Archive for January, 2012

If I was evil

January 30, 2012

To begin with: One of the apps on my Android — note the capitalization; if it was a lower-case thing I would out of personal aesthetic preference have a gynoid — is a virus scanner thingie. It has several additional features, one of which is a “stolen phone” mode that you can activate through a website if your phone is stolen. (Well duh.) It apparently makes the phone go all fire siren with howlin’ sounds and flashin’ of varicolored lights.

Now, if I was an evil genius, I would use one of my many fears for fuel, hack that very site, and make the (probably) hundreds of thousands of phones with the “stolen phone” mode on go off like so many audiovisual grenades.

You might protest this idea is not particularly genius-like, and not all that evil either. Fine, then: “Now, if I was a technically adept amoral joker… then the same.”

For more fine ideas in mischief, I mine three tweets of mine:

  • If I could and would write a computer virus, it’d be one that added the string “rule 34″ to every Google search.
  • Another fine virus idea: One that ends all your tweets with #toilettweeting.
  • A virus idea: one that makes one word of every ReCaptcha a different word for hate and loathing. Because eventually you’d start to wonder.

Basically, I’m shite with evil.

Presidential update

January 25, 2012

To not leave the post before the previous one a cliff-hanger, an update on the Finnish presidential election.

The first round last Sunday left the two most vote-getting candidates standing, and they are as follows.

  • Sauli Niinistö, a curly-haired, wrinkle-faced amiable guy, Kokoomus/National Coalition Party (one of the four big parties), 37% of the first-round vote. Expected to win. Center-rightist (American: monster Communist), city person, bland enough to suit most people; pro-euro, pro-EU and pro-Europe.
  • Pekka Haavisto, an amiable-looking average guy with blonde hair, Vihreät/Green League (one of the small but nontrivial parties), 19% of the first-round vote. (The percentages were really weird: both of these two vampired away a lot of other parties’ faithful.) Favored by the young; gay; green. Center-leftist (American: monster bizarro Communist), pro-European, UN wonk, city person. Given the second round is between just these two, he could win; second-rounds have usually been close. The one I want to win, because while I feel a strong minority of the Greens are human-hating woo-woo people, they as a whole are right, and that means left, about most-all things I care about.

Generally speaking, the talk is the second round will not be left versus right, or city versus country; it’ll be this solid, stolid personage with a wife half his age against the gay green one with a foreigner boyfriend. And while I favor the latter, I don’t get any immediate urges to move Swedenward from the possibility of the former, either. (Unfortunately, there are lots of people who have problems with the thought of a Green, or a gay, to say nothing of someone who is both.)

The second round will be voted 5th of February, the result will be known that same day (and I will comment “meh whatever dumbface” or “yip hip hooray!”), and the winner will replace Mrs. Tarja Halonen from the beginning of March.

A quote on violence

January 25, 2012

Was reading a webcomic — well, actually a bought-and-paid pdf of a webcomic because that makes turning the pages quicker — and came across this statement from the creator.

I have to say, mostly to add relevance to this introduction, that I agree.

I love fictional violence. I adore it. But it has to be completely fictional. Real violence disturbs me, angers me, frustrates me or just leaves me with a nauseous feeling of dread and sadness. Many of you may disagree with me, but I’m one of those people who believe that fictional violence does not really lead to real violence.

So that was the quote.

As for the idea, I’ve often felt the same about great many reality-disagreeable things. Well, most of them, actually. Maybe all. I have the sort of a mind that sees something horrible, and while doing all the proper and moral reactions shelves a copy of that horror away, away into the box of toys on the other side of the mirror. Because there they are adorable.

Just think Darth Vader. He would not be nice in real life. Imagine a knock at the door, and there’s this black-clad Satan Himmler there, with white-clad masked iron-heeled storm troopers, all of them about to ask you questions about rebel spies. And if you don’t give him useful information, then — whether or not you have that information, and actually whether you give it or not — it’s force choke and laser bolt and good bye. In real life, you’d gundark yourself in zero point two seconds, because Darth Vader is neither good nor nice. But in fiction, he is hot stuff and wicked cool!

