Archive for January, 2009

Unease, definitions of

January 31, 2009

Unease: The feeling you get when it dawns to you the angry person opposite on the bus isn’t, as a matter of fact, talking on a mobile phone.

Unease: Also the feeling you get when your pondering of possible plot points for a future novel leads to the phrase “Stop in the name of the Consensual Necrophilia Association! That boy-dy’s one of us!”

Unease: The feeling associated with the eerie plausibility of the comment that, before television, the deluxe farmhouse evening entertainment was pulling a sock over a cat’s head and watching the jump-yowling. (Also with the thought that that might be better than most TV nowadays. Better than all reality and celebrity TV, certainly. Call me when Paris Hilton’s got her head trapped inside a sock and I’ll reconsider.)

World War Z movie, huh?

January 30, 2009

Hm. Max Brooks’s World War Z (wiki) is a very good, very entertaining book. (As I am a Finn, this is equivalent to an American going “The best work of human hands ever! The slam-dunk of the century!”)

Now there’ll be a movie out of it.

When I first heard that, I thought: Oh boy. Could be really, really good — flash after flash of various stages of zombie carnage and human savagery. Piece after unrelated piece that together illustrate the fall, agony and recovery of our civilization when the dead walk.

Then I thought: Nah. They’ll never succeed. They’ll conjure up a main character. The book has none, you see, except a very discreet, almost invisible “collector” of the various oral stories that make up the book. Once they have a heroic character team, they’ll show them running around some corner of America with shotguns and screaming “Leave me! Okay, you saved me! Oh, heroic self-sacrifice time!”; then there’ll be a romantic interest and a comedic sidekick, and then it’s finger-eyesocket time.

Now, however, I’ve learned something new: the person writing the screenplay is J. Michael Straczynski.

If you had no reaction to that — well, you know Babylon 5, the sci-fi television series? The, um, best sci-fi and maybe best television series ever? Well, that was Straczynski’s baby. That was what he can do.

And you remember the slightly more recent movie Changeling? Straczynski screenplayed that, and it was just beautiful. It even included a shower scene with a naked Angelina Jolie that was absolutely un-arousing. One needs some serious gifts to write that. (I jest.)

So now — well, now I’m just telling myself: This could very well be one of the best things ever —

Sorry. Almost got into the American habit of over-exaggeration there.

This could be something very, very good. I’ll even swallow a main character, a protagonist (being an idiot, I don’t see why the film’d need one, but apparently there is a reason) — but if there’s a love interest, then by the empty heavens I’ll shamble out of the theater angrier and more menacing than any zombie on the screen.

Though just as glassy-eyed if the said interest is Angelina Jolie.

All-purpose away list

January 27, 2009

Print this out; paste next to your door; use a magnet or a pin to indicate your current status. Good for all academically employed persons.

* * *

HI! I,

Dr. / Mr. / Ms. / Mrs. / no sexist identifier


(M.D. / J.D. / M.Sc. / Ph.D. / inferior degree)


  • Gone to eat. Where: ________ What/With whom: ________
  • At a library. Which one: ________
  • Visiting the bicycle repairman. Reason: pedals / chain / frame / lights / tires / this moving thing.
  • At home. Moping.
  • Sniffing glue. Brand: ________ Any good? ________
  • This job has been outsourced to Whizz-Bang Academic Works; call  ________ for more. (1.66 / min)
  • Being scolded by the dept. chair.
  • Being scolded by the dean.
  • Being scolded by the chancellor / rector / university president / secretary of education / UN Secretary-General. (Holy shit! / No big deal.)
  • Did an Andre Bloch / Ted Kaczynski. Sorry, y’all.
  • Gone to the doctor to talk about: shaky hand / droning voice / ails of age / bad eyesight / elbow patches / general drabness.
  • Gone to the head doctor to talk about: kleptomania / pyromania / trichotillomania / uncontrollable rages / creepy dreams / overhead projector fetish.
  • Had a sudden idea. If you hear screams from the biology dept. animal wing, it’s me. It might work this time.
  • Being viciously molested by flying monkeys. Failure / success.
  • Seminar in room ________ about ________; I’ll be speaking / listening / asking questions / snoring / sniggering / doing the Nelson Muntz.
  • Bullying students. Room: ________ Course: ________
  • A matter of law. Specifically: juror / defendant / plaintiff / judge / pulling the switch / on the lam.
  • Gone to buy discount cat food for self.
  • Ramen mass discount at  ________!!!
  • Conference in ________; I’ll be back _____ and sober _____.
  • I’m in; go away.
  • I’m in; do not disturb. (Seriously. You could get hurt.)
  • I’m in; but the only words you would get out of me would be incoherent screams of frustration and rage, and voluminous streams of bloody spit. Ask for more: dept. chairman / dean / dentist / spouse
  • I’m in; abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Two Arthurian bits

