Archive for May, 2008

Away for a week but auto-posting

May 31, 2008

I’ll be away confusing myself in a mathematics summer school in Helsinki — the capital of Finland — the next week (from 1st to 7th of June), and most probably I won’t have either the time or the opportunity to write anything on-line.

Thus, WordPress willing, I’m trying to set up this blog to glop out an automated post per day, and since I ain’t writing, the posts’ll be pictures of a spring trip I made last week.

So, behold the spring of Finland! (And click to embiggen.)

A river past a mill in Finland

(A river channel going past a mill)

Things Finns don’t want you to know

May 30, 2008

The title of this post is a search query that (WordPress tells me) hit me earlier today.

So, some things Finns don’t want you to know — I, a cruel and bored Finn, am eager to tell all, even without fame and financial incentives.

* * *

Finnish secret #1: When in Finland, you most likely won’t be eaten by either a bear or by wolves. Not even by both of them. (Clever logician!)

The horror-tales are just a ruse to keep you alert; then it’s less likely that you’ll nod off outdoors and get cold-gangrene.

This isn’t done because of niceness, though. Finns just don’t like the smell of rotting flesh, you see. It’s aesthetics instead of compassion.

(Good omens: As I was writing this, Winamp decided, quite randomly, to play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue etc. etc., the old horror-movie track that sounds like it was written to either test-drive or break organs.)

* * *

Finnish secret #2: Finns are nice, intelligent and friendly people. (Trust me; I’m one!)

Finns keep this hidden because they know overt niceness and friendliness quickly escalate into a seething bog of social obligations and diversions, which then proceeds to consume one’s entire life with meetings and socials and evenings out with friends — with is, quite honestly, often a substandard crock of shit, and thus Finns rather avoid it by posturing as grim and morose hermits seemingly likely to be potentially both buzzkills and buzz-saw killers.

Oh, and the advantages of seeming a clod instead of an intellectual are obvious. You don’t have to be telling people how to fill a tax-form all the time.

Are you horrified yet? Think about all the quiet, silent Finns — always looking — and think, just think of the things they think while you think they’re just captivated by the subtle skin patterns of your neck, or the top button of your shirt! To consider such black, closed abysms of cogitation and sublime, sinister contemplation is enough to make one write like Ol’ H. P. Lovecraft!

* * *

Finnish secret #3: Finns are honest. They’re honest all the time. They never lie. They will tell you the most outrageous tales, mask them as jocular blog posts, with much bluster about “the things Finns don’t want you to know” — but it’s all true.

Horrible, sanity-blasting and eye-watering, terrible in more dimensions than any mortal imagination not callused by the mental climes of endless northern isolation can comprehend or properly be awed by — but true.

Finns never lie.

Trust me on this, for I am a Finn.

A bonus point to the careful logician who chuckled (or sprayed his muesli all over his computer screen) on reading the previous two sentences.

* * *

There are other things Finns don’t want you to know — but you’ll never know them, because Finns don’t talk.

But there will come a day, oh yes —

When you see a rolling cloud of thunder and fire come over the horizon, accompanied by inhuman sounds of bleating and mooing, and clashes like the crushing of tons of pottery — then you shall know the one things Finns really don’t want you to know.

But now I’ve said too much; the end.

* * *

Ah, how about ending this post with a real, serious thought?

I think Finns are willing to tell you anything you want to know about them. You just have to ask — and sometimes you might end up wishing you hadn’t asked.

“Jes, I have bin a little bit depressed bekause I have this skin kondition — look! And behold the ruin of your sanity!”

Departmental spring sightseeing day

May 28, 2008

Possible headlines:

  • On nice, out-of-way places many would like to visit later, too. “Ninth physicist disappears into the wild in Woody Province. Police baffled.”
  • On following one of us on a nature trail. “Seven physicists lost in the woods. Police suspects a mathematician had something to do with it.”
  • On nature. “Ten hospitalized in Finland. A mathematician said he thought them blackberries.”

Other comments:

  • On reading the schedule. “Eleven thirty AM: The company is attacked by a pack of wolves. Sorry, I misread. Company proceeds to the next point of interest.”
  • On how reindeer eat stuff off trees: “They climb.”
  • Another alternative: “No, they can leap —“

A fun day, except I forgot to use my master phrase, conceived years ago:

Ah, anyway, I helped with the presentations and, as a “reward” of sorts, got to attend the break-tedium excursion, aimed at a museum in the middle of a very wild patch of the local forests.

