Archive for March, 2008

Thirty-first of March

March 31, 2008

Ah, the thirty-first of March. My birthday and the Eve of April Fools’ Day*.

A normal human being might say “My! One of those weird coincidences, such a clown born on such a day!”, but since I am a mathematician, I know it’s something better, namely the Law of Small Numbers.

I also share my birthday with the quite bigshot mathematician René Descartes (in 1596)… and on my birthday, the equally famous physicist-mathematician Isaac Newton died (in 1727). Spooky, no?

No.

Trust me, with only 365 unique days of the year to choose from, there surely is something that fits you, specifically you, among the things that happened either exactly on you birthday, or then on the day immediately before or after it. Really, 3 of 365 is around one percent — if the things that do happen are evenly distributed among the days of a year (a reasonable assumption), about one-hundreth of all the things that have ever happened, have done so on your birthday, on its eve, or on the day just after it. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume there’s something — a birth, a death, or some other event or premiere or publication that echoes your personal interests.

If you doubt that there’s something just for you, go and have a browse in Wikipedia (dates at the bottom of this page). I guarantee there’s something that makes you say something along the lines of “What! I’m a physicist too!” or “Another Belgian-born!” or “Why, I love that movie!”

Now, after a bit of searching, you can go around bragging that you’ve got the same birthday as Firstname Surname, an obscenely famous figure in your special field of interest… and those that don’t do mathematics exclaim “My! It’s like magic!”

* * *

* : You can even get sweet Eris Discordia the goddess of disorder into my birthday by thinking “(Eve of April Fools’) Day” instead of “Eve of (April Fools’ Day)”.

More pictures from Finland

March 30, 2008

Noticed I had some pictures taken on the second of February when I visited good ol’ Heart of Finland. Here you go: the beautiful parts of what has been, weather-wise, a lousily warm and irritatingly genial winter.

(As always, click to embiggen.)

The first picture is of a pine hedge. The path under it is as tiny as it looks. The thing to the right is a rusty old water-tank, whose hand-pump has two outlets: one gushing through the hose, and the other simultaneously spraying through the pump mechanism right on the person doing the pump-handling.

Path under the pine-hedge, Finland, 2.2.2008

* * *

The second has a nice view of mixed forest and an old threshery — the place where dried bundles of rye were bludgeoned with cudgels, partly to relieve the tedium of Finnish autumns, and partly to get the edible grains out. (Or to erottaa jyvät akanoista, to separate grains from the straw.)

An old Finnish threshery and forest, 2.2.2008, masksoferis.wordpress.com

* * *

The third is a rowan-tree covered by snow. It’s sights like this that make me wish for a neverending winter and eternal monochromatic gloom. It would be troublesome and cruel, but so very beautiful. (Actually, there’s no need of endless winter since those qualities… well, we have women, right?)

A snow-covered rowan, 2.2.2008, masksoferis.wordpress.com

* * *

The fourth has the same rowan and a taller birch behind it. Behind them a hedge of pines. Oh, Finland: it’s mostly trees, with the rest being either snow or mosquitoes.

A rowan and a birch, 2.2.2008, masksoferis.wordpress.com

* * *

The fifth is a puzzler. Look at the full picture and, in five seconds, try to guess whether it’s upside down or not. (The answer is clear after a closer look.)

Upside down or not? A Puzzler, 2.2.2008, masksoferis.wordpress.com

If you wonder “Huh? Why more pictures?”, go and look at the previous set.

Getting religion

March 30, 2008

I used to be a regular neophobe, mistrustful of new things, when younger. Then I got religion.

It went like this: “Oh, I get it! This Jesus stuff isn’t real!”

Now I’m an atheist neophile, and I approach new and different things with tender curiosity. I think those two changes of outlook are related.

The Dana Fuchs Band, Helter Skelter

March 29, 2008

This piece of music is pretty close to perfect: the Dana Fuchs Band and the Beatles’ Helter Skelter.