(Which is a silly example, but the serious one ended up having the phrase “a rapacious cackling Bizarro-Superman ero-guro Tarantino fanboy” in it, so not using that one.)

Waiting for the polls to close

January 22, 2012

It’s half past 6 pm in Finland right now. At 8 pm the polls close, and a couple of hours after that we will know who either got over 50% of the votes and is the next president (unlikely); or we will know who two got the most votes and will be facing each other in the run-off.

I’ve cast my vote already (go, gay candidate! go to victory!); and there’s a CNN article that’s accurate enough for me to not go into blabbing about the candidates; so here’s a thought.

In America, there are approximately two political parties. I suppose in America one generally speaking has an inkling of which the people you know lean towards: either one, or then the other.

In Finland, there were three big (c. 20%) parties; with the arrival of the cryptoxenophobe (and occasionally you can drop the crypto) True Finns, four. Then there are the smaller parties that are important because they’re what gets cabinets over the 50% mark. Either because of this profusion, or because of the Finnish closemouthedness, or my own social ineptitude, I have no idea what parties my friends and relations support. (Well, it’s also possible they don’t care.)

Edit: A part, though not the major portion, of my choice in voting was that I want a gay president. Specifically, I want a gay president to host the independence day ball at the President’s place. Just so that I can see the faces of the True Finn reps and other grindingly, horrifyingly old-fashioned types, as they come to the head of the line to shake hands with a guy and a guy.

I don’t think I’d be a good DM no more

January 16, 2012

Player One: “Okay, I cast Detect Evil on the mayor.”

Dungeon Master: “Um, okay. The mayor glows kind of an indeterminate color, and you get the feeling he has broken several propriety laws of Dwarfhome this week, though nothing particularly serious.”

P1: “What?”

DM: “Probably Lust (Unacted), Disrespect to Rock (Medium) and Sizeism (Serious). Not too bad for a human.”

P1: “What shit is this?”

DM: “Detect Evil. You’re the Dwarf Cleric, right? You detect him as ‘minor evil’. If you want to Smite Evil, it’s at minus two.”

P1: “But… wait, is he the thief? The one who stole the Lich’s Jewel?”

DM: “You have no idea.”

P1: “What, theft is not evil now?”

DM: “A human, stealing something from a lich? Sorry, the only categories of possession that dwarven morality recognizes is ‘of Dwarfkind’ and ‘of an individual Dwarf’. Clumsypeople swapping possessions is morally neutral.”

Player Two: “What the fuck? This demented fucker is supposed to be our cleric?

DM: “Er, Irene, I’d like to remind you your Half-Elven Rogue has a… delicate morality, too.”

P2: “But I’m a good thief! Chaotic good!”

DM: “Which means that any concept of possession that goes contrary to your opinion is EVIL.”

Player Three: “This is stupid. My Barbarian Berserker quaffs a Potion of Detect Evil. I’m Lawful Good. I’ll get this.”

DM: “Okay. So, a deep violet tingling spreads throughout your body, your friends see your eyes start to glow gold, and you see three people start to glow the red of bad, bad, immoral evil…”

P3: “Oh goody. Who?”

DM: “The mayor; you intuit his unwillingness to co-operate is the Sin of Obstinacy. The cleric—”

P1: “Hey!”

DM: “—for she is a member of an inferior race, and a priest of the false god Bel-Sambamaster, and guilty of the Sins of Heresy and Impurity. And the thief—”

P2: “Hey!”

DM: “—for being a thief because, hey, the Sins of Thieving and Living in Sin. Also, Wearing Pants and Onanism. Plus three to Rampage Multi-Kill if you attack them all now.”

P3: “Are they good for XP?”

DM: “Oh yes.”

P3: “Blood and gore for the Good God!”

A sketch of a novel

January 11, 2012

An alternate history. J. Edgar Hoover dies in 1972. His long, long-time secretary, Ms. Gandy — seriously, his secretary for 54 years — does not make Mr. Hoover’s secret files disappear (as in real history) and then whistle and look innocent.

No, in this alternate history she disappears, and the secret files, full of blackmail for half of America’s highest, disappear along with her.

Now, your standard historical thriller would have a disgraced FBI agent called in by the very President to hunt her down, and the novel would resolve without overt alterations to the timestream.

