Poland: gorning, books, transport, doors

September 16, 2014

It is polite, and useful, to know a few phrases of the local language, even if you don’t speak any more of it. My Polish right now consists of “Hello!”, “Thank you (very much)!”, “Goodbye!”, and a few random words, most of which I don’t know how to pronounce.

The Polish for “Sorry!” is przepraszam; I don’t know how to say that.

The problem is, when you start an interaction with a cheerful Dzien dobry!, you then quickly have to employ an “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Polish!” — because hey, if someone says hello to you in Poland in Polish, it’s a good guess that they speak Polish. And I’m not sure how to say the thing well enough to be understood, but clunkily enough to not be mistaken for a native with a head cold.

Or, well, you can easily imagine your native hellos and goodbyes, and how they could be said in tones that would be very inappropriate. Leering. Sneering. Snooty sarcasm. The like. How do you avoid these, when the totality of the interaction is hello and goodbye while sharing an elevator?

Also, you do find yourself gorning a bit for effect. Say, once you’ve acquired the sausage, looking aside for a moment, as if trying to remember something, and then coming out with the thank-you-very-much, saying it perhaps not quite as well as you could, while smiling hesitantly. And oh, do the meatmaid’s eyes light up!

…I have no idea what to call the sausage and cheese desk’s attendant and sausage-scale-operator. “Meatmaid” is probably not it.


There are more bookshops in Poland than in Finland, I think. In absolute numbers, of course; but also relatively.

Most of the books they sell are in Polish — some don’t have anything at all in English! Shock! Grief! — but the Polish titles are interesting, too. There seem to be a lot of Polish fantasy writers; I can’t say anything about their quality, but their covers do kick ass with +2 Boots of Posterior Punishment.

I even saw a translation of S. T. Joshi’s Lovecraft: A Life in one shop, and only got away by telling myself that that would not be a good primer for learning the language — and then closing my eyes and running in the direction of the door.

I keep being kicked in the head by Poland being a market of 30 million, instead of Finland’s 5 million; I think maybe I’ve never really realized how limited the number of titles translated into Finnish is.

But of books in English: I’ve found two horrible sinks of money already.

One is the American Bookstore in the Arkadia shopping center; I think they’re closing that branch in November, so that partly explains their crazy prices. They offer new paperbacks for 5 and 10 zl — like for a literal buck or two! And their selections are made by someone with good taste, that, that is, a taste much like mine. (Except that they have a combined shelf for history and, uh, politically-motivated current events narratives, and the second really leans to the right.) (Their website is kind of unhelpful on their locations; and on Google Maps there’s a ghost of a store on Novy Swiat that I don’t think exists anymore. I hope the shop gets back on its feet and keeps a location somewhere in Warsaw; they have a great catalogue and, not surprisingly, a staff that speaks very good English.)

The other place is Ksiegarnia MDM (at Koszykowa 53, I think), and is more your standard current-titles bookstore, distinguished by its great and varied amount of books in English. (I think “ksiegarnia” means “kirjakauppa” means “bokhandel” means “Buchhandlung” means “honnya” means bookshop; there are words you just have to know.)

Haven’t had time to find any used books shops yet. Then again, when you can buy, e.g., a brand new pocket Polish-English-Polish dictionary for 4.99 zl, and 4 zlotys are about one euro or a dollar, there’s no pressing need!

As for Polish authors — eh, since I don’t read Polish, I prepared for this transition by buying a Stanislaw Lem and an Andrej Sapkowski. The former is a classicist of satirical science fiction; the latter is 90s fantasy about swords and dragons and intersections of those; not quite as bleak as Martin, but sort of R.E. Howard-ish.

Then I’ve of course bought the two-volume God’s Playground, a History of Poland, written by Norman Davies, because everyone seems to agree that that’s the best history of Poland there is, and that includes some Polish schools. (And many years ago, when I was abroad for my first mathematical conference, the conference happened to be in Poland, and a recommendation for this book is the one thing I remember of the guide’s speech during our afternoon excursion: “if you want to know more, read this”.)

I haven’t started that history book yet; I somehow left Ksiegarnia MDM with a copy of Tuf Voyaging by this Martin or somebody, and I’ve been reading that. Great stuff.


There are nine letters in Polish that are not found in your general English alphabet. One of them looks like a struck-through L.

It’s pronounced like W because fuck you foreigners, that’s why.


There’s a buttload of buses and trams going in all directions in Warsaw, and a north-south line of metro and a second west-east line that’s apparently going to be ready any day now.

These all use the same ticket, available in a scary variety of durations; and if you have a photo of yourself you can fill this form online, and a day later pick up an official, free Warsaw City Card.

That card doesn’t do anything, but it can be loaded with, say, a 90-day ticket, and then you just swipe it to get into the metro, and smile smugly while keeping it in your pocket to get on the buses and trams.

There are inspectors; in three weeks of quite casual tram-ing and bussery and metrofaring, I’ve had my ticket checked twice. (Or if those were not inspectors, then I haven’t realized how they scammed me yet.)

There’s a website (also an Android app) called Jakdojade, which is excellent for finding out how to get from A to B when the clock shows C. You just plug in the street addresses or place names, and boom! it calculates several transport combinations for you, tells you which stops to get in and out on, and how many stops are between those and what they’re called, and shows a map.

