Archive for March, 2010

Eve day

March 31, 2010

Today’s a nice and special day, for today, March the 31st, is the eve of April Fools’ Day, April 1st.

This has a special meaning to me, as I am a Discordian, and I very well know Eris Discordia, the goddess of Internet discourse and all humans honest to themselves, is in one of her endless beguiling guises nothing other than Eve of April Fools.

(I have no idea who the corresponding Adam is. Probably Nyarlathotep. Should probably call Cthulhu and ask.)

Thus a high Erisian holiday today should you take it so; I intend, for in addition to that spectacular sign of cosmic significance, it also happens to be the day when I’ve been born full 28 solar circumnavigations of the Earth. As I believe the youth say, “yay me!”

The Cleric with No God

March 31, 2010

Hmmm.

I’ve been aware of the AD&D setting called Eberron for a long time; what I haven’t quite processed is what this detail might mean:

As described on page 35 of the Eberron Campaign Setting, it is possible for a cleric to have no god and still perform divine magic. This is not, however, the same as having no beliefs; it still requires a strong commitment to an ideal or a philosophy.

Sounds to me like one could (just for the giggles of it) play an atheist cleric in the setting. Especially since the article linked above says things like these:

While many of the deities are portrayed with anthropomorphic icons, they do not walk the mortal world or even the known planes. If they exist at all, deities inhabit a higher plane of existence — a realm that cannot be reached with planar travel. [...] If the gods may not even exist, who do you commune with? [...] Divine magic exists [...] [but a] skeptic may counter that it is the collective unconscious or merely a powerful outsider. [...] Ultimately, belief in a deity is a matter of faith.

In other words: in Faerun (Forgotten Realms) atheism would be, well, stupid, and also likely to bring Bhaal (not a nice guy) to your doorstep with a big stick complaining about your behavior. Eberron seems like a place open to mace-swinging, spell-slinging, zeal-burning priests of the church militant of raving over-the-top atheism! On, on, smash those altars and raise ours in their place! Crush their armies! Repels their magicks and show them the sting of ours! No gods, no fear! Drive them to the sea and utterly obliterate them! Dash their hopes, burn their houses, convert their families, and hack down every bugger who raises a hand against us! Decimate them by sword and word — er, mace and word as clerics don’t use edged weapons — smash and blast them to tiny shivering pieces and let the idols of their dead gods join them in their oblivion! Show them no mercy! Show them what militant atheism really is!

Ahem.

I mean, an interesting thought experiment, and no doubt would be good for letting some steam out. (But wait. “Commitment to ideal or philosophy”? So you could technically speaking have Priests of Communism, Priests of Capitalism, Clerics of WIN/FAIL (“Summon failboat”?), Paladins of Nietzsche, and Cultists of Nihilism? The last ought to be fun. Warrior: “Hey, nihilist! Those gnolls are attacking! Cast something.” — Nihilist: “Life is pointless and every moment but adds to our pain. I cast Instant Party Suicide.” — GM: “Okay; sudden brain aneurysms occur, everyone dies. Gnolls graphically desecrate your bodies. Roll for new characters.”)

(Shortly afterwards, after throttling: “Hey GM, can I play a Cleric of Self-Fouling Incapacitating Trauma-Inducing Cowardice? I think it’s a meme, a cliche, a stereotype and an ‘ideal’ of defeat, so it’s applicable, right?” — GM: “And with the special ability of, what, ‘turn stomaches’?” — “That, and ‘Sudden Party Body Evacuation’ and ‘Instant Party Catatonic Withdrawal’.” — To which ex-Warrior remarks, “Wait. I like the sound of those, especially if we run into something too big to handle, but would you still mind explaining what they really do?”)

Then again —

“So, an altar. Which god do you serve here?”

“No god.”

“What, a goddess? Is she a hot one?”

“No. No god.”

“Oh, I see. Is it spelled No, Noh, Noe or what?”

“Listen, you obstinate heathen swine. We are the atheist clerics of N’gaah, and we serve no god, no divinity, no superlative power or root of existence, in this church of ours.”

“…isn’t that kind of pointless?”

“Well, we still get the same benefits. Like spells. Except our ‘turn undead’ is a bit different.”

“How come?”

“Silence fool!”

“…”

“How’s that for an awesome ability?”

“…!”

“Thought so.”

Triple blind: a lesson in scientific terminology

March 30, 2010

Blind — An experiment where the subject does not know whether he is receiving the treatment (“experimental group”) or a placebo (“control group”).

