Archive for December, 2008

Last post of 2008

December 31, 2008

Finland, the eastern parts; around nine p.m. — temperature around minus 6 Celsius (20 Fahrenheit), winds arounds 12 m/s (bloody strong), snow whipping around like a sandblower of winter, the stars shivering in the mostly clear skies, a yellowish crescent hanging up at the skies, and the cruummph of rockets and the attendant flashes of color visible everywhere despite the decidedly unfriendly weather.

The forecast promises minus 15 C (plus 5 F) for tomorrow, and colder after that.

Whee! This is Finland like it should be!

More snow! More chill! More howling northern winds, more wind-chill and darkness and rattling roofs and fallen trees! Let the giants of winter stride forth once more, let the hounds of frost roam, let every piss-arc freeze before it hits the ground, and —

Ahem. Sorry. Got carried away a bit.

Highlights of 2008 — first full year of blogging, the year I (I hope) finished my licentiate’s thesis (no word of the grade yet), a year of two conferences (both in Helsinki, the capital), the year of my third finished novel (50 000 words, NaNoWriMo, no title yet; a clutch of conspiracy nuts and their diabolical plot) and a novelette (shorter, “Shared Apartment”, with the other sharers disappearing one by one — except for the one who seems to be a murderous cannibal, which, though close, isn’t quite right), and (oh, those were in Finnish, so bollocks! Can’t share!) the year of steady trudging and trying to be a decent person.

Won’t do a “Best of” post — not yet, anyway — but here’s a bit of fiction in English I’ve produced lately.

For those who are realistic about religion, why not peek at —

Have a good 2009! (Oh, and 2009 is 41 times 7 squared — impress your friends! Dazzle your inebriated fellow men! Have a good time!)

(And now I’ll dash, dash, to the last sauna of the year. If I get carried away, I’ll be back next year.)

An offer you can’t refuse

December 30, 2008

A knock from the door; there are two sunglassed, black-suited, polite, friendly musclemen behind the door. You back away, they step in. One puts a friendly, muscly hand on your shoulder and smiles. Gold flashes in his smile; a cross at his lapel.

“Hello, neighbor. Heard you had moved in, so we, being friendly and all, decided to give you a visit.”

His partner stays at the door, unsmiling.

“Nice place you’ve got here, neighbor. Nice family. Nice dog. Nice body — go out to the gym a lot, huh?” A finger prods your chest, hard.

“Would be a shame if something were to happen to you, here or on the other side. Not that we’re threatening, no, don’t misunderstand our intention — but you know, just in case, it could be nice to have a bit of insurance.”

You stammer a request for clarification.

“No! We’re not some cartoon mafia bad guys — neighbor, you grievously wound me with that accusation. We’re just your friendly neighbors, worried about the state of your life. It would be a tragedy were your soul to spend an eternity burning in Hell, right? Or were a divinely directed lit cigarette light up your garage? Things aren’t built to last in this time, this mortal world. It’s such a sad thing. But don’t you worry — such accidents don’t need to happen. We’re here just to tell you the Big Boss likes you; likes you, kiddo. Loves you. Is deeply concerned about the state of your life, your family, your very soul. Surely you can appreciate that fatherly concern? For your family’s sake if not otherwise?” (more…)

The De-Mystifier (fiction)

December 29, 2008

Monday. A party at Mr. Glockenspiel’s — a school friend of mine from long ago, nowadays a much-maligned politician — with nine of his various acquaintances present. An hour into the party, Mr. G. keeled over, dead of cyanide.

Ten minutes later the police was there; two minutes before that I had solved the crime, and once again made Inspector LaMorgan wonder, among other things, about my intellect — it had been a Mrs. A., because of the horrid death of Mr. A. during the latest war, and with the cyanide not in the bottle or the beaker, but in the corkscrew!

With the sad addition of the revenge-maddened Mrs. A., I had thus this year solved 31 cases of murder, plus some mere burglaries, thefts and threats of ruinous blackmail, and it was only the fourth of September!

So many deaths wherever I go, whomever I meet; and without a fail I, with my giant intellect, solve them all!

I do not visit my relatives anymore because of this; none, except my Aunt Agatha, that irritating and seemingly immortal old crone.

I, now and then, doubt even the wisdom of going out, buying milk, things like that — the young woman at the corner-shop adores me, of course, for did I not show that her mother had been killed by an evil and greedy barrister, instead of being guilty of the horrible insult of mere self-slaying!

And yet, that it what I contemplated myself: the mortal sin of suicide. Of what use was my prodigious intellect, my keen observation, if everywhere I went, people dropped like the flies of the English proverb! Was I cursed to be the bane of people, the trigger of action on various deadly prejudices and old hatreds no matter where I went? Even the admiring Inspector LaMorgan has been cold lately — “You again, you old murder-crow?” he let slip today, and that accusation of being a terrible lathspell to all I met hurt me, deeply, terribly.

