Archive for December, 2009

2009 revisited

December 31, 2009

A recap of 2009, my view: wrote a novel, did academical things some 1/100 of mathematicians would understand (on about the eighth Ping of things for the mundanes, third Ping for mathematicians), wrote a considerable quantity of blog posts… and that’s it; below the fold should be, WordPress willing, a list of all posts I’ve written this year. Go see if any title tickles your fancy.

Oh, and Ping is a notation of my own invention. You step one Ping upwards every time you introduce a concept pretty much incomprehensible without the concepts you have already explained; the level you start is that of a reasonably well-informed layman. Assuming you’ve explained integration and functions, the idea of a p-integrable function is a Ping up. Talking to someone over a three-Ping or bigger difference either way is enough to cause persistent headaches. (The rigorous definition of Ping is in the works, and probable to remain so.)

The name Ping comes from the noise emitted by a person’s cranium when he or she realizes the lecturer is four Pings away, rising up the pyramid, and not likely to get any closer.

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Sello, Finland

December 31, 2009

One more post for this year; and a sad subject for it. This morning in Espoo, a sort-of suburbia of Helsinki, Finland’s capital, a man with severe problems in his personal relations shot his former girlfriend, four of the woman’s co-employees, and himself. The middle four happened in the shopping mall named above; CNN has more for the international reader. (A Finnish one can’t have avoided hearing about the thing; it’s been the sole subject of news all day.)

I personally have no interest save ghoulish voyerism in the personal affairs of others; but once again I find I am more offended by certain traits of the aftermath — say incomprehension of statistics, meaningless routine condolences, the apparently vast extent of things unthinkable for certain people, the whole panicky security for freedom and appearance of safety thing — than by the shooting itself. Since I see no point in wasting your time with my inconsiderate griping about it, I direct you to an earlier outpouring of mine.

So much for this particular hit in the darker lottery of life, except for one more thing. The shooter was of Eastern European origin, from Kosovo, and it didn’t take too long for the first troglodyte comments against immigrants to appear. Oh how I wish I could rub the noses of certain segments of the populace in the purely all-Finnish statistics of spousal abuse and slaying; people are people everywhere, and united in the disgusting underpinning uniformity of their failings.

HK Anomaly

December 30, 2009

A wordy shaggy dog SF short story of the above title is below the fold.

In other news, damn Charles Stross is a fine writer. I’m stuck deep inside the Atrocity Archives at the moment.

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Pagan Christmas take-away person

December 29, 2009

So, something premature for today, because it fits the post-glut day I’m having.

Namely the Finnish name-day for the thirteenth of January; the Finnish calendar of name-days being an outgrowth of the medieval saint calendar. The thirteenth of January is the day of Nuutti, a rather antiquated man’s name; and in the olden days it was also the day of the rather pre-Christian Nuuttipukki, the negative of Santa Claus.

Santa’s name in Finland is Joulupukki; the first part, “joulu”, is something like Yule, and means Christmas; the second, “pukki”, obviously meant something else in the long gone days since nowadays it just means “he-goat”, which does not work with the image of the Ho-ho-ho-fellow, unless you think of some X-rated X-mas production. (‘”Why, you old goat”, she tittered and hit him with the leash, again. “Rudolph was right about you!”‘)

Now, Joulupukki, the modern tradition, brings gifts and is a jolly good fellow and all that; Nuuttipukki, the older midwinter bringer, is naturally more sinister: he comes to house after Christmas to take it away, accompanied by a crew of miscreants and rowdy youths, shouting, throwing things around, behaving in ways that would not be borne if they were not traditional, and generally making an ass (or a goat?) of himself. He and his accomplices may behave rather like drunken frat boys, spying someone sleeping and carrying him outside bed and all, presumably to much traditional laughter. He’s dressed in moldy furs and has spoons for ears, an axe for a nose, and the like: altogether an example of what happens when you let the country folk come up with traditions on their own.

