If it is not immediately obvious, this is a parody of The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll (the version linked to here, which happens to be done by me, is reasonably nice in that it has the original illustrations by Henry Holiday scanned in, but I would recommend that you go buy the print edition with the original illustrations and with commentary by Martin Gardner, called "The Annotated Snark"). And "PI" is "principal investigator", the professor in charge of a research project, for those not in the know. Yes, we know it's really long. Yes, we know it doesn't always rhyme perfectly. You need to see past that to its deep inner beauty...

Speaking of deep inner beauty, we could really use a few illustrations (in the style of Holiday, of course) to go with this. If anybody wants to spend a bit of time on that, it would be most welcome!

The Hunting of the Model

An Agony In One Byte (or Eight Bits)

By Eli Meir and Ben Haller (with thanks to Lewis Carroll)

The First Bit: The Funding

"Just the place for a Model", the PI cried
As he struck his computer with spite
Massaging each point falling far to the side
With a formula keyed late at night.

"Just the place for a Model! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Model! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."

The lab was complete: it included a Nethead —
A fixer of wires and bits —
A Penman who brought with him boxes of lead
In case they'd need anything writ

A Dean of the College oozing with smiles
Signed papers throughout the day.
Which promptly slid off of the table in piles
That got in everyone's way.

A Contractor built them new rooms every spring
Each one named for some rich benefactor
Though the money left over couldn't pay for a thing
To furnish the rooms with thereafter.

A Postdoc renowned for his great eloquence
Might perhaps have made off with the credit.
But a Lawyer engaged at enormous expense
Wrote trademarks with which to prevent it.

There was also a Trustee that hid in the back
Whom no one had seen up till now.
But had often (the Dean said) kept them on track
Though none of the lab knew how.

An Undergrad came (when she wasn't in class) —
They had hired her on as a tech.
Though it turned out that she was allergic to glass
Which the Prof had neglected to check.

She said she was willing to do anything
As long as no glass was nearby.
Except that she hated to read, write, or think
And refused to put on a tie.

They finally had her make paper airplanes
And play solitaire with the computer.
Hoping she'd waste enough time for them all
So the others would work in the future.

The final two members deserve special mention
For they occupied most of the room.
Two Graduate Students sat making inventions
Of drinking games each afternoon.

Both Grads had shown up with piles of books
That covered all human knowledge.
None of which they had given a serious look
As they only had bought them for college.

One of the two was slow in his thoughts
As he himself would admit
He had spent nigh one year on Newton's first law
And now claimed he almost had got it.

The other one seemed much better at first
She spoke in equations alone
But though this made all of her statements quite terse
No one much cared for her tone.

Still the PI thought each of the Grads was just swell
A ticket to fortune and fame
If (he dared dream) they knew Models, as well,
They might even live up to his name.

At which point he promised (quite generously)
He would gladly write up their results.
And to show he had not lost his modesty,
He might grant them first authorship once.

The Grads thought that grand, and proceeded apace
Pursuing one thought then another.
Though none would quite work when put to the test
And the PI's sole advice was "Work harder".

They worked eight days a week and well into the night
Still the data just wouldn't come.
Till ultimately it seemed not worth the fight
And their work switched to gossip and lunch.

The Undergrad fearful of losing her job
Complained bitterly to the Dean.
But all that he said was "Fill out these forms,
And I'll go and form a committee."

The Lawyer proposed that they write up a suit
For a dollar amount in the millions
Against whom was felt to be technically moot,
For the precedents all were so brilliant.

But they finally settled, outside in the hall
On three hours wasted per day.
With a full extra hour at lunch in the mall
That the Undergrad only could take.

Still whenever the Grads came in through the door.
The Undergrad tried to look busy
Fooling about till a quarter past four
While complaining her work made her dizzy.

The Second Bit: The PI's Speech

The PI himself they all praised to the skies —
Such a carriage, such ease and such grace!
Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise,
The moment one looked in his face!

