Archive for December, 2010

New year comedy

December 31, 2010

And here for you, for the new year, a German new-year’s TV tradition that’s taken root in Finland, or in my part of it at least: the antient coemedic phrensy of “Dinner for One” (oder Der 90. Geburtstag); to be watched every December 31st:

(Don’t worry, only the introduction’s in German.)

See Wikipedia for more; I’m off to do something else arbitrary-traditional. My own random custom of immeasurable (i.e. lost count) tradition is to meet the ticking-over of the year counter in bed, with a thick Tolkien on my arms. (Not in the sense of, “I’m going through all the descendants of J.R.R. to make a new Finn-Tolkien hybrid breed to take over the worlds of fantasy and Internettery”; no, not in that sense. Not at all.)

(And if someone tells you different, don’t believe ’em.)

Edit: Switched to Google Video, which had the full clip. Also, did not remove nudie pictures of me and a Tolkien.)

Dear God (not the XTC song)

December 27, 2010

Hello, God.

Me here. These followers of yours are keen for me to follow you, too. Since they seem to be a bit confused about some things, I decided to write to you to ask for clarification about some things.

The thing is, I’m not sure I can feel comfortable, not to say moral, following you if some of these things said about you are true.

Do you in fact cause people to be tortured for an eternity? I don’t care what infraction would make you do that, would “justify” it; if you’re someone who does such a thing (worse than what any human criminal has ever done) even to a single soul, no matter how criminally bad, then you’re worse than any of them.

What about your part in creating us humans? Because if you did us, you’re a shitty engineer, no offense meant. Our bodies fail all the time, in painful and horrifying ways; our minds are even worse. It’s not trifling, nor funny, the agony and trouble that our flesh-shells and thought patterns give us. If this all is your doing, you’re either inept or malicious; in either case, this is not going to work. (Also, I could find out the names of a few physicians who could tell you how to design a better human being, if it’s the former and not the latter.)

What about Heaven? I hope it doesn’t exist. Because if it does and it is better than this Earth, why are we here? Our sufferings are not trivial, and not funny. We won’t appreciate the contrast for it to be worth all this when we finally make it, crying and shaking, to the Pearly Gates.  If there’s life within those gates, it would have been better for us to be born there to begin with, I think.

So, all in all, I think, best for you if there are no places you’ve made, no Hell nor Earth nor Heaven.

Also, all these laws and commandments of yours; I’d like to see how you justify them. Because if you say they must be followed because you have a big fist, or we must obey for you made us, well, then I won’t play. That’s a bully talking and not a saint, much less someone higher. Surely you have better reasons for all the rules than seeing if we leap because it’s your voice saying so? Surely there’s some logic, some framework of reason to them? I realize I’m a bit late to the game, but it’s not becoming to play a king (a crowned bully) like you are said to do. Kings are a pretty dead idea these days, and pleasing one isn’t much of a fulfilled life for anyone; or so it seems to me.

I hope you will come down to our level, better than you did with that guy whose birthday just passed. And after explaining what exactly you’ve done and plan to, don’t tell us what to do, but why we should. (Wasn’t religion supposed to be the why and not the what anyway?)

I’ve heard it said you will get angry if we mortals set you conditions; that you will not explain your actions; that you are somehow ineffable, unable to make yourself understood by us. I hope that is false, too, because any ogre can hide behind excuses like that; and there are so many bottomless pits I’d rather not make any leaps of faith.

Facetiously awaiting your answer or thunderbolt,

Mr. M-of-Eris

A brutal Christmas wish

December 24, 2010

For your entertainment and edification, the traditional Joulurauhan julistus or Declaration of Christmas Peace, read from Turku, Finland, every December 24th at noon ever since the fey mists of the 14th century (and reconstructed from a surviving clerk’s memory after the great fire of 1827), radio broadcast since 1935, televised since 1983, and broadcast for all the Internets since 2006. The reader is some poor chief-of-staff clerkperson of the city, bareheaded and without gloves, on a bare balcony, reading from an antique parchment, even if it is -18 C (zero Fahrenheit) out — by the way, -30 C (-22 F) here in the more northern Finland woo yeah! — and there’s a bit of music, some of it listened to with your hats off.

It’s a lot more fun to watch it with your family through the TV, because you get at the glögg immediately afterwards. And “glögg” (Finnish glögi) is not something involving retching and reeling, despite the sound, but mulled wine.