That would be boring.

No, instead Ms. Gandy stays disappeared, and over the next few months all manner of newspapers all over America start receiving letters and packages, each with enough punch to sink a politician, or to destroy an actor or activist. Conservative papers get files about liberal characters, and vice versa; after a moment of hesitation the presses roll, and heads start rolling too.

The FBI is not particularly happy about this; neither are the politicians, who are intently remembering all their little mistakes, and the big ones. After a prominent senator resigns, probably to spend time with his newly revealed seven illegitimate children, there’s some hurried legislative action and sending mail becomes a much slower process.

The mysterious sender of letters switches to using commercial couriers; and the first new packages carry a note: “JUNE 17TH, THE PRESIDENT.”

This happens at the beginning of that June, 1972; Hoover died at the beginning of May. Here the supposedly clever historical in-joke is June 17th would be the date of the real-history Watergate burglary.

Even at this point, the novel could revert to the usual thriller form: a rough-and-tumble ex-FBI man hunts down the evilly America-destabilizing file-possessing crook, learns an amazing secret about the president, and then in a suitably coincidental accident witnesses all the files destroyed, allowing history to go on more or less as in real life. Possibly he saves the presidential file, and then tosses it in anyway, musing that a little bit of Nixon is better than upsetting all of America. Then Watergate, Nixon falls anyway, dramatic irony, finis.

That would be boring, too. Not a boring novel; but a boring plot.

Come to think of it, if one want to pander to the homophobe eedjit demographic, one could write this: A novel as above, where J. Edgar was a closet gay, and this is his final nefarious plot, designed to paralyze America and ensure the victory of the homosexual agenda.

Critical line: “It’s worse than prissiness and snappy dressing — all FBI agents are homosexuals! Doom chord!

Come to think of it, in the other direction, maybe the core plot is Nixon has the files — the threat to reveal things about him is a trick to fuel hysteria and righteous indignation. His goal is to get such police state powers that he gets to win the November 1972 election for sure — because when you’re the president you want to keep being the president, and when you’re Nixon, you don’t go for half measures.

Critical line: “Wait a minute — Pennsylvania Avenue 1600? I know who lives at that address!”

Come to think of it, also, if one wanted a really old-fashioned plot, the files would be in the hands of the Communists. Because it’s always the Communists, isn’t it? The political holocaust caused by the files, and especially the impending nervous breakdown and downfall of Nixon, is designed to make things perfect for the Communist presidential candidate, a Mr. Satan Babyeater.

Critical line: “Flexing his mighty American thews, Chuck Powers flung the Commie stooge off the helicopter, and watched with eagle eyes as he hit the turbine. ‘Red mist. How fitting.’, he muttered.”

Finally, a tediously moralistic plot would cease with the revelation that there were no files, the newspapers were making the letters up just to stir things up (and to get rid of their own “crazy shit we heard” files), and Ms. Gandy was just golfing in Florida. Everyone sings Kumbayah, and President Nixon says, “rrrremember, the newspapers were the crook!”

Post-finally, there’s also the plot where the atmosphere of hysteria and the continual demolition of American icons causes the majority of the populace to lose all trust in the decency of their fellow men, and America descends into howling cannibalistic barbarism, employees turning against employers, patients against doctors, constituents against elected officials, children against parents, et cetera. Civilization dissolves; humanity is doomed; the end of this lately great planet Earth comes; a lone Frenchman is left saying, “Great, another novel where America is the world. Bugre moi with a baguette!”

Let us take a different approach.

That was in 1972: On June 17th, Nixon’s pre-Watergate indiscretions came to light, and shortly after he resigned. The Nixon file was the last one to surface: if there were more, they stayed locked somewhere, by someone.

That was thirty years ago.

Nixon’s resignation months before the election throws electoral America into chaos. Spiro Agnew becomes the new Republican presidential candidate, and is trounced by the Democrat George McGovern.

The nation is saved the trauma of Watergate, but has to instead deal with the episode and the continuing mystery of the Truth-Teller — some hokey folk-generated pseudonym is inevitable. It becomes a cottage industry among demented old ladies to “come out” as Helen Gandies to explain the affair; but the real Helen Gandy never appears. Most people believe, for no particular reason save romance, that she was innocent, lured somewhere along with the secret files, and killed.