It probably does not surprise you the bishops did not approve; the tradition’s been mostly extinct for a century or more, save for the local misbehaviour of kids, dressed in the adults’ clothes, begging for candy, and doing things that suspiciously resemble Halloween malice save for their date.

Why, an answer to your first question — am not pulling your leg. It’s a dodo tradition, but it used to be just the way I told you. With enough alcohol and tradition people are capable of quite anything you can imagine, and several things you rather wouldn’t.

And to the second — yup; these troops were (in Finland anyway) some mixed inspiration for Joulupukki coming in with the presents instead of just stealthily leaving them somewhere. (I’d much rather have someone in a pelt with horns, and spoons and axes and the like prancing around terrifying kids than the crimson spheroid man, but ain’t my choice.)

* * *

One more thing — the thirteenth of January is also the end of joulurauha or the Christmas peace, yearly proclaimed by some officious person from the olden capital of Turku; the peace proclamation says, with distinctly medieval tones, that a peace is yay hereto proclaimeth to the Christmassytimes, and hey if any mifcreant it breaketh, thrice times shall be the righteous punishment of the Law upon the flat forehead of thou evil and wicked person, verily, all.

(Shorter Finnish X-peace proclamation: “Triple penalty time! Ho ho ho!”)

* * *

Also: It’s Lovecraft time over at Lemmata, this sort-of comic of mine.

Thief, reaver, slayer, etc.

December 26, 2009

Am too busy-lazy to write anything today.

Here’s my excuse: an audiobook of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, the very, very nice first-of-three collection of the original all-Howard Conan stories, audiofied by Tantor Media.

Just in case anyone else is as neurotic about such things as I, the mp3 CDs have no DRM that I can find, and are at 128 kpbs, each story a file or two of its own. The two-CD solution comes to 27 files and round one gig in size. (This is, I guess, the digital version of “the content needs no commentary, but the binding in this instance —” comment that one occasionally finds on Amazon.)

Atheist in the church: some suggestions

December 25, 2009

Genealogical research has revealed that deep in my ancestry there’s a rude fellow — ancestry research tends to reveal only the rude fellows, because they are set down in the official records of prosecution and punishment; saints disappear without a trace — that gained come notoriety when he, inflamed either by drink or by his sheer Finnish character, tore up an orderly church Sunday by yelling, making faces and body noises, prancing up and down the aisle, and the like.

He pissed under the deputy priest’s stool, too.

Twice.

Of his punishment for this I currently have no idea; but maybe this convinces you that when you want behavior tips for the prayer meeting, I’d a source of a certain kind. So, here goes: some suggestions for atheists that have to attend a church service.

  • Stand up, shake your fist at the heavens or at the vicar, and scream: “There is no God! And if there is, may he strike me dead, dumb and three kinds of a peculiar color!”
  • If that is too much, flip your Old Testament open to the spell contest between the priests of Yahweh and of Baal and study that for tips. Challenge the vicar. Taunt if necessary.
  • Whisper commentary on the reading of the week to the people around you. Phrases such as “Not documented”, “Contradicted by archaeological evidence”, “Impossible in those numbers”, “Quirinius and Herod at the same time? Seriously, guys!” and “What? You’re thanking the guy for genocide?” may come handy.
  • Whenever the Holy Ghost is mentioned, start humming the Ghostbusters theme. Loudly, if you can.
  • The collection plate — well, help along with commentary. Slip in a condom.
  • If there’s a choir, try “Freebird!” Also the upraised lighter.
  • A minute before the priest steps out of his nook, saunter in in a black robe and tie-on horns, step up to the podium, and raise your hands with a loud “Loyal followers, all hail Sat— oh wait, it’s not Monday is it? Wrong service; my bad; carry on” — and then leave.
  • A second before a hymn starts, start (loudy if you can) singing the Star-Spangled Banner or some similar popular tune known to all. See if you can get others to join in.
  • Overappreciate the communion. “Oh my God! It’s delicious! The Lamb of God, you say? The food of gods, I say! Jesus, let me chow down on you some more! Let me lick your — ey, vicar! Seconds, please! I’m a heavy-duty sinner meat-eater and I need more!” (“Do you have a bag so I can take the rest home?”)
  • Alternately, when the priest comes to you during the communion, wink and stage-whisper: “So, they let crossdressers in now, do they? Jolly good!”

