The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

Birds named after women

2015-11-01

I've read many pieces about the people after whom birds are named, and it struck me recently that most of them are male. Not surprising, since there must have been many more male ornithologists than women; but there are nevertheless many birds named after women. Because of the regularity of Latin grammar, we can find a considerable number just by looking for names that end in -ae.

Alas, the majority of matching names are toponyms. Some of these names are obvious, like novaehollandiae and novaeseelandiae, which account for 23 species between them. But many more are obscure, and there's no way to exclude them en masse. One must go through the list one entry at a time to discard the place names. One notable example of this genre is adeliae, which refers to Adélie Land, named after Adélie Vicomtesse Dumont d’Urville, wife of a French Antarctic explorer. Another problem comes from male names which have been Latinised as -ae (e.g. Matsudaira, Fea). When these and other complications are eliminated, we are left with just under a hundred female eponyms.

Only a handful of these names belong to women whose contributions to ornithology are well-documented.

The remainder of the names belong to queens, princesses, and minor nobility; and wives, sisters, and daughters (with many overlaps; the wives of nobles inclined towards nature being especially likely to have birds dedicated to them). In particular, many species described in the nineteenth century mania for hummingbirds and sunbirds were named after women. A couple of people named birds after their mothers. I do not know the extent to which any of these ladies were themselves interested in ornithology, but more than a few of them are known to have participated in collecting expeditions to unexplored places; and one can only wonder how much more credit may have been due to them that they did not get. In any case, the list of women ornithologists above is certainly incomplete.

The wives of explorers and ornithologists are by far the most numerous source of eponyms. (Update 2015-11-01: I started writing this in March 2011, and gave up on doing justice to the list of wives four and a half years later.)

Many genera were named after women (Berenicornis, Dulciornis, Ethelornis, Rosina), but have been renamed since. A few such names have survived. Enriqueta Iñez Cherrie, daughter of ornithologist George Cherrie, lends her name to a genus of four South American Tyrant Flycatchers (whose common names are also Inezia). Prince Bonaparte, a French ornithologist, named a genus after daughter Bathilde, an imperial pigeon after his other daughter Charlotte, and a dove after his wife Zénaïde. The latter name is now given to a genus of doves, including the Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita. Two Antshrikes Mackenziaena spp. are named after Helen Mackenzie McConnell, wife of English collector Frederick McConnell. Claudia Reinard, wife of German ornithologist Ernst Hartert, had both her names given to birds: Claudia and Reinarda, but neither name is still in use today.

Edithornis and edithae were names given to unrelated species after unrelated Ediths (the latter being British botanist and entomologist Edith Cole). Neither is still in use. But Lady Mary Macgregor, wife of explorer Sir William Macgregor, apart from being one of the mariae mentioned earlier, also gives her last name to a Bird-of-paradise Macgregoria pulchra and a Bowerbird Amblyornis macgregoriae. (But the Small Niltava Niltava macgrigoriae is named after an unrelated Jane MacGrigor, daughter of an Army doctor.) Elizabeth Gould, artist and wife of prolific trochilidist John Gould, had a finch Gouldaeornis gouldiae and a sunbird Aethopyga gouldiae named after her (many of Gould's South American hummingbirds are given female names whose origins are unknown).

There are many female eponyms that do not end in -ae, while others are no longer in use. Such names can be discovered only by stumbling across them. I've included some of them in the list above. There are also many female names whose origins are untraceable. Some examples are adela, catharina, eva, francescae, georginae, heloisa, lydiae, and werae. The last is a subspecies of the Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola, Wera being the Polish form of Vera.

I have no useful data about subspecific female eponyms, but I know there are a few. One example I happened upon is Spelaeornis troglodytoides indiraji, named after Indira Gandhi, a former Indian Prime Minister. Another name I like is Strix [leptogrammica] indranee, but Sykes did not explain its origin, and it's probably named after the mythical wife of the god Indra, not a real woman.