If you had the time (we mathematicians thought over coffee), you could easily get hold of the coordinates of all bus and tram stops and metro stations, and then divide Warsaw into pieces by the closest transport entrypoint. (That must be a part of what Jakdojade does, I think.) I think the pieces, at least in downtown, would be quite small.

There’s some kind of a measure of urban ease of travel lurking there, but I’m not applied enough to find it. Maybe if you took, say, ten thousand randomly distributed point-pairs in Zone 1, and the same number of random hours of the day, and asked Jakdojade how long it would take to get from one to the other… you would have a denial of service attack.

Or you could find the place in Warsaw from which it is, on average, the quickest to get to anywhere else in Warsaw. (I’m supposing that’s the Centrum metro station.) You could, uh, create a deformed map that showed not physical distance but travel distance; these are common with metro maps, but you could do it for the aboveground city, too!

And I’m saying “you” because I’m too lazy.


So this new mathematical place has a doorman. Who is most of the time a doorwoman, so maybe I should say: a doorperson.


No, that sounds like a creature from some dodgy expansion of Dungeons and Dragons.

“A doorperson has the appearance of a normal no-good blackguard, but any melee attack on it causes the attacker to hit whatever target is on the other side of the doorperson. If that space is empty, the attacker stumbles through and ends in that space him- or herself. When a doorperson is slain, it drops a key. They key is worth 50 gp and will open locked doors.”

What I am saying is, if I was a doorguy, I would last in that job about three days before I started a betting pool with the other doorcharacters over who comes to work before whom.

“Well, professor A is very regular, and quite early. Assistant B is all over the place. His average arrival is later than A’s, so he’s kind of a risky bet… but he has a deadline this week so I’m willing to gamble he’s going to be in early.”

Then after a week there would be a scandal; shaky cellphone video of a doorkeeper slipping a graduate student a twenty and saying “Come to work early, tomorrow. Ask no questions. This may be a new incentive thing, or the professors might be monitoring you. Or this can be just for a doorman bet, you know, ha ha ha.”

I’m in Poland now

September 16, 2014

I’m in Poland now; have been here since late August. While in Finland, I was kind of mum about what university I was in, exactly; this was mostly just paranoia.

Now, since this city has several universities in which mathematics is done, and I think several other institutions of the same sort, not all of them lodges of the Society of Unaussprechliche Geheimnis Eulers, I think I’m willing to say I’m in Warsaw.

Because, uh, if I didn’t say that, blogging about my daily life here would be kind of difficult IGNORE THE HUGE LANDMARK AT THE BACK OF THIS PHOTO.

(What I’m thinking of when I say “huge landmark” is the Palace of Culture and Science, which is both huge, a landmark, and a huge landmark. Seriously, when you see it over the trees from the park next to it, you think “Oh, that’s just some clock tower”, and then you wonder how that clocktower starts twenty stories up.)

Warsaw is so far a nice place and the Polish people are nice and friendly. If they have been anything else, then I have not noticed because I don’t speak Polish. I’m not yet sure if I’m going to change this; I obviously know the polite nothings, dzien dobry and all that.

I’ll be here for a year at least. More if I feel like it and can find funding, or it they start finding the bodies of those hitchhikers back in Finland.


I’ve been repeatedly advised that the tap water is not good for drinking. Locals boil it; I’m not quite that casual yet, and buy these huge 5-liter canisters of ordinary water from the closest shop. And when you lug 5-liter canisters around for a few weeks, you will find the closest shop. It’s a stone’s throw from the front door of my apartment building — heck, it would be a stone’s drop away if I lived in a different corner. (But dropping stones would not be polite. Not even if there were banknotes tied to them; what would they do, try to lob the canister up at me?)

Now. Since Polish tapwater is dubious, they have a huge market for bottled water. Or, at least, a huge market compared to that of Finland, where undrinkable tap water is a national news headline. (Not kidding; a while ago there was a problem with the pipes of a town, and it was in the evening news for as long as it lasted — “are for the third day advised to boil the water before using”, said in tones of incredulity and concern.)

This means Poland has available the greatest thing ever: water with flavor.

Not regular normal water (woda) which is boring and even when bottle-pure tastes kind of like shit because I’m used to tastes; and not carbonated (gazowana) water, which tastes like boiling shit. Just normal water, with a hint of apple, or peach, or some berry added to it.

That’s seriously the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted, at least partly because of the psychological factors. It is presumably healthy, or at least health-neutral, and also tastes good — what is this wizardry?

However: there are bottles side-by-side on the shelves which are identical except for one word in tiny font somewhere on the label. Some say “gazowana“. Others say “niegazowana“. In Polish, “nie” means “no”, and “gazowana” means “the boiling anal fluids of Lucifer Satan”.

I’ve been burned several times.

Once, I bought a sixpack of two-liter bottles of some football-branded water, lugged them home, got out the cooking pot, opened the first bottle—

Fizz! Bubble!

That day I also learned that you can cook pasta with carbonated water. It looks really disturbing, but the end result is edible.


Shopping is not really that difficult, because it’s not that different. You don’t read the packaging all that much anyway, do you? Just don’t be fussy, and don’t buy the flour with the pictures of clean clothes on it.

(Though there are times I have been very happy for insisting on a Polish mobile plan with Internet access. Google Translate is, after the flavored water, the best thing I know of right now.)

(Though I’ve heard the smoothest way to get over language problems is to get a local girlfriend or boyfriend. This is great, but I haven’t found that shelf yet.)