Thus, just as I had composed my last note, and toyed with my poisoned chalice — no uncertain and easily missed cyanide for me; let the plodding and unimaginative LaMorgan know, from the start, what had killed the famous detective — when there was a knock at the door.

My manservant had gone to bed already; the outer door was locked; and yet the inner door of my library opened, and in stepped a most curious man. I am not a coward in spirit or in body, but the presence of that man — all the subtle things wrong in him — chilled my soul and froze my limbs. Powerless I sat as he spoke.

“You cannot die. You cannot cease in your solving of the puzzles you come across; no, you cannot, no matter how frequent they might be, or how much they may pain you! You must be yourself, the Great Solver of Crime!”

“Why?” I croaked, like the last word of the dying man I had so nearly been.

He smiled, and that smile knew too much. “Because the police is, as you often say, ‘dull, plodding and unimaginative’ — because I and my associates are in the curious business of directing and navigating things, and occasionally this demands the quiet exit of various people from the national and international stages. Those unwitting agents of ours that do the deed never do it against their will. Yes, Mrs. A. was one such unknowing but wholly willing agent, the dreadful fate of her husband 20 years ago coming to be through means and prognostications you should not contemplate, for the precise purpose of the long hatred she bore and the thus wholly logical murder she committed only five hours ago!”

“We are not murderers, my old friend, maybe murderer-enablers if even that; but to us it is of utmost importance that these fateful few deaths remain commonplace — that there is no odious stench of Mystery. Scandal and publicity our designs can weather, but Mystery — that attracts eyes much too keen for our comfort.”

“I can offer no reassurance except the knowledge that you are a small but vital smoothing part of a great plan across Time and Space, a plan for the success and well-being of all mankind. If you doubt, consider what you have learned of the nature of Mr. G. the deceased today, and ask yourself if he would have been suitable for the highest positions of political power — I see you grasp he would have been a wolf in the presence of those dubious lambs, and a wolf of greater rapacity than you can guess. A great disaster was averted by his death. Do not distress yourself with considering how we know this.”

He laughed. “You serve not only law and conscience, but a Law and a Conscience greater than yours or of Merry Old England — that is all I am allowed to say.”

With a tip of his unspeakable hat he departed; I crumpled my unnecessary suicide-note and picked up my pen to write this diary-entry; tomorrow I will no doubt cross it over as the confusion of an uncommonly vivid dream.

* * *

Note: Inspired by Hercule Poirot, who’s a bit like the detective above, and by Conan Edogawa, who has the same problem as the above sleuth. (No Poirot would, of course, speak of a lathspell, but since one is wholly ignorant about the French language beyond bon appetit and the Shakespearian baise mon cul, one has to go with what one knows.)

More woo math

December 28, 2008

Not very skeptical, but it’s mildly amusing to think up even more woo proofs that pi is three.

Well, it amuses me. Readers might be tired of this stuff already.

  • Proof by shiny terminology: “Three is the indigo pi.”
  • Tarot proof: “Number eleven, Death’s Head. It in conjunction with three (Hung Jury) signifies that pi is sinking… sinking… pi is three. Twenty bucks or your firstborn for more.”
  • Horoscopic proof: “Aries. There will be a career-destroying surprise in your love life. If you’ve been uncertain about that long trip, take it now. Also, pi is three.”
  • Trepanation proof: “Let me demonstrate how I came to my conclusion. Sit down; I’ll get the drill.”
  • UFO proof: “The vast, cool and unsympathetic intelligences of the planet Grill-XI convey, through me, these insights in the hopes that it will bring an end to the endless weapon-building on the planet Earth. Then they will come in a blaze of nuclear… er, a blaze of peace. Peace.”
  • ET proof: “My mommy said it works. Here, phone home.”
  • Duck-and-cover proof: Works if you have some flashy, superfically impressive “proof” — many of these here would do. First perform the said quackery, then profit, then run for cover.
  • Use of pyramido-logic: “Look at this pyramid! If you measure the three sides and substract the height of this pharaoh figurine here in inches you get the True Circumference, which divided by this diameter in Egyptian feet — between the Sphinx and the coffee-looking stain… is three!”
  • The Secret proof: “Pi is three if you want it to be. If it ain’t, you obviously are a loser who should have wished harder.”
  • Proof from thickness: “Well, obviously you need to remember that the circumference has a thickness! Measure circumference from the inside, measure diameter from the outside, and presto, pi is three. Any smart remarks about that, huh?”
  • Bermuda triangle proof: “My proof! Gone without a trace!”
  • Proof by Nostradamus: “In the day soon to be / The number shall be three.”
  • Homeopathic proof, distance version: “After calling our service number, hold the circle close to the receiver. Our good vibrations will cause the pi to change. Remember, you’re paying for qualitty!”