Mythology, mostly Greek, is another rich source of female names both generic (e.g. Alcyone, Atthis, Sappho) and specific (e.g. amphitrite, andromedae, antigone). But, like indranee, mythological names are technically not eponyms but autochthonyms, or indigenous names. (Speaking of ancient Greece, Xanthippe, wife of Socrates, had a bird named after her too.)

Finally, an inversion of the principle—the painter (of birds, among other things) Dafila Scott was named after a bird, Dafila being the genus of Pintail ducks (now absorbed into Anas as a subgenus). I know of bird-watcher's daughters named Irena (from Greek mythology) and Yuhina (from a Nepali name). I wonder if there are any women named after birds who were named after women.

If you know of other names that belong on this page, please write to me.

Academic Journals Online is a scam

2013-02-18

Some weeks ago, I received a very spammy-looking email Request for Papers from the editorial team of Academic Journals Online (cfp@academicjournalsonline.co.in). Nine times out of ten, I would have deleted it without a second thought, but something about it annoyed me enough to investigate further.

Academic Journals Online (AJO) is a peer-reviewed online International journals [sic] that publishes manuscripts monthly.

I went to their web site (academicjournalsonline.co.in) and had a quick look around. The journals are all named "International Journal of Trends in …" (Computer Science, Multidisciplinary Engineering, Medical Science, etc.). The site claims repeatedly that they are open-access, but charges INR 500 to see more than the abstract of any paper. (The list of papers was accessible in mid-January, but has been made "Members-only" now.) I found no credible independent references to any of these journals.

Read more…

The rituals of automobile worship

2013-02-11

Some fifteen years ago, when we had a Maruti 800, I could understand the workshop's maintenance procedures. "Change the oil filter" or "clean the spark plugs" were things I could relate to somehow, even if I couldn't do them myself. But things are different now. (Back then, the toolkit that came with the car had actual tools in it. An combination jack handle and screwdriver is all you can expect these days.)

About ten years ago, when our car (by then a Maruti Zen) crossed the 40,000km mark, I took it to the workshop (every 5000km for the first 20,000km; every 10,000km thereafter). In addition to various familiar procedures—brake oil change, coolant change—the service advisor told me that it was very important to "decarbonise" and "flush" the engine.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that this would add two thousand rupees to the bill. Being a suspicious sort of fellow, I asked why the engine suddenly needed to be decarbonised. I was informed, with a pitying look, that engines gather carbon deposits over time, and removing them would increase performance and fuel efficiency. Well, there's no arguing with that, is there? Carbon bad, decarbon good.

But somewhere in my mind, a stubborn bit of carbon lurked, itching uncomfortably every ten thousand kilometres. Last week, my car was due for its 20K appointment, and I asked Google “does my engine really need to be decarbonised?”. One of the top results was a forgotten silk-list post where I had asked the same question! Someone pointed me to this thread that discusses the question at length on Team BHP, a well-known car enthusiasts' web site.

I couldn't find an authoritative answer. Many people swear by the procedure and claim to have "felt the difference" immediately. Some say it's needed only after running 40 or 50 thousand kilometres. Others say you don't need it unless you're using poor-quality fuel. Some recommend doing it more often if you drive in city traffic. Some say it's better to flush the engine regularly and forget about decarbonising. Some say both are necessary, but garages charge way too much to do it. There's a lot of "my friend told me" advice. All but a tiny minority who think it is hogwash shell out between 1200 and 2000 rupees to their workshop at regular intervals for a procedure which is not mentioned anywhere in my car's service manual, and which depends on third-party additive kits.

After much research (otherwise known as clicking "Next" on Team BHP), I declared myself a skeptic and took my car to the workshop fully prepared to fight for my carbon deposits. To my disappointment, they didn't prescribe decarbonisation or flushing at all. They listed only perfectly sensible things like changing the engine oil and cleaning the fuel injector. I guess they must be waiting for the 30k mark to break the news to me.