I’ve been stuffing myself with fat Polish sausage for—

And we have entered the zone of the double entendre.

No really, the butcher’s desks at the local shops are nicely varied. My mouth’s made of cardboard and sandpaper so I can’t say anything smart about the quality or the variety, but it’s nice to go to the desk, drool at the dozens of choices, point, and say “Four!”

Better still, when the price then is four zlotys or something — one euro, or a little over a dollar. I’ve been joking for weeks now that in Finland and in Polish, the prices are the same — but in Finland they’re euros and in Poland zlotys!

In case that “joke” needs more explanation, it suggests everything is four times cheaper in Poland. This is not entirely untrue.

For example: A 1 l bottle of Coca-Cola costs 3.83 zl; I don’t remember the Finnish price, because you do not put a price on the black water of life, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t around 4 euros.

Oh, and bottles? Plastic bottles, formerly of lemonade and water, piling up in profusions? There’s no bottle return system; they all go in the trash. This is causing problems because I have by now a lifetime habit of collecting empty bottles in the same place, in the hopes of getting a small amount of money by clunking them then into the returns machine, found at the doorside of every grocery store everywhere.

So now I have this forest of bottles, that I occasionally and sullenly glance at, and then harvest a few to fill the trash bag, feeling as if I’m doing something wrong.

Maybe if I found a big shipping container and a Baltic cargo ship… do you suppose the Finnish returns machines would accept these bottles — is there a special barcode or something?


More to come, soon.

Life update, summer 2014: Relocations!

June 16, 2014

So: the new Cosmos is watched, and so is this year’s season of Game of Thrones. Time to use my free time to blog. To start with, a situation update: What have I been doing lately?

Well, last fall I got my Ph.D.; that fall and this spring I did teaching while writing an application after application for post-doc money. (What mad cretin decided that to do pure mathematics you had to answer so many convoluted practical questions — and not even convoluted in the easy sense that f(x) is as \int_{-\infty}^\infty f(t)g(x-t)\,dt !)

Then, after eight or so applications and some days of very dark thoughts, the ninth worked!

Thus, with funding from their end, this August I will be locating myself from Littlecity, Finland, to Bigcity, Poland. I’ll be there for at least one year.

I don’t know if I’m more relieved or terrified.

Still, Poland: I don’t know the language or the manners; but I’ve been there once before, 2008-ish, when I was a fresh graduate student and got to go to my very first mathematical conference. The conference was nice — mostly indecipherable, but nice. And all Polish mathematicians that I’ve met have been nice, friendly people; I have met no other Poles. (But poles generally are nice; for example, 1/z at z=0 is a very pleasant and well-behaved pole.)

Now right now I’m in the middle of packing — I don’t have the finances to pay the rent here in the city during the summer months when everything stops, so I’ve rented a heated box for all my books and stuff — more books than stuff — for a year, and next week I’ll go and spend the summer in infantile fashion by delighting my parents by my presence.

Mostly by moving my bulk between them and the window. “Is it cooler now mom, now that you’s de-lighted?”


PS: Aren’t research and teaching mirrors of each other, in a caricaturish sense? In research you use the same method on a new thing each time. In teaching, you expound on the same thing each time, but each time with different, audience-adapted methods.

Several very exceptional college admissions essays

May 13, 2014

One of the things American universities have and Finnish ones don’t are, apparently, admissions essays. Horrible self-congratulatory pieces you write to show the university that you are… uh, good in PR?

I’ve obviously never needed to write one (see: flippant attitude in the previous paragraph), and that is a good thing: I can’t even write “transition to manhood” or “positive impact” without biting at the inside of my face.

But — since the Internet is made for unsolicited advice — here are a couple of tries. Feel free to use them, and report on results.


Dear Admissions Board of the (name here) University,

Why am I writing an essay for a board? If it’s for cutting onions or something this essay won’t be good for it; it’ll get all cut up and everything. That’s why you use a board in the first place.




Dear Admissions Board of (universityname),

I have a lot of experience with boards. I have a skate board and a hover board and a board for playing chess on.

I look forward to either standing on you or playing with you, depending on what you want.

expectantly yours,

(firstname lastname)


Dear University Admissions Board,

You certainly are dear. In fact I don’t think I can afford you.

I don’t even know if I want to. I mean, will a Master’s degree get me a job, or is it just a paper?

Do I want to hang around with the sort of rich folks who can afford you? I don’t think they’re a good example for someone wanting to be a decent person.

What if being a douche is contagious? I don’t have the means to be such a douche as the rich kids.

I don’t know why I’m writing this.

Maybe because you’re the admissions board, and I needed to get this off my chest.

yours in confusion,

(names here)


Dear Board,

“Essay” is a strange word. I looked it up online, and it originally was a verb meaning something like “testing the quality of”. (I’m pretty sure a big printed dictionary would have the same origin.)

It’s funny that you use this piece of fiction for it. Do you realize I could make up all kinds of meaningful, touching encounters and honest life lessons and tough overcome circumstances, and you would never know? Not unless I was dumb enough to plagiarize 127 Hours or something. You have my CV I think, but you don’t get certificates for looking into the sunset with your father.

What are you testing for, then? My ability to lie smoothly, to choose the kind of lies that both appeal to you, dear Board, and are so glib no accident or checker can disprove them? Rest easy; I’m not going to claim myself a 9/11 orphan; I gather that would not be a good bluff.