Double blind — A more stringent method, where neither the subject nor the persons conducting the experiment know which persons are experimentals, which controls. (It is however useful that someone should know, or have scribbled down somewhere, who is in which group, or otherwise analyzing the results can be difficult.)

Triple blind — As previous, but in addition those that request the study for reading do not know if they are reading it or a “dummy study”, which while outwardly scientific is subtly flawed so that it contains no actual useful results at all. (The dummy study method, pioneered by Reinhardt de Cam, is dependant on the existence of very carefully flawed and inert dummy studies, prepared in a wide variety of so-called “CAM institutions” around the world.)

Quadruple blind — In this very unusual method four key groups (experimentees, experimenters, scientifically literate readers, the press) are kept in the dark until all pertinent persons that were involved with the experiment are dead. Then all uncomfortable and shameful details of the study can be revealed without anyone’s livelihood being ruined. The genius of quadruple blinding is the study is kept topical until the reveal, and the public’s appetite for it is whetted, because of whisperings of the “jungle drum” of the “unofficial” people not in the four key groups. (Studies of this category allegedly include “The Philadelphia Experiment”, “The Browne Psychic Impersonator Project”, and “The Stanford Reality TV Experiment”.)

Quintuple blind — There is no study. Its existence is universally denied. Bloggers are not permitted to admit the study exists. There are consequences. There is no study. That is all.

* * *

There is also a rude and crude bit of physicians’ terminology which utilizes the first three terms above, viz. “blind” = one eye missing, “double blind” = both eyes missing, “triple blind” = both eyes missing and arsehole sewn shut.

This terminology, though necessary during the period of the Napoleonic wars and the revolutionary cruelty of the French troops, has since fallen into disuse.

Oh, okay. Now calm down.

March 30, 2010

I must facetiously admit I get worried when people in charge of something so very big tweet like this:

Experiment have seen collisions!!!!!!!!!!!

Or like this:

First time in the history!!!!!!!!!!!! World record!!!!!!!!

Both from the official CERN Twitter feed; I’d guess the difference is those doing momentous things in the past didn’t have to comment so very hurriedly about it. Thus J. Ro Oppenheimer had time to come up with “I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds” instead of “Fucking yea!“, and Archimedes could report “Eureka!” (thought not deny the running-nude-around-Syracuse part), instead of his original “Great leprous crotch of Hera, what is it now? Oh, wait, hey, right, fucking yea!

My ball bearings

March 29, 2010

Was listening to an episode of Car Talk — yeah yeah, bicycling practicality-scorning type who has no desire or understanding for cars or grease, but for some reason I like the show — when the three words of the title came up, and all of a sudden I was certain that in the future, somewhere, somewhen, there will be a call-in show for cyborgs that’s run pretty much like Car Talk is.

* * *

“Hi, who’s this?”

“Oh, hi, it’s Sarax from Sacramento, High California, hi guys!”

“Is that ess ah arr ah ex?”

“Yeah!”

“So Sarax, what’s your problem?”

“Oh so I have these Toyota Liftor Z4 forty-nine arms that keep making a weird sound when I do pushups —”

“Pushups? What’d you do, Sarah? Professional exercising?”

“Hwa haw haw haw!”

“No, guys, actually I volunteer for the all-fleshes, over at the Provo enclave, the sweet little place, most beautiful scenery anywhere, and it means I do all the exercises they do too. You know, like real muscle exercise. I’m just worried this noise means I’ve ruined my arms doing silly push-ups and stuff, because it’s really repetive, right?”

“Hm, okay, first thing, you sure you’ve not caught some nasty bug off the fleshies?”

“Hwa haw haw haw!”

“Eeh heh heh!”

“Giggity giggity.”

“Hm, okay. Enough kidding. So how many ops do you have on those arms?”

“Twenty-two thousand. Bought them used a month ago. You two think it’s something the seller didn’t tell me about?”

“Okay, so they’re not that old. Could you make the sound for us?”

“I can do better! Here’s a recording from this morning — ‘ka-chik! ka-chik! ka-chik!’ How’s that sound like?”

“Hmmm. I still say you’ve caught something off the fleshies!”

“Hwa haw haw haw! No, really, that’s… let me guess, they keep doing it for a few push-ups, and then the sound gets a bit liquid and goes away?”

“Yeah.”

“And the arms feel a little sluggish if you try to move them quicker?”