Driving my car afterwards, I felt the difference immediately. The engine purred smoothly and the car just felt better. I wonder how many of the carbon cultists on Team BHP were feeling the same thing?

Translations or linkbait?

2013-02-04

I get more email from readers about my git-website-howto article than about anything else on my web site. I'm a little surprised by this (I always thought people would like the git-central-repo-howto better), but I'm happy to hear from people who found the article useful. (Aside: many of the notes say "Thanks, this was helpful"; some also ask a question or two. A few are incomprehensible requests for assistance, but I can remember only one of those ever turning unpleasant.)

A few people have contacted me to ask for permission to translate the article—into Belarusian, Bulgarian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Ukrainian so far. I know none of these languages, but the requests were polite and did not set off any mental alarms, so I gave permission and added links to the resulting translations.

Last year, a Bulgarian reader wrote to (say thanks for the howto and) tell me that the quality of the Bulgarian translation was terrible. He thought it was probably done mechanically (e.g. using Google Translate), and pointed out that the site where the translation was hosted also had many other dubious translations of technical articles. I took the link down (though it may have been too late to reverse whatever SEO benefit they had enjoyed in the meantime).

Last week, I received a request for permission to translate the article into Ukrainian. It just so happens that I can read the Cyrillic alphabet quite fluently (but I know next to no Russian), so I compared the output from translate.google.com and the translated version I was requested to link to. Surprise! It was almost identical. I wanted to do the same with the Belarusian translation, but the link was dead and redirected to the webhostingrating.net index page.

On the other hand, the Brazilian Portuguese translation by Thiago Belem appears to be genuine. Translating it back to English with Google Translate reveals certain changes in the article, which are certainly not the result of mechanical translation. So it seems unfair to reject all such offers, and I would certainly like to acknowledge the work put in by people doing genuine translations.

This leaves me with many questions:

Comments are welcome, especially from technical authors who have had their work widely translated.

Update (2013-02-05): Viacheslav Tykhanovskyi was kind enough to read through the Ukrainian translation and confirm that it's 100% crap.

Managing schema changes

2013-02-01

Yesterday, I happened upon this video from PGCon 2012 of David Wheeler talking about his schema management tool named Sqitch, and thence also discovered depesz's Versioning scripts.

I have wrestled with schema migrations for many years, so I found David's presentation very interesting. Sqitch (without a "u") has many compelling features. For example, you can "sqitch deploy --untracked" to test a change you haven't committed, then revert to the last committed revision before you edit or commit the change. depesz's scripts are less magical, but offer similar capabilitites.

In particular, one thing is common to both systems: the schema exists in the repository as a number of interdependent changes, each of which must have a name (whether the names are artificial or assigned by the user is immaterial; some kind of tag is required for dependency resolution). To create the whole schema, you have to assemble the pieces in order, and to see the whole schema, you have to look at the database. The database is the canonical representation of the data model.

I prefer to think of my schema as a part of my source code, so I keep a complete version in a text file (or files), presented in the order that I want to explain it, with comments in the right places, and not leave that responsibility to "pg_dump -s".

What difference does it make?

How these points stack up against each other depends on the situation. For example, a single web service may care less about deploying from scratch than an installable package. If the schema changes frequently, the testing overhead may outweigh other considerations. A project with one or two developers may not have to worry about numbering conflicts, and so on. Being able to read through the schema ranks highly for me.

I'll write about our approach to schema management in Archiveopteryx later.

The end of the Exide saga

2013-01-08

In August 2010, I filed a case at my local District Consumer Forum in Delhi over Exide's refusal to replace a faulty battery under warranty. In November 2012, after nearly two and a half years of filings, hearings, and adjournments, the Consumer Forum issued a judgement in my favour, asking Exide to replace the faulty battery and pay compensation.