In fact, how do you even know it’s me writing this? Maybe my dad hired an ex-Nixon speechwriter to polish his spawn’s lettery turds? Maybe I just sign my name to the bottom of this paper and that was my whole input into it; it’s not like you can check for that either, if I’m at least passably competent. If my essay’s implausibly good, hey, admit me, I’m a genius! (If it’s not good enough, I’ve probably brokered a money-back deal, or the next essay for free.)

Then there’s the chance that this essay might “work”, too, if you are as annoyed by the essay system as I am; if this catches you at the end of an irritating day, and you’re feeling like rewarding a young one for… chutzpah, I guess. I would say arrogance, but that doesn’t sound as good. Except that as I’ve made this too explicit, you’re not going to do that; I’ve been too clever. Unless I’ve been so clever that I know you’re cursing this essay-writer’s dickishness and unwillingness to play by the rules, and swearing this kind of meta-trickery will never work…

…or will it?

I wish to be yours,

N. N.


Dear Admissions Board of the Grand Poobah University of Misneforhiork

Admit it: You want me.



Dear Admissions,

I am a bear.

I literally am a bear.

I literally am the animal, bear. A grizzly bear.

As a result of a mix-up at our local Bureau of Birth Certificates and Pet Permits, I am an American citizen, nineteen years of age, and twelve hundred pounds of carnivorous grizzly bear. My extensive entertainment industry CV is attached.

You could be the first university in the nation to award a degree to a bear. You would be in every news outlet there is!

Or you could be the first instance of the headline, “Denied college applicant devours admissions board, sinks knife-sized incisors into head’s head [VIDEO+PICS]”.

The ball is in your court. Its resemblance to a bite-severed human head is entirely coincidental.

I have received some help from my caretaker, Mr. Wroth Tucker, for the writing of this letter.


“Mr. Clawmaster”


Dear Admissions Office,

The publicity materials of your university refer to it as a “place for life, not just for studies”.


Just not for studies.


Da Da Da


University Admissions Heads,

You are feeling very sleepy. Very sleepy.

You will not do anything contrary to your basic moral core, but you feel kindlily predisposed towards this application. You remain aware, and you can change your mind at any time. You are merely entertaining a fantasy of falling deeper and deeper into a suggestive state.

Admit this applicant.

Tick that box.

Admit this applicant.

Tick that box.

Admit this applicant.

You are slowly rising. You feel refreshed and happy. So very, very happy. As you read this paragraph, you come fully awake, put this letter aside, and remember nothing of it. You are satisfied with your work and feel no desire to check the list of those accepted, not today, not ever. You are happy, and content with your sex life.



Name Q. Surname


To: The admissions office

Title: Essay (applicant number 123 456)


My father was a great man. He was almost seven feet tall, and wide too. We went fishing together, hunting together, on truck joyrides through the town together, horn blaring, laughing, transmitting his manhood and my phase transformation from a mewling boy to a man with the angry squeals of the car’s audio equipment.

Maybe we were too loud; but we were alive, and isn’t that what life is all about? Maybe we were distracted, but I tell you she was to blame, walking in the middle of the street like that. And there was nothing to be done later, except to learn the harsh lessons of life and improve ourselves thereby.

The one lesson I was privileged to learn from my father was this: you can’t fix dead. You can fix an arm, you can fix a dog, you can fix a bathtube full of money to come; but you can’t fix dead.

Due to my father’s unjust incarceration, I come from impoverished circumstances. I urgently need to move town before the sheriff starts wondering where I get my paychecks from.


Name P. Namename

PS. I am great with chemistry, but unfortunately not the sort you get a certificate for. I’m attaching my dad’s rap sheet, pages 4–5, “Narcotics: Dealing and Manufacture”, but I am not admitting anything. That’s your job.


Deer Admissions Office,

Wait, shit, I meant to write “dear” but I have a problem with emotions.

Dear Admissions Office, you sweet little thing,

You see what I mean? I know the form of address that will result in a proper essay, but it is peculiar — that’s why I start with this sort of an introduction. Otherwise I look peculiar. Do not think I like this sort of business. No. I hate it.

It makes me angry.





i am sorry.

I’ll stop now.


Names Morenames


Dear Admissions,

You know how your university is run by a shadowy cabal of powerful donors and rich, influential former students? People you do not want to annoy, or you will face their terrible, disproportionate and indiscriminate vengeance?

It would be grossly unethical of me to mention any of my familial relations at this point, so I won’t.

(I took a different surname and have been living kind of incognito lately, because the stress of a solid-gold life and all that. Do not try to track my lineage, or the vengeance will be endless and harsh.)

(No, really, don’t look. I am of a rich and powerful ilk! Deny me at your own risk! I would say this if I was trying to influence you unethically, which I am not, and this essay is a privileged and private communication, plus the police? Also paid for, in perfectly legal aboveboard donations.)

(Do not deny me, if you value your continued non-crushing ‘neath the iron boot of the superrich! I heard that in a movie once.)

I am looking forward to your letter of acceptance.


N. N.


Dear Admissions Office,

What is life? What do we live for? Money or fame? Maybe the pleasures of flesh, or those of the mind? Maybe piety, the service of something greater than ourselves?


We live to live.

Life is its own purpose. Life defends itself to defend itself. Life lives to live. There is nothing else.

Is life, to use a metaphor, just a bowl of cherries? Maybe, but those cherries have their stems, which as a university profiled for its excellence in the STEM fields you surely know. Cherries are red, too, red like the lips of your mother, sleeping in the moonlight.