January 26, 2009

On the subject of “When I should have been working”, I just found a little something I wrote a couple of years ago, apparently while overdosing on Arthurian legends.

Below is the prose part of it, being the beginning and the end of an account of Arthur the Unlucky, done in the mode of “All people are bastards, woe is me and maybe no-one ever found the Grail because it never existed”. It’s a bit less cheerful than that might suggest; apparently I imagined it as the testament of some really, really disgruntled old soldier. And no, it’s not humor.

The other part of my old scribble, a time scheme, contains such a hasty, abbreviated version of my half-baked ideas for the rest that it’s not worth reproducing here. Anyway, you know the general outline from a hundred other tellings.

Curiously enough, the first part is pretty much “before Arthur was born” and the second “after Arthur died” — seems I managed to write only the parts where the main character doesn’t appear!


Charles Augustus Milverton: Never happened?

January 25, 2009

Those that have read the works commonly attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have, no doubt, among them come across the accounts that originate from the pen of one Dr. Watson.

Among these accounts of the exploits of the detective Sherlock Holmes, and Watson his aide and chronicler, one is rather out of place: the tale titled “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”.

In the tale, Holmes does no detecting, no proud tracking-work. No, the tale sees the brilliant detective cast first as a base Don Juan (first seducing, then betrothing a serving-maid, and presumably then running away), and then with Watson as a burglar! The target of this first criminal act is a maid of the Mr. Milverton of the story’s title; of the second, Mr. Milverton himself, a rather base blackmailer.


I hate paperwork

January 23, 2009

I just wrote a long post with the title above; then WordPress hiccupped and ate it.

I hate computers, too.

* * *

The essentials of the lost post:

Secretaries nice, paperwork bad. Academicals, not really the people who should waste their time and talents with administrative paper-shuffling. University reformers, pod people from the planet Molesta-Omnia.

Trivia: In Finland, M.Sc. is FM, for filosofian maisteri or “magister of philosophy”, even if you’ve really studied maths, physics or chemistry. Then FL for filosofian lisensiaatti, licentiate of philosophy (between master and doctor), and finally FT for filosofian tohtori, doctor of philosophy. So if you see Matti Meikäläinen FL, that’s no-one from Florida but just John Everyman Weird-Super-M.Sc..

(Also: “Master of Science”? Is that some sidekick of He-Man?)

The post was much longer, and somewhat funnier. Then again, first lost post in 17 months of blog-writing, so I don’t complain.

10 reasons why chocolate is better than Jesus

January 22, 2009

(Please note: Tasteless remark warning!)

  1. When people say “Jesus Christ!” they’re usually not happy; when they say “Chocolate…” they are.
  2. Jesus just promises Heaven; chocolate is heaven.
  3. Chocolate can have figs, even if figs aren’t in season.
  4. Giving up chocolate might sound like Hell, but at least that’s just you. Try giving up Jesus and everyone’s warning you of Hell!
  5. Promotional chocolate or a visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses: which freebie do people prefer?
  6. Chocolate melts in your mouth; Jesus is more a flaming Sacred Heart heartburn sort of a thing.
  7. Too much chocolate, and you might get fat and pimply. Too much Jesus, and you’re Jerry Falwell.
  8. There are infinite varieties of chocolate, and if there’s isn’t one for you, you can just make up your own equally valid version, but… uh, wait. No-one questions the divinity of chocolate.
  9. Chocolate can have nuts; Jesus had nuts as well, but only two and they weren’t crunchy or tasty at all. (Ha! Thought I was going to say something tasteless like “but Jesus was nuts”, didn’t you?)
  10. Ever heard anyone ask for a second communion wafer?


