Archive for November, 2007

A reader wants a reader

November 30, 2007

I have been dreaming, on and off, about an electronic book for years. You know, something shaped and weighted like a paperback book, but really a mechanical device packing, say, a few hundred books in digital form, and with a screen that wouldn’t boil your eyes after reading a few hundred pages.

It seems that quite soon I’ll have to do something about this want of mine, because the temptations are becoming impossible to resist. First there was the lovely Sony Reader, which the idiot marketeers still haven’t released in Europe, and the iLiad things that are still beyond what I can pay without selling at least two brothers into slavery in Egypt. Now there even is the amazingly big-brothery (and only-American, I guess) Amazon Kindle.

There is one device, however, that is really tugging at my purse-strings — this CyBook Gen3 thingamajic. It’s made in France, sold in Europe, and even if the price is steep — 350 euros or, strangely enough, the same in dollars — apparently it might be worth it.

Given my financial situation and its probable continuation, I think I will give in and somehow order one around next March. I could use my birthday as an excuse… something in the vein of “This day comes only once each year, so let’s go and run around in the streets wearing nothing but spaghetti!” (Pastafarian summer solstice)

There is more than enough reading waiting for my giving-in: hundreds of megabytes of sheer, bare text from Project Gutenberg and other sources, assorted PDFs and roiling piles of RTF; altogether too much for my monitor-weary eyes or ailing printer to ever wade through without an eye-soothing paper-like and book-portable reading device.

Most of all, I want a reader that will understand whatever file I plug into it — say TXT, HTML, DOC, PDF, RTF, LIT, JPG, PNG and GIF — and that won’t hang some itchy DRM millstone around my neck, or tie me to an external service that might die on me; just a reader that isn’t tied to this shop or that, this snitching or limited format or that. (Incidentally, copyrightwise, a copyright of, say, 30 years from publication for all music and books would be grand. More than three decades of sucking money outta the same teat maketh a man lazy.)

Cultural differences in Sudan

November 30, 2007

Wail, bash head against screen, scream, howl, sob.

Oh teacher, what if you went into a foreign land? What if you taught a class of tots, say seven years old, about animals, and gave them a cute teddy-bear to pass around, take home and write about? Say, oh teacher, what if you let the tots think up names for it, and then vote on the best?

Oh teacher, how do forty lashes, a large fine, or jail time sound as a payment for that?

BBC news tell of a teacher facing just that: the poor woman’s class had voted, 20 against 3, to name the bear Muhammad. Apparently the parents did not approve. And apparently the victimless crime of blasphemy is still actively reported in Sudan.

I know that Muslims hold the name and non-likeness of Muhammad dear. I am entirely willing to let them, by themselves, refrain from naming or portraying him in any way; what consenting adults do in private is no business of mine. However, there just is no reason for anyone else to be held to the same law.

And why don’t they stone the 20 children that voted for Muhammad? Oh, wait, they need them, as without innocent minds raped into accepting dogmatic lies there would be no religion, any religion.

Can you tell I’m a bit angry about this?

PS : Most modern democracies still have laws against blasphemyish actions. Maybe Neo-Nazis should start a religion, too? Just a thought.

PPS : I have just decided that the plush Cthulhu sitting in my bookshelf shall from now on, whenever I feel like it, be named Muhammad Unspeakable. The Unspeakable part is too rude to be said here; it also blasphemes against every god ever conceived, from Thor to Jesus, so it would be too long to write here too.

PPPS: Before I finished this post, the news came that the unlucky woman has been given 15 days of prison and a deportation. Meanwhile, hundreds of devout, deeply religious believers wave sticks outside, woving to fight, and accusing the lady of “the pollution of children’s mentality”. If they need examples of children with poisoned minds, they should get an effing mirror.

4PS : The BBC article above has a comment on this as a “case of cultural misunderstandings”, which is frankly bollocks. This is a case of people not having thick enough skins. Just having a bigly huge imaginary friend shouldn’t be enough to have all your whims made true with sticks and stones, and nice people shouldn’t be tolerant of the excesses of the non-nice ones just for the sake of being tolerant. The axiom “do what thou wilt” loses its charm when one starts hurting other people.

Fairy-tales and Genesis 1:0

November 30, 2007

The Bible isn’t a pure fairy-tale, like some unbelievers say.

No, it’s an adulterated fairy-tale.

It starts with entirely mythical legends of creating worlds and taking advice from reptiles, and goes on from there, without any support from archaeology or other sources. Abraham, Jacob and Moses: all fairy-tales written centuries later by scribes trying to find a grand history for their nation.