Oh, it is so good. How good? I’d say “Beatles didn’t do it half this good” good.

Then again, I’m no Beatlefan and, furthermore, I’m male and so was the vocalist of the Beatles, whereas Dana Fuchs… oh, I must go and lie down for a bit for I feel nicely lightheaded because of her.

A Guide to Finland: Where do Finns come from?

March 29, 2008

Here’s the first chapter of this Guide to Finland I’m trying to write. It’s an attempt to tell where the Finns and their dastardly language come from, and the first iteration on answering the eternal question of all exchange students and foreigners that visit Finland.

Namely, “Why are these people like this? Why the excessive drinking? Why the sullen silences and the violent pinpoint bursts of emotion? Why the sober and modest rationality speckled with sudden moments of boot-throwing, wife-carrying, sauna-bathing lunacy? Why? And, dear Heavens, is it contagious?”

The Guide also has an Introduction and a collection of drafting written by me. More will come.

* * *

I like snowstorms. I like howling winds and spells of cold that make you gasp and shiver even when you’re inside. Likings like this are common among Finns.

That’s not difficult to explain. Most Finns are nuts.

Seriously, did you think that any group of sane and sensible people would come to live here in the cold and dark north? Here, where everything is always blanketed either by snow, mosquitoes or darkness, huh?

Finns are composed of the lunatics, outcasts and hermits of all other nations. Our language is from beyond the Urals, from deepest and most dismal Siberia (not Russia), but our ancestors have come from all over the place.

We are the people your ancestors prodded with spears, suggesting they go and lick a glacier before they’d get thrown under the sacrificial mammoths.

We’re the ones that moved away rather than introduced themselves to new neighbors.

We’re the ones that went to find the North Star, the golden nail of the heavens’ pillar, and then got lost.

We, the Finns, are nuts.

You might find this explains a great lot about Finland.

Oh, and those few Finns that aren’t nuts most probably have Swedish ancestry: any tendency towards irrational nuttiness was quickly weeded out from among an olden horde of raging Vikings. People whose personal survival depends on good hand-eye (or hand-axe) coordination are highly rational and clear-minded.

(Nowadays, Swedes are nicer. Probably the kill’n’plunder genes burned themselves out, along with a few thousand barns and homesteads.)

So, the ancestors of Finns come from among all their neighbors — Germanic folks, Slavic folks, forest-loving Vikings, leftover Euskarans and Picts, Greeks and Hittites that got really badly lost, people like that. In contrast, the Finnish language is a legacy of the very first settlers of Finland, a bunch of primitive Siberian hunter-gatherers that wandered to Finland after the latest Ice Age ended some ten thousand years ago, happy that there was some place others hadn’t grasped yet. Those Siberians weren’t Slavs like Russians, not Germans like (uh) Germans, but Siberians (Fenno-Ugric guys; have your pick) pretty much unrelated to anyone else.

The surviving linguistic relatives of Finns consist of Estonians, Hungarians, Sami, and various minuscule tribes marooned in Siberia or stranded in the middle of legions of Russians. That explains why Finnish language is so difficult to learn: any two of Spanish, Kurdish, Russian, Bengali and English are closer to each other than any of them is to Finnish.

Those first Finns had their own language, and when other, more European settlers came, either marrying or slaughtering the first settlers the best they could, they adopted the old language.

Well, they brought new words for new, exotic inventions like a “window” and an “axe”.

Finn: “What’s that?”

Russian: “An axe!” (hits the Finn with the axe.)

Finn: “Oh, the impersonal brutality of modern warfare! It was so much better in the days of bare fisticuffs!”

But enough fun. Ten thousand years ago the first Finns came, and after that various other ancestors came intruding in and made themselves comfortable, but the language — the darned, complex, maddening Finnish language — has remained common to all.

It’s probably the reason there’re only five million Finns. If we’d had a simple, even simplistic, language like English — but no, that is idle fantasy.