He had brought a textbook that covered the field,
Without even one word within.
And the team was much pleased when they found it to be
A text they could all comprehend.

"What's the good of Facts, Explanations and Figures
Legends, Footnotes, and Sidelines"
So the PI would cry: and the lab would reply
"They are merely passˇ paradigms!"

"Other texts are such tomes, with their chapters and tests
But we've got our wise PI to thank"
(So the lab would protest) "that he's bought us the best —
A perfect and absolute blank!"

This was charming, no doubt: but they shortly found out
This PI whose path they all walked
Had only one notion for finding the truth
And that was to play with his chalk.

He was thoughtful and grave — but instructions he gave
Were enough to bewilder them through
When he cried "Check the fruit fly for quarks in its nuclei"
What's a poor starving student to do?

Then the DNA fogged up the microscope's lens
A thing that the PI noted
Quite often happened in desperate times
When the lab work is, so to speak, modeled.

But the principal failing occured getting grants
And the PI, distressed and perplexed,
Said he hoped good reviews would be making the news
And they soon would receive some big checks.

But the danger was past — they had data at last,
Safely filed away in their laptops
Yet the lab at first sight was quite taken by fright
For it chiefly consisted of gaps.

The PI perceived that their spirits were low,
And repeated in musical tone
Some jokes he had kept for a season of woe —
But the lab would do nothing but groan.

He served bottles of beer with a liberal hand,
And bade them sit down on the bench:
And they could not but own that their PI looked grand,
As he stood and delivered his speech.

"E equals mass times the speed of light squared!"
(They were all of them fond of true facts:
So they drank to his health and they clapped and they roared
While the PI distributed snacks).

"We have worked many months, we have worked many weeks,
(Four weeks to the month you may mark),
But never as yet ('tis your PI who speaks)
Has the truth peeked out of the dark.

"We have worked many weeks, we have worked many days,
(Seven days to the week I allow),
But a truth upon which we might lovingly gaze,
We have never beheld till now!

"When the data is weak, and the research is slow
You must set out at once on a quest
For a Model to stick it together just so
And put all of your problems to rest.

"Come, listen, my lab, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable signs
By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
When a Model is in your designs.

"Let us take them in order. The first is the color
Which principally must be opaque
So no one deciphers the Model's internals
Which are typically utterly blank.

"The particular thing you expect to discover
Must either be clear or obtuse.
The former when sending the Model to Nature
The latter for job interviews.

"Third is the data, how much and how many
And its fit with the Model and such
One data point gives the Model more credit,
But two is already too much.

"You'll agree when I tell you a Model is called for
In cases where research is lacking
Or in questions of gravest political import
Where the truth would not receive backing.

"The fifth sign of Models I hereby declare
To be coffee and candy consumption.
If chocolate and lattˇs are everyday fare
A Model's almost an assumption.

"These signs will infallibly guide your decisions
As to whether a Model is called for.
And next I will give but the briefest of mentions
Of dangers Models have in store.

"For, although common Models do no manner of harm,
Yet I feel it my duty to say
Some are Boojums —" The PI broke off in alarm,
For the Nethead had fainted away.

The Third Bit: The Nethead's Tale

They roused him with coffee, they roused him with beer
They roused him with vitamin C
They roused him with photos of space station Mir
They mailed papers for him to critique

When at length he sat up and was able to speak
He offered to give them a talk
And the PI cried "Silence! not even a shriek"
And excitedly juggled his chalk.

There was silence supreme! Not a cough, not a snore
Scarcely even a murmur or snitch
As the Nethead discarded his bits, bytes, and boards
And tried to remember his English.

"My father and mother were smart, though not famous —"
"Skip all that!" cried the PI in haste.
"If the morning arrives with the Model unfinished
The whole of our work is a waste."

"I skip all through college" said the Nethead, abashed,
"And gloss over my work with Klein bottles,
To pick up on the day when I first joined this lab
To help you in hunting down Models.