The Moon is lit by reflected sunlight. This too is a solid STEM fact, and one expressed by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan. Your mother in the moonlight is a marriage of biology and cosmology. Is your mother then a polygamist? Do I cast aspersions on your ancestry? What of it, if these be facts?

You cannot sue the Moon, but Neil Armstrong jaywalked on the Moon. He moonwalked on the Moon. Maybe Michael Jackson was a Neil Armstrong… walking on the Earth.


John Q. Philosophical


Dear Admissions Office,

Go Sun Bears!

I hear Sun Bears (GO BEARS!) are the best team in their sport. I am a great fan of sport! And I am a much bigger fan of Sun Bears (Go! Go! Go!) and it would not be exaggeration to say I am their biggest fan. I am 7 ft tall and weight 400 pounds.

I think college sports are important, because supporting them shows your dedication to slavishly adoring whatever symbols your college leadership offers you. Why if the Sun Bears (Go! Go!) were replaced by a fetid hole in the ground, I would still buy season tickets, scarves, hats, college shirts and other apparels in maximum amounts to show my support for the hole in the ground (Go Hole! Go Hole Go!) and, by this proxy, for the university administration and brand management.

Go Sun Bears!


N. N.


Dear Admissions Board,

I have attached an ancient tome of prophecies, passed down in my family for centuries. I refer you to p. 55, “Around 2012–5, a Descendant will come to the place of learning”. I trust you see the similarity between the demonic seal of Ba’al’solomon illustrated next to the text, and your university logo.

I have come, as prophesied.

I refer you next to the bottom of the page, viz., “And for those who bar the Descendant’s way, I foresee an endless fire among the minions of the Beast”.

For the sake of your immortal souls, admit me.


Bla Q. Bla

PS. Since the seal is (admittedly) a bit abstract, I’ve sent similar applications to Harvard, Yale, and New Mexico School of Dentistry. I am pretty sure eternal damnation will not fall on those who deny me where I was not meant to go, but I’m not quite sure yet, I’m considering my options.


Related: My personal statements, which I’ve also never needed to use for anything; and as an actually competent and not-only-humoristic example of this sort of a thing, Overqualified by Joey Comeau.

The non-amazing Spider-Man

May 2, 2014

Went and saw the Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Did not like it.

It was a stupid action movie; this alone isn’t enough to make me dislike it.

No, its problem was with the main character, Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man himself.

In my distant childhood, in the Eighties and Nineties, I read the comic books. I know who Peter Parker is, or who he ideally, in my imperfect and partial recall, should be.

He’s not this arrogant, mopey jock.

He’s an awkward nerd, a proto-scientist, a bespectacled, bullied loner. Just getting superpowers doesn’t change who he has been all his life so far.

This is the greatest insult this awful movie contained: it said that Peter Parker is this sleek jock-hipster, not awkward but stupid, and this awkward nerd scientist, this bespectacled, bullied loner — he’s Electro, the villain; why don’t you laugh at him? Why don’t you see what power does to a nerd?

It may be the script, it may be the actor, but every single instance of this Peter Parker felt like he was the bully, not the bullied. (Maybe it was me, but I kept thinking, “This is a future serial killer, manipulating the people around him. He’s finding emotions hard because he doesn’t have any. Don’t believe his bullshit, Gwen! Keep away!”) I don’t remember who the actor was; unless he’s as omnipresent as these (several pages of expletives deleted) Orci and Kurtzman, he’s a part of this wave of Generic Mopey Action Movie Young Male Protagonists. (Did he play Kirk in those awful new Star Trek movies? It’s so difficult when the guys look the same and play the same mopey emotion-is-hard violence-is-easy roles.)

This Peter Parker needs a screaming parody of a Youtube scientist to explain him the basics of electricity. This Peter Parker doesn’t do science; instead there’s a soundbite of nerds pontificating on the radio over his suit’s hypotheticals because hey, nerds, point and laugh.This Peter Parker thrashes his room not by accident but because hitting things seems to be his natural outlet of frustrations, instead of, like, science and problem-solving. This Peter Parker knows how to get money — take a few photos and if that doesn’t help hit up an old bro, talk shit about girls, emotions are hard amirite, hope for a handout. This Peter Parker knows you can’t give your blood to scientists, because scientists are evil and dumb. (see footnote) This Peter Parker claims he’s Gwen Stacy’s second in science — well, I suppose if you read “second” as “less than”. This Peter Parker is so arrogantly suave it’s clear he has never been bullied, never has stumbled and fallen, never has been the underdog. And all that was missing from his brief web-and-electricity-experimentation montage was a can of beer and a few classmates in jerseys and baseball caps. The classic sort of Peter Parker wouldn’t need Youtube, he would have been awake during class!

As for Electro — well, after showing us an extreme but vastly preferable Peter Parker he gets into an accident and spends the rest of the movie roaring and lashing out. (Remember, the police shot first.) He just decides to be evil because, hey, what else, much like Harry Osborn about an hour later. Probably because trauma makes you insane and evil, and everything that makes you different makes you evil, doubly so if it makes you more powerful. (Except if you’re a protagonist. Then everybody hates you except for all the people you meet.)

