## Archive for January, 2010

### Set days

January 31, 2010

As I have nothing much to say at the moment, here’s a random set of three elements, drawn from among “gruesome beasties”, for which no addition nor multiplication has yet been well defined.

It’s an open set, though.

* * *

And after that, a note on other matters: Usually the new comic drops at Lemmata at midday Finnish time every day. It didn’t do so today because my mathematical colors showed up once again, and I forgot there are 31 days in January, not 30. Situation fixed, now.

(Which makes one wonder if there are any webcomics or the like with update schedules that are other that this, that and the other weekday — say “the first 29 days of each month, and no more”?)

### The comfort of the void

January 30, 2010

Some atheists say they wish there was a God. It would be comforting and all, and so on.

Not me.

Think of noma; think of droughts and ichneumon wasps and nature red in tooth and claw. Think of all the ills we humans have made and are prone to.

If there is no God, that just is the way things are: blind pitiless indifference. Nature isn’t cruel; Nature isn’t kind. Nature just is, and mostly it is things that are not purposeful or meaningful but just good in sticking around.

However — if there is a God and this is His creation, He is an irredeemably evil, callous, cruel, cold bastard: noma is allowed by His designs, droughts and horror-insects could not exist without His permission, His approval. (Neither could the Devil. And introducing the horned fellow, or casting this world just as a gauntlet for Heaven or Hell really doesn’t help any.) If there is a God, there are Reasons and Purposes for everything, and things are the way they are because He wanted or allowed them to be so. To disagree would be to reduce Him to a powerless, bungling imp.

We live in a world with such fucked-up horrible aspects mixed in with all the beauty that any Designer of such a thing would be a monster. Indifference and lack of intention and purpose, and also of cruelty and malice, are a million times more comforting wards against sorrow than any cackling Noma Architect wanting to be your buddy would be.

Such a void might be unsettling to some; I say it is good for it is a license to make up your own purposes and meanings of life; so take up your own colors and run with them, and dodge as you best can the flaming chunks of random shite the blind universe happens to fling your way.

That’s my opinion and my comfort, anyway. The comfort of others might not include great flaming chunks of shite. (Also, there’s something charming in noticing that the answer to “Why me?” really, actually, and with all possible depth, is “Shit happens.”)

### Short bits

January 29, 2010

A sidebar at Amazon.ca: “Great Savings in Loonie Deals”, “Browse our Loonie Deals store for great savings on hundreds of titles, from former bestsellers to fun discoveries.”

The book pictured next to these words? Why, a tome of hers with Oprah Winfrey prominently on the cover.

(I shall not consider the possibility that “loonie” might have been used as a synonym for “Canadian”, this being Amazon.ca, since (a) Our Lady of Indiscriminate Woo is not Canadian, and (b) that would collapse my joke.)

* * *

“The good Christian should beware the mathematician and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of hell.” —St. Augustine

And when the Catholics finally (round year 999) got a mathematically trained pope, Sylvester II, he “was so widely-educated that his contemporaries said he must be in a league with the devil.”

You gots what you asks for.

And the covenant? Coming along nicely; thanks for asking. There’s just a bit of haggling over whether we’re willing to pay France for the solution to the P-NP problem. (Paying all the firstborn for the Riemann Hypothesis was easy, mind you; the problem’s that the P-NP conjecture is computer science, and that’s icky impure though kinda interesting.)

* * *

If they have a “reader’s own page” over at Ars Technica, is it “My Ars”? (For maximum effect imagine this said in a Dara O’Briain voice.)

* * *

Here’s a new fear for you: You’re drinking from a vacuum cup — means a thick cup, usually made of metal, with a vacuum between the inside and the outside to keep your drink hot. Suddenly, there’s a breach! Air and all else are sucked into the vacuum inside the cup! You end up with half your face scalded by hot coffee, and four inches of your tongue wedged tightly and painfully inside the cup, and the thing is stuck.

Just a thought; came to me while I was drinking from one such cup. Imagination’s a wonderful thing.