For that, I had first considered practicing this phrase: “Oh my God! Some thing bit him! We’re all gonna die in here!”

I thought it would be useful.

Then I, of course, remembered that a reserve junior sergeant like I can’t ever get in such a dire situation, and I practiced this holler instead: “Oh my God! Something bit him! You’re all gonna die in here!”

Liverwurst: A fairy tale

May 27, 2008

Or, actually, Liverwurst: something that happens when Lovecraft and bad humor meet. A translation of a tale I wrote in Finnish a longish while ago. Bon appetit.

* * *

A man can be stupid, or then just unlucky.

I don’t quite know which I am. Maybe both.

A few weeks ago I ran into a Good Fairy Godmother while shopping, and she promised me a Promise, one that would come true, within reasonable limits.

I guess the Godmother knew I didn’t much like the colors of the night sky.

Thus I had to wish for something a bit smaller. Briefly I entertained a fantasy of a hole in my boss’s forehead, one that would air his stuffy thoughts and rotten demands a bit, but I didn’t wish for that. If I get a Wish, I will use that Wish on me.

Then I considered things I didn’t have. My personality is, of course, flawless, I’ve got enough money, my car has a pair of fuzzy dice and my wall’s adorned by a girly calendar. What more can a man want?

And then I remembered that in this particular city it is difficult, shockingly difficult, to find a decent piece of liverwurst, the jiggly, bland sausage of kings and queens. Thus I said: “Oh Fairy Godmother: This I wish — give me an endless piece of liverwurst, a piece that won’t ever, ever end.”

The Fairy looked miffed for a while — apparently she was expecting some glass boots and pumpkin wagons stuff — and then waved her magic wand, crying: “Your fridge has it, waiting for you. You get what you ask for, boy.”

And, having said this, the Fairy Godmother disappeared behind the kiosk.

A skeptical reader might wonder how I knew she was a genuine Fairy Godmother and not, for example, a mental institution escapee. My answer is as follows:

If she was a Fairy, one naturally should wish.

If she was a debile person, wishing wouldn’t hurt, while loud cries of “Yeah, right!” might, since debile people don’t know that when fights occur, I am supposed to win.

So, I walked to my apartment, not quite knowing if I would find anything in my fridge.

I opened the fridge, looked in, and saw no liverwurst.

Consequently I felt depressed.

Then I reached in and grasped a can of beer, and noted — behind it — a freshly-opened package of liverwurst, with the legend “A fine liverwurst of infinite length”.

Consequently I felt elated, even joyous, and refreshed myself with several cans of beer, and copious amounts of utterly delicious and fresh liverwurst.

Do you happen to know that liverwurst is exceedingly healthy?

I did the same the next day: liverwurst, only this time on thin slices of rye bread. Yummy. And every night the liverwurst package, the thin plastic skin covering an unwholesomely dick-shaped bar of the delicious yum-stuff, every night the package was miraculously refilled, as if the liverwurst thrust into it from some arcane dimension of unspeakable deliciosity.

Such a thought! An endless river of liverwurst, astrally flowing into my fridge!

About a week later I noticed there was a slight bad spot on the wurst. I cut the spot away, chuckling. Who cares, for this bar of liverwurst is endless!

About a week after that the package contained more smelly, bad liverwurst than the real, good stuff. Eventually, one day, I had to throw the package away; it smelled too bad. Even liverwurst spoils.

The next night the package reappeared in my fridge, a freshly opened, full package of smelly, spoiled, sickly green liverwurst.

When, come morning, I opened the fridge, I nearly fainted. Holding back my breath, and the contents of my stomach, I replaced the package in the trashcan.

And come next night it, by some dark magic, again reappeared in my fridge, still bad-smelling, and looking worse.

I tried running the package through a garbage disposal system.

I tried burning it.

I tried mailing it to my brother in Helsinki.

Whatever I did, didn’t matter. All this exertion and destruction was in vain: every night the wurst-package came back, always full, always freshly opened, and each time more and more full of putrid, noisome corruption — a horror of green, black and white splotches and whorls, a flowering nightmare of rotting insanity.

