Archive for June, 2009

Alpinekat speaks again

June 23, 2009

Another nuclear physics rap piece has appeared; meanwhile I still wait for something comparable for mathematics. Heavy metal, maybe — I propose as the title “Supreme Cold Austere Beauty (Woah-Woah-Woah)“.

Anyway, here’s the Rare Isotope Rap. Like Alpinekat’s first piece, Large Hadron Rap, it dances a fine line between paralysis that keeps you watching, and horror that would actually make you blind and deaf — but it works. And as a due-paying heavy metal fan, I can’t say any more praise for rap without them iron-crowned black robes of True Metal coming after me.

(by the way of Science After Sunclipse)

Nipponia, and a lengthy tangent

June 23, 2009

Ah, Japan.

It is good to know there is at least one faraway land where Curious Things Are. A land where things happen that leave me gaping, not quite able to believe such things can be.

(Okay, Saudi Arabia is such a place, too, but in its case the disbelief is mixed with a meteoric spike in my blood pressure. Japan is much easier on the old veins because it is not a prudish hellhole but a place of curious innocence.)

Japan, the land of heart-shaped watermelons.

The land of toilet kneelers and toilets with more functions than my cell phone.

The land of bizarre advertisements, and the land of really unsettlingly bizarre advertisements. (That one’s Anabuki-chan of the anatomically inappropriate tanuki; or rather the in-Japan-entirely-logical tanuki.)

The land of, erm, curiously direct products, like the tit pillow. (Google “oppai ball” for more.)

And those aren’t an all-time hit list of heartwarming/burning Japanese peculiarities; they’re what five minutes of lazy memory and rather cursory searching (mostly on Gizmodo) gave.

It’s really nice to see a modern culture with such different roots, one with neuroses different from our tired old ones.

(And now that lengthy, squicky tangent.)

And of course even the small differences can be instructive: I am somehow very fond of the fact that in Japan, despite the immense, bewildering and occasionally horrifying output of adult entertainment, real rapes and other sexual crimes are actually very rare. One could say that the different roots make that lesson inapplicable elsewhere, or cry that the statistics must be wrong, or say correlation is no causation and this is no safety valve, or mention train oglers and upskirt photographers — but as this factoid fits my opinion that there is nothing wrong in portraying a thing in fiction, no matter how loathsome, objectionable, criminal, anatomically improbable and biologically impossible it would be in reality, I choose to pooh-pooh those objections.

After all, we don’t think an action movie actionable because the supposed heroes steal an innocent bystander’s car and extralegally execute the villain — that’s fiction too, and it’s a bit deranged to demand that fictional people get the same respect and rights as real ones. And, to counter the inevitable objection, there’s a big difference between saying Darth Vader is cool and actually going around in black armor trying to force-throttle people or hitting them with a colored stick. The first is a healthy person keeping fiction and reality apart and applying quite different standards to each; the second is a cracked one whose problems are not of Vaderific origin, and my poor old eyes can see no path from the first to the second except for those already broken. (Also, the fact that lunatics tend to wear tinfoil doesn’t mean owning tinfoil will turn you into one.)

And as for those who say fiction should be edifying and exemplifying and never ever portray bad things in any positive or ambivalent way or show people smoking — er, no. I will not accept such a reduction in my choice of pastimes. I like my filth filthy. My mind’s not a pound of silly putty; I can cheer for Darth Vader for the entire duration of the Empire Strikes Back and still walk out without a hankering to freeze real people in carbonite. Who knows, I might even get rid of some hidden carbonite-freezing frustrations of mine.

Instead of Vadering this argument down as I did, I could have written any of a wide variety of sexual things that are in real life either criminal or physically impossible, or both, and for cheer I could have written a different physical exercise, but I think we both feel less squicky by keeping this all-Vader.

And sheesh, I start with an intent to share a few curious glimpses and end up an Urotsukidoji apologist — that’s blogging for you. My excuse is that entirely too many people seem to think watching TV becomes somehow radically different and more risky once you open your fly — it really doesn’t.

Well, except that Jack Bauer is easier to explain if caught than Supaa Hello Kitty Tentacle Violence Dreamers XI.

And, er, since this is Japan… that second isn’t, as far as I know, an actual item.

Wickedyday

June 22, 2009

And back to the university for one more week; then a month-long summer holiday beckons.

Wait.

Holiday, holy day? But as an atheist I have nothing holy; yet an unholiday sounds like I would be working, which (heavens and advisor willing) will not be the case.

A month-long summer… bacchanal? Orgy of leisure? Bookapalooza? Saunathon? Riot? Hiatus?

Oh, okay. After this week I’ll be off for my month-long wickedyday; and off from the university, not from this blog of mine.