In other circles, an elaborate conspiracy theory forms, asserting the whole affair was Hoover’s parting gift: the puritan had gotten so fed up with corruption he chose to wipe it out with his last breath. FBI Director Mark Felt is pointed to and named as the real Truth-Teller; he is indignant about this.

The McGovern administration — a two-termer — is followed in 1980 by the Republican Ronald Reagan’s smashing victory over a lackluster Jimmy Carter. During the run to the election, it becomes an accepted truth in the more unhinged Republican circles that the Truth-Teller was a Democrat, had to be a Democrat.

Whether or not this is true, a secondary “truth” develops on the Democrat fringe — that the Gandy Archive had, among all the other smut, a sex film of Marilyn Monroe and a certain dashing young actor now seeking the Republican nomination. When the rumor reaches Reagan, he reacts with ten minutes of uninterrupted laughter and then says, “No.”

As a reaction to this, the said Democrat circles begin speculations involving horses.

By 2002, that too is ancient history. Thirty years have passed since Hoover’s death, and eighteen years since the 1984 quip that cost Reagan his presidency and destroyed Helsinki…

Oh, what quip? Well, preparing for yet another weekly radio address, he tested microphone with this: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

This is broadcast, accidentally, and relayed by Soviet listening stations to the heart of the Red empire. There the deciders first say, “Fucking capitalists! It’s Soviet Union, Soviet Union, not Russia!”, and then lazily inquire if the missile warning station has anything.

A lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Oko satellite warning station sees a blip, teeters for a moment on the edge of calling it just a bug in the machine, and then, recalling the tone of the question, says he probably has a launch. Nuclear holocaust is narrowly averted when cooler heads prevail at the HQ — all heads involved turning out to be cool, except for a lone general that storms away, muttering something about sissies, real men and purifying thermonuclear fire.

Subsequent investigation finds he did what he could, and authorized the launch of a single “Serpukhov” city buster missile from a battery at the arse end of Lake Ladoga, probably hoping to provoke some real, all-out nuclear combat, toe-to-toe with the Capitaliskies.

Americans, terribly confused by this solitary launch, do nothing — and the Serpukhov launch crew, a wee bit worried by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union bellowing in their ear, direct from Moscow, push the abort button post haste.

The lone missile falls down towards the city of Helsinki, Finland, and due to the abort circuit not being designed for actual use due to some cynicism in the weapons industry, explodes. Helsinki is levelled; Finns rejoice in finding endless feed for both their hunger for world attention and their towering inferiority complex.

America is more worried with their share in causing this; President Reagan hangs in office for a week and then resigns when certain elements of his party start demanding he do the trick again, but for reals this time.

As said, by 2002 that is history, relevant to few except the Tourism Board of Finland; even the newest American crisis isn’t a child of Helsinki — no, instead it is the continued Republican challenge to President Lieberman’s legitimacy, following the unfortunate death of President-Elect Gore in a tragic yet hilarious air conditioner accident.

This all is backstory and background for the actual plot of the novel.

The actual plot is about a senile, doddering Ronald Reagan, who gets a hint about the location of the remains of the Gandy Archive and sets out to find and destroy it, driven by the uncertain hunch of a feeling of a half-memory that he may have acted in an improper movie with a horse once upon time. What at first seems like a crazy road trip fuelled by dementia and conservative medication, turns deadly serious when Ronald is kidnapped by a sentient elephant and informed he has been tasked with restoring America’s greatness.

Is this all just the hallucinations of a very old and tired man?

Or is the elephant really very good with the hiding, and on a mission from God?

And what do D. B. Cooper and the mysterious Indian chieftain Machus Red Fox have to do with it? And what about the Alaskan hermit “Whip” Boggs, who claims to be a lost Congressman, his plane shot down with radiation by J. Edgar’s goons in 1971? Was Helen Gandy a robot? Was J. Edgar a Gray? Is capitalism just a Communist plot? And who stole the Hoover secret files, and do they really contain a film of a man dallying with a horse, or, worse still for a Republican, with an ass?

(Spoiler: A horse. Which also shot JFK.)