January 22, 2009

There’s a nice little word of Eastern origin which comes handy in all kinds of places: mu. Consider the following questions, and try to answer —

  • Have you stopped beating your wife yet?
  • Why does God allow so much suffering?

The answer to both questions is “Mu.”

No, it doesn’t mean “Say that again?” or “Who cares?”, though it’s pretty close to “Wait; this is another of those trick questions of yours, right?”

Mu, as far as I’ve understood it, can be a short for “Ill-posed question! Go home and cry!”

It is impossible to answer the first question if you’ve never started beating your wife (or don’t have one) in the first place — and if you try to answer with yes or with no, you’re acknowledging that you, dear heavens, have once upon time been an odious wife-beater. (The adjective “odious” is quite redundant there.)

Likewise with the second question — to answer it in any way except with a “Mu!” is to concede that there indeed is a God.

If you think the question makes sense and try to answer it, you’ll run into all kinds of odious problems and awkward solutions — maybe God is asleep? Or thinks pain improves our performance? Or that starvation and rape will make Heaven seem much sweeter? Or He’s a good parent that allows His children to run around with scissors? Or maybe a bad one, the celestial equivalent of a child-abuser? Maybe this, even with Hitler and Ebola, is the best of all possible worlds? Or maybe suffering is a sign that He disapproves, or waits for the right moment, or lies outside our judgment, while children starve? Or [insert a long, hollow, tubular treatise on theodicy here]? You’ll end up thinking God would have done the best had he created nothing at all.

Now, once you reconsider the question, you’ll see the correct answer is mu, since the question itself is ill-posed. You could just as well ask why Sherlock Holmes didn’t catch Jack the Ripper, because Sherlock Holmes is imaginary, and so is God.

Have a good day.

The End of the Serpents

January 21, 2009

Just to show what I occasionally end up doing when I should be working: I’ve been juggling this idea for a fantasy world inside my head for years — originally a shamefully unoriginal Tolkien-like thing, but as time went by, I jettisoned the hobbits, and with time got rid of elves and orcs (“Yeah, a totally evil race bad from the birth — really 20th-century!”), and generally moved into strange territories. (“Magic? Or just old, old nanites?”)

I, however, never quite got rid of one “humanoid species”: not anything out of Tolkien, but Howard-like serpent men of immense antiquity, unparalleled wisdom… and boundless malice.

I’ve been juggling this world inside my head, and occasionally a map or a snippet of an annal escapes. Thus the following legend, told of the bad, bad times before the start of the counting of years.

* * *


A few points

January 19, 2009

Seminar quote of the day: “You are sick and tired and already feel that door, but one more thing…”

Yeah; occasionally one feels the near-magnetic pull of the door, and the coffee-teria beyond.

Also, things I’ve noticed recently:

  • the word for the stuff that’s left of a bird after it has an encounter with a plane is, apparently, snarge. I had no idea native speakers feel this is a common word which doesn’t need explanation.
  • there was, once upon a time in America, a Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union. Nowadays, it’s just a source of hilarity for acronymists.
  • apparently the living-flesh John Scalzi is just as awesome as the dead-paper/electric-blog version.
  • 99 episodes of George Hrab are nowhere enough; I have just 23 left unlistened (#3 to #25), and I’m already starting to fear the withdrawal symptoms, which include, but are not limited to, feeling like snarge. (see above)
  • fear and humiliation can be legitimate teaching methods.
  • some people have even more excess free time than I do; this is an easy corollary of Tupper’s self-referential formula.