when my once jet-black locks
       turned white.
11. They do not heed the man who calls them
       to fulfill his need,
   Nor do they set their sights upon
       a white-haired man.
12. They headed east when summer's blast
       had wrung the branches dry,
   And, except where ploughshares run,
       all green had withered.
13. So the eye is troubled by tears
       shed for a now-distant campsite
   Whose folk will find it hard to ever
       meet again.
14. They are cut off, like a rope,
       and the eye follows after them,
   Between al-Shaqiq
       and al-Maqsim Spring,
15. Until they descended to a land
       on the side of a river bed
   Where the tribes of Shayban and Ghubar
16. Until when they left behind
       the sandy tamarisk ground
   And had reached high ground, or said,
       "This is the trench [that Khosroes] dug."
17. They alighted in the evening,
       and we turned aside our noble-bred camels:
   For the man in need, the time had come
       to journey.
18. To a man whose gifts do not elude us,
       whom God has made victorious,
   So let him in his victory
       long delight!
19. He who wades into the deep of battle,
       auspicious his augury,
   The Caliph of God
       through whom men pray for rain.
20. When his soul whispers its intention to him
       it sends him resolutely forth,
   His courage and his caution
       like two keen blades.
21. In him the common weal resides,
       and after his assurance
   No peril can seduce him
       from his pledge.
22. Not even the Euphrates when its tributaries
       pour seething into it
   And sweep the giant swallow-wort from its two banks
       into the middle of its rushing stream,
23. And the summer winds churn it
       until its waves
   Form agitated puddles
       on the prows of ships,
24. Racing in a vast and mighty torrent
       from the mountains of Byzance
   Whose foothills shield them from it
       and divert its course,
25. Is ever more generous than he is
       to the supplicant
   Or more dazzling
       to the beholder's eye.
26. They did not desist from their treachery and cunning
       against you
   Until, unknowingly, they portioned out
       the maysir-players' flesh.	 
27. Then whoever witholds his counsel
       from us
   And whose hand is niggardly to those
       beneath us
28. Will be the ransom
       of the Commander of the Faithful,
   When a fierce and glowering battle-day
       bares its teeth.
29. Like a crouching lion, poised to pounce,
       his chest low to the ground,
   For a battle in which there is
       prey for him,
30. [The Caliph] advances with an army
       two-hundred thousand strong,
   The likes of which no man or jinn
       has ever seen.
31. He comes to bridges which he builds
       and then destroys,
   He brands his steeds with battle-scars,
       above him fly banners and battle-dust,
32. Until at al-Taff
       they wreaked carnage,
   And at al-Thawiyyah
       where no bowstring twanged.
33. The tribesmen saw clearly
       the error of their ways,
   And he straightened out the smirk
       upon their faces.
34. Single-handed, he assumed the burdens
       of the people of Iraq,
   Among whom he once had bestowed
       a store of grace and favor.
35. In the mighty nab'-tree of Quraysh
       round which they gather,
   No other tree can top
       its lofty crown.
36. It overtops the high hills,
       and they dwell in its roots and stem;
   They are the people of bounty,
       and, when they boast, of glory,
37. Rallying behind the truth, recoiling from foul speech,
   In the face of war's calamities
       they stand steadfast.
38. If a darkening cloud casts its pall
       over the horizons,
   They have a refuge from it
       and a haven.
39. God allotted to them the good fortune
       that made them victorious,  
   And after theirs all other lots
       are small, contemptible.
40. They do not exult in it
       since they are its masters;
   Any other tribe, were this their lot,
       would be exultant, vain.
41. Ruthless toward their foe,
       till they submit;
   In victory,
       the most clement of men.
42. Those that harbor rancor toward them
       cannot endure their battle-wrath;
   When their rods are tested
       no flaw is found.
43. It is they who vie with the rain-bearing wind
       to bring sustenance
   When impoverished supplicants
       find scant food.
44. O Banu Umayyah, your munificence
       is like a widespread rain;
   It is perfect,
       unsullied by reproach.
45. O Banu Umayyah, it was I
       who defended you
   From the men of a tribe
       that sheltered and aided [the Prophet].
46. I silenced the Banu Najjir's endless braying
       against you
   With poems that reached the ears
       of every chieftain of Ma'add,
47. Until they submitted,
       smarting from my words-
   For words can often pierce
       where sword-points fail.
48. O Banu Umayyah, I offer you
       sound counsel:
   Don't let Zufar dwell secure
       among you,
49. But take him as an enemy,
       for what you see of him
   And what lies hid within
       is all corruption.
50. For in the end you'll meet
       with ancient rancor:
   Like mange, it lies latent for awhile
       only to break out once more.

The poem grows on you, as you read it.  The caliph was well pleased, as we learned last time.

  1. [1]Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, “Umayyad Panegyric and the Poetics of Islamic Hegemony: al-Akhṭal’s “Khaffa al-Qaṭīnu” (“Those That Dwelt with You Have Left in Haste”)“, Journal of Arabic Literature 28 (1997), pp. 89-122.  JSTOR.

How I do the footnotes on my blog; and other bits of blog configuration

This blog runs on WordPress.  I host a copy of the software in a directory on my rented webspace (rented from the ever-reliable  A commenter asked:

Do you use a plug-in for footnotes? If so, could you please identify the plug-in, and comment on its usefulness?

I do indeed use a plug-in. In fact, to get what I want, I find that I have to use two plugins.

The footnote that I use is Footnotes for WordPress, by Charles Johnson.  To insert a footnote, when editing, all you do is this:

This is my blog text[1].