Critical line: “Ronald watched the water in the glass. He could see by the ripples, the rings that the elephant’s footsteps were closer. ‘I’m too old for this shit’, he muttered.”

Bodies in the desert

January 11, 2012

For your entertainment and consideration: a cluster of half-baked ideas for horrible novels, inspired by a much milder discovery in Michael Connelly’s The Narrows.

The police, the FBI or some such American authority make a discovery in some Nevadan desert, or in some backwood of Montana. The discovery is dead people: lots of them. Thousands of dead people.

The hook is that no-one can say who these people are.

First derivation: They look like your average folks: jeans, baseball caps, families and loners, sneakers and loafers — but they’re all buried side by side in the desert, and no dental record or missing persons notice can trace any of them.

First solution to the first derivation: No, they can’t be traced at all. This is a sci-fi novel! These people show up without traces because they’ve slid in from a different reality. The first clue will be a pin saying “Re-elect Santorum in 2012!” — what remains is to see if they’re the victims of some purge in the other world, the whole patch of ground shifting, carrying their graves here, or if they escaped here and were killed here. Possibly the investigators are attacked by gun-wielding otherworld goons, and carried to the throne of the President of God-America. There to hear that there’s a plot to destroy their ungodly ick-America, and the agents with the nukes are marching through the portal already.

Second solution to the first derivation: Well, they can be traced eventually. They’re the remains of a Jim Jones-like cult, recruited through the Internet. They came for harmony, eternal truths and free love; things then went wrong. Maybe their food was contaminated; they hallucinated; and a partly forced mass suicide followed; the last shovelman wasn’t buried. Since this isn’t much of a plot, add a few survivors, one of which absconded with the colony’s cash stash. Or maybe the cult’s recruiting tool is an Internet page (the cult itself does not encourage communication with the outside world), and that page is still being updated with happy testimonials from named inhabitants? Maybe leads to some cynical content creator marketroid in Seattle.

Second derivation: They look weird. They’re all buried nude; they are stooped, malnourished people with tangled long hair and bad teeth, with weatherbeaten skin all of them. They look, for all purposes, like human herdstock, if anyone had the mind or purpose to herd suburbanites. And by the signs of it, all of these people are free range, not the doctor-visiting kind.

First solution to the second derivation: They’re not livestock; yuck, that’s a horrible thought. Here’s something worse. Their origin is not all that interesting — maybe a caravan of settlers was trapped by an avalanche in the mountains in the 1850s, and they couldn’t get out of some hellish tiny vale. There was enough food there to survive with a bit of cannibalism on the side; but in a few decades the survivors were mad, and their children feral. Then come the 1990s the government, with spy satellites and stuff, discovered the valley, and the human animals in it. Overcome with disgust (also cannibalism and stuff), the decision was made to quietly euthanize the nude and wild descendants, and this is their gravesite. Novel turns out to not be so much about the dead, as about the morality and ethics of their killing and the governmental cover-up.

Second solution to the second derivation: They are livestock. But who would farm people? The usual answer would be, amoral corporations or mad billionaires or the government. Somewhere there are very long sheds, and long pork breeding and fattening inside them. Since these people are long-haired and gaunt, they are escapees: the sheds had a roof failure during an autumn storm, and the flock ran away. The point of discovery was where the bodies were gathered and buried; the ruins of the sheds can be found nearby. Pertinent questions: How do you find people to work in a place like that? What’s the market for human flesh in non-delicacy amounts?

Third derivation: There are a lot of people, but they’ve been buried here over a long, long time. The oldest are wearing Depression-era clothes; the newest have iPods in their pockets. And they’re not dead; they’re killed.

First solution to the third derivation: …and there’s something really weird with the bodies. The oldest are red-haired boys. The Fifties ones red-haired athletic men. The newest, codgers with a bit of red in their white hair. If you squinted, the same person, getting older and older. The explanation is a serial killer that takes the identity of his victims, in this case just for long enough to lay a few false tracks and then kill again; in the city, no-one notices a slightly different face. As a result, the vast majority are thought runaways, nuts, people that took the cash and ran. (Yes, this is a ridiculous plot. As if those above were any better.)