But the declaration. (The best video I could find is the Swedish-broadcast version, available for 8 days, and may or may not work outside Finland. Tarnation and twigs! Then again, Youtube has the 2009 declaration, and the only significant change in the show happens when the clerk retires.) First, as it is read in Finnish:

Huomenna, jos Jumala suo, on meidän Herramme ja Vapahtajamme armorikas syntymäjuhla; ja julistetaan siis täten yleinen joulurauha kehoittamalla kaikkia tätä juhlaa asiaankuuluvalla hartaudella viettämään sekä muutoin hiljaisesti ja rauhallisesti käyttäytymään, sillä se, joka tämän rauhan rikkoo ja joulujuhlaa jollakin laittomalla taikka sopimattomalla käytöksellä häiritsee, on raskauttavien asianhaarain vallitessa syypää siihen rangaistukseen, jonka laki ja asetukset kustakin rikoksesta ja rikkomuksesta erikseen säätävät. Lopuksi toivotetaan kaupungin kaikille asukkaille riemullista joulujuhlaa.

Second, as it is after that read in Swedish:

I morgon, vill Gud, infaller vår Herres och Frälsares nåderika födelsefest; och varder förty härigenom en allmän julfred kungjord och påbjuden, med åtvarning till envar att denna högtid med tillbörlig andakt fira, och i övrigt iakttaga ett stilla och fridsamt uppförande, emedan den, som häremot bryter samt julhögtiden genom något olagligt eller otillbörligt förfarande oskärar, gör sig under försvårande omständigheter förfallen till det straff, lag och författningar för varje brott och överträdelse särskilt påbjuda. Slutligen tillönskas stadens samtliga invånare en fröjdefull julhelg.

And third, since the previous two might not enlighten you much, the same in English, as translated by me, with some gratuitous archaeisms to keep a bit of the feel of the original:

Tomorrow, if God happens to allow it, shall be the mercy-full birthday of our Lord and Redeemer; and hence we therefore declare a general and common Christmas peace by encouraging all to spend this most festive occasion with due prayerfulness, and in similar manners to behave themselves with quiet and calmness, for the one who breaks this peace, and disturbs this Christmas festivity with some unlawful or untoward action, has accrued, under the presence of most grievous and aggravating conditions, the punishments and penalties which the law and the acts for each such crime and unlawfulness separately decree. Also, the people of the city are wished a happy Christmas.

In other words: You better watch out, you better not cry out; or else. And by the way, have a good time!

Have a good time, you all! Golden apples and chocolate twigs for all!

My voluntary educamational work for Finland

December 22, 2010

Almost missed writing the previous post, thanks to getting caught up informing a Chinese exchange student for a few hours.

With the help of a laptop, and Google, Wikipedia and Youtube, I gave him a looong, question-filled and questionable lecture, including these subjects and some more:

  • where Santa Claus really lives (Korvatunturi, if you ask a Finn, and they should know because this is where he lives)
  • why the North Pole is a stupid, ludicrous, ridiculous, moronic, idiotic place for anyone to live
  • where you can meet Santa (or in Finnish, Joulupukki): Rovaniemi, that being a city and not a zone of the Fenno-Russian border (“Hands up fatty! You, dressed in red! Tero, see if he has weapons in the bag! No false moves or the reindeer gets it, big guy! You have no business being in the border zone!”, the Finnish border guard macholy spat), and being closer to an actual tourist-capable airport — hence, the Rovaniemi Santaland Amusement Attractions
  • the international vs. Finnish Santa Claus, and whether Santa’s helpers are young guys in green (an American “elf”), or grumpy dwarf-like bearded guys in red (a Finnish tonttu or gnome)
  • the origins of various Santas in a mixture of pagan traditions, Saint Nicholas, Finnish mythology, and the Coca-Cola Company
  • Finnish surnames like Virolainen, Ruotsalainen and Venäläinen (“Estonian”, “Swede”, “Russian”), and the unlikelihood of a Chinese guy having a surname meaning “Indian” or “Vietnamese”
  • the surname ending “-nen”, and whether it is a diminutive like Wikipedia says or means “a person related to the thing before this suffix, by being a descendant, an inhabitant or something else” like I say
  • very long Finnish words and their deconstruction; the difference between agglutinative and isolating languages and whether a certain kind of Finnish military aircraft assistant mechanic sub-officer students really have a sixty-some letter title
  • moose meat and where to find it
  • hunting permits and licenses to kill various restricted species; hunters’ clubs (metsästysseura) and the unspeakable deliciosity of bear stew
  • why a Google image moose is saying “Sarah Palin don’t shoot me”, and why she’s the only politician likely to be thus feared by frosty quadrupeds
  • animals likely to be seen waiting for the bus (and who’s the one waiting for the bus): rabbits, squirrels, and bigger beasties
  • animal tracks in the snow and how to identify them
  • the shared ancestry of dogs and wolves and the resulting difficulty for a layman of distinguishing their tracks (it’s a dog, don’t worry, just don’t go outside…)
  • the fact that “Karhu” is a Finnish beer brand in addition to being the word for a bear; and the possibility that this is a coincidence and not an infernally subtle bilingual pun of some kind, the Finnish word for beer (olut) being nothing like the bear word (karhu)
  • the fact that an entire Finnish province, Karjala (Karelia), has had its named co-opted by another beer brand
  • the Karelian coat of arms, which has a West-armored hand clashing a sword against an East-armored hand’s saber; the geopolitical realities inherent in this
  • all the various traditional Finnish Christmas foods (ham; rutabaga and potato casseroles; lutefisk (for some people, not including me and everyone I know); and Christmas pastries (joulutorttu), which are the best thing in all the world); the tendency of this being all the family’ll eat for a few days because there’s a metric buttload ton of it
  • standard Finnish and Finnish dialects and the benevolent co-existence of them
  • Finnish Christmas songs as played by Finnish heavy metal bands
  • Finnish heavy metal bands and the general philosophy of heavy metal (“ridiculously, consciously over the top but still serious; inducing the laughter of ecstatic approval, but not the cackle of mockery”), using as sonic illustration Youtube clips of:

And Stratovarius was the point where his cranial vessel was filled with the righteous nectar of Finnish heavy metal consciousness, and he politely called it quits.

Winter solstice tonight

December 21, 2010

Tonight’s the night.

The longest of nights; the shivering night; the night of long shadows in bright moonlight. Tonight’s the night the dead ride, silent and fey, over the winds blowing snow in clouds like stars; see, between the stars above and the stars below they ride. See, the moon shines down, and all is quiet; see, a wind moves in the wood which is not the wind of nature; see, King Winter’s hunting with his pack. If you hear a ghostly baying tonight, don’t go out: Lord Winter’s out and his dogs hunt, never leaving a print, and their bites are white, not red. Bar the door, my friend, and bar the window; the cold wants in, and it is not alone. Ghosts ride above the blowing snow tonight, and Winter hunts below; it is the longest of nights, and daylight’s not here.

Tonight’s the Night.

Please pardon this quasi-poetic fit; tonight’s the Winter Solstice, and this poor Finn is more happy about the dark than ab0ut the turning of the solar tide. I won’t be out prancing tonight, because it’s 20 C below (minus 4 F) outside; but I’ll be looking out the window, feeling weirdly that I am where I should be, and things are as they should be.

This all shouldn’t be taken to mean Finns regularly go out to prance, clad or un, on the winter solstice night; that’s the poetic license thing. Which is a license I don’t have, so I should stop poeticcing now before I’m pulled over.

Google discovers Hitler in 1804

December 20, 2010

Gol dang it! Why nobody told me of this? Google has a nice little tool, a “Books Ngram Viewer”, which lets you see how often and when in publication-time certain words appear in the vast library of Google Books. The results are fascinating, even given that any word will probably shoot you in the foot, you not knowing all the ways it can be used.

This, for example, is what I got out comparing the use of the terms “great war” (red), “world war” (blue), “first world war” (green) and “second world war” (yellow).

Seems the red line (“great war”) was doomed when we realized we needed ordinal numbers.

Trying to find nice curves for certain historical characters led me, then, into noticing a huge spike in the use of the word (name?) “hitler” in the 1810s and 1830s.

I went deeper, thinking maybe I had found some German general who for obvious reasons had escaped popular biographical attention.

Well, no. For example, Acts and laws of the state of Connecticut, in America, lists this on its page 286, in listing “Degrees of kindred forbidden marriage”:

Mother’s Sister, Father’s Broth- age, er’s Wife, Mother’s Brother’s Wife, Wife’s Father’s Sister, Wife’s Mother’s Sister, Father’s Wife, Wife’s Mother, Daughter, Wife’s Daughter, Son’s Wife, hitler, Brother’s Wife,

and so on. One kind of appreciates the far-sighted sentiment at first, but a look at the non-OCR’d page reveals the relevant word as “Sister”, with the second “s” an “f”-like old one.

Other instances where fonts conspired to fool the machine were “suffer” (with the old “s”, resembling “fuffer”, the closest real word to which was “hitler”), “Hiller” (a Napoleonic general), and pure mistakes like “latter” and “bitter”. Some scans or the originals are so badly printed I couldn’t make sense of their hitlers with a casual look.