Then, of course, after all the giants are killed, after Amalek is destroyed down to the last child, and after Solomon has had his reign: then nuggets of history intrude: the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, kingdoms of people that hadn’t come from the desert after forty years of wandering around without a trace, but that had rather formed there like all nations form. Now we have archaeological evidence to support the existence of kingdoms and kings, but of course none for the miracles and wrathes of God that were used to spice up the tale.

Then comes the New Testament: a fairy-tale set in a world as real as anonymous and semi-foreign Christians could make it, decades after the supposed events. Isn’t it intriguing that the Aramaic-speaking Christ indulges in wordplay that is possible only in the Greek of the Gospels? And what can one say when the priests and governors act in a way that is both dramatic and theologically convenient, but against the way they’d have acted historically? Why, it’s a fairy-tale, not something to be taken literally as, er, true. It’s just a legend of many parts, twisted and twisted for centuries until it screamed whatever the scribes and bishops wanted it to say.

Then come the equally fictive Acts, and after them again a bit of reality: angry bearded men screaming letters to their fellow believers, reminding that out of all the sects and choices that slouched out of Jerusalem, theirs was the true one. (Few letters of those that disagreed survive.) Some letters gain a bit of fictivity from the fact that they were pseudonymously written in the name of someone much more famous — say Saint Paul. And the whole of the Bible is ended by the Revelation, a fever dream if there ever was one.

A problem with the Bible is that the miraculous and uplifting parts aren’t historical, and the historical parts aren’t miraculous, or even very uplifting. History can show the existence of many misogynistic spittle-bearded bishops, but there is no trace of a benevolent Christ. The existence of the twin kingdoms is a fact, but a guiding Hand-of-God of floods and deserts fails to show up in history. It’s the same as with any piece of historical fiction: reality’s just a backdrop for the good-sounding fiction.

If you want it briefer, I think that the Old Testament is a record of the fictions a nation or two used to justify their contemporary needs and practices, the Gospels and the Acts are a (partly inept) work of historical fiction, the letters a very partial collection of correspondence, and the Revelation a lunatic scrawl.

If you want to be even more concise, then my opinion is that the Bible should begin like this:

1:0 All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

1:1 In the beginning God created — (and so on)

I apologize if you are miffed by this, but this really is a common atheist view, and basically one that many theologians hold, though they obfuscate the essence of their mentalo-logical opinionations with cumbersome and meandering prolixity.

Best of 100

November 30, 2007

Well, I have been writing this blog o’ mine for a little over three months now, and this is my 100th post. I’m a bit below the average, over a long period of time, of one post per one day. Well, since I am a (proto-)mathematician, I have

\frac{100}{11+30+31+30} \textrm{ posts/days} = \frac{50}{51} \textrm{ posts/day} \approx 0.98\textrm{ posts/day}.

Not a bad average, considering that I’ve been very busy this last month with writing a NaNoWriMo novel, now finished. Er, finished in bulk, not in detail and proofing. Still, a longish story of academical goofballs isn’t the place to dump all my brain-worms, so Masks of Eris has had its updates too.

Now, to celebrate my 100th post (I am googly-eyed with awe), here is my selection of the posts that I, and by the bare number of visits some users of Google, find interesting. Well, find anyway, and depart cursing “Tis ain’t what I was lookin’ for!” Most of these, like of all my posts, are humorous in part, and range from atheist grumblings to mathematics and moaning about Finland.

  • Immanentizing the Z-Eschaton, or a twist to the old zombie tales that we won’t be seeing in movies anytime soon, I fear.
  • In Hypatia of Alexandria I, straight off from reading Dzielska’s book about her, dash off a lightly fictionalized tale about that famous and tragic female mathematician and victim of prejudice.
  • Having seen and loved the Lord of the Rings films, in A movie out of ‘the Hobbit’? I dream of what terrors Hollywood might do without Peter Jackson.
  • I personally am obscenely proud of Dead bodies, which sprung out of my forehead as a weird stand-up comedy routine that I could almost hear George Carlin giving. Such a shame that stand-up comedy stars don’t ask random foreign unknowns for fresh material.
  • For those that wonder what a mathematics grad student does all day, A grad student works has the answer. It’s pretty much like that every day.
  • In Winter is coming I get positively lyrical in a negative and light-hearted way about Finland, “the starlit land of eternal silence and unrelenting loneliness, where even cold-hardened shamans start hearing the hills talk after a few lonely weeks! ‘Go run around naked’ they sing, and soon there will be one shaman less.”
  • In the vein of informing foreigners about the leprous joys of Finland, the ideas of a Sounds of Finland CD, an explanation of some Finnish proverbs, and one answer to the ancient and puzzling question of “Why Finns don’t talk?
  • The blandly named Weird parts of religion, part 2, takes up one specific and quite unmentionable part, and goes on from there.
  • Weird parts of religion, part 1, incidentally my first post, clowns around with the ideas of remarriage and Heaven — the unmentioned alternative is of course an Angel bellowing that “zere shall be no karnal relations in Heaffen! Dere ist no Marriage! Play der Harp!”
  • In Oh, Hell I continue clowning, this time in short-essay form, and about Hell.
  • In Constant source of happiness and joy I babble a bit on why atheism, in addition to being true, makes me happy.
  • And, in the spirit of the season, the fiction of a Finnish Way of Martial Arts contains a Yuletide reference, too.