Second solution to the third derivation: …and the key phrase is, “There can be only one.” There’s a contest, possibly over the control of some criminal organization, where two men enter, one man leaves. And the ones that didn’t leave are buried here: every single loser of the challenge for the past hundred years. The reason they haven’t been missed is this Mystery Organization doesn’t attract people that have other people that’d miss them. (Really, to make this stinker work you’d have to invoke some drama magic. Like, “Congratulations for discovering the Brutal Brethren, o single FBI agent of exceeding pulchritude and heavy bosom! Now we must go — in three hours, the Empire State Building shall be attacked by the Midnight Monks of Eeh, and we must foil their centurial plot!”)

Fourth derivation: After examining the bodies, it becomes ever clearer that they form families: plenty of farmer families, single families of shopkeepers, gas station owners, the like — as if they were some roadside town of two thousand, all here, dead in the ground, dead in their daily clothes. There’s no missing village, though.

Solutions to the fourth derivation — who knows?

A thousand angels

January 8, 2012

I love the Internet.

Someone in Australia makes a song about Neon Genesis Evangelion; posts it online in July of 2010. I, in Finland, see it in January of 2012, and it, in Internet language, “makes my day”. (Or possibly “it my day accidentally”; I’m a little bit vague on this.)

My path of discovery was:

“Maybe I should buy a copy of that ‘things work because of mammoths’ book I liked as a child — so on to the Book Depository, not Texas, and what’s that box set flashing in their ‘someone just bought’-window? — oh, right, I’ve heard so many glancing positive mentions of these Hunger Games books I could maybe try them, so which source do I trust to say pertinent things about them? — oh, TVTropes says they’re far, far, far on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, and an apparently largish class of characters can be classified as Blood Knights: this all sounds good — oh, and there’re fan songs of the thing? — oh, and this Iron Children one by Rachel something is terrific — and she has more and… wait, ‘Evangelion’? Like Neon Genesis — oh, beauty. Oh, I want to reward the maker of this; if I cannot donate money, maybe dross will do, like one of my crude blog posts, one that tries to tell it did not make a day, or a week, but my month at the very least. Yup; January’s good with this.”

And here’s the song. A Thousand Angels, by Rachel Macwhirter. Think Shinji.

(As for those who do not know, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Japanese “anime” animation series. It is what happens when a director recovering from a serious pit of depression decides to make his next series a bit more psychological. It is famous and infamous for many reasons.)

Matrix Algebra Rule 34

January 5, 2012

Context: I said this; Bob O’Hara said this.

And then I said to myself, “bloody hell, what do you mean there is no Rule 34 of matrix algebra? Is there really no lazy mathematics graduate student who would— oh, wait.”

* * *

There is no 34th rule in matrix algebra.

No, the rules of matrix algebra are not numbered. They are wild, free, potentially uncountably infinite. They are discrete bricks of conditional truth baked from the raw red sludge of matricular concepts; bricks, and sculpted marble columns and colonnades that, founded on logical truth, reach up at a potentially limitless sky, supporting churches and palaces of proposition and conjecture. They make a city fair, ancient and beautiful.

The ghost labourers of that city’s construction are mathematicians; their sweat and tears are the mortar, their puny mortal minds the timid flesh-architects, unseenly present there to build this spirit world — or to make it reveal itself, if that is your philosophical inclination. Maybe these ideas pre-exist; maybe they are created by discovery. Maybe the distinction is bogus and meaningless.

Nonetheless, this fair city of the truths and potential truths of matrix algebra is vast. It sways upwards in most un-cathedral-like fractal growth, results building on results, outlines filled in, and new outlines mapped as mirrored, distorted translucent copies of those that already exist.

If you are a mathematician and study matrix algebra, you can see this fair city growing, alive, unfurling like a flower, uncurling and growing like a child, its growth accelerated thousandfold by your encounter of it in a book that has the labour of centuries behind it. Tens of thousands of mathematicians, or some bounded from above number of a meaningless magnitude, have each made their contributions, some minuscule, of epsilonian size; some sprawling giant tangles of invention-discovery-organization, and out of all of them is curated and arranged the seemingly easy progression that is a book on matrix algebra, that guidebook to a city of lovely dreams — and this is one of the stories it tells.