The fun thing is, according to the search, these hitlers out of time form a “bump” much bigger than any mentions of the real Adolf. Even a third rise, in the 1880s, easily equals the real chap, before (I guess) the quality of the print and preservation rubbed out these accidental fuehrers. (From 1884: “If a tree is not in fact a part of the crop of fruit growing thereon, I do not understand how it can be made to appear that the taxing of the former is substantially and in effect taxation of the hitler.” Reductio ad Hitlerum, agrarian style!)

Or this:

This stone had undoubtedly been the source of her trouble, and had caused the cellulitis, but the hitler had been increased by dilating and injecting the uterus for the loss of blood due to the obstructed pelvic circulation.

Or even this bit, given a horrible new interpretation:

The billows lift us to the sky ; Trembling, we stretch out feeble hands : We think the hitler end is nigh : ” Master, we perish ! ” then we cry : And on the deck He stands.

I think that’s enough Hitler for anyone’s Christmas week.

Defrosting variations

December 20, 2010

So I came across the title of a book: “The Defrosting of Charlotte Small”, by Annabel Giles.

Because I’m a science fiction reader, I assumed it should be read the science-fictional way, which is, literally. There would be a cryogenically frozen woman, and there would be drama in her defrosting. Maybe she was the only survivor of a catastrophe, or of some far distant past. Maybe her origin was a mystery. Maybe it was a tale of love, loss and cyborgization.

Well, in a word, no.

The blurb for the real Defrosting of Charlotte Small was:

After flattening a friend’s dog, carelessly losing not one job but three, and waving her daughter off to spend Christmas overseas, Charlotte hits the wall. Years of suppressed heartbreak and disappointment overwhelm her and the fine thread of sanity finally snaps. Consequently, having thrown the entire contents of her house on to the street, she’s found by the police lying on her back under a Christmas tree with an empty bottle of Port and a half-eaten lump of Stilton.

Charlotte needs to claw her way back from the brink and start again. But can she build a bigger, brighter and better existence this time around?

Which sounds morbid enough to be fun, and an interesting book generally speaking; but I must say I was disappointed a little bit.

What of Charles Small, an astronomer called to the Io Base with great expense, hurry and secrecy, only to find himself on the surface of Europa, the ice moon, and then below — and in a great echoing sea-chamber of the Feynion Detection Project, where in a block of floating ice, something unexpected has been found.

A woman, twenty-five years of age; just the age that Charles’s wife, Charlotte Small, was when he last saw her, one hundred years ago, right before the greatest natural disaster in human history.

What of the answers to such questions as —

What agency put Charlotte Small into the ice? What alien, as it might be? And why, oh, why the heck why? And is human science enough to defrost her, and get some answers?

Was the California Sinking Comet of 2099 really a natural disaster? And if it wasn’t, is Charlotte’s discovery a warning, or an opportunity, either for victory, or for parlay?

What will Charlotte Small have to say, if she ever gets to open her mouth again?

No mythy-mountain shit, no time travel, no Goddidit nor miracles or predestination or “fate”, no precocious kids or cute animals, and all things are answered in the end instead of this dissolving into a melange of magical-realistic vaguerie. Also, lasers. Buy it now — “The Defrosting of Charlotte Small: A Science Fiction Novel”!

This fictional precognition of mine takes me to places like this.

Beasts, Men, and Cheap Books

December 19, 2010

So: The man is Ferdinand Ossendowski, a Polish adventurer of the Russian Civil War era. The book is “Beasts, Men and Gods”, Ossendowski’s account of Tibet, Mongolia and similar places.

The problem, that of mine that is, is to find a physical copy of the book.

This is not a problem because the English translation was published in 1922 and is long out of print.

No, this is a problem because there’s a dozen editions of the book in print, all it seems from pay-per-print “publishers” and other shady operations, all a part of the mostly slapdash industry of finding public domain books and making a quick buck on the long tail (or hoping so anyway) by producing cheap-o print versions of them.

Much to my edification and horror, Amazon has previews of the first pages for some of these; it’s not a pretty sight, I tell you. The font tends to be small (since with these operations more pages will cut into the profits), and what fonts are used for headers and decoration are usually pretty damn ugly, the sort of things you and a hundred million others know come with your standard release of Microsoft Word. (If you ask me, anyone that tries to use Mistral in a professional publication of any kind should be shot. And then shot again for good measure.)

Consider this: for this (presumably) same text, the following amount of pages were used by different editions: 142, 160, 162, 232, 240, 256, 260, 268, 284, 328, 336, and 346. What kind of horrible typographical decisions can make one edition 2.4 times the length of another?