Today, Exide sent me three new batteries and a cheque.

Consumer Court: Justice!

2012-11-29

I called the District Consumer Forum this morning to enquire about the judgement I was told to expect in a week at my last hearing in October. I was told the judgement was ready, and that I should collect it. I did so forthwith.

Here's the interesting part (the last paragraph):

The complainant of this case has been subjected to harassment, he need[s] to be compensated. We allow this complaint and direct the OP to replace the battery in question within a period of 30 days with a fresh warranty of one year. We further award a compensation of Rs.6000/- to the complainant which will also include the cost of litigation.

The judgement was entered on 2012-11-05, and the office keeps one copy for each party to the case for a month; if it is not collected within that period, it is dispatched by registered post. I expect Exide will receive its copy in the second week of December.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they grind moderately fine.

Consumer Court: waiting for judgement (again)

2012-10-10

After the adjournment at the last hearing, I went to court this morning expecting only a new date for the next hearing.

Exide was, once again, represented by the minion rather than the lawyer. I asked if the lawyer would turn up at all, and was told that he was "on the way" (as always). My case was passed over, to wait for the lawyer's arrival. When I was called again, he still hadn't arrived. The (new) president of the forum was not inclined to wait any further, and to my surprise, he asked me to present my arguments.

I tried to state the case according to my notes, but the president was obviously in a hurry, and kept asking me to skip things. But I could see that the forum had read my case file and were familiar with the evidence I had presented. So I skipped to my central assertion, which is that the tests they had conducted on my batteries were misleading. The arguments were admitted, and the president scolded the hapless minion (who was in court only to say that the lawyer was on his way, and didn't know anything about the case itself), and pointed out that the field inspection reports from Exide themselves concluded that one battery was faulty, and that it should have been replaced.

"We'll file an order in one week."

Update Exide's lawyer called me, saying that he reached late and was told that I had agreed to the replacement of one battery. I said I had done no such thing, and said we should wait for the order. Even if the forum orders nothing more than to replace one battery (which would mean I'd be stuck with one battery I couldn't use), it's fine with me.

Using fvwm2 as GNOME window manager (on Ubuntu 12.04)

2012-08-07

I'm a dinosaur. I've been using the same fvwm2 configuration since 1996. I've tried other window managers, with varying levels of sincerity, but I drift back to comfortable old fvwm2 with no window decorations sooner or later. (I got along really well with Blackbox, but it was easier to switch back than to hack the code to cycle forward and back through a stack of windows with RaiseLower, a feature I like.)

I've also tried hard to get along with the default desktop on successive versions of Ubuntu (both GNOME and Unity), but a day or two is all I can stand. But there are some things about the Ubuntu interface that I don't want to give up or reinvent, especially on my laptop (the keyring, some indicator applets, nm-applet, the screensaver, etc.). Being an adaptible dinosaur, I now run fvwm2 as my GNOME window manager.

Thanks to this detailed explanation by dedicated xmonad users, changing "xmonad" to "fvwm2" in a few places was all the hard work I needed to do. I had an ~/.xsession file that ran a few startup commands already, so I put the following into /usr/share/xsessions/xsession.desktop to add an "xsession" option in the session drop-down at the login screen:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=xsession
Exec=/etc/X11/Xsession

Then I created /usr/share/gnome-session/sessions/fvwm.session with the following contents:

[GNOME Session]
Name=fvwm2+GNOME
RequiredComponents=gnome-settings-daemon;
RequiredProviders=windowmanager;
DefaultProvider-windowmanager=fvwm

That was enough to make "gnome-session --session=fvwm" work, and that's what the last line of my .xsession runs. The other bit worth mentioning is stalonetray, which provides a home to nm-applet and friends.

Consumer court: come back later

2012-07-31

I had a hearing today. Nothing happened, as usual. The bench were all on vacation, so they gave everyone a date in October for the next hearing.