But. The scene where Electro “comes out” and meets the Spider-Man. He finds an electric cable and snacks on it. Nobody is getting hurt yet, though a lot of people are scared. A policeman approaches, gun out, yelling at Electro to put the cable down. (Because if you see some poor unfortunate casting off sparks and clinging to an electric cable, that’s what you do — if they’re black and in a hoodie.) Electro puts the cable down, is almost overrun by a car, and flips it over him, because if you have a power of not getting killed you tend to use it. In response the police shoot and shoot at him, and continue shooting until he loses his mind and starts killing everybody. Because that’s what happens, I feel the movie telling me, if you give a nerd power.

But ah, if you have a properly mopey guy who looks like he can kick a ball and score with them chicks, right, he’s going to turn out all right. He can kick down scrawny smart-guy nerds like Electro and Harry left and right.

The only threat to him is a stupid girl who tries to keep away from him the hero. (But what can the hero do? He’s so tragic! He made a promise to a man! You can’t break man-to-man promises! The girl who the promise was about has got no say in it! Dead males over live females!)

(Later in the movie: What? The girl broke up with me? Better stalk her daily; that’s like super romantic. And, what, the girl’s going to England? Oh no you aren’t… okay if you are, I’m gonna follow you. I’m gonna follow you no matter where you go, girl, I’m gonna stand in the rain outside your window in a spandex costume because that’s how super romantic I am!)

(Also: There’s one thing about Gwen Stacy that the movie got right. Though, since we didn’t see a coffin, I’m not putting it past the movie-makers to introduce a mysterious pen-pal in England in the next movie. I’m still mad at Orci and Kurtzman for Kirk and the fake-out at end of Star Trek Into Dorkness. It’s no fun watching movies when a suggestion of death is so ludicrous as to destroy your suspension of disbelief!)

I think that when Spider-Man shoots out his jokes, we were supposed to consider him an underdog, joking because he was scared, because what else would a scrawny nerd like him be, fighting these super-powered popular bros and jocks? With this new Spider-Man, ehh, not so much. I can better see him appreciating the comedic potential of “Hey, you dropped your stuff! Why don’t you pick ’em up?” and “Stop hitting yourself, nerd!”


Footnote: If I recall correctly, a recording of Peter’s father says, in that stupid train hideout, that the spider-serum won’t work on people unrelated to him because his blood went into it. Which is to say, take your stupid coincidence plotting and mmmph mphhh, and good job on keeping your work from foreign arms dealers, daddy, but did you use too big words for Peter to realize there was a possibility of using Harry’s blood instead, and thereby healing Peter’s old friend and not turning him into a cackling supervillain? If Norman Osborn was a representative case, Harry isn’t dying quite yet, despite getting some skin damage.

But of course in Hollywood skin damage equals corruption of the soul, and if you ask for something you’re evil and not gonna get it. Especially if it could have helped untold millions because stasis is good and science is impotent and evil — wait, did Peter’s father sabotage a cure for AIDS and cancer? I think a few Libyan super-soldiers would have been a fair price for that.


Also: “Sony Vaio notebooks — so tough not even two men tearing at it in a falling plane can’t damage it!”


April 17, 2014

This time of the year, I say Hyviä lomillepääsiäisiä!

This, because it is Eastertime and other people say Hyvää pääsiäistä! ((Have a) happy Easter!) or Hyvää pääsiäislomaa! ((Have a) happy Easter holiday!).

That thing which I say, I say because I have an irrational dislike of going with the flow, and a rational dislike of religion. I try to avoid implicit religious wishes; and Easter has more religious connotations than, for example, a carefully neutered and secularized community-and-family holiday like Christmas. (“No, we’re not secularizing Christmas… pay no attention to the reward-in-heaven god-child being replaced by a rotund red symbol of earthly rewards for good deeds… I’m sure your need to remind us of remembering the true meaning of Christmas every time when starting to speak of the child doesn’t in any way indicate a shift in the meaning away from yours…”)

Hyvää is the same in both wishes — hyvä would be good, nice, enjoyable, and hyvää is the same conjugated to fit “(have a) nice (something)”. (Well er uh I think hyvää is an adjective in the same partitive case as that noun which follows it would be in but I don’t know; I just speak the Finnish language, I don’t understand it. Finnish grammar is madness.)

Pääsiäinen is Easter, but if you look at the word, it sounds and looks like it could have something to do with verbs like päästä, to be allowed or let go, or päästää, to allow or let go. Päästän koirat irti! — I’ll release the hounds!, or Erkki pääsi vankilasta, Erkki, a hypothetical character, got out of prison. Pääsiäinen is not something that immediately looks like a word of smaller parts in Finnish as currently spoken, but once you look it looks like an oldy-timey way of meaning “the-thing-or-event-related-to-releases”. This is probably the original meaning of the word — but this is not what anybody think about when the word is used in a standard construction.

Thus, pääsiäisloma would be “the Easter holiday/vacation”, but if you turn the words around into lomillepääsiäinen, it becomes something new, something where it is not obvious whether the p-part refers to the holiday or the word seemingly embedded in it, and the word seems best understood like this:

loma : holiday

lomille : to-the-holidays

pääsiäinen : the-event-of-being-released,


lomillepääsiäinen : the-event-of-being-released-to-go-on-the-holidays, the event of the time or occasion when or where you are allowed to burst the bonds of this surly work and go have some free time.

Which I think is something nice to express at people: You gets to go and have a holiday! Happy occasion! See you in a week! Hooray!


Then again, at times I hear Hyvää viikonloppua!, (have a) good weekend, and I am compelled to answer Kohtuuhyvää viikonloppua!, (have a) reasonably okay / moderately good weekend!

