I recently entered two different poetry competitions on the Internet. One called for limericks specifically, while the other was open to short poetry of any form, but I entered limericks for both because I like limericks. And in one competition (but not the other), I won a prize!
The one I didn’t win was hosted on Lynne Murphy’s blog, Seperated by a Common Language, and the prize was a book on British vs American culture. To enter, you had to write a limerick illustrating a potential misunderstanding between speakers of British and American English.
My entry plays on the different meanings of the verb table (as in “table a motion”), which in British committee-speak means to make something available for discussion, but in American committee-speak means to stop making it available for discussion and get on with discussing something else instead. It also follows in the long tradition of intentionally incomplete limericks — i.e. where the joke lies in the fact that one or more lines are missing. Here it is:
“This limerick must quickly be written!”
Said the visiting member from Britain.
So in need of more minds
He tabled four lines –
(Give it time to sink in, if you need to.) I didn’t expect to win. Examined closely it doesn’t really work, because tabling is more an action of the committee as a whole, not of an individual member. The winning poem was written by Richard English.
The competition where I did win a prize was easier, because there were fewer competitors and multiple copies of the prize. That prize is an uncorrected galley proof of Chad Orzel’s upcoming book, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, and the competition, which took place on Chad’s blog, involved writing a short poem on the theme of physics and dogs. The plot thickened after The Digital Cuttlefish entered the competition, creating a scenario reminiscent of that bit from Terry Pratchett about how the purpose of the Witch Trials is to find out who comes second after Granny Weatherwax.
In the end, Chad decided to give out two caption prizes and two poetry prizes, and I was one of the winners! (The other, of course, was the Cuttlefish.) Here is my entry:
A dog who seeks morsels organic
Such as bunnies that run when they panic
Must be fast and observing
And strong and deserving
And informed about quantum mechanic.
Looking forward to that prize.
That’s all I have to say about the poetry competitions, but while we’re discussing quantum mechanics, it seems an opportune time to share something from my university days — an assignment I wrote in the year 2000 for the subject Advanced Professional English (the same subject for which I wrote this), on the subject of quantum computers.
The assignment involved writing an article suitable for publication in a magazine, and identifying the type of magazine it is suitable for. In my case, I tried to write about quantum computers in a style suitable for a mass market computer magazine (the sort that more typically contains reviews of newly-released software). Supplementary material, which I won’t reproduce here, included an analysis of the writing process, a list of references, and a copy of the email I got back from a physicist I consulted.
Bear in mind that this was written almost a decade ago, and by a humble not-yet-blogger who never studied physics beyond First Year. I haven’t kept up with it at all, but physics has moved on since then. For one thing, the emphasis now seems to be less “how many particles can you entangle?“, and more “how long can you keep them that way?“. Also, a few more catchphrases such as “decoherence” have trickled down to the popular science books.
[Update: My biggest error, however, was believing that quantum computers would be radically faster than conventional ones to the point of overturning Moore’s Law. It wasn’t until 2014 that I learned this is not true. Ah, well, we learn from our mistakes.]