* * *

Just a thought from doing too much blackboard gymnastics: Tolkien wouldn’t have been such an utter bastard as to have Saruman, the scholarliest of the wizards and the wisest of the wise, adopt a chalk-white hand as his banner because after a spell at the blackboard… ehh, no way.

* * *

Funny how all this talk of nude scanners — and for some reason that sounds like a very lecherous special unit of Cylons — has instead of all kinds of indignant rage aroused just one thought in me: the adaptation of such devices would be, I’d say, something and hopefully also the only thing that’d get me moving around with unmentionable plastic devices in my unmentionables.

Not for the erotic pleasure supposedly associated with such antics, mind you; what variety I have I much rather keep inside my cranium; but just because I’d like to see the scanner operator falling back from his screen screaming and crying.

It would be worth it, maybe.

Or if that’s too much (or even much too much), one could always have a nice vest of some dense material, with air holes cut to form somewhat unflattering words; a shirt over it, and only the operator shall see the guy with the letters “DONTLOOKATME” traced over his torso.

And then there would be probing, no doubt.

### Some Savonian heavy metal for ya

January 29, 2010

And now, since there is no better music than metal, and no better place for metal than Finland, and in all of Finland there is no better place than the sweet, twisted and sly province of Savonia: the band is Verjnuarmu, the song Laalavat Jouset (Singing Bows), and the dialect’s the Savonian one of Finnish.

And yeah, this is pretty much what the inner-eastern parts of Finland are and feel like. Home sweet agh drunken lunatic with an axe home.

### Coffee and theorems

January 29, 2010

It was Paul Erdös (“You trivial beings!”) who said that “a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.”

This may be something deeper than it at first seems to be.

A mathematician is a human being, that is, an evolved meat bag, a snorting, grubbing, hungering, randy machine of self-propagation and gene transmission. Humans and other animals, as a general rule, eat, excrete, breed, and die, all without any rhyme or reason to their brief lives. For most of all history of life, all species have impacted the world only in similarly blind and unintentional ways: catastrophes unplanned, revolutions unforeseen, mathematical laws of biology obeyed without comprehension or awareness.

Then came the first mathematician; not the traditional Thales of Greek legend, but someone much earlier. And what was she or he, and what do mathematicians do? They take the dross and brutishness of life, and see there are patterns beneath and within: they draw triangles in the sand, and discover Pythagoras’s Theorem; they delineate the fields of Nile, and discover geometry. They distill the essential out of the crude whole, and abandoning that crudity to its own devices and gyrations build on their pure suppositions. Biologians and physicists are concerned with what is; philosophers and leaders often consider what should be; artists, closest to the people of number, consider what they would like to be, the imaginations that most tickle their various fancies; but mathematicians are intent on invading the land of imagination and seeking not their wishes or needs, but simply all that what must be.

And what emerges from their work is a structure of pure intellect divorced from the distractions of corporeal existence, an unfallen Babel-tower of axiom and result. Their work is imagination, clouds piled on clouds, not anchored to anything solid, but it is consistent against itself. In that stark sculpture-glory it is something immeasurably different from all pursuits before, and most pursuits since.

Mathematicians are crude creatures, and live in the crude world of flesh and matter: but they are also gates and conduits into the high worlds of logic and suppositional truth. And being that, they are the most precious alchemists, for they transform the raw crudeness of their existence and sustenance into something universal, eternal, beautiful and — if one wishes to use the word — divine.

Coffee into theorems it is, but that is something of an understatement.

Or then what I said just now was an overstatement; I don’t know. Why plumbers never get these lyrical fits, or are they just better in self-control?

### That last hour of a workday

January 27, 2010

Not one of the proudest moments of my mathematical career.

Spend three minutes looking at a scribble (my own, no less!), trying to recall what, if anything, cogent I had tried to signify with the letters “UEL”.

Could not remember anything abbreviated so. Could not recall anything beginning so, or anything ending so either. Not in English, not in Finnish, not in the dialect of Savonia or in the coarse speech of the undergrads, or in the stilted, inhuman style of the Professorlords, or even in my own idiom when I wish to be cryptic for the sake of novelty in expression; nothing came up, nothing at all; no sun dawned, no clouds parted, no intracranial lightbulb did anything except morphed into a clusterous ultraviolet led lamp like smallpox in glass and steel, which then vanished with a slight “pop”. Nothing came up, except the vague memory that the note had meant something worth remembering.