"A dear old lamented professor of mine,
Remarked when I bade him farewell —
"Oh, skip your old prof!" the PI exclaimed.
"He's already over the hill!"

"He remarked to me then" he went on with much coughing
"If your Model be true, that is right:
Publish widely and often, and ignore any scoffing
And your colleagues' injurious slights.

"You may seek it with symbols — and seek it with talks
You may hunt it with guests of fame
You may threaten to square it with pi and with e
You may charm it by giving it names

("That's exactly the method," the PI injected,
"That's just what my grants have proposed.
Though reviewers seem always to find some objection
And say my controls are transposed.")

"But oh, beamish student, beware of the day,
If your Model's a Boojum, for then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away
And never be published again.

"It is this, it is this that gives me great fright
When I think of my prof's last remark.
And although I may program throughout the whole night
The code is to me bleak and stark.

"It is this, it is this —" "We have had that before!"
The PI indignantly said.
And the Nethead replied "Let me say it once more.
It is this, it is this that I dread!

"I hunt out new Models — each day on the couch —
While sleeping away last night's work.
I dream of a Model for which we can vouch
That makes them rewrite the textbook.

"But if ever I find a Boojum, that day
In a moment (of this I am sure),
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away —
And the notion I cannot endure!"

The Fourth Bit: The Hunting

The PI looked uffish, and wrinkled his brow.
"If only you'd spoken before!
It's excessively awkward to bring it up now,
With the Model, we hope, at the door!

"We should all of us grieve, as you well may believe,
If you never were published again —
But surely, my man, when your job first began,
You might have suggested it then?

"It's excessively awkward to bring it up now,
As I think I've already made mention."
And the man they called "Pi" replied, with a sigh,
"I told you the day I began.

"You may charge me with forgery, or accuse me of plagiary
(We are all of us weak at times):
But the slightest approach to a false sense of bravery
Was never among my crimes!

"I said it in Ada, I said it in Lisp
I told you in Cobol and C
But I wholly forgot (my mind must have slipped)
That English is what you speak.

"'Tis a pitiful tale," said the PI, whose face
Had grown longer at every word:
"But, now that you've stated the whole of your case,
More debate would be simply absurd.

"The rest of my speech" (he explained to his lab)
"You shall hear when I've leisure to speak it.
But the Model's at hand, let me tell you again!
'Tis your glorious duty to seek it!

"To seek it with symbols, to seek it with talks
To hunt it with guests of fame
To threaten to square it with pi and with e
To charm it by giving it names!

"For a Model's a singular creature, that won't
Be built in a commonplace way.
Do all that you know, and try all that you don't
Not a chance must be wasted to-day!

"The academy waits — I forbear to proceed:
In Sweden they're watching our plight
Thus you'd best go and visit the vending machines
To rig yourselves out for the night."

Then the Penman sharpened a whole box of lead
And checked every ballpoint for ink
While the Postdoc made slides of the sacred cows
The results of the Model would sink.

The Dean then convened a committee of one
On ethics impacting the case.
Which spent all its time calling powerful men
To suss out which side it should take.

The committee results went to the Trustee
Who deigned to appear for a trife.
He looked around briefly and sat for high tea
Then asked it be named for his wife.

The Nethead sat tensely in front of his screen
Checking security measures.
To make sure that no one, no matter how keen,
Could sneak in and steal their treasures.

And when no intruders appeared in his sights
The Nethead attacked his own port
Testing if all the passwords were secure
And causing all work to stop short.

The PI arose from behind his great desk
To give the grad students a lecture
On the grandiose scope of the forthcoming task
Whose completion he fully expected.

The graduate students replied nervously
That their plans were becoming unravelled.
The compiling of code was a difficult road
Which the Undergrad only had travelled.

The Undergrad's dreams of Hawaiian vacations
Broke off, and she fled in a trice,
But the Lawyer detained her with bold legal action
As the Dean gave paternal advice.