Because of all the various holidays it’s really quiet here at the university, which means them cleaning folks are busy scrubbing every classroom clean of the sweat, blood and tears of the students. (This is poetic exaggeration as this is not the biology building or any other where knives are handled and creepy animals occasionally escape or cling to trembling throats. The only residue teaching mathematics leaves is a fractal tree of chalky footprints, as the zombie lecturers shuffle to and fro, skin wrinkled and lifeless under the fine white powder of long accumulated lectures, undisturbed and cold like a dull dense cluster of cold distant stars as they lay down to death-like sleep in their coffins under the Long Hall. Er, that too was poetic exaggeration.)

And thus our regular cleaning lady, as she could not find a janitor nor anyone else, and as her regular helper was sick, asked me to help to carry a few (eleven) tables around. That was a nice bit of variety, doing actual physical, erm, whaddayacallit, erm, oh yes, actual physical work.

Mind you, I’m not averse to physical work. It’s nice stuff. I could just sit and watch it for hours.

Past solstice

June 21, 2009

Juhannus (Finnish Midsummer) celebrations over. Lots of rain, but not when the actual outdoors fun was going on. As a result, four drowned, five dead in traffic, and one in a fire.

No, not in the celebrations of my relatives. Our pyre wasn’t that big; just twigs, branches and glops of motor oil. You get that since father mine has an antique tractor twice my age; quite enough for the casual tractoring around one gets into living off from the city but not being a farmer. And so he the teacher and I the graduate student — filosofie magister and a licentiate of philosophy; Finland insists on those names though neither of us has studied any philosophy! — sat in a sauna, and spoke of high, lofty academical matters befitting our stature —

Er, that’s actually a bit difficult when you’re naked. The low point came when the talk turned to awful jokes and I, being the one with the higher degree, made up and posed this modern Finnish riddle: “What occurrence happens only in the set of blind urban cannibals?”

As a warning: this is a truly horrendously awful joke. The following linguistic note will give you a hint of this; then you will hopefully skip the next paragraph. The depression known as an “arsehole” in English is, occasionally and non-medically, called in Finnish “perssilmä”, a naive translation of which is “ass-eye”.

Hence the answer to the question is “Three glass eyes, each in a different eye socket.”

And now let us never mention this again.

I think I was saying “four drowned, five dead in traffic, and one in a fire”; and that’s the dead in all of Finland. This is a quite typical toll for this weekend of freely flowing drink and mad rushing to quiet countryside spots and then away.

Overall I’m feeling fine after this all, though a bit tired (a two-hour bus ride from point A to point B tends to do that to you); and a large part of that fine-ness is the fact that the summer solstice was yesterday.

Ah! Finally! Now the days will start to darken! The sun will actually fall under the horizon as it should — there will be shadows and twilight — there will be a curtain after the crimson sunset, and a mother night for the sunrise to spring from  — there will once again be a day, and a night, an ascendant night, ever bolder, stronger, longer — eventually, even this pesky warmth shall pass — and in the white midnight desolation cold and darkness shall reign supreme forevermore!

Er, sorry about that.

I just personally like the dayless days a lot more than these nightless nights.

Bozeman drops

June 20, 2009

Ha-ha. The Montana city of Bozeman has dropped (another source) its demands to know the logins and passwords of prospective employees because the Internet roared; for an exceedingly tiny roar of mine see the post titled “Bozomen“.

Now, the question of a prospective employer needing your logins and passwords for “any and all current personal or business Web sites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums”, and all this for a form called “consent and release to conduct criminal background and reference checks” gives rise to the question: Really; surely you don’t mean to get references through social networks, forums and homepages?

“The comments on Mr. Lastname’s video presentations on the Youtube.com internet service indicate he is a ‘moran’; whether this is a misspelling of the Spanish ‘marron’ or brown, and thus indicates dissembling in the matter of his ethnic background, seems a matter that should be looked into. (This is noted because the person leaving the comment does not, by his spelling and grammar, appear to be a native speaker.)”

“Firstname Lastname is ‘much admired for the inclusive breadth of his vision and his tireless industry’ in the Mother Teresa erotic fanfiction community.”

“According to KillKill666, a friend of Mr. Lastname in the Facebook community, Lastname is ‘teh king’, and ‘defntely a five-starr person’.”

“Upon logging to the FlamerzForumz chat room with Mr. Lastname’s logins and making discreet queries about his personality, this fact-checker was viciously and repeatedly assaulted with insults such as ‘ID theft noob LOLFAIL’, the exact meaning of which is unknown.” 

“It is the opinion of this fact-checker that Mr. Lastname was not fully compliant in providing his passwords, given that mere five minutes after logging in to his website this fact-checker found the system so confusingly constructed it deleted all information instead of providing a clear view of it. In future, the use of the ‘remove this webpage’ button should be limited to removing the confusing interface only. Also, three ‘are you sure?’ prompts seem like too much.”