Then blinked and said, “Oh, $u \in L$!”, shook my head, and went on.

One of the signs that the hour is come after which one can just as well stop working for the day.

It did not help that the author of a certain preprint pdf had apparently unsuccessfully overwritten some Theorem-hyperlinking of his, with the effect that there were no links and no evidence of them ever having existed, except that every mention of “Theorem 3.10” and “Lemma 6.6” and the like were printed in a very, very dark blue that was almost, but not quite, black.

That drives one first doubtful (“Is it synesthesia or simple “integral madness” or are my eyes going? And if the second please please don’t let it be a case of the nude runarounds.”); then into clicking the zoom button, and sighing in relief.

January 26, 2010

The following words demonstrate why you should never believe anything just because it’s written so somewhere on the Net. Especially if it is an advertisement, as this was:

Sex toys make great gifts for any occasion.

Really.

### Animal show

January 25, 2010

So there are dog shows; winners for the Best Chihuahua on Show and the like.

There are, I am informed by the news agency, even similar quality-appreciation shows for pet rabbits. There apparently are several very distinct races of those. (Which somehow reminds me of the Cats That Look Like Hitler site. “Vhat? Dovn vith zer monkrel kasual pet bunni zeries!”)

There are human-appreciation shows, too, the various Miss and Mister flesh pageants, but that’s tangential. (And not one, as far as I know, awards “Best Nordic Female in Show”; that would no doubt make a weird what-if-Nazis-had-won story.)

Dogs, bunnies, cats, horses too: but how many others? I think I’ve heard about shows for cows, and sheep shows (other than that over at the red light district; that’s a gal dressed as a sheep and a boy as the randy farmer that ends up pitchforking… but, er, I don’t know anything about that), and similar things for other farm animals, but I think they’re more like car shows, being more about the prospective buyers than about the individual beasts.

So how about snakes and pet spiders? (“Would everyone please remain seated. We have a case of a missing, er, a missing Giant Leaping Clutchnid, er, not where it should be. Er, I am informed it is a she. A she. Name is ‘Sucker’ but it, er, she, she does not answer to that. What? No, she does not answer positively to that.”)

What about the really exotic pets? “Panic at skunk show: seven injured, cleaning will take weeks”?

“Would the winner and her tortoise come forward to… accept… their… oh, for Heavens’ sake, carry the critter!” (And doesn’t “Carrie Critter” sound just like an environmentally conscious rocker? Possibly one that visits the sheep show.)

“Er, Miss Wormwood, what did I do over the weekend? Well I went to the, er, the exhibition show thing with my mom and Ernest. Ernest’s her pet. And it was like really cool when they announced and said mom should come up to accept the award for the Best Ass in Show! It was something like how it was so big an’ round an’ hairy an’ shiny an’… er, Miss Wormwood, er, did I say something funny? Everyone said she had the Best Ass in Show, an’ kept coming back to look an’ rub it an’ put carrots in — Aw! Not the ruler! Not the ruler! What did I say?”

Pet rocks?

“And the golden medal in the granite series goes to… Cheneyheart, Michael Michaelson’s adorable three-pounder from Yoink, Colorado! Bravo! And next up, the heavyweights and paperweights categories, and then what you all’ve been waiting for: get ready for rubble!

### Composure, lost

January 24, 2010

Was watching Cosmos, solemn and serious as one can be, when Carl uttered, utterly without a warning, this bit of exposition:

We’re used to the idea of radio signals from intelligent life — or at least semi-intelligent life… I mean, radio and television stations — but there are all kinds of reasons why natural objects should emit radio waves.

And then he went on.

I hit pause and spent a minute cackling.

Oh, Carl Sagan, a delight that occasionally hits in unforeseen ways. (Whispers, “a still more glorious dawn awaits“.)

(Was around 40:50 mark in episode 4, “Heaven and Hell”. The same episode I thought I heard something about the “desolate and British” tortured landscape of Venus; but it probably was “reddish”.)