Or Ihan tavallista viikonloppua! — (have a) perfectly ordinary weekend.

I could even say Siedettävää viikonloppua — (have a) bearable weekend. (Sietämätöntä would be, in this phrase, unbearable.) Except with my dialect it would come out as sii’ettävvöö.

Or — you’re seeing how my mind works, right? — I think I should say Nähdään maanantaina!, see you on Monday — and I say instead Nähdään maanantaina, ellei sokeuduta sitä ennen! — which would be, see you on Monday, unless before that we lose our sight.


Also, päästäinen means “a shrew”, but that’s not related to anything. Also a shrew can be, Wikipedia tells me, popularly called a nokkahiiri, or a beak mouse.

Now you know this, too.

Finally, there are six species of shrew that live in Finland: the forest shrew, the black shrew, the eastern shrew, the infirm shrew, the dwarf shrew, and the water shrew. You could assemble a cartoon cast of them, except it would be horribly racist.

“Incredible” things you “didn’t know”

April 3, 2014

Grr. Time to rant against a fairly undeserving target.

I came across a Youtube video on the Alltime10s channel titled “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Game of Thrones”, though it starts with the title “10 Incredible Game of Thrones Facts”.

The list is, actually, “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Game of Thrones if You Were A Person So Not Interested About Game of Thrones You Were Not Going to Watch This Video Anyway”. Also, they weren’t very incredible at all.

For example, the tenth fact: the King’s Landing scenes are filmed in (some medieval parts of) Dubrovnik, Croatia, or as the video puts it, “King’s Landing is a real place”. If you are even a casual fan — watched one or two watcher-baiting documentarettes, visited Winter Is Coming or some other website a few times — you would know this. It’s one of the show’s biggest publicity points that it’s filmed in Croatia! Morocco! Iceland! Ireland! And “The set for Castle X was actually a real castle” isn’t novel or incredible either; even Monty Python did it.

Fact nine is that “sexposition” is a critical term that sprang up because of, um, some scenes in the first season. Again, this isn’t an obscure fact; it’s something even a non-fan would know. To not know sexposition is a term widely used to describe scenes in Game of Thrones, and a term made up for that purpose, you would have to have lived in a cave during season one; I think there were articles on CNN.com and everywhere about the damn term. Late night TV people were talking about it. If you don’t know the word, you know nothing, video watcher.

The eighth fact is worse. “The show’s Iron Throne took 2 months to make, is almost 8ft tall and takes 4 men to lift”.

To be accurate, I did not know that.

To be honest, I didn’t think, either, that the Throne was something cobbled together from styrofoam five minutes before filming started. I didn’t know the exact numbers, but they do not surprise me. In much the same vein, I do not know how tall Kristian Nairn is, but a factlet exclaiming his height would not be a very “incredible” didn’t-know fact either. And so much of the show’s publicity has been “buy a copy of the throne for silly money!” and “come see the throne on tour!” that it being a solid prop is really really not incredible or unknown.

Here’s an incredible fact you didn’t know! Kristian Nairn, playing the mildly gigantic man-of-word Hodor, is 6 feet 10 inches tall! Incredible! You — didn’t — know — this!

You know, I wouldn’t be writing this pissy post if the video had been called “10 interesting facts”, or “10 nice details”; but I’m a mathematician and if you deliberately ignore the meanings of very definitely defined words to make yourself look better I’m going to get incredibly pissy about it.

(Anybody that uses the superlative form of an adjective online is lying. Anybody that does the same on TV is lying too, and also should be beaten with sharp hammers.)

(Also, eighth fact, footnote: “One of the melted swords is Gandalf’s Glamdring”. Which was an idea that went around the Net a few weeks ago. As far as I know this is just some fans saying one of the swords on the back of the Throne kinda-sorta looks like Gandalf’s sword. The sword pointed to as Glamdring looks like a sword and so does Glamdring, so this “fact” is not completely a stupid, unthinkingly propagated piece of uncritical, masturbatory, delusional, foetidly laughable bullcrap.)

Next, number seven: Direwolves were an actual prehistoric wolf species. This is actually not that well known; I can’t snark about this one.

6) There’s a tie-in rap album called Catch the Throne. If you’re interested in rap and the show, you’re likely to know this! And if you’re not interested in either, then this fact could be replaced by “There’s a character called Arya Stark!” and you wouldn’t know it either. And given that two established bands, The National and The Hold Steady, have had songs in the show, an album of not-in-the-show, show-related songs isn’t that novel an idea. Hardly “incredible” anyway.

Then there’s the fifth “did not know”, which is not a thing known by anybody except George R. R. Martin at all: why does Westeros have years-long irregular seasons? “May be from an unsteady planetary axis or ocean currents”, and “One theory suggests an elongated orbit, with periods near to and far from the sun.”

May I offer another? The irregular seasons may be because the sun of Westeros occasionally retreats inside the butthole of a red unicorn called Charlie, drawn in by Charlie’s vacuum-forming exotic gastrointestinal distresses.

This is what is known as fan theory, not fact. The reason Westeros(-plus-environs) has strange seasons may be an unimportant background fact, or it may have relevance to the plot. In either case, nobody in the books knows, and to my knowledge and to the limits of my shaky memory GRRM has never committed to or commented on any particular theory.