The Fifth Bit: The Postdoc's Lesson

They sought it with symbols, they sought it with talks
They hunted with guests of fame
They threatened to square it with pi and with e
They charmed it by giving it names.

Then the Nethead contrived an ingenious job
That their servers could crunch in one night
And he alloced off blocks on all of their drives
So that disk space would not become tight.

But the very same job to the Postdoc occurred
He had written the very same code;
Yet neither demurred, though they knew it absurd,
For the servers could not take the load.

The CPU time grew as scarce as the disk,
And the evening got darker and colder,
Till (merely from nervousness, not from goodwill)
They typed sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Then a buzz, loud and harsh, rent the shuddering air,
And they knew that some danger was near:
The Postdoc turned white to the ends of his hair,
And even the Nethead felt queer.

He thought of his childhood, left far far behind —
That innocence now so concealed —
The sound (although louder) so brought to his mind
The buzzing of bees in a field.

"'Tis the Dot-Matrix Printer!" he suddenly cried.
(This man, that they used to call "Dunce.")
"As the PI would tell you," he added with pride,
"I have uttered that sentiment once.

"'Tis the Dot-Matrix Printer! Keep count, I entreat;
You will find I have told you now twice.
'Tis the Dot-Matrix Printer! The proof is complete,
If only I've stated it thrice."

The Postdoc had counted with scrupulous care,
Attending to every word:
But he fairly lost heart, and outgrabe in despair,
When the third repetition occurred.

He felt that, despite what his slide rule now showed,
He had somehow contrived to lose count,
And the only thing left was to hack out some code
That would reckon him up the amount.

"Two added to one — if that could but be done,
In what little time is left to us!"
Recollecting with tears his APL years
And his skills that had since turned to rust.

"The thing can be done," said the Nethead, "I think.
The thing must be done, I am sure.
The thing shall be done!" and he gave a quick wink —
"Mathematica will be the cure."

The Postdoc brought floppies, and zip disks, and mice,
And monitors stunning in size,
While oddly pale students crept into the lab,
And watched them with wondering eyes.

So engrossed was the Nethead, he heeded them not,
As he typed with a mouse in each hand,
And explained all the while in a popular style
Which the Postdoc could well understand.

"Taking x as the subject to reason about —
A convenient letter for me —
We factor by y, and then multiply out
By z's differential, dz.

"The result we proceed to divide, in good time,
By dz over y, as you see.
By cancelling terms (except when they're prime),
We reach our solution of three.

"For if x equals three (and you must grant me that),
Mathematica clearly can show,
That these computations will never fall flat,
And that three must result, just like so."

The Nethead would gladly have talked till next day,
But he felt that the Lesson must end,
And he wept with delight in attempting to say
He considered the Postdoc his friend.

While the Postdoc confessed, with affectionate looks
More eloquent even than tears,
He had learnt in ten minutes far more than man pages
Could teach him in seventy years.

They arose hand-in-hand, and the PI, unmanned
By emotion, and wiping his eyes,
Said "This amply repays all the wearisome days
We have spent with Drosophilii!"

Such friends as the Postdoc and Nethead became,
Have seldom if ever been known;
In winter or summer, 'twas always the same —
You could never meet either alone.

And when quarrels arose — as one frequently finds
Quarrels will, spite of every endeavor —
The Dot-Matrix Printer recurred to their minds,
And cemented their friendship together!

The Sixth Bit: The Dean's Dream

They sought it with symbols, they sought it with talks
They hunted with guests of fame
They threatened to square it with pi and with e
They charmed it by giving it names.

But the Dean, after toiling with office supplies,
Felt weariness weighing him down.
He slowly dropped off (to no one's surprise),
And drooled on his graduate gown.

He dreamed that he stood at the head of a Table,
Where the Model as centerpiece stood,
And raising his glass he shouted a toast
As a truly fine Dean surely would.

"To the Model!" he boomed, in a sonorous tone
That the guests all agreed was quite grand;
"To the Model!" he roared, and waved with his glass
As all of the guests shook his hand.