Hm, let us round things as “three months, 100 posts”. This would indicate that I’d hit 1000 posts around the February-March of 2010. Well, one can dream, right?

Dear Reader, the poor writer is grateful if he has entertained you, whether by his texts, or by the pleasant sound caused by clicking “back” on your browser.

A good day: NaNoWriMo ends, Beowulf is seen

November 30, 2007

This good day — 29.11.2007 — of mine began its goodness at 02.00, when I finished my NaNoWriMo novel.

Yes, it’s finished now, and sadly still all in Finnish, so I can’t share it here. Now “only” proofreading and the fixing of plot holes and stupid mistakes remain. There are plenty of those in 57,206 words — that’s the amount that the grand official word-counter tells me, though my own word processor doesn’t get quite so high a number.

That must be because of the occasional LaTeX tags — I am not going to let my novel end as a doc-ument, but rather as a nicely sleek pdf, lovingly typeset by the king of mathematical and other typesetting, which is of course… er, I mentioned LaTeX already so it would be unstylish to repeat it… but seems I did anyway. Rats.

Well, the good day then took a small downward dip, as the next thing I knew was waking up four hours after I planned to — the deep sleep of the wicked released from bondage, maybe. I hiked a bus ride — well, hike is the wrong word, as bussing around costs € 2.70 around here in Euro-Finland. (If you see a weird symbol in the previous sentence, it is either an ‘a’ or the euro sign.)

You know, I have to cut down the amount of detail or this day won’t end up sounding as good as it was.

So I ended up in the city center, and found my bike there, happily unmolested, and after a bit of careful examination I rode it to the university. This was so because yesterday it had acted up a bit, the rear wheel making strange sounds and tending to stick a little bit, and did not want to end up at my front door, five kilometers from the bicycle repairman, with a broken bike. I’ve pushed — and once half-carried — it there several times too many, since the local bus drivers can, at times, be callously insensitive and sharp-eyed pricks that simply won’t believe that what you have is an unusual handbag and not a bike you’d wish to bring with you.

Come to think about it, maybe all my woes trace their beginning from bus drivers. I must investigate this matter.

Well, the bike worked just fine, and even the weather was nice — a little bit of fluffy snow falling, and the roads covered with white that wasn’t slippery or even crunchy. Even if I was late, my advisor hadn’t noticed anything, or if he had, he still was right as rain and happy — well, thinking about it, this might not be an entirely positive thing.

Anyway, I took up my current headache, all 50+ pages of it, and spent a positively pleasant hour whining about how I don’t understand anything about anything at all. He was patient as always, and I left, high on adrenalin as always, and spent several hours banging my computer, doing more work on this math writing-piece of mine than I usually do in a day. (This writing-piece is just a collected translation into Finnish of a handful of research articles whose content Dear Advisor thinks I should know. You know, there are some things men are not meant to know.)

Then I jumped back on my bike — it still didn’t break — and went to visit Fantasiapelit, the local heaven of those that traffic in Magic: the Gathering, roleplaying games, tabletop wargames and/or manga. I’ve done the first two with plenty of gusto before, but lately (say the previous four or five years) I just haven’t been able to find the time, will or company. That’s a shame, especially for roleplaying, since it’s the purest and best application of imagination into communal activity that I can think of, though I must admit that to make this nice expression stand I really didn’t think that hard.