Finally, filled with dread and despair, I donated my fridge to my unspeakably foul boss, hoping he’d thus inherit the curse of the liverwurst.

It was a mistake. The next night the horror of corruption, the evil package, appeared on my nightstand. I woke in the middle of the night, screaming.

I don’t sleep anymore.

Every night, when my attention wanders for even the slightest moment, it is again there — here — reeking, almost bubbling, blooming and stretching with red, black and white protrusions and piles — overwhelming my senses, clouding my mind, extinguishing all hope — and, so I fear, it shall not ever depart from my side, for it indeed is an endless piece of liverwurst, a piece that won’t ever, ever end.

Lucifer weeps

May 27, 2008

Are there any Christian tales about rescuing a loved one from Hell by offering one’s own soul in exchange?

Or would they all end like this?

(Standard warning: Unstable theology and general godlessness follows.)

* * *

The harper set down his instrument and looked around. The dark hall was silent, the fires dimmed, the devils cowed and humbled.

“Set her free”, the harper said, repeating her plea. “I do not care about the details of her agreement with you, but set her free, and you can have me instead, body and soul and all.”

Lucifer, the prince of darkness, sat with his head bowed, his face covered by a cloud of floating darkness, like gravity-defying hair or some strange tentacles.

“Set her free, and take me instead”, the harper repeated. Her beloved, her torment interrupted for a while, looked at the two, not quite daring to hope.

Lucifer raised his eyes, and they were wet. He had wept, hearing the harper’s passion and plea. His voice was muted and unsteady. (more…)

A Guide to Finland: Drink

May 26, 2008

Another chapter for the Guide to Finland, my educationary and cautionary guide to the charming land of snow, snow, mosquitoes and snow.

As always, you can find the ready chapters of the Guide under “Pages” on the main page of this blog.

* * *

This chapter consists of a few random notes about what happens when Finns and alcohol meet. Since those meetings often cause considerable discontinuities in memory and good judgment, this chapter’s similarly broken into short, gulp-sized pieces.

* * *

Drinking can be a dignified, social occasion. In France, I hear, and in similar highly dignified places, people can sip wine at supper, and enjoy a taste of brandy in the evening.

Not so in Finland.

Finns — your standard, stereotypical male Finns — drink anything that has alcohol in it, including antifreeze, and drink it until it’s all gone. They don’t sip, they don’t behave in a civilized manner, but they drink — because when a Finn does something, he does it without frills and without too much thinking.

Or, all too often, without any thinking at all.

The good part of drinking with Finns is that there are no occult rules to be followed: no toasts to saints or ancient gods, no abstaining from absinthe after midnight, no special cups, nor speeches or careful comments about the taste — just the single-minded task of getting drunk, treating the liquor, no matter whether fine or foul, as just another work to be done, another nail to be hammered down.

The bad part of drinking with Finns is, of course, that such indiscriminate drinkers will get raving, biting drunk quite soon, and then it’s a knife-slashing, axe-fighting, rifle-shooting buddy-slaying time all night long, or until a policeman comes.

* * *

In the army, where I was a frighteningly long time ago, there were constant and rarely substantiated tales about the desperate tricks thirsty soldiers did during long, leaveless camps — running lighter fluid or truck antifreeze through a triple slab of bread, and drinking the resulting near-alcoholic paralysis-liquid.

Soldiers returning from their leaves staggering, dirt poor and still roaring drunk aren’t a solely Finnish phenomenon, but Finns do even these wild binges quite singularly without any reservations or second thoughts whatsoever — drinking until there’s no drink, no money or no glass-lifting hand steady enough left.

* * *

Finns are usually quiet and restrained types, but alcohol makes them alarmingly talkative — it’s as if the average amount of social activity over time is the same everywhere, but Finns have just divided their social activities into short, intense outbursts separated by long days of near-catatonia.

Actually, this “sudden peaks model of Finnish behavior” is one of my best explanations for the ways Finns behave. Frenchmen might be moderately talkative and cheerful all the time, but Finns keep their words and worries bottled up, until they all burst loose in a short, violent gush of social interaction.