These are the things I think up when I have to attend a service; relatives, you know. Good thing I don’t have to do that more often or I’d be tempted.

Santa’s most special little elf

December 23, 2009

“Next letter. ‘Dear Santa. Please please, I want Mommy and Daddy to be together again. Liza, age six thank you Santa.'”

“Damn. Again one of those. I hate these letters.”

“The database says the Mommy is Virginia Liddell. Ran away with the family janitor. I’ll mail Jack their current address and the target.”

* * *

Jack the Most Special Elf squeezed the trigger, heard the rifle cough, and departed while Mark Hazzell, formerly a janitor, fell, his shirt swiftly turning a festive-bright shade of red. He fell to the green Astroturf, white froth bubbling out of his mouth; being busy with expiring he utterly failed to see how seasonal this combination of red, green and white was.

One such wish down, three thousand eleven-hundred and one to go.

If there only were more naughty little children, but no!

Stories of Rudolph, three of three

December 23, 2009

It took Aslak a few minutes before the magnitude of his error sank in.

He shouldered his rifle a happy man; he was content when his skis rasped down the hill; he was trembling when he knelt by the reindeer-shaped thing he had shot.

He could almost hear the booming laughter of the northern demon as he beheld that damnable thing always associated with the demon in all the tales of his folk. There was nothing left for doubt as he beheld its bestial features: mostly animal, but with a terrible humanity, self-awareness, intelligence in them, quickly fading to death.

He closed the thing’s eyes, and for a while contemplated running away, hiding, denying his kill.

That would have been useless; the northern demon and his diminutive helpers were everywhere and saw everything.

There was nothing to be done save the atonement told of in the darkest tales of his folk: and so he took a hold of the glowing thing at the tip of the thing’s face, and tore it away.

It was cold when he placed it over his own nose; and it felt like a piece of iron when one touches careless skin on it; and he knew it would be much more impossible to remove. Its glow was the rippling cold red of aurorae, the evil glow of the last embers of an abandoned campfire; and he knew it would not be long before he would throw all his clothes aside along with his memory, and gallop the northern fells wild and untamed save by one hand, branching horns erupting from his head, his body covered by fur, an animal on all fours, but with his features still retaining a hint of their former humanity, just as he would retain speech and intelligence to better do the foul work of the northern demon in leading his flock of beasts forth that one night every December.

Just as the red-nosed reihdeer he had shot had retained enough of its humanity to whisper its thanks… and its apologies.

Stories of Rudolph, two of three

December 22, 2009

Dear Editors of the Lurid Mysteries of the Unknown Magazine,

Have you ever thought about the North Pole? I don’t mean the well-documented passage to Inside Earth; I mean the place where Santa Claus lives.

Disregarding for the moment the actual reality of all those tales, have we fully considered the ancestral events and realities of pre-Neolithic Europe that gave rise to them? Even at the risk of sounding like a cheap von Däniken knockoff — and I do not want to dim the glory of that great man by the tawdry association of my own vastly inferior ideliocules — isn’t the North Polar cohabitation of that curious pair Mr. and Mrs. Claus of shockingly inhuman nature, surpassing even the curious arrangements of the Gods of Olympos?

Let us consider this, if we dare — if we are not so bound by the hides of unbudging scientific orthodoxy, or so cowed by the arcane rituals of approval of its callously self-appointed gatekeepers of ritualistic scientistic lore — let us consider the setting.

Two creatures, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, clearly of a kind separate and much superior compared to their servitors and the common mortality that worship them, live in a separate, deserted (shades of Hiroshima? dare we speculate?) area, and appear to possess near-supernaturally efficient means of transportation. Even today, the technology to visit every single home all over the globe is barely imaginable — what could have spurred the cave men of the ancient world to think up such unthinkables?