The reason for visiting the shop was bending the shelves that contain my manga — Japanese comics, and I recommend! — even further. I exited with the final volume of Death Note, and one of Hikaru no Go. I recommend those, too: beautiful to behold, nice to hold, exciting to read, and entertaining to contemplate. I also asked after a volume, wondering if I could get it before Yuletime comes, and so it happens that I will probably get it tomorrow, as I had been asking for it before, and they had ordered it.

Most times I just shuffle in, look at the shelves a bit, and then ask: “Uh, sorry to bother you, but have I ordered anything?”

Then — oh, this tyranny of sequentialism! — I nipped to a supermarket and bought two presents for the coming festival, and delighted a duo of pretty high school girls that were asking for money for their school trip in exchange for services — no, this is nothing laviscious, no matter how much any of us so wish — the services being wrapping gifts rather beautifully, and asking for a donation. They were delighted because I gave generously; I always do, be it money from my pocket, or noxious fumes from somewhere else on my body.

I also picked up a couple of LP records, mostly because they were cheap — 3 or 4 euros — and since the combination of Luca Turilli and the LP player my father has somewhere sounds fetching nice for the Winterfeast of December.

Then followed the main attraction of the day, and my reward for myself for finishing the novel a day early: the Neil Gaiman-cowritten movie Beowulf.

It was a bit weird at first, being fully computer-animated and aspiring for realism (like the Final Fantasy movie of years ago), but it worked. After the first few minutes I couldn’t tell the difference unless I really tried, and not always even then. The plot was something like the old poem it’s based on, and it was exciting, beautiful, pleasing, humorously rude at times, and altogether a joy to watch. It didn’t even have any discomfortingly stale Hollywood tripe in it, and I, as a slimy atheist, was even pleased by the rather brusquely historical references to Christianity in it.

So: If you want to see a movie, if you need to see a good movie, if you want to see digital witchcraft, or a modern version of an old tale that still sounds and feels real: go watch Beowulf. It has a good story, it looks gorgeous, and it has Neil Gaiman and Anthony Hopkins in it! What more could you ask?

Well, that of course, but it actually does have a mostly-nude Angelina Jolie in it. So go already!

I haven’t seen any reviews of it, but since it was made with new technology and (oh dear!) had a dragon in it, the reviewers must have rather disapproved. To this the probable drop of Viking-blood in me says: Sod them all! Oh, and the movie had all of the poem’s three foes: Grendel, its mother, and the Dragon. And it wasn’t just a dumb tale of hero comes, hero wins, but something a lot deeper and better. In some ways different from the poem, sure, but not worse.

The poem’s a nice read too, and the Finnish translation I read some years ago was downright mesmerizing. Mesmerizing — well, I don’t mean it made me think I’m a duck.

I chuckle with gleeful anticipation when I think of what digital moviemaking such as this can soon do, because the answer seems to be: anything, and that is anything done cheap. That’s not a loss, you know, no more than cheap food or cheap books are necessarily any worse than expensive ones.

So, all in all, it was a very good day for me. I hope yours was good as well. (If it wasn’t, make tomorrow better and go see Beowulf!)

A sweet exchange of words

November 26, 2007

A quote for the day, from a trailer of the soon-coming Golden Compass (wiki) movie —

Lord Asriel: “I propose to discover a world, much like our own, in a parallel universe.”

A man: “That is heresy.”

Lord Asriel: “That is the truth.”

Pretty strange that no stuffy religious protester has bent him or her self out of shape for that. Isn’t that the nub of most problems with these stupid and false religions we are dragged down by? That truth happens to differ from what believers so blindly and passionately believe true?

Poor old me can’t even remember if those words are straight from the book or not. Maybe reread? Maybe too busy. Ah, I just have to dig up the books 2 and 3 (I know I have them around here or there somewhere) and read them, and I probably end up seeing the movie too, just out of curiosity, and because I like seeing angry talking polar bears bloodily slapping lower jaws off each other.

It’s just one of those odd likes of mine.

NaNoWriMo progress and posterior-ground contact

November 26, 2007

NaNoWriMo at 44 900 / 50 000 words, will probably finish on Wednesday or Thursday, ahead of Friday deadline. Know already where it will end, and with whom, but not exactly how. Hopefully something will rise up.

Very tired.

When writing comes and flows, it is the greatest drug and the most amazing ecstasy. When it doesn’t, your mind feels like your hind parts do after spending a night redecorating the toilet with traces of explosive diarrhea and spent rolls of t-paper.

Which I, incidentally, almost did, yesternight.

Boy, this day is one of those you feel happy about only afterwards.