Alcohol or some other mind-altering stimulus (like hearing that Finland won the European wheelchair-stair bowling championships) often triggers one of these manic outbursts.

* * *

With the usual Finnish winters, and the usual company of the other Finns, life in Finland can be a bit dark, tiresome and depressing. After the liquid claws of alcoholism dig in deep, the valleys and troughs of life get darker, tiresomer and even more depressing, but the occasional (or near-constant) bright highs of loud drunkenness make forgetting them easier.

Each summer many Finns — dozens, I’d guess — drown because of alcohol. The usual scheme goes a bit like this: Midsummer. A drunken Finn. A rowboat. A nice view from the middle of the lake. A sudden need to piss. An unsteady form in a boat, trying to stand up and empty his bladder into the lake. The next day, a three-line notice in the local newspaper.

During winters, the more bravehearted drunken Finns go outside to run around in the snow, sometimes wearing only their underwear, sometimes not even that. Sometimes some don’t come back.

This Darwinian selection has made Finns into people that, instead of resisting the lure of drink, survive very well in cold places instead. Ah well — evolution has no foresight, and neither do Finns.

* * *

Some Finns do their drinking in company, some do it all alone. Some talk a lot when drinking; others are quiet. These two groups don’t overlap as nicely with the previous two as you’d want.

Some Finns prefer beer; some drink ciders or long drinks or whiskey or toxic goo from vats hidden in student-apartment closets. (The author’s knowledge of these things is very limited.)

Most Finns go for quantity instead of quality. With drinks, as with many other things, Finns don’t understand or care about formalisms, manners or highly cultivated tastes. A bottle of France’s finest might cause gasps, and a bit of Scotland’s best might dredge up a lusty smile, but if you really want to delight a typical Finn, bring a mixed crate of beer and cider with you.

(In Finland, cider or siideri apparently always means a mild alcoholic drink. The author, being a filthy absolutist, isn’t really the person you should trust when learning about these things. Consult a Finn less challenged in the popular pastime department and, if necessary, make him translate a bit of the Finnish Wikipedia for you.)

* * *

Of course not all Finns — not even all Finnish males — are disastrously suicidal (or just homicidal) alcohol-abusers. Many know where their limits are, or at least realize, after an amnesiac weekend, that they’ve gone beyond their limits once again.

Not all Finns are drunks, but instead of giving you excuses and accurate facts, I much rather mutter our own stereotypes and folk-tales; after all, if you come to Finland, you’ll have to deal with the Finns’ picture of themselves as much as with the way Finns actually are.

* * *

Foreigners can have a tough time in Finland. Consider, for example, this.

You are in a Finnish city. You are louder than the people there usually are. You raise your voice more, your tones vary more, and you gesture and show your emotions much, much more than the people there usually do. You have a few similar people with you.

When (or rather if) you talk to other people, your speech is difficult to understand, as if it was in a foreign language, and even if you speak Finnish your pronunciation is exact, even exaggerated, but a bit stilted or slurry. If a Finn speaks to you, in common clear and rapid-fire Finnish, you have trouble understanding his intent, or answering him.

Who are you?

In Finland, most often, you are either a foreigner, or you are drunk. Since foreigners are much rarer than members of the second category, this might explain some of the looks a foreigner (or a clutch of them) gets in Finland.

* * *

Remember, scaring the pants off you with cultural notes like this is a valuable public service, and since no-one else seems to be doing it, I do.

Please choose

May 25, 2008

Please note this note is categorized under “bad poetry”.

If meterless and godless word-stringing strikes your fancy, continue reading. Otherwise, eh, maybe not.


Eurovision 2008: It was a disaster

May 25, 2008

Now, having returned from my weekend trip to the Lands Where TV:s Exist, I can tell you how the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 went.

It was a hideous catastrophe, as it usually is.

Some notes follow.

* * *

Finland’s Teräsbetoni had the best song, the best show, and the best pyros. The end result? 35 points.

In contrast, the winner was Russia’s Dima Bilan with 272 points. His song and show can be best described as dull, tiresome, outright repulsive and quite “bleh”.

No, I am not bitter. This is just the way most Eurovision entries are.

The second and third places were taken by scantily clad women: the second by Ukraine’s flesh puppet, and the third by Greece’s meat shop mannequin.