The city is one of pink marble towers and golden steps, one of many cities on the trembling mathematical globe; and it is arranged in sweet spirals of repeating patterns, laws inexorably echoing in ever different cases, lemmata-chapels kneeling humbly beside towering theorem-cathedrals, and swarming crowds of matrices funnelled hither and thither, sure and confident in their knowledge of the rule of law, and a law of many rules.

But in all that structure, there is no numbering of rules; and thus there is no Rule 34 in matrix algebra.

No, that rule is one of life, not of mathematics. Matrix algebra tells you you can add together two matrices of equal size, or multiply them — the rule, of life, tells this too can be done with passion, excitement, and, dare we say, sexiness.

Let A be the matrix defined by

\displaystyle A = \left[ \begin{array}{cc} a_1 & a_2 \\ a_3 & a_4 \end{array}\right].

Observe this matrix, dear reader: a simple country matrix — square, decent, with no particular qualities along any moral axis; no secrets that any decomposition might reveal. Let us lift its skirts, and with chaste passion observe the most succulent number a_1a_4 - a_2a_3 to be not zero; we shall not want more detail from our blushing everymatrix. It means our matrix A is by no means singular; but though common, it is lovely.

But ah! Tragedy strikes. Our common, nonsingular matrix has an inverse: the Aristotelian other half of its Hamiltonian soul, a matrix A^{-1}, made at the other end of the universe of 2×2 matrices; all different, impossibly distant — but by a chance of statistics they meet, and as is known, opposites attract.

Their romance kindles like every phase of the Gauss-Jordan reduction of a 1000×1000 matrix going off at once!

This is their downfall. Their love for each other is fierce, undeniable. But A is a Capulet; A^{-1} a Montague. They should never meet; all Verona of matrix algebra knows what their embrace will bring.

At first, their romantic play seems harmless, though intoxicating. They swap sweet nothings, hold hands (metaphorically speaking), go side by side. The sum A + A^{-1} forms, and sits inertly, sweetly, unsimplified.

They share a first kiss; the sum dissolves into passionate summation, a heart-pounding, bracket-clutching, element-interleaving rush of the first base, and the second. The sum is resolved — for a fleeting moment there is no A, no A^{-1}, but merely this sweet sight:

\displaystyle \left[\begin{array}{cc} a_1+a_1^{-1} & a_2+a_2^{-1} \\ a_3+a_3^{-1} & a_4+a_4^{-1} \end{array}\right] .

But alas, this happiness is not to last. They are interrupted! A foul cretin, a singular old matrix of evil aspect, sees the two, and runs to inform, to speculate, to conjecture, with no decency or peer review, on other, more unseemly operations the two might have engaged in. It has no shame — no mercy — it sees nothing but the trivial thrill of a basic operation in the actions of two young and innocent matrices in love.

The two push apart, alarmed, their determinant-crossed fate clear to them. There they stand,

\displaystyle A = \left[\begin{array}{cc} a_1 & a_2+\epsilon \\ a_3 & a_4 \end{array}\right]


\displaystyle A^{-1} = \left[\begin{array}{cc} a_1^{-1}&a_2^{-1}-\epsilon\\ a_3^{-1}& a_4^{-1}\end{array}\right],

a little epsilon of lipstick transferred from one to the other. Their brackets heave; their elements shudder, torn between a moment’s lust and happiness, and the sure knowledge of impending doom.

“We are done!” A exclaims. “Finished! Run with me, away, away from this pestilential Verona of matrix algebra, this place that will not tolerate our love! If they shall not have us, we shall not have them (I can prove this) — come! I care not if you choose complex analysis, or potential theory, or some cold and distant L^p space, where dim Hilbertian stars wheel overhead. If you but be with me, my dimensions shall remain unchanged, my elements fixed in their positions — come with me.”

“Oh, darling!” the grief-struck A^{-1} cries, and brushes the epsilon of its lipstick from A’s cheek. “I cannot. I must not. I would perish — you would perish — there are limitations to what the gods of Thales and Bourbaki allow us. Would a matrix fit in at the courts of the Functional King? No, we would be pleasure slaves, freakish exotics, not ourselves; we would perish. Would even the brotherly dukes of Geometry shelter us? Us, who are cold and hobbled imitations of them, to them — as they to us are a cipher of lines, circles, sizeless points — there is no life for a matrix, or two of them, save in matrix algebra.”