Well, Finns lived worshipping their brutish gods, drinking and snorting powdered fly agaric mushrooms, occasionally axe-murdering each other or freezing to death, and years passed. A survey of Finland’s history runs into something interesting when, around the year 1100 CE, a bunch of Christianized Swedish Vikings decides to crusade over into Finland for loot, land, peons and converts.

When we’ll continue with that, we’ll encounter a bishop named Henry (Henrik), an irate Finnish farmer named Lalli, and an axe belonging to Lalli and partly embedded in the bishop, but this has been enough about the origins of Finns.

Nuggets of pleasure

March 27, 2008

Look at the title. What do you think this post is going to be about?

One of the nicest things about prowling around Internet is finding something pleasant you never knew existed. If I chance across a blog, I usually read or skim the post I’ve dropped into, and if it’s interesting, click to see the newest posts. Usually this is enough; few blogs interest me more than that.

Now, some do. I’d read Pharyngula from the beginning down (up?) to the posts of today, but the humanly productive professor Myers writing it adds new ones much too quickly. I have to check it daily just to keep up with the new postings, and I suppose that if I tried to read both the currents and the oldies, the inevitable side effects of overexposure to plain atheism and explicit squid sex could be messy. Still, from this craving and level of attendance, you can pretty much guess I like what he writes. There are so many fuzzy-brained or calculating nincompoops* in the world that the voice of someone who’s unapologetically honest is a relief.

Another blog: By a random accident (duh; any other kind?) I ran across the blog of Patrick Rothfuss, a novelist. I read one post, smiled, read another, laughed out loud (really, really loudly), and since he started the blog only a year or so ago I eventually read every single post. Then, reasoning that someone that writes so well is indeed most probably capable of writing well, I went and ordered his book, the Name of the Wind. I’m still waiting for it to arrive, but because of various reviews and because of his blog, I don’t feel any of the usual “What if I’ve bought a bunch of shite?” trepidation.

Oh, and I might mention two other blogs as well: Indexed and Neil Gaiman’s Journal. I’ve got something from both artists in book form, though the first was bought post-blog and the second pre-blog.

And then, of course, there are those blogs — dozens and dozens — that I bookmark, intending to return later. Thus naturally my Firefox bookmarks are — I kid you not — a jungle of hundreds of links. Oh well. Those nuggets can wait, since bits don’t turn yellow and brittle.

(Note, marked with * : Here “calculating nincompoops” is not supposed to mean mathematicians. We hypothetize! And occasionally swear.)

Where even bears go mad

March 27, 2008

Life is good.

There’s a howling snowstorm outside, I’ve gotten a new grant (one year with a possibility of extension), and the repairman just called to tell me my computer’s been fixed, neutered and showered until it shines.

If you aren’t Finnish, seeing why the first of these three is good might be a bit difficult. Especially when I go around the snowstorm on a bicycle older than myself (dear old father used to ride the same when he studied here), but that’s just a part of being Finnish.

Seriously, did you think that any group of sane and sensible people would come to live here in the cold and dark north, where even bears go mad out of loneliness? Finns are composed of the lunatics, outcasts and hermits of all other nations. Our language is from the Urals, from deepest and most dismal Siberia (not Russia), but the genetic strains of Finns come from all over — we’re the people your ancestors prodded with spears, suggesting they go and lick a glacier before something nasty happened. We’re the ones that moved away rather than introduced themselves to new neighbors. We’re the ones that went to find the North Star, the golden nail of the heavens’ pillar, and then got lost.

You might find this explains a great lot about Finland.

PS. The Guide to Finland isn’t dead — it’s just that writing it is a bit difficult without a functioning computer.

PPS. If you wonder about this post — I ain’t using the university computer, I ain’t have closed the door so my advisor won’t see me, etc. Not me. Besides, you can’t prove it.