And the covers… eyagh, spare me. One would think it would be easy to fall back on some quiet, generic cover when one wasn’t really interested in paying a lot of individual love in production. Not so. The lurid font horror continues, and is much more horrible when the Impact or Mistral adorns a wash of generic marbled-paper or a Powerpoint-like background or something which looks like a garish grid of bathroom tiles. The covers fairly scream them being sterile industrial vessels ready for any and all content. And if there’s a picture, it most often clashes terribly with the surrounding elements… or is, due to the limits of Wikipedia, blown up from something originally sized 300 by 400 pixels.

Then again: One of the publishers of this manner of editions is Nabu Press, which I hear has a mind-staggering 600 000 books in (pay-per-)print; with numbers like that, the business is more brute printing than actual individual book design. (Incidentally, “Nabu Press” is a very restrained name in this field. Most operations that do this or serve as the printer for this are Create something or Biblio the other, or something whose noncommittal nature well tells there’s a few thousand books out since last January, and their copyright’s the only thing which unites them.)

The prices vary, too, from 25 euros for a paperback to a modest tenner; then there are hardcovers whose prices hover between moderate and ludicrous.

Might not be such an immense risk to order one and hope to be typographically lucky. I certainly appreciate all those arcane old books remaining in print, no matter how I might gripe about typography.

Might be easier to just take the text off Gutenberg, spend a few hours folding it, and then trot off to Lulu. That way the result would still be amateurish but, operating according to Intracranial Axiom One, it would be perfect being made by me, so I couldn’t complain. (This is what it is like when you find the budding typography geek within. And I say “budding” because I haven’t found the time to read the LaTeX memoir manual (see pdf) yet; I’ve heard that after reading it you shall fear no typographical evil ever again, and shall forever format everything nicely, without fail.)

Which all leads, I think, to the Observation of Scalzi: the work that publishers do, the work between having unformatted text and having a book that doesn’t cause eyeball-breaking panic diarrhea the moment you see it, the work between a manuscript and a proper pretty publication — that’s a lot of work actually.

Huug ideas

December 19, 2010

Walk up to someone; ask if they are okay. When they try to form a coherent answer, say “Don’t worry. We all support you.”, and walk away. Then have your confederate do the same to the same person ten minutes later.

Walk up to someone; say them “The Big Duck sends his greetings to the Potato. Pass it on.” Then, ten minutes later, a confederate comes and says: “I am the Potato. Is there a message for me from the Big Duck?” (If the greetings come through, or if they don’t, the Potato should then ask if there were any instructions about the hostage. And, getting a negative, react confused-alarmed-like and skedaddle.)

A sign that says: “FREE HUUGS”. With a double U. Manned by a pretty girl. When someone then approaches and asks for one, the girl hollers: “Bran! One huug needed here.” The confederate Bran then appears, carrying some perplexing plastic object with the word written to the side; a brief sermon on the awesomeness of the huug follows.

With just six Discordians, one could pick the huug victim, and subject him/her to the okay and the duck a few hours later. Well, provided one isn’t shy following someone around. A big mall would probably be ideal for this — the huug out in the parking space, away from interfering mall cops; the okay when the target walks in, still perplexed and thus willing to rationalize the odd question. After the duck bit someone, looking very confused, asks if the target is “one of them, them that’s been following me for days, saying all manner of meaningless things — but now they are gone! Gone! I am a pawn no more, I am free — but who isn’t?”.

Hot dogs are not enough

December 15, 2010

Let’s skip wondering about the folk and true etymnologies of “hot dog”, and jump right into bright ideas of what other canine foods there could be.

Put an egg in a hot dog, and it’s a hot platypus.

Have three sausages instead of one, and it’s a warm cerberos. Have a real tiny bun and a very small but spicy sausage, and it’s a hot chihuahua, or even a hot chilihuahua. Stuff the bun with cotton candy, too, and it’s a poodle fry.

Put a handful of meatballs in a calzone, and it’s a kitten holocaust… what do you mean, that was too much? Would it be better if I called it a canine hecatomb?

How about a sausage in a cone-shaped bun, in a “well” of sorts — Lassie’s end.

Instead of one sausage, pieces from three different ones, a cheap, decent and deluxe one, going from one end of the sausage to the other: Darwin’s rottweiler… on fire! And going on with rowdy dogs, put in steak instead of a sausage, and it’s a fire pit bull.

Like George Carlin said, “I’ve got lots of good ideas! Problem is, most of them suck.”