There’s plenty of proof theory left to examine, it seems, despite the ubiquity of methods like “fire proof” and “child proof”. Maybe politically correct proofs next?

Pretty Finland

December 26, 2008

Two relatively huge pictures (click to embiggen) of nature scenes here in Finland.

* * *

Blue Finland

From a noon a few days ago, blue Finland. Minus seven degrees Celsius, perfect silence, and whatever daylight was available.

* * *

And from today, a green-white hedge of pine. Taken around 4 p.m., and without flash you wouldn’t have seen a thing. As you can see, there’s a bit of snow floating around — and the temp’s perfect for snowballs.

Green-White Finland

You know, snowballs — the condition you get from sitting on “warm” snow until you discover that frostbite’s a stealthy thing. A pair of white, shrunken, round, tingly, terrifying —

Eww, sorry, no such thing.

(The big-huge versions could have been a bit smaller, mostly to hide various photographic defects, but I’m too far from my picture-widdling program right now.)

(Also, more pictures of Finland can be found from this post and this other one.)

A Christmas newsflash: Air Force killed Santa

December 23, 2008

Today the NATO Special Threat Force has bombed the island of Novaja Zemlya.

They did this to kill Santa, and that goal was achieved.

This came to be in the following fashion —

While the Coca-Cola Company did not invent the idea of Santa Claus as a fat, jolly man in red, they were the first agency to aggressively portray him as such. This happened during the 1930s, an era of very aggressive Soviet infiltration and spy activity in the West.

At the same time it became a common “meme” to tell children about Santa — if they saw an incongruous well-padded man in red, or an odd skulking imp, those were just Santa and his elves; certainly they weren’t Communist spies.

Adults did not believe this legend; they did not have to, as the curious rays discovered by the sharashka scientist S. Klausoff in 1926 worked perfectly on the adult brain; only children — only some children, that is — could see a person wearing the bulky Klausoff device under his winter clothes and his conical ray-antenna hat.

The Klausoff device was the ultimate tool of Soviet espionage — a man wearing one could walk in cities and in offices, go everywhere and observe everything, unseen except by occasional children, who by the interference of cunning spies in the entertainment industries and the supposedly virtuous American school system had been taught it was okay to see “Santa” and think nothing of it.

The device, though its existence was suspected for a long time following the 1969 Chicago Santa Riot arrests, was believed lost in the tumult of the 1990s, but during the beginning of this current Christmas season, the NSA discovered that the Klausoff project had, however, survived — not at the North Pole, but on the cold, desolate and isolated island of Novaja Zemlya.

Thus, three hours ago, by direct presidential order, the 24th Bomber Fleet (“Rendin’ Rudolph”) of the NATO Special Threat Force dropped twelve megatons of conventional explosives on certain secret facilities on the said island, and destroyed the Russian capability to manufacture and maintain Klausoff devices, thus ensuring the safety and Yuletide cheer of all good Americans for many years to come.

Reports of US submarines and submarine commandoes raiding the said facilities beforehand are naughty lies. All nice Americans can now rest in peace; as the carol says, “you better watch out; you better not cry —”

Sorry. That was a wrong carol.

Skeptic stuff

December 21, 2008

Aargh. I forgot to mention this, but the 102nd Skeptics’ Circle is at Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes.

This is notable since me myself has a post there, a silly piece about applying woo-woo to mathematics. Do read the other posts, too. They have substance.

To make this post less a stub, I hereby give to public domain something I recently thought up: a moderately clever name and a subtitle for a blog. Namely:

GALLOWS HUMOR
from a short, sharp shocker

If I used it, I’d have to substitute “tall” for “short”, and that’d rather ruin the idea. (Also, I’d rather not have Goatse as the background image for that title, and no other would fit quite as well.)

Winter solstice

December 21, 2008

Happy winter solstice! It’s the shortest day of the year, and the longest of nights! On the Arctic Circle, on this day the sun doesn’t rise. Beyond it, there have been such days already and will be again, but this is the greatest extent of dayless days.

To be on the Arctic Circle, go to either Buttfrozeoff (northern Siberia), Frozen Piss Arc (northern Canada), Holeinnaice (on the northern coast of Iceland) or — to Finland!

Did you know that Sami, the original people of Lapland (the very northmost parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Kola peninsula of Russia) — the equivalent of Japan’s Ainus and Canada’s Inuits — worshipped in the days gone by on this day a goddess called Beiwi, a goddess of sunlight and sanity? Connecting sunlight and sanity needs no explanation: just remember that in Finland, even in Finland, dark December’s the month when suicide statistics hit the roof. The sort of mentality you need to survive this month again and again explains why Finns are the way they are.