(Also took a 30-minute walk today. Oh, Finnish weather! 30 minutes equals 12 almost-fallings and 2 instances of thunderous crashing-down. Since I have the Finnish genes, I don’t make full posterior-ground contact but hammer my knees against an unpleasantly uneven covering of ice instead.)

(Cycling to university tomorrow will be one of those near-death experiences again, I guess. Is there a way of fitting a bike with skates instead of wheels?)

Winter is coming: Pictures from Finland

November 23, 2007

I meant to illustrate the previous post (about a choose-yourself sauna visit) with a couple of pictures I took when visiting my Great Old Ones a week ago, but then noticed a few things:

  1. The post is about a summertime visit, and the pictures show mind- and feet-numbing amounts of snow.
  2. The pictures taken without a flash were blurry.
  3. The pictures taken with a flash were rather unfortunate in other ways — probably because my camera-handling is limited to the basic military skill of ‘you points, you squeezes the trigger, you asks no questions’.

So, rather than bullying you (whoever you are) with those, here are a couple of generic winter-start shots from mid-Finland, the sweet and beautiful place where I was born, and where I always return. (To break the poetic mood: click the pictures to see them bigger.)

Sunset in Finland, 17.11.2007

 

Finnish Forest, 17.11.2007

 

Trees and Snow in Finland, 17.11.2007

 

Sauna in Snow, 17.11.2007

And what do you know, the last one even shows a sauna!

All of a sudden I wish I was out of the city and back there. Oh well.

Edit (9th April 2008): This later post has more wintery pictures.

* * *

(By the way, the NaNoWriMo novel ‘2050 : A University’s End’ is at 37 950 words of 50 000, and has been possessed by a sinister storybook character, a reverse ex-student Santa, and a lot of gun-waving and PR lying. I have only a good guess of where the story’s going, and no idea on how it’s going to end. Oh well, it’s Writing: the only stuff on Earth that hurts like rectal cancer and has you coming back for more!)

Sauna: Choose Your Own Adventure, pt. 1

November 23, 2007

I was going to do a full-scale Choose Your Own Adventure post on visiting a Finnish sauna bath, but then realized it would be hugely unwieldy without some special tech, which I don’t have.

Thus, this is a special kind of a story: Half an I-Choose-Your-Adventure tale. To keep you from fretting, I’ve not listed the (hypothetical) other choices; they would have mostly consisted of ‘Yell “Bear!”‘ and ‘Initiate a myocardial event’ anyway. The tale ends halfway; I might write a second part later.

* * *

It’s a fine summer day and you, a foreigner, have been staying in Finland for some weeks now. Yesterday your Finnish friend invited you to share a sauna with him. (note: If you are female, please pretend that through some horrendous typo, each ‘her’ in this document has been written as ‘him’.)

Now here you stand, having arrived a bit early, alone in front of a sauna — a garage-sized, soot-blackened log building with a porch on one end, in the back of your friend’s overgrown yard, snuggled close to the edge of an endless birch forest. What now?

You choose to go around the sauna building instead of waiting for your friend.

Aah! Nettles! Aah! Hidden well! Aah! Pointy rusting farm machinery hidden in the grass! Finally, limping slightly, you have completed your circumambulation. (And barely avoided circumcision by a steel rake.) Your Finnish friend seems to be coming this way. What now?

(more…)

Mathematical terms in nonmathematical use

November 21, 2007

Some more common uses of mathematical language in so-called ‘real’ life* follow. Brevity good. Something useful for seminar breaks would be better.

“Like, totally, absolutely convergent” : Common in freshman ‘prooves’.

“Expression manipulation” : Lying.

“F is badly behaved” : However, F has a smooth legal representative…

“Adding one term” : In poly-ticks any additional term is always positive.

“By utilizing this inequality, we can get the weaker side as low as we want!” : So-called nasty capitalist talk.

“Careful estimate” : All sources carefully hidden.

“A show that redefines television!” : Sure: \textrm{idiot box} := \textrm{idiot box}.

“Laplace transforms” : …into its firetruck mode, and runs over Megatron.

“We have the proof!” : We have a rectally originated idea, a snappy slogan, and an overemoting witness of questionable sincerity and mental acuity. Plus, we cry easily.

“There are no zeros on the boundary” : The Border Patrol is on strike.

“Ass. f anal.” : A mysterious personals column preference.

“A removable pole” : KGB talk.

* Note : \textrm{real life} \supset \textrm{rational life}. The inclusion is strict; for an example, see the records of your local parliament.

Ye Great Old Ones, I need to go lie down a bit.