### An inspiring way to motivate

January 23, 2010

First, an unrelated story to set the mood.

All I’m going to say in introduction is you need a license to drive, to own a gun, to do surgery; generally to do things that, if done by a moron, can ruin people; but for parenting you just need a functioning set of genitalia, a friend, and spare time.

The results are, now and then, just the equivalent of handing out free scalpels, aprons and chloroform on the street:

WARM SRPINGS, Ga. — Police have arrested a Georgia woman who they say forced her son to kill his pet hamster with a hammer as punishment for earning a bad grade.

(Via Stupid Evil Bastard)

* * *

The title of this post is a translation of the Finnish phrase “inspiroiva tapa motivoida”, which sounds even more hokey in Finnish; it was used in the army a lot because they wanted to be humane and hip, but from my NCO training I seem to recall it basically, in practice, meant a lot of screaming and pain.

It works in that setting well enough. (One could conjecture the fancy phrase was introduced as a psychological subliminal thing; the four letters “tapa”, while read and said in this context as meaning “a way”, are identical to the spelling and pronunciation of the imperative form of the verb “kill”.)

* * *

Quick guide to talking to Finnish males over eighteen; the basics of army slang. (Needful because of universal male and voluntary female conscription; for the most for six to twelve months.)

• runtu = punishment, often because the sub-sergeant was dumped by his girlfriend.
• gines = to not have a leave when most of the others are having one; Christmas, Midsummer and New Year’s, usually.
• härö = something or someone that out of whack, out of order, dumb, stupid or just begging for trouble.
• viheltää! = the shout at which everyone’s supposed to drop what they’re doing and drop to the ground; translates as “it’s whistling!” which sounds cute but means the incoming whistle of a grenade or something like.
• TJ = short for tänään jäljellä or “[that much] left today”; appended to the number of mornings (aamu means “a morning”, and is the unit for counting these things) one has to wake up before one can run out of the gate wearing flip-flops and a floral shirt. When one’s TJ count gets low enough, mutterings of the word väbä and the associated slouchings and losings of military rigor start; the word seems to be an adaptation of the word vähän (little, a small amount) for pronunciations best suited to uttering it with maximum irritation at those not yet in that state.
• hajota = the verb “to fall apart”; used of people in the army setting to mean “to snap”, “to have a breakdown”, “to lose one’s motivation and will to live”. Happens to people regularly, and to everyone at least once, especially after a few days at a leiri, a camp-out out there in the endless dark cold woods, where the highlight of one’s day is a sipa or sissipaska, or taking a shit without any toilet, branch, pit or paper. Really fun when there’s lots of snow; and usually interrupted by an air raid alert. Derivates of hajota are the verb hajottaa, to feel like one’s about to fall apart and lose it, and hajotus, any activity liable to cause that.
• asento! lepo! = two screams that mean “Attention!” and “At ease!”. Shouting or coughing these will cause a wonderfully reflexive snapping into either of the desired basic states. It will, however, be digging for blood in the regions of one’s proboscis to yell taakse poistu!, the drill command for “turn around, run ten paces, and by the gods be quick with it! Dammit!” — there are variations of this such as oikealle poistu! (to the right), eteen poistu! (forwards; the one giving the command ought to be careful to not be run over) and käteni osoittamaan suuntaan seitsemän kilometriä kapteenin auton ali ryömien yhdellä jalalla hyppien p’stu! Liikkuu liikkuu! Er, that’s the example that everyone starts to expect after a few days of drilling: “In the direction indicated by my hand, seven kilometers, crawling under captain’s car and hopping on one foot, go! Move it, move it!”
• lepi = almost the same as the plain Finnish word lepo, which means rest. The army word has connotations of the rest being a) a rare pleasure, b) shamefully, slobberingly total and disgusting to behold, though nice to enjoy, and c) probably due to some temporary and unintended glitch somewhere in the chain of command that’s best not inquired about, lest it cease.

A few words like that, and every Finnish man and boy will be your friend; what befriends the women, I don’t know. (Well, you could try this on one that’s been in the army; don’t know what the results would be.)