“Yeah! Exactly!”

“Ooh, I get it. The ball bearings!”

“Right! I suggest you crack them open at elbows and look at the smaller ball bearings there. Not the big ones but the tiny inner- and outer-joint ones. There should be a self-diagnostic for it — look for the intersection of ‘hard maintenance’, ‘elbow room’ and ‘B slash 7′ — but it’s not on any regular list because you have to do this in a place with absolutely no dust, or you’ll ruin the arms for good. Also might be good if you have someone else doing it; it’s kind of difficult with just one hand and you want to feel the readings to be sure nothing goes awry.”

“Oh dear.”

“No biggie. Now, this usually happens when people don’t remember to oil the small parts —”

“Ooh, right!”

“— and sometimes one of them cracks, and it makes the noise. It’s not because of the push-ups. That won’t ruin arms. That’s just a myth. The good news —”

“Oh, good.”

“— is it’s easy to take out if you just follow the self-diagnostic, just keep checking the listed bearings until you find one that’s spiderwebbed all over; if it was really in pieces the diagnostic would have told you so. The arms should work just fine without one ball. Now the bad news —”

“Oh, oh.”

“— is it’s okay if it’s just this one bearing, but if the rest of the bearings have taken too much of the strain and are going bad, it’s going to be expensive. Don’t wait; get your arms checked. Like we always say, limbs have a bad habit of dropping off the moment you least expect it, unless you take care of them.”

“Oh dear.”

“I’d say go show them to a techoctor; if it’s just this one bearing get a new one, and if the rest are bad go and track the guy you bought the arms from. Tell him we sent you.”

“Oh, okay, fine! Thanks a lot guys!”

“Thanks, Sarah, bye!”

“Now a break, and after the break the answer to our last week’s puzzler, which was from my Home Fusion series.”

“Oh, that was… er…”

“It had two cyborg brothers, one of them demented!”

“Hwa haw haw haw! No really, what was it?”

“Think about plasma, neutrinoes and Scotland — but now a break, with music by Android Bob Dylan, the Emperor of Chicago.”

A dialogue on prayer

March 29, 2010

First voice: “So what if he prays a lot? His life; he does whatever he wants.”

Second voice: “But praying’s nonsense! That’s not just my opinion; that’s how things really are.”

First voice: “Ah the arrogance.”

Second voice: “Yes, the arrogance of thinking planes really fly, and did really fly at buildings on 9/11, and we really went to the Moon! The arrogance of best evidence and little reasonable opposition!”

First voice: “Still, facts are inconsequential. His life, he thinks and does whatever he wants.”

Second voice: “Would you be saying the same if he thought running a cheesegrater over his face chased off demons he believes are in him?”

First voice: “He doesn’t believe that!”

Second voice: “No, but he’s praying because he thinks there’s someone listening, caring, maybe even intervening and/or making notes for his future destiny! There’s no-one! He’s wasting his time!”

First voice: “One, it’s his time to waste, right? And he might get a whole lot of comfort off it even if it is a delusion.”

Second voice: “It’s his time… oh, bollocks! If you see someone trapped in a walk-in freezer —”

First voice: “Here we go again with the weird-ass metaphors.”

Second voice: “— freezer, you don’t think it’s his life, who cares, his own business, and just walk away! No! You feel some compassion!”

First voice: “But he doesn’t want to stop praying, does he?”

Second voice: “But if someone was filling out all 606 addenda to the standard tax form, and you knew only the first 15 are required, wouldn’t you tell him he’s mistaken in his zeal? Wouldn’t you tell him he should rather go out, play with his children, spend some time reading a book or hugging his wife or something else nice! He might feel mighty conscientious and dutiful, but he’s still doing work that doesn’t help him any, and will mightily piss off the recipient!”

First voice: “…but he might derive comfort from that, right?”

Second: “Comfort until he gets a sharply worded note from the tax office! And sure thing, he may get comfort from prayer, but there are plenty of horrors that will spring up when his idea of someone listening and reality collide. Suppose a crisis hits — what’s he to think? That he has been bad in some vague way and his troubles are all his own fault? That the random and uneven shit of life is somehow related to his own recent performance? That can drive you mad!”

First voice: “But all people don’t treat prayer that way, do they? It’s just a moment to sit still, collect your thoughts, reorient yourself, and the like.”