And “fans have crazy theories!” is not a very surprising nugget of knowledge in and of itself. With this series it’s one of the most best-known facts. “Tyrion Lannister’s being a dwarf may be because he’s actually a son of the Mad King, or a reverse giant” — may, may!

(And “elongated orbit = weird seasons”? Oh, for fuck’s sake, if you want to explain fantasy with science, try to do it properly. Earth’s seasons come from Earth’s axial tilt, meaning that when the north pole is tilted away from the Sun Finland has a winter: longer nights, shorter days. The period of this seasonal cycle is a year — one orbit around the sun. Half a year later Finland has shorter nights and longer days, and thus a summer. An elongated orbit would (I think) create a second summer-winter cycle: planet very far from the sun, it’s colder for everybody; planet very close to the sun, it’s warmer for everybody — but this cycle’s period would be a year (one orbit), too. These two put together can not make for years-long, unpredictable (to medievals) seasons; they, at most, I think, could give the hemispheres different-magnitude seasons.)

(For example: When the north pole points away from the sun, the planet is at its orbit’s farthest distance from the sun. Thus north gets short-days and cold-days at the same time, while at the same time south gets long-days and cold-days. For the other half of the year, north gets long-days (pole to the sun) and hot-days (close to the sun), and south gets short-days and hot-days. The result is northern seasons are more extreme than southern seasons.)

(Because Earth’s orbit is barely an ellipse at all, the distance from the Sun isn’t, as far as I know, much of an influence on the seasons.)

Next, there’s a porn parody of… uh, this is an interesting… I mean I didn’t…

“An Iron Throne made of sex toys”?

Let’s take a short break here. I need to go and…

Ooh, Ramsay, you sexy bastard, are you gonna make me beg for it?

Next: The George Bush head — a well-known, well-publicized Season Two thing. Amusing, yes, but one more “It was even on CNN.com!” thing. (I can’t speak of the CNN TV channel, but I go to their website to read about US news. What gets a column there I treat as being “well heard” news in the US.)

Next (number two), a certain horse heart was made of gummy bears — again, if you didn’t watch a single season one Emilia Clarke interview, didn’t listen to the comment track, didn’t see a props featurette, sure, then it’s news to you. But if you aren’t a dedicated show-watcher, what is a mention of a horse heart prop going to mean to you?

The number one didn’t-know is… it’s about GRRM and his flippant remark that Game of Thrones was inspired by the pet turtles he had when he was a child. Because he had a toy castle for them, and they died a lot. Ha ha. Which is a humorous just-so story he tells in every interview he gives. I know, I’ve seen probably all of them; sometimes I get stuck on Youtube and can’t think of anything new to look for.


Other than this, the video is nicely produced, snappily paced, well written, and pleasant to watch. If you haven’t been watching the show since it began, many of the facts are ones you didn’t know, too.

Eve of April Fool’s

March 31, 2014

I turned 32 today. (31st of March, if the dateline borks.)

My celebration was watching the new Captain America movie — not great, but very entertaining, with some interesting things to say about surveillance — and next, it will be watching the newest episode of Cosmos — oh, Neil deGrasse Tyson, if only we were gay, and you were single, twenty years younger, and I an American in your neighborhood and… never mind, it would never work.

Also: an icy glass of cola and heated pizza leftovers from yesterday. It’s not the magnitude of the celebration, but how much you like it, and I know what I like. (Some people think a celebration means a get-together; extroverted freaks, those people. I bantered a while with those who matter, but I don’t do parties.)

I did a spot of homework directing at the university — a set time and a place, and people come to me to ask about problems with their mathematics homework — the audience today was not large, but more than I expected, and my banter was good, my advice sufficient, and my mood excellent, during and after. Even if I’m tired and sick of all when I walk in the classroom door, there’s some fire that makes me much better than I am the instant it’s the time to teach; and it lingers, even after.

Even if adulthood means always being at least a little tired, even if adulthood means you forget your worries by acquiring new ones, even if the future scares me, I’m pretty content right now.

Worse idiots than me seem to get by in life. Maybe I will, too.

I turned 2^5 today; I’m pretty happy.

This blog post was in no way spurred by the fact that I haven’t blogged anything all March and don’t want an empty month.

The tweets of @MasksofEris, as a pdf

February 5, 2014

I made the non-worst of my tweets into a pdf book.

Mostly because it amused me.

Nothing more to say, really.


February 4, 2014

Hmm. Mercury is both a planet and a metal.


Sailor Mercury. Sailor Cadmium… Sailor Lead.

The planet-Sailor Mercury’s attack is mist. (Mist and not Mist, for those that speak German — though one could argue something you could compare to a bad day’s atmosphere in Shanghai is bit of a Mist- oder Scheissangriff, when others get a fireball or a lightning strike. Then again the smartest character in Sailor Moon is a cat, so what do I know.)

What if the metal-Sailor Mercury’s attack was some kind of a vapor, too? So… “Our enemies are defeated! In 1.21 years, once the heavy metals in their lungs have had time to work their… heavy metal magic!”

Wait, “Sailor Mercury”? Sailor Gemini! Sailor Apollo, fly me to the moon!


This kind of a silly game could go on forever. Take one Sailor Scout, and interpret the name in a funny way to generate others.

Sailor Mars! Sailor Snickers — Sailor Twix! Sailor Toblerone! To make an innocent girl feel guilty over what she eats is the pinnacle of villainy! In the name of chocolate, we will nourish you! (etc. etc.)