Or what of the toy factories, so glibly romanticized by the storytellers of today? Factories are a distinctly modern idea! Only a very advanced society would have been able to engage in such concentrated mass production of trinkets — or rather trinkets to them, but almost magical sources of joy to those receiving them. As thoughts of colonialist Europeans come to wild lands carrying glass baubles rise to mind, one cannot avoid wondering if the Europeans’ ancestors were similarly impressed by the baubles of a vastly more advanced habitation in the far north — but surely this all is unbearable mockery to the science types who have decided these damnable things cannot be said out loud.

What factories churned near the North Pole in days long gone by? What crude and half-formed worker-shoggoths toiled in them, only later to gain the name of “elves” or “gnomes” from barbarians unable to comprehend their true mechanically biological nature?

What engines and satellite feelers, what untiring machine eyes, kept track of the “good children” and “naughty children”, or those primitive tribes that either did or did not follow the dictates of their alien mentors?

And, above all, what pair of intelligences housed in the shapes of a man and a woman, eidolons of the desired end result of their stellar mission, lorded over all this, the first dawnings of human civilization? What teachings and commands were handed down before all this was lost under the coy names of “Santa Claus” and “Mrs. Claus”?

What are those rites that survive in the chimney — the milk and the cookies — the story of the flying machine fronted by a red warning light and roaring like a herd of bestial reindeer — the bottomless bag of gifts — and what of the space helmet-like conical hats? What antennae did they conceal — and what of them doth remain in the inaccessible northern climes?

I propose to lead an expedition to the North Pole to inquire into these and other things the scientific orthodoxy does not want us to know; and as I return Einstien-like, Feynmann-like, like Hawkings bearing his dice, I want your proud publication to have the exclusive.

My calculations for the necessary funding and the probable location of ancient-astronautical ruins are appended.

enthusiastically waiting for your answer,

Hale J. Bopp, B.S.

Stories of Rudolph, one of three

December 21, 2009

I seem to be churning these out now; as you can see, this is the first story of three. The next drop tomorrow and the day after that.

* * *

“Being Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is like being the Pope”, the drunken reindeer told me in the dinkiest bar of the Thule Air Force Base.

I kept my mouth shut and nodded, since he looked like trouble: matted splotchy fur, shaking forelegs holding a pint quite a few beyond too many, and eyes more red in their bloodshotness than his bruise-purple lump of a nose.

“Like”, he went on, “there’s one Pope, and when he can’t cut it anymore, they throw him away. Boom. One day the most beloved man in all of Christendom, the next — boom! — he’s a monk somewhere in fucking Cambria and the abbot doesn’t give him a leave. No nothing.”

I couldn’t help myself. “I thought the Papal office was for life?”

He laughed — and you know, reindeer should never laugh. Uncanny valley and all that. That neighing is bloody scary even if they’re sober, sane and more than two feet from you. Break those three and it’s something that’ll give you nightmares every which day to Christmas come.

“Life! Yeah, that’s what they tell people! It’s the same fucking thing with us — do you seriously think the same reindeer would be up to the flying for decades and decades? The fat guy, sure; he’s nothing to do except wolfing down cookies and milk and the occasional drink; but it’s death being the lead reindeer all over the world. The temperature differentials alone are poison on your bones!”

He took another gulp, and then looked into his pint as if expecting to find something of great value there. “I really thought I would be it for good. I was the best navigator in a century, I was. I could turn the sled around in half a second on a dime. But, you know, it’s merciless business. You get the flu the twenty-third of December one year, you get a sub, a young thing that’s good but not as good as you, and the next thing you know you’re just not wanted anymore. I was the best Rudolph there ever was, you know? If he had kept me he wouldn’t have needed this bloody GPS nonsense.”

“And it’s all about the nose, you know. The nose’s just sham. It’s the nose all day long so no-one thinks to look if it’s the same reindeer. You know?”