Second voice: “So why call it prayer if there’s no God in it? And if there is a God in it, and you suppose he’s more than a mute Listener, don’t you sort of start looking for Answers, as echoes in your head or in the white noise of everyday life? That’s not a good way to run your life: ooh, a tripartite waterfall, this must mean the three-in-one God of Christianity exists and is giving me a sign!”

First voice: “But all the formalities, all the whining, negotiation, supplication, confiding, pleading and praising can be done without thinking there’s a God. It can be just a mental exercise.”

Second voice: “Then for the love of Richard pray to Gozer the Gozerian! Don’t pick the word, name and attributes of this brood of Bronze Age ogres who still have droves of people that think they really exist! That’s as bad as saying you need an idol for personal strength of character and success by focusing on your goals, and picking Ad— picking Josef Stalin! There’s so much baggage in your idol of choice your fancy distinctions won’t matter. Others’ perceptions of you and your own thoughts will be polluted and distorted by all kinds of unintended garbage!”

First voice: “So…”

Second voice: “So I don’t care what he does or likes, nor whether I find it nice or not, and I can’t force his beliefs unless I want to be an intrusive fascist prick, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to let him wallow in a mistake without correcting him. Then if he wants to keep whining up at the uncaring stars he can go on, but people ought to tell him there’s no god, really. That’s not intrusive… well, okay, it is intrusive, but it’s simple human decency too.”

First voice: “But… well, okay. But if you go telling him all this you’ll come across as a humongous prick.”

Second voice: “True, that.”

First voice: “Great Gozer bless us life is complicated.”

Yellow farm

March 27, 2010

From the news: “Human urine is a good substitute for fertilizer”. (What is this? A second urine headline in two days? Is this some Finland-wide theme week I’m not aware of?)

Imagine a city boy visiting his country relations.

“Hey cousin, where’s the toilet? I need to torrent a bit.”

“Just follow that path to the field edge, walk 1d20 meters into it, spin around at random and take three steps, and let it fly.”

“What?”

“Oh, it’s just our whiz tank’s broken and we need to fertilize direct. If you have a solid one use the lower field and watch your step. Oh and if you can don’t drop all of it in the same place.”

According to the study (by one Surendra Pradhan) that the headline announced, or according to the news item anyway, a single human being pours out 500 liters of urine a year, which is enough to “water” 6 300 tomato saplings and produce 2.41 tons of tomatoes. I myself have never quite happened to visualize the magnitude of that particular personal achievement of mine; 500 liters is only half a cubic meter, and (assuming I am average) for some reason I intensely feel like an underachiever. Just one lousy half a cubic meter a year.

Funny thing, the human mind.

“The Foresighted Union of Farmers, ‘King in Yellow’ Cabal, wishes to remind you it’s good to drink at least 24 glasses of water a day.”

Snineties Sfinnish sgame show

March 26, 2010

Ah, the past, the time when everything seemed simpler. Here’s something from the Nineties, found from Youtube: an episode of Speden Spelit (“Spede’s Sgames”, with an extraneous “s” added with hilarity forethought for maximum distinctiveness and lexicographical irritation), a game show hosted by the legend, the epitome of the Savonian ground of all being, the worthy, folksy, venerable and funny Pertti “Spede” Pasanen (1930–2001).

(Parts two, three, four and five.)

Basically the perfect combination of the very cheap and the very fun. (Possibly also weirdly puzzling and vaguely alarming if you don’t speak Finnish and don’t have any clue what’s going on.)

Note: A sharp-eyed watcher may note the diminutive male participant is Ben Zyskowicz, at the time a member of the Finnish Parliament. I myself can’t imagine, say, a US Senator participating in a game show of any sort (though the idea greatly amuses), which infallibly again shows the metaphysical superiority of Finland, rah rah rah.

The joy of digital underwear

March 26, 2010

Thought #1: “Hmm, this here news item says they’ve invented, in Australia of all possible places, a pair of underpants that sends a text message (er, SMS) when you urinate.

Thought #2: “Say it’s for elderly people with an incontinence problem.”

Thoughts between Thought #1 and #2:

“By Richard, is this the fart-tweeting office chair guy again?”

“This sounds like a really bad practical joke. ‘Hey Doug, there’s this really sick guy who’s been sending an SMS to the local SMS chat TV show for the last week every time he goes to have a pee. Worst of all, it’s happening every time I do and it’s starting to freak me out.’”