Seriously; if I want grotesquely puffed-up protoplasm dolls, I watch real adult entertainment. I don’t particularly like music whose only positive aspects are the performer’s well-displayed cleavage and gyrating hips.

* * *

Well, soon after the vote-counting began — each participating country’s announcer telling how their televoted votes fell — it became apparent that Finland wouldn’t win this time. This left me with two secondary objectives:

1. Secondary objective #1 if Finland can’t win : Finland must beat Sweden. Also a dismal failure; Sweden’s not altogether meritless song got 12 points more than Finland.

2. Secondary objective #2 if Finland can’t win : Russia mustn’t win. Also failed; see above.

Nah, I’m not bitter since in 2006 the same Russian Dima Bilan was participating, and lost, in a mind-bogglingly, frustratingly surprising way, to Finland’s heavy rock band Lordi.

Besides, if this Dima won now, and two years ago Lordi beat him, doesn’t it mean…

Probably not.

* * *

Voting was the usual puzzling regional pain: Why do so many voters, apparently something like a majority in each country, vote for their neighbor countries?

Can there be goons that just punch the number without knowing anything of the song, just supporting the neighbor?

Or can there be yahoos that watch all, say hum, and then vote for their neighbor because they can’t decide?

I can’t even say which alternative is more chilling.

Then again, countries like Estonia are bound to give lots of votes to Russia, because so many Russians live in Estonia — but voting for a country and not a song, in a song contest… that has to be the stupidest, most clueless form of patriotism ever conceived, and that’s a lot.

Given this tendency to (apparently) vote neighbors instead of songs, wouldn’t it be useful if Finland split into, say, fifty separate nations? Then we could send in oodles of songs, and maybe get a whole googolplex of votes.

If that’s too radical, we could just note that Russia’s performance had some kind of a famous skater pirouetting around the singer — maybe we Finns could, next time, send in the entire Finnish ice hockey world cup team?

* * *

Well, I observed the offerings and tried to give them my own personal points. I started with a maximum of thirty: ten for song, ten for show, and ten for words.

Then my brother reminded me that the Finnish translations subbed on the screen were, as usually, horribly kludged and unimaginative.

Thanks to that, the maximum number of points fell to twenty.

I think most songs scored around two or three points — some got a full zero, and a few fell into the negative zone.

* * *

There were a few songs that were actually good, though. Finland was obviously the best, and the best others were Latvia’s pirates with the Wolves of the Sea (place 12/25):

* * *

Azerbaijan’s Day After Day (8/25), with plenty of malevolent devils and equally nefarious angels:

* * *

And Georgia’s Peace Will Come (11/25) with a good load of the good sort of pathos:

And yeah, I do like gross acts of melodramaticism. If you have to do something, you should do it with style.

* * *

It’s a Finnish tradition that you watch the Eurovision Song Contest, like some songs and violently loathe some others, abstain from televoting, grumble about the way votes go, see Finland lose (miserably), and then go to sleep cursing the talentless hack that won.

For a Finn, that’s good entertainment.

I just caper

May 22, 2008

I don’t do many breaking-news or current-events posts; I much more rather caper and holler and try to make others laugh a bit: first a grinning mask, then a crying one, and then they spin in skewed views until you can do nothing but snort and gag and just maybe laugh. That’s the meaning of the Masks of Eris.

And if Eris, an ancient Greek goddess, seems like a particularly odd name for, of all things, an atheistic blog written by a decidedly (so saieth the beard) male Finn — well, then you should know that — for me — Erisian antics are to religion the same as FSM-ism is to Intelligent Design cretinism.

Sorry, ID creationism. These funny, revealing slips…

As I was saying, Eris is just another funhouse mirror for your illumination, just another Invisible Pink Unicorn.

That’s all; here’s a picture for you.

Random guys,

Though I drew these fellas I don’t know who they are, though the leftmost one looks a bit like one of the Tenure Overlords (i.e. professors), and the rightmost is a bit grad-stud-ish.

Quote for today 8

May 21, 2008

Mathematics is the only good metaphysics.

(Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), quoted in Bell’s Men of Mathematics)

Or, as they say in Finland, lyhyestä virsi kaunis — the shorter the hymn, the better.