“Say not so!” A cries, his brackets near bursting with agony. “Do not require of me the mockery of others — no, require that, but do not ask me to live separate from you. We are inseparable matrices. (Poetic license.) I would sooner die.”

“Then let us both do so!”, A^{-1} cries, wild, fey: “Let us die together, our love consummated in a fatal embrace. Let us perish; for to perish together is sweeter than any lonely existence could be!”

And so they rush at each other, rows and columns tangling, multiplying in a wild frenzy of passion free of all care. A gasp escapes A as its virginal columns part; A^{-1} murmurs a comfort, and slides its rows alongside, inside.

“Oh!” A gasps; A^{-1} is a perfect fit. They are made for each other. Each row clutches a column, and each column rubs against a trembling virginal row; a_1 rubs alongside a muscular column, till it finds the hungry touch of a_1^{-1}; now A^{-1} gasps, too, frightened, eager, demanding and adoring, and surrenders to the pleasures of calculation.

Their multiplication is hurried by necessity, but there are no errors in it, Their elements dance, their brackets merge; the movement achieves an breathless symmetry, and the two coalesce into a single form, melting, swirling, snapping together, each part finding its corresponding part in the other, their worries melting into happiness, feverish happiness, impossible happiness, perfect happiness; their elements are but the very basic numbers of the mathematical universe, engaged in the most ancient actions of all mathematical life: the numbers, they multiply, they are added; the orgasmic pleasure of unification is beyond words — and it is deadly.

With a cry of unspeakable contentment, the two are gone, their love the doom and fate of them. It was as the cold stars of logic had decreed —

\displaystyle AA^{-1} = \left[\begin{array}{cc} a_1 & a_2\\ a_3&a_4\end{array}\right] \left[\begin{array}{cc} a_1^{-1}&a_2^{-1}\\a_3^{-1}& a_4^{-1}\end{array}\right] = I,

nothing more, nothing of them remains, but this: a single I, an empty shapeless thing, the identity matrix, a dead thing, an epitaph, a cenotaph:

\displaystyle I = \left[ \begin{array}{cc} 1&0\\ 0&1\end{array}\right]

— no sign of the lovers remains in it, but bare entropiac blankness; so it is not by that stone, but by this tale, that you, dear reader, are to know there were two young passionate matrices that once loved, and dared, and lost, in the old Verona of matrix algebra.

Two more elephants

January 4, 2012

Five blind men went to see the elephant.

The first reached out, and said, awestruck: “It is as it was told! The elephant is a big warm leathery thing!”

The second one reached, and said, equally amazed: “Oh wow! It’s just like it was in my dreams yesterday! There’s a cavity with candy in it and they taste like Bob Hope! And Newt Gingrich’s sitting inside it!”

“Fucking crazy druggie”, the third one said.

“Oh!” the fourth one cried into the awkward silence. “The elephant is speaking to me! It tells me the warmness is an illusion — the true elephant is a shaggy thing of the icelands, cold as death!”

“Fucking new religious movements”, the third one said.

“Yeah”, the first one sneered. “It’s no good elephant lore if you make it up yourself.

After another awkward silence, the fifth blind man said: “I think this elephant is such an outrageous animal it must have been built by aliens. I can see no other solution!”

At which point he was attacked and viciously beaten by four blind people, because you don’t make crappy sight jokes even if you’re blind yourself.

* * *

Five blind men went to see the elephant.

The first felt it, and said: “It’s like a tree trunk! Wide, strong, and big!”

The second felt it, and said: “It’s like a weird pig, a long twisty elastic thing with a snout in the end!”

The third felt it, and screamed: “It’s a slimy rope — a tentacle — oh God! It burns! I’m in agony!”

The fourth said: “What the fuck?” — and felt the elephant. And said nothing at all.

The fifth, in gross contradiction to all common sense, called out: “Mr. Elephant?”

“No”, the so-called elephant growled, “they call me Mr. Nyarlathotep. And now I will eat you too.”

And it did.


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