“Or possibly something that’ll inspire an adolescent competition. ‘We have a blip! Frank’s in the lead! Frank’s in the lead! That’s the third lecture, and in the front row, and he managed to stop leaking before the floodgates burst, too! Maa–an we’re gonna get so drunk tonight! Especially Vinnie, for whom the floodgates burst in the middle of the Fluid Dynamics lecture!’”

“I am trapped! If only there was a way to attract someone’s attention without speaking or moving my hands or feet! Wait — morse code! Squirt, squirt, squirt, gush, gush, gush, —”

“Oh, something in the Inbox — You have pee!

“‘We know everything about you, Mr. Bond. Everything. Who’s a good kitty? Who’s a good kitty?’”

Shortish bits: flies, loathing, maths, and surely it can get worse

March 25, 2010

Organized religion is bullshit. Un-organized religion is the same except without the flies.

* * *

Misogyny will offend almost any sensible person; universal misanthropy aggravates almost no-one.

Then again misogyny implies something erroneous, namely the superiority of the other sex, while misanthropy, universal loathing of all man- and womankind, is something that’s easy to defend.

Oh well.

* * *

Your mathematician-speak for today: “M’enfin?! Diantre! Fichtre!“; which I think translates to “What the…?! Dash it! Oh, really!”; was encountered in a French-language Java demo of C.a.R. Metal, which despite the name is not an operatic heavy metal band, but a useful-looking piece of dynamic geometry software.

The Java example here under the section “03_mandel.zir” is a nice visualization of what Jonathan Coulton meant when he sang:

If the series of Z’s should always stay
Close to Z and never trend away
That point is in the Mandelbrot set.

* * *

Okay, unpleasant sick scenario warning for this one.

Here are four ways to die that are more horrible and painful (I’m guessing here, I admit) than crucifixion.

1) Being flayed alive, and then locked away somewhere.

2) Having ten cubic centimeters of your flesh, no more and no less, cut away every six hours.

3) and 4) Stephen King’s Survivor Type and Metallica’s One. Both are too horrible to repeat here; though it is debatable if the former is something you could use as a punishment. (Then again, see Clark Ashton Smith’s The Isle of the Torturers for a particularly evil perversion of hope of survival.)

Note that there are no science fictional and/or magical examples in those above; that’s well duh since obviously any half-imaginative conception of Hell or a reasonable simulation would be a million times worse than anything that a few Romans with hammers and nails could come up with. (For more examples of all kinds of horrors, more than you ever want to know, see TVTropes for And I Must Scream. You might want to place a paper bag next to your monitor first, for grabbing it and breathing heavily into it every few minutes. That occasionally helps.)

I’m just saying this because I think the people who for obvious theological reasons say crucifixion is the most horrible way to go a) haven’t considered all the alternatives, and are letting sloppy superlatives distort what they say and think, and b) given that the fellow walked away three days later and, as far as I understand theology, is not exhibiting any serious signs of trauma, are anyway on the same point on the scale of horrible deaths as a pretty scary movie is on the scale of mortal frights.

Not that I think crucifixion is a piece of cake (and how’s that for understatement?), or that I wish the Bible had an appendix on “What else they did to Jesus”, but once you think about it (and why yes some of us have brains that work that way) a crucifixion’s nothing particularly big when done to an omnipotent God.

Oh, and the “not exhibiting any serious signs of trauma” bit? One could probably write an eerily plausible story where a) Jesus was God incarnate, b) Jesus was crucified and died, and c) He came back wrong. Thus the subsequent death-and-suffering obsessions of Christianity and all horrors caused by Abrahamic religions, crusades, witch-hunts and the like, are explained as influences of an imperfectly resurrected and hence mad God. If one really wanted to milk the idea, one could introduce an Intrepid Group of Heroes whose purpose was to heal the world through — depending on your level of perversity, and how much you’d want to dangle the possible outcomes — either healing, replacing, banishing or killing the poor Being. The setting could be modern (“Mr. Atheist, I have good news and bad news. The good is God is just as horrible as you have said. The bad is He really exists, and we need your LHC to do something about that.”), or only a few decades after the crucifixion, when the post-Resurrection visits become more scary than sacred. (Some very creative theology would be necessary to make the story go anywhere.)

If you want to know — and I guess after the paragraphs above a change of subject is welcome — this bit came up not through natural inclination but through how much moaning about “the worst way to die” is placed between matter-of-fact mentions of flaying in Newman and Byrne’s Wandering Christian; and sometimes you want to make the idea go away so much that you’re willing to try exorcism through spitting it out to the blog.


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