Suddenly elongating gaping hairy snouts…

March 26, 2008

Sorry for the lack of new stuff. Been off celebrating Easter the atheist way. Namely, “Huh? Nuthing happened back then. Thus gonna do nuthin’. After doin’ nuthin’ an’ scratchin’ me belly gonna fall off the sauna bench and insist I wasn’t drunken. An’ then gonna do more bad hick imitashun.”

Nah, I’ve been making people (family) happy, and feeding a trio of horses some bread and apples. That soothed me more than any amount of praying ever did, or could.

Well, except the time one of the horsies tried to eat my jacket. Praying was a zone totally free of suddenly elongating gaping long hairy snouts trying to take a hold of you.

After a bit of thought I must say that that might not be such a bad thing. I can’t think of any way “religious ceremony” and “suddenly elongating gaping hairy snouts” could fit together in a nice and calming manner.

But now a tangent. In the recent days people have found this blog o’ mine by search-strings like “edible underwear horror stories” and “flammable dung”.

I’ll try to provide; please come back later. For the horror of edible panties, I can just now only offer this thought:

Lettuce.

Anything for you, or what too many love songs have wrought

March 19, 2008

This would be a song if I could sing. It is slightly humorous.

1

Oh, I would do anything for you
Anything and everything
I’d give you the moon and stars
And NASA couldn’t do a thing
I’d walk to the start of time
And Einstein’d be stumped
I’d walk around naked or in drag

If only it would please you
Please you,
won’t you like me?

2

Oh, I’d break any law for you
Any law, custom or way
I’d jaywalk every single day
And barf on a wedding pair
I’d sell pics of embryos in SM gear
And kill and eat my dogs
I’d embezzle or send racist hate mail

If only it would please you
Please you,
won’t you like me?

3

Oh, I’d even kill someone for you
Anyone or everyone here
I’d shoot the prez of the ol’ US
Or smash a minister’s face in
I’d go on rampage in a crowded mall
And drop germs in a pool
I’d torture, threaten and maim

If only it would please you
Please you,
won’t you like me?

4

Oh, I’d… where are you going?
I’d do anything for you! Anything!
I’d walk around naked or in drag
I’d embezzle or send racist hate mail
I’d torture, threaten and maim
I’d compliment your mom and dad!

(a pause)

I’d even compliment your mom and dad!

(after a pause, the sound of a kiss)

Oh, you like me!

(after some furious instrumentation, the following is spoken: )

“Finally, we settled on me doing the housecleaning and Dick Cheney.”

And once again, I’d scared stiff of what search strings WordPress will tell led people to find this post. (Hello, NSA!)

If you think “What sick mind? Why?”, the answer is “One generic love song too many on the radio one night” — where are all the variants, like Juliet loving Laura instead of Romeo? Where are all the jilts, mistakes, weird paths and unusual situations? Jim Steinman can’t be the only songwriter with a good grasp of things, can he? (For an example, see Meat Loaf doing Paradise by the Dashboard Light, from the greatest album ever, Bat Out of Hell.)

A Catholic dilemma

March 19, 2008

It is a well-known fact that religion isn’t either necessary for a moral life or, indeed, even a very good source of morals. A further idea of illustrating this point just popped into my head.

Consider the infamous Catholic kid-bothering priests, like Brendan Smyth. Consider the fact that they were the seemingly most religious and sacred persons around in their societies. Then consider what they did.

Which of the two resulting alternatives do you rather take: That these outwardly most holy men were liars and didn’t believe the hellfire and post-mortem justice they preached, or that their godly beliefs were of a form that found raping children acceptable?

Consider that.

The plain truth is that religion doesn’t, on the average, make people any better. Some it helps, some it just hides, some it gives power to do great good or terrible ill, but on the average in doesn’t make people any better. As it isn’t true either, why keep it? Let it pass into the company of hankering for a Habsburg king and spotting ufos — an anachronistic hobby for the slightly eccentric ones.


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