“This fact-checker was unable to locate the web-forum named ‘shovedisdumbdemandupyerass.com’.”

“By the inspection of his mailbox, this investigator notes Mr. Lastname seems to frequently receive advertisements for products that improve sexual performance.”

“By the inspection of her mailbox, this investigator notes Mrs. Lastname seems to frequently receive advertisements for products against erectile dysfunction. This calls to question the true gender of ‘Mrs.’ Lastname; the matter should be discreetly inquired into. The telephone numbers of her neighbors are listed below.”

“Mr. Lastname’s homepage indicates a monomaniacal interest in documenting the lives of his two cats; in addition he seems to be a founding member of a net-based ring of anonymous participants called ‘We love cats’; according to the police department this is not a currently known organization of criminal or sexually depraved nature.”

Insanity in Minnesota

June 19, 2009

CNN tells: an American woman illegally downloaded 24 songs; got fined 1.9 million dollars.

Great flaming sense of proportion, recording industry!

Given that the American price for a legal download seems to be 99 cents, 24 songs work to a bit less in dollars. Now, at 80 000 dollars of fine per pop, that’s an around 80 000-fold increase in price.

As 24 songs is something like two CDs, one wonders if stealing two CDs would have carried an even stiffer fine? Must be so, as actual theft removes an object/copy from the holder; copying just creates one into the possession of the taker. (I could go on at length about this, and my amateur view of the ups and downs of downloading — maybe I will, later. Anyway, a single instance of such downloading, though distasteful, does less harm than and is distinct from stealing. Not that the “You wouldn’t steal car”/“You wouldn’t invade Poland” industry cares to make that distinction; “You wouldn’t photograph this postcard” doesn’t have the same punch.)

Then again, one gets the feeling that the meaning here is just to crucify the poor woman and utterly ruin her life and grind her face in the dirt so that no-one will ever dare to have the foolish presumption to question the absolute divine authority of the dread Dark Lord Riaa of the Shadowlands — wait, uh, so that the others will behave — since who on earth would waste the court’s time with a crime of 24 bucks? The lawyers’ fees alone will come to thousand times that. (My nuts shrivel at the thought of punishing someone with undue harshness just to make an example out of her — it might be expedient, but justice it ain’t.)

On the other hand, this is a development with great potential — I’d estimate that of the 5 million people in Finland at the very absolute least one-fifth has illegally downloaded at the very least that much, which means that if the same thing was done here, the industry would get pumped up to the tune of 2 million million dollars!

The slight difficulties caused by prosecuting one-fifth or more of the population and extracting a few millions from each are left as an exercise to the reader.

(And, incidentally, I am not riding the “everyone does it, so it’s good” fallacy — I’m just pointing out that this travesty is a) a solution that cannot be applied to general cases, and thus is wrong wrong wrong, and b) insanely out of proportion to any harm the woman did.)

Juhannus means Midsummer

June 18, 2009

Juhannus is the Finnish word for Midsummer; the word comes from Johannes, the Finnish version of John, as in John the Baptist. In the long-gone past pagan days of dim memory — er, in Finland that’s a bit over 800 years ago — the celebration was called Ukon juhla, or the Celebration of Ukko, who was the old Finnish high god. (From which derive words like “ukkonen”, thunder, and “ukko”, old codger.)

The event’s name has changed, and even the origin and meaning of this current name are lost to all but radio jockeys looking for a tidbit to liven up their night show; but the formalities stay the same — a big bonfire, lots and lots of booze, and more babies born nine months later than the people concerned expect right now. (Also nettle-burns in embarrassing places.)

Also grilling, sauna-bathing, seclusion in remove spots near lakeshores to do all these midsummer revels — and, no matter how many times this happens, very drunken people who think they’re agile enough to stand up in a rowboat in the middle of a lake and pee — and then they become a statistic.

The actual day is the Saturday that falls on or between June 20th and June 26th, but things start falling apart already on the Friday; anyhow it’s near the summer solstice, which means it’s the center of the nightless night; the sun dances close to the edge of the earth, and then soars back up, allowing no darkness, giving light to the lake-floundering drunks and the love-fumbling youths.

So if you’re in Finland and wonder where everybody’s gone: they’re off in the countryside, burning things, cavorting around naked, and getting smashed, either by the way of drink, or of drink and automobile.

And now I’ll go and join the revelry, too. If you see some slow, teetering, swaying big thing, it might be me.

Bozomen

June 18, 2009

Urgh.

If this is the future, I don’t want any part in it. “City in Montana requires job applicants to hand over all social network logins and passwords for background checks“, tells Boing Boing:

The requirement is included on a waiver statement applicants must sign, giving the City [of Bozeman] permission to conduct an investigation into the person’s “background, references, character, past employment, education, credit history, criminal or police records.”

“Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.,” the City form states. There are then three lines where applicants can list the Web sites, their user names and log-in information and their passwords.

Isn’t that nice? If you refuse to fork over all, you’re a liar and, furthermore, happy times if you are found out. If you comply, well, you get something like a mental rape — and I do not use that r-word lightly here. (Unlike the sex references that soon follow.) This is more than a background check: in essence, either lie to us or tell us all your pursuits, even the anonymous ones, even the inconsequential dirty little ones no-one else knows, and let us rifle through all you’ve written and thought, all you’ve associated with and commented on — not like a visitor, but like an owner.

In a sick way that’s brilliant — if you want to fire someone later, find the Sailor Moon fansite they failed to mention and say they withheld information which created a fatal deficit of trust and so on. (I have no idea if that would be legal, but I can so easily see it.)

If I lived in Bozeman, I’d fish up a few forums where gardening tools, peanut butter jelly, LaTeX and personal sexual preferences meet and collide in amateur prose and pictures, and list them all. Let the fact-checkers drink their fill of the most toxic effluvia the Internet has to offer. Heck, I’d fish out every single Twilight fan forum in existence and register in all of them just to give the nice drones of the dread city of Bozeman something to wade through. I’d create a schizoid personality that, with perfect sincerity, trumpeted in each forum a different personal philosophy and political preference — and a different set of explicitly detailed sexual fetishes, either obscure, icky, nonsensical or distressingly vague. (“Mmm, I just love state bozemen. They’re so gruff and lean, and they’re panthers on the net.”)

If I could find the names of the likely fact-checkers, I’d repeatedly drop curiously similar names to pieces of erotic, scrotum-wrinkling, eye-destroying daydreaming.

Because while idiots have every right to be that, I keep to myself the full right to tweak them for it.

The Cure of the Century

June 17, 2009

Gather all, ladies and gentlemen. I have the Cure of the Century — the Cure of the Century, here for your appraisal and amazement.

You see this jar? Even you, charming young lady in a blue dress there in the back? Yes, you, you sweet young thing, you and your, er, daughter and granddaughter and her babies. Look all, see, and wonder.

Here is Hufflepuff Cevex — the Cure of the Century! And what is it a cure for? Naturally for the disease of the century, the affliction of our time, the scourge of our culture, the most vile and creeping of all afflictions — cancer.

Cancer.

A terrible disease, no doubt familiar to you all. But fret not, frown not; up, spirits, up higher than a hippie in heaven — for this cure, this pill I call Hufflepuff Cevex, is a cure for cancer.

Ah, you say, “there is no cure for cancer”. Well, pish! Never give up, and never say never — I am sure your mothers told you to always keep your peckers up. A cancer cure is just a question of ingenuity, and my dearest bosom-friend whose life’s work Cevex is, is a man of great ingenuity.

You see, Cevex works on the micro level — a level so micro and subtle that no other drug can compare. You see, Cevex a little side effect — it gives you cancer.

“What?” I hear you say. You mutter, grumble, roll eyes, wonder if that nice, handsome hawker has something loose in his exquisitely combed and groomed head. No sirree! I wouldn’t sell something that’d harm you, would I? Of course not; not I, honest Joe-Bob! I tricked you — I admit it, I tricked you, but I lied not.

The micro, nano and milli of Cevex is that it gives you cancer… and then, a infinitesimal millisecond later, cures it! Boo-ya! This no other drug can do — but Cevex, the Cure of the Century, the Cure for Cancer, sure does! This deep pharmacological insight hit my dear friend, the inventor of Cevex, so hard he fell down and kissed the ground that very same moment — and then we opened new beers for the betterment of the world, and hence I am here!

And I, a brave, honest and handsome man, shall demonstrate. We need a volunteer — you there, you comely young thing in a, er, a shirt of… lavender? Lavender it is, I assure you. Here, gulp this down.

You can see he has no cancer — no, not a healthy, handsome boy like he. Now he swallows the pill — oh, the grimace! Oh, the grimacity! There for a moment, now gone! You felt a terrible taste in your mouth, son, did you not? Exactly! But only for a fleeting moment and then all is right again — here, have a sip of water — because Cevex, being harmless and beneficial, gave you throat cancer, that most vile of cancers, that Dick Cheney of the cancer world, and boom! now it’s gone without a trace, thanks to Hufflepuff Cevex — the Cure of the Century!

Line up, y’all!

I have really healthy favorite books

June 16, 2009

Potter:

According to Rowling, a major theme in the series is death: “My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry’s parents. There is Voldemort’s obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We’re all frightened of it.” (wiki)

Rings:

“But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness.” (Letters, l. 203)

(Though, to be exact and not give the wrong picture, I’d say I’d have to read the Potter books over once more — that’d be the third or fourth time for some, second for one — before really calling them favorite — or, erm, did I give away too much to deny anything already?)


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