In Japan, winter solstice was tied to a tale about Amaterasu, the sun goddess there — she had went into a cave to sulk, taking sunlight with her, but she was lured out with a mirror: apparently she was a bit of an eastern Aphroditz, as she was intrigued by this oddly familiar and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful face in the polished disc of copper, and stepped out — and there was again sunlight.

Oh, and the ancient Romans celebrated the Invincible Sun at around this date, too, but those celebrations were stolen by some dour sect of death-worshippers who quite arbitrarily chose to place one of their own holidays near the Day of the Sun — and their people and those that feared them dared to go to celebrate the Roman sun no more. Eventually the sect usurped most Solstice paraphernalia from many of Europe’s pagans, especially the fun bits.

Then again, the celebrations of this death-cult were undermined and eclipsed by the advent of an acknowledgedly fictious white-bearded red-coated gift-giver, and their fantastic tales of a child are nowadays as much a background buzz to this sweet though stressful holiday of human caring as Germanic Yule-trees and Roman tales of coming great sun-kings.

Me myself — well, I like the cold and the dark and the silence, so this is the high point of my year. Plus the world around here is a beautiful monochrome — snow-white and dim-black. (In the dim-sun halflight, every other color seems black when contrasted to the whiteness of the snow.)

Days will start to get longer now, but at least they won’t start getting warmer for a while.

Thirty feet of snow; I don’t ask for anything else. Please, Santa?

(Oh, and if you are somewhere Down Below, you probably have the summer solstice now. Cheers to you and your Yule-eucalyptus. I’ll be envying you in half a year.)

New times and a new Santa

December 19, 2008

Two “poems” for your holidays.

New times

Silent night
Quiet night
All are a-bed
But one still moves
A bearded zealous fella
With odd parcels for places —
Police shot Santa
“A terrorist for sure!”

Then another — I just got thinking “what if people took this Santa business a bit more religiously”, and came to the conclusion that the Yule stuff would become pretty grim pretty quickly:

New Santa

Ho!
Dasher, Gasher, Blaster!
Donner, Blitzen, Endzeit!
On, my beauties!
Fill the night with the tempest of your passing!
On! On like a stormcloud! Like a trumpet blast!
From the frozenest, busiest Hell,
From the darkest place of eyes,
From where all good and evil is seen —
Over the sleeping world like a thief in the night!
Like a plague at the gates!
All is seen, all judged;
A mistletoed door is no barrier to me!
All are seen, all judged;
Now avert your eyes from the skies!
The day of your judgment is here,
The night of your rewards has come:
Your skies thunder, and your roof groaneth;
Your hearth-embers a-scatter
Your lids almost a-flutter —
Mystery of mysteries tonight, for
Your Yule God is here!
Now him all hail! Hail! Hail!

So much for “Ho! Ho! Ho!”…

Scribbled down in a seminar

December 17, 2008

Cleaned up the office a bit today. Found various forgotten things, plus all kinds of odd notes taken during seminars — something pops up in my head, and to get back to listening to the speaker, I have to scribble it down. Otherwise I’ll try to both listen and to repeat to myself “Good idea! Don’t forget!” — with the result that both are lost.

First, this distressing aphorism —

“Girlfriends are like cats: best disposed of with a brick, a sack and a cold river.”

I remember thinking: “Useless sappy fridge magnets…  I could write better aphorisms than those!”

Turns out I can’t. The one above started well but then went, er, wrong.

Second, this imagined exchange:

“Now we’re even!”

“No, you’re still odd.”

You have a seminar mind too if your first thoughts on that included: “Hm, if #1 is odd and they taken together (summation) are even, doesn’t that mean #2 is odd, too?”

Plusses for thinking: “Wait, if taken together is taken as multiplication — then #2 is even. But what if it’s a convolution? Frak how badly posed a problem!”

Third:

To make a grad student cry, only four words are necessary: ‘As we all know…’

(or rather, these 4 words are sufficient, but not necessary. k thx bai.)

If you’ve been grad student, you know this.

Also, 24 hours until the beginning of Holidays. If this time tomorrow you feel a gust of wind blowing northwards, well, that’s a global side effect of me zipping in that direction to the company of dear ones.

Nah, I don’t make wind or sonic booms. (Well, not by external movements anyway.) But if there’s a disturbance in the gravitational field, that’s ol’ hefty me going north.

(Sick of jingles? Nauseous over sleighs? Ho-ho-hopping mad about a rain of reindeer rhymes? Don’t worry, listen to Meat Loaf (Modern Girl) instead. It’s good the whole year round.)