It is simple, and works well.  But … by default, the footnotes appear in a hideous box at the end, surrounded by NOTENOTENOTE.  Why the author thought this was a good idea I cannot imagine.  But in his “Other notes” page, he tells us how to change this: by adding some CSS into the theme.  Mine looks currently like this:

/** Footnotes changed to simple list */
ol.footnotes li {
    background: transparent !important;
    padding: 5px !important;
    border: none !important;
    margin: 0.5em 2em !important;

How do I add this?  Well, I have a second plugin, Simple custom CSS.  You install this, hit “Add CSS”, and you can put in what you want.  Then hit the “Update custom css” button.

In fact I got this originally because I wanted to reduce the font size for the blog.  The default themes these days have enormous fonts for the main text.  So I also have in there the following CSS:

body {
	font-family: Verdana;
	font-size: 12px;
blockquote {
 font-size: 12px !important;
 font-style: normal !important;
 color: black !important;
 font-family: Verdana !important;
 padding: 0.25em 40px;

The second section changes stuff about quoted text.  I’m not sure if I need this any more, but a previous theme really did need changes!

What else do I use?  Akismet for spam, obviously; Jetpack for statistics, and to share my posts to twitter.  There’s a contact form, “Contact Form 7”, and a couple of others which are just intended to speed things up.

I back up my blog regularly.  I connect to the site with FTP and download the changed image files (etc) from the wp-uploads directory.  I also use the Tools | Export facility to get the blog text.  The master copy resides on my local hard disk.

All this is because I remember days in which putting stuff on the server was not a good way to guarantee its availability.  Servers crash.  Which may seem quaint, in these days when “cloud storage” is trumpeted.

But “the cloud” is just a server.  And, as far as I know, servers still crash.

Keep your files locally!

  1. [1]My footnote

Reasons to hate Microsoft, part 2

A beautiful morning, I have just got up, and already I hate Microsoft.

That’s because part of my routine is to turn on my laptop and look at my email.  This I did and … it wouldn’t let me in.

I don’t have a password on my laptop; it never leaves my house, and only I use it.  But … yesterday I installed some software via the Windows Store – a first – and it made me login with my “Microsoft account”, and then reset the password, and a load of other nonsense.  Then Apple made me do the same.  I did my task and thought no more about it.

This morning I discover that Windows silently applied that “Microsoft Account”, not to the Windows Store as the display suggested, but to my entire computer.  And that is why I was presented with a demand for a password.  Of course I don’t know it – it’s a junk password.  I don’t *want* to login to my PC using that account.  So I requested shutdown, to see if I might get the option to “login as another user”.

Nope.  What I got was “we are installing an upgrade”.  Very very slowly.

They’re still doing it.  Almost half an hour later, it’s “working on updates 15%”.  I’d like my breakfast, please, but Microsoft have forced me this morning – twice – to fight with their software.

I’m typing this from a backup laptop.  I’ve found easily some Google results that suggest I can get rid of the unwanted account from my PC.  I imagine that an hour’s work will undo the havoc: an hour of my life gone, simply because of corporate arrogance.

Is it too much to ask, Microsoft, that you ask me before you screw up my morning?

UPDATE: An hour and a half after I first guilelessly wandered into my study, things seem to be back to normal.  I’ve returned the PC to use a local account.  In the process I found that Microsoft decided that I wanted to use tapping on my touchpad, so I had to work out where that was and disable it.  Then, when I restarted, it didn’t go to the desktop, but sat, displaying some pretty landscape picture – yes, they’d decided, silently, to force display of a picture on the “lock screen”.  I disabled that too.

Amusingly they also fiddled with my taskbar.  I don’t use Edge – does anyone? – so I put Internet Explorer as the left-most icon.  Microsoft primly moved Edge back to the prime position, and moved IE two along.

We need legislation.  This is a lovely morning, and half of it is gone, and I have no redress, purely because of arrogance by someone whom I have never heard of.


Where do you go to, my hateful?

Where have all the atheist forums (sic) gone?

I was reading Twitter earlier this evening, and did a search on “atheism”. I found some stale jeering, a few self-important or foolish tweets; and a mass of muslim propaganda.  If ever I saw an area dying for lack of participants, it was this.

This made me think of the atheist discussion groups of yesteryear.  First before all others, there was usenet.  I remember alt.atheism, where you could get a good fight, if not much common sense.  There were other usenet groups where interesting discussion might be had.  Often the baby atheists would trot out some outlandish historical claims, culled from some ignorant or mendacious source, in the belief that few would know better.  It was a real pleasure to track these claims down.  It provided stimulus.

Then there was the Internet Infidels forum, which morphed into, whose BC&H forum had quite a bit of useful historical stuff.

Dirtier, and pretty irrational, was TalkRational.  A strange US atheist called Sam Harris had his forum, with some of the dimmest followers that I ever met.  Acharya S had her forum, although you never quite knew how many of the “posters” were actually her in disguise!  Richard Dawkins had a bunch of discussion groups on his website.

Yet today all of these are gone.  Usenet was first to go, as people stopped using usenet clients and relied on DejaNews website, which was replaced by Google Groups, and then discreetly rendered useless.  I suspect that some of the Google hierarchs prefer that the antics of their younger days are no longer accessible, in these intolerant days.

Internet Infidels spun off their forums, which were eventually taken over by some strange woman who picked fights with the regulars and then closed the whole thing down, for no apparent reason.  Acharya S is dead.  Dawkins closed down his forums.  TalkRational has gone.  And, as I found today, the atheists don’t really use Twitter that much any more.

I never found Theology Web that interesting, but I wandered over and it was still there.  But I could find nothing of interest.  In fact it has been so long since I visited that they have deleted my user account.

So where do they go to, the people, as Peter Sarstedt might have sung?  The cranks, the atheists, and so on?

Truly I do not know.   But something has passed from the web, that was interesting and useful, and a valuable stimulus for work.