The Model arose, and it humbly began,
"I'll try now to keep my speech short:
I'm pleased to be part of this glorious plan
And I thank you for all your support."

The money flowed freely, at ten grand a plate,
As the Dean and his wine glass rejoiced.
But then he observed that some sort of debate
Had begun, noisily, to be voiced.

The Model exclaimed "I was wondering when
One among you would start to suspect!
For there's something amiss beyond all human ken:
There's something that hasn't been checked!"

The patrons had all come to different views
(About what was not really clear),
And they all talked at once (because of the booze)
So that no one could possibly hear.

"There is no —" said the Dean: but the Model cried "Bean!
I have published already in Science!
Moreover I emailed the chancellor's niece
With whom I have forged an alliance.

"And I happen to know you (in secret) agree
Without even needing to ask
For you plagiarized this entire idea
From a memo you found on my desk."

The Dean tried to laugh, but instead gave a snort
And choked on his wine as he fell.
The guests were stampeding, the money was gone,
And he knew he was done for as well.

He woke with a scream from this horrible dream
To find himself dripping with beer;
For the lab had observed that he seemed quite perturbed,
And had doused him with what they had near.

The Seventh Bit: The Lawyer's Fate

They sought it with symbols, they sought it with talks
They hunted with guests of fame
They threatened to square it with pi and with e
They charmed it by giving it names.

And the Lawyer, inspired with courage so new
It was matter for public remark
Tried to make up a Model from spray paint and glue
In the closet (to be in the dark).

But as he constructed, with Elmer's and paint,
A sculpture of grandiose scale
He got dizzy, and then he collapsed in a faint
For (I fear) he had cause to inhale.

The paint fumes were thinned by the fume-hood's great wind
As they gave him electrical shocks
And the PI said sadly "I think he fared badly."
And solemnly clung to his chalk.

His pupils were large, and his words slow to come
When he woke to his senses that day.
His lips had turned blue, and he glared at them so,
They all felt a sense of dismay.

"I shall go to the courts and shall file some torts!"
He proclaimed in hoarse tones as he lay.
"A damage award does not seem untoward,
With a closet so clearly mismade.

"There ought to have been, by my estimation,
A label of warning in red
Declaring the risks of fume inhalation
(I could even have ended up dead!)

"Leave him to his suits and his petty disputes!"
The PI declared with a yawn.
"We have lost half the night. If we don't reignite,
We shan't find our Model by dawn!"

The Eighth Bit: The Vanishing

They sought it with symbols, they sought it with talks
They hunted with guests of fame
They threatened to square it with pi and with e
They charmed it by giving it names.

And just as they feared that their research might fail,
The Undergrad, gleeful past words,
Danced circles around them, and passed out the ale,
And divided the data in thirds.

"She's got an idea!" the PI cried out.
"She has lost all her penchant to dawdle!
She is waving her hands, she is trying to shout,
She has surely discovered a Model!"

They gazed in delight, while the Postdoc exclaimed
"I always did praise her potential!"
They beheld her — their Undergrad, leaping with joy
As she juggled one last differential.

Proud and sublime, for one moment in time.
In the next, her small figure they saw
Bent over her terminal, her typing continual,
While they waited and listened in awe.

"It's a Model!" was that which then greeted their ears,
And it seemed quite too good to be true.
Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers:
Then the ominous words, "It's a Boo—"

Then silence. Some fancied they heard in the air
A weary and wandering sigh
That sounded like "—jum!" but the others declare
It was only the hard drives nearby.

They hunted till darkness came on, but they found
Not a class note, nor grade, nor beer bottle
By which they could tell that they stood in the lab
Where the Undergrad met with the Model.

In the midst of the point she was trying to make
At the moment she earned her degree
She softly and suddenly vanished away
For it was a Boojum, you see.


Copyright (c) 2002 Eli Meir & Ben Haller. All rights reserved.
You may link to this; you may not